Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 3, 2006

Good News, Bad News For Black America
The "good news" is that African-Americans didn’t fall any farther behind in the "equality index" published in the National Urban League’s annual report, State of Black America 2006. The bad news is that index remained the same as last year. Using various measures of comparison in income, wealth, unemployment, health care access, and other factors, Blacks had a score of 0.73 compared to the white standard of 1.0.

Holding your own is not such a good thing when you’re on the bottom. But the short term doesn’t look promising for even keeping the status quo. The Black "middle class" will be hit proportionally harder in upcoming job eliminations and give-backs in the auto industry and the poor are taking a beating in cut backs in programs such as Medicaid in most states–one of the biggest in Missouri.

While there was much self-congratulation among the white Establishment—and, of course liberals—on "learning" from the Katrina disaster that there is still racial inequality, the promised dialogue to solve the problem has not materialized. This is hardly the first time these forces have made worthless pledges—and it will not be the last.

Nor has much of substance been heard even from the Congressional Black Caucus. The largest traditional civil rights organization, the NAACP, has shifted to a focus on entrepreneurism. Andrew Young, once a promising civil rights leader, is now shilling for Wal-Mart in Black communities.

In the 1950s it was Black working class activists, such as E.D. Nixon and Rosa Parks, who took the initiative in igniting a mass movement that brought real gains for African-Americans. The CBC and Andrew Young would not have their impressive resumes today had it not been for that movement.

It looks like it’s again up to African-American workers—both through the unions and independent organizational forms—to make any real progress at chipping away at the equality index. Such efforts would benefit the working class as a whole and deserve the support of all.

Thawing the Freeze In Denver
For the first time in 24 years—and for the first time ever since the system was chopped up through partial privatization—Denver transit workers are on strike. The 1,750 members of ATU Local 1001 haven’t received a raise since January, 2003. Salary increases for Regional Transportation District management have averaged 25 percent over the same span.

The RTD bosses have now offered lots of raises—15 cent increments every three months or so over three years—along with a whopping signing bonus of 250 bucks. Despite vigorous lobbying by ATU officials the workers, for the second time, solidly rejected this proposal which would have meant a further reduction in real wages.

Part of the privatized sector of the system, run by multinational First Transit, is also represented by the ATU—and working without a contract. It remains to be seen whether they will join the strike. Other fragments are nonunion, operated by Laidlaw and Connex. The strikers staff all light rail, the Rockies Ride service to ball games, and 55 percent of regular scheduled bus routes.

Wages aren’t the only issue. "Many of our members have worked weeks, even months, without a day off because RTD won't hire more drivers," said Local 1001 President Yvette Salazar.

Being A Spoil Sport
Finally, the dreary time of the year is past. Baseball is back. As regular readers know I’m a big fan of what used to be known as America’s Pastime.

In addition to the fun I’ve had as a spectator there Royals Stadium, a.k.a. Kauffman, has come to be a special place in my personal life. Opening Day in 1998 was the venue of the first date with the woman who is now my spouse. When she had a special birthday last year I threw a little party with some of our friends in some of the best seats in the house. That also turned out to be the place where we announced our intention to formalize our relationship through matrimony.

Nevertheless, I am voting "no" tomorrow on two ballot proposals that would allocate nearly a half-billion tax dollars to "renovating" Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadium (home of the NFL Chiefs) and putting a sliding roof in place that could cover either facility.

Most of the money would come from an additional three/eighths of a cent regressive sales tax on Jackson County consumers. Additional funds would come from a mysterious new "use" tax on businesses in the county on some out-of-state purchases–which will undoubtedly be passed on to consumers as well.

A similar proposal (without the sliding roof) was part of a cultural tax package for the whole metropolitan area that went down to defeat a while back when rejected by all counties except Jackson. Apparently the Establishment thinks Jackson residents are gullible enough to pick up the tab on our own.

They’ve used both stick and carrot. There is an implied threat that Kansas City may lose our beloved Royals and Chiefs if we don’t get with the program this time around. On the other hand, we have been promised one Super Bowl, one major league All-Star game, and one basketball Final Four, if we do the right thing.

As much as I love the ballpark, I find it unconscionable to levy new taxes, that hit the poorest the hardest, to subsidize major league sports when schools, health care, and basic infrastructure are being starved.

Still In progress
* As the Senate debates attacks on immigrant workers the immigrant rights movement continues to build steam. Nationally coordinated local actions have been set for April 10. The Kansas City event will take place 5:00-6:00 PM at Davis Park, across the street on the north side of City Hall. One of the best summaries of the issues at stake comes from the AFL-CIO executive council. You can read it by clicking here.

* Another general strike is in the works in France against the new law exempting workers under age 26 from the job security guaranteed other workers. Watch the Daily Labor News Digest for all the latest news.

That’s all for this week.

Sign Up For the KC Labor List

Past Weeks In Review

We get no–and want no–subsidies, grants, or paid advertising. But we need and appreciate whatever help our supporters can contribute, whether a one-time donation of any amount, or a ten dollar a month sustaining subscription.