The Spark

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

Issue no. 1113 — September 14 - 28, 2020

Schooling in COVID:
A Capitalist Nightmare

Sep 14, 2020

Working class parents are struggling through the nightmare of this school year under the shadow of COVID-19, trying both to keep their children safe and to get them some kind of an education in a system that makes it impossible to do either. Struggling to juggle their jobs with a school schedule of half-days, or completely at-home, online school. Struggling to get computers set up, working and staying connected. Struggling to keep crying kids in front of computers that are messing up most of the time.

What does this have to do with learning?!

It’s absolutely necessary to bring ALL kids back into physical schools, with their teacher and peers. It’s necessary socially and developmentally to have that contact.

In a system that truly valued its children, the floodgates of money and resources would have opened months ago, with a massive public works campaign to hire teachers, build and renovate schools, hire nurses, test and screen and safely distance students on a daily basis.

So what happened? Elected officials didn’t even try. They settled for replacing live classes with computers.

Why are we in this mess? What is the real question here? MONEY! And lots of it.

We know that it is possible to get kids back to school, because we see wealthier schools doing what is necessary to make it possible. With resources, wealthier school districts have been able to institute much more comprehensive social distancing, with eight to twelve students spaced six feet apart in a classroom, while testing, screening and cleaning regularly.

But no help is coming from the federal government. No money, no plans, nothing. Next to nothing came from the states. In Michigan, for example, at the tail end of the summer, the legislature coughed up 580 million dollars in added aid to the schools to cover everything—online teaching and technology expansions, in-person schooling, any new facility renovations or changes, and teacher pay.

There are 1.5 million students in Michigan. This amount, then, averages out to an extra 387 dollars per student! What the heck are the schools supposed to do with that?!

Students, parents and teachers, in other words, are being left to fend for themselves in the face of a major health emergency AND the economic depression that it has brought on.

The huge inequalities that have existed in this society, and are already present within the country’s school systems, are magnified many times in this crisis. Working class and poor districts, which already were struggling with far fewer resources than they need, are being destroyed.

Poorer, working class districts are much more likely to have 20 students in a classroom—if they’re lucky—than eight to twelve, and don’t have resources to test or clean nearly so thoroughly. Is it any wonder that the wealthy Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield has 75% of its students reporting for in-person school, while only 20% of Detroit students feel comfortable doing so?

We know damn well the money exists to fix these problems. After all, the Democrats and Republicans found three TRILLION dollars to bail out banks and corporations and shore up the stock market!

These politicians are showing us through their actions that they are ready to dismantle the school systems, to consign a whole generation to illiteracy, in order to protect those profits.

Those politicians don’t do what’s necessary to address this major imperative to educate and socialize a generation of kids, and they never will. They don’t represent us. They represent the rich, and their system.

A system that throws away the next generation to protect the profits of a few has proven that it has long outlived any usefulness it might have once had.

Pages 2-3

Athletes Strike in Solidarity

Sep 14, 2020

After the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, basketball players from the NBA team in nearby Milwaukee walked off the court in protest before a playoff game. What happened next was something never seen before in American sports.

Players from all the other NBA teams joined the protest and refused to play and the NBA had to cancel playoff games for the next few days. Women basketball players from the WNBA also protested and stopped playing.

Other athletes joined the protests against police brutality and racism. Football players from at least nine NFL teams walked out of practice or refused to practice. Baseball players from a number of Major League teams refused to play their next game. Baseball players from the New York Mets and Miami Marlins stood for a moment of silence, left a "Black Lives Matter" shirt on home plate, and then walked off the field together. The National Hockey League cancelled games. Players from professional tennis and Major League Soccer (MLS) joined the protest and all MLS games were cancelled.

Without the players, professional sports in this country came to a halt for a couple of days.

A lesson in solidarity.

Trump Proves Athletes’ Point

Sep 14, 2020

After the protests by professional athletes, Donald Trump, of course, had to give his two cents worth of opinion and he attacked the NBA basketball players for refusing to play. Jared Kushner, who is Trump’s “expert on everything” adviser/son-in-law, ridiculed the NBA players for their protest.

The funny thing is, Trump and Kushner never mentioned the baseball players, hockey players, soccer players or tennis players who were protesting, the majority of whom are white. They only attacked the NBA players, who are mostly black. It seems like Trump and Kushner proved the players’ point about racism in this country, which goes all the way to the top.

Wall Street Parties ... Like It’s 1929

Sep 14, 2020

A lot of experts say they are puzzled by the sharp rise in the stock market, driven largely by the rise of a handful of high-tech company stocks. They say they don’t understand how this can happen, while the rest of the economy has been mired in its deepest slump since the Great Depression.

Certainly, the enormous rise in a few high tech stocks has little to do with reality. Just look at Tesla, the manufacturer of electric cars. In less than a year, Tesla’s stock price increased by 950%! The company is now worth twice as much as Toyota on the stock market, even though Toyota sold 13 million cars, while Tesla sold only 400,000 cars. And Tesla is worth more than 10 times as much as General Motors, even though GM sold about 20 times more cars than Tesla!

Or look at Apple. Its stock price has more than doubled in less than six months and the company is now worth more than two trillion dollars. Apple may sell a lot of very overpriced cell phones and computers. But two trillion dollars? That is about the size of the economy of Italy, a country of about 60 million people with such cities as Rome, Milan and Venice! And the galloping price increases of Amazon and Microsoft stock mean that they, too, may soon join Apple in the two trillion dollar club.

High tech stocks have become so valuable to Wall Street financiers, they overshadow everything else. Dow Jones recently replaced Exxon with a company called Sales Force in its index of the 30 most important companies in the U.S., what they call bellwether stocks. How could Sales Force, a relatively new company that provides software and cloud computing services, be considered more important than Exxon, the largest private oil company in the world? Oil is still the primary source of energy for the entire global economy, and it remains the basis for many of the chemicals that go into industrial, agricultural and consumer goods.

In the world of Wall Street financiers, what counts is not the real economy, the production of goods and services to meet the needs of the population, but simply how much profit can be made as quickly as possible. There is nothing new in all this. The rapid rise of high tech stocks is just another financial bubble, driven by the speculative mania of a few big capitalists and financiers.

The capitalists, who claim that their power astride the world economy is justified by their ability to efficiently funnel investment to where it can do the most good, actually just watch their fortunes grow by running up big amounts of debt in order to place ever more risky bets on various companies in the stock market, thus driving up their prices—until the bubble pops and it all comes crashing down.

So, as the capitalists party, as vast amounts of money slosh around in the stock markets, the real economy is starved. There is no money to hire or pay workers, no money to build affordable housing, or for schools, roads, or health care for big parts of the population.

The capitalist class is running the entire society into the ground. And this will continue until the working population organizes itself and opposes its power against the capitalist class.

Baltimore:
Supermarket Getting Super Handouts

Sep 14, 2020

In late August Baltimore officials said suburban-based supermarket chain ShopRite owned by the Klein family doesn’t have to pay back 500,000 dollars on a city loan on their store in northwest Baltimore. And this only represents a fraction of the public money laid out to make them profitable.

Baltimore spent more than three million dollars from 2006 to 2010 to buy the land for the store, twice what some parcels were worth, and another million dollars for contractors to demolish old buildings. Then the city sold the land to the Kleins and their partners for only two million dollars.

The supermarket gets millions in New Market Tax credits from the U.S. Treasury. It gets the Enterprise Zone tax credit from the state of Maryland. And ShopRite is simply the latest business to feed at the trough of public subsidy.

Politicians claim to have no money for rec centers, schools, trash and recycling pickup, and water and sewer main repair. But they always have plenty of money for wealthy investors and businesses!

Killed by Cops for Riding a Bike in Los Angeles

Sep 14, 2020

On August 31, 2020, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a 29-year-old Black man, Dijon Kizzee. He was shot at 15 times as he ran away and then when he lay motionless on the ground. Then the cops handcuffed him, even though he was already dead.

At a news conference after the killing, Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Dean said, “Two deputies spotted Kizzee riding his bicycle in violation of vehicle codes. After the deputies went after Kizzee, he dropped the bicycle and ran. When deputies tried to corner Kizzee later, he punched one of them in the face.” But police say Kizzee dropped a bundle of clothing he had been carrying and that the deputies spotted a handgun in the bundle, and both opened fire, killing Kizzee.

Lt. Dean seemed to know every detail, except one. He could not say what code Kizzee allegedly violated that led to the violent responses of deputies. In response, the Kizzee family’s attorneys said, “What we often find in these cases is there’s a vague pretext to justify what eventually is a horrific act.”

“You never see anybody in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica stopped for a code violation while riding a bicycle,” the attorneys also said. According to official data, Black people are at least three times likelier than white cyclists to be pulled over by cops. In Florida, the Tampa Bay Times found that Black people accounted for eight out of ten cyclists ticketed in the city for problems like riding with someone on the handlebars.

The video provided by Kizzee’s family does not confirm the police allegation that he “made a motion” for a gun. The video also does not confirm that Kizzee even had a gun. According to one witness, Kizzee had nothing in his hands.

One witness, who was sitting in a car, said Kizzee had approached her and asked for her help, saying “They’re coming to get me; they’re coming to get me.” Kizzee was scared and just wanted to run away.

Kizzee’s fear was justified. The cops behave in these neighborhoods like an occupation army, trying to control the local population through intimidation and violence.

Chicago:
Closing Clinics in a Pandemic

Sep 14, 2020

Cook County just announced that it plans to close two public health clinics on Chicago’s South Side—in the midst of a pandemic. Moreover, the clinics are in Bronzeville and Woodlawn, serving the city’s black community, which has born the brunt of the pandemic. Eighty percent of patients at the county hospital system lack health insurance, or are covered by Medicaid.

The County says services will be consolidated into a South Side hospital. But they know full well that making sick people travel farther means some will not receive care.

And of course, in closing the clinics, they plan to lay off 130 workers.

A local union official asked the right question when he said: “Is this the time to be cutting back positions?”

Pages 4-5

A Working Class Program for a System Stuck in Crisis

Sep 14, 2020

The following is the text of a brochure put out by Working Class Party of Michigan.

PDF

image of Working Class Party candidates 2020

Top Row: Sam Johnson, 13th Congressional; Gary Walkowicz, 12th Congressional; Simone R. Coleman, 14th State House; and Andrea L. Kirby, 9th Congressional district.

Middle Row: Larry Darnell Betts, 15th State House district; Kimberly Givens, 7th State House; Mary Anne Hering and Hali McEachern, our two candidates for State Board of Education; and Louis Palus, 75th State House district.

Bottom Row: Linda Rayburn, 4th State House; Kathy Goodwin, 5th Congressional; and Philip Kolody, 14th Congressional district.

A New Working Class Party for Working People in Maryland

Sep 14, 2020

The following is the text of a flyer put out by Working Class Party of Maryland.

PDF

Pages 6-7

Two Conventions, No Solutions

Sep 14, 2020

The following article was the editorial in SPARK workplace newsletters of August 31.

Set the scene. Golden haired princesses and princes and the queen speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House. A lawn party with “beautiful people” bowing before the One, wearing no masks!

Game of Thrones? No. The Trump show, Hollywood version of the Republican Convention.

Earlier nights, they did let some commoners speak, but only to praise Trump, covering up all the failures. Making the shit storm the rest of us are living through look like beautiful times in “our America.” The Vice Presidential jester actually had the audacity to say that Trump had handled the Coronavirus well, in past tense, as if it were over. And Trump didn’t even bother to put forward a platform for the party going into the future.

What kind of bull is this? Millions infected with the Coronavirus. Millions unemployed, millions in the middle of environmental disaster, flood and fire.

There is no religious explanation or solution for the virus. It is not God’s will, as the Trump crew would say. The virus may be a natural event, but the crises are human built, human driven. And it will take human intervention to turn it around.

The Democratic Convention spent most of its time squarely blaming Trump for the crises.

But that is only part of the truth. In the end, what is causing the crises is what the capitalists do to make profit, and what Democrats and Republicans both do to help that happen. The capitalists have gotten what they want, for all the decades that the two parties have been trading off the majority.

Environmental disasters, wars, unemployment, and the failure to implement national healthcare. Trump is not the primary reason the U.S. is higher in numbers of virus related deaths than all other developed nations. Unbridled capitalist greed is.

But both parties are responsible because both have governed over an imploding, and now, an exploding disaster of historical neglect.

Many workers who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for Trump in 2016. They switched because they were fed up with “business as usual” with high unemployment and low wages.

What they’ve gotten since Trump took office is more business as usual, more high unemployment and still low wages. And Trump’s latent racism became overt.

Democrats, who pretend to oppose his racism, have long ignored the consequences of the racist way society is organized, including the laws they wrote that sent many more people to prison.

The divisions of workers into categories, into tiers of pay and higher and lower rates of unemployment has been accepted by political parties and trade unions alike. What they have done over the years encourages a politician like Trump to try to set one section of the working class against another.

How can we get past the divisions that are being continuously recreated?

We can fight for jobs for all, good jobs, good wages and good benefits. The restrictions imposed by the pandemic call for half occupancy, half openings. Companies could get closer to normal functioning by doubling their capacity, double building space, double employment.

Schools, factories, fields, office jobs, stores, hospitals, all need additional hands and lots of them to implement the protective measures needed. Millions of jobs that don’t require intensive training could be available today. Workers could be in training to learn how to do the rest.

What is in the way? Wasting our time waiting for politicians to sweep us up out of all of this. The fight for jobs can start now, here. It is a natural thing for workers to do. It is a survival tactic. Power in numbers exists in every workplace and neighborhood. Fighting hand in hand for equal jobs for all eliminates divisions and the racism we are encountering.

What are we waiting for?

When “Help” Kills

Sep 14, 2020

Joe Prude knew his brother Daniel needed help, so he called emergency services. Daniel Prude was given a mental health evaluation—and released.

At 3 a.m. the next morning, March 23, Daniel fled his brother’s house and took off his clothes. Naked and bleeding, he knew he needed help: a passerby recorded a video of Daniel Prude begging someone to call emergency services for him. But instead of help, they sent the police. Rochester, New York cops put a “spit hood” over Prude’s head and held him face down on the street for more than two minutes, until he stopped breathing.

In Tucson, Arizona, in April, Carlos Ingram Lopez was also going through a mental health crisis. He also took off his clothes in public—and police held him face down, handcuffed, for 12 minutes, while he pleaded for water, and for his nana, until his heart stopped.

These killings provoked enough outrage to draw attention. But many police killings that are called “justified” also involve someone in crisis. War veteran Joseph Jesk was shot by police in Bridgeview, Illinois last October, after he allegedly pulled a BB gun on a cop. On August 25, Damian Daniels’ brother called for help, but when police arrived they killed Damien, a veteran, after they say he reached for a gun. The list goes on, and on, and on.

When the police don’t kill, they bring mentally ill people to jail. According to the Cook County Sheriff, about one third of the 7,000 people in the jail on any night have serious mental health problems, making Cook County Jail in Chicago the country’s largest concentration of people in need of mental health care.

The people who run this country, at every level, have made the conscious choice not to spend the money to provide mental health care to those who need it. Yet we live in a society that by its very functioning creates mental health problems, from addiction to PTSD. So mentally ill people are forced to rely on their families, or pushed onto the streets.

And when they reach a crisis point, there is no one to send but the police—the same police who every day brutalize Black people and Latinos like Daniel Prude, Damian Daniels, and Carlos Ingram Lopez.

From the perspective of the capitalists who run this society, if they don’t have family members who can afford expensive private treatment, the mentally ill are just a problem to be dealt with, as cheaply as possible.

The working class has a different interest: in building a society in which our friends and family members in crisis can get help, get treated like human beings—and stay alive.

Page 8

Behind the West Coast Fire Apocalypse:
Capitalist Greed

Sep 14, 2020

Historic, record-breaking fires have swept through the entire West Coast of the United States, creating a 1,000 mile curtain of flames and thick smoke. As of this writing, fires have burned nearly five million acres, an area comparable to the size of the state of New Jersey. Entire towns, along with thousands of homes and businesses, have already gone up in flames.

The state of Oregon has been particularly hard hit, with 40,000 forced to evacuate and another half million people, 10% of the state’s population, in evacuation alert zones, ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Nobody knows yet how many people have died. But officials fear very high casualties.

Ignored Warnings of Drought and Heat

These fires are not a surprise. Scientists have been warning that violent weather brought about by global warming would make disastrous wildfires inevitable. Global warming has meant that summers have become hotter for longer periods of time, drying out forests and underbrush, priming them to burn. At the same time, global warming is causing greater weather extremes, longer periods of drought followed by intense rains.

And the warming atmosphere has also created highly unusual lightning storms and strikes that set many of the fires, as well as the very high winds that spread the fires at such rapid rates.

Continued Production of Greenhouse Gases

Of course, scientists know what causes global warming: first of all, the burning of fossil fuels, oil and gas, which pumps planet-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And the ways of reducing those emissions have also been well-known for a very long time. These include revamping the entire electrical power system, getting rid of all decrepit, polluting and wasteful equipment and replacing it with new non-polluting power sources, along with a modern and much more efficient power grid. The same goes for industrial production, agricultural production, and the system of transportation. Homes and public buildings have to be upgraded.

No Investment in Alternatives

Yet, almost none of this has been done. Almost no money has been invested to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. This too is not an accident or mistake. This entire society is run for the private profit of the capitalist class, which historically has refused to make those kinds of big investments because they cut into their profits and wealth. That is why, for decades, many big oil companies and billionaires have paid for propaganda campaigns claiming that global warming is “fake news.”

As for government—not only doesn’t it stop companies from polluting and emitting greenhouse gases, it aids and supports them. It is a tool of the owners of the banks and big corporations, incapable of acting in the general interests of the population.

But that isn’t all. Neither private companies nor the government have taken other preventive measures that could have greatly reduced the intensity of the wildfires.

Failing to Manage, Fire by Fire ...

The U.S. Forest Service, for example, could have had systematic programs to thin out forests, removing dead trees and brush. But the U.S. Forest Service spends almost no money on these kinds of programs. And the money that it does spend is usually to support the efforts of big logging companies, rather than reducing fire risk.

And in California and other parts of the West, where fires are a part of the natural cycle of life, the authorities don’t carry out prescribed burns and managed burns in order to create a black-and-green checkerboard across the region. The black burned parcels would then provide a series of dampers and dead ends to keep the fire intensity lower when flames spark in hot, dry conditions.

... and Selling Real Estate in Fire Areas

Of course, the main reason for not doing this is that the government caters to the interests of the real estate developers and builders, who are increasingly constructing subdivisions and businesses in wild, fire-prone areas. So, because big business doesn’t want all the smoke and inconvenience that come with prescribed burns, the government lets all the dead vegetation just build up, providing ready fuel for the next fire.

The Feeling of Apocalypse

For the tens of millions of people living on the West Coast, the acrid smoke and flame from these fires give a feeling of the apocalypse, especially when combined with the ongoing deadly pandemic and all the economic hardships. But scientists say that these kinds of fires are only the beginning, that because of global warming, wildfires will get even worse in the future!

But This Is Not Inevitable

No, these catastrophes are not the inevitable outcome of “human activity” or “overpopulation” as the news media usually says, but on the fact that decisions of how to run society are not made in the interests of the population, but only the interests of the capitalist class.

Only when the working class takes the power away from the capitalist class will humanity finally have a way to plan the running of society in a rational way—that is, according to the needs of everyone—while also taking into consideration the impact on the environment. After all, humanity is not separate from the environment, but a part of it. Only then will humanity have a chance to master the vast resources and technology that the working class has built up and created.