Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 14, 2012

Time For Us To Reason Why
According to Wikipedia, the first to speak of lions led by asses was a Russian officer during the mid-nineteenth century Crimean War--describing the British infantry. That was a conflict memorialized in different ways by Tennyson and Kipling–theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.

John L Lewis, the long-time mercurial leader of the United Mine Workers, and a principal founder of the CIO split from lethargic craft unionism, once applied the Russian’s observation to the American labor movement.

There can be no more appropriate nutshell summary of the recent debacle in Wisconsin.

The semi-spontaneous occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol last year, supported by frequent demonstrations sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands, and generous donations of food and other essentials by not only the local community but in solidarity from around the world, was the most inspiring working class mobilization in the USA in decades.

Now when the Lions get loose, the Asses become alarmed. They didn’t dare order them back in to their dens immediately because they knew they likely wouldn’t go–and might even come after them. No, they offered support–in the same way the proverbial rope supports the hanging condemned.

From Day One, top leaders of public sector unions, such as Randi Weingarten of the AFT, reassured tax-payers that they understood the need for worker concessions in these tough times. They stood ready to agree to them through negotiation. They objected only to Governor Walker’s attempts to outlaw meaningful collective bargaining.

They quickly worked to transform the battle of classes that had been joined in Madison in to the battle of their look-alike Democrat Donkeys against the rampaging GOP Elephants. Ignoring the fact that key Democrats had scuttled state worker contract extensions approved by the outgoing Governor, they hailed as heroes a group of Dem legislators who fled across the state line to delay the implementation of Walker’s anti-union laws for a few weeks.

But when the continued blocking of capitol business began to seriously disrupt the running of the state–which was sort of the point of the whole thing–Assess and Donkeys alike said it was time to move from obstruction to a higher stage. For them that meant electoral politics. The Donkeys would just as soon have waited until the next scheduled election. The Asses, however, knew the Lions would remain restless and dangerous unless kept busy. Thus, the brilliant recall tactic was devised.

Thousands of dazed Lions accepted the clip-boards they were handed and put in countless hours in the gigantic effort needed to force a recall election. Later they walked the neighborhoods, and sat in phone banks, loyally following the scripts supplied by Asses. The Asses even poured in many millions of dollars, raised across the breadth of our great land, for campaign advertising.

The Donkey seeking to replace the arch-enemy Walker was not the first choice of the Asses. But, like always, they weren’t given any real choice. Their champion was the same loser who was whipped by Walker in the fall of 2010. In a rare moment of truth from a professional deceiver, Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee made clear he was no “pawn of the unions.”

Donkey Numero Uno in the White House later said he was just too busy to give attention to this state contest. Bill Clinton did make a brief trip to the Badger State on behalf of his party’s standard bearer. He was obviously somewhat embarrassed by reporter questions as to why he supported this recall when in the past he had strongly opposed the process. Clinton could only meekly answer with out elaboration that usually he opposes recalls but this one was different

While Walker may have been Public Enemy Number One to the Asses he became a squeaky clean poster child for the Tea Party Revolution, conducting a righteous defense against sore loser union bosses. Well-fed Elephants outspent the recallers nine to one. As a result, Walker has now bounced off the ropes and is claiming a renewed mandate for union-busting austerity.

In their assessment of the Wisconsin defeat, the top officers of UE–a union usually distinguished from the Ass herd--reminded us,

“Let's not forget the lessons of Ohio - a state with a less progressive political history than Wisconsin. There, last November, voters were given a straight choice to approve or reject union-busting legislation. By a 61-39 margin, they repealed the bill. This was the only time in U.S. history when the electorate of an entire state has voted directly on the question of whether workers should have union bargaining rights, and we won in a landslide.”

That was indeed one of the few genuine labor victories during the Obama era and it was done pretty much without significant help from Donkey “friends.”

The UE officers also say,

“Obama has stayed out of Wisconsin since the labor rights battle started there last year, to avoid taking a stand on the issues involved. His administration and the national leadership of the Democratic Party said and did next to nothing to help labor and the Wisconsin Democrats in this fight....Obama is already paying a price for his inaction. Since the recall results, Wisconsin has moved from column of .’safe’ states for Obama's reelection, and political experts now consider it a ‘battleground’ state in which he must spend money and time to prevent Romney from winning.”

I have little interest in whether Obama’s SuperPACs will have to spend more money in battleground states. But his inaction in Wisconsin should have been a big, flashing red light to the densest of Asses. It was for another outside the herd union, National Nurses United, who relentlessly reminded all of Obama’s campaign pledge to “walk the line” with workers treated unjustly. To avoid taking a stand is to take a stand. But we have more than inarticulate indifference by which to judge this administration.

Yesterday, hundreds of low-paid AFGE members working for the Veterans Administration–many of them disabled vets–marched from VA headquarters to the White House protesting further downgrading of their jobs. That union also faces stonewalling from the TSA in a narrow window open for negotiations as a bipartisan effort in Congress seeks to privatize their work. Tuesday, AFGE announced their enthusiastic endorsement of the President.

The Obama administration is already at work destroying labor agreements--and a quarter-million jobs-- at the US Postal Service. All postal unions have announced their support for the President’s reelection.

And the President of Hope and Faith is spreading his true labor gospel through his closest disciple--the man who charted his original election strategy, and served him as his first Chief-of-Staff, now Chicago Mayor--Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel is busting union chops with more energy and joy than Governor Walker in his wildest dreams–and with a foul mouth that would make a sailor blush.

How much longer will the Lions continue to follow the orders of Asses, riding in to the Valley of Death? Isn’t it time to reason why? Isn’t it time for the Lions to have a party of our own?

In Brief...
¶ The CNA Blog reports, “Registered nurses from nearly a dozen hospitals in California walked out on the job, grabbed picket signs and held a one-day strike Wednesday to protest massive cuts to patient care and RN livelihood. Many marched outside Sutter Health hospitals in the Bay Area where the corporation is proposing some 100 widespread reductions in patient services and RN contract standards.”
¶ The NNU has also won another major organizing victory–600 RNs at St Louis University Hospital. The health center associated with the Catholic university is part of the Tenet Healthcare system. NNU affiliates currently represent about 4,000 RNs in nine Tenet hospitals in Florida, Texas and California.
¶ Writing about the Chicago Teachers Union in Labor Notes Steven Ashby says, “An overwhelming 24,262 members, or 92 percent of the membership, voted. In a resounding display of unity, 98 percent of those voting authorized the strike. There was not a majority of CTU members at any of the 615 schools who voted ‘no.’... Teachers are angry over large classes, too few social workers and teachers’ aides, a deadening of a curriculum increasingly tailored to standardized tests, and a quarter of all schools lacking a library. They are angry at an unelected Board of Education demonizing them as adversaries.”
¶ After workers at Palermo Pizza’s main factory in Milwaukee conducted a campaign around the slogan “No Justice–No Piece,” that included a strike for recognition, the NLRB has scheduled a representation election. The mainly immigrant workforce has been organizing through Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization and low-wage workers’ center.
¶ The CBC reports from Keystone country, “Officials say the cleanup from a pipeline rupture near Sundre in central Alberta will take months, possibly even to the end of the summer. About half a million litres of light sour crude spilled into the Red Deer River with some of it washing into the Gleniffer reservoir, which provides thousands of Albertans with drinking water.”
¶ From Reuters, “China's carbon emissions could be nearly 20% higher than previously thought, a new analysis of official Chinese data showed on Sunday, suggesting the pace of global climate change could be even faster than currently predicted.” A separate dispatch tends to confirm this acceleration, “So far, 2012 has been the warmest year the United States has ever seen, with the warmest spring and the second-warmest May since record-keeping began in 1895, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported...”
¶ In case you hadn’t noticed, the New York Times deemed it fit to print, “The recent economic crisis left the median American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, erasing almost two decades of accumulated prosperity...”

Sorry that this WIR was a little late. We’ll hurry every chance we get until we get caught up.

That’s all for this week.

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