Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 9, 2008

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 women workers through the Women's Trade Union League. Fifteen thousand marched 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 an annual coordinated International Women's Day, beginning in 1911.

In 1917 an IWD demonstration in Petrograd (later Leningrad, now St Petersburg) became the launching pad for the revolution that first overthrew the Russian Czar and then, eight months later, established the Soviet Union. IWD was then established as an official national holiday by the Soviet government. Ex- comrade Putin has not shown much enthusiasm for maintaining this heritage.

During the “second wave of feminism” in the 1970s young women activists revived IWD marches and other events in many North American cities. But today you will find no mention of IWD on the NOW web site–almost totally devoted to their backing of Senator Clinton. Nor will you get a clue from the CLUW site.

In many countries the holiday has been coopted by the Establishment, turning observations into highly bureaucratized, often commercialized events. My friend Andy in New York passed on a most bizarre incident in Israel, reported in haaretz, “Most female Knesset [Israel’s parliament] employees have been banned from receiving either a promotion or a pay raise in 2008, after they failed to attend mandatory events in honor of International Women's Day.” It seems their male boss was irate that the ladies skipped the speeches and a “self-defense” class he had so lovingly prepared for them. “I invest more than enough in the Knesset's female employees, and I demand a certain amount of reciprocity...” he fumed.

But there were places here and there that saw serious, even courageous actions yesterday. A thousand Afghan women gathered at two events in Kandahar. AFP reports scores of women rallied outside a Baghdad hotel demanding an end to violence and equal social status with men. A gathering in Gaza City denounced both Israeli human rights violations and violence and discrimination against women within the Palestinian Authority. Tens of thousands demonstrated in Italian cities in defense of abortion rights and two thousand rallied around the same issue in Warsaw. There were small events in most Canadian cities.

Give them credit, the AFL-CIO did mark the occasion–at least in their blog. The fed is tying in to a “Global Campaign for Decent Work, Decent Life for Women,” sponsored by the International Trade Union Confederation, and Global Unions federation. While American women don’t face the same levels of violence and repression as their counterparts in places “liberated” by the U.S. military, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, they’ve got plenty to complain about.

On global average women earn sixteen percent less than men doing the same work. In the USA the gap is much bigger–women get only 77 percent of what the other gender make in the same jobs. African-American women get only 68 cents on the dollar, Latinas 57 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

While religious zealots in this country don’t join sects elsewhere demanding that women hide their faces, or forbid them to drive, homegrown fanatics use a variety of tactics–including occasional bombings and shootings–to deny American women the right to choose if and when to have children. Regrettably, these sectarian gangs are quite active in my neck of the woods--and hold considerable political power.

This past week the Missouri House voted to include RU-486, a drug sometimes used for nonsurgical abortions during the first 63 days of pregnancy, to the “controlled substance” list–putting it on a footing with heroin.

Over on the Kansas side, the zealots used a quirky provision in Kansas law that allows citizens to petition for a Grand Jury–aimed at Planned Parenthood. As viewers of Law and Order are aware, grand juries will usually indict a ham sandwich if the DA asks them to. But this grand jury saw only baloney. They dismissed the regular DA–the notorious Phil Kline, a fanatic who once held the post of Kansas attorney general–replacing him with their own special prosecutor. They have now concluded their business finding no wrong doing on the part of Planned Parenthood. Still, the birth control group had to spend precious dollars on legal fees instead of medical services not covered by most health insurance.

Certainly women have made progress in the century since that first IWD march. But clearly they remain in many regards second class citizens and a second class wage tier in the workforce. Since women make up about half of those employed, and one hundred percent of our mothers, their just demands need to be taken up by the working class movement as a whole.

Electing Senator Clinton won’t solve the problems. Blogging won’t be enough either. Those pioneer women in 1908 had the right idea–take the struggle in to the streets and in to the workplace.

More SEIU ‘Organizing’
CNA’s National Nurses Organizing Committee is crying “foul” about a backroom deal between SEIU and nine Catholic Healthcare Partners hospitals in Ohio. Chairman Andy’s union hopes to pick up the employer’s RNs in an unexpected, uncontested election. Unlike SEIU, CNA has been engaged in serious organizing--though not yet ready to file for an election. If SEIU’s stratagem works, and they get a quick contract from the sympathetic boss, CNA supporters couldn’t make a challenge until the agreement expires. Even if SEIU loses this Putin-style election the RNs couldn’t petition again for a year.

Body of War
Not many films have their premier commercial showing in my home town. The last I recall was Altman’s Kansas City. My recommendation on that one was buy the sound track, skip the movie. But now we have another, more worthwhile film opening here, Body of War. It’s a documentary about a Kansas City lad who joined the Army in the patriotic furor after 9/11 and later returned paralyzed after being shot shortly after assignment to Iraq in 2004.

The film follows Tomas Young on two levels–the physical and emotional challenges of his disability; and his evolution in to an antiwar activist. The juxtaposition of candid scenes and discussion of the many problems of paraplegics going beyond inability to walk with Tomas’s growing participation in actions are both sobering and inspiring. Original music by Eddie Vedder is often in the background.

It has neither a happy nor tragic ending. You probably won’t learn much about the war that you don’t already know. But this production by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro documents how ordinary people can first survive, then come to oppose the horrors of an unjust war. That alone should be worth an investment of eight bucks and a couple of hours of your time when Body of War comes your way.

GM the Mediator?
The American Axle strike has led to the full or partial shutdown of 29 General Motors plants that are dependent on AA parts. While GM has a substantial inventory of vehicles that a short shutdown could alleviate they are concerned about a near term threat to the most profitable segment of their market. They also have to pay benefits to idled workers. That’s why many think they will have to get involved in “mediating” the dispute between Axle and the UAW–much as they did with another parts making spinoff, Delphi.

There’s some speculation that GM would offer cash for buyouts and bonuses to soften the impact of the draconian cuts that following the UAW pattern at other companies would produce. Even though GM sales are down they could afford it. General Motors has saved nearly a billion dollars in reduced healthcare benefits over the past two years as a result of UAW give-backs–and there’s more savings to come.

In Case You missed It...
My reflex
blog diatribe against the AFL-CIO’s new Greening the Economy position paper. We’ll have more substantial remarks soon.

That’s all for this week.


KC Labor Home

Rebuilding Labor's Power
Dearborn, MI April 11-13

National Assembly To End the Iraq War and Occupation
Cleveland June 28-29

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