Jul 22, 2019
For more than a week, the U.S. president, Donald Trump, indulged himself in a racist and self-serving rant. He stoked the flames of a racist fire when he declared that four freshman congresswomen should “go back” to “where they came from,” clearly sending the message that these women had no right to speak – because they’re women, because they are non-white, because (for two of them) they are Muslim, and because they are critical of his policies. The message for them, and anyone like them, is, “go back where you came from” or shut up and sit down.
That’s why his political hacks circulating in the rally in North Carolina pulled the rest in the crowd into chanting “Send Her Back!”
No doubt, with careful coaching from the right wing think tanks, fueled by the right wing billionaires and their media mouthpieces, he has settled into a strategy he is certain can secure for himself another term in the White House in the face of mounting criticism of his policies and behavior.
Yes, this is an old story. We have heard it all before. But it is not the rhetoric of this one disgusting, inhumane individual that is resonating, a rhetoric that the public has learned to shrug off with an “Oh, that’s Donald Trump, he always says outrageous things.” What we are hearing echoing back at us is an incitement to violence against one section of the population by another – an incitement to the mob mentality and mob violence that preceded the Civil Rights movement and culminated in Jim Crow and lynchings.
Make no mistake – Trump has accomplished what he set out to do. He is not worried about what a majority of the population thinks about him. He is not worried about the Congress or electoral action and he is definitely not worried about legal ramifications. He is focused on bringing one small section of the population forward to support his policies – a population he can mobilize, militant and brazen enough to pick up the most vile things to yell, and to bring with it those who may be less vocal, but who believe that other sections of the population are taking their jobs, threatening their communities, and ruining their futures.
In the wake of his remarks, there has been a spike in reported verbal attacks, specifically with the line, “go back where you came from,” with other racist epithets and threats tossed in as well. A Georgia state representative, Erica Thomas, who is black, said she was berated by a middle-aged white man, for taking too many items through an express line. The man said, “you lazy son of a bitch, you need to go back where you came from!”
The U.S. white working class has a history of being used against other workers, black and immigrant, in a way that divides the working class. Used by the wealthy elite of the South, dirt poor Southern whites participated in the enslavement of millions of black people and were used to reimpose the racial violence of Jim Crow, a new slave system, on the South following Reconstruction. This acceptance of violence was codified in the law of the land, and has marked this society for the 142 years that followed.
This history was interrupted by the determined struggle of millions of black Americans that reached its peak in the 1960s, culminating in demonstrations and rebellions in cities across the country including Watts in Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark and others.
Following these major upheavals, this society was forever changed, because those who fomented racism were pushed back in the most decisive way. A message was sent: we will not accept it, anymore.
Politicians and the wealthy had to back up, to relinquish their open attacks. No, racism was not eliminated – it has subsisted, acted out against the black population to today, but free of the public displays and outbursts that marked its earlier history.
We would be foolish indeed to think for a moment that we can’t be pulled back to a period when lynchings were public affairs, viewed and enjoyed by white mobs with mostly, but not all, black victims.
By their struggles, and their willingness to confront racist violence with violence, black workers found a way forward that inspired a majority of white society to at least desist from overt racism and inspired many white workers to join them in strikes that spread through the country in the 1970s.
To resist being drawn backward, back into a vile, injurious place, voices must be raised; every fist should be clenched in determination not to accept any more, to defend against racism in any form, against any section of the population. Not only black voices, not only immigrant voices, but the voices of white workers also. NO! To any and all racism and no to anti-migrant attacks!
Jul 22, 2019
On July 7th, another big water main burst in downtown Baltimore. This time, a large part of downtown was flooded and a couple of people were injured – one almost died and may be permanently disabled. The water and mud caused a freight train to derail in the Howard Street tunnel. The light rail tracks were undermined, causing the shutdown of service from Camden Yards all the way up to North Avenue. The water flowed into the football stadium. It turned the Inner Harbor brown with filthy, contaminated runoff.
City and state officials say the roads around the normally-busy intersection of Pratt and Howard Streets will not be re-opened until at least July 22nd. Nor will downtown light rail service be restored until at least this date. In the meantime, tens of thousands of commuters working downtown, or passing through the area to jobs in other parts of the city, have had their commute times greatly increased.
The water main that broke is decades old and was obviously in need of repairs. It is just one of the many sections of water and sewer lines that have not been properly maintained for decades.
This irresponsibility lies squarely on well-to-do city and state politicians and officials, and their rich supporters – several of whom were recently exposed for their corruption and incompetence.
But no doubt they will try to put the huge clean-up and repair costs of this mini-disaster on us.
Jul 22, 2019
Forty-six thousand grocery workers in Southern California are facing a big attack. Union officials have revealed that four of the biggest supermarket chains in the region are demanding pay cuts from some of their workers, and they are offering other workers a one percent “raise” – which of course is a pay cut because of inflation.
The wages that the four chains – Albertsons, Vons, Pavillions and Ralphs – are paying now are very low already. Meat cutters, for example, start at 13.34 dollars an hour. In other classifications, workers start with wages barely above 12 dollars an hour, which is the current minimum wage in California. The companies pay an experienced cashier less than 45,000 dollars a year, when the median rent in Los Angeles County is about 30,000 dollars a year. And union officials say that the companies want to reclassify the cashiers to pay them less – which would amount to as much as a 25 percent pay cut for some of the cashiers!
Not surprisingly, the negotiations between the companies and the union representing the workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, are stalled. The workers have been working without a contract since March, and voted in June to authorize a strike.
If there is a strike, it will be the second one in 16 years against the same supermarket chains – which today are owned by two huge, very profitable companies, Albertsons and Kroger.
The 2003-04 Southern California supermarket strike, which involved 70,000 workers, enjoyed plenty of support in working-class communities, where many customers joined the picket lines. But instead of trying to spread the strike, union leaders did the exact opposite. A few weeks into the strike, for example, they called off the picket lines at all but one of the companies. This certainly contributed to a stalling of the strike; and after four months the strike ended with a defeat: the companies were able to force a two-tier contract on the workers, with reduced wages and benefits for new hires.
Many grocery workers today were part of that strike; and many of them no doubt remember its bitter lessons. And that’s important, because if there is a strike, once again it may draw wide support from other workers – which may give the strikers the possibility to spread their fight to other grocery retailers, and eventually to other industries, where workers are facing the same kind of massive attacks from big and very profitable companies.
Jul 22, 2019
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. The 231-199 vote was almost strictly along party lines with all but six Democrats voting for and all but three Republicans against the bill.
In passing this bill, the Democrats are simply making political hay, positioning themselves for the coming 2020 elections as the party that cares most for the working people. They know, however, that this bill has zero chance of even being taken up in the Senate, let alone be signed into law by Donald Trump.
Even were the Democrats to win the presidential election and take control of the Senate, it remains to be seen if they would still pass this bill. And if they do? It doesn’t raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour until 2025, a full thirteen years after the beginning of the $15 minimum wage fight.
If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity increases, it would be close to $20 an hour, today!
All workers, including those being paid the minimum today, deserve much higher pay. We can’t afford to wait on politicians who pretend to be the workers’ friend.
Jul 22, 2019
Viewed from outer space, the thousands of oil wells blazing off excess natural gas illuminates West Texas as brilliantly as Dallas or Houston. The gas being burned is a byproduct of a frenzy of oil drilling in the Permian Basin. Oil production in the Permian Basin has more than tripled in less than eight years. Today, it produces more oil than anywhere in the world, even more than the Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia.
Every day, 740 million cubic feet of gas is either flared or vented into the atmosphere from these oil wells. That is the equivalent of the exhaust from five million cars driving 24 hours a day. As companies drill for oil, they also pump out large volumes of natural gas. Rather than ship the gas off via pipelines, companies either burn it up at the well head, or vent it. They do this because the infrastructure to capture the gas, and ship it, doesn’t exist, or else simply because it saves them money.
The chemicals from either venting or flaring are extremely harmful to human health. One recent report said that more than 2.5 million Texans live and work within a half-mile radius of an oil and gas facility. It also says there are more than 900 schools and 75 medical facilities close by. All those people are at much greater risk for getting asthma, COPD and cancer, not to speak of getting covered by all the soot and smoke that are everywhere.
The flaring and venting also contribute to global warming. One of the gases produced by flaring is carbon dioxide, which itself is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. As for the vented, unburned gas, it is made up of many more harmful chemicals such as methane, toluene and benzene. Methane itself is 70 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping the heat from the sun in the atmosphere over a period of 20 years.
Of course, each time companies decide to flare or vent the gas, they have to apply to the government for permission. But over the last seven years, the Texas Railroad Commission has received more than 27,000 requests for permits and has not denied one of them.
The Permian Basin is a true gold mine for companies in the oil and gas industries. But no matter how much profits these companies make, it is never enough. They have proven that in their competition to increase their profits, they are more than ready to inflict terrible permanent damage to the environment, as well as destroy the lives of untold numbers of people.
And all government does is sit back and rubber stamp it.
Jul 22, 2019
Everyone in Michigan knows the state has the worst roads and bridges in the country, but recent reports show just how dire the situation is and paint a pretty gloomy picture of the prospects they’ll get fixed any time soon. Wayne County, the county in which Detroit is located, has 58% of its roads in poor condition today, up from 42% just two years ago. Thirty percent of the county’s bridges are in poor condition. Thirty-five bridges in the county are open with reduced weight loads and 10 are closed altogether.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans puts the costs to bring 90% of its roads to fair to good condition at 3 billion dollars over 10 years. The Detroit Free Press estimates it would take 406 million dollars to replace its bad bridges, while it sets aside only 10 million dollars a year.
Wayne County is not alone by any means. One neighboring county, Macomb, would need to spend 2.3 billion dollars to fix its crumbling roads and bridges. Macomb County has 12% of its bridges in poor condition, while another adjacent county, Oakland, has 23% of its bridges rated as poor.
The rotten roads and bridges not only cost drivers a great deal in car repairs every year, they’re downright dangerous. A tour of bridges along I-94 through the heart of Detroit shows many of them held together with nothing but sheets of plywood on the underside of the bridges that road crews have put there to prevent chunks of concrete from falling on cars below.
Meanwhile, the governor and legislators in Lansing are debating at least four different proposals to fix the roads. Who knows when and how that will get settled? In all likelihood, the outcome will likely result in the working class being asked to foot the bill.
Jul 22, 2019
Tensions between the western powers and Iran continue to escalate. On July 18, the U.S. claimed it had shot down an Iranian drone that was flying “too close” to one of its warships – though that ship was just a few miles off the coast of Iran. One day later, Iran appeared to have seized at least one British oil tanker operating near Iran in the Persian Gulf. This happened after the British navy captured an Iranian oil tanker a few weeks ago. And these are just the latest escalations.
In the U.S., all of this is portrayed as Iranian aggression. But the situation is being produced by U.S. imperialism’s attempts to impose itself on the Middle East and to secure even more profits for its oil companies.
In 2015, the U.S. and other powers made a deal with Iran regarding its sale of oil on the world market. The U.S. was dealing while the U.S. and Iran had a common interest against the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But today, with ISIS essentially defeated and the Syrian dictator Assad more or less back in control, the U.S. is looking to check Iran’s influence in the region.
Last year, Trump abandoned the 2015 deal with Iran, imposing trade sanctions on the country. In May, he ramped up the economic attacks on Iran, thereby forcing European and Asian countries to turn increasingly to U.S. controlled sources of oil – all to the benefit of U.S. oil companies. The European powers have been looking for a way to find a “negotiated” return to the terms of the 2015 deal, which would allow them access to Iranian oil and markets. But at least so far they have not been willing to openly go against U.S. imperialism in order to get it.
It is clear the Iranian state does not want war. In fact, the Iranian government has indicated all along that it would be willing to submit to even more comprehensive nuclear inspections in return for sanction relief.
But Iran’s rulers are caught in a bind. While they don’t want war, they cannot openly back down too much in front of the challenge thrown in their face by the U.S. The top U.S. military intelligence officer explained this when he told journalists: “They (the Iranians) aren’t looking to go to war but at the same time they are looking to project strength ... they look for things that are proportionate in nature.”
While Trump appears not to be ready for war either right now, the U.S. appears, nonetheless, ready to risk it. U.S. aircraft carriers and land-based bombers threaten death and destruction. Six thousand miles from the North American continent, U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, on Iran’s borders.
Anti-Iran propaganda is aimed at getting the U.S. population to accept one more war in the Middle East, if it comes to that, in order to advance the interests of U.S. corporations.
Jul 22, 2019
This article is translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers group of that name.
Under the trade embargo imposed by the Trump administration, the leaders of the Islamic Republic announced that they were no longer going to respect the nuclear agreement they signed in 2015 with the big powers. The embargo has been strangling the Iranian population for more than a year.
Concretely, the Iranian leaders announced that they would increase the proportion of uranium-235, which is present in naturally occurring uranium, beyond the 3.67% authorized by the 2015 agreement.
Uranium-235 is the type that permits nuclear fission reactions. For the type of reactor used to produce electricity, the level of uranium-235 needed is 20%, or a little more. But to produce bombs, it must be more than 80%, quite a bit higher than the 4.5% announced by the Iranian leaders.
In signing the accord back in 2015, Iran accepted the most intrusive control in the world. They made this enormous concession of their sovereignty in order to be allowed to reintegrate into the world market, to sell their oil in exchange for multiple products. By brutally denouncing this accord in 2018 and then insisting on a severe embargo, to be respected by every country in the world under penalty of U.S. sanctions, Trump has put the Iranian leaders in an impasse.
Denouncing the accord in their turn is one way for Iran to show that they will not step back from this test of force. They adopt this stance in the hope that it will permit the reopening of negotiations. In particular, they are trying to pressure the European leaders who seemed to want to have relations with Iran, but who have given in to all the U.S. demands.
Whatever comes out of this dangerous poker game that could tomorrow lead to more military confrontations in the Persian Gulf, it is the Iranian population that pays the heavy price.
Every month that passes aggravates the poverty of the population. The embargo has produced record inflation. As well, the Iranian people suffer from the effects of a series of environmental catastrophes: pollution, recurrent shortages of water, massive rainstorms, major flooding that displaced 500,000 people.
The dictatorship of the mullahs and permanent corruption have been imposed on the population for 40 years. In aggravating the suffering of the Iranian population, the imperialist leaders only reinforce this dictatorship.
Jul 22, 2019
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers’ group of that name.
Violent riots and mass demonstrations took place in early July in half a dozen cities in Israel including Tel Aviv and Haifa. The explosions were sparked by a policeman fatally shooting a 19-year-old Ethiopian Israeli. Barricades of burning tires went up. Nearly 1,000 young people in Tel Aviv attacked a police station, injuring over 100 cops. The violence of these youths reflects their anger against the racism black Jews from Ethiopia face in Israel.
Eleven Israeli black people have died in confrontations with cops since 1997. An association reports that criminal indictments of Ethiopian Israelis almost doubled since 2015. Nearly all black youths taken to court are convicted. Only one-third of other Israelis are.
Israel has at least 140,000 Jews from Ethiopia. More than a third were born in Israel. The government has campaigned to bring in more, as it wants to have more people in the country, to serve as soldiers and to work for low wages.
Israel recognized Ethiopian Jews as Jewish in 1975 despite the hostility of religious authorities. A policy called “the right of return” lets any Jew move to Israel. In the 1980s, the government organized two secret airlifts to fly in thousands from Ethiopia and refugee camps in Sudan. But once in Israel, the Ethiopian Jews were treated as poor people. In Israel as elsewhere, sharing a historical, cultural, and religious community doesn’t count. What matters is class.
Jul 22, 2019
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers’ group of that name.
France’s Minister of the Environment resigned on July 16. He had been known for dining on lobster on the public dollar while president of the legislature. As minister, he ordered a 70,000 dollar make-over of his official apartment, including 19,000 dollars for the dressing room. He also reserved an apartment in another city without ever occupying it. And his wife bought a gold plated hairdryer for 560 dollars!
Perfectly normal for him, all these showy expenses shocked ordinary working people who can hardly pay for housing, clothes, and food.
But this lifestyle of the powerful is only a pale imitation of the much more luxurious life of the ultra rich on whose behalf they govern. It stings when the bosses lecture working people about pinching pennies. But the minister’s tab is actually paltry compared to the billions that the government gives big business through subsidies and incentives.
While throwing fortunes at big capitalists, politicians take a small cut for themselves.
Jul 22, 2019
In early May, the Federal Reserve issued a warning about the big build-up of corporate debt: “Borrowing by businesses is historically high ... with the most rapid increases in debt concentrated among the riskiest firms....”
This was the Federal Reserve’s second warning in less than six months and it comes on top of warnings from other big institutions and top economists. But none of these warnings have even slowed the build-up of corporate debt. Over the last 10 years, corporate debt has doubled and now stands at over nine trillion dollars. Measured against Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is higher than it has been in over half a century.
And what is all this debt for? Businesses have been borrowing simply to further enrich the capitalist class. They have been borrowing either to speculate, to buy up their rivals, or just to increase dividends and buy back their stock in order to raise their stock price. None of this debt is for anything socially useful for ordinary working people or for the running of society.
Even worse, as the Federal Reserve report states, the fastest growing part of this debt is the riskiest, for companies which already have extremely high levels of debt. These “leveraged loans” as the banks call them, increased by more than 20 per cent in just the last year and estimates are that they stand at between one and two trillion dollars.
Banks make these kinds of loans because they are so profitable. Banks take advantage of the risks by charging big fees. The banks then turn around and make more profits by bundling the leveraged loans together into financial securities, which the banks sell to pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds, mutual funds and endowments all over the world, which seek these financial securities because they pay very high interest rates.
In many ways, what the banks have created with leveraged loans to corporations resembles the old subprime mortgage business, which collapsed 10 years ago. The banks today don’t bother to check if the companies can pay back the leveraged loans before lending the money to these companies. That is because – just like 10 years ago – they don’t hold onto these corporate loans.
This has all the makings of another big disaster. There is a very good chance that most of the very indebted companies that have taken out even more loans will default when an economic downturn hits, rendering the financial instruments worthless. So what if the companies go bankrupt sometime in the future? The bankers and the big stockholders and owners already got their huge profits.
Some speculators are even betting on these companies’ collapse. They are buying a little of the debt of the risky companies at a discount, and then buying a much larger amount of insurance on that debt – so-called “credit default swaps.” These speculators do everything they can to force the company into a bankruptcy filing, which triggers the insurance payoff on the debt. Since the insurance payment exceeds by far the overall cost of the debt, the speculators plan on profiting handsomely, as well.
Of course, when companies go broke, it can cause tremendous damage, destroying jobs, incomes and entire communities. The damage from companies going broke can also spread quickly, with losses to investors, lenders and insurers piling up on each other, as weaker companies pull down seemingly stronger ones, given the huge amount of debt they are all in. If there are enough losses, it can set in motion another financial collapse on a global scale, just like the subprime mortgage crisis did 10 years ago.
Or it could even be worse. Since the U.S. government and Federal Reserve have pumped so much money into the pockets of the capitalist class over the last 10 years, they too are buried in record amounts of debt as well. Thus debt is building up on debt, in the private and public sectors, magnifying the dangers and risks to the entire economy and all the people in the world.
Jul 22, 2019
The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’S workplace newsletters for the week of July 15, 2019.
Twenty Democratic candidates took the stage last week in Miami to address the voters. Early in the second debate, Kamala Harris declared: “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how they’re going to put food on their table.”
Absolutely right, but that’s what people didn’t hear from any of the candidates on either night of the debate, including Harris herself.
And yet the answers to what working people need are obvious. We need a decent job for everyone who wants to work. And we all need adequate pay, so we can live comfortable lives. This is the richest country in the world – as the politicians are so fond of saying. There should be no problem guaranteeing both of those things to everyone – a decent job, and adequate pay.
Companies making a profit could be prohibited from laying off any employee. Companies making a profit could be prohibited from using overtime. When they need more production, they could be required to hire more people – and provide all of us with a decent wage, so none of us feels the need to work overtime.
If that’s not enough to give a job to everyone who needs one, then require companies to share out the work. Let everyone work fewer hours – with no loss of weekly pay – until all the unemployed can find work.
Companies would say it’s not possible. But it should be possible. Look at the profits they brag about. Let them give up part of their profits so everyone can have a job and a decent wage.
If they say they can’t make a profit doing that, then let someone else take over their companies and run them. Workers in all the companies certainly know better than any Board of Directors sitting on Wall Street how to run an auto factory or an insurance company or an airline or any other company.
As for the bureaucrats who run city, state and federal governments, let them do the same thing: use the resources they control to provide jobs at a decent wage.
Of course, they will say they don’t have the money. That’s what they say today when they don’t fix the roads, when they don’t provide decent schools, when they let water systems and sewer systems and public transit disintegrate. That’s what they say when they cut jobs.
But, yes, they do have money. They themselves brag about all the money they are giving away to the billionaires of the world. Don’t give any more of that money away. Take back the many billions – trillions in fact – that they have been handing out to the wealthiest people in the country. Take that money back and fix things. That would provide jobs.
None of the 20 Democratic candidates proposed a program like this last week. Nor has Donald Trump – ever.
To carry out a program like this would require the politicians of both parties to cut into profits of the capitalist class. That class increases its profit by cutting jobs. It increases profit by freezing wages, increases profit by hiring new workers at lower wages than current workers. It increases profit by getting government handouts.
Neither party will attack capitalist profit. It’s why neither party can answer our needs.
If we want jobs, we have to fight for them. If we want decent wages, we have to fight for them. If we want our wages to increase when prices go up, we have to fight. We have to use our forces – the organized force of the working class – to impose our demands on the capitalist class. And if they don’t answer our needs – push them aside!
Some of us may not want to hear it, but it’s really very simple. To get what we want, we have to fight.
The campaign for the election of November 2020 has already begun, 16 months ahead of time. Don’t let this campaign divert us from what WE have to do.
Jul 22, 2019
The U.S. Justice Department announced it will not bring charges against New York City cop Daniel Pantaleo, for the death of Eric Garner. Garner, a 43-year-old black man, was killed when five white cops took him to the ground while arresting him for “selling loose cigarettes.” In the process, Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold, refusing to let up despite Garner’s repeated pleas that he could not breathe.
In his announcement on the decision, Richard Donoghue, the U.S. States Attorney for the Eastern District, said that it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Pantaleo’s chokehold was imposed willfully, caused bodily injury to the victim, and represented unreasonable force.
What utter nonsense! The whole episode was caught on videotape and has been posted on the internet for all the world to see. It clearly shows, to anyone not completely in the tow of the NYC police department, this was a case of outright murder.
Even after Garner went into seizure and eventually lost consciousness, for over seven minutes none of the cops attempted resuscitation, and when the EMTs arrived, they did nothing for another four minutes.
The week of the Justice Department’s announcement was the five-year anniversary of Garner’s death. Five years of delays to obscure justice – to wait for public outrage to subside.
Trump’s DOJ made the final decision, but former President Obama’s Justice Department also failed to act. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio thus far has refused to fire Pantaleo, despite going through the motions of recently meeting with members of Garner’s family. Pantaleo, and the other cops, all still remain on the NYC police force.
The actions of the politicians and judicial officials provide a clear example of what workers, and the black population in particular, can expect from the American “Injustice” system.
After meeting with de Blasio, Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, said, “Actions speak louder than words and so far I still haven’t seen action. I want to see action and will not stop fighting for my son until Pantaleo and all the other officers who did wrong are fired.”
Jul 22, 2019
In some of the largest protests in Puerto Rico’s history, demonstrators in the thousands faced off with the police on the nights of July 15 and 17. Hit with tear gas and rubber bullets, protestors threw water and beer bottles at the police when ordered to disperse. Gathering outside the governor’s palace in Old San Juan, they demanded that their governor resign. By July 20, hundreds of thousands from across the island of 3.2 million people had joined in.
Many protest signs carry the number 4,645 – the estimated death toll of Hurricane Maria. Fed up with chaos since the hurricane, and weary of a series of scandals and years of austerity, popular anger has risen.
The publication of secret chat messages between Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, and his advisors, unified islanders in outrage. In one horrifying chat message, a request for more money for the morgue – at that point filled with victims of Hurricane Maria – saw the governor suggest feeding the cadavers to the crows! Other chats viciously mocked gay people, women and the poor.
The governor’s arrogance brought many young people into the streets, some for the first time. Said one, “We’re the ones who can’t find work....The truth is that we’ve been kind of trampled, because there is a lack of employment.” Another said, “We’ve had too many humiliations. It’s everything, everything. We saw how they did that in the chat and it was just the last straw.”
According to Oxfam America, 30,000 homes in Puerto Rico still have a blue tarp instead of a roof. Damage estimates from Hurricane Maria totaled 90 billion dollars. The U.S. Congress has sent only 14 billion dollars which is 15 percent of what it would take to rebuild. The people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens yet are treated as second class citizens!
Even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico was in an economic crisis. Early in 2017, students and union workers fought cuts to schools, hospitals and pensions. Puerto Rico is being squeezed because it owes a debt of 73 billion dollars to Wall Street.
How this debt was racked up in Puerto Rico is a lesson in how colonization benefits wealthy corporations. Ever since the 1930s and up until 2006, the U.S. Congress passed laws allowing U.S. corporations to operate virtually tax-free in Puerto Rico. With 45 percent of the population living below the poverty level and next to no corporate taxes paid, of course there was debt!
The governor and local politicians serve Wall Street by enforcing horrific austerity on the population to make the debt payments. The system of oppression that is in place is more deeply rooted than just one governor. Once the governor steps down, behind him stands Wall Street and its enforcer, the U.S. government. It will take a longer, harder fight to change the system. It’s clear that some protestors see this connection. For some, the red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag has been replaced by the symbol of the movement – a black and white protest flag.
The strength of this population that has gone through so much – hurricanes, poverty, oppression – and is fighting, is impressive. Because many Puerto Rican people have moved to the mainland U.S. to find work, what is happening in Puerto Rico has touched off spirited protests in the U.S. cities of Orlando, Miami, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York.
The working class is one class. If this fighting spirit gets picked up by working people in the cities where Puerto Rican people now live, it could open up new possibilities.