Thousands jam Pennsylvania’s capital to protest union-killing bill
january 28 2014
january 28 2014
HARRISBURG, Pa.– Thousands jammed the streets around the State Capitol building here today to protest the latest in a sting of attempts by state Republicans to kill union rights for public workers and eventually all workers in Pennsylvania.
Busload after busload of workers arrived from around the state, filled the streets and marched into the Capitol building itself where, reminiscent of the historic Wisconsin protests, they packed the rotunda in the center of the building.
They protested House Bill 1507, what the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and theKoch brothers call a “Paycheck Protection” bill. They have already been targeting direct mail into the state to spread lies in support of this bill, claiming that taxpayers are paying for union dues collection for public employees, and that teachers and state workers are forced to contribute to political and legislative activism.
The facts are clear, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO says, even though you won’t hear them in the commercials that the Koch brothers are financing. Automatic payroll deduction of dues is not mandated by any law, rather it is bargained for during contract negotiations. This deduction does not cost taxpayers money. Unions already agreed to reimburse the state for costs associated with deductions of PAC funds, but according to the State of Pennsylvania, there is no measurable cost to be reimbursed.
The Republican goal is obvious, unions say. The legislation would force unions to spend resources to collect union dues, and make it nearly impossible to collect the fair share fees that non-members must pay to cover their union representation. At the end of the day that means unions will be weakened, and have less ability to advocate for employees in the workplace and in the legislature. This would open the floodgates for a wide range of anti-worker legislation that would be sure to follow.
“There is no doubt that the passage of HB 1507 would mean that Pennsylvania would become the next right to work state” the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO said in a statement it issued. ” Don’t be silent on this issue. We expect this bill to move very quickly, with significant resources flooding into Pennsylvania to back this latest attack on the middle class.”
Photo: Frank Snyder, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
by Randy Shannon
Philadelphia narrowly skirted a major disaster when a Bakken shale laden train derailed over the Schuylkill River and the Schuylkill Expressway, which bisects the city. Five previous derailments of shale oil trains resulted in massive explosions with five mile radius evacuations. One derailment burned 15 acres of downtown Lac-Megantic, Canada and vaporized 42 people.
Safety issues presented by deteriorated track, such as the 100 year old railroad bridge in Philly, aging rolling stock, and insufficient maintenance, are the result of the takeover of the transportation system by finance capital. Railroad people no longer own the railroads…and profit becomes the only objective. The solution is public ownership and control of our transportation infrastructure. Instead of selling off control of highways and riverways, public ownership needs to be expanded.
The exploitation of shale oil is an irrational pursuit of ever higher oil profits. Shale fracking is energy intensive, consuming massive amounts of natural gas, and it destroys millions of gallons of water that cannot be replaced. America needs to tax the hell out of shale oil and fund a Marshall Plan sized project for building a solar energy infrastructure. Oil burning should be taxed so that only the most critical uses are affordable and so that profits are more easily found in renewable solar, wind, and geothermal energy investments.
Below is a press release on this incident by Protecting Our Waters.
Philadelphia Derailment of “Oil Bomb” Train Sparks Outrage;
Near-Miss from Disaster is Sixth Derailment of Bakken Shale Train Since June
Groups Press for Immediate Halt
Philadelphia, PA – Outrage is building among residents whose lives are put at risk by the mile-long oil and gas trains coming from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, Montana and Canada, in the aftermath of the oil train derailment yesterday in Philadelphia. The derailment occurred in a densely populated neighborhood, over a major highway, near several large universities, Children’s Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania medical complex. Rapid evacuation of a five-mile radius from any future oil train explosion and fire in the Philadelphia area, or any urban area, would be impossible. When a similar train exploded and burned on December 30th, 2013 in Casselton, North Dakota, evacuation was urged for a five-mile radius to avoid damaging inhalation of toxic smoke.
HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania judge has found the state’s voter ID law unconstitutional.
According to the ruling from Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, the requirement to present an acceptable form of identification when voting in person “unreasonably burdens the right to vote.”
The requirement was challenged in court after Republican legislators passed it and Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law by in March 2012.
Opponents of the law celebrated the decision. House Democrats noted that their members had uniformly opposed the law. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said his members were pleased.
“Senate Democrats have said clearly and repeatedly that the voter ID law was an overreach that would result in the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters,” he said in a written statement. “It was a law that should have never been approved and we are very happy that the court turned aside the measure today.”
He called the law a clear effort by Republicans to limit participation in Pennsylvania elections.
SHIPPINGPORT — Union representatives for workers at FirstEnergy Corp.’s Bruce Mansfield coal-fired plant walked out on negotiations Monday amid accusations that the company has violated the current contract and wants to end health care subsidies for retirees.
“How can we move forward with a new contract when you have already violated the current agreement?” asked Herman Marshman Jr., the president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 272. “You can’t have an agreement if nobody’s abiding by the agreement.”
After two negotiating sessions last week, Marshman said the union walked out on the latest one Monday angry over FirstEnergy’s approach. The current contract expires Feb. 15, he said.
FirstEnergy has violated the agreement 29 times, Marshman claimed, endangering the safety of employees. One example he cited was the company having emergency medical technicians assigned clerical work instead of being positioned to respond to a crisis.
“Our issue is that if they’re not on their station … then they have to stop doing whatever they’re doing and go back to their station to get their equipment to attend to the emergency,” said Marshman, a 34-year employee and plant system operator.
As for retirees, Marshman said FirstEnergy wants to eliminate health care subsidies for them as of Jan. 1, 2015. That, he said, is just one of 20 concessions the company has proposed.
WASHINGTON — House Democrats balked Thursday at a bill designed to clear congressional hurdles for President Barack Obama’s controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. By refusing to put forward a co-sponsor for the legislation, House Democrats have significantly hampered the prospects for the bill’s passage.
The legislation, introduced Thursday, would prevent members of Congress from offering amendments to a still-unfinished deal between 12 Pacific nations, and would instead force an up-or-down vote on whatever deal the Obama administration eventually reaches.
The pending trade deal is supported by corporate interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, while organized labor and traditionally liberal public interest groups have consistently voiced concerns over the TPP’s potential to undermine important environmental, public health and labor standards.
Late last year, 151 House Democrats signed a letter opposing the so-called fast track scheme, also known as trade promotion authority. Several House Republicans oppose fast track on the grounds that it excessively empowers the executive branch, but many others, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), support the proposal.
“Obama wants to pass it; Democrats in the House want to oppose it,” said one House Democratic aide, who was granted anonymity due to the sensitivity of the Democratic position. “Republicans are split ideologically, and want to know why they should take one for Obama.”
Nevertheless, Boehner said at a Thursday press conference that he cannot pass the bill without Democratic help.
“I’ve made clear to the president that this can’t pass unless there is bipartisan support for it,” Boehner said. “And this goes back months, and yet we’ve seen scant attention to this issue by the administration in terms of encouraging Democrat leaders and Democrat members to stand up and vote for it.”
Kind’s office said that there had been discussions with the administration, but no formal request that he sponsor the bill.
The New Democrat Coalition, meanwhile, issued a statement, endorsed by Kind, on the fast track legislation, saying, “We are encouraged by the introduction of a bipartisan, bicameral bill to spur action on Trade Promotion Authority. We look forward to working with our colleagues in considering this bill … Trade Promotion Authority will help the Administration conclude important agreements that will open markets and create jobs.”
Many House Democrats are flatly opposed to the TPP and efforts to ease its passage. House Democrats are often more responsive to liberal interest groups than their Senate counterparts, and many members — including some in the Democratic Party leadership — believe that opposing TPP is good for electoral politics in 2014. While supporters of the deal argue it will increase economic growth, similar recent trade deals have undercut some U.S. industries and weakened global labor protections.
“The president has failed to find someone who is willing to introduce the bill. He’s got over 200 members to cultivate from, some of whom would like to have his support in the next election. But Democratic members are extremely skeptical of this,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) told HuffPost.
“We’ve tried free trade, and not only has free trade not improved the U.S. economy, it’s gutted manufacturing and driven down our labor standards,” he added, citing NAFTA as a prime example.
“We expect to have a robust conversation on the Hill about how trade agreements should be negotiated and the role of Congress in that process,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told HuffPost. “We’re eager to engage directly with members of the Finance and Ways and Means Committees and with all of Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation that has broad, bipartisan support.”
The precise terms of the deal remain secret from the public, and the dozen countries involved in the talks have yet to reach a formal agreement. The Obama administration has categorized the negotiation text as a classified document. Congressional staffers have complained about being denied access to the U.S. position.
This fall, WikiLeaks unveiled a draft of the deal’s intellectual property chapter, prompting outcries from global health experts and Internet freedom groups, which warned that the language on patents, copyrights and other intellectual property could increase the cost of medicine and curb free speech on the web.
Progressive groups came out strongly against the trade promotion authority, suggesting that approving it and the underlying trade deal would undercut efforts to curtail income inequality.
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership would be an unmitigated disaster for everything from the environment to Internet freedom and working families,” said Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy For America, a grassroots progressive organization, which intends to make trade an election-year issue.
“Members of Congress must be able to work to ensure that any proposed trade agreement is a fair deal for all Americans, not just the rich and powerful,” Chamberlain added in a statement. “Let’s be clear: A vote for fast track authority on the TPP is a vote for a deal that will hurt hardworking Americans and haunt every single member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who votes for it.”
Go here for link to article and video interview on the Trans Pacific Partnership with Noam Chomsky.
By Chris Hedges
Beaver County Blue via Common Dreams
Dec 20, 2013 – Money, as Karl Marx lamented, plays the largest part in determining the course of history. Once speculators are able to concentrate wealth into their hands they have, throughout history, emasculated government, turned the press into lap dogs and courtiers, corrupted the courts and hollowed out public institutions, including universities, to justify their looting and greed.
Today’s speculators have created grotesque financial mechanisms, from usurious interest rates on loans to legalized accounting fraud, to plunge the masses into crippling forms of debt peonage. They steal staggering sums of public funds, such as the $85 billion of mortgage-backed securities and bonds, many of them toxic, that they unload each month on the Federal Reserve in return for cash. And when the public attempts to finance public-works projects they extract billions of dollars through wildly inflated interest rates.
Speculators at megabanks or investment firms such as Goldman Sachs are not, in a strict sense, capitalists. They do not make money from the means of production. Rather, they ignore or rewrite the law—ostensibly put in place to protect the vulnerable from the powerful—to steal from everyone, including their shareholders. They are parasites. They feed off the carcass of industrial capitalism. They produce nothing. They make nothing. They just manipulate money. Speculation in the 17th century was a crime. Speculators were hanged.
We can wrest back control of our economy, and finally our political system, from corporate speculators only by building local movements that decentralize economic power through the creation of hundreds of publicly owned state, county and city banks.