Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 2, 2010

Tinder Logs
The publication of ninety-some thousand secret documents from official U.S. military logs recording the day-to-day war in Afghanistan exposed how much more grim is the situation on the ground than the embedded media has reported. Some incidents were brought to light for the first time. For example, there were previously undisclosed cases of the Taliban using shoulder-held missiles to shoot down NATO aircraft–just as they had done to the last foreign occupiers, the Soviets, when the current foe were considered good guys in Washington and supplied with American weapons.

The Pentagon decided to respond by denouncing the leaks as endangering the lives of GIs and undercover Afghan agents. But the released logs end last year. The Taliban are unlikely to find any helpful surprises in them. They are mainly of historical and political interest and have no practical application on the current battlefield. NATO forces have to be more concerned about timely betrayals by their Afghan and Pakistani allies. One would think that in these documents, that were widely circulated in hard copy to every platoon in country, code names would have been used for Afghan spies and collaborators. The Brass are fuming because these were secrets to be kept not from the Taliban but from the American people.

Some have called the material released by Wikileaks “Pentagon Papers II.” That’s an analogy to secret documents about U.S. involvement in Vietnam leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the New York Times in 1971. While the recently leaked material is significant it’s not in the same league with the Pentagon Papers. The earlier documents, officially entitled United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, dealt with the political and diplomatic strategy as well as military operations over a period of more than two decades. Ellsberg was one of the authors and he explained he leaked it because it “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”

But an even more important difference is the impact of the two leaks. The Pentagon Papers came in the midst of a massive and growing movement against the war. It was a bombshell that could not be ignored and Nixon’s reaction to it set in to motion further illegal acts that would also be ultimately exposed--and lead to his downfall.

On the other hand, due to the long dormancy of the antiwar movement in this country, it appears the Wikileaks expose will probably have greater immediate impact in European NATO countries than in the USA. (The Dutch have already ended their NATO mission,) Certainly neither of the war parties plan to deviate from past bipartisan support of both the Afghan and Iraq wars in this Fall’s midterm elections.

But the free ride the warmakers have enjoyed since at least the beginning of the 2008 election cycle may begin to experience bumps. The early accounts I’ve heard, from participants whose judgment I value, about the recent United National Antiwar Conference in Albany, New York are the most optimistic in some time. It certainly was the biggest such gathering in years–776 paid registrations. Thousands more viewed live streaming of sessions on the Internet and video of some presentations is available on YouTube. As the final texts of adopted documents become available, and participants write about their take on Albany, I’ll have more to say.

The Savior Visits Detroit
President Obama visited Detroit where he not only drove a new Chevy Volt about ten feet but renewed his claim of saving the “American” auto industry. He told workers at the plant, assembled on company time by the GM/UAW “partners,” that if he had listened to critics of the bailout their factory would not exist.

Whether GM or Fiat’s Chrysler division would have gone out of business without the bailout or would have found a way to survive and rebound as Ford did without handouts, will never be known. What is known is that Obama’s restructuring plan eliminated tens of thousands of GM and Chrysler jobs and many more among dealers and suppliers.

At first I wondered why Canadian Prime Minister Harper, who had a bailout policy modeled on Obama’s, didn’t coordinate a visit to Windsor–just across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit--so that he could take credit for saving the Canadian auto industry. Then I remembered that last week GM closed its last facility in that city long known as the “Canadian Detroit.”

Even though GM no longer has the White House directly dictating worker give-backs for them they are keeping the momentum for wage and work rule cuts going. While they are encountering resistance on the local level the UAW Solidarity House leadership usually intervenes to push these concessions. Jane Slaughter details a couple of these struggles, at plants in Indianapolis and Saginaw, in Labor Notes.

Farewell Local 1111
If you have ever so much as passed through Milwaukee you have undoubtedly seen what is billed as the “world’s largest clock face.” It sat atop the main plant of Allen-Bradley, for decades an industry leader in manufacturing switches, starters, relays and timers. When I served on UE District Council 11 in the late Seventies through the mid-Eighties I got to know a number of leaders and activists in UE Local 1111 that represented the A-B workers.

The first time I looked at a 1111 contract I was surprised to see a number of job classifications not often found in industrial unions–such as salad maker, pastry chef, and dish washer. These cafeteria jobs, which typically pay little more than minimum wage, earned nearly as much as the assemblers at Litton Microwave in Minneapolis where I served as Shop Chairman. A management attempt to introduce paper plates and disposable utensils on the second and third shifts, to eliminate dish washers, provoked a wild cat sit-down protest that got the good China back–and saved some jobs.

Local 1111 had a model contract and their members were recognized as world class in productivity and quality. When I first encountered them there were nearly 7,000 UE members in the plant. But already the paternalistic owners were looking at the future of Globalization. Tiny Rader, Allen-Bradley's CEO from 1970 to 1981, said,

“We are trying to resist the concept of exporting jobs--but neither do we want to be buried with honors as a good corporate citizen.”

His angst was soon overcome, and jobs started moving–first to small towns in Wisconsin, and then to “Right-to-Work” states in the South. After Rockwell International bought them out in 1985 work was shifted to Mexico and Asia. Rockwell converted the once humming manufacturing plant in to their global headquarters building. This past Friday the last 130 UE members punched out for the final time.

Blue collar kids in Milwaukee can no longer aspire to the pay and benefits Local 1111 provided for 73 years. There is no longer a major union in their town taking active stands against war and for civil rights. We are all a little poorer because of this.

But Local 1111 does leave us a heritage of class solidarity and militant struggle from which future generations will learn.

Stupid Is Not the Simple Reason
Wynne Parry writing in
LiveScience says,

“The Earth has seen several mass extinctions, including five that annihilated more than half the planet's species. Experts now believe Earth is in the midst of a sixth event, the first one caused by humans.”

She centers on the state of the world’s oceans,

“As profoundly as the leak of millions of barrels of oil is injuring the Gulf ecosystem, it is only one of many threats to the Earth's oceans that, many experts say, could change the makeup of the oceans as we know them and wipe out a large portion of marine life.”

Those many threats include:

●The increased temperature of the seas resulting from the greenhouse effect produced by burning fossil fuels reduces the water's oxygen content, and releases even more carbon dioxide back in to the atmosphere. This process also creates profound chemistry changes under water, raising acidic levels. This adversely affects virtually all living things from whales to coral to plankton.

●Much more oxygen depletion, leading to huge dead zones, results from runoff of chemical fertilizers eventually winding up at sea. This is particularly true in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River deposits such agricultural pollution from the Midwest and Prairie states. Around the world, the number of dead zones, some of which are naturally occurring, increased from 149 in 2003 to more than 200 in 2006, according to a 2008 report by the United Nations Environmental Program.

●The sea has long been used as a dump. There’s everything down there from nuclear waste, surplus mines and bombs sent to Davy Jones’ Locker by the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II, to decades of New York City garbage.

●And then there are the occasional catastrophic accidents such as Deepwater Horizon. In addition to the leakage of millions of barrels of crude oil BP got Coast Guard approval to “carpet bomb” the Gulf with dispersant, ignoring warnings by the EPA about its possible effects.

It’s not only marine life that is threatened by the alarming decline in ocean health. The oceans have great impact on land weather and climate. They are an important source of food, transportation, and recreation for us. And, up until now, they have helped delay wider damaging climate change by absorbing up to a third of our carbon emissions.

Ken Caldeira with the Carnegie Institution for Science told Parry,

“If current trends continue, the extinctions of the coming decades will be clearly visible to future geologists comparable in scale to the great extinction events in Earth's history. I think it will be an enigmatic extinction. Future geologists will try to figure out why we apparently tried to kill off so many species, but they will find it hard to believe that simple reason is stupidity.”

Unfortunately, unless corrective measures are taken soon Caldeira is probably right about human-caused mass extinction. But we can’t plead stupidity. Science has not only given us fair warning of where we’re headed–we’ve also been offered workable solutions to the problem.

The “simple reason” we are headed for a mass die-off is two-fold–the inherent greed of the global stage of capitalism, along with the fear of job loss the rulers have instilled in the working class. I don’t have anything to offer to the science of the crisis but I will work on replacing the simple reason.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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