Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 18, 2011

Some Editing Notes
Though I’ve noticed no decline in spam received at my e-mail addresses, I’m getting increasingly challenged by ISP automated spam-blockers. Most don’t like big numbers so I am now abbreviating sums of more than six-figures--even if that means altering quotations. A new concern seems to be mention of a police body in the U.S. Justice Department once headed by J Edgar Hoover that I must now work around. Sometimes there may be have to be some differences in the text between what we post on the kclabor.org site and what we send through e-mail–as was the case in the last two WIRs. Please bear with us

It’s Only Ours To Borrow, Let’s Leave Some For Tomorrow
So sang Alabama in their hit
video a couple of decades ago. That was back in the day when there was still an effort to build a mass environmental movement in the USA. This Friday is Earth Day. Like May Day and International Womens Day, Earth Day originated here in this country but is now a much bigger deal almost everywhere else.

The first Earth Day was initiated by an unlikely instigator–Gaylord Nelson, a mainstream, three-term Democrat Senator from Wisconsin who genuinely developed strong views on what was then called ecology. In September, 1969, during the height of the Vietnam war, he issued the call for an Earth Day the following April. Its format was adapted from the earliest protests against the war–a nation wide “teach-in” in every community.

Grass roots networks blossomed overnight. On April 22, 1970 there were various forms of teach-ins on two thousand college campuses. In New York there was a march on Fifth Avenue, culminating in a rally in Central Park, that drew an estimated one mn participants. Environmentalists could no longer be dismissed as sprout-eating hippies. This was a mass movement, reflecting mass sentiment, during a period when such movements were winning victories. It paved the way for the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts to come within the next few years.

But they couldn’t make common cause with much of the biggest mass movement–the unions. With a few honorable exceptions–such as Tony Mazzocchi–the union bureaucracy was suspicious of do-gooders that might threaten the jobs of their dues-paying members.

Eventually, the grassroots environmental movement was co-opted by groups such as the Sierra Club. Now claiming a mn members, the Sierra Club is every bit as top-down in functioning as most unions and also shares seeking partnership with polluters while deferring to the Democrats. They got together with the Steelworkers to launch a bureaucratic coalition–the Blue-Green Alliance.

This shift from struggle in the streets to rubbing shoulders with CEOs and political machers is why we have to mark another anniversary this week–one year since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, killing eleven men, injuring seventeen more, and leading to the release of nearly five mn barrels of crude oil in to the Gulf of Mexico. The long-term effect of that disaster remains unknown. Tar balls still greet Spring Break students on the beaches of Florida’s Pan Handle. Though no new legislative safeguards have been passed, new drilling in the Gulf is in the final preparation stage.

As we hear from the Tokyo Electric Power Company that it will be months before they get their runaway radiation under control, plans are going forward to build new nukes in the USA. Old ones–similar to the ones in Japan–will not only likely have their licenses renewed but are already being cranked up to produce more.

The terms climate change and global warming are rarely heard in polite conversation these days. Even a gathering of some of the most progressive union leaders and activists at the Emergency Labor Meeting in Cleveland a few weeks ago could not agree to including even a fleeting reference in the Perspectives document.

None of these challenges will be part of American Earth Day events this Friday. Instead, there will be promotion of such individual options as recycling, CFL replacement of incandescent lighting, and donating money to save trees.

Change needed to “leave some for tomorrow” will not be granted from above. It must be won in battle by those of us down below. We don’t have a whole lot of time to get going on this. That’s my message for Earth Day.

A Compromise With Feeling
After the “historic” compromise brokered by the President to prevent House Republicans from shutting down the Federal government, the conventional wisdom expressed in the media was that the amounts cut from the budget were so small and insignificant that most Americans wouldn’t even notice.

Maybe–unless you are a poor mother or infant depending on the WIC program for basic nutrition. The 500-mn dollar slash in that lifeline over the next five months will be widely felt. If you are one of the five-mn low income Americans depending on community health centers for basic medical care you may notice their loss of 600-mn in Federal assistance. Residents of economically depressed suburbs and small towns who had kept fire and police service going only with Federal help may notice when no body responds to their 911 calls.

The impact of some other cuts may be less palpable but perhaps even more serious in the long run. For example, the1.6-bn sliced off the EPA budget and the total scrapping of the high-speed rail initiative.

Some of the deals approved by the White House and Congressional leaders couldn’t even be quantified in the budget. In a blatant violation of the Endangered Species Act, Congress ordered the EPA to remove protection of Rocky Mountain wolves.

At the end of the day the deal we wouldn’t notice nearly didn’t pass. The cracked tea pots felt sold out and dozens voted against. So did some liberals. But a solid majority of Democrats voted with the GOP leadership to get the job done.

Of course, this budget that lasts only through the end of September is only a prelude to at least two more bloody acts–approval for raising the ceiling on the national debt and the next, election year budget.

An article in Politico reports,

“Top labor leaders excoriated President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a closed session of the AFL-CIO’s executive board meeting in Washington Wednesday, three labor sources said. Furious union presidents complained about budget cuts, a new trade agreement and what some view as their abandonment, even by their typically reliable allies among Senate Democrats.”

(If you’re wondering, the OED defines excoriate as a “formal censure.”)

Continuing, they say,

“‘Now, not only are we getting screwed by the Republicans but the Democrats are doing it too,’ said one union official, characterizing the mood at a summit of labor leaders who are worried that Democrats seem unlikely to go to the mat for them as an election year approaches.”

Brothers Anonymous may be on to something here but probably need a reminder that we are always either in an election year or have an election year approaching.

In Brief...
¶ Renamed the Emergency Labor Network, the continuations committee coming out of the March Emergency Labor Meeting in Cleveland is calling another conference. The National Labor-Community Conference to Defeat the Corporate Agenda and Fight For a Working People’s Agenda will be held June 24-26, 2011 at Kent State University in Ohio. You can find more information
¶ Nurses on Minnesota’s Iron Range have authorized a strike at Range Regional Health Services because the company won’t seriously bargain over concerns about staffing levels and the safety of patients. The 150 RNs are members of the Minnesota Nurses Association, an NNU affiliate.
¶ There will be a Save Our Raise Benefit Show to Protect Missouri's Minimum Wage this Friday, 9pm to 2am at the Gusto Lounge, 3810 Broadway, in Kansas City. This is in support of a Jobs with Justice campaign against the Missouri legislature’s efforts to chisel on the state minimum wage law approved by voters. Rock bands Red Kate, Under the Black Sails, and Dream Wolf are performing. If you can’t make the event you can send a donation
¶ Plans for the KC Labor Forum May Day celebration are shaping up. We’ll announce the complete program next week. An initial leaflet is available for viewing–and printing out–

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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