Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 21, 2009
‘Dads Having a Difficult Year’
In the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and forty-nine other countries, today is Father’s Day. At least in the USA, it has become the model for a purely commercial celebration. In its history of the day Wikipedia notes “Where Mother's Day was met with enthusiasm, Father's Day was met with laughter.” It ceased being a butt of jokes only after a big, decades long campaign of the National Council for the Promotion of Father's Day--spearheaded by the Associated Men's Wear Retailers, eventually drawing in other retail trade groups. President Johnson finally proclaimed it a federal holiday in 1966. By the 1980s the Council could boast that gifts for Dad had become “a second Christmas” for American merchants.
While Moms and kids are still urged to get Dad that riding lawn mower, or at least an outdoor gas grill the size of the kitchen stove, the reality of hard times has reduced expectations. It’s estimated gifts will only average about ninety bucks per dad, down sharply from the boom years and pale in comparison to the mothers’ average this year of 130 dollars. Making lemonade out of this sour crop, Hallmark has launched a new line of cards for “Dad Having a Difficult Year.”
Iraqi Unions Under Fresh Attacks
Bosses in Iraq are still trying to utilize the only Saddam Hussein era law that was permitted by U.S. occupation forces to remain intact–the outlawing of unions in the public sector (which includes most industry, utilities, and transportation.) Members of the General Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq at the Basra water purification plant have been ordered to disband their union and their leaders are threatened with imprisonment.
U.S. Labor Against the War is helping to circulate a solidarity appeal from these workers. To find out what you can do to help click here.
By the time you read this 24,000 municipal workers in Canada’s largest city may be on strike. Among other issues in dispute is the employer demand to end the long standing practice of workers cashing out unused sick pay when they retire. Reuters ran an article entitled, “Toronto city workers try to buck give-back trend.”
Hoping to stir up a little jealousy and resentment, they declare the eighteen annual sick days “a perk considered rare in both the public and private sectors.” They go on to lay out the arguments why worker resistance is futile,
“the city says it cannot afford the sick pay benefits at a time when Canada is in deep recession and many private-sector workers face pay cuts or reduced benefits.”
In case we’ve forgotten,
“Unionized workers at the Canadian operations of General Motors Corp and Chrysler agreed to steep concessions earlier this year in a deal that helped secure government aid for the auto sector. And this week the union representing Air Canada's customer service and sales agents ratified a 21-month contact with the cash-strapped carrier, a deal it said was not ideal but helps the company avoid bankruptcy.”
This is the first large contract to come up in Canada since the UAW/CAW capitulation to the White House restructuring of auto. As we predicted, other employers, public and private, will try to use that surrender to gain take-backs of their own. We wish the sisters and brothers of Canadian Union of Public Employees local 79, and the Toronto Civic Employees Union local 416 well in their fight to stop this trend from spreading.
Two New Reports
The government-sponsored United States Global Change Research Program has released a long awaited 196-page report on Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. They say,
“Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change.”
They make no bones about the cause of climate change,
“Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.”
They conclude “It is clear that impacts in the United States are already occurring and are projected to increase in the future, particularly if the concentration of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise.”
The other new study, known as The Synthesis Report, summarizes the results of the Climate Change Congress that took place in Copenhagen in March -- an event which included roughly 2,500 participants and over 1,400 papers. It relies on the latest data updates and has gone through two rounds of peer review. Its conclusions are not good news.
In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assumed that the earth's average temperature could increase anywhere from 1.8 to 4.0 degrees Centigrade by the end of this century. According to these latest findings, the world is currently on track for the worst-case scenario--the dynamics of climate change are already larger than feared. To be on the safe side, we are told people should adjust for three, four or even five degrees of warming.
Mark Lynas argues in his book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, a 3-degree rise would spell the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, disappearance of Greenland's ice sheet, and the creation of deserts across the Midwestern United States and southern Africa. A 6-degree increase would eliminate most life on Earth, including much of humanity.
I realize many have become jaded by such dire reports. Little new is reported here–except a new sense of urgency to save our biosphere. Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledges,
“The argument over whether climate change is a real problem is largely settled in Washington. What to do about climate change? That debate is at a boil.”
Congress is capable of having a heated debate over when to break for lunch. We don’t need them to boil up more hot air. The fact of the matter is that, as with almost every issue of substance there is no real debate of the program needed to save us from environmental self-destruction. Cap-and-trade is a proven failure. Clean Coal is a fraud. Demands for more nuclear power and ethanol will create more environmental problems. Hybrid cars and CFL bulbs are not going to make an appreciable difference. Nor do we need years of research into alternative energies.
Solar and wind are safe, clean, renewable proven technologies, ready to go. The challenge is to put them online massively and rapidly. This requires a radical restructuring of our economy putting people to work in decent jobs to meet this crisis.
Absolutely no one in the White House or on Capitol Hill is talking about such measures. They would require a clean break from the bosses and bankers that profit from our destruction, a clean break from the political Establishment that has a stranglehold on American politics.
The future of humanity depends on the ability of the working class to develop a mass movement and political party to take the emergency measures the climate change crisis requires.
Let’s Meet Up In Minneapolis
Things were pretty dismal for the American working class in 1934 too. Unions were weak. The few strikes were usually promptly and brutally broken. The working class was largely demoralized. Then three strikes came along that turned everything around–the Toledo Auto-Lite strike, the San Francisco general strike, and the Minneapolis Teamster strike. Those landmark victories prepared the way for the great CIO upsurge that followed.
In my youth I had a chance to spend some time with leaders of the Minneapolis strike–Farrell Dobbs, Harry DeBoer, and especially Vincent Ray Dunne. I learned a lot from them that has served me well over the years.
On July 25 there will be a big observance of the 75th anniversary of the strike at an historic site in Minneapolis. It will feature both education and celebration and is sure to be a memorable event. I hope I will see you there.
¶ Bruce Raynor, ex-co-president of UNITE-HERE, now Andy Stern’s lieutenant in charge of a split from that union, apparently diverted twelve million dollars of UNITE-HERE funds to projects geared to his secession. UNITE-HERE’s remaining co-president, John Wilhelm, was never asked to co-sign the checks as required by union rules. One of the benefactors of Raynor’s generosity during his final days in his old job was The Organizing Group, an outfit run by high-powered political strategist Steve Rosenthal. TOG organized mass mailings and robo-calls to UNITE-HERE staffers and members urging them to split their union and hook up with Chairman Andy.
¶ Not all of the objectors to Obama’s arranged restructuring of General Motors were greedy hedge funds. The IUE, Steelworkers, and Operating Engineers have more than 50,000 GM retirees and surviving spouses who will lose their health and other negotiated benefits under the deal.
¶ “GM, Chrysler retirees race clock to get dental, eye care,” reads a headline in the Detroit News. As of July 1 those benefits are eliminated. Higher copays for prescriptions and emergency room visits also go in to effect.
¶ Fifteen construction trades unions have pledged to shill for more drilling, and opposition to proposed energy legislation, on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute. The main union in the oil and gas industries, the Steelworkers, is not part of this effort to help the top corporate polluters expand their destruction of the environment. The USW was a founder of the Blue Green Alliance that emphasizes green jobs development. The IBEW, hedging their bets, are part of both groups. In California some of the same unions supporting the API are also selling their services to employers seeking to build green jobs projects. In return for project labor agreements they help the prospective boss through environmental paperwork and backroom political deals. One CEO of a company contracted to build a solar farm said, “Let’s just say that it is clear to us from experience that if we do not enter into a project labor agreement, the costs and schedule of the project is interminable.”
¶ Ford has told the UAW they want the same six-year no strike pledge Obama imposed on them at GM and Chrysler.
* Using some of the tactics that helped save Republic Windows in Chicago, UE is mounting a national campaign against Wells-Fargo Bank’s threat to force the closing of Quad-City Tool & Die in Moline, Illinois. Coordinated demonstrations at Wells Fargo sites will take place in more than a dozen cities on June 23. The union also has a letter-writing campaign going. You can find details about this deserving fight by clicking here.
* The second conference of the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations will be held in Pittsburgh July 10-11-12. Among labor folks scheduled to speak are Steve Early and Michael Zweig. You can find out more by clicking here.
* Utah Phillips called Anne Feeney the “best labor singer in North America.” Starting July 2 in Los Angeles Anne will launch a Sing Out for Single-Payer concert road show. Read all about it here.
Next week I’ll have something to say about the status of health care “reform.”
That’s all for this week.
One Day In July—A Street Festival For the Working Class
Remembering the 1934 Minneapolis Truck Strike–Minneapolis, Saturday, July 25
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