Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 25, 2012

Standing Ground In Twin Lakes
A few weeks ago, there was a re-enactment of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The original march, focused on obtaining voting rights for African-Americans in the South, was brutally attacked by the state’s forces of “law and order.” This time the procession was peaceful, greeted along the way by elected officials--including many Black ones.

The recent march, which included substantial labor participation, was not just a re-creation by history buffs. While significant civil rights gains were won by the struggle 47 years ago, there are fresh attacks on voting rights of the poor in Alabama–and numerous other states–through Voter ID laws. There are many more immigrants in the Yellowhammer State than in 1965 and the Establishment appeals to xenophobia with a draconian law aimed at driving them out. While the Governor no longer promises “segregation forever,” public education in Alabama, along with many other public services, is in a state of collapse. Those were the issues behind this year’s march.

Defense of the civil rights victories of the Sixties has not been easy and de facto racism still poisons our society. Despite the fact that America today has an African-American President, and a Black Attorney General, young Black males risk mortal danger when they venture in to “white” areas in the South–and not just the South.

I’m sure every reader is by now aware of the shooting death of a Black teenager by a “white Hispanic” Neighborhood Watch volunteer in a gated community in central Florida. The unarmed victim was returning on foot from a convenience store with snacks for his dad and brother watching basketball on television with his dad’s fiancée in the security-conscious Twin Lakes housing complex.

Shooting deaths of African-American young males are epidemic. Most are Blacks shooting other Blacks and, unless there are innocent children or senior citizens caught in the cross-fire, these draw scant attention from the media. Police shootings of young Blacks sometimes lead to publicized inquiries that are often understandably viewed with skepticism in the Black community. These too eventually fade from media attention.

The shooting of Trayvon Martin, however, has gained international notoriety because of some new slants. The role of Neighborhood Watch volunteers is to report suspicious behavior to the police and let the local LEOs check it out. They are not typically armed and are trained not to try to apprehend those they perceive to be up to no good.

The Florida shooting also revealed a growing problem that had previously escaped wide public attention–the so-called Stand Your Ground laws that encourage those with action hero delusions who are packing heat to shoot first and ask questions later. The accosting and shooting of a teenager packing no more than a can of iced tea and some Skittles was considered justifiable under Florida law by the police called to the scene. With no proper forensic investigation, they let the shooter go and wished him a nice day.

It was this callous injustice and its latent racism that set the name of Trayvon Martin apart from the legion of young Blacks gunned down for a variety of motives. There have been mass demonstrations across the country, and online petitions with hundreds of thousands of signers, demanding justice. The police chief involved has “stepped aside.” The misnamed Federal Justice Department is investigating.

Of course, such fights against injustice deserve our support. So too does the revived effort to repeal the Stand Your Ground laws that give a license to kill. But while criminal justice may bring some small measure of closure for the victim’s family and friends, the tumor of racism in the body politic grows more malign.

Our unions did the right thing with the march from Selma. The National Writers Union, affiliated with the UAW, is to be commended for promoting the petition for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. But the working class movement needs to do much more to expose and confront the evils of racism and xenophobia that continue to thrive because they are part of the game book used by the ruling class to keep us divided.

Last Thursday
A busy day on two fronts

* From AFP,
“Public services across Portugal ground to a halt Thursday as unions staged a 24-hour strike against austerity measures agreed by the government in return for an international bailout. Garbage went uncollected, ports and schools closed, and public transport was disrupted by the country's second general strike in four months.”

Organized by Portugal’s biggest union body--the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP)–the protest aims to stop measures that would make it easier to fire workers, reduce holidays and cut layoff compensation. Unfortunately, two smaller union groups have cut separate deals with the government.

* Following an impressive build-up of daily demonstrations, the CBC reported,

“An imposing crowd, considerably larger than the one at Montreal's famous 1995 pre-referendum rally, formed a kilometres-long sea of opposition to Quebec's tuition increases, scheduled to take effect later this year. In a spring laden with student demonstrations against the Quebec government, this was easily the largest. The parade of protest was so long that its front end would be a full neighbourhood – or even two – away from the tail end. An organizing group boasted that the protest spanned 50 city blocks.”

Other developments in Canada last week included “wild cat” strikes by pilots and ground workers at Air Canada; Toronto municipal “inside” workers continue to negotiate after authorizing a strike; and B.C. teachers are voting whether to comply with all of the conditions of strike-breaking Bill 22.

Mad As Hell
Knowing I don’t normally monitor the New York Daily News, my friend Andy Pollack in Brooklyn sometimes forwards stories of interest. One
by Kenneth Lovett begins,

“The state’s largest worker union is mad as hell over pension reform — and they’re not going to take it anymore. The 300,000-member Civil Service Employees Association suspended its campaign contributions and political endorsements for state candidates Monday, less than a week after the Legislature approved Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to scale back pension benefits for new hires. CSEA President Danny Donohue said the union wants to ‘reevaluate our political relationships and make judgments about the criteria’ to determine whom to support. Donohue said the union took the action because it believes lawmakers sold out the workers by approving Cuomo’s pension overhaul in order to avoid a gubernatorial veto of their new legislative district boundaries. ’There’s no way we’re going to accept business as usual with what they pulled,’ Donohue told the Daily News. The CSEA gave $130,000 to state candidates last year...”

While there will be great pressure to relent before election day this outburst undoubtedly reflects the sentiment of the CSEA ranks

Incremental White House Betrayal
The UN’s World Meteorological Organization issued a report last week releasing data showing that 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record. The WMO secretary-general said,

“This 2011 annual assessment confirms the findings of the previous WMO annual statements that climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat...The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impacts on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans.”

The President, so recently hailed by Pale Greens and 350.org alike for delaying the Keystone XL pipeline--designed to carry the world’s dirtiest fuel from Alberta tar sands to Gulf of Mexico ports–did not comment on the WMO findings. But he took another step in his game plan that has consistently contributed to accelerated warming. AP reported,

“President Barack Obama has firmly defended his record on oil drilling, ordering the government to fast-track an Oklahoma pipeline while rebuking Congress for playing politics with a larger Canada-to-Gulf Coast pipeline project... Obama announced Thursday that he was directing federal agencies to expedite a 485-mile line from Oklahoma to refineries on Texas' Gulf Coast....”

Even if you are prepared to ignore the impact on climate change and other environmental dangers, the fact is more drilling and pipelines will not lead to lower prices at the pump as the politicians promise. Another AP story, More US drilling didn't drop gas price, gives it to us straight,

“U.S. oil production is back to the same level it was in March 2003, when gas cost $2.10 per gallon when adjusted for inflation. But that's not what prices are now. That's because oil is a global commodity and U.S. production has only a tiny influence on supply...Sometimes prices increase as American drilling ramps up. That's what has happened in the past three years. Since February 2009, U.S. oil production has increased 15 percent when seasonally adjusted. Prices in those three years went from $2.07 per gallon to $3.58. It was a case of drilling more and paying much more.”

For both environmental and economic reasons, we need to take oil out of the speculative market by nationalizing it–along with the entire energy industry–and begin a planned restructuring away from fossil fuels.

Liberals Absolutely Not In the Cards
Last year Jack Layton led the NDP–Canada’s version of a labor party–to its most impressive Federal election victory ever. With the traditional Liberal boss alternative to the Tories slipping to a humiliating third place finish, the NDP for the first time became the Official Opposition.

Even then, some, such as the CAW, were calling on the NDP to get together with the historic lesser evil. Layton firmly rejected that class collaborationist retreat until his untimely death last August.

Saturday, the NDP ranks voting online selected a new leader–an MP from Quebec who came over to the NDP from the Liberals a few years ago. I don’t know much about him but I was somewhat reassured to read this on the CBC site,

“Newly elected NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has ruled out co-operating with the Liberals in the next election or merging the parties after securing his victory to succeed Jack Layton at the helm of the New Democrats. ‘It's absolutely not in the cards,’ Mulcair said late Saturday night in a response to a question from CBC's Peter Mansbridge. Mulcair made the comments after defeating Brian Topp in a fourth-round ballot faceoff to become the new leader of the NDP and the head of the Official Opposition.”

That’s all for this week.

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