Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 4, 2007

Colorado Shows Way To Immigration ‘Reform?’
Colorado has been among the toughest in cracking down on “illegal” immigrant workers. The paper work required to get a driver license has become so tough that the daughter of a prominent member of the state legislature was unable to convince a state contractor that she was legal. New restrictive state laws got a big assist from la Migra with a raid on a Colorado Swift packinghouse that made national headlines. This repression has worked so well that it has created a labor shortage crisis–above all in the fields. As the Los Angeles Times reported, “Crops were left to spoil in the fields after the passage of legislation that required state identification to get government services and allowed police to check suspects' immigration status.”

But don’t worry, those melons and pumpkins will now get picked by the labor pool of last resort–prison inmates. Those serving time for nonviolent crimes, such as getting caught with a joint in their pocket, or bouncing a check, will be offered a chance to work off their sentence, and earn some cash too, by becoming temporary farmworkers. The farmers will pay the costs of shot-gun toting security guards and give the inmates sixty cents a day. And they don’t even have to wear chains.

What an innovative alternative to illegal labor. There is some talk of expanding the program to hotels and restaurants also feeling a labor pinch. Of course, there is a danger that demand will soon outstrip the supply of nonviolent trustees. When that day comes one suggestion is that they import some from Texas, currently experiencing a surplus of jailed poor people. Is this a great country or what?

Keeping Baghdad Safe
Apparently running out of insurgent and militia targets the U.S.-Iraqi government joint strike forces carried out two separate raids on the offices of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers last week. They confiscated computers and fax machines to try to deny command and control networks to union organizers.

Pushing the Poll
The New York Times and CBS News teamed up to take a poll on health care. The few straight forward questions yielded predictable results. 78 percent believe everyone should be covered by a plan. But there were also the usual “push” questions, such as asking if you are willing to pay substantially more in taxes for universal coverage.

The only viable solution currently on the table–single-payer–would indeed require paying new, substantial taxes. But, of course, it would also eliminate the present staggering burden of premiums to the insurance companies, not to mention deductibles and co pays. The Labor Party’s Just Health Care proposal, largely incorporated into Conyers HR 676, would provide universal coverage, and generally higher care levels, for no more money than most working people now pay for health care.

Now it’s not that the New York Times has never heard of the single-payer alternative. But this option doesn’t fit in to the current scheme of requiring all to have private health insurance, with government subsidies going to those companies as well. That’s the “push” behind the poll.

Unfortunately, most of our labor statesmen are yielding to this push. Some were undoubtedly embarrassed when SEIU’s Andy Stern, and CWA’s Larry Cohen actually appeared on stage with bosses from Wal-Mart and AT&T to endorse the latest phony “reform” scams. But even UAW chief Ron Gettlefinger this week shed a few tears for the Big Three bosses he partners with over their health care costs--and remained as silent as a headless GAP store dummy about the Conyers bill.

Fortunately, some in labor still do the right thing. The California Nurses Association continues to show the way to building public support for single-payer. Click here to hear CNA president Deborah Burger on a radio ad sponsored by the union and check out the informative web site,

House Democrats Reject Bush War Budget
According to Reuters, the new majority Democrat leadership in the House of Representatives finds President Bush’s request for 93 billion additional dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be totally unacceptable. The opposition peace party plans to boost the war supplemental by five billion to 98 billion. Who can deny we wouldn’t be where we are today without such friends?

COTS is a “nonprofit” city agency in Burlington, Vermont that helps the homeless. We’ve reported in the past about efforts of COTS workers to be represented by the UE. Eighty percent of them signed cards naming the UE as their union of choice and asked their employer for voluntary recognition. But the COTS board of directors voted unanimously against recognizing the UE and didn't participate in a “community election” last December. Workers voted 31-2 at that election in favor of the UE.

Faced with this stone walling, UE has now petitioned for an NLRB election. Look for the bosses to carry out a typical campaign to deny elementary bargaining rights to their dedicated workers. The employer has nothing to lose. At the very least they count on demoralizing the workers as months drag by, first for an election, and then the challenge of negotiating a first contract.

Things would be different under the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), passed in the House last week. As far as it goes, it’s not a bad bill. It would allow card check recognition and provide for arbitration if agreement for a first contract could not be reached before the boss could again challenge the union’s legal bargaining rights. With EFCA the COTS workers, and thousands more like them around the country, would have union representation and assurance of a first contract.

But don’t look for EFCA to be the law of the land any time soon. Even if it survives delay tactics in the Senate it will certainly be vetoed by the President and the over ride votes are clearly not there.

The Democrat leadership knows this, of course. So do the labor statesmen who have been exerting themselves in appeals to us to contact our representatives. You can bet they are already putting the final flourishes on indignant statements denouncing the evil GOP for again denying working people our rights.

What you won’t hear is the question why this simple act of fairness never became law in the past when our Democrat “friends” controlled both houses and the White House, as recently as 1994? The answer is that this party cares as much about worker rights as the makers of Lucky Strikes care about my health.

For the Democrats, this is an issue, much like the war, they hope to gain mileage from through the 2008 election cycle–and then to be again forgotten.

(Thanks to John Woodruff for keeping us updated on COTS.)

Doctors Beef About Cattle Drug Approval
This morning’s Washington Post reports, “The government is on track to approve a new antibiotic to treat a pneumonia-like disease in cattle, despite warnings from health groups and a majority of the agency's own expert advisers that the decision will be dangerous for people.” The FDA will thumbs-up the use of the drug cefquinome in the crowded conditions Agribusiness imposes on their bovine profit centers. This class of antibiotic is currently a last line of defense for humans against serious infections. Its widespread use among cattle promises to eventually promote new super-microbes that could spread with deadly effect to our species. Such developments have already been seen when drugs from the same family, Baytril and SaraFlox, were introduced into poultry factories in the mid-nineties.

Seven Down, Unknown Number To Go
It’s always easy to remember the anniversary of the launching of the
KC Labor web site. It’s the same as International Women’s Day and the anniversary of the February Revolution in Russia that overthrew the Czar (and changed calendars.) This year it’s this coming Thursday. We will have completed seven years online.

We’ll post an article Thursday reviewing those seven years and speculating about where we go from here. Those of you on the e-mail list will get it delivered to your box. Some have already sent us some anniversary greetings. If you want to send something brief–a line or two–we’ll include them all along with the article.

That’s all for this week.

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