Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 24, 2011

It’s Still Hot
Those who bought their own propaganda that Social Security and Medicare are no longer “third-rail” dangers for politicians must be somewhat disturbed by a new Associated Press-GfK poll. An AP report begins,

“They're not buying it. Most Americans say they don't believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget, and ditto for Social Security, a new poll shows.”

The reporters go on to say,

“Americans worry about the future of the retirement safety net, the poll found, and 3 out of 5 say the two programs are vital to their basic financial security as they age. That helps explain why the Republican Medicare privatization plan flopped, and why President Barack Obama's Medicare cuts to finance his health care law contributed to Democrats losing control of the House in last year's elections.”

Those under 65 have yet to see the benefit of robbing Medicare to pay for the President’s insurance “reform.” Dianne Stafford reports in the Kansas City Star,

“Average health care expenses for a ‘typical’ U.S. family more than doubled to $19,393 in 2011 from $9,235 in 2002, according to a new report. The actuarial firm of Milliman measured costs for a family of four in a preferred-provider plan to create the ‘Milliman Medical Index,’ which reflects both employee and employer costs.”

Of course, the “employer share” comes out of the labor compensation package–negotiated for union workers, imposed on the unorganized–and under single-payer most of that would be available for increased wages. Under the present system unions have a tough time increasing their total compensation to keep up with the profit demands of the insurance robber-barons. That’s the case with even the most prosperous employers as IUE and UE negotiators can confirm as they begin bargaining with General Electric today for new national agreements.

The results of the latest poll solidly backing Medicare and Social Security come as no surprise to us. It merely exposes the ineffectiveness of the bipartisan attacks on the few social gains we have ever won. How to take advantage of this powerful sentiment to not only defend present Medicare but to extend it to include all will be discussed at the annual meeting of the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer, at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland June 3-5. You can find out more about this important gathering here.

From Lost to Indignado
Young people in what my European friends call the Spanish State (to acknowledge the Catalan and Basque nations within it) have long been known as the lost generation. Official unemployment is 20 percent but among those under the age of 25 it is an astonishing 45 percent. Any occasional work found is low wage, temporary, and off the books. Mlns still live with parents, deferring independent living, not to mention starting a family of their own.

Recently their straits have been made even more dire by big cuts in social services, subsidized renewable energy projects, and core public sector employment–all implemented by a Socialist government. This increased misery is in compliance with demands of the European banks to get Madrid’s “deficit crisis” in order.

Over the past year, the unions have organized mass strikes and demonstrations against these fresh attacks on the working class. But the majority of the unions continue traditional support to the governing Socialists doing the banker’s dirty work. As regional and municipal elections approached, this incongruity brought the “lost” youth together in protests that clearly were inspired by what they had seen unfold in Cairo’s Freedom Square a few months ago.

Sparked by a youth group called Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now) a protest camp was set up in Madrid’s main square, Puerta del Sol, on May 16. Their central slogan was “We're not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers!” Using “flash mob” texting methods their ranks soon swelled by thousands–and within a couple of days there were dozens more such camps in town centers across the country. Exchange students in Britain gathered in solidarity at the Spanish embassy in London.

This youth initiative got a sympathetic response from the working class. Leila Nachawati observed in an Aljazeera opinion piece,

“A few days before municipal elections in the country, the gap between the political class and other citizens could not have been any wider. With the unemployment rate rising above 20 per cent and more than a hundred candidates to the elections being charged with corruption [Spanish], citizens question the ability of the two main parties to meet their needs.”

Sound familiar?

The state election commission declared the camps violated legal prohibition of rallies during the final days of an election campaign–a period to be devoted to “reflection.” But Prime Minister Zapatero is not Mubarak. He did not dare send the cops to attack unemployed youth peacefully protesting. When the votes were tallied for the various regional and local contests the Socialists polled only 28 percent while their major right-wing competitor, the People’s Party, garnered 37 percent.

The defiant campers, whose actions clearly overshadowed the election, are not packing up just yet. A vote was taken in Puerta del Sol to continue the actions until at least next Sunday. Hopefully the energetic, indignado youth can make common cause with the many militant trade unionists, and disaffected members of the Socialist Party, to advance what some have called the Iberian Spring. We should be watching–and learning.

Not Neutral On Nukes
Defying their placid national stereotype, more than 20,000 Swiss, joined by solidarity contingents from Germany, Austria, and Italy, marched Sunday to demand their government mothball the five nuclear power plants currently operating in the land of secure banks and precision chronometers. A spokeswoman for Sortons du nuclaire, Maude Poirier, told AFP. “These thousands of people who have come are sending a strong signal to the Swiss authorities. This shows that we are not a minority, that it's not only the Greens. “

Of course, the disaster in Fukushima has heightened public concern everywhere. AFP reported this morning, “The operator of Japan's tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant on Tuesday said it believed fuel had partially melted inside three reactors, as long suspected by experts.” This is probably not the last bad news we will hear about these GE-designed reactors and their on-site storage of deadly radioactive waste.

There was in fact additional alarm about serious design flaws in the newer Westinghouse reactors being used in China and elsewhere. You don’t need a Swiss watch to know it’s time to shut down nukes and certainly ban new ones.

In Brief...
¶ Those 12,000 Saskatchewan teachers are at it again. After returning for one day following the long Victoria Day weekend, the STF begins a two-day strike in support of demands for higher wages Wednesday.
¶ Teamsters Local 705 representing several Chicago-area hubs last week began a campaign demanding that UPS reduce workloads and change what the union calls a “blame the worker” approach to health and safety. You can read about it
¶ By a 384-237 margin, the National Union of Healthcare Workers defeated SEIU in a NLRB election at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. The employer strongly and openly backed SEIU. It took 28 months for the CPMC workers to get the election after they filed petitions.
¶ 11,000 University of California registered nurses represented by CNA/NNU have reached a tentative settlement on a new 26-month agreement that “provides for significant improvements for patients and nurses while protecting existing standards for UC RNs.”
Chosen.COM reports, “Korean carmakers may have to stop all their production lines because of an illegal strike at auto part maker Yoosung Enterprise. The Yoosung union has been occupying the part maker's plant in Asan, South Chungcheong Province since last Wednesday, putting a halt to the production line for five days.”
¶ The United Mine Workers made a breakthrough at Peabody Energy winning a NLRB election to represent 444 workers at the Willow Lake Mine in Equality, Illinois. The union drive took root after a worker was killed last July. Since late 2008, Peabody Energy has been fined $230,000 for violations at the Willow Lake Mine.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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