Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 25, 2006

What Will They Cook Up Next?
The National Nurses Organizing Committee, a project of the California Nurses Association, has won a first contract for1,800 RNs employed by Cook County [Chicago] Bureau of Health Services. The NNOC last year won bargaining rights away from a union that had accepted concessions. Achieved in a runup to a strike deadline, the new tentative deal reverses most of those give-backs as well as winning substantial wage and workplace rights improvements.

Known But Nameless
Three young Canadian women, delegates to the World Urban Forum, were dragged by their hair while being ejected from the UN-sponsored event in Vancouver. They became persona non grata when a thorough security search in the line for the women’s rest room uncovered T-shirts in their backpacks that carried the slogan, “Don’t Be A War Toy.” Don’t blame the Mounties for this one. The goons assaulting these teenagers were special security forces brought in from New York and Nairobi by the UN. After talking to a UN spokesman, the CBC reported, “the T-shirts are considered ‘objectionable material’ by the UN because they directly attack a UN member state. However, he didn't clarify which one.”

Getting Us Hot Under the Collar
It’s getting harder and harder for those who love carbon combustion to dismiss global warming as “junk science.” This week the super cautious National Research Council said they were they were “highly confident” the mean global surface temperature was higher in the past 25 years than any comparable period during the previous four centuries. They further admitted that past studies showing we’re at our hottest over the last thousand years were “plausible.” Even Robert Bazell, Chief Science & Health Correspondent for NBC News—a division of General Electric—said, “The big question is how much of the huge spike in temperatures in the past few decades could be natural variation and how much of it is human-produced greenhouse gases. My reporting tells me that a consensus of science says that most of the heat comes from human activity.”

A separate report blamed global warming for about half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005. Natural cycles were only a minor factor, according to research by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

And, while in China for a conference on the very interesting string theory, popular scientist Stephen Hawking said he was “very worried about global warming.” He warned the Earth “might end up like Venus, at 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulfuric acid.”

A Corny Solution?
President Bush, most agribusiness giants, and UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, are all big proponents of biofuels—especially corn derived ethanol—as a solution to both global warming and high fuel costs. With a gold rush mentality 39 new ethanol plants are scheduled to go online within the next year. The new plants will add about 1½ billion gallons of the additive a year—more than a thirty percent increase. But, increasingly, concerns are being raised by both environmentalists and agricultural economists.

The new plants still rely on burning large quantities of oil or natural gas to distill ethanol, pretty much offsetting its modestly cleaner burning characteristics. The new E-85 fuel—fifteen percent ethanol—also gets fewer miles per gallon than straight gasoline. It’s not realistic to count on significant environmental improvement from burning more corn. Bigger demand for fuel corn could lead to greater depletion of soils and will be a further obstacle to the growth of organic grains.

A New York Times article notes, “A few agricultural economists and food industry executives are quietly worrying that ethanol, at its current pace of development, could strain food supplies, raise costs for the livestock industry and force the use of marginal farmland in the search for ever more acres to plant corn.” They even quote the CEO of one of the biggest multinational agribusiness giants, Cargill, “There are unintended consequences of this euphoria to expand ethanol production at this pace that people are not considering.” Unlike ADM, his company is more diversified, with a big stake not only in grain but meat and poultry production. Never mind our Post Toasties, Fritos and occasional can of cream style; most present corn production goes to livestock feed or beverage and confectionary sweeteners. If ethanol drives up corn prices in general it will have a far reaching impact on virtually all food prices.

There’s no escaping that the only viable solutions to the fuel/global warming crisis lie in drastic reorganizing of transportation and electricity generation—leading to far less consumption of fossil fuels. But we can’t rely on a gold rush market to accomplish that.

40,000 Take the Money and Run
Approximately 40,000 GM and Delphi workers have accepted GM’s offer to buy out their jobs. At Delphi’s Saginaw plant ⅔ of the workforce decided to opt for it. 25 percent are taking the money at GM Fairfax in Kansas City, Kansas and the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

GM will hire a number of temporary workers to try to avoid disruptions with the departure of so many. They will also draft those idled workers getting full pay in the job bank and reabsorb some Delphi workers. Delphi plans to sell off or close 21 of its 29 U.S. plants.

The UAW and IUE ranks made a credible threat of a devastating strike if Delphi carried through on their plan of imposing a new contract through bankruptcy court. The GM-Delphi-UAW “partners” scrambled to come up with the buy out that they hope will pave the way to a negotiated new settlement that can be sold to a majority of remaining Delphi workers.

Congress Addresses the War
The media treated the endorsement of the President’s war in Iraq by a congress controlled by his party as a big deal. While the Republicans said they would accept no timetables for bringing the troops home the mainstream “opposition” Democrats said they wanted withdrawal—with no timetable. An extreme left wing of the opposition said they want “redeployment” within a year.

So Call Me a Liar
I know, I promised last time to post the second installment of my assessment of the UAW convention by “midweek.” I still hadn’t comprehended what a monster this project had become. I hope to have the promised second part up within a couple of days—but there may have to be an additional third installment. Thanks to all of you who sent in comments and suggestions for the topic.

As usual, much of the material for this column came from stories posted on the
Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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