Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 30, 2012

Happy May Day Greetings To All!

The Red Felt Square
The mainstream media in the States offers little news about our Canadian neighbors. We’re kept ignorant about the numerous strikes and lockouts throughout English-speaking Canada. Just today, Chrysler was forced to halt production at its huge minivan plant in Windsor because of a CAW strike at a parts-supplier. We don’t hear that the latest poll shows the NDP labor party running neck-and-neck with the governing Tories on the Federal level, the once mighty Liberals also-rans. But the most stringent censorship is imposed on developments in French-speaking Quebec.

Richard Fidler opens a Bullet article, Massive Student Upsurge Fuels Major Debates in Quebec Society, with this paragraph,

“A crowd estimated at 250,000 people or more wound its way through Montréal April 22 in Quebec's largest ever Earth Day march. They raised many demands: an end to tar sands and shale gas development, opposition to the Quebec government's Plan Nord mining expansion, support for radical measures to protect ecosystems, and other causes. And many wore the red felt square symbolizing support to the province's students fighting the Liberal government's 75 per cent increase in post-secondary education fees over the next five years. The Earth Day march was the largest mobilization to date in a mounting wave of citizen protest throughout the province.”

The students have been the main force responsible for a dozen or more recent mass demonstration in Quebec. Like their counterparts in English Canada, Britain, and even the USA, they are fuming about the rising costs of education and student debt.

So far, student protests in the USA, such as a hunger strike beginning on six Cal State campuses, have largely been focused on this single issue of student self-interest. With student loan debt now exceeding what is owed on credit cards, both boss parties are promising to hold the line on interest rates for government-backed student loans. They realize such moderation is not only politically expedient but necessary to the stability of this important profit center. While Occupy has made some inroads among students, college campuses remain one of the few venues where President Obama can still make “rock star” appearances.

But the example of the daughters and sons of the Quebec working class forging alliances around other class and social issues as well as their own–in return winning at least formal endorsement of their fight from all major unions--is a threat to Establishments everywhere. Those of my generation, and others who have read history, are aware that in May-June 1968 French-speaking students ignited a worker upsurge that took control of most workplaces and government functions--and nearly toppled boss rule in France.

I’m not predicting an imminent Montreal Commune. But at the very least it will take a lot of grease to quiet the squeaky wheels throughout Quebec. Those of us in English-speaking North America should show our solidarity with those sporting the red felt squares--and try to learn some things to apply in our own struggles.

Unhealthy Addresses
Every seller of real estate knows the three most important factors are location, location, location. If you just relied on statistics, that would seem to be the case in predicting how long you will live. That, of course, has been known in general for some time but now stats have been refined to look at counties, even census tracts. Alan Bavley, writing in the Kansas City Star, took a look at expected life-spans in the seven counties of the Kansas City metro area that sprawls across the Missouri/Kansas state line,

“Pundits and politicians like to say the United States has the best health care in the world. If so, it’s not showing up in how long we live, a new study suggests. While life expectancies in some parts of the U.S. match those of the healthiest nations on earth, in vast swaths of this country preschoolers can expect to live no longer than their peers in some of the poorest and most strife-ridden parts of the world. That holds true in the Kansas City area...”

I reside in Jackson County, which includes most of the traditional Missouri side urban core. We’re keeping pace with Mexico.

Wyandotte County, the Kansas mirror-image of Jackson, where I was born and lived the first eight years of my life, is equal to Sri Lanka.

Johnson County, Kansas, on the other hand, enjoys longevity comparable to Japan and Switzerland–close to the top of the world comparison chart.

Yes, location makes a difference. But topography and architecture are not decisive. It’s no accident that Wyandotte is by far the poorest area county while Johnson has the greatest concentration of wealthy suburbs. Like most American metros ours is marked by de facto, decidedly unequal segregation by class and race. Skin pigment is a life-long attribute and social mobility is in a free fall. But we don’t have to wait for the dreams of King and Debs to be realized in a more just society to make some dramatic improvement in raising the life span of all to the level of Johnson County.

Health care is not the only factor influencing longevity. But even countries with race and class divisions similar to the USA have delivered longer, healthier lives to their residents by providing universal access to quality medical care. They do it for far less money than is spent here. Complete social equality between counties may take a while but closing the gap of inequality in life span is doable right now. Check out the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer.

One Video Is Worth a Million Jobs
Unlike our pale Blue-Green Alliance, some important sections of the British union movement are organizing conferences and demonstrations to demand putting the jobless to work on public projects to tackle climate change. Check out a short article and inspiring video about this effort by clicking

Hail to the Southwest Chief
The next WIR will have to cover a fortnight. With the need for preparation, travel, and recovery time added to the three days of the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago beginning this Friday, I have to depart from business as usual for the next two weeks.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article, Labor Notes Conference, What We Expect–What We Hope For. Our expectations at least are being confirmed. Over 1000 have already registered for the biennial gathering of labor activists. You can view the conference schedule, including the impressive list of speakers at the main sessions, here and a detailed description of workshops here. In addition to this ambitious program of events there will be dozens of tables set up by movement groups, book, video and music sellers, and others. As at the last conference, there will be a KC Labor table present.

For the first time in over five years, I’ll be riding Amtrak’s pride–the Southwest Chief. If all goes well, as it usually does on the Santa Fe mainline, the KC-Chicago trip will take a little over seven hours. That’s a hair quicker than driving under ideal conditions and, with my senior discount, it is about half the cost of just gasoline for a drive. Racking at the home of my friends Carrie and Adam in Western Springs saves the cost of a conference hotel room.

Unfortunately, the money saved on transportation and accommodations–and more–is committed to 400 dollars worth of materials for our table, currently at our regular union print shop. This includes a four-page color handout focusing on the issues of the need for a labor party and a working class movement around climate change. You can view the copy sent to the printer here. We will also be selling a two-inch button reading “Labor Party Advocate” in white letters on red background; you can see a printer’s proof here. Because this Conference will be a prime audience for the views promoted by KC Labor we’re doing a little deficit spending. If you would like to help out on the debt, you can visit our donate page.

And, of course, if you are going to the conference please drop by and at least say hi. It’s always a pleasure to verify there’s a corporal presence attached to an e-mail address.

That’s all for this week.

KC Labor will be there—Look for our Information Table

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