Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 11, 2007

They Wrote the Book On It
Rep. Lynn Woolsey organized a Capitol Hill press conference for Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union President Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein. Hussein is visiting the USA as part of a tour sponsored by US Labor Against the War. Dennis Moore, a Democrat congressman who represents the most affluent suburbs in the Kansas City area, dropped by. Moore repeated the war party line that the Iraqi people had hated each other for centuries for religious reasons and demanded to know whether Hussein was Shia or Sunni.

Sister Hussein replied she was an Iraqi and explained that the religious divisions had only been rekindled during the occupation. Moore chuckled, “We're reading different history books.” Hussein’s rejoinder was “I'm telling you reality. Who knows who writes your history books.”

The AFL-CIO has been supportive of the tour and in building solidarity with the embattled Iraqi southern oil workers.

From Mackinac Strait To Dire Straits
UAW president Ron Gettelfinger and Teamsters president James Hoffa, got together for a retreat with their pals from the Detroit Regional Chamber on picturesque Mackinac Island. Hoffa reportedly was pleased to see the only remaining true teamsters in his union–since motor vehicles are banned on the island UPS uses horse drawn carts to make their deliveries.

Crain’s Detroit Business ran a story about the conclave entitled “Speakers want universal health care, differ on running, paying for it.” To their credit, both of the union guests advocated single-payer. But, according to Crain’s,

“Intel Chairman Craig Barrett and Pitney Bowes Executive Chairman Michael Critelli said employers will play a crucial role in creating a health care system that covers all people, encourages healthy living and lower health care costs. They argued that employers are best able to effect change because they are more invested in the productivity of their employees than insurance companies or government entities are.

“‘Ask yourself if you went to a government-paid plan whether they would care whether you got back to work,’ Critelli said.”

But while Gettelfinger was politely praising single-payer in front of reporters Business Week reported that the UAW has agreed to negotiate a “transformational agreement” with the Big Three auto makers that would drastically alter health care benefits in America’s most important industry. BW explains the broad outline,

“Here's how it would work. GM, Ford, and Chrysler would each give the union billions in cash, stock, and convertible debt equal to some portion of the total liability. Analysts say 60% to 80% of total health-care liabilities would make it work. Depending on the deal, this could be either a one-time payment or amortized over time. Since the Big Three combined have roughly $100 billion in health-care liabilities, they would collectively have to set up a fund with at least $60 billion.

“In GM's case, the company would give the union at least $36 billion to start the fund, 60% of the $60 billion health-care liability.

“The union must then manage the fund and invest the proceeds to offset health-care inflation and grow the assets so that workers and retirees have guaranteed medical benefits.”

This is similar to the deal cut by the USW with Goodyear. It would not only be bad news for UAW members. Every other employer will surely demand at least as sweet a deal as well. The defensive battles just about every union has been fighting to hang on to health care benefits would be shifted to struggling over how much will be left when the boss walks away from any future obligation.

Things look no better in the public sector. Illinois is facing a real crisis now and the drum beat has begun for the call to take back promises made to California workers.

Nor do state “universal coverage” plans, such as those implemented by Mitch Romney in Massachusetts, or proposed by Schwarzenegger in California, offer any real relief. Our friend Rod in Vancouver wrote to us about Schwarzenegger’s visit to Canada–and who warmly greeted him. “Our extreme right wing federal Conservative gov't and BC's own right wingers who make Attila the Hun look liberal. One of the prime examples Schwarzenegger was interested to see was our P3's (Private Public Partnership's). The greatest legal rip-off of public assets ever seen. Californians better stop this in its tracks...Canadians are supposed to export lumber, beer, water and natural resources... Not anti-labor and legal rip-off schemes.”

There is no acceptable solution to the American health care crisis from a working class point of view other than single-payer. You can keep up to date on this crucial fight by checking out the Guaranteed Health Care web site sponsored by the California Nurses Association.

Upcoming Conferences
Later this week, June 14-17, is “Class Matters: Working Class Culture and Counter-Culture,” sponsored by the Working Class Studies Association. The event will be held on the Macalester campus in St Paul. Peter Rachleff assures me there is still room for any interested. More information

Upper Midwest Region Solidarity School, August 9-12, Plymouth, Michigan, sponsored by the Center for Labor Renewal. Information here.

And save the dates–October 5-6--for a Labor & Sustainability Conference in Kansas City. Still in the early planning stages, you can view the conference call here. Initiating sponsors include All Souls Green Sanctuary Committee; Institute for Labor Studies; Kansas City Climate Action Organizing Committee; Kansas City Labor Party, and endorsements are being sought from more labor and environmental organizations.

Hard Time Café
I plead ignorance to knowledge of pop culture. Whenever I get curious about names I can’t escape hearing I consult my wife about what’s hot and what’s not in America. She always seems to know. But this week Mary has been on the road so I was forced to do a little research on the most prominent name in the headlines–Paris Hilton. Is she a singer, an actress, an athlete, I wondered?

Well, it turns out she is universally identified as a “socialite.” While I know what a socialist is I’m still trying to figure out whether socialite is an art, profession, or genetic description. I’m sure Mary will explain all when she returns home.

The only reason Paris rates a mention in this column is that the law of averages caught up with her. The USA has more prisoners per capita than any other country. The great majority of this growing community were charged with nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession or bouncing a check. They are, of course, mainly poor, disproportionably nonwhite. Like a helpless dolphin, this socialite got swept up in a giant trawler’s net seeking littler fish.

It was Paris’s misfortune to come before a judge building a career being “tough on crime.” Seeking to make this socialite a horrible example to any rich and famous pondering playing loose with the rules, His Honor sentenced her to twice the normal jail time for her probation violation.

The county sheriff, knowing nothing good can come from having a prime paparazzi target in his overcrowded jail, sent Paris home with an electronic ankle bracelet and warned her she was grounded for the balance of her sentence. This is apparently a common enough practice in Los Angeles, driven not by any bleeding hearts but rather dictated by the finite constraints of jail capacity in an infinite war on drugs.

“Not so fast Sheriff Moto,” cried the law-and-order judge, hauling the now sobbing socialite back in to his court for another tough love experience. Many applauded this as a victory for race and class equality.

To me, this seems like cheering when the gap between gender wages closes–because men’s wages drop faster. As the Australian singer Paul Kelly says, “Fighting crime by building more jails is like fighting cancer by building more cemeteries.” Race and class equality is not going to prosper behind bars. Our hero Eugene Debs, incarcerated more than once for fighting for class justice, summed up the proper attitude, I believe, with this famous quote,

“while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Sprawl In East Africa
The Hadzabe are the second oldest tribe in the world. They continue their hunting/gathering pretty much the same way as they have done for at least 50,000 years in a region of what’s today known as Tanzania. They learned to evade or coexist with first German, then British colonial rulers; Christian and Muslim missionary expeditions; anthropologists; neighboring tribes looking for agricultural and grazing land; and tourists. Few send their kids to state boarding schools; fewer yet use money.

But it looks like the Hadzabe have finally met their match. It seems a royal family from the United Arab Emirates–with more oil money than they can ever spend–have outgrown a private hunting reserve adjoining the Hadzabe region. To ease their overcrowding the oil royals have negotiated a deal with the Tanzanian government to acquire 2,500 square miles of pristine valley land on the edge of the Serengeti Plain–including the Hadzabe land. The Hadzabe were not consulted or compensated in this real estate transaction and, banned from taking game in the new reserve, it’s unlikely that they can survive.

That’s all for this week.

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