Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 6, 2012

The Pushers Get Shoved
In a better world, there would be no need for charities to take care of the most basic needs such as food, shelter, and health care of those who cannot afford to pay market price for them. These lifelines would instead be guaranteed for all by society as a whole. That is in fact done to a large extent even in some industrialized countries today.

In the USA the Establishment prefers the charity route, reckoning this keeps the indigent dependent rather than rebellious. In this era of corporate sponsorships they have also mastered the art of brand association with images of fighting hunger and disease. Nearly all of this exploitation of others misfortune is also tax-deductible.

The American Red Cross has always been a semi-official charity, overseen mainly by retired politicians, corporate CEOs and military brass. They are dedicated first and foremost to providing rewarding careers to their own bureaucracy while awarding contracts for relief efforts to those who will gratefully remember them.

Others start out better intentioned, hoping to focus attention and resources on neglected areas. One of these is breast cancer, a major killer of mainly, though not exclusively, women who could otherwise expect long years of quality life. The brand behind the now ubiquitous pink ribbons–appearing on products ranging from yogurt containers to bank credit cards as well as the logo of the Runs for the Cure–is the Susan G Komen For the Cure, founded in 1982 by the sister of a breast cancer fatality.

Komen, as it is known, raises a fair amount of money–400 million dollars in the last available annual report. About twenty percent went for administration and fund raising–equal to the amount granted to breast cancer research projects. Most of the rest purportedly went to promoting public awareness and supporting universal screening of women for the earliest possible detection. A small part of this–680,000 dollars–last year went to 19 Planned Parenthood community clinics to help pay for clinical breast exams, and where indicated, mammogram referrals, for 170,000 poor women patients.

Last year the Komen management hired Karen Handel as their new vice-president for public policy. Handel had recently lost a bid to be Governor of Georgia after conducting a campaign that centered on attacking women’s right to choose birth control in general and Planned Parenthood in particular. Soon after her arrival new guidelines for Komen grants were developed that bars funding to any group “under investigation” by the government. Since theocratic misogynist politicians are always conducting bogus “investigations” of Planned Parenthood this made them verboten.

This coup set off an internal firestorm within Komen that led to the resignation, among others, of Komen’s director of community health programs and bitter denunciation by hard working volunteers on the ground in communities.

But that was nothing compared to the public reaction when the news broke Tuesday. Outrage was expressed in countless e-mail protests, online petitions and social networking postings. By Thursday, more than a million dollars had already poured in to Planned Parenthood, about half from 6,000 small donations.

By the weekend Komen tentatively backed down, saying they “apologize to the American public for recent decisions” and that they “will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants.” They also pledged to “make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

Perhaps the anti-choice cabal that at least temporarily seized control of Komen–and severely tarnished a respected name–had drunk too much of their own Kool-Aid while watching the televised debates and diner banter of Republican presidential contenders. If you just followed this rhetoric that dominates political reporting in America today you would conclude there was consensus in our country that Big Government should determine what’s allowed in our bedrooms.

But the pushers got a surprise. Regardless of personal religious beliefs, a solid majority still supports a woman’s right to govern her own body and this majority shoved back–hard. If Komen does not continue to pull back from doing the dirty work of ruthless religious extremists they will become just as marginalized as the cracked tea pots.

Those of us who participated in the rapid response to the attack on Planned Parenthood have a right to feel proud of this symbolic victory that is also a substantial one for tens of thousands of poor women. But we can’t lose sight of the reminder that the health care “reform” scam peddled by the Democrats and most union leaders has done little to improve the health of working people–whether they be too poor to pay for adequate care or are being made poor by buying the commodity of access to medical treatment. We need social solidarity, not charity.

I look forward to the day when Planned Parenthood clinics, along with all other medical, dental, and pharmacy services, are incorporated in to a single-payer health care system--open to all, with no premiums, copays, deductibles or “doughnut holes.” It’s a delivery system that would be paid for not by tributes to an insurance company gatekeeper, or corporate sponsors, but by taxes and fees weighing heaviest on the rich.

But, of course, that’s not where we are headed at the present. One of the reasons the mainstream media bring us all the lurid details about the over the top pronouncements of the opposition party is to fill us with such shock and fear that we will overlook the objectives of the present administration and mobilize to defeat Romney at all costs.

Part of those costs will be enabling President Obama to drive through the completion of privatization of Medicare and Medicaid serving the most vulnerable, complementing the mandate that nearly everyone else will soon have to buy private health insurance.

This is a bigger overall long-run threat to the health of the nation than breast cancer, smoking, or obesity. Medical science can’t help us on this one. The cure depends on launching a party of our own that can bring us a government serving the interests of the working class majority.

Leaving No Butterfly Behind, Caterpillar Crawls Out Of Canada
General Motors opened the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario in 1960 to build locomotives and at times buses and earthmovers. In 2008, Caterpillar’s Progress Rail subsidiary took it over. On New Year’s Day this year Caterpillar locked out CAW-organized workers there after they had rejected a final offer that included pay cuts of fifty percent, freezing of pension benefits and numerous changes in classifications and work rules. On Friday, the company announced the plant closing was permanent.

Progress Rail management said the death sentence was necessary because “The cost structure of the operation was not sustainable and efforts to negotiate a new, competitive collective agreement were not successful.”

Peoria-based Caterpillar can hardly plead poverty. A few days earlier Cat announced it had a record-high profit of nearly 5 billion U.S. dollars last year--up 83 per cent from 2010. Since construction remained depressed in the USA last year it is reasonable to assume rail production was important to this record profit.

The Ontario workers were not competing against cheap labor in Mexico or China. It has long been rumored their work will be transferred to a new Progress Rail plant in Muncie, Indiana. This expectation was bolstered by a company Jobs Fair in Muncie and Governor Mitch Daniels signing of the state’s finally passed “Right-to-Work” law banning union shop agreements.

But the saddest fact is that even without this new obstacle to union organizing Cat plants already under UAW contract essentially have the same pay, benefit, and working conditions the CAW workers rejected. That was the competition that they could not beat.

In Brief...
¶ The so-called “troika” of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank squeezing the last drop out of destitute Greece is ratcheting up “austerity” demands to include a 25 percent cut in private sector wages.

¶ Latest reports from the Port of Longview, Washington indicate Bunge’s new EGT terminal has recognized ILWU bargaining rights for the facility and are negotiating contract terms.
Bloomberg reported, “The United Steelworkers union and Royal Dutch Shell Plc averted a potential strike that would have idled as many as 69 refineries by tentatively agreeing to a new three-year contract. The proposal includes pay increases of 2.5 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second and third years, along with some of the improvements in safety language sought by the union, according to three labor representatives with direct knowledge of the negotiations.” Shell represented the companies covered under the national contract.
¶ As usual, Steve Early had perceptive comments in a
Labor Notes article about the solidarity of thousands of members of three unions engaging in a one-day strike at Kaiser–and a fourth one who didn’t.
¶ A couple of days before the optimistic employment report, a Reuters story began, “AMR Corp, the parent of bankrupt American Airlines, wants to slash 13,000 jobs and terminate employee pension plans as part of a cost-cutting strategy the carrier says is necessary to compete with rivals.”
¶ From the New York Times, “Belgium was paralyzed by a national strike [last] Monday as unions, angry over austerity measures, timed the protest to coincide with a one-day meeting of European Union leaders here in the capital. The rail network was shut down and flights were severely disrupted, with the airport at Charleroi, a hub for the low-cost carrier Ryanair, closed by the first general strike in Belgium since 1993.”

That’s all for this week.

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