Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 26, 2012

Generation Gap
Last week, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, dubbed Rio+20 to commemorate the first such gathering in the same Brazilian city in 1992, passed in to the dumpster of history with little notice from the mainstream media.

It was promoted as a gathering of world leaders, rubbing shoulders with thousands from advocacy groups and NGOs, in a “once in a generation” opportunity to put the world on a path of ecological sustainability.

But few heads of state from the major countries destroying our biosphere were present. Not Obama, not Merkel, not Cameron. They were preoccupied with another conclave in Mexico of the G20–dedicated to the global sustainability of capitalist profits.

One head of state in attendance was Cuba’s Raul Castro who reminded the conference of the remarks made by his predecessor and brother Fidel to the 1992 gathering, “It is an irrefutable truth the danger of extinction the human race is facing, that at that time could have sounded alarmist.”

There were quite a few environmental activists who couldn’t make it to Rio because--they had been murdered. In the host country of Brazil just last year 29 practitioners of sustainable agriculture were murdered under orders from lumber and cattle barons. Dozens more have had to flee their home regions due to death threats that are taken very seriously. Brazil is not alone. A recent report by Global Witness tallies at least 106 environmental related murders world wide last year, and nearly eight hundred over the last decade.

To speak for the murdered, and the poor whose voices are seldom heard, tens of thousands demonstrated in Rio during the confab demanding meaningful action. Included in their ranks were many trade union delegations.

But the final declaration was determined by the emissaries of the G20 leaders, along with allies such as the Vatican. Richard Black, environmental correspondent for the BBC writes,

“Gro Harlem Brundtland, author of a major UN sustainable development report 25 years ago, said corporate power was one reason for lack of progress...moves to eliminate subsidies on fossil fuels - recommended in a number of authoritative reports as likely to boost economies and curb CO2 emissions - came to naught. Plans to enshrine the right of poor people to have clean water, adequate food and modern forms of energy also foundered or were seriously weakened during the six days of preparatory talks. And many governments were bitter that text enshrining women's reproductive rights was removed from the declaration over opposition from the Vatican backed by Russia and nations from the Middle East and Latin America.”

A report in the British Guardian concluded,

“The weak leadership shown in the conference halls has prompted many in civil society to rethink their strategies. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said a ‘red/green alliance was the only way forward.’ If the current development model doesn't change, ‘we are going to see economic dislocation greater than we're facing now,’ she said. ‘There will be more wars around water and energy, so we need labour and environment walking hand in hand.’”

I think the sister is on to something here. And I don’t think we can wait until Rio+40 to get moving. We keep getting fresh reports that previous estimates of ecological destruction were seriously understated. For example, just last week scientists announced rising sea levels--resulting from expanding warmer water and shelf ice melt in Greenland and the Antarctica–is moving nearly twice the rate previously thought. One area particularly endangered is the densely populated East Coast between Boston and Cape Hatteras. The damage already done guarantees the waterfront of some of the biggest cities in the world located in that stretch will rise more than three feet (one meter) before the end of the century.

But more damage is being done. The underlying principal cause of climate change–carbon emissions–is still growing and has exceeded predictions of only a few years ago. They are up 48 percent over levels measured at the time of the first Rio conference.

If Rio+20 was indeed the opportunity of this generation then the future of human civilization is indeed doomed. This generation still has a shot, the last one in my opinion–but only if we move post-haste along the lines suggested by the sister from the ITUC. We need to mobilize the world’s working class to get the job done.

Generation Change
Gerald McEntee, knowing his retirement after 31 years as the top officer of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees would be traumatic for his members, sought to ease their insecurity by designating a younger man as his successor. Sixty-year old Lee Saunders, who had been previously elevated to number two last year when he replaced retiring long time Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy, handily defeated New York AFSCME leader Danny Donohue. Saunder’s running mate Laura Reyes won a slightly closer contest with Alice Goff for the Secretary-Treasurer spot.

In his concession remarks Donohue said, “At this convention, Lee Saunders has echoed our goals. AFSCME members are counting on him to live up to those commitments. All of us, together, as one union, we’re going to rebuild, renew, unify and fight the enemies of public services and public workers.”

In addition to echoing candidates, the thousands of delegates assembled in Los Angeles were treated to remarks by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, MSNBC talking head Ed Shultz, and California Attorney-General Kamala Harris. But the main event guest was Vice-President Joe Biden who gushed “we owe you!” His boss, who owes them even more, regrettably couldn’t make it.

Lunch Box Joe’s proclamation of gratitude was no doubt veritable. AFSCME lavished many millions on “friends” four years ago and their People Fund–Fighting For Candidates Who Fight For Us–will be spending more than ever this year. For the new guard as much as the old, this remains the central and almost sole strategy of the biggest public sector union in the USA.

From Host to Target
Since at least the 1960s, the St Paul Cathedral–the one in St Paul, not London–has been either a stepping off or concluding rally point for numerous peace and social justice marches, some numbering in the tens of thousands. Last Sunday, workers at The Catholic Spirit, with other union and faith supporters, conducted informational picketing at Sunday Mass there.

The Spirit, whose motto is News With a Catholic Heart, is the official publication of the Archdiocese of St Paul/Minneapolis. For nearly fifty years their employees have been represented by the Newspaper Guild. Now the bosses, just because they think they can, are showing a stone cold heart by unilaterally withdrawing worker bargaining rights.

The Guild is asking supporters to contact Archbishop Nienstedt and ask him to respect The Catholic Spirit workers’ request to keep their union. To reach the archbishop, call (651) 291-4511, or fill out the e-mail form on the archbishop’s website.

Due to extreme heat conditions this WIR is a little briefer than normal.

That’s all for this week.

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