Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 2, 2007
Another Cloudy Labor Day
For a number of years modest picnics organized by the Labor Party were the only labor movement events in Kansas City on Labor Day. Now, for the third consecutive year, marketeers connected to unions are tapping both corporate sponsors and union treasuries to organize a Labor Day parade and picnic. There will be some good union floats, including one from Heartland Labor Radio, as well as hot dogs.
There will also be speeches by perfidious labor friend politicians and demonstrations of heavy military hardware--including, it is rumored, a helicopter landing just like is done every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. This will be in front of a museum dedicated to the “war to end all wars,” otherwise known as the First World War. A speech against that war is what led to labor’s “friend” of that day, Woodrow Wilson, to order the kangaroo trial and incarceration of Eugene Debs. The Labor Party can’t afford to enter a float in the parade but we will be distributing leaflets for an upcoming event on October 6. I will be attending out of a sense of duty to this task rather than inspiration.
Some local Labor Day events will be better than this. But, unfortunately, Kansas City is all too typical of the state of the union movement in the United States on our official holiday. I believe we have to look at our unions from the same perspective we should view global warming.
The causes of global warming have, of course, been clearly identified by scientists. Science also indicates measures that, if taken soon enough on a massive scale, can stop and begin to reverse this environmental destruction. Failure to adopt such a course guarantees disasters greater than humanity has yet to endure.
The same sense of urgency needs to be applied to the crisis facing American organized labor. We must speak inconvenient truth to dwindling power. Our unions have become endangered species and no body can prevent their imminent extinction–except us.
Those of you who follow this column, and our Daily Labor News Digest, have seen plenty of evidence to support this dire warning.
Union membership continues to decline to the lowest percentages since they started keeping records.
Real wages of the working class have also declined. Over the past four years, the median hourly wage adjusted for inflation dipped 1.1 percent. While union workers still earn more than comparable nonunion, union workers wages and benefits have fallen as well.
The flawed strategy of tying basic benefits to employers has led to a surge in workers without health insurance, now numbering at least 47 million.
The most sacred promises won by unions for secure retirement after decades of hard work are going down the drain. After losing a militant strike, Steelworkers at Goodyear accepted a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, VEBA. The company forks over a final legacy for retiree health care, leaving it up to the union to ration and distribute this one-time payment. This is becoming the template for contract negotiations with employers whining about “legacy burden,” and the UAW appears ready to accept this without a fight with the Big Three automakers. Many Teamsters and airline workers will get pensions drastically lower than expected. Younger workers are no longer finding defined benefit pension opportunities at all, at best being offered 401(k) options, such as Enron workers once counted on.
Clearly, many of the issues facing workers require political solutions–health care, pensions, the ramifications of globalization. Of course, our union leaders have been active politically. They rented Soldiers Field in Chicago, and mobilized thousands of unionists, to host a “debate” among the Democrat presidential hopefuls. Some have already started endorsing Clinton, Edwards, or Obama. The IAM takes even a broader approach, endorsing one from each boss party. They give a favorable nod to Mike Huckabee, Southern Baptist preacher and former GOP governor of Arkansas, as well as the spouse of a former Democrat governor of Arkansas. Our unions plan to pour hundreds of millions of dollars, and tens of thousands of volunteers, in to once again influencing which representatives of the boss class will rule America.
As surely as staying the course on carbon emissions will destroy the environment as we know it, staying the course on partnership with the boss in the workplace and at the ballot box will lead to a painful, withering demise of our unions as we know them.
The situation of the American working class is bleak on this Labor Day. Yet it is not without glimmers of hope here and there.
We have chronicled some of the victories of the California Nurses Association in organizing the unorganized, negotiating contracts that gain improvements instead of givebacks, and, above all, in forcing the issue of single-payer health care on to the political agenda.
The adversarial approach of the UE, and other GE unions, managed to negotiate a nonconcession agreement with General Electric, unfortunately a major departure from industrial collective bargaining trends.
In Minnesota, AFSCME university locals are mobilizing their members, student, and community allies for a major battle.
Unionists and academics have come together to discuss alternative strategies in the Center for Labor Renewal.
US Labor Against the War continues to write a proud new chapter in union struggle against the bosses war, taking international labor solidarity to an unprecedented level.
And the Labor Party, though put on starvation rations by the unions that should be building it, continues to offer a program and vision for a better future.
Since, like most, I have neither the opportunity nor desire to escape from the working class I will soldier on with both alarm about the present and embrace of potential for the future. I hope you do the same.
The Big Three, now also known as the Detroit Three, lined up the UAW to lobby against increased fuel economy standards for their fleets because it would put them at an “unfair disadvantage” against their Japanese competitors. A new report shows five of the six biggest car companies doing business in the USA substantially increased emissions over the past fifteen years. Actually Nissan was the biggest offender with a 9.2 percent hike. Only Toyota cut emissions–by about three percent–largely through their sales of hybrids. Detroit’s aggressive marketing of more profitable SUVs, vans, and light trucks, quickly copied by most of the competition, is what accounts for the increased pollution–and Big Three resistance to enhanced CAFE standards. Cars, SUVs, vans and light trucks account for about twenty percent of all carbon emissions in the U.S.
Teaching China or Learning
U.S. manufacturers notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission 97 times so far this year that they planned to export goods that did not meet some aspect of U.S. safety standards. Included among the export only products were toys, lighters, fireworks, clothing, chemicals, carpets and pacifiers.
Tucker On the Air
Our friend Jerry Tucker will be interviewed by Suzi Weissman on KPFK on Labor Day at 5PM PDT. Jerry expects the program to cover a wide range of labor topics including the fight for single-payer and the current UAW negotiations. Those of you in the Los Angeles area can tune in to 90.7; others can later hear an audio archive of the show by visiting this web page.
Despite all the gloom and crisis I spend so much time writing about I hope you find a way to take advantage of our holiday and may you and yours have a happy Labor Day.
That’s all for this week.
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