Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 19, 2006

Transit Moves Iranian Workers
As noted by ATU Local 689, Teheran and the Big Apple share something in common. Both cities have recently made headlines with "illegal" transit strikes. Despite their cultural differences, you can bet the MTA board and the Islamic Shora at the UBCTS (Teheran’s transit bus service) have tried to learn lessons from each other in order to suppress uppity transit workers.

While the Bush administration tries to conjure up a bogus WMD threat from Iran, and while Iran’s Islamic government summons the masses into the streets to denounce cartoons, Iran’s workers are beginning to assert themselves once again in the real world of class struggle. Both Bush and Ahmadinejad undoubtedly feel threatened by this specter rising from the tomb of suppression.

A grave for Iran’s unions was first dug by a U.S. sponsored coup, engineered by the Dulles brothers who headed the State Department and CIA under Ike, that installed a puppet Shah in 1953. A once thriving worker movement was driven underground for a generation.

Eventually they regrouped and in 1979 resurgent unions, along with students and new workplace shoras, toppled the Peacock Throne and sent the Shah fleeing for his life. But a theocracy, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, was able to gain control and converted the unions and shoras from fighting organizations of working people into Islamic organizations under direction of their religious hierarchy. Their appointed bureaucrats, known as Hezbollhai, ruthlessly purged worker militants and worked hand-in-glove with both workplace management and the state.

The same conditions of exploitation on the job, and lack of democratic rights, that inspired the 1979 revolution has energized still yet again a new working class movement based on trade unions. The UBCTS workers have been in the vanguard of this rebirth–and they have met harsh repression.

This past week there were massive coordinated protests by the labor movement around the world in solidarity with the Teheran transit workers. You can learn much about this campaign by clicking here. An excellent article putting this new development into historical perspective–Tehran bus drivers strike marks revival of the Iranian labor movement, by Kamran Mayeri and Yadullah Khosroshadi–appears in the February print edition of Socialist Action (so far not yet available online.)

Some have expressed concern that support of the Iranian union struggles may play into Bush’s hands as he tries to foment sanctions and threats of invasion–using the same script as he did with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. They point to the active role of the AFL-CIO so-called "Solidarity Center," which take both money and political direction from the Bush administration.

Of course, there will be attempts by Bush stooges in the labor movement to cynically use Iran’s current ruler’s repression of unions to whip up anti-Iran sentiment. But we shouldn’t abandon the courageous Iranian workers to spite two-bit propagandists. I believe it is the duty of every American worker to both show solidarity with the Iranian labor movement and denounce Bush’s sanctions and threats against the Iranian people.

Work Ethic Revisited
An enduring bit of bigotry where I grew up was that Mexicans are, by nature, lazy. They were frequently pictured sleeping under the workday sun, propped up against a tree, with a king-size sombrero rakishly positioned to cover their face. But this is America, by golly, and prejudices fade–or at least shift.

Charlie Bearse, the president of Sidney Coal in Coal Run, Kentucky, wants to relax the English only policy in that state’s underground coal mines. This operator has become an unlikely proponent of Latino rights because, according to The New York Times, "‘It is common knowledge that the work ethic of the Eastern Kentucky worker has declined from where it once was,’ Mr. Bearse wrote to the state mining board. Bad attitudes and drug abuse, he argued, were affecting attendance ‘and, ultimately, productivity.’"

Taking care not to associate himself with Mr Bearse’s slight of the locals, Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, chimed in to support recruitment of Spanish speaking immigrants to an area where Latinos presently make up less than one percent of the population. "A generation of layoffs and migration has left a suddenly booming industry with a shortage of experienced miners. Labor officials put that deficit at more than 6,000 miners in West Virginia and Kentucky. ‘For all kinds of reasons, the labor pool is smaller,’"

United Mine Workers organizer Tim Miller didn’t offer any comments about the work ethic of various ethnic groups but he did dismiss the claim of a labor shortage as "the biggest farce out there right now." Miller pointed out there are 1400 UMWA miners on lay off status, ready to go to work when recalled. In the past two years, Kentucky has issued nearly 13,000 work permits for inexperienced miners. In a recent week, state labor officials counted 7,187 people actively seeking coal mining work, 5,390 of whom claimed prior mining experience.

Miller explains his take on the newly found enthusiasm for Latino miners, " They want people who don't have the ability to protect themselves. If they can flood the market with Hispanic workers, if they can get away with paying a guy $8 an hour, the next guy will be willing to work for $7."

Meanwhile, another coal miner was killed on the job. William Junior Miller, 35, was crushed by an underground locomotive in the Mettiki coal mine in Garrett County, Maryland.

Non-Negotiable Demand
This week the Laborers and Operating Engineers, representing over a million workers, bolted the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department. They will join with the carpenters, the bricklayers, the iron workers and the Teamsters--Change to Win affiliates–to form a new National Construction Alliance.

According to The New York Times, the two splitting unions had threatened to quit the building trades department unless four demands were met: replacing the department's leaders; trimming its budget; having a voting system of one worker, one vote; and updating a system several decades old for determining which unions are to have jurisdiction over which types of work.

Sean McGarvey, secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Department, told the Times his group "had gone far to satisfy Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Giblin on all but one demand: replacing the leaders of the building trades department." Glad to see somebody sticking to their principle.

KC Labor Party To Meet Next Sunday
Annual election of officers will be part of the agenda for a meeting of the Kansas City Area Labor Party next Sunday, February 26, at Noon. The gathering will take place at 2113 Erie, North Kansas City. Mary Erio will be serving her famous pasta fazool for lunch. Also included in the agenda will be a report on how to support the party’s first electoral campaign in South Carolina, including fund raising; organizing students and young workers; and planning a monthly forum series to present the Labor Party’s stand on the issues of the day to the public. Only paid-up party members can vote but others interested in finding out more about the Labor Party are welcome to attend as observers. Call 816-753-1672 or 816-221-3638 for more information.

As usual, much of the material in this column is based on stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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