Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 20, 2012

A Path To Parole
The President may not be as skilled in gardening as the First Lady but he does know how to manage an illusory hill of beans.

A few weeks ago he announced after much soul-searching, and counseling from his daughters, he now supports same-sex marriage. At the same time, the leader of the Free World made clear that he recognized this was solely a matter for the states to decide–and most of them, of course, are deciding to ban unions of less than two genders. By expressing this sentiment he both boosted his sagging popularity among human rights advocates while reassuring nervous politicians he was not going to make trouble for them around this divisive issue. The net result for those gays and lesbians hoping to be able to tie the matrimonial knot was somewhat less than bubkus.

A voting group even more important to Obama’s election–and absolutely crucial to a reelection–is the fast growing Latino, exceeding the number of African-Americans. The President has disappointed and angered many with his escalation of deportations–up thirty percent over the Bush II administration. These policies have so discouraged workers from Latin America that they have now been overtaken by Asians as the fastest growing immigrant group.

Even many undocumented workers who have eluded arrest by ICE or local police have lost often long-held jobs through “no match.” Rather than embarrassing high-profile round-ups of “illegals” at work, No Match flies beneath the radar like a stealthy drone. Employers are notified when computer searches find employees listed without proper documentation. It’s then up to the boss to fire them--as quietly or noisily as they please.

A particularly unsavory aspect of the deportation of workers is what happens to their kids. Many came to the USA with their migrant parents at an early age and are just as “illegal.” Others were born in this country, entitling them to citizenship–but usually get deported anyway with the rest of their family. In either case, the children have been raised as Americans and, often not even speaking the language, experience culture shock upon immersion in their “country of origin.”

Some immigrant’s kids do well in school and pursue higher education. Thousands signed up with the U.S. Army–not subject to No Match rules–with the hope that tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq could lead to their acceptance as Americans. They’ve found this striving to become a mensch is no sure path to legality either.

Over the past decade there have been half-hearted efforts in Congress, such as the DREAM Act, to cut these young people a very little slack–so far without success. The most recent rejection offered the opportunity for the dramatic Rose Garden announcement last week of a new Presidential Executive Oder affecting hundreds of thousands of “illegal” youth. The action was hailed by DREAM supporters and bitterly denounced by xenophobes.

The order simply suspends deportation, and provides temporary education or work permits, to those who come out of the closet to prove, among other things,

* They are under the age of 30 and came to the USA before the age of 16.
* They must not have a criminal record or be considered a security threat.
* They must be able to prove five years of U.S. residency.
* They must have served in the military or be successful students.

Far from being an amnesty, the conditions are comparable to parole. Any violation of the decree will likely send the offender to a privatized prison to await deportation to the land of their parents.

The order itself can be revoked at any time by the next President–or even the present one if it goes sideways on him. And, of course, Congress can reverse it through new immigration legislation. All these risks will certainly be carefully weighed by those eligible before they turn themselves in for registration.

This action by Obama was more proactive than his earlier statement of vague sentiment about ending discrimination against same-sex couples. Any even temporary measure of relief for those living in fear of being uprooted from the lives they are building and run out of the country is, I am sure, welcome.

But the underlying story is that of a cynical electoral gesture that seeks to divert attention from the broader grave injustices of the President’s immigration policy.

In 2006, I wrote an article putting immigration in to historical context, reviewing how it was dealt with by earlier generations of the labor movement. The basis for resolving the divisive issue of immigration is a revival of class solidarity. No human being is illegal. It is not a crime to work to support your family. Under NAFTA, capital has the unrestricted right to move across borders. Those who work for a living deserve no less.

Trabajo de la solidaridad no conoce fronteras

Will Truce Violations Rekindle Civil War?
No, I’m not talking here about lamentable bloodshed in Syria or Sudan. I’m focused on the resumption of hostilities on the California front of what Steve Early so ably described and analyzed in his book,
The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor.

It began with a sneak attack by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) President Dave Regan. Regan announced his support for the legislative effort by California hospital bosses to gut nurse-patient ratios--established by law as the result of an exemplary effort of the California Nurses Association some years back. CNA later successfully fended off attacks by Governor Terminator

That SEIU–who also have 16,000 California RNs under contract--would ally themselves with health care capital against a hard won reform that benefits both patient care and nurse working conditions is, of course, an outrage. That they further asked the whole labor movement to support their betrayal was a remarkable display of chutzpah. Regan has also been telling any who would listen–and quite a few who didn’t–that greedy nurses with their feather-bedding are blocking improvements for his many low-paid members.

The executive board of the California state fed rejected the Regan-boss appeal for help by a vote of 60-2. Some in SEIU, outside as well as in California, are distancing themselves from this embarrassing sell-out. But, since the culture of the SEIU makes it unlikely that Regan is just “going rouge,” at least some skirmishes with the potential for escalation seem inevitable.

Overcoming her natural shyness, Rose Ann De Moro, executive director of both CNA and National Nurses United, called Regan “dogged, arrogant and an enormous embarrassment to the labor movement.” She further declared, “It is a war, of that I am certain, and it will not be pretty.”

For a good introduction to the current mobilization for battle check out Randy Shaw’s CNA and SEIU-UHW Battle Over Labor's Future, and Mike Elk’s Are Nurses Headed to War with SEIU?

We’ll keep you posted on all the latest war news.

Not Fit For Public Consumption
Shaila Dewan and Motoko Rich write in the New York Times,

“Companies have been slowly adding workers for more than two years. But pink slips are still going out in a crucial area: government....

“Government payrolls grew in the early part of the recovery, largely because of federal stimulus measures. But since its postrecession peak in April 2009 (not counting temporary Census hiring), the public sector has shrunk by 657,000 jobs. The losses appeared to be tapering off earlier this year, but have accelerated for the last three months, creating the single biggest drag on the recovery in many areas.”

Not only are paychecks that could contribute to the consumer economy lost–vital public services are eliminated as well. The bulk of those fired were not paper-shuffling bureaucrats but teachers, First Responders, health care workers, transit workers, and blue collar maintainers of infrastructure.

Republicans view this slashing of state and local governments a step in the right direction--but much remains to be whacked. And, they say, work has hardly begun on chopping the monster of the Federal government.

Democrats acknowledge more cuts will be needed at all levels but say many useful jobs and services can be saved by downsizing labor costs–especially benefits such as health care and pensions that are more generous than most private sector workers have been able to maintain. Further gains for fiscal austerity can be made through privatization of costly programs such as NASA and much of the US Postal Service.

That’s the grim situation that confronts the convention this week of the single-biggest public sector union–AFSCME. They are also reeling from two recent electoral setbacks. As they were whipped in a showdown of their own creation in the Wisconsin recall, boss contrived “grass roots” ballot measures in two California cities voted to renege and reverse pension guarantees earned by public workers.

What kind of emergency plan will the delegates approve? Who will be elected to replace the retiring president? For these and other answers, tune in next week.

That’s all for this week.

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