After The Storm, It’s Labor vs. Finance for the Future of Puerto Rico

By Richard Eskow - Common Dreams, October 13, 2017

Two opposing forces are fighting to reshape Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Wall Street, which has been plundering the island for years, is trying to tighten its grip on the island. Meanwhile, organized labor is working to rebuild the island  – and to rebuild its own ranks in the process.

As our video reporting from Puerto Rico emphasizes, this confrontation reflects an ongoing battle for the future of the country. In one sense, Puerto Rico is the rest of the nation in extremis. Financial institutions have obtained a growing stranglehold over the island’s economy and manipulated politicians from both parties into prioritizing bank repayments over public need. The hungry have gone unfed, the sick have gone untreated, and needed infrastructure has gone unbuilt to meet the financial industry’s rapacious demands.

The financial industry had held the upper hand in Puerto Rico for years. It has lent money to the island’s financially troubled government at usurious terms, profited from the buying and selling of its debt while lobbying Washington to make sure the notes they hold takes priority over the public’s needs. Wall Street has encouraged the kind of predatory speculation that doesn’t just bet against the people of Puerto Rico, but rigs the game to make sure they lose.

Open Letter To Union Leaders: Act On Climate

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 2017

To the leaders of the American labor movement:

Working people, poor people, and frontline communities are most heavily impacted by the effects of climate change. We feel the force of this devastation first and worst—from more powerful hurricanes to wildfires, from rising sea levels to crop-destroying droughts and floods. Our families and communities receive the greatest blow and have the biggest stake in moving as rapidly as possible from a fossil fuel-based society to a sustainable energy society.

Global warming represents an existential threat to the world’s people. We must act rapidly to avoid even more devastating climate change. But moving to 100% renewable energy will also impact jobs for many of us. So any transition, to be just, must protect workers and frontline communities impacted by the changes we must make from having to disproportionately bear rather than share the social cost.

Organized labor with its allies is the strongest, best-organized force to turn this around. Who will speak for the global majority of working people and poor people if organized labor does not?

The Earth is our only home. There is no Planet B. And there are no jobs on a dead planet.

As union members and families of union members, we call on you to take the lead in backing policies that call for:
(1) A rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy;
(2) Massive rebuilding of our energy, transport, and other infrastructure in support of that transformation; and
(3) A just transition for workers and communities directly affected by climate change and the transition to renewable energy – including income support, retraining, retirement security, and the creation of quality living-wage union-protected jobs in infrastructure, energy efficiency, and clean energy.

Future generations will ask what the labor movement did to respond to, slow and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. We urge you to take bold action to address the climate crisis with solutions that protect our planet and our people. You will have my full backing for these policies and the backing of millions of working Americans who are looking for your leadership at this critical moment.

The actions we take today will determine the world that our children, grandchildren, and future generations will inhabit tomorrow and for centuries to come. Let’s act decisively now to improve rather than imperil their lives.

Nurses Call for Stepped Up Federal Effort on Fires

By Kari Jones - Common Dreams, October 12, 2017

WASHINGTON - With the death toll now topping at least 21 people, and fire officials saying the disastrous North Bay wildfires remaining far from contained, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United yesterday called on the federal government for a far greater urgent response with additional equipment and firefighting personnel.

“The Trump Administration has been distressingly slow in taking the urgent steps needed to protect the people and communities affected,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of both CNA and NNU.

CNA RNs have been directly affected by at least six major wildfires that have raged in Northern California counties, as first responders, evacuating patients in two Santa Rosa, CA hospitals, and also dealing with their own losses. At least 15 RNs have also lost their homes.

Kaiser San Rafael RN Tara Williams described 100 patients being brought to her hospital by bus who “were all pretty overwhelmed and concerned about their homes, but we were giving them food and support and helping them get into a safe space where they could be cared for.”

Now in its third full day of battling the destructive fires, “we’re not going to be out of the woods for a great many days to come,” California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection head Ken Pimlott told the Los Angeles Times Wednesday.  In addition to the deaths, some 560 people are reported missing, a number partly due to loss of communication facilities, many people under evacuation order, and a total of 22 fires ripping through the state.

“With California officials fully engaged, and the fires still posing a major threat to lives and homes. But this is a national responsibility as well. We need to see immediate action from the federal government – as well as a robust commitment to rebuilding shattered infrastructure in the path of all of these horrific disasters,” said DeMoro.  

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget shows disturbing priorities at a time when wildfires are increasing, in part due to the effects of the climate crisis, DeMoro noted.

Under the proposed budget, the Huffington Post reported in July, the U.S. Forest Service would face a $300 million reduction to its wildfire fighting programs, another $50 million in cuts to its wildfire prevention efforts and a 23 percent reduction to funding for volunteer fire departments.

Could Trump be About to Kill U.S. Solar Industry Jobs?

By Linda Pentz Gunter - CounterPunch, October 13, 2017

I recently returned from Bavaria (Germany). When I give presentations in the U.S. extolling the virtues of the German Energiewende (energy revolution) I often brag about Bavaria. There, I say, in possibly the most conservative province of Germany, farmers have put solar panels on their barn roofs. There may be no cows in the barn, but they are certainly farming solar energy.

But after driving through Bavaria last month I realized that, all this time, I had been the master of understatement.

Traveling through the U.S. you may spot the occasional house sporting a handful of solar panels on the roof. But Bavarian barn roofs are completely covered in solar panels. So are the farmhouses, the sheds, the schools and other public buildings. There may be tiles on these roofs but you can’t see them. In cloudy Germany, where there is already snow on the mountains and we were wearing our woolly sweaters in mid-September, solar power is everywhere.

For sure there are some strong incentives in Germany — such as the feed-in tariff and grid priority for renewables. Nevertheless, the contrast with the U.S., where a shameful one percent of electricity is generated by solar energy, is striking.

Now, that contrast could be about to become even more stark.

Resistance is Disaster Relief

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, October 10, 2017

On this day, we must remember that for some communities, disasters have been unfolding for centuries, depriving people of life and liberty every single day.

Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been attacked and oppressed for over 500 years.  This continues today.  Every day.  Indigenous communities in the United States have exceptionally high rates of poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, infant mortality, teen suicide, high school drop-outs, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, diabetes and other preventable diseases, incarceration, and violent crimes committed against them – in some instances the statistics are multiple times more than any other communities.

And today, in cities all over the United States, parades are held to celebrate the man who initiated this age of terror.  Columbus Day is a celebration of genocide.  Christopher Columbus remarked, upon meeting the Taino peoples of so-called Hispaniola (now known as Haiti & Dominican Republic), that “they are artless and generous with what they have… Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts.”  Columbus was a different sort, however; based on this observation he concluded that “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”

On his return trips, that is exactly what he did.  He proclaimed the following: “I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”  The Taino could not understand a word of this, and did not adequately resist the tyrants who demanded that each person over 14 extract a daily quantity of gold.  If they did not bring enough, their hands were chopped off; slaves who tried to escape were burned alive.

Why do we celebrate this man?

Abolish the debt that is drowning Puerto Rico

Editorial - Socialist Worker, October 11, 2017

SOCIALIST WORKER supports President Trump in his call to cancel Puerto Rico's punishing debt.

We can pretty much guarantee you'll never see the first five words of that sentence here ever again--and the supervisors of the "adult day care center" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are obviously trying like hell to make sure we never have reason to.

But it says a lot about the Wall Street-made catastrophe that has plagued Puerto Rico for years before Hurricane Maria that even a reactionary fanatic like Trump didn't think twice before stating the obvious.

"They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we're going to have to wipe that out," Trump said in an interview last week with Geraldo Rivera of Fox News. "I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that."

"Wall Street promptly freaked out," Politico reported the next day. That was an understatement. Heavy trading on the normally stable bond market pushed the value of Puerto Rico's general obligation bonds--already devalued to 56 cents on the dollar after the island effectively declared bankruptcy earlier this year--down to 37 cents on the dollar.

The White House then "move[d] swiftly to clean up Trump's seemingly offhand remarks," Politico continued. Again an understatement. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was rushed in front of a television camera to tell CNN: "I wouldn't take it word for word with that."

Just to make sure Wall Street got the message that no one in the Trump administration had any intention of doing what the head of the Trump administration had just said, Mulvaney was more explicit--and more contemptuous of the Puerto Rican people--in a second interview with Bloomberg: "We are not going to bail them out. We are not going to pay off those debts."

Anyone want to bet that Trump doesn't talk about "saying goodbye" to Puerto Rico's debt again?

But the simple fact is that justice demands exactly that: The cancelation of all of Puerto Rico's debt repayments, by the action of the U.S. government, taking responsibility for the Wall Street loan sharks who inflicted the damage in the first place.

Puerto Rico is caught in the same kind of debt trap that has ensnared poor countries in hock to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank--or more advanced economies like Greece, at the hands of European bankers and bureaucrats. The aim is to force vulnerable societies to knuckle under to the will of the ruling class.

And now, the devastation of neoliberal policies has made Puerto Rico's crisis following Hurricanes Irma and Maria much, much worse.

People who want to show solidarity with Puerto Rico today will rightly focus on ways to provide immediate relief to communities desperate for food, water and critical supplies. SW hopes its readers will raise what money they can to donate to grassroots efforts--see the What You Can Do box with this article.

But we have another job to do now, while Puerto Rico lingers in the media spotlight: expose the debt trap that made the island more vulnerable when Maria struck and demand that it end.

How We Beat Trump’s Dirty Power Play

By Ben Ishibashi - Common Dreams, October 11, 2017

Donald Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, think undoing all that has gone before them is something to celebrate. With no real accomplishments of their own, they revel in their power to destroy, rather than defend.

This is what Pruitt wants out of his bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s signature effort to cut carbon emissions from electric power generation by 32 percent by 2030.

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt crowed at a press conference on Monday in Hazard, Kentucky, beaming. as if easing restrictions on dirty generators will magically bring back jobs to the state’s ravaged coalfields. It will not.

Allowing power companies to pump more carbon into the atmosphere won’t create jobs, nor will it revitalize the economy, even if Pruitt and Trump claim it as a big win.

But their bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan may have one silver lining: It gives all of us who care about climate justice a new opportunity to make our voices heard, and to fight for our planet’s future.

Pensioners & young workers show solidarity for Idaho silver miners

By Staff - ILWU Dispatcher, September 25, 2017

Idaho’s “Silver Valley” may sound romantic, but hundreds of miners who work deep inside the region’s deep, hot and dangerous hard-rock silver mines were forced out on strike last March and now find themselves on the frontline of America’s working class struggle.

 ILWU support

 ILWU Pensioners and young workers from Northwest locals are stepping up to help roughly 250 miners and their families employed by Hecla to work in the Lucky Friday mine in Mullan, Idaho where silver, lead and zinc are extracted from narrow shafts up to 8500 feet underground.

Early contributions

 In early May, the Seattle Pensioners made a $500 contribution to help the members of United Steelworkers Local 5114. Additional support came the following month when Local 19 donated $5000 on June 8, and Local 21 donated the same amount on June 14.

Personal delivery

 “I read about what was happening to these miners, and thought my fellow pensioners would want to do something,” said Mark Downs who personally delivered an early check and solidarity letter from the ILWU Seattle Pensioner’s Club, after making the five-hour drive across Washington State with two other activists.

May Day decision

 Downs noted that the Seattle Pensioners had held their monthly meeting on May Day, “which was a pretty good day to share some solidarity,” he said, adding that the group’s vote to contribute was unanimous. Downs stayed overnight in Idaho near the small town of Mullan where the Lucky Friday miners are taking their stand against Hecla, and he attended a union picnic the next day with the striking miners.

Young Workers & pensioners 

Downs returned from his trip excited to share his experiences. Word of the strike reached Tacoma where Local 23’s Young Worker Committee (YWC) has been meeting with Pensioners on Thursdays for the past two years. YWC activist Brian Skiffington did some research about the strike and took his own trip to Mullan where he met with the miners and reported back to a joint meeting of the Tacoma Pensioners and the YWC. Both groups decided to launch a new round of solidarity over the summer.

Larger caravan

A larger solidarity caravan with 14 participants was organized to depart on August 2, in time to mark 130 days on the picket line. Caravaners made their way to the Wolf Lodge campground where they received a warm welcome from miners and family members, including camp “mom” Megan Chavez and cook Cory Chavez, who prepared breakfast early the next morning.

After finishing the hearty meals, the solidarity visitors were soon mixing it up with miners and other supporters in a spirited protest held in front of Hecla’s corporate headquarters in Coeur d’Alene that attracted 200 participants – a new turnout record.Songs were sung, chants and slogans were shouted and solidarity signs drew many honks from supporters driving past the protest.

Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 10, 2017

After more than a decade of tenacious union lobbying of government negotiators, the words “a just transition of the workforce” was written into the preamble of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But now what? Encouraged by Paris, unions around the world have committed fresh energy towards giving Just Transition some practical significance, otherwise it will remain little more than a moral appeal for fairness in a corporate-dominated world economy where both morality and fairness are increasingly scarce.

This Bulletin features an article by TUED coordinator Sean Sweeney on the recent commitment made by unions in South Africa to strike for a “just transition.” However, the goal of the threatened strike is to halt the plan of the national utility (Eskom) to close 5 coal-fired power stations, a move that threatens 40,000 jobs.  Titled “When Stopping Coal Plant Closures Makes Environmental Sense” the article, which first appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of New Labor Forum, urges environmentalists not to support the closures, but to join with unions in opposing Eskom’s proposed actions.  Supporting the closures, argues Sweeney is “a poisoned chalice,”  that “will separate the environmental movement from the unions with whom it should be allied. And whatever environmental gains the 5 closures might produce at the margins in terms of avoided emissions and pollution levels will be more than offset by the impact of ‘jobs versus environment’ political fragmentation. This is why the Eskom closures should be opposed, but opposed in a way that might lay the political foundations for a more fundamental energy transition.”

Since the article was written, Eskom’s war with the private renewable energy companies has continued, with the utility pushing back against high-cost of power purchase agreements for wind and solar power. TUED union NUMSA and also the new South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have called for a socially owned renewables sector in order to allow for a just energy transition from the present coal-dominated power system to one that can take advantage of South Africa’s abundant supplies of wind and sunshine.

Nurse Volunteers in Puerto Rico Call For Escalation of Relief Efforts Amid Dire Conditions for Residents

By Charles Idelson - Common Dreams, October 10, 2017

WASHINGTON - Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, registered nurse volunteers on the ground continue to sound the alarm about dire conditions and countless numbers of residents still in desperate need for assistance amid a federal relief effort that has failed to reach many people in need.

NNU’s Registered Nurse Relief Network sent 50 RNs as part of a 300-member deployment led by the AFL-CIO in conjunction with the Puerto Rican Federation of Labor and the San Juan Mayor’s office.

They cite a continuing lack of food, water, and other supplies from FEMA and other relief agencies, people standing in line for hours waiting for help, multiple houses with roofs blown off and soaked interiors but people staying in those homes because they have no where else to go, and people still without medical aid.

“What our nurses witness daily is the harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response and the brutal, inhumane impact on the Puerto Rican people. People are still without food and water. That poses an enormous humanitarian threat in terms of disease, life, and death and who succumbs first,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s RNRN program.

“No more disgraceful delays. The Trump Administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately,” Castillo said.

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