The Spark

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

Issue no. 1075 — February 18 - March 4, 2019

A Made-Up Border Wall Crisis

Feb 18, 2019

And the political games continue.

Congress, with great fanfare, declared that they had reached a budget deal that avoided another government shutdown. And then, President Trump, in his attempt to declare victory after Congress passed a budget without money for his wall, signed an emergency declaration designed to take that money anyway.

Democrats in Congress are crying foul, insisting that Trump has made an end-run around the constitutional separation of powers. They promise a boatload of lawsuits, which will almost certainly tie Trump’s “emergency” up in legal limbo for months and months. And both sides are perfectly happy with this: Democrats and Republicans in Congress got to pass a budget deal, and Trump can say he is building his wall – whether it gets built or not. And both sides can use this “conflict” as fodder for their 2020 campaigns.

And in the end, what has really changed? What has passed, in this budget that both Democrats and Republicans are so happy about? Certainly nothing that helps working people. The huge corporate tax breaks continue, as do the huge military budget and the cuts in our standard of living. In the end, under the smokescreen of this wall “conflict,” it’s business as usual.

And in business as usual, it is efficient to pit workers against each other.

Trump’s “emergency” is completely made up. He admitted as much when he said, at his news conference, “I didn’t need to do this.” All facts show that there is no immigrant “crisis,” and that a border wall doesn’t solve any real problem.

While the U.S. population numbers around 326 million, these refugees who are seeking asylum number in thousands. Many are families, and women with children. Even if the number of undocumented workers in the U.S. stands around 12 million, these people, most of whom have been here for many years, obviously do not constitute a threat.

Nancy Pelosi called the wall “an immorality,” and in that she was right. But she and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, have insisted that the “Democrats are committed to border security.” Democrats want to “secure the border” just as much as Republicans and Trump do. They helped pass money to do it. They’re disagreeing on the specifics, while agreeing on all the fundamentals.

So why do both parties agree to secure the border, if it is not truly a threat? Because they both represent the U.S. capitalist class. They just do it in slightly different ways. And that capitalist class has an interest in controlling the flow of its labor force, back and forth across the border.

For decades, U.S. capitalism has dominated the countries of Central and South America. For big capital, nationalism has little meaning when it comes to production for profit or trade and speculation. For decades, U.S. manufacturing and finance magnates have considered these countries their backyard – theirs to play in, theirs to exploit, and more recently, theirs to devastate and impoverish.

Mexican and South and Central American workers are a part of the giant network of labor that U.S. capitalism depends on, on both sides of the southern U.S. border. For decades, U.S. capitalism has been recruiting workers to labor in U.S. industries, fields and homes. For decades, U.S. capitalism has been controlling the economies of Central and South America and Mexico in business and finance.

In the most recent period, there has been an increased number of immigrants coming from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua; primarily families who are seeking protection from a violent degeneration of conditions in their home countries. This degeneration of the economies and living conditions, war and terrorism on the part of the state apparatuses and on the part of gangs competing for influence, and sheer poverty, has been perpetrated by the U.S. government and U.S. policies of exploitation.

And the Democrats are just as culpable in pushing this agenda as the Republicans are.

Working people have a different interest. Working people do not benefit from being divided, “legal” from “illegal,” U.S.-born from “foreign”-born. This only benefits the bosses who try to use one group of workers against another – to attack us all.

Our fight is together, against ALL these enemies.

Pages 2-3

$15 an Hour Passes the Illinois Legislature

Feb 18, 2019

The Illinois House of Representatives passed a state-wide $15 an hour minimum wage on Valentine’s Day. The state’s newly seated billionaire governor, J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, is expected to sign it into law.

Of course, $15 an hour is not a living wage – it is not enough for a young person to live independently, or afford to buy a decent car, much less pay for childcare or otherwise raise a family – especially in an expensive city like Chicago. And then, this $15 an hour doesn’t take effect ... until 2025, six years from now!

The Democrats now completely control Illinois government. And this is the best they can offer to the workers who voted for them – a billionaire’s trickle-down theory.

The Supreme Court’s Abortion Ruling Is Only Temporary

Feb 18, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a Louisiana law that would have required doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

This decision takes place in the midst of a concerted effort by the right-wing to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision affirming women’s right to abortion, protected by the U.S. Constitution. Abortion opponents have been encouraged by the recent addition of Brett Kavanaugh to the court, giving the court an apparent 5-4 conservative majority.

It would be a mistake for anyone who supports a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion to be encouraged by the recent decision. The Court only issued a temporary stay against the Louisiana law. The decision passed by just one vote, 5-4, with Judge John Roberts casting the deciding vote. Roberts is a conservative voice on the Court who has supported previous decisions restricting abortion.

There are currently at least 20 lawsuits at various judicial stages that could be used by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. One case involves an Indiana law that would require a woman to undergo an ultrasound, then wait 18 hours before having an abortion. The state of Mississippi is appealing a decision that overturned a law banning abortions after 15 weeks or in other words, most 2nd trimester abortions.

The Louisiana law requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges is similar to one passed in Texas, which the Supreme Court previously ruled unconstitutional. Were it to be implemented, many doctors would be discouraged from providing abortions, because to have admitting privileges requires a doctor to live in the local area. Because local providers have been the victims of terrorist attacks by abortion opponents, these laws could cause doctors who provide abortions to stop doing so.

Whether due to funding cuts or laws aimed at restricting access, a number of states have few if any abortion clinics. Mississippi, Missouri, and South and North Dakota each have only one clinic in operation. Mississippi has no clinics where 91 percent of women live!

So, since 1973 there have been serious erosions in women’s actual ability to obtain an abortion. Barriers set up by politicians and the courts over the last 46 years– whether it’s forcing women to travel longer distances or by simply making an already distressing choice more frightful, are serious erosions in all women’s actual ability to obtain an abortion. However, whereas wealthy and upper middle class women more readily have the means to travel to find an abortion provider, these barriers have made it much harder on poor and working class women.

Attacks by the wealthy ruling class on women’s rights are part of an attack on the working class and all the oppressed. Maintaining and expanding women’s right to choose an abortion won’t happen if we wait on judges and politicians. It will require fights similar to those that won those rights in the past.

The Supreme Court that decided Roe v. Wade was composed of a majority of conservative judges appointed by Eisenhower and Nixon. The decision came, however, at the time of powerful social movements of the 1960s and 70s, which started with the black movement and inspired women to go into the streets to fight for their rights.

Necessary Health Care

Feb 18, 2019

During President Trump’s State of the Union speech in February, he mentioned New York’s recently passed abortion law. He lied. He said lawmakers, “cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” President Trump was misrepresenting a law that just passed in New York State and a law that has stalled in Virginia.

New York’s 2019 Reproductive Health Act de-criminalizes abortion. The New York Civil Liberties Union explained: “It takes abortion out of the criminal code and puts it where women’s health belongs – in public health law.”

A full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. No matter what the legal status, abortions after 24 weeks have always been rare. According to federal studies, the number of abortions at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy has been 1.3 percent for decades.

In the medical world, “late term” means a pregnancy went beyond 41 weeks. During a recent interview on CNN, Dr. Barbara Levy of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explained, “Abortions do not occur in this time period, so the phrase [late-term abortion] is contradictory ... It’s important to note, if a woman’s health or life is at risk and the fetus is viable, delivery is pursued, not abortion.”

“Abortions later in pregnancy” is how doctors describe the rare after-24-weeks situations. Most often, the mother’s health is in danger or fetal problems were discovered late.

According to Dr. Levy, catastrophes leading to late pregnancy abortions include situations where a fetus is missing half of the brain, the brain has no skull, or a fetus has internal organs outside the body cavity.

Having an abortion late in pregnancy is a devastating experience. No one wants to go through this! Trump attempts to heap slander and shame upon women who have been traumatized!

This is a sick thing that Republicans are doing to try and rally their voting base for the 2020 elections. Yet what Democrats propose to defend abortion rights is inadequate at best. There have been many times in the 46 years since the Roe v Wade case made abortion legal when the Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency. Democrats could have made abortion a medical instead of a criminal issue on the national level, but they never did.

If Roe v. Wade gets struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the question of abortion will then go back to being decided on a state-by-state basis.

This would be a retreat for women’s rights. The rights that women have today were won through the struggles of past generations. If these rights are to remain, it will only happen through mobilization and struggle – and not just through narrow legal changes.

Marathon Oil Poisons Detroit

Feb 18, 2019

On Sunday morning, February 3, hundreds of Detroit residents called local and state police about hazardous fumes in the air. It was like breathing fumes while filling a car at a gas station – and being forced to stand there and breathe it hour after hour.

A piece of equipment called a “flare” had malfunctioned at the huge Marathon Petroleum Oil refinery in southwest Detroit. A huge plume of gas fumes spread out over central and eastern Detroit and even into the northern suburb of Warren. There was an oily, greasy film in the air.

Marathon didn’t stop it. Hours went by. News stations broadcast that people living in the vicinity shouldn’t leave their homes if they didn’t have to. Some got in their cars and drove out of the area. Parents were afraid for their children. No one knew if it would get better – or worse.

It took Marathon two days to shut the flare down. Company officials said the smell was only a bad smelling additive that the flare let off “excess byproducts.” Byproducts from making gas and diesel! And they said that the air was perfectly safe!

Marathon Petroleum Oil is one of the largest industrial operations in the state. For years, people who live near the facility in Southwest Detroit have complained about pollutants and raised their concerns about their health problems. Researchers with the University of Michigan have labeled Zip code 48127, which includes the area around the refinery, the state’s most polluted. All of these are working class neighborhoods.

Several years ago, a public outcry forced Marathon to promise to eventually cease operating a flare. But operating the flare was exactly the source of the pollution this time around!

And while Marathon maintains it has reduced emissions, that’s no comfort to the people trying to breathe in Zip code 48217.

If Marathon thinks things are so safe, let their executives and big stockholders go live there and try to breathe.

Pages 4-5

U.S. Saber-Rattling Against Iran

Feb 18, 2019

At a recent international conference put together by the U.S., Vice President Mike Pence admonished European powers – Germany, Britain and France in particular – for doing trade with Iran’s “evil” and “murderous” regime. On the same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did his own saber-rattling: “You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran.”

Never mind that the U.S. itself has worked together with the Iranian regime – to set up a new government in southern Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003, for example, and more recently, to fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The current devastation in the Middle East can be traced back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But the chaos and instability its policies have caused have prompted the U.S. to realign alliances in the region. So while the U.S. reinforces its permanent allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, it tries to maintain pressure on certain other countries – especially Iran, whose rulers have maintained a level of independence from the U.S. for the past 40 years.

The following article, on the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and the subsequent rise of a religious regime, sheds some light on the origins of the U.S. imperialism’s hostility towards the Iranian regime.

Iran, 40 Years Ago:
The Fall of the Shah

Feb 18, 2019

The following article is translated from Lutte Ouvrière, the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

On February 11, 1979, the Iranian dictatorship of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi fell after months of a popular uprising. For decades before that, this government had seemed like one of the most stable pillars of the imperialist order in the Middle East.

The Shah had taken power in 1941, supported by the U.S. and England. He was pushed aside for a short time by Prime Minister Mossadegh who nationalized Iran’s oil, but the Shah re-established his power the day after the coup d’etat of August 19, 1953, which was carried out with the help of the CIA and the British secret service.

The U.S., which had profited from the opportunity to grab control of Iran’s oil, helped the Shah consolidate his dictatorship and helped him build a stable repressive apparatus. With the help of the CIA, the Shah’s government created a political police in 1957 called the Savak, which inspired terror by systematically practicing torture. The officers of the Iranian army were trained in the U.S., and also in Israel, in order to benefit from the experience of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. This half-a-million man army took up more than 30% of the total government budget. The officer corps of the Iranian army were not only loyal to the Shah, but closely linked to U.S. imperialism.

A Ferocious Dictatorship

The Shah sought to muzzle all opposition immediately after the 1953 coup. The government outlawed the National Front, a coalition of anti-Shah politicians based on small merchants and the urban middle class. Merciless repression fell on the Communist Party, called the Toudeh: thousands were arrested, tortured, and executed.

Nonetheless, at the beginning of the 1960s, this opposition to the regime raised its head once again. It began also to be organized among the Shia clergy. The arrest of the Ayatollah Khomeini in June of 1963 provoked riots, which were put down with blood. Khomeini was exiled, but the religious Shia continued to organize themselves underground through diverse Islamic organizations.

The high price of oil in the 1970s enriched a part of the bourgeoisie, but not the population. The high functionaries and the military chiefs also profited from the oil money. And the family of the Shah amassed a colossal fortune.

From Economic Crisis to Popular Revolt

When the economic crisis came, the consequences were catastrophic for the population. From 1975 to 1977, the cost of living rose by 200%. Poverty and homelessness affected thousands of people in the urban slums, where hundreds of thousands of migrants from the countryside had been crammed in for years. The Shah reduced social spending, while arrogantly showing off his wealth with big parties. This could only anger the working class and the poor population in the cities, who were without work or housing. The anger of the small shopkeepers was added to this discontent, already primed to explode. The Shah put the blame on the small shopkeepers, who were forced to suffer from fines and the threat of prison. The Shah also decided to reduce the subsidies to the mosques and the religious schools and arrested many religious leaders. This pushed the big part of the Shia religious leaders to call for the overthrow of the Shah.

On January 7, 1978, the government newspaper published an article defaming Khomeini. This was the spark that lit the already dry powder. Ten thousand students from the theological school of Qom went in the streets – and were machine-gunned by the army. Forty days later, at a commemoration for the martyrs of Qom, demonstrations swept many other cities. At Tabriz, the army opened fire, killing another 100 people and wounding hundreds more.

These popular riots were the expression of anger throughout the country’s towns and cities, anger which continued to grow throughout 1978. By the end of July, revolts were happening somewhere almost every day. In August, the population in the majority of cities went into the streets with cries of “down with the Shah!” and “Death to the Shah!” The repression on Black Friday, September 8, 1978, left almost 4,000 dead but it did not put out the fire. Despite the violence of the repression, the movement was determined to get rid of the Shah.

The workers began to launch strikes during August. By mid-October, the strike wave included the 30,000 steel workers in Isfahan, the workers at the tractor factory in Tabriz, and coal miners. On October 18, 1978, the biggest refinery in Iran, at Abadan, was shut down. Practically the entire economy of the country was paralyzed.

The Revolution Chained by Religious Leaders

The regime tried to make some concessions. Coalition governments were put in place. The Shah chose an opposition politician, Shapour Bakhtiar, to be prime minister on December 31, 1978. But nothing worked. The religious leaders disavowed all the politicians who agreed to collaborate with these maneuvers. The intransigent stance of the religious leaders helped them gain the credit they needed to retain control of the movement. Khomeini didn’t stop growing in popularity. All the opposition parties, including the Communists, finally lined up behind him. And while the working class demonstrated its power by going into action in a massive way, no political party proposed any sort of direction that might have allowed the workers to take the head of the revolution.

On January 16, 1979, the Shah fled the country, “for a vacation abroad,” according to the U.S., which was searching in the wings for a political solution to try and reestablish an authority they could work with. On February 1, Khomeini returned to the country after 14 years of exile, and was greeted by millions of demonstrators in Tehran. Then, on February 9, 10 and 11 of 1979, Tehran experienced a real insurrection that was the final blow to the regime. On February 12, the monarchy was abolished. It was overthrown by these months of popular uprisings that mobilized millions of ordinary people.

But as in many other revolutions in the past, the revolutionary masses did not take power. The regime that established itself was dominated by the Shia religious leaders, with the support of the military general staff. The mullahs, supported by the nationalist middle class, did not want to be bound by the demands of the mobilized population. Very soon, the Khomeini regime went after all the leftist or revolutionary political forces that might have represented a danger for him. The new regime was an extremely repressive Islamic republic, imposing on everyone, and especially women, a backwards way of life in the name of religion, and it protected the bourgeoisie and their property.

U.S. Sanctions Against Venezuela:
Economic War

Feb 18, 2019

In an attempt to show their humanitarian actions, the U.S. government, through the media, complained about the Venezuelan military. They showed the Venezuelan military blocking “humanitarian aid” consisting of food and medicine from the U.S. government and its Venezuelan allies in early February.

But even the United Nations and International Red Cross criticized this caravan for being linked to U.S. efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government. “Humanitarian aid should never be used as a political pawn,” said the U.N. Secretary General.

No, the U.S. government is not trying to relieve the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Over the past five years, U.S.-imposed sanctions have cut Venezuela off from most financial markets, a policy that has been carried out by Republicans and Democrats alike. In 2015, President Obama imposed the first set of sanctions by declaring Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security. These sanctions have been sharply escalated under President Trump.

U.S. sanctions have caused Venezuelan oil production to plummet. This drop in production, along with the fall in oil prices due to the ongoing economic crisis, has brought about one of the most catastrophic declines in living standards of any country in Latin America, outside a time of war. The World Health Organization reported that Venezuelans lost an average of 24 pounds in body weight in 2017.

That was before the new set of sanctions imposed by Trump on January 28 that completely cut the Venezuelan government off from the U.S. financial system. The ripple effects of the sanctions are already spreading far beyond American borders. One economist, Francisco Rodríguez, told the New York Times (February 8) that he expects that these sanctions would cut Venezuela’s exports by two-thirds, to just 14 billion dollars this year, and lead to a further 26 per cent reduction in the economy’s size. This would drastically worsen the already dire shortages of food and medicine.

And for what? As John Bolton, National Security advisor to Donald Trump, told Fox News on February 7, “It would make a difference if we could have American companies produce the oil in Venezuela. It would be good for Venezuela and the people of the United States.”

U.S. imperialism is starving the Venezuelan people in order for the U.S. oil companies and the U.S. banks to completely control Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest in the world, even larger than those in Saudi Arabia.

Pigs at the Trough:
Student Loan Servicers

Feb 18, 2019

An audit found that companies hired by the U.S. Department of Education to service student loans made too many “mistakes,” and that the Education Department routinely “overlooked” them.

It’s nothing new. Last year, for example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that companies servicing student loans had rejected MORE THAN 99 PERCENT of the people who had applied for a loan forgiveness program for government workers. And, sure enough, the GAO at the time also called the companies’ outrageous behavior “mistakes.”

Who would call something that happens 99 percent of the time a mistake? Certainly not the people whose student loans turn into a mortgage on their life!

But the Education Department not only turned a blind eye to the companies’ “mistakes”; it apparently tried to cover it up too. The inspector general’s audit found that the department generally did not even keep a record of servicers’ mistakes, so no one even knows how many times servicers have made the same “mistakes”!

Well-connected companies, and government officials at their service, have turned the servicing of student loans into a multi-million-dollar racket – at the expense of student-loan recipients. Is it any surprise that so many people in this country are never done paying off their student loans?

Pages 6-7

“Blackface” and the KKK Are Not a Joke

Feb 18, 2019

The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of Feb. 11, 2019.

Virginia’s governor says it’s not him in that yearbook picture which features two white men, one dressed in the hood and robe of the Ku Klux Klan, the other sporting “blackface.”

Whether or not it’s him, that picture opened the book on a long list of white politicians who also wore “blackface” – along with judges, news anchors, company CEO’s, cops, talk show hosts....

Most of them echoed what a Democratic Party official in Virginia said about the famous picture: the men didn’t intend any harm, they probably just got carried away with a bad joke.

Well, “blackface” is not a joke. The Ku Klux Klan is not a joke. They are part of the long history of oppression aimed at keeping the African-American population in subjugation.

“Blackface” was the dirty justification for the monstrous abomination which was human slavery. Starting decades before the end of slavery, white minstrel shows toured the country, featuring white actors with their faces painted black. The black characters they played were always the same: buffoons, simple-minded, scheming, lazy. One of the best known of these characters was Jim Crow, an ignorant man, a target of humiliation. He was spat upon, punched, and had animal shit thrown at him – all for the amusement of white audiences.

Frederick Douglass, the former slave turned abolitionist, said those shows were “the filthy scum of white society.”

Slavery ended, but Jim Crow didn’t disappear. Over the years, Jim Crow became the symbol of the legal system of “segregation.” The idea that infused legal segregation was the same idea behind the “blackface” of Jim Crow. The black population was supposed to be inferior, unable to function as free men and women.

But Jim Crow was only a symbol. What kept the black population subjected first to slavery, then to legal segregation was systematic, vicious violence.

In the century after the Civil War, that violence was carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. Started by the old slaveholders, staffed at first by officers of the defeated Confederate Army, the KKK continued under the leadership of local sheriffs and other officials.

Thousands of people were lynched over 100 years. Most of them were black, but not only. Whites who had any relationship with black people became targets. Jewish people were targets. So were Italians and Mexicans. Women were killed, even children. But black men were the ones most often beaten to death, or burned to death in a roaring fire, or hung from the limbs of trees, castrated, their skin flayed off their bodies.

They were, in the words sung by Billie Holiday, the “strange and bitter fruit ... of the gallant South.”

Jim Crow, as symbol and legal system, was done away with because the black population refused to accept the subjugation to which “white society” condemned them. The KKK, the vicious instrument of violence, was stripped of the hoods it hid behind by a black population that organized itself, armed itself and mobilized massively.

The slaves had fought to gain their freedom during the long 250 years of slavery. Their descendants fought during the Civil War for the same reason. They fought during Reconstruction, setting up governments, organizing schools, setting up hospitals and other medical facilities for poor people, black and white, who had never had anything. They fought during the populist movements of poor farmers, black and white. As soldiers returning from American wars overseas, they fought the indignity of Jim Crow and the violence of the KKK. During the Civil Rights Movement and the urban rebellions, they fought for their freedom.

The recent use of blackface is demeaning in itself. And behind the disrespect is a long history that no one should forget. In the words of a Civil Rights song, “Freedom doesn’t come like a bird on the wing,” it is a hard-won thing that is easily lost.

50,000 Mexican Strikers Pull Off a Pay Raise

Feb 18, 2019

This article is from the February 8th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Matamoros is a Mexican city along the border with the U.S., home to more than 120 factories and 70,000 workers. In mid-January, these striking workers won a raise and a bonus.

As soon as the new president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, took office in December, he announced an increase in the minimum wage, from a disgusting $4.57 per DAY to a miserable $5.35 per day. In a special 15-mile-long zone near the border, where thousands of factories are sub-contracted to U.S. companies, the wages are slightly higher, $9.30 per day. In exchange for a slightly higher minimum, the bosses of these U.S. companies pay much lower taxes.

The strike in Matamoros broke out when the workers of several factories noticed their salaries did not go up and the bosses refused to pay the customary bonus for the preceding year. They stopped work despite the threat of layoffs, pressure from their own union and without legal authorization.

A procession of striking workers went from factory to factory to bring out more workers, forming picket lines in front of the entrances and arranging a meeting for all strikers in the center of the town. They used social media to coordinate their strike and bypassed the local heads of the union, giving leadership of their strike movement to a lawyer from another town. They gained a 20% increase in their salaries and a bonus of $1,661 (which is more than a minimum wage worker makes in a year in Mexico).

Some bosses wanted to pay lower bonuses, but they didn’t succeed. These bosses put pressure on the workers, threatening layoffs and muzzling the press. But on January 23, the president of Mexico answered a question at a press conference on the striking workers: “It seems the workers have boiled over, despite the officials of the unions, and the situation has become uncontrollable.” Then he told the workers to seek compromise.

The workers got the unions to call for an official strike on January 25. On that day 50,000 workers were officially on strike. A few days later, a boss announced that 15 maquiladora factories had shut or quit the country. The press tried to blame the strikers for the layoff of thousands of workers. But the strikers ignored this and ended up winning the salary increase and the bonus in dozens of factories. Finally the workers won these raises in more than a quarter of the factories there.

Striking workers seemed encouraged by what the president had to say, but in fact they can only count on their own forces to obtain their demands.

Page 8

100 Years Ago:
The 1919 Seattle General Strike

Feb 18, 2019

One hundred years ago, the workers of Seattle organized the first general strike in a major U.S. city. The workers proved they could run the city better than the bosses, without the bosses’ help – and that sent the bosses into a panic.

In 1919, Seattle was a union town, with over 100 American Federation of Labor (AFL) locals organizing everyone from boilermakers, carpenters and shipyard workers to cooks, barbers, newsboys, and hotel maids. The I.W.W.’s “One Big Union” lumberjacks had taken shipyard jobs during the war, and their ideas were popular.

During the World War from 1915 to 1918, war contracts for shipbuilding made Seattle boom. About 26 per cent of all ships built for the war came from Seattle yards and Seattle labor. The cost of living was high, but the shipyards could pay reasonable wages if pushed, and the unions did push.

But the end of the war meant the winding down of the contracts. The government’s Shipbuilding Labor Adjustment Board threatened to cut off steel to the shipyards – all the shipyards – unless pay cuts were imposed on the workers. From August 1917 to December 1918, the unions tried to negotiate. The owners offered small raises for the most skilled, but pay cuts of 15% for all general labor. Workers refused!

The Strike Begins

On January 21, 1919, 35,000 shipyard workers went out on strike. When the Central Labor Council (CLC) of Seattle took a vote to propose that other union workers strike, the response was volcanic.

The General Strike Committee (GSC) was set up, composed of 3 delegates from each of the 110 unions, to make all decisions on strike matters. An Executive Committee of 15 would handle details.

On February 6 at 10:00 a.m. 60,000 other union workers walked off their jobs and joined the 35,000 shipyard strikers. Seattle was quiet and calm. “Nothing moved but the tide,” said one striker.

Three hundred war veterans organized the Labor War Veterans Guard. Armed only with white armbands and their powers of persuasion, they kept the peace. City police normally recorded 100 incidents per day; during the strike, there were only 30.

Dairymen and truckers organized milk deliveries from farms to neighborhoods. It took only three days to iron out problems and get a smooth running system.

Cooks, restaurant workers, waitresses, and produce depot workers set up a Provisions Committee to feed strikers at 25 cents a meal and anyone else at 35 cents. They had 21 cafeteria halls supplied from central kitchens. By the fourth day they were serving 30,000 meals daily and, said one in charge, “If it went four or five days more, we could have reduced the price.”

City and Union Leaders React

The immense success of the sympathy strike scared the conservative union leaders almost as much as it scared the bosses and their government. The city government passed out arms and deputized 2600 “special” police.

The Executive Committee, influenced by the old conservative union leaders, recommended returning to work on Saturday night. That was soundly voted down by the delegates of the General Strike Committee. But the “old guard” kept sending more and more of the smaller unions back to work without authorization. By Monday, the delegates decided to end the strike in a unified way. On Tuesday, February 11, the sympathy strikers went back to work. The shipyard strike continued.

The History Committee of the General Strike Committee reported: “The workers of Seattle did not go back to work with the feeling that they had been beaten. They went smiling, like men who had gained something worth gaining, like men who had done a big job and done it well. The men went back, feeling that they had won the strike ... They had chosen the strike themselves, and it had been a great experience.”

Making The Bosses Worry

But for the capitalists, it had not been a great experience. U.S. bosses had seen European workers in revolt, starting with the Russian workers in February of 1917, culminating in their revolution in November. They had seen soldiers refuse orders of their military leaders. There had been revolts in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Finland, and other places, against the terrible conditions wrought by World War I. The threatened bosses launched the Palmer Raids and the “Red Scare,” a campaign of repression against union and political militants.

Seattle was a small part of the uprising of a great many workers, challenging what the bosses were doing to them. But the wave of rebellions and uprising began to recede. The Seattle workers’ strike did not spread.

Seattle was a step along the road. The working class – in the United States and everywhere in the world – will have to go much further when it decides it has had enough of this capitalist system of exploitation and wars.