Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 18, 2008

Explaining Our Absence
I apologize to those of you visiting our much hyped
Daily Labor News Digest Tuesday-Thursday this past week–and finding nothing new. Some of you contacted me by e-mail and telephone, concerned about my health. My health remains unchanged. The failure was technical.

I’ve assembled a lot of hardware redundancy in my attic office. I’ve got spare monitors, keyboards, mice, and a laptop computer. But I only have one DSL modem/router and the one that had worked well for four years went kaput Tuesday morning. After a couple of calls to AT&T–and acceptance of an exorbitant expedited shipping charge for my purchase–I was able to get a new modem in place in time to post Friday’s update.

Eight Down, 1.8 Million To Go
On Friday, in accordance with Quebec labor law, an arbitrator imposed a contract between the UFCW and Wal-Mart. It’s a modest victory to be sure. It covers only eight workers at a tire-and-lube garage at a Wal-Mart store on Maloney Boulevard in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa. But it may become a landmark in labor history. With the exception of China, where the company was forced by the government to recognize unions dominated by the ruling party, these eight are the very first of Wal-Mart’s 1.8 million workers world wide to obtain a union contract

The workers on Maloney Boulevard seem pleased with raises averaging 35 to 40 per cent effective immediately, as well as more vacation.

Ding-Dong Bargaining
As schools are set to reopen across the USA school boards are increasingly aping private sector bargaining strategy. In Washington DC the bosses are demanding the end of tenure and the present seniority system, with all teachers subject to a one-year probation period. In Kansas City the administration threatens to impose other duties, at the whim of principals, during paid individual teacher preparation time--effectively lengthening the work day with no increase in pay. And the slick New York Times Magazine is running a cover story shilling failed for-profit charter schools, relying in part on the resources of the American Enterprise Institute.

American schools are failing overall, no doubt about it. But the blame does not belong to the teachers. The heart of the problem is the much vaunted “local control” of schools, mainly dependent on local property taxes for financing. Local control mirrors not only racial but class residential segregation guaranteeing that the kids of the well-to-do get a break from pre-school onward. Local control also means some kids will be taught that topics such as evolution and global warming are mere suspect theories, not science to be studied. Working class kids who do manage to acquire the reading, math and science skills to qualify for higher education will find even public colleges and universities will require them to either start piling up enormous debt–or join the Army on the promise of financial aid for college.

There’s no way to adequately patch up this mess. We need a whole new approach to public education in the USA. This was addressed in the program adopted at the Labor Party founding convention which said,

We call for:

National financing of all public education (instead of property taxes) so that each child, not just those of the rich, has the resources necessary for a good learning environment.

National legislation and funds to reduce the student-teacher ratio to 15 to 1 in all public schools.

National legislation and funding to extend public schools for pre-K children starting at age 3 on a voluntary basis.

Parent education at public schools to help parents from all backgrounds learn more about how to help their children learn at home.

Free public university and technical education of all kinds for everyone who wants it. Each of us should be able to go to school as far as our abilities can carry us.

Like the GI Bill of Rights, everyone 18 years or over should receive a minimum livable wage for four years when attending a post-secondary educational institution.

In the meantime, we should support our sisters and brothers in the teacher unions in their fight against attacks on wages, benefits, and working conditions.

A Healthy Response
According to a Pew poll released last week eighty-two percent of those surveyed said the current health care system needs to be either fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt. If you’re among that number and want more information on how such change can be won, click

Next Year, Baghdad
From the US Labor Against the War website,

Plans are underway to hold an International Labor Conference in Iraq in February 2009. This is an important step toward strengthening and unifying the labor movement in Iraq. Only through increased solidarity in Iraq, and with workers in the region and around the world can Iraqi's labor movement hope to impact the fate not only of workers but of all Iraqis.

Iraqi unions have called upon all unions and other labor organizations, and individual union members and others around the world to support this conference morally and financially.

Our expressions of solidarity with workers in Iraq in the past have provided a lifeline of hope. Our support for this conference will buoy and strengthen the Iraqi labor movement. This is a very concrete action each of us can take to express our solidarity with the people and labor movement of Iraq. It will cost $150,000 to put on this conference.

For more information, including endorsements and financial contributions, click here.

Present Company Excepted
Vice-President Cheney and Senator McCain issued remarkably similar statements this week about how in the twenty-first century invading other countries is not acceptable. Clearly they did not have in mind the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003.

Nor, as it turns out, were they condemning Georgia’s military expedition, accompanied by massive artillery bombardments, in South Ossetia. The Georgian government, which staunchly defends its own right of self-determination, had been telling the Ossetians they will be assimilated, resistance is futile.

The Russians, who govern an adjoining sector of the Ossetian homeland, responded by chasing the Georgians out of Ossetia and kept on rolling to within commuting distance of the Georgian capital to boot. Even the U.S. airlifting the Georgian contingent in the occupation force in Iraq back home didn’t stem the Russian offensive.

The Russians were sending a clear signal that they are no longer governed by a drunken fool and are prepared to flex their muscle against any perceived threat in adjoining countries. They haven’t taken kindly to the Bush administration’s attempts to bring Georgia in to the NATO holdover from the Cold War. They are also hostile to any plan of a U.S. attack on Iran. That’s what Cheney and McCain were upset about.

Easier To Spot In Brooklyn
When ICE raided the Agriprocessors kosher packing plant in Postville, Iowa earlier this year, rounding up nearly 400 undocumented Mexican and Guatemalan workers, and sending more in to hiding, the bosses were as shocked as the Casablanca prefect of police was to find gambling at Rick’s. They just had no idea that “illegal” immigrants had infiltrated their workforce.

Nathaniel Popper, writing in The Forward, explains the same company seemed to have better powers of detecting aliens at their Brooklyn warehouse–though they were a bit tardy in doing so. Only after the UFCW won a hotly contested NLRB election to represent the workers did Agriprocessors demand the election be voided because 17 out of 21 voting were undocumented immigrants and thus not eligible to continue employment. The union went on strike and the kosher giant brought in replacements.

The Labor Board, and so far courts as well, have ruled Agriprocessors must recognize and bargain with the Brooklyn union. The company has vowed to take the issue to the Supreme Court.

Dead In the Water
As both McCain and Obama advocate stepped up offshore oil and gas drilling–presently restricted because of past environmental disasters–comes reports that dead zones in coastal waters around the world have roughly doubled every decade since the 1960s, killing fish, crabs and massive amounts of marine life at the base of the food chain.

That’s all for this week.

Demand Guaranteed Healthcare on a SinglePayer model for everyone in America, for life.

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