Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 13, 2007

Can the Oil Law
One thing Bush and the Democrat congressional leadership agree on concerning Iraq is privatization of Iraq’s oil–on very favorable terms for American and British oil companies. (For a collection of useful articles see
this page on Oil Change International.) The privatization law ripping off the only major resource available to this country left in shambles by the occupation was written by Cheney’s oily friends and colleagues and as been adopted as a “benchmark” for progress by the “peace” Democrats.

Unfortunately for them, this rare consensus is being threatened by a troublesome third party–the peoples of Iraq. Leading the resistance to this old school act of colonialism is the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions. Their principal officer, Hassan Jum’a Awwad, has sent an Open Letter to the Members of the US Congress who Oppose the War on Iraq [and] Members of the European Parliaments who Oppose the War. He says,

“The general public in Iraq is totally convinced that Bush wants to rush the promulgation of the oil law so as to be leaving Iraq with a victory of sorts, because his project is failing every day and the occupation is collapsing in all parts of Iraq.

“We wish to see you take a true stance for the children of Iraq, and we always say that history will remember those who advance peace over war.

Fortunately, the union is doing more than writing letters to our congress. Tomorrow (Monday, May 14) they are calling a strike to shut down Iraqi oil production. Their action is endorsed by all Iraqi unions.

As those of you who follow our Daily Labor News Digest know, US Labor Against the War has been giving daily coverage of this important fight and has been mobilizing solidarity with Iraqi unions in the American labor movement. USLAW and the Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace & Justice have called an emergency solidarity demonstration Noon tomorrow at the San Francisco Federal Building–where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has an office. They urge other local areas to stage similar protests.

Meanwhile, USLAW, along with AFSC and UFPJ, are stepping up preparations for the Voices of Iraqi Workers Solidarity Tour. Hashmeya Mohsen al Hussein, president of the Iraq Electrical Utility Workers Union, and Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraq Federation of Oil Workers, will be visiting 12 U.S. cities June 4-29.

Health Care Lines Drawn and Crossed
There are two basic approaches to health care reform in the United States.

One is to replace the whole rotten system of private, highly profitable insurance companies running toll booths barring access to health care and replacing it with what has become known as single-payer, modeled on more successful systems such as Canada has in place.

The other is a “universal coverage” scheme that would further enrich the insurance companies with tax payer money while simultaneously relieving employers of any obligation to provide health care benefits.

The differences are day and night. Under single-payer working people would be guaranteed first class health care for less than is being currently paid to and through insurance.

Under the other scams workers would get inferior coverage and would pay both directly out of pocket, and indirectly through taxes, more for it.

On the single-payer side are unions such as the California Nurses Association, and those in coalitions such as Health Care Now and SPAN Ohio, as well as the Labor Party.

The “Universal Coverage” con artists are counting on traditional support from top corporations such as Wal-Mart, and AT&T, well placed politicians in both of the boss parties–and fresh, less familiar allies such as Andy Stern and Dennis Rivera from SEIU. Both sides were in the news last week.

The bosses “Better Health Care Together Coalition” gathered for a “summit” at the Hilton in New York. The Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign, supported by the UFCW, called for a picket line at this conclave that included America’s biggest private sector employer. Frantic messages were sent out alerting those planning to protest that they would be embarrassing Chairman Andy and other labor statesmen attending the lofty summit.

I don’t know if they were embarrassed–like the Fortune 500 CEOs they like to rub shoulders with they are not easily disconcerted. But to their credit, SEIU’s Change to Win partners followed through with a protest of hundreds, forcing those on their way to sell out worker health care to cross the line physically as well as metaphorically.

Also last week, CNA organized a weekday rally at the state capitol in Sacramento in support of state single-payer legislation as well as HR676 in congress. More than 2,000 nurses, school employees, community activists, and patients turned out for a colorful, spirited event. These folks are not in the mood for incremental tinkering with a failed system. To them there are two choices and there can be no neutrals. We know where Chairman Andy stands. Which side are you on?

Can Labor Clear the Air?
I’ve only seen a few fragmentary reports about the North American Labor Conference on Climate Crisis held in New York last week. I was impressed with the remarks of Steelworkers president Leo Gerard to the event.

“We need to use regulation of global warming and trade to lift two billion people out of poverty around the world. To do that,” he said, “we’ll need to regulate a lot of economic activity — from power plants to fuel efficiency to energy efficiency — and we’ll need to use this regulation as a powerful tool to improve workers’ lives, both here in North America and across the globe.

“Because the struggle for sustainability is not just about cleaning up the planet. It’s about engaging in raising standards of living over the long-term – creating a world that has the capacity to solve the divisions of wealth and poverty that are the drivers of international conflict.”

This is an important shift in the approach of a top official of a major mainstream union. Unfortunately, it is still all too unique. Last week the UAW leadership were on Capitol Hill shilling for their Big Three “partners,” arguing that new proposed fuel economy standards for cars were “too extreme.”

Labor needs to develop both an independent environmental program to represent the interests of the working class majority as well as looking for allies among the traditional environmental organizations and student and farmer based projects sprouting up to respond the global warming crisis and other ecological issues. The New York gathering where Gerard spoke followed a highly successful Labor & Sustainability conference in St Paul back in January. We need more such exchanges around the country. The Kansas City Labor Party is hoping to interest labor and environmental forces in the Heartland in putting together a Labor & Sustainability conference locally in the Fall. I would appreciate hearing about any similar efforts elsewhere.

Mumia Events
We had to defer our updating of the news for a few days because the web site was one of the sponsors of weekend events about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Jeff Mackler, director of the Northern California Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, spoke to a full house in the stage auditorium at the All Souls Church Friday evening where he ably fielded tough questions during an open discussion period. Following that meeting the Reggae group YucaRoots gave a benefit performance for the Mumia defense at The Embassy. Mackler was also interviewed for an hour by Donna Wolfe on KKFI’s Urban Connection radio show on Saturday. Friends of Community Media, and the Greens of Kansas City, also cosponsored the events which were initiated, and tirelessly promoted, by Gabrielle Otto–otherwise known as Sista G on KKFI.

We now return to our regular schedule–and will also start answering some of our e-mail messages that have piled up over the past week.

That’s all for this week.

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