Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 17, 2010

After Nine Years, Still A Draw
That’s the judgment of the commander of U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. According to an AP report on his views, “the momentum of the resurgent Taliban militants has been stopped. But for now, the general says, nobody is winning....McChrystal says the insurgency remains serious, with a reach that spans the country and a large number of fighters.”

This is not unusual in a war of occupation. Certainly the U.S. military has the power to obliterate Afghanistan from the map. Just in case more is needed, the President last week asked for another eighty billion dollars to “upgrade” nuclear capacity.

But nuclear warfare is not only bad publicity. There is no profit from destroying countries in a way that makes them unfit for exploitation for generations. And there is the danger that others with such weapons would feel the need to start using them as well. That’s why the U.S. instead used carpet bombing and napalm to bomb Vietnam back in to the “Stone Age,” as a top brass hat said during that war.

The U.S.–including Senator McCain--dropped more bombs on Vietnam than were used by all sides in all theaters of the Second World War. The environment of Southeast Asia has not yet fully recovered more than forty years later. But this did not subdue the Vietnamese people’s resistance to foreign occupation. Stalemate on the battlefield eventually combined with massive political opposition at home–such as we mentioned in regard to Kent State last week–to force the U.S. to withdraw.

While there are, of course, many differences between Afghanistan today and Vietnam forty years ago, even honest military leaders must acknowledge the similarity of military stalemate. But the lack of a similar mass Out Now! movement in the USA stands in the way of a just conclusion to this long-running war.

There are significant forces working to build such a movement once again. A United National Antiwar Conference has been called in Albany, New York July 23-25, to advance the movement against the wars in not only Afghanistan but the ongoing one in Iraq and related conflicts. It’s initiated by a group of twenty organizations including U.S. Labor Against the War. Keynote speakers are Noam Chomsky and South Carolina AFL-CIO president Donna Dewitt. It deserves our support.

Nursing A Movement Back To Health
Last week was National Nurses Week. It was a bit livelier than most years. National Nurses United held their first of what will be an annual Staff Nurse Assembly, dealing with bargaining and legislative issues. Michelle Amber of the Bureau of National Affairs wrote,

“During National Nurses Week, registered nurses from across the country May 11 put health care employers on notice that they do not intend to sign concessionary collective bargaining agreements that are ‘injurious’ to their patients or their profession....‘We need to tell employers it's a new day in America and registered nurses are going to stand up and not take it anymore,’ [NNU Executive Director Rose Ann] DeMoro said.”

The gathering also discussed the recent solid victory by NNU members at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, and heard reports on preparations for a possible strike in the Twin Cities involving 12,000 RNs–which would be the biggest nurse walkout ever in the USA.

In conjunction with the NNU assembly a thousand RNs rallied on Capitol Hill in support of national nurse-to-patient ratio legislation, modeled on a good law in California.

And in the Big Apple, from Labor Notes,

“Several hundred nurses assembled on May 11 for a spirited, colorful protest in front of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. The rally coincided with Nurses Week, an annual celebration that runs from May 6 to May 12, Florence Nightingale's birthday. The RNs were protesting the hospital's hard-line approach to negotiations for its 2,600 RNs...”

writes Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, president of the New York State Nurses Association chapter at the facility.

These actions confirm that nurses are the tip of the spear of those regrouping to fight the employer offensive against workers.

Settlement In Boron
The lockout of ILWU miners at Rio Tinto’s mine in Boron, California is over. Located in an isolated section of high desert, the facility produces 42 percent of the world's borates, which are used in many products and manufacturing processes. The British based global mining giant locked out their workers in January when they refused to accept a laundry list of draconian take-back demands and soon brought in strike-breakers in an effort to bust the union.

The Boron miners maintained a militant picket line and had solid support of their small community. The Los Angeles labor movement–125 miles away–mobilized substantial material support for their struggle. A delegation of miners received an award at the recent Labor Notes Conference and made many new friends there.

On Saturday, with 75 percent voting affirmative, the miners agreed to accept a settlement that resisted many–though not all–of the concessions demanded by Rio Tinto. Most importantly they defeated the company’s attempt to bust their union with strike-breakers. Hats off to the Boron miners for an honorable fight.

Nobody Was Going In Or Out’
That was the observation of a striking miner in a dispute even longer than the one at Boron–a strike that began last July at Vale Inco’s nickel mine in Ontario. Like Rio Tinto, Brazilian-based multinational Vale has been out to bust the chops of Steelworkers Local 6500, employing strikebreakers early on.

The miners have maintained a vigorous picket line throughout the nearly ten-month long battle. After Vale fired several unionists for “strike misconduct,” strikers, along with community supporters, upped the ante last week. Mass protests effectively shut everything down–even in the face of cops reading them a court order to disperse.

Local 6500 has taken their fight global, meeting with workers and communities wherever Vale does business. They too were honored with an award at the Labor Notes Conference. You can find more information about this crucial struggle, and how you can help, by clicking here.

They’ve Got A Horse In This Race?
From the New York Times,

“The State Education Department and New York’s teachers’ unions have reached a deal to overhaul teacher evaluations and tie them to student test scores, brokering a compromise on an issue the unions had bitterly opposed for years....

“The unions did not gain any clear benefit from the deal, other than shielding themselves from criticism that they were hurting the state’s chances in Race to the Top.”

Race to the Top, of course, is the Obama administration plan to house break teacher unions, promoting in many cases mass teacher firings.

Surface Bargaining
Everyday our
Daily Labor News Digest has carried 5-10 stories about the still unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. As this is written, BP reports it is finally recovering oil from a siphon pipe inserted in one of two gushing leaks. They claim the initial daily recovery rate is 42,000 gallons, an amount they hope to gradually increase until they get it all.

How much has and is leaking is in dispute. BP and the government admit to no more than 210,000 gallons a day. Most independent scientific observers believe the true number is much greater but they are given no cooperation in obtaining more data.

Many were initially puzzled by the fact that the surface oil slick did not appear to be growing proportionate to even the probably low-ball BP leakage estimates. However, it’s now clear that BP has concentrated on minimizing the surface oil-- which they are responsible for cleaning up. Despite strong objections from scientists and environmentalists, BP, with government approval, has been injecting chemical dispersants at unprecedented depths.

There is already evidence that those objecting had sound reasons for alarm. Massive plumes of subsurface oil, some many miles long and wide, have been detected. The reaction to these pollutants sucks oxygen–needed by all living things–out of vast areas of water. The marine food chain is being broken.

It appears some of the oil and chemicals are already in the Loop Current which can take them through the Florida Keys and up the Atlantic seaboard. Even if BP stops the leaks and skims the surface–and they are far from being at that point–an enormous ecological disaster is already in the making.

This past week a natural gas exploration platform operated by a Venezuelan state company also sank off the coast of that country–fortunately without loss of life or any leaks.

Also last week a federal appeals court rejected an effort by environmental and Native American groups to stop exploratory oil drilling off the coast of Alaska that could begin this summer.

While the politicians of both parties wag their fingers at the companies who can always be counted on for generous campaign contributions, business as usual continues. Unintended but inevitable consequences of their business include dead workers and destruction of our biosphere.

In Brief...
¶ The Labor Education Service at the University of Minnesota has launched a valuable new website devoted to teaching about the Minneapolis truck strikes of 1934. Among its many resources is an eighteen-minute video about the strikes, based on footage from John DeGraaf’s film, Labor's Turning Point. Check it out at

¶ This Thursday, May 20, those of us from Kansas City who attended the recent Labor Notes Conference will discuss the gathering on the Heartland Labor Forum radio show, 6PM, KKFI-FM, 90.1. The show will be available online a few days later.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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