the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Dec 9, 2019
A federal jury in Seattle ordered the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) to pay 94 million dollars to an employer—a judgment that, if upheld, would bankrupt the union. Less than two weeks later in Detroit, a federal prosecutor speculated that the UAW (United Auto Workers) might be subjected to “federal oversight”—an action that, if carried out, could limit the ability of union members to control their own union and its actions.
Two vastly different cases, two different ends of the country, but one common thread: the federal government is grabbing pretexts to hem in the unions—and the workers whose organizations they are.
● The West Coast verdict concerns job actions carried out by the ILWU in Portland, Oregon seven years ago. Facing an employer who used subcontractors to cut jobs and wages, union militants acted to protect their jobs. They worked “according to rule,” following all safety regulations and contract provisions. It was a well-organized slowdown—and all perfectly “legal.”
EXCEPT—the jury took the employer’s side against the union. No wonder! A Labor Department lawyer was the trial’s star witness, bringing the full weight of government to bear on the side of the employers. The job actions were “secondary boycotts,” claimed the Labor Department legal hack—two employers were involved. Yes, there were two employers. Just as there are today in most workplaces, where there are two, or three or even four employers directing a single workforce within the same four walls.
The warning directed to unions is clear: Don’t try to fight the sub-contracting or any of the other schemes to cut jobs or cut wages. Don’t try to fight to stop the loss of members’ jobs. If a union does, it’s at risk of losing all its funds.
● The federal threat to take over the UAW was based—supposedly—on corruption among top UAW officials. Were there some UAW officials who took union dues money for their own benefit? Undoubtedly. But don’t try to tell us that the target of the feds is corruption. The federal government, the big banks and industries are rife with corruption. Corruption is the every-day habit of the workers’ class enemies. And there is no place for it in the workers’ own organizations. But the only ones who can get rid of corruption in ways that serve the workers’ interests are the workers themselves.
Look what happened to the Teamsters under 20 years of federal “oversight.” Claiming it was getting rid of corruption, the Labor Department oversaw the election of Ron Carey as president in 1991, and the reelection in 1996. In 1997, Carey led a nationwide strike of UPS, the first important strike to take on the issue of part-time, temporary work. Though the strikers by no means got all they deserved, it was an important show of force, and successfully pushed back against the hiring of part-time workers at lower pay.
Almost immediately, the government removed Carey from office and banned him from the union for life, accused of “election corruption.” Though he was later acquitted by a jury of all charges, the lifetime ban stayed in place.
The clear statement was made: Don’t fight over that issue. And it wasn’t long after that UPS imposed the hiring of a lower-paid, part-time workforce.
So, no, don’t believe the government wants to root out corruption from the unions. It wants to take them over, so they can’t fight.
The court case in Seattle and the threat of government take-over in Detroit seem to be miles apart. In reality, they share a common aim: to prevent workers from using their own organizations to mobilize for a fight.
Against job cuts in Portland or against the attempt to make auto a low-wage industry, the workers can stop both attacks—by extending the fights they have already started.
Dec 9, 2019
In May of 2019, a 16-year-old migrant from Guatemala, Carlos Hernandez Vasquez, died in custody of the Customs and Border Patrol’s (CBP) facility in McAllen, Texas.
After the boy’s death, the CBP claimed agents had checked on him and that they were “committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody.”
It was all a lie, as a later video showed.
The nurse who examined the young man said he should go to the hospital if his flu symptoms, including his already high fever, worsened. But instead, he was put in a cell, and a video showed him falling to the floor. Then, he was ignored. The next morning, his cell mate, another sick young migrant, found him dead in a pool of blood.
Two other young migrants died of flu in CBP custody since last December. But the CBP said they would not be vaccinating anyone they held. Doctors, and even two members of Congress, have asked the Department of Homeland Security to change this policy. It is well known that vaccination prevents the worsening of contagious illnesses in the victims and prevents spreading the contagion.
Courtesy of government policy, thousands of children are at risk because the government could care less about the lives of these young people.
Dec 9, 2019
The movie Harriet is a biography of the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Born into slavery around 1822, Harriet Tubman grew up on the Brodess Farm in Bucktown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Not only was she a conductor on the underground railroad, but Tubman also helped John Brown plan his raid on Harpers Ferry, was a spy for the Union army during the Civil War, and later in life was an activist in the suffrage movement.
A two-hour movie cannot tell Tubman’s whole story, so this film made certain choices, such as focusing on Harriet’s escape from enslavement at the age of 27 and her 13 subsequent missions to free at least 70 others, including family and friends. These choices led to a movie focused on fighting for change, instead of one focused on the brutality of slavery. The brutality and its effects are there, but it is not the focus.
What the film does show is how someone who was beaten and whipped as a child in bondage grew up to fight that very system with every ounce of her energy. And this despite having suffered a traumatic head injury as a child. The injury caused dizziness, pain and spells of hypersomnia and loss of consciousness throughout her life. She had strange visions and vivid dreams, which she attributed to premonitions from God. She learned how to make a disadvantage into an advantage. At the very least, it did not stop her.
Using the secret networks of people and sites known as the Underground Railroad, Tubman dared to escape the plantation, walking on foot 100 miles to Philadelphia and freedom—only to return to make more daring and dangerous missions to free others. This, of course, greatly angered the enslavers who put a bounty on her head.
Her own escape was fraught with danger, with dogs literally at her heels. At one point, caught on a bridge with the enemy at both ends, she jumps off the bridge into frigid water. She would rather die than be re-enslaved. This action spoke volumes not only to her militancy but also to the brutality and horror of slavery. She knew first-hand what it was like and she was having no more of it.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 meant that Tubman would have to lead people even further north, basically all the way to Canada. The film shows the terror and chaos that this Act generated. It meant not only escapees but also free black people were in danger.
As a militant, Tubman understood this was a war. She understood why she needed to carry a gun, not only for protection against slave catchers, but, as the film pointed out, sometimes to keep the people she was rescuing in line. Their fear could have jeopardized the whole mission.
The film tells the compelling story of a strong, courageous, radical militant who is determined and dedicated to her own freedom and the freedom of her people.
Dec 9, 2019
Toledo’s residents have gotten used to Lake Erie turning bright green during the summer months, while folks in Cleveland often see their summer water turn an ominous brown. The Great Lakes, which include Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, are the world’s largest single source of fresh water. Lake Erie alone provides the drinking water for 11 million people. But climate change, combined with runoff from factory farms, is more and more making that water undrinkable.
Over the summer, Toledo Mayor Kapszukiewicz says the city’s “Maumee River looks like the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day, the only difference is we didn’t put any dye in it.” The bright green color is from an “algal bloom”—a huge mass of algae, small plant-like creatures that live in the water, and bacteria. This summer, the green bloom covered 620 square miles at its peak—a green mass twice the size of Chicago, so big it was visible to astronauts on the space station.
These blooms aren’t just strange-looking. Some species that make up the bloom produce toxic chemicals. In 2014, the bloom was so bad that the city declared a water emergency, telling residents the water had become poisonous to drink.
Algal blooms form because there is food in the water for the algae and bacteria to eat, in particular, fertilizer and manure that run off industrial farms. This past year had the most rainfall for Ohio since statistics began in 1895. More rainfall, due to climate change, means more runoff from farmlands, means more fertilizer into the lake.
Lake Erie is both the shallowest and the southernmost of the Great Lakes. These two factors make it the warmest. Since Lake Erie is shallow, higher temperatures in the area make the lake warm up more quickly than a deeper lake. And warmer temperatures also allow algae and bacteria to grow more easily.
After the algae have “bloomed,” they then die and sink to the bottom of the lake, where the rotting of their bodies uses up the oxygen in the water. The bottom water then becomes a “Dead Zone,” where fish and other creatures can’t go without suffocating. The lack of oxygen in the water also can bring other chemicals into the water.
Since Lake Erie is shallow, this Dead Zone water can be pushed around by the winds. Lately, the Lake Erie Dead Zone has been pushed over the water intakes for Cleveland—leading brown, smelly water to come into their system.
Industrial farms need fertilizer and produce manure. But they use it to maximize their profit, regardless of its consequences for Lake Erie drinking water. And climate change, which, in the end, is driven by the capitalists, is bringing more of this fertilizer into the lake—choking it off and poisoning it.
Dec 9, 2019
Music for the popular poem “Silent Night, Holy Night” was composed in Austria in 1818, over 200 years ago. It was sung at Christmas Eve mass.
Fast forward to December 1914. Soon after World War I began, French and British armies were fighting against the German army in nearby trenches. Suddenly the British and French soldiers heard a beautiful voice singing in German, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” A French soldier played the tune on a harmonica. British soldiers began to sing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” French soldiers joined in the chorus, singing “Douce Nuit, Saint Nuit.” The song was sung in three different languages, and three nationalities sang together in peace. An unofficial truce, though brief, on Christmas Eve!
This is a true story: an example of ordinary soldiers challenging who the enemy was supposed to be, and singing together in working class solidarity and the spirit of peace.
Dec 9, 2019
The state of Maryland claims to protect utility customers with its Public Service Commission (PSC).
The PSC just brought suit against three gas and electric suppliers for scamming customers. These three suppliers are accused of using pressure tactics and fraud against utility customers, and in addition, 130 customers brought complaints of identity theft to the PSC. No doubt these three suppliers will soon be gone.
But the problem lies elsewhere. Maryland officials deregulated utilities some 20 years ago, like most states. They claimed that competition would drive down gas and electric prices. It was a lie then and it has been a lie ever since.
The Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, delivering gas and electricity to 650,000 homes and buildings, charges high fees for delivery no matter who supplies the gas or electricity. Over time, despite a “low” introductory rate from suppliers, none can lower the bills very much.
These suppliers—and BGE, a subsidiary of Exelon Corp.—form not to save customers money, but to part customers from their money!
Dec 9, 2019
The following is a translation of the December 3 editorial from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group active in France, about a planned general strike.
On Thursday, December 5, that strike came off with the participation of hundreds of thousands of workers in both the public and private sectors across France. The government estimated at least 800,000 people took part in massive demonstrations in every big French city, with the unions estimating 1.5 million on the streets. This strike movement continued in force on Friday and Saturday, with unionists joined by Yellow Vest protestors. Strikes are expected to continue into next week, with another day of demonstrations planned for Tuesday.
This strike wave was sparked by the government’s attempts to revamp France’s pension system, which workers assume will mean an attack on their retirements. It is fueled by anger at the long-running degradation of living standards for French workers. The attacks against the French working class should sound familiar to readers in this country.
Workers in auto, metal, food production, chemicals, retail, cleaning, the health system, the banks, insurance companies, train workers, teachers: if we don’t want to see another increase in the retirement age, we must mobilize now.
And it’s not just the problem of retirement. The low salaries, the lack of security, the sub-contracting, the extended work days, the constant surveillance and pressure from the bosses ... we must put all of this on the table, because it has become intolerable. With the salaries we earn today, it is impossible to see the end of the tunnel. Between paying for housing, the money we have to put out to educate our children, and the occasional extraordinary expenses that push us under, we don’t live—we just survive!
When we don’t mobilize, the big bosses and the government push us back. Thirty years ago, to have a job meant to be made permanent, soon after being hired. Retirement was at 60 years old, at the full rate, after paying into the system for 37.5 years. Today, the government says that this is impossible because there is no money.
But in 30 years, the big fortunes have increased ten-fold. In 30 years, the profits of the companies have flown into the stratosphere. Last week, the luxury company LVMH paid out 15 billion dollars to buy Tiffany, the jeweler. And there is no money? What a nasty joke!
We must take the money from where it is, in the coffers of the big stockholders, and make it serve the workers and the public services.
The more people on the street, the more pressure will be put on the government. And the pressure’s already there! It is there because the train workers did not let the government do what it wanted and because they disturbed a good part of the economy to some extent, at the times that they decided. And it is also there because the government fears the generalization of the anger we already see to the entire working class. And, good, that’s what needs to happen!
The government is trying to pit public opinion against the railway workers who are protected by special rules. But if it’s a question of “privilege,” look at the rich who don’t have to lift a finger and who live as parasites off the work of others.
Look at their fortunes, which outstrip the wealth of whole countries. They don’t ever have to worry about their retirements because they’re swimming in millions. Look at them, demand their wealth, and don’t let them sow divisions among the workers!
Of course, the railway workers are in the lead of this movement. They have the advantage of a fighting tradition and an important striking power. But alone, they cannot win for the whole working class, because we must make the big shareholders also fear us. Striking against the big privately-held companies hits at their hearts—that is to say, at their wallets. And tomorrow it will be the bosses’ organization that asks President Macron to back off.
This strike will create difficulties for everyone. But in the test of strength that begins on December 5, all workers have the same interests: that this strike is carried off, that it spreads, and that it is victorious. And that is possible!
If the workers in the private sector join those from the public, we can make the government and the big bosses fear us. If the strike continues in the days following and threatens to turn into a real movement, yes, we can make them back off.
In 1995, Juppé [the former French prime minister who also attacked the pensions and other social programs] was just as arrogant as Macron is now, and he had to eat his hat faced with the determination of the strikers. Today, we can do it again, if we put our confidence in our collective force.
Many of us distrust the union federations and the calculations of their apparatuses, who have regularly sacrificed the interests of the workers.
So yes, we must battle with the conviction that we can organize to control and direct our movement in a democratic way, with the conviction that we can decide and mobilize without waiting for orders from the union confederations.
It depends on each of us to make December 5 the beginning of a large workers’ movement. It depends on each of us to play an active role to make this strike movement really our own.
We have been waiting too long to mobilize and oppose the decline in our living standards imposed by the government and the big bosses. Starting Thursday, we launch the counter-offensive!
Dec 9, 2019
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.
In the middle of the campaign for early elections on December 12, an attack on the London Bridge on November 30 immediately became partisan fodder in the struggle between British political parties.
Attacker Usman Khan rushed at a crowd, killed two people, and wounded three others before passersby stopped him. Then the police shot him to stop him from setting off his explosive belt, which turned out to be a dummy. This is the official version, very similar to other attacks over the last decade.
Khan, 28, was from a poor working-class town in the north of England, Stoke-on-Trent. His family is from Kashmir in Pakistan. Along with other young people influenced by a fundamentalist preacher from Yemen, he had been arrested and charged with planning attacks in London’s business district.
The charges were based on these youths’ ties to the preacher, as well as videos, photos, and maps. No weapons, explosives or proof of plans for these attacks were found. But that did not stop Khan from being jailed indefinitely in 2012 under Labor Party leader Tony Blair. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to 16 years. Khan left prison in 2019 after years in solitary confinement.
The hysterical right-wing press hollered about “outrageous laxity of justice,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson jumped at the opportunity to revive his national security campaign by blaming this “laxity” on the Labour Party and announcing longer sentencing while the prisons are already packed. Johnson promises to restore life sentences for terrorism, forgetting to say that his party stopped them in 2013 because of prison overcrowding.
And Johnson was careful not to mention other scandals. For example, many of the so-called terrorist attacks are by mental patients abandoned after budget cuts devastated psychiatric hospitals and home-based psychiatric services. According to his family, Khan had mental problems from a very young age. Some doctors say his imitation of an attack at the same location in 2017, by three men also using knives and dummy explosive belts, is the behavior of a mental patient, not an all-out terrorist.
Then there are the catastrophic consequences of privatization of probation by Johnson’s party. As a result of downsizing, convicts receive no follow-up during or after their detention. Khan’s repeated requests for these services during his detention, to help him get out of the fundamentalist dead end, were ignored.
Finally, there is the role of the British government in aggravating the misery of people in the Middle East and North Africa through military interventions. These fuel their hatred for rich countries that plunder them and only bring war and famine. Who can be surprised that this hatred ends up reaching the many exiles of these poor countries who live in rich countries, often living in hard conditions?
Of course, this last point could not be made by Johnson, since he is so nostalgic for the British Empire. And Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn is accused of anti-Semitism for daring to violate the law of silence among politicians, denouncing past wars by the British Empire and criticizing the criminal policy of Israel toward Palestinians.
This does not put Jeremy Corbyn on the workers’ side, where he does not want to be anyway. But it makes him at least one dissonant voice in an awful chorus of hypocrisy.
Dec 9, 2019
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.
Iraq’s prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi had to step down on November 29. The politico-religious clans divvying up political control had abandoned him. They were aiming to stop the two-month-long protest movement among Iraqi working people.
One protestor explained, “This is the least they could do for the martyrs of Nasiriyah and Najaf.” The government had savagely attacked protestors in these two cities, killing 70 people over three days. More than 400 have been killed and thousands wounded since the start of the protests.
The regime has gone back and forth between using an iron fist—rooftop snipers and religious militias firing on crowds, which still continued the fight—and making excuses for this repression. Officials have apologized for the use of excessive force. They gave the death penalty to a cop who killed two protestors, and fired a brutal general only days after assigning him to restore order in the south of the country.
Working people are sick and tired of never-ending poverty, unemployment, and chaos. The protests spread from the south, where many people are Shiite Muslims, to the north where many are Sunni Muslims. The movement rejects religious division. The protestors target all the political currents which have shared power for 15 years under the control of the United States and, since 2014, also of its strategic ally Iran.
Mahdi represents these cliques and is the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Party. He has held office since 2005 as vice president, minister, or prime minister in the government the U.S. imposed after invading the country in 2003.
Mahdi’s leaving changes nothing. He holds onto his position while political and religious leaders fish for a replacement to carry out his same policy. But by protesting, a lot of the demonstrators learned not to trust the speeches of political leaders!
Dec 9, 2019
The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of December 2, 2019.
In the early hours of Saturday, November 23, Ruth George, a 19-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago student, was raped and murdered. The man who confessed to her murder, Donald D. Thurman, told police he had grown angry that she was ignoring his “catcalls.” He followed her to her car in a parking garage, where he strangled her until she passed out, threw her in the backseat of her car, raped her, and left her to die. Her family found her lifeless body in her car the next morning.
Many, many young girls and women have experienced catcalling from strangers on the street—more accurately named street harassment. One poll found that 65% of women have been harassed on the street; twenty percent of those were followed or stalked by their harassers.
Every single one of these women knows that behind such harassment is the very real threat of violence—rape, a beating, and even murder. It does not happen every time, but in every incidence of street harassment, the threat is there.
And every woman in this situation must weigh how to respond to this very real threat: ignore it, make light of it, respond calmly and firmly, or respond loudly and angrily? What response stands a chance of being most successful in ending the threat and shutting the harasser up? Who knows? It can be a roll of the dice, and the “wrong” response might end up escalating the situation—and possibly, as with Ruth George, cost her her life.
This is the society we live in. In this capitalist society, every woman is treated as the property of any man, to do with as he pleases. Existing for the enjoyment of every man she passes, not for herself. It’s the inevitable result in a class society where women were treated as their husbands’ property for centuries; it’s the inevitable result in a society where property rights for profit production are treated as sacred—more important than human life.
In such a society, it is considered natural for boys and men to be trained to treat every woman they see as their property—if not literally, then in nearly every other sense, existing to serve their desires at the drop of a hat—or else.
We see this attitude reflected throughout our society, at every level—from the pussy-grabber in chief on down. (And Trump wasn’t the first president to do so—he was just the first one to put it out there so crassly.)
What’s amazing in this society is not that there are so many men who carry such attitudes and behave in such a way toward women—but that there are many men, even in this society, who do not. Even swimming in this sea of abuse, there are indeed many men who don’t act this way, who don’t feel that it is their right to consider every woman fair game.
It is not inherent in the male gender to act and think in such a way. It IS a matter of training. That training may be everywhere in this society, but it doesn’t have to take root. And even when it does take root, people can break their training.
The Black Movement of the 1950s and 60s and the Women’s Movement of the 1970s both helped push back against that training and the men who carry it. The recent movement has pushed back, a little bit, again.
It will take even more massive movements, by women, joined by men, to finally do away with such an ancient monstrosity, along with the society that perpetuates it. When the working class finally breaks from a society based on exploitation and property, we can finally move to complete the building of a society based on truly human and equal relationships.
Dec 9, 2019
If you listen to the experts, the U.S. economy is booming. The official unemployment rate is way down. The economy is in its longest expansion ever. The stock market is up. According to the New York Times, November’s jobs report shows that “the American economy is capable of cranking at a higher level than conventional wisdom held as recently as a few years ago.”
If you’re one of those stockholders taking the wealth produced by this economy’s workers, it might be great. But for the workers, it’s another story.
Even as the economy has expanded, wages have barely gone up, if at all, especially for low-wage workers. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institute, 44% of U.S. workers now have “low wage” jobs paying median wages of $10.22 an hour. These workers average $18,000 a year.
The low-wage workforce is not just the young—more than 75% of them are over age 25.
Workers are perfectly aware that their jobs don’t pay enough, of course. According to a CBS poll in October, 6 in 10 workers report that their job is “mediocre to bad.”
The experts are right that the U.S. economy has produced a lot of wealth. But if workers are going to see enough of it to live, and not just survive, we’re going to have to take it from the parasites who have hoarded it all.
Dec 9, 2019
Sixty of the biggest corporations in the U.S. paid no federal income tax in 2018, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Among them are Amazon, GM, Delta Airlines, Netflix, Goodyear, IBM and JetBlue, all of whom actually got tax rebates last year, despite these companies raking in huge profits. Amazon made 10.8 billion in profits; Delta 5 billion, and GM 4.3 billion.
When Trump pushed his corporate tax cuts in 2017 and Congress approved them, his supporters claimed the cuts would lead corporations to increase their investments in factories, equipment and research and development, thus providing more jobs and increasing wages. Rubbish! Federal corporate taxes have dropped by more than 40% since the tax cut went into effect, but investment actually dropped!
When the corporations pay less, workers are asked to pay more and accept less for schools, infrastructure, and social programs. We have every interest in fighting to flip that equation!
Dec 9, 2019
Three separate attacks on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly Food Stamps—have been introduced by the Trump administration.
The first of the three rule changes got approved in December. It will have the effect that in most areas with high unemployment that got exemptions from work requirements after the economic collapse of 2008, now the work requirements will be reinstated.
The federal agency that oversees SNAP, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), estimates this rule will “save” 4.5 billion dollars from the budget over 5 years.
The other two rule changes are expected to be implemented later in 2020. One will change how inflation is calculated, making fewer people eligible for SNAP. The other change will eliminate automatic eligibility for SNAP for kids in the school lunch program.
A right-wing “think tank” that gets funding from the wealthy Devos and Koch families, among others, has lobbied for these three specific rules changes. Called FGA, the Foundation of Government Accountability, this group recently paid for three White House aides to travel to Disney World. Presentations on cuts to Food Stamps were offered, along with fine dining.
Advocates for the poor say the first round of cuts will take away about $75 a month from households, many of which have incomes below $600 a month.
SNAP pays for 10% of all the food in U.S. homes. SNAP provides the highest level of benefits to households with children under age 18. Thus SNAP allows the poorest layers of the working class, despite their low wages, to be able to feed and raise their families.
Over 80% of all SNAP money is spent at superstores like Walmart or large grocery chains. According to an economist at Moody’s, there is nothing worse for the economy as a whole than cutting back on Food Stamps. Every billion in SNAP spending sustains 10,000 jobs.
Work requirements are nothing new for Food Stamps. Ever since the capitalist economic crisis began in the early 1970s, the Food Stamps program has had some form of work requirement. Like all social programs under capitalism, SNAP rules change as the needs of the capitalist class change.
A “shortage of workers” has come to be a major complaint of the capitalist class. In announcing this rule change, the USDA—highlighting the normality of government putting business interests first—said that by cutting SNAP benefits, it will encourage people to work. In reality, they could have said: starvation will be used as a hammer to force more workers to have no choice but to accept the lowest paid jobs, in order to eat.
Dec 9, 2019
Measured by business standards, Amazon is a huge success story. It is one of the world’s biggest retailers; its stock market value has reached the one-TRILLION-dollar mark; and its founder, chairman, president and CEO, Jeff Bezos, with an estimated fortune of more than 110 billion dollars, is one of the richest men on the planet.
But this fabulous success story is built on the sweat and blood of Amazon workers. Amazon’s promise to deliver any merchandise ordered on the internet to a customer’s door in less than a day means a level of speed-up that causes some of the country’s highest workplace injury rates.
At Amazon’s Eastvale warehouse in the Los Angeles area, for example, 422 injuries were recorded in 2018 alone—making the rate of serious injuries at that facility more than four times the average rate of the warehousing industry. In 23 of Amazon’s 110 U.S. warehouses, about one out of ten full-time workers suffered a serious injury in 2018, which is more than twice the national industry average.
The reason behind the high rate of injuries is obvious. During peak business times such as the holidays, when Amazon regularly issues mandatory overtime leading to 11- or 12-hour shifts, the company demands packers scan more than 300 items in an hour—a new item every 11 seconds! Management closely monitors every worker thanks to a high-tech, computerized tracking system, and workers who don’t meet their quota are written up and eventually fired. (When Amazon began to introduce robots in its warehouses in recent years, things got even worse for the workers—because robots help speed-up the flow of merchandise in the warehouse.)
In Amazon’s relentless drive for profit, there is no room for mercy. One worker in Oregon, a disabled veteran who qualified for shorter shifts, was fired after meeting “only” 98% of his quota! It is not uncommon for Amazon workers to hold their urine until the end of the shift, for fear of not meeting their quota—and in 2018 it was reported in Britain that Amazon warehouse workers were peeing in bottles.
The same kind of speed-up horror also haunts Amazon delivery drivers, who are required to deliver 999 out of 1000 packages on time—and, not surprisingly, quite often get into serious road accidents.
In return for all this ordeal, Amazon pays its warehouse workers poverty wages. After a lot of publicity, last fall Amazon committed to a minimum of $15 per hour pay for its work force—but that is simply not a living wage. Amazon wages are so low that in 2017, 14% of Amazon warehouse workers in California were under the federal poverty limit, and another 31% were just above that same limit.
Amazon isn’t a “success” story; it’s the perfect picture of the monstrosity that capitalism is today.
Dec 9, 2019
More adult children are living with their parents or grandparents. One third of 25 to 29-year-olds still live at home, according to a 2018 Pew study. That’s the highest portion at any time since this statistic was studied. Only in the 1880s was there another era in which so many young adults were living with their parents!
This society, the wealthiest in the world, pretends young people must accept this as “the new normal”—this over-crowded situation, this lower standard of living. This is a lie!
The trend of young people living with parents is increasing for black, Hispanic, white, and Asian households. The lower the income of the young person, the more likely they live at home, according to another recent study.
Why? Most young working class people are in low-wage jobs with no benefits, working in restaurants, stores, warehouses and factories. But if the minimum wage of 1968—the year the minimum wage peaked—had kept pace with worker productivity growth since 1968, the lowest wage today would be over $20 an hour!
Today, many jobs require a college degree. But college is expensive. The high schools available to working class people don’t prepare them well for college. If they get a degree, there is no guarantee of a job—but there is a guarantee they will have to pay off debt accumulated to go there.
Since 2000, student debt has more than tripled. Higher student debt was the reason given by 42% of 25-to-34-year-olds for living with their parents.
Young people who enter the workforce today earn less than their parents and grandparents. A 2016 study at Stanford University compared kids born in 1940 with kids born in 1980. More than 90% of kids born in 1940 ended up earning more money than their parents. For kids born in 1980, only 50% were earning more at age 30.
Even when young people are “on their own,” 59% of parents are helping their adult children financially.
This society has the resources, the wealth, and the technology to provide a decent life for the next generation of workers. This is not a problem of individual families nor individual young people. It is a social problem that requires an organized, militant response.
In revolutions of the past, it was often the young who were first to express their public outrage, the ones able to spark a reaction and wake up the fighting spirit of the older generations who came out to support the young. Organizing to improve conditions is the only road that has ever brought relief for the working class. It is a road with open possibilities for a better life.