Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The great Chrysler strike is over. Plants not already idled by the company were shut down by the UAW for 1.5 shifts. Actual picket lines were up no more than six hours.
Was Chrysler brought to its knees by this shortest contract strike in history? Did the bosses come begging for mercy, handing over whatever the union wanted?
While no details have been released yet it is known that the deal includes a VEBA similar to GM, buying out all future company guarantees of retiree health care. It has a new second wage tier for new hires along the lines of the General Motors settlement. Job commitments are even weaker than GM’s. According to an AP wire, “The guarantees, which translate into job security for union workers, are in many cases only for the life of current products, the person said. GM made guarantees at many factories that include the next generation of cars, trucks and parts.”
Several readers of the KC Labor e-mail list, referring to my earlier post calling for solidarity with Chrysler workers, have noted I didn’t have to defer criticism of the UAW leadership very long. I’ll have more to say about the second act of Surrender In Detroit as details become available.
At least a partial strike at Chrysler has begun. Five of the nine assembly plants covered by the present contract were already idled for inventory adjustment and the union has made a tactical move to exempt those from the strike, leaving those workers on their regular pay and benefits–for now anyway. A tenth plant, the new Jeep plant in Toledo, operates under a separate, special UAW contract and will continue to operate until it runs out of parts.
There was no immediate word of what remaining issues sparked first the strike deadline, then the walkout this morning. Clearly the strip and flip Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity that bought Chrysler from Daimler, has different priorities than GM and Ford and are not prepared to accept the GM “pattern.” They seem unlikely to agree to even the tenuous “job security” pledges made by General Motors--which were critical to getting a membership ratification of a contract with massive, historic give-backs. Cerberus evidently wants more.
The GM strike was orchestrated to last only two days. It is doubtful that Cerberus will be so accommodating. While there are many unknown factors the Chrysler strike has the potential to turn in to a rough fight.
We have been highly critical of the objectives, strategy, and tactics of the UAW leadership. Now that the strike has begun we will defer criticism until it is over. The main task is to build solidarity with Chrysler workers. We will use the Daily Labor News Digest and the Labor Advocate Blog to pass along information on this important struggle
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
One just started, the other long running. One a strike, the other a lockout. One is high profile involving 3500 workers, the majority in a major city, the other just eighty workers in a small town. Both are fighting around issues of concern to all. Both deserve widespread generous support.
University of Minnesota
Three AFSCME locals representing 3500 clerical, technical, and health care employees of the U of M launched a strike this morning (September 5) that centers on wages. The employer wants to count progression step raises rewarding experience on the way to top of wage classifications as part of a none too generous cost of living raise. The union correctly nailed this as a wage cut proposal, condemning U workers to further erosion of living standards through inflation. 72 percent of AFSCME members rejected this insult, and authorized the strike.
The clerical workers in Local 3800 know all this well. They went through a tough 15-day strike in 2003–and won an honorable settlement. The union leadership did a good job both in preparing their membership and in sharing their experience with the other two locals in joint negotiations with them this time around.
There is also a volunteer Labor and Community Strike Support Committee that came together several weeks ago and organized rallies and other informational events before the strike. These support efforts help get the striker’s side, often ignored or distorted by the mass media, to the working class community.
For suggestions of what you, and your union, can do to help visit these web sites:
Quad City Die Casting Lockout
Eighty members of UE Local 1174 used to come to work every day at this foundry on the bank of the Mississippi River in Moline, Illinois. That stopped in July when the company locked them out. These workers were forced on the street because they rejected the company demand for unlimited use of temporary workers. Local President Rich Nordholm said, “Our contract has allowed them the limited use of temps for years, but now they want unlimited temps, part-timers, outsourcing and insourcing. If we agreed to this we’d all be out of a job.”
We should not allow small time bosses--usually vassals for major corporations--to pick off small, isolated groups of unionists, releasing such scourge in to our environment.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The Cincinnati Post reports that the new janitors contract "was negotiated in a fairly amicable way." The results seem to justify employer acceptance.
Currently the minimum pay is 6.85. The first raise on October 1 will take them up to 7.05. Back-loaded incremental raises will eventually reach 9.80--January 1, 2012.
SEIU's press release proclaimed the "historic" agreement "will more than double the income of nearly 1200 janitors." This is based on a lengthening of the work day--in three years--from four to seven hours. Actually most of these janitors now work two part-time four hour shifts. Going to one seven hour shift, while being more convenient, would lower income.
The janitors do win, for the first time, health care partially subsidized by the employer. But this coverage will not be available until January 1, 2010. Single coverage will cost the worker 20 dollars a month; family coverage 198--a hefty chunk out of about 1200 a month gross pay.
Cincy janitors also get paid time off for the first time--six paid holidays a year.
Are these workers better off with the SEIU contract? Certainly. Is it a "historic" agreement? Hardly. These union members are still among the working poor.
They now have a union, and that's a good thing. But it's a top down union, willing to settle for the very lowest hanging fruit. To break out of working poverty they will have to transform this union into a fighting adversarial organization--not one that amicably accepts that their labor is of little value.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
He was one of the last of a cadre who held together the UE through a roller-coaster history from the end of World War II to a generational changing of the guard in the 1980s. This period included:
●The biggest strike wave in American history in 1946.
●The passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, effectively outlawing labor’s most successful tactics.
●The Cold War witch hunt, launched in earnest in 1949, which led to the UE being driven out of the CIO and left severely weakened by raids from other unions.
●A series of further defections in the 1950s led by “left” forces seeking accommodation with the newly unified AFL-CIO.
●A modest resurgence by the union in organizing and bargaining victories in the Sixties, Seventies, and early Eighties.
●And finally, just beginning to be felt at the time of Block’s retirement, a new devastating loss of membership due to massive plant closings by General Electric, Westinghouse, WABCO/Union Switch, Allen-Bradley, Stewart-Warner, Litton, and numerous smaller companies.
A typical “service” oriented union could not have survived these upheavals. But the UE was far from typical. Rejecting the partnership with the boss approach that dominates American labor, for the UE it has always been “them and us.” To this day it maintains the most democratic structure of any union, still limits the salaries of officials to no more than those of the highest paid working members they represent, and relies on a network of stewards and activists on the shop floor to pursue the union’s objectives.
Red Block wasn’t typical either. Capable of serious intellectual discourse he was also a masterful communicator with workers of all backgrounds. Dead serious about his commitment to the class struggle, he possessed quite a sense of humor as well. Enjoying a well deserved label of tightwad when it came to handling the members’ money he could be quite generous on a personal level.
There are a couple of appreciations of the full span of Red’s career on the UE site and I’m sure more testimonials will be forthcoming. I want to offer some brief personal observations.
I first met Red shortly after he was elected UE General Secretary Treasurer in 1975. He was visiting UE Local 1139 in Minneapolis where I was a new member, recently hired on at Litton Microwave. I was at the time still somewhat ambivalent about the UE. I had been warned by some that there was still a strong influence of what I had been raised to call Stalinism. On the other hand I was already impressed with what I had seen of the democratic structure, their militant approach on the shop floor and the UE’s strong opposition to the recent Vietnam war. So I listened to a talk he gave to about forty at a local membership meeting with great interest.
It sure didn’t sound like any “Stalinist” speech I’d ever heard. He combined an excellent analysis of the objective situation facing the UE and the rest of organized labor with appeals to the best traditions of our class struggle heritage--interlacing sharp wit throughout. I was impressed.
As was the Local 1139 custom, most of us hung around after the meeting for some informal discussion over hot dogs, pickled herring, and a thin, colorless liquid that they insisted on calling coffee. Red, of course, could not pass up such a feast and we found ourselves sitting together at a table. I complimented him on his speech and then tested him with a curve ball I’d often pitched to union bureaucrats; I asked, doesn’t the need for a Labor Party of our own flow logically from the situation you laid out? I was mildly surprised when he agreed without hesitation or qualification. He suggested that if I felt strongly about this I should start raising discussions in the local. If I could convince them we should submit a resolution to the UE convention.
As a matter of fact I did just that. It took a while, but the 1978 UE convention unanimously adopted a resolution from Local 1139 calling for the formation of a Labor Party. Fifteen years later, this union that Tony Mazzocchi fondly called “the mouse that roared,” played a key role in the launching of the present Labor Party project.
As I came to take an active role in Local 1139 I encountered Red numerous times at District Council meetings and conventions. He was also particularly helpful during our 1979 negotiations with Litton that led to a bitter six-week strike.
When we started negotiations in the late summer the inflation rate was at thirteen percent. Labor’s “friend” in the White House, Jimmy Carter, was demanding that wage increases not exceed seven percent. Litton, one of the toughest antiunion employers around, patriotically announced they were standing behind our President all the way–at least on wage increases. It was clear from day one we were headed for a major battle. Litton workers, most of whom had been hired within the last five years, were to launch their very first strike.
Now there’s a lot of science that goes into negotiating a contract–more so with today’s computer technology, not yet available in 1979, that can instantly crunch any set of what-if numbers. Venerable institutions also come in to play to take care of essential tasks once a strike is called. But guiding this up close and personal side of the class struggle to a successful conclusion is also an art. Red was a Renoir in this art form.
Along with our District President, Frank Rosen, Red emphasized to us that this was not a contest between negotiating committees. Our members were our only reliable source of power–and it would be they who would suffer from any screw-ups we committed. We could suggest and attempt to inspire but should be careful not to raise unrealistic expectations. We should also listen very carefully and have a good idea of what those we spoke for really were prepared to fight around, what was acceptable, what was a deal breaker.
This may appear to be an obvious common sense approach. Unfortunately, it’s far from typical in the American labor movement. Often strikes begin with much bombast on the part of union officials, soon followed by caving in to the boss demands, coming back to recommend a disappointing settlement as the “best we can get.” Sometimes we see the opposite, though hardly better approach from prideful, inflexible leaders who, lacking any tactical judgment, simply “stick to their guns” until the bitter end of a lost war of attrition.
This is not the place for a full history of the Litton strike. It’s enough to say that the company threw down the ultimate challenge of attempting to replace us and run the plants without us–not yet a common practice at the time. Red was very helpful in working with the shop and local leadership to deal with the anxiety that “permanent replacement” inevitably evokes. The risks were frankly acknowledged. Without hubris we explained why we thought the strike could still be won and what we thought was needed to respond to this escalation by the company.
At the end of the day anger and determination prevailed over fear. Less than one percent of the strikers were lured in to scabbing. The few dozen “permanent replacements” the company hired off the street were met by mass, vigorous picket lines. An injunction limiting our picket lines proved to be too much for the Plymouth Police Department to enforce after some arrests of militant grandmothers caused them great embarrassment. After a couple of weeks of these scuffles and negative publicity Litton finally agreed to a settlement most 1139 members saw as a victory.
Red often passed along some of the wisdom he had acquired obliquely, through humorous anecdotes. Once, during a break in the Litton negotiations, he told me of coming to Minneapolis a couple of decades earlier to help prepare a strike at a major UE shop. Just as he was building up to a stem-winding conclusion to a rousing speech to the workers assembled at the union hall a business agent appeared at the door to the auditorium and announced, “hot dogs are ready!” At that point every one got up and started filing out to the dining hall. Somewhat perturbed, Red later asked the business agent why he hadn’t delayed the call to food until the speech was finished. The b.a. explained that timing was critical. Left in the water too long the hot dogs would start wrinkling.
I understood the underlying moral to this story was not that Minnesotans were vulnerable to growling stomachs. Rather it was a way of humbly reminding us that our members, for better or worse, don’t always share our sense of priority and will not be easily diverted from theirs even by our gifted oratory or writing.
Even though Red wasn’t involved, this lesson was still fresh in my mind the following year when I was part of a team sent to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to organize a Litton run away plant. We went there prepared to focus our campaign on the two-dollar-an-hour wage differential between these plants only about 200 miles apart. We soon discovered that the mostly women assemblers were not all that concerned about their wage rates–which were better than anything else available in the area. They were, however, seething about treatment issues. Fortunately, we didn’t try to force feed our game plan. We were able to make a quick adjustment in our strategy--and we went on to win the biggest union organizing victory in a manufacturing plant in the history of the state.
While working on the Sioux Falls campaign I was subject to the same frugal per diem rationed out to the regular UE staff. At that time the meal allowance while on the road was eight bucks a day. Mostly in jest, I once asked the General Secretary Treasurer if he didn’t think this was a little on the cheap side. He explained quite seriously that it was understood this may be insufficient to meet all your restaurant bills but, after all, you were paid a salary that was supposed to be enough to provide for your groceries. The meal per diem was meant to cover only the extra expense of eating out above and beyond your normal food bill. And, I must admit, Red strove to stay within these guidelines personally. More than once we encountered one another at a Chicago area White Castle during District Council meetings.
In the Eighties companies such as General Electric, and the Big Three automakers, started advancing new schemes, which they attributed to their successful Japanese competitors, for labor-management cooperation on the shop floor. They were known by such names as Quality Circles and Team Concept. GE invited UE, along with the other unions they deal with, to join them on a tour of Japan to see how this worked.
The other unions eagerly accepted the junket invitation–and returned home to work with the boss on improving productivity. The UE declined and I remember Red explaining why.
UE was most interested in Japanese labor relations but learned about them through their fraternal ties with Japanese unions, such as they do today with Zenroren. As a matter of fact, even though Japanese industry can be credited with many innovations the Quality Circle scams were based on the philosophy and methods of “scientific management” developed by the American Frederick Winslow Taylor, beginning in the 19th century. Taylorism had been introduced to Japanese industry during the American occupation at the end of World War II. A very old product in a new, imported package. Industrial unions had cut their teeth on battling Taylorism and the UE was committed to continue to do so. I heard him coin the oft-quoted proverb, “after the lion and the lamb lie down together it’s the lion who gets up and burps.”
Red retired in 1985. My membership in UE ended the following year after the Litton plant was closed and I eventually returned to my original home town of Kansas City. I saw Red only once more, at a demonstration in Washington. But I’ve often remembered this union leader, skilled politician, and a real character of the game.
Friday, March 2, 2007
What’s been overlooked is the fact that Reed and other military facilities have simply been overwhelmed. A combination of body armor, advanced trauma medicine, and improved transport, has saved the lives of many who formerly would have died on the battlefield. But the flip side of this is that the ratio of wounded soldiers is the highest in living memory–currently running about 2,000 a month.
Most agree that the wounded are getting good medical attention now. But many of them will require expensive treatment, and disability payments for decades to come. A Harvard study estimates a liability of over 600 billion dollars to meet these most basic obligations. Clearly the military and the VA are nowhere near prepared to handle this little discussed cost of war. A compelling material supplement to the human arguments for demanding not one more day of this bloody, unjust war.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The Democrats, and our union leaders, will crow about this great victory and seethe about the evil Republicans snatching it away. It will be another good message, like opposition to the war, to exploit through the 2008 election..Would it be impolite to ask the question why passing such legislation was never accomplished before when there was Democrat control of both houses and a Dem in the White House–as recently as 1994?
Monday one of the world’s top climate scientists, NASA’s James Hansen, called for a total halt to building more of these top polluters. The AP said, “Hansen, who said he was speaking as a private citizen, also told the press club that by mid-century all coal-fired power plants that do not capture and bury carbon dioxide ‘must eventually be bulldozed.’ It's foolish to build new ones if the emissions can't be dealt with, he said.” Capture and bury schemes are far from being practical–and may never be.
Monday, February 26, 2007
The February 25 Week In Review has been posted on the kclabor.org site and can be reached by clicking here.
Successful Immigrant Rights Rally
Initial reports from Connecticut indicate the East Coast Forum on Immigrant Rights last night was a big success, drawing over 300. We’ll have more details on the Daily Labor News Digest tomorrow.
Cheaper By the Dozen
Some have asked why I have been silent about the primary election being held tomorrow in Kansas City. Frankly, I hoped if we ignored them they might go away. It’s one of those contests where it’s a shame somebody has to win.
Because of term limits the current mayor, and five city council members, cannot run for reelection. Naturally, the five pink-slipped council persons are now running for mayor. They have been joined by a recently unemployed, term limited Jackson County Executive (who also happens to be under indictment for mortgage fraud), a recently retired city auditor, a former prosecuting attorney, a wealthy retired entrepreneur who now does “community volunteer” work, a marketing consultant, and two failed bar owners–a dozen in all.
The candidate endorsed by the Building Trades Council, Becky Nace, has close ties to loony right Republicans who bankrolled last year’s fight against stem cell research. She was the prime mover in helping Wal-Mart escape from a poor location in one part of town to a TIF haven in her ward. She has called for abolition of the city’s earnings tax–which provides a majority of the city’s revenues.
If the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO has endorsed anyone they haven’t disclosed that to the public.
After tomorrow’s decision I plan to display my favorite bumper sticker, “Don’t Blame Me–I Didn’t Vote.”
Friday, February 23, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Italian president in crisis talks after Prodi quits USA
Britain and Denmark to start Iraq withdrawal
Chomsky on Iran, Iraq, and the Rest of the World
Iraq war protests grow before Cheney's Australia trip
National Guard May Undertake Iraq Duty Early
Rochester rally supports worker rights legislation
Human service workers may strike in northeastern Minnesota
Airline Bankruptcies, Mergers and Profits Provoke Unions
Teamsters OK Jeffboat contract
Jettisoning justice for janitors
Deal Struck with N.J. State Labor Union
Chrysler workers, dealers shaken
Guild wins 'webisode' dispute
Detention Facility for Immigrants Criticized
Slowing Economy Isn't Cooling Prices
Around the World
Rail talks resume as Tories file back-to-work notice
Where Is the German Trade Union Movement and Where Is It Going?
Leftist Party Backs Maya Nobel Menchu Election Bid
From Our Blog...
A Civics Refresher
Experts: Warming may harm Tuscan wines Forests Hold Clues to Climate
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
It was therefore only a nagging sense of duty that led to me agreeing to a request from the legislative coordinator of US Labor Against the War to join a delegation visiting Representative Reverend Emanuel Cleaver yesterday. This was part of a national effort of Volunteers for Change, sponsored by a “progressive” reseller of nonunion long distance service. They seek to orchestrate volunteerism for “busy people who want to make a difference.” Guidelines and talking points are provided.
All of us busy volunteers showed up at the appointed time to discover that Cleaver’s office claimed to know nothing about the scheduled visit. Cleaver himself was not on the premises but the director of his Kansas City office, Jeff Jolley, did agree to take a meeting with us.
To my relief, no one in our group seemed determined to follow our scripted guidelines and talking points. Two Unity (not Unitarian) ministers were more sharp tongued than I in dressing down Reverend Cleaver’s vicar. Not for the first time, he was reminded that the new congressional majority was there only because of antiwar sentiment and indispensable support from organized labor. We now expect more than half-ass nonbinding resolutions. We made clear we want our congressman to not only vote against the supplemental appropriation of 93 billion for the war; he should vote against any Iraq military spending other than what it takes to bring all of our GIs home now.
The unflappable Mr Jolley assured us that Representative Cleaver had always been against the war. (Cleaver was not yet in congress at the time of the 2002 resolution, on which Bush bases his authority for war, but has consistently voted for funding to continue the war.) He explained to us that defunding the war was not so simple. If congress slashes the defense budget by the amount requested for Iraq he claimed the White House and Pentagon can simply shift funds from elsewhere in Defense to keep the war going.
This seemed to me an excessively defeatist attitude on the part of congress. I strained to recall that seventh grade test. I believe the Constitution in fact gives congress the sole authority to declare and end wars. The highest law of the land also endows the legislative branch with exclusive power for authorizing all expenditures of government money. If congress chooses to renounce their power–and responsibility to those who elected them–to end the war I assured Mr Jolley that an angry majority will start looking for other alternatives to lobbying to stop this unjust war.
As I read this morning’s news sites I discovered there was an even less polite visit to Senator McCaskill on the other side of the state. The St Louis Post-Dispatch headline read “Iraq War Protestors Target Democrats.”Veterans for Peace organized a sit-in in the new senator’s office. Four were arrested and fined 75 dollars for making a fuss about McCaskill’s cynicism about the war.
Another somewhat relevant story caught my eye this morning. "Congress puts Palestinian funds in limbo" was the banner in the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. once committed to giving financial aid to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Road Map to Peace. But their support to democratic government among Palestinians was suspended when the ingrates elected somebody Washington didn’t like. The abrupt loss of this funding led to a virtual shut down of all public services resulting in widespread hardship and exacerbating factional rivalries. Recently the Bush administration agreed to restore about 86 million to the Authority.
But some in congress didn’t feel so helpless about challenging the commander-in-chief on this one. In fact one lone member of congress, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, has put a hold on the money. Too bad her counterpart chairing the subcommittee on defense spending, Jack Murtha, can’t seem to do the same on Iraq war spending.
Well, that’s enough civics refresher for one morning.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Hundreds of workers leave N.C. slaughterhouse
Tentative labor accord aids motorcycle maker
Stop & Shop workers OK strike option
Unions may picket Qwest Field
Driving drivers away
Fairfax to cut work force
Unions help kill academy plans
Chrysler, GM deal would hit area hard
Debit cards for immigrants
Around the World
Mayor to sign Venezuela oil deal
London Subway Workers Authorize Strike
CN Rail strike deemed legal, mediator sets to work
Pinoy seamen's group wins labor case in Sweden
Global warming scientist is encouraged Canned tuna exceeds guidelines on mercury Guilt-Free Pollution. Or Is It? N.J. Farm Animal Protections Upheld
Monday, February 19, 2007
Week In Review
February 19, 2007
by Bill Onasch
Bring ‘em Home Tomorrow
I don’t generally look at Newsweek. I thank Jerry Gordon for forwarding one of the best pieces about the war I’ve seen in a long time–a column by Anna Quindlen entitled “Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” Quindlen opens with,
“Tomorrow. That’s when the United States should begin to bring combat forces home from Iraq. Today would be a better option, but already it’s tomorrow in Baghdad, in the Green Zone fortress Americans have built in the center of the city, out in the streets where IEDs are lying in wait for passing soldiers and every marketplace may be the endgame for a suicide bomber.”
“The people who brought America reports of WMDs when none existed, and the slogan “Mission Accomplished” when it was not nor likely to be, now say that American troops cannot leave. Not yet. Not soon. Not on a timetable. Judge the truth of that conclusion by the truth of their past statements. They say that talk of withdrawal shows a lack of support for the troops. There is no better way to support those who have fought valiantly in Iraq than to guarantee that not one more of them dies in the service of the political miscalculation of their leaders. Not one more soldier. Not one more grave. Not one more day. Bring them home tomorrow.”
I needed this breath of fresh air as an antidote to the cynicism and futility being demonstrated by the “antiwar” party controlling congress and the mainstream peace movement pandering them. The House indulged themselves by passing a Milquetoast non-binding resolution criticizing the “surge.” Despite waffling even more in negotiations with Senate Republicans they couldn’t get that much done in the upper chamber. Now they are backtracking fast from previously implied threats to reject even the supplemental appropriation for the escalation in Iraq (93 billion.)
The main national peace coalition, United for Peace & Justice, has made lobbying the new congress their over riding priority. But they are “realists.” Here’s what they have to say in their talking points for peace activists to bring to their local reps (I am not disclosing any confidential plans–this is all posted on the Internet):
“UFPJ endorses a two-track strategy. Our first priority is to defeat the supplemental appropriation bill – we are asking all members to vote NO on the bill. It is a longshot that we can defeat the bill so we have a back-up strategy to put conditions on the funding bill...”
Even more “realistic” forces, that have created new letterheads such as Americans Against Escalation of the War in Iraq (SEIU and MoveOn.org), and MoveCongress.org (Win Without War, AFSC, Working Assets long distance company), have found a hero to champion the backup strategy--Congressman Jack Murtha (D-PA), Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
In an “exclusive” MoveCongress.org interview Murtha proposes the following restrictions on the 93 billion:
1) Troops will need to be certified as "fully combat ready" with the training and equipment that they need;
2) Deployments cannot be extended beyond one year;
3) Troops must have at least one-year at home between deployments;
4) The "stop-loss" program where soldiers are forced to extend their agreed upon enlistment period will be prohibited.
That’s a long way from tomorrow. But that’s what all the realistic strategy of the peace Democrats, the pacifists, and UFPJ is coming down to–Murtha’s backup restrictions.
I’ve been asked by US Labor Against the War to join a delegation meeting with Representative Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat, MO fifth district, tomorrow. Unlike most others likely to attend I won’t be going in with a two-track strategy. USLAW has a one track strategy. I plan to politely, but clearly tell Rev Cleaver that we think he should not only vote no on the supplemental; we want him to vote against any further funding of the military in Iraq--except for what it takes for the immediate, safe withdrawal of every last GI in harm’s way.
I don’t expect to get that commitment from my congressman. But I’d rather lose what I want than to “win” what I don’t want. Principles and self-respect should dictate that we be at least as strong and honest as a Newsweek columnist.
Making All the Right Connections
You should be sure to read an op ed piece by California Nurses Association president Deborah Burger,
Defense spending overshadowing health care. She not only contrasts war spending to the cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, “Imagine for a moment how else we could have spent $589 billion, the amount already devoured by the war in Iraq, plus the administration's funding request for the next two years.” She also points out the Harvard study that estimates the United States will need to spend as much as $662 billion over the next 40 years on medical costs for the tens of thousands of injured veterans. She wraps up, “‘A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom,’ said Dr. Martin Luther King, and, he might well have added, endangering the health security of its citizens at home.”
Immigrant Rights Forum In Connecticut
The Campaign to Stop the ICE Raids in Danbury is sponsoring an impressive East Coast Forum on Immigrants Rights next Sunday, February 25. Speakers include: Ana Avendaño, Associate General Counsel & Director, AFL-CIO Immigrant Workers Program, Anabel Pimentel and Reina Campos, workers affected by the ICE Raids conducted at the Swift & Co. Meatpacking Plant in Hyrum, Utah, Foster Maier, a Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund Attorney representing immigrant communities in Hazleton, PA., Riverside, NJ, and Mamaroneck, NY, and Carola Otero Bracco, Director of the Mount Kisco, NY Day Laborers Center. The event will take place at Western Connecticut State University, Ives Concert Hall, located in the midtown campus and is scheduled to run from 4 to 7 p.m.
That’s all for this week.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
Sunday, February 11, 2007
February 11, 2007
by Bill Onasch
Back Home For A While
After more than 5000 miles of travel over a month’s time I look forward to a long stretch of home cooking. My latest journey was my very first visit to Philadelphia to attend a meeting of the Labor Party Interim National Council. The gathering was hosted by the Pennsylvania Federation of the BMWE-T and I must say they provided us with first-class meeting facilities and made sure we didn’t go hungry. We heard encouraging reports on the progress of party building in South Carolina and their plans for fielding the Labor Party’s first candidates for office there. There was also an update about the campaign to put a single-payer proposition on the ballot in Ohio, where the Ohio state party is working in coalition with unions and community groups. In addition there was further discussion about organizational restructuring in order to give maximum support to these priority campaigns. I’ll have more to say on all these topics later.
On my brief trip I became dependent on the same news sources viewed by business travelers. Watching CNN while munching on a complimentary breakfast in the Crowne Plaza Priority Club lounge I concluded the Iraq war must be over, the health care crisis resolved, and Global Warming reversed. There were but three dominant stories on the self-described “world’s most important network.”Examined in the most minute detail were the rival claims of paternity of the late Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter; the incredible amount of snow that has fallen in Oswego, New York; and Barack Obama’s announcement that he really is a candidate for President.
All this served as a reminder why I started up the Daily Labor News Digest about seven years ago, and later these weekly columns. Bill Gates willing, the Digest returns tomorrow, February 12, to Monday-Saturday updates by 7AM Central. Commentary on some of the news will be offered most days on the Labor Advocate blog and the Week In Review will continue, usually on Sundays. Now to some stories you probably didn’t hear about on CNN.
CN Strikers Get Backing Of International Union–But Not Their Own
2800 Canadian National Railway conductors went on strike yesterday. Steelworkers national director Ken Neumann immediately issued a statement that said, “These workers have been without a contract long enough....We are behind their effort to get a decent contract with CN....they can count on Steelworkers.” Only problem is the strikers don’t belong to the Steelworkers.
Their international union, the UTU, issued a very different kind of statement. Paul Thompson said, “The unauthorized strike against Canadian National Railways in Canada commenced by four UTU general chairpersons at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, has created a very serious and very sad situation for our UTU brothers and sisters in Canada employed by CN.... In fact, the UTU Constitution is a legally binding document on all UTU officers. Were I to violate the Constitution and authorize a strike without the required investigation, I would be subject to charges and the strike likely would be declared unauthorized if challenged in court or before a regulatory tribunal.”
It didn’t take long for the carrier to pick up on Thompson’s sad position. According to UTU-Canada, “CN’s Montreal-based law firm, Ogilvy Renault, notified affected UTU general chairpersons Rex Beatty, Raymond LeBel, Bryan Boechler and Sylvia Leblanc that because the general chairpersons did not follow the UTU Constitution’s provisions related to a strike, and failed to gain strike required strike authorization from the UTU International, that CN considered the strike unlawful under the Canadian Labour Code and that CN would sue strikers individually for ‘any and all damages’ incurred by CN.”
Our Canadian correspondent Rod aptly commented, “Labour can not back away from this fight. This is the watershed moment for Canadian Unions. If we blink now...If it needs a General Strike so be it, in this union members opinion.”
The Canadian strike web site can be reached by clicking here.
Change to Wind
Actually you may have seen SEIU president Andy Stern, aka Chairman Andy, on CNN earlier this week. The media was quite impressed with his joint appearance with the CEO of Wal-Mart to pitch health care “reform.”
Not so impressed was CtW partner Joe Hansen, president of the UFCW. Now Hansen isn’t exactly what you would call a radical. He paid his dues clawing up the ladder in his union’s bureaucracy as the hit man sent in to Austin, Minnesota to break the legendary Hormel strike and put the old Local P-9 out of business. Part of his work there was sandblasting Mike Alewitz’s solidarity mural from the union office wall. But Hansen’s union has the jurisdiction for trying to organize Wal-Mart and is currently engaged in tough negotiations with California grocers where health care is a huge issue. While not naming Chairman Andy, Hansen issued his own statement that said,
“It’s not appropriate to take the stage with a company that refuses to remedy its mistreatment of workers, among other irresponsible practices. Wal-Mart is actually decreasing health care coverage to employees and facing the largest gender discrimination case in the history of this country....Wal-Mart is the largest corporation that provides the least health care to employees. But suddenly the company has become a proponent of health care for everyone—apparently, though, as long as Wal-Mart doesn’t have to deal with the health care needs of its own employees....In addition to our continuing advocacy for universal care, the UFCW will continue our fight for good health care benefits for workers at the bargaining table. And we will continue our fight on behalf of Wal-Mart workers so that they have affordable health care benefits and wages. We will not settle for empty expediency.”
Hog Cancels Health Insurance
2800 IAM workers locked out by Harley-Davidson in York, Pennsylvania last week have had their health insurance cancelled by the company. Those wanting to continue coverage under COBRA will have to shell out 461 dollars a month for single, 1252 for family. Harley’s other two major plants in Milwaukee and Kansas City continue to operate under IAM and Steelworker contracts.
Congratulations to my favorite group, the Dixie Chicks, for taking Grammy Awards for “Not Ready to Make Nice.” and their album, "Taking the Long Way." Stuff that in your trash barrel 61 Country.
That’s all for this week.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Tough Times for Air Travelers
Regina Care Home workers File Charges
Chemical plant explosion rocks east Kansas City
Wal-Mart, Union Join Forces on Health Care
Lapse in Safety Procedures Adds to Debate on Power Plant
Suit to Charge That Nursery Mistreated Laborers
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
SEIU President Andy Stern is finally making the big time. This morning he appears with the CEO of America’s biggest private sector employer in Washington to talk about fixing our health care crisis.
Wal-Mart and a Union Unite, at Least on Health Policy
Knoxville Auto Parts Strike
More than 200 IAM workers have shut down Maremont Exhaust Products, a producer of mufflers and catalytic converters. The issues are big boosts in health insurance premiums and company demands to gut the seniority system.
Union workers express resolve as strike begins
The Canadian Minimum
As congress still fiddles around on proposals to raise the U.S. minimum wage, currently 5.15, for the first time in a decade, here’s an in depth look at the question north of the border.
Minimum wage laws – The state of pay in Canada
Modest Labor Law Reforms Face Harsh Resistance
The U.S. has the worst labor laws of any industrialized country. Our labor leaders long ago abandoned the demand of repealing Taft-Hartley--which banns mass picketing, secondary boycotts, and hot cargo–to chip away at obstacles to organizing. This years attempt is labeled the Employee Free Choice Act. Mark Gruenberg gives a good description of the effort.
Proposed law would strengthen worker rights
Some Budget Suggestions
Mark Brenner from Labor Notes shows how unions could obtain millions more for organizing efforts–cap union official salaries at 100,000 per annum.
Across Many Unions, Bloated Salaries Limit Organizing Budgets
Wal-Mart loses job-bias appeal
Writers unions name panel to prepare for talks
AFTRA's John Connolly to run Actors' Equity
Legacy of Radiation Illness Stirs Objection to Nevada Bomb Test
Many Voices, No Debate, as Senate Is Stifled on War
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Bill, maybe you could place a link on site for sustainable electric trolley buses and street cars... couple links below
The Chrysler Group will be more tightly integrated into its German parent, sharing engineering, platforms, and parts with Mercedes according to a “secret” report obtained by the Detroit News. The result for UAW workers: 10,000 jobs eliminated, two plants closed.
Twin Cities Janitors Reach Deal
Union leader speaks about workers rights, civil rights
Allied Seeks to Shred Labor Contracts
Battle looms over right to unionize
Ford Workers Strike For 30 Percent Raise–In Russia
Union election sought by workers at furniture plant
Union ballot for clay jobs strike
Shanghai Says Winning Fight to Stay Above Water
Farmworkers Reopen Pesticide Lawsuit
Monday, February 5, 2007
Game over on global warming?
Tank-size defense request
Strike looms over transit labor talks
SoCal grocery workers aim to reverse contract setbacks
Union try at Sutter fears threat
Oil spill spreading off Vietnam coast
Flight attendants counter Northwest concessions request
Latino union organizers to hold conference
Who’s Attacking an Online Marxist Archive? China Is Suspected
Explosion Kills 30 in Colombian Mine
Sunday, February 4, 2007
February 4, 2007
by Bill Onasch
Will the (Inconvenient)Truth Set Us Free?
We’re running out of time and excuses. There’s no longer any rational basis for doubt that Global Warming is destroying the planet as we know it–and that human activity is chiefly responsible. The UN interim report on climate released this week eliminates wiggle room. As one environmentalist summed it up,
“This is the smoking gun. You now have them saying the evidence seems incontrovertible, and we are 90 percent certain. That is as certain as science ever gets.”
The question now shifts from “are we causing Global Warming?”to “can we do anything to stop it?”
Some damage is irreparable. Extinct animal and plant species are gone for good. The glaciers and arctic pack ice already melted are not coming back anytime soon. Some islands and coastal deltas are now doomed to sinking below sea level.
The report estimates that if carbon emissions were frozen at today’s level the planet’s temperature would still rise at least a full degree centigrade by the beginning of the next century. That would produce very unwelcome regional climate change. But the way industrialization and agribusiness farming methods are spreading emissions will go up--driving temperatures even higher. To see some projected scenarios of even greater increase click here.
Most scientists think we have not yet reached the “tipping point”–where we would be unable to make any meaningful change in the outcome of what has been set in motion. But we’re close to that point. Car pooling and recycling are not going to turn this around. Even capping emissions at present levels is not good enough. Urgent, far reaching changes in economic activity to reduce carbon emissions is the only way we can save the day.
If the Vulcans were watching us they would undoubtedly conclude that action on this planetary crisis would be the logical first point on everyone’s agenda. But Spock’s people never understood the dynamics of market capitalism and, anyway, the Prime Directive forbids them from helping us out.
Those that run the industries and governments that have created this environmental catastrophe don’t personally want to see destruction of our world any more than the rest of us. It is an unintended consequence of their actions. But they are guided by the market laws of what they have euphemized as Free Enterprise. Their goal has to be getting the maximum profit possible from capital investment, often in competition with others, and in conflict with their employees. Next quarter’s bottom line trumps next century’s global temperature every time.
No oil company is going to shut down their oil fields as a voluntary contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. No auto corporation is going to cease car production and urge everybody to take mass transit to slash greenhouse gasses. No building contractor will declare a moratorium on suburban expansion in order to reduce Urban Sprawl and rebuild a green urban core. Any who did take such unlikely steps would simply vanish from the scene, and their market share would be eagerly gobbled up by competitors.
If we can’t count on initiatives from those who currently run the show, whose profit and privilege is tied to the system that created Global Warming, then who can we expect to step up to the plate? Well, welcome to the Major Leagues–it’s working class folks like you and me, along with the family farmers, the youth who both want to understand and change the world, scientists and the “Tree Hugger” environmentalists. It’s going to be up to us, and us alone, to literally save the world as we know it.
For too long our labor movement demonstrated fear and hostility toward those raising environmental concerns. Too many bought the plea of their bosses to support their polluting ways in order to preserve jobs. Some even tied in to truly junk science scams, partnering up with employers in projects such as Unions for Jobs and the Environment.
But, as the truth seeps through the propaganda smog paid for by the polluters, attitudes have begun to shift. There have been modest efforts, such as the strategic partnership between the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, working on wildlife conservation issues. A mainstream North American Labor Assembly on Climate Crisis has been scheduled by Cornell University in New York in May.
An even more inspiring example was the recent Labor & Sustainability Conference in St Paul. There union leaders and activists teamed up with environmental leaders and activists to present a wide ranging examination of the problem and a look at some bold solutions. Out of the gathering a Continuations Committee has been established to keep the process going.
(I made a presentation at the conference opening plenary, Labor and Environmental Movements Are Natural Allies. We’ve also revamped our Environment page on the KC Labor site.)
Such small first steps are part of every journey. But this march will be particularly arduous and crucial. Global Warming needs to be a regular, priority part of the agenda of our unions--and our Labor Party that pioneered the concept of Just Transition to protect our jobs as we reorganize our production and consumption.
More On the Danbury 11
The case of 11 immigrant workers being arrested in a sting offer of day labor work continues to build solidarity in the community as reported in this TV news video clip. You can find out more of the story at the Stop the Raids web site.
Our ‘Friends’ In the Senate
Less energetic than their House colleagues, who promised great change in the first 100 Hours, the new Democrat controlled Senate has so far produced more candidates for President than major pieces of legislation. Nevertheless, labor’s friends, including two “independents,” one a “socialist,” did cook up a couple of deals last week.
It appears they will make common cause with about ten Republicans to pass a nonbinding resolution criticizing the escalation of the war in Iraq while at the same time promising full funding for the war.
Also, by a 94-3 vote, the upper chamber attached employer tax breaks to the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade–shooting it up to the princely sum of 7.25 an hour in phases over two years.
Let Them Eat Wonder Bread
The AP reported from Mexico City, “Some 75,000 unionists, farmers and leftists marched to protest price increases in basic foodstuffs like tortillas, a direct challenge to the new president's market-oriented economic policies blamed by some for widening the gulf between rich and poor.” Of course, the push for ethanol production has driven up the price of U.S. corn that Mexico has come to depend on since NAFTA devastated Mexican corn production.
Looking for Brotherly Love
I’ll be traveling to Philadelphia later this week to attend a meeting of the Labor Party Interim National Council–the equivalent of a national committee. I’ll have something to say about the gathering next week.
About That News
In a message to the KC Labor E-mail List I said, “I envision the Labor Advocate blog replacing the Daily Labor News Digest we have maintained for nearly seven years on KC Labor. Instead of wholesale posting of raw links to stories the plan is to be more selective in choosing fewer stories offered in context, with commentary.”
I was unprepared for the response from a number of you expressing disappointment, if not indignation, about the loss of the “news.” In the best spirit of compromise I will resume the Monday-Saturday posting of the Daily Labor News Digest after I return from Philadelphia, on Monday, February 12. I will also continue the new Labor Advocate blog with commentary on most days as well. Of course, all this is contingent on keeping the FrontPage 2003 software up and running. Right now it has resumed functioning as mysteriously as when it ceased.
That’s all for this week.