The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 1122 — February 1 - 15, 2021

Vaccine Producers Have Final Say, and It Is Killing Us

Feb 1, 2021

Who runs the United States?

There are those who thought Trump did. Now, others would say Joe Biden. Or the Congress, Senate, governors and mayors.

But the drug companies are making it clear that no one can tell them what to do. They run the show when it comes to COVID-19.

Pfizer, Moderna, and the rest have decided to delay the production of the vaccines they promised both to the U.S. and the rest of the world. At the height of the pandemic! They say, don’t worry, we will have lots more at the end of the summer! As if they were producing donuts!

So, what is going on? It is certainly not a question of money. The vaccine producers have been paid billions by world governments, for enough vaccine to innoculate the population. And yet the vaccine producers have managed to retain all rights over the drugs! That means how, when and where the vaccine gets produced and how much it costs. And if they don’t feel like investing money to ramp up production or build more plants to meet their obligations, oh, well!

Pfizer has one plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan producing all the vaccines for the entire U.S. They have one, yes, one in Brussels, supplying all of Europe, and that one is currently shut down for renovation! So everybody is being told to wait.

But we can’t wait! We are in a race against time to use the only tool we have, world-wide, to protect against this deadly virus that is changing (mutating) and spreading new variants at ever faster rates.

So when the companies say “just a small delay,” what is that? In one month, in December, in the U.S., we lost 77,400 people to Covid deaths. In January, after vaccine delays were announced, the death toll is higher.

They plan to leave hundreds of thousands more dead and millions more sick while they manage and cut production costs! And since they own the patent rights to the drugs, no one else can produce Covid vaccine, either.

Medical establishments and non-profits across the world are calling for the lifting of patents so that production can be opened up to other producers. World capitalist leaders, representing the profit makers, disagree. They claim to have no control over the problem of patents.

Biden’s warning to us, that we are “going to see somewhere between a total of 600,000 to 660,000 deaths before we begin to turn the corner,” is shameful! An admission that the U.S. government does not intend to challenge those who own Pfizer, Moderna and the rest, for rights to the vaccine we paid for! Nor to mobilize the forces of the state and military to command the drug companies to release vaccines or face confiscation. These leaders, who take us to war, won’t use war powers to mobilize production of live-saving drugs.

And since they can’t or won’t confront the problem, its time to retire them, yes, all of them. Out! Why do we keep betting on these tired horses while losing the race.

U.S. imperialism and its partners have condemned us to death and ruin. They have made political and economic choices to put profit over human life, this time the profit of the pharmaceutical companies.

It’s time for a real rumble, a real fight to release the people of the world from the production for profit system, and those who defend it.

We have to start talking about this. How to get ready? How to engage a real fight to protect ourselves and others, in every workplace and neighborhood. How to mobilize our power, as workers, to produce, transport and administer vaccines. How to connect and coordinate our fights and report up to new leaders of and for the working class.

Pages 2-3

U.S. Fails to Track COVID Variants

Feb 1, 2021

In January, a California variant of the COVID virus was discovered. This discovery is not very surprising since it is well-known that viruses constantly mutate and adapt. The United Kingdom, South Africa, Denmark and Brazil previously have also discovered variants more contagious and possibly more deadly than the first is.

But what is surprising is how late this discovery by the U.S. health department really is. There may easily be many more variants in the U.S., which may not respond to current treatments and vaccines the same way, so tracking variants of COVID virus is a must to prevent the spread of this disease.

Although this is an urgent issue, as of this month only a minuscule number, 0.3% of samples collected from COVID patients, have been sequenced in the United States. The U.S. ranks 43rd in the world in doing this vital work, according to the global genome sequencing database.

Scientists and medical staff can easily find virus variants by obtaining samples from the patients and using genome sequencing techniques and methods, which are well-known and well-developed, and are regularly used to track, for example, flu virus variants.

But the United States does not have a systematic genetic surveillance system. This is a consequence of the Federal and State governments’ destruction of much of the public health system: the cutting of much-needed funding and resources over many decades, and channeling of this funding to the rich and their companies.

Above all, having the proper staff and providing them with necessary tools are the most crucial elements to run an efficient genetic surveillance system. “More than anything else, the sequencing has come down to staffing,” according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL). The medical labs have been frustrated with “incredibly tight” supplies used both for sequencing and other laboratory work. Omai Garner of UCLA said: “We just didn’t have the capacity. The people I would use for that sequencing are the same that were doing the diagnostic testing.”

The U.S. is a world leader in medical innovation and treatment, and has a sophisticated biomedical research industry backed by the best academic researchers, universities, and institutes; and is a very rich country. So, this failure is not for lack of resources and infrastructure, but because of an unwillingness to engage the necessary levels of importance and staffing.

Henry “Hank” Aaron:
A Man Who Defied Racism

Feb 1, 2021

On January 22, Henry “Hank” Aaron passed away. Aaron was a man who defied racism to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Aaron was born in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, the son of a shipyard worker. He grew up in the era of Jim Crow segregation. When he was a teenager in 1948, Aaron and other young black men in Mobile met with Jackie Robinson, who had become the first black man to play in Major League Baseball just a year earlier.

Aaron pursued baseball as a way to escape poverty. He first played with segregated semi-pro teams in Mobile and then played in the Negro Leagues.

In 1952, as Major League Baseball was slowly integrating, Aaron signed with the Milwaukee Braves.

Aaron began in the Minor Leagues. Playing in Jacksonville, Florida, he was one of the first black players in the South Atlantic League. There Aaron faced abuse from some white fans, who would yell racist epithets at him.

Aaron was such a good player that, at age 20, he moved up to the Major Leagues.

Playing with the Milwaukee Braves (who later moved to Atlanta), Aaron was an immediate star. He won the league batting championships and Most Valuable Player awards.

Year after year, Aaron was an All-Star player. But that didn’t protect him from the racism of this society. Early in his Major League career, Aaron protested because black players were not allowed in some hotels where their white teammates stayed.

In 1974, Aaron was about to set the career record for home runs and the racist attacks intensified. Aaron received many letters of support, but he also was getting racist hate mail and death threats because he dared to break Babe Ruth’s record.

Aaron said, “It really made me see a clear picture of what this country is about. My kids had to live like they were in prison because of kidnap threats.... I had to have a police escort with me all the time. I was getting threatening letters every single day.”

But Aaron refused to be intimidated. He went on to set the home run record and finished his career with several other all-time records.

After his career was done, Aaron said that “baseball has done a lot for me, but also it has taught me that regardless of who you are and how much money you make, you are still a Negro.”

Aaron’s baseball career coincided with the Civil Rights movement and the struggles of the black population. Years later, Aaron talked about the gains made during that time, but added, “anyone who thinks the same thing can’t happen today is sadly mistaken. It happens now with people in three-piece suits instead of with hoods on.”

Henry Aaron’s life shows someone to be admired for what he accomplished, and reflects on the experience of the black population in this country.

Another Wild Ride on Wall Street

Feb 1, 2021

The media was full of talk of the run-up in the price of the stock of GameStop and a few other companies like AMC. GameStop stock went from $17 to $483 in a matter of days.

The media emphasized that this cost some big hedge funds billions of dollars. These giant investors had bet that the stock price would go down. And by betting against the stock price, called “short selling,” the hedge funds were not just counting on a collapse of these companies—they were encouraging it. Capitalists running similar games contributed to the destruction of Toys “R” Us, Sears, and other companies.

When the price went up instead of down, these hedge funds lost on their bets—to the tune of billions of dollars. They seemed to have been beaten at their own game, for once.

This was presented as a major victory by the “little guys” against giant hedge funds. The papers made a big deal of the fact that many small investors drove up the stock price, and that the main stock trading website used by these small investors is called “Robinhood.”

Of course it would be nice to see the underdog win at the casino once in a while. But everyone knows that, in the end, the house always wins.

For one thing, all the talk of small investors aside, other high rollers are the ones making the real money. They made it as these stocks went up—and many are already placing bets on the inevitable crash. As always, we can be sure that most small guys will ultimately be fleeced to the benefit of the high rollers. That’s what the casino is for, after all.

For another, the big hedge fund guys immediately went about trying to make sure they couldn’t be played at their own game this way in the future. The stock trading site Robinhood even stopped people from buying GameStop stock when it went up too much—some speculate because Robinhood is itself linked to one of the giant hedge funds.

And what did GameStop or AMC workers get out of all of this? The same low wages and job uncertainty they’ve always gotten.

The casino they call the stock market is set up to benefit those who already have the money.

Workers’ power doesn’t come from the rare chance to win a hand, but from the fact that we create all the wealth they are gambling with. It’s in our power not only to choke them off, but replace them entirely.

Pages 4-5

Chicago Public Schools Standoff

Feb 1, 2021

Chicago teachers are on the brink of striking over the mayor’s school reopening plan, because many think that plan is not safe.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot claims that reopening the schools is a matter of “equity.” She points out that black and Latino students have been losing the most under remote learning. And so, she says, the schools need to re-open, and pronto.

She’s right that children do need to be back in school. They are missing out, and the ones with the fewest resources miss out the most.

But Chicago Public Schools’ original plan amounted to nothing more than a few wipes, a few cloth masks, and a cheap air filter here or there. When teachers didn’t think that was enough, Mayor Lightfoot made it seem like the teachers were to blame for the schools being closed. She and CPS leadership act like teachers should shut up and risk getting the disease or spreading it to their families, like many other workers are forced to do. They encourage angry parents to blame the teachers, or blame the union—not blame the people who actually run Chicago’s government.

But by pretending that the disaster of education under COVID is the teachers’ fault, Lightfoot and CPS turn reality on its head.

From the beginning, Chicago Public Schools didn’t put in the money to set up testing for staff and students. They didn’t put in the money to have small, isolated classes. They didn’t put in the money to really clean the schools, or buy the right kind of air filters. When it was clear school was going to be online in the fall, they didn’t put in the money to prepare teachers or students.

And of course, long before the pandemic, the education available to poor and working class students was already much worse than that available to the wealthy—again, because they didn’t put in the money!

After the union threatened to strike, CPS agreed to carry out additional testing and install better filters, and it agreed to accommodate teachers with relatives in high-risk populations. But no one—not teachers, and not parents—really trusts that the schools will be safe.

Whether teachers strike or not, one thing is sure: the problem of education in the pandemic can only be effectively organized at a social level. No one should believe it when those responsible for running the society try to blame those actually doing the work for the problems this capitalism system creates.

California Officials Block Unemployment Benefits

Feb 1, 2021

At the end of December, California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) suspended 1.4 million active claims and stopped sending unemployment checks to those claimants. Officials say that as much as $11 billion, or about 10% of what they paid out as unemployment benefits since March, may have gone to organized criminal gangs, often linked to prisons, who posed as unemployed workers.

That is in fact an admission of a massive security failure of California’s unemployment insurance system—that is, of the officials who run the EDD. And sure enough, a recent state audit found that the EDD had failed to update its fraud detection system for months, despite warnings from other government agencies about the likelihood of substantive fraud.

And these same EDD officials who did nothing about fraud for months, who are they now making pay for their own monumental failure? California’s unemployed!

It’s obvious that a big part of the suspended claims are legitimate ones. Gig workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, have specifically been targeted. One former Lyft driver said that her claim was suspended, even though the EDD had requested her to file documents twice before, and had verified her identity.

And this is only the last outrage the EDD has been putting people through since last spring. Right now, more than 900,000 unemployed workers in California have not even gotten their first checks yet!

As for fraud, whatever the real number of fraudulent claims is, this whole fraud story is being used to deny hundreds of thousands more the unemployment benefits they deserve, and desperately need to live.

Los Angeles:
Hospitals Short of Oxygen for COVID Patients

Feb 1, 2021

Hospitals in Los Angeles County, overrun by a massive surge in COVID-19 patients and already short on ventilators, can’t even get oxygen gas to many of their patients who need it to stay alive.

The reason is not a shortage in oxygen, but shortcomings of the health care infrastructure in L.A. County.

With ICUs full to capacity, hospital officials have been placing critical COVID patients in other parts of the hospital. But often in those areas, pipes to deliver oxygen either do not exist or are not built to withstand the high volume of oxygen needed. In some hospitals, where aging pipes were breaking under the strain, there were not even enough canisters to store and transport the oxygen.

This catastrophic failure is, first of all, the result of years of cutbacks in hospitals—a management policy of running a “lean” business to increase profit. But still, there was time to remedy some of the shortcomings, and save many lives a year ago—when COVID-19 already started to send clear signals of what was to come. And months ago, experts began warning that a surge was likely in the fall and winter months.

But the whole time, the decision makers—health care executives and government officials—ignored the warnings. Instead of mobilizing resources to prepare for a surge in COVID cases, they continued to do what they always do: help big companies maximize their profits.

That’s how decisions are made in the capitalist system. The price is paid in tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives that could have been saved.

Detroit Protesters Show Support for Farmers in India

Feb 1, 2021

Hundreds of people participated in a car rally through downtown Detroit, Sunday, January 24. The caravan first overfilled two parking lots at Comerica Park, then shut down traffic as it proceeded down Woodward and Jefferson Avenues, and ended on Belle Isle. Similar rallies previously took place in the nearby suburbs of Canton and Troy.

The protesters expressed solidarity with farmers in India who have been protesting against recent laws passed by India’s government.

In India, tens of thousands of people, mainly from states just outside New Delhi, India’s capital, took to the roads into the capital in protest. The government met them with batons, tear gas, concrete barricades barring their entry into New Delhi, and water cannons, right in the middle of an unusually cold winter there. Despite the cold, protesters have camped out, choking the roads into New Delhi. Many belong to one of dozens of farmers’ unions negotiating over the new laws with the government. The protests near New Delhi have inspired others in other parts of the country.

India, an underdeveloped country, has been under pressure in the World Trade Organization by more powerful countries like those of the European Union, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to reduce supports it provides to its small farmers.

Protesters say India’s right-wing Prime Minister Nahendra Modi yielded to these pressures in pushing through three recent laws, completely bypassing the country’s parliament to prevent any debate.

Up until now, Indian farmers had to sell their products through government-regulated wholesale markets called “mandis.” The first two of the new laws make it legal for farmers to deal directly with corporations and private buyers and supposedly push farmers, corporations and private buyers to negotiate prices. Small farmers worry that corporate giants will have more bargaining power over them in these “negotiations.” They are also concerned the laws will lead to an end to government minimum price supports, subsidies that have been in place for decades.

The third law removes certain farm products like “cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potatoes” from the list of what the government stockpiles as essential commodities.

The government claims the goal is to encourage investment in cold storage to allow stockpiling by farmers, but experts agree that small farmers would not be able to afford such investments to compete with corporate farms and that this would reduce market prices small farmers would receive.

Public Health Used to Be a Priority

Feb 1, 2021

Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago river 120 years ago. Instead of flowing into Lake Michigan, it now flows away, eventually joining the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. This massive engineering project was done to prevent sewer water from contaminating the drinking water the city gets from the lake.

Chicago also has some very old buildings that seem to have been built when the level of the streets was much lower than it is now. That’s because the streets were raised to allow for the construction of underground sewers. When this project was started in the 1850s, hundreds of workers using hand-jacks raised the level of the already massive buildings downtown.

Looking out at Lake Michigan from the city you will notice what look like floating islands. These are actually water cribs, built to allow the city to pipe in the cleaner water from further out in the lake, which is not as polluted by runoff from Chicago’s streets.

All of this work was done after the discovery that human waste spreads cholera. So Chicago—and other cities—spent the money, and hired the thousands of people it took to pipe in clean water and solve this public health crisis.

That was when capitalism was still in its growing phase. More than 100 years after all these projects were finished, the response to COVID shows capitalism unwilling or unable to do even the basics to protect the population. A sign of a system that has outlived its time.

Pages 6-7

88 Years Ago:
Nazi Rule Over Germany Begins

Feb 1, 2021

On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler, the head of the Nazi Party, became Chancellor of the German government.

Hitler did not come to power in a putsch or military takeover. Nor was he elected to office. In fact, the Nazis never won a majority of votes in any election. On the contrary, in November 1932, the Nazis, in an alliance with other right-wing parties, managed to only get 33% of the popular vote. That was actually lower than the total won by the two biggest workers parties, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party, which was 37%.

Hitler was brought to power legally by the German capitalists. A letter written by the head of the German Reichsbank, and signed by 35 important representatives of industry, finance and agriculture, told the German president, Paul von Hindenburg, that he should appoint Hitler as chancellor. Hindenburg was an old and reactionary former military field marshal. In an election only nine months earlier, the Social Democratic Party told workers to vote for this same Hindenburg in order to stop Hitler from coming to power. But when the capitalists told him to, Hindenburg obediently opened the way for Hitler and Nazi rule.

So, the government of Germany, one of the most economically developed countries in the world with a long history of cultural and scientific achievement, was now being led by Hitler and the Nazi Party, who spouted the most vile racism and anti-Semitism, whose gangs assassinated working class militants and attacked workers’ meetings and strikes.

Political and Economic Crisis

Hitler’s rise to power was extremely rapid. Only a few years before, the Nazi Party was a minor party on the extreme right-wing fringe. As late as 1928, the Nazi Party had received less than three percent of the vote in a national election. It was a smaller vote than what the Nazis had gotten back in 1924. Everyone said that the Nazis were finished.

What changed radically was the economic and social situation. In October 1929, the Wall Street stock market crash ushered in a world-wide economic depression, and Germany was hit harder than anywhere else. The German economy was paralyzed. In three years, German industrial production had collapsed; 50% lower than it was in 1929. Unemployment skyrocketed to more than 30%, with six million unemployed.

The German economy was suffocating within the restricted confines of the depressed domestic market. Unlike English and French imperialism, the German capitalists had no colonies to fall back on, nor wealth to plunder. Unlike United States imperialism, the German capitalists didn’t have the entire Western Hemisphere to exploit. On the contrary, as the main loser of World War I, the German capitalists were still under the thumb of their main rivals, the British and French capitalists, who were slowly trying to grind them down.

For the German capitalist class, led by the owners of heavy industry and the biggest banks, the situation was untenable. Not only were they losing huge amounts of profits, but they were faced with a big, powerful working class that for many decades had organized major trade unions and mass political parties. It was a working class that was very conscious of its strength and role in society.

At the end of World War I, the German workers had revolted against the war, formed their own workers councils and challenged the capitalist class for power. Their revolution failed and their main leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were assassinated. But throughout the 1920s, the workers repeatedly mobilized on a large scale. Although they were not able to overthrow the capitalist class and its government, mainly because the leaders of the two big workers parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists, in different ways became a real brake on the revolution.

Capitalists’ Support Goes to the Nazis

As the Great Depression took hold in the early 1930s, the German capitalists went on a war footing. They moved to destroy all resistance inside the country.

Some German capitalists had always given money to the ragged band of Nazis, led by Adolph Hitler, to do the capitalists’ dirty work against the working class. In the early days, the Nazi ranks had been filled with former soldiers and veterans from World War I, who had never been able to integrate back into the society and had sought scapegoats for what had happened during World War I.

With the Depression, more capitalists began to fund the Nazis, who found a ready audience among the millions of crazed small shopkeepers and business people who faced ruin and impoverishment. The Nazi appeal was based on nationalist and racist propaganda, that Germans were the master race. Suddenly flush with money from the capitalists, the Nazis recruited on a wide scale. The capitalists’ money funded the arming and upkeep of the growing militias that terrorized different parts of the population, the workers in trade unions and the Social Democratic and Communist Parties, and the persecution of Jewish people.

At the same time, the Nazis suddenly ran well-funded electoral campaigns, with favorable coverage provided by the capitalist-owned news media.

The Road to Barbarism

After the Nazis took power, there was no response by the German working class. The Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party both had their own militias that were armed and organized. But the leaders of both parties assured the workers that the Nazis would not last long, that they would soon be replaced by someone else and they let the militias be disarmed without a fight.

This was a betrayal of historic proportions.

For once in power, the Nazis fulfilled the capitalists’ interests. They destroyed the vast workers organizations and associations. They deflected the German population’s anger about the crisis and directed it against immigrants, foreigners and Jewish shopkeepers. They filled concentration camps with hundreds of thousands of prisoners. At the same time, they militarized the population in order to prepare for a new world war to extend the German capitalists’ markets and power in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Finally, in the wake of the Nazi defeat almost two decades later, all the world leaders pretended that Hitler was an anomaly, that he was just a madman, a megalomaniac who happened to capture power by his magnetic speeches. They all said in unison, “Never again!”

But, as Bertolt Brecht, the German Communist writer, warned, “The dictator is dead, but the bitch that bore him is in heat again.

Brecht was right. For Nazi rule was produced by the capitalist system in decline and in deep crisis. Today, those conditions are once again being produced, as the capitalist system is being convulsed by one crisis after another, starting with a worsening economic tailspin. Given these conditions, extreme right wing parties and militias are growing and they are becoming emboldened in countries all over the world.

Then as now, only the working class can liberate humanity from this deadly and toxic system by organizing itself as a class in order to take the power away from the capitalist class once and for all.

Against the Capitalist Offensive, Let’s Mobilize Together on February 4!

Feb 1, 2021

Translated from the editorial of the workplace newsletters distributed by Lutte Ouvrière, the French revolutionary workers group, for the week of January 25, 2021.

We are all affected by the evolution of the pandemic, the anxiety and the constraints that it has generated. Far from putting the class struggle on hold, it has made it harsher: everywhere. Big business has used Covid, restrictions and the stressful atmosphere to tighten discipline and increase exploitation.

Bosses have imposed overtime, often on week-ends and on night shifts; stolen vacation days; increased workloads; blocked or even lowered wages; pressurized and even penalized workers for no apparent reason... The production delays due to factory closures during the first lockdown, as well as the dismissal of temporary workers, have in many cases been compensated for by frenzied production rates and rhythms.

With fewer employees on the payroll, many multinationals have produced and earned as much in 2020 as they did in 2019. Without moving a finger, shareholders are getting richer—while the workers toil away, accept new sacrifices or even get the boot!

The avalanche of layoff plans continues to grow: there’s the foundry in the Poitou region, Total, Cargill, the furniture brand Alinea, Accor, Danone, Auchan, Bridgestone, the catering company Elior, General Electric, Nokia, Renault, Airbus , Air France, ADP... it’s impossible to name them all when dozens of such plans are announced every week!

Among the many is the Michelin plan: 2,300 jobs cut, in a company that made 1.7 billion in profits in 2019 and has multiplied its dividends by three in the last decade. Its CEO doesn’t even hide behind the pretext of Covid-19: he bluntly claims that Michelin just needs to be more productive in order to beat competitors.

To the same sort of “I’m making money, but I wanna make more” tune, Sanofi is in the process of destroying a thousand jobs, including 400 in research. Yet the health crisis has allowed this pharmaceutical group, which distributed 4 billion euros to its shareholders in 2019, to pocket nearly a billion euros last year in public money!

Who cares if millions of working-class families depend on charities for food, if many owners of small businesses and restaurants worry about how to survive? Michelin, Sanofi, Total and the like demand that their shareholders be treated like royalty by the state. Faced with competition, they want their business to be more than profitable: it needs to come out on top! Sharks will be sharks. And too bad if that means more exploitation, more people losing their jobs and plunging into poverty!

Greater exploitation for some and unemployment for others: that’s what the bourgeoisie is offering the world of labor!

Even though the state is currently handing out billions of euros to the bosses, they have no intention of loosening their grip on the workers. The government, of course, will not force them to do that: it behaves just like the bosses in the public sector, cutting jobs and budgets, notably in Health and Education.

Many workers are defending themselves locally, at the shop-floor level. This is the case of the workers employed at the Total refinery of Grandpuits, in Seine-et-Marne. They’ve been on strike for four weeks because they’re threatened with the loss of 700 jobs. This is also the case of the workers employed by tour operator Tui, who are up against a plan to get rid of 600 jobs. But the capitalists are waging a general offensive against workers’ jobs, working conditions and standard of living. Only a counter-offensive by the entire working class can stop them.

Such a mobilization can’t just be decreed, of course. But it is both necessary and possible. Several unions (the CGT, Solidarity and the FSU) are calling for a day of mobilization and strikes on Thursday, February 4. It’ll be an opportunity to proclaim, collectively, that workers have objectives and perspectives of their own to oppose the bourgeoisie and its government.

Ensuring employment for all, under suitable conditions, is the central problem of the working class: layoffs must be stopped and work distributed among all, with no loss in wages! This dividing up the work implies creating jobs in every branch where workers are being overexploited, be it in the private or public sector. For all of us to have work, we need to work less!

A minority is getting richer and richer while the working class is getting poorer: wages must be increased, not corporate profit margins or shareholder dividends! With the 100 billion euros of the so-called “stimulus package”, it would be possible to create more than 2.7 million jobs: the public money collected by the big employers needs to be controlled by the workers! This money must be used to guarantee jobs and salaries, to recruit the necessary staff in hospitals and retirement homes!

No lockdown or curfew can save us from capitalist greed. It’s up to us workers to retaliate and build up our counteroffensive.

Pages 8-9

Capitalism and Its Trash

Feb 1, 2021

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

China has outlawed importing garbage. Until 2018, the country imported more than half the trash generated worldwide.

That garbage mostly comes from the rich countries, firstly the U.S. and the European Union. This new policy forces these countries to try finding somewhere else to send their garbage.

In 2018, China outlawed imports of an initial list of two dozen waste materials. Imports of used plastics shot up 1,370% in Thailand and 56% in Indonesia. The European Union’s trash went to Poland, then Romania, and then Bulgaria.

That year at least 600 million tons of trash were recycled worldwide. The business was worth more than 200 billion dollars. The trade was dominated by a few giants like France’s Veolia and Suez. As with other industries, a big part of the production was subcontracted to countries where workers are paid less.

So, during the 1990s and 2000s when China became blanketed with factories, a market in China developed for the end products of recycling. These include specks of plastic which can be made into shoe soles. This increased demand coincided with the wave of recycling in Western countries, which found an outlet for their millions of tons of various kinds of trash. In addition, this commerce let ships arriving in Europe loaded with merchandise made in China not to have to leave Europe empty.

But by the 2010s China’s own generation of waste became large enough that the country didn’t need to import any to obtain raw materials needed for industry. Chinese authorities sought to favor Chinese trash by closing the door to foreign trash. This choice had the added benefit of annoying the U.S., the leading exporter of trash to China.

To justify this policy, the Chinese government depended on the very real fact that its soil, water, and air were being poisoned by trash that could not be recycled. This is especially true because to save on costs, toxic waste and electronics components were often thrown together before being exported—where destroying them leaves nasty traces.

The problem is worrisome in China but catastrophic in poorer countries, which have been transformed into landfills by big companies. An example of this was shown by the scandal of the Probo Koala, a ship chartered by Dutch company Trafigura. In 2006 the ship dumped almost 1,300 tons of toxic waste in the port of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. This led to the deaths of 17 people and poisoned thousands more.

The multinational corporations producing the merchandise which is the origin of this trash are the heavies of the world economy. They tolerate no limits. They produce whatever they choose, depending on the profit they expect.

Whether this production is useful or whether it is dangerous, polluting, or based on materials that are difficult to recycle is the least of their concerns. They leave the handling of the consequences on the environment and on people up to governments and local communities. As with everything else, for them it’s “after me, the flood.”

Honduran Migrants Blocked

Feb 1, 2021

The economic collapse touched off by COVID-19 and the damage wrought by two massive hurricanes in fall of 2020 made the situation for many in Honduras unliveable. The country was already in a disastrous economic situation driven by a century of U.S. domination. This has prompted new groups of people to attempt to cross through Guatemala and Mexico, hoping to reach the U.S. These migrants often travel in big groups because it is much safer to be together.

To reach the U.S., they have to get by the police and armies of all three countries.

In early December, the Honduran government set up checkpoints and blocked people from assembling, even turning around a bus with 50 people in it.

Despite these efforts, about 7,000 Hondurans made it to the Honduran border with Guatemala. But there they met a blockade of Guatemalan soldiers and police, who attacked them on January 17 with full riot gear, batons, shields, and tear gas, trying to drive them back to Honduras.

As many as 2,400 still made it through Guatemala and attempted to cross into southern Mexico. But there they faced Mexican cops and soldiers, who pushed hundreds of migrants back into Guatemala, shipped others to Mexican detention centers, and returned some all the way to Honduras.

The armies and police of all three of these countries have long acted as arms of the United States, and this gauntlet of brutality is the true face of U.S. policy. It has been this way ever since increasing numbers of desperate Central Americans started trying to migrate to the U.S. in 2014. And from one administration to the next, whatever the debates about the wall, or about Biden’s supposedly more “humane” refugee policy, this policy has continued.

Agent Orange:
Millions of Victims … and One Trial

Feb 1, 2021

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

On January 25, a lawsuit began in France against 14 giants of the chemical industry, including Bayer-Monsanto and Dow Chemical. These two made the sinister “Agent Orange” widely used by American planes and helicopters in aerial bombing between 1961 and 1971 during the Vietnam War.

Tran To Nga, a 79-year-old Vietnamese veteran now living in France, was exposed twice to this poison. Now she is bravely trying to have these firms charged for the devastating consequences of that chemical warfare.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy had barely taken office when he chose to intensify the Vietnam War. He launched Operation Ranch Hand, using defoliants to destroy the farmlands and jungles where Vietnamese fighters were hiding.

Over a decade, more than 21 million gallons of toxic defoliants, including 12 million gallons of Agent Orange containing dioxin, were dropped on 7,700 square miles of Vietnamese jungles. Between two and five million people and thousands of villages were exposed. This poison caused the proliferation of cancers, not only in those directly exposed, but also in their descendants. Women pass dioxin stored in fat to their children while pregnant and while breastfeeding. Dioxin soaked the soil and contaminated all food grown on it, sowing death and disease for generations. The number of miscarriages in the contaminated areas has exploded from then on.

Today—the fourth generation—many infants are still born with deformations. Some have no arms, are hydrocephalic, or have serious physical or mental problems. Three million people still suffer these consequences, “the most miserable among the most miserable,” as Tran To Nga explains. No one can say when this ordeal will end for Vietnamese families.

The Vietnamese population was not informed until much later of the association between their illnesses and Agent Orange—not until the 1990s. Some had been shamefully hiding their disabled children. But the U.S. government and the chemical companies had launched their chemical war knowingly, and they kept a report listing the deformations and pathologies caused by dioxin classified as secret for 35 years.

The U.S. government exonerated itself legally by declaring its immunity for any act committed in wartime. In the 1970s, U.S. veterans suffering from the effects of Agent Orange launched a class action lawsuit against six firms. The companies paid a paltry “amicable” amount to avoid prosecution. But nothing was obtained for the Vietnamese victims. The U.S. justice system cleared the firms in 2004.

Whatever the outcome of this new lawsuit in France, the trial has the merit of calling public attention to the crimes committed by imperialism in its attempts to secure domination.

Resistance to New Abortion Ban

Feb 1, 2021

In below-zero weather, tens of thousands of outraged women and young people have been marching in protest in cities in Poland. A high court decision HAD been on hold since October, but was abruptly made law by the right-wing government on January 27. The impact will be that almost all abortion will be illegal in Poland.

The red lightning bolt has become the women’s movement symbol, carried by many in Poland. This time, some protestors added green scarves out of respect for the green bandanas worn by protestors in Argentina who recently overturned an abortion ban there on December 30, 2020.

Protestors chanted, “I think, I feel, I decide!” A popular sign said, “Banning abortion discriminates against the poor.” A Reuters reporter noted that in Warsaw, protestors marched to the song, “Think!” by Aretha Franklin.

The immediate, loud denunciation of Poland’s far right government for banning poor and working class women from a necessary healthcare procedure—abortion—is important. A new generation is learning to fight and the struggle continues.

Mexican President Has COVID-19

Feb 1, 2021

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has COVID-19.

López Obrador comes out of Mexico’s left, and when he was elected in 2018 he claimed to be leading a movement that would empower the underprivileged and attack inequality and poverty. Even the name of his party, MORENA, refers to the darker-skinned people López Obrador promised to represent.

In this way, López Obrador presents himself as the opposite of Trump or Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—right-wing presidents in the Americas who have also gotten COVID-19.

But in fact, López Obrador has responded to the COVID-19 crisis much like these right-wingers. Just like Trump and Bolsonaro, he has consistently promoted unproven cures—to say the least! In June, he even claimed that avoiding sin would protect people: “no lying, no stealing, no betraying, that helps a lot to not get coronavirus.”

These are particularly hard sins for a politician to avoid, but that is not why he got sick. López Obrador has consistently refused to wear a mask or socially distance, and has repeatedly posted pictures of himself meeting with various officials or groups of businessmen, maskless, and huddled in close quarters.

On top of his own reckless behavior, he has downplayed the danger of the virus for the Mexican population. In the spring, the New York Times reported that the Mexican government had covered up hundreds or even thousands of deaths in Mexico City. In December, as the current wave of the virus crashed into Mexico just like in the United States, López Obrador’s government claimed the country had not reached the level of infections that would require a new shutdown—even though government statistics showed it had.

López Obrador, this man of the left, has behaved in front of the virus just like the right-wing Trump or Bolsonaro. Just like them, he was afraid of hurting “the economy.” And in Mexico as in the United States or Brazil, “the economy” is code for the interests of the capitalist ruling class that the politicians of all these countries serve, whatever electoral base they might appeal to.

Pages 10-11

“Democracy,” “Unity,” “Science.”

Feb 1, 2021

The following is the editorial from SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of January 25, 2021.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took the oath of office on January 20. Speaking afterwards, Biden made three points: One, “our democracy” has triumphed; two, the nation needs “unity”; three, facing the virus, he will “listen to the science.”


If by “democracy” Biden means the votes were all tabulated, and the winner was recognized, yes, then “democracy” triumphed. Donald Trump had tried scam after scam to keep the presidency for himself, despite the vote.

But counting up votes is not the same as “democracy.” Holding an election between the same two parties that take turns at running the government is not “democracy”—not when each of those parties has always put the interests of the moneyed class first.

Both parties decided on, directed and/or supported the foreign wars that serve the interests of this country’s big corporations and banks, to the detriment of working people in and out of the army.

Both parties carried out policies in this country that drove down the standard of living of working people so the billionaire class could become obscenely richer.

Trump got in office through elections. So did Biden. But their elections produced only “democracy” for the moneyed class each served.


When Biden speaks of “unity,” he says he wants to bring the nation together.

But every call for “unity” hides the fact that in this “nation,” we are divided by class. The capitalist class drives to increase its wealth by lowering the standard of living of the working class and other parts of the laboring population. This division is basic to capitalist society.

Biden’s call for “unity,” is a call for us to forget we are exploited—to link arms with the very wealthy class that exploits us.

We need unity—but unity of all people who work for our living. We need unity as the basic condition of our fight to defend ourselves.

Today that unity can be shattered by people who dredge up the worst racist attitudes of a capitalist society that found its beginnings in and accumulated its first wealth through slavery. That unity can be shattered by people who want to divide us according to which ethnic group we are part of and how recently our families came to this country. That unity can be shattered by people who still treat women as possessions without any rights to make their own independent decisions.

All the different parts of the working class can strengthen us for our fight against the capitalist class—but only if we unify as a class.


Finally, Biden says he will “listen to the science” in the battle against the virus.

“Science” doesn’t simply mean masks and vaccines—although those may be important in the face of a deadly virus allowed to get out of control.

“Science” must first recognize how the virus got out of control. That is the product of a decades- long destruction of the public health system—carried out by both parties seeking to divert public money to the capitalist class. Political choices led to tens, even hundreds of thousands of deaths.

“Science” must mean, for example, asking why so many people died in nursing homes run by private interests in the pursuit of profit—leading to conditions hospitable to the virus.

“Science” must mean—even right now—overturning the political choice that put production, distribution and even administration of the vaccine in private hands, intent on making a profit.

But this is a “science” that neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump would ever “listen to.”

The ones who do “listen” are the people who work in these labs and production facilities. They are the ones who know what is happening today. They are the ones who could open the door so science could be listened to tomorrow.

Unemployment Insurance:
Too Little

Feb 1, 2021

The economic crisis, made worse by the COVID pandemic, has thrown tens of millions of workers out of work.

In 2020, the federal government put up some money for unemployment payments in two stimulus bills, and is now discussing a third stimulus bill. But these have been temporary measures, with limited payments that expire quickly.

What this economic crisis has more clearly revealed is that the federal and state unemployment insurance systems never fully protected workers. And these systems have been getting worse for decades.

Unemployment insurance began in the 1930s. When the Great Depression started in 1929, millions of workers were thrown out of their jobs and there were no benefits at all. Unemployed workers began to organize marches, protests and rallies demanding jobs or relief. To quiet the protests, the government set up the first unemployment insurance programs. The federal government passed the Social Security Act in 1935, and states set up their own programs.

But unemployment payments never fully covered workers’ lost wages; benefits were limited to a certain number of weeks; and eligibility requirements excluded many unemployed workers. Then, starting in the 1970s, federal and state governments, run by both Republicans and Democrats, started cutting even these benefits, and making it even harder to qualify.

In 1980, about 43% of laid-off workers in the U.S. received benefits. In 2019, only 27% on average received any benefits! Tight-fisted states include Maryland, only 23% eligible; Indiana, 18%; and Florida, 11%.

And workers get less help. Today the average state unemployment benefit is only about 32% of a worker’s lost wage. And while the average benefit runs out after only 26 weeks, some states only cover 12 weeks!

The neediest workers get the least help—if any. The systems are rigged to disqualify most gig workers, temporary workers, and others in the lowest-paid jobs. Because your benefit is based on your prior wage, not what you need to survive.

The capitalist system can’t provide enough good jobs. It throws people out of work whenever the bosses want. Then it refuses to provide decent life support for the ones laid off. It’s all run in the bosses’ interests.

Page 12

Our Nightmare Is Their Gain

Feb 1, 2021

Banks continue to find ways to profit off of regular people’s hardships.

Back last March, as millions of people were losing their jobs at the start of Covid-19 lockdowns, federal regulators “encouraged” banks to waive overdraft fees. Of course that’s all they did—encourage.

Instead, banks continued to charge those fees, and even raised them to a record average of $33.47 per overdraft.

And this year, banks are expected to pull in 30 BILLION dollars—on overdraft fees alone!

Our difficulty keeping money in the bank is their opportunity to take more from us. They have no shame.

It’s a Good Start!

Feb 1, 2021

The first private crew to board the International Space Station has just been announced. Wealthy entrepreneurs Larry Connor of Ohio, Mark Pathy of Canada, and Etan Stibbe of Israel will pay 55 million dollars each to fly on a SpaceX rocket and spend 8 days aboard the Space Station next January.

Which raises the question: If they can send three capitalists into space, why can’t they send them ALL?!

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