Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 8, 2008

Whose House?
The mandate for U.S. occupation of Iraq bestowed by the peace loving United Nations expires at the end of this year. The lame duck Bush Administration survives it only a few weeks longer. Not wanting any new debates in the UN, or the U.S. Senate, they began secret negotiations with the government they installed in Baghdad for an open-ended “security agreement.” The deal they seek would give some spurious legal cover for perpetual occupation. Apparently the talks, exposed thanks to the British newspaper Independent, are not going as smoothly as you might think.

The sticking points are more over form than substance. The Pentagon is insistent on total command and control of their forces in Iraq. The American contractors demand continued immunity from all laws of all nations. While the Baghdad regime is unlikely to say no to any of the occupier’s actions on the ground it is embarrassing for them to accept such an in-your-face rejection of their sovereignty. They are also catching heat from neighboring Iran, who are understandably nervous about Iraq being used as a launching pad for a U.S. attack on them.

It’s questionable whether Baghdad would get any better deal from a president Obama. The presumptive Democrat nominee has made clear he will keep a substantial core residual force in Iraq after redeployment of many of the present 151,000 troops to Afghanistan--and will have combat brigades prepared to return to Iraq on short notice if Washington determines they are needed.

Whatever tactical differences about the Middle East may exist within the Establishment there is consensus about the need to control Iraq’s oil. Fifty billion dollars of seized Iraqi assets are on deposit in the Federal Reserve Bank (where their value has sharply eroded against the Pound and Euro)–not to be released until all deals have been finalized. This past week the Baghdad regime, who have also been negotiating away their country’s oil resources, made fresh attacks on the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions in a gesture calculated to reassure American and British corporations.

No matter who wins the U.S. election in November these fundamental policies will not change without enormous pressure. Those of us who want to see our GIs brought home, those of us who want Iraqi working people--not the U.S. government and corporations--free to determine their own destiny, still have a big fight on our hands. The antiwar majority will have to be mobilized as never before to get the job done–and the labor movement needs to be a major part of that. An important next step is the Open National Conference to End the Iraq War and Occupation, coming up in Cleveland June 28-29.

Tomas Young Hospitalized
Tomas Young, a leader of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the subject of the award winning documentary film, Body Of War, has been hospitalized with pneumonia. He and his family appreciate messages which can be sent to:

Tomas Young - patient
Saint Luke's Hospital
4401 Wornall
Kansas City, MO 64111

So Long Partner
My favorite labor cartoon was done by the UE’s legendary Fred Wright. The first of two frames shows a smiling boss and a worker shaking hands beneath a banner reading “Labor-Management, Partners In Progress.” Frame two shows the boss handing the worker a lay-off slip and, with a hand on the shoulder, solemnly telling him, “So long, Partner.”

This classic sketch came to mind after my friend Rod in Vancouver gave me an early heads up about reports of General Motors closing its truck plant in Oshawa, Ontario, just down the road a piece from Toronto. Just two weeks ago the CAW concluded what critics called panic bargaining, agreeing to a new GM Canada contract early. CAW president Buzz Hargrove was concerned that the rising strength of the Canadian loonie against the U.S. dollar was adding to the competitive disadvantage of the Big Three’s Canadian operations.

Last year Buzz abandoned Canada’s NDP labor party in favor of working with the bosses’ Liberal Party and has championed tax payer subsidies and protective trade laws favoring the Big Three. Furthering this spirit of partnership with the employers, Hargrove negotiated a concession contract. The early give-backs to GM, Ford and Chrysler were expected to save jobs–including, specifically, the endangered Oshawa truck plant.

GM has gratefully accepted the give-backs--but regrettably included Oshawa with three U.S. truck plants to be shut down. The company noted that the job protection language was “dependent upon market demand and in light of the increasingly uncertain North American truck market.”

The 2600 Oshawa workers were livid. They had seen nothing new over the past two weeks to justify the sudden plant closure decision. Spontaneously they organized a blockade of GM Canada’s corporate offices.

Hargrove demanded, and got an immediate meeting with the very top GM officials in Detroit. He came back with bubkus. A GM spokesman said,

“The union presented itself extremely well. ...What it did was allow us to walk through how the decision was made and lend more perspective. In the end, we have to respond to what we believe is the fundamental shift in the market with consumers and that's what we talked about.”

So long, partner.

The Oshawa workers are fighting back against the bait and switch used to extract concessions while closing their plant. The Canadian Labour Congress is rallying behind them and Jack Layton, leader of the forsaken NDP, has shown support every day at the blockade of GM headquarters. Many are urging a strike at all GM Canada plants in support of the sisters and brothers at Oshawa.

Speaking at a rally this evening Hargrove rejected “wildcat strikes.” Along with CLC president Ken Georgetti, Buzz again emphasized working in Ottawa for trade and investment legislation to protect the Big Three.

This Shouldn’t Stay In Vegas
Thousands of construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip walked off the job last Monday to protest worksite safety conditions that have led to six recent deaths at the City Center project, and eleven fatalities overall on the Strip over the past eighteen months. The contractors quickly agreed to the union’s safety improvement demands. This is one action in Vegas that should be widely emulated.

Many local union leaders complained off the record about how long it had taken to get such needed, united action blaming Steve Ross, head of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council–and as a member of the Las Vegas City Council, dependent on campaign contributions from contractors.

Constructive Engagement
Company watchers generally agree that the public campaigns against Wal-Mart, orchestrated by groups such as the SEIU-financed Wal-Mart Watch, hurt the company. But all that is changing. Labor statesman Andy Stern has been meeting regularly with Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr to talk about healthcare–both from a national perspective and for Wal-Mart workers. Stern’s group recently gave a study of the company’s horrible healthcare benefit practices to Wal-Mart execs for their consideration rather than releasing it to the public. As Michael Barbard wrote in the New York Times,

“Now, the union-backed groups appear to have concluded it would be more constructive, sometimes, to engage Wal-Mart... After waging an aggressive public relations campaign against Wal-Mart for three years, the company’s full-time, union-backed critics, who once vowed never to let up, are putting down their cudgels...Shrill condemnations and embarrassing leaked documents are giving way to acknowledgments of progress — and, in the case of Wal-Mart Watch, free advice.... The mellowing of the anti-Wal-Mart movement is an unexpected development for the retailer, whose public image and share price were bruised by the well-financed union campaigns.”

The New GM Buy Out
19,000 more GM workers in the USA have taken buy outs and most will be gone by July 1. Unlike previous buy outs this one is not primarily about reducing the workforce. About 4,000 jobs will be eliminated as the company reduces production of trucks and SUVs but the goal is to fill most of the other 15,000 vacancies with new hires coming in at about half the “legacy” wage rates and few benefits.

That’s all for this week.

Unity For Mass Action Against the War
An Open, Democratic Conference To Support Demands:
Stop the War In Iraq—Bring the Troops Home Now!
Develop A Mass Action Plan To Unite Antiwar Majority
Cleveland, June 28-29
Click Here For Info

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