Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 12, 2009
Never A Teaser
The bad boy of the Democrat establishment is at it again. Robert Reich, currently a professor at UC-Berkeley, was for a time Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but couldn’t get with the program of welfare elimination. After the 2000 election debacle, he wrote a clever article declaring the Democrats to be as dead as Monty Python’s pet store parrot. Still, this often perceptive and frank observer has never given up trying to flog the dead bird back to life.
Last week Reich posted a brief article with a characteristic provocative title on Common Dreams--When Will The Recovery Begin? Never. He opens,
“The so-called ‘green shoots’ of recovery are turning brown in the scorching summer sun. In fact, the whole debate about when and how a recovery will begin is wrongly framed.”
He dismisses two schools of economic pundits “the V-shapers who look back at prior recessions and conclude that the faster an economy drops, the faster it gets back on track” and “U-shapers” who “predict a more gradual recovery, as investors slowly tiptoe back into the market.” He argues,
“In a recession this deep, recovery doesn't depend on investors. It depends on consumers who, after all, are 70 percent of the U.S. economy. And this time consumers got really whacked....Those who can are saving. Those who can't are hunkering down, as they must....Don't expect businesses to invest much more without lots of consumers hankering after lots of new stuff. And don't rely on exports. The global economy is contracting.”
“This economy can't get back on track because the track we were on for years -- featuring flat or declining median wages, mounting consumer debt, and widening insecurity, not to mention increasing carbon in the atmosphere -- simply cannot be sustained.”
Fair enough so far but what can we do about it? We are left with a tease.
“...a new economy. What will it look like? Nobody knows. All we know is the current economy can't ‘recover’ because it can't go back to where it was before the crash. So instead of asking when the recovery will start, we should be asking when and how the new economy will begin. More on this to come.”
Previous teasing from Reich has often left us unfulfilled. Nevertheless we look forward to hearing what the best and the brightest of the Establishment has to say.
Some Hints On A New Economy
Reich refers to “increasing carbon in the atmosphere” as one of the factors making the old ways unsustainable. But the debate on this issue is every bit as mis-framed as speculation about economic recovery.
The two skewed debates mingled last week at the Major Economies Forum in Italy–the G8 industrial powers plus “emerging” countries such as China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia. These states contribute more than eighty percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama hailed their declarations as “historic.”
But an AFP article offered a more sobering assessment,
“The complex dance towards a new pact on climate change took two steps forward, one step sideways and one step back in two days of summits here.”
All pledged to work toward limiting global temperature rise to 2 C (2.6 F) above pre-industrial levels. But there was little of substance offered as to how that ambitious–perhaps already unobtainable goal–could be reached.
This failure heightened the tension between the G8 and the emerging powers. “I understand the reluctance of countries like China or India as long as they don’t obtain clarity on (the) mid-term (emissions) target,” said one UN official. French climate expert Jean Jouzel lashed the “huge hypocrisy” of setting the 2 C target without specific emissions pledges.
It should be remembered that the G8 not only has offshored jobs to the emerging economies–they offshored greenhouse emissions as well. The driving force behind the emerging economies has been production sent back to the G8–above all the USA.
Even with all the exported pollution, and reduced emissions because of recession, the USA ranks seventh among the G8 in the World Wildlife Fund’s 2009 Climate Scoreboard. Who was last?–Canada.
Meanwhile on the home front, the politicians continue to restate the obvious. Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, said,
“A few weeks ago, this administration released a sobering report on the impact global warming is having across the United States , and the devastating effects that will come in the future if we do not take action: Droughts, floods, fires, loss of species, damage to agriculture, worsening air pollution.”
A even more recent study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found a 50 percent chance of an increase in global temperature of 9.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, compared with a past projection of 4.3 degrees. That study also found a 17 percent chance of an increase of nearly 11 degrees. Such an increase would end human functioning as we know it and threaten the very survival of our species.
Boxer’s colleagues in the House recently passed, by a razor-thin margin, the Waxman-Markey bill that, like the G8 conclave in Italy, declares many worthy goals but in fact will do little to actually reduce carbon emissions for at least decades. For this reason groups such as Greenpeace have broken with the Sierra Club to oppose it. Friends of the Earth said,
“It’s a shame we can’t celebrate the passage of the first-ever bill intended to reduce global warming pollution. Unfortunately, big oil, dirty coal, corporate agribusiness, and Wall Street lobbyists neutered this bill and it now fails to deliver the transformational change that is needed.”
For different reasons the House bill is also strongly opposed by most Republicans and “blue dog” Democrats who cynically denounce it as a job-killer. Clearly there will be no Senate approval without even more concessions to the corporate interests destroying our biosphere.
An old acquaintance from my Minnesota days, David Foster, a retired Steelworkers district director now heading up the Blue-Green Alliance, tries to refocus on jobs that would be created by a greener economy. According to a McClatchy article,
“New jobs will be the ‘key strategic message, said David Foster, the executive director of the labor-environmental group Blue-Green Alliance . The legislation would create new jobs, especially in the hard-hit manufacturing and construction sectors, by pushing improvements in the electricity grid and expansion of renewable energy and more efficient buildings, he said....’I'm very concerned that the Senate isn't getting this. They're not grasping that this is a desperate time for America's working families and we need bold leadership for creating clean energy.’”
Brother Foster makes a good case for green jobs. But the number of jobs created by Waxman-Markey is pretty small and it’s a stretch to call many of them green. And, as Tiffany Ten Eyck wrote in the July issue of Labor Notes,
“A union-backed report by Good Jobs First cautioned that job creation in the new ‘green economy’ often means more low-wage, low-benefit work with companies hostile to unions.”
Just as Reich was right to say we will have no recovery without a new economy the same is true for the climate change crisis. In a talk prepared for a conference called by this website in Kansas City back in April, comparing green conversion to the World War II economic mobilization, I indicated some ideas for the new direction to take,
I want to give you a broad outline of what I think we need from a government dedicated to the climate crisis emergency.
It would create a brand new public sector dedicated to halting and reversing global warming. For starters, it would gain leverage by nationalizing the finance, auto, energy, and transportation sectors of the economy. It would run them in the public interest with a management team made up of scientists, environmentalists, and worker representatives.
We know from historical experience the presently failing auto industry, for example, doesn’t have to be limited to building cars. Those plants, and those workers, can build a lot of useful things–clean transit vehicles, high speed trains, wind turbines, you name it.
We won’t stop there. Like the Manhattan Project, we’ll also assemble the brightest scientists to work up a comprehensive plan that can take us from triage to the beginning of recovery.
We’ll start reversing the destruction of urban sprawl, reclaiming wetlands, forests, and farmlands destroyed in the name of development. We’ll create a flourishing, affordable organic agriculture. Our slumping construction industry will have plenty to do, clearing the scars of sprawl and rebuilding and retrofitting our cities to green standards. There will be generations of work installing new solar and wind power sources with accompanying grid. While saving our planet, we’ll also create the biggest job stimulus in history–more than enough to absorb those displaced from the worst polluters.
Just like the workers in war-time conversion, those in new genuine green jobs will be guaranteed decent wages and union contracts and, of course, none will suffer loss of pay and benefits while retraining for new jobs.
Like professor Reich I will say “more on this to come.”
¶ The Teamsters have announced tentative agreement for a second round of mid-term concessions within the past year to YRC, the country’s largest less-than-load truck carrier. Details have yet to be revealed but TDU issued a statement saying it would include ”a temporary suspension of the company's participation in IBT pension plans.” The agreement covers 35,000 active workers and tens of thousands of retirees.
¶ A big group of UE Local 1174 members and supporters from other unions demonstrated at Wells Fargo’s Rock Island branch on Thursday. Nearly a dozen workers were arrested after they blocked a street to symbolize how Wells Fargo is a “roadblock to recovery.” Workers are continuing their fight to keep Quad City Die Casting open and save 100 jobs. The plant is slated to close because Wells Fargo – recipient of $25 billion in the federal banking bailout – has cut off operating credit to the company. Asked by a TV reporter why she’d been willing to be arrested, Local 1174 Recording Secretary Deb Johann replied, “Because I want to save my job.” More details on this protest and Local 1174’s continuing struggle at ueillinois.com. Earlier in the week UE filed NLRB charges against the employer.
¶ We now have details about an additional event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Minneapolis Truck Strike. A picnic on Sunday, July 26, will feature speakers including Armando Robles, president of UE Local 1110 (Republic Windows, Chicago); Michelle Sommers, president ATU Local 1005; Tom Dooher, president, Education Minnesota; Phyllis Walker, president, AFSCME Local 3800; Richard Berg, president, Teamsters Local 743; Kristin Dooley, MayDay Books; and our old friend Peter Rachleff, professor of history, Macalester College. Labor troubadour Larry Long will provide music. I’ll be there to listen and help consume the food.
As usual, much of the material used in this column was found in stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 7AM Central, Moday-Friday.
That’s all for this week.
Weekend Of Celebration Of the 75th Anniversary
Minneapolis Truck Strike
Saturday, July 25, 2-10PM
One Day In July—A Street Festival For the Working Class
Sunday, July 26, Noon to Five
Picnic, Speakers, Historical Displays, Food, Games
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