The Spark

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

Issue no. 1101 — March 16 - 30, 2020

Corporate Profits:
Deadlier Than the Virus

Mar 16, 2020

More than two months after China posted the genome of the coronavirus and other countries started testing their populations widely, only 20,000 people have been tested in the United States.

The lack of testing means that people infected by the virus have been unknowingly infecting others. This has almost surely enabled the disease to spread at a rapid rate—though since there are so few tests, no one knows for sure!

The tests were supposed to be provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which is a part of the federal government’s public healthcare system. But the public health system has been deprived of resources that would have allowed it to carry out its work.

Tests already exist in South Korea, Germany and China. These countries have been producing a large number of tests, and offered to sell them to the U.S. But the federal government declined these offers. Instead, it decided to contract out the work and profits to U.S. companies, even though it meant big delays in getting people tested.

And so the entire medical system is functioning in the dark.

A big, sudden influx of new patients, many of whom are very sick, may very well overwhelm a healthcare system without any extra capacity, no “surge” capacity, as officials say. So, there won’t be enough doctors and staff, along with ICU’s, hospital beds, protective clothing, masks, ventilators and medicine to deal with all those new patients, condemning many of them to perhaps die, when they could have been saved.

Corporate profits counted more than saving lives.

From the beginning of this crisis the U.S. government has been in a big hurry to serve capitalist profits. Trump immediately scheduled meetings with executives from various industries and sectors, including the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, financial companies, airlines and health insurance, promising them big contracts, bailouts and subsidies.

As for actually putting resources into fighting the virus, Trump and Congress did little but make a big show about increasing funding for the CDC by eight billion dollars. What a joke, truly a drop in the bucket.

Over the last 15 years, the federal public health agencies have had their budgets cut from 900 million dollars a year in 2005 to 675 million dollars in 2020. That’s a reduction of 45%, adjusted for inflation! The Public Health Emergency Fund, created for such disease or disaster relief, has long been completely empty, with no money put into it for twenty years. To add insult to injury, in 2018, the Trump administration disbanded the White House office that was supposed to direct U.S. response to a pandemic like the coronavirus, the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.

So not only has the response from the government been completely disorganized, public health agencies don’t have the staff, training, equipment or supplies to deal with a new epidemic. So, where will the staff, money and resources for fighting the coronavirus epidemic come from? They will all be pulled from all the other healthcare emergencies that the public health services are trying to contend with, including the opioid epidemic, measles outbreaks among school children, tuberculosis, and a host of sexually transmitted diseases.

In reality, the government’s policy to deal with the coronavirus epidemic is exactly like its policy toward other disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and floods. The only difference is that this epidemic is on a far more vast scale. Ordinary people are basically left to fend for themselves at great human cost, while the government mobilizes all its resources to assure the profits and security of big business and the rich.

A society like this—capitalist society—deserves to be buried. The working class, organized together, will be its gravedigger.

Pages 2-3

The UAW and the Federal Government

Mar 16, 2020

A former president of the United Auto Workers, Gary Jones—now expelled from the UAW—was charged with embezzlement and a federal tax crime on March 5. The criminal filing indicated that Jones will plead guilty and cooperate with the feds in their investigation of the UAW.

In other words, federal prosecutors decided to partner with a corrupt person, who has led a scheme to rip off the UAW for several million dollars. Of course, he will practically get a pass. The question in front of workers is, what is the federal government hoping to achieve out of this corrupt partnership?

So far, 14 people have been charged with criminal activity as part of the federal investigation. This includes 3 Fiat Chrysler company executives and 11 UAW officials.

“We haven’t taken government oversight off the table,” said the federal prosecutor heading up the investigation. This admission—that the government is aiming its riflescope at the UAW—in reality means that the government is aiming to tear up the organized labor movement. The prosecutor specifically pointed to the Teamsters Union, which spent over 20 years under federal receivership, as a “good model.”

Teamsters workers—who lost retiree healthcare at age 65 and part of their pensions during this federal take-over—were robbed by this “good model.”

And during the government take-over, when workers elected as their President Ron Carey, he led a successful strike in 1997 that fought turning full-time jobs into part-time jobs at half wages. The federal government, siding with the wealthy, used their influence—and allegations of corruption—to banish Carey from the Teamsters for life. Later, Carey was vindicated and found innocent by a jury of all corruption charges!

The Trump-appointed federal attorney prosecuting these cases, Matthew Schneider, is the former lead attorney for the State of Michigan who oversaw the City of Detroit bankruptcy for Governor Snyder. This was the bankruptcy that resulted in the loss of pension money and retiree healthcare by City of Detroit workers.

A government takeover of the UAW would be like the appointment of an emergency manager. How did it go in Flint Michigan, when Governor Snyder appointed an Emergency Manager to run the city of Flint? Because a bribery scandal was a justification given at that time! How many died in Flint from the poisoning of the water as the Emergency Manager made decisions worsening this catastrophe??

The government is not neutral. When the UAW founders sat down in 1937 in Flint, the government aimed machine guns at the strikers, NOT at the GM offices.

Workers are right to be furious that any individual within the UAW was corrupt. Certainly in the corporate and political world, and in society as a whole, the amount of corruption is nauseating!

Some workers have said they expect better from their own organization, the union. Yes, this is correct and points to the life-and-death necessity for workers to aim to control our own unions, in much the same way that parents aim to control their own household.

Past generations fought and died to build the unions. We have an obligation to those who sacrificed before us NOT to give up on the union movement.

What is Really Democratic

Mar 16, 2020

How does the working class get rid of the corruption that permeates this society? How do workers rebuild their unions?

Some activists within the UAW have started pushing for a change in union rules, summarized by the phrase, “One member, one vote.” Interestingly, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the federal prosecutor has also been promoting “One member, one vote.”

Under current rules, top UAW officers are selected by elected delegates at a convention. Changing to one member, one vote—while described as direct democracy—is only a show of democracy, similar to how workers currently vote “directly” for the President of the United States.

The Teamsters Union now has direct elections. As a Teamster organizer pointed out, this system favors incumbents with greater staff to raise campaign funds.

Powerful rank and file control of the union by frontline workers is what will clean up the union. Worker’s democracy starts at the rank and file level, in each workplace. It is a powerful democracy, where ordinary workers discuss together and decide together what is most important. It is where workers organize and decide who they trust to represent them—and through them—who will lead. It is the most important form of democracy. It is power based on the ability of workers consciously to stand together to solve workplace problems.

If there is a simple solution, it is for union activists to go back to the basics. Go back to the rank and file organizing that built unions in the first place. Start with the people we know in each workplace. It is important work that not only has the potential to throw out the few corrupt people in the union, but it can allow the working class to start to take on the corruption of this whole society!

Art Van Closing:
Vulture Capitalists at Work

Mar 16, 2020

A lot of people were surprised and shocked when the Art Van Furniture Store Company in Michigan announced it was closing its stores and declaring bankruptcy. Many people shop there. What happened?

In early 2017, a private equity company bought up Art Van using not their own money, but mostly money they borrowed from banks.

All this debt owed to the banks was put on Art Van. The private equity “vulture capitalists” sucked money and profits out of Art Van, and now they are selling off what they can and using bankruptcy laws to protect themselves.

The banks have first claim on what is owed to them. And the customers and Art Van employees are left holding the bag.

This is how capitalism functions these days. It happened to Payless Shoes, Sears, and many other companies.

It is a system that works only for the rich. Not for the rest of us.

Coronavirus Throws Chicago School Filth Under a Bright Light

Mar 16, 2020

Several dozen confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in Illinois, so far all in the Chicago metro area. Schools, which bring together hundreds of young people, always serve as key points in disease transmission. And since custodial workers were cut by nearly half in 2014, Chicago Public Schools have been FILTHY—a fact highlighted by parents, teachers, the Teachers Union and custodial workers themselves.

With the coronavirus abroad in the community, parents and teachers see that it’s more important than ever to maintain school hygiene. Hand-soap dispensers need to stay full in restrooms; sanitizer and kleenex must be available in every classroom; table, floor and door surfaces need to be disinfected regularly. The school district has made ambiguous promises in this direction, but at the schools, students and staff have seen very little action—and few additional supplies or cleaning staff.

The schools have been disgustingly dirty in “normal” operations. Teachers, students, parents and administrators are right to DEMAND clean and safe conditions—RIGHT NOW!

Corporations Showered with Tax Credits

Mar 16, 2020

It’s that time of year when we turn in our taxes and hope we get a refund. Of course, if the IRS is sending us a check, it’s because we overpaid all year long and now the government owes us the refund.

But if you are a big corporation, it has been a lovely winter up to now. Sixty of the biggest U.S. corporations paid NO federal taxes. Instead, they have gotten millions of dollars in credits so they won’t have to pay any future taxes owed either!

Amazon got a 129-million-dollar tax credit; IBM got a 342-million-dollar credit; Delta Airlines got a 187-million-dollar credit. And poor little General Motors, that pretended it suffered due to a 41-day strike, it got a 104-million-dollar tax credit.

In this new tax cut bill, the population was promised lower taxes on average and more investments, like for new plants or equipment. That didn’t happen. Instead, about a trillion dollars went to the corporations to give to their shareholders and executives.

Oh, did the politicians lie to us ... again? What a surprise!

Water “Mistakes”

Mar 16, 2020

The water department for Baltimore City can’t get it right: The Ritz Carlton condos overlooking the harbor, costing a minimum of half a million dollars per condo, have paid NO water bills for 10 years. The company even asked the water department to send a water bill! And a city auditor also found “a few hundred” other businesses and residents that had never been asked to pay their water and sewer bills in Baltimore.

Somehow, wealthier residents, new properties and businesses have water bills “overlooked,” while until a year ago, poor residents could have their homes taken and sold for owing $500 on their water bills.

This same department could not find a way to collect millions of dollars in overdue bills—like seven million owed from the bankrupt Bethlehem Steel facility. Yet the department did manage to double city and county residents’ water and sewer bills between 2007 and 2014. Meanwhile, the water department is running years behind in repairs on the old pipes that break every day.

And while the department charged everyone for “smart” meters, there’s no one to answer the phone or the complaints when residents, who monthly get a $100 bill, suddenly get one charging them thousands.

The city cannot run a functional water department. It only works well for big developers wanting special tax breaks.

Pages 4-5

Using Therapy Against Children

Mar 16, 2020

Growing up in Honduras, Kevin Acueda found himself without an adult to take care of him at the age of 12, after his abusive grandmother died from alcoholism. The shack he had shared with her was soon taken over by members of the MS-13 gang, but Kevin had nowhere else to go so he stayed, even though the gang tortured rivals on the patio and eventually put Kevin to work selling drugs.

When Kevin’s cousin Ramon refused to join the gang, MS-13 members kidnapped him. Kevin asked the gang to spare his cousin, but instead, they forced him to kick Ramon in the chest, before the gang then tortured and murdered him. When, a few months later, gang members ordered Kevin to kill a stranger to prove his loyalty, Kevin convinced his sister to flee with him to the United States.

All of this comes from testimony then-17-year-old Kevin gave to a therapist working for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. The therapist told Kevin that their discussion was “your opportunity to tell your story,” and assured him she was not a cop. Yet the transcript of their discussion was passed along to ICE agents, who have used it as the center of their argument to keep Kevin in detention, where he has now sat for more than 900 days.

Twice, a U.S. immigration judge has attempted to grant Kevin’s asylum request. Both times, ICE agents used this supposedly confidential conversation between a minor and a therapist to appeal the judge’s decision.

Kevin’s case is not unique. According to interviews conducted by the Washington Post, most shelter therapists make promises of confidentiality they cannot keep. In California, a teenager who had been detained for 11 months confided that he wanted to die—ICE used this to argue he was a danger to himself and should be deported. In Virginia, a 16-year-old told a therapist his brother had been involved in a murder—the therapist reported that he had himself been involved in it, and he was transferred immediately to a higher-security detention center.

The American Psychological Association, National Social Workers Association, and American Counseling Association all agree that sharing therapy notes and using them against a child violates the basic ethics of therapy. Children and therapists alike generally assume that anything said in therapy is private. But ICE will use any excuse to further brutalize a child who happened to be born in another country.

Which Country is Really Draconian?

Mar 16, 2020

The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time magazine, USA Today, and countless others have used the word “draconian” to describe China’s response to the coronavirus. We are supposed to think China was very harsh.

Once the Chinese government decided the coronavirus was a real threat, it shut down transport in and out of Wuhan, the city where the virus emerged. It banned private cars from the streets and mandated that people stay home. The city’s residents had to order food online, and it was delivered to their doors, so that people would not each try to go shopping on their own.

Everyone’s temperature was regularly taken, on the street or by volunteers going door-to-door. Anyone found to have a fever was sent to a fever clinic, where they were tested for many illnesses including the new coronavirus. If they had the new disease, they were not allowed to go home—where they would probably infect their family—but were quarantined in a hotel, and if they had severe symptoms, taken to a facility for treatment.

The Chinese government also implemented a widespread program to trace the movements of people who had the virus, to determine who else they might have infected, and test them for the illness.

Most of these measures were eventually enforced across a huge swath of China, shutting down business and schools, but effectively limiting the spread of the disease.

In contrast to this “draconian” response, the U.S. has done nothing organized. We are on our own to find food and toilet paper, take care of kids sent home from school, fight our boss for sick days, and try to get tested and treated—if we can find anyone with a test to give us!

China’s government is certainly repressive, and serves its capitalists just like the government here. But which is really more draconian? This country’s disorganized, profit-first response, or China’s organized attempt to mitigate the spread of this deadly disease?

After the Armed Police Rebellion

Mar 16, 2020

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

Armed police protested violently in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on February 17 and 19, to demand better working conditions and union recognition. Armed civilians joined them. When the government did not respond, the following week they burnt down carnival stands, attacked army headquarters, and demanded that President Jovenel Moise resign. In the clashes a police officer, a soldier, and a person walking past died.

To calm the police, the government set up a commission that met with union leaders a few days later. In ongoing negotiations, police demand that five fired officers including their union secretary be reinstated. Workers and some young people support the police, who are fighting against their chain of command and against the government.

Many police and their families lead miserable lives in poor neighborhoods in and around the capital. Some others joined with organized crime to escape their poor living conditions.

They all are used by the police high command to suppress their class brothers and sisters. They are a state body in the service of the wealthy classes. The bourgeoisie and the politicians in their service hold the majority of the population in abject poverty by using these armed bodies—some legal, others illegal.

Some workers say they want police to change their attitude. Some police might be sensitive to the demands of organized workers, day laborers, the unemployed, and poor farmers. Some might be tired of using brute force against workers to benefit bosses, greedy politicians, and drug lords who are just as contemptuous of them. Challenging their hierarchy, these police might want to be on the side of the exploited masses, on the side of the working class.

Workers can wedge open that gap that might be opening between police leaders and the rank and file. In their neighborhoods, families and neighbors of police can put pressure on them. Friendly pressure for those who behave correctly. Harder pressure for those who are hostile to the population.

Responding to the police in this way may be possible for people. In some neighborhoods, workers who led workplace struggles gained the habit of organizing. Their pressure is a weapon to disrupt the police and push them as much as possible to the workers’ side. Otherwise, before long, all the police will stand on the side of the exploiters.

The Health Care System Is Sick

Mar 16, 2020

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

Quarantine measures were imposed throughout Italy on March 10. By then, the coronavirus had already killed 631 people and infected more than 10,000.

The message announced by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is to “stay home.” In other words, limit travel as much as possible, in the attempt to stop the spread of the epidemic. Any travel must be excused by professional or health necessity.

Much of Italy’s social and economic activity is suspended until April 3. All schools and sports and cultural centers are closed. The hours of bars, restaurants, supermarkets, and shops are limited. All religious services are canceled. Even the sacred game of soccer is down. All soccer games are off, including the national championships, Series A.

With hints of national unity in wartime, the government called for every individual to take responsibility for applying the quarantine law. There are fines and sanctions for those who violate quarantine without just cause. But in fact everyone will keep commuting to work no matter the difficulty—for example, to babysit the schoolchildren whose schools are closed.

Conte claims that all Italians are equal facing the threat of the coronavirus, so all must unite to fight it. But the emergency highlights social inequality. The announcement that family visits to prisons are banned provoked mutinies in several prisons. Prisoners exploded against overcrowded conditions which continue to risk spreading contamination. Charities explain that basic hygiene to prevent contagion is difficult or impossible for the poorest people, and especially for homeless people.

Politicians of all stripes praise the excellence of the healthcare system but it threatens to crack. There have been years of austerity budgets and staffing cuts in hospitals considered to be “money pits.” In northern regions like Lombardy, hospitals had been well endowed but then faced the most privatization, which strangled them. The south is less wealthy and its hospitals were neglected for decades. Hospital staff there would be even harder pressed to cope with the virus. The government measures aimed at preventing the epidemic from spreading south may well have come too late.

The law authorizes hiring 20,000 new temporary caregivers with overtime and time-and-a-half. A nurse in Emilia Romagna said health workers are happy to see more hands arriving, but they also suffer from a shortage of beds and equipment that they have denounced for years. Official proclamations never fail to pay tribute to the spirit of sacrifice and dedication of medical personnel and to call on them to work tirelessly. But the lack of necessary equipment is critical. With respect to breathing aids, doctors have spoken out about having to choose between sick and sick-and-elderly patients. The same nurse explained that health workers have to decide who can benefit from a respiratory assistance device and who can not. The officials who told them for years to resign themselves to do without, do not have to make these cruel choices.

The coronavirus epidemic highlights the shortcomings of a health system sacrificed for years for financial reasons.

Mobilizations for International Women’s Day

Mar 16, 2020

Sunday, March 8, was International Women’s Day. Thousands of women around the world participated in demonstrations and protests. The demonstrators went out to protect rights under attack, and demand new rights including higher pay and job security, as well as the right to get an abortion. In many countries, especially in Latin America, this meant facing the resistance of the Catholic Church and the various evangelical sects.

This year, many women came out in countries where it was a considerable risk even just to demonstrate and make their demands heard, because they faced threats from government, military, right-wing forces and thugs. This was true in the Philippines, Pakistan, and throughout Latin America.

The largest demonstration was in Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of women marched on Sunday, declaring they would not consent to be victims of “femicide,” the on-going brutal murder of women and girls by their boyfriends or husbands, by violent gangs, or by the police. In 2019, according to official data, 3,800 women met violent deaths, averaging 10 per day. The demonstrators also protested layoffs, the lack of regular jobs, and the cuts to public services.

The following Monday was “A Day without Women.” The streets were empty, as hundreds of thousands of women disappeared, refusing to go to work in factories, offices, or anywhere else—including at home! Some bosses were even forced to make a show of siding with the women, giving the day off in advance.

As capitalist decay pushes society backwards around the world, women’s rights and safety are coming under increasing threat. But a backwards slide is not inevitable. On March 8 and 9, women showed it is possible to organize to defend ourselves and each other.

Pages 6-7

A Contagious Virus and a Virulent Economy

Mar 16, 2020

The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of March 9, 2020.

Wall Street has been gyrating wildly. In one week of wild speculation, global stock markets destroyed almost five trillion dollars of value. That’s nearly the total value of all the goods and services produced in three months in this country’s factories, offices, farms and all the little businesses that still supply our daily lives.

Wall Street is panicking, fearful of what the novel coronavirus can do to the capitalist economy.

It’s true this new disease has interrupted supply lines for companies that depend on China. Quarantines to isolate the contagious virus shut down production. Ports were closed; goods couldn’t be shipped. As the disease spread to other countries, businesses cut employee travel.

Airlines, anticipating lost revenue, laid off workers. Other companies, anticipating their lost revenue, laid off more workers. Banks, anticipating lower revenue, laid off employees.

The coronavirus may be what caused the first layoffs, but capitalists, seeking to protect their profits, spread the layoffs. The virus may have disrupted production and shipping. But Wall Street’s gyrations were caused by the sickness of a capitalist economy sunk in speculation.

The global economy was pulled out of the 2008 financial collapse by governments that went deep in debt to prop up bankrupt companies. In this country, the Federal Reserve printed up trillions of dollars of fictitious money to bail out the banks that caused the crash.

The American economy has been living on debt ever since. Big corporations ran up debt to pay off their stockholders. Government continued to go into debt to prop up business profit.

All that debt put extra money in the hands of speculators. Wall Street wolves bought up companies that had existed for decades—like Sears or Payless or Art Van. The new owners ran up big debts for the companies, stripped them of all their value and dumped them, destroying needed stores, cutting people’s jobs.

The speculators moved on. In ten years’ time, stock prices quadrupled. Wall Street itself was a great, big expanding bubble, waiting for someone to come along and pop it.

This new virus may be what finally pops the financial bubble. But the devastation we will face comes from a capitalist economy which is not healthy.

Today, there is no medical reason why this country, as wealthy as it is, couldn’t mobilize enough resources to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The disease has not yet spread that widely. Other countries have had the time to learn from China’s experience.

And yet, nurses in the first areas with known clusters have not even been provided basic protective gear they need to work. They haven’t been given enough kits to test all the people they should test. There aren’t enough isolation chambers in hospitals nearby to keep those infected away from others. Untrained people are moving infected patients.

An economy organized to serve the needs of the population would already have solved those problems. But the disease will spread because the money spent on medical care is organized to provide profit: profit for the insurance industry, profit for hospital chains, profit for pharmaceuticals, profit for companies that produce testing kits.

It should be obvious that many people with symptoms won’t ask to be tested because they lack insurance that will cover the tests. It should be equally obvious that others will go to work because they have no paid sick days.

An economy organized to serve the needs of the population would provide free testing and paid sick days for everyone. But that would go against the basic premise of this virulent economy, which is to produce the maximum of profit for the capitalist class. And so the disease will spread.

The capitalist pursuit after profit is the sickness that will kill us all.

What’s More Important:
Production or Health?

Mar 16, 2020

A worker at Fiat Chrysler’s Kokomo Transmission Plant in Indiana tested positive for the coronavirus. Production “continued as normal,” according to the company.

At another Fiat Chrysler plant, Windsor in Canada, some workers had a different idea. When a worker stayed home in self-quarantine because of possible exposure to coronavirus, other workers stopped work on the assembly line, proposing to go home until assured it was safe. Fiat Chrysler says work has now resumed.

The bosses worry only about production. We are the ones who must worry about our health and that of those close to us.

Who Gets to Stay Home?

Mar 16, 2020

Trump said the government would “ensure that working Americans impacted by the virus can stay home without fear of financial hardship.”

Ha! And who delivers the mail, picks up bus passengers, brings packages to our houses, not to mention staffs the emergency rooms, feeds the sick, cleans the hospitals, stays with the elderly!

When House Speaker Pelosi’s bill says it will be possible for people to get two weeks of sick leave, who is she talking about? Her proposal actually exempts companies from paying for sick leave for about 4 out of every 5 people in the work force!

About a quarter of the working population still does not have paid sick days. A small number of people can work from home and get paid for it. But they seem to be the employees high up the corporate or institutional ladder.

It’s not the majority of the population. Everyone knows someone who isn’t getting sick pay now, someone working for Walmart or Uber or GrubHub.

Why should the politicians’ current promises be any more true than all their past promises were?

“Have Diploma, Can’t Afford Rent”

Mar 16, 2020

The University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) fired more than 80 graduate student employees who have been on strike for better pay. These are students who already have a diploma and are working as teachers and researchers while they pursue a more advanced degree.

About 230 UCSC graduate students began their strike in December, demanding better pay. In Santa Cruz, a one-bedroom apartment rents for $2,600 per month on average, while the typical monthly pay of a graduate student employee is $2,100, and only for nine months a year. The strikers say they have no choice but to keep fighting because, without better pay, some of them even have to worry about becoming homeless. Graduate students at other UC campuses, including Los Angeles, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Riverside, and Irvine have been holding their own protests and walkouts.

These graduate students are people who normally hope for a privileged, comfortable future as professors and scientists. But today, they are caught up in the reality of capitalist economy: their boss, the UC system, is trying to use them as an overworked and underpaid work force, while the cost of living skyrockets.

That’s exactly the reality that most workers face in capitalist society their whole lives.

Page 8

Yes, Wall Street Is Crazy

Mar 16, 2020

For 11 years, Wall Street was gripped by a speculative frenzy. Stock prices quadrupled. But, starting in late February, the bottom fell out. In a short 17 days, stocks lost almost 20% of their value. Wall Street was engulfed in panic.

The speculation and the collapse were both spawned by debt—debt run up by government and by private industry, debt that is clogging up the markets today.

Government accumulated its debt to pay for gifts to the capitalist class. Part of it came from the corporate tax cut Trump signed in 2017. In just one year, 2018, corporations had an extra 200 billion dollars passed back to them. The federal government also increased corporate subsidies and other handouts, worth hundreds of billions of dollars more in that same year. And all of this on top of the usual money siphoned off from government to the capitalist class. This is how government added one trillion dollars more to its already enormous debt in 2018.

Companies took government money and poured it into the bank accounts of their big stockholders, handing out bigger dividends and buying back stock at inflated prices. Some of the biggest Wall Street banking houses were the beneficiaries, not to mention some of the biggest speculators.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve was opening ever wider the flood gates of credit that it offers to banks and other financial companies. It lowered to almost zero percent the rates it charged big banks. All of this nearly-free, floating money funneled into the speculation pipeline, driving up prices on corporate stock, on real estate, and on any other kind of debt that could be traded. It was a bonanza—prices just kept going up, and up, and up.

But all of this represented debt, loans that had to be paid someday.

You know what happens if you run up your credit card balance, higher and higher and higher—eventually, the bill comes due.

On Thursday, March 12, it looked as though the bill might be coming due for Wall Street. So- called “investors” who owed money to other “investors” were having trouble paying off their debts. Some of them began dumping every asset they owned—not only stock, but also gold and government bonds—trying to get their hands on money to pay off debt. Suddenly, no one wanted to buy even these “safe assets.” The stock markets seemed to freeze up.

This is roughly how the collapse of 2007–08 started.

Whether March 12 initiated the collapse of 2020 remains to be seen.

On March 13, after the Federal Reserve threw a trillion and a half dollars at the big banks, the market recovered—a little. But the carnage is hardly over. There will be more ups and downs. There were in 2008 before the whole market went into a tail-spin that it took over five years to recover from.

In any case, one thing is sure: a financial crash more devastating than the last one remains in our future if the capitalists are left in place, allowed to make decisions for all of humanity, based on their all-consuming chase after profit.

Simple Steps Made Impossible

Mar 16, 2020

To slow down the inevitable spread of the coronavirus, we only need to take three simple steps, according to the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. health protection agency: wash our hands, stay home from work if we feel sick, and speak to a doctor if we have symptoms of the disease.

It is very simple to recite these steps: everybody already knows them by heart and hard life experience. But they are not simple steps to take for the working class.

For example, many workers cannot simply “speak” to a doctor. Many workers avoid medical help because of the cost, since health insurance plans are expensive with unaffordable deductibles and co-pays. Due to high healthcare costs, in one year, more than once, about 40% of U.S. workers skipped a medical test or treatment, and 44% didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick or injured, according to a 2018 poll by the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute.

And around 30 million people have no health insurance at all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

These healthcare costs will make the coronavirus pandemic worse, as one worker’s case exemplifies. Osmel Martinez Azcue, who usually skipped visits to a doctor, decided to get tested when he developed flu-like symptoms after returning from China in January, according to The Guardian. While he would normally just go to a drugstore and buy medicine, he went to a hospital out of concern for his community.

Azcue had a limited insurance plan, so he attempted to keep the testing to a minimum, fearing the cost of the chest scan clinicians recommended. After doing smaller, less expensive tests, doctors told him he had the flu, not coronavirus. He was charged $3,270. After the hospital was contacted by the Miami Herald, they said he was responsible for $1,400 of the bill.

How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to- person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?” Azcue said.

The healthcare industry, solely driven by profit, are the sole creators of these high healthcare costs. And this coronavirus pandemic starkly exposes the deadly consequences for all of us.