Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 5, 2011

Somos Uno
The We Are One events yesterday were a unique innovation that found resonance in every state and solidarity actions in several other countries. In some workplaces there were brief work stoppages. In others all workers wore their union t-shirts to visibly demonstrate they were One. Most towns of any size had at least one street action where all–union or not–could participate.

It’s impossible to get a precise count of those taking part in some kind of coordinated activity. A march and rally in St Paul attracted several thousand. Most were more modest than that but collectively it seems certain that hundreds of thousands plugged in to We Are One in some way.

This was all put together quickly. The initiative came from CWA president Larry Cohen who secured endorsement from the AFL-CIO executive council about a month ago. Other unions, and civil rights groups soon signed on. The Internet was a big help in organizing events–especially in the communities–but most bodies were turned out by unions that have rediscovered they have the capacity to mobilize their members when they can motivate them for something worth while.

The basic themes were educational and on the mark, drawing on the heritage of Dr Martin Luther King-- whose life was taken April 4, 1968 while on a mission to help striking Black city employees in Memphis. They were fighting for not only a union but equality and dignity as well. Those struggles continue and yesterday renewed the message that the labor movement and the movements for human rights will each benefit from unity in action.

Had this project been attempted a few months ago it likely would not have drawn anywhere near the numbers we saw in action yesterday. The fight-backs at state capitols–above all Madison–have inspired and energized American workers on a scale not seen for generations. This was palpable at an evening rush hour rally held at Kansas City’s busiest intersection.

I would guess that the several dozen present were about equally divided between active trade unionists and sympathetic folks from the peace and environmental movements. There were some UMKC students, part of a newly formed SDS chapter. They all fraternized well and, unlike at past union “rallies” that mainly feature politicians, the multi-generational crowd was lively, singing, chanting, bouncing around. They were hungry for literature and eagerly accepted leaflets about the next KC Labor Forum. Before winding down there was an open bull-horn session. A teacher unionist urged me to say something about the Labor Party and my remarks were well received.

Now we have a better idea of who we are. The next step is figuring out where One wants to go.

Unframing the Health Care Debate
The lion’s share of the four trillion dollars House Budget Committee chair Paul D. Ryan (R) of Wisconsin proposes to chop off the Federal deficit over the next ten years would come from slashes, and privatization, in health care. As reported in the New York Times,

“Under the proposal, Medicaid would be transformed into a block grant, with a lump sum of federal money given to the states to care for low-income people. States would be given more discretion over use of the money than they have under the current federal-state partnership.

“For future Medicare beneficiaries — people now under 55 — Mr. Ryan’s proposal calls for the federal government to contribute a specified amount of money toward the premium for private health coverage. Under the traditional Medicare program, the government reimburses doctors and hospitals directly.”

This is the GOP answer to what they call ObamaCare–a “reform” that has benefited mainly insurance robber-barons and pharmaceutical drug lords. Commenting on the same proposal, Kathleen Hennessey wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “It also telegraphs the central role the issue will play in the GOP's pitch to voters in 2012.”

Will the labor movement once again choose sides in a showdown between the Obama plan that has hurt most working people versus the GOP plan that will hurt everybody but the rich? Is this what democracy is supposed to look like?

Buried deep in the AFL-CIO’s resolutions book is the call for Canadian-style single-payer health care. Brother Trumka has resisted the embarrassment this might cause among his politician friends by imposing a code of Omerta. It’s high time we broke the silence. We need to put single-payer front and center as we defend ourselves in class war. Since few of our “friends” in politics will touch this reasonable, affordable way of providing decent health care for all, this is another good reason for reviving the movement for a Labor Party.

Careful What You Ask For
The once reclusive, now notorious billionaire Koch brothers, lords of an empire that brings us such diverse products as gasoline and toilet paper, are again in the news. No one has spent more money trying to discredit the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming changing our climate is caused by the way industries that are the source of the sibling’s wealth, and their class peers, are run.

They searched high and low and finally found a reputable scientist known for being a global warming skeptic. They poured money in to his project looking for sloppy science in UN reports. The Republican controlled House Science & Technology Committee eagerly called him as a witness. But here’s how Margot Roosevelt reported this appearance in the Los Angeles Times,

“The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project was launched by physics professor Richard Muller, a longtime critic of government-led climate studies, to address what he called ‘the legitimate concerns’ of skeptics who believe that global warming is exaggerated. But Muller unexpectedly told a congressional hearing last week that the work of the three principal groups that have analyzed the temperature trends underlying climate science is ‘excellent.... We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.’”

All Flesh Is Grass
So the Book of Isaiah tells us. That’s been true ever since Neolithic humans developed agriculture. Be you omnivorous or vegan your diet is more dependent than you probably realize on crops such as wheat, corn, and soybeans. Like all commodities, today these staves of life are subject to the global capital markets. That’s why North American urban workers need to be concerned about what’s happening in our rural breadbasket.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about how growing demand for beef in China, along with U.S. government mandates for greatly increased use of corn-based ethanol, are driving up the costs of both food and fuel throughout the world. But maize is not the only trouble spot.

William Neumann recently wrote in the New York Times,

“Tight supplies of corn, soybeans and wheat have sent prices skyrocketing in the last year, prompting worries of a looming global food crisis. In other years, American farmers have responded to high prices by devoting more land to staple food crops.

“But this spring, many farmers in southern states will be planting cotton in ground where they used to grow corn, soybeans or wheat — spurred on by cotton prices that have soared as clothing makers clamor for more and poor harvests crimp supply. The result is an acreage war between rival commodities used to feed and clothe the world’s population.”

A Los Angeles Times article by P.J. Huffstutter entitled Plant disease raises questions on modified crops, relates concerns by many farmers and some scientists about the surge in Sudden Death Syndrome in Midwest soybean crops. Touring an Iowa farmer’s fields he notes,

“His soybean fields, where he'd used seeds developed by Monsanto Co. and sprayed with its popular glyphosate weed killer Roundup Ready, were littered with yellowed leaves and dead plants. Four days earlier, the plants had been waist high and emerald green. Nearby, in fields where he had planted seeds that weren't genetically engineered and didn't use glyphosates, the soybean plants were still healthy and lush.”

While suspicion and hypotheses about the harmful impact of GM and glyphosates abound, no institution has yet been prepared to fund a comprehensive, independent scientific study. Nobody is anxious to take on Monsanto--who have threatened critics with legal action. My quantum of proof has been satisfied enough that I pay premium prices for organic products even as my real income shrinks. I anxiously await the season opener of our local, organic Brookside Farmers Community Market April 23–even though I recognize much more is needed than consumer choices can provide.

The exploitation of the world’s food and fiber resources by AgriBusiness and finance capital will not only make food more expensive for you and me–it will make adequate nutrition unavailable to hundreds of millions around the world. On top of that, the not yet fully understood, unintended consequences of genetic modification and chemical dousing pose a real environmental challenge–and likely crisis--for generations to come.

It’s time to get the snake out of the grass.

Busy Weekend Ahead
There will be national antiwar protests in
New York this Saturday (4/9), and San Francisco on Sunday, called by the United National Antiwar Committee.

In Kansas City, SDS is organizing an antiwar rally this Saturday at Noon, at the Fountain, 47 & Main.

This Sunday (4/10), will be the third in our new KC Labor Forum series–From Wisconsin to Jefferson City and Topeka. ATU retiree Molly Madden and Cris Mann, an AFT KCMO teacher, will report on a solidarity trip they made to the biggest of the Capitol actions in Madison. Tony Saper, also an ATU brother, will speak about the anti-worker measures passed or proposed in the Kansas and Missouri legislatures–and what we can do about them. There will be an open discussion after the panel presentations. The Forum will be held at the North Kansas City Community Center Room A, Armour Road & Iron, 2-4PM. Admission free.

And, those in the KC area, please save the date–May 1, 1;30 PM, North Kansas City Library, for our special KC Labor May Day event.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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