Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 30, 2011
‘Walk Like An Egyptian’
That was the message on signs carried by student and union protesters in London and Manchester Saturday demonstrating against the Tory/Liberal austerity plan. It shows how Globalization cuts both ways. Workers in an advanced former colonial power, that ruled under the rationalization of White Man’s Burden, today quickly embrace and learn from struggles in lands once part of the Empire.
As some journalists predicted, and all bosses and tyrants feared, the example of revolt that began in Tunisia--forcing dictator Ben Ali & family to get while the getting was still good--has spread throughout the Arab world. Algeria, Jordan, Yemen--and even non-Arab, though predominately Muslim Albania-- have had strikes and demonstrations on a level not seen for a generation or more.
Unsettling as these actions have been for autocrats and compradors in the region the developing revolution in the most populous Arab country of all–Egypt–is unleashing downright panic. The Egyptian authorities had read that the Tunisia revolt was organized through Twitter so they promptly cut off Internet and telephone service. They soon learned that social revolution was not dependent on social networking after all. The Egyptian people and the rest of the world did get the benefit of courageous and honest coverage by the remarkable Aljazeera satellite-powered television network. They, like many other journalists of all media, are being hounded by what’s left of the old regime.
While it’s still too early to tell what the ultimate outcome of this revolutionary wave may be it’s exciting–and instructive-- to watch people uniting in the streets for a change to fight injustice. Those same protesters in London and Manchester also chanted “Ben Ali, Mubarak ... Cameron, you are next.” (Cameron is the British Tory Prime Minister.)
In addition to cheering them on we need to be ready to help them by preventing the governments that speak in our name from interfering. Trash talk radio is already calling for troops to be sent to secure the Suez Canal. While that may be unlikely there is no doubt that Obama, Cameron & Co will be assisting their important ally--the current dictatorship--as long as feasible.
SOTU and Sputnik
Recalling the game-changing Soviet launch of Sputnik that shook America in 1957, President Obama had them cheering when he said, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.” A few hours after this rousing State of the Union speech the head of the Chamber of Commerce–the main mouthpiece of Big Business in the USA–issued a joint statement with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka hailing the Commander-in-Chief’s clarion call for a more business friendly America.
Jack Rasmus, in a perceptive piece posted on Common Dreams, noted some significant voids in the SOTU,
“Not a word about the 25 million still jobless. Nothing about how to help the more than 7 million homeowners who have, or the additional 4 million who will soon, face foreclosures and evictions. Absolute silence about the dozens of states and hundreds of local governments in deepening fiscal crisis and approaching bankruptcy-and the hundreds of thousands of public employees who will pay for that bankruptcy with their jobs, wages, pensions, and health benefits. OK, some vague references to infrastructure and alternative energy jobs-over the next 25 years. Paid for by Obama's explicit reference to cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits for tens of millions.”
Rasmus goes on to say,
“But the most disturbing element of Obama's State of the Union address last Tuesday night was his firm commitment to cut corporate taxes even further, and thereafter to move on to ‘simplify' the US tax code in general-i.e. a code word in policy circles for further reducing top tax brackets which always results in tax cuts for the wealthiest households.”
Rasmus correctly pegs Obama’s new conversion to open, enthusiastic business friendly as a return to the supply-side economics of the Reagan years. He’s spot on when he notes,
“But the problem today is not excessively high business costs. It's not a supply side problem. Business has been cutting costs to the bone the past three years with massive layoffs, wage reductions, employee benefit cuts, hiring part time and temp workers, and implementing various productivity boosting measures. Obama and Congress have further lavished tax cuts and subsidies on business at historic levels the past two years. The Federal Reserve in turn has reduced business costs still further by reducing interest rates to record low levels. The result of all this business cost reduction has been a rapid return to pre-crisis levels of business profits and an accumulated corporate cash hoard of more than $2 trillion. And none of this $2 trillion has been spent by business thus far to create jobs to any reasonable extent.”
The President further reached out to his new business allies by suggesting “medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.” Yes, we’d all benefit from making malpractice cheaper for the careless and incompetent among those to whom we entrust our lives. He also called for quick approval of new “free trade” deals–especially with Korea.
Another noteworthy omission from the hour-long talk by the “Environmental President” was that the words “climate change,” “global warming,” and even “environment” were never once used. Even Bush did not so thoroughly dis those grappling with the number one crisis confronting humanity.
The President did speak to providing research funds, subsidies and tax breaks for “alternative energy.” Clean, renewable solar and wind was given polite mention. But most efforts will center on helping the auto industry to build electric cars; the outright fraud of “clean coal;” massive resumption of nuclear power with its potential for both catastrophic accidents and waste generation that remains dangerous for centuries; and, of course, “biofuel.” In the USA, biofuel means corn-based ethanol which does nothing good for the environment but does drive up food prices.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was speaking to the World Economic Forum in Davos when he said that current world economic plans were a collective environmental suicide pact–but the remark is applicable to the SOTU as well.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Most work-related MSDs develop over time and are caused either by the work itself or the workplace environment. From 1970 until 2003, when the Bush administration deleted the MSD column on the injury and illness form, employers were required to identify these injuries. Obama’s Department of Labor had announced their intention to reinstate the rule and submitted it for review. But now, on instructions from the White House, this injury tracker has been again withdrawn as part of Obama’s pledge to cut regulations of business.
National Nurses United issued a blistering statement condemning this cave-in. Back injuries among nurses who must help move patients are all too frequent and serious. Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of the 160,000-member NNU said, “This is a disturbing sign that the Obama administration may be putting the economic interests of employers ahead of the safety of nurses and other working people.”
In addition to fighting for restoration of the scrapped reporting rule, NNU is working to get action by Congress to require all hospitals to provide sufficient life equipment to reduce accidents that lead to both nurses’ injuries and accidents that endanger patients.
¶ Hats off to ATU Local 1462 in St Johns Newfoundland for winning an honorable settlement at Metrobus after a twelve-week strike.
¶ AP reports, “House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is testing support for his idea to replace Medicare with a fixed payment to buy a private medical plan from a menu of coverage options.”
¶ 48,000 TSA workers at U.S. airports will vote March 9 to choose between AFGE or the National Treasury Employees Union to represent them. However, they have yet to establish collective bargaining rights.
¶ Harley-Davidson has begun negotiations with the IAM and Steelworkers at its Kansas City plant. The company is quoted by the KC Business Journal as having “advised the unions that the Kansas City operations must become more competitive and flexible if those operations are to remain viable.” The company obtained big concessions at its York, Pennsylvania plant in 2009 and even more draconian give-backs in Wisconsin last year.
¶ The very first bill introduced in the new session of the Missouri Senate, SB1, is a so-called “right-to-work law.”
¶ A nice update on “Union Maid” labor singer Anne Feeney’s bout with cancer is posted on the ATU site which you can go to by clicking here.
That's all for this week.
Launching the New Monthly