Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 31, 2010

Twice Victims
Continuing the long tradition of leaders of the most war-like country of modern times, the theme of President Obama’s weekly radio address was summarized by AP--Memorial Day Is Time to Honor Fallen Troops. Since last year’s holiday that means mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I believe we should mourn all victims, on all sides, in these and other past wars. But that’s not the message we’re given. The bipartisan war machine in Washington wants to use the deaths of Americans they sent in to unjust wars to justify dispatching even more. That’s exploitation of the fallen, not honor.

While we mourn those who died , we should fight like hell for the living men and women still in harm’s way--and the working people in other lands with whom we have no quarrel. The only honorable way to do this is by bringing all the GIs home where they belong–right now.

You can view a four segment video interview with Amjad Ali of the Iraq Freedom Congress about the strategy of the Iraqi labor movement in its ongoing battle with U.S. occupation by clicking here. And, of course, my Memorial Day message would not be complete without a reminder of the United National Antiwar Conference scheduled in Albany, New York July 23-25.

Who Will Be Biggest?
Workday Minnesota

“The Minnesota Nurses Association announced Friday that more than 12,000 Twin Cities nurses will conduct a one-day strike for patient safety beginning at 7 a.m. on Thursday, June 10. The work stoppage will be the largest nursing-related strike in U.S. history in terms of the number of nurses involved. Previously, the largest strike in history occurred when more than 6,000 Twin Cities nurses walked off the job for 38 days in 1984 before coming to an agreement with area hospitals.”

Living in St Paul at the time, I remember the 1984 strike as a model of organization that won solid support from the local labor movement. But the Minnesota RNs may face competition for the record.

The Los Angeles Times said,

“A union representing 13,000 nurses at nine Southern California hospitals announced Friday that they intend to strike June 10 if they do not reach agreement with hospital officials on their contracts. The strike would include nurses from all University of California hospitals, Citrus Valley Medical Center in Covina, San Pedro Peninsula Hospital and Olympia Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Jill Furillo, a nurse and bargaining director for National Nurses United, which includes the California Nurses Assn. union. Furillo said contract negotiations stalled because of hospital officials' unwillingness to adhere to state-mandated nurse staffing ratios, particularly during nurses' meals and breaks.”

Hopefully, the hospital bosses in both states will understand the need to work for an acceptable settlement. If not, there’s a good chance 25,000 NNU members will be on the picket line June 10.

Also at the USC University Hospital in Los Angeles, the National Union of Healthcare Workers reclaimed six hundred technicians, respiratory therapists and other employees in a representation election. SEIU, whose purge of elected leaders led to the formation of NUHW, walked away from the unit. The vote was 393 for the NUHW to 122 for no union. NUHW had previously won a group of food service workers at the facility.

Pincers At Ft Snelling
Saturday two separate marches converged on Fort Snelling, just outside the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport. Dakota Indians opposed a fund raising ceremony for renovation of the former military outpost which they note,

“Primarily women and children were held there over the winter of 1862-1863, before being force-marched into exile and the institution of Governor Ramsey's genocidal extermination law. The opening day’s events include a host of family-friendly historical re-enactments that glorify the history of land theft and military occupation of Dakota land.”

Another march from a different starting point protested the passage of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. The two marches joined for a united rally at the Fort.

There were other actions against the Arizona law across the country on Saturday. The biggest was in Phoenix where tens of thousands took part.

‘We Did What We Had To Do To Get To Tomorrow’
So said outgoing UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, not one bit contrite about the massive concessions made to the Big Three automakers on his watch. Sunday’s Detroit Free Press gives us a snapshot of “tomorrow,”

“A year after their historic bankruptcies, General Motors and Chrysler have already cut the cost of making each vehicle by $3,000,and labor costs could be lower than at any Japanese automaker in the U.S. in less than five years, according to the Center for Automotive Research.”

Even Gettelfinger had to acknowledge that new hires coming in at fourteen dollars an hour probably couldn’t afford to buy a new Big Three car.

How About That Yankee?
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant had been quiet for a while–too damn quiet. AP reported on Sunday,

“A new leak of radioactive material has been found and fixed at the troubled Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, officials said Saturday. Vapor and water containing 13 different radioactive substances was found late Friday coming from a pipe in a hole workers dug to find the source of an earlier leak.”

Because of numerous leaks, and a cooling tower collapse, the Vermont legislature rejected renewing the plant’s license which expires in March 2012. Its owner, Entergy, hopes to reverse their decision.

Day 41
To make sure no one forgot about the occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the last gasp of the Carter administration, Walter Cronkite used to begin his evening news with “it’s day __ of the Iran hostage crisis.” Some are adopting the same format for the oil crisis in the Gulf which is sure to last months longer.

As you probably heard, BP has now admitted their previous announcement of the rate of oil gushing in to the Gulf was way too low. They now accept estimates of two scientists that the actual numbers have been 2-3 greater. You may not have heard other experts have pegged the leak much higher yet–10 to 19 times more than the original daily 210,000 gallons once widely quoted as Gospel.

The next attempt to plug the gusher a mile below sea level will at least temporarily increase the flow twenty percent–if it is successful. If the attempt to cut and remove a broken pipe in order to insert a new seal fails there will be an increased surge in oil until a relief well can be completed–no earlier than August.

BP is hiring workers, including now idled Gulf fishing crews, for clean-up efforts–22,000 by the end of last week. Many of these workers have become sick on the job, some hospitalized. Chief suspect in these cases of respiratory and skin problems is the 840,000 gallons and counting of mysterious chemical dispersant used by BP to break up the oil. They continue to ignore EPA calls to stop.

According to McClatchy,

“Federal regulators complained in a scathing internal memo about ‘significant deficiencies’ in BP's handling of the safety of oil spill workers and asked the Coast Guard to help pressure the company to address a litany of concerns.”

OSHA head David Michaels, who signed the memo, said,

“I want to stress that these are not isolated problems. They appear to be indicative of a general systemic failure on BP's part, to ensure the safety and health of those responding to this disaster.”

As always, it is the worker who stands first in harm’s way in the corporate assault on our environment.

The Gulf Crisis overshadowed two other major oil spills over the past week. AFP reported from Singapore,

“An oil slick from a damaged tanker has spread from beaches on Singapore's southeastern coastline to a marine nature reserve and other beaches, environment officials said Saturday.”

And in Alaska the pipeline from North Slope fields to the port of Valdez was shut down for over three days after a spill of 5,000 barrels of crude. Fortunately, most of the oil was captured in a containment area. BP owns the biggest share of the consortium that operates the pipeline.

Atrocity At Sea
I was about to put this review to bed when word came of the Israeli attack on the convoy of small ships headed to the port of Gaza with medical supplies, cement, and other humanitarian aid urgently needed because of the Israeli blockade. There is always some confusion in early reports but some facts are clear:

* The deadly predawn assault involving several Israeli warships, helicopters, and commandos, took place in international waters, seventy miles from Gaza–a destination that is not part of Israel. Such attacks on the high seas are generally classified as either piracy or acts of war.

* Despite lies from Israeli spokespersons neither the ships–a collection of cruise ships and yachts–nor those aboard were equipped with firearms or explosives.

* Another official Israeli calumny picked up by some in the mass media was the convoy was a project of Hamas and Al-Qaeda. Those on board included a wide range of nationalities and motives for solidarity. Among them was an Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Much of the logistics of the convoy were organized in Turkey–a country that until today had good relations with Israel.

We will have more information in news stories posted when the Daily Labor News Digest returns from holiday break Tuesday morning. But there is no doubt that the Israeli government bears full responsibility for a major atrocity. What remains to be seen is how the world reacts.

That’s all for this week.

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