Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review, June 18, 2005
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by Bill Onasch, webmaster,

Blue Ribbon Bosses Seek Cash Kangaroo
It’s challenging for capitalists to find new ways to expand redistribution of wealth from us to them, especially in a period of declining worker living standards. One local example of their ingenuity is a plan to rip off more public money through a restructured, at least partially privatized University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). A "Blue Ribbon Task Force" is coming up with proposals along these lines.

The privateers efforts are chaired by an expert--Benno Schmidt, Chairman of the Board for the Edison Schools corporation. Edison has been a highly profitable ploy, sucking up tax money for privatized replacements for public schools around the country. But, in most cases, their product has been inferior to the academic performance of the troubled public schools they muscled aside.

One example is visible from my front porch--Westport High School. Part of my property tax once went to support one of the charter school scams, Westport Edison Academy. So dismal were the educational results the none-too-fussy Kansas City School Board–operating under suspended accreditation–had to resort to courts and sheriff’s deputies to reclaim the "academy." One board member described Edison as an "out-of-state, out-of-touch management company."

With a boosterism that would have made Babbitt blush the Blue Ribboneers pitch a world class "urban university" guided, of course, not by egg head academics but by the really smart captains of finance and industry.

Actually this is not a new idea. When I was in high school the lineal ancestor of UMKC, the University of Kansas City, was a privately held institution with similar delusions of grandeur. They saw themselves as another University of Chicago. Unfortunately, their only similarity to the U of C proved to be in the area of varsity sports. By the mid-Sixties they had to beg the University of Missouri to take the school over.

Fortunately, student groups, and the indefatigable UMKC chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), are exposing and fighting this Blue Ribbon menace. If you haven’t already read the AAUP summary that’s been posted on our news page the last few days click here. If you live in the Kansas City area please pitch in with support to their struggle to save UMKC as a public institution accessible to the working class.

And, for a fresh approach to providing college opportunities for our daughters and sons, check out the Labor Party Free Higher Ed campaign.

Colgate Sends Jobs Down the Drain
My earliest years were spent in the Armourdale district of Kansas City, Kansas. The area, named after a meat packing giant, was home to many packinghouse workers, such as my dad. Our neighborhood had a unique environmental characteristic–whenever it rained tiny soap bubbles would appear everywhere.

This was due to the presence of two giant soap plants we had as neighbors. The thrifty packinghouses used to brag that they used "everything but the squeal" in their operations. They supplied what otherwise would have been waste products to Colgate-Palmolive and Proctor & Gamble operations on Kansas Avenue.

The Colgate plant, opened in 1910, employed about a thousand blue collar workers when I was a kid watching our soapy rain, including two aunts and an uncle of mine. They were members of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers (OCAW), which is now part of the USW. Like the thousands who worked in the stockyard and packinghouses, the Colgate workers provided a decent living to their families.

The packinghouses have been gone for thirty-some years now but soap manufacturing is no longer so dependent on animal products. Over the years the plant in Armourdale has shrunk to about 250 union jobs. Colgate has chosen to invest elsewhere and this week announced the plant’s production will be outsourced and Kansas Avenue shut down for good. The dislocated workers can start dropping off their resumes at the new growth industries in KCK–such as the NASCAR concession stands and Nebraska Furniture Mart.

This story is a late reminder of how our unions came to shrink in size and clout through restructuring of core industries. It is also part of the story of increased poverty and despair in the Black community, once important stakeholders in both meat packing and soap production.

Paper Solidarity
Finland is witnessing its biggest labor struggle in years as 25,000 paper industry workers battle an employer lockout. They got a show of support this week when their North American counterparts in seven U.S. and Canadian unions held workplace demonstrations at Stora Enso and UPM Kymmene operations.

L.A. Looking More Hospitable
A long running dispute between UNITE-HERE and seven major Los Angeles hotels came to a successful conclusion this week. A new contract covering 2500 workers was approved by a 98 percent vote. It includes a 65-cent an hour increase for non-tipped employees, maintains free health insurance coverage, and distributes a million dollars to repay health care cuts imposed by the bosses during the dispute. It also brings the contract expiration date in line with major hotel agreements in seven other U.S. and Canadian cities–a key element in UNITE-HERE’s national bargaining strategy.

Iraq Labor Tour Off To Good Start
The national tour of Iraqi labor leaders organized by US Labor Against the War has gotten off to a good start. More than three hundred packed the Carpenters Hall in St Paul to hear Falah Awan, president of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI), and Amjad Ali Aljawhry, an Iraqi union leader in exile in Canada and a representative of the FWCUI in North America. (Many of you in the Kansas City area will remember Amjad who spoke here in March 2004 at events organized by Kansas City Labor Against the War.) The Twin Cities event was arranged by USW. More information on the tour can be found by clicking here.

Over Correction
After being a day late with the last couple of columns I’m a day early this week. I’ve set aside this Sunday for personal business. I’ll take aim at reestablishing an every Sunday rhythm next time.

That’s all for this week.

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