Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 16, 2007

I apologize for being a little late with this week’s Review. Blame it on Global Warming. Thanks for waiting.

Will the Next Step Be Up?
Saturday’s Step It Up actions gave us a glimpse of the potential out there for building a mass movement around the issue of Global Warming. On short notice, with little money or apparatus, more than 1300 mainly modest sized events took place around the country collectively involving tens of thousands of participants.

Some unions endorsed, including SEIU and the Steelworkers. In at least a couple of areas there was actually some labor presence on the ground.

In St Paul the rally was addressed by state AFL-CIO president Ray Waldron and activists from the Continuations Committee coming out of the January Labor & Sustainability conference worked the crowd.

In Kansas City the Labor Party was highly visible with our union made banner, and distributing a leaflet explaining the party’s Just Transition approach to a sustainable economy. I gave greetings from our LP chapter to the rally, which organizers estimate attracted about 500.

The initiators of Step It Up deserve praise for launching the Saturday actions. Unfortunately, their suggestions for “next steps” threaten to strangle the fledgling mass movement in the cradle. I deal with their proposals in an article I posted last night (and slightly revised early this morning.)

We can’t afford to allow the April 14 actions to become yet another bait-and-switch operation where people are drawn in to mass actions only to be subordinated to the Establishment politicians. We can expect no more from a born again “Environmental congress” than we have received from a “Peace congress.”

Some “green” schemes–such as ethanol and “cap and trade” scams--embraced by the politicians will actually make things worse. We need bold, far reaching changes in our society to save the Earth as we know it. And we need an independent mass movement to get those changes. Only if we forcefully lead, through actions in the streets, workplaces, and campuses, will we drag along those in power to step it up in the right direction.

Chairman Andy’s California Innovations
Our friend Sean in the Bay Area was the first to alert me to a
story that broke in SF Weekly about sub rosa dissension within the SEIU bureaucracy over Andy Stern’s sweetheart deals with California nursing home bosses. In exchange for not opposing SEIU “organizing,” the bosses got the union’s support for legislation successfully creating a windfall in public funding worth millions; a stymied attempt to limit law suits; and opposition to mandated staffing level for patient care. The “template” contracts automatically taking effect after “organizing” did little to improve worker wages or benefits and actually hindered their power to deal with working conditions. A leaked internal memo subjects the deal, now up for renegotiation, to withering criticism.

“There's a struggle going on at the SEIU, and the struggle is, what kind of unionism is being advanced? Are these agreements that lay the ground for voluntary recognition? Or are they in fact straightjackets?” said Bill Fletcher, who was once a special assistant to Chairman Andy. Seems like Bill should know the answer to his question. Any body reading the article and memo will have no trouble figuring it out.

The Wall Street Journal also reported last week on discontent among the affiliates of Stern’s federation of splitters, Change to Win. After all their changing they don’t seem to be winning much. SEIU deals, such as the one mentioned in California, have added 70,000 new members to their rolls. Even after gobbling up several small unions the Teamsters gained only a few thousand members. UFCW and the Laborers actually have lost members since bolting the AFL-CIO.

The CtW partners are also at odds over questions such as immigration, health care, the war and environmental issues–though these differences are kept on a need to know basis within the top echelons.

Mother Earth Has No Borders
That’s what one sign read at a Sunday night vigil at the St Paul jail where dozens of immigrant workers rounded up by ICE in Willmar, Minnesota are being held. As with pre-Christmas raids at the Swift plant in Worthington–and numerous other work sites around the country–families are being broken up by la migra.

Raids, and fear of raids have become so widespread the UFCW is distributing bilingual immigration rights kits. The kit includes practical information, legal documents and sample letters and helps workers prepare for care of their children should they get caught in the dragnet.

To their credit, the AFL-CIO posted David Bacon’s excellent article, The Real Political Purpose of the ICE Raids, on their web site.

That’s all for this week.

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