Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 15, 2010

Tin Age
The kclabor.org website is celebrating our tenth anniversary online. Tin is traditionally suggested as the gift theme for the first in double digits--but please don’t send any tin horns or tin badges. But, if you are in the Kansas City area we invite you to drop by
a celebration we are having next Sunday, March 21, 1PM, at the North Kansas City Library.

My friend for more than forty years, as well as a ATU Local 1287 brother, Tony Saper, will chair the event. Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at UMKC; Brian Elam, Financial Secretary of BMWE Local 800, and an old Labor Party stalwart; Cris Mann, a member of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and Kansas City Labor Against the War, will be speaking–as will I.

My remarks will not be limited to nostalgia. I will also be announcing a new initiative that has been incubating since our New Crises, New Agendas conference last April.

Following the speakers we’ll dig in to the anniversary cake and continue informal discussion. Issues of Labor Notes, information about the April 23-25 Labor Notes Conference, and an opportunity to sign up for space in the local van/car pool going to the Detroit gathering, will be available.

Some of our readers have sent greetings, which will be printed in a modest program to be distributed at the March 21 gathering, as well as at a literature table we will have at the Labor Notes Conference. A remark by Mark Dudzic, Labor Party national organizer and coordinator of Labor Campaign for Single-Payer captured the uniqueness of a site such as ours–independent, volunteer-driven, with no institutional backing--making it for a decade,

“These have been very difficult times for organizations that advocate for working class interests. That you have survived these past ten years is a significant accomplishment. That you have thrived and grown is a tribute to the clarity of your message, the freshness of your analysis and the usefulness of your information.”

Kind words such as these, along with welcome financial donations, from our readers have helped us persevere in filling a certain niche. While I have no immediate plans for extending my retirement from wage slavery to my labor of love I can’t guarantee another ten years. But, whatever my personal circumstances, I believe the multi-faceted class approach of the KC Labor project is not a last gasp from the past; it has been a holding action that is on the verge of being part of a much broader revival of class consciousness and struggle by workers in this country and throughout the world. That’s a good excuse for celebrating.

Raid On Parkersburg
You may have known, but I was quite unaware of an obscure division of the U.S. Treasury Department known as the Bureau of Public Debt until reading an
AP story Sunday. While nearly all of the federal deficit is managed electronically these days the BPD has some very special paper IOUs stored in a small building in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Totaling 2.5 trillion dollars, they represent what Congress has borrowed from surplus Social Security tax collections in order to pay for wars, bank bailouts, and other projects they think worthy of deficit spending.

For nearly thirty years this was not a big problem. FICA tax collections exceeded what was being paid out to those receiving retirement and disability payments–now numbering over 52 million (including me.) But with eight million jobs eliminated so far in the Great Recession Social Security tax revenue is down sharply–not enough to maintain current benefits. And many millions of so-called Baby Boomers are at, or nearing retirement age. That means some of those IOUs in Parkersburg will have to be called in.

The last time that happened was during the Reagan Recession in the early Eighties. In response, a bipartisan commission, under the tutelage of Alan Greenspan, adopted “reforms” that became law in 1983, raising the retirement age for full benefits, and eliminating benefit exemption from income tax, among other chiseling.

This past week, Republicans offered their nominees to a new bipartisan commission, appointed by the President, to come up with “reforms” to tackle Washington’s runaway debt. Ending wars, eliminating handouts to corporations, taxing the rich, will not be on their agenda. Nor will they consider removing the income cap to which FICA taxes are applied. They will focus on the “entitlements”–modest as they may be–won by working people over the years. The biggest of these, of course, are what we unproductive old folks drain away in Social Security and Medicare.

Similar attacks on promised benefits in other countries have not been accepted with good grace by the working class. For example, Greek workers have conducted three general strikes in the last couple of weeks against their government’s plan to make them pay for the deficit.

But Greece, Belgium, France, and other venues for militant struggle to defend past gains have unions, and mass worker parties, in opposition to the government attacking them. In the USA, the union mainstream has proven to be craven supporters of this administration even as its anti-worker attacks escalate. Andy Stern, president of the 1.8 million member SEIU, has been awarded a “place at the table” where the debt reduction commission will take the chain saw to the trees hosting our nest eggs.

Another Anniversary–Nothing to Celebrate
This Saturday, March 20, will mark the beginning of the eighth year of the Iraq war. We are, of course, in the ninth year of the war in Afghanistan.
US Labor Against the War is joining with others in demonstrations in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco demanding that all the troops be brought home now. There will also be numerous local events in areas distant from the coasts. In Kansas City AFSC is sponsoring an event at 3PM at the Fountain at 47 & Main.

Change Takes Courage
There will be another
mass march in Washington this Sunday, March 21, calling for immigration reform. It has a very broad list of sponsors–including many who have widely differing positions on the question. Among the endorsers are the AFL-CIO and SEIU. Organizers are shooting for a turnout of 100,000.

President Obama pledged during his campaign to take quick action on immigration. In a way he has–deportations, and firings through “no match” letters, are up sharply on his watch. Among the latest no match firings at a unionized employer were more than 200 at UPS in Chicago.

Only quite recently has Obama begun consultations with congressional leaders about legislation. But Republicans are making clear that if the Democrats ram through their health insurance bill using “reconciliation” there will be no bipartisan collaboration on immigration, or anything else, until after this Fall’s election.

Obama has included some Change to Win officials in his White House chats with immigration reformers–but has excluded the AFL-CIO.

Endgame...Again
I was among those who thought the health insurance bill that failed to pass a final vote in the Senate before the Democrats lost their super-majority was dead. We are now told the President has rolled away the stone of entombment and the Lazarus-like “historic reform” is once again on the verge of victory.

It would be easier to explain the Holy Ghost than to try to make sense out of the byzantine congressional rules of “reconciliation” upon which all hope is pinned. Presumably the showdown vote will take place before the pious of Capitol Hill take off for their Easter break later this week.

The leaders of the AFL-CIO and CtW showed unaccustomed mobilization efforts last week, not just the usual assembling of paid staffers, but bringing thousands of workers out to protest at a gathering of health insurance company lobbyists in Washington. Of course, they were also there to support Obama’s plan to enrich those same robber barons while taxing worker benefits for the first time.

Last weekend, the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer held its national conference and made clear, whether the Obama maneuver wins or loses, they will continue the fight for Medicare For All. For a good account of this gathering by Labor Notes Jane Slaughter click here. Also see an excellent article by UE Northeast Region President Peter Knowlton, Health Care Bill's Hidden Pitfalls.

Offshoring Our Emissions
Regular readers know that I have often argued that, along with offshoring jobs, the U.S., Canada, Japan, and the EU have also offshored greenhouse emissions. Admittedly, this deduction was made with little available hard data. Now a study published by the National Academy of Sciences provides some statistical evidence–though it is nearly six year old data, somewhat understating the current situation. An article about the study in Live Science begins,

“The United States and other developed countries are effectively ‘outsourcing’ their greenhouse gas pollution to developing countries. One-third of carbon dioxide emissions associated with the goods and services consumed in First World countries is actually being emitted outside the borders of those nations, mostly in the developing world, a new study finds.”

Of course, as the study notes, the geographic origin of emissions matters little in terms of its destruction of the biosphere. But it does matter a great deal to finding political solutions needed in order to implement scientific solutions to the problem. That was dramatically demonstrated in the fiasco of the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Just as worker solidarity should have no borders a working class movement to save the environment must have a global perspective as well.

Haa Warkanaa
The Somali version of Si Se Puede (Yes We Can) wasn’t the only new thing I learned from a recent article by my old friend Peter Rachleff,
Writing A New Script: Labor Renewal in Minnesota. After reviewing the current stage of class inequality, and the shrinking of American unions, Peter gives us a nutshell analysis of a rare victory (relative to today’s bargaining climate) by Twin Cities janitors. It’s compact, and well worth the read.

That’s all for this week.

Coming Events...
Tenth Anniversary Of kclabor.org
North Kansas City Library, March 21

Labor Notes Conference
Detroit, April 23-25

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