Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 18, 2011

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...
Some of you may have noticed two weeks passed by without a Week In Review. Those who regularly visit the
Daily Labor News Digest were disappointed to see nothing changed on that page last week until Friday. Since I always announce in advance any planned downtime some of you even became concerned about me.

There were no problems with our host server or e-mail provider and no new problems with me. But a key component of our vast technical set-up–a 2Wire Gateway modem designed to work with my DSL–failed. That meant no access to the Web or e-mail. My wife Mary shared the same dire strait because she piggy-backs on the modem’s wireless output for her broadband connection. Mary did have an old dial-up account but, in addition to being too slow to upload to our server, use tied up Mary’s business phone line, so that was not a viable substitute.

I will say that, once I surmounted some daunting recorded obstacles, the live technicians and customer service folks at AT&T did a great job. Even though the modem was out of warranty, they agreed it should have lasted longer and replaced it at no charge. However, I did have to wait for the replacement to be shipped from a warehouse in Ft Worth. It was late Thursday before I started tackling the few hundred e-mail messages that had piled up. There is always a danger that some that deserve reply get sucked in to mass purges. If you’ve been tapping your foot waiting on me to get back to you please send again.

I will follow up this long delayed WIR with another on Tuesday. Thanks for your patience.

We Haven’t Even Reached the Solstice
In a June 9 Globe & Mail article entitled Why unions are in for a long, hot summer, Emily Jackson writes,

“Tensions are rising at the bargaining table. The sluggish economy, globalization, and pension shortfalls have put pressure on employers to cut costs, which will likely cause lasting problems for unions around the world as they fight for job security and better deals.... The power of unions at the bargaining table has declined worldwide because of increased mobility and fewer labour restrictions in developing economies.”

This is not exactly breaking news. Jackson gleaned this from talking to academic experts.

“‘Unless they think of creative solutions or are willing to make tradeoffs, we’re going to see more industrial conflict, not less,’ said Richard Chaykowski, professor of industrial relations at Queen’s University.”

Another is more explicit about the dangers of rocking the boat,

“In the meantime, some union tactics, such as the postal workers' strike, can be risky strategies,’ said Morley Gunderson, professor of industrial relations at the University of Toronto. ‘They’re flexing their muscles and they obviously know what they’re doing, but what if people say, “I don’t even use stamps any more?’” Mr. Gunderson said. ‘It runs the risk of people wanting to privatize Canada Post completely.’”

Last Tuesday, Canada Post responded to rolling one-day local strikes by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers by locking out 48,000 employees. On Saturday, the US Postal Service put an embargo on Canadian mail. The Tory Federal government plans to pass legislation forcing the postal workers back to work, possibly as early as Monday.

But the Tories are not responding to popular outrage against postal workers. Prevailing public sympathy is on the union’s side. Their struggle has been endorsed by such organizations as the Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Senior Citizens of British Columbia. And the union has noted two key indicators of support to their picket lines–honking and doughnuts.

In addition to solid backing from every corner of the Canadian labor movement CUPW has received a number of expressions of international support, such as from the Union Network International; COURAGE, a labor federation representing public sector worker in the Philippines; PALTEL, their sister Union in Palestine. And the National Association of Letter Carriers in the US has provided important solidarity in various forms.

The government’s repressive action is testimony that, far from futile, the strike can still be a potent weapon. The problem is not with the tactic but the fact that the bosses control the power of government. A brief strike by CAW customer service workers at Air Canada last week stopped drastic changes in pensions but probably could have obtained more had there not been a palpable threat of legislative intervention with them as well.

That’s why in many countries strikes, and other mass actions by workers, are increasingly targeting not just individual employers but governments as well. We haven’t yet reached the solstice but the heat was on this past week

* There was a general strike and mass street battles in Greece against the government there doing the dirty work of bankers that will cost tens of thousands of jobs, slash wages, and wreck retirements.

* A blockade by thousands of workers forced members of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona to use helicopters to reach their chamber where they passed harsh austerity measures.

* In Britain, the Guardian reports, “The leader of the largest public sector union promises to mount the most sustained campaign of industrial action the country has seen since the general strike of 1926, vowing not to back down until the government has dropped its controversial pension changes.”

Much of the austerity drive currently heating up class confrontations around the world is directed by the International Monetary Fund, headquartered in Washington, DC. They have not neglected their host country either. Reuters reports,

“The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth on Friday and warned Washington and debt-ridden European countries that they are ‘playing with fire’ unless they take immediate steps to reduce their budget deficits.”

This was a timely assist to Vice-President Biden and bipartisan congressional leaders negotiating further cuts in social benefits, useful public services and public sector workers. The slashers also received a serendipitous boost from the AARP's longtime policy chief, John Rother, announcing they are dropping opposition to cutting Social Security benefits.

I was not as surprised as some feign to be by AARP treachery. Despite advancing age, I can still remember the betrayal they committed in collaboration with the late Senator Ted Kennedy in enabling the passage of the Medicare prescription drug scam in 2003. AARP has become a well-rewarded team player with the health insurance and drug robber barons. Why wouldn’t they be interested in the retirement racket too?

Can we expect a hot response in the USA this summer? Unfortunately, class consciousness is not nearly so advanced in this country as in Greece, Spain–or even Canada. We are rebuilding using the material at hand while reviving long atrophied skills.

But there are some encouraging signs. Coming after a lively march that included rallies at the White House, Capitol, and Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, National Nurses United is initiating an action on Wall Street this Wednesday, June 22 supporting their Main Street Contract. NNU Co-President Deborah Burger says,

“America’s nurses see and feel broad declines in health and living standards for their patients, and their own families that are directly tied to the collapse in jobs, housing, healthcare, and other basics of what used to be called the American dream. Nurses are calling for a change in priorities because they have seen enough, and want to stop the bleeding now.”

The action has been endorsed by,

AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, National Jobs with Justice, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, Bakery, Confectionary, and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 53, Amalgamated Transit Union, New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Right to the City, Vocal NY, Transport Workers Union Local 100, UNITE HERE Local 100 and Working Families.

It may not yet be on the scale of what we see in Athens or Barcelona but it’s a big step in the indicated direction.

In Brief...
¶ Sunday is the expiration of the GE national contracts with UE and IUE, as well as local agreements with several other unions. Latest reports indicated GE was still pushing to eliminate defined benefit pensions for new hires as well as serious take-backs in health care and outsourcing. Watch the
Daily Labor News Digest for the latest and we’ll have more to say in our Tuesday WIR.
¶ There will be a Labor-Community Fight Back National Conference at Kent State University, June 24–26. The gathering is a follow up to the Emergency Labor Meeting in Cleveland in March which I attended. Unfortunately, that trip exhausted my travel budget for the year and I won’t make this one. An impressive list of informative workshops is scheduled and there will be discussion of a proposed action plan. You can learn more by clicking
here.

June 19 is Fathers Day in the USA and the birthday of Mary Erio. Greetings to responsible fathers everywhere and to my wife who appears to be aging well.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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