Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 4, 2007

A Month Of National Anniversaries
Is there something about our orbit around the sun that has produced so many upheavals in July? July 1 was Canada Day, commemorating the beginning of the long process of self-government launched in 1867--not fully concluded until 1982. July 14 is Bastille Day, remembering when the masses of Paris stormed a symbol of oppression in 1789 in the unfolding French Revolution. July 19 is a big day in Nicaragua, marking the 1979 triumph of the Sandinistas over the hated Somoza dictatorship. July 26 is celebrated in Cuba for the 1953 Castro led attack on the Moncada Barracks, considered the beginning of the Cuban revolution that overthrew the U.S./Mafia backed Batista dictatorship.

Then, of course, there is July 4–Independence Day in the USA. I summed up my mixed feelings about this day in an article I posted five years ago which you can read by clicking here (unfortunately, some of the links in the article are now broken.)

Going Private
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Los Angeles Times reporters have documented that at least 180,000 are being employed by U.S. private contractors in the occupation of Iraq and they suspect there are even more. That’s bigger than the American armed forces in country which presently number 160,000.

Why is tax payer money being spent this way? In addition to the obvious desire to redistribute our taxes to their corporate patrons at every opportunity is the fact that the World Cop’s human resources are stretched to the breaking point. They cannot get enough volunteers to maintain large scale, long term wars on the ground such as Iraq and Afghanistan. A return to the draft is politically out of the question and allies willing to offer IED fodder are getting hard to come by. That’s the main reason why virtually all support, logistics, communications, and even jails, normally integrated into the military, have been outsourced in Iraq.

The big majority of those employed by American contractors are Iraqis. They are the ones doing the bulk of the food preparations, laundry, janitorial, construction labor, and cleaning up combat zones. They are paid a song for this often dirty and dangerous work and risk being targeted as collaborators. They do this because there are precious few other job opportunities in occupied Iraq.

American labor got a chance to learn more about the situation of Iraqi workers through the recently concluded tour of two Iraqi union leaders, sponsored by US Labor Against the War. Thousands heard them speak at events organized in a dozen cities. They also met with top AFL-CIO leaders and members of congress. At the conclusion of the tour the Iraqi unionists issued a joint statement with the USLAW leadership which can be read here.

Bank Failure
Twenty years ago the UAW leadership negotiated concessions in working conditions in return for a “guarantee” of existing jobs. The key component of this job security was the Job Bank. Idled workers would continue to receive almost full pay and benefits. That was supposed to be an incentive for their Big Three “partners” to keep UAW workers on the job.

While the Job Bank has been a life line for tens of thousands at various times UAW membership has still plunged downward over these past two decades. Spin offs, outsourcing, offshoring, and new technology, combined with the steady decline of Big Three market share, have been devastating. Due to buy outs, and special deals such as the one just concluded with Delphi, the Job Bank has also shrunk. Presently there are only 2500 at GM, 1000 at Chrysler, and 700 at Ford. Going in to contract negotiations the Big Three have made it clear they expect to close the Bank for good.

The Job Bank is worth fighting for. It is part of the even older heritage of supplemental unemployment benefits to ease the pain of temporary lay offs. But meaningful job security requires measures that are beyond the grasp of collective bargaining through our weakened unions.

We need political action to reward our increased productivity with a shorter work week with no reduction in pay; greatly increased vacation and paid holiday time; options for earlier retirement; and guaranteed health care for all. That’s the way we can share available work while maintaining decent living standards. We won’t get such measures piece meal with individual employers. We need such guarantees covering all workers by law. To do that we need a party of our own.

No Wonder They’re Bullish
I always look for some bright spot to take the edge off the gloom and doom that seems to pervade this column. Maybe you’ll be cheered up by a report from Merril Lynch which stated, “Thanks to a strong global economy, 9.5 million people held at least $1 million in financial assets — excluding the value of their primary homes — in 2006, up from 8.7 million in 2005...” According to an AP review of their study, “Those accumulated trillions give these individuals, who represent only 0.14 percent of the world's current population, control of about a quarter of the world's total wealth, or nearly three times the United States' gross domestic product.”

Avoiding BioFool
You’ve probably seen the TV commercial of the pretty little girl smiling at an 18-wheeler driving along with a rainbow emanating from its exhaust stack. Biodiesel and ethanol are being pitched as our environmental savior. The NGO,
GRAIN doesn’t have much of an advertising budget but they have released some valuable reports on what they call agrofuel scam.

 “One of the main justifications for the large-scale cultivation of agrofuels is the need to combat climate change, but the figures make a mockery of this claim. One of the main causes of global warming is agro-industrial farming itself, and the global food system associated with it... Farming is responsible for 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The stampede into agrofuels is causing enormous environmental and social damage, much more than we realised earlier. Precious ecosystems are being destroyed and hundreds of thousands of indigenous and peasant communities are being thrown off their land.”

This morning’s papers report that the Brazilian government has liberated more than a thousand virtual slaves on a sugar plantation owned by an ethanol producer. Put that in your exhaust pipe and smoke it.

The biofool swindle will be a prominent topic at the upcoming Labor & Sustainability Conference in Kansas City October 5-6.

The Big Picture On the Big Screen
Today’s holiday opened a rare scheduling window for taking my Main Squeeze to the movies. Naturally, we decided to see SiCKO. I’m glad we did.

Michael Moore’s extraordinary artistic talent, and a rekindling of his youthful interest in activism, overcame his sometimes gadfly flitting with serious issues in the past to produce his best film yet, by far. The humor is still there but so is the not too subtle message that it’s time to actually do something about a life and death issue. He not only gives us examples of all too typical horror stories about commodity health care in America–including one from Kansas City; such exposès are common enough even in the mainstream media. He also gives us living examples of how it can be different, reviewing systems in Canada, Britain, France, and Cuba. In the case of France he delves further, letting the French explain their shorter work week, fabulous vacation time, free college education, paid sick leave, and very low cost child care and even part-time help with house work. He also shows footage of massive worker and student demonstrations to show that these gains didn’t come just because French bosses and politicians are such good guys.

The artist met his responsibility to us. Now it’s time to do our part by fighting for the examples shown for free, universal health care in the richest country in the world–and settle for nothing less.

Recognizing the slow labor news cycle around this holiday week when there are many vacation shutdowns, we’ve suspended the daily updates on the Daily Labor News Digest until next Monday, July 9. This will also give us a chance to get caught up on other time sensitive tasks.

That’s all for this week.

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