Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 7, 2008

Convention Coverage
When the original Mayor Daley’s cops beat and gassed protesters at the 1968 Democrat convention the events outside were shown on live television and there were big reactions even on the convention floor. But the greatly reduced and scripted network coverage of the Republican convention in St Paul gave few hints of any unpleasantness outside the corporate named hockey arena where they gathered.

It’s been reported that all told seventeen million tax payer dollars were spent on convention security. There were hundreds of arrests and dozens of no-knock searches--conducted by local authorities, directed by the feds, commanded by the party convening. Among those herded in to paddy wagons were journalists from the Associated Press, along with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and the program’s producers. The National Lawyers Guild is still working to sort out all these civil liberties violations.

In the local Twin Cities media much attention was given to anarchists doing what anarchists do. But most of the protests were large, peaceful gatherings mainly of folks who live and act like you and me.

The various protests were kicked off on Labor Day, when President Bush was scheduled to address the GOP faithful. It turned out the commander-in-chief was urgently required to shake hands with those monitoring Gustav in Louisiana. But 10,000 jammed the confined space of permitted free speech to protest the war. Among the speakers at the event was Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800--who were prominent with a giant banner demanding “U.S. Out of Iraq!” She said,

“We demand a reordering of national and local priorities . . . toward jobs, education, health care, rebuilding our infrastructure and an end to poverty as we know it.”

The folks at Workday Minnesota provided some interesting observations from the local working people who served the thousands of hungry and thirsty delegates. One was UNITE-HERE Local 17 member Joy Anderson.

“Anderson said she was busy round-the-clock this week at numerous lavish receptions and late-night parties in downtown Minneapolis. Her main job was making sure the food never ran out at the bountiful buffets held for Republican delegates by Wal-Mart, Blue Cross Blue Shield and many other members of the Fortune 500.

“Ironically, no forks could be provided. (‘That would imply the food was a meal, which would be a violation of federal law’ against corporate lobbying, Anderson explained). But that didn't stop the delegates from piling their plates high and continuing the corporate-funded eating and drinking into the wee hours of every morning.”

Buzz Off
Basil Buzz Hargrove, probably the highest profile union official in Canada, is stepping down as president of the Canadian Auto Workers. Buzz cultivated a reputation as a fiery militant and unionist with a social vision. I heard him give an impressive talk to the Labor Party 1998 Pittsburgh convention where he wished us well in building a working class party.

The CAW broke away from the UAW in 1984 because their first president Bob White, and Hargrove thought Solidarity House was giving away too much in concessions to the Big Three. They also didn’t like UAW support for congressional legislation that was perceived as shifting work from the Canadian auto industry to the USA.

To offset declining membership in auto the CAW under Hargrove pursued aggressive growth in other industries through union mergers, organizing–and raiding. Today the majority of CAW’s 200,000 members are outside the auto industry.

Hargrove has been a strong advocate of federal protectionist policies to assist the Big Three. He has championed government subsidies to the poor auto bosses as well.

Buzz also tried to help by opening Big Three negotiations early this year. Like his estranged American cousins in the UAW, he agreed to contracts with significant concessions to “preserve jobs.” The contract books were not yet back from the printers when General Motors announced they were closing a truck plant in Oshawa, Ontario next year, putting 2,600 workers out of a job. There were militant protests by the Oshawa workers, cheered on by Buzz, but at the end of the day Hargrove had to accept that the job security contract allowed this humiliating job loss.

Hargrove also stunned many with an experimental contract with giant automotive supplier Magna that resembled in many ways the kind of sweetheart deals cooked up by SEIU and others in the USA. Many former CAW leaders, and Sam Gindin, a longtime economist and strategist with the union, exposed and denounced both the Big Three and Magna agreements.

While Hargrove encouraged American supporters of a Labor Party, over the last several years he has worked to undercut the NDP–Canada’s labor party. Seeing the Tories as the main enemy he calls for “strategic voting,” which in most cases means supporting the other main boss party, the Liberals.

Hargrove’s hand picked replacement, Ken Lewenza, comes out of Local 444 in Windsor and has headed up the CAW’s Chrysler department. He was, of course, approved without dissent among assembled delegates. Every indication from his acceptance speech is that he will stay Buzz’s course. SSDF.

Buzz always had a way with words. Too bad he didn’t have the same way with deeds.

Chairman Andy Brings Masses In To the Streets
Give credit where it’s due. While most union officials have been locked on to hustling votes for “labor’s friends,” SEIU president Andy Stern was responsible for a mass march of SEIU members in San Jose. Granted, he didn’t summon the marchers but he was their focus. According to a United Healthcare Workers West press release 4,000 marched through downtown Saturday to protest attempts by Stern to put their local–a rallying point for dissidents in the union--in to trusteeship. Find out more about this fight by clicking
here. For the latest on Stern administered locals in corruption troubles click here.

Fact Finder Narrows Choices
The long building confrontation between 2300 member ATU Local 85 and the Pittsburgh Port Authority transit bosses is nearing a show down. An “impartial fact-finder,” Dickinson School of Law Professor Jane Rigler, has recommended 3 percent annual wage increases–an industry “standard” which the union could probably live with. But she also granted many of the company’s demands for substantial give-backs in pensions, health care, and sick leave for both active workers and retirees. The Local 85 executive board will present their stand to membership meetings next Friday. If the union rejects the finding their alternative will be a strike.

Helping Friends In Ohio
After spending 1.8 million dollars, and gathering 240,000 petition signatures, in a successful effort to put a measure requiring seven paid sick days a year for Ohio workers on the November ballot the organizers have now requested that it be withdrawn from the voting. Ohioans for Healthy Families, initiated and bankrolled by SEIU District 1199, said they now shared concerns of Democrat Governor Ted Strickland that the measure would open “a very divisive and unproductive debate.”

In Brief...

¶ 27,000 Boeing IAM workers in three cities hit the bricks Saturday. News reports have centered on wage differences–the company offered eleven percent over three years with the union asking for thirteen. More important than this relatively narrow difference is union resistance to increased health care costs, and the union’s demand for contract protection against outsourcing.

¶ Early reports on the ICE raid that rounded up nearly 600 immigrant workers at Howard Industries in Laurel, Mississippi implied that the union in the plant was complicit in ratting out fellow workers. David Bacon, probably the most authoritative labor oriented source on immigration issues, gave a more balanced assessment of the situation in the plant. The IBEW had brought in Spanish speaking organizers who had been making progress in signing up the immigrant workers. The raid was in fact a big blow to the union at a time when they have been working months past the expiration of their old contract.

¶ A commission says the Dutch government must be prepared to spend 1.5 billion euros (2.1 billion U.S. dollars) per year over the next century to literally stay above water. “The security challenge is urgent: the climate is changing, the sea level rising and river flows increasing while a quarter of dikes and dams do not meet the current safety norms,” they say.

That’s all for this week.

Demand Guaranteed Healthcare on a SinglePayer model for everyone in America, for life.

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