Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 9, 2007

All Out for DC
President Bush sneaked in to Iraq Labor Day. It was sort of on his way to the APEC meeting in Sydney. This time he chose to visit the base Marines call Camp Cupcake, in Anbar, an area he hailed as a model of progress in pacifying the country through the “surge.” On Thursday four Marines were killed in this exemplary province.

Arriving in Australia Bush told that country’s deputy prime minister that “we’re kicking ass” in Iraq. He went on to announce it was likely that the 168,000 U.S. troop force in Iraq could be reduced, perhaps by spring. That’s a safe bet. The extended 15-month tours that enabled the surge will start expiring in April–and there is no one to replace them. The Army has been offering 20,000 dollar “sign and ship” bonuses to new recruits but even this pot sweetener is not expected to do more than meet attrition–if that. Another extension of tour, or further reduction of respite between tours, is politically unthinkable.

Gordon Brown remains faithful to Tony Blair’s political support of the Bush war but British troops effectively declared Basra an open city and withdrew to the vicinity of the airport.

When the congressional Democrats voted in the spring to fully fund the surge with no strings attached they assured us the real showdown would come in September. General David Petraeus is scheduled to give the long awaited report to congress on Monday.

He literally wrote the book on the Army’s counter-insurgency doctrine–based on his doctoral dissertation on the lessons of the Vietnam war. With his double-breasted display of medals to go along with his PhD, he has become a political rock star, like Colin Powell and Alan Greenspan rolled in to one. Congress and the media will breathlessly await his every well-modulated word.

Paul Krugman, sequestered by the New York Times web site in its pay-for-view section, takes a look at this brass hat’s credibility. He reminds us of some past Petraeus pronouncements. During his commander-in-chief’s 2004 reelection campaign the general said,

“there has been progress in the effort to enable Iraqis to shoulder more of the load for their own security.”

The following year things were even better,

“there has been enormous progress with the Iraqi security forces.”

Krugman says,

“But now two more years have passed, and the independent commission of retired military officers appointed by Congress to assess Iraqi security forces has recommended that the national police force, which is riddled with corruption and sectarian influence, be disbanded, while Iraqi military forces ‘will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months.’”

Since Krugman’s column yet another report, just released today, takes an even longer term view. With a name straight out of Orwell, the U.S. Institute of Peace–an unsavory collection of former ambassadors, CIA analysts and other interventionist insiders who ran the Baker-Hamilton commission–projects a fifty percent reduction in U.S. forces in three years, total withdrawal perhaps in five years.

Krugman concludes right on the money,

“Finally, the public hates this war and wants to see it ended. Voters are exasperated with the Democrats, not because they think Congressional leaders are too liberal, but because they don’t see Congress doing anything to stop the war.”

The Democrats want the war issue to carry them in to the White House next year. The leadership of the Republicans don’t want to be seen as the ones that surrendered Iraq. Petraeus will find new, imaginative but authoritative ways of urging stay the course, making both sides happy for now.

Meanwhile, during the election cycle, good people continue to die, Iraq sinks further in to poverty and despair, GIs come home physically and emotionally scarred, and three billion dollars a week of our taxes is squandered on this unjust war.

It’s time once again to send a message to the politicians that we’re not as stupid or apathetic as they apparently think. Being simple minded, hard working folks, we are not interested in their nuances, their carefully crafted compromises, their goals and benchmarks. We want this war ended now. We want every last GI brought home now. We don’t understand or accept anything else.

A good opportunity to get this point across is the March On Washington to End the War Now, next Saturday, September 15. Initiated by the ANSWER coalition, this action has been endorsed by US Labor Against the War, Code Pink, World Won’t Wait, Veterans for Peace, and others. The march will be headed by Iraq Veterans Against the War. I urge all readers in the eastern part of the U.S. to join this timely response to the Petraeus report and the do nothing congress.

And On the Oil Front
One of the top benchmarks set for the Iraqi government by both Bush and the Democrats is prompt passage of a new oil law. This legislation would effectively turn over control of Iraq’s major resource to Big Oil. While there is widespread opposition to the law among the Iraqi peoples only the unions are organizing an effective fight.

Early last week the Anti-Oil Law Front carried out a bold mass demonstration in Baghdad in the face of intimidation by both U.S. troops and Iraqi police. Yesterday the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions of Iraq held a conference in Basra to assess the struggle against the draft oil law. Among the conference speakers were Subhi al-Badri, president of the Anti-Oil Law Front; Hassan Juma; president of Iraqi Federation of South Oil Unions (IFOU); Ali Abbas; Chairman of the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions in Basra; and Mufeed Haider; chairman of Iraq Freedom Congress in Basra. The gathering adopted resolutions calling for more demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes to stop this rip-off. Full coverage of the proceedings will be aired on the Sana TV satellite network.

The Wage War Front
Wage War
was the title of an excellent pre-strike article by Jonathan Kaminsky in City Pages explaining the monetary issues that led to 3500 AFSCME members at the University of Minnesota hitting the bricks last Wednesday.

The state legislature budgeted funds to allow the U to grant 3.25 percent wage increases to the clerical, technical, and health care workers now on the picket line. Now that’s not exactly a princely sum for workers who average 34,000 a year. It doesn’t compare favorably to the recent 2-year contract the University president negotiated for himself with ten percent the first year, 7.5 percent the second. Over the past four years his salary has grown from 100,000 to 450,000 a year.

But the administration is trying to chisel even on this miserly standard granted by the politicians in St Paul. They demand to count progression step raises, that workers earn with experience until they get to the top pay of their classification, as part of the general wage increase. That has the effect of reducing the average raise to 2.25 percent–well below the inflation rate.

Susan Kang, a graduate student writing in the campus daily, summed up the likely union busting motivation for U management provoking this strike,

“What the University is trying to do, however, is to make these integral jobs at the University more like the bad jobs I held as an 18-year-old, and not the kind of good job that can sustain an adult with mortgages, family and other long-term responsibilities...

“The AFSCME workers are not just fighting to win back well-deserved pay increases to fight back effects of inflation on their wages, they are fighting a larger fight about what sort of jobs this University provides. Do we want a university that provides living wages that can sustain long-term employees, their families and this community? Or do we want high-turnover jobs where employees feel underpaid, undervalued and un-invested in their work?”

The striking unions, and their support committee, have won significant student support for their battle. More than a hundred student protesters peacefully intruded on the normally routine meeting of the University Regents. The cops were called, five were arrested as both the eminent Regents and the rest of the audience hastily left the scene.

Both AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions have been prominently represented at rallies and on the picket line as well.

The strikers have also brought prominent politicians in for support. John Edward’s wife, Elizabeth, spoke at a campus strike rally as did Senate candidate, and Saturday Night Live alumnus, Al Franken.

To learn more about this important battle, and what you can do to promote solidarity, visit these web sites:

AFSCME Local 3800

Labor and Community Strike Support Committee

New CNA Victory
The California Nurses Association won another important contract settlement covering 3500 RNs at nine southern California Catholic Healthcare West hospitals. Beating back employer demands for take-aways in healthcare, the union secured raises ranging from 16 to 21 percent over two years. They also succeeded in inserting patient/nurse ratios into the agreement. CNA’s goal is to fold this settlement into a master contract ultimately covering 10,000 CHW nurses throughout the state. CNA is holding their convention starting tomorrow. They will have much to be proud of but we don’t expect they will be content to rest on their laurels. We wish them well.

That’s all for this week.


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