The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Issue no. 1026 — January 23 - February 6, 2017

To Fix the Problems

Jan 23, 2017

On Friday, January 20, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. His inaugural remarks pointed up the hardships endured by working and poor people, and referenced “rusted out factories” and the joblessness and hardships that millions of U.S. workers face. And he promised to fix these problems as he has many times throughout his electoral campaign. He promised jobs.

His message strikes a chord. By virtually every measure, the quality of life for the U.S. working class has taken a nose-dive. Total costs for workers have spiraled, from education to clothing to housing. Millions who considered themselves middle class have been falling, falling to the bottom, scrambling to make ends meet.

Trump’s fiery rhetoric and attitude to thumb his nose at the politicians and Wall Street reflect the anger and the frustration workers are feeling. After all, here we are eight years out from the economic crisis of 2008, and the working class is still waiting for relief.

Workers who voted for Trump, and others who were not for him, are waiting to see what the new President will do. Most would agree that, left to his own devices, Donald Trump will deliver little more than Obama did, and perhaps less. He has chosen a cabinet of millionaires and billionaires – with CEOs from Wall Street, from Goldman Sachs and Exxon – loaded with enemies of the working class and its children. Already his promise of “draining the swamp” of Wall Street billionaire influence on Washington D.C. has flown out of the window.

So what comes next?

There should be no reason that Trump can’t deliver on his promises. After all, Republicans control both the House and the Senate on the federal and most state levels. So it could appear that they could bring relief to the workers quickly.

Too good to be true? In any case, workers have every reason to organize, join together and fight back the minute a promise gets broken; set their own deadline, and pull together to act now.

But the working class will not be successful if wide sections of it continue to accept the divisive policies that Trump includes in his program.

Trump has been a master at exploiting the fears and prejudices that a large part of the population hold. He convinces sections of the population to blame other sections. He appeals to the racism of white workers and promises to keep jobs away from Hispanic workers or what he labels “foreign” workers. He encourages black workers to blame workers from other places in the world for the institutional racism inherent in capitalism that deprives them of jobs today. And of course, he encourages the attacks on women’s rights as if it will benefit men in the working class.

These promises and these policies of division must be rejected. Divided, turned in upon itself, the working class has little chance to go forward. In the end, it is only the action of a united working class that will make real change possible.

Certainly the size and number of recent demonstrations gives a proof that there are millions of people ready to take action to confront attacks on women’s rights and gay rights, and to oppose the biases that the Trump group has tried to impose.

Can this impatience for action be picked up by workers in the plants and neighborhoods? Can workers – who confront continued plant closings and benefit cuts – organize, down tools, walk out and impose on the bosses that they deliver on Trump’s promises for jobs?

Of course they can.

The very benefits the working class is losing today were gained by a fighting working class that made it too expensive for bosses to discard and disrespect workers – a working class that had to work through illusions and prejudices in that time period in order to win.

This time, we will have to get past illusions and prejudices also. A major one is that we could get jobs or have full rights without attacking the capitalist system, which is based on unemployment and rests on oppression.

Pages 2-3

Contract in Place, Chicago Attacks the Schools

Jan 23, 2017

Many teachers thought they should have made a fight last fall, rather than accepting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s contract. Now more and more are seeing why.

For starters, the Board announced four furlough days for the rest of the year – every single professional development day that teachers had during the year. This includes the days they enter grades.

The Board is making all employees go over their own payroll. It’s part of a move to pull clerks out of the schools – moving the work downtown and laying off people in the process. Most CPS employees have a payroll problem at some point. Now, instead of being able to talk to someone they know, they will have to call downtown, where everyone is already overworked.

The Board is trying to push out the current engineers, giving the work to the private company Aramark. This means many more schools will not have a full time engineer, and the engineers who remain will be paid much less. Schools that only have part-time engineers already report major problems with being too hot or too cold. Several schools had carbon monoxide leaks last year. All schools need an engineer on site!

The Board is trying to force principals to limit special education services – or else to cut the budget for the rest of their students.

And now, after years of neglect and sabotage, the Board proposes to close all four neighborhood high schools in the Englewood neighborhood, one of the poorest parts of the city. All those students will be transferred to one big building.

Chicagoans know from bitter experience that closing neighborhood high schools and moving students around often results in gang violence. But clearly, a Board that allows students to freeze in rooms that sometimes fill with poison gas doesn’t have their health or safety in mind!

Without a big fight by school workers and the community, Rahm’s board will continue dismantling public education in Chicago.

Women’s March in Washington D.C.

Jan 23, 2017

A half a million people streamed into Washington D.C., a day after Trump’s inauguration. They came to show their support for women’s rights – from Planned Parenthood, to equal pay, to reproductive rights. And signs at the march noted that the fight of women is tied to those of others: with calls for a living wage, for full political rights for immigrants, for racial equality and the stop to police violence.

They came by car, by bus, by train, clogging the D.C. Metro system. There were a thousand more chartered buses coming into D.C. on Saturday than for Friday’s inauguration.

Hundreds of thousands more converged on other cities – from New York with 400,000 to Chicago and Los Angeles, with crowds put at 250,000, to Boston at 150,000. The Women’s March website identified nearly 700 cities with over 3 million people who signed up to “get on the bus” to go to marches from Florida to Washington State; from Ypsilanti, Michigan, to Fargo, North Dakota. Whatever the figures were, the outpouring was immense.

For some, it was the first time they had ever come to anything resembling a march or rally.

Obviously, one march is not going to stop the attacks on women’s rights, but it shows how deep is the determination of women to fight for themselves – and that is perhaps the most important result of this huge turnout.

And it can give courage to others who want to fight. In and of itself, this march won’t push back the increasingly reactionary policies carried out by both parties – Republican AND Democrat. But it can be built on – if we remember that the Democrats, who were ready to push these demonstrations now that the Republicans are in office, never once called on people to mobilize during the eight years they were in office and pretended to be blocked by the Republicans.

The changes we need are going to come from ourselves and our own willingness to fight.

Women’s Sister Marches

Jan 23, 2017

Hundreds of thousands of people came to one of the hundreds of “Sister” Women’s marches that were being held all around the country on January 21st. One participant in Detroit said it was the biggest march he had seen at Wayne State’s campus since the 1980s – the crowd was somewhere around 5,000 people.

Sister Women’s marches, like the one in Detroit, were held all over Michigan, in 15 cities, from Detroit to Marquette. In the capital city of Lansing, official estimates put the crowd at 8,000. But some in attendance said it was bigger than the biggest demonstrations that have been held in Lansing in recent years, including the Union-organized demonstration against so-called Right to Work legislation, that had brought 15,000 workers to Lansing.

The Detroit marchers were a spirited bunch. Homemade signs galore. Families, including several generations together. Young and old alike, the crowd streamed into the campus at Wayne State University, to assemble for a march around the campus and onto one of the main streets in Detroit, Woodward Avenue. The line of marchers extended nearly a mile, and cars and buses passing by honked in support as the marchers walked down Woodward.

For many, it was the first time they had ever gone on a march. Some said, It’s about time. We’ve just begun. Finally, something to make me get off my ass and do something. Another woman said, we should be marching through the city streets, not just on the campus.

The home-made signs spoke to the marchers’ concerns:

A young, grade school or junior high girl held this sign: Seriously – I’m more qualified than BET$Y DEVO$.

Others read:

You can’t comb over equality

Deport White Supremacy

Equal Say and Equal Pay

So Many Issues, Not Enough Sign

You know what’s YUUUGE? Racial Inequality

Honoring our parents’ FIGHTS for our daughter’s RIGHTS

And yet another woman on the march said, “What’s next?” She’s right to ask and she’s right to understand that the fight is not over.

Macomb County Healthcare Rally

Jan 23, 2017

As many as 6 thousand people came out on January 15 in Macomb County, Michigan – a county that helped elect Donald Trump – for a “rally to save healthcare.”

Clearly the population needs a better healthcare system than the Affordable Care Act, a gift to the insurance industry if ever there was one. And in the richest country in the world, the money is there to make healthcare free for all.

But the turn-out reflected wide-spread worry over what will happen to their healthcare if the Affordable Care Act is thrown out with nothing to replace it.

The rally was organized by the Democratic Party. The turn-out was better than expected. The main speaker was Bernie Sanders.

Now that they are out of power and not responsible to pass laws, the Democrats become loud. But when President Obama was first elected, the Democratic Party WAS in power. They did NOT organize massive rallies to push through all the changes folks elected Obama to get. Where were they then?

Both parties have been hypocritical. They TALK about “change” to get elected, but DO nothing to solve the deep problems working people face.

It is the right thing to do to demonstrate, to fight, to refuse to be silent. But don’t trust the Democrats or the Republicans to be a leadership to do anything but serve the rich. Both have shown us in the past who they truly are. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they ARE, believe them the first time.”

Flint Residents Protested the Lies About Water

Jan 23, 2017

A big town hall meeting was held in Flint last week. The minute an official stated telling a lie, immediately residents would make the sound of crinkle-crinkle with their empty plastic water bottles. There was A LOT OF CRINKLING!

E.R. Care:
Who Can Pay?

Jan 23, 2017

A majority of people in U.S. don’t have enough available cash to pay for a $1,000 emergency room bill, according to MarketWatch. This dire financial outcome covers all income groups. For example, three-quarters of people in households making less than $50,000 a year and two-thirds of those making between $50,000 and $100,000 would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill.

Three major non-health related spending items – housing, car, and education – consume most of families’ income, leaving very little cash behind. Millions of people are already struggling with student loans, amounting to 1.5 trillion dollars. Layoffs and extended unemployment are compounding such financial difficulties. So, when there are health problems and medical emergencies, people dive into their savings, charge such emergencies to their credit cards, or ask their family members or friends to pay related bills. Using savings to pay bills is dipping into the future. Credit cards have high interest rates, sinking people into further debt, forming a vicious financial circle.

Fifteen million people will deplete their savings to cover medical bills, as predicted by NerdWallet. Another 10 million will be unable to pay for necessities such as rent, food and utilities because of those bills.

This is how capitalism is driving large sections of the population into destitution. Only the rich benefit from this trap, with comfortable worry-free lives.

Pages 4-5

Movie Review:
13th – Mass Incarceration Exposed

Jan 23, 2017

13th is a powerful documentary by director Ava DuVernay, director of the movie Selma.

Right now, the movie is available only on Netflix and must be viewed online. The first 5 minutes goes slow, but hang in there. The history of terrorism, repression and mass incarceration being used intentionally against the black population is exposed in a gripping way.

As a film maker, Ava DuVernay is interested in how movies and the media are used as a weapon for spreading racist ideas. This is NOT the main point of the movie, but the film shows the damage this does.

The movie starts out with the voice of outgoing President Obama, saying the U.S. now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. But the rest of the movie shows how both parties – Democrats and Republicans – worked with corporations to create this situation.

The movie touches on the history of black-led freedom movements of the 1960s and 70s. It looks at the use of criminality and mass incarceration to repress and control the black population. It looks at the wedge intentionally driven between the black and white population.

In 1970, the prison population in the U.S. was 357,292. But by 2014, it had exploded to 2,306,200. The movie explains how and why this happened.

Problems with mass incarceration are traced back to the time of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This was the amendment that supposedly granted freedom to all Americans. It included a loophole, freedom “except as a punishment for crime.” The movie makes the argument that ever since the end of slavery, this loophole has been the preferred method of the ruling class to “legally” repress black freedom struggles.

The use of mass incarceration to divide and conquer the mass movements of the 1960s is laid bare with a quote from President Nixon’s advisor, John Ehrlichman. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.... We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war or black... but by... criminalizing both heavily [with the war on drugs], we could disrupt those communities.... Did we know we were lying about the war on drugs? Of course we did.”

The movie mentions the economic crisis that started in 1971, and hints that mass incarceration helped the ruling class to deal with the rising unemployment by locking up so many black men. It takes a closer look at the role of corporations and lobbyists in writing laws to increase the black and immigrant prison population and how they profit from this.

The movie offers an unflinching look at the history of black oppression and the role played by so-called “reforms” in introducing the newest, slickest version of repression.

The film 13th provides valuable information and ends with the hope that a new generation will make use of this information in struggle. It should not be missed.

Record Inequality

Jan 23, 2017

The NGO Oxfam put out a report on social inequality for the Davos summit, when the cream of world finance and politics meets in Switzerland every year. According to this report, the fortunes of the eight richest people in the world are worth more than all the wealth owned by the poorest half of humanity – that is, 3.6 billion people.

The same organization using the same methods calculated that in 2016, it took the wealth of 62 people to get the same result!

It is clear that in the last year, either the fortunes of the richest people have grown enormously, or the wealth in the hands of the poorest half of humanity has gone down by a lot. And most likely, both are happening at the same time.

We can see this clearly in the United States. As of 2012, the wealthiest one percent of families owned 42 percent of U.S. wealth. The bottom NINETY percent had about half as much, 22.8 percent. And that gap has been growing for thirty years.

This monstrous capitalist system concentrates wealth at the top and poverty at the bottom. It is long past time to get rid of it!

$2.50 a Year for His Life

Jan 23, 2017

Lawrence McKinney, a black man condemned to life in prison in 1977 for a rape he did not commit, was finally freed in 2008. He was released thanks to DNA testing, and then given $75 in “compensation” by the state of Tennessee when he was released.

McKinney has asked the Parole Board of Tennessee twice to exonerate him. Both times, despite the evidence, the board voted against it. If the parole board or the governor of Tennessee exonerates him, he is entitled to much more compensation.

There are 20 states in the U.S. that don’t even give a penny to compensate a person for falsely imprisoning them. But the Tennessee gesture of $75 shows real contempt for those imprisoned by its injustice system. The worth of this black man’s life was judged to be $2.50 per year!

Overturning this man’s wrongful conviction will not be enough to stop racist judges or racist prosecutors from continually putting thousands of black people, especially poor young men, in prison every year.

Chicago Police Brutality Revealed

Jan 23, 2017

The U.S. Justice Department issued a report that peeled the lid back on some of the brutality of the Chicago Police Department. According to this report, “officers use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution with frequency, and the unconstitutional force has been historically tolerated by CPD.”

This “pattern or practice of unreasonable force” includes “shooting at fleeing suspects,” firing at vehicles without justification,” “the use of excessive less-lethal force against people who present no threat,” and “the use of excessive less-lethal force against children.” And the police who carried out this violence faced few if any consequences.

The report lists one “unnecessary” shooting after another by the cops. It describes “less-lethal force” that included tasering an unarmed, naked 65-year old woman suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The report includes numerous instances when Chicago cops used “pain compliance techniques” against people who were no kind of threat.

The Justice Department also revealed that Chicago cops take young people to rival neighborhoods and display them to known gang members, before leaving them to somehow get home.

And who can be surprised that the Justice Department found Chicago police regularly use racial slurs against young black people? They call them “animals,” “monkeys,” and worse. A cop reported that many of his fellow officers patrol black neighborhoods “like it’s a safari.”

The Justice Department report argues that better training and accountability are the answer. But who can believe that? For more than a century, report after report from the Justice Department or some other body has come out every few years calling for reform of the Chicago Police Department. But the brutality and violence of the police continue.

This is because the job of the Chicago police – just as those in other cities – has always been to control people in the poorest neighborhoods, not to stop crime. Their job is to maintain order, and their main tool to do so is violence. And this violence of the police just adds to the terror of violence and poverty in the poorest, mostly black neighborhoods of the city.

One young man quoted in the report summed it up: “they patrol our streets like they are the dog catchers and we are the dogs.”

But dogs can bite back.

Chicago Violence:
An Indictment of Capitalist Society

Jan 23, 2017

Chicago recorded 746 murders in 2016. This was more than New York City and Los Angeles combined. But while Chicago had the most murders in the country, its murder rate wasn’t even in the top ten: Detroit, Washington DC, and Baltimore all had higher murder rates.

In Los Angeles and New York, murders are concentrated in a few extremely poor neighborhoods. Chicago has more of these neighborhoods, and a higher murder rate. And much of Detroit and Baltimore resembles the poorest parts of Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, so they have even higher murder rates.

Los Angeles and New York have gentrified so much that they have pushed out of their cities huge numbers of poor people, and the violence born from the desperation of poverty. San Bernardino, California and Hartford, Connecticut, small cities an hour or two outside Los Angeles and New York, both had higher murder rates than Chicago.

What’s clear from all of this is that crime is a product of poverty.

A glance at the most impoverished Chicago neighborhoods makes it clear why the murder rate has gone up. Since the economic crisis of 2008, the situation in these neighborhoods has gotten much worse. There are few if any jobs. Companies have eliminated jobs by pushing fewer workers to produce more, and by moving work out of these parts of the city. Many of their neighborhood schools have been closed, and the ones that are left have had their funding cut again and again. Thousands of people lost their homes to foreclosure. Social services have been cut to the bone, including the closing of mental health clinics. The state and city pretend to be broke, while giving the money needed for schools and services to corporations instead. It is obvious that with deepening poverty in these neighborhoods, there will be more crime.

For the people who live in these neighborhoods, the violence is an absolute disaster. They may look to the police for help, but they can feel that the system has no answer.

Poverty is a fundamental result of a society organized so a tiny minority can profit by exploiting the majority. In this extremely wealthy country, this is obvious – the country as a whole is richer than ever, but poverty continues to get worse. Chicago is dripping in wealth – but also in blood. It couldn’t be clearer: the capitalist system kills.

Obama’s Commutations Did Not End Mass Incarceration

Jan 23, 2017

In his final days in office, President Obama commuted many hundreds of sentences of prisoners, finishing with more than any of his predecessors with a total of 1715 commutations in all. More than 98 percent of the sentences were for drug offenses. He made a show of commuting the sentences of many people, particularly black individuals, given disproportionately long prison sentences compared with other drug offenders.

Despite these commutations, the incarceration rate in the U.S. remains the highest in the world, the result of policies which led to the rounding up of young men with no jobs, for whom the underground economy provided their only hope for employment. And the laws which resulted in these unfair sentences were put in place during the administration of a Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton.

While Obama commuted a record number of sentences, he granted fewer pardons than any modern president except George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. And he refused to pardon political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, consistent fighters for the rights of black, Native American and other oppressed people.

In the end, Obama was no real foe to the policy of mass imprisonment affecting the lives of working people, especially the black population.

Pages 6-7

Homeless Dying in Baltimore

Jan 23, 2017

At a rally for the homeless in December, a speaker for Health Care for the Homeless pointed out that deaths of homeless people in Baltimore were up by 62% in the past year. Deaths of homeless people were already more than 100 a year in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Disgustingly, the number of dead went up to 165 in 2016.

Clearly being a homeless person, living on the streets, has all kinds of health care consequences. Increased risk of death is only one of them, if the worst. In addition, homeless people have mentioned dangers in the shelters that exist.

Only recently did Baltimore officials agree to open shelters when temperatures dip to freezing. Before that, the temperatures supposedly had to drop to zero degrees before shelters were opened.

And in the past year, the number of workers going out to help the homeless dropped from 14 to 7, thanks to a cut in funding by the Department of Health and Human Services. Or at least that is what the Baltimore Housing Authority said to reporters, to explain this drop in assistance.

The deaths of homeless people are a wretched symbol of the values of this society.

Trump Forced to Settle with his Workers

Jan 23, 2017

Donald Trump is now in the White House.

For a year, Trump refused to recognize the decision of hundreds of workers at the Trump Hotel International of Las Vegas who voted to unionize at the end of 2015. Spurned by businessman Trump, they mobilized, organized demonstrations, and called for a boycott of Trump’s businesses. He ignored them.

But facing inauguration day, Trump invited representatives of the union to negotiate. In three days they signed a new contract giving workers annual raises, a pension, health insurance and other benefits – practically everything Trump had previously refused!

At the same time, Trump removed his objection to the right of his hotel workers in Washington to unionize.

A message to workers in all the rest of Trump’s properties – now is the time to organize!

Page 8

The Legacy of Eight Years of the Obama Presidency

Jan 23, 2017

With Donald Trump now sworn-in as president and many of his cabinet appointments made clear, for many people outgoing President Obama is beginning to look better and better. Yet part of Trump’s demagogic appeal in his campaign was that he touched upon the voting population’s real dissatisfaction with the situation people found themselves in. As is usually the case, the majority of that anger was directed against the party and the man controlling the White House, the Democrats and Obama.

Obama had been elected with many workers’ hopes pinned upon him. He took office in the midst of a financial crisis tied to the mortgage crash which had decimated large neighborhoods of big cities. The productive economy had tanked.

Eight years later the economy has partially recovered, but that recovery has mainly benefitted the big banks and corporations at the expense of the working class. Obama’s policy toward the financial crisis, supported of course by the politicians of both parties, was to bail out the banks to the tune of trillions of dollars. Yet foreclosures on the homes of working class people continued almost unabated.

Obama’s supporters credit him with bailing out the auto industry. Yet the bailout came at the expense of auto workers’ wages and jobs. Auto workers were forced to accept large cuts in wages and benefits and the closing of plants labeled “unprofitable.” These cuts spread to other industries, with the result that industrial work went from relatively high-paid to low-paid.

But the attack on the working class cannot simply be measured in terms of wages and jobs. Many schools serving working class districts have closed. Roads and other infrastructure are in a state of disrepair and social services have been slashed.

The Democrats may denounce Trump’s talk of mass deportations. But Obama’s policies led to more deportations than ever before and the creation of a repressive machinery that will make Trump’s job easier.

Even women’s rights, which Democrats pretended to defend in the election campaign, were put on the back burner, just as they were under Bill Clinton. Much of the attack on abortion may have come from Republican-led states, but the Democrats did little to stand up to the savage assault. And Obamacare legitimized the assault, carefully excluding abortion coverage and limiting access to birth control for teens.

The Obama administration continued and expanded the U.S. wars in the Middle East and Africa, providing enormous profits for the military and construction industries while defending the interests of Big Oil. Those wars also produced the deaths or mental and physical destruction of young people who volunteered in order to escape the pervasive unemployment they faced.

Certainly Obama does not bear sole blame for these policies. His policies were essentially a continuation of policies laid out by the previous administration of George W. Bush.

But it would be a mistake to respond to Trump’s divisive language and the policies to come by pretending the outgoing Obama administration was something it was not. Reversing the long-term attack on the working class requires that workers make their own fight and not place their hopes in any of the bosses’ politicians.

Trump’s “America First” = Workers Last

Jan 23, 2017

In his inaugural speech, Donald Trump mentioned the grim reality many working-class people in this country have lived through for decades: disappearing good-paying jobs; increasing poverty; schools that deprive children of an education; the crumbling infrastructure.

And for these ills, Trump blamed the politicians in Washington. No doubt, that will also ring true with many working-class Americans who have seen, for decades, Republicans and Democrats taking turns to oversee – and invent excuses for – the deteriorating conditions.

But Trump did not say a word about those who have pocketed the huge government “bailouts” and other handouts: big banks and corporations – that is, big capitalists.

In fact, it’s also these same big capitalists who make jobs disappear – by sometimes moving them, as Trump mentioned. But more often than that, companies just lay off workers and speed up production to increase profit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, in the past 30 years, the U.S.’s manufacturing output increased by 86 percent, while the number of production jobs fell by about five million.

Not a word about any of that. No, instead, Trump blamed other countries for “stealing our companies and destroying our jobs”!

This is Trump’s message to the working class: if you want “our jobs” back, you must turn against “foreign workers.” And as we know from Trump’s campaign speeches, by “foreign” Trump means not only workers in other countries, but also immigrant workers in this country.

This is Trump’s poison – to turn workers against each other. To divide the working class, so that each part of the working class is weaker in the face of the ongoing, big attack by the capitalist class.

Donald Trump is every bit a spokesman of the capitalist class, as much as the Democratic and Republican politicians he blames. And now he’s leading the attack against the workers he claims to defend.

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