Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 6, 2011
What Color On the Nile?
Over the past twenty years the media has adopted the practice of using color or texture to name revolutions. There’s been velvet, orange, blue and jasmine to name a few. They first named mass protests in Iran a couple of years ago green revolution but actually Colonel Gaddafi had already used that designation when he took power in Libya in 1969and even wrote a Little Green Book. Any color is fine–except, of course, red. Many of these popular uprisings succeeded in bringing down hated tyrants. But in most cases regime change did not lead to significant improvements for working people and in some their condition became even worse.
The revolution in Egypt now faces a crucial juncture. The courageous “protesters” in Cairo’s Liberation Square held their own against thugs sent by Mubarak–some looking eerily like Russian Cossacks riding horses or camels, wielding sabers. At the same time they neutralized, at least for the time being, the army. But for the revolution to stay on track of being in the interests of the long suffering working class majority will require spontaneous bravery to be supplemented by democratic mass organization. The key component in building not just protest but an alternative to the whole rotten regime is the lively union movement that has asserted itself against repression over the past few years.
This won’t be easy because the main opponent of the revolution is not Mubarak–it’s the government that speaks in our name and spends our tax money. Starting in the Carter administration, the U.S. has crafted the police state to which Mubarak today clings. Virtually every officer in the military caste that directs a massive conscript army was trained along side American brass hats in U.S. academies and Washington provides their upkeep to the tune of more than a billion dollars a year.
As this is written, there are early reports of U.S.-brokered talks starting between the Egyptian government and the “opposition.” The only identified opposition group with any significant following so far invited is the Muslim Brotherhood. Nothing good for Egyptian workers is likely to come from a “transition” regime subordinate to the army and the Brotherhood.
Unionists in North America should show our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Egyptian labor movement by joining in protests already underway by the Egyptian communities and peace groups in the USA and Canada. They demand Washington and Ottawa keep their Hands Off Egypt!
Still Number One–Where Are the Jobs?
There’s been a lot of nonsense written over the years about the “deindustrialization” of the United States. AP economics writer Paul Wiseman sets the record straight,
“U.S. factories are closing. American manufacturing jobs are reappearing overseas. China's industrial might is growing each year. ...Yet America remains by far the No. 1 manufacturing country. It out-produces No. 2 China by more than 40 percent. U.S. manufacturers cranked out nearly $1.7 trillion in goods in 2009, according to the United Nations.”
Keep in mind 2009 was the Great Recession shock year when GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, shutting down completely for weeks and then permanently closing a number of plants. Today their production is booming. Dianne Stafford said in the Kansas City Star,
“Last year, for the second year in a row, U.S. companies got more work out of their employees while spending less on overall labor costs. A two-year decline in labor costs hasn’t happened since 1962 and 1963.”
As we have noted on numerous occasions, while offshoring of U.S. manufacturing has been substantial the threat of offshoring to obtain give-backs from workers has been far more devastating. Auto is a telling example. In 1979 the UAW had about 1.5 million members. Today they have dropped below 400,000. Moving jobs to Mexico, combined with the departure of Canadian locals to form the CAW, amounted to perhaps 300-400 thousand of the more than one million lost members. What happened to the rest?
Much of the parts production was outsourced domestically. There was tremendous technological change in the assembly plants. And there was steady incremental chipping away at rules governing working conditions.
American industrial workers are the most productive in the world. Fiat, now in control of Chrysler, is no longer threatening the UAW with offshoring. Instead they threatened their Italian workers with offshoring to the USA.
These same trends have been at work in all manufacturing industries and have been adapted to mining, transportation, meat packing, and even in offices and laboratories.
The call for increased competitiveness in President Obama’s State of the Union had no merit in fact. It is a ruse to squeeze even more out of those keeping us Number One and guarantees the recovery will remain jobless a lot longer.
Save the Minimum
My friend Molly Barlow, an activist in Kansas City Jobs with Justice, asked me to pass along this alert about the Missouri minimum wage,
“In 2006, 76.4% of Missourians voted to pass Proposition B to raise the minimum wage in Missouri. Attached to the bill was a Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA)- to protect our most vulnerable workers by annually raising the minimum wage with inflation.
“Every year since 2006, Missouri legislators have tried to strip our minimum wage in some way: tipped employees, the COLA, or young workers have all been targeted by the Pro-Business, Anti-Worker lobbyists.
“Now, House Bill 61 and Senate Bill 110 threaten to repeal the Minimum Wage that YOU voted for- so that when the economy recovers, our lowest paid workers will fall further behind every year.”
If you are a Missouri resident please go to this page where you can send a message to the legislature.
UE Hits FBI
The General Executive Board of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) adopted a statement in support of victims of FBI raids and Grand Jury summons that said in part,
“A growing number of trade unionists are speaking out against these attacks on civil liberties. The convention of AFSCME Council 5, representing public employees in Minnesota, passed a strong resolution comparing these raids to past attacks on the constitutional rights of labor and civil rights movements. Central labor councils in San Francisco, Duluth, San Jose, and Troy, New York have also passed resolutions condemning the raids, as have a number of local unions.
“THEREFORE, this General Executive Board of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), meeting in Pittsburgh on January 27-28, 2011, condemns these attacks on constitutional liberties.
“We call on President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately halt these grand jury proceedings; to order FBI and Justice Department personnel to return all property improperly seized in last September's FBI raids on peace activists; to order an immediate investigation into the circumstances, motivation and propriety of the judicial and police intimidation of union members and others; and to end the repression of peace, international solidarity and labor organizations and activists.
“We further call on the United States Senate to investigate post-9/11 federal surveillance of labor, peace and other legitimate organizations and movements, and the use of expansive anti-terror laws to intimidate and criminalize peaceful dissent.”
The entire resolution can be viewed here.
As the World Turns...
* Malathi Nayak writes about Bangladesh in today’s Washington Post, “By 2050, rising oceans are projected to cost the low-lying country 17 to 20 percent of its landmass. That, in turn, is expected to render at least 20 million people homeless and ruin food production of rice and wheat, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
* Reuters science writer Stuart Grudgings, “A widespread drought in the Amazon rain forest last year was worse than the ‘once-in-a-century’ dry spell in 2005 and may have a bigger impact on global warming than the United States does in a year, British and Brazilian scientists said on Thursday. More frequent severe droughts like those in 2005 and 2010 risk turning the world's largest rain forest from a sponge that absorbs carbon emissions into a source of the gases, accelerating global warming, the report found.”
* LiveScience Senior Writer Stephanie Pappas wrote, “No single weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. But as the globe warms up, Americans can expect more storms like the one bearing down on much of the United States, scientists say. That's not because the Feb. 1 storm can be linked to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels or increasing global temperature - again, such a connection is impossible to make - but, according to climatologists, an increased propensity for winter storms is exactly what you'd expect in a warming world.”
* From Global Labor Strategies with this introduction, “With the defeat of US climate legislation, the stalling of international climate negotiations, and the rise of tea party climate denialism, is climate protection doomed? This discussion paper, "Climate Protection Strategy: Beyond Business-as-Usual," presents a strategy designed to win popular support and make countries compete to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It was prepared for the Labor Network for Sustainability by Jeremy Brecher to help frame the debate on where the climate protection movement goes from here.”
Forum and Substance
Next Sunday, February 13, we will take the plunge in to the great unknown by launching the KC Labor Forum series. While everyone knows working people are in trouble it’s not easy to get folks to come to meetings. A lot can be done through the Internet, social networking, and community radio, but, in our view, there’s still no substitute for live, in person gatherings.
We are planning to have substantial presentations by a speaker, panel, or film to frame each monthly Forum topic. There will always be at least an hour set aside for discussion from the floor. It should be a good opportunity to meet new thinkers and activists as well as renewing acquaintances with the “usual suspects.”
We’ll try to make the Forums easy to remember by having them at the same time and place each month. While not written in stone forever, initially we’re going with the second Sunday of the month, 2-4 PM, Room A at the North Kansas City Community Center. There will be no admission fee but we will pass the hat to cover room rental and union printing work.
One person suggested that our new series may be confused with the similarly named Heartland Labor Forum–something that simply never occurred to us. I want to clarify: the Heartland Labor Forum is a long-running radio show on KKFI-FM, produced by the Institute for Labor Studies at UMKC. The KC Labor Forum is a live audience event sponsored by a long-running website. There is no organizational connection between the two though there is an overlap of volunteers who work on both worthy projects.
I have volunteered to kick-off the new series with a broad overview of the state of the U.S. working class today, entitled, “The Class War On Workers–And How We Can Win.” You can view a PDF of the leaflet for this meeting–and print more out if you like--by going here. I will later post the prepared text of the talk on the site.
Other speakers/panels at subsequent Forums will take up topics such as attacks on public sector workers; the education crisis; fiscal threats to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid; challenges facing transportation unions; a unified approach to solving the jobs and climate change crises; and, of course, any hot, unforeseen developments.
If you are in travel distance of North Kansas City I hope you will join us next Sunday. If you have any questions, need directions to the Community Center, or need transportation, give me a call at: 816-753-1672.
That’s all for this week.
Alliance for Class & Climate Justice
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