Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 11, 2011
Jeff Cohen was a good friend of mine at Faxon elementary but he did not go on to become president of the Communication Workers of America as he was erroneously identified in the last WIR. Larry Cohen is, of course, the current top officer of CWA as several e-mail subscribers immediately reminded me. The error was quickly corrected in the on-site version but there’s no way to change all those messages already delivered to in boxes. My apologies to readers, Larry and Jeff.
One annoying theme in the media coverage of the run-up to the non-shutdown of government was “these politicians need to act like grown-ups.” This is a slander on minor children. Of course, as every parent must acknowledge at least to themselves, all kids sometimes behave foolishly, even dangerously. Nearly all at least test the tactic of tantrums. But, with guidance from parents, teachers, older siblings and positive role models, most grow in to more mature individuals, posing less danger and trouble for themselves and others.
The politicians occupying the White House and Capitol Hill are not going through such a vibrant, transitional maturing phase. If you want to personalize their political traits senile dementia would be more appropriate than spoiled childhood.
Like Shakespeare, I prefer the metaphor of the stage. Fully trained in the latest stagecraft, they are acting out a delicate pageantry to impress what they believe to be a sucker audience–us. Like the best of Broadway, their goal is to maximize returns for their backstage producers–the ruling class.
Among the cast of this big budget spectacular are numerous Soft Cops and Hard Cops. When the Hard Cops demanded things they never expected to get, such as deep-sixing women’s health programs and reversing new EPA rules on toxic pollution, the Soft Cops replied Never! But, since it’s all about compromise, the Soft Cops offered 38 billion+ dollars more in overall budget cuts over the next few months. They further agreed to deny the colony of the District of Columbia the ability to use local tax money for abortions for poor women, and they also will hand out private school vouchers to further undermine the public schools in America’s capital. Many details are yet to be revealed.
The Hard Cops learned some lessons from Governor Walker’s troubles in Wisconsin and did not pursue outlawing Federal employee unions at this time. They have instead served the ball in to the court of those unions who in Wisconsin and elsewhere have been saying “it’s not about the money.” In our Free Enterprise system, it’s, of course, all about the money.
The chief Hard Cops don’t really care about Planned Parenthood or NPR. Those rants are just for the theocratic extremists and cracked Tea Pots who do the GOP grunt work on the ground at election time. What they are after is cutting already historic low taxes of corporations and the wealthy even more and replacing Big Government social programs with more hand outs for Big Business. They want government regulation of unions and social movements–not workplaces and the environment.
Soft Cop-in-chief does not differ in principle from the Hard’s objectives. The President reminded us after the “historic” compromise Friday night that America can no longer “live beyond our means.” He favors a somewhat different pace, and less mean spirited rhetoric than the Republicans--in order to gain their common goal of enriching the ruling elite at the expense of the working class. On Wednesday, he is expected to announce his support for cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and plans to “fix” Social Security.
The President, to no one’s surprise, has already announced his bid for reelection. This presents a challenge to a labor movement that has begun to stir in the face of bipartisan attacks. A report in Transportation Nation mentions remarks by the insurgent president who ousted the Old Guard in the Amalgamated Transit Union last fall,
“Speaking at a breakfast at the Transportation Equity Network’s annual conference, Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley ticked off a list of urban transit systems that slashed service during the first two years of Obama’s presidency: New York, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh… ‘This administration was indistinguishable from the prior one with respect to transit operating aid,’ said Hanley.”
We could, of course, tick off many more items including,
* Inheriting two wars from Bush, Obama immediately escalated one, and recently started a third.
* Inheriting corporate bail-outs from Bush, Obama combined them with planned bankruptcy under his control to eliminate tens of thousands of jobs at, or dependent on GM and Chrysler, extracted more concessions from the UAW, and imposed a ban on strikes over economic issues.
* Inheriting global warming denial from Bush, Obama went to the Copenhagen Climate Summit–and wrecked any chance for an agreement to slow climate change.
* Inheriting a get tough on immigrants policy from Bush, Obama escalated the attacks using high tech methods leading to record numbers of firings and deportations.
* Inheriting infringement of civil liberties from Bush, Obama has expanded in this area as well including the inhumane jailing of Bradley Manning and the FBI raids on the homes, and subsequent Grand Jury subpoenas, of union and antiwar activists.
* Inheriting No Child Left Behind from Bush, Obama has gone farther than his predecessor ever dared with his Race to the Top, attacking teacher unions head on and promoting privatization of public schools.
The list could go on but I’ll cite just one more example in a quote from a San Francisco Chronicle article,
“Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the National Nurses Union in Oakland, said leaders of her 160,000member organization are in ‘very, very high-level discussions’ about not offering a presidential endorsement in 2012. DeMoro and others remember Obama promising during his 2008 campaign that ‘if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself.’
“Instead, DeMoro said Obama has been ‘a bystander’ in the Wisconsin fight. ‘Our members are really upset at Obama,’ said DeMoro, whose membership supported a single-payer health care plan that Obama did not push. ‘He's favored the corporate class far more than the working class. It will be very difficult to get the nurses activated.’”
So far, the NNU–typically in the vanguard–is the only national union to publicly discuss whether the fickle “friend” in the White House warrants endorsement for another term. Non-endorsement should be a no-brainer for anyone favoring the working class over the corporate class. Unfortunately, there will be plenty of labor statespersons who will give no brain a different twist.
While no endorsement is better than endorsement what we really need is a positive alternative–an opposition party of our own that can ultimately take power to serve the interests of the working class majority. The California Nurses Association–the biggest component of the NNU–played an important role in the promising launch of the Labor Party fifteen years ago. Today the Labor Party is dormant, breathing only through a few state and local bodies. We need to revive or relaunch the Labor Party project to have any realistic hope of surviving the class war being waged against us–not by juvenile delinquents but the bosses, bankers, and brass hats.
¶ An AFL-CIO blog posting, Black Unemployment Rises Even as Jobless Rate Drops, cites various sources for this troubling fact. The main factor is that early African-American job loss was especially heavy in unionized sectors of manufacturing and construction that are not likely to come back. Now Blacks are experiencing another round of mass job elimination in the cutbacks in the public sector. The Black “middle class” was never comparable to whites in the best of times. The prospects for Black youth trying to get in to the job market has never in living memory been so bleak.
¶ While it leaves much to be desired to be sure, our Canadian sisters and brothers do have a labor party alternative in the Federal election campaign currently taking place. The outgoing Harper government has been following the lead of Obama, and the British ConLib government, on war, the environment, and slashing public services. The New Democratic Party–credited with winning social gains such as single-payer Medicare–is worthy of at least critical support as they take on both the Tories and Liberals.
¶ While visiting Iraq, Defense Secretary Gates perhaps picked a poor time to suggest that it might be a good idea for the Baghdad government to invite remaining U.S. troops--scheduled to be completely withdrawn by the end of this year--to stay on a bit longer. His remarks came shortly before the anniversary of the “liberation” of Baghdad by invading U.S. forces in 2003. For the past seven years it has become a day of protest against U.S. occupation and this year’s demonstrations swelled to record numbers in response to Gates.
¶ There were additional substantial We Are One actions on Friday and Saturday. A Seattle Times story about a protest in Washington’s capital, Olympia, said, “The event attracted thousands of demonstrators, some who traveled hours from cities such as Bellingham and Spokane, to demand that lawmakers end corporate tax breaks to solve the multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.” The Daily Kos reports, “Over 500 Chicago Teachers Union members came together with their sisters and brothers from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and hotel workers supporting UNITE-HERE to picket Hyatt Hotel and then march to Daley Plaza where up to 10,000 union members rallied in support of union rights.”
¶ Today’s Detroit Free Press carries a good explanation of the issue of temp workers at the Big Three automakers as negotiations with the UAW soon begin.
You can stay up-to-date on news of interest to the working class by visiting our Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.
That’s all for this week.
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