Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 28, 2007

Our Memorial Day and Theirs
Today is Memorial Day in the USA. This observance, first organized by the veteran’s organization Grand Army of the Republic, began in 1868, with the name Decoration Day. Initially it was to remember the Union dead from the Civil War by decorating their graves. After the First World War it became a national holiday honoring those Americans killed in action in all wars.

Respecting the memory of those who died is a worthy human emotion. You’ll find my generation visiting the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, and its local equivalent in Kansas City, regardless of the political stand we took during that war.

But the politicians and brass hats, in conjunction with the mass media and the brass dominated vets groups, try to exploit our honoring the dead, using it to glorify the imperial ambitions that sent these brave men and women to their demise—and continue to kill more everyday in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Nor does this day acknowledge all of the other victims of war. Not the tens of millions of civilians who perished in two World Wars. Not the hundreds of thousands of Koreans killed in the cross fire of a “police action.” No Establishment body is using the occasion to commemorate the vast unknown number of dead noncombatant Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, or those in many other countries where GIs have been sent over the years to advance the agenda of Corporate America.

We hear nothing is too good for our vets–and that’s what our government wants to give them. Not much will be said about those combat vets who make it back, some with physical wounds, most with psychological and emotional scarring. Funding for many vet programs has been cut; they are often given wrong information about what’s available to them, and if it wasn’t for the Washington Post many would still be confined to moldy, roach infested rooms awaiting medical care at Walter Reed..

We should remember the fallen—and fight like hell for the living. Support our women and men on the line by bringing them back home to their families who love them and their country who needs them. Remember the fallen—and take care of the needs and rights of our living veterans. That should be the spirit of our Memorial Day.

Last Benchmark Standing
As we expected all along, the Democrats gave Bush all the money he requested to continue the Iraq war through the summer–a summer he warned that’s likely to be bloody. No time tables or “benchmarks” were imposed on the commander-in-chief by the “opposition” but they did give an ultimatum to the Iraqi government—open up your oil for exploitation by American and British companies or face a cut off of reconstruction funds.

This benchmark unites both of the sometimes quarreling war parties. Neither gives a rodent’s backside about the future of the peoples of Iraq but their oil is another matter. Bush still hopes to maintain a long term imperial presence. The Democrats would be happy to just secure the oil fields for Free Enterprise and let others fight over who will govern a ruined country.

But this all important benchmark will prove no easier to achieve than pacifying Baghdad. Iraq’s oil workers have threatened a strike which would sink the Iraqi government and deny the world market 1.6 million barrels of oil a day–driving already escalating fuel prices through the roof. They have put their strike on hold only on the promise that the law written by Cheney’s cohorts is subject to negotiation.

The Iraqi unions are unalterably opposed to “production sharing agreements” that open the door to Big Oil taking control. They are prepared to shut the industry down. To paraphrase John L Lewis, you can’t dig oil with bayonets.

Both the labor and antiwar movements need to give political and material support to Iraqi unionists battling our mutual adversary–Big Oil. And, in light of absolute failure of the “peace” congress, we need to reaffirm our sole benchmark–Bring All the Troops Home Now!

A Little Bit Of History On This Day
On this day in 1937 more than a thousand strikers, many accompanied by their families, began a peaceful march to the picket line at Republic Steel in Chicago. Hundreds of cops blocked their path and opened fire with revolvers. Four strikers died on the spot, six more succumbed to mortal wounds later. Others were wounded and hundreds—including wives and children—were beaten and/or arrested. Newsreel footage of the carnage was banned from movie theaters. This went down in history as the Memorial Day Massacre.

Short Sighted School Bosses In North Carolina
Another story supplied by my UE buddy John Woodruff:

Many school districts in North Carolina, and probably elsewhere, require teaching assistants, cafeteria workers, and custodial staff to also drive school buses. WCNC-TV reported,

“Modina Amuda, who had worked as a reading tutor at Fallston Elementary School, said she was forced to quit her tutoring job after she attempted to complete the state required certification for driving a bus.

‘I cried on the day I left, I mean it was very hard for me,’ Amuda told WCNC.

“Standing at 4'11, Amuda said she struggled to reach the pedals and keep her hands on the steering wheel of a school bus during a required driving test. ‘I really never saw my height as a problem until then,’ she said. ‘Amuda, 28, said she contacted school board members asking for a waiver from driving a bus so she could keep her job at the elementary school. Amuda said the district would not make an exception to the driving requirement. She resigned her position on May 11.

“‘I have a family, I’m a single mom of three and I was really scared to be left with nothing,’ she said.”

According to the North Carolina DMV six school employees were disqualified for school bus driving in Cleveland County because of height restrictions over the past three years. Recently three additional districts have been consolidated into Cleveland County meaning more workers will likely come up short.

I know of at least one sub-five foot female bus operator at the Kansas City ATA who has been whipping forty-foot transit buses–including old AMCs that were purchased without the power steering they were geared for--around tight corners for more than twenty years without a chargeable accident. Given a chance, I’m sure many of those in the Tar Heel state could also prove artificial height restrictions to be unjustified as well–particularly if afforded low cost reasonable accommodation to the driver’s space.

But that’s not the main point. Perhaps I’m prejudiced, being a retired bus driver, but I believe this craft demands skills, unrelated to physical stature, that are of the utmost importance for public safety. The transportation of our children deserves the highest standards of this craft. Yet almost everywhere this is done on the cheap.

There is no justification for demanding that those who tutor, cook, or buff floors should also extend their working day by transporting our most precious cargo. Let Modina Amuda do what she does best-- helping kids learn how to read--and hire and train skilled, safe drivers to take those kids home when she’s done. Any other approach is extremely short sighted.

And While We’re On the Subject...
Transit that is, a topic prominent in the headlines last week.

●There were demands for big fare increases and/or massive service cuts, in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
●Detroit bus drivers walked off the job for a day because of violence on the bus system.
●Montreal transit workers partially shut down that city’s subway system protesting a wage freeze.
●Canadian Greyhound workers, after striking over the busy Victoria Day Weekend, approved a new contract by the narrowest of margins.
●A transit strike appears imminent in Calgary.

Soaring fuel prices have led to significant ridership growth on most North American transit systems. If we are to have any success in beating the Global Warming crisis there must be much more transit expansion. But indispensable public subsidies remain stagnant at best, even declining in some areas. This is leading to a crunch affecting both riders and transit workers.

It’s high time for transit unions to build alliances with riders in the communities, and environmentalists to come up with a plan for clean, safe, dependable transit as an adequately funded public service. More on this soon.

Attention Boosters
Starting to work on patriotic July Fourth remarks for your local Chamber of Commerce or American Legion? You can find inspiring facts in an article by Frida Berrigan, posted on Alternet, entitled,
We're No. 1! Says Berrigan,

“The United States is a proud nation of firsts -- among them weapon sales, military expenditure, oil consumption, CO2 emissions, external debt, private military personnel and more.”

Looking Forward to ‘Sicko’
Michael Moore’s new film, Sicko, is getting a lot of attention before its release in the USA. CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro sold us on viewing it at the earliest opportunity with this

That’s all for this week.

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