Internet News Notes

Labor Takes A Stand

 The website sent “Here’s Why Longshore Workers in Longview Are So Angry” by David Groves. The article describes a major labor dispute in Washington State that has “simmered for months at the Port of Longview.” The dispute has led to work shutdowns at ports up and down the Washington coast.


EGT Development is a joint venture of Japan-based Itochu Corp, South Korea’s STX Pan Ocean and St. Louis-based Bunge North America. Like many corporations, EGT got a special state tax exemption and a lease from the Port of Longview to build a $200 million grain terminal there. The government even seized adjacent land for the project. Despite high unemployment and the availability of hundreds of skilled union building trades workers in the area, EGT imported the majority of its construction crews from communities out-of-state and did not pay area standard wages.


After the terminal was built, EGT decided to ignore the Port of Longview’s contract with ILWU Local 21 to hire union labor on its leased site. Instead, the multinational hired non-union workers, claiming it would save the company $1 million a year (a figure the company admitted had been plucked from the sky). EGT also sued the Port, arguing it was not bound by the ILWU contract.


For months, ILWU members picketed EGT, attempting to pressure the company to negotiate. The protests gradually grew in size as EGT refused to meet with the union, culminating in a major rally on June 3, when more than 1,000 ILWU supporters from Washington to California rallied outside EGT’s headquarters in downtown Portland. The dispute escalated at a July 11 protest, when members tore down a chain-link gate and stormed the EGT grain terminal. About 100 union dock workers, including union leaders, were cited and arrested. On July 14, hundreds of union dock workers crowded onto railroad tracks to block a train from delivering grain to the EGT terminal.


The company then made a surprise announcement that it would hire a unionized subcontractor to run the terminal. EGT signed an agreement with Federal Way- based General Construction Company, a subsidiary of Kiewit, to operate the terminal with union members from the Portland-based International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701, attempting to pit union members against each other.


On September 7, when some 400 ILWU members stood on the railroad tracks for about four hours to block a train from delivering grain, the train passed through after protesters were confronted by 50 police officers in riot gear. ILWU President Robert McEllrath, who attended the protest, was detained by police, escalating tensions between protesters and police officers. In the confrontation that followed, police beat protesters with clubs and used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.


Early the next day, hundreds of ILWU members and their supporters reportedly stormed the EGT terminal at the Port of Long view, broke down the gates, overpowered security guards, damaged railroad cars, and dumped grain.


David Groves sums up the situation: “A taxpayer-subsidized international conglomerate, which is operating on public property, is suing the public so it can avoid paying the area’s standard wages and undercut its competitors that do. Then, it exacerbated tensions with the local labor community by importing union workers from another jurisdiction to cross the picket lines. That’s why ILWU members are angry….”










Voting Rights and Right-Wing Pundits


From Facing South, the newsletter of www.southernstudies. org, comes this item: “Should the poor be allowed to vote?” by Chris Kromm. It seems recently, right- wing pundit Matthew Vadum wrote a piece in American Thinker titled, “Registering the Poor to Vote is Un-American.” The piece asks why left-wing activists campaign to register the poor to vote? Vadum’s answer: “Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians. Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery…. Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country—which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote.”


Rush Limbaugh seems to agree with Vadum. In December 2010, commenting on a news report about people lining up for housing assistance, Limbaugh asked: “If people can’t even feed and clothe themselves, should they be allowed to vote?”









Human Rights & Wrongs 









From comes the news that Leonard Peltier, an indigenous rights activist jailed in the United States for decades, has received the first Mario Benedetti Foundation’s international human rights prize. The group called Peltier the longest serving political prisoner in the Americas—Peltier turned 67 on September 12. (The Mario Benedetti Foundation was set up to support human rights and cultural causes in synch with the work of the Uruguayan writer who died in 2009.) .


A statement from the foundation described “Peltier [as] a symbol of resistance to repressive state policies by the United States, where there are people in jail for ethnic, racial, ideological, and religious reasons.”


Peltier, whose family is indigenous Chippewa and Lakota, fled to Canada after the shooting and was later extradited. He was convicted, in part, based on the testimony of Myrtle Poor Bear, who claimed she was his girlfriend and that she witnessed the shootings. Poor Bear admitted later she was pressured to make the testimony. reports on the situation in Kibera, Nairobi, one of the biggest slums in the world and East Africa’s largest urban settlement. Over one million people struggle daily to meet basic needs such as access to water, nutrition and sanitation. In this community lacking education and opportunities, women and girls are most affected by poverty. Violence against women, rape, prostitution, HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation, poverty, sexual abuse, unequal access to education, and lack of reproductive health care are some of the issues women face daily. One-fifth of the population of Kibera lives with HIV and at least 50,000 children are orphaned by AIDS. According to the organization Carolina for Kibera, young women in slums aged 15-24 are contracting HIV at five times the rate of  their male counterparts.



















David Swanson (warisacrime. org) sent his commentary, “I Just Found 29 Million Jobs.” Says Swanson: No, not 29 million job offers. I just spotted an easy way to create 29 million jobs, one for every unemployed or underemployed U.S. worker…. I saw all the reports on the $60 billion “wasted” by the Pentagon in Iraq and Afghanistan. This started me thinking. Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe looked at that $60 billion and asked what else could have been done with it. Drawing on a 2009 study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), they concluded that instead, we might have created 193,000 jobs. That is to say, given all the military and contractor jobs that in fact were created for the U.S. workforce by that $60 billion, we could have created 193, 000 more jobs. This is, in fact, the tradeoff found in the 2009 study between military spending (not even “wasted” military spending) and tax cuts for working people.


There are some other calculations in the same study, however. If we had spent that $60 billion on clean energy, we would have created (directly or indirectly) 330,000 more jobs. If we’d spent it on health care, we’d have created 480,000 more jobs. And if we’d spent it on education, we’d have created 1.05 million more jobs.


But isn’t it strange to make this calculation using the $60 billion that was supposedly wasted, rather than the $1.2 trillion that has been spent in total on two wars that a majority says should be ended and should never have begun?


But this is all looking at the past. What about going forward? Well, I also noticed Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey’s calculation that $1.8 trillion could be saved over 10 years by ending the wars now…. Of the $1.2 trillion spent each year now on the military, about $700 billion goes through the Department of Defense…. Let’s say we want to create 29 million jobs in 10 years. That’s 2.9 million each year.


Here’s one way to do it. Take $100 billion from the Department of Defense and move it into education. That creates 1.75 million jobs per year. Take another $50 billion and move it into health-care spending. There’s an additional 400,000 jobs. Take another $100 billion and move it into clean energy. There’s another 550,000 jobs. And take another $62 billion and turn it into tax cuts, generating an additional 200,000 jobs. Now the military spending in the Department of Energy, the State Department, Homeland Security, and so forth have not been touched. And the Department of Defense has been cut back to about $388 billion, which is to say: more than it was getting 10 years ago when our country went collectively insane.”










Tar Sands 





 reports on a civil disobedience at the White House from August 20-September 3 where large numbers of people were arrested for protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to American refineries at the Gulf of Mexico.


Digging up new sources of fossil fuels will inevitably increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and result in higher carbon emissions than even conventional oil. On June 15, the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Panel approved a bill to expedite the decision on the pipeline, possibly trying to rush it through before adequate environmental impact assessments are completed.


Tar sands (aka oil sands) are unconventional deposits of petroleum containing bitumen, a very viscous form of petroleum. Alberta, Canada contains the largest deposits of crude bitumen in the world, the biggest of which are the Athabasca tar sands. Tar sands mining operations involve clearing trees and brush from a site and removing the soil that sits on top of the deposit. In Alberta, this results in significant destruction of the boreal forest. Building the Keystone pipeline to exploit an unconventional source of fossil fuels is a step in the wrong direction. More protests are planned.










Uprising: Chile 









Chile has “really woken from its long, anesthetized, ‘center- left’ induced slumber,” writes Dan Morgan in “Chile Awakes,” a news note sent by Dozens of university faculties and secondary school students have been on strike for three months, often combined with sit-in occupations. The market model of education is being actively rejected by virtually all organizations of students, teachers, and parents.


On August 4, the government decreed “enough was enough” and banned two planned marches in Santiago. The result: hundreds of tear gas bombs choking the center of the city and the first of weekly protests, banging of pots and pans on a massive scale. Since then, there have been marches in almost all provincial capitals. On August 21, close to a million people marched to a concert in Santiago’s biggest park. On August 24 and 25, the Trade Union Confederation CUT called for a general strike for labor, social, and economic reforms.


The movement continues to grow. Linked to the demand for an end to the market system of education, other demands are gaining support:


  • Re-nationalization of copper production (70 percent of production is private)
  • Thorough tax reform, to change Chile’s incredibly regressive tax regime
  • Plebiscite to decide on free education
  • Constituent assembly to plan a new constitution 

The government eventually responded to the protests by announcing measures to try to stop the protests. Some money was found in order to reduce the interest rate paid on student loans to 2 percent (from 5.6 percent) and to give scholarships to poorer students, which university and secondary student federations say are “totally inadequate.” The pro-market forces are showing signs of desperation in their statements and actions. The president of one of the two government parties has said, “We must not give way to a load of useless subversives.”


Morgan concludes: “Victory may not come this year, but Chile is awake.”










Bill Bragg & Political Music 









Billy Bragg ( sent “Why Music Needs To Get Political Again.” Bragg refers to the recent youth/student UK uprisings and notes “How ironic that The Clash should be on the cover of NME magazine in the week that London was burning; that their faces should be staring out from the shelves…. The Clash were formed in the wake of London riots in 1976: the disturbances that broke out at the end of the Notting Hill Carnival.”


Fast-forward 35 years to the present day. Much has changed, yet “we find ourselves in the same quandary.” The August riots of 2011 are another moment when society “recoils in horror and says ‘I don’t understand you’.”


The disturbances stirred up a shit storm of opinion in the mainstream media, much of it from people who have no real experience of the pressures faced by this generation, the first in a century that is likely to grow up worse off than their parents. Though this situation has been building for some years, the disturbances have created an opportunity for young people to provide an alternative commentary.


Things are different, not least in the music industry. In 1976, there was only one medium—pop music —through which to speak to each another and the world. The Internet has changed that. Now, if you have an opinion about something, you can blog, tweet, and post your thoughts for everyone to see. It makes you feel like you’re making a contribution, but are you really?


Nobody ever got rich writing snarky remarks in the comment section or got to tour the world performing to thousands of people on the back of writing a blog. Nothing beats the thrill of making an audience of 50 people cheer a line in a song that you’ve just written that hits on something that they feel strongly about.


I can understand why young artists might be unsure of how to approach politics…. But making political pop should not be a matter of setting Karl Marx to music…. Pop becomes political when it stops being self-pitying…and starts to speak truth to power. Punk was born in a time of rising unemployment and stultifying boredom among young people. It contained a strong nihilistic streak that claimed to only want to destroy…. Yet, at its core, punk contained a revolutionary idea that remains relevant today: “Here’s three chords, now form a band.”


Of course, it doesn’t have to be a band. Technology has put the means of production into the hands of anyone with a computer and some beats. The recent riots were a spark. What is needed now is an alternative commentary and new songs with spirit that tell us something we don’t know about what happened in the last weeks, how we got to such a place, and where you think we should be going from here.         Z