Monday, January 29, 2007

January 29 Week In Review

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Week In Review
January 29, 2007
by Bill Onasch

Good Actions–But Should Have Been A Whole Lot Better
The January 27 March On Washington against the war, with supporter actions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a few other local areas, were respectable. Most veteran observers that I have spoken to agree there were upwards of 100,000 in DC. But that’s somewhat smaller than some previous ones and did not adequately reflect the growing antiwar sentiment, now embraced by the majority.

One factor holding down maximum turnout was the time of year. The biggest national mobilizations have always been held in the spring or fall, for many good reasons. The January date was selected by United for Peace and Justice, the largest of competing antiwar coalitions, out of political considerations. The demonstrations were aimed to set the table to lobby the new Democrat majority today in the Capitol, early in the session.

But that table got turned before they got a chance to sit down. Bush’s “surge” was a gift to cynical politicians, giving them a chance to manipulate antiwar sentiment without presenting any alternative plan to end the war.

A hastily concocted “coalition,” calling itself Americans Against Escalation In Iraq, appeared on the scene. Composed of SEIU, Win Without War, the US Student Association, and several Democrat PACs such as, and Campaign for America’s Future, they called on congress to “stand up to the President and insist on a policy which responsibly brings our troops home”–at some unspecified future time. The UFPJ lobbyists today will hear plenty about Democrats “standing up to the President” by introducing one or more nonbinding resolutions against the surge-–and little else.

There was widespread endorsement of Saturday’s protests by labor bodies and leaders. Barb Kucera wrote a good summary in Workday Minnesota. Fred Mason, president of the Maryland AFL-CIO, and a co-convener of US Labor Against the War, gave a good speech to the Washington rally on behalf of AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. In San Francisco Alan Benjamin gave an excellent talk representing the San Francisco Labor Council.

That’s all well and good. But USLAW reports that the Washington labor contingent was only 2,000–about 2 percent of the total. While undoubtedly many other unionists came on their own clearly the mainstream unions that gave paper support did zero to mobilize their members.

Once again the antiwar movement has fallen far short of what is both needed and possible to bring about an end to this war. A competing coalition, ANSWER, has called for another Washington demonstration on March 17–another needlessly unfortunate scheduling choice putting it in to conflict with St Patrick’s Day celebrations across the country. The track record of ANSWER working to draw in broad participation is not encouraging. Still, we must do what we can and build any reasonable action called against this war. We also need to find a way to forge a unified movement, deciding actions democratically, in order to deliver a knock out punch while we have the war makers on the ropes.

How Many Miles to the Bushel?
Environmentalists were hardly cheering President Bush’s call for drastic reduction in gasoline usage. That’s because it isn’t a proposal to cut fuel consumption–an essential step to tackle Global Warming--but rather a pitch to cut the fuel itself with more ethanol.

In this country ethanol comes almost exclusively from corn. Adopting a food to fuel approach is leading to major problems. Already corn prices have increased dramatically leading to higher prices for corn-fed livestock and a devastating rise in the cost of Mexican tortillas–a staple of working class diet in our NAFTA neighbor.

Bush’s ethanol mandate would lead to both switching more cultivated land from other crops to corn and dumping even more chemicals on GM corn planting to increase yields–bad news indeed for the future of our land and water.

The Dense Leading the Less Dense
Remember the great debates a couple of years ago about union density–the percentage of unionization in the workforce? Some bolted the AFL-CIO, forming Change to Win, to show us how organizing should be done. The old federation axed its safety and educational programs to devote more resources to organizing.

Well, the latest BLS report shows how successful all this has been. Unions are even smaller today both in absolute numbers and in percentage of the labor force. In 2006, 12 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union members, down from 12.5 percent a year earlier. The number of people belonging to unions fell by 326,000 in 2006 to 15.4 million. Private sector union density has plummeted to around seven percent.

Some organizing was done. The California Nurses Association, and their national organizing arm, have made some solid gains. Of more dubious value were political deals turning over hundreds of thousands of state compensated day care and home health workers to unions such as SEIU and AFSCME. But these efforts could not keep up with the relentless elimination of jobs in traditional union bastions, such as auto and rubber, driven by Globalization.

Like the Global Warming crisis, the challenge of union density falling below critical mass will not be resolved without confronting some inconvenient truths. In this case facing up to the bankruptcy of “partnership” with the employers and their politicians is a prerequisite for saving our endangered unions from extinction.

Ford Not A Baby Sitter
No kidding–Ford is closing seven employee child care facilities associated with plants in Detroit, Kansas City, and Louisville. This was not a negotiated benefit and the workers paid a substantial amount to leave their kids during working hours in these centers operated by Bright Horizon Family Solutions. But it is a great convenience–especially when called on to work overtime. Ford said, “The business realities in the current restructuring initiatives that we are working through right now forced us to make the difficult decision to discontinue the child care services.” The Detroit News was unable to get a comment from the UAW.

That’s all for this week.

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