Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 6, 2007

Execution Or the Road to Freedom?
In 1981 Mumia Abu-Jamal was a radio commentator and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. He was–and remains--an articulate advocate for human rights. He helped expose both racist brutality and corruption in the Philadelphia Police Department--which ultimately led to convictions of some of “Philadelphia’s Finest.”

But since then, for over a quarter-century, Mumia has been behind bars. The state of Pennsylvania says he is a cop killer who deserves to die. That’s what the state of Illinois once said about the Haymarket Martyrs. Later, a governor with guts acknowledged they had been framed up and pardoned them–four of them posthumously, after their hanging. Mumia’s case has all the smell of a similar frame up and he needs justice now, not an apology after execution.

Among those condemning Mumia’s conviction of murdering a cop are: Amnesty International; the NAACP; the National Lawyers Guild; and the Congressional Black Caucus. Abroad he has received support from the European Parliament; President Chirac of France; former South Africa president Nelson Mandela; and the Paris city council who named a street in Mumia’s honor.

A full page ad in The Nation, summarizing the facts of the frame up, is signed by such notables as Ed Asner, Harry Belafonte, Bill Fletcher Jr, Danny Glover, Dolores Huerta, Lynne Stewart, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn.

Mumia’s case is attracting fresh attention because of a crucial hearing before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on May 17. This could literally be a life or death decision for Mumia. That’s why defense efforts are being stepped up.

Kansas City will have a unique opportunity to hear all the latest about this important case from Jeff Mackler. I first met Jeff at a anti-Vietnam war conference in 1966. He has been a life long leader in the union, antiwar and socialist movements and has been deeply involved in Mumia’s defense since Day One. Over the years he has often visited and closely collaborates with Mumia. Mackler, director of the Northern California Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, will speak at a public meeting at All Souls Unitarian Church, 7PM, Friday, May 11. Following the meeting there will be a Regaee Fund Raiser at the Embassy, 3945 Main. For more information on the KC events click here.

Rolling Backwards
In 1978 I was one of 500 local union presidents who attended a conference in suburban Detroit that launched the All Unions Committee to Shorten the Work Week. The conference call said, “New technology has changed the shorter work week into an idea whose time has come.” Representative John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat, announced there he was introducing an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act to create a seven-hour day, 35-hour week, as the new norm for American workers.

The Conyers Bill, and the All Unions Committee, never managed to gain traction. But they were absolutely right about new technology making a shorter work week, with no reduction in pay, just and justifiable. In fact, several European countries, where the working class has mass parties representing their interests, have reduced working time, some to the 35-hour level.

Technology in American industry has grown rapidly since 1978. But instead of the more productive workers being rewarded with shorter work days, longer vacations, and earlier retirements, as some of our European counterparts have enjoyed, we have seen massive job elimination. This has been particularly devastating in mining, rail, rubber and steel, and, to a certain extent, in auto.

Sometimes the bosses aren’t content with advanced technology–they also try to lengthen the work day. Shortly after I returned from the Detroit conference the management of Litton Microwave proposed to our UE Local that we amend our contract in mid-term to shift to four ten-hour days–at straight time. They sent their foreman and stooges out among the workers to explain to them how much gas money they would save, and how much more time they would have at home on Fridays.

After our shop committee told management that we wouldn’t discuss this give-back I took a lot of heat initially from members who found the idea of a four-day week attractive. We called a special meeting where we recounted the sacrifices that were made to get the eight-hour day and presented our case for shorter hours with no pay cuts. We gave them statistics about the rise in workplace accidents as work hours increased. We warned them that they would be so exhausted after four tens they would need that free Friday just to recover. We reminded them that in our highly seasonal industry the company always scheduled five ten-hour days--along with an eight-hour Saturday--virtually every week between Labor Day and Christmas. The only thing that would be changed by the company proposal was elimination of the time-and-a-half guarantee for all work over eight hours in a day. Most members then understood and supported the position of the union committee.

This coming week UAW members at Ford’s truck plant in Louisville will be voting on a proposal, similar to the one at Litton, to end the eight-hour day–shifting to four ten-hour days with no overtime premium. It’s recognized this will also eliminate some jobs.

Unfortunately, Louisville is not an isolated example of major local give-backs in the auto industry. In April Daimler Chrysler announced, after work rule deals, it would build two new plants in Michigan and upgrade three others–with a net loss of about 1,800 jobs. GM announced a couple of weeks ago that they were shelving plans for new models at their Fairfax (Kansas City, Kansas) and Lordstown plants because workers were balking at granting give-backs on working conditions.

Meanwhile, the UAW national leadership has given a “final” offer to prospective buyers of Delphi. While details have remained secret it purportedly accepts the closure or sale of 21 plants currently covered by the GM agreement.

All this ground giving does not bode well for the coming national bargaining, where basic wages and benefits are determined. The UAW/Big Three “partnership” is hurtling backwards downhill, toward nineteenth century working conditions and likely cuts in wages and health care.

With only about ten percent of the private sector workforce unionized, and with bargaining clout subject to forces outside union control, the best way to guarantee basic working conditions such as work hours is by law. The Labor Party has a clear position, not even addressed by other parties, to give workers our fair share in being more productive,

A 32-Hour, 4-day Work Week
Double-time Minimum for All Overtime
An Hour Off with Pay for Every two Hours of Overtime
20 Mandatory Paid Vacation Days for All
One Year Paid Leave for Every Seven Years of Work

Third Report–More Hot Air
The third, concluding report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was approved Friday in Bangkok. The first two reports did a good job of presenting a scientific consensus on the global warming crisis. This installment was meant to indicate measures and goals for tackling the climate change challenge. It fell far short of the previous successes.

I’m still in the process of trying to absorb the details of the new report itself, as well as the various interpretations being offered. But clearly the politicians, mostly representing the business interests of their respective countries, have started asserting themselves–and nothing good can come from that.

The most ambitious goal coming from conference decision makers was shooting for a limit of 445 parts per million of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Right now we’re sitting at 430. Stabilizing at 445 would slowly, but inevitably lead to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet–which will in turn raise sea level five or six yards. That means goodbye to a 100 million homes in Bangladesh, the entire city of New Orleans, most of the Florida coast, and a majority of inhabited islands. It would further disrupt fresh water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.

But most seem to think 445 is too optimistic. The hard line taken by the two top giant polluters–the USA and China–and other up and coming developing powers such as India, make 445 likely burnt pie in the sky.

There was a futile attempt to sell climate action as a bargain. The world–at least that part more than twenty feet above present sea level–can be saved for as little as 0.12 percent of annual world economic output it is claimed. But even this dubious estimate will be seen as “astronomical” by those representing the likes of Wal-Mart and Circuit City.

As well as low balling what it will take to even halt the rise in greenhouse emissions the conference players tried to appeal to the avarice of global capital with much talk about market mechanisms and juicy carbon trading schemes.

And, of course, there are elements who hope the world has forgotten Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and are trying to get a wedge in for many more nukes.

The scientists have done their job and are now pretty much out of the conference circuit. The bosses, bankers, and their politicians will be calling the shots from here on out. That’s the scariest component of the climate change crisis.

No acceptable solutions will be found until a politically organized as well as scientifically savvy working class assert ourselves into the decisions affecting the very future of humanity.

Our Own Four Day Week
Because of our commitments to the Mumia defense events described above we will not be updating the Daily Labor News Digest Friday, May 11, or the weekend edition that would normally appear Saturday morning.

That’s all for this week. 

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