The Spark

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

Issue no. 1093 — November 11 - 25, 2019

California Fires and Mass Blackouts:
Corporate Profits!

Nov 11, 2019

Wildfires have plagued California from top to bottom since early October. Because of climate change, the weather has become hotter, dryer and windier for much longer, while the winter rains have come much later. The underlying conditions are more explosive, increasing the chances that a small fire will turn into a raging inferno. And while the fire season used to last a few months at the end of the summer, now it lasts practically all year round.

Most often, these fires are ignited by the equipment and machinery of the big electric utility companies. In order to eke out as much profit as they can, those companies have run the entire system into the ground. They didn’t do vital repair and maintenance. They didn’t replace aging equipment. They don’t remove or trim hazardous trees. As soon as the winds pick up, lines and poles snap. Transformers crash to the ground. Sparks fly everywhere.

The biggest company supplying power in the country is Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), with 16 million customers in the northern and central parts of the state. It’s big and powerful. It’s also a complete catastrophe. Over the last six years, that company’s equipment and machinery caused more than 1,500 wildfires. Last year, a power line that was almost a century old snapped, causing a wildfire that incinerated the entire town of Paradise, killing 85 people.

To protect itself and its big stockholders, PG&E used the wildfires as an excuse to charge higher rates, gouge the customers even more. It declared bankruptcy in order to limit how much it has to pay out for all the damage it has caused.

Rather than make its system safe, it simply cuts off electricity to millions of customers when the winds pick up. These blackouts are an attack on the health and well-being of the population. In mid-October PG&E cut off the electricity to close to a million households, with 2.5 million people for several days. Countless tons of food and medicine spoiled and rotted. 1,370 public schools serving 483,000 students went dark. And the lives of 30,000 customers with potentially serious medical issues were endangered.

But the poor state of the companies’ equipment and machinery is so widespread, they sparked fires anyway. On Sunday, October 27, PG&E hardware ignited at least four fires in the San Francisco Bay area. On that same day, in Lafayette, PG&E admitted a transformer and open wire were in such poor condition, they started sparking. In Oakley, PG&E equipment cast sparks for 200 yards, prompting evacuations.

It wasn’t the wind that caused this equipment to spark, but simply because they were in such poor condition to start with. And PG&E was not alone. Southern California Edison’s equipment sparked the Easy fire in Ventura County. A day later, a tree branch in Los Angeles hit a power line, sparking the Getty fire that burnt up 650 acres, prompting more evacuations.

These disasters will only get worse. Just look at what’s happening at PG&E. Because the company is in bankruptcy, it has become a target of wild speculation. Companies like Elliott Management, Abrams Capital, and Knighthead Capital, in true vulture fashion, bought up big chunks of PG&E stocks and bonds. They bought cheap with the goal of squeezing billions in profits out of the company. Those profits won’t just be from PG&E. The entire state of California will pay. The politicians have already set up a fund to funnel tens of billions of dollars from all over the state to reimburse and further enrich the capitalists behind the big utility companies, like PG&E.

Thus, the profit-making cycle turns endlessly. From the ashes of devastating wildfires come only further profits, which only beget more disasters ... and profits.

California is supposed to be big and modern. It is the fifth largest economy in the world. It is an important global center for scientific research and technological advancement. But the goal of all of that is simply to enrich the capitalist class.

California has more billionaires than almost anywhere else. It also has more homelessness and hunger. Nowhere is the gap between rich and poor, the capitalist and the worker, more pronounced, more disgusting.

When it comes to the fires, which are a part of the environment in California, everything that the capitalist class has done has made them much, much worse.

The capitalists have known how climate change is caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases. But they did nothing about it. The capitalists have known how dangerous the electric power companies’ equipment is. But they chose their own profits over safety.

The capitalist class destroys everything for its own profit and benefit.

Pages 2-3

Writing the Laws, Causing the Crashes

Nov 11, 2019

Why is this airplane still flying?” asked a safety engineer at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) meeting, after the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max on March 10 of this year and before the FAA grounded them all.

Another question should follow the engineer’s question. Why was this airplane allowed in the air in the first place?

Since the two crashes that killed 346 people, much background information has been uncovered. For instance, the new head of the FAA’s safety division is Ali Bahrami, who used to be a lobbyist for Boeing’s trade group.

With Boeing in the lead, the aircraft industry’s biggest players have increasingly had their way with the FAA. Even under old procedures that governed the certification of the 737 Max, FAA powers were outsourced to Boeing departments. FAA staff were reduced, and Boeing people were paid to handle many of the safety inspection and certification tasks. Boeing managers overruled test pilot and engineers’ objections, brushing them under the rug to prevent delays to production schedules.

And that was under old rules. In October 2018, Congress passed a new FAA Reauthorization Act. The vote was led by Democratic senators from Washington and Oregon, and a Republican from Pennsylvania. Bipartisan.

The new law prevents FAA staff from interfering in aircraft design and production unless they can prove there is a problem. Proof like that usually involves a crash first, as staff memos have stated.

Even worse, the law sets up an “advisory committee” of aircraft industry executives to actually oversee the FAA and set guidelines that the FAA will have to follow. The committee will reportedly have 17 industry members and 2 union representatives.

The two crashes of the 737 Max came right after the bill passed, and brought some unwelcome attention to it.

But the lesson is quite clear. The government is set up in such a way that corporate interests always get priority. The warnings of workers and specialists are sidetracked and brushed aside.

In fact, it is nothing but a mirror of how industry operates in all its workplaces. Profits come first, and the concerns and warnings of workers are not allowed to interfere!

ERA Rises from the Dead?

Nov 11, 2019

Now that Democrats became the majority in Virginia’s state legislature, some are talking about resurrecting and actually passing the Equal Rights Amendment.

The ERA simply states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It was originally proposed nearly 100 years ago, in 1923, but it took massive movements in the ‘60s before Congress finally got around to passing it in 1972. But then it set a time limit for the states to adopt it, something not done for other amendments. That time limit expired in 1982, with the amendment short of the 38 states needed to be ratified into the Constitution.

Now there’s talk by Democrats in the House about removing that time limit and allowing Virginia to be the 38th state to ratify the ERA. But of course, that would require Republicans in the Senate to vote to remove that time limit, too. So, chances are good that nothing will come of this proposal but making it another election year talking point by the Democrats.

And who knows what will happen if Democrats win a majority in the Senate in 2020? Democrats in Congress have been in a position to get rid of that time limit many times before, but never got around to doing it when it could actually be done.

Gee, guys, don’t rush into anything here! It’s already taken a hundred years! If this is the pace of progress we can expect from Congress, no wonder so many people are fed up!

Strike Shuts Down Buses in D.C. Suburb

Nov 11, 2019

On October 24th bus drivers, mechanics and utility workers at the Cinder Bed Road Metrobus facility in Northern Virginia walked off their jobs. This is the first strike at Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in forty years. A year ago WMATA outsourced Cinder Bed to Transdev, a French multinational that specializes in taking over public transportation systems and slashing wages and benefits.

Workers at Cinder Bed are demanding that they receive the same pay and benefits as WMATA workers. They drive the same routes, on the same roads, with the same buses as WMATA, but they receive about half the take-home pay as WMATA workers just because they work for a private contractor. That’s not all, Transdev workers’ health insurance comes with a $6,000 deductible. The deductible for WMATA workers is ZERO! So WMATA essentially has a two-tier workforce.

WMATA workers have every reason to join with Transdev workers. Last year WMATA’s unionized membership voted by 94% to go on strike after Metro management violated its contract by outsourcing work to private contractors.

The working conditions and safety are issues for all Metro workers. They all drive the same falling-apart, unsafe buses. Workers also don’t get enough break time, forcing many WMATA bus and train operators to wear adult diapers while on the job.

ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) Local 689 workers are right to fight back. Clearly. Transdev workers are drawing the line.

That Pill Is Poison

Nov 11, 2019

A popular medicine for heartburn—Zantac and its generic form, ranitidine—is being recalled and investigated in the U.S. and over 40 countries. The origin story of this recall exposes drug purity problems that are widespread.

The first steps of the recall came from lab testing done by a new 14-person on-line pharmacy called Valisure. One of the founders kept having bad reactions to medications. He worried that unsafe ingredients might be in prescription drugs. He found no lab that could verify the chemical contents of drugs, so he and a friend started a lab and pharmacy.

It was scientists at Valisure who found that when stomach acid mixed with ranitidine, an extra chemical, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), thought to cause cancer, was produced.

The FDA did their own testing, and also found unacceptable levels of NDMA, including in a syrup for babies! This chemical is linked to liver damage and to increased risk of colon and uterine cancer. Drug manufacturers did their own testing and found the same problem, too, and the recalls started.

Because of price gouging, the pharmaceutical industry has long been distrusted. Now, lack of purity in medications can be added to the list of problems tied to pharmaceutical companies and their thirst to maximize profit.

This one pharmacy doing testing has found that 10% of medicines have problems. As crazy as this sounds, it turns out that the FDA only does testing before a drug is approved but not after. A former FDA official now recommends that each batch of a drug that is produced needs to be tested.

Didn’t most rational people think THIS was already happening? Just one more example of what an irrational system capitalism is.

Los Angeles Landlords Stiff Their Renters Again

Nov 11, 2019

Last October, the Los Angeles City Council approved an emergency ban on unjust, no-fault evictions. They did this to stop landlords from evicting tenants before the rent cap law becomes effective on January 1, 2020. After this law becomes effective, the landlords can only evict their tenants with just cause.

The landlords have been jacking up the rents, in some cases by 25% or even 50%, according to one Los Angeles City Council member. Under the rules of the rent cap law, annual rent increases for tenants in buildings older than 15 years will be capped at 5% plus inflation. So, before this rule becomes effective at the beginning of next year, the landlords are preemptively increasing their rents at skyrocketing rates.

In addition, the landlords have been serving up eviction notices to their renters like hot cakes. Many renters who have been living in their apartments for years were suddenly forced to leave their homes so that the landlords could freely increase their rents.

In this capitalist economy, the landlords can and will stiff their renters one way or another, reducing these laws and bans to politicians’ pranks played on the working class.

Pages 4-5

Dead-Duck President Inflates Prices

Nov 11, 2019

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri will be succeeded in December by President-elect Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, an ideological follower of historical leader Juan Perón. In the short time he has left, Macri plans new attacks against the working class.

In his attempt to avoid a defeat after the August primaries, Macri froze energy prices. But prices shot up again a week after his electoral loss. His government is letting the price of gas rise freely so that oil companies can recover the 20% they lose in profit because Argentina’s currency is now worth fewer U.S. dollars.

Higher oil prices only make inflation worse, especially for basic necessities. The price of bread is rising 20% because flour is more expensive, ten times higher than four years ago. Drugs are almost three times higher. Phone service is going up a fourth.

Until the bitter end, Macri will do everything possible to squeeze the living conditions of working people. Layoffs and inflation make essential goods inaccessible. Real estate loans are being indexed to inflation. People buying working class housing have no choice but to get out. Several essential products now hard to get were just removed from the official “family basket” of items used to calculate the reported cost of living.

But workers can’t expect big changes from the president-elect. She is busy reassuring capitalists, international financial authorities, and leaders of nearby countries. She just said she gets on very well with Trump and Chilean President Piñera, who is despised by his people. Like Macri, Kirchner will guard the interests of the rich.

Haitian Workers Demonstrate:
A First Step

Nov 11, 2019

Translated from Combat Ouvrier (Workers’ Combat), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in the French Caribbean islands, Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Following seven weeks of mass protests called Operation Lock Country, workers in the industrial zone of Haiti’s capital finally made themselves heard. Several hundred workers took to the streets on October 28 in the industrial area of Port-au-Prince. They left the workplaces and met at the entrance of the Sonapi industrial park, as called by the unions. Two main unions had sound trucks broadcasting slogans for President Jovenel Moïse to step down: “Jovenel, sleep outside!” Some workers demanded better working conditions, public housing, and welfare. A group of workers and comrades of the Organization of Revolutionary Workers (OTR) joined the march with red flags and banners.

Union leaders called for payroll deductions to stop. Bosses are withholding social security from workers’ paychecks, but when the workers file for it, there is nothing in their accounts. The bosses don’t pay the money, or lose it by speculating. Demands also included adjusting wages to match exchange rates between the U.S. and Haiti.

The police broke up the demonstration with tear gas grenades. Armed men attacked workers leaving. Later in the week, politicians and unions scheduled other protests against the president. Most protestors went along with the opposition politicians even though they are not for defending workers.

The dictatorship of Jovenel and his cronies has to go, but so does the dictatorship of the bosses and the politicians who serve them. Workers need to group together in their own organization with demands that defend their own interests.

In the end, what poor people need out of Jovenel Moïse’s resignation is very different from what politicians and some middle-class people mean. The politicians want the power to keep pilfering government budgets and to help the bosses oppress the poor. Workers need their own class independence: to rally around their own demands and their own revolutionary workers organization.

Latin America:
Tormented by the Economic Crisis

Nov 11, 2019

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

The wave of demonstrations that has been growing across Latin America is in part the consequence of policies enacted over the last 40 years. It is characterized by the dismantling of the public sector, sold off to big local business or to multinationals. These privatizations have brought massive layoffs of workers, and massive amounts of debt that has continued to grow.

The dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s cleared the path for this privatization. The Chilean military that seized power in 1973 offered their country to U.S. economists as a terrain on which to experiment with ending all regulation of the economy. This opened the country to the voracity of big capital and magnified inequality in Chile.

In Argentina, the military leaders pushed in the same direction, leaving the population a national debt that has never stopped growing. This made the fortunes of financial establishments, while creating increasing poverty for a big part of the population.

And it’s important not to forget that Latin America is, above all else, dependent on fluctuations in the prices of the primary goods that it exports: oil for Venezuela and Ecuador, natural gas for Bolivia, copper for Chile, agricultural products for Brazil and Argentina.

Just last year, some observers could pretend that only Venezuela under Maduro was in trouble. But today it is obvious that no country can escape from the consequences of the crisis of the capitalist system.

The populations of Latin America are no longer willing to pay for the crisis. The years 2000–2011 were marked by the arrival in Venezuela and Bolivia of governments that said they wanted to implement a division of wealth a bit more favorable to the popular classes. This seemed possible in part because the price for hydrocarbons was peaking, reaching 140 dollars a barrel for crude oil. In Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador, governments of the center-left moved in the same direction, implementing some social programs that were denounced by the bourgeoisie and the right, but that did reduce the poverty rate to a certain extent. This turn to the left was quite modest, as none of these leaders even seriously pretended to challenge the dictatorship of capital. And when one or the other of these governments fell into difficulty, the right was ready to come back into power, take things in hand, and take back the social programs.

Today, a big part of the population, in the north and south of Latin America, is mobilizing against the consequences of these attacks, but without a political force that could present a real alternative.

The Death of al-Baghdadi Does Not Mean the End of ISIS

Nov 11, 2019

This article is translated from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group active in France.

Trump staged an obscene show to announce the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, one of the leaders of ISIS, killed on October 27 by U.S. forces helped by Kurdish intelligence, near Idlib, in Syria.

Trump described it “As though you were watching a movie.” With this statement, by putting himself in the central role, the U.S. president recounted the sordid details and the outrageous justifications for the deaths of al-Baghdadi and his children. One can only imagine the effects this news conference will have on the youth of Iraq who might be susceptible to the propaganda of ISIS and its auxiliaries. He added, “At my direction, as commander-in-chief of the United States, we obliterated his caliphate 100% ... but I would say, where’s al-Baghdadi? I want al-Baghdadi!”

Trump lauded the exploits of an army dog, launched in pursuit of the head of ISIS, without giving his name, “to protect his identity,” but tweeting out his photo. Faced with the ridiculousness of Trump’s performance, the Pentagon chiefs distanced themselves from his story, signaling that they did not have exactly the same information.

Trump can very well play the sheriff, bragging that he took out a delinquent, but it’s important not to forget that the entire policy of U.S. imperialism produced these fundamentalist militias that the U.S. supported in a number of countries, before they turned on their creator. U.S. policies allowed these militias to grow and multiply.

Even though one, and then another head of ISIS has been eliminated in Syria, even though the group’s ex-bastions in Mosul and Raqqa have been retaken for two years now, militias calling themselves ISIS or al Qaeda, as well as other independent fundamentalist groups, are evidently still around. They continue to carry out operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, in the Sahel of Africa, in Somalia, and in certain countries in Asia.

Since the fall of their last territory in northern Syria, Baghouz, by the Kurdish militia called Syrian Democratic Forces last March, hundreds of attacks have been claimed by ISIS or competing militias.

The incredible chaos and misery brought by years of imperialist war in the Middle East opened up a space for these militias and provide them with an inexhaustible fuel.

“Saving” Ukraine for U.S. Imperialism

Nov 11, 2019

In the ongoing impeachment hearings, Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, an Army officer working with the National Security Council, said that Trump had demanded what is called a quid pro quo, or “this for that,” from Ukrainian officials. In exchange for an investigation of his political opponents, Trump would grant Ukrainian leaders a meeting presumably leading to the release of U.S. military aid.

Trump hoped for an investigation that would show that Democrat Joe Biden’s son Hunter had been involved in corrupt dealings when he served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company—something he could use against Biden in the upcoming elections.

Even National Security Advisor John Bolton, a right-wing hawk, tried to distance himself from these maneuvers, comparing them to “a drug deal.”

Trump has replaced experienced diplomats like ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch with those who would do his bidding. Yovanovitch herself testified that Trump and his cronies got rid of her in order to “find someone who was more suitable for their interests.”

The officials testifying against Trump are part of the permanent state apparatus of the U.S. military and State Department. They actually run U.S. policy overseas, no matter who is in office. They are angry that Trump put his own short-term political interests above what they call the “national interest.”

But what is this U.S. national interest in Ukraine?

Diplomats like Yovanovitch have for decades carried out a policy to support the interests of U.S. capitalists, using the power of the U.S. state to help these capitalists put their hands on Ukraine’s riches. They have worked to pull Ukraine into the U.S. orbit, and to hold the line against competing Russian interests.

Since 2014, Ukraine has been caught in a civil war which pits the U.S.-allied Kyev government against Russian-supported forces in the eastern part of the country. War has reinforced the Ukrainian government’s dependence on U.S. military aid, a situation encouraged by diplomats like Yovanovitch since it allows them to press even further to open the country to penetration by U.S. imperialism.

Trump is certainly a corrupt operator, putting himself above everyone else. But neither is the U.S. “national interest,” defended by the military and state department officials testifying against him, in the interests of ordinary people in Ukraine or the United States. For the Ukrainian population, U.S. policy has been a disaster, leaving the population caught in war, with their standard of living plummeting.

Pages 6-7

UAW President Steps Aside—The Beacon of the GM Strike Remains!

Nov 11, 2019

This was the editorial in the SPARK workplace bulletins, for the week of November 4, 2019.

After a vote by the executive board of the United Auto Workers union, UAW president Gary Jones requested a paid leave of absence. The Detroit News reported he agreed to repay wages paid to him during the leave if he is convicted.

In fact, Jones has not been charged with any crime. But other officials in the UAW region that Jones once headed have been. And the Feds have leaked information, implying that Jones along with those other officials embezzled union funds, and used union money to pay for personal expenditures.

Who really knows what Jones or others did? Jones hasn’t even been charged yet. Most haven’t had their day in court.

But even if he did embezzle union money, workers should be the ones to hold him to account.

Look who is accusing UAW officials of corruption—the same federal government that lets big companies like GM make hundreds of billions of dollars and pay no taxes at all. You want to talk about corruption? That’s corruption!

The government has never “cleaned up” unions in the interest of the members. Remember what the Feds did to the Teamsters’ union? They removed Jimmy Hoffa as International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) president in the 1960s, only to hand the union over to real mobsters. Some of those mobsters almost beat Pete Camarata, a Teamster oppositionist, to death at the IBT convention in Las Vegas in 1976. After a reform movement took over the IBT in 1991, it led several strikes, including the important strike at UPS in 1997. The Feds immediately pounced on Ron Carey, the man who led that strike. For the last 20 years, the Feds have run the union, during which time the Teamsters’ multi-employer pension fund was completely drained. That’s corruption!

The Feds did not clean up the IBT for Teamster members. They will not “clean up” the UAW for UAW members. None of this will help any workers—with or without a union.

The Feds have other agendas. These charges were originally floated just before the strike—what a coincidence! And they are being renewed now that workers are taking stock of what they did.

The charges are being used by anti-union forces to push the lie that GM workers were tricked into striking. They claim the strike wasn’t worth anything. It’s the same old lie workers always hear when they fight: when you go out on strike, you supposedly lose more than you win.

It’s not true. When you fight, you hardly ever win everything you want. But you don’t keep going backwards. When you don’t fight for years and even decades, you lose, and continue to lose, and go on losing.

For decades the unions have been going backwards, giving up without ever making a fight. Leaders openly proclaimed that unions were in a partnership with the companies. They argued to their members that workers must sacrifice to build up company profit—it was supposed to save jobs. But jobs were lost, and wages too.

The GM strike broke through this. Why did UAW leaders call on workers to strike this time? It doesn’t matter. They did—after years of going along with the companies.

It was obvious from the picket lines that GM workers were eager to be there. It was equally obvious that workers from other companies wanted to join them—that’s why they showed up in solidarity, why they contributed to help GM workers make it through a long strike.

Those workers weren’t tricked. They had every reason to join a fight: years of sacrifices, while the companies ran off with billions in profit.

They have every reason to be proud today, regardless of what Jones may have done. Their strike was a beacon to every worker who has wanted to fight. Their strike could be what sets off a long sustained wave of strikes by many workers—the only thing that will move us all forward.

Medicare Cost Increases

Nov 11, 2019

Medicare’s Part B premium for outpatient care will rise by nearly 7% in 2020. That comes to an additional $9.10 a month for 2020. Part B covers doctor visits and outpatient care.

In addition, Medicare announced that the annual Part B outpatient deductible will increase by $13 to $198 next year. And Part A in-patient deductible will increase by $44.

While these increased costs for Medicare may not sound like much, tell that to the 34% of retirees who receive 90% or more of their income from Social Security—where their average check is $1,470 a month, and for many, even less. Tell that to the seniors who have little or no savings—who already can’t afford their housing, their food, and other basic living costs.

And while Social Security announced a modest cost-of-living increase that works out to about $24 a month for the average retired worker, now, these increased Medicare costs may eat away up to 14 of those 24 dollars!

Isn’t Medicare supposed to be the saving grace for seniors in the United States? But right now, more than half of seriously ill Medicare enrollees face financial hardships over medical bills, and prescription drugs are the leading problem.

These new increases will only add insult to injury.

Page 8

Chicago Schools Strike

Nov 11, 2019

After a passionate, hour-long debate on October 30th, the Teachers Unions’ House of Delegates voted 364 to 242 to end the Chicago schools strike—though only if Mayor Lightfoot agreed to make up the eleven strike days. Lightfoot agreed to make up just five of the days, but nonetheless, the teachers went back to work on Friday, November 1.

It should be obvious that no one strike in one city—even one as large as Chicago—can roll back the decades of attacks on public education, which have been national in scope. Yet the strike won certain gains, in the kinds of unclear ways that are often written into contracts. Every school is supposed to have a nurse and a social worker—but only by the end of the 5-year contract. Schools with the highest numbers of homeless students are supposed to get funds to hire two people to help those students access services. Class sizes are supposed to have enforceable caps under the contract. And school support workers won raises and credit for education credentials.

Teachers had to strike because the mayor was not willing to give any of these things before. The issue of wages for teachers was essentially settled before the strike.

If 40% of delegates voted no with the idea of keeping the strike going, it was because there were a number of other things they thought were worth staying out for. This started with preparation time for elementary schools. In the House of Delegates meeting, where every school has at least one representative, a number of high school teachers expressed that their schools were willing to continue to fight to win more prep time for elementary teachers. Teachers also wanted language in the contract to block the mayor from closing schools. And teachers were reluctant to sign the five-year-long contract demanded by the mayor.

The final say is still in the hands of the teachers and support staff who will vote on the contract, though the fact that teachers have already returned to their schools, after the House of Delegates voted to end the strike, can make it less likely that people will vote no. Still, school workers will have to decide if they are willing to accept this deal.

What’s important about the strike, finally, is not the gains as such in the contract. By showing they were ready to fight, school workers put Lightfoot on notice to back off.

Most importantly, school staff and teachers, through their strike, felt some of the power people can have when they organize to carry out activity together. They certainly made their strike known by organizing spirited picket lines throughout the city, with high participation rates. Teachers and staff got to know each other on these picket lines, organized barbecues, songs, picnics, and neighborhood marches encompassing multiple schools.

The experience of solidarity is always an important resource for the future.

Where Is the Money?

Nov 11, 2019

Baltimore officials announced the city had a budget surplus.

This news is dumbfounding for Baltimore City taxpayers.

Most of the time, officials say the city is broke and cannot afford to do this or that. The city has a housing trust for building the affordable housing desperately needed. That has not been funded.

The city has a water and sewer system 15 years behind schedule in getting fixed, for which city residents have seen their bills double.

For city employees, the pension funds are not fully funded.

And for school children, some have sat through class with no air-conditioning in boiling hot weather or with no heat in the freezing cold.

Any “left-over” or “surplus” funds are needed—for what the city government is supposed to accomplish but hasn’t.

Why is there any discussion of a “surplus"? Oh yes, the primary race for Baltimore’s next mayor has begun.

Texas Planning to Execute an Innocent Man

Nov 11, 2019

The State of Texas is planning to execute Rodney Reed on November 20. Reed, a black man, is innocent. He was falsely convicted of the 1996 murder of a 19-year-old white woman, Stacey Stites, and has spent over 20 years on death row.

At the time of her murder, Stites was engaged to a white cop named Jimmy Fennell. She was having an affair with Reed and told friends she was afraid to tell Fennell about the affair because she knew Fennell was a racist.

The cops only briefly investigated Fennell as a suspect. He failed two polygraph tests and then refused to cooperate. When the semen of Reed, a black man, was found on the body of Stites, a white woman, the Texas cops completely dropped their investigation of Fennell.

Fennell has since been convicted of kidnapping and raping a woman while on patrol. A fellow inmate of Fennell’s signed an affidavit saying Fennell admitted to him he killed his fiancée because she was having an affair with a black man.

The local sheriff who oversaw the investigation of Rodney Reed has also been found guilty of six felonies.

Lawyers for the Innocence Project took up Reed’s case and brought much of this new evidence to light. They have filed an application of clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Over 1.4 million people have signed an online petition in support of Reed, and he has received the support of numerous celebrities. As of now, however, the state has not called off his execution.

Rodney Reed’s case provides a clear example of the racist nature of both the American “injustice” system and the death penalty. Stop the execution of Rodney Reed!