Crowds and the ICLR in Madison

Posted on March 14th, 2011 in Politics by Robert Miller

Madison Wisconsin March 12, 2011 (From Truthout)

Over the weekend, Truthout reported on the huge crowd that gathered in Madison Wisconsin to protest the law passed by the state legislature that limits the bargaining power of public employees’ unions. Police estimates put the crowd at up to 100,000, a number larger than the biggest tea party protest, held at the September 12, 2009 rally in Washington, D.C.; that crowd was estimated at 60,000-70,000.

Of equal interest , the International Commission of Labor Rights (ICLR) sent a letter to the Wisconsin State Legislature informing them that the law they passed against union bargaining is illegal: the first paragraph of the letter states:

“As workers in the thousands and hundreds of thousands in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and around the country demonstrate to protect the right of public sector workers to collective bargaining, the political battle has overshadowed any reference to the legal rights to collective bargaining. The political battle to prevent the loss of collective bargaining is reinforced by the fact that stripping any collective bargaining rights is blatantly illegal. Courts and agencies around the world have uniformly held the right of collective bargaining in the public sector is an essential element of the right of Freedom of Association, which is a fundamental right under both International law and the United States Constitution.”

The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) is a 501(c) non profit organization based in New York, whose function is to coordinate pro bono work through a global network of lawyers committed to advancing workers’ rights. The group was founded in 2001 at the request of more than 50 national trade unions and global federations. The network aspires to be a resource for unions and global workers’ rights. From their website, their statement of purpose is:

We believe that all working people have certain core rights, which we are committed to defending:

  • to form and join unions, and to bargain collectively for better conditions at work
  • to earn enough to support themselves and their families, so that children do not have to work
  • to work freely, without force or coercion
  • to be free from discrimination in the workplace

Their point about the illegality of the antilabor law just passed in Wisconsin is that it violates the constitutional rights of workers to assemble and that right of assembly grants them the right to form unions in any workplace, a right upheld time and again in the courts. When the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the Wagner Act) was passed in 1935, it did so with recognition that the absence of labor rights of organization had produced a conflict between labor and management that created low wages and periodic business cycle depressions. The NLRA was passed to give workers the rights to organize unions and that concept has been recognized for all of the work force, not just public vs private. In essence Wisconsin has run into the upheld constitutional authority for workers to organize and bargain. Taking that right away as Wisconsin and Indiana have done is unconstitutional. The ICLR does not have the force of law, but the organized rhetoric of legal authority and historically validated jurisprudence. Right now there are moves within Wisconsin to remove from office some of the Republican Senators who voted exclusively for the narrow antilabor law passed last week. Hopefully, the actions of the ICLR will provide a court-ordered injunction against this law, so that the issue can be resolved through the courts. It is hard to know how our Supreme Court would rule on this case, but it certainly needs to hear it. The financial crisis that Walker was using as his justification for trimming labor rights has no moral authority, as the recent law passed was narrowly targeted to public employee unions and did nothing to solve the fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, if indeed there is one. But according the the ICLR, the state has no legal authority to pass such a law. Before Governor Walker’s assault on unions, he granted tax breaks to corporations that put the state into further fiscal jeopardy. What would the state’s fiscal picture look like if these unneeded tax breaks had not been granted and which of them went to the Koch brothers interests? Walker’s objectives are nothing less than sticking with the Republican strategy of destroying Democracy in America by creating a faux crisis and then pinning the problem on labor unions. This one is right out of the Republican play book.


The Tsunami disaster in Japan

Posted on March 13th, 2011 in General by Robert Miller
Displaced cargo containers in Sendai Japan

Displaced cargo containers in Sendai Japan (From NYT)

After suffering the worst measured earthquake in its history, Japan is reeling from the Tsunami that hit large regions of the country. This damage has led to the destruction of one nuclear power plant, which had to be flooded with sea water to prevent a meltdown, together with the threat that another plant may also have to be scuttled in a similar way. The NYT has a compelling and shocking set of images that continue to be updated, as they reveal the devastation of this earthquake and the aftermath of the Tsunami. The subway system in Tokyo and the railroad system have been shut down. Air travel into and out of the country has been significantly curtailed. The high technology state of Japan has led to an enormous wealth of imaging data that leaves no doubt about the unparalleled nature of the damage and the incalculable extent of human suffering. It appears that some people near the reactors may have been exposed to high levels of radiation, though the extent of this exposure is not yet clear. Evacuation of 210,000 people near one reactor site has already been carried out. This is clearly the biggest nuclear power plant disaster since the Chernobyl meltdown 25 years ago. Most of the current home page articles of the NYT are devoted to the growing tragedy of Japan’s most devastating earthquake. In the past, Japan has received high marks for the safety record and careful construction strategy of its nuclear reactors, but in this case, the fail-safe nature of their design and construction on bedrock regions of the country, appears to be insufficient for an earthquake of magnitude 8.9. This is an unparalleled disaster for a country that was the only nation ever to be exposed to radiation dropped by bombs and now it appears that some of its citizens may face a new threat from domestic radiation sources. Undoubtedly, this nuclear power plant disaster in Japan will raise new questions about the construction and safety of nuclear power plants in the U.S. The most obvious question is whether we have underestimated the maximum magnitude of earthquakes the might occur along the fault lines in the United States and if so, do we need to adopt new guidelines for reinforcing older plants and building newer ones. I have long felt that nuclear power is better than coal, but the construction and maintenance costs of nuclear power plants are very high and impose a very large carbon footprint during their construction. Additional safety features can only make these plants more expensive and costly to run. We are long overdue in turning to solar and wind energy.


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