Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 31, 2009

My Latest Hero
It seems I’m always talking about Donna Smith lately. My undisguised admiration of Smith is a recognition of how she excels in an area that I’ve devoted most of my adult life attempting–communicating with working people. I first noticed her as a participant in Michael Moore’s SiCko but she has really grabbed my attention with her frequent articles on single-payer on the Common Dreams site.

In those pieces, as well as television appearances I have seen, she has shown that rare combination of projecting authority earned through knowledge of her field with the ability to explain it all in simple language--often laced with biting humor at the Establishment’s expense. The California Nurses Association was smart to sign her up as a community organizer and I’m ready to launch her fan club.

Take, for example, her most recent epistle, Liar, Liar … Well, Healthcare Pants on Fire,

“So, we've been told over and over again that under the healthcare reform plans currently defended and pushed by the President and Congress that we can keep what we've got if we like it. No one will take your health insurance bennies away. Not under our employer-based, for-profit system.

“Well, tell that to the latest batch of employees in Chicago to have their insurance benefits cut right out from under them – they sure didn't get to keep what they had.

“The workers at SK Tools had no choice. Their health insurance benefits were cancelled. Sick family member? Too damn bad. Need a doctor. Tough luck. The company representatives say the recession has hurt them, and they have no choice. The company is also asking for 20 percent cuts in hourly wages. Wow. “

You can find out more about the well-organized unfair labor practice strike at SK Tools, referred to in Smith’s article, by visiting the Teamsters Local 743 website. She goes on to further describe a “big, fat lie,”

“The House bill on healthcare reform, the Senate plan for healthcare reform and the President's plan for healthcare reform – none of these actually guarantee that you can keep what you have if you like it, because tomorrow your employer or your insurance company may change what you like to suit their bottom line. That's the truth.

“If this big lie about healthcare reform rolls off their messaging engines like melting butter on a warm slice of bread, what else do you suppose they are lying about? Come on. Get real. We won't have what we want in terms of truly having the freedom to choose and keep or change our doctors, our providers and our own treatments until we break free from the lies and produce reform that guarantees a progressively financed, single high-quality standard of care for everybody. Everybody in, nobody out.

Then you can keep what you like. Your choices. Your decisions. Your health. Your healthcare. Your money. Period.”

Of course, sister Smith has an advantage over her opponents that makes her arguments so refreshingly simple and honest–she wants people to understand what she’s really fighting for. Such a trait is completely alien to the politicians–and most union bureaucrats for that matter. The President, congress, and the robber barons keep getting tripped up on their phony “reforms.”

But our hero Donna Smith, and other dedicated single-payer advocates, are quarantined in limited media venues such as Common Dreams and Bill Moyers’ Journal. With hundreds of unions on record in support of single-payer it’s a shame the mainstream labor movement has instead been spending big bucks supporting the “big fat lies” of the robber barons and their bought and paid for politicians.

It is no mere coincidence that the present fight for single-payer is largely led by those who were part of the Labor Party Just Healthcare campaign. CNA was an early endorser of Labor Party Advocates. Physicians for a National Health Plan were close collaborators in putting together the party’s signature effort. Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic is national coordinator of the Labor for Single-Payer Campaign. The Ohio State Labor Party is the backbone of the Single-Payer Action Network Ohio (SPAN Ohio). Without them, including the courageous Baucus Thirteen jailed for trying to speak for HR676, our side wouldn’t be heard even on late Friday night PBS.

The Labor Party wing is in the lead not just because they are talented, capable organizers; their class perspective allows them to clear away all the big, fat lies of avowed foes and deceitful “friends” alike. When our unions use their still considerable resources to back such a class action approach we will win the health care we deserve and a whole lot more. Until then the flaming trousered crowd will decide our destiny.

A First For Toyota
For the first time in postwar history, Toyota is closing a car assembly plant. It just happens to be their only unionized plant in North America as well as the only remaining auto assembly plant in California

It was originally a General Motors plant, opened in 1962, closed twenty years later. It was brought back to life in 1984 as New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture of GM and Toyota. GM hoped to learn from the Japanese “lean production” methods while Toyota was glad to establish a manufacturing beachhead in the USA. The plant was governed by a special UAW contract granting management much more flexibility on the shop floor. Over the past 25 years the plant in Fremont, California cranked out compact cars under both Toyota and Chevrolet plates.

But NUMMI was one of the plants ordered closed by the Obama administration’s restructuring of GM. GM’s Fremont interests remain with Motors Liquidation Company–GM properties to be closed or sold.

While California is a large part of Toyota’s U.S. market, they today have five other “transplant” assembly operations in the US, plus a sixth brand new plant sitting as yet unused in Mississippi, as well as plants in Canada. They decided not to accept a continuing contract with the UAW and are shifting the work for now to an unorganized plant in Cambridge, Ontario. Fremont workers are welcome to immigrate to Canada and apply for any openings but will receive “no priority consideration.”

So chalk up another 4800 auto job losses to our benefactor in the White House.

Also this week we got a look at the final figures for Cash for Clunkers. The Big Three swept all top ten spots on the clunker side. On the new sales side only Ford was represented in the top ten with two models (Focus and Escape.) Overall, the UAW/CAW organized companies got only a little more than 38 percent of the subsidized new sales.

Finally on the auto front, speculation continues about the almost silent negotiations going on between Ford and the UAW. Ford, the only one of the Big Three not reorganized by Obama’s auto team, wants the same additional concessions imposed on the workers at the other two including--a six-year pay freeze for entry-level employees, a no- strike accord until 2015 and fewer union job classifications.

Without government intervention it will not be a cinch for the UAW tops to sell this to the ranks. The venerable labor professor/auto expert Harley Shaiken told Bloomberg,

“Ford and the UAW have a strong relationship, but they’re having difficulty within that relationship. That isn’t a surprise given the shape of the economy and the industry. This can be bridged. It won’t be easy.”

Stay tuned.

Now They’ve Got A Name
The leaders of the three nurse unions in the process of fusing in to a “super union” have got past one of the most contentious issues for any new group–its name. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, United American Nurses, and Massachusetts Nurses Association, will come out of their December founding convention in Scottsdale, Arizona as “National Nurses United.”

The NNU will start off with 150,000 members and enthusiastic good will. Jean Ross, RN, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, and UAN Secretary-Treasurer, said.

“I have spent so many years learning the history of how and why the nurses in this country have been split apart. I am both relieved and ecstatic to find it really doesn’t matter now. We have the will and the combined drive to move forward, and we are.”

In Brief...
¶ The Ohio State Labor Party, along with the North Shore Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and Communications Workers of America District 4, is sponsoring a Cleveland public forum by Steve Early. Early, a 35-year veteran of the labor movement, journalist and author of the new book
Embedded With Organized Labor, will speak at the Building Laborers' Union Local No 310, 3250 Euclid Avenue, at 11AM, Saturday, September 12. For more information click here or call 216-736-4777.
¶ Our friends at PeaceWorks are holding their eighteenth annual fund-raising “UnPlaza Art Fair” September 26-27, on the grounds of All Souls UU Church, 4501 Walnut, in Kansas City. For details click
here.
¶ The Thomas Merton Center Antiwar Committee in Pittsburgh is mobilizing mass peaceful marches and rallies in that city September 25 against the “destructive, undemocratic policies of the G-20" meeting there. Their main slogans are “Money for Human Needs, Not for Wars and Occupations – Environmental Justice for the Earth and its Inhabitant – Jobs and Health Care for All.” Details can be found
here.
¶ Some of the local participants in the
New Crises, New Agendas Conference sponsored by this website back in April have decided to launch a Labor Notes discussion group in Kansas City. Meeting at Noon on the fourth Sunday of each month the group will discuss one article from the current issue. We will also be working to assemble a Kansas City delegation to the next Labor Notes national conference, scheduled in Detroit next April 23-25. If you’re interested call 816-753-1672.

Our next Week In Review will be our extended Labor Day edition.

That’s all for this week.

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