Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Unionization Disrupted by Republicans

Unions are the donor backbone of the Democratic party.  But the Republicans and conservative groups put on a full court press in Chattanooga to make sure there wouldn’t be one, according to Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times.

The United Auto Workers wanted to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Last September a majority of VW workers signed cards that said they wanted the U.A.W. to represent them.  Volkswagen said they would not get in their way.  After all, in Germany, Volkswagen’s home country, workers were unionized.  The president of the union, Bob King, was coasting to a win which would have made the plant the first unionized auto manufacturer in the south:

He and his union through they would win partly because Volkswagen, unlike most American companies, vowed to remain neutral and not appose unionization.

But at the final count, the United Auto Workers lost.  Workers voted down unionization 712-626.

It wasn’t management that stopped the union drive.  It was the Republican Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker.  They lied.  They said if the workers voted to join the U.A.W. they would drive away future business:

Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, said VW executives had told him the plant would add a second production line, making sports utility vehicles, if workers rejected the U.A.W.

They also blamed Detroit’s troubles on the U.A.W.  Volkswagen wanted a German style works council as they had in Germany, with white collar and blue collar workers debating work rules and policies.  Some legal experts said that wouldn’t be possible without a union.  It sounded like Volkswagen wanted the union more than the workers:

After the vote, Frank Fischer, the chief executive of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said:

“Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council.  Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law.”


Many workers thought the U.A.W. would cause confrontations and bought the phony line peddled by the Republicans that the U.A.W. was responsible for Detroit’s woes.

Whaddya gotta do to get a union in America?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Attack de Blasio--That '70s Show Redux

Ray Lhota, the Republican candidate for NYC mayor, is eating the dust of Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate.  Some estimate that de Blasio is outpacing Lhota six to one.  So Lhota decided to advertise himself as the bulwark between law and order and a return to the '70s of rampant crime and graffitied-scarred subway cars.

He's not the only one presenting this persona.  Some newspapers and magazines are also helpful in sketching Lhota as the uber-Bloomberg, the only person between the voters and chaos.

The New Yorker delicately touches upon this meme in the 10/14/13 issue.  A writer compares the "wilding" of a group of bikers attacking the driver of an SUV to the movie The Road Warrior, a dystopian vision of tribal warfare over scarce gasoline.  As the author writes:

"It was a Bloombergian's nightmare of Bill de Blasio's New York--except that de Blasio isn't even mayor yet.  De Blasio has chosen as a campaign theme the phrase "a tale of two cities."  In a certain light, the biker attack read as the revolt of one of them against the other."

I don't know what kind of rarified world the writer lives in, but here in New York City we interpret "Tale of Two Cities" as standing in for the greatest income inequality in the nation.  The 99% vs. the 1%.  This is the same paradigm that was used to describe Occupy Wall Street as a churning sea of lawlessness.  It de-legitimizes the call for social justice.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria is not Iraq. It's Vietnam.

President Obama is selling the concept of attacking Syria as a “limited” war: clean, surgical missile strikes like a surgeon with a scalpel.  The idea that all we have to do is fire a few missiles and Assad will retreat in fear reminds me of the selling of another war.  Not Iraq.  Vietnam. 

The war lasted through three presidents, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, but it was under Johnson that the war escalated.  Technically it lasted from 1962-1975 when the last helicopters picked up people fleeing the war-torn region.  The killing was horrendous:

Guenter Lewy assumes that one-third of the reported "enemy" killed may have been civilians, concluding that the actual number of deaths of communist military forces was probably closer to 444,000. The most detailed demographic study calculated 791,000–1,141,000 war-related deaths for all of Vietnam. Between 200,000 and 300,000 Cambodians died in the war, along with about 60,000 Laotians and 58,220 U.S. service members.
The idea of fighting the war was sold as “containment”—that stopping the communist Viet Cong by assisting the corrupt regime of South Vietnam would prevent communism from spreading.

There are stark differences between the war in Vietnam and the way we fight wars today, although both were sold as “limited” wars.  At the time we had access to graphic images of the fighting on the evening news and there was a draft which forced discussion of the merits of the fighting at the dinner table.  It’s not like today, where you can go years without seeing a single death and the soldiers fighting our current wars are a distant memory for many.  Out of sight, out of mind.

If President Obama is serious about the dreadful images of dead civilians from Syria, he should take note of the collateral damage he’s caused through his drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, among other countries.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Silk Purse out of a Sow's Ear

The most recent New York Times article about charter schools had educators and principals praising the young teachers who intend to work 2-3 years as the most.  These kind of theories do more to harm the teaching profession than almost anything else.  They study teaching for 2 weeks and then they’re raring to go.,
Charter schools, which are private schools fueled by public money, are too delicate to contrast with public schools.  One big difference between the two is that public schools have to take all students whereas charter schools can choose to sift out the worst performers.  We hear about the bad marks attributed to public schools but nothing about the progress of the charter schools,  Is that because charter schools are attached to the spigot of Wall Street?

I think the NY Times reporters on this story forgot to ask either veteran teachers or students how they felt about being taught by a youngster with 2 weeks of training and one foot out of the door,