Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 8, 2010

Just Transition
Saturday’s Los Angeles Times reported,

“Republican politicians and conservative activists are launching a ballot campaign to suspend California's landmark global-warming law, in what they hope will serve as a showcase for a national backlash against climate regulations.

“Supporters say they have ‘solid commitments’ of nearly $600,000 to pay signature gatherers for a November initiative aimed at delaying curbs on the greenhouse gas emissions of power plants and factories until the state's unemployment rate drops.

“GOP gubernatorial candidates and Tea Party organizers paint the 2006 law, considered a model for other state and federal efforts, as a job-killing interference in the economy. Talk radio is flailing at what John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, drive-time hosts on Los Angeles' KFI-AM (640), call ‘the global-warming final solution act’ promoted by ‘fascist, Nazi’ officials.”

Last week we talked about the problems at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. If you follow our Daily Labor News Digest you know radioactive leaks in to ground water continue and the proposed twenty year renewal of the plant’s operating permit is up for grabs. The other day I received an e-mail from my old friend Traven Leyshon, a labor and social issues multi-media activist in Vermont, with a link to an audio file of a half-hour radio show entitled Vermont Yankee : How Can We Protect Both Workers & Environment?

The guests on this program were Dan Dewalt, a Vermont worker who is campaigning for shut down of Yankee, and Les Leopold, executive director of the Labor Institute. The Institute was an initiative taken by the late Tony Mazzocchi, long time leader of the old Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers, “Founding Brother” of the Labor Party, and a pioneer in forging a worker environmental movement.

Both guests noted how, like the Tea Party crowd in California, Yankee’s owner Entergy, and Vermont’s Governor, have cynically used the workers and their unions as shock troops in their fight to keep the leaking nuke open as long as it remains profitable. The Yankee workers know there are no comparable jobs–and perhaps no jobs at all–available for them if and when the plant is decommissioned. There is some money set aside for clean up of the land after shut down--but nothing for workers.

As he did at a panel we shared with others at the last Labor Notes conference, Les Leopold gave a good overview of the concept of Just Transition. When jobs are eliminated in the interests of social needs–whether they be environmentally destructive, war industry, or health insurance robber barons–society has an obligation to take care of the workers. This means retraining and relocation, if necessary, and guaranteeing their family income until they are suitably re-employed. That’s the gist of Just Transition.

Of course, today there is little available for funding such an obligation–even just on the scale of a few hundred workers, such as employed at Yankee. Leopold does point out that some European countries have adopted positive measures–though the global Great Recession threatens many social reforms once secured in past class battles there as well. In the USA today many jobless workers have, or are about to run out of even meager unemployment “benefits.”

Les noted that only saving the financial system–that is the unconscionable ill-gotten wealth of the bankers--produced government spending levels that would be needed to fairly restructure our economy away from dependence on war and environmental destruction.

Right now workers have no choice in what goods or services we produce. Probably most would prefer to work on something that benefited society rather than supporting war or wrecking the biosphere we leave behind for our progeny. But workers must work to survive and nurture their families. If all that appears available is work in a nuclear power plant, such as Vermont Yankee, or an expanded relocated nuclear weapons plant, such as Honeywell in Kansas City, most will cling to those jobs and see the environmental and antiwar movements as their enemy.

Defending antisocial industries offers no more job security than granting bosses givebacks in wages, benefits, and work rules. Pratt & Whitney, for decades a producer of jet engines for both civil and military use, is trying to outsource or offshore more than a thousand IAM jobs in Connecticut. The union has obtained an injunction against the move, which clearly violates their contract. But, even if the judge’s order survives appeal the contract–and its job protections--expires at the end of the year. The loss of such jobs in Senator Super-Hawk Lieberman’s home state underscores the futility of supporting war and arms sales to preserve good jobs.

Why shouldn’t those of us who do all the work, and make up the great majority of society, have a say in what we produce? Shouldn’t we especially have a right to replace work aimed to kill or pollute with production that serves human and ecological needs?

Workers can and must be offered a credible alternative vision of how we can have decent jobs in a peaceful, sustainable economy. In my view, Just Transition needs two components to succeed: a national economic plan and adequate funding. Both will require fundamental change in our political system as well as the economy. They certainly require the working class to have a Labor Party of our own.

I have been corresponding with environmentally conscious unionists in the Midwest about the need for an Alliance for Class and Climate Justice, offering a broader perspective than what we have yet seen from projects such as the Blue/Green Alliance. We look forward to workshops and informal discussions with others seriously grappling with these challenges at the upcoming Labor Notes Conference.

BMWE Laying Internationalist Track
cover letter accompanying a resolution by the Pennsylvania Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees division of the Teamsters begins with these lines,

“The wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are abominations paid for with working class blood and working class tax dollars. The purpose of these wars are to expand global corporate domination, enrich the war profiteers with public tax dollars at the expanse of badly needed domestic programs...

“As elected leaders in a working class organization, we have a duty and an obligation to demonstrate our opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to show solidarity with the working people of these countries and let them know that the actions of our government are opposed by the democratic institutions of American workers....”

The signer of this letter is an old acquaintance from Labor Party activity--Jed Dodd, General Chairman of the Federation. He urges other BMWE bodies to advance this resolution.

Will the Arrests Be Televised?
President Obama has invited Republican lawmakers to a conversation about stalled health care legislation that would be televised on C-SPAN. This would be a follow-up to his recent meet and greet with the GOP caucus at their Baltimore retreat.

While labor’s White House friend seeks better ideas from the Republicans he has stonewalled supporters of the best idea introduced in Congress–single-payer. Not welcome at the Executive Mansion, Doctors Margaret Flowers and Carol Paris of Physicians for a National Health Program tried to reach the President, or his staff, with a message by waiting outside the Baltimore gathering. They didn’t have long to wait–before they were arrested.

Last week the 35 labor leaders on the steering committee of Labor Campaign for Single-Payer sent an open letter to the President. LCS-P will be holding a strategy conference in suburban D.C. March 5-7.

In Brief...
¶ A few weeks ago we discussed some of the health hazards lurking in current practices of processing beef. Canned tuna has long been a nutritious, economical alternative to red meat for the working class. Now a
study shows the three top brands of canned tuna have sky-high levels of mercury. What’s next, peanut butter?

¶ The UE’s Warehouse Workers for Justice campaign in the Chicago area has moved ahead winning an NLRB election to represent 160 drivers at Renzenberger Incorporated. These drivers transport railroad crews to and from their work sites, and are an important part of the logistics industry.

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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