Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 7, 2007

Warming Up Back Home
We’ve returned to a warm, dry Kansas City after an unexpected bout with blustery winter weather in the Copper Canyons. On our first morning in Mexico we awoke to a monsoon-like rain that shifted to sleet before ultimately dumping six inches of snow. This unusual storm created chaos in the region, compounded by a derailment that shut down the vital Chepe railroad for a day and a half. All this altered our transportation and accommodation plans and curtailed some outdoor activities.

Nevertheless, it was a great trip. Our tour guide—Rick Martinez from Native Trails—not only proved resourceful in improvising schedule revisions; he also turned to be a walking encyclopedia about Mexican topography, wild life, botany, history, culture, and much else. We got a glimpse of life in rural Mexico including the Rarámuri (Tarahumara) Indians, and German Mennonites unique to the Canyons region. We were treated to spectacular natural scenery, an example of remarkable engineering feats on the Chepe, and plenty of good food. We spent our last night in Chihuahua, an industrial city about the size of KC, home to a big Ford engine plant and numerous other maquiladoras. I heartily recommend this tour.

We were blissfully without television, Internet, or cell phone service, nor were any copies of USA Today slipped under our door during our Canyons trip. I’ve been trying to get back up to speed on the news and the Daily Labor News Digest will get the first update in two weeks tomorrow, Monday, January 8. If you’re waiting for a reply to an e-mail from me please be patient; I’m struggling to get caught up with correspondence as well. Now back to work.

Surge and Paint
Since our last column two important events have been marked in Iraq—the 3000th U.S. death and the lynching of Saddam Hussein. After turning a once despised dictator in to a heroic martyr, pouring gasoline on the flames of sectarian warfare, President Bush appears to be staking out a “middle ground” of sorts. Today’s papers report that he will announce a “surge” of 20,000 additional combat troops, mainly headed for Baghdad, along with a request for a billion dollar “jobs” program for Iraqis—putting them to work sweeping streets and painting public buildings.

Some hawks, such as Senators McCain and Lieberman, say this is far too little too late. They are convinced victory is within grasp if tens of thousands of more troops are sent.

Most commanders in combat zones opposed any additional forces. Those nay-sayers have now been replaced by Bush with more compliant brass. Even the new yes men are counseling that coming up with 20,000 will be a stretch. In a frantic search for warm bodies the Pentagon started mailing re-enlistment appeals to recently discharged combat veterans. Included were 75 who had died in battle and over 200 with permanent disabilities from combat wounds.

The new Democrat congressional leadership sent a message to Bush chiding him for moving in the wrong direction. They called on him to begin to redeploy troops starting in four to six months. Like the Bob Dylan song there seems no direction home.

US Labor Against the War has an online petition to congress reminding them in no uncertain terms about their mandate from voters. It calls for:

Vote FOR immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq
Vote AGAINST any funds for military activities of any kind in Iraq, except for the safe withdrawal of all our military forces
Vote FOR full veterans benefits, including adequate health care and other support for returning troops, veterans and their families
Vote FOR reconstruction aid so that Iraqis, under their own direction and control, can rebuild their nation devastated by occupation and war
Vote to redirect our tax dollars to meet human needs at home and abroad.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Global Warming Doesn’t Make 100 Hours Cut
Every change in congressional leadership has their own gimmick. Newt Gingrich unveiled a Contract With America. Nancy Pelosi promises to change our lives in the first 100 Hours of her regime.

Congressional ethics has been advanced as a top priority. Undoubtedly this was a hot topic among diners at a thousand dollar a plate dinner for the newly installed Democrats attended by every major lobbyist in the western world plus a few from the east as well.

New announcements by stem cell researchers that post-birth leftovers may be even more suitable than fetus material may avert an expected showdown with the religious right over that issue.

The congressional donkeys have promised a law to require the government to negotiate Medicare prescription costs with drug makers—currently banned. However, they have pulled a powerful punch by forbidding any threat to remove drugs from the approved formulary—a bargaining tactic effectively used by HMOs and even the VA.

The promised legislation with the greatest immediate impact for millions of workers is a long overdue hike in the minimum wage. Soon the poorest workers may be back up to the poverty level they enjoyed during the Clinton years.

As USA Today noted, last year the Republicans gave big tax breaks to the oil companies and called that an energy policy. Now the Democrats will move to take back those tax give-aways–and they will call that an energy policy. That is as close as the new congress is coming to the environmental crisis in the first 100 Hours.

Apparently the fact that the cherry trees are blossoming, and flowers are blooming in January in the nation’s capital has not caused the new leadership to consider that maybe there is something to their old friend Al Gore’s message about Global Warming.

As with most vital questions, any progress toward slowing down the current destruction of our environment by market forces will have to be “launched from below.” A good example is being set by a Labor and Sustainability Conference coming up in St Paul January 19-20. I’ll have more to say about this event next week.

She’s Short and Sweet
Rose Ann DeMoro, Executive Director of the California Nurses Association, cuts through all the shrinking doughnut holes, HSAs and other nonsense about health care being debated in the new congress with a concise article, The slippery slope of market-based medicine. It’s well worth a read and a pass along to others.

Copper Goes to the Brass
Chile’s “Socialist” president, Michelle Bachelet, was elected last year on the promise of an “equality agenda,” much anticipated by workers still trying to recover from a long dictatorship that suppressed trade unions and even mild mannered leftists such as Bachelet. But now comrade Bachelet is facing a crisis. Unlike most Latin American countries her problem is not a fiscal deficit but a huge gain in revenue from copper exports. It seems the Chinese can’t buy enough of the stuff.

Students, known as the penguins because of their uniforms, are being particularly demanding for adequate funding of the long neglected educational system. They have staged massive demonstrations, often broken up by police water-cannon in scenes reminiscent of the Pinochet days. Workers would also like to see some copper money come their way in improved social services.

But Paulina Veloso, Ms. Bachelet’s chief of staff, insists the copper riches are a temporary windfall and “you can’t spend a fortuitous bonanza the way you can permanent income.”Chile must apply the unanticipated revenue only “in an ethically and economically sound manner,” says Veloso.

So far the only major bump in spending has been for the military—10 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter planes, eight frigates, and two submarines from the U.S. and 118 Leopard IIA4 tanks from Germany, totaling 2.8 billion U.S. dollars. You can hardly get more ethical or economically sound than that.

Army Yields Beachhead
Though managed by a private company the U.S. Army owns the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii. Last April hotel workers voted to be represented by UNITE-HERE Local 5. Since then, management has refused workplace entry to union representatives. When union reps attempted to leaflet employees on the side walk they were threatened with arrest and physical attack by Army security. The union sued the Army and won an important free speech victory when a judge granted them the right to mobilize up to 100 supporters at a time in the public access to the hotel. The brass were even ordered to pay the union’s legal fees. Thanks to John Woodruff for passing along this story.

That’s all for this week.


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