Category Archives: Labor

Privatizing the PO

Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) is trying to turn the Post Office over to Staples.

While slamming Democrats, [American Postal Workers Union president Mark] Dimondstein reserved special condemnation for Issa, the Republicans’ leading voice on postal reform. Noting that Issa had proposed eliminating Saturday postal service as part of a bill undoing veterans’ pension cuts, the union president called the congressman “a pure enemy of the Postal Service…”

This is, of course, a half-truth. In fact, Issa has shown himself to be an enemy of all public services, including free parks and libraries. He has consistently advocated the privatization of all govt functions, proposing that even police and military be replaced by private security firms and fire depts be paid for by subscription. So it really isn’t fair for the postal workers’ union to single him out. Still, it’s typical of the Issa wing of the party (the wing which is, after all, in control of the party) to attach an attack on a public union to a bill cutting veterans’ benefits. Sort of a Pub’s Dream Two-fer.

An Issa “spokesperson” (you can never get these guys to reply personally to any communication from the hoi-polloi) replied to the union’s criticism this way:

This false claim about privatization is being pushed by entrenched special interests who oppose common sense and bipartisan reforms in both House and Senate postal modernization bills.

“Special interests” may be accurately considered as a reference to unions since Issa defines “public interest” as anything a corporation wants, but the interesting word here is “false”. Whenever Issa and his people have claimed that some unpleasant fact reported about this peppy little stooge of the powerful was “false”, all the evidence proved it was true, which in turns mean this flat denial likely proves it’s exactly what this is all about.

The most obvious question here is: did Staples contribute to Issa’s campaign and if so how much? But Salon’s reporter, Josh Eidelson never asks – let alone answers – that question. Instead he delves deeply into Dianne Feinstein’s husband’s connections to Staples (to no very great effect) because he’s suspicious of La F’s refusal to support the union’s preferred bill (offered by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders), a bill he doesn’t bother to explain.

It seems that even “progressives” can’t bring themselves to directly attack extreme corporate puppets like Issa, who has never had a thought a corporation didn’t put in his head.

PS I don’t have to explain why privatizing the Post Office is a really bad idea, do I?

Imperial Sugar Off the Hook

A few years ago a sugar refinery owned by Imperial Sugar of Savannah, Georgia, exploded. Fifteen people were killed and dozens were injured, some severely. The explosion was the direct result of a corporate refusal to obey safety rules designed to avoid just this kind of event. OSHA, over a single 2-year period, hit Imperial Sugar with over 200 Notices of Violation. Corporate management ignored them. After all, we all know OSHA is just a busybody nitpicker that gives corporations a hard time for no reason. They know what they’re doing. They don’t have to listen to some liberal government pinhead whine about how they should have done this irrelevant action instead of that one.

That’s how – and why – 15 people died. Continue reading

Moloch in Action: How It Works

Jim Morin, Miami Herald

What They’re Not Telling You About the “Miracle” Rescue

All 155 passengers were rescued from the US Airways jet that crashed into the Hudson. What the media has failed completely to mention is that the rescuers were all union members. For instance:

Sullenberger is a former national committee member and the former safety chairman for the Airline Pilots Association and now represented by US Airline Pilots Association. He–and his union–have fought to ensure pilots get the kind of safety training to pull off what he did yesterday.

Studs Terkel complained for years that while every newspaper had a Business Section, a Lifestyle Section, and a Travel Section, none – NONE – had a Labor Section. In fact, most newspapers, magazines, and electronic news shows ignore Labor until somebody gets caught with their hand in the till or some employer shafts his emloyees so badly they go on strike. Even in the latter case, the papers and news shows (teevee, as usual, is the worst offender this way) usually approach strikes as demands for money, rarely bothering to go into other issues – workplace safety, job security, health insurance – that make up the background to most job actions.

And then we wonder why unions have such a lousy reputation. But of course the corporate media doesn’t under-report unions because it’s biased against Labor.

No, no, it can’t be that.

Positive Thinking and the Looming Recession

Norman Vincent Peale has a lot to answer for. His gospel – that the “power of positive thinking” overcomes all obstacles – infected the executive and investor class in the 50’s and was magnified by the conservative corporatocracy for the next 50 years. They institutionalized it and then grafted it onto their own beliefs, defining “positivity” or optimism as the fulfillment of their wish list. Since they tend to be bi-polar thinkers with little tolerance for, say, nuance, that meant that everything contrary to their beliefs became, ipso facto, “negative”. “Thinking positively” came to mean being positive about their ability to depress wages, subvert regulation, shove their expenses onto the govt and the rest of society (a la Wal-Mart) so they could pocket more of their profits, freely exploit the labor and resources of other countries without blowback, and so on.

Unfortunately, it also meant developing a rigid denial of the inevitable consequences of all that unrestricted self-interest. Global warming, economic stagnation and growing poverty for a majority of the population, peak oil, massive debt, Bush – all of those ticking time bombs and many more were simply denied recognition. “If we don’t see them, they don’t exist.”

That attitude has now infested Wall Street. According to the NY Times, this week’s rally is primarily the result of “positive thinking”.

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The GSA and Rove’s Politicization of Our Govt

The politicization of almost every agency of the federal govt during Bush’s administration as shown currently in both the matter of the US Attorneys who were fired and the political meeting attended – illegally – and participated in – illegally – by GSA Administrator and GOP hack Lurita Doan, along with the multi-layered levels of corruption and corporate purchasing of virtually every said agency, and adding in the comprehensive Bushian policy of putting foxes in charge of every govt henhouse, ought to give us pause to consider in depth what all that politicization was about.

I’m not just talking about the obvious reasons: the Rove/Norquist/Cheney determination to make the US a one-party nation, or Rove’s intention to use govt workers as campaign “volunteers” in much the same way that a mayor might get the fire dept to paint his house on the city dime, or the opportunities to make an illegal buck that it seems virtually every Republican office-holder – including the aforementioned Doan, apparently – jumped at without a moment’s hesitation the instant it was presented to them. I’m talking about something deeper, and the Doan business is the pointer.

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Confined Space Closes Down

Jordan Barab is shutting down his landmark blog. It’s a loss we can’t even measure. He was the only one doing it, and what he was doing – unlike most of what the rest of us do: screw around – was important. He was part of the inspiration for Trenches, and I owe him for that as well as for educating me and everyone else about the parlous state of workplace safety since Bush was elected and promptly turned the Labor Department over to ace anti-union corporate lawyer Elaine Chao, cut OSHA’s funding in half, fired its inspectors, and put in place his idiotic “voluntary” system of compliance (“voluntary” meaning companies could ignore the health and safety of their workers and never hear a peep from the Bush Administration).

It was a bad time and Jordan was that rare sane voice you hear – if you’re lucky – when the wind is just right as you’re stumbling around, lost, trying to find your way home. In the midst of madness and fear, there he was. Quiet, compelling, and righteously pissed off.

He was – is – one of a kind, and so was his blog. My obit here. Better yet, click the link above and go say good-bye.

An Exemption Already? – The Minimum Wage, Samoa, and the DLC

Last night I decided to re-animate Dispatch from the Trenches (see description at right under “About”) at its old site on Blogger. I intended this to be the first new post but true to Blogger form it’s down again so I’m posting it here. *sigh* I guess maybe it would be better if I found a new host….again. (Are they ever going to get it together?)

I think everybody not a millionaire thinks it’s about time the minimum wage got raised to something like a level that at least matches the inflation rate, and all power to the Democrats for finally taking the first step toward that goal. We’ve been waiting a long time.

But this is disturbing.

After years of protection from the likes of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, employers on the Northern Mariana Islands would finally have to pay workers the federal minimum wage under legislation before the House tomorrow.Democrats have long tried to pull the Northern Marianas under the umbrella of U.S. labor laws, accusing the island government and its industry leaders of coddling sweatshops and turning a blind eye to forced abortions and indentured servitude. But Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist now in federal prison, spent millions of dollars from the island and its business interests currying favor with Republicans, aligning support with conservative interest groups and thwarting every effort to intervene in the Northern Marianas’ economy.

But Republican leadership aides accused the Democrats of using a double standard by imposing the higher minimum wage on a government with a Republican representative to the United States while continuing to exempt a territory with a Democratic delegate. American Samoa and the tuna industry that dominates its economy would remain free to pay wages that are less than half the bill’s mandatory minimum. Continue reading

"Big Surge in Job Creation"–Yeah, Sure

From the NYT:

After a long period of stagnation, job creation finally surged ahead in March, the government reported yesterday. The gains surpassed all but the most optimistic expectations among analysts and provided President Bush with a shot of good news to help counter Democratic attacks on his economic policies.The economy added 308,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department estimated, pulling out of a pattern of tepid employment growth to clock the largest number of new jobs in a single month since April 2000. (emphasis added)

The Labor Dept estimated? Am I wrong or is this another one of Junior’s incredibly lucky weeks? I mean, here he has been taking a beating over the job losses during his Administration for weeks from Kerry, and now the very first numbers available show that over 300,000 new jobs were created. What perfect timing! And Junior’s not even Irish!

The NY Times is having conniptions over a Bush Admin estimate? “Well, Jeez, alright, if the Government says so… I mean, it’s not like they ever got any numbers wrong before, and it’s not as if we ever caught them lying, or anything, so we’ll just take their word for it, shall we? Their word is GOOD ENOUGH FOR US!” Am I the only who thinks it’s a tad obscene for the media to be accepting the announcement of yet another set of convenient numbers so readily–and gullibly–from an administration with the sorry history this one has? Has any “estimate” the BA lauded in the last 3 years turned out to be accurate?

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Supermarket Strike in CA

Phaedrus at No Fear of Freedom has another great post up. This one’s about the CA supermarket strike and media responsibility for (suprise!) careless reporting.

When it began, ta give ya an example of management lies and how the media runs right home and reports them, lotta peebles was tellin’ me how silly the workers were to strike over over only $5 a week in increased insurance payments.

He pretty much demolishes that nonsense–

Workers are losing their homes, their cars, their health coverage. The markets have lost $2 billion in sales. Is there some semi-rational person somewhere who honestly believes that either side would put themselves through such misery over $5 per week per worker?

–and goes on to explain what the fairy tale was meant to cover:

We call this a two tier wage structure, and it benefits management in at least four ways. First, it reduces labor costs immediately. Second, it results in a permanent reduction in wages over time, since new hires will eventually be the only hires left. Third, it creates a situation where management gains if they can find a way to force out or fire the top tier workers. Fourth, and probably most importantly, it’s a union busting tactic. Say you’re a new hire. How you gonna feel ’bout the higher paid workers who sold you out? How you gonna feel about the union, which also sold you out? How you gonna feel about payin’ union dues? How you gonna feel about solidarity?

The supermarket chains are either 1) genuinely running scared from Wal-mart’s proven ability to use its odious and sometimes illegal employment policies to destroy its competition, or 2) using Wal-mart as an excuse to break the unions and add to their profits by lowering their weekly payroll–a favorite corporate scam when sales are flat. Either way, the workers are caught in the middle of a Corporate Greed War (remember, these chains were quite profitable before the strike) in the global Race-to-the-Bottom.

Paul Clark, a Penn State labor relations professor who edited a recent book on trends in collective bargaining, said the dispute could have nationwide repercussions.”If the union loses this and has to give back a significant portion of their health benefits,” Professor Clark said, “you’re really moving down the road to everybody beginning to be a Wal-Mart worker with low wages and low benefits.”

Which is, of course, precisely what management’s intractable offer was all about.

Go read the rest, especially if you’re under the impression that corporations “just don’t do that kind of thing any more.”

Trends in Politics and the Blogosphere

There’s a new trend happening in Blogland: the Superblog. Superblogs are group blogs–blogs where the posts are written by a number of different people–whose members are all fairly well-known bloggers in their own right. For instance, Southern Exposure (link at right) is a Superblog that brings together a group of bloggers who specialize in Latin American issues (Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons is a member). The latest of these Superblogs is called The American Street, and it promises to be a good one. Its members (so far) include Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest and David Neiwert of Orcinus, who will be familiar to regular Omnium readers from our “Cult of Personality” discussion. They apparently intend to have quite a list of posters when they get done, a sort of Who’s-Who in the second rank of the blogosphere, so it should be interesting to keep track of them.

A post today by Dave Johnson is a good example of what we can expect. Titled “Now Our Government Really Is The Problem”, Dave makes the connection between govt priorities and the health of the society about as clear as it can be made:

Americans want to be a prosperous, generous and charitable people, paid well for the work they do, always ready to help each other and those in other countries. Right? And our government is designed to reflect the wishes and interests of the public. Right? And in American our government is us.So naturally it is “good public policy” for our government to promote good wages and benefits through its own hiring and contracting policies, by supporting trade unions, and by enacting legislation and regulation that supports American working people. On this basis, our government has been on our side, working for the benefit of the average American, at least since the New Deal. And the 70+ years since the New Deal brought the development of a strong middle class, an ongoing increase in prosperity, health benefits, vacations, reasonable working hours with overtime pay, worker safety regulations, food inspection, drug testing, consumer rights – you’ve heard the list before; you get my point.

Here is one small example of translating this public policy of promoting good wages into action. We all want to be paid well, so of course we should pay ourselves well. When government – we, the people – hires for, say, trash collection, it should pay fair wages, provide good benefits, and maintain a safe work environment. It should encourage union representation to help the worker get the best deal. A simple, obvious, local example of we, the people, gathering together in community to help each other.

But times have changed. Now we have a government that is operating with a different premise. The Right says that our government (us) providing services to the citizens (us helping each other out) makes us dependent on the government (relying on each other). So instead we should be on our own, which just happens to leave a vacuum that is filled by the corporations.

And man-oh-man is the Right in charge now! Our government now operates almost exclusively for the benefit of the major, (and against those of the minor,) shareholders of large multinational corporations. Last week, for example, we all heard that the Labor Department advised businesses how to avoid paying overtime to employees. Our government’s trade policies favor sending jobs to low-wage countries. Our government opposes raising the minimum wage. Our government is actively working against trade unions, and opposing government employee unions. Our government is “contracting out” government jobs to low-wage employers — or “offshoring” them overseas. Our government has even suspended Small Business Administration requests for loan guarantees.

Our government’s deficit means we are borrowing money to pay for tax cuts to rich people — money which working people will have to pay back. Our own Social Security retirement money is also being sent out as tax cuts to rich people. Our government just passed a “reform” bill that probably means Medicare will be gone by the time most of us retire.

Our government opposes repairing and rebuilding schools, and opposes hiring more teachers. Our government supports cuts in firefighters and police. Our government lets companies pollute out air and water. Our government lets logging companies take our trees and leave behind ugly clear-cuts that pollute our streams and threaten our wildlife. Our government doesn’t even protect the food we eat if it means lowering the profits of the corporate farms. So many of our government’s regulatory positions are now filled by industry executives who previously opposed the very existence of the agencies they administer, and lobbyists who previously worked for the industries they now regulate

The Reagan Admin took some very heavy heat for doing some of this (James Watt was eventually driven from Interior due to the radical nature of his pro-business policies), but, as Johnson says, the Bush Admin is doing it in every single area of govt that it can–and I will add that they’re moving slowly into areas previously off-limits to business like education and even the military.

What Johnson doesn’t say is that, unlike Reagan, Bush is taking virtually no heat in the major media for this wholesale corporate sell-out. There’s an occasional article on this or that corporate takeover but no one has bothered to put the picture together: there have been no 6-day, in-depth exposes in the NYT or WAPO, no Frontline documentaries or hour-long specials on NBC or CBS, no outraged cries of “foul” from media pundits who write columns on the subject week-after-week. Nothing. As with the Second Gulf War and the manipulations leading up to it, BushCo has been given a Free Pass by a complacent and uninterested press.

And for those of you who may harbor some hope that the latest revelations from Paul O’Neill about the Bush Admin will spark some massive press interest at last, maybe even driving Laci Peterson off the front page, Tom Engelhardt has some words of caution.

In a post crticizing the NYT’s coverage of the recent news concerning the fake rationale for the Iraq war (the withdrawl of the WMD inspection teams after finding not a single iota of proof that there was a program let alone a weapon, and Colin Powell’s public admission that there was no evidence whatsoever behind the claims he made at the UN of an Iraq/Al Qaeda connection except for the Admin’s belief that those claims were true), Engelhardt dejectedly notes that “the paper of record” didn’t seem terribly interested.

Now here’s the curious thing, to return to the New York Times for a moment, during this week when the administration’s approach to Iraqi WMD was surely news, nothing on the subject was considered worthy of the Times’ front page. The paper carried two pieces on the subject, the first by Jehl on Thursday actually made news on that withdrawn weapons team (“Arms Search: U.S. Withdraws a Team of Weapons Hunters From Iraq”) and the second on Friday by Christopher Marquis (“Diplomacy: Powell Admits No Hard Proof in Linking Iraq to Al Qaeda”) reported on the Powell admission that there was no “smoking gun.” Jehl’s piece was relegated to page 14, bottom; the Marquis to page 10, bottom. Both mentioned, more or less in passing, the Carnegie report, which didn’t merit a piece of its own, even though Powell found it a significant enough challenge to respond to; the Jehl reported briefly on Gellman’s Washington Post revelations. Neither piece mentioned the Carnegie call for an investigatory commission. Neither was considered by the editors worthy, nor was the subject, of the front page.To crown the week’s decisions, the lead editorial on today’s Sunday editorial page, The Faulty Weapons Estimates, dwells at greater length than either of the week’s articles on both the Carnegie report and the Gellman piece, and then calls for exactly what the Carnegie authors called for (though without acknowledging that they had) — “a nonpartisan investigation independent of political pressures from the administration and Congress.”

Though the editorial itself is hardly a powerful critique, no less a ringing denunciation, of administration lies, evasions, and propaganda, it certainly is an admission that the paper missed the boat all week. I mention all this only because the Times is, after all, considered the paper of record. And in certain ways on this issue, it has proved to be just that. Remember, Times reporter Judith Miller seemed to confirm the administration’s claims that underlay the war via post-war, front-paged bombshell revelations about supposed discoveries of Iraqi WMD, which turned out to be bogus, as she wandered around Iraq with a military search team. Now, its news decisions seem to have captured something of the mood of this moment.

The administration, of course, just wants the “search” to continue until at least mid-November 2004, while administration figures continue to claim, largely without being disputed, as Powell did this week, that “the game is still unfolding.” What an appropriate word from their point of view. Ah, the “game” of WMD searching — not the Great Game perhaps, but a little game which is to remain endlessly afoot, no matter the evidence. The Times also seemed to catch a more general attitude in our media that might go something like: Okay, maybe it’s news but who the hell cares.

This was no less evident at the Times in its week’s end coverage of former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s revelations in The Price of Loyalty, a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind. O’Neill claimed that the president in meetings was “like a blind man in a group of deaf people,” Reaganesquely without interest in what went on in his own administration.

The Times “covered” this Saturday on page 21, the last page before the editorials, placing a small (or cut-down) AP piece next to its “National Briefing” of news shorts and, as of Sunday, there was no follow-up, even though the most startling revelation (missing from the Saturday report) should have been front-paged. According to CBS News:

“And what happened at President Bush’s very first National Security Council meeting is one of O’Neill’s most startling revelations. ‘From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,’ says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic ‘A’ 10 days after the inauguration — eight months before Sept. 11.

“‘From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,’ says Suskind. ‘Day one, these things were laid and sealed.'”

Mike Allen of the Washington Post at least reported O’Neill’s war revelation today (O’Neill: Plan to Hit Iraq Began Pre-9/11), though the piece was placed on p. 13; and the Los Angeles Times did similarly, though the Boston Globe seems to have front-paged it. Time magazine offered perhaps the most thorough piece on O’Neill’s revelations, including the following gem (Confessions of a White House Insider):

“‘In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction,’ he told TIME. ‘There were allegations and assertions by people. But I’ve been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions… And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence.'”

And the following:

“A White House that seems to pick an outcome it wants and then marshal the facts to meet it seems very much like one that might decide to remove Saddam Hussein and then tickle the facts to meet its objective. That’s the inescapable conclusion one draws from O’Neill’s description of how Saddam was viewed from Day One…. ‘From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country… It was about finding a way to do it…The President saying, “Fine. Go find me a way to do this.”‘”

But for the New York Times and many other papers, the possibility that planning for war with Iraq had actually begun in the White House by late January 2001 was no news, or next to no news at all.

So the beat goes on and BushCo remains, for reasons too obvious to repeat here yet again, untouchable.

Have you had enough yet?

Update: Via Tom Tomorrow comes this little tidbit from the NY Daily News on the relationship between Bush and the press corps. Junior’s attitude–not to mention Rove’s–may explain a few things.

He didn’t free the slaves.He didn’t rid the world of Hitler.

He didn’t even – like his father – preside over the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

Yet George W. Bush tells New Yorker writer Ken Auletta: “No President has ever done more for human rights than I have.”

With stunners like that, no wonder he spends so little time with journalists. (emphasis added)

That L’il Georgie actually believes what he said is beyond question. That the sycophants and TB’s in his Admin believe it is a fairly safe bet. So if the press–this wimpy, lazy, unchallenging American press–isn’t constantly reporting the bounties of The Rule of Saint George, well, then, what the hell good are they?

In the latest New Yorker, Auletta reports that Bush and his minions have little use for the Fourth Estate.Political guru Karl Rove claims that the job of journalists is “not necessarily to report the news. It’s to get a headline or get a story that will make people pay attention to their magazine, newspaper or television more.”

And Chief of Staff Andy Card scoffs: “[The media] don’t represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election.”

So tell me again why the national media is coddling an Admin that hates their guts even though they kowtow to it at nearly every opportunity? How much lower can the press bow? I mean, their foreheads are on the floor now, their asses in the air waiting patiently for the next kick. How much longer before the NYT turns into Pravda c. 1953? They’re almost there as it is.

Sheesh. Doesn’t anybody remember the Constitution? “Freedom of the Press” sound familiar? Anybody remember why it was one of the first ten Amendments? Anybody recall why the Framers thought it was so important?

Clue: It wasn’t so they’d fawn over the Prez like he was Mother Theresa, and it wasn’t so plutocrats like Murdoch and Redstone and Malone could run our democracy from a back room.

As my mother used to say (usually about me): Give me strength….