Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 21, 2012

Robin Hood Leads the Way
The deer were safe in the Forest Preserves but the Lord Mayor of Chicago, along with his patrons on Lasalle Street, were as nervous as a strip mall merchant at an IRS audit. They summoned every force of law and order available, equipped with a lot more than staves and long bows. Robin Hood was in town to kick off a weekend from hell not only for the ruling class of the City of Big Shoulders but monarchs, presidents, premiers, and brass hats from around the world as well.

This specter of Robin Hood took corporal form in a couple of thousand members of National Nurses United, decked out in their signature red T-shirts and green hats in the style purportedly worn by the English legend who took back wealth stolen by the rich, redistributing it to its producers. The nurses were joined by more than a thousand other supporters in a Friday lunch-time rally at the ecumenical See of power–Daley Plaza.

The parables of Sherwood Forest are used to promote a financial transaction tax on Wall Street and Lasalle Street that would bring in an estimated 350 billion dollars a year--to be applied to the urgent needs of the “99 percent.” While clearly not a panacea, the simple and popular “Robin Hood Tax” could play an important role in the triage needed to stop the hemorrhaging of a working class being drained of life-blood by boss and banker

Prior to the rally, NNU members participated in an international panel discussion on global austerity and ways to fight back, including the Robin Hood tax. Also in attendance were Jörn Kalinsk from Oxfam Germany; Mi Jung Han, RN, Vice President, Korean Health and Medical Workers Union (South Korea); David Hillman, Coordinator, Stamp Out Poverty (UK); Rosa Pavanelli, President, Funzione Pubblica CGIL (Italy) and Vice President, European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU); Linda Silas, RN, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (Canada). and Brenda Cristina Morales, RN, Regional Coordinator, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Salud deGuatemala (SNTSG) (Guatemala).

The nurses had planned their rally to coincide with a G-8 summit meeting that had been initially slated for Chicago. The bankers and their governments decided to move their gathering to perhaps the most secure piece of real estate in the world–the Presidential Compound at Camp David, Maryland. Still, the nurses made their point from the financial capital of the Midwest–and also served as a rehearsal for more to come in the Windy City.

While the G-8 hid from sight, his friends in high places didn’t want to leave Mayor Rahm Emanuel–the President’s former Chief-of-Staff–with bubkus. A NATO summit–with Afghanistan at the top of the agenda–originally scheduled as a segue from the G-8, would carry on.

Most media coverage of the Sunday march, with a predominantly antiwar theme, to the NATO venue at McCormick Place centered on scuffles with police as the gathering of some say as many as ten thousand disbanded. Undoubtedly much of this was instigated by undercover cops who were acknowledged to have infiltrated the crowd. Earlier in the week the authorities announced the arrest of “terrorist” would-be bombers–actually duped by police provocateurs who suggested the plot and supplied the none too complex instructions for making Molotov Cocktails.

But the fact is that both the Friday NNU rally, and the much bigger Sunday march, were absolutely peaceful and self-disciplined. That was the substance of coverage even on the CBS Evening News by a reporter who obviously didn’t get the memo.

Hats Off! to National Nurses United, and CANG8 (Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda) for making these impressive actions possible.

La lutte étudiante continue
While U.S. media coverage of the Chicago protests was sparse and slanted the blackout of news about the student struggles in Quebec remains total. After student strikers overwhelmingly rejected a worthless government offer of “compromise,” the bosses’ provincial government enacted a special law described by
Roger Annis “ to suspend the school year at strike-bound institutions until August and outlaw protest activity deemed disruptive of institutions not participating in the strike.” One politician frankly stated its aim was to “criminalize and destroy” the student strike organization.

Even the Bar Association has denounced Bill 78 that allows the government to bypass the National Assembly and rule by decree on educational issues. The tear-gas happy police have made hundreds of arrests trying to enforce dictatorial rules. In hot pursuit of students, Montreal cops even invaded a working class bar and pepper-gassed patrons along with protesters.

But the students have not been cowed. Their demonstrations continue and have widespread sympathy among the workers of Quebec. You can find current and past articles about their fight on our Labor Advocate Blog.

A 21st Century Post Office
That’s the name of a coalition that endorses the Administration’s plan to gut the US Postal Service. Among the members of this advocacy group are FedEx and UPS.

During the first several decades of the Twentieth Century the Post Office was run as a public service and had an unmatched record of speed and reliability of delivery at affordable cost. During the Nixon Administration the Post Office was converted in to a government supervised corporation that had to at least break even at rates subject to congressional approval. It still worked amazingly well.

Now the US Postal Service has been stuck with a mandate to essentially prepay employee pensions. No private company or government agency has ever been stuck with such a contrived pension crisis.

They are also accused of maintaining “overcapacity.” Currently, with 574,000 full-time employees they deliver168 billion pieces of mail annually. By contrast, their biggest private sector competitor, UPS, uses 324,000 U.S. employees to deliver only four billion domestic pieces a year.

Like Social Security, our Post Office has always been something our nation could be proud of–it works well. Under current plans we will soon hardly recognize it. Beginning in July, USPS will “consolidate” the first 48 processing centers with the aim of closing half of all of them by 2014. At least 150,000 jobs will be eliminated–along with postal service as we know it.

The strategy of our “friends” in Washington is to use the collapse of the Post Office to drive more of this work in to the private sector--and to downgrade wages, pensions, and conditions of those workers remaining in what’s left after Big Brown and FedEx gobble up what they want.

Is this going to be another service lost without a real fight?

The Long Of It Get Shorted
The rules of extended unemployment benefits are complex and unforgiving, varying from state to state. Tracking their effect always lags behind real time misery. The General Accounting Office (GAO) identified two million workers who exhausted a maximum 99 weeks of benefits in early 2010. They estimate that at least twenty percent of them soon slipped in to abject poverty.

Since then, statistics have been massaged to bring down the official unemployment rate a full percentage point as an additional 3.5 million exhausted benefits in 2010 and 2011. A bipartisan congressional deal effective January of this year effectively caps extensions to 77 weeks.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project said, “These cuts are coming faster than the economy is improving, which means more workers will have to survive without any jobless assistance, and families will have less money to put back into the economy....The prospects are dim for older workers who lose their jobs….They face pointed discrimination when they go looking for work, and they are especially vulnerable to financial instability.”

This month, the maximum unemployment benefit period is being reduced in eight states: California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Colorado and Connecticut.

In Brief...
¶ The New York Times reports, “Thousands of people on Saturday marched through the heart of Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital and the home of the European Central Bank, to protest against unchecked capitalism and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence on austerity measures for much of Europe.”
¶ From the Economic Policy Institute, “Between 2007 and 2011, the wages of young college graduates dropped by 4.6 percent (5.1 percent for men and 4.1 percent for women).”
¶ A posting on Climate & Capitalism reports that 7,000 marched against fracking in Lismore, a city of about 45,000 people in New South Wales, near the east coast of Australia.

That’s all for this week.

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