Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 13, 2009

Easter and the Irish
A few words I was going to write about the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland turned out to be a few too many to include in this column. I shifted them to my seldom used blog. If interested, you can click
here.

Surgery Without Anesthetic
Most analysts now believe bankruptcy for General Motors and Chrysler is certain. There is little likelihood of Chrysler emerging as an independent, “American owned” company. Fiat may try to use Chrysler as a way to reenter the U.S. market, similar to what Renault attempted to do with American Motors. But they may notice there aren’t many Renaults on the streets of the USA today.

The smart guys in the Auto Task Force don’t seem too concerned about Chrysler’s fate but think a combination of radical surgery, along with tough love for their labor friends, can make a greatly shrunken GM viable.

They have already identified what they think are the good and bad parts of the once mighty automaker. Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC are deemed worth preserving as a new reorganized company. A life saving amputation of Pontiac, Saturn, Saab, Hummer, left over bits taken back from Delphi, etc., would be repackaged as essentially toxic assets.

Step two is leaning on the UAW to give back more than 20 billion in GM obligations to workers and retirees and agreeing to contracts in the surviving new core that mimic not only wages and benefits but also work rules of the Japanese-owned transplants.

Step three would be bankruptcy filing for the bad parts of GM, to stiff creditors and dealers who have been reluctant to settle for pennies on the dollar--and to also carry through a massive shuttering of plants.

There has so far been an eerie silence from UAW Solidarity House.

Brown Caught Red Handed
Another attempt by a corporation to rip off retirees was not met so passively. Accustomed to the generosity of partner Hoffa yielding concessions on the national level, UPS hiked health insurance premiums for Chicago Local 705 retirees from 50 to 315 dollars per month. But Local 705 negotiates separately for their members and they moved quickly to support retirees in a federal suit to block the giant increases. Last Thursday, a judge ruled against UPS and ordered the carrier to roll back to 50 per month for the duration of the contract and to refund the excesses already deducted. It’s not yet known whether Brown will appeal. Thanks to my friend Dave in Chicago for bringing this to our attention.

The Masters Voice
The effort of the Obama administration to synthesize a “single voice” for labor took another step forward last week with the establishment of the National Labor Coordinating Committee. It is considered an interim body preparing the way for launching a new labor federation, claiming about sixteen million members, by the time of the AFL-CIO convention in September.

The committee is comprised of the presidents of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win and the chief officers of twelve major unions--including the country’s largest union, the previously unaffiliated National Education Association.

The committee is headed by David Bonior. Bonior is not now and never has been in the union movement. He is a career Democrat politician. He was a Michigan congressman for twenty years, eleven of those years House majority or minority whip. After being gerrymandered out of his congressional seat he made an unsuccessful try for governor of Michigan. Since then he did a stint as professor of labor studies at Wayne State University and was John Edwards campaign manager in his quest for the 2008 presidential nomination.

If Bonior succeeds in his mission organized labor will enter a new era this fall. In the past labor unity has been sought to advance inevitable struggles that arise against the employers. Few union officials today are interested in fighting the bosses and when battles are forced upon them they are largely clueless. Virtually their sole strategy has become focused on electing and cultivating “friends” in office.

Yes, they will soon speak with one voice--just as Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney spoke with one voice. My guess is that Bonior will play the role of Winchell. (For you youngsters out there Paul Winchell was a popular television ventriloquist and Jerry Mahoney his dummy.)

A Mighty Ol’ Soul
King Coal is summoning all his minions to sell new, improved Clean Coal. Rallying around their friends and partners of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity are the CEOs of the United Mine Workers, Boilermakers, IBEW, and the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council. The coalition includes such good public citizens as Peabody, Caterpillar, Alcoa, General Electric and all Class I railroads.

IBEW president Ed Hill said,

“the only realistic course for our nation is to minimize the carbon emissions from coal generation, which, along with nuclear, will continue to be a vital part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future.”

Bob Baugh, IUC executive director, is getting downright impatient,

“Our nation needs good jobs and new technology that will cut our carbon emissions. It is time to quit talking about advanced coal technology and begin building it.”

Well, I agree with part of brother Baugh’s declaration–it is indeed time to stop talking about the scam of clean coal, also known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Here are some undisputed facts.

* CCS does not exist on a commercial level anywhere, never has, and is thus unproven in practice.
* It’s estimated that CCS would consume as much as forty percent of a power plant’s energy production.
* Storage of massive amounts of CO2 underground or under water is untested and risky.
* Escape of captured CO2 could have catastrophic consequences.
* The capital investment for universal CCS would be enormous, greatly reducing the economy of coal and boosting electricity rates.

Otherwise it’s not a bad idea.

Carbon emissions are frying our biosphere. The top climate scientist James Hansen feels sufficiently motivated to call coal fired power plants “factories of death.” They are as much or more of a threat to the members of the Mine Workers, Boilermakers, and IBEW as the rest of us. I’m sure our labor statespersons have heard something about this. But, like their employer partners, they remain fixated on a short term bottom line–in their case dues paying members in their jurisdictions.

We’re pleased to announce that our friend Stuart Elliott from Kansas Workbeat has posted a video of Christine Frank’s presentation at the recent New Crises, New Agendas conference on the science of climate change. You can watch it by clicking here.

Looks Good From Camp Victory
We’re assured every night by television news that the Iraq war is essentially over, violence is rare, people are flocking to markets and restaurants, and the withdrawal timetable will be met. But when President Obama made his first visit to Iraq as commander-in-chief he followed the lead of his predecessor–sneaking in unannounced and restricting his stop over to Camp Victory, adjoining the Baghdad airport. It was the Iraqi prime minister who made the dash from the Green Zone to the former Saddam International for a brief photo op.

Over the past week we have carried stories about five GIs, and dozens of Iraqis, being killed in bombings. There was a mass demonstration in Baghdad calling for the departure of the occupation forces right now. There was an expose of police ignoring roving homophobic gangs murdering young men and boys. Trade unionists are routinely hassled. Walls separate neighborhoods in most cities and towns. American mercenaries are finding new employment arrangements. And the President has requested an additional 83.4 billion to tide over both wars until the next budget cycle.

There’s one big difference between the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Vietnam in the 1970s was not considered vital to American corporate interests. Withdrawal was humiliating but didn’t much damage the bottom line.

But today’s rulers cannot afford to abandon oil-rich Iraq or–worse yet–see it fall in to the “wrong hands.” That’s why 50,000 troops will remain on the ground there after “withdrawal” is completed with many more “over the horizon” prepared to quickly intervene.

As the President himself so graphically illustrated with his uncharacteristic avoidance of public exposure Iraq is not safe and secure for even the commander of the most powerful military in history. The Iraq war is far from over. The occupation will remain until the American people do something about it–as we did eventually around Vietnam.

Coming Up
* There will be a workshop on single-payer healthcare, followed by a short march and rally, in Kansas City this Saturday, April 18. The workshop at All Souls UU Church, 4501 Walnut, will run from 2-4 PM. The march will go from there to the nearby Nichols Fountain at 47th & Main. The proceedings will be recorded by KKFI Radio (90.1 FM) and a radio show is planned.

* Plans have been announced for the Chicago Troublemakers School, taking place at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren, running from 9-4:30, Saturday, May 9. More information and registration click here.

That’s all for this week.

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