The Spark

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

Issue no. 1124 — March 1 - 15, 2021

The U.S. Bombing of Syria Is Not in Our Interests

Mar 1, 2021

Just after midnight local time Friday morning, U.S. bombers hit seven targets with guided missiles, killing 22 people and injuring dozens more, with some likely to die. The targets were said to be part of a way station just across from the border with Iraq. This way station was used by Iran-backed rebel militias in Syria.

The U.S. attack came a week after a rocket attack on a U.S. air base in northern Iraq that killed a private military contractor and injured a U.S. soldier, among others.

Biden administration officials described this as a justified and proportionate response, to defend U.S. personnel and protect American citizens.

Really?

Both of the militia groups targeted in this attack have denied responsibility for the attack in Iraq, and had even condemned it. So the U.S. attack in truth had nothing to do with that attack.

In fact, numerous military and diplomatic observers have noted that the U.S. attack was more about sending a message—a message to allies and adversaries alike that, even though there’s a new sheriff in town, that sheriff plays by the same basic rules.

Biden is moving to reopen talks with Iran to reestablish the nuclear arms control agreement that had been in place before Trump scrapped it. At the same time, he wants Iran—and other players in the region—to understand that the U.S. is still willing to use whatever force it deems necessary to protect its interests in the region.

It probably also helps reassure Saudi Arabia, right at the moment when intelligence reports were declassified, showing that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a direct hand in authorizing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Saudi Arabia is competing with Iran for influence and control in the region; with this attack, the Biden administration has signaled to the Saudi rulers that the U.S. still supports them.

So, this attack on foreign soil, condemned by the president of the country it took place in, killing over 20 people, was simply meant to send a message. Those human lives mean that little to the Biden administration.

But one thing this attack absolutely was NOT—was an act of self-defense!

Eighteen years after the U.S. military invaded Iraq using trumped-up excuses, followed by its methodical destruction and fomenting of ethnic and religious division, Iraq and Syria are completely ravaged. Armed groups fight to control pockets of these countries, backed by other regional powers like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. U.S. intervention keeps those conflicts going, making sure that its interests are represented.

And the fourth U.S. president to preside over this disaster has just signaled to the world that nothing will change.

Self-defense? In another country, half-way around the world, where the U.S. has not been asked to be? Only in a world where U.S. military presence around the world is a given, just simply accepted, would this at all fly as an act of “self-defense”!

The U.S. is the only country in the world to have such a world-wide military presence. This was not an act of defense of the country’s population. It was an act to defend the interests of the U.S. capitalist ruling class, of its oil and commercial interests. Just as the U.S. world-wide military presence does not help or protect the American working class; it protects the interests of U.S. capital around the world.

Those interests are the same interests that attack working people here in this country every single day.

U.S. imperialism is the main culprit for this widespread disaster in the Middle East. It creates disasters like this all around the world. It does not represent working people of this country, not one bit, not at all.

Pages 2-3

Texas Power Outages and Disasters

Mar 1, 2021

No, it wasn’t the cold weather storm that caused almost the entire system of energy production and distribution to collapse in the state of Texas, plunging most of the state into darkness for several days. The electric and gas utility companies just never bothered to prepare their system for very cold weather. They did not insulate piping, or add little electrical heaters to wind turbines, or build inexpensive fiberglass huts to protect production equipment.

Why not? As Loretta Lynch, the former president of the California Public Utilities Commission, explained, “When the power plant generators in Texas have the choice between paying a shareholder dividend and paying to prepare for storms like they’re having now, the power plant owners paid their shareholders, customers be damned.”

After this disaster, even Republican politicians like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who had opposed regulating the utilities in the past, swore that they would use the government to crack down. They are now promising that the Texas state government will enact new rules that will force the utilities to winterize their system to prepare for similar or worse weather.

But what are these promises really worth? As Lynch, the former California regulator admitted, in California there are certainly much stronger regulations governing the industry than in Texas. Yet, the results are surprisingly similar.

“What’s happened in Texas is what’s happened in California,” said Lynch.

In California, the three big utility companies that dominate the state have been repeatedly found liable for causing literally thousands of wildfires, most often because these companies don’t invest in new equipment, and don’t spend the money to do even the minimum amount of maintenance. Led by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), with 16 million customers, they are getting away with murder.

Instead of rescuing all the people who had their lives destroyed by the California wildfires and gas explosions caused by these utility companies, the California politicians and regulators have run to the rescue of the utility companies. The politicians and regulators let these companies simply hike their electric and gas rates, promising that the money will be invested to improve service and upgrade equipment.

Instead, the companies pocket the money and increase their profits. Then, after one disaster after another, the politicians repeatedly fork over big taxpayer-funded bailouts.

And when all else fails, the courts have allowed these companies to use bankruptcy as a way of getting out from under the biggest costs of the disaster they have caused.

To the big public utilities in California, politicians, regulators and judges are simply pawns in their game. Thousands of e-mails between company executives and the California Public Utilities Commission released during various court actions have revealed the close connection between regulators and corporate executives. They show how the companies maneuver to pick and choose the judges who rule on their cases. They also show how these companies repeatedly lie on safety reports about work that they did not really do.

Big utility companies in both California and Texas act criminally and profit out of these criminal acts with impunity. And no politicians, regulators or courts will change this. Because under capitalism, it is corporate profits that come first, no matter what the cost to the people or the environment.

St. Louis Prison Protests

Mar 1, 2021

Nearly 120 prisoners took over two units of the St. Louis City Justice Center jail in the early morning hours of February 6. Prisoners broke fourth floor windows in the downtown facility and interacted with crowds of supporters and onlookers in the streets below. The revolt erupted after a guard assaulted an inmate and pepper sprayed wide areas. Police used brutal force to suppress the revolt which lasted for six hours.

Prisoners hung banners from the windows. One read “Free 57” to show solidarity with fellow inmates victimized for their participation in earlier prison protests. Another read “What about Anthony Smith,” a 24-year-old black youth gunned down by a white cop.

Tensions reached a boiling point because of deplorable and inhumane conditions in the jail. Prisoners staged protests in December and January over unsafe prison practices that caused rapid spread of COVID-19.

Even though COVID spread is notoriously high in prisons, with one in five prisoners infected nationally, inmates at CJC were frequently denied COVID testing and access to PPE. Social distancing was impossible at times as guards ignored safety protocols.

Sometimes officers intentionally herded sick inmates into small cells with other inmates out of spite and sheer cruelty. Prisoners also reported freezing cell temperatures, bad food, and other brutal treatment by officers.

To the media, prison officials spread lies that the rebellion was the work of “very violent” criminals only out to create a violent disturbance. They tried to disassociate the revolt from earlier protests and hide prisoner issues from public view.

In fact, most inmates at CJC are poor, accused of crimes and awaiting trial but unable to put up cash bail. Due to a backlog of cases, inmates report waiting more than 300 days in jail for their trial to begin.

Under U.S. “justice,” these inmates are supposedly “presumed innocent.” But in reality, capitalist “justice” presumes guilt as the poor have to wait almost a year for a trial.

If Someone Can Make a Buck ...

Mar 1, 2021

Banks process hundreds of millions of paychecks, Social Security checks, and pensions as well. Hundreds of millions of mortgages or rents are paid automatically. Hundreds of millions of daily transactions take only seconds at the grocery store checkout, at the gas pump, and online.

But what doesn’t work? The packages we order are delayed a month because the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t have enough workers. And now with the vaccine, the entire U.S. population that can use a computer is trying to get through a maze for vaccine appointments. Nope. Cannot be done.

If some company is going to make a profit, it happens in an instant. But an organized roll-out of the vaccine, or ensuring that everyone gets “economic impact” checks or unemployment checks through the mail, is nothing but a “tear your hair out” experience!

“LET THEM FREEZE; I’LL GET A SUNTAN”

Mar 1, 2021

Millions of ordinary people in Texas were freezing without heat or power, many of them without food or water. Seeing this human crisis all around him, Ted Cruz did what you would expect from a wealthy person—he decided to leave town for several days of vacation on the 80-degree beaches of Cancun. Cruz’ wife bragged to her friends about the discount rate they paid for their ritzy resort—only $309 a night, plus taxes!

But Cruz was not just a wealthy Texan. He was also a U.S. Senator, part of a government that was responsible for dealing with this crisis. Ignoring his freezing constituents, Cruz tried to quietly sneak out of town to Cancun. Unfortunately for him, someone took his picture on the airplane and posted it on social media.

When Cruz was found out, he faced a firestorm of criticism. He decided he better pretend he cared about the people of Texas, and so Cruz returned home from Cancun. After all, these people might vote in the next election, right?

Cruz then went on TV with one of his butt-kissing friends on Fox News to throw his daughters under the bus. He explained that he was just another dad chaperoning his kids, just like a mother dropping off her kids at soccer practice, before returning home.

Sorry, Ted, that you had to cut short your vacation and you weren’t able to get your full suntan. Life is tough for cynical politicians like you!

Billed $16,000 for Electricity in Texas

Mar 1, 2021

While millions of people in Texas lost heat and electricity during the winter storm, others who didn’t had to face the devastating attack capitalists launched to make them pay for it.

Some people in Texas were getting bills for $5,000, $6,000 and $7,000—for 5 days’ worth of electricity! One retired veteran living on Social Security had his entire life savings wiped out after being charged $16,752.

These bills were not mistakes or computer glitches. They were the legal, correct prices. Some people in Texas have variable rate plans for their gas and electricity. The utility companies are allowed to raise their charges as much as 90 times higher during periods of peak demand. And, of course, the energy companies, like Comstock Resources, happily took full advantage.

Comstock Resources is majority-owned by Jerry Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys. The president of Comstock Resources said “this week is like hitting the jackpot with some of these incredible prices. Frankly, we were able to sell at super premium prices.”

Because people had to have electricity to stay warm and to stay alive, these companies were allowed to wipe out people’s entire life savings. This is how the capitalist system functions. That’s why it is a system that needs to be gotten rid of.

Pages 4-5

Reopening Schools Safely
—What Would it Take?

Mar 1, 2021

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released their advice on schools recently. Politicians jumped on the report to say that schools need to re-open, ASAP.

But the politicians neglected to talk about the money that would take.

In order to open schools, the CDC recommended certain strategies, most of them well-known at this point: mask-wearing, handwashing, and contact tracing by local health departments. They also recommend maintaining 6 feet of “social distancing” between students.

But many big cities, like Chicago, pack over 30 students in every classroom—and use every corner of their buildings. The 6 foot guideline means you would need about twice as much space as normal, which means much smaller class sizes. This means you would need to hire many more teachers. Biden said it himself: “Schools will need more teachers” and acknowledged that it would cost money to do that.

No, it would not be impossible. But for a typical Chicago elementary school, you would need to hire about a dozen extra teachers and a number of additional aides—which would cost around 1.5 million dollars. With 550 elementary schools, this comes close to a billion additional dollars, at a minimum. And you would still need to find the additional space for those extra teachers, aides and classrooms.

On top of that, many a Chicago teacher visited their school in the fall, only to find trash still in the trashcans from the previous March. The CDC report, the school officials, and common sense all dictate that the schools must be cleaned during a pandemic. But the City of Chicago failed to keep its school bathrooms and halls clean, and doesn’t seem to be able to do it—even with very few students in the buildings. This can also be fixed—with money.

And the report said very little about ventilation. The old school buildings in many cities have poor ventilation—upgrading them could be done, but would cost more millions.

The report lays out what must be done to educate students safely. None of these expenses are impossible to come up with—and in fact, they are very little compared to the trillions the government has thrown at the big corporations. But these same politicians who have spent the last decades gutting the schools are not about to come up with the money to make them safe today.

Mary Wilson
—“Reflections of” Working Class Life in Detroit

Mar 1, 2021

Mary Wilson, a founding member of the Supremes, died at the age of 76 this February. She was the child of working class parents who moved North during the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South. The family came out of Mississippi and settled first in Chicago. Wilson came to live in Detroit when she was three and famously met future members of the Supremes, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, growing up in the Brewster Projects. This was the first federally funded housing project for African Americans in U.S. history.

A teenager, Wilson auditioned for Motown in 1961 and the rest is history. Referring to the rigorous, disciplined routines of Berry Gordy’s Motown, Trevor Noah comments that going to Motown was like going to army bootcamp. In fact, Berry Gordy was influenced by the auto assembly line concept and referred to Motown as his “hit factory concept, Hitsville, USA.”

In his tribute to Mary Wilson, Noah comments that the sound of the Supremes changed the face of female singing groups in the U.S. These three young women becoming famous, appearing repeatedly on programs like Ed Sullivan, gave hope to all poor young women in U.S. neighborhoods and ghettos.

In a 2008 interview with British V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum in London) with host Stuart Cosgrove, Wilson gave a sense of what it was like becoming famous in the early 1960s. This was the era of the Civil Rights struggles, the Viet Nam war and its increasing protests, and a growing awakening about the repressive attitudes and misogyny of the 1950s’ period.

Wilson tells a story about being chaperoned on a bus trip to the segregated South, and arriving hot and tired at a hotel with a pool where whites were swimming. She said they dove in to cool off and the whites climbed out of the pool. And then returned, when they realized that this was the famous Motown Review full of glamorous stars!

She also tells the story of Florence Ballard’s troubles after being raped as a teenager and the lifetime effects that destroy women’s lives.

The Supremes at their origin were considered a young “girl group.” It was one of the hundreds that were being promoted across the U.S. on radio, and finally on TV. From country to doo-wop to pop, music was traditionally promoted according to social categories and divisions. The “girl groups” popular among major sections of the white population sang close harmony, as did earlier black groups. But the Supremes, under the deliberate management of Berry Gordy and Motown, crashed through social barriers to make Motown-sound “crossover” music. It brought the sound of rhythm and blues combined with pop to the forefront of the U.S. music scene. It was a sound that held its own against the “British invasion” of the Beatles, as evidenced by the Supremes’ twelve Number One hit singles at the top of pop charts.

Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times commented on the glamorous and sophisticated sound and look of the Supremes, writing that it “challenged white listeners’ ideas about Black music, blurring cultural lines in a way that softened the ground for long-awaited political change.”

The lyrics of these songs, mostly written by Holland/Dosier/Holland for Motown, reflect the constant preoccupation of young women and girls to be accepted and supported by men, as much as they reflect love and sexual attraction. Dependence on men, then, as increasingly now, is an economic reality for most women. The music of the Supremes expressed it with honesty and emotion. Aren’t lines like, “No matter what you do or say, I’m gonna love you anyway,” familiar enough even today?

Every generation has its music. This music became more overtly political with songs like “Love Child,” which reflects the social bias against unmarried mothers, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” in protest of the Vietnam War. But the early music, and singers like Mary Wilson, will remain appreciated by women long after their deaths, for giving us all the determination necessary to get through another day, and the comfort of knowing that, someday, things are going to get easier.

Truck Drivers and Winter Storms

Mar 1, 2021

More than 100 vehicles piled up in a single February crash in Texas, involving trucks as well as cars. Six people died. That same month, 40 vehicles were involved in a pile-up in Iowa. After that crash, an Iowa State Patrol officer tweeted, “Truckers, all you are is an 80,000 pound sled on ice.”

Of course, truck drivers are perfectly aware that it is difficult if not impossible to stop a truck safely when the roads are covered in snow and ice. So why do trucks keep going when the roads get bad?

No surprise: trucking companies make it very difficult for drivers to decide not to go through a storm. For instance, a truck driver in Illinois reported that he asked if he should drive into Texas when he heard reports of the massive storm approaching. He was sent to go ahead anyway, into the mess.

Trucking companies put the entire risk on their workers. A manager at one company, Cargo, reported: “We rely on our drivers to tell us when the roads are not safe to be on.” But he admitted he is reluctant to reroute drivers because “Then you got a lot of extra miles,” in other words, extra money you have to pay the drivers.

The companies could give the truckers the real power to decide if it is safe to drive—for instance, by giving them paid time off for winter storms. Instead, they push drivers to make deliveries—putting the truckers, and everyone else on the road, at risk. It’s just one more way that this system puts profit before human life.

Chicago:
CARES Funded Police

Mar 1, 2021

Last spring, the City of Chicago got 480 million dollars in discretionary CARES Act money to help deal with the pandemic. The city could decide to spend that money where it wanted.

So what did the city decide? Did it focus on the homeless, or rental assistance, or improvements to the schools so they could reopen safely? No—Chicago spent 60% of that money, 281 million dollars, on the police.

The massive spike in unemployment as the shutdowns went into effect, plus the closing of schools, meant increasing numbers of Chicagoans were being thrown out, desperate, onto the streets. In that context, the city government moved to protect the property and interests of the wealthy, the same way it always does: by making sure there were enough cops on hand to keep the population in check.

Karen Lewis Will Be Missed

Mar 1, 2021

Karen Lewis, former president of the Chicago Teachers Union, died on February 8th.

Before Lewis was elected CTU president in 2010, Chicago schools had faced attack after attack in the 1990s and 2000s—which the union at the time mostly accepted: Privatization, opening charter schools while starving regular public schools, always pushing more and more testing.

In 2011, President Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel got elected Chicago mayor, saying he would confront the teachers. He claimed teachers got raises, while students got “the shaft”—and then clawed back a raise.

In the midst of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, Lewis led teachers and school staff in a strike, the first in over 25 years, to defend school staff and teachers alike. In standing against Emanuel, she taught teachers to fight back regardless of which political party was carrying out the attacks.

Karen began a campaign to run for mayor in the Spring 2015 election. Many in the city found this an exciting prospect—but it would not come to pass. In Fall of 2014, Lewis was diagnosed with brain cancer, and so withdrew from the race.

Lewis did not propose for the working class to build its own party, separate from the capitalists’ Democratic Party. But she did say clearly that working people ought to stand up for themselves. And unlike so many union leaders, she was not afraid to lead a fight that might embarrass that Democratic Party.

Her spirit will be missed.

Pages 6-7

Guadeloupe:
For the Construction of a Revolutionary Communist Workers Party!

Mar 1, 2021

Translated from a Special Supplement to the Combat Ouvrier of November 28, 2020, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies.

Workers and the unemployed: let’s refuse to pay for this crisis! Let’s demand to work less so we can all work, with no cuts in pay! Let’s demand massive hiring!

Every day capitalism is mired more deeply in crisis. Covid-19 has only worsened and sped up this crisis. And just as during any crisis, big business and the government in its service try to make workers and the poorest people pay.

Workers and the unemployed: let’s unite to defend our interests! Let’s build a revolutionary communist workers party, independent of the rich and privileged people!

It is urgent and even vital for workers and ordinary people to build a political force, a revolutionary communist workers party, to defend their own interests in the face of attacks by the big bosses and the government which serves them.

Combat Ouvrier calls on all workers, all the exploited, and all those who reject this barbaric system to join us in building this party.

Today many workers are disgusted with politics. We understand why—because those who lead us defend the interests of the rich and the privileged and not those of the workers and the poor. But actually, if we leave the political scene open for these people, we give them a free hand to continue to pursue their anti-working-class policy—destroying public services and generally impoverishing the population for the benefit of the richest people.

So let’s take charge of our future. We can only rely on our own strength.

Recently, workers have mobilized to counter their bosses’ attacks. At Antilles Sûreté Guadeloupe, agents, who screen airport passengers and their luggage, struck for 54 days against illegal paycheck deductions. Workers at garbage collection company Nicollin struck from October 16 to 23 and won higher wages, payment of promised bonuses, and other improvements to their contracts. At a bank, Crédit Agricole de Guadeloupe, when management tried to cut days off, workers went on strike in protest on November 3 and pushed management back. In the Sainte-Rose city government, city workers struck for over a week when their pay was late. Workers at Établissement Francais du Sang also struck for pay increases, more hiring, and job security on the island. The workers at the Gourbeyre quarry struck for better working conditions, against a boss who does not respect the law.

These struggles are isolated at this time, certainly, but these workers who fight are leading by example.

Yes to the autonomy and independence of workers and the poor classes—No to autonomy and independence for the privileged and the rich

At Combat Ouvrier, we insist that the social and political interests of workers and poor people are always put forward as a priority, regardless of the political circumstances. This is the main line of demarcation between nationalists, for whom defending the nation is a priority, and revolutionary communists like us. Our flag is the red flag of proletarians around the world and of the maroons (“nég mawon” in Creole) who rose up against slavery.

Defending the interests of “Guadeloupe” itself without distinction between rich and poor or between capitalists and workers amounts to supporting the ruling class: the rich and the capitalists. Not placing the workers and the poor at the head of all popular struggles amounts to putting them in the wake of the wealthy and their privileged political servants.

If tomorrow the struggle for independence were to be defended by workers and ordinary people, they would have to wage this fight in their own name, with their own class party and with their own flag. Whatever the future legal status of Guadeloupe, the working classes have to be present and to assert themselves now on the political scene. Otherwise this future status will work against them, just as the current status as an “overseas department of France” does.

Those who lead us demand sacrifices from workers and the people, even while they shower public money on the wealthy.

Breakdowns of Public Services ...

While the number of Covid deaths steadily rises, the government decided to cut nearly a billion dollars from hospitals in 2021! Those who lead us are criminals!

This government keeps bleeding hospitals, just like its predecessors did. In ten years, almost 15 billion dollars have been cut from hospitals. In 20 years, 100,000 hospital beds have been eliminated: 3,400 in 2019 alone! In Guadeloupe and Martinique between 2015 and 2017, one in six beds was removed. Many positions have been eliminated. Entire hospitals have even been closed.

At Pointe-à-Pitre University Hospital and other health facilities in Guadeloupe, the situation is even more serious than in France. For years staff have denounced the dilapidated conditions and the lack of human and material resources.

Today, the consequences are shocking: caregivers infected with Covid must come to work. Others who become exhausted are denied leave. Surgeries are cancelled. Caregivers nearly have to choose which patients to treat—whom to save—because they can’t take care of everyone. This is barbarism!

... And Billions for the Big Capitalists

Supposedly, there is no money for public health. What about the billions that are handed out every year to big companies, with no conditions?

Between 2013 and 2019, a total of more than 120 billion dollars worth of tax cuts were offered to big capitalists, after president François Hollande established the Tax Credit for Competitiveness and Employment, CICE.

When he took power in 2017, Macron abolished the wealth tax (ISF) paid by the richest people. The result was that the incomes of the richest increased by 10% that year. In 2018, their incomes increased 27%. In ten years, the fortunes of French billionaires have multiplied by five.

Today the virus is a “good” excuse to shower money on the big bosses. On September 3, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a 120 billion dollar “recovery plan” for businesses. Big capital will benefit above all.

Instead of mass unemployment, demand mass hiring!

There were 320 layoffs on the island between April and July 2020. That’s one third more than last year. During the first six months of last year, 4,200 private sector jobs and 900 temporary positions (43% of all temporary jobs) disappeared in Guadeloupe. Unfilled positions were cut in half. Every month, 1,000 more people sign up for national unemployment compensation (RSA)!

Faced with mass unemployment, demand mass hiring! In Guadeloupe, there are major public utility tasks to do: a water system to completely rebuild, schools to bring up to standard, roads to repair, hospitals to fully staff. Instead of mass unemployment, we must all work less in order so all can work, without reducing any workers’ pay. We must distribute the work among all without cutting pay. It is not normal for some to burn out from work while others are unemployed.

Public money must no longer go into the pockets of the richest. It must be used to improve the daily life of the population!

In this situation, a revolutionary communist workers’ party would make it possible to grow the struggles to meet the basic needs of workers and ordinary people—by taking money from the very wealthy to finance them.

This is our program. It is transitional, because the ultimate objective of revolutionary communists is social revolution: the expropriation of the wealthy, and power in the hands of workers and the poor.

The true emancipation of workers from all forms of oppression, colonial and capitalist, will not happen without the destruction of the capitalist system on a planetary scale. This deadly system which generates wars, famines, racism, and exploitation will have to be replaced by a system which first of all will satisfy the interests of the majority, ordinary people.

Students Kidnapped in Nigeria

Mar 1, 2021

Armed gunmen abducted 317 young women from a school in the Zamfara state of Nigeria. It was not initially clear if they were taken by a group of bandits or political insurgents. Both type of gangs have been doing this type of mass kidnapping of students in Nigeria.

Sometimes the students are held for ransom, and are eventually returned. But many times these young people suffer a far worse fate. Some have been killed by their captors. Many of the young women have been raped or sold into sexual enslavement.

In 2014, 276 young women were kidnapped from their school by the Boko Haram group. Over 100 of these young women are still missing today.

These types of violent kidnappings have been happening in other parts of Africa as well, not just in Nigeria. Whether done for ransom, or for some political purpose, they are a reflection of the poverty and increasing desperation which exists in many parts of the African continent today.

The European powers, and more recently the United States, have dominated the economies of the African countries for centuries. The capitalists of the imperialist powers have exploited the labor and controlled the resources of Africa. Nigeria, for example, has a wealth of natural resources, including oil, and a more developed economy than most other African countries. Yet, the per capita income for the Nigerian people is just over $2,000 a year.

The imperialist powers used their own violence—their own military forces and colonial governments—to dominate Africa. They fostered ethnic and religious rivalries to divide people. They maintain their domination of Africa today with their control over the world market.

The poverty, desperation and violence facing the African people today results from the imperialist domination of Africa.

Pages 8-9

The Variants and Vaccination

Mar 1, 2021

South Africa halted distribution of the British AstraZeneca vaccine in the beginning of February. This was because that vaccine was found less effective against the new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus that has become dominant there. A fact about coronaviruses is that they mutate—they are able to evolve. We’ve already seen more infectious variants evolve in Brazil and the United Kingdom in addition to South Africa.

So humanity is in a race—a race against this virus’s ability to mutate into new variants. Vaccines can offer protection, and could help bring the coronavirus to heel. But that can only work if everyone in the world is vaccinated. Everyone in the wealthy countries might be vaccinated by this fall. But that may end up a hollow victory. If the virus is left to circulate in the poor countries, newer variants will inevitably come forth, and some may be able to infect people who were vaccinated for an earlier version of the virus. When those variants make it back to the rich countries, it would mean even more “waves” to this pandemic.

This pandemic will not be ended in one country alone. Humanity is in this together.

Latin America:
Dramatic Shortage of Vaccines

Mar 1, 2021

Excerpted from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

In South America, the pandemic has already claimed more than 600,000 lives. The presidents of Mexico and Brazil each had their own casual attitude to the health crisis, and these are two of the three countries where the pandemic has been the most deadly, along with the United States. It is vital for vaccination to spread in Latin America, but the reality is far from that.

None of the organizations of governments in this region have tried to collectively negotiate buying vaccines. Rather, even the most developed countries on the continent don’t have much pull with the powerful pharmaceutical trusts. The conglomerates’ appetite for profit has led them to give trade negotiating priority to the “biggest paying” governments.

The Pan American Health Organization, a regional branch of the World Health Organization, has said this year could be worse than 2020 for Latin America and the Caribbean, as the number of infections and deaths is rising again in Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, and other countries. And the very slow vaccination campaign is limited to Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Costa Rica. Also, the doses ordered arrive in small quantities.

Buying medicines has always been difficult in this part of the world, even more so with the health crisis and the worsening of the economic crisis. The region’s gross domestic product fell by eight percent in 2020. Adding to this economic weakness is another difficulty: rich countries have already pre-purchased three quarters of the vaccine doses. So, high-income countries—which represent 16% of the world’s population—have 65% of the available doses.

So each national government acted on its own behalf. Chile made an agreement with Pfizer. Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay and Venezuela opted for the Sputnik V vaccine. Argentina pledged to buy 20 million doses, which is not enough to immunize its 44 million people. Colombia rejected the Russian vaccine but negotiated with Pfizer. However, because of the freezer equipment it requires, the vaccine will be restricted to cities and unavailable for rural people.

In Brazil, Sao Paulo’s governor negotiated with sales agents of the Chinese vaccine, CoronaVac, but the country’s president did not want to hear about it. Peru failed to reach a deal with Pfizer, for lack of resources, and will resort to China’s Sinopharm vaccine. Guatemala and Nicaragua could not interest any suppliers.

On the other hand, Cuba is holding true to its reputation in medical matters and is developing four vaccines even though the American embargo makes it difficult to acquire the necessary materials. One of those vaccines is expected to enter its final phase of clinical trials in March, with help from the Pasteur Institute of Iran. If its effectiveness is confirmed, Cuba will make 100 million doses this year, which will allow the vaccination of Cuba’s 11 million people as well as tourists, with some left over to help the poorest countries—as the Cuban health system often does.

Finally, as for the 10 poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean including Bolivia and Haiti, the World Health Organization has set up a program called Covax which is supposed to provide doses of vaccines free of charge. This program is expected to be extended to 27 other countries in the region, which would benefit from getting doses at a discount, but this will only reach 20% of the population.

The non-profit Oxfam estimates that in the 70 poorest countries in the world—including several in Latin America and the Caribbean—nine out of 10 people will not have access to the vaccine. This situation, like the whole health crisis, highlights the ravages of the laws of profit. Not only will the number of victims of the virus increase, but the already brutal economic crisis is growing—as well as the trails of migrants trying to flee poverty and death.

55 Years Ago:
The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Mar 1, 2021

It’s been 55 years since the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It proved to be a pivotal moment in the development of the struggle of the black population in the U.S. against racism.

American history lessons teach the story of the boycott’s beginning with Rosa Parks getting arrested in December of 1956 for refusing to give up her seat in the bus. Of course, there’s much more to the story than what’s usually taught in the schools.

Certainly the black population had shown a willingness to fight before the Montgomery boycott. In 1941, A. Phillip Randolph and others organized a March on Washington, which Franklin Roosevelt responded to—even before the march—by signing an executive order creating the Fair Employment Practices Commission. During World War II, black veterans resisted segregation in the army. Having risked their lives and having experienced life in other countries where legal segregation did not exist, some attempted to stand up against the Jim Crow laws of the South. In these fights many encountered arrests by racist police, and lynchings were common. As a result, there was fear of getting involved.

Those who took the lead of the black struggles in these years aimed at trying to pressure the federal government to overturn the Jim Crow laws. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education against segregation in the schools, trying to pretend that the legal system would suffice. But the black population knew it had to move beyond the legal channels.

Montgomery was not the first place where black people fought to desegregate the buses. Others had carried out a bus boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and made limited gains there.

Nor was Rosa Parks the first black person to refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, something she herself readily admitted. Five years earlier a black soldier was murdered for doing the same thing. Neither was Parks the first woman arrested in Montgomery for doing so. Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin had done so in March 1955.

Despite the way that typical history lessons portray Mrs. Parks as simply “polite and respectable,” her refusal to give up her seat was not her first involvement in the fight against racism. In 1931, she and Raymond Parks, the man she married a year later, helped organize defense of the Scottsboro boys, a case in which the Communist Party was also very involved. For them to stand alongside the Communist Party in the South of that time is quite a testament to the courage they both showed. In the years after, Mrs. Parks took part in trying to give the Montgomery branch of the NAACP a more activist stance.

Nevertheless, Parks’ arrest gave the NAACP’s leadership the legal case they thought it possible to get the population behind, and they called on local ministers, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and others to lead a boycott of the city’s bus system.

One of the many black social and political clubs in Montgomery was the Women’s Political Council (WPC). Its leader, Jo-Ann Robinson, a black college teacher, courageously went out in the middle of the night with others to find a way to get 50,000 leaflets printed, calling for a boycott of the buses. The next morning the WPC distributed those leaflets to churches, barber shops and schools across the city. The following Sunday, black church leaders encouraged their congregations to take part in the boycott, and it began the next day.

That Monday night, hundreds of people attended a meeting to decide whether to continue the boycott. E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP, pushed some reluctant ministers and others to support the effort, saying, “You who are afraid, you better get your hat and coat and go home. This is going to be a long drawn out affair.”

The boycott lasted an entire year. The black population of Montgomery virtually unanimously supported it. Daily mass meetings of 200 to 300 people, at times more, organized the daily activities of the struggle.

They organized an alternative transportation system to carry people to work. Black cab drivers who owned their cabs agreed to pick people up at bus stops and charge them only 10 cents. As Rosa Parks described, “A sophisticated system was developed with cabs, 20 private cars and 14 station wagons bought by churches, with pick-up stations and scheduled service from 5:30 to midnight.”

It didn’t happen without reprisals from local authorities. Police spied on bus stops and took down license plate numbers, later handing out tickets for trivial infractions. The city indicted 100 leaders, sending many to jail. White segregationists bombed four black churches.

Despite these attacks, the black population adjusted their methods and continued the fight. The fact that their organization could function was a tribute to the organizational work carried out in the years before and meant, effectively, the black people of Montgomery had set up their own government in Montgomery.

The boycott disrupted the ordinary course of life in the city and hurt the bus system’s revenues. The city eventually gave in. The boycott spread to 21 other cities and after witnessing the mobilization in Montgomery, those cities’ officials rapidly agreed to desegregate their buses. In November 1956, the Supreme Court, recognizing what the black population itself had done, ruled against segregation in the bus lines.

It would take several more decades to completely overturn Jim Crow laws in the South. The few easier victories that quickly followed the Montgomery mobilization were soon followed by bitter attacks.

As the movement took up further demands for jobs, higher pay, equality in education and desegregation in housing, and expanded to the cities of the North, the black population through its struggles, ran up against the limits of what could be gained through moral suasion and legal channels. It later went beyond those limits.

Nevertheless, the Montgomery bus boycott was a turning point for many. James Forman, a young college student at the time, describes the mood of people he spoke to in black barber shops changing from a constant refrain of “we can’t get together” to that of “at least people in Montgomery are sticking together.”

The boycott gave many a belief in the possibility of collective action to change their situation.

Pages 10-11

Texas Froze:
Profits Trumped Lives

Mar 1, 2021

The following is the editorial from SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of February 22, 2021.

With temperatures below freezing for five days in a row, millions of people in Texas lost heat and/or lights and/or water. Dozens died trying to keep warm, using a charcoal grill or running their cars without ventilation. Some died when their oxygen was cut off by the power failure. Some died when water for dialysis machines cut off. Some froze to death in their bed. Some, homeless in a society unable to provide reasonably priced housing, died in the streets.

It was a rolling catastrophe that kept gaining traction. As temperatures fell, demand went up for electricity. The Texas grid, which barely has enough capacity in normal times, ordered “rolling blackouts.” In the cold, almost a quarter of the state’s generating units couldn’t start back up. Pumps keeping natural gas lines flowing sputtered; back-up diesel engines wouldn’t start. Lines delivering natural gas to electricity generating units froze up, putting them off line. Wind turbines froze, so did coal plants that produce electricity. A nuclear power plant tripped off when water failed.

At the first prediction of cold weather, some companies generating electricity raised their prices, as much as a thousand percent overnight. In a society where capital rules, that’s a normal part of “doing business.” When prices hit a certain mark, companies that distribute electricity were hit by computer-directed automatic shutdowns. Also normal, but in the cold many couldn’t start again.

On Tuesday, four million households were without electricity. Without electricity, furnaces cut off. Even homes that kept electricity lost heat when natural gas lines froze. With heat off, plumbing froze up, pipes burst. Mains that deliver water to people’s homes—and also to hospitals and emergency services—cracked. Water oozed out. By the end of the week, 14 million households either had no water at all, or no drinkable water.

None of this had to happen. It was the result of conscious choices: utilities chose not to insulate their pipes, gas lines, turbines, water mains, etc. They chose not to use additives that lower the freezing point of liquids. They chose not to repair cracks in lines and mains.

Those are simple things to do—but every one requires investment. A certain share of the total wealth produced in society must be put back to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure, instead of where much of it goes today: to the benefit of the wealthy class that owns the economy.

The apologists for capital pretend cold like this never hits Texas. That’s not true. Texas lived through a cold spell as severe as this in 1989, and once again in 2011. Utilities simply didn’t prepare.

State government ignored the utilities’ lack of preparation. It chose to protect profit instead of life. Local governments, supplying water to cities, didn’t upgrade centuries-old water mains. They chose to use tax money to upgrade profit.

It was a perfect storm of neglect, consciously chosen neglect. In Texas—but also throughout the country.

Behind this severe cold, lurks the problem of global warming. It’s not a contradiction that warming might produce more cold. This is what scientists have long predicted. The warming of the atmosphere not only increases the earth’s average temperature, it increases the likelihood of extreme weather, both hot AND cold. It increases the intensity of storms and wind.

We can be sure that a system that will not winterize lines, preparing for an occasional severe winter, will not be bothered to confront the larger problem of global warming. This requires investment to prevent the whole production machine from polluting the atmosphere. That will not happen unless the drive for profit is torn up.

Capitalism has always chosen profit over human life. But in this period of economic crisis, its choices are even more deadly.

Working people also have a choice to make: to put life before the profit-making machine; to understand that this machine must be smashed.

Maryland Vaccine Factory:
Pockets Full of Profits

Mar 1, 2021

Emergent BioSolutions is a private company getting rich off government contracts. It has a 628 million dollar deal with the U.S. health department to make Covid vaccines at its factory labs in Baltimore and Rockville, Maryland. Plus it has a 480 million dollar deal with Johnson & Johnson to make its vaccine when the government authorizes it, plus an 87 million dollar deal to produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Emergent has made profits for two decades supplying the anthrax vaccine to the U.S. military to vaccinate soldiers, with production at a factory in Michigan. The company also sells vaccines for smallpox, Ebola, Zika, and Marburg to the government. And several years ago Emergent bought the lab making Narcan, which emergency responders use to treat opioid overdoses. Meanwhile the company has taken millions in tax breaks and never-repaid loans from state governments, including over 11 million dollars from Michigan and Maryland.

Emergent executives are paid millions. Last year they cashed in tens of millions of dollars of their stocks as news of Covid contracts elevated Emergent’s stock price.

Our very lives are dependent on Emergent and drug companies like them. For years, they have pulled maneuvers to put profits over anything else. Drugs that are life and death necessities for people should not be produced for greed and profit. Period!

Page 12

Chicago:
Homeless in the Cold

Mar 1, 2021

On February 9, a propane heater exploded in a homeless encampment in Chicago. In response, the fire department advised against providing homeless people with heaters.

One homeless advocate suggested giving gift cards to buy clothes or blankets instead—but then her frustration boiled over: “Is it the best option? No. Housing is the best option.... We’re in a cold-weather emergency where blankets and warm clothing alone aren’t going to be enough.”

During the so-called “good times” of 2018, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless counted 77,000 homeless people in the city. That only included people who came through shelters or had contact with homeless services. How many others never got services, lived in cars, or doubled up with a relative or friend?

Then the pandemic hit. Already in early May, when the city tested 1153 shelter residents, more than a quarter tested positive. Since then, outbreaks among the homeless have been common. In December, for instance, a West Side shelter reported half of its 130 residents tested positive.

In response, shelters have decreased bed capacity to implement social distancing. So there are fewer beds, while many more people face homelessness.

When the economy crashed, the CDC and city imposed an eviction ban—but landlords have many ways of getting around it: illegally changing the locks, cutting off electricity or water, or doing a phony repair.

And the virus made it riskier to welcome homeless friends or relatives into your home. This is especially true because most of Chicago’s homeless people still work—especially the kinds of low-wage jobs that put workers at risk of catching the disease, and potentially spreading it.

Encampments have proliferated under viaducts and overpasses. Homeless people ride the transit system, or gather in the airports and train stations. City libraries have been kept open for most of the pandemic—largely because if closed, homeless people would have that many fewer places to go. And of course, many end up in the county jail, or in a hospital.

The city has provided some homeless encampments with porta-potties and sinks. It’s begun vaccinating some of those staying and working at shelters. But in a Chicago winter, this is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Every homeless person in Chicago could have a roof over their head tonight: thousands of offices and hotel rooms are sitting empty. Thousands of construction workers are unemployed. But in this capitalist society, housing is organized to maximize the profits of investors, not to keep people warm and give them a safe place to sleep.

Jailed as an Adolescent for 68 Years

Mar 1, 2021

Joe Ligon, the oldest and longest-serving “juvenile lifer” in the U.S., was released from Phoenix State Prison in Pennsylvania on February 11, 68 years after being locked up.

Ligon, who is 83 years old, was convicted of two murders and sentenced to life without parole when he was 15. Ligon admitted that he stabbed one of the victims who survived, but he has maintained that he did not kill anyone.

Joe Ligon was part of a generation of young people who were brought north by their parents as part of the Great Migration of black people from the rural South to the northern cities in the mid- 20th century. Ligon’s parents were sharecroppers from Alabama, and moved to Philadelphia when Ligon was 13 years old. But what Ligon and his family found in the North was harsh poverty and racism, and life in a poor crime-ridden neighborhood. Like so many other young black men, Joe Ligon dropped out of school early and was illiterate at the time of his conviction.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing minors to life was unconstitutional. It took another four years, and a second Supreme Court ruling, for Pennsylvania to begin to reduce the sentences of its hundreds of juvenile lifers. At the age of 79, and having already spent more than 60 years in prison, Ligon became eligible for parole when he got re-sentenced to 35 years to life.

But Ligon refused to be released on parole. He had seen fellow inmates leave on parole and end up back on the inside on a minor violation—he did not want to be a parolee for the rest of his life. Instead, Ligon continued his legal fight to be free of the claws of Pennsylvania’s “justice system,” on the basis that a life sentence for a crime committed as a juvenile was unconstitutional. And at the age of 83, Ligon finally won his freedom, when in November a federal judge ordered Pennsylvania to either retry Ligon within 90 days or to free him.

Joe Ligon, who worked as a janitor in prison for much of his life, understood that he was not fighting just for himself. In 2016 he said, “I hope I live long enough to see no other youngster treated as I was treated.”

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of juvenile lifers who have gotten out of prison after the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, only to be on parole for life—that is, one minor infraction, or even just an accusation, away from ending up in prison again.

The legal fight against the notion of juvenile life sentences is part of a bigger, broader fight that the working class has to fight, and win, against this barbaric capitalist system.