Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 30 Week In Review

Week In Review
September 30, 2012
by Bill Onasch

Missing In Action
Today’s papers report the bloody milestone of two thousand GI fatalities in Afghanistan–the majority coming on the watch of the President who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize soon after his election. In addition to ten thousand Afghan “friendlys,” more than a thousand NATO allied troops, including 433 from Britain and 158 from Canada, have also perished since the invasion/occupation began eleven years ago. It’s estimated at least ten times that number of other Afghans and Pakistanis–many noncombatants–have been killed by NATO forces.

But there are not only MIAs in Afghanistan. Also missing in action is any substantial debate, much less protest, on the home front about this longest war in American history. The “Peace Democrats” so vocal when it was “Bush’s War” mostly have laryngitis. The traditional peace & justice groups take care not to give aid and comfort to the enemy–the Republicans.

The United National Antiwar Coalition–who played a prominent role in the antiwar protests at the NATO Summit in Chicago in May–is promoting local demonstrations around the eleventh anniversary of the invasion next weekend that includes the demand of Out Now. If there’s one in your area I urge you to show your support.

‘There’s Something Happening Here’
That line from a 1968 Stills song was chosen by Steven Ashby as the title for a perceptive opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune. Ashby is a University of Illinois professor of labor relations I have encountered in non-academic settings over a good many years. He is co-author of an excellent book, The Staley Workers and the Fight for a New American Labor Movement and spoke about the lessons of the Decatur struggle at a 2009 conference in Kansas City sponsored by the website in partnership with Labor Notes Troublemakers Schools. What he writes is usually worth reading and this piece is no exception.

He opens citing some timely examples from his home state,

“Teachers go on strike in Chicago and Lake Forest. Chicago symphony musicians walk out. Machinists walk picket lines in Joliet, and Wal-Mart warehouse workers stop working in Elwood. Gov. Pat Quinn gets chased from the state fair by angry government workers, and talk of a state workers strike is rumbling.”
Of course, not all of these “somethings” are of equal weight or success. The IAM Caterpillar workers in Joliet are fighting for survival. The warehouse campaigns, while promising, are still early days. But the point that even unexpected groups of workers are beginning to fight back in the class war is valid--and at least some of them are winning.

Ashby’s vision is not limited to Illinois as he examines a chronology that begins in February, 2011 with the occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol, supported by mass demonstrations. He notes the great labor electoral victory overturning Wisconsin-like anti-union laws in Ohio through a 61 percent referendum majority. And, of course, he does not neglect the Occupy Wall Street movement launched in New York in September of last year, quickly spreading throughout the USA and beyond.

But the momentum generated by last year’s hopeful signs became largely misdirected by labor statespersons and social movement leaders in to the lose-lose 2012 election. Ashby doesn’t deal with that aspect of the problem but he does say this,

“That movement [Occupy] dissipated as winter weather hit and police tore town tent cities. Things turned quiet again, leading pundits earlier this year to suggest that Wisconsin and Occupy were blips on an otherwise quiet labor relations landscape.”

But just when bosses and union officials thought it safe to get back to the new normal of austerity and take-back bargaining they were shaken by a fresh seismic shift in class relations. Ashby continues,

“Then the Chicago Teachers Union strike happened. What was most notable was that this was not a typical strike of recent years, where a small number of strikers passively picket a site and the real action is going on at the bargaining table. Instead, the CTU mobilized nearly all of its 26,000 members in daily mass rallies and marches, and drew in large numbers of supporters.

“Historical change is often best understood by looking at turning points — key moments when history began to dramatically change. Three citywide labor strikes in 1934 ended a period of relative passivity and heralded the country's largest and most successful worker uprising. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott initiated the nation-changing civil rights movement.”

He goes on to ask and answer the fair question–does this “something happening” represent an historic turning point?–“If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on it.”

He observes that, much like the time when Stills was writing his song, actions in the streets are again becoming acceptable normal behavior as a result of Madison and the numerous mass rallies conducted by the CTU before and during their strike. If this can be sustained it goes a long way toward changing the rules of engagement.

Especially important to him,

“Another ingredient in the making of historical turning points is the creation of hope. Occupy and Wisconsin inspired hundreds of thousands of people — but neither succeeded in making change. But the Chicago teachers strike was a clear victory for the union....

“And unionists across the country noted that the foundations for the teachers' victory were laid over the past two years, as the CTU launched a ‘contract campaign’ to educate, organize and mobilize its members. Every school established an organizing committee. Every member was talked to, their concerns discussed, their activism encouraged. In May the union put 6,000 teachers in the streets of downtown Chicago. In June the union overcame a unique anti-CTU law, Senate Bill 7, and turned out 92 percent of its members to nearly unanimously give the leadership strike authorization.

“And during the strike, nearly all of the 26,000 teachers participated in enthusiastic, daily marches; picketed daily at schools; and met regularly to discuss strike issues and actions. They were joined by sizable numbers of supporters who came as a result of two years of the union building strong ties with community and parent organizations, and honing the message that the union fought first and foremost to defend a quality public education for every student.

“This is the template for successful organizing. This is the soup from which hope emerges.”
Others have written along these lines–including in this column. Certainly Ashby doesn’t deal with all of the relevant challenges in this possible turning point. That can’t be expected in one brief article. But he has done a remarkable job in explaining changes in the class struggle in popular language–and getting it published in a newspaper with a circulation far bigger than all of the left labor/progressive publications combined. It deserves to be read, discussed, and expanded as we prepare for future actions.

The Bear Facts
Big Oil traces many of the objections to drilling in the pristine Arctic to a 2006 peer-reviewed study by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement scientists. Al Gore cited their work centered on Polar Bears in his film, An Inconvenient Truth. While there was no retribution against the study authors during the Bush administration under Obama the agency suspended one of the scientists, Charles Monnett, pending a “criminal investigation” by the Attorney General’s office in to vague, unspecified and unfiled charges relating to the study. Monnett was forbidden from speaking out publicly in his own defense against these star chamber proceedings but his case was taken up by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Today’s Guardian reports,

“The Obama administration has wound up its controversial investigation of a government polar bear researcher without finding any evidence of scientific wrongdoing, campaign groups said late Friday.
However, the scientist, Charles Monnett, who was the first to draw attention to the dangers to polar bears in a warming Arctic, was reprimanded for forwarding official email to a local government official and a fellow researcher at the University of Alaska without prior authorization. Campaign groups described the findings as a victory for Monnett, who until last year oversaw much of the government's scientific work in the Arctic. It was also an embarrassment for the Obama administration, whose two-and-a-half-year investigation uncovered no evidence of major wrongdoing.”

Cross-Border Culture
Sam Gindin, a retired economist who worked for decades with first the UAW, and then CAW, has produced another excellent article, Culture of Concessions Has Gutted Organized Labour. Gindin not only reviews the failed policy of trading give-backs to save jobs, beginning in the UAW and eventually infecting the Canadian breakaway as well. He also takes on the question of how good jobs can be truly saved in an auto industry marked by growing overcapacity.

“Rather than watching the disappearance of the productive assets we have in this sector, we should be talking about how to convert its flexible tools and equipment, creative engineering capacity and proven worker skills into meeting the obvious needs that environmental pressures will imply through the rest of the century.

“Such transformations will have to include not just our energy and transportation systems, but also our factories and offices, the nature of our homes and appliances. This cannot happen, as experience shows, through reliance on markets and unilateral corporate decisions; a sustainable future demands placing some notion of democratic planning back on the agenda. (The technical feasibility of such changes was demonstrated as long ago as World War II when industries were converted to war production and back again in remarkably short periods.)”

This, of course, is an essential component of the Class & Climate Justice perspective promoted by the KC Labor project. That it is being taken up by a respected veteran strategist of militant auto unionism is a major boost in the struggle for simultaneously resolving both the jobs and climate crises.

A Sign Of Weakness
That’s how many characterize apologies. Call me weak. My life has been unusually hectic on several fronts over the past few weeks which has not only delayed devoting the time needed to resolve our technical problems preventing updates of the website but also delayed acknowledging many e-mail messages. I will be working hard in the coming week to catch up.

That’s all for this week.

No comments: