Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 16, 2012

Beyond Doubt Of A Shadow
Last week AP ran a story about union officials expressing their displeasure with Democrats by organizing what was described as a “shadow convention” in Philadelphia prior to the boss parties’ nominating rituals.

But those organizing the Workers Stand for America rally on August 11 reject that term. I suppose they don’t like the implication of being a helpless, lockstep background of an illuminated leader. Or maybe they are touchy about today’s union influence being a shadow of its former gravitas.

Unions have seldom had much of a presence at Republican conventions but until the recent past they were welcome and highly visible at the conclaves of their Democrat “friends.” They didn’t come empty handed either–union hosted “hospitality” events on the convention fringes were often only marginally less lavish than those of their corporate “partners.”

But this is not your father’s Democrat gathering. Team Obama not only passed up the invitation for the President to address the recent NAACP convention–America’s oldest and biggest civil rights group. They also keep union friends at arm’s length. The Vice-President, who knows his place in Constitutional shadows, is assigned to glad-hand and commiserate once feted union and civil rights officials.

The Obama DNC even seemed to go out of their way this time to not just ignore their loyal labor helpers but to insult them. They picked a convention city in a right-to-work bastion of union avoidance and busting. The local boosters brag the very convention center they will gather in was one hundred percent built--and is staffed--with nonunion labor.

Union officials are fit to be tied–which, of course, they are. So they are going to spend most of what they would have dropped at the Democrat shindig in the City of Brotherly Love instead.

Referring to the Philadelphia rally in an e-mail, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told those of us paying dues to the House of Labor,

“Our goal is to refocus the national discussion on the imbalance in our country's national priorities.... It's not about party, it's not about politics. It's about people.”

They plan to reaffirm a lofty but empty Second Bill of Rights--proposed by FDR in 1944. Whether Lunch Box Joe Biden will attend remains to be seen.

“Imbalance” seems a rather delicate euphemism for the class war being waged by bosses, bankers, and politicians against American workers. Discussion of this war that could lead to action to defend ourselves is certainly appropriate and long overdue. A real Bill of Rights for the working class majority is a fine idea as well. But these goals clearly require attention to politics–and the party we don’t yet have.

Trumka didn’t like the AP story’s imagery but he is happy someone takes seriously his oft- repeated claims that occasional tantrums signify labor’s political independence. The overall record of their actions shows otherwise.

While Trumka sometimes issues largely ignored press releases critical of administration policies, the Federation’s agitational campaigns are designed to supplement the message de jour of Obama’s reelection campaign strategists.

Take for example their current approach to massive, long-term unemployment–the Bring the Jobs Home campaign. More sentiment than substance, this meshes with Team Obama’s current relentless attack on what they see as Romney’s main vulnerability–vulture capital tactics of offshoring and outsourcing. The White House can also claim some success as companies such as GE and the Big Three automakers restore some previously offshored jobs to this country–now that wages and benefits have been slashed by as much as fifty percent on Obama's watch.

Of course, we should expose Romney as the job-killer that he is. But little is said about the devastating and ongoing job cuts being carried out by Democrat “friends” in the public sector–above all the destruction of the US Postal Service as we know it. There’s hardly a peep even from the teacher unions about the privatization of education being championed by Obama. And they make little fuss about the White House promotion of Globalization--such as the recent trade deal with Colombia and their crucial support of new sweatshops in Haiti that will supply Walmart and Gap.

But our illustrious leaders don’t just talk it up for their Democrat pals–they put our money where their mouth is. Newscorp’s Wall Street Journal last week released a far-ranging analysis of union resources pumped in to election campaigns over the past few cycles. The motivation for this Murdoch muckraking is to paint organized labor as just another big money “interest group,” on the same footing as corporate PACs and SuperPACs. In fact union spending remains modest compared to billionaire bankrollers.

But it’s not chopped liver either. The unchallenged WSJ reported statistics show unions spent 4.4 billion dollars in various ways on electoral politics from 2006-2010. They will undoubtedly spend more than ever on their “friends” in this year’s contests–what Steelworkers president Leo Gerard calls the most important election since FDR ran against Herbert Hoover.

If the labor movement invested this money–and the disciplined army of volunteers at our disposal–in to creating a party of our own it would be a whole new ball game. The Democrats would be left lurking in the shadows. Our side would have an effective political champion in the class war raging in America today.

If we do that, anything is possible. As long as we fail to do that nothing good is possible.

Losing Faith
That’s not just a challenge for scandal-ridden religious institutions. A headline in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel reads
Crisis Batters Global Faith in Capitalism. It was just one of numerous articles on pro-capitalist news sites responding with some alarm to a recent US-based Pew Research Center study of changing attitudes about the Free Market in society.

Pew asked the question, “Are people better off in a free market economy?” in 21 countries. In eleven of those nations only half or fewer answered in the affirmative. In the USA 24 percent are now fallen away doubters. Canada was not polled but sixty percent of our southern neighbors in Mexico turned thumbs down on Free Enterprise. For a good nutshell summary of the report go to Common Dreams.

Down and Dirty In Texas
Hundreds of Houston SEIU janitors have downed brooms, mops, and vacuums to hit the proverbial bricks. The SEIU website reports,

“....following a month of protests and one-day strikes across the city of Houston, hundreds of Houston janitors walked off the job in the first city-wide janitors' strike since 2006. The janitors have called the strike to protest employer's malicious conduct. With hundreds of striking workers already rallying in downtown Houston, the strike is expected to escalate and could possibly spread to other cities....

“Houston janitors clean the offices of some of the richest corporations in the world, including profitable corporations like Chevron, Hines, Shell Oil, and JP Morgan. Despite record profits and inflated CEO pay, janitors who clean Houston's office buildings are paid less than $9,000 a year--less than half the poverty level.”

Public figures supporting the strike include Danny Glover, Rep. Al Green (D-TX), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza.

For more information, or to offer solidarity, contact Christopher Nulty, 202-538-1059, Christopher.Nulty@seiu.org

Records Stuck On Broken
Yahoo News reported,

“According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the period from January through June was ‘the warmest first half of any year on record for the contiguous United States.’ The average temperature was 52.9 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.5 degrees above average, the NOAA said on Monday. Twenty-eight states east of the Rockies set temperature records for the six-month period. The 12 months ending June 30 was the warmest 12-month period of any on record, according to the NOAA.”

From the Guardian,

“The worst drought to hit the United States in nearly 25 years is threatening to drive up food prices around the world. The price of corn, the staple crop of much of the Midwest and the prairies, has risen by a third in the past month and rose again on Wednesday....Almost a third of America's corn crop is already showing signs of damage and a report released by the US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday forecast that farmers would only reap a fraction of the corn expected last spring when they planted 96.4m acres (39m hectares) – the most since 1937.”

In Kansas City, the local forecast predicts nine of the next ten days will see high temperatures of 100F (38C)–or higher.

Mike Elk writes on the In These Times site,

“As high temperature records are broken across the United States, health and public safety advocates are calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to finally issue a rule protecting workers from extreme heat. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended a heat standard, but OSHA has still failed to implement it. With global warming likely to make heat related deaths more common, public safety advocates say OSHA must act immediately.”

That’s all for this week.

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