Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 3, 2008

An Issue That Won’t Go Away–And Neither Should We
News this past week was not good for either those claiming success of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--or those “antiwar” candidates hoping to duck the issue.

* After months of declining casualties among GIs in Iraq there has been a sharp up-tick since the first of the year.

* Last year 121 active duty soldiers committed suicide and more than 2,000 others made unsuccessful attempts. The suicide rate among GIs has essentially doubled since the launching of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and is the highest since the Pentagon started keeping such records.

* A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows one in six GIs returning from Iraq had suffered at least one concussion, greatly heightening the chance of them developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bad as this news for Americans was there was even worse for Iraqis.

After all those pictures of Iraqis happily strolling through markets and gathering to eat ice cream, the horrible bombings at the Baghdad pet markets remind all that there is no safe place in Iraq.

A household survey by one of Britain’s leading polling organizations concluded that Iraqi war related deaths in 15 of 18 provinces totaled, allowing for statistical errors, between 946,258 to 1.12 million as of September 2007. The provinces they were not permitted to survey include Kerbala and Anbar–among the bloodiest.

In compliance with World Bank demands, the Baghdad government announced it was ending food subsidies for Iraq’s unemployed–forty percent of the population.

Two reports released last week show things are no better in the even longer war in Afghanistan. “Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan,” said Marine General James L. Jones (ret), the NATO Supreme Commander in that country until September 2006. Violence has risen 27 percent in Afghanistan in the past year. Suicide bombings rose to 140 in 2007, compared with five between 2001 and 2005. U.S. and other foreign troop losses--as well as Afghan civilian casualties--reached the highest level since the U.S.-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government in 2001. The Pentagon is shipping another 3200 Marines there while the Canadian and German governments are coming under political fire at home for their participation in this carnage.

And, just to top things off, there was a report by a congressional commission concluding that, largely because of unanticipated overuse in the two wars, the National Guard and reserve forces remain inadequately equipped and unprepared to deal with a wide range of domestic disasters.

All of these developments are sure to strengthen the big majority sentiment against war. How are the remaining major party presidential contenders responding? A fresh check of official campaign web sites confirms all continue to support the war in Afghanistan.

The two Democrats left standing have not altered their positions on Iraq–Clinton is for phased redeployment while Obama favors phased withdrawal. Each of their similar plans would guarantee combat operations well in to 2010, leaving the door open for occupation continuing beyond.

Only the loony-right Republican congressman from Texas, Dr Ron Paul, actually voted against the Iraq war authorization and spending bills and calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. He is hardly a dove, however. “We must return our focus to finding bin Laden,” declares the doctor whose main criticism of the Afghanistan war is the distraction of “nation building.”

Clearly the urgent life and death questions of these wars are not being seriously addressed by candidates nor is there any way for majority antiwar sentiment to be expressed through the internal process of the two Establishment parties.

Last December over 1200 delegates from 43 countries–including Iraq–gathered in London for a World Against War Conference. They voted unanimously to call on antiwar movements in every country to mobilize mass protests against the war, during the week of March 15-22, to demand that foreign troops be withdrawn immediately. Experience has shown that when European, Japanese, and Australian organizations speak of mass they are talking in terms of hundreds of thousands being mobilized in the streets.

There were many Americans present at the London gathering–but no such mass actions are being planned in the homeland of the principal invader/occupier. This default of the presently constituted peace movement has led to some serious discussions about how to rebuild a broad antiwar movement with the out now, mass action perspective projected by the London conference. It’s too late to accomplish that by March--but it will never be realized if we don’t start.

Discussions so far have focused on reviving a successful tradition of past mass movements around the Vietnam war in the Sixties and Seventies, and U.S. intervention in Central America in the Eighties–an open, inclusive, democratic decision-making conference, based on one vote for each activist, to plan future mass action.

I expect an official call for such a conference will be issued soon. When it comes out, it will be promptly posted on the kclabor.org site and discussed further in this column.

No Return Victory Trip For Chairman Andy
In our December 23 WIR we reported on SEIU president Andy Stern’s joint appearance with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat assembly leader Fabian Nuñez, at a press conference celebrating the passage of a bill by the California assembly requiring all Californians to buy marketplace health insurance. Stern was rewarded for giving labor cover to this deal enriching the healthcare robber barons.

We said then “But the victory is incomplete. The deal still has to clear the California Senate. And Arnold, Fabian, and Andy still have to run a gauntlet of CNA, and their fired-up labor and community allies, before they can spend their winnings of the workers’ money.” Last week we wrote about a powerful labor coalition that had pulled together to blast the bill as it came to a key senate committee vote. This week the bill failed to get out of committee and is now dead.

Hats off once more to the California Nurses Association who played a crucial role in beating this give away bill–and removing the smirks from this odd trio’s photogenic faces.

Green Prosperity
The headline, 'Green collar' jobs seen as prosperous, caught my attention and the first sentence sounded promising,

“When 1,800 workers lost their jobs after a Maytag appliance factory and headquarters closed last year in the small town of Newton, Iowa, a wind turbine blade company saw opportunity — an available, skilled workforce in the middle of one of America's hardiest wind energy production regions.”

The company, TPI Composites Inc, used to build boats. In 2001 they recognized there was good growth opportunity in wind power and they converted their mission to making wind turbines. Caring deeply about workers, CEO Steve Lockard said their goal was, “to transform the workforce away from the Maytag-type jobs of the past into jobs that can withstand the test of time going forward.”

But it seems TPI has a couple of requirements before they start saving the environment and providing philanthropy to the proletariat: substantial subsidies and tax breaks and–low wages. The average wage at Maytag when Whirlpool bought the plant and shut it down was 22.50 per hour. The beneficent Mr Lockhard wants to pay them 12.50. Time may go forward but wages would go backward about 25 years.

Half pay jobs don’t represent prosperity of any color. We need green collar jobs both for our environment and to help workers feed their families. There’s no reason why these socially essential jobs should require big cuts in living standards.

The net profit of Exxon Mobil last year could have supported 80,000 workers earning 50,000 dollars. If we nationalized such oil company giants, along with their coal, natural gas, and electric utility cousins, we could not only take control of how energy is produced and used but also use them to help fund new green collar jobs as we convert to a more sustainable economy.

In my opinion, these are the kind of questions the labor and environmental movements are going to have to start dealing with if we are serious about sustainability.

What’s the Matter With Kansas?–It Needs To Be Organized
The affiliate unions of the Wichita/Hutchinson Labor Federation of Central Kansas, AFL-CIO, will be hosting its second one-day Organizing Conference on Thursday, February 7, 2008, in Wichita, Kansas. The conference will be held at the Best Western Airport Inn & Conference Center, 6815 W. Kellogg, Wichita, KS 67209.

Speakers will include Stewart Acuff, AFL-CIO director of organizing and labor attorney Steve Boyda.

For more information click here.

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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