Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 1, 2007

Time To Step It Up
The Associated Press, working with an advance draft of a report to be released Friday, has pulled together an
excellent brief summary of species being lost to Global Warming. The report is another component of a monumental study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the authoritative U.N. network of 2,000 scientists, and more than 100 governments, that issued a February blockbuster warning about the crisis created by greenhouse gases. The IPCC draft estimates that if temperatures rise approximately 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit more, one-third of species will be lost from their current range, either moved elsewhere or vanished. The story goes on to document how this is already beginning among a wide range of life on every continent.

The lead story in today’s New York Times approaches the report from a different angle of social and economic inequality at work in environmental destruction. Andrew Revkin notes,

“Two-thirds of the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that can persist in the air for centuries, has come in nearly equal proportions from the United States and Western European countries. Those and other wealthy nations are investing in windmill-powered plants that turn seawater to drinking water, in flood barriers and floatable homes, and in grains and soybeans genetically altered to flourish even in a drought.”

Reports earlier in the week exposed that in Britain–whose government appointed itself environmental leader for Europe–greenhouse gas emissions actually increased last year.

On the other hand Revkin says,

“In contrast, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to new scientific assessments. As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded river deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island nations, that are most at risk.”

He quotes an academic,

“‘Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic,’ said Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. ‘A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We’ll see the same phenomenon with global warming.’”

A fair enough comparison though it should be recalled that even some billionaires went down to Davy Jones Locker in that human-made disaster. No one–despite wealth and privilege--will completely escape the effects of Global Warming over the long haul.

While awareness of the gravity of the threat of Global Warming is growing meaningful action for change is just getting started. One initiative that seems to be getting traction is Step It Up. A small group of young people in Vermont have used the Internet and networking to call for hundreds of community actions across the USA on April 14 addressing a demand to congress–cut carbon emissions by eighty percent by 2050. The environmental establishment, including the Sierra Club, has picked up on this call.

I don’t know if the eighty by fifty demand is sound scientifically or politically. The initiators show a certain naivete that will have to relate to the grizzled incremental lobbying approach of the Sierra Club. We could find many nits to pick.

But that would be missing the point. Significant numbers of people–including many young people–are eager to come together to do something about this crisis. The raw materials for a movement that can affect change are being assembled. Alloying them into a strong, malleable building material is the challenging but indispensable stage we must now go through.

That’s why I plan to show up at Southmoreland Park in Kansas City on April 14 at 1PM. I urge you to find the action in your area and do the same.

More than that, we should encourage our unions, and Labor Party chapters, to be visible at these events as well. It’s vital that labor movement folks get together with the students, and the “tree huggers,” to figure out a just solution to this crisis. Step it up!

The Seat Of Power
Collins & Aikman, a plastics supplier for the auto industry, has been in chapter 11 bankruptcy in the USA since 2005. Last November they announced they would sell or close most of their plants to pay off creditors. Their projected shuttering of a plant employing 500 in Port Huron, Michigan has been treated as another ho-hum plant closing.

But when the company reneged on a severance pay agreement with CAW workers at a Toronto plant the response was quite different. They didn’t call the lawyers or file charges with any government board. Instead, many workers have barricaded themselves inside the plant-- preventing any production or moving of goods or equipment. These sit-downers have been backed up by hundreds of workers standing watch outside the plant. A company spokesman said, “We are in a continuing dialogue with CAW and our customers to see if we can work constructively and cooperatively.”

The UAW likes to recall the sit-down strikes at GM and Ford back in the day that led to union recognition. But no such spirit of fighting emanated from the Special Bargaining Convention, held in Detroit this past week in advance of Big Three negotiations.

It was also acknowledged that despite much organizing activity the American auto union lost another 16,000 members last year, and nineteen UAW locals went out of business.

Revenue Sharing
Back in January, President Bush, in a speech heralding “progress” in Iraq that justified the “surge,” declared the Iraqi government intention “ To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.”

The Iraqi parliament is considering a “revenue sharing” plan to distribute oil money to those claiming to represent Shia, Sunni, and Kurds. But this money would be generated by turning over control of the country’s vast oil reserves–virtually the only asset remaining after the destruction of the Anglo-American war and occupation–to a Federal Oil and Gas Council. This body would be dominated by companies such as Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP/Amoco, and Royal Dutch/Shell. These American and British based companies would vote to set the conditions of their own contracts--and it’s estimated they would gain seventy percent of the take. A jigger for Iraq, a magnum for Big Oil.

Opposition to this plan is being spearheaded by Iraqi unions. Five major Iraqi labor federations, including the Federation of Oil Workers, have condemned the draft law. So has US Labor Against the War.

The Civil Rights Game
Finally, the dreary time of the year has ended. The first game of the major league baseball season begins tonight. I am blessed with both cable access and a spouse who shares my passion for the game.

Last night we watched a special pre-season contest in Memphis between St Louis and Cleveland called the Civil Rights Game. MLB acknowledged the interaction that baseball has had with the movement for equality by African-Americans. Awards were handed out. A Spike Lee documentary was shown to the crowd in the city that houses the Civil Rights Museum–though it was missed by ESPN because an NBA game had run in to overtime. During the game the ESPN commentators interviewed such Black baseball greats as Frank Robinson, Lou Brock, Hal McRae, and Dave Winfield–as well as the so-called commissioner of baseball.

The event was not totally self-promotional hype on the part of the baseball establishment. The sport has been an important arena for Black accomplishment. Jackie Robinson’s inspirational breaking of baseball’s color line in 1947 came a year before the integration of the armed forces, seven years before schools were ordered desegregated, and 18 years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. By 1975 28 percent of major league players were African-American and Frank Robinson became the first Black manager.

I was proud of my wife, Mary, that she noted one glaring omission from the official presentation–any mention of Curt Flood. While living in St Louis in the late Sixties I had the pleasure of watching Flood patrol center field, and spark the Cardinal offense as lead off man. A truly great player he also was a pioneer in fighting for player rights off field.

One odious legacy that continued in the game long after the color line was broken was the Reserve Clause. Players literally belonged to owners and could be bought, sold, and traded without their consent. The players also had to accept management’s final salary offer–or go look for another line of work.

When the Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season he refused to go. Instead, with the support of the then weak players union, he sued to eliminate the Reserve Clause. Jackie Robinson, and former team owner Bill Veeck, were among those who testified on Flood’s behalf. Though he lost the case in a 5-3 decision of the Supreme Court his courageous action paved the way for the demise of the Reserve Clause a couple of years later. Today, players with minimal seniority have rights to arbitration and free agency never known before Flood’s challenge. The owners never forgot nor forgave Curt Flood and he was persona non grata at the management sponsored salute to Black players.

That’s all for this week.

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