Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 8, 2009

March 8 Marks:
*International Women’s Day. As we have written before, International Women’s Day is a holiday, like May Day, with roots in the USA but celebrated mainly in other lands. The first Women's Day was organized in 1908 by American socialist women fighting for the right to vote and promoting organization of workers through the Women's Trade Union League. Fifteen thousand marched that day through the streets of New York. The following year they organized another mass demonstration in New York in preparation for a major garment worker strike. Their actions inspired a 1910 Women's Conference of the Socialist International to proclaim a coordinated annual International Women's Day on March 8, beginning in 1911.

During the “second wave of feminism” in the 1970s young women activists embraced this heritage, reviving IWD marches and other events in many North American cities. But today, even as women are poised to become the majority of the U.S. workforce, this once important entry on activist calendars has again faded.

If you turn to Google for the latest on this year’s IWD the first offering is the UN’s “official” site. What immediately caught my attention there were the prominent logos of its corporate sponsors, such as Cisco, HSBC, and the African Development Bank Group. This is definitely a different cultural setting than the origin of this holiday. Still, at least they had something to mark the occasion--which is more than can be said for the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). The CLUW site last commented on IWD in 2003.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) did issue a press release about March 8 that was surprisingly upbeat,

“Inspiring new optimism is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has the influence to improve women's lives globally. In her confirmation hearing, Clinton made clear that she intends to advocate for women and girls in every corner of the world.”

Women and girls in some “corners of the world” may be puzzled to find a new tribune in the Senator who enthusiastically supported the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the sale of jet fighters used in Israel’s obliteration of Lebanon and Gaza. A survey released the same day as the NOW PR says more than three-quarters of Iraq’s 750,000 war widows are not receiving even the stingy pensions to which they are entitled. On average, they have only three hours of electricity per day in their homes. And medical care for them and their children–often pooled in extended families–has become much more difficult to obtain than even at the height of post-invasion violence a couple of years ago.

*The February Revolution in Russia. In 1917 an IWD mobilization in Petrograd (later named Leningrad, today known as St Petersburg) directly contributed to the February Revolution that overthrew the Russian Czar. (The Romanovs clung to a different calendar than that used by most of the world, which placed March 8 in February.) Workers and sailors coming to defense of women marchers attacked by the police didn’t stop until they not only swept away the brutal cops but the monarchy and government too. A few months later the revolutionary process launched on IWD established the Soviet Union. A grateful Soviet regime established International Women’s Day as an official holiday.

*Commemorating these two historic milestones helps me remember a much more modest anniversary–the launching of the KC Labor website nine years ago today. Nine years of continuous service ranks us pretty high on the seniority list even though we remain, after a couple of million hits, firmly entrenched in the bottom ten percent of web traffic. Along with our safety editor, Mary Erio, and our law editor, Doug Bonney, I thank all of you who visit us and make our effort worthwhile.

Yet Another Anniversary Coming Up
On March 20, 2003 the U.S. and British military invaded Iraq. The official lie that Saddam Hussein was armed and dangerous with weapons of mass destruction–rejected by most of the world--was incessantly repeated by American media and political leaders who knew better. Six years later more than 100,000 GIs and Tommies remain as occupiers in Iraq--and 50,000 will still be there after President Obama’s “withdrawal” plan is completed in nineteen months.

Beginning next Saturday there will be a series of actions marking this shameful and bloody anniversary. Here in Kansas City, AFSC is organizing a “Peace Race for the Human Race Vigil and Rally” on March 14, 3:30-5:00PM, in Mill Street Park, 47th & Main. The following Saturday, March 21, there will be a March on the Pentagon, demanding troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. That same day there will be West Coast rallies in San Francisco and Los Angeles and a Missouri state-wide mobilization in Columbia.

Also later this week will be the First International Labor Conference in Erbil, Iraq. US Labor Against the War will be sending two delegates. You can read USLAW’s greetings to the gathering by clicking here.

Is That A Depression I See–Or Are You Just Having A Bad Time?
Always even handed, Dianne Stafford wrote an article for the Kansas City Star entitled “Recession or depression? There’s a case for both.” For sure, next month will register the current downturn as the longest since the Great Depression.

Some economists want to compare it to the 1981-82 recession under Reagan and point out that in some respects this one isn’t as bad. A number have taken to referring to the “Great Recession,” recognizing this is qualitatively different than past cyclical slow downs. Others believe the expected depth and duration of the present crisis justifies a depression label.

The Reagan recession, bad as it was, was consciously induced to finally put an end to out of control inflation that had raged under Ford and Carter. Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, now a key senior adviser to President Obama, ruthlessly jacked up interest rates to cool the economy down--removing the fuel for inflation. It may have been heartless, but at least the administration had strategic goals that were more or less accomplished.

Today’s troubles were not self-induced. There is no real strategy for reversing whatever you want to call what we’re in. They don’t have a clue.

After other cyclical recessions, such as 1967 and 1974–two that I had personal experience with–the economy rebounded, even expanded beyond pre-recession levels. No one believes that will happen this time, at least not any time soon. General Motors had been preparing their survival plan based on an expectation of U.S. car sales of ten million units–down from a peak of seventeen. Most analysts now project sales of no more than nine million units. GM cannot survive in its present form with that kind of market shrinkage.

I’m not prepared to say this is the Big One, an irreversible collapse on the order of what caused so much misery for over a decade in the 1930s, finally resolved only by the Second World War. But neither can we dismiss that possibility. At the very least, this crisis is going to last a long time and we’re not going to see a return to “middle-class” prosperity at the end. Whether it’s a depression, or recession great or small, the working class needs a program for fundamental economic and social change to preserve our living standards and dignity.

I’m looking forward to the session on the Economic Crisis at our April 3-4 conference in Kansas City, led by Mark Brenner. Mark has a doctorate in economics but he’s put his training at the service of the workers movement and is currently executive director of Labor Notes. I hope you’ll be there too.

In Brief...

¶ After getting stroked by Joe Biden, and calling for nationalization of the banks, the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Miami affirmed that discussions for merger with Change to Win, and the National Education Association, were progressing. “In recent weeks, a number of AFL-CIO union leaders and a number of Change to Win union leaders, along with the heads of both federations, have been in informal discussions about such a reunification. No agreements have been reached, but issues have been identified and options discussed.” As we previously reported, this unity move was initiated, and is being guided, by the Obama administration.

¶ A tentative deal has been reached between the CAW and GM-Canada. It includes a wage freeze, a suspension of cost-of-living raises for both active workers and retiree pensions, and elimination of forty hours of paid time off each year. Meanwhile, as we write this column, voting on the UAW concession agreement at Ford remains too close to call.

¶ After an e-mail campaign protesting their initial exclusion, single-payer advocates were admitted to President Obama’s Health Summit. But it was the robber barons who seemed to come away from the gathering with the most enthusiasm. “I'm very encouraged by what's going on now,” said Bill Gradison, a former head of the Health Insurance Association of America, which funded the ‘Harry and Louise’ ad campaign that helped torpedo the Clinton administration plan. “My impression is that there's been a real openness to reach out to diverse interests, not leaving anyone out -- which is how a lot of people felt back in the 1990s. . . . They seem to have learned the lessons of what not to do this time.”

¶ Chanting “We don't want the world to boil, no coal, no oil!,” several thousand protesters braved terrible weather to carry out the march on the Capitol Power Plant we talked about last week. In response, the Democrat congressional leaders directed the Capitol Architect to convert the plant from coal to natural gas. It’s a modest victory. Natural gas is much cleaner than coal or oil but it is a fossil fuel as well, still contributing to the greenhouse crisis.

Register By April 1 and Get a Chance To Win Free Book
As an incentive to procrastinators, we will enter the names of all who register for the New Crises, New Agendas Conference by April 1 in a drawing to win a copy of The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor. This is Les Leopold’s excellent biography of the remarkable Tony Mazzocchi and normally retails for twenty bucks. You can go to the registration page by clicking
here.

That’s all for this week.

 New Crises, New Agendas
Save Jobs, Save the Planet
Kansas City, April 3-4
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Hosted by KC Labor, marking nine years online
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