The Spark

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

Issue no. 1123 — February 15 - March 1, 2021

Editorial:
Trump:
Stay or Go?
The Problems Continue

Feb 15, 2021

The vote in Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial was 57–43 against him. Seven members of his own party joined 48 Democrats and two independents in condemning him. Other Republicans declared him factually and morally responsible for the actions of the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6—which is what the trial was about—even though they voted to let him off on a technicality.

It was no victory for Trump—only an escape from the consequences of his actions.

But it also was no victory for the ordinary population of this country. And we have not escaped the vicious consequences of what Donald Trump has wrought.

The members of Congress may have taken note of Trump’s words and actions—because he set a mob loose against them. But for years, Trump let loose a virulent stream of innuendo and lies whose purpose could only have been to stoke racial animosity and hatreds within the population—animosity that has always had murderous consequences. In 2015, a white supremacist shot up a black church in Charleston South Carolina, killing 9 people. In 2018, a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked by a Christian nationalist, and 11 people died. In 2019, a Walmart in El Paso was sprayed with gun fire by someone aiming to kill Mexicans, and 23 people died.

The capitalist class has always been conscious of the enormous advantages it gains when the working class is riven apart by racial and ethnic antagonism. It’s why, as much as individual members of the capitalist class may despise Donald Trump, they not only accepted him; through their media, they and their other politicians reinforced him.

Donald Trump has never tried to hide what he is, smirking as he peddles garbage.

Announcing his candidacy in 2015, he denounced Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists, and Muslims as terrorists. He bragged about his “exploits” with women. In 2017, he called the neo-Nazis, Christian nationalists and white supremacists who gathered at Charlottesville “very fine people.”

When a 17-year old self-declared “white supremacist” shot three men, killing two in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kenosha, Trump tweeted, “self defense,” even though the killer had traveled 30 miles to confront the demonstrators.

He welcomed the “so-called” militias who paraded in state capitals with weapons, intent on intimidating people whose views on the virus they disagreed with. He saluted extreme right organizations parading through Portland, Oregon every day with guns in a show of force against Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

Trump issued sharply honed calls for violence. He dredged up all the symbols through which deeply ingrained racist ideas are expressed.

Admittedly, the racism of this society did not start with Trump. It’s been a constant stain all through U.S. history that has infected the population. If it’s worse today, that’s not only because of Trump. It’s because the economy has been in a state of near collapse, because larger parts of the laboring population are desperate, searching for something or someone to blame.

But Trump gave racism currency, using the power of the U.S. presidency to do it.

Whether Trump stays around—as he promised to do right after the Senate voted—or whether he disappears down one of his ratholes, the racism he played around with will still be with us—as will all the white supremacists and Christian nationalists he encouraged.

The two-party system, with both of its parties working to keep the capitalist class in power, leaves no way to resolve these problems. For years, all we heard are sorry excuses for why nothing can be done. Both parties are responsible for policies that have benefitted the capitalist class at the expense of the working class.

Facing today’s disastrous economic situation and the racism that pervades this whole society, the working class has only one answer—and that is to carry out a fight for its own class interests, against the class that tries to divide us. And this is a fight that neither party has ever proposed, and does not propose now. The fight to make sure that everyone who wants to work can have a decent paying job will go a long way toward overcoming our divisions. It is also, in the current situation, the only struggle that gives us a chance to pull ourselves out of the muck of capitalism’s collapsing economy.

Pages 2-3

Amazon’s Bathroom Attack

Feb 15, 2021

After workers tried to unionize at a center in Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon used its full force to prevent this unionization effort.

One of the issues workers raised concerns the little time Amazon allows its workers to use bathrooms. Workers sometimes have to face long walks to the restroom in the massive warehouse. But too much time away from picking items off shelves to ship to consumers can lead to reprimands that interfere with raises and promotions, and even lead to termination, as the Washington Post reports.

During the unionization drive, workers were faced with anti-union messaging like “Where will your dues go?” on fliers posted on doors inside bathroom stalls.

It made Amazon workers even more “pissed off,” and that’s no joke!

California Undocumented Workers Bear the Brunt of the Crisis

Feb 15, 2021

A one-time check of $500 back in April 2020. That is the entire benefit that the state of California has paid workers who are undocumented immigrants. In the face of the pandemic, mass unemployment and endless eviction threats, this is all they received. Even worse, the state government limited the number who got it to 150,000—a tiny fraction of the two million undocumented workers in California.

Undocumented workers have been left to face the brunt of the pandemic and the economic disaster completely alone, without a safety net. While undocumented workers in California pay tens of billions in federal, state and local taxes, they can’t even get food stamps, general relief, unemployment insurance or disability.

Undocumented workers constitute 1 in 10 workers in the entire state. They make up a big part of the essential workforce in agriculture, meat packing, warehouses, restaurants, grocery retail, as well as health care. For that essential work, the bosses take advantage of the undocumented workers’ status by forcing them to work, not only longer and harder, but under unsafe and unhealthy conditions, leaving those sectors wide open for COVID 19.

It is capitalist exploitation that spreads the virus and makes the pandemic much worse for all workers, with or without papers.

Baltimore:
Public Workers Not the Priority

Feb 15, 2021

Pay checks never arrived for at least 1,000 Baltimore City workers and police. Others were delayed for more than a month. Some checks had the wrong deductions, some didn’t pay overtime due.

Why? Baltimore City government is paying over 44 million dollars to a contractor, Workday, to supply an automated pay system. In 2021, after millions of employees have used automated systems for decades, Baltimore City and the contractor still cannot get it right. But the contractor is getting paid, while workers have had to wait for 5,000 supplemental checks to be written to make up for this mess.

But there are parts of Baltimore City government that function. Despite Covid and shut-downs of city offices, the part of the system that collects property taxes worked just fine. And the part that paid city creditors millions on bonds and 90 million in annual interest owed, no problems there!

Maryland Minimum Wage Is Not a Living Wage

Feb 15, 2021

Maryland’s minimum wage went up 75 cents at the end of December, to $11.75 an hour. It’s still nowhere near enough. One major study showed that a single person with no children living in Baltimore would need to earn a dollar and a half more per hour just to pay the basic bills. Someone living closer to Washington, D.C. would need five dollars more per hour—in fact, much more than 15 dollars an hour. More than one in four workers in Maryland earns no more than the basic amount. And the study says raising even one child doubles the bills.

Kroger’s “Hazard” Pay:
$0/hr

Feb 15, 2021

Kroger announced that it is closing two of its Long Beach, California stores, a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less. The city council for Long Beach voted to require grocery stores to pay their workers an extra $4 an hour as hazard pay for 120 days, due to the pandemic, so that was Kroger’s response.

Kroger, with its 2,750 supermarkets and multi-department stores, is the United States’ largest supermarket by revenue and the second-largest general retailer, behind Walmart. And last year it profited handsomely from the pandemic, doubling its profits to $2.66 billion in 2020 from $1.33 billion a year earlier. One big reason was that Kroger imposed big price increases.

Kroger poured those profits into the bank accounts of its biggest shareholders. Kroger increased its shareholder dividend by 13%. And the company also purchased nearly $1 billion of its own stock, causing its stock price to rise about 28% over the last 12 months, much higher than the 18.2% rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index that represents 500 largest US companies.

Of course, Kroger executives did flatter its workforce. “Our Kroger family of associates have been nothing short of incredible during the pandemic and they continue to inspire me every day, serving our customers when they need us most” during the pandemic, said Kroger Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Rodney McMullen.

But when it comes to permanent hourly wages, Kroger pays little more than the minimum wage, $16 to $18 on average, to its frontline workers.

By announcing that it will close the two stores, Kroger’s is making clear that to keep such profits going, Kroger will not yield to any city ordinances. Clearly, it will boil down to a fight by Kroger workers for better pay. It’s the only way to put a wrinkle in this mega-food chain’s plan.

L.A.’s Martin Luther King Hospital:
Epicenter of the Pandemic

Feb 15, 2021

In Los Angeles, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital has been hit harder by the pandemic than any other hospital in Los Angeles County, as well as any in the entire state of California. During the height of the pandemic, this small public hospital was treating more COVID patients than some Los Angeles medical centers three or four times as big.

M.L.K. hospital is located in the heart of South Los Angeles, a vast, impoverished area of over a million people in which a big part of the population suffers from chronic health problems. These problems are made worse by the lack of adequate healthcare. There are so few primary care doctors or medical services in South Los Angeles, it is often referred to as a “medical desert.”

When the pandemic surged this winter, it spread quickly through the largely Hispanic and Black population in South Los Angeles. Many are essential workers who caught the disease working in close quarters with other workers with few safety measures applied. Because of the lack of affordable housing and extreme overcrowding, those workers often infected their families. And their health problems were often made worse because they couldn’t ever reach a doctor before finally going to the hospital.

Gravely ill patients had practically nowhere to go but M.L.K., which was literally overrun. M.L.K is a small 131-bed hospital, with limited services: emergency surgery only (most commonly amputations for diabetes patients), no pediatric care, no neonatal intensive care, no trauma center, no inpatient psychiatric or addiction treatment.

By late January, the small 29-bed emergency room was packed with 104 patients, 44 of whom had been admitted and were lining hallways or in outdoor tents awaiting beds in the I.C.U. or medical wards. Patients had been stuck in the emergency department for up to two weeks.

An E.R. doctor was assigned to respond to Code Blues—calls for resuscitation efforts—around the hospital.

M.L.K. cleared out an entire medical ward to create an expanded intensive care unit, mostly for ventilator patients—two to a room, with thick plastic sheets hanging over the open doors. The makeshift I.C.U. at its peak held 40 patients, four times the usual pre-pandemic census and far sicker overall than what the staff was used to handling.

One visiting specialist from the much better equipped UCLA hospital said that on arrival he “literally felt like it was a war zone,” with more deaths, fewer resources and staff under far greater stress than in the I.C.U. at his much larger hospital. “It was a form of critical care I’d never witnessed,” he said.

In the best of times, M.L.K. cannot match what many other hospitals offer. Now, amid the pandemic, the hospital can’t test experimental therapies, such as the kind that Trump was treated with when he came down with COVID, nor can it draw on a large pool of specialized staff in a surge. But when doctors at M.L.K. pushed to transfer some of their patients to hospitals that offered more advanced therapies, they were never successful. “Nobody wants their insurance,” one doctor told the New York Times (February 8).

Is it any wonder that the most impoverished Los Angeles residents, many of them around the hospital in South Los Angeles, are dying of the disease at four times the rate of the wealthiest.

We’ve created a separate and unequal hospital system and a separate and unequal funding system for low-income communities,” said M.L.K.’s chief executive, Dr. Elaine Batchlor. “And now with Covid, we’re seeing the disproportionate impact.”

In fact, the disastrous toll is nothing but the reflection of a class society run in the interests of the capitalist class at the expense of the working masses.

Pages 4-5

Vaccine Distribution Organized for Profit, Not Human Life

Feb 15, 2021

If the goal of the vaccine was to stop the virus and protect the population, it would have made sense to have a national public health agency organize its distribution. Such an agency could have set up vaccination sites around the country, hired nurses and support staff, sorted the population by risk factor, and kept track of who had gotten which vaccine and when.

But where would the profit be in that?

Instead, a private company, Deloitte, got a 44 million dollar no-bid contract to develop software that all states could use to manage vaccine rollouts. Except the software is so bad, many public health departments have abandoned it altogether.

Then, every state was given its own share of vaccine doses, to do with as it would. So of course, every private company lobbied every state to get as large a piece of the vaccine pie as possible.

In most states, giant private companies got contracts to administer the vaccine. CVS, Walgreens, Walmart—all of them get a chance to make a buck off this. And of course, to maximize their profits, they minimize staff.

This was evident already in the disastrous rollout of the vaccine in long-term care facilities, which was largely turned over to CVS and Walgreens. Even though they were supposed to be first in line, by mid-February, residents and staff at many assisted living facilities were still waiting for their first shot. The only exception? West Virginia, which organized the vaccination effort itself, mostly using small independent pharmacies. It had given the first round of vaccines at all of its 214 long-term care facilities by December 30.

For those outside of long-term care, these companies aren’t even keeping track of who they have vaccinated in an organized way.

They are not even required to keep track of vaccine waste. The New York Times reported instances where 15 or 20 precious vaccine doses were thrown out after every session.

Short-staffing can lead to other problems—in some sites, a single nurse is expected to administer both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, both first and second shots, and do all the necessary paperwork. On a project of this scale, that means there will inevitably be mistakes.

On top of that, in many places there is no centralized sign-up site. People sign up wherever they can possibly get the vaccine, at each hospital, pharmacy, supermarket, and clinic. Not only is this a massive amount of work, it means that each of these vaccine distribution centers has a clogged line of people. Once again, it throws responsibility for dealing with this public health emergency on each individual. And of course, it gives an advantage to those with time, money, and education.

As with everything else in this country, the vaccine rollout was organized to maximize profit, not human life. And the result has already been thousands more needless deaths.

Jumping through Hoops to Get a Vaccine in Chicago

Feb 15, 2021

Have fun trying to schedule a COVID vaccine in Chicago! What does it take? A lot of time, for one. Who has vaccine and appointments available? Who knows? Could be your doctor, your Medical Group, any one of hundreds of Walgreens, Marianos, or Jewel stores, or the Cook County Department of Public Health, or any number of hospitals. Get out your computer and phone and start checking!

Few have vaccine even available. All have separate processes, separate forms to fill out, and separate waiting lists. They say they’ll send you an email or a text when appointments open up. When you call, there’s no answer or no available appointments. You have to keep checking, one-by-one, any one of hundreds of possible locations they show you on maps. Pick a site, any site … within 10, 20, 50 miles. Appointments not available? Pick another site, then another. Check back later in the day, and the next day. Create a running list of sites you’ve signed up on that need follow-up. It goes on and on.

Only those with a computer and good computer skills spending hours or days checking have a chance to get an appointment. Or those with connections of some kind, who know someone with an “in.”

If you work a job and don’t have hours to spend, if you don’t have a computer, or computer skills … forget it. If you’re too sick, disabled, homeless, a care-giver, spend endless hours looking for work, have big family responsibilities … forget it. How can it be so disorganized? So inefficient?

How can they leave it all up to the initiative of every single person living in the city to take on this cumbersome, time-consuming task when the only rational solution is one central clearing house? Why not a single simple process for everyone, with personnel available to assist those who need help?

Could it be there’s a lot of government money to be made, and a lot of medical providers and companies who want a piece of the action? Under capitalism, disorganization and inefficiency are part and parcel of letting the profit sharks compete for the action.

California:
Vaccinations at Snail’s Pace

Feb 15, 2021

In a letter to members, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, Greg A. Adams, acknowledged that Kaiser is very slow vaccinating its members. By January 30, Adams said, Kaiser had been able to vaccinate only 300,000 people—which amounts to about 3% of Kaiser’s 9.3 million members in California.

Kaiser has also told its members that, even though California is allowing people 65 and older to get the vaccine, Kaiser is vaccinating only people who are 75 and older. At the rate that Kaiser is vaccinating people, about 40,000 a week, it would take Kaiser MORE THAN FOUR YEARS to vaccinate all of its members!

Kaiser is by far the biggest HMO in California—nearly one out of four Californians has health care coverage with Kaiser. So the snail’s pace at which Kaiser is vaccinating people gives a good idea of how unsuccessful California—a major epicenter of the pandemic, not just in the U.S. but the whole world—has been in the fight against COVID.

Adams, the Kaiser CEO, blamed this dismal picture on the federal government. He said Kaiser, like the state of California, is not allowed to buy more vaccines directly from manufacturers.

True that the U.S. government marches to the beat of big capital—in this case, the two big companies that produce the COVID vaccine at their own pace, with nothing else but profit in their mind.

But Kaiser can hardly complain, seeing as they are one of the major players in the for-profit health care system.

If the disaster called the COVID pandemic has already lasted so long, it’s because it has been fueled by another, much longer-lasting disaster: the capitalist system and its profit-based health care system.

Black Distrust in Vaccines Created by Racism

Feb 15, 2021

There has been a hesitation among sections of the black population to get the Covid-19 vaccine. And while the existing vaccines may be the best tools we have to stop the spread of Covid, it is understandable that a large portion of the population is hesitant to trust the government and the medical establishment on this.

The black population has seen itself used and abused by the medical system for decades and centuries. In the mid-1800s, a doctor in Alabama named James Marion Simms became the “father of gynecology” by performing medical experiments—including surgeries with no anesthesia—on enslaved black women. Many black women were forcibly sterilized on into the 1960s—without anesthesia, because of the racist lie that black people don’t feel pain the way that white people do.

Echoes of this unbelievable racist behavior are still measurable in doctor and hospital care to this day. The medical system regularly discounts and downplays complaints and problems raised by black patients. Last December, a black doctor—a doctor!—named Susan Moore died from Covid-19; after begging for proper care, the doctors treating her downplayed her condition and discharged her.

Black women are 243% more likely than white women to die of pregnancy and childbirth-related causes—a fact that hits even wealthy celebrities like Serena Williams and Beyoncé.

The experience of black patients is filled with these kinds of stories.

Finally, the best-known example of the Tuskegee Experiment has become notorious for withholding syphilis treatment from black men in Alabama for decades, from 1932 to 1972, all while telling them they were being treated.

And, of course, poor health coverage in black communities directly contributes to the disproportionate number of cases of Covid-19, and deaths from the disease, compared to other racial groups. Contradictory messaging of Covid practices, and a chaotic rollout of the vaccine, add to this distrust.

Not to mention, there are plenty of reasons for black people to distrust the government that tells them to get a vaccine. This is the same government whose police kill black men and women on an almost daily basis. This is the same government that in the name of the “war on drugs,” used mass incarceration to lock up whole generations of young black men.

It is bitterly ironic that the population hardest hit by the Covid-19 epidemic is also the most distrustful of the vaccine.

But it is not up to the black population to allay its own well-founded fears. The responsibility to address the vaccine reluctance lies with those who created this monstrous history in the first place, to admit responsibility and to tell the truth. And finally, to recruit and engage medical personnel trusted by the black population, and know that a legitimate reluctance will continue to cast its shadow into the future.

Pages 6-7

Haiti:
A Country Ruined by Its Capitalist Class and by Imperialism

Feb 15, 2021

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

On January 1, 1804, the independence of the Caribbean island nation of Saint-Domingue was proclaimed. The new government gave it the name of Ayiti or Haiti in the Carib language—“Island of High Mountains.” And so Haiti became the first black republic in the world, the first country where a population of former slaves managed to defeat a more highly trained colonial army and retain their recently and hard-won freedom.

An Isolated Country

The former slaves had won their freedom and their nation’s independence, but they found themselves in a ruined country. The old plantations were devastated, and there was no question of returning to work on them, even with new masters. The former export crops would have had no market anyway. France, the former colonial power, had instituted a blockade prohibiting trade with Haiti [the U.S. agreed to the blockade]. An intense fear of the contagion of slave revolts was noticeable among settlers on other islands. Since the black people of Haiti could not be defeated, they had to be suffocated.

So the country found itself isolated. Slavery had been re-established on the island of Guadeloupe despite the resistance and struggle by black troops. And slavery had not been abolished on the other islands under English or Spanish rule.

The Consolidation of Social Elites

After independence was acquired, Dessalines imposed his power. This general had taken control of the black army after the capture of Toussaint Louverture. He proclaimed himself emperor and took the name of Jacques I. His dictatorship paved the way for the rise of a wealthy elite. Ownership of land deserted by settlers was given as a reward to military leaders and to civilian officials who supported his regime. Forced labor was put in place for the former slaves. This led to revolts. Dessalines was assassinated in 1806. Afterwards Haiti was divided into two governments ruled by former military leaders. In the north, Henri Christophe proclaimed himself king and had several sumptuous palaces built. In the south, Pétion was elected president in 1811 and continued giving land to army veterans. After their deaths Haiti was reunited.

The New Ruling Class

The policies pursued by successor governments only reinforced the yawning chasm between a political—and propertied—elite, and the mass of poor farmers. The resumption of forced labor led to other revolts, which led to President Boyer being exiled in 1843. The rising bourgeoisie leaned on these revolts to proclaim the independence of the eastern part of the island in 1844. That became known as Santo Domingo.

France’s Power Strangles Haiti

Under Boyer’s presidency in 1825, France’s King Charles X demanded that Haiti pay a huge indemnity of 180 million gold francs in exchange for recognition of Haiti’s independence. He supported his demand with the threat of armed force. Paying this debt with interest contributed vastly to Haiti’s ruin. Interest on the debt was due until the middle of the 1900s.

After Boyer, a succession of heads of state further impoverished the country through their brutality and by opening the country up to big trading companies and foreign banks.

The poor population kept rebelling. During the second half of the 1800s, the first peasant revolts of the “Cacos” began. They threatened government power and frightened the urban owning class. These peasants in rebellion were called Piquets in the south. Around 1915, they surfaced again and opposed an American military occupation. In the north, they were led by Charlemagne Péralte. He was captured and murdered by the U.S. military, which publicly displayed what remained of his body.

The American Occupation

By 1910, the United States had seized control of the failing national bank. American imperialism’s goal was to extend its domination over all the islands in its vicinity. The U.S. military occupied Haiti in 1915. Its first step was to manage the economy by controlling tariffs. In 1918, the constitution was amended to give foreigners the right to acquire real estate. From then on, American companies were able to take possession of land which was vacant, deforested, or from which the peasants had been driven. Corvée was re-imposed on the farmers: unpaid, forced labor on the land of big landowners. Haiti remained under de facto occupation until 1934, but even afterwards American interests remained in place.

The American administration organized the exodus of tens of thousands of young people—on average 20,000 per year for 20 years—to Cuba and Santo Domingo, occupied by the U.S. since 1905. These young people constituted a cheap labor force for American sugar companies.

In a Ruined Country, the Population Resists

A succession of presidents were installed by the occupier. This strengthened the power of the mixed-race elite as opposed to the poor black masses. At least, until the election of François Duvalier in 1957. He declared himself president of the black people, but established a fierce dictatorship. He was tolerated by the U.S. for his ability to maintain bourgeois order in the face of the impoverished masses. He was replaced by his son Jean Claude, who encouraged the resumption of foreign investment while maintaining the dictatorship. He was overthrown by a mass uprising in 1986.

Haiti’s recent history is based on the same social structure. The local owning class is partly feudal and partly bourgeois. It is few in number but linked to imperialist interests, and it drains the resources of the country in agreement with those foreign interests and with the support of government power. Men in power have pursued the same policies of supporting the exploiters, with the support of the army or of armed militias. The sole objective of this bourgeoisie is to continue its plundering, while the population is thrown into poverty and subjected to terror by armed gangs.

The Haitian people continue to show great courage. Throughout their history they have proven their ability to revolt. Today, super-exploited workers do not hesitate to brave all the dangers of repression to demand a better life. They can find inside themselves the strength to rid themselves of today’s oppressors, just as their ancestors got rid of yesterday’s oppressors.

Martinique:
Stop Repressing Unionists!

Feb 15, 2021

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

Worker militants on the French Caribbean island of Martinique face more and more attacks because of their union activity. Reforms aimed at rolling back labor laws to benefit the bosses are a signal that employers interpret as encouraging them to repress unionists.

The post office chose to fire a worker elected to union office who had put in to retire after management gave him masks made in 2009 and long past their expiration date. Managers accused him of deserting his post.

At the National Forest Office, a ranger was issued a warning for accompanying a co-worker to meet with management—part of his duties as a steward. Management’s justification for its decision? The tone of his voice!

The union representative at ArcelorMittal Construction-Caribbean was threatened with dismissal for having done his job as union representative. The general manager charged him with how his voice sounded when speaking with his supervisor, who always insulted him. Management there regularly exhibits its authoritarianism with respect to the staff. The general manager punishes any man or woman who refuses these degrading actions. Bit by bit the staff’s anger is growing. They are starting to get fed up with this so-called gentleman.

A worker at Martinique Catering (Servair) has put up with harassment by management for years. Even though the labor department, the labor minister, and the French labor court went against him, the manager kept doing it.

What all these workers have in common is that they are militants active with the General Confederation of Workers of Martinique (called CGTM by its initials in French). But they’re not the only ones.

This is the behavior of bosses who feel they are protected. When called on to act, government authorities don’t rush to do anything. But nothing says the workers will accept to be targets and to suffer.

Yemen:
Biden’s Speeches Don’t Repair the Damage

Feb 15, 2021

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

“We’re stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen,” Joe Biden said on February 4. He added, “We are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” The next day, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced his intention to remove the Houthis—the militias Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen—from the list of groups Washington considers terrorist.

The war has gone on in Yemen for six years. The so-called Decisive Storm offensive aimed to restore the power of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was overthrown by a Houthi rebellion on September 21, 2014. The outbreak of this war was approved by United Nations Security Council resolution 2216, approved unanimously on April 14, 2015—in other words, by all the imperialist countries. Saudi Arabia was therefore given a blank check to bombard and control all entrances and exits to Yemen, and to put in place a form of blockade which fostered what NGOs have described as “the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.” Saudi Arabia shares a 900-mile border with Yemen and has always considered it as its preserve.

The United Nations now estimates the number of victims of the fighting and the humanitarian disaster at 250,000. Five million Yemenis have been displaced and three quarters of the country’s 30 million people are on the brink of famine.

Biden seeks to distinguish himself from his predecessor—and for the moment, that is limited to speeches. Perhaps current statements herald changes, as growing instability in this part of the world bordering on major shipping lanes for international trade is cause for concern for U.S. leaders. But that’s not even certain. Biden does not intend to withdraw his support for the Saudi regime, one of imperialism’s main allies in the region, or to threaten the profits of arms manufacturers.

As an American official quoted by Agence France-Presse also assured, it is only a question of “ensuring U.S. arms sales meet our strategic objectives.” There might be differences between Trump and Biden, but above all and first of all there are continuities—imposed by the defense of the interests of imperialism.

Pages 8-9

Lead Poisoning in Flint and the UAW

Feb 15, 2021

On January 14 of this year, the State of Michigan charged nine state officials with crimes connected to the lead poisoning of the entire city of Flint in 2014. From April 2014 to October 2015, state officials forced the city of Flint to change its water supply source and use untreated river water. The acidic water caused lead, plus other contaminants, to dissolve into the drinking water.

State officials first brushed aside Flint residents’ complaints, then actively covered up the lead poisoning when test results came in. That was seven years ago. No one has yet served a day in jail. But the crime was astonishingly big.

Lead poisoning is so bad that there is no safe level. It poisons nerves. It poisons the brain, and worst of all, it blocks the normal development of children’s brains. Their intellectual and emotional developments are damaged. There is no antidote. Their poisoning is permanent, lifelong. There were 8,657 children under the age of 6 in Flint in 2015.

Quietly evading publicity is the General Motors Corporation. GM protected itself from the untreated water. When the new water was hooked up and the engines at its Flint Engine Operations started to corrode, GM trucked in fresh water for its operations, installed filtration equipment, and in less than 7 months got itself hooked back into safe water. GM promotes itself as a good responsible member of the community. It is one of the most powerful companies in Michigan. But in seven years, nothing has come to light showing any GM actions to alert the community, or to push the governor to act fast for everyone else in Flint.

But there was another force on the scene which could have roused itself to respond, and did not. The workforce at the engine plant is organized in the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. Many of the workers, especially in inspection and repair, would have been first to notice the damaged engines and inform management. The production slowdowns would soon have had everyone’s attention, including local union officers. They in turn would have alerted higher level union officials, because of the possible impact on other UAW plants if engine production had to be cut back.

As with GM, there is no evidence yet revealed to show any action by the UAW to alert the Flint community or to bring its forces into play to demand urgent help. They would have added credibility to the scientific findings of the community, knowing immediately and firsthand that the water was not right. But leaders seemed to limit their responses to relief measures like donating bottled water.

And yet, Flint is the symbolic home of the UAW. By the northeast corner of the Flint Assembly complex, on city property, is Sitdowner Memorial Park. A massive sit-down strike wave in 1936–7, centered in a 44-day sit-down in Flint that paralyzed the entire GM corporation, inspired workers with evidence of their power—if they stuck together.

Workers in that time learned how they could fight for their own interests. Many of the most militant leaders were socialists and communists, with a vision of workers’ power not limited to workplaces, but extending to take in hand all the affairs of society. Workers make society run; workers should run society. The leaders of the 1930s and 1940s stood for that.

They often ran labor candidates for city and state offices. They knew they were up against the companies in politics as well as in the plants.

Today, leaders with that understanding have been all but lost. Corporations have influenced new union leaderships, not only in the UAW, and recruited them to the idea of “partnership.” Be “partners” with management, help the companies raise quality, help them reduce costs, and this will raise pay and expand jobs. They say. But the UAW deliberately signed onto this “partnership” cooperation forty years ago, in fact even as far back as the 1950s, and the promises have not come true.

The working class needs leadership that “partners” with its workers and the communities they come from, not with wealthy criminals.

It doesn’t occur to leaders under the spell of “partnership” to consider saying, in the case of an emergency like Flint: “Listen, Governor. If you want any auto production to happen anywhere in Michigan, you need to fix this Flint problem and right now.” Yet that is the force that could outweigh the selfishness of GM and the crimes of the politicians. In fact, if stopping auto production wouldn’t be enough to persuade the governor, there are many other workforces at many other companies that might like to lend a hand.

If we recover this kind of thinking, there are many problems waiting to be solved by applying the force of an organized working class.

Stolen Land

Feb 15, 2021

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians who live near Traverse City, have been in the news in Michigan.

As reported in the Traverse City Record Eagle, the Grand Traverse Band are in the process of filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government regarding thousands of acres of reservation land that was stolen from them. Their case is based on the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, “property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The land was awarded to the Ottawa and Chippewa Nations in 1855 by the Treaty of Detroit.

Tribal citizens are seeking compensation based on the land’s worth when it was taken, plus interest. They assure current landholders that in no way are they trying to take back the land. In fact, they have been organizing support for their case with all the local communities where current landholders live.

It has been an interesting campaign. Many municipalities have now given their support to the stolen land case: Suttons Bay Township, Centerville Township, and Leelanau County.

After a series of many required legal steps, in the end, an act of Congress will be needed for compensation to be granted for the theft.

To this day, 25% of Native Americans live below the poverty level. This rate of poverty is similar to the U.S. poverty rate for black, Hispanic and rural white populations of working people. To support the fight for justice by the Grand Traverse Band makes sense.

A current tribal elder describes how community organizing around this project has given all who have become involved a “breadth of knowledge. It really sheds light on history that isn’t well known and it really speaks to what happened throughout this country. It’s just an example of how common it was not to honor treaties.”

Said another tribal elder, “What we do today matters. So I hope we’re able to continue what our past leaders started and build for the future so that future generations won’t have to go without... And I hope our surrounding people, friends, our neighbors will support us and help us, and will finally see us.”

McKinsey and the Opioid Epidemic

Feb 15, 2021

McKinsey is a gigantic consulting company, hired by others to analyze operations and to “help them meet their goals.” In this capitalist society, that essentially means finding ways to maximize profits. And that means following the logic of capitalism to deadly conclusions, as a recent settlement reached over the opioid epidemic illustrates.

McKinsey was hired by Purdue Pharma, the maker of the painkiller OxyContin, to “turbocharge” sales, even as the opioid crisis was accelerating at the end of the 2000s. In 2009, McKinsey helped Purdue formulate “sales ‘drivers’ based on the idea that opioids reduce stress and make patients more optimistic and less isolated,” even though it was patently obvious that OxyContin was addictive itself, and led directly to heroin addiction, something that certainly increases stress and isolation!

These consultants knew exactly what they were doing: In one slide of a presentation, McKinsey estimated that 2,484 CVS customers would overdose or develop an “opioid use disorder” in 2019 alone. McKinsey even proposed that Purdue offer a rebate to CVS and other pharmacies for every overdose “event,” since those overdoses would cost the pharmacies customers!

McKinsey also helped Purdue Pharma attempt to keep money rolling in even as it began coming under increasing scrutiny. It advised Purdue to sell high dosage pills, which are more addictive—but also more profitable. McKinsey told Purdue to team up with other drug companies to push back on regulation by the FDA. And after Walgreens settled with the federal government to restrict opioid sales in 2013, McKinsey advised Purdue to “lobby Walgreens’ leaders to loosen up.”

So far, at least 450,000 people in this country alone have died in the opioid crisis, not to speak of the millions of lives ruined. McKinsey has reached a settlement to pay out almost $600 million dollars for its role in all this—which it claims is more than it received for its advice. But that kind of settlement is like asking a murderer who also stole some cash to give back the money—ignoring the dead body.

Health Care Warehousing

Feb 15, 2021

University of Michigan Medical Center is considered a state of the art health care system in comparison to many others. It is why people in Michigan who have health issues often elect to see if they can go to U of M hospital for treatment.

Some of them are going for more minor surgeries that require them just to stay overnight. And when you say, overnight, you think of a hospital room, either private or with two beds, right?

Not so. The “Short Stay Unit” is a giant room. Beds are separated by curtains, not doors.

You can hear the personal medical information of every patient who may be within hearing distance of your curtained enclosure. So much for HIPAA, the medical privacy act that all hospitals are supposed to follow. You can hear everything through this big room, so good luck with bed rest and sleep, which is why they are keeping you overnight in the first place. And there is one bathroom when there may be nearly 2 dozen beds in this giant room.

What’s wrong with this picture? Could it have anything to do with cost savings? And if so, for whom? A hospital CEO’s bottom line?

Pages 10-11

Lost Your Job?
Don’t Blame the Virus

Feb 15, 2021

The following is the editorial from SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of February 8, 2021.

Industry after industry cut jobs last month. “Hospitality”—that is, hotels, restaurants, leisure—led the pack with 61,000 workers cut.

Those cuts were blamed on the virus. Maybe, but there were all the others. Durable goods manufacturing cut jobs in January; so did storage and warehousing, the off-shoot of Amazon. Jobs were cut in construction, insurance, home health care, retail, advertising, state and local government, not to mention “non-traditional” Uber-style work.

Yes, the crisis we’re in was made worse by the virus, hitting early last year. But key sectors, around which the whole economy turns, had already been spiraling down for a whole year. Construction, manufacturing and corporate investment in capital goods were already leading the whole economy into a severe recession. The virus simply turned it into a catastrophe.

Today, there still are nine million and some fewer jobs than there were a year ago, almost 11 million fewer if you count all the “non-traditional” workers who lost jobs.

No matter how the virus added to the problem, the main culprit in this disaster is the ordinary way capitalism works in the 21st century.

Big companies took advantage of the virus to drive smaller competitors out of business. High tech companies gobbled up each other. With every tech facility that closed, every manufacturer, every retail store, every office, people were put out of work. Amazon may have hired nearly half a million, but retail outlets cut one and a half times that many.

Profitable companies took advantage of the virus to cut jobs in order to increase profit. Think about this: the pharmaceutical companies—including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, the ones who say they can’t produce enough vaccine—cut jobs.

Companies like Boeing and the airlines and the railroads, whose losses were covered by government stimulus money, cut jobs.

State and city governments took advantage of the virus to cut jobs—almost one and a half million jobs. They blamed the cuts on decreasing tax revenue due to the virus. But nothing said they had to cut jobs—and, thus, services. They could have cut the subsidies and tax breaks they shower on the capitalists who dominate their states. But no matter who was in control—Republicans or Democrats—they cut jobs.

Altogether, millions of jobs were cut. The virus compounded the problem. But the underlying cause was the drive for profit, the very basis of capitalism. It’s worse today because capitalism is an old system that has outlived its usefulness.

Sooner or later the virus will be tamed—at what human price we can’t yet comprehend. But even after the virus threat is gone, we’ll still be face to face with capitalism, which still will be pushing to increase its profits by driving down the standard of living of all of us who work.

Yes, we have to tame the virus. But we have to get rid of this decrepit system, this throw-back to the past, which breeds misery for the population.

Who will do it? Who can do it? Certainly not these companies, which show us every day what they are. Not the two parties, which openly declare their loyalty to this worn-out capitalist system.

The class which holds the future in its hands is the working class, all of us, the big majority of the population, who every day have to work for our living. We are the ones who actually know how all these different companies run, in other words, how the economy runs. We are the ones working for states and cities who know what is important in what they do and what should be tossed out.

The working class has the capacity to throw out this old system, to build up one that serves the population. The main thing that prevents us from doing so is that we fail to recognize our own power.

People used to say that no one would ever do anything. Look how the movement exploded last June—we can see that people will act. But the problem is not just to act. What’s needed are people who understand the working class can use its situation in the very center of the economy to throw out the parasites who live off us. What’s needed is the goal to build up a new economy and political system, fit for the 21st century. Communism.

Page 12

Tesla Is Dirty

Feb 15, 2021

Tesla announced that the company has been profitable for a full year in 2020 for the first time in its history since it was founded in 2003. But those profits didn’t come out of its car sales to its customers, according to CNN. Instead, the profits came from an accounting hat-trick that Tesla has been doing very well.

Eleven states, including California, New York and New Jersey require car manufacturers by regulation to sell a certain number of zero-emission vehicles like electric cars by 2025. If they cannot, the car manufacturers have to buy regulatory credits from other car manufacturers to meet the regulatory requirements. Because Tesla exclusively sells electric and the other car manufacturers cannot sell enough electric cars, they are forced to buy the regulatory credits from Tesla.

The selling of regulatory credits, $1.6 billion in 2020 alone, is a very lucrative business scheme for Tesla. If this very large credit were not included, Tesla would have reported close to $900 million loss.

Tesla is pretending to be a clean energy company. But, when it comes to profit, Tesla is ready to sell its credits to other companies so they can continue to pollute the environment.

Exploitation:
“Made in America”

Feb 15, 2021

Anyone who watched the Super Bowl might have noticed ads from WeatherTech bragging about how they are made in America. They showed the nice products, smiling “workers” reading a script. In reality, the “workers” they showed were dressed-up bosses. They didn’t show that WeatherTech relies on more and more temps with no benefits. They didn’t show that they have gotten rid of workers and expect those left to do two or three jobs.

They didn’t show the inhuman speed of the machines—that drive most workers not to stay there very long, because they can’t take it.

The company closed for two weeks when COVID hit—but they didn’t show how many workers got COVID once they reopened, working packed close together, when the virus swept through the plant. WeatherTech didn’t even give workers extra paid sick time if they had to take off because they got COVID!

If they showed the real situation, the real pay and benefits, the real speedup, they would have a hard time bragging about how they treat all those “American” workers.

Cops Pepper-Spray Nine-Year-Old Girl

Feb 15, 2021

On January 29, a nine-year-old black girl in Rochester, New York ran out of her house, upset that her mother and stepfather were arguing. When the cops arrived on the scene, they grabbed the child, handcuffed her, and tried to force her into the back of their police car. She repeatedly cried for her father. At one point, a cop told her “you’re acting like a child,” to which she lightly responded, “I am a child!”

After one cop warns it is her last chance, another cop was recorded saying: “Just spray her at this point.” And that’s exactly what they did. On the bodycam footage, a cop can be seen shaking a can of pepper spray, before spraying it in the girl’s face.

Three cops thought this the appropriate way to deal with an upset child. If parents or teachers deliberately put pepper-spray in the eyes of a nine-year-old, they would go to jail, no questions asked. But these cops were just put on leave.

Could there be any clearer indictment of this system?

The 24th:
A Film Worth Viewing

Feb 15, 2021

The 24th is a movie based on an event that happened in 1917. Like much of this country’s ugly history of racism, this story is often left out of the history books.

The 24th refers to the 24th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army, a regiment of black soldiers during World War 1.

In World War I, just like World War II, the military was totally segregated. Black soldiers were rarely used in combat; they were mostly used for labor. The 24th was guarding the construction of a military camp, just outside Houston, Texas.

Even as soldiers, the black men of the 24th faced the same racist abuse, attacks and Jim Crow segregation. They were degraded by some of the white men building the camp, refusing them permission to drink out of the same water bucket. They were attacked, over and over, by racist Houston policemen. One soldier was beaten by the cops because he refused to sit in the back of a trolley car. The black soldiers were disrespected and beaten by one of their white officers who thought they were “inferior.” And the soldiers of the 24th saw the black residents of Houston suffer the same racist abuse.

Finally, the Houston cops shot and wounded another black soldier. The rest of his comrades believed he had been killed. The soldiers of the 24th grabbed their guns and marched into Houston.

They found some of the racist cops, killing five of them. The soldiers also shot and killed some white civilians and some white soldiers.

The army sent in white troops to arrest the black soldiers. While the white racist mobs who had been killing black people that summer were rarely even arrested, the black soldiers faced the ultimate punishment. They were tried for mutiny. Nineteen men were sentenced to death and were hung. Forty-one men were sentenced to life in prison.

In court, facing their death sentence, the black soldiers of the 24th proclaimed their dignity as men.

The 24th is a true reflection of U.S. history. It is a movie that is worth seeing.