Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 19, 2009

Avoiding A Walkout
Though best known for such screen gems as the Predator series, Danny Glover is actually a pretty good actor. But before he was an actor he was an activist. Raised by parents committed to the union and civil rights movements, he was part of the Sixties student upsurge at San Francisco State. He has continued all his life, even after becoming rich and famous, to be a dedicated supporter of many social justice issues.

In 2001 he was part of a 2,000-strong unofficial American delegation to a UN sponsored World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa. In a recent Nation article entitled Race and the Obama Administration, Glover describes this group,

“...a rainbow of people crossing all lines--racial, ethnic, national, language, immigration status, religious and much more--joining an equally diverse crowd from across the globe. It was an extraordinary opportunity to meet, discuss, argue and strategize over how to rid the world of these longstanding evils.”

He continues,

“Our participation paralleled that of the official US delegation. And that's where we faced a huge challenge. The Bush administration team, having only grudgingly agreed to participate at all, made clear they had no real commitment to fighting racism or offering leadership on other challenging issues of discrimination. When they didn't like a few small parts of the sixty-one-page text, they packed up and walked out of the conference. It was a sad but hardly surprising moment, exposing once again the history of US failures to take seriously the consequences of its own legacy of racism, a point most recently made by Attorney General Eric Holder.”

Now, eight years later, a follow-up Durban Review conference begins tomorrow in Geneva. Glover closed his article with this appeal,

“This should be a moment for the United States to rejoin the global struggle against racism, the struggle that the Bush administration so arrogantly abandoned. I hope President Obama will agree that the United States must participate with other nations in figuring out the tough issues of how to overcome racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance, and how to provide repair to victims. Our country certainly has much to learn; and maybe, for the first time in a long time, we have something by way of leadership to share with the rest of the world in continuing our long struggle to overcome.”

Well, the Obama administration will not walk out of the Durban Review as the Bush team did in Durban. They are not going in the first place. Along with the Canadian and Australian governments they are joining Israel–who doesn’t like it when people such as Bishop Tutu and Jimmy Carter speak of their apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians--in a boycott. Secretary of State Clinton is urging other allies to do the same. Yet another “sad but hardly surprising” example of the inability of the U.S. Establishment to deal with “the consequences of its own legacy of racism.”

Racism and xenophobia are a bigger challenge during today’s global economic crisis than they were at Durban. While the bosses and politicians may speak political correctness race, gender, and national tensions that divide and divert the working class suit them just fine. Their sophisticated cynicism allows them to promote people of color and women to high places while simultaneously stirring the pot of prejudice down below.

The victims of prejudice will naturally take the lead in fighting it. But it’s the responsibility of all working people, regardless of what gene pool we come out of, to see that these are our issues too. That’s what the principle of solidarity is all about. The only meaningful, lasting liberation is self-liberation.

Moving Jobs South of the Border–To Detroit
John McCrank writing for Reuters says,

“The Canadian Auto Workers union has little choice but to accept cuts of over 20 percent in its members' wages and benefits when talks with Chrysler over cost savings resume next week.”

Chrysler Canada is working on the same deadlines as the UAW faces. Failure to get an agreement by the end of this month would lead to a cut off of government funds and filing for bankruptcy.

But Canadian bankruptcy law is somewhat different than U.S. A Canadian judge can order the parties to renegotiate but cannot impose new contracts as American judges can and often do. Whether voluntarily, or through bankruptcy, UAW members are likely to get stuck with far greater take-backs than what the CAW so far has been willing to accept. For example, there are reports that Chrysler and the UAW have already agreed in principle to accept twenty percent of Chrysler’s stock in place of more than five billion in cash owed to the VEBA set up for retiree healthcare.

Like U.S. workers, Canadians have seen their share of good jobs moved to low wage locations in Mexico. Now the CAW is being threatened by job loss south of the border--to the UAW. Like a loveless suitor demanding a dowry, Fiat is insisting Chrysler Canada workers not only be competitive with Japanese transplants but also with what the UAW winds up with at Chrysler plants in the USA. If they don’t agree it will be arrivederci to the Great White North, ciao to Michigan and the Midwest.

Youssef Abboud, an analyst at Clarus Securities in Toronto, said, “what happens to the U.S. unions will likely be the only thing that matters, as Chrysler will focus on the country with the lowest costs.” Chrysler has already warned it could move its minivan manufacturing from a plant in Windsor, Ontario, to its recently mothballed plant in St. Louis and could transfer production of its large sedans from Brampton, Ontario, to Mexico and the United States. There are 9,400 jobs at Chrysler Canada and thousands of additional jobs at Magna, and other Canadian parts suppliers.

You can read a statement by CAW president Ken Lewenza by clicking here.

We used to speak of globalization pitting North American workers against those in Mexico and China in a race to the bottom. Now the bosses have the Canadians and Americans sprinting toward oblivion–the more pliant Yanks leading by a nose. I must remember to cheer if Gettelfinger gets the Gold.

One interesting development is that leaders of the Italian Metalworkers Federation, a union representing Fiat workers in Italy, are coming to Detroit this week to meet with UAW counterparts.

Eureka--EPA Discovers Global Warming Is Bad For Us
It was not allowed during the eight years of Bush2. It didn’t happen during the previous eight years when Al Gore was Vice-President. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was nearly breathless as she announced an “endangerment finding” that “confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations.”

Despite its tardiness, so far so good. U.S. citizens now have one less embarrassment to worry about. But this “confirmation” of what climate scientists have been shouting for more than a decade was not accompanied by any proposed new regulations, or even broad suggestions concerning what might be done about this “serious problem.” The agency still defers to their political masters for action initiatives.

Last week we talked about the pipe dream of CCS “clean coal.” The corporate polluters will push this but it’s probably a long shot. It looks like debate in congress will center around two other options–cap-and-trade and cap-and-dividend.

Cap-and-trade has been around a while. In the USA there’s long been a market for credits to allow pollutants causing acid rain. It merely adds a little cost to doing business which is passed on to the consumer.

The European Union established a huge carbon cap-and-trade scheme as their main tool in meeting the modest goals they agreed to in the Kyoto Accords. But they were so generous in handing out initial carbon permits that the market has virtually collapsed for lack of demand. And it is almost certain that not a single EU country will meet their greenhouse gas reduction quotas. Cap-and-trade has not deterred plans for dozens of new coal-fired power plants in Germany and Italy. France has got off easy because of their reliance on nuclear power–a different type of environmental disaster in the making.

Such a dismal outcome could have been anticipated–as many did. We have seen failed markets destroy the jobs and life savings of millions. Why should we trust market mechanisms to save our biosphere from destruction?

Cap-and-dividend is a bizarre scheme cooked up by Peter Barnes who made a fortune from Working Assets, a “socially responsible” money management firm. He now aims to save the planet, and markets through what the Washington Post calls “a mix of capitalism, populism and environmentalism.” He would assess a weighted tax on carbon usage and then send everyone a “dividend” similar to the royalty payments all citizens of Alaska receive from oil companies. As spaced out as this may seem, it’s actually been proposed in a bill introduced by the co-chairman of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus in the House.

While such nonsense is being seriously debated the Guardian published a poll showing nine out of ten climate scientists now believe the goal of limiting global warming to 2C is no longer possible. An average rise of 4-5C by the end of this century is more likely, they say, given soaring carbon emissions and political constraints. As the British paper explains,

“Such a change would disrupt food and water supplies, exterminate thousands of species of plants and animals and trigger massive sea level rises that would swamp the homes of hundreds of millions of people.”

While my friends in the Sierra Club are rushing to bring out ads supporting President Obama’s climate policy–which seems as fluid as the melted Arctic ice–I’m going to keep working to knock down those “political constraints” that make our scientists so pessimistic about reducing emissions.

New Deadline
Starting tomorrow, Monday, April 20, we are moving our posting deadline for the
Daily Labor News Digest from 7 to 9AM Central. The explanation is simple: the growing number of stories we post has led me to keep getting up earlier and earlier while not going to bed any sooner. A sleep deficit can become an even greater challenge than a fiscal one. So I’m giving myself a little extra time to play with. I’m sorry if this causes readers any inconvenience. Many mornings I expect the news will be up well before 9. Hit the “reload” button on your browser to check for the latest available.

That’s all for this week.

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