Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 19, 2007

Moving In To Year Five
Despite all manner of obstacles and distractions working people around the world demonstrated they have not forgotten or accepted the criminal war and occupation in Iraq. We are still getting reports (the reason for the delay in this week’s column) but clearly, from a global perspective, mass actions marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion were highly successful.

As they have often done in the past, the biggest demonstrations were in the Spanish state. 400,000 marched in Madrid, 200,000 in Barcelona. There were demonstrations numbering in the tens of thousands in Turkey, Japan, Malaysia, and Chile. Coordinated actions took place in every major city throughout Canada.

In the USA, as usual, the situation was complicated by a divided antiwar movement. ANSWER called for a national mobilization at the Pentagon on Saturday while UFPJ called for local actions on Sunday. Bad weather conditions on the East Coast exacerbated this sectarian competition as thousands were simply unable to get to Washington on Saturday. Nevertheless, the DC action drew about 50,000 spirited participants around the clear demand to Bring the Troops Home Now.

Local actions on both Saturday and Sunday that stayed on the Out Now message were also impressive. 30,000 in New York; 10,000 in Hollywood; 4,000 in Minneapolis; 3,000 in San Francisco; 1,000 in Hartford–to name just a few.

Still, some areas managed to go backwards including, unfortunately, my home town. Rejecting the Out Now perspective, the Kansas City AFSC and Iraq Task Force chose a theme of “Bullets Have Failed Let Peace Prevail.” The venue for Sunday’s anniversary commemoration was neither a symbol of government nor a highly visible gathering spot. Instead a “Peace Caravan” was planned to travel from a community college campus deserted on Sunday to the Lake City Arsenal plant, which makes bullets, in an isolated suburban area. This road show was particularly ill-advised since the Lake City plant is in the middle of an organizing drive by the Sheet Metal Workers union. Only about 200 showed up for the send-off rally which received zero television coverage and only a paragraph blurb in the Kansas City Star.

There was a marked change in media coverage of all the events, coinciding with attempts by the pro-war Establishment to orchestrate well funded counter protests. Some swift boat veterans left over from the attacks on Kerry in the last election spread unsubstantiated, likely false claims that past protests had desecrated memorials to the war dead and made the slanderous charge that Saturday’s march planned to trash the Vietnam Memorial. They brought together a motley collection of elderly veterans seeking to protect monuments from vandals along with thugs dressed in biker outfits. When a small group of demonstrators inadvertently wandered into the contra area they were roughed up, spat upon, and had their peace signs ripped up. But the media treated this side show as if it were part of the main event. National Pentagon Radio in particular spent a lot of time interviewing and describing this jingoist jamboree.

Nor was the paper of record for the chattering classes, the New York Times, much better. They managed to inject some red-baiting of the DC demonstration, bringing readers up to date on the latest splits among the followers of Sam Marcy. One thing you could not find on the web site of all the news fit to print was any mention of the antiwar demonstration of some 30,000 in their own town.

Despite inadequate organization the broad and deep sentiment against this unjust war broke through where ever given half a chance. Its salutary effect was sorely needed after the demoralizing haggling of the phony peace politicians. Out of such partial successes we will accumulate what’s needed to put it all together so we can commemorate a victory for peace instead of an anniversary of ongoing war.

Heart Of ICE
ICE, the current acronym for America’s immigration police, has been very much in the news. About the time President Bush was on a good will visit to Guatemala, la migra swept up over 300 mainly Guatemalan immigrants at a sweat shop leather plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The ICE men immediately started shipping these workers to a detention center in Texas while many of their kids were in school or in child care facilities. The Governor, a newly elected “friend of labor,” denounced the separation of families–but not the raids, which he had been informed about in advance.

There is controversy over jail sentences handed out to two Border Patrol agents for shooting an unarmed Mexican trying to flee across the border–to Mexico.

In Hartford, quick action by immigrant rights supporters in organizing an emergency demonstration against the arrest of two immigrant workers during a ICE fishing expedition in an apartment building at least temporarily blocked their immediate deportation to Mexico.

It’s not just the “illegals” having problems. Duly registered H2B “guest workers” from India are facing near slave conditions on their jobs at Signal International, which builds and repairs oil drilling platforms in Mississippi and Texas. But they are dependent on visas held by the company that is cheating them. This is a glimpse of what’s probably in store in immigration “reform” legislation in the works.

But all of these mean spirited attacks seem to run counter to an economic reality of global capitalism reiterated in an article this morning–according to the Inter-American Investment Bank immigrant remittances to Latin American countries total more than aid and direct foreign investment in those countries combined. Says the BBC, “ The biggest share of money was sent back to Mexico, mostly from workers living in the United States remitting small sums each month.” (This apparently even applies to relatives of the president of Mexico who acknowledged he had family members picking crops in the U.S. though he wasn’t sure about their legal status.)

Immigrant workers are vital to both employers in this country and to the economies of their home countries as well. Collectively, they are here to stay. It’s the job of the labor movement to work to bring their conditions up to the level of the rest of the working class. The mission of ICE is just the opposite.

The Back End of the Storm
Pascagoula, Mississippi, home of the former Litton, now Northrop Grumman, Ingalls Shipyard was hit hard by Katrina. To help out, the Navy gave the company an extra 2.7 billion and FEMA chipped in another 356 million. The workers who lost their homes got FEMA trailers–and some are being asked for those back.

Of course, the cost of living, fueled by housing and insurance, has sky rocketed in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. The union workers were not pleased with NGs contract offer that demanded big hikes in employee health care contributions along with miserly wage increases. Ninety percent voted to reject and strike.

Ingalls is the biggest private employer in the state and a lonely bastion of unionism. NG has many other diverse sources of profit and is probably prepared to dig in for a while. The IBEW-led metal trades council deserves support of all in this important fight.

That’s all for this week.

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