Monday, March 4, 2013

March 4 Week In Review

Week In Review
March 4 2013
by Bill Onasch

Extreme Climate Acknowledged–Extreme Action Needed
It is understandable if global warming was far from the thoughts of my hometown as we dug deep on sidewalks and driveways, and even high on roofs, after tandem storms deposited a couple of feet of snow. To his credit, Rick Montgomery did a good job of reminding us in a front page story in the Sunday Kansas City Star. He begins,

“Those drought-damaged evergreens outside? Regional climatologists say to expect more in the years ahead. And the surreal mounds of snow now hiding shrubs that barely survived summer’s heat? Get used to that, too. It seems contradictory, this weird weather whiplash. But just consider the last couple of years in the nation’s midsection. Floods unleashed by record inflows into the Missouri River basin in early 2011. Then sudden and prolonged dryness. Now 20 to 25 inches of snow heaped on Kansas City in the most dramatic, back-to-back smacking delivered by any winter week that many of us can recall. Yet to experts who study climate change models, it makes sense. Think extreme.”

But my upbeat feeling about seeing climate science featured on the front page was let down before I could finish reading the paper. An article by Brad Cooper tells us,

“Almost a decade after Kansas wrestled with the merits of evolution, the Legislature now grapples with the politics of environmental science.... Bills look not just to set aside the concerns about greenhouse gases spewed to generate energy. Some would also require schools to teach challenges to mainstream climate science. Others aim to prevent public money from being used to promote development policies intended to ease strains on the environment.”

Thinking extreme in Kansas politics is a new norm too.

Our labor statespersons are seldom inclined to seek new norms of any kind. They weren’t digging out snow in Orlando where the AFL-CIO executive committee held their winter meeting. Most had probably not even read National Nurses United Co-President Deborah Burger’s well reasoned appeal, Why Labor Should Oppose the Pipeline. Without referring to it by name, our leaders gave their blessing to the Keystone XL Pipeline by endorsing all pipelines.

KXL is, of course, a pivotal battle for the fledgling climate change movement in North America that has recently attracted some unions, and staid green groups such as the Sierra Club, in to an unfamiliar participation in mass protests and civil disobedience.

Last summer, thousands demonstrating at the White House convinced the President to order further studies that would delay a final KXL decision until after the election. During the election campaign, most protesters thanked the President by hustling votes for him. A couple of weeks ago an estimated 50,000 demonstrated once more at the White House to remind him they were still counting on him.

But the assist to the climate wrecking energy barons given by the AFL-CIO was not the only disappointment last week The State Department–involved because it is a cross-border project–issued their findings that no harm would be done by building KXL. It’s hard to believe this report was made public without first clearing it with the White House. This combination of Big Oil, the House of Labor and John Kerry’s State Department, is likely more than enough cover for a lame duck President to serve the class that rules what they want.

Bill McKibben’s group, is seeking volunteers to greet Obama and Kerry wherever they may go and to immediately protest if KXL is approved. That’s a good thing. I signed up and I hope you will as well. Visible protest is an effective way to advance demands. It’s been a part of every successful social movement.

But to become a game-changer, on the scale of the civil rights or anti-Vietnam war movements, this budding movement will need to blossom in to a much bigger, much more cohesive force. It also, in my opinion, needs to declare its independence from the political Establishment–focusing a much clearer message about what has to be done to stop climate change short of climate disaster while also explaining how taking these actions would lead to full employment, not economic collapse.

While we should applaud them for initiative in gaining public attention to a crisis too long ignored, neither the top-down approach of the Sierra Club, or the unilateral calls for action by Bill McKibben, will be able to move us where we need to go.

To begin to successfully deal with our challenges requires some structure for democratic discussion and decision making. The Internet and “social media” have an important role to play in communication but are not an acceptable substitute for activists and the newly attracted coming together face-to-face to decide what to do next. Our loaf will rise in the ovens of our communities, workplaces, union halls, churches and campuses. That’s always more nourishing and satisfying than half-baked matzo.

Awful Work Schedule
The Alternative Work Schedule 3-2-120 at Chrysler’s Warren, Michigan Stamping Plant, an example of Flexible Operating Practices (FOP) permitted in the UAW contract that has been discussed in past WIRs, is slated to go in effect next Moday. It uses three crews working on two shifts to get in 120 hours of production in a six-day week without paying a penny of overtime. The convoluted assignments require most workers to routinely shuttle between day and night work every week. The workers have dubbed AWS as Awful Work Schedule.

Their attempts to use their UAW Local to fight this attack on the most basic working conditions was foiled by International Vice-President General Holiefield who in person supported his plant manager “partner.”

So last Thursday the workers exercised their Constitutional right to protest with a rally outside the plant. Chrysler quickly responded by indefinitely suspending one of the protest leaders, Alex Wassell, because “He engaged in an activity constituting, or appearing to constitute, a conflict with the interest of the company.” A Facebook page supporting his defense is reportedly available here.

The Detroit News–who have given decent coverage of the dispute–reported, “The United Auto Workers did not sanction Thursday's protest, and UAW leaders have said they support the new work schedule because it means more jobs.” No evidence was cited for this highly dubious claim.

Beyond the Checklist
My friend Andy Pollack has a good review in Labor Notes of this new book by Suzanne Gordon, Patrick Mendenhall, and Bonnie Blair O'Connor examining the systemic causes, and possible remediation of medical malpractice in the USA. You can read the review here.

More On Party Time
Also on Labor Notes is a perceptive look by Jenny Brown at the discussion emerging from the publication of Labor Party Time?–Not Yet by the Labor Party national officers. Jenny, currently a talented staff writer for LN, played a big role in the most active and enduring success of any Labor Party chapter–still going in Gainesville, Florida. She relates some useful information about how they prospered in a region not noted as labor friendly. But she also goes a lot further in looking at the bigger national picture. Jenny’s piece is worth a read.

The Big Fish Who Can’t Get Away
My mood always improves when the boys of summer start working out in spring training. But even in this pastime the class struggle can’t be ignored. Last year the absurdly named Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim launched a big PR campaign to try to get their rookie sensation Mike Trout selected as Most Valuable Player as well as Rookie of the Year. His impressive numbers made the Rookie award no contest but Detroit’s triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera was the deserving MVP.

Like all players, Trout will have no salary bargaining leverage in his first few years. To stay in the game he must accept whatever management offers. Since Trout was the only bright spot in a dismal season for the Angels, and they have hyped him as a super-star, you would think this cartographically challenged outfit would have given him a generous raise over last year’s minimum salary, perhaps even offering a long term contract.

You would have thought wrong. Performance based pay doesn’t apply when you have a big fish in the net. The haloed bosses gave him a 60,000 dollar raise. That sounds like a lot to you and me but in the major league talent market it’s less than chump change. Trout plays beside under-achievers who will be earning forty times more than him.

The Old Triple Anniversary
As noted in many past columns over the years March 8 is International Women’s Day; the anniversary of the February (1917) Revolution that overthrew the Czar (and switched to the calendar most other folks used); and in 2000, the launching of the KC Labor website.

Women’s Day started in the USA in 1909 as a project of the Socialist Party. In those days winning the right to vote was a priority issue. Its success caught on in other countries and in 1913 the Socialist International incorporated International Women’s Day in to their annual program of major events.

It was in fact a police attack on an IWD march in Petrograd (later Leningrad, now St Petersburg) that ignited the revolution toppling the Romanov dynasty.

As is the case with May Day, this American original holiday came to be observed mainly in other lands. There was a brief rekindling of interest during the resurgence of feminism in the late Sixties but you will find no mention of IWD on the websites of the National Organization for Women or even Coalition of Labor Union Women.

The thirteenth anniversary of KC Labor is far from the historical significance of the other two anniversaries. But it’s not chopped liver either. Not many noncommercial, nonsubsidized sites survive that long. I greatly appreciate the moral and material support of loyal readers who have kept us going.

As regular readers know, over the past couple of months technical problems have prevented updating the site. That’s why the WIR for the last several weeks has appeared on the Labor Advocate Blog hosted by Google. Part of the problem is that aging hardware and obsolete software are no longer up to the task.

The hardware solution is on order–a new HP running Windows 7 (I’m not a touch screen guy) with plenty of RAM should be delivered and up and running by the end of the month. Software solutions should soon follow.

I do want to preserve the resource material on the site. But since this old dog doesn’t easily learn new tricks I plan to scale back the ambitious objectives promised thirteen years ago. My plan is to continue the Week In Review, the daily labor news updates, and also post an occasional longer article. But that’s about it.

That’s all for this week.

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