Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 29, 2012
Era of the One Percent Over?
That was the question asked by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in the subject line of a “Dear Bill” e-mail message I received from him the day after the President’s State of the Union Address. He gushed the good news answer in the very first paragraph,
“Did you see last night’s State of the Union? It was clear throughout the President’s speech that the era of the 1% is over.”
Some Federation members may have missed the televised speech–for example, those on picket lines at American Crystal Sugar, Cooper Tire & Rubber, and Fresno County–and undoubtedly appreciated and were relieved to hear this announcement.
Of course, brother Trumka does not make such bold assertions without corroborating evidence.
“One big victory—among many—in last night’s speech was President Obama’s announcement of a thorough investigation into the misconduct in the mortgage market that wrecked our economy....Thank President Obama for listening—and urge him to keep it up.”
We have heard similar pledges before. So far there are no reports of swarms of GulfStreams carrying the frightened rich to refuge in the Cayman Islands. As we enter Obama’s last year of this term, foreclosures still account for twenty percent of all home sales in the USA.
There were, of course, some crooks in the financial sector who played minor supporting roles in triggering the Great Recession. But most of the housing and other bubbles that burst were the result of shenanigans legalized during decades of bipartisan deregulation.
The President retained the Fed Chairman upon whose watch the melt down occurred. Chairman Bernanke, who believes public works programs prolonged the Great Depression, is known for the lightest hand on the rudder of all central bank heads. Obama’s Treasury Secretary still shares the same Clubrooms and vacation spots with his “too big to fail” peers who “earned” ten or more-digit bonuses for losing people’s homes and life savings–and Geithner has made clear he is anxious to get back to the private sector.
Despite his long experience in financial circles as former AFL secretary-treasurer, Trumka–like every outraged liberal--remains convinced the system is basically good if we’re not victimized by rogue bad guys. They cannot allow themselves to accept the inconvenient truth–this is what capitalism looks like.
But wait, there’s more.
“President Obama made it clear that children and our future must be priorities” my leader told me. He then hands off to expert opinion--Randi Weingarten of the AFT. Her joy overfloweth,
“Obama also made clear tonight what America’s teachers have long understood: We can’t test our way to a middle class; we must educate our way to a middle class....Respecting public school teachers and providing them with the tools and resources they need to help our children learn and grow are essential to building a strong public education system, competing in a global economy and restoring economic opportunity for all.”
When sister Weingarten finally takes her retirement she should consider a second career writing pop fiction. Not since Horace Mann’s fight for Common Schools prevailed in the nineteenth century has public education been under such powerful attack. “Austerity” measures have led to the closings of hundreds of schools, along with firings of tens of thousands of teachers around the country. Adding to the funding crisis, Obama’s “Race to the Top” is promoting privatization in all components of education; has declared war on teacher seniority (tenure); and virtually mandated concessionary renegotiation of a number of teacher union contracts.
Back to Trumka: “And Obama demanded investment in good, high-paying jobs—and said he would work to bring manufacturing back to America.”
U.S. manufacturing employment peaked in 1979 at about 19.5 million jobs. That has now slumped to about 11.8 million. But over this same period industrial production nearly doubled. Despite the very substantial offshoring of work since NAFTA and the China Trade Agreement, the USA is still an industrial powerhouse. This work is done with far fewer, but much more productive, workers--and mostly at substantially lower real wages. We used to say workers in such dire straits need a union. However, many of them are already paying dues to the AFL or Change to Win.
Obama followed up the SOTU with a campus trip to Ann Arbor. Among his boasts there was one of his earliest achievements-- “saving the American auto industry.” The crowd there cheered but the remaining residents of Pontiac, Michigan don’t seem grateful for their salvation. The muscle car icon named after the town was one of the GM brands killed off by Obama’s restructuring. Today many homes in this once GM-dependent town are abandoned or in foreclosure and the revenue starved city government is trying to sell any and all public assets--from the Silver Dome to City Hall. Tens of thousands of other GM and Chrysler employees, and workers at suppliers and dealerships, lost Middle Class jobs as a result of this bailout/bankruptcy at an early stage in the Recession.
Now there is some modest hiring once more in auto, including the Big Three. They, and companies such as General Electric, are making a big deal out of “in-sourcing” jobs they had previously offshored. But these recovered jobs pay about half the wage and have few of the benefits they had before going through this revolving door.
The White House has hardly set a great employment practices example for the private sector. After freezing most Federal worker wages for two years the President is proposing to give them a raise of one-half of one percent. AFGE has filed an unfair labor practice against the hiring freeze at the Environmental Protection Agency that hamstrings their vital work. And the administration supports tearing up union contracts with the US Postal Service on the way to extensive privatization, eliminating tens of thousands of Middle Class jobs. But neither President Obama nor president Trumka got in to such unpleasantness on the big night of SOTU.
There had been a lot of speculation and wishful thinking by some that labor and environmentalists might finally tell Obama–basta! But the chief spokesman for the House of Labor is making clear to all that he is in lock-step with the Pale Green sycophants I discussed last week in disguising the most reactionary administration of our time.
The nineteen and counting televised debates among those in the official opposition party seeking to replace this administration clearly verify they are not an acceptable alternative for working people either. The Republicans chose Mitch Daniels to offer their televised instant response to SOTU.
Daniels was at one time senior vice-president of a Big Pharma, Eli Lilly. He moved in to public service as Bush II’s Budget Director–and the budget on his watch went from a surplus of 236 billion to a deficit of 400 billion dollars. Since becoming Governor of Indiana in 2005 he has privatized toll roads and slashed public sector jobs. His education “reforms” instituted private school vouchers and “merit” pay for teachers. It looks as if he will soon get to sign the first “Right-to-Work” law in the industrial Midwest.
The centerpiece of Daniels’ rebuttal to Obama seemed an appeal for beatification of fallen Ruling Class hero Steve Jobs–“The late Steve Jobs — what a fitting name he had — created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.”
St Steve the Job Creator’s i-Pod-Phone-Pad craze has generated about 750,000 jobs. Only 43,000 of those, however, are in the USA and none of the American positions are in manufacturing. These coveted high tech devices are made in working conditions resembling those described by Dickens in nineteenth century England. Even the New York Times has felt the need to expose this legacy of the Holy Jobs in a series of paywall-protected articles about Apple contractors in China. One says,
“Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
“More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.”
No, the Era of the One Percent is far from over. Their unfinished agenda has ironically been delayed not by Democrat “friends,” and certainly not by our labor statespersons--but the Washington gridlock created by the cracked tea-pots. The loony right sunk chances of bipartisan deals that could have already gutted Social Security, launched phased completion of the privatization of Medicare, and guaranteed ultimate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
These objectives and much more may now have to wait until after the November election. Republican elders such as Dole and McCain are working to neutralize their party’s undisciplined obstructive fringe. They will likely assure that Romney will be a credible back-up to the One Percent’s first choice–the reelection of President Obama. No matter who wins in November the ruling class will continue to use their control of government and monopoly of politics to stick it to the 99 percent.
This will not change until we do. Our unions and the Occupy movement are limited in the ability to defend against government attacks and are incapable of offering an alternative government. Without a working class party of our own, the era of brother Trumka’s trade unionism may be the one that is really over.
¶ While it appears the ILWU and EGT have resolved legal issues in the dispute over the newly opened grain terminal in Port Longview, Washington there are still no reliable reports on the continuing negotiations about ILWU representation of the workforce.
¶ The CBC reported on Friday, “Electro-Motive workers from London have stepped up their protest against Caterpillar, the parent company that locked them out New Year's Day after contract negotiations broke down. For more than 24 hours now, the CAW has blocked the movement of a new Electro-Motive locomotive that was discovered sitting on the tracks in Ingersoll. The blockade began Wednesday morning.”
¶ Steve Early does an instructive update in Beyond Chron, The SEIU Takeover of UHW: Three Years Later.
¶ A single-payer health care bill was defeated in the California Senate by a margin of two votes.
¶ According to California Healthline, “Thousands of labor union members are planning a Jan. 31 walkout at Kaiser Permanente hospitals to protest a standstill in contract negotiations...About 4,000 members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers are leading the strike. To show solidarity, about 17,000 members of the California Nurses Association and 650 members of the Stationary Engineers Local 39 also plan to strike on Jan 31.”
After a short one last time I apologize for the length of this WIR. At least it’s a little early.
That’s all for this week.
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