Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 8, 2006

Home and Now Go Together
The Iraqi election that was supposed to be a turning point in the U.S. occupation has come and gone. What have we seen?

Tens of thousands demonstrated in the streets of Iraq charging vote fraud.

After the world bankers leaned on the U.S. installed Baghdad regime to pay up the debts saddled on Saddam Hussein by the victors of the first Gulf War subsidies for gasoline had to be slashed. This led to giant price hikes and mammoth lines at filling stations. This affects not only motorists; because the electrical power grid remains unreliable many Iraqis depend on gasoline powered generators for heat and light.

Long neglected maintenance, along with frequent sabotage, has reduced Iraqi oil exports to the lowest level in living memory.

While Iraq’s economy remains in shambles because of the war and prewar sanctions Washington has announced it will spend nothing more on rebuilding projects. All the money from here on out goes to "security."

Not surprisingly this post-election mess has brought forth a resurgence of violence, last week being one of the bloodiest yet.

As the war becomes ever more unpopular here at home cynical politicians are putting forward various plans. Some call for a "phased withdrawal," which is a nice fit to what Bush and the Pentagon claim they are already doing. Others are calling for immediate withdrawal of the troops from Iraq–while "redeploying" them next door to Kuwait, ready for yet another "redeployment" back to Iraq as needed. All the plans retain the option of bombing Iraqi targets.

Since this war is morally and legally wrong; since it was based on lies; since it is pursued in the interests of Big Business against the interests of working people in both Iraq and the USA; since the peoples of Iraq will never be able to sort out their own destiny in the face of U.S. occupation/intervention; we have nothing in common with these phony phased or redeployment schemes.

When GIs are withdrawn from Iraq we want them brought home, where they belong. We want this done now.

The antiwar movement, including unprecedented labor participation, has been on the upswing. We can’t afford to get sidetracked by bogus "exit strategies."

Casualties In West Virginia Too
Iraq wasn’t the only place where the blood of American workers was shed last week–ruling class greed killed twelve men at the Sago mine as well.

The government’s preoccupation with "security" doesn’t extend to workers on the job. That’s not to say MSHA inspectors failed to do their duty. Since the beginning of 2004 they wrote up the Sago mine for 273 violations. Sixteen were labeled "unwarrantable failures," a designation generally reserved for the most serious safety infractions, or those for which the operator had previously been warned. Eighteen times inspectors on the scene courageously ordered operations suspended–only to see them restarted after the company pleaded its case higher up the MSHA management chain

Not only did the cozy relationship between mine bosses and MSHA bureaucrats scotch efforts that might have prevented the accident–they failed miserably in rescue measures as well. There was no recovery team on stand by anywhere and officials on the ground were sluggish in appealing for help. Even though Sago is a nonunion mine the United Mine Workers started assembling their respected union recovery team as soon as they heard reports on the radio and they played a key role once they arrived on the scene. All in all, it took forty hours from the time of the explosion until rescuers reached the one survivor and twelve dead miners.

Today’s Washington Post reports,

"Joseph Main, a retired UMW health and safety official, said he worried that MSHA's investigation of the Sago accident would focus only on the source of the initial explosion -- instead of seeking answers to the broader questions about mine safety.

"‘The explosion is just one piece of it,’ Main said. ‘They should investigate all the factors that led to the deaths of these men, including the failure of the safety net that was supposed to be in place. If those other questions aren't answered, we will have more Sagos in the future.’"

For more background on the Sago disaster see Andrew Pollack’s excellent The Man (and the System) behind the Mining Murders.

Wish We Could Make the Auto Show
The Detroit Auto Show at Cobo will be attracting more than car buffs this afternoon. Angry auto workers are expected in large numbers protesting concessions in their industry. They are being joined by AFSCME city workers facing layoffs resulting from auto industry cutbacks. Their literature links their fight to the recent New York transit workers strike–and calls for a universal national health care plan.

NY Transit Strike Summed Up
Some say the transit strike was an inspiring victory while others brand it a disaster. The most comprehensive and balanced assessment I’ve seen is done by veteran transit worker union activist, Marty Goodman, and our old friend, Andrew Pollack. You can read it by clicking here.

That’s all for this week.

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