Jan 7, 2019
As the government shutdown enters its third week, almost a million workers have been sent home or are working without a paycheck. “Essential employees” – about 420,000 – are working without pay. Another 380,000 have been placed on unpaid leave. Millions more may be impacted as “business as usual” grinds to a halt in sectors touched by the shutdown.
The Congress, on a long weekend break, continues to be paid. In fact, top government officials will be given a ten thousand dollar a year raise in pay, which was not automatically frozen. This on top of six figure salaries and matching perks: limos, expense accounts, etc.
The President is, as usual, front and center in this mess. Funding “The Wall” to the tune of 5.6 billion tax dollars has become his number one campaign promise to his most reactionary base. He is glued to it as the most valuable jewel in his 2020 election arsenal.
The Democrats, newly in the majority in Congress, don’t want to give Trump any victories, but they have no issue with increased expenditures for all kinds of border “security.”
And while the new Hollywood that is Washington goes on with its drama, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are trying to figure out how to make ends meet.
The two parties don’t care because they have already agreed on the parts of the budget that serve the capitalists. After all, almost seventy-five percent of the budget has already been finished and passed. The debt repayments created by the 2008 bailout to banks and corporations, the huge amounts of money that go to war, to war contractors, to other huge corporations have already been signed and delivered. All the big players, all the pigs at the trough, have been paid or have new contracts.
Both parties have agreed to what they call a zero sum balance process. That means that any increase in the budget anywhere has to be offset by a cut somewhere else. This budget already represents a massive attack against the working class. With the working class surviving at a standard of living that is still, in 2019, lower than it was in the 1970s, the budget proposal itself is a proposal for continuing concessions and austerity, continuing attacks on social services, Social Security, education: all of the services that the government provides out of tax dollars for the population.
No Democrat is proposing to take back the huge tax bailouts to corporations. No one is proposing to “claw back” the tax breaks that will result in trillions of dollars that will NOT be paid into the budget by the corporations over the coming years. The huge debt owed by the federal government will be put on the backs of the working class. Both parties have made that clear by failing to go after the real perpetrators of the debt crisis.
The very fact that the Democrat-controlled House voted to accept final bills composed by the Republican-controlled Senate, lets us know that. And in fact, the proposed budget is not a budget that Donald Trump disagrees with: he is just grandstanding for his Wall.
The federal workers are directly under attack by the current shutdown, along with the recipients of public aid. But the entire working class is targeted for more cuts well into the future.
We can assume that any penny they can take from us to give to Wall Street speculation, they will. We might as well face the enemy squarely and kick its middlemen and women to the side.
A real fight could start with the federal workers under attack today, and spread to other sections of the working class who are fed up and have had enough. That is how workers build their own real fighting organizations – through struggles they organize and lead themselves.
Jan 7, 2019
California regulators found that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) routinely falsified safety records for a five-year period between 2012 and 2017. According to an investigation, the utility first failed to locate and mark its pipelines for construction crews within the legal time limit; and then falsified records to cover it up. The report also explains the reason behind all this: PG&E did not hire enough workers to do the work. In other words, the company put its profit above public safety.
It’s nothing new – PG&E has a long record of safety violations. For example, after a 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno, California, which killed eight people and destroyed practically a whole neighborhood, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) fined PG&E 1.6 billion dollars. The CPUC said that “issues with the utility’s pipe records and procedures played a role” in that explosion. In 2017, a federal judge also found PG&E guilty on six felony charges in relation to the San Bruno disaster. Both the CPUC and the federal court put PG&E under probation.
But apparently, PG&E continued to ignore safety regulations. The CPUC fined PG&E 10.8 million dollars after a house explosion in Carmel, California, in 2014, and then fined the company again in 2016, this time 25.6 million dollars, in relation to gas record-keeping.
Finally, there are the recent wildfires caused by downed PG&E power lines. California’s firefighting agency, Cal Fire, found that downed PG&E lines caused more than a dozen large wildfires in October 2017, killing more than 40 people and destroying thousands of homes. In eight of these cases, Cal Fire decided, PG&E should be prosecuted for violating safety laws.
So PG&E executives continued to ignore safety rules AFTER they got caught and fined, and WHILE the company was under probation. In other words, these PG&E executives acted as hardened, brazen criminals, whose actions caused continuing deaths and property damage.
California authorities not only have still not brought criminal charges against PG&E executives; they have in fact encouraged this criminal behavior by issuing fines that were always small compared to the billions of dollars of profit that this huge company makes every year.
These criminals in grey suits, who repeatedly harm thousands of people in the name of profit, are guilty and should pay a price along with the billionaires who profit from big energy. But finally, it is the capitalist system that has to be done away with, because it’s capitalism that puts profit above human life.
Jan 7, 2019
Recent reports from the Trump administration have pointed out the increase in global temperatures, the rising of the seas, the increasingly violent storms and wildfires.
But not to worry! The Trump administration has a plan: more drilling of fossil fuels – the very practices that have helped global temperatures to rise to threatening levels!
In early December, nine million acres of public lands in 10 western states were opened to oil and gas companies to come in and drill. The energy department had also already given permission for companies to drill all the way up and down both the Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters.
In addition, the administration is proposing to cut back on water standards protecting about 60% of the country’s waterways.
Capitalism is a runaway freight train of dangerous environmental practices, ready to throw the world off a cliff rather than change direction. And why? Because helping oil and coal companies make profit is the priority.
Jan 7, 2019
Four years ago, part of East 26th Street gave way when the retaining wall on one side fell apart. Parked cars fell into a trench along the railroad tracks. Home foundations cracked; some people living there had to move into hotels for weeks.
Now, on the same street, two blocks over, another wall of the railroad trench is collapsing. CSX railroad and the City of Baltimore, using our taxes, paid the cost of fixing 26th Street’s problems four years ago. But last week shows the extent to which the railroad company and city inspections have failed to maintain railroads through the city.
And how about the sinkholes that showed up on North Howard & Lexington Streets in downtown just days after this latest railroad wall collapse? All kinds of maintenance has been neglected.
What have politicians, in one administration after another, been doing with our taxes, if not maintaining roads, bridges, and tunnels? Who got the money? Developers and big business!
Jan 7, 2019
Michigan is notorious for the poor condition of its schools and its roads. And so, what did the Michigan legislators decide to do during their lame-duck session before the Christmas holidays? The State Senate approved a plan to shift revenue FROM schools TO roads. It decided that the new online sales tax revenue would go for road repairs instead of K-12 schools. Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul!
As one school superintendent said: “Every superintendent in Michigan has been forced to work within the ‘do more with less’ model of school administration over the last many years, but I certainly doubt any of us expected to be told we now have to pay to fix Michigan’s roads at the expense of our classrooms as well.”
And while it’s true that Michigan roads are in dire need of repair, Michigan residents have been taxed, and taxed again, supposedly to fix Michigan’s roads, that haven’t gotten fixed.
The only solution the politicians have is to impose more taxes, or to juggle limited tax funds between services while they continue to give away public tax dollars to the corporations!
When the working class is organized, it can “claw back” the tax money given away to the capitalist class hidden in wealthy bank accounts and Wall Street, and use it to pay for both the public services like the roads and the schools all our children need.
Jan 7, 2019
What follows are excerpts from editorials of the revolutionary working class organization Lutte Ouvière in France. They address a nationwide movement against the rising cost of living called the “Yellow Vest” protests.
The name derives from the yellow hazard vests that protestors wear, which have become a symbol of their economic distress. At their peak, the demonstrations numbered half a million protestors.
When protests began, the President of France – Macron – swore he would never back down. But in December, he backed down! A new gas tax at the pump, set to begin January 1, 2019, was not implemented.
... Prime Minister Philippe says that the government “should have listened more” and promises that it will be more attentive from now on. Whatever the future holds for the yellow vest movement, the reasons for the anger won’t disappear just because of a few fine-sounding words.
... The yellow vest movement has brought one of the many problems facing workers out into the open: in one of the richest countries in the world, wages are insufficient to live decently. The owners are responsible for this. But it doesn’t have to stay this way.
... As one demonstrator said, “We don’t want to eat crumbs any more!” Macron’s reversal on the gas tax only touch one part of the working class and only represent a few euros that will be returned to our pockets.
... The last week of December there were spectacular crashes and rebounds in the world financial markets. At the end of 2018, we could say that last year was the worst in ten years for the financial markets, and that we might be on the brink of a recession. Whether this is a temporary trembling of the economy, or a new crash, the capitalist class is incapable of getting itself out of the crisis.
And that class will try to make workers and ordinary layers of the world’s population pay for the problems it creates, through the intensification of exploitation, the increase in unemployment, and the degradation of our standard of living.
For good reason, many people find the demand that Macron and his government of the rich step down legitimate. But it is also legitimate and even more necessary to contest the dictatorship of the big bosses over the economy. It is the work of millions of workers that makes the society run. There is no reason that we should have to submit to the whims of the capitalists to keep our jobs or to earn enough to live decently.
The end of 2018 showed that ordinary people are capable of mobilizing, of demanding their right to a dignified life. In 2019, that anger and mobilization must spread to the workplaces. The workers have the power, with our fights and our strikes, to push back the capitalists. We can engage the fight for a general raise, for pension increases, and for improved social programs. We can impose what is needed for the whole world of the workers. We can throw out this economic system that is leading all of society toward an impasse!
Jan 7, 2019
The following article was translated from the December 5 edition of Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
Workers began a labor struggle in May at Jasic Technology, a factory in Shenzhen, China producing industrial robots. The workers tried to set up an independent union.
Since then, they have been attacked, along with other workers and student militants who support them. Some 30 workers were fired on 27 July, attacked by thugs, and arrested.
Dozens of students went to Shenzhen in August to express their support. Many of them were literally kidnaped and thrown in jail. In November, 13 new arrests were carried out across China.
Several Jasic labor activists had been detained for more than 130 days by late December. In addition, according to China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based organization supporting workers’ struggles in China, two Shenzhen union officials and a lawyer representing the Jasic workers were recently arrested. So about 30 people are currently detained for supporting the right of workers to have their own union.
This gives an idea of the combativeness that exists inside the capitalist “workshop of the world” – and of the fear the working class inspires among capitalists and government officials in their service.
Jan 7, 2019
Ford just announced plans to eliminate 1,600 jobs at its plant in Saarlouis, Germany, near the French border. This plant has 6,700 workers who make the Ford Focus. Six hundred workers will be laid off, 600 workers with temporary contracts will not have them renewed, and another 400 workers who are retiring will not be replaced.
These job losses are huge for this region. The plant is only 11 kilometers from Creutzwald, a town in France, and 800 workers from France work at the plant. The Saarlouis plant is the second largest employer in the region, after auto parts maker ZF with 8,400 workers. These workers fear they are likely to be affected too.
Ford’s stated aim is to cut costs. It will stop the limited production of the C-Max at Saarlouis, and reduce the number of workers on the Focus production lines. This will obviously have consequences as well for the 2,500 workers at nearby subcontractors who supply the factory.
Last year Ford made 7.6 billion dollars in profits, the highest since 2013. Ford has no need to cut costs, except that it will increase profits for the stockholders.
Workers have no reason to accept losing jobs in order to increase these already gigantic profits!
Jan 7, 2019
Translated from Voz Obrera (Workers Voice), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers organization of that name active in Spain.
In the Andalusia region of Spain, the far right parties gained enough seats in the recent elections to take over the regional parliament. For almost 40 years, the Socialist Party had been running the government in that region.
Workers in Andalusia, like workers all over Spain, have faced enormous unemployment, layoffs, and cut-backs, leading to rising home evictions, etc. Abstention in the region, with a total population of more than eight million, may have been as high as one quarter of adults choosing not to vote.
The Socialist Party and the left-leaning Podemos (We Can) Party, which went down some 600,000 votes from the previous election, fear a parliament dominated by the right-wing Vox Party, which gained almost 400,000 votes. But these so-called “left” parties have solved none of the real problems working people face. After decades of promises that never help ordinary people, some choose to vote for right-wing opposition parties.
Something similar could be said of the elections in the U.S. with Trump winning or in Brazil with Bolsonaro winning or in France, with the extreme right National Rally party gaining votes and seats.
Neither the right parties nor the left propose policies that help working people gain jobs or improve their situations. The only way out is when working people build a party of their own, a party that proposes the transformation of society, the end to capitalism and its lapdog politicians.
Jan 7, 2019
On December 20, Donald Trump proclaimed that he had decided to pull all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, as well as half the U.S. troop contingent from Afghanistan, another 7,000 troops ... all within 30 days. And he made these pronouncements by tweet – not the procedure that presidents are supposed to follow in carrying out policy. But for Trump, this political stunt was a way to appeal to his voting base at a time that he is coming under increased political pressure, as the Democrats were about to take control of the House of Representatives and the Mueller probe was getting closer to issuing its damning report.
Almost immediately, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and the U.S. Special Envoy to the Coalition to Fight ISIS, Brett McGurk, resigned in protest. And most of the U.S. news media attacked Trump for trying to single-handedly reverse longstanding U.S. policy. A parade of generals, politicians and self-proclaimed experts chimed in.
Within two weeks, Trump and his administration began to backtrack. While visiting U.S. troops in Iraq on New Year’s Eve, Trump said that U.S. troops would be withdrawn “slowly” from Syria. On January 3, Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News that Trump was still in the “process of evaluating” whether to withdraw any troops from Afghanistan. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, a Trump ally, told the news media that Trump had assured him that the withdrawal of U.S. troops was “on hold.”
Obviously, U.S. policy is not made according to the whims or personal beliefs of any president – least of all by a ridiculous tweet. In the real world, U.S. policy is made by a huge apparatus composed of thousands of officials in the Pentagon, State Department, CIA, NSA – the permanent government apparatus that functions no matter who is in office, Republican or Democrat. That apparatus defends the interests of the U.S. capitalist class, that is, the interests and profits of the U.S. oil companies, military contractors, banks, engineering companies throughout the world.
While certainly the U.S. military has been bogged down in Syria for a long time and in Afghanistan for a lot longer, it is not about to suddenly withdraw from this vital region. And it is certainly not going to withdraw in order to feather the nest of a politician. For the U.S. military is in the Middle East to defend the profits and power of U.S. imperialism in a region vital for its resources, its markets and its strategic location, the crossroads of the world.
Of course, the U.S. military could make it seem like it is withdrawing some troops ... but only in order to replace them with more CIA, Special Forces, mercenaries and stepped up bombing. This is what the U.S. military has already been doing in Afghanistan for many years.
All the excuses that U.S. officials drum up to justify carrying out these wars are plain lies. No, the U.S. military is not in those countries to stop terrorism. On the contrary, the wars themselves create a breeding ground for terrorism. All the sides arm and train religious fundamentalist terrorist groups. Certainly, given the level of devastation, these groups can always find desperate people, with no future and totally brutalized, in order to do their bidding.
The U.S. military machine has its own terrorists. Al Qaeda, for example, was originally created by the U.S. CIA to wage war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And the U.S. CIA still supports terrorist groups that call themselves al Qaeda in Syria today! In Afghanistan, the officials that the U.S. military anointed in order to run the government and army are themselves war lords and power brokers, that is, terrorists.
But the biggest terrorist is the U.S. military itself. The U.S. military has carried out heavier bombing of Afghanistan over the past year than ever before. And in Syria over the past three months, the U.S. carried out more than 430 bombing missions. In reality, the U.S. military has helped set the entire region on fire, a fire that is growing increasingly out of control.
Trump can pretend that the U.S. has nothing to do with these terrible wars, that they are just a product of “foreigners,” using his usual demeaning, “America First” rhetoric. But the fact is that these wars are a product of the capitalist system, a system that is in decay and decline, that is creating increasingly barbaric conditions over growing stretches of the world.
These wars are not a mistake, or a supposedly bad policy carried out by this or that politician. They are a necessary product of the functioning of a capitalist society based on the profit of a tiny minority at the expense of the vast majority. The wars are based on the drive of the capitalists to plunder the world in order to enrich themselves.
To end these wars, the workers in this country and around the world are going to have to get rid of the cause of the wars: the capitalist system itself.
Jan 7, 2019
The following article is the editorial from The Spark’s workplace newsletters for the week of January 1.
Coming into the end of December, the stock markets were down between 10 and 12% for the year, and almost 20% since the peak they hit in September. Markets became increasingly volatile, jumping up, falling further down, jumping up again, falling still further down.
In other words, the markets were beset by speculation. The holders of billions of dollars of wealth throw money into the markets one day, only to pull it out two days later – even two hours or two minutes later. Computer programs calculate exactly when to put the money in and when to take it out.
If you were playing poker in a game that was run like this, you would know it is crooked.
And that’s exactly what this is: crooked – not only the stock markets, but commodities markets also, where speculators run riot, pushing the price of oil and foodstuffs up, only to drop it down. They can make as much money gambling on a drop in price, as on an increase.
The money that flooded into speculation in these markets came from the value created by the labor of men and women who produced the goods and services the economy rests on.
For more than four decades, ever since the ongoing crisis hit in the 1970s, the capitalist class that owns the economy has taken an ever larger share of the value that labor produces.
That’s why the gap between the CEO’s of all the big companies and their workers has flagrantly increased. In the 1950s, the typical CEO of a big company made 20 times as much money as the rank-and-file worker in his company. Today, that CEO makes 361 times as much. Not only do they make more money than we do – they always have – today they take an ever bigger share of the value produced in every company.
What’s true for companies is true for the economy as a whole: the wealthiest 400 people in the country today own more than half of the country’s total wealth. These are people who do nothing but own, collecting the value that is created by millions of workers. They are the very tip-top of the capitalist class, the parasites who live off of what other people produce.
The whole capitalist class is accumulating an increasing share of the country’s wealth. Instead of putting it back into production, they speculate, turning the whole economy into a riotous casino.
Even their own economists are worried today. Are we to have another 2008, when speculation in mortgages brought about a near collapse of the whole financial system? Or another 2001, when the so-called dot-com bubble burst? With speculation, the risk is serious. With the extraordinary level of government debt run up to bail out the banks in 2008, the risk is grave.
But even without a collapse, speculation has taken a deadly toll on the whole society.
The money that flooded into speculation came from extreme company profits. And those profits came from wages that didn’t go up. They came from jobs that were reduced from permanent full-time, to temporary part-time. They came from a large share of the population pushed completely out of the work force. They came from pensions that were dropped, medical care that became more costly.
The money to speculate came from the reduction in the standard of living of those of us who work. And as the standard of living went down, so did life expectancy of the population.
The money that flooded into speculation came from government subsidies to big companies’ profits – stolen out of public money needed for education, needed for roads, needed for bridges, needed for public transit, needed for public health. Instead of the decent functioning of the whole society, governments subsidized speculation.
This abomination is what capitalism produces today. It will keep producing it until the working class decides to fight back, until the power of the working class is mobilized to impose the needs of the population.
Jan 7, 2019
One Canadian teenager realized a fantasy many of us have: he quit his Walmart job over the company loudspeaker: “Attention all shoppers, associates and management. I would like to say to all of you today that no one should work here. Ever.... Our managers will make promises and never keep them.... Management will also try to save money every step of the way, including cutting benefits of a full time associate down to part-time even though he worked 40-plus hours a week.... F— management. F— this job. F— Walmart.”
The video went viral. Seems like a lot of people can relate!
Jan 7, 2019
UPS, Target, Walmart, Amazon, and Kohl’s all hired lots of people for the holidays – about 700,000 all told. That sounds like a lot of jobs.
But they don’t last. UPS and Target usually hire about 1/3 of these workers permanently. Amazon keeps just 15%.
Workers need to pay the bills all year round. And we need jobs that last all year round!
Jan 7, 2019
Trump insists he needs billions of dollars of budget money to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He tweeted: “Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking, Gang Members, & Criminals from coming into our Country.”
This is a pack of lies. Drugs? The whole opioid crisis was created and pushed by big companies based right here in the U.S. Most drugs that come over the border do so hidden in vehicles – which a wall won’t stop. Gangs and crime? One study after another, including by conservative groups like the Cato Institute, show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in this country.
There is a crisis at the border, but it’s not the one Trump talks about. A seven-year-old migrant girl and an eight-year-old boy died in U.S. custody in December. This should be no surprise since the U.S. is holding thousands of children in filthy conditions with little medical care. According to a report in the Arizona Republic, children in Border Patrol holding facilities “would vomit on their clothing” and had no soap to clean up. A child with diarrhea and a fever was left in a cell, with no medical care. According to the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, these facilities are “cold, the lights are on 24/7, there are open toilets, and as a child, if you’re not sick, you can get sick.”
Others seeking refuge in the U.S. are stuck in filthy conditions in Mexico after having traveled thousands of miles from Central America. When they try to approach the border to apply for asylum, whole families are sprayed with tear gas.
These migrants are willing to face danger and brutality because conditions in their home countries have become unlivable: the direct result of U.S. policies. Violence and poverty in Central America have been the products of U.S. domination of that region for more than 100 years.
The Democrats are posturing against Trump’s wall proposal. But in fact, most of the wall that actually exists was built under Clinton and expanded under the Obama administration. The Democrats say they are against a concrete wall – but they are for “smart” border security, including drones, airplanes, and more border patrol agents. In fact, a 2017 Homeland Security report found that the border is more “secure” than it has ever been – largely as a result of policies enacted by Obama.
What does this mean? It means increasing numbers of migrants are dying in the desert when they attempt to cross. And under Obama, more immigrants were deported than under any other president – more than 2.5 million.
But while the two parties basically agree on policy, Trump is accelerating anti-immigrant, racist rhetoric. Trump, and those behind him, want workers to believe that we can protect ourselves from the problems U.S. imperialism creates throughout the world by closing ourselves off. He says we just need a big enough wall.
But immigrants are not the real danger. That danger is the bosses. They have stolen jobs, by making each worker do more and more work. They have attacked our wages, and stolen the money needed for schools and services.
The bosses use immigration to have a workforce they can pay less – which allows them to lower everyone’s wages. Both parties have implemented policies that are aimed at forcing immigrants to accept the worst working conditions – which makes conditions worse for all workers. Whichever party was in power, the capitalist class has always set immigration policy to meet its needs – at the expense of both immigrants and workers born here.
No wall will keep us safe from the crises the bosses create for workers here and in other countries. Those workers are our class allies. The bosses who create and profit from all our problems are our enemies – and they are right here, in this country.
Jan 7, 2019
Nurses at Baltimore’s Hopkins Hospital – considered to be one of the best in the country – are trying to unionize. Recently some Hopkins Hospital nurses and their union organized a “town hall event.” This rally was enthusiastically attended by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 people.
Other workers at the hospital have been unionized for years by SEIU Local 1199E. But now some of the more than 500 registered nurses at Hopkins say they have reached the breaking point and want union representation, too, as part of National Nurses United, a rapidly growing organization of nurses across the country.
The Hopkins nurses have put out a report outlining the problems that nurses face at the hospital. They say that there aren’t enough nurses. They are underpaid, being run ragged on their jobs and cannot give patients the care they need. Wait times in the Adult Emergency Department are unsafe on most days, sometimes reaching up to 18 hours in the emergency room. Some patients have had seizures, heart attacks and loss of consciousness from bleeding while waiting to be seen.
The nurses also say that there is a critical lack of experienced nurses in some units, because these nurses have been leaving. It is common in these units for an RN with only a year or two of experience to be the most senior nurse on a shift. This lack of experience is dangerous for patients and places nurses in difficult situations in which they have to take assignments they are not confident in performing.
Finally, the nurses sometimes have shoddy equipment and inadequate supplies, including lack of proper gloves to prevent infections and good infusion pumps for administering pain medications.
These problems will sound familiar to nurses all over the country because these problems exist at virtually every hospital. But the nurses at Hopkins say they will not stop organizing and raising hell until their union is recognized and the hospital takes action to solve the problems they and their patients face. Bravo!