Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 20, 2007

Mental Health Tip
Thanks to John Woodruff in Connecticut for passing along a Reuters article about a British psychological study that said,

“Psychologists at the University of Sussex found that people who get involved in campaigns, strikes and political demonstrations experience an improvement in psychological well-being that can help them overcome stress, pain, anxiety and depression.”

McCain-Kennedy Saddle Up With Zorro
This Senate odd couple have once again crafted an immigration “reform” bill, this time apparently with backing from the White House. Undocumented workers that were on the U.S. side of the border on January 1 of this year–a time when many immigrants were in fact on holiday visits to their families back home--could apply for a probationary visa. If they have no outstanding warrants, do have a job, and can pay a thousand dollar fine, they can upgrade to a “Z” visa–quickly dubbed Zorro by immigrant rights activists. Zorro is good for four years but can be renewed by repeating the same process.

Zorro workers could eventually apply for permanent resident status. But they will receive consideration only after all those in the current “legal” queue have been admitted–a process estimated to take eight years–and then only after returning to their home country, paying an additional fine of at least five thousand dollars and demonstrating competence in using English. Work skills needed by U.S. employers would replace preference for uniting families under the new set up. The “reform” bill would immediately escalate the militarization of the Mexican border.

Most undocumented workers have neither the money nor English proficiency to justify the risky journey down this long, chuck hole filled road to “earned citizenship.” Better no change than this “reform.”

As a matter of fact, it is unlikely that this bill will ever become law. The Right is adamantly opposed to this “amnesty for law breakers,” and many liberals are well aware that most immigrant workers won’t get with the new program. In any case, the fight for immigrant justice and working class solidarity will continue to be a top issue for the foreseeable future.

Dr Z Finds Chrysler New Foster Home
After months of pleading with their disappointed German “partners” not to abandon them the UAW leaders at Chrysler tried to put on a smiling face to greet their new American bosses–the “private equity” corporate raiders known as Cerberus.

UAW chief Ron Gettelfinger had correctly opposed any sale to these “strip and flip” barbarians at the gate. Nevertheless, even before CAW officers had been notified of the deal, Gettelfinger issued a public statement assuring his ranks,

“After a thorough review, General Holiefield [UAW IVP in charge of Chrysler bargaining] and I concluded that the transaction with Cerberus is in the best interest of our membership, the Chrysler Group and Daimler.”

He may be one/third right–Daimler saw their interest best served by getting out while the getting was good. But the Chrysler Group is unlikely to survive as we know it and that’s bad news for the 50,000 UAW members presently working there, Chrysler retirees, and indeed all UAW members who have won their wages and benefits through pattern national contracts with the historic Big Three.

How fast the chain saws will move in carving up Chrysler is subject to speculation. For sure, Chrysler will reverse the concept of pattern bargaining this summer by staking out demands for draconian take-backs that will set the table for GM and Ford to say “me too,” to remain “competitive.”

Last week Business Week tried to be helpful by offering “A Deal That Could Save Detroit.” To get out from under “legacy” burdens–that is what they promised retired workers in return for a lifetime of hard work–the companies would take a one-time hit by setting up an independent fund, managed by the UAW, to cover retiree health care. The Detroit Three would then be much more competitive with the nonunion Japanese and Korean transplants that don’t have much in the way of legacy. Future retiree needs would be up to the union to figure out. Such a deal was part of the recent USW settlement at Goodyear.

It’s likely to be a long, hot summer in Motor City.

As if We Didn’t Know
The Commonwealth Fund just did another study comparing health care in the United States with five other industrialized countries–Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand. They measured performance in ten areas. The U.S. came in first in two of these–diagnosis leading to the right care and amount spent per capita. In all others the USA came in last, or next to last, leading to a firm hold on the cellar in overall standings.

Who won? The Brits, by several lengths. Even though Blair’s “New Labor” government has slashed services as much as they dared Britain’s inherently superior socialized medicine–a legacy of “Old Labor”--left America in the dust while spending only about forty percent of what we Yanks pay.

Transitioning Backwards
According to a survey done by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, only 30 percent of those in “transitional” countries–those where market capitalism has replaced state-dominated planning–think things are better off today than in 1989, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Our Culture and Counter-Culture
This year’s Conference of the Working Class Studies Association is being hosted at Macalester College in St Paul, home base of our old friend Peter Rachleff, a history professor at that campus and current president of the Association.

The theme of the gathering, which runs from June 14-17, is Class Matters: Working Class Culture and Counter-Culture. You can join academics, artists, activists, and others for presentations, performances, roundtables, films, workshops, readings, tours, and more.

Sessions will cover labor history, classroom pedagogy, working class experiences on campus and in the world, labor and grassroots activism, representations of workers and self-representations by workers, and culture from bowling and baseball to poetry and music. Presenters will come from across the United States, plus Canada, Great Britain, France, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, and Australia.

For more information about the conference click here.

Next Up: GE
This Tuesday General Electric will begin bargaining for national contracts with the IUE/CWA and UE. Eleven other unions have contracts for various GE plants. All thirteen participate in the Coordinated Bargaining Committee of General Electric Unions (CBC), formed in the late Sixties.

The negotiating process at GE is quite compressed. The current national agreements expire June 17. A national contract rally of GE workers has been scheduled June 2 in Erie, Pennsylvania–hosted by UE Locals 506 and 618 at the GE locomotive works in that town.

The best summary of the issues involved in bargaining, and the latest news, is the UE Unity 2007 web site which you can reach by clicking here.

That’s all for this week.

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