Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 14, 2005

A Gold Star Mother Speaks For the Majority
As rival antiwar coalitions continue to maintain sectarian obstacles to a unified mass opposition to the Iraq war Cindy Sheehan stepped forward to speak for a constituency of unchallenged authority–Gold Star mothers.

Those that have had personal connections to the reality of this unjust conflict, groups such as Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Veterans Against the Iraq War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace, don’t get bored with antiwar work. Nor do they demand any ideological litmus tests as the price for collaboration with others. They reach out to everyone who wants to work with them to stop this war now.

Sheehan’s encampment near President Bush’s home in Crawford, Texas has inspired the majority of the American people who want this war stopped. This salutary action deserves not only the wide praise it has received but, even more importantly, emulation on a massive scale. For more information about how to participate in labor contingents in antiwar actions on September 24 in Washington and September 25 in St Louis, click here.

Solidarity Across the Pond
Texas Pacific Group (TPG) is a privately held leveraged buyout (LBO, also known as junk bondsmen) outfit that takes over troubled companies and "turns them around." Usually this means drastically slashing labor costs and/or stripping assets. Some of their high profile takeovers include MGM, Burger King, Petco, and Seagate.

Not so well known is an airline catering firm they picked up, Gate Gourmet. Their slash and grab attack on Gate Gourmet workers on this side of the Atlantic brought them into conflict with the Teamsters and UNITE-HERE. But it was their assault on workers in Britain that led to world headlines this past week.

In addition to changing overtime pay rules, and slashing sick days by eighty percent, TPG appointed managers have been eliminating a lot of jobs–mainly held by women Asian immigrants--at their Heathrow operations. Reduced crews were expected to service 72 flights a day instead of a previous 42. When, in the midst of job cuts, the bosses brought in 150 seasonal temps–employed by another TPG company, Versa Logistics–workers responded with a job action. The company then fired about 800 of them.

What happened next shocked all concerned. Even though sympathy strikes are just as illegal in Britain as they are in the U.S. union baggage handlers at British Airways walked off the job in solidarity with the victimized sisters at the carrier’s contract caterer. BA quickly became grounded and this set off ripples through the global airline industry.

The baggage handlers are now back to work but the fight at Gate Gourmet continues on a higher and more hopeful level. What a contrast to the IAM baggage handlers at Northwest Airlines who are preparing to cross mechanics’ picket lines in a threatened strike where management claims to have 1500 scabs lined up.

Want To Buy A Solidarity Charter?
In response to almost universal protest about previous orders to drive Change to Win (CtW) unions out of central labor councils and state feds AFL-CIO president John Sweeney offered a new option–the solidarity charter. If Change to Win unions agreed to abide by the rules of the new charter they could continue to participate in the local and state bodies.

Of course, like any attractive offer, some restrictions do apply. CtW members wouldn’t be eligible to hold any of the top offices in these bodies. They would have to be "bound by whatever actions or decisions of the [national] Federation that are binding on all affiliated local unions." And, in addition to the per capita dues required of all unions the CtW unions would have to pay an additional fee to the AFL-CIO.

Reinforcing the perception that this was a cynical maneuver aimed at the Stern/Hoffa camp is the fact that the solidarity charter option is not open to other non-AFL-CIO unions such as the NEA, UE, UTU, California Nurses Association, or Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.

CtW chair Anna Burger characterized the fine print as a "poison pill...designed to appear to be responsive to the desire for local unity without actually helping to make that unity possible." She’s right. CtW’s split from the federation may have been a bad move but nothing good comes out of excluding them from local bodies that do much of the real work of the movement. The Sweeney faction should have welcomed continuing participation of all unions in local, state, and trades bodies.

Our (Sort Of) Honeymoon Schedule
I like to alert regular visitors to any changes in the routine for the KC Labor site. After the August 19 edition our next posting of the Daily Labor News Digest won’t be until August 29. I do plan to post a Week In Review next week though it may be a day or two late.

This coming Saturday the site’s health and safety editor, Mary Erio, and I will formalize a long standing relationship by exchanging vows of marriage. The following day we’ll be boarding Amtrak bound for Chicago for the kind of honeymoon every gal must dream about.

This romantic adventure will include me attending the national convention of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE). I will file a report on the current status of this independent "union with a difference" that I was a part of in the 1970-80s in Minnesota.

And, yes, I will take Mary on a more traditional getaway, hopefully later this Fall.

That’s all for this week.

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