Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 28, 2010

I wasn’t planning to send out another WIR until this weekend. However, as is so often the case whenever I go on the road, a lot has been happening. This is reflected in our resumption of the Daily Labor News Digest this morning. Drawing on stories from just the past two days, we posted a record number of linked articles and graphics. So here is a relatively brief interim review so we can keep this weekend’s edition to a manageable length.

Labor Notes
Before I go any further let me welcome those new subscribers to our e-mail list who signed up at our table at the Labor Notes Conference last weekend. I’m glad we were able to scrape together the cost of the table where we met many new people as well as being a place where old friends could find us. We distributed copies of our
tenth anniversary celebration flyer, the Call for the Alliance for Class and Climate Justice, and sold a number of attractive “For Class and Climate Justice” buttons–designed by our good friend Christine Frank in Minneapolis.

I’m preparing a stand alone article on the conference, which will be posted on Labor Advocate Online, in about a week or so. It was big–over 1200 participants. It was diverse in every sense of the term, with twenty countries represented; women and people of color were there in large numbers; and machers and rank-and-filers shared the same privileges and obeyed the same rules. It was uniquely representative of those fighting back, or considering doing so, in the labor movement today. More later.

Workers Memorial Day
As regular readers know, this annual reflection on death in the workplace is all too timely. Just over the past month, seven workers were killed in an explosion/fire at an oil refinery in Washington; 29 in a West Virginia coal mine explosion; and eleven missing and presumed dead in an explosion and sinking of an offshore oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Everyone knows of these bloody events. But few heard anything about the New York City subway track worker electrocuted on Monday. Nor was there much media attention given to the worker killed while trying to abandon a sinking fishing boat in the Gulf of Alaska. His crew mates suffered hypothermia before being rescued by the Coast Guard.

The ones and twos add up. In 2008–the latest year for which figures are available–5, 214 died on the job. This was considerably more than U.S. military deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. If that level of carnage was taking place on the battlefield there would be a massive antiwar movement.

Of course, we will never completely eliminate accidents in the workplace. But it is possible to restrain the greedy indifference to human life shown by too many employers. We, of course, want to take the restraints off OSHA, MSHA, FRA, and FAA and make them do their job. But above all, to “fight like hell for the living,” we need to train and empower workers to police their own workplace–and shut it down if necessary. That should be the message coming out of Workers Memorial Day–and fought for every day.

How’s That Drilling Thing Doing, Baby?
There’s at least one thing Sarah Palin and President Obama appear to agree on: drill baby, drill-- including offshore. Both remain committed even after the Deepwater Horizon platform disaster that claimed the lives of eleven workers and has created an oil slick the size of the island of Jamaica. As I write, the leak nearly a mile beneath the surface producing this slick has not yet been capped and the mess is nearing the beaches and marshes of Louisiana. In desperation the Coast Guard is looking at trying a controlled burn off of the crude oil.

Even if shore damage is reduced this is already a disaster for fish, marine mammals, birds, and sea vegetation that supports them. Whales have been sighted in the slick. It is an area frequented by sea turtles and Blue Fin Tuna–already victims of insatiable Japanese bourgeois epicures. Even if the volume of crude is contained this may well turn out to be a bigger calamity than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska twenty years ago.

All this began while the World People’s Conference on Climate Change was meeting in Bolivia. They adopted a remarkable resolution--Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth–which the Bolivian government will submit to the United Nations. A companion document, an Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration, is appropriately entitled, Mother Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her. Instead of trying to “partner up” with Big Oil and Big Coal–and the politicians they have bought and paid for–the North American working class needs to follow the wisdom coming out of Bolivia.

That is part of the approach that the fledgling initiative of the Alliance for Class and Climate Justice is taking.

Who Moves America?
It was gratifying to read in the Washington Post this morning,

“Thousands of local and national transit workers rallied Tuesday on Capitol Hill for greater and more flexible federal funding for the country's ailing public transportation systems.”

The ATU and TWU have closely collaborated with Rev Jesse Jackson in building a series of mass local rallies culminating in the one yesterday. I advocated such a mass action response by the ATU to the long smoldering transit crisis during the fourteen years I drove a bus for the Kansas City ATA--but had only sporadic, limited success. Now the depth of layoffs, and the offer of the high profile Rev Jackson to link with communities of color, has spurred the unions to take some serious steps. Better late than never.

The fight to save and expand transit is not only important to transit workers and the current transit dependent communities. Getting more people out of cars on to mass transit is a vital component of any plan to stop climate change.

Returning to the Temple
After a tentative agreement was reached late yesterday, striking members of National Nurses United have taken down their picket line and started to return to work at Temple University hospital in Philadelphia. So far, no details of the deal have been made public. We should know more by this weekend.

We’re Crossing Off the Grand Canyon
My wife Mary and I want to take our first proper vacation in four years in September. One spot we discussed was a rail trip to and in to the Grand Canyon. But now we’ve decided to cross that option off of our list.

It’s not that the big hole carved out by the Colorado River has lost its charm. Far from it. But, as I’m sure you have heard, the power structure of Arizona has adopted the most repressive legislation since the times of the Bisbee Deportation. The police have been instructed to vigorously pursue possible “illegal” immigrants by demanding papers from anyone who looks suspect. Since a large part of the state’s population are of Mexican or Indian heritage that means lots of suspicious looking people who clearly stand out from recent immigrants from the Rust Belt.

There was much discussion of this at the Labor Notes Conference, petitions against it were circulated, and during the banquet several held up signs calling for a boycott of Arizona. We plan to stand in solidarity with the working people of Arizona by boycotting the state until this outrage is corrected. It looks like Niagra Falls for us.

For those many readers who have been craving to hear my spoken voice, you can listen to an interview by my old friend Traven Leyshon on his radio show by clicking

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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