Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 9, 2012

Stuck In Low Gear
That was a headline used by Reuters to describe the BLS June employment situation report. It is perhaps a tad exaggerated. Low gear implies slow forward movement. Stuck in neutral, or maybe even Park, would be a more accurate use of a transmission analogy.

Pro-Obama experts had tried to prepare us for low expectations, predicting 90,000 new jobs would be tallied. A monthly average of about 125,000 is needed to just keep pace with population growth. The actual report showed only 80,000, virtually all in the private sector.

The official unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.2 percent. The civilian labor force participation rate also remained unchanged from May at 63.8 percent--a figure that was 0.3 percent lower than June, 2011. “Real” unemployment is still in the vicinity of 23 million who want full-time work and can’t get it.

There were some changes in the various components of the labor force. Black unemployment increased 0.8 percent to 14.4–nearly double the white rate. It’s likely this inequality will soar higher yet as the Obama administration carries out massive cuts in the US Postal Service--long a major source of “middle-class” jobs for African-Americans.

The report shows these winners,

“Professional and business services added 47,000 jobs in June, with temporary help services accounting for 25,000 of the increase. Employment also rose in management and technical consulting services (+9,000) and in computer systems design and related services (+7,000). Employment in professional and business services has grown by 1.5 million since its most recent low point in September 2009.”

Health care and wholesale trade also continued their steady modest growth and manufacturing added 11,000 jobs.

The BLS is not nearly so user friendly when it comes to the public sector. We do know that there are 243,000 fewer “government workers” now than in June, 2011–and, of course, more big cuts at every level are in the works.

The average workweek for private sector production and nonsupervisory employees edged up by 0.1 hour to 33.8. In June, average hourly earnings for the same category increased by 5 cents to 19.74. That would project out to an annual average income of about 34,700 for the broadest measure of the working class.

It’s going to take more than a pint of transmission fluid, or even a motor tune-up, for a journey to a full-employment with decent wages economy. We need a brand new vehicle--and a different route--to reach that goal.

Aftershocks In Haiti
In January, 2010 Haiti–the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere--was hit by a powerful 7.0 earthquake. Casualty figures have been disputed and the precise number will likely never be known. Record keeping was not a high priority. It seems certain that at least a quarter-million perished, most from secondary causes such as delayed structure collapse, land slides, disease, and malnutrition.

Nearby Cuba was the first to provide substantial solidarity. They don’t have much in the way of material resources but they have plenty of well-trained doctors who started arriving, along with geologists and engineers, while aftershocks were still shaking the island. Doctors Without Borders brought physicians in from around the world. In the USA, National Nurses United immediately started mobilizing volunteer nurses prepared to go to Haiti as soon as their transport could be arranged.

Not all relief efforts were so altruistic. The semi-official American Red Cross, as usual, made a tidy profit off of Haiti fund-raising. Christian charities rushed to buy babies from mothers who couldn’t feed them. The U.S. government distributed rice grown in the USA for free–putting Haitian farmers out of business, guaranteeing expanded future food exports for profit.

300,000 of those made homeless two and a half years ago are still surviving in “temporary” tent cities–completely ignored by the mass media. But, far removed from the area of quake damage, a project put together by former President Bill Clinton, who heads Haiti’s recovery commission, is drawing public attention.

On the first anniversary of the earthquake eminent domain was used to evict hundreds of family farmers from a big stretch of fertile farm land–in a country where hunger is chronic–as the first step in building the Caracol Industrial Park in northeastern Haiti. The anchor tenant of this huge project that is promising 20,000 jobs is Sae-A Trading, a Korean based multi-national garment manufacturer that is a major supplier to Walmart and Gap.

Deborah Sontag writes in an excellent New York Times story,

“....thanks to a deal that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped broker, Sae-A looked forward to tax exemptions, duty-free access to the United States, abundant cheap labor, factory sheds, a power plant, a new port and an expatriate residence outfitted with special kimchi refrigerators.”

Even the AFL-CIO could not remain silent about this sweet deal cooked up by good labor “friends.” Elizabeth Boomer wrote in the AFL-CIO Blog,

“...the showcase project of the reconstruction effort, led by USAID, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the Clinton Foundation and others is an industrial park that will create jobs and housing in an area undamaged by the earthquake, a venture that seems to benefit foreign companies more than Haiti itself. The labor and environmental impact of the Caracol Industrial Park could be devastating. Equally as poorly planned is the choice of the developers to choose the Korean company Sae-A to open the first factories there. The AFL-CIO urged American and international officials to reconsider the Caracol deal but the project moved forward without consideration for the concerns that were raised.”

When Bill Clinton drove through NAFTA in 1993 we, of course, said shame on him. But after nearly twenty years of enabling such continuing crimes against workers and the environment at home and abroad by perfidious “friends,” our labor statespersons have to accept their share of shame and humiliation as well.

The Summer Of Our Discontent
As I write, Kansas City is getting, not exactly a cool wave, but at least a return to “normal” summer heat after more than two weeks of unrelenting extreme temperatures. The triple digit readings are expected to return in about a week. There has still been no relief in our severe drought.

We, of course, are not alone. From the Rockies east, thousands of new record high temperatures have recently been set across the USA and Canada. Fifty-six percent of the area of the contiguous 48 states are reporting drought conditions. Nothing on this scale has been seen since the early days of the Prairie Dust Bowl of the 1930s that launched so many climate refugees on the kind of trek described by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.

The Dust Bowl was a mostly human caused crisis, the result of extreme agricultural exploitation of land without regard for long-term consequences. The present extreme heat and drought is also mostly human responsibility. It is the early stage of global warming primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions accelerating under global capitalism--that is also unconcerned about the legacy of disaster they leave in their wake.

There is one big difference in the two crises–land can recover within a generation or two of remedial action. It can take centuries for the greenhouse effect to dissipate. Even after the greenhouse layer clears that won’t mean a return to the biosphere that has nurtured human civilization. It could take millennia–if ever–to replicate the frozen polar regions, hot tropics, and temperate zones such as where most readers now live.

Climate scientists years ago established a benchmark of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere of 350 parts per million that, if crossed, would lead to irreversible climate damage. Last week the British Guardian reported that U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitoring in the Arctic was getting consistent readings of 400ppm.

Unlike the Oakies in Steinbeck’s book, we don’t really have any place to go. My wife Mary and I discussed getting away temporarily from the recent extreme conditions. But when we started thinking about the usual vacation escapes from Midwest heat we became really depressed. The mountains of Colorado? They have, of course, been battling the worst wildfires in living memory. My old stomping grounds in the Twin Cities? Minneapolis/St Paul has had a heat wave of their own. Even the “Air-Conditioned City” of Duluth, clinging to the foot of cliffs rising high from Lake Superior, suffered a freakish, climate related mass flood.

No, we have just this one biosphere. Temporary relocation can at best bring fleeting relief. We live or die here. The present complaints of old men such as I are nothing compared to what future generations will confront if action is not soon taken to reverse course.

Two To Be Remembered...
Joyce Miller, a perceptive advocate for gender equality in the labor movement, passed away last week at the age of 84. Miller had been a founding leader, and later president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. In 1980, Miller became the first woman elected to the AFL-CIO executive board. She once wrote in a letter to the New York Times,

“When secretaries were men, clerical work was well paid, upwardly mobile and high status. When women became secretaries, they hit a low-paid dead end. The same thing happened when women replaced men as sewing-machine operators, bank tellers and telephone operators. The market seems to notice when the workers in a job undergo a sex change.”


Dave Packer, a veteran of British worker struggles since the 1960s, died in his London home last week about a month shy of his sixty-seventh birthday. Though he had been ill his death was unexpected. Dave began his working class political activity as part of a big left wing movement in the Labor Party. After mass bureaucratic expulsions from the LP to clear the way for what ultimately degenerated in to “New Labor,” Dave became part of a current now known as Socialist Resistance and earned a leadership role. Our paths crossed a few times during the 1980s and I found him to be as sensitive and generous personally as he was astute and pugnacious politically. My condolences to his long time life and political partner Jane Kelly, and his comrades in Socialist Resistance, on their loss.

That’s all for this week.

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