Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 6, 2008

Truncated Truce
Two weeks ago Iraqi prime minister Maliki launched a major offensive against militias in Basra and in the Sadr City district of Baghdad. Even with help of American and British armor and air support it proved to be a disastrous adventure marked by both defeats and massive defections to the other side.

Maliki soon accepted a cease-fire offer from clerical and Mehdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has called for a peaceful mass demonstration against the occupation on Wednesday. Some American brass privately expressed relief at the time of the truce, pointing out that any major action in densely populated Sadr City would be very bloody for both sides and would inevitably inflict many noncombatant casualties.

But it appears Maliki was only buying time to regroup–and draw the Americans and Brits in further. A blockade of Sadr City has been enforced right along leading to severe food shortages and uncollected garbage. Today what appears to be the beginning of an even bigger offensive has been launched through joint operations with American forces in the southern section of Sadr City and in Basra with British troops returning to the city they “handed over to Iraqi control” months ago. U.S. Apache helicopter gunships are firing Hellfire missiles in to the Sadr City neighborhoods and the huge Jamila market is reported to be on fire.

Maliki’s effort--ahead of the report back to Washington by General Petraeus on Wednesday--to show that the surge has worked and he is in charge, is demonstrating just the opposite. Maliki is no more in charge of Iraq than Nguyen Van Thieu was in charge of Vietnam during Westmoreland’s surges in that long, bloody, losing war.

The direction the war is taking imparts even greater urgency to the need to build a unified antiwar movement capable of building mass actions demanding the GIs be brought home now. There’s a national conference dedicated to that perspective coming up in Cleveland in June and it is finding support. Just this week Fred Mason, president of the Maryland/DC AFL-CIO, and a national co-convener of US Labor Against the War, was confirmed as an addition to an already impressive speakers list at the event. I urge you to check out the conference web site, add your name to the more than 400 endorsers of the gathering, and if you can, make plans to attend.

Forty Years Ago
I am once more reminded that many of the events that have served to shape my life took place before many of my readers were even born. 1968 was a year packed with historic events. The Tet Offensive proved to be a watershed in the Vietnam war. In May-June workers in France came close to making a revolution. Later in the year workers in Czechoslovakia made an impressive effort to democratize their post-capitalist society–only to be later subdued through Soviet-led military intervention

The most important event in that turbulent year in the United States is being widely commemorated and discussed this weekend–the murder of Martin Luther King and the subsequent uprisings in Black communities across the country. Like the 1965 assassination of another outstanding Black leader, Malcolm X, a trigger man was identified. But, also like the murder in Harlem, questions remain about what forces may have been behind Dr King’s killer in Memphis.

Though the Establishment now tries to make Dr King a harmless icon they were then quite concerned about his growing influence--and his evolving perspective. The Nobel Prize winner was beginning to link up with the emerging mass movement against the Vietnam war. He was in Memphis in support of an AFSCME strike by sanitation workers that was shaking the whole town.

This expansion of struggle that began over basic civil rights made them very nervous. It has been established that the FBI not only spied on Dr King but also organized slander campaigns to try to undermine his credibility among both African-Americans and progressive white supporters. Despite all their crocodile tears, this country’s ruling elite heaved a sigh of relief with the elimination of this exceptional leader. It was a blow that African-American leadership has yet to fully recover from.

There were spontaneous uprisings after Dr King’s murder across the country. Uncontrolled rage lashed out at whatever targets were handy. In many cities national guard troops were rushed in to contain “riots.”

It’s interesting that Kansas City very nearly escaped the violence and property damage common at the time. When high school students staged an angry march to City Hall they were met on the steps by Mayor Davis. Whatever else one might say about Davis he was an adroit politician. He started a serious dialogue with the students that seemed to be making progress--until the gathering was dispersed with tear gas. The cops denied responsibility for the gas attack but it is known the police had 1400 tear gas canisters in their inventory while the students had none.

Black-oriented radio station KPRS promptly stepped up to the plate to try to save the situation. In addition to broadcasting appeals from Black clergy to honor Dr King’s nonviolent approach, the station organized a dance for the high school students at the Holy Rosary Church. The dance was well attended and peaceful–until the police started firing tear gas in through the windows. The cops later claimed that they thought the youths had broken in to the church to vandalize it.

After that all hell broke loose. At least six died–four shot by police, two shot by “persons unknown.” Dozens were hospitalized. There were more than 1500 arrests, the great majority identified as “colored.” There were dozens of fires, property damage in the millions. Three thousand national guard and highway patrol troopers were brought in to assist the police. Three hundred Kansas national guard were dispatched to the then all-white suburban Johnson County lest the looters head their way.

The chief of police issued an instruction, “The use of lethal weapons is authorized if other means to apprehend one engaged in felonious conduct fail.” That chief was Clarence Kelley–later appointed by President Nixon to head the FBI.

Most would argue that great progress in racial equality has been made since 1968. In fact, by ‘68 the power of the civil rights movement had already eliminated segregated schools, hospitals, and golf courses such as those mandated by the Missouri state constitution as late as when I was tested on that document in the seventh grade. Nearly every major American city today either has, or once had, an African-American mayor–including Kansas City. A Black man sits on the Supreme Court, a Black woman is Secretary of State, and, of course, an African-American Senator seems likely to be the Democrat nominee for President.

There’s no denying these are significant accomplishments. But there’s also no denying that the prospects for today’s residents of those neighborhoods that erupted in fury in 1968 are in many respects worse than forty years ago. Dr King’s “dream” is far from reality. His genuine vision and determined struggle for human justice deserves revival among the working people he loved, led, and died for.

On the Road Again
Predawn Thursday, when I’d normally be updating the
Daily Labor News Digest, I’ll instead be heading up I-35 in my trusty Ford Contour en route to Dearborn, Michigan, with an overnight stopover in Western Springs, Illinois. This is my No Fly Zone alternative mode of travel to the Rebuilding Labor’s Power conference organized by Labor Notes. I expect to learn a lot from this gathering of hundreds of labor activists, including dozens from other countries. I will also be part of a workshop panel on “Labor and Environmental Coalitions,” scheduled for 2PM on Saturday. I know many readers are planning to attend and I hope to meet you there. Since I’ll likely be wearing a bright red cap with “Labor Party” emblazoned on the front, I should be easy to spot.

Because of this trip, there will be a week long break in updating our news page. After posting this Wednesday our next update will be Wednesday, April 16. The next Week In Review will also be tardy.

While there’s much else that could be said about this past week I’m pushing the envelope on reasonable space so I will close as always,

That’s all for this week.

KC Labor Home

Daily Labor News Digest

Rebuilding Labor's Power
Dearborn, MI April 11-13

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

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