Week In Review
October 7 2012
by Bill Onasch
‘Something’s Happening Here’–Deux
Following up on last week’s coverage of noteworthy tactical shifts in the U/S. Class war:
* AP reported on Friday,
“The union representing Detroit Water and Sewerage workers says a five-day strike has ended and that 36 employees fired for walking out will get their jobs back. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 207 said in a statement Thursday that its executive board voted to end the strike after negotiations with management. The union struck Sunday to protest Detroit's plan to downsize the department and eliminate most of the jobs in the department over several years. Local President John Riehl is claiming victory and says the union ‘will return to the bargaining table immediately.’ Hearings are scheduled for the fired employees who work at a wastewater treatment plant in southwest Detroit. The Associated Press left email messages Thursday seeking comment from Mayor Dave Bing's office.”
The “illegal wildcat” strike was particularly remarkable in Michigan where a tea-party Governor has carried out coups against elected municipal and school district governments, replacing them with gauleiters to slash public services. Democrat Bing has tried to ingratiate himself with the state house as he used this threat to extract concessions from unions and warn public resistance is futile. “Detroit is back” may yet prove to be more than a Fiat marketing slogan.
* Walmart is the world’s biggest private employer with a well-earned reputation of zero tolerance for collective bargaining. But the placid waters leaving “associates”and contract labor gasping for air were recently rippled in a couple of tributaries. The campus paper at the University of Southern California reported,
“Employees from Walmarts across Southern California returned to work Friday after mounting a one-day strike and holding a rally in front of a store in Pico Rivera, Calif., alleging unfair labor practices by the nation’s largest retailer. Seventy-one associates from nine Southern California stores officially went on strike on Thursday, said organizers. It was the first multi-store strike in Wal-Mart’s 50 year history, said multiple store associates.”
UE News reprinted a press release from Warehouse Workers for Justice about another strike at a Walmart distribution center 2000 miles away,
“In an historic victory, all striking Roadlink workers at Walmart's Elwood warehouse near Joliet have won their principal demand, for an end to illegal retaliation against workers protesting poor conditions. They will return to work with full pay for the period they were on strike. Workers returning to work plan to continue their fight for safe working conditions, fair pay for all hours worked and an end to discrimination.”
UE also carried a story about an impressive solidarity rally that was key to the Elwood victory that said, in part,
“On Monday, October 1 their strike became an even bigger piece of the struggle for workers' rights and economic justice when some 650 people rallied in support of the strike. Those gathered outside the giant Walmart warehouse included unions, community organizations and faith-based groups from Chicago and from the Joliet area, where the plant is located. The protest resulted in the giant Walmart warehouse being entirely shut down for the day.
“The police showed up, heavily armed and seemingly ready for war. Clad in black riot gear that was meant to intimidate, 25 police from a unit called the Mobile Field Force Team assembled inside Walmart's parking lot and then marched out in formation to confront the peaceful rally. When the police ordered the crowd to disperse, 17 union and community leaders, in a civil disobedience action planned in advance, refused to leave, sat down in the street, and were arrested. Among those arrested were a Will County board member, several members of the clergy, UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley and UE Western Region President Carl Rosen. The arrestees were not in police custody for long, and each received a citation of obstructing a roadway.
“The Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee is organizing workers in the logistics industry in the Joliet area of Will County, one of the largest concentrations of warehouses in the country.”
And we’re keeping an eye on the concerns expressed in a headline in The Oregonian–Northwest grain terminal managers prepare for epic showdown with longshoremen, a reference to a now expired contract with the ILWU.
Occupy Sesame Street?
Mitt Romney showed his soft side by proclaiming his affection for Big Bird. But his love is a truly tough one. He won’t borrow money from China to keep PBS alive.
In the same “debate,” hosted by the PBS news anchor, the President revealed--his dull side.
Whether this was a candid look at the incumbent leader of the Free World or a slick tactical maneuver is a subject of yet another debate among the chattering classes. The President certainly showed some spunk in crowing about the BLS September employment report that showed the official unemployment rate to be the lowest since he took office–a couple of ticks below the eight percent red line that Romney chose to center his fire upon. “We’ve come too far to turn around now,” Obama proclaimed to a rain-soaked Ohio rally of union-mobilized supporters.
Does the working class have good reason to share in the joy being celebrated in the White House? Are we finally seeing a real recovery?
Before the report, in anticipation of enormous budget cuts that are likely after the first of the year because of the bipartisan deficit reduction deal brokered to get a one-time increase in debt authorization, several military contractors were planning to issue mass layoff intentions mandated under the WARN Act. The President appealed to them to hold off their announcements and Lockeed-Martin formally agreed. The White House hopes to ignore the presence of that elephant-donkey hybrid in the room until after the election.
While the September figures are the best for this administration they are hardly cork-poppers. Some important measures, such as horrendous unemployment rates for Blacks, Latinos, and teenagers, as well as the labor force participation rate, remained virtually unchanged. And, even with some slight improvement, there are still at least 22.6 million looking in vain for full-time work.
Whether voters stay the President’s course or turn back to more old-fashioned supply-side economics that take too long for Ryan to explain to us–even with exploding pie-charts–the prospects for recovery for our side remain bleak. That’s not going to change until the working class majority has a party of our own.
‘The greatest environmentalist of the 20th century’
That’s the apt title given by Climate & Capitalism to a collection of links to appreciations of the life of Barry Commoner who recently passed away at age 95. Commoner was a brilliant scientist, an effective teacher, and a fearless activist. He popularized science not supported by corporate grants making an effort to reach out to workers and the rebellious youth of my generation and beyond. Among his close collaborators in the labor movement was the late Tony Mazzocchi, long time leader in the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers and principal founder of the Labor Party.
Commoner’s appreciation of unintended consequences of altering environment began as he served in the US Navy as a biologist during World War II. During the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific the Marines were losing more men to insect-born disease than enemy fire. A plan was devised to send in bombers to spray insecticides to clear targeted beaches before landing. The poison worked effectively in killing the indigenous deadly bugs. However, it also killed thousands of fish which washed ashore and, in turn, attracted fresh swarms of insects from nearby islands--making a bad mess much worse than ever.
I first heard about Barry Commoner in the early Sixties through his work in establishing that cancer-causing strontium 90 present in the fallout from nuclear weapons tests was contaminating pastures, entering cow’s milk, and being absorbed in alarming levels in the teeth and bones of infants and toddlers. Proof came from testing of many thousands of baby teeth at St Louis and Washington Universities. Among those contributing teeth for testing was Tony Mazzocchi who urged union members to send in their kid’s teeth. This study played a big part in the first US-Soviet agreements to ban atmospheric nuclear tests.
Commoner wanted to go much farther, championing total nuclear disarmament and was a staunch opponent of the Vietnam war. He was a central figure in the launching of the modern environmental movement in the late Sixties and an early and avid advocate of focusing on renewable energy.
Though he will be greatly missed he leaves behind a legacy of literature and activism that still serves us well.
That’s all for this week.