Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 20, 2008

A Glimpse Of Reality In Baghdad
Have you noticed the absence of talk about the war by the self-styled peace candidates vying for the Democrat presidential nomination? Neither responded to a new study showing 300,000 GIs returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering serious mental disorders. When Clinton wasn’t chasing a shot of Crown Royal with a mug of beer she was mainly talking about the importance of faith in her life. Obama, while struggling to put more distance between him and his former pastor, quietly announced that he has added two former Senators to his National Security Foreign Policy Team.

Sam Nunn was chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee over a period that spanned intervention in El Salvador, the contra war in Nicaragua, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the first Gulf War, and the Black Hawk Down days in Somalia. David L. Boren was the longest-serving Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, getting the inside dope from America’s spy agencies These two icons of wars both hot and cold will undoubtedly provide valuable advice for President Obama’s program for peace. Maybe they can even handle some of those 3AM phone calls.

Such former Senators can provide the same kind of help that the former brass hats employed as expert military commentators by all the TV news organizations give the public. The Sunday New York Times spells out how most of them are part of a long cultivated propaganda effort by the Pentagon and that nearly all of them have lucrative financial ties to military contractors.

But every now and then we get a glimpse of reality in Iraq even in the mainstream media. Leila Fadel of McClatchy Newspapers told the story of a group of GIs sent in to urban combat in support of official Iraqi forces in the Sadr City district of Baghdad. The area, controlled by Prime Minister Maliki’s main political opponent, has been blockaded for weeks in preparation for this assault.

But the American troops soon became isolated from their Iraqi allies and in fact got caught in a cross fire between their “friends” and Sadr’s Mehdi Army. The GIs were forced to hunker down in a house just abandoned by a noncombatant family. They found, “It has rats and clogged toilets but no electricity or hot water, and no air conditioning or heating.” Not all the smoke in the air was from gunfire; some was from burning huge piles of garbage that had not been collected for nearly two months. The soldiers found the conditions of the former family occupants–Shiites “liberated” from Saddam’s tyranny five years ago–to be nearly as intolerable as the combat situation they faced.

The crimes and tragedies of the Iraq war and occupation need to be brought front and center in American politics. The politicians will continue to do their best to divert our attention to their opponent’s gaffs, or comforting talk of family and faith. Those of us who know better have an obligation to confront their complicity in this unjust war and demand they end it by getting out now.

A good place to start planning this will be the .National Assembly To End the Iraq War and Occupation, scheduled in Cleveland June 28-29. Among the endorsers of this conference is US Labor Against the War. Included in the speakers schedule are Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and Fred Mason, president of the Maryland/DC AFL-CIO. I’ll be in Cleveland and I hope I see you there as well.

The North Heats Up
It’s not only the jet stream that is creeping north, bringing warmer temperatures to our Canadian neighbors. Class war, fueled by surrenders by U.S. unions, will likely get much hotter the next few months as well. According to reliable sources, General Motors, who have assembly plants in Oshawa and engine and transmission plants in St. Catharines and Windsor, will be demanding concessions from the CAW to make them “competitive” with unorganized “transplants.” Demands will include two-tier wages, less paid time off, and elimination of cost of living protection. The CAW says, “We've already told General Motors that we don't agree with their numbers, but we're also not going to be pitted against the transplants. We don't represent the transplants and we're not going to compete with them in terms of their cost structure.” The CAW-GM contract expires mid-September.

In Toronto, ATU negotiators bargained two hours past a deadline to reach a tentative agreement averting a strike by 8900 transit workers. The provincial premier had threatened to outlaw the planned strike. No details yet but the deal purportedly is for three percent annual wage boosts and contains no major give-backs. The 1.5 million daily transit riders are undoubtedly relieved. I too am glad my ATU sisters and brothers were able to reach an acceptable settlement for reasons personal as well as solidarity–I will be visiting Toronto for the first time in twenty years in about a month. The last time I visited Vancouver CAW bus drivers had that city’s transit system shut down.

Unions Rally For Labor Ed In Ann Arbor
Union members and supporters rallied Thursday to demand that the University of Michigan continue its Labor Studies Center, which offers labor conferences and adult education geared to union workers. The Ann Arbor program has an emphasis on the needs of women and minority workers. Another example of the national pattern of attacks on modest Labor Education programs. Last year the Institute for Labor Studies at UMKC got a last minute reprieve from termination after vigorous intervention by the local labor movement--but is still far from secure.

More On the ‘Battle of Detroit’
We reported last week on the physical assault organized by SEIU staffers on the Labor Notes conference and called on the entire labor movement to denounce it. Numerous articles, nearly all condemning the attack, appeared in various media over the past week. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney–Andy Stern’s predecessor as president of SEIU–issued a pretty good statement which said,

“There is no justification – none – for the violent attack orchestrated by SEIU at the Labor Notes conference in Detroit. While there may well be multiple sides to any dispute, violence in any form is reprehensible. Violence in attacking freedom of speech must be strongly condemned. Any attempt to deny the right of free speech threatens the foundation of our movement and the future of working people.

“No union should understand the corrosive effect of violence better than SEIU, which was founded by courageous janitors in the face of employer violence in the 1920s and 1930s. I call on the leaders of SEIU to condemn what happened in Detroit.”

A group of SEIU members attending the Detroit gathering issued an Open Letter to SEIU Members and Leaders that opened,

“As SEIU members who attended the Labor Notes conference held on April 11-13, 2008 in Dearborn, Michigan, we denounce the attempts by SEIU International to violently disrupt a fundraising banquet on Saturday, April 12 attended by nearly one thousand labor activists from around the world who gathered to discuss ways to rebuild labor’s power.”

And closed with,

“We also call upon SEIU’s rank and file members to denounce the SEIU International’s use violence and to tell the International Officers of SEIU that we will not tolerate the use of our union dues to attack rank-and-file union members. We are proud to be members of SEIU and call upon our International leadership to put SEIU back on the right path as a growing, dynamic member-driven union.”

The biggest challenge in writing this weekly column is not finding things to say but running short of space to say them. Next week, in deference to Earth Day, we will try to get back up to speed on environmental developments. To keep up on the latest stories of interest to working people check out our Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 7AM Central, Monday-Saturday.

That’s all for this week.

KC Labor Home

National Assembly To End the Iraq War and Occupation
Cleveland June 28-29

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