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KC Labor Newsletter
The Week In Review, Sunday, January 4, 2004      

Some Good News To Start New Year
I don’t often insert an "extra" story on the
Daily Labor News Digest after deadline. But I couldn’t resist reporting some good news for a change—Extra: Tentative Agreement at Borders. After 53 days on the picket line twenty gutsy workers got a tentative agreement out of an aggressively antiunion corporate giant. The details of the settlement will not become public until after the ratification vote on Tuesday. While the economics of the agreement are certainly important to the Ann Arbor Borders workers just winning a first contract is well worth celebrating. This will help the certified union at Minneapolis Uptown in their fight for a first contract as well as make it easier for other organizing drives in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. All proportions guarded, we recall that the great victory of the 1936-37 GM sit down strikes in nearby Flint won little more than union recognition for six months. That proved to be, however, the only opening the UAW needed to quickly organize most of the rest of General Motors across the country. Hats off to Borders members of UFCW Local 856!

Orange Alert—Bad News For Us, Good News For al Quaida
I doubt if Osama bin Laden ever laughs. The dark, heartless cruelty that pervades his cult leaves little room for mirth. But, however the allusive terrorist celebrates he has surely been doing it during Orange Alert. It is hard to imagine a greater—or cheaper—victory for terrorism than that handed to them by the Department of Homeland Security. They have made the only remaining superpower appear to be afraid of every shadow, every figment of runaway imagination.

It wasn’t humiliating enough just when airline passengers had to remove their shoes; when fingernail clippers and plastic forks were confiscated as weapons; when a former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate had to prove that it was World War II shrapnel embedded in his body that was setting off the metal detectors? No, much to the amusement of every terrorist cell with access to television, Homeland Absurdity ratcheted up another notch.

Foreign airlines were ordered to put armed guards on their USA bound flights. Some flights have been held and/or cancelled for no apparent reason other than somebody’s "credible" guess that there might be trouble. Visitors from certain countries had to be fingerprinted. One warning issued to authorities cautioned them to be on the lookout for suspicious people consulting almanacs.

F-16 fighters "escorted" numerous flights. Sounds comforting until you realize the only point of such "escort" is to keep the plane within Sidewinder missile range. Just a "normal" New Years Eve celebration in the Big Apple—with the addition of helicopter gun ships hovering over head, Coast Guard cutters within firing distance of Times Square, and the odd practice of welding shut man hole covers.

Of course even Ashcroft/Ridge can’t ride herd on all of their subordinates and there were a few embarrassing moments. Like the suspected terrorist detained on one flight who proved to be eight years old. There was the head of Transportation Security at Dulles airport who got arrested for drunk driving—while on duty.

And Brazil, acting with a little more dignity and courage than the British, French, and Mexicans, started fingerprinting all U.S. citizens entering their country. That’s how you say "back atcha" in Portugese.

Of course sensible people take sensible precautions against credible threats. 9/11 was so successful mainly because of the element of surprise. It is extremely unlikely that terrorists could again succeed in imitating such a horrible attack. They have to look to other tactics. The terrorists know that—and so does the Bush administration.

Our masters in Washington want us living in fear. They want us accepting not only the foolish things they do but also serious encroachments on basic democratic rights. I believe it was no coincidence that Orange Alert was called only a few days after a court ruling undermining the government’s illegal denial of rights to those suspected of being security risks.

Security threats are often the cover story for repressive regimes moving against democratic rights. They never stop with real bad guys—they go on to target those who oppose war, clamor for civil rights, or try to get a decent contract from their boss. That’s why we should not only reject the stupidity and incompetence too often demonstrated by the security forces; we should also reject scare tactics and the slightest encroachment on our hard earned democratic rights.

It’s What Used To Be For Dinner
I haven't been eating much beef lately. It’s not that my vegetarian partner finally made progress in winning me away from my omnivore habits. No, fad diets promising shrinking waist lines while gorging yourself on filet mignon drove the cost of red meat out of my price range.

Then there was that little incident of one Mad Cow that caused a lot of commotion. Aging Elsie was a "downer." That means she couldn’t walk under her own power up to where the slaughter process begins. There can be many causes for downers but samples are always prudently taken for testing for any health problems that could be passed on to human consumers. That’s how the sole—for now—case of Mad Cow was discovered.

Unfortunately, this sensible practice does not include quarantining the animal until the results are known. By the time Mad Cow was confirmed Elsie (not her real name) was long gone, mixed up inseparably with many of her former associates.

Now my Old Man was a butcher. He started out in a packinghouse where he was later involved in a successful CIO organizing drive. Before the union became strong about the only friend the workers had in the packinghouse was the USDA inspector. They were generally competent, honest, and willing to stand up to management. They saw that the place was kept clean and, at times, would even force the bosses to back off excessive attempts to speed up the line. They were always within shouting distance.

During the 1970-80s the meat packing industry went through a remarkable restructuring. So did government services.

The giant, unionized packing houses in Chicago, Kansas City, and South St Paul were all closed, replaced with dozens of smaller operations scattered around among livestock producers. Wages, working conditions and worker safety plummeted.

The new trend of deregulation and privatization also hit hard. Voluntary compliance by bosses eager to do the right thing was now expected and programs such as meat inspection began a long decline.

Today with meat packing unions weakened—where they exist at all—and inspections cut to the bone, the meat barons take short cuts to enhance profits. That’s why we have to worry about e coli and now Mad Cow.

Available technology and inspection practices could virtually eliminate any health threat from meat (unless you have a cholesterol problem.) But we need adequate numbers of trained inspectors, and empowered workers on the shop floor, to ensure this gets done.

Sorry For News Overload
I seriously underestimated the volume of news around the New Year holiday. I apologize for so much being piled on to the weekend edition. In the future I promise to never skip more than one day between updates.

Copyrights, Trade Marks
The most thorough among you may have noticed we have begun copyrighting original content on
KC Labor. We’re also trade marking Labor Advocate Online and the Daily Labor News Digest.

In researching domain names available on the Internet I’ve found that many labor related ones have been snapped by people who don’t deserve them. Worker.com, labor.com, are among those taken by right-wing, antilabor companies or think tanks. There are also cockroach operators who grab up domain names in order to hold them ransom from those who need them. And articles, graphs, art work, etc. routinely get ripped off by commercial users. That’s the motivation for our changed policy.

What hasn’t changed is that unions, and other movement nonprofit sources, are still welcome to use our material. We ask only that you give proper attribution.

Bill Onasch
webmaster, kclabor.org

© 2004 by Bill Onasch