Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 14, 2012

Back to Routine
After devoting most of the last two weeks to tasks related to the
Labor Notes Conference, I’m back on normal duty. This past Wednesday I resumed daily news updates on the Labor Advocate Blog. On Friday I posted, and sent out to the e-mail list, some initial thoughts on the conference, Expectations Met, Hopes Deferred. This coming Thursday, 6PM, there will be a segment about the LN gathering on the Heartland Labor Forum Radio show here in Kansas City on KKFI-FM, 90.1.

I again thank my friends Adam and Carrie who, along with their son Sam, and beleaguered cat Flower, put up with my company for four nights. I was also gratified to find waiting for me at home a letter from an old friend and comrade in Seattle who also enclosed a check that covered the printing expenses for the KC Labor table at the conference. Now I am merely broke, not in debt.

Another Upcoming Chicago Conference
This is a conclave of the political leaders carrying out the decade and counting-long war in Afghanistan and other interventions under the NATO banner. Initially, it was scheduled to dovetail with a Chicago summit of the G8 countries dominating the global capital market--but that shindig was shifted to more secure quarters at the Presidential Camp David compound in Maryland.

National Nurses United are following through with already planned protests around the G8 theme with a march culminating in a rally at Daley Plaza on May 18. The nurses have put together an impressive endorser list for this action.

On May 20–next Sunday--a coalition of veterans, labor, religious and antiwar groups will march and rally against NATO’s wars of intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere and to say No War On Iran. Our friends at Labor Standard have put together an informative web page with all the latest information about what will likely be the biggest antiwar protest in this election year.

On the other side, the President’s former chief-of-staff, now Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is provocateur number one. As if preparing for a terrorist threat, the Chicago police have been issued more than a million dollars worth of new high-tech “riot gear,” and the murky latest generation of the Chicago Red Squad I first encountered nearly a half-century ago will undoubtedly be directing black ops during the events. In the tradition of the first Mayor Daley, the present Democrat boss at City Hall has started playing games, reneging on already approved march routes.

Both of the mass protests being organized are planned to be peaceful in character, suitable for family participation. The Rev Jesse Jackson and his many Chicago followers who are immersed in the preparations, have much experience in nonviolent mass action in the face of provocation–including in their home town. Thousands of determined and disciplined demonstrators will be neither intimidated nor provoked.

As much as I would like to be there, personal reasons prevent another Chicago trip so soon. If you’re available, I urge you to join these important actions.

For Better Or Worse
Marriage has long been on the decline in the USA. Not only are divorce rates high; an astonishing number of men and women are openly sharing households in what my parent’s generation would have called “living in sin.” Most of these are not just passing fancies; many buy houses, and raise kids. They don’t see marriage as relevant or useful to their relationships.

Given this undermining of “traditional values,“ you would think defenders of matrimony would welcome a huge new wave of people eager to exchange vows. But, of course, they are doing just the opposite. State constitutions are being amended right and far-right to forbid marital sanction of cohabiting couples of the same sex. Bigotry against sexual orientation of a substantial segment of the population beats promotion of marriage every day--and twice on Sunday (or whatever your choice of Sabbath.)

This is not the format for exploring the very interesting historical evolution of marriage in various class societies. Nor do I want to get in to extensive comment about the relevancy of marriage today. In full disclosure, I admit to being happily committed to a third–and I’m convinced final–“conventional marriage.” We bought a license only after living together for about seven years–and mainly for the purpose of including my self-employed wife in my employer-provided health insurance. Whether or not to say “I do” should be, in my view, a matter of choice for whatever motivation by the consenting parties.

That, of course, is not the case in America today. Couples of the same sex are forbidden to marry in most states. Unmarried mixed-sex couples–sometimes labeled “domestic partners”--are often denied benefits granted to those who follow the program of the holier-than-me. This is an intrusion of religion in to matters that are none of their business, using government to dictate one of the most important decisions any of us ever make. It is a violation of basic human rights. That’s why it is a fit topic for this column.

It’s also an issue in the presidential election campaign we will be subjected to over the next several months. Recently, the current administration tested the waters of public opinion on the marriage question. The Vice-President, Lunch Box Joe Biden, admitted on Meet the Press he had no problem with “same-sex” marriages. When no bolt of lightning struck Joe down, the President again revised his views on the question–purportedly after a discussion with his school-age daughters. He now says he supports marriage without gender-mix limitations.

But, largely overlooked in the euphoric celebrations by human rights advocates, was the Presidential caveat that the issue should be resolved by the states. Given present political alignments, that means more restrictions are likely, not freedom. And, of course, this states rights approach means the White House will do absolutely nothing.

Add this issue to the list of why we need a party of our own.

Quarantine Still Holds
Noam N. Levey wrote in the Los Angeles Times,

“Even as Americans debate whether to scrap President Obama's healthcare law and its promise of guaranteed health coverage, many far less affluent nations are moving in the opposite direction — to provide medical insurance to all citizens. China, after years of underfunding healthcare, is on track to complete a three-year, $124-billion initiative projected to cover more than 90% of the nation's residents. Mexico, which a decade ago covered less than half its population, just completed an eight-year drive for universal coverage that has dramatically expanded Mexicans' access to life-saving treatments for diseases such as leukemia and breast cancer....

“Two decades ago, many former communist countries in Eastern Europe and elsewhere dismantled their universal healthcare systems amid a drive to set up free-market economies. But popular demand for insurance protection has fueled an effort in nearly all of these countries to rebuild their systems. Similar pressure is coming from the citizens of fast-growing nations in Asia and Latin America, where rising living standards have raised expectations for better services.”

Unlike their typical counterparts in the USA, eighty Canadian doctors recently staged a sit-in at the Toronto office of a Tory cabinet minister to protest Federal cuts in health care for refugees. All Canadian citizens are covered by their single-payer system known as Medicare, won due to the efforts of the NDP labor party. Perhaps we could use their experience as a clue to how we might lift the quarantine on genuine universal health care imposed on the richest country in the world.

Over There–When Over Here?
As the mainstream U.S. union leadership goes full steam ahead to reelect an administration out to wreck the Post Office, gut our social benefits, expand deregulation and privatization, and maintain the Bush Doctrine of war wherever and whenever, workers across Europe have been shaking things up on the job, in the streets, and at the ballot box.

* Rage against “austerity” in Greek elections resulted in what our British friends call a “hung parliament”–no party or coalition can get the votes needed to form a government. The center is collapsing left and right.

* French president Sarkozy, who drove through raising retirement age despite massive strikes and demonstrations last year, was given an early retirement by voters.

* Last week, hundreds of thousands of British public sector workers staged a 24-hour strike against the ConLib government’s attacks on pensions.

* On the first anniversary of the beginning of occupations of city center squares across the Spanish state, hundreds of thousands of the “indignants” marched across the land against government plans for more austerity despite record April unemployment.

* A Reuters dispatch–“Hundreds of Polish trade union members protesting against plans to raise the retirement age chained together barriers meant to keep them out of Parliament on Friday, locking lawmakers in for more than an hour. ‘We will decide when they will leave,’ a Solidarity trade union leader, Piotr Duda, said. ‘At least for once we will decide something instead of them.’ The union members took their action after lawmakers voted to raise the retirement age to 67 for most Poles, part of the government’s efforts to cut state debt, maintain growth and maintain investor confidence. Until now, women were allowed to retire at age 60 and men at 65.”

What are we waiting for–a translator?

There are, in fact, some honorable exceptions to the class subordination policies of most of our leaders. 780 IAM workers at Caterpillar’s hydraulics plant in Peoria are on strike after receiving an offer the company knew they could not accept. Three thousand machinists at Lockheed-Martin’s Ft Worth plant–where the F-35 Strike fighter is built–have been on the picket line for three weeks.

These battles–and a few others–show there is no lack of courage among U.S. workers. But isolated in to relatively small actions against global corporations that have the resources to ride out long contests, fighting over issues settled by legislation “over there,” means tough fights indeed.

Our Collective Memory Knows Better
The 1934 Teamster Strikes have never been forgotten and are still contentious in Minneapolis. Every now and then there are efforts by the servants of the class who lost what became known as Labor’s Turning Point to rewrite its history. But there’s always someone like my long-time friend and cothinker Dave Riehle who nails them.

Dave is not only a labor movement activist, named Local Chairman Emeritus by fellow St Paul UTU members when he recently retired as an Engineer on the UP. He is also an accomplished historian with a special interest in 1934. When he heard a boss who died during what became known as the Battle of Deputies Run was being added to the honor roll of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty he became suspicious. When it became clear this was an effort to cast the strike as vicious violence against law and order he was outraged.

His response, History being re-written at law enforcement memorial, has been posted on the Workday Minnesota website and is well worth reading.

That’s all for this week. 

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