Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August  23, 2010

An Anniversary Worth Commemorating
Led by veteran participants and supporters, a Saturday gathering in Austin, Minnesota marked the 25th anniversary of the epic strike of UFCW Local P-9 against meat packing giant Hormel. Not all are enthusiastic about the occasion. On a Listserv I subscribe to one such grump wrote, “I fail to see the point of celebrating labor's glorious defeats.”

Of course, we do not “celebrate” defeats; we attempt to draw lessons from them. But I believe it is always in order to celebrate courage, activism, and tenacity among our class–all of which are found in abundance in the P-9-proud battle. My old friend Peter Rachleff, both an historian and a principal participant in the solidarity struggle, has written an excellent anniversary article which I urge you to read,

Hormel Strike a Key Event in Nation’s Labor History

Disaster In Pakistan—Don't Blame Nature
It’s estimated that more than six million homes to more than twenty million persons have been lost so far in floods in Pakistan–and towns are still being evacuated. Few in the Indus River Basin have access to clean drinking water, food is in short supply, and medical facilities are overwhelmed. Diseases such as cholera are spreading.

The biggest concern shown among officials and media in the USA, Britain, and Canada is that most of the material relief aid currently provided in the area comes from groups alleged to have ties with the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Pakistani government is corrupt and incompetent and the Army is selective in the help they pass on.

Working class organizations are trying to organize effective efforts for suffering workers and peasants on a nonsectarian basis. Labour Relief Campaign is a network of 8 social and political organization of Pakistan that include National Trade Union Federation, Women Workers Help Line, Progressive Youth Front, Labour Party Pakistan, Pakistan For Palestine, CADTM Pakistan, Labour Education Foundation and Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee. More information about their relief fund–including how those outside Pakistan can contribute–can be found by clicking here.

Of course, they recognize the need is far greater than worker self-help alone can supply. They are also demanding that payments on the foreign debt be diverted to emergency assistance and longer run rebuilding.

The U.S. war drive that has spilled across the Afghan border--in close collaboration with both government and Army--also contributes to the misery in the flooded plains today. But the main causes of the scope of the present disaster go beyond seasonal rains, corruption or battles. Karl Malakunas of AFP opened a story,

“Climate change may be playing a part in record rains ravaging Asia but environment experts say the destruction of ecosystems is more directly to blame for the severity of killer floods.

“Widespread deforestation, the conversion of wetlands to farms or urban sprawl and the clogging up of natural drainage systems with garbage are just some of the factors exacerbating the impacts of the floods, they say.

“‘You can't just blame nature... humans have encroached on the natural flood plains,’ said Ganesh Pangare, Bangkok-based regional water and wetlands coordinator with the International Union for Conservation of Nature.”

Indy 23
I want to thank my friend Larry in Detroit for being the first to alert me to a
YouTube video of a UAW Local 23 meeting in Indianapolis. It was obviously taken sub rosa with a cell phone or other small device and could have used some editing. But it certainly captured the highly charged atmosphere of a meeting, called at the insistence of Solidarity House, to take another vote on a proposal Local 23 members had already solidly rejected.

Last time I mentioned that the Detroit Free Press reported a curt announcement by UAW tops that they were withdrawing their request that Local 23--representing a General Motors stamping plant--take a second vote. That’s the only reference I’ve seen to the matter in either of the Detroit papers which usually report on UAW developments in some detail. Now we know the withdrawal of the request was motivated by the hasty withdrawal of the King’s men–literally run out of the hall by the angry ranks. They even suggested the big mockers take their Local President with them.

The deal being pushed would have allowed GM to sell the plant to JD Norman Industries–but only if Local 23 agreed to a new contract that would cut wages in half. For more details see Tiffany Ten Eyck’s Indianapolis GM Workers Toss Out Reps Selling Concessions on the Labor Notes blog.

The Real Defilers Of Ground Zero
Not being religious, I don’t qualify for judging what is holy. But I do have my own secular ideas about what’s evil. Those who crashed airliners in to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center without the slightest regard for the lives taken were evil. As a
Labor Party statement said at the time,

“The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on September 11 struck at the heart of working New York. From the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union members at Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the north tower to the maintenance crew in the sub-basement (SEIU 32BJ), the labor movement lost hundreds of our brothers and sisters on that horrible day. Among the missing: members of CWA, AFSCME, AFT, the Public Employees Federation, OPEIU, the operating engineers, the Civil Service Employees Association, 52 members of IBEW, hundreds of Carpenters Union members, 26 flight attendants, and eight pilots....Hundreds of firefighters and police gave their lives to the rescue effort.”

A number of Muslims–along with Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and nonbelievers–died along side Christians on 9/11. No one owns the right to speak in their name to promote a political or sectarian agenda.

But that’s precisely what other evil forces are trying to do. The same scum who have apparently sold many the lie that their problems flow from a foreign-born Black Muslim in the White House are trying to expand hate by stirring the pot around plans to expand an Islamic center in lower Manhattan near “ground zero.” They seek to exploit the dead, and the painful memories of the victims’ families, to whip up bigotry against Muslims. Calvin Woodward of AP wrote,

“A New York imam and his proposed mosque near ground zero are being demonized by political candidates — mostly Republicans — despite the fact that Islam is already very much a part of the World Trade Center neighborhood....

“And that the imam who's being branded an extremist has been valued by both Republican and Democratic administrations as a moderate face of the faith....He's devoted much of his career to working closely with Christians, Jews and secular leaders to advance interfaith understanding.”

The same Labor Party statement quoted earlier went on to say,

“We must not let the horrific attack of September 11 undermine some of the very things we value most in our society: the right to privacy, freedom of speech, the freedom to dissent, and freedom from discrimination. The terrorists win if we allow them to turn us against one another on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Solidarity means standing up to anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant attacks.”

That principled stand remains more valid than ever.

Public Not Always Better Than Private
There are some big union struggles going on in South Africa. Workers at Toyota and GM won substantial raises. But dealing with the ANC government’s public sector has been a different kettle of fish.

The government has obtained strike-breaking injunctions and police have fired on strikers with rubber bullets. Now the Zuma regime is pushing legislation that, according to Nobel Prize ANC writer Nadine Gordimer, “is the threat of a return to the censorship under apartheid.”

You can follow the union battles on the website of COSATU, the main trade union federation, by clicking here.

In Brief...
¶ US Labor Against the War will be joining unions, civil rights, and peace groups this Saturday, August 28, for a March for Jobs, Justice and Peace in Detroit. More details
here.
¶ After hundreds of Duluth nurses, members of MNA/NNU, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a two day strike at SMDC and St. Luke's a mediator has set up further negotiations. Stay tuned.
¶ The headline in the Wall Street Journal read, Workplace Deaths Lowest Since '92. But inside we learn, “But the bulk of last year's drop in work-related fatalities likely came because the U.S. lost 4.7 million jobs last year.”

There’s a lot more worth writing about but I’m nearing my informal quota. You can be as well informed as I by visiting our Daily Labor News Digest, updated by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

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