Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 3, 2011

If you’ve had your fill of details about a lavish royal wedding, a long-form birth certificate, and the dumping of a slain terrorist in to the sea, here are some less prominent items from our side.

Weathering A Tempest Blowing From A Tea Pot
I’ve watched the labor movement of my home town decimated by plant closings and weakened by a long dysfunctional central labor council. One of the few bright spots that kept our path illuminated has been the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

I had the opportunity to represent ATU Local 1287 on the ILS labor advisory board during the mid-nineties giving me a chance to learn about the breadth and depth of its services. In addition to credit courses in labor history, labor law, etc at UMKC, custom strategic planning was offered to local unions, along with grievance and arbitration training, resources for women workers, and a lot more. A well-researched and presented Labor History Bus Tour was developed. For the last 21 years, the ILS has also produced an award-winning hour-long weekly show on KKFI community radio, The Heartland Labor Forum. In recent years, taking advantage of video conferencing, ILS director Judy Ancel has been co-teaching weekend labor ed classes with UM-St Louis adjunct instructor Don Giljum, whose day job until quite recently was business manager of an Operating Engineers local.

Ancel and Giljum taught a class this semester called “Labor, Politics, and Society.” It probed a wide range of questions including the violence historically often used against labor. Tapes of free-wheeling classroom discussion were purloined, doctored, uploaded to YouTube, and then posted on one of the websites of the well-funded tea party darling Andrew Breitbart. This is the same schmuck, posing as a journalist dealing in “documentary” films, who peddled faked footage that frightened liberals in to destroying ACORN and another leading to the firing of Shirley Sherrod from a minor job at the Agriculture Department. This time Breitbart charged tax-payer money was being used to promote violence by the labor movement.

Judy Ancel issued a statement right away which you can read here. Jane Slaughter and Mischa Gaus posted a good summary of this attack on academic freedom and labor education in an online Labor Notes article late last week. They cite examples of how the Breitbart posted video was rather crudely faked. (YouTube responded to complaints by taking them down for violation of their guidelines.) But even more disturbing was their report on divided responses to this outrageous attack in both academic and labor circles.

Students in the class have been very vocal in defense of their instructors.

University administrators at UMKC issued a public statement confirming the videos are doctored and they have so far stood by Judy Ancel. UMSL, on the other hand, terminated Giljum with only one class remaining on his adjunct contract.

Labor educators have rallied around in solidarity with support coming from the United Association for Labor Education, the Working Class Studies Association, and the newsletter of the American Association of University Professors.

Unfortunately, the response from union officials has been less than exemplary. On the ILS advisory board when I served on it was Herb Johnson, a nice guy then heading up the IAM local at the TWA overhaul base. He was an enthusiastic supporter of ILS in general and Judy Ancel in particular. When IAM was replaced by the TWU with American’s acquisition of TWA (the base has since closed), Herb went on to become secretary-treasurer of the Missouri state fed. Since then he has helped fend off attempts in the legislature to de-fund labor education. According to Labor Notes,

“The Missouri AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, said he was ‘incensed that we have scoundrels who go out and character-assassinate good people in our community.’ He called Giljum ‘a great trade unionist’ but said the federation was not yet planning to issue a statement supporting the two, preferring not to ‘fan the flames’ and ‘just cause more reaction.’ Instead, Johnson said, the executive board passed a resolution Wednesday that we never have and never would endorse any kind of violence for any reason whatsoever.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, the article goes on to say,

“The attorney for the Missouri AFL-CIO, Ron Gladney, called Giljum’s international union and asked officials there to pressure him to resign from his local and international positions, which they did. Giljum resigned, despite the fact that he had announced back in January he would be retiring May 1—just days away. According to Giljum, Gladney argued that the incident might cause Missouri Republicans to take up a right-to-work bill, which they have till now avoided.”

Somehow these brilliant labor strategists never quite understood that when we say “an injury to one is the concern of all” that means we try to help the injured. They seem to think that the victims should be prepared to fall on their swords to protect the back room deal they think they have with the Republicans.

I know Don Giljum only by reputation–a good one. I’ve known Judy Ancel for twenty years and count her not only as a friend; I know that, on her own volunteer time, she has also played a valuable role in the movements for cross-border solidarity, immigrant rights, community radio, and against globalization--as well as a supporter of just about every local labor and student struggle. Abandoning these two to pressure from ultra-right-wing calumny would just paint a big bulls-eye on the back of every labor educator.

We were outraged over ACORN and Shirley Sherrod but we were not surprised by those actions taken by cowardly liberal politicians. We have a right to expect better from those who claim to be labor leaders.

We’ll keep readers informed of future developments and any appeals for concrete action. I’m sure Judy would appreciate receiving messages of support which can be sent to jancel[at]igc.org

May Day
Some of the more impressive turn-outs for International Workers Day included 500,000 in Buenos Aires; more than 400,000 in May Day marches in Germany; 125,000 in Paris; 100,000 in Vienna, 50,000 in Guatemala City; 10,000 in London and, for the first time in decades, thousands of workers rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Unions also defied Iraqi authorities by marching in Baghdad and Basra

In the USA, while still small compared to the giant immigrant-based marches in 2006-7 there were lively actions in a number of cities. The biggest had union involvement such as in New York City, Hartford, and Los Angeles.

The Duluth News-Tribune reported on an event in the small Twin Port neighbor of Superior, Wisconsin,

“students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior put on a May Day celebration with a decidedly more worker-oriented theme. Heather Bradford, a UWS senior majoring in sociology, helped organize the gathering at the Yellowjacket Union. ‘I thought it was really important to do something, especially with everything that’s happened the past few months here in Wisconsin,’ she said. ‘We felt it was important for people to remember the fight for the eight-hour day, for child labor laws and for workers compensation.’”

Our modest in-door event here in Kansas City more than met expectations with a full house that warmly applauded the program.

Real Choice On Medicare
For those of you who are not paid subscribers to the New York Times, I offer the gist of a brief letter sent to that paper by Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United,

“There is a ‘real choice on Medicare,’ just not within the narrow confines defined by the deficit zealots inside the Beltway or in editorial offices.

“The G.O.P.-Ryan plan is little more than a thinly veiled scheme to destroy one of the most fundamental reforms in American history through privatization and further cost-shifting to many of the most vulnerable in our society.

“But the White House plan also fails, through a reliance on a health care law that expands the role of private insurers while taking inadequate steps to rein in price-gouging by the private insurers that ultimately puts cost pressures on Medicare as well.

“The ‘real choice’ would be securing the future of Medicare once and for all by extending it to cover everyone. Through its proven formula of global budgeting and federal bulk-purchasing power, it is the best way to effectively control costs while ensuring that we change our broken health care system from one based on ability to pay to one based on patient need.”

In Brief...
¶ Although the Tories won a majority in Federal parliament, the big news was the record showing of the New Democrats, Canada’s labor party. The NDP won nearly 31 percent of the total popular vote and more than tripled its number of seats to become the official Opposition. The once mighty Liberals slumped to a little more than 20 percent of the vote and their party leader was defeated in his own riding.
¶ If your school district is running in to financial problems you might follow the example of concerned parents in a medium-sized California city. The Beverley Hills PTA is conducting a fund raiser with a goal of one mln dollars to help out the district that has such notable graduates as Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Reiner, Carrie Fisher and David Schwimmer.
 

That’s all for this week.

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