Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 6, 2009

An Anniversary Regretfully Remembered
Today marks the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. These are the only times nuclear weapons have been used on human beings–nearly all the victims being civilians. For past comments on this shameful act click
here.

Marilyn Clement
More than a half-century of devotion to progressive causes has come to an end for Marilyn Clement, who has passed away at the age of 74. While perhaps not a household name, Marilyn will be remembered by thousands she touched in the civil rights, civil liberties, and peace movements over the years. In her final years she founded and coordinated
Healthcare-NOW, a coalition of labor, religious, and peace organizations, and prominent individuals, spreading the message of single-payer health care wide and far.

I had an opportunity to meet Marilyn several times at meetings of the Labor Party Interim National Council. Even when we didn’t have much to cheer about–which was most of the time–she helped keep our spirits up, our eyes on the prize. She will be greatly missed. We’ll post details of memorial meetings on the Daily Labor News Digest as they become available.

This Sitzkrieg Not Phony
There was a period of several months after Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland of relative inactivity on the World War II European battlefield. Pundits at the time called this the Phony War, or, in a play on words with the strategy of blitzkrieg, sitzkrieg–a sitting down war.

But there is nothing phony or lethargic about the growing use of the tactic of sitzkrieg by workers on four continents. You don’t need lightning mobility to take control of a plant–just sit down and don’t allow any work to be done.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Not all battles are won. Taking up where we left off last time let’s review the past week:

Vestas
Today’s Guardian reports,

“Six workers who have been staging a sit-in at Britain's only major wind turbine factory for more than two weeks called today for a national day of action to support their attempt to save it from closure with the loss of more than 600 jobs. The men, who say they are determined to remain inside the Vestas Wind Systems plant on the Isle of Wight until bailiffs come to remove them, want people around the country to show support on Wednesday 12 August by downing tools for an hour, holding a rally or hanging up a banner.”

The Vestas workers have earned the right to ask for such support. The ball is now in the court of the Trades Union Congress, along with the socialist and environmental groups who have shared the striker’s limelight.

Thomas Cook
Thomas Cook, an old, originally British company, pioneered putting together vacation travel packages. Briefly nationalized by the Labor government in 1948 it is today part of a German-based multinational. When the owners announced that, after 125 years of doing business there, they were pulling offices out of Ireland at the end of August workers organized in the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) threatened to strike. Cook then sent English managers in to close their offices immediately. The workers responded with a spontaneous sit-down. They were joined by two socialist city council members. (They were not joined by Sinn Fein.)

The 26-county government in Dublin proved themselves once again to be more resolute in protecting property rights than their new good friends in London. Garda outnumbered the sit-downers in a pre-dawn raid as they forcibly removed them–one of them pregnant–from the Cook offices and hauled them off in paddy wagons. By the time court opened that morning the Irish Times reported “a large number of supporters staged a protest outside the Four Courts.” The judge who had ordered their arrest decided to release the strikers from custody with no fine.

The TSSA is asking the usually mellow Irish Congress of Trade Unions to support a boycott of Cook

Ssangyong Motor
Workers have been on strike protesting layoffs at this Korean car company, operating under bankruptcy protection, for two months. Periodically, the police have attacked them. Yesterday airborne commandos swept in on helicopters and, after injuries on both sides, cleared strikers from the plant complex–except for one building. Hundreds of workers remain barricaded in the strategic–and literally explosive–paint shop. The two sides have now agreed to once more negotiate. In the meantime, sitzkrieg continues Korean style.

These actions were initiated spontaneously by workers on the shop floor. They show the ranks are often way out in front of those paid to lead the labor movement. Whether they prove to be the beginning of a reversal of labor’s long, costly retreat or heroic last stands in a rout, remains to be determined.

If such struggles remain isolated most will eventually be defeated as the whole weight of employer and state power is brought to bear. Without some nourishing victories sitzkrieg will whither on the vine. To win at least some will take wide mobilization of working class solidarity.

This means more than e-mail campaigns or passing resolutions, though such activities can often be a useful beginning. Ultimately there must be mass mobilizations on the outside to protect those sitting down inside; sympathy strikes; boycotts; civil disobedience; on a scale to make crushing the strikes too costly for the bosses and politicians.

While the recent ripple of plant occupations in Europe, Korea, and Canada cannot be ignored by those countries’ unions there is virtually no discussion of sitzkrieg in the country where the tactic achieved the most celebrated victories–the USA.

In a little more than a month the AFL-CIO will be holding its quadrennial convention in Pittsburgh to set policy and elect leaders. They should recall not only the gains labor reaped from the sit-downs of the 1930s–they should also remember most were led by those who had found the old AFL “house of labor” to be inadequate to meet the challenges of the day. They rebuilt labor through the CIO. We will soon have to decide whether the present run down house is worth renovation or whether we need to build a new one.

California Has A Plan
The climate change crisis, fueled by greenhouse gas pollution, is advancing faster than the most pessimistic recently expected. It is beginning to alter familiar weather patterns in North America. Over the past couple of weeks temperatures have reached triple-digit all time highs throughout Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia–areas where few have air conditioning. Scorching B.C. is seeing forest fires such as those that have so often plagued southern California.

On the other coast, from D.C. through New England, and spreading out to parts of the Midwest, the summer has been cool and wet, much more like spring.

These changes may not yet be permanent but they are a preview of what’s in store in the near future as the biosphere that allowed our species to evolve becomes overwhelmed by carbon emissions.

Give them credit–California has the beginnings of a plan to deal with climate change in their state. They recognize that rising temperatures over the next few decades will lead to more heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods.

AP reports,

“Even if the world is successful in cutting carbon emissions in the future, California needs to start preparing for rising sea levels, hotter weather and other effects of climate change, a new state report recommends.

“It encourages local communities to rethink future development in low-lying coastal areas, reinforce levees that protect flood-prone areas and conserve already strapped water supplies.

“‘We still have to adapt, no matter what we do, because of the nature of the greenhouse gases,’' said Tony Brunello, deputy secretary for climate change and energy at the California Natural Resources Agency, who helped prepare the report. ‘Those gases are still going to be in the atmosphere for the next 100 years.’”

The report doesn’t go beyond recommending encouragement and incentives for its common sense suggestions. The depth of political commitment to fighting climate change was recently demonstrated by the vote to raise money for the state budget by selling oil drilling rights off Santa Barbara–with the names of those voting censored to protect the guilty.

It’s good that states are at least acknowledging some problems. One would have hoped for more though in a state governed by an action hero.

In Brief...
¶ When I was a kid, we got mail delivered twice a day Monday-Friday, one delivery on Saturday. A first class stamp was three cents–the equivalent of 27 cents today. Next day delivery was the norm for destinations within a 500 mile radius. Beyond that expect two days. But that was back in the bad old days when the Post Office was a government agency. Today it is a semi-public corporation expected to at least break even. They now propose closing hundreds of post offices and eliminating Saturday delivery. Unlike in the past, they are encountering little opposition from the Democrat congress which must sign off. More about this next time.
¶ Maybe some day Donna Smith, a community organizer for the CNA, will tell us what she really thinks. In an article on
Common Dreams, she reviews some of those who have been arrested for speaking out, or just asking a question about single-payer health care and asks, “Are we holding this government, under Barack Obama and his allies in Congress, accountable for arresting 11-year-olds and seniors and nurses and doctors simply because they speak out and ask for their own human rights accountability?....Come on, Mr. President, Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Hoyer, and Senators Reid, Baucus and Kennedy. You cannot possibly believe that is the right way for this nation to go to protect the healthcare industry even if they did buy your loyalty with $18.5 million in campaign donations to Mr. Obama alone and millions more to the rest of you.....Are your daughters and elders safe at that price and just not the little ones in Iowa? For shame.”

Getting Back On Kilter
For both good reasons and real reasons our Week In Review schedule has gotten out of its weekly rhythm lately. Beginning next week we will be shooting for a regular Monday posting.

That’s all for this week.

 

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