Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 5, 2011

Note: Certain strange abbreviations and awkward formulations are necessary to comply with e-mail rules of some ISPs.

Here’s a bridge from our Deficit Extra to our normal format next week–when we will take up rail as promised.

Crystal Clear Union Buster
This past Monday American Crystal Sugar locked out 1300 workers at seven plants and distribution centers in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. These members of locals of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco & Grain Millers Union, had rejected a company final offer that sharply increases health insurance costs, provides for increased outsourcing of jobs, and weakens seniority.

Prior to the expiration of the previous contract professional strikebreakers provided by the notorious Strom Engineering observed the jobs of workers they are now replacing. When the union didn’t strike the company simply locked them out. The union is maintaining informational picket lines which have been honored by other unionists including the Teamsters.

The locked out workers have strong support in their communities and a big solidarity rally is being planned August 11 at the company headquarters in Moorhead, Minnesota. The BCTGMU has a special lockout website where you can find out more. There is also an online petition of support you can sign here.

Strike On Verizon Horizon?
The contract for 43,000 Verizon East workers expires at Midnight tomorrow (August 6.) As I write, the company still has deal breaker demands on the table including, as summarized by the CWA,

“...management wants to freeze the pension plan for covered workers and eliminate it entirely for all others, dramatically increase health care costs for active workers and retirees, and base wage increases on subjective evaluations by supervisors.”

CWA and IBEW Verizon workers have made their displeasure with these take-back demands known to both the company and the public. In addition to workplace protests there have been big demonstrations including 15,000 in New York.

It’s a Start, Maybe
In his Bay Area e-zine Beyond Chron, which often has useful labor stories and commentary, Randy Shaw notes,

“...neither SEIU, the AFL-CIO, nor AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka aggressively mobilized union members against the [debt] deal over the past month.”

He asks the good question “where were the rallies and marches?” He then correctly answers,

“Labor’s inaction reflects a deeper problem: its strategic reliance on electing Democrats to boost union power has failed, but it is staying on this course heading into 2012.”

So what conclusions does Shaw draw from this assessment?

“Labor made the right decision to pour massive resources into electing Democrats in the 2008 elections. But this strategy failed. Now unions must redirect resources to ongoing organizing, and make it clear to Obama’s campaign that it should look to the ‘independents’ whose support it so desperately seeks, rather than the union members whose agenda it scorns, for money and volunteers in 2012.”

So the progressive Shaw, having been snookered by Obama along with the labor statespersons, simply returns to and restates the principle attributed to the architect of craft unionism, Samuel Gompers–Reward Our Friends, Punish Our Enemies. Cut off the money to the fickle friend, keep our heads down and focus on organizing–at least until yet another worthy friend comes on the scene.

Meanwhile, now that Obama got his fragile Deal, the AFL-CIO executive council has decided it’s time to take to the streets. They’ve concluded the main problem with the Deal is that it doesn’t create jobs.

It’s difficult to assign weight to the many losses to the working class in the Deal but there is no question that it not only doesn’t create jobs–it eliminates at least tens of thousands of them. On Wednesday, the day after the President signed the sweeping “reforms,” the AFL-CIO’s top body issued America Wants To Work: A Call To Action. They say,

“The American labor movement, together with our community partners and allies, is committed to changing the national debate from the right wing’s destructive focus on deficits, budget cuts and austerity measures—which undermine workers’ rights, living standards and communities—to a clear focus on the creation of good jobs that ensure workers’ rights, support families and build strong communities.”

With the stipulation that “right wing” includes the President and half of the Democrats in the House, this shift in framing the debate is a worthy goal. The fact that it would have been an even much better idea in conjunction with continuing the struggles coming out of the state capitals earlier in the year doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support this tardy effort. They lay out a plan,

“1) We call for a Fall Mobilization for Jobs, starting with this focus on Labor Day: We Are One: America Wants to Work.

“2) National unions need to be at the center of this effort, and begin a sustained internal member education and communication campaign to focus on good jobs and exposing the corporate and political interests that are blocking the road to the creation of good jobs while attacking fundamental workers’ rights and voting rights.

“3) In partnership with our community allies at the local and national levels, as well as our state federations and labor councils, we will build to a National Week of Action in early October that focuses on the demand for good jobs and demonstrates in communities all across the country that America Wants to Work.

“4) This must be a campaign for the longterm that builds real labor-community partnerships and strengthens our capacity through sustained year-round member education and mobilization through 2012 and beyond.”

This is all well and good and deserves unconditional support by everyone in the labor movement. But that doesn’t mean the ranks should be a silent majority until we have been “educated” by those ordained to lead us.

Yes, we want to work. After lengthy unemployment most will be willing to accept just about any kind of paycheck. Those union officials primarily concerned about dues base are often not too particular about job content either.

But many jobs that are highly profitable for employers are geared to the insanity of maintaining a nuclear arsenal or carrying out unjust wars. Even more directly contribute to the destruction of the environment and climate change. It’s time to have an open, honest, lively discussion about how can we have a just transition from such jobs to those that will sustain our biosphere in peace and serve human needs.

And it’s high time to own up to the disaster of labor’s devotion and subordination to the Democrats. Abstention from politics is not an acceptable alternative. We have to learn how to fight our own battles with a party of our own.

So let’s follow our leaders in to the streets--while letting them know what we think about re-framing the great debates needed today.

In Brief...
¶ It looks like the bipartisan spirit from the Deal may soon lead to new NAFTA-like trade deals with Korea and Colombia. The party leaders in the Senate have agreed to decouple worker protections from the bills for a separate vote. This means the trade bills will almost certainly pass. The labor movements in all countries involved strongly oppose the measures.
¶ While reassuring a gathering of auto industry management the new UAW is non-confrontational, AP reports UAW president Bob King, “ told reporters he was open to linking workers' profit-sharing to their attendance rates, addressing a longstanding problem of absenteeism at assembly plants.”
¶ Instead of applying for tens of thousands of dollars in private sector student loans as their North American counterparts commonly do, students in Chile, supported by teachers and parents, are demanding free higher education. Their actions have included hunger strikes, mass demonstrations–and a “kiss-in” that attracted 100,000. When protesters blocked streets in the capital riot police lived up to their name. Polls show President Sebastián Pinera to be the least popular leader in the two decades since the brutal Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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