Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 22, 2010

Where to begin? That recurring question seems to get more challenging with each Week In Review. Do we focus on the really big stuff–war, climate change, the crisis of global capitalism? Plenty available there this week. Or the hot domestic issues in the USA–health care, education, housing, the threatened collapse of state and municipal governments? Just the headlines of stories we posted on the Daily Labor News Digest in this category last week would fill our allotted space. And then there are the smaller battles of local unions in the U.S. and abroad where the struggles between Them and Us are so often exposed in their most dramatic brutality. As usual, I settle on a sampler of arbitrary choices.

Sort Of Good News First
After the NLRB agreed to issue a number of Unfair Labor Practice Complaints based on charges filed by UE Local 274, Lamson & Goodnow Manufacturing in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts ended a lockout of its workers that had begun in early December. The current owner of the old, established maker of high-end cutlery has been out to break the union for the past decade but has been stymied by the UE workers at every turn so far. Now the workers are back on the job and taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the company’s stance as bargaining resumes.

The long battle of UE workers at Quad City Die Casting appears to be over with a partial victory. Parallels were drawn with the famous fight at Republic Windows. Like Republic, QCDC was essentially forced out of business after a cut off of credit line by a bailed-out bank–in this case Wells-Fargo. Unlike Republic, the union was unable to find a buyer to keep the plant open. An agreement announced last week did secure 127,000 dollars to pay 2009 vacation entitlement and reimburse medical expenses resulting from an unannounced termination of health insurance.

They Weren’t Hungry For This News
Brian Williams and most of the NBC Nightly News ensemble have been getting a break from Haiti’s disaster by hanging out in Vancouver for going on a fortnight. They are there, of course, not so much to promote the Winter Olympics as to shamelessly shill for their GE-owned network’s exclusive U.S. coverage rights for the events. Since they all arrived at Vancouver’s airport it’s strange they didn’t note this CBC story forwarded by my Vancouver bus driver friend Rod,

“A strike by about 300 workers at Vancouver International Airport has shut down 16 restaurants at the terminal during one of the busiest periods in the airport's history... The strike by Local 40 of Unite Here has shutdown outlets run by HMS Host, a U.S.-based multinational food-service contractor....’Host workers are prepared to strike indefinitely if there isn't movement on the job security issue,’union spokeswoman Lynn Flandera said.”

Why Damage Became Collateral
This past week there were various protests marking the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Allied firestorm bombing of Dresden, Germany in the final European phase of World War II. The once picturesque Baroque city of little strategic importance was largely burned to the ground. Historians disagree about the number of civilians who died in this attack but it was certainly in the tens of thousands.

The Dresden attack became widely known only years later primarily because of a prisoner of war who witnessed it--Kurt Vonnegut, who used this experience as the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five. The technique of creating massive firestorms was perfected two years prior to Dresden in the city where my grandfather was born and raised–Hamburg. But its most devastating use was against Tokyo whose extensive wood frame residential structures made it particularly vulnerable. One raid alone killed nearly 100,000 and leveled close to half of the Japanese capital.

By the end of that war seventy million had perished–the majority noncombatants. Strategic bombing was misnamed. It was difficult to pin point factories and depots. Instead they killed the workers and destroyed the basic infrastructure of cities. Nobody ever said they were sorry. The comic books kids of my generation grew up with glorified incineration of “Krauts” and “Japs.”

But those were days of conventional wars between great military powers. The use of atomic bombs by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the subsequent development of such weapons by the Soviet Union, made the prospects for a World War III sequel unappealing to all sides.

Of course, this has not led to peace. Instead new, sophisticated military doctrines, used in conjunction with diplomatic and intelligence operations, have been employed by great powers. We’ve seen more engineered coups, wars by proxy, low intensity warfare. In cases where corporate interests still require direct military intervention against problem governments and insurgencies great care is used to present this as a “liberation,” not occupation.

As President Obama reasserts his ownership of the war in Afghanistan, we are told while the Marines kick Taliban butt others will help the Afghan regime set up proper provincial governments that will win the hearts and minds of residents with food, housing, schools, and sanitation.

Killing those being “liberated” diminishes the effectiveness of this strategy. While relentlessly killing and capturing the Taliban enemy the U.S.-led NATO occupation forces are also tasked with avoiding the warspeak of “collateral damage.”

This attempt to split the focus of those on the ground and in the air isn’t working very well–and it never will for two reasons. First, in the heat of intense firefights even “friendlies”–one’s own comrades–sometimes are inadvertently killed. Identifying and avoiding noncombatants in such conditions will be a low priority–no matter what the mission statement.

Secondly, even more of a challenge is that Afghanistan has many similarities to what the British have historically faced in confronting the Catholic residents of occupied Ireland. Only a small minority ever joined the IRA and many disapproved of Republican tactics--just as most Afghans are leery of the Taliban. But in both cases noncombatants find their own ways of resisting the foreign occupiers, even in some cases shielding the armed fighters. The distinction between good guys and bad becomes hopelessly blurred. Unlike after Dresden and Hiroshima, the U.S. military today often says it’s sorry for civilian victims. Most Afghans see this as crocodile–or maybe Tiger Wood--tears.

There is no humane way to fight war and avoid hurting innocents. Working people, in and out of uniform, are always the chief victims. An old friend in the Twin Cities recently sent me a 2010 pocket calendar from MayDay Books in Minneapolis. As a reminder, embossed on the front cover are the words of the great Gene Debs, “No War But the Class War.”

Certainly apology by the government that speaks in our name is in order–for the invasion and eight year occupation of Afghanistan that has led to so much bloodshed and destruction–and threatens much more. But sorry needs to be accompanied by goodbye–withdrawal of all the U.S.-led occupation forces as quickly as they can board planes. And, reparations for the mess left behind would also be appropriate.

Another Superintendent With Fire
When the Central Falls (Rhode Island) Teachers’ Union rejected a demand to put in more work time with no increase in pay Superintendent Frances Gallo fired the entire staff of Central Falls High School--100 teachers, administrators and assistants. Gallo claims to have the legal authority for the mass firings from guidelines established for “underperforming” schools by the state education commissioner but the union is challenging this.

We’ll have more to say next time about the “rightsizing” of the Kansas City school district, and other education challenges.

Don’t Let the Door Hit You
Two months after the “historic” Copenhagen Climate Summit Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has announced his resignation to take a job with the accounting and consulting firm KPMG.

This is not really so surprising. de Boer is not one of the dedicated scientists working for the UN on global warming. He holds a degree in social work and has served in various governmental bureaucratic posts in Holland as well as with the UN. His early jobs concerned housing and the climate change appointment was just another gig. Now, like many government regulators before him, he is moving on to advise corporate interests.

de Boer, who helped delegates to “take note” of the Obama/China backroom deal in Denmark said,

“Copenhagen did not provide us with a clear agreement in legal terms, but the political commitment and sense of direction toward a low-emissions world are overwhelming. This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen”

As a matter of fact, smelling blood in the water after the Copenhagen fiasco, and the pumped up “scandal” in climate research, the corporate sharks are shedding their porpoise disguise. BP, Conoco-Phillips, and Caterpillar have dropped out of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership where they had briefly allowed environmentalists to rub their shoulders. Last week the National Association of Manufacturers, along with the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Home Builders and the Corn Refiners Association, filed a suit to block the EPA from establishing any regulation of greenhouse gases.

Most of the corporate leaders and apologists are not as stupid as they think we are. They know full well they are steadily destroying our biosphere. Nor are they simply evil. They are what they are–capitalists out to make a profit. And the profits of destruction are huge.

A study by one of KMPG’s consultancy competitors, Trucost, commissioned by two UN agencies, pegs the annual cost of environmental destruction for profit by the world’s 3,000 largest companies to be 2.2 trillion U.S. dollars. There are only seven countries that have Gross National Products bigger than this. So you better believe that the captains of industry and commerce will fight to our last gasp of air to preserve their theft from future generations.

A Cornell economist, Robert H Frank, is not impressed with the polluter’s arguments that some miscalculations by UN scientists prove the threat of global warming is a job-killing false alarm. In a New York Times opinion piece he cites projections from the stolid MIT,

“According to recent estimates from the Integrated Global Systems Model at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the median forecast is for a climb of 9 degrees Fahrenheit by century’s end, in the absence of effective countermeasures. That forecast, however, may underestimate the increase. According to the same M.I.T. model, there is a 10 percent chance that the average global temperature will rise more than 12.4 degrees by 2100, and a 3 percent chance it will climb more than 14.4 degrees. Warming on that scale would be truly catastrophic.”

Being an economist, Frank can think of nothing else to do except to impose a carbon tax. Merely a worker, I can think of nothing else but to use our right of emergency eminent domain to take charge of production and build a peaceful, sustainable, full employment economy.

Nuke Notes
According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission up to 217 workers may have been exposed to nuclear radiation at a Bruce nuclear power plant near Owen Sound, Ont.

And, once more on Vermont Yankee, AP reports,

“Two environmental groups on Friday asked the U.S. Justice Department to launch a criminal probe of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant officials, saying they had provided false information under oath and operated the plant with ‘careless disregard’ of the potential for leaking radioactive substances.

“Conservation Law Foundation, a New England-wide environmental group, and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group took aim at Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee and Entergy Nuclear Operations, two subsidiaries of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. that operate the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon.

“In a letter sent to the Justice Department, the groups accused the company of ‘providing false information under oath, and operating the Vermont Yankee facility with careless disregard that has led to contamination of ground and surface waters with radiologic substances.’ The letter was signed by CLF Vermont Director Christopher Kilian and VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns.”

Better stop here.

That’s all for this week.

Coming Events...
Labor Campaign for Single-Payer National Conference
National Labor College, Silver Spring, MD, March 5-7

Tenth Anniversary Of kclabor.org
North Kansas City Library, March 21

Labor Notes Conference
Detroit, April 23-25

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