Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 14, 2009

I guess there’s never a good time to take a vacation–even as brief as mine. My wife Mary and I certainly needed our mini-respite. Please excuse the extra length I take in reviewing the past fortnight.

Terrorism At Home
I had just finished posting the last, pre-vacation break Week In Review when I got the news about the murder of Dr George Tiller. Dr Tiller, a father of four, was gunned down while serving as usher in his church. Hardly a radical, only one thing really distinguished him from other prosperous professionals in Wichita attending church services that morning--but it was a big difference.

Like his OB/GYN father, Dr Tiller strongly opposed interference by either state or church in a woman’s reproductive choices. When his father was killed in an accident shortly after his son’s completion of medical training George Tiller abandoned his plans to become a dermatologist to take over the family practice. He became one of a handful of dedicated U.S. physicians willing and able to perform the most challenging third-trimester abortions. Because no hospital would allow him to perform this legal medical practice Dr Tiller equipped his own clinic with the same resources that would be found in an accredited but discriminatory hospital.

But he paid dearly over the years for his principles. An earlier would be assassin shot him in both arms. His clinic was bombed more than once. Former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline kept him tied up in court with bogus charges while attempting to get the medical records of the Tiller Clinic patients.

Throughout all this the hate group Operation Rescue branded Dr Tiller as a mass murderer. They explained sub rosa to their followers the doctrine of justifiable homicide to stop murder. Since they oppose not just abortion but all forms of birth control, and stem cell research, this could have a wide application indeed.

Dr Tiller’s murderer is a mentally impaired follower of this hate group. He carried out the logic of what he had heard from them. He undoubtedly believes he will be rewarded in heaven for killing a church usher.

Operation Rescue of course formally distanced themselves from their deranged comrade–but continued their inflammatory character assassination of the victim in the same breath. Their venom was passed on by numerous “commentators” on cable “news” networks and trash talk radio.

Of course, those who oppose birth control on religious grounds have a right to express their beliefs. But while trying to voluntarily convert others to a religion is protected free speech attempts to impose religion on others is a violation of basic democratic and human rights. When this takes the form of intimidation and violence it becomes a crime that should not be tolerated.

Though they may use different scripture, those that encourage and applaud killings of doctors and bombings of clinics are no different than the misogynous terrorists of the Taliban. Where are the government’s efforts to protect American women and health professionals from these gangs of violent fanatics among us?

Stern Gang Demands De-Recognition
Mary and I arranged to stay a couple of vacation nights at the Lumiere Hotel in St Louis. We’re not gamblers but this casino hotel was unionized, had a good rate for the days we wanted, and provided shuttle service to the Cardinals game that was the main attraction for our visit.

But after seeing an article in the St Louis Business Journal shortly before our departure we became nervous about this decision. The splitters from UNITE-HERE, that have hooked up with Chairman Andy’s SEIU, are not only trying to take the textile, needle, and laundry workers they had brought in to the ill-fated merger with HERE; they are also attempting to raid HERE’s hospitality base. Ex-UNITE-HERE president Bruce Raynor, now a Stern lieutenant, began sending letters to employers asking them to withdraw recognition of HERE at the establishments it represents and to put dues check-off in escrow. Many bosses–including the owners of the Lumiere–eagerly met the Stern Gang’s demand. So we weren’t sure whether we would encounter a picket line that would have required a last minute change in plans. As it turned out, the Lumiere dispute appears to be headed to the NLRB for resolution. The friendly, competent staff remained on the job during our pleasant stay.

My good friend Adam Shils from Chicago had a somewhat different experience at a Holiday Inn in Toronto. While he was a guest, management tried to implement Raynor’s demand for de-recognition of the union there. The Canadian lads and lasses didn’t wait for any government board–they immediately went on a “work and walk” action and set up a militant informational picket line. Adam, good union man that he is, promptly went to the desk in the lobby to protest the union busting and begin the process of checking out. Before this gesture of solidarity could be completed, the union leaders came to tell him that the boss had withdrawn the de-recognition, the action had been won. They invited Adam to say a few words to an impromptu victory rally in front of the hotel.

There are, of course, hundreds of thousands of unorganized hotel, restaurant, and casino workers in North America. But Chairman Andy is not interested in these. He wants to rob dues payers already organized by others and destroy a factional opponent in the process. Clearly he couldn’t care less about collateral damage costing workers any union protection. He follows what has become his M.O.–making deals with the employers to “organize” workers.

Desktop Raids
The kinder, gentler administration in Washington has decided to back off the high profile workplace arrests of undocumented immigrant workers favored by Bush. Now they conduct “desktop raids.” The Los Angeles Times reports on one of these in Vernon, California,

“No immigration agents descended on Overhill Farms, a major food-processing plant in Vernon. No one was arrested or deported. There were no frantic scenes of desperate workers fleeing la migra through the gritty streets of the industrial suburb southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

“For more than 200 Overhill workers, however, the effect was devastating: All lost steady jobs last month and now find themselves in a precarious employment market, without severance pay or medical insurance. It wasn't a hot tip or an undercover informant that helped seal their fates, but a computer check of Social Security numbers.”

The company, which supplies frozen meals to several airlines and Jenny Craig, says it was fearful of criminal charges if they continued to employ those listed in the “no match” list sent out from the IRS. The union representing the workers who average ten dollars an hour, UFCW Local 770, is taking an unjust discharge grievance to arbitration. It’s hard to be optimistic about the outcome and, in any case, a decision is several months away.

Many of those fired have been in the United States for a decade or more and have U.S.-born children. The Mexican government wants them to stay in the USA and send money back home. NAFTA has pretty much wrecked the prospects for work in Mexico–that’s why they came. Though these workers have paid taxes they are unlikely to get much, if any help from the bankrupt government in California and will never see any benefit from the money they paid in to Social Security.

Some workers held a protest rally outside the plant. They carried signs proclaiming they are not disposable. But clearly disposable is exactly the way the bosses and the U.S. and Mexican governments see them.

The Times article says,

“Immigrant advocates who applaud the Obama administration's determination to shift the work-site enforcement focus to employers acknowledge that such an approach still leaves workers vulnerable to losing their jobs.”

No human being is illegal. In this age of globalization solidarity must be global as well. The automated injury to Overhill workers is an injury to us all.

Atomic Pile
On the first day on the road of our vacation Mary insisted we listen to Science Friday on National Pentagon Radio. It turned out to be one long shill for nuclear power. A panel of “experts” simply dismissed in passing the value of clean, safe, renewable solar and wind proven technologies. Some thought “clean coal” might work. But the main message was that nukes are the only way to save us from climate change disaster. Now there is a move to add to the Clean Energy and Security Act before congress authorization and massive subsidies for no less than a hundred new nukes.

It’s been a generation since there was any significant debate about nuclear power in the USA. For a long time it appeared the industry was justly fated to die off with the exhaustion of present plants. But now its ugly head is rising again posing danger.

I’m old enough to not only remember Chernobyl but Three Mile Island as well. If we hadn’t had intervention by a President who had been trained by the U.S. Navy in nuclear engineering, and who had been part of a clean up team after a leak at Canada’s Chalk River reactor in the Fifties, the bunglers at Three Mile Island might have killed many thousands. Of course, even if such disasters are avoided there are no known safe, secure ways of disposing of the waste which remains dangerous for centuries.

Nukes have also been prone to financial meltdowns. Electric customers and tax payers in the state of Washington are still paying off a massive 2.5 billion dollar bond default thirty years ago that left four out of five projected nukes unbuilt.

This new nuclear contamination is yet another reason why the bill initially drafted by Waxman-Markey should be consigned to a hazardous landfill.

The Fracking of Texas
Several towns south of Ft Worth, Texas have begun experiencing earthquakes for the first time in recorded history. Early Richter scale readings are far below the levels of disaster that have been seen in California and Alaska over the years but they have the towns shook up. Many residents, and some scientists, suspect the cause may be fracking.

Fracking uses horizontal drilling techniques and high pressure water to break up shale to release “trapped” natural gas. These towns–and many others sitting on the Barnett Shale estimated to contain 30 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas–have sold drilling rights to America’s biggest gas supplier, Chesapeake Energy.

Cliff Frohlich, a scientist at the University of Texas and author of Texas Earthquakes, said he believes more than 20 earthquakes in other parts of Texas over the past 100 years are related to drilling for petroleum and gas. Geologists on the payroll of gas and oil companies hotly dispute this but disasters caused by fracking have been well documented in places such as Indonesia. The town leaders of Cleburne are now talking about hiring an independent consultant–a good idea though somewhat tardy.

While not identical, methods used in carbon sequester–“clean coal”–are very similar to what’s going on in the gas fields of northeast Texas.

In Brief...
¶ The first chapter of Les Leopold’s new book,
The Looting of America, is available online. You can read it by clicking here.
Kansas City Jobs with Justice has called a rally in support of passage of the Employee Free Choice Act for this Wednesday, June 17, 5PM, near the entrance to Home Depot at Linwood & Main.

We’ll be resuming our regular Monday-Friday updating of the Daily Labor News Digest tomorrow, Monday, June 15.

That’s all for this week.

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