Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 6, 2011

This coming Sunday of course is the tenth anniversary of a horrible day on which nearly three thousand innocent people were killed. The big majority of them were workers, from all racial and religious backgrounds. on their jobs. More were lost in the clean up afterwards and many others still suffer from occupational diseases contracted during rescue and construction work. They deserve our remembrance–but not the political and commercial exploitation by the ruling class that accompanies this day.

We rejected then and still reject now the disrespectful use of the 9/11 victims to rally support for the unjust wars in Afghanistan, and later Iraq. Last month was the bloodiest yet for GIs in America’s longest ever war in Afghanistan. Preparations are under way to mark the anniversary of that conflict next month by demanding that all the troops be brought home now.

The date 9/11 had already been a day of an outrage that you won’t hear much about so I am reprinting a few paragraphs I wrote in the Week In Review of September 12, 2004,

The Other 9/11
We joined in on the comments about the anniversary of the horrible events of September 11, 2001. But we haven’t forgotten there is another reason to remember this as a date of infamy. September 11, 1973 saw the beginning of the military overthrow of the Allende government in Chile leading to thousands of deaths and a long period of brutal dictatorship.

When I was in school during the Fifties I was taught that socialism was inevitably linked to totalitarianism, that no socialist regime had ever been democratically elected. That was in fact a false assertion even then. Among other examples, a revolutionary socialist regime won elections in 1919 in Hungary–though they were quickly overthrown by a violent capitalist counter-revolution.

But during the Seventies the whole world followed the electoral success of a united front, including Socialists and Communists, in Chile that put Salvador Allende in the Presidential Palace. It was a victory that inspired and raised expectations of working people throughout Latin America–and beyond.

This worker supported government may have had its limitations but it alarmed the Chilean ruling class. It also caused consternation in Washington, already reeling from imminent defeat in Vietnam. The U.S. government worked hand-in-glove with the Chilean brass hats in their bloody coup. CIA agents even helped target American citizens in Chile for murder. (The father of one such American victim, Thomas Hauser, wrote a compelling book, Missing [no longer in print], which Costa-Gavras turned into an impressive 1982 film of the same name starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, winning the Academy Award for best script.)

The people of Chile will never forget their 9/11–and neither should we. Today Chilean workers and students are again taking on the bosses and brass hats with major strikes and demonstrations. We can learn some valuable lessons from them.

Two-Week DC Crime Spree Ends
XL is the proposed final stage of TransCanada’s Keystone system of pipelines carrying crude synthetic oil from Alberta tar sands to the USA. Some stages to Illinois and Oklahoma destinations have already been completed. XL would run 1,980 miles (3,190 km) from Hardisty, Alberta to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas--with easy access to Gulf of Mexico shipping. Some of the refined product would be consumed in the U.S. market while much would be exported to Europe and Latin America.

The route from the outskirts of the Arctic to the gateway to tropical waters invades a variety of ecosystems–vulnerable to inevitable spills. That is the issue that has belatedly brought together a broad array of opponents to XL making a last ditch stand.

But even more important to those concerned about climate change is the fact that these pipelines are crucial to expanded development in the tar sands–among the dirtiest greenhouse as well as ecological polluters in the world.

Park Police arrested 1,252 protesters carrying out two weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience at the White House to try to stop XL. Most were cited for loitering and fined a hundred dollars. There were some prominent names among those taken away in handcuffs such as Daryl Hannah, Margot Kidder, and Naomi Klein. First Nation and American Indian leaders from both sides of the border were there, among the most resolute and articulate participants. Al Gore, while not at the action, sent a statement of support.

Perhaps the world’s most recognized climate scientist, NASA’s seventy year old James Hansen, did take a turn riding in the paddy wagon. He had earlier written,

“Exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”

Essentially he says losing the tar sands fight would mean “game over” in the effort to avoid calamitous climate change. On the line at the White House Hansen shouted just before his arrest,

“If the tar sands pipeline is approved, we will be back and we will grow. For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we must find somebody who is working for our dream.”

The Amalgamated Transit and Transport Workers unions issued a rare joint statement,

“We need jobs, but not ones based on increasing our reliance on Tar Sands oil. There is no shortage of water and sewage pipelines that need to be fixed or replaced, bridges and tunnels that are in need of emergency repair, transportation infrastructure that needs to be renewed and developed. Many jobs could also be created in energy conservation, upgrading the grid, maintaining and expanding public transportation—jobs that can help us reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency.”

Every indication points to White House approval of the XL project. The President’s action on ozone standards announced just before the holiday break sends another clear message he is not the one “working for our dream.”

Ozone formation occurs when nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds react in sunlight. The major contributors to this smog are motor vehicle and lawn mower exhaust, industrial emissions, and chemical solvents. High concentrations cause or complicate a host of respiratory health problems--particularly threatening to the very young and very old. It’s estimated that reducing ozone pollution by one-third could save 4,000 lives in the USA each year–an annual figure roughly equivalent to the total number of GIs killed in combat so far in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

In 2008, the Bush EPA addressed this major public health problem by adopting the unanimous recommendation of an independent scientific panel to substantially reduce emissions producing ozone through much stricter new pollution standards. Bush reversed their ruling, substituting instead the present inadequate standards.

Earlier this year the Obama EPA again adopted the stricter rules. In the face of the usual boss howls of job-killer about every environmental or workplace safety standard ever proposed, the EPA was again ordered to retract them last week by President Obama, postponing any further action until after next year’s presidential election.

A Little Hometown Pride
According to the Detroit News, the UAW local at Ford’s Claycomo Kansas City Assembly plant took top place in the strike authorization vote–99 percent. But while they were best they were hardly unique. The overall yes vote among the 42 Ford locals was overwhelming. Ford is the only one of the Big Three currently in negotiations where the workers are free to strike over economic issues. Their sisters and brothers at General Motors and Chrysler were forced to give up their right by the bailout/bankruptcy deal imposed by President Obama.

A Detroit Free-Press Labor Day story entitled UAW deal may be hard sell to rank-and-file says,

“UAW President Bob King, a self-described pragmatist, wants to help preserve the Detroit Three's newfound ability to compete against Asian and German automakers in the U.S. But workers say the company's turnarounds have largely been on their financial backs. They are skeptical of proposed changes to their profit-sharing plan and want the reinstatement of cost-of-living increases and base wage increases.”

General Motors is purportedly talking about offering another buy-out to replace their senior malcontents with new hires--at about half the wage. The current Big Three contracts expire September 14. King has expressed optimism deals with all will be concluded in advance of that deadline. Stay tuned.

In Brief...
Labor Notes reports, “Thousands of nurses and supporters descended on their local Congressional offices nationwide Thursday, demanding that Wall Street pay for the crisis it created. The 60 protests in 21 states targeted both Democrats and Republicans, with austerity champions like Eric Cantor of Virginia and Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota singled out for special attention. A blockade outside Cantor’s office forced his staffers to meet with a delegation, a request they had repeatedly refused.”
¶ The United Transportation Union reports that sixty percent of members voting electronically by telephone approved the freight contract we spoke of in our
Which Track For Rail Labor? article.
¶ Eight thousand registrars, counselors, librarians, administrators, IT staff and cleaners, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, are on strike at the province’s colleges. The first walkout since 1979 is over wages and employer demands to change probationary periods.
¶ As we put this edition to bed, the BBC is reporting that millions of Italian workers are conducting a one-day general strike against the government’s “austerity” program.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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