Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August  30, 2010

Angry White People
That’s how Jaime Contreras, president of SEIU-32BJ, described the huge gathering summoned to the Lincoln Memorial by Fox talking super-head Glenn Beck. Speaking at a much smaller, but still impressive counter-protest hastily put together by CNN commentator Rev Al Sharpton, Contreras declared “We will not let them stand in the way of the change we voted for!”

Well there’s good reason for white people, along with those of all the various skin pigments, to be angry. They are not the obstacle in the way of “change we voted for.” On the contrary, many are incensed because the current administration has mostly done just the opposite of what was promised to get votes two years ago.

With few exceptions, the antiwar movement embraced Obama as a “peace” candidate. Of course the President has greatly escalated the war in Afghanistan and more GIs have already perished there on his less than two year watch than during seven years under Bush.

Candidate Obama pledged to give us universal health care. Every poll that asked the question found a solid majority of the American people want single-payer. The President instead gave us universal premiums to the health insurance robber barons.

Fed up by the Bush global warming deniers, all of the main stream environmental groups hailed a new green administration. Then President Obama went to Copenhagen to wreck the last best chance for coordinated global efforts against climate change.

Candidate Obama pledged undying allegiance to defense of Social Security and Medicare. President Obama has appointed a commission–which includes the former president of brother Contreras’ national union–to plot how to gut both programs.

Both major teacher unions certified candidate Obama as the man who would transform education. Indeed he has. President Obama has worked to tear up union contracts and to advance privatization of public education on a scale never dreamed of by his predecessor.

And candidate Obama pledged that one of his top priorities would be saving the American auto industry. President Obama acted to “save” General Motors and Chrysler through a government imposed bankruptcy that mandated the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, rewrote the UAW contracts, and imposed a ban on strikes over future contracts.

When you add the betrayal of all these “changes we voted for,” to near-Depression levels of unemployment and foreclosures I’d say working people have not just the right but the obligation to be fighting mad. Those of color have lost the most but even those of us with a pale complexion have lost plenty.

The strutting Beck, and his Tina Fey look alike main act, offer their services to the boss class by seeking to divert legitimate anger along racial, religious and xenophobic lines. As Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times,

“Beck is a provocateur who likes to play with matches in the tinderbox of racial and ethnic confrontation. He seems oblivious to the real danger of his execrable behavior. He famously described President Obama as a man ‘who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.’”

Herbert goes on to compare Beck’s extravaganza on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington to the real thing,

“Washington was on edge on the morning of Aug. 28, 1963. The day was sunny and very warm and Negroes, as we were called in those days, were coming into town by the tens of thousands. The sale of liquor was banned. Troops stood by to restore order if matters got out of control. President John F. Kennedy waited anxiously in the White House to see how the day would unfold.

“It unfolded splendidly. The crowd for the 'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom' grew to some 250,000. Nearly a quarter of the marchers were white. They gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, where they were enthralled by the singing of Mahalia Jackson and Joan Baez. The march was all about inclusion and the day seemed to swell with an extraordinary sense of camaraderie and good feeling.”

As a matter of fact, the Kennedy administration had worked hard to prevent the march. They insisted on holding it on a week day. They encouraged the rally organizers to censor any “extreme” remarks by “hot heads”–some of whom later went on to be elected to Congress. Dr King thought the event had been so “sanitized” he departed from his prepared remarks with extensive ad libbing to his famous speech. Not only good feeling came out of that sea change event; it inspired millions to take part one way or another in a truly transformed civil rights movement.

The main slogan at Rev Sharpton’s rally was “Keep the Dream Alive.” That’s a good perspective but few of the prominent speakers frankly acknowledged that 47 years later much of what King said remains just a dream--and that has led to widespread despair in contrast to the 1963 atmosphere.

Barbara Williams-Skinner, president of the Christian-based Skinner Leadership Institute, prayed,

“We thank you God for raising up President Barack Obama as a small down payment on that dream.”

The President was vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard but his Education Secretary, archenemy of teacher union contracts and champion of charter schools Arne Duncan, dropped by to say,

“The dividing line in our country today is less around white and black and more about educational opportunity. We've been too satisfied with second-class schools.”

Applying the point/counterpoint approach he honed at the rival to Beck’s cable network, Rev Sharpton tries to keep things simple. There’s two–and only two–choices: stay the course with the White House and Congress we elected or succumb to the Dark Side.

Continuing to give blank check support to this anti-working class administration allows the Becks and Palins to posture as the only effective opposition. While such subordination to Establishment politicians is all too common in the history of the labor movement it is not consistent with the legacy of Dr King, A Phillip Randolph, Malcolm X, or the many leaders and activists whose names weren’t recorded, that Rev Sharpton claims to continue.

Another March on Washington for Jobs, Justice and Peace has been called for October 2, endorsed by a wide range of civil rights, labor and peace groups. While the message from the stage will likely be similar to Rev Sharpton’s event–probably more explicitly calling to walk the neighborhoods and man the phones for the Democrats in the midterm elections--marchers can have an impact by organizing contingents, and carrying banners, with working class alternatives to both the present administration and the pyromaniac Glenn Becks.

In Brief...
¶ The September issue of Labor Notes has a good spread on the attacks on Social Security. Mark Brenner puts it all in perspective with
The Attack of the Killer Deficit?
¶ David Bacon has written a good piece–of course accompanied by photos–on the latest challenges facing the Iraqi labor movement,
Is the US Pulling the Plug on Iraqi Workers?
¶ The UE has filed charges against the Esterline owners of Haskon Aerospace in Taunton with both the NLRB and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. The jobs of 85 UE members, and 15 nonunion employees, are being moved to plants in Mexico and California. The company reneged on an earlier agreement to sell the Taunton facility to the displaced workers and have made unacceptable demands in severance negotiations.
¶ The Ventura County Star reports, “On Thursday, the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote, about 2,500 California nurses came to the Capitol to praise Susan B. Anthony and condemn Meg Whitman.” Whitman, a former CEO at FTD, Hasbro and eBay, used her personal fortune to buy the Republican nomination for Governor of California and hopes to do the same in the general election.
¶ Canadian Auto Workers Local 200 at the Nemak Essex Aluminum Plant in Windsor voted to offer a wage cut of more than ten dollars an hour to try to convince Ford to keep a product line there past next year. The plant currently makes engine blocks for both Ford and GM but both models are in their last year. State side, Ford rejected a personal plea from Minnesota Governor Pawlenty last week to consider keeping the St Paul Assembly plant open beyond its scheduled closing next fall.
¶ As the recall of salmonella tainted eggs from Iowa exceeded a half-billion the New York Times reported, “Faced with a crisis more than a decade ago in which thousands of people were sickened from salmonella in infected eggs, farmers in Britain began vaccinating their hens against the bacteria. That simple but decisive step virtually wiped out the health threat....The Food and Drug Administration decided not to mandate vaccination of hens — a precaution that would cost less than a penny per a dozen eggs.”
¶ Check out Steve Early’s seasonally appropriate
This Labor Day, Let’s Salute All Union Stewards—and Their Cutting Edge in California.
¶ The NLRB may soon rule on the question of requiring employers to bargain with non-majority unions. This is in response to a petition by seven unions to restore “members only” representation that was once recognized under U.S. labor law. Forty-six labor lawyers filed a brief in support of the petition. Though not yet online, the September Labor Notes carries a good review of the question, Should Nonmajority Unions Have Right To Bargain? It is a topic near and dear to the hearts of the authors–former UE District Council president Judy Atkins and UE International Rep David Cohen–who have promoted discussion about this alternative for years.

Our next WIR will be a little longer than usual–our Labor Day edition. But, after Labor Day I’ll give you a break for a couple of weeks using my vacation time before I lose it.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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