The Spark

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

Issue no. 1114 — September 28 - October 12, 2020

The System that Murdered Breonna Taylor Needs to Be Thrown Out

Sep 28, 2020

The cops who put six bullets in Breonna Taylor’s body murdered her. But the whole system stands accused in the loss of her life. A judge signed off on a defective, cobbled-together warrant that allowed for the raid. Police officials authorized a gang of cops to break into someone’s home in the middle of the night, based on what even the police now admit was “faulty information.” Officials and legislators continue to act on the so-called “war on drugs,” which was the pretext for the raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment. A Kentucky attorney general refused to prosecute anyone in her death.

It’s a deadly system. What else would you call it but deadly? Police kill more than 1,000 people every year. What else could you call it but deadly and racist? Black people are killed three times more often than anyone white.

Almost none of the people killed came from the privileged layers of society. Very many were working people, like Breonna Taylor or George Floyd. Some were people without the hope of a job in a system whose high unemployment condemns too many people to petty crime. But whoever they were, their deaths were the inevitable result of a system that produces poverty as the necessary consequence of its rush to produce profit, and also requires the use of deadly force against the population it impoverishes. It requires a police authorized to kill.

Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s first black attorney general, refused to prosecute. Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, then issued a statement: “He knew he had the power to do the right thing. He had the power to start the healing of the city. He had the power to help mend over 400 years of oppression. What he helped me realize is it will always be us against them. We are never safe.”

No, the black population is not safe in this society born in slavery 400 years ago, within a system that has condemned a large part of the black population to the lowest rungs of the labor force ever since: first as slaves, then as sharecroppers, then as the part of the work force that absorbs the worst of the unemployment. The existence of black officials or black cops changes nothing basic about the way the system functions.

This system, the capitalist system, produces wealth for those at the top by stealing part of what the laboring population produces through its work. Within such a system, no one is safe.

Violence is inevitably produced by this system. The answer to it will not come from officials, but from the laboring population itself, which has the capacity to take on the whole system. The black population has already shown in the past that it has the ability to defend itself. The whole labor force has shown that capacity.

Even in today’s situation, when we are far from seeing the ordinary laboring population organized, ongoing protests in the streets of Louisville forced an acknowledgment. The city administration, de facto, admitted guilt when it rushed to pay out a 12-million-dollar “wrongful death” settlement to Breonna Taylor’s family. On the scale of a human life, it’s only a token. It can never make up for what was lost. But let’s be clear. Payment did not come because of the “good will” of any politician, black or white. It was produced because people in Louisville kept Breonna Taylor’s name alive. Ever since her death, there were people in the streets of Louisville, one day after another, saying her name.

That’s what was required just to get this admission. This tells us how rotten the whole system is, that it will not reform itself, that it cannot be reformed.

But it can be overthrown. It can be pulled up, rooted out, and replaced by a system the laboring population itself can create. They are the only ones who can create a humane system responding to the needs of everyone. And the black laboring population, like it has done several times before, can play a leading role in this transformation. Militant black workers, entering the factories in the 1960s, pulled the rest of the working class after them in a wave of strikes that crescendoed in 1974.

This generation, when it comes to understand that the system must go, can open the door to a new life for everyone.

Pages 2-3

Black Lives Cut Short

Sep 28, 2020

This September, the Chicago Department of Public Health announced that even before COVID-19, life expectancy for black people was about 71 years, while for the rest of the city’s population, it was over 80 years.

The city admitted that black people die younger because of long-rooted, systemic racism. True enough. And with big fanfare, it put out some high-minded plans for “equity” to close the life-expectancy gap.

But there is one thing the City of Chicago did not commit: money.

What people need for better health is no secret: access to clinics and hospitals; affordable, healthy food; safe places to exercise and socialize; education and a future for young people so they don’t get sucked into drugs and gang violence. There is plenty of money in society to do all of this.

But instead, on top of the pandemic, we’ve seen mass layoffs with thousands losing their insurance. A major hospital and two clinics that serve black neighborhoods in Chicago are slated for closure. Whatever the city government says, in this capitalist system in crisis, we can expect more attacks, which always fall hardest on the black population.

To reverse this situation, we will have to take the money to pay for what we need. We will have to take it back from the capitalists who have stolen it from our labor and from the public budgets. And no city government can do that for us.

Washington, D.C. Sewers Back Flow

Sep 28, 2020

Sewage and stormwater erupted from toilets and drains in several hundred homes in Washington, D.C.’s Edgewood and Riggs Park neighborhoods during the record rain on September 10. Only when 900 people attended a virtual community meeting by internet and phone the following week did the city promise to spend one and a half million dollars to help clean up these homes. But this whole revolting mess is both avoidable and certain to happen again.

The city’s century-old combined sewer system connects sewer pipes from homes and stormwater pipes from street sewers. So, sewage and stormwater mix. This means that during heavy rain, mixed sewage and stormwater can be forced back up the pipes and into homes.

A decade ago, a court mandated the city to dig five huge, miles-long tunnels deep underground to catch stormwater and release it into the nearby Anacostia and Potomac rivers so it doesn’t flood homes. But more rain fell than these pricey engineering wonders could handle.

Politicians never renovated the system to separate the pipes. Nor did they install backflow preventer valves, invented 90 years ago, which stop sewage from flowing back up into homes. Now some residents will lay out the hundreds or thousands of dollars to have their foundations dug up to install valves—each on their own, without a city plan—and wait on reimbursement from the city.

Broken System for Millions of Unemployed

Sep 28, 2020

California officials are now saying that the state’s unemployment agency, EDD (Employment Development Department), will not be able to clear the state’s huge backlog of unemployment claims before the end of January 2021. That’s FOUR months later than what Governor Gavin Newsom had set as a “target” back in July.

Not only has the backlog not been eliminated—it has in fact increased a lot since July, from 1 million claims to 1.6 million claims. In other words, unpaid unemployment claims in California have lately been increasing at a rate of about 10,000 a day.

On October 5 a new electronic ID verification system is supposed to kick in. Until now, the EDD has been doing ID verifications manually. When claims get stuck in that phase of the process (which, officials say, happens with about 40% of claims), it takes months to resolve the problem. Officials say the new electronic system will greatly speed up the process for new claims.

But this will not help the 1.6 million workers waiting for their payments to begin. The new system will not even work retroactively for claims already filed.

Officials excuse the backlog as a problem of technology—the EDD’s computers are decades old and severely outdated. But it is also a staffing problem: there are not enough agents working on processing the claims that are coming in; not even close.

For both problems, state officials are to blame: They are the ones who have cut the budget and have left the EDD lacking the technology needed by millions of unemployed California workers.

Two Hundred Thousand Dead

Sep 28, 2020

When the nationwide U.S. coronavirus death count broke the 200,000 mark, it was news for the day, and then, off to something else. But for those of us in the working class, it is not something to be easily dismissed.

These deaths are continuing to climb because those who run this society have done nothing to rein in the virus from start to finish. This isn’t March, April, or May, not even June when they could claim to be unprepared. We are moving into October. The virus is spreading, not retreating. The capitalists have not produced enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), like masks and shields, they haven’t provided access to tests, they haven’t traced, tracked and isolated, and they are far from producing a safe vaccine. They are continuing business as usual, because they have no interest in investing time and money to protect the population at large. Two hundred thousand deaths are already on their heads.

There should be a real lockdown for all those in power who have encouraged no mask wearing, no social distancing, no nothing. But room should be reserved in this special hotel for all the rest of them, in charge and responsible, who did nothing but hoard their billions.

Right now, the bull about the election is the focus of the media and the politicians. And when it’s over, will our loved ones come back to us? Will we be more protected?

Those who own and run the profit system have no intention ever of providing real health care, real protections from the virus, because it interferes with profit.

The longer we wait for them to do something, the higher will be the death toll.

These are the Candidates of Working Class Party of Michigan for the November 3, 2020 Election

Sep 28, 2020

image of Working Class Party candidates 2020

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

Middle Row: Larry Darnell Betts, 15th State House district; Kimberly Givens, 7th State House district; 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 district; Kathy Goodwin, 5th Congressional district; and Philip Kolody, 14th Congressional district.

Pages 4-5

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death:
The Courts are Not a Protection

Sep 28, 2020

News of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at age 87 was a major political event in this country, not just because it gave Trump and the Republicans a chance to name another judge to the Supreme Court, but because Ginsburg had become an icon of the fight against sexual discrimination ... against women and men.

But in reality, Ginsburg’s life and times illustrate something else—that the courts cannot be counted on to protect working peoples’ rights, neither women, nor men.

A Time of Social Struggle

When Ginsburg graduated from law school in 1959, there were only nine women in her class of 500. And each female student was questioned by the dean about why she thought she deserved to take a job away from a man.

At this time, women were entering the workforce in growing numbers. But like women from both the working class and the middle class looking for a professional job, Ginsburg found that no corporation, court or law school would hire her. In the U.S., “the land of freedom and liberty for all,” the law did not recognize women as those “persons” who enjoy equal rights established by the Constitution.

But in the 1960s, many things were changing. Backward institutions that had been built up over decades and centuries were being swept away by various social movements. First the black movement and then the movement against the war in Vietnam involved millions of people in the streets. The movements extended from black urban uprisings to prisoners’ rebellions, to resistance in the armed forces. These fights became the immediate spur to the women’s struggle for equal rights.

These movements provided new ideas and experiences that inspired Ginsburg, as a young, unknown lawyer, to take on the discriminatory legal structure. The first case that Ginsburg brought to the Supreme Court (Reed v. Reed, 1971), challenged an Idaho law that considered men to be more competent and intelligent than women in administering wills. In her argument before the Supreme Court, Ginsburg quoted Sarah Grimke, a pioneering abolitionist and fighter for women’s rights, who in 1837 wrote: “I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet off from our necks....”

The nine Supreme Court justices, who were all older men, previously would have ruled against Ginsburg. But this time, under the pressure of the mass movements, they turned around and struck down the law.

The following year, Ginsburg became the first director of the A.C.L.U.’s Women’s Rights Project. She took several cases before the Supreme Court that also struck down sexual discrimination against men. In one landmark case, Ginsburg represented a man whose wife died in childbirth. When he applied for Social Security benefits in order to stay home and take care of his newborn baby, he was denied because those benefits were reserved for mothers. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that the man should get the benefits, a major ruling that opened up the availability of benefits for men and women, both.

In fact, discrimination against women was also the basis of discrimination against men. Discrimination against one part of the working class is an attack against the entire working class.

Discrimination Serves the Capitalist Class

So, some of the tricks that the government and corporations had used to limit what women and men could get, based on their gender, were successfully challenged and struck down by the courts. But neither the capitalists nor their government officials would tolerate this for long, because it cut into corporate profits and encouraged working people to fight for more.

The Catholic Church and religious fundamentalists served as the shock troops for the capitalist class, mounting a counterattack against all these rights, under the banner of “traditional” or “family” values.

Their first target was the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, a basic right for women to choose how to control their own bodies. Roe v. Wade had not been granted because of the good will of Democrats, as so many Democrats later would claim. Roe v. Wade was decided by a 7 to 2 majority. Of the seven justices who ruled for women, five had been appointed by Republican presidents, who ruled in response to the mass movements of the 1960s and early 1970s.

But by the mid-1970s, social movements were receding, freeing the Democratic and Republican politicians to do the capitalists’ bidding and chop away at those rights. In 1976, the two parties passed the Hyde Amendment that denied government funding for abortions—an attack aimed at the right of working-class women without much money to be able to control their own bodies.

Ginsburg’s Mixed Record

By 1993, when Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court as only the second female justice in the history of the court, the right to an abortion was already under a full-scale attack, as were all the other rights that had been won by the social movements of the 1960s.

Ginsburg also had moved to the right, under the guise of trying to build consensus with conservatives in the legal system. Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, she had even been critical of Roe V. Wade, claiming that it was too sweeping and hard to defend, legally.

As a Supreme Court justice, she sided with conservatives on many issues, including curtailing prisoners’ rights. In 2011, she was part of a unanimous decision, purely for technical reasons, against female workers who sued Walmart for sex discrimination. This past June, she voted in favor of the Trump administration’s efforts to expedite the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

But the Supreme Court had shifted so far to the right, Ginsburg still found herself in the minority on many occasions. In her later years, she became famous to those who followed the law for her stinging and blunt dissents on decisions dealing with discrimination, earning her the reputation as the “Notorious RBG”—thus, forgetting all the times that she sided with conservatives against the rights of minorities and working people.

Don’t Look to the Courts

Today, many fear what Ginsburg’s death and another Trump appointee on the Supreme Court will mean for peoples’ basic rights. But if the history of the Supreme Court proves anything, it is that those rights do not depend upon the make up of the court, but on the balance of class forces, between capitalists and workers.

The capitalists’ ability to exploit and maximize their profits depends on the maintenance of a system of discrimination and racism that divides working people every way possible. So, the capitalists try to make sure that any gains working people make through their struggles are only temporary. To make those gains permanent, workers will have to take the power away from the capitalists and run society in the interests of all humanity.

Illegal in Europe, Exported to the Rest of the World

Sep 28, 2020

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

Every year, the European Union (E.U.) authorizes European agribusiness corporations to produce and export pesticides that are banned in Europe.

Public Eye and Greenpeace-Great Britain collected thousands of applications that companies must complete to export dangerous chemicals. Trade secrecy is used to camouflage practices like exporting prohibited substances, but these activists were able to document and expose them.

They have the data for 2018. That year the E.U. approved the export of nearly 90,000 tons of pesticides containing banned toxic substances. This is equivalent to the quantity of all pesticides sold in France that year.

Among these pesticides is the infamous Paraquat, sold as Gramoxone, which the E.U. banned in 2007. Syngenta still produces it in Great Britain. It is highly toxic to humans. Paraquat-related suicides have been common for years among farmers in India driven to despair. 1,3-Dichloropropene was also banned in 2007. It is used in Morocco in tomato fields. Atrazine was banned in 2003. Synerga produces it at a plant in Gard, France, and it is widely used in Ukraine in wheat fields.

The U.S.A. is the leading importer of these notoriously dangerous pesticides. But three-quarters of the other importing countries are poor countries. While the E.U. bans more substances in Europe considered hazardous to health or the environment, exports of them are increasing.

France says it plans to make these practices stop in 2022. This leaves two years for agribusiness companies to get busy lobbying French and European leaders to prevent this ban. Environmental problems and the health of farmers do not matter to the vultures of agribusiness.

Germany’s Four-Day Week:
A Nice-Sounding But Vicious Attack on Workers

Sep 28, 2020

Translated from The Red Banner (Das rote Tuch), the journal of the Revolutionary Workers Bund active in Germany.

Trade unions, the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Lefts all claim to have a solution for workers, an alleged way to prevent layoffs during the crisis. They propose that companies with fewer orders begin a four-day week ... with only four days’ pay. In other words: we workers should give up our wages yet again.

To prove how well their proposal would work, they cite Bosch, ZF and Daimler, which reduced work hours recently. This summer ZF started the four-day week, without wage compensation, that is, with a wage cut of 20%! But jobs will not be preserved: 15,000 jobs are to be cut, while the remaining workers somehow have to get by with 20% lower wages. That is what their four-day week means. And how could it be otherwise? Without reaching into the profits of the capitalists in a crisis, the workers always have to pay.

We need our jobs and our wages. We cannot do without them! And we will only have a chance when we organize a fight to make the capitalists pay for their crisis themselves. We will have to force them to use a small part of their wealth to preserve all jobs in the current slump, and to divide the existing work among all workers, without cutting our pay!

Two-Trillion-Dollar Bank Heist

Sep 28, 2020

Many of the major banks in the U.S. and around the world are engaged in activity that is held to be illegal and criminal.

JPMorgan Chase moved money for people who stole public funds in Malaysia, Venezuela and the Ukraine. Deutsche Bank of Germany has been engaged in money laundering in several countries, and also in the bribery of government officials in China and other countries. HSBC Bank of Britain has admitted laundering money for drug cartels in Latin America, and managed money for the Russian mafia and for Ponzi schemes in multiple countries.

The investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found government documents that established these criminal activities amounted to over two trillion dollars, that is $2,000,000,000!!! And, of course, this is just the amount that has been found out so far.

These banks continue their criminal activities, despite the fact that governments in the U.S. and other countries are well aware of what they are doing.

It doesn’t seem like these bank executives and bank owners, these “Masters of the Universe,” are very worried that the governments of their fellow capitalists might put them in jail for stealing trillions. After all, they are all partners in crime.

Pages 6-7

No One Else Will Hand Us What We Need

Sep 28, 2020

The following article was the editorial in SPARK workplace newsletters of September 22.

We are almost exactly six weeks from the election, an election taking place in the midst of multiple crises.

A contagious virus spreads unchecked because for decades, government raided public health funds—just like it raided funds for roads, bridges, wetlands, forests, dams, public transit and education—in order to hand out tax breaks, subsidies and gifts to a greedy capitalist class.

When the virus hit, it just compounded all the problems of an economy already in crisis. The capitalist class, in its mad dash to accumulate profit, has sacrificed the needs of the whole society. Companies slashed jobs, cut wages, used temporary or part-time or contract work. The super-profits flooded into speculation, driving up prices not only on Wall Street, but also on land, on buildings, and on commodities, tearing up life as we knew it.

Even the storms produced by “nature” turn into crises. Hurricanes in the South, fires on the West Coast, violent windstorms in the Midwest left people without power, without services, and in many cases homeless. The storms may have sprung from nature, but their impact was made many times worse by the way that capitalism prioritizes profits at the expense of the natural environment and the human beings who live in it.

Both parties, Republican and Democratic, supported this mad dash for profit.

Take Back the Wealth Stolen from our Labor

The super-profits that today go to the capitalists could be used to guarantee a job for every person, with decent wages that keep up with prices. There are millions of people who want a job, and hundreds of ways to provide one. If the bosses can’t hire everyone full-time, then slow down the pace of work, reduce the hours of work for everyone—with no loss of weekly pay for anyone. Why not? The workers’ labor created all these profits.

The money that government gives away to the corporations, banks and the very wealthy is more than enough to fund all the public services, including public health, protection of the environment and education. Fully funding these services would improve our lives at the same time it would create jobs.

Neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party has ever proposed such a thing. Neither party will, because they both support the principle that the capitalists should control society.

Working People Could Build a New Society

Working people are essential—didn’t governors tell us exactly that when they needed us to keep things running after the virus hit? Well, let’s use our essential position to deal with the crises capitalist society has thrown at us.

As it is, our work makes everything run today. We know how the work is organized. Putting our knowledge and experience together, we know how it all fits together, how one part feeds into the next, how the whole productive economy runs. That’s what’s important—the productive economy, the part that produces all the goods and services that human beings need.

Our position in this economy is what will allow us to put our hands on the whole thing, take control of society, organize the economy to serve the interests of all humanity.

No one will hand us jobs and wages and a healthy country. We have to fight for what we need. We have to fight for power. But working people can do that—if we stand together as one class ready to fight for our common interests.

We have to be unified in the face of our enemies. That means we have to fight to cut out the racism that has been a cancer in our class. Not only has racism against the black population been an institutional part of capitalist society since its beginning in slavery; it spills over into the working class. Black workers know it. Other workers need to acknowledge it. Facing reality will set them free of this cankerous sore on their hearts and minds, opening the door to a real unity of the working class.

Hospital Strike at UIC

Sep 28, 2020

Nurses and staff at the University of Illinois hospital in Chicago struck for a week, demanding better staffing, more PPE and better pay. More than 5,000 were on strike, including 800 nurses represented by the Illinois Nurses Association, and over 4,000 clerical, technical and building maintenance workers represented by SEIU Local 73.

UI Hospital nurses struck after hospital management’s lack of response to the pandemic in spring. The hospital had been slow to make PPE available. As a result, over two hundred nurses caught Covid-19 and two veteran nurses died.

Nurses also demanded increased staffing to lower the number of patients under the care of each nurse.

The University of Illinois has access to lots of money—anyone who takes a stroll down the well-groomed quads at the college and hospital campuses can see that. Still, it took a determined strike to get the administration to cough up any additional resources. The tentative agreement includes the hiring of 160 more nurses. And SEIU workers will receive raises of 1 or 2% a year, and a guarantee to be paid over Chicago’s minimum of $15 an hour.

Baltimore Public Schools in Crisis

Sep 28, 2020

The superintendent of Baltimore City public schools, Sonja Santelises, just announced the layoff of 451 staff, including classroom teachers and aides. She cites a budget shortfall, possibly a shortage of federal funds.

Both Baltimore City and all Maryland counties began the semester online because of COVID. Tens of thousands of dollars need to be spent on computers for students who don’t have them. The schools must buy “hot spots” for wi-fi connections from Comcast which has a monopoly in Baltimore. An estimated 7,000 students, one in every 11, do not have internet at home. Comcast has only offered a cheaper wi-fi package for two months, which does not help families with more than one person using the internet.

And layoffs? The school systems all need to hire MORE people if there are going to be small classes with plenty of space between students, not to mention extra cleaning and inspections to keep students and staff safe.

A big percent of Baltimore’s education funding comes from the state and federal governments, because Baltimore is said to be poor overall, with a small tax base compared to wealthier parts of the state.

But meanwhile, Baltimore is showing off a never-ending parade of new high-rent condos and townhouses in gentrifying areas and million-dollar apartments selling around the Inner Harbor.

Neither corporations, investment firms, nor politicians see any problems with this picture, planning on more of the same for the benefit of a wealthy few.

Page 8

Election Hoopla in Florida

Sep 28, 2020

There has been a huge campaign to convince U.S. voters that what is at stake in this election is democracy itself. But let’s take a look at Florida.

Both Biden and Trump and their parties are pouring money into the election race in Florida because historically, since the 1920’s, no President has won the U.S. election without winning Florida. The election edge in Florida is always razor thin between the parties.

In this election, Republican Trump is spending over 50 million in anti-Biden ads. He dangled a Supreme Court appointment of an anti-abortion judge from Florida to please conservatives. And with the recent immigration of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans fleeing the hurricane devastation of their island, he is now promising to spend millions on restoring Puerto Rico. Haha!

The Democrats have plans of their own. They have billionaire Bloomberg proposing to spend one hundred million dollars on the campaign including sixteen million to help felons pay off their jailhouse fines in time to be eligible to vote. Why? The strategy is to bring in a Democratic win in Florida early enough that it will swing other swing states!

Trump is saying Biden is a revolutionary! (WHAT!) Trump is making gifts to new immigrants! (WHAT!) A billionaire Democrat is buying out the debt of the felon population the Democrats helped to put in prison in the first place through repressive War on Drugs legislation! (WHAT!)

How does this in any way lead to a better America? It doesn’t! What does any of this have to do with democracy? Right again. Not a damn thing!

Trump Posse Rides Down
—on Seven Ballots!

Sep 28, 2020

On September 24, the U.S. Department of Justice put out a press release to announce that it was going to investigate a case where nine mail-in election ballots were allegedly found “discarded” in Luzerne County in Pennsylvania. They first announced that all 9 of the “discarded” ballots were votes for Donald Trump, then later changed their story to say that 7 of the 9 ballots were for Trump, the other 2 ballots were still in the envelope.

An election law professor said, “this is a story that is going to be manipulated by the president.” Legal experts said they had never seen the Justice Department release to the media any “facts” about a case while the investigation was still ongoing. A former Justice Department official said, “It’s wildly improper and it’s truly unconscionable … This was not an act of law enforcement, this was a campaign act.”

Well, of course it was. The Department of Justice is run by the U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, and he works for Trump. It shouldn’t be a surprise that elected politicians use their control over government to their own benefit; even to determine the outcome of the next election. Democrats have done similar things when they had the chance.

Crowd Workers Paid Below Minimum Wage

Sep 28, 2020

People all over the world, who have lost their jobs, are finding work as “crowd workers.” They work from home using the internet to do menial tasks such as filling out online surveys, transcribing audio, and labeling data for companies developing artificial intelligence.

All crowd workers are paid well below the minimum wage. In the U.S., the companies pay crowd workers $3.01 per hour on average, while those in India earn $1.41, according to the Financial Times. These miserly-paid crowd workers are virtually invisible and no one knows how many of them are out there, except for the companies that exploit them.

Companies split long-distance work-from-home jobs into small tasks, then offer such piecework to crowd workers to be completed anywhere in the world. Like Uber drivers, the companies classify crowd workers as independent contractors and pay them by the task. So each task pays a few cents, and if it is not accepted by the supervisor, the crowd worker can’t even derive that dismal income at the end of the hour.

Amazon, for example, uses crowd workers to fix errors or improve its artificial intelligence programs. Amazon even coined a term, “artificial artificial intelligence” for such work and patented the related concept. Yes, there are two “artificials” in this term, which is Amazon’s admission that its “artificial intelligence” is not real; that it needs human babysitting. Amazon thus built its crowdsourcing website, Amazon Mechanical Turk, for businesses (known as “Requesters”) to hire remotely located crowd-workers to perform discrete on demand tasks that computers are currently unable to do. In 2017, researchers found that 2,676 crowd-workers performed 3.8 million tasks on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website and got a median hourly wage of $2. Only 4% earned more than $7.25 an hour.

Such dismal pay for piecework done at home was supposed to be a relic of the past. But ultra-high-tech business titans like Amazon exploit the same kind of labor in the 21st century to extract ever more profits.