Week In Review
March 26 2013
by Bill Onasch
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
That was the subject line of an e-mail blast from Labor Campaign for Single-Payer national coordinator Mark Dudzic. It opened,
“There is a tough contract fight underway in Massachusetts that may portend the future of healthcare bargaining. The Old Rochester School Committee is demanding that new hires pay 50% of all healthcare premiums. The UE represents non-teaching employees of the school system. Cooks start at $13,300 per year. Family coverage would cost 80% of their income, leaving them earning $2 an hour after deductions for health insurance!
“It gets worse. Most of these workers would be better off if they bought subsidized coverage on their own through the state's ‘Healthcare Connector’ healthcare exchange. But, under Massachusetts’s healthcare rules, these UE members would not be eligible because that plan is only available to workers whose employers offer no coverage. To add insult to injury, many of these low wage workers would be subject to a fine of $1,000 or more per year under the state's individual mandate rules if they chose to remain uninsured rather than bankrupt their family by participating in the employer's plan. You can show your solidarity with these workers by signing their change.org petition.”
These workers are trapped by a state “reform” implemented on Mit Romney’s watch as Governor. During last Fall’s election campaign, President Obama lauded that program as an inspiration for his Affordable Care Act. Workers in every state face higher costs, and even possible loss of coverage, due to that cynically named scam.
Green Good Grief
The official green component of the labor movement, guided by the United Steelworkers, is gearing up for the sixth annual Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference, in our nation’s Capital April 16-18. The keynote plenary session features some top rung union officials and the executive director of the Sierra Club speaking about “Building a National Dialogue on Climate Change and Good Jobs.”As always, there are some good topics scheduled for workshops.
Certainly this connection of the climate and jobs crises is the indicated direction for both labor and the environmental movements.
But a peek in to the kitchen preparing this tempting feast turns off our appetite. It exposes an ingredient as noxious as proverbial tar in honey–“partnership” between unions and green allies with the bosses who are wrecking both our biosphere and jobs.
Among the good corporate citizens listed as sponsors are: ALCOA, General Motors, UPS, Corning, ArcelorMittal, Goodyear, International Paper, Lear, Philips, Kaiser Aluminum. And we don’t want to neglect the Alliance for American Manufacturing that describes itself: “a non-profit, non-partisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America’s leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers to explore common solutions to challenging public policy topics such as job creation, infrastructure investment, international trade, and global competitiveness.” I wonder if they will all join hands in the singing of Solidarity Forever at the end?
Also prominently represented as usual at this year’s shindig are members of the boss political Establishment: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont, California State Senator Fran Pavley, and Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams. They mainly champion the “all of the above”energy strategy the White House shares with China.
In matters of climate and jobs–as well as much else--these representatives of the class that rules are the problem. Our class that does the work can be the solution–but only if we act independently and intelligently.
I’m sure many of the conveners and sponsors of the April gathering were pleased to read in the New York Times last week,
“The main subsidiary of Suntech Power, one of the world’s largest makers of solar panels, collapsed into bankruptcy in a remarkable reversal for what had been part of a huge Chinese government effort to dominate renewable energy industries.”
When I relayed this information to a friend who is both a good union man and environmentally savvy his initial reaction was “that’s good, maybe we’ll get some of those jobs in this country.” But the very first facility closed by Suntech was a plant in Goodyear, Arizona, where final assembly of panels was done–qualifying them for Made in America status.
I earlier reported on BP–a past but not present sponsor of Good Jobs, Green Jobs-liquidating their solar operations in the USA. The actions of both companies have nothing to do with concerns about the environment or jobs. The collateral damage to the twin issues of the conference is the result of the constant moving of global capital in pursuit of maximum profit. The margins for solar are just too slim to interest the major players and are also insufficient to get credit lines for start-ups. And for fossil energy giants such as BP, dabbling with clean renewables is a zero-sum game–gains in one mean loss in the other.
Solar flourishes only where there is strong government support for it. That’s never happened in the American bastion of Free Enterprise. Now it’s no longer the case in the capitalist restoration in China led by those still calling themselves Communists.
Since there is no place on our planet where the sun doesn’t shine solar is the most important of all clean, renewable energy sources required to replace fossil and nuclear fuels. We need massive numbers of solar panels, along with wind, tidal, and geothermal sources, hooked up to new power grids to have a chance of surviving the climate change crisis. By undertaking such monumental restructuring we also solve the crisis of good jobs for generations to come.
But that’s not going to happen in today’s market economy thriving on privatization and government austerity. We need to socialize the energy, transportation, auto and financial sectors of the economy to create a Climate Emergency Public Sector--working in the interests of society’s urgent needs, not profits. This sector, operating under planning by scientists and environmentalists, with day-to-day management by representatives elected by workers in their workplace, can implement the far reaching changes needed.
These are the issues that belong on the agenda of any Good Jobs, Green Jobs gathering. In fact, they should be on the agenda of every union meeting.
Attention Thrifty Savers
We constantly hear about countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland being bailed out. In most cases these new usurious loans are to tide over governments as they pay off older usurious loans to foreign lenders. They are accompanied by lectures about living beyond their means and imposed conditions of government austerity. The net flow is out of these countries as their working class sacrifices to pay the foreign debt. The bail outs have swollen the coffers of global finance capital and impoverished tens of millions of workers and farmers in once prosperous countries.
The latest bail out has some unique twists. Cyprus is a small island country with a population roughly equivalent to that of the Kansas City metropolitan area. As the British did so often in the decline of Empire, when they abandoned direct colonial rule in Cyprus in 1960 they left behind a partitioned ethnic/religious tinder box of Christian Greeks and Muslim Turks, each wanting to unite with their mother land. After decades of often armed conflict, a period of peace in recent years enabled Cyprus to join the Euro Zone.
Ambitious bankers in Cyprus soon ruffled the feathers of EC financial peacocks by offering high interest rates to tax-dodgers abroad, especially some very unsavory Russian oligarches. Unfortunately for the Cypriot bankers they lent much of these windfall deposits to ventures in Greece. The EC bankers can now gleefully extract their kilo of flesh from the interlopers who outgrew their britches.
But they have chosen an unusual and controversial method–confiscating huge chunks of Cypriot bank deposits. This has caused havoc not just for the Russian mafia but for hard working Cypriots who dutifully saved instead of spending in these uncertain times.
If you are a worker, ask not for whom the bail tolls–its toll is collected from thee.
That’s all for this week.