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August 17, 2007 | Page 4

Did the Teamsters win in Oakland?
"Liberating" Afghans from life

Did the Teamsters win in Oakland?

TODD CHRETIEN'S article paints an accurate picture of the struggle that took place between Waste Management (WM) and the Teamsters ("Solidarity defeats the garbage bosses," August 3). But I think "victory" for the Teamsters and a "defeat" of WM is the wrong way to describe the outcome, because the new contract doesn't seem to be an advance over the old one.

True, the Teamsters did get raises, but as Bob Kuykenball (of the Teamsters) and Don Crosatto (of the Machinists) explained in SW's coverage of the lockout, this dispute wasn't really about wages. The disciplinary procedures were the central issue. The right to honor other unions' picket lines was another big part of the fight.

I also gathered from workers on the picket line that the Teamsters' right to strike over grievances was a major sticking point. In fact, two long-time Machinists explained to me that the main reason the Teamsters have been able to win meaningful pay raises--whereas the Machinists' raises have just barely kept up with cost-of-living increases--is that the Teamsters had the right to strike during the contract and the Machinists did not.

So on balance, the Teamsters defended the right to honor picket lines, which is one of the most powerful weapons of solidarity of the Bay Area labor movement. But they lost ground on the disciplinary procedures, and they lost the right to strike over grievances.

I don't think we should call this a victory. Too many "victories" like this, and the Teamsters at WM could be seriously weakened.

Does that mean that a "no" vote on the contract was in order? Not necessarily, because retreating or accepting a draw is not always the wrong thing to do. It depends on how strong you are in relation to your opponent. And make no mistake about it, the Teamsters put up a great fight considering the scale of the scabbing operation that WM ran.

In any case, though, we should be able to tell the difference between winning and not losing as badly as was possible. The Teamsters, machinists and longshore workers put up strong picket lines and demonstrated exemplary solidarity.

But at a time when there is no shortage of labor leaders in other unions willing to substitute blustery, triumphalist rhetoric for actual organizing and struggle, and when the resulting massive concessions are often sold to the rank and file as decent or necessary compromises, the labor movement only stands to gain from having a very sober and sharp assessment of the relation of forces and the outcome of struggles.
Sid Patel, San Francisco

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"Liberating" Afghans from life

A RECENT Associated Press report on U.S. casualties in Afghan war indicates that the deaths stood at 333 as of June 7. The civilian casualties in Afghanistan from January of this year through June were reported to be between 320 and 380. May, a particularly deadly month for Afghan civilians, saw an equal number of deaths from U.S. or NATO forces and the Taliban.

It was reported that those deaths "include about 135 killed by U.S. or NATO action, a figure that could also undermine support in western countries, especially in Europe, for the far away deployment."

The report goes on to say that "about 135 civilians have also been killed by Taliban suicide bombs and attacks" in May. U.S. Special Forces recent operations in Afghanistan have also killed 90 civilians according to another recent Associated Press report. The combined civilian deaths from ground attacks and aerial bombings have resulted in large street demonstrations and increased skepticism among Afghans about U.S. motivations.

In response to this year's stepped-up bombings and apparent disregard for civilian casualties, the Afghan upper house of Parliament has called on U.S. and NATO-led forces to stop taking offensive actions against the Taliban. They also asked the Afghan government to open up dialogue with the Taliban provided the Taliban accept the country's new constitution. The upper house also asked for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The apparent disregard for women, children and the elderly in attacks on civilians from both sides indicates a lack of legitimacy--a situation where the "war on terror" has become a "war of terror."

Some of the earlier promises of the U.S. in Afghanistan--to build schools, hospitals and roads--have been only partially fulfilled, and many schools have been closed because of the violence. Many of the ideas such as building schools and infrastructure are sound, but were minimally fulfilled, and girls' schools only seem secure in the capital city of Kabul.

Some believe the primary reason for the war in Afghanistan was not to free the nation from the Taliban but to clear up a thoroughfare for Caspian Sea oil. The route for Caspian Sea oil was/is to be trucked from the Caspian Sea through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the port at Karachi, and from there down the Arabian Sea and to U.S. ports. Time will tell if this pans out and is the actual motive.
Brian McAfee, Muskegon Heights, Mich.

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