Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 11, 2007

‘The answer my friend...’
You may not be familiar with Navarra, a department in the Basque country ruled by Spain. They seem to be providing some valuable lessons.

A quiet, off the beaten track area, with a population of a little over a half-million, Nevarra’s economy for the past century had been dependent on the auto industry–sort of Spain’s Flint.

That’s beginning to change big time. As many people are now employed making wind-driven turbines or solar panels as in car manufacturing. And they’re not only making the stuff–they’re using it.

Seventy percent of Navarra’s electricity now comes from zero carbon emission sources, mainly windmills and solar panels. By 2010 they plan to be at one hundred percent. This compares to seven percent throughout all of Europe. The U.S. figures don’t even make the chart.

This is a small example of what can and must be done if we are to survive the Global Warming crisis and keep decent jobs and living standards.

In contrast to this simple plan getting results the President of the United States was touring Latin America the past few days as a huckster for a Big Business backed environmental scam–ethanol. (As a matter of fact the leader of the Free World was greeted rather rudely by thousands of protesters in most of his stops, though ethanol was not their primary motivation.) He was, however, warmly embraced by Brazil’s Lula, the Tony Blair of Latin America, who shares a food-to-fuel approach. Nearly half of Brazil’s transportation fuel is ethanol, often straight, no-blend variety.

In Brazil ethanol flows from sugar cane. Its great economic success comes at the expense of old growth rain forest–an important source of absorption of green house gasses--being cleared for expanded plantations and virtual slave labor conditions of those who cultivate and harvest the cane.

In the U.S. the only viable source of ethanol is corn. Diversion of this grain into fuel production means less available for livestock feed, prepared foods, sweeteners, beverages, breakfast food, canned corn, and the occasional corn on the cob that most Americans savor–of course, in the process, driving up the prices of all of these. The amount of fuel energy in ethanol barely exceeds the energy consumed in its production–mostly involving the use of fossil fuels. It cannot share the pipelines used by gasoline meaning it must be totally transported by rail or truck tanks at every stage. Only about twenty percent of vehicles on the road can use the richest blend, E85. Without massive tax payer subsidies it could not be commercially produced at all. Other than that, it’s a pretty good deal–for ADM. For an excellent fresh look at this swindle see this article in this morning’s New York Times.

‘The times they are a changing’–but not the Democrats
It takes a lot to shock an old cynic like me. I have to admit that the duplicity of the Democrats does just that.

Remember that minimum wage bill the new House majority made job one? The Democrat controlled Senate added some tax breaks for business big and small and shipped it back to the lower House for reconciliation. A Pelosi surge has instead escalated matters further by attaching the minimum wage, along with most of the tax cuts, to the supplemental war budget–which the Dems had already boosted by five billion over Bush’s request.

Also linked to the House funding bill are “conditions” that would require “redeployment” of “combat” troops by August, 2008–only sixteen more months of war. “Training and security” forces could remain past that deadline.

The distinction between redeployment and withdrawal was explained by Wisconsin Democrat Dave Obey, who entered congress in 1969 as an opponent of the Vietnam war, “The proposal ... will essentially redirect more of our resources to the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, fighting the right war in the right place against the people who attacked us.” The peace congressman did not present any hitherto unrevealed evidence that the Taliban were involved in the 9/11 attacks nor did he comment on al Qaeda’s current role in Iraq. In fact he became testy under questioning by those he labeled as “liberal idiots.”

Obviously cowed by such resolute opposition to the war in congress the commander-in-chief has summoned an additional 4,000 troops to Iraq--above and beyond the surge that the House condemned in a nonbinding resolution–as well as over 4,000 more to Afghanistan.

The “right war” supported outright by peace Democrats has been going on 5½ years. The “wrong war” they seek to terminate over a year from now will mark its fourth anniversary next week. Various protests have been called by a fragmented antiwar movement next weekend. These events should be used to signify that the honeymoon with the “peace congress” is over. It’s time to reaffirm the position that was reiterated to congress last week by US Labor Against the War:

Vote No on the Supplemental Appropriation Bill!
Protect the Troops by Bringing Them Home Now!
Cut off All Funding for the War and Occupation, Except What's Needed to Withdraw Our Troops!

The Women Deserve Better
International Women’s Day was once important in the calendar of the entire world’s labor movement. It’s often been an occasion for important strikes, sometimes even revolutions. In the industrialized countries its celebration last Thursday could be characterized low key at best.

But in some countries it still inspires women workers to struggle under the most difficult and dangerous conditions. Tens of thousands marched for women’s rights in the streets of Turkey. In Iran, where huge IWD demonstrations took place around the time of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah, courageous women were arrested before they could march.

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq used the traditional day to raise awareness of the alarming deterioration of the condition of women under their country’s U.S. occupation. Some of you may have heard their best known leader, Houzan Mahmoud, interviewed on the Democracy Now radio show. She also spoke to a big meeting sponsored by USLAW in New York.

Houzan’s advocacy for a majority of the Iraqi population has brought her death threats that have to be taken seriously including one from the notorious Ansar al-Islam that read, “With the permission of Great God, we will kill you either in Iraq or in London by the middle of March, because you are campaigning against Islam. You should be sent to God for punishment.” This death squad considers a woman simply showing her face in public to be an affront to their warped version of Islam and women face violence, even death daily in Iraq for just such transgressions. Messages of solidarity can be sent to Houzan at;

Whether it be such terror cloaked in religious fanaticism abroad, or issues such as pay equity, harassment on the job, or denial of reproductive freedom in countries such as the USA, women are far from equality anywhere in the world. This should be a matter of concern to the working class as a whole and our organizations. We should rejuvenate the tradition of International Women’s Day and educate and agitate around issues of gender equality year around.

Welcome Aboard
The most successful example of the kind of union needed by the U.S. labor movement, the California Nurses Association, has affiliated to the AFL-CIO. CNA has been the most effective advocate for single-payer health care; was an early affiliate of the Labor Party; a supporter of US Labor Against the War; proven adept at mobilizing public support around campaigns; has had impressive organizing victories including beyond California with their National Nurses Organizing Committee–and they have the best contracts for RNs.

Hopefully some of their success and dynamism can spread through the troubled traditional house of labor.

Reviving the Blog
We’ve neglected the Labor Advocate Blog over the past week or so. Later this week we plan to post some commentary on Kansas City’s TIF rip-off, a personal appreciation of former UE Secretary Treasurer Red Block who recently passed away, and more.

That’s all for this week.

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