Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 21, 2006

Hardware Hard Times
Our main computer—a 2½ year old ABS—now regularly crashes without warning after 5-25 minutes of operation, wiping out all unsaved work. That’s unacceptable for our daily news updates. Our back-up computer—a Dell lap top—can be used to publish to our site, but at a snail’s pace that is also impractical for substantial frequent updates. We have a powerful Dell desktop on order and hope to have it up and running by June 1. In the meantime our postings will be limited to occasional articles, such as the Week In Review, and we will not attempt to maintain the Daily Labor News Digest until the new system is in place. Sorry for the interruption; such is life with a volunteer run operation.

The Deadly Sin of Sloth
On May 16 families of miners killed on the job, along with mine worker union leaders, went to Capitol Hill to blast congress for failing to act on urgently needed safety measures in America’s mines.

Sarah Bailey, whose father, Fred G. Ware Jr., died in the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia earlier this year, was among those who spoke at the rally:

“Mine operators are making millions of dollars in profits and paying minimal fines for breaking safety laws. The focus must be on safety, rather than corporate profits. We don’t want any other families to go through what we have.”

Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said:

“The time for talking about improving safety in the coal mines is over. Congress must act, and act now. America’s coal miners and their families cannot wait.”

Four days later five more miners were killed, and another injured, in an explosion on the overnight maintenance shift at Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, Kentucky. Preliminary evidence suggested that methane leaked from a inadequately sealed-off portion of the mine, mixed with oxygen and ignited.

These latest killings bring the mine death toll so far this year to 31—more than fatalities for all of 2005. Ten of these deaths have occurred in Kentucky where high energy prices have driven bosses to cut corners, often with ill-trained new hires.

More Foul Air
There was a time, back in the Seventies, when I actually enjoyed flying. The airlines were nice to you, usually throwing in some food and beverage at no additional charge. Except in bad weather, planes were generally on time. It was rare for anybody to get stuck in one of those middle seats.

Flying became decidedly less pleasant after Jimmy Carter launched “deregulation” in the airline industry. The irrational security overreaction to 9/11 turned flying into a grim, sometimes mean spirited experience. That’s why I now drive to any destination east of the Continental Divide.

A New York Times article, Rough Summer Is on the Way for Air Travel confirmed I am not alone in my reaction to changes in this industry. The writer talked to a consultant who, once a frequent flyer, now mainly drives to meet with out of town clients.

“Rather than fight through security, not know if I'll get a seat on a flight, get bumped, it's easier to just get in my car,” he said. “When I pull into rest stops, I see the same guys in the bathroom I'd see at hub airports.”

Stress is reaching dangerous levels among both passengers and airline employees. Some carriers have retained in-house stress counselors to try to head off any workers or customers about to “go postal.”

Behind all this is a business plan that combines ruthless reduction of both labor costs and customer service in order to regroup the industry into a handful of highly profitable mega-carriers.

While many smaller cities have lost all air service flights are more packed than ever. Ten years ago a profitable Northwest Airlines ran with about 65 percent of seats filled. Today, while carrying out a union busting bankruptcy scam, 82 percent of all seats are filled. This year the industry expects a one percent increase in passengers—but have scheduled four percent fewer flights to accommodate them. Fares are expected to rise at four times the rate of inflation.

Of course, at the same time alternatives to air travel are under pressure. Amtrak is on the verge of collapse and there is no end in sight to hyper inflationary rises in gasoline prices.

A Valuable Civics Lesson for Immigrants
Millions of immigrant workers and allies demonstrated in the streets, and stayed away from jobs and school, demanding “legalization.” One of the best accounts of these actions was written by my friend Andy Pollack, which you can read by clicking

President Bush responded last week by embracing much of the bipartisan Kennedy-McCain legislation while also calling for using the national guard and military contractors to “secure” the Mexican border.

Some immigrant advocates brought token delegations of immigrant activists and union leaders to Capitol Hill for some good old American lobbying. Of course, few actually met any members of congress. Staffers politely listened and promised to relay their concerns to those very busy important officials.

“There are so many people who are lobbying for the first time today, and it has been an empowering experience for them to tell their stories and be part of this legislative process,” said Kate Shaughnessy, spokeswoman for the New American Opportunity Campaign, an organizer of the lobbying day.

Not all shared her enthusiasm. Jose Rodriguez of Wilmington, Del, said, “They say whatever they want, and I don't know what they're going to do.” The brother seems to be a quick learner.

Empowerment comes from precisely the kind of actions in the workplace, class room, and streets that we saw a few weeks ago. Congressional lobbying is a well worn path to sacrificing principles for worthless promises of crumbs. More on this topic another time.

That’s all for this week.

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