Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 22, 2007

Slumber Party for Peace
Those of you with subteen daughters know what great fun sleep-overs can be. Well, sometimes adults also get excited about indoor camping as well. The Senate Democrats were a bit giggly as they brought in cots, brewed up coffee and hot cocoa, before spending Tuesday night doing what a lifetime of training had prepared them for–talking incessantly.

The topic, unfortunately, was dead serious–the war in Iraq. Since they knew they had no chance of passing it the Dems proposal was their most radical yet–begin withdrawal of troops in 120 days. At the end of the night they could blame defeat on evil Republicans. In the meantime attacks on GIs surged to the highest level since the occupiers initially “secured” Baghdad more than four years ago.

Meanwhile, US Labor Against the War endorsed the September 15 March on Washington to End the War Now.

288 For 676
288 union bodies have now endorsed HR 676, proposed legislation largely modeled on the Labor Party Just Health Care plan for single-payer. Introduced by Rep John Conyers, 676 has 75 cosponsors among House members.

One notable labor endorsement picked up last week was the 140,000 member United Healthcare Workers West–the second biggest local in SEIU. Adding to the significance of their “strong support” is that SEIU president Andy Stern opposes single-payer. Chairman Andy sometimes makes joint appearances with executives from companies such as Wal-Mart and AT&T pitching phony “universal” plans binding workers more tightly to private insurance. Clearly public response to Michael Moore’s SiCKO documentary–vigorously promoted by UHWW’s sometimes rivals at the California Nurses Association–is nudging union leadership to say the right thing.

Opponents of single-payer, rather than trying to defend HMOs, have turned mainly to smearing the Canadian system, which is similar to what’s proposed in 676. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, a leading Canadian physician cited an independent study by both U.S. and Canadian researchers, commissioned by Open Medicine, that confirmed the Canadian system leads to health outcomes as good, or better, than the U.S. private system--at less than fifty percent of the cost.

The All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care--HR 676, responsible for the surge in union endorsements, has a goal of getting one thousand unions on board. Such clout is needed. So far, despite public support and congressional sponsors, our Democrat “friends” controlling the House have not yet so much as allowed a hearing on 676.

Japan Syndrome
The film China Syndrome, about a melt down at a nuclear power plant, was dismissed by some early critics as an implausible cheap thriller. It was released twelve days before the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania demonstrated just how plausible such a disaster was. Three Mile Island had us all on edge and it led to a moratorium on construction of any more nukes in the USA.

The prudence of such a course was confirmed with the much greater 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. 47 plant workers died during the explosion or heroically sacrificing their lives to contain the threat of an even greater runaway. It’s estimated that 9,000 have died since directly as a result of that accident and vast areas of land were subjected to heavy radioactive contamination. (That the environmental movement in the former Soviet Union faces great challenge was reaffirmed by a report in today’s papers that a demonstrator protesting the opening of a new uranium enrichment plant near Lake Baikal was killed by thugs wielding iron bars and baseball bats.)

But now there are some, including some self-styled environmentalists, who are offering up nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel use producing global warming. They argue that this “zero emission” source of fuel is the best option for saving our environment.

Well, first of all, nuclear power isn’t exactly emission free. While the nuclear power plants themselves don’t generate greenhouse gasses certainly much emission occurs during the extraction, transportation, and refinement of uranium to get that magic fuel.

Nor is this a renewable source of energy. Uranium is in even shorter supply than oil and God doesn’t seem to be making any more of the stuff. When it’s gone it will be gone for good.

Twenty years is about the most you can get out of a nuclear reactor. But long after it loses its capacity as a fuel the waste product remains highly dangerous–perhaps for centuries. There is no known way to safely dispose of this waste to ensure that it won’t come back to bite future generations.

Now we have an additional reminder that the nukes are still not full proof in safety of operation. You would think that the people most sensitive to nuclear danger would be the Japanese. After all, they had the first victims of nuclear power–though in the form of American-made bombs. But there are 55 nuclear power plants in the land of the rising sun including the world’s biggest–Tokyo Electric’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was seriously damaged in last week’s earthquake. Just as in Three Mile Island, plant officials initially assured everyone there was nothing to worry about. Turns out there were radiation leaks, burst pipes and fires within the reactor building, tipped over waste barrels, and release of radioactive water into the sea. The plant is now on indefinite shutdown.

It seems clear to me that nukes are not an acceptable trade-off replacement for present consumption of fossil fuel. There are no short-cuts to digging in and coming up with a combination of genuine alternative fuels, along with intelligent reduction of energy consumption. Those are among the options to be discussed at the Labor & Sustainability Conference coming up in Kansas City October 5-6.

Labor’s Duncan Hines
Back in the day before America started lovin’ it at Mickey D’s, Duncan Hines and his wife provided food and lodging guidance to those traveling the vast expanses of the USA based on their own personal scouting. Now Michael Yates, along with companion Karen Korenoski, has given a labor economist twist to a similar journey in the book, Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate.

A publisher blurb, “When you travel, do you ask questions the AAA Guidebook doesn’t answer? Questions like: ‘Where do people work in this town?’ or ‘Do the workers get benefits since they privatized this national park?’ In his economist’s travelogue called Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate, Michael Yates travels the country and tells you where to find a good bakery and what the interesting sights are and what it’s like to work at Yellowstone or why some towns die and some thrive.”

Yates, an associate editor at Monthly Review, and author of books such as Why Unions Matter, is on a national tour promoting his new work. He’ll be in Kansas City this Tuesday, July 24 7:00 PM, UMKC University Center Room 106, 50th & Rockhill.

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest, appearing Monday-Saturday by 7AM Central.

That’s all for this week.

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