The Spark

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

Issue no. 1126 — March 29 - April 12, 2021

U.S. Imperialism Creates False Borders, The Working Class Can Bridge Them

Mar 29, 2021

In February, almost 100,000 people arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico. It seems likely that even more will arrive in March, the majority from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Thousands of people have been arriving since 2014. In spite of increased deportations, numbers increased under Republican and Democrat administrations. In May of 2019 alone, after Trump made a big show of separating children from their parents, the U.S. detained 144,000 migrants.

These migrants keep coming, no matter what walls are built, no matter what cruelty the U.S. imposes on them, no matter who the U.S. president is. They leave their homes knowing that they will have to cross multiple militarized borders, and evade the armies of Guatemala and Mexico.

Having to wait in squalid camps in Mexico that U.S. policies have created has not stopped them, nor have the brutal gangs they confront along the way.

Why? Because they are desperate, and the hell created to block them is better than the hell they left behind.

After more than a century of U.S. economic, political, and military domination, most of the population in these countries lives in extreme poverty. There are almost no regular jobs. After two hurricanes hit last fall, huge numbers of people have no homes. According to the U.N., eight million people in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua are hungry—or about one in five of their total populations. Gangs prey on the population—the military and police leaders are often the biggest gang lords. Children and women are most at peril.

The Central American region has historically been dominated by U.S. fruit companies and the U.S. military. These economies today remain dominated by U.S. banks and corporations and local ruling classes that benefit from administering this exploitation. Their militaries are trained and armed by the U.S. and are little more than extensions of the U.S. military.

The ongoing human crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico is part and parcel of the worldwide disaster that capitalism continuously creates across the world. Millions of people have been driven out of Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia. There is ruin in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia. There are refugee camps across Europe and the Mediterranean. And yes, tens of thousands at the U.S./Mexican border.

Meanwhile, the world banks and corporations, led by U.S. imperialism, are daily dragging down the standard of living of workers in the wealthier regions, pushing workers to believe the problem is other working people of other nations. Defending borders is their strategy for separating the world’s working class and diffusing its power, for obscuring our interconnectedness.

We are one class worldwide. We already cooperate across borders even when we aren’t aware of it. Every car or truck, every phone, every house, every cup of coffee is made by the labor of people in many countries. And we are also all exploited by the same bosses—meaning we have the same enemies.

This capitalist ruling class and its political servants on the scale of the world offer no future for us but more war, more of the desperation that their system inevitably creates. It has to be rooted out and replaced by a worldwide, classless system. Communism.

There is more than enough wealth to build this kind of society right now. If the working class fought to put itself in power in a few of these countries, if that struggle then spread to others, the accumulated wealth that working people have long produced could address both man-made and natural disaster alike. The working class, in power, would assure the free circulation of people worldwide—and give the population the benefit of travel and culture reserved today for the few.

Pages 2-3

Farmer John Is Breeding COVID-19 Virus

Mar 29, 2021

A coronavirus outbreak that began at the Farmer John pork processing plant in Los Angeles County nearly a year ago has never ended, as Mother Jones reported. According to the latest county health department data, 795 workers, or nearly half the plant’s workforce, have tested positive for COVID-19, and five workers have died.

This is the largest coronavirus outbreak at any food-processing facility or other similar work site in Los Angeles, and one of the largest meatpacking plant outbreaks in the country.

And throughout this outbreak, every level of government has looked the other way. Last year, after the pandemic hit the U.S., the Trump administration ordered that such meat processing plants remain open at all costs. Then, on May 6, 2020, Fredrick Agyin, director of the health and environmental control department for the city of Vernon, where the plant is located, wrote Greg Hernandez, the plant manager: “Our office will no longer require Smithfield to submit the confirmed COVID-19 positive cases to us.” Smithfield is owner of Farmer John.

A year later, Farmer John workers continue to get sick. And every level of government, from the city on up through federal government, continues to do nothing to stop it.

In capitalism, only profits count. And the workers’ lives are disposable.

Michigan Auto Rates Still High

Mar 29, 2021

People in Michigan have had to pay high auto insurance rates for a long time.

In 2019, the state politicians who regulate insurance rates said they would do something about it. The Democratic governor and the Republican legislature passed and signed into law an auto insurance “reform” bill to supposedly lower the rates.

The law has been in effect almost a year. While some people are paying somewhat lower rates today, other people are paying higher rates. And people in Detroit are still paying extremely high rates.

Before the auto insurance “reform”, people in Michigan paid the highest rates in the country. After the “reform”, people in Michigan are still paying the highest rates!!!

So who benefitted from this “reform”? Well, since the law passed, 26 new auto insurance companies have applied to get into the Michigan market because it is so profitable.

It is obvious that the politicians of both parties passed a law that would “reform” (meaning increase) the profits of the insurance companies.

Maryland Pays Polluters to Pollute

Mar 29, 2021

The Maryland Department of the Environment is about to take 13 million dollars from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and give it to a food processing company that is a big polluter of the Chesapeake Bay!

Valley Proteins put 25 times the amount of nitrogen and ammonia allowed into the bay just during 2020. Valley Proteins, which processes chicken carcasses, along with the large Eastern Shore chicken companies, are the largest agricultural polluters in the state.

But they are hardly the only companies ignoring the laws on polluting the water, the air and the land. For decades, under Republican and Democratic governors, Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point was an enormous polluter of the waters near the plants. Bear Creek, although technically cleaned up, is also technically dead! Organisms cannot grow there thanks to decades of toxic waste, and this creek runs into a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Public money is given by state officials to corporations large and small, so the companies won’t have to pay the bill for the messes they create!

California Unemployment System Is Working for Corporate Interests

Mar 29, 2021

California’s unemployment insurance system has been one big disaster for unemployed workers. The backlog of unprocessed claims is above 1 million, and has stayed around that number for months, despite endless promises by state officials to fix the system.

But this system is working very well for some major corporations. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Deloitte, a multinational consulting firm, has made 55 million dollars off a contract with California’s EDD (Employment Development Department) to answer phone calls. Never mind that, in the whole year that has passed since the pandemic began, EDD’s system (including Deloitte’s call center) has never answered more than 10% of the calls!

Then there is banking giant Bank of America, which issues the debit cards through which unemployed Californians get their payments. Bank of America rakes in millions of dollars off the fees it collects for each transaction. (The exact amount has been kept secret by both the state authorities and the bank.) But when it was revealed that scam artists had been using Bank of America debit cards to rob the system, it turned out that Bank of America had not even provided some basic security measures, such as microchips in the cards to prevent fraud.

To these big, greedy companies, the California treasury is one big honey pot they can freely dip their fingers in. And California officials, elected or appointed, are there holding the pot for them—pandemic or no pandemic.

Vaccine-Mobile Could Be an Option

Mar 29, 2021

What is most glaring in different parts of the country is that many elders still haven’t gotten vaccinated for Covid. Maybe we can chalk it up to the fact that many of them don’t have access to a computer or the time or technical savvy to navigate provider websites. Or it could be that they can’t stay on a phone all day and night trying to get through to make an appointment. They may not have transportation to get to that appointment.

But whatever reasons for their inability to get vaccinated, there could be a solution: have massive numbers of vaccine-mobiles deployed, with health care professionals, to go TO where these elders live, whether it’s a high-rise low income building in a big city, or into small towns and rural areas.

That could be a sound way to address the problem. But, once again, it requires a rational public health care system in the U.S.—and that doesn’t exist.

Chicago:
Vaccines for the Privileged

Mar 29, 2021

Chicago’s West Side has been hit hard by the virus. The city’s response was to give out the first doses in the city at the West Side’s Loretto hospital, to much fanfare. Mayor Lightfoot said it was a demonstration of her administration’s commitment to “equity.”

But this month it came out that Loretto’s CEO made his staff available to vaccinate 200 members of the church he attends. That church is in the suburbs, and those doses were given while the city was experiencing a vaccine shortage. But the CEO and the pastor were fraternity brothers in college—so the West Side would have to wait.

A dozen traffic court judges and their spouses also did not have to wait. They got vaccinations at Loretto, at least some of them “out of turn.” Of course, all court proceedings have been conducted remotely, so why would they need to jump the line?

Then on March 10th, the hospital vaccinated 75 workers at the Trump Tower—reportedly because a high executive at Loretto owns a condominium unit there. Of course, the wealthy would want to keep themselves safe—even if that means the elderly and vulnerable wait! The same executive set up a vaccination event at a Gold Coast jeweler, and at a fancy downtown steakhouse!

One hospital staff member told a reporter, “to see that we are going against this mission to the detriment of our own community, it’s infuriating to me.” Thoroughly embarrassed by the scrutiny, the city’s answer was to cut Loretto Hospital off from further vaccine doses—which does nothing to help West Side residents finally get the vaccines they need.

With vaccination, just as everywhere else in our society, money and connections rule.

Tesla:
Skyrocketing COVID Cases and Stock Market Valuations

Mar 29, 2021

Tesla’s Fremont car manufacturing plant in California has recorded a total of around 450 COVID-19 cases since its CEO Elon Musk reopened the plant last May, violating the stay-at-home orders, according to the Washington Post. This is Tesla’s largest plant in the world, and the only assembly plant in the U.S. Roughly 10,000 people work at the plant.

Alameda County, which is supposed to enforce the stay-at-home orders, not only did nothing after Musk opened the plant, but also refused to release details about COVID-19 cases in the plant, until forced to by courts. But all these reports of cases did not prevent Musk from operating with impunity.

Tesla initially promised that its workers could remain home if they felt uncomfortable returning to the line. But workers who were concerned about COVID exposure and did not return to the plant received termination notices. One worker told the Mercury News at the time that many were opposed to restarting operations, but felt they had no choice but to show up.

Over the last year, Elon Musk increased his wealth to $185 billion from $27 billion, becoming the richest person in the world. The superexploitation of Tesla workers did this. At the same time, it devastated the health and lives of workers, many beyond repair.

Only an organized workforce could have gone against Tesla’s manipulative and ruthless drive to run this plant this way, but it is work that still remains to be done. There is no other remedy for the problem. Capitalism is even more deadly under COVID.

Pages 4-5

Racism and Sexism Walk Hand in Hand in Atlanta Shooting

Mar 29, 2021

A 21-year-old man drove to three locations in the suburbs of Atlanta and murdered eight people on March 16. When he was apprehended by police, Robert Long said he was on his way to Florida to kill more people.

Six of the seven murdered women were of Asian descent. The killer was targeting Asian massage businesses.

The eight became victims simply for being at a workplace! The seven women and one man who died were all honored by family and friends as kind, incredibly hard working people, deeply devoted to family.

Killed for Being at Work

Soon Chung Park, age 74, worked 12 hour days as a housekeeper and cook for her coworkers. Her husband, who painted houses and drove for Lyft, said their combined income last year was about $30,000.

Hyun Jung Grant was a 51-year-old single mother who had been a teacher in South Korea before coming to the U.S. She worked long hours to pay for college tuition for her two sons.

Yong Ae Yue, age 63, came to the U.S. after marrying an American soldier. She always worked several jobs, according to a close friend and her son whom she helped send to Morehouse College.

Suncha Kim, age 69, worked part-time and previously washed dishes and cleaned office buildings.

Xiaojie Tan, known to friends as Emily, age 49, was part owner of Young’s Asian Massage and worked 12 hour days.

Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez—age 33 and the mother of two, was killed while a customer. She worked at Waffle House as a server. Known for sheltering and feeding homeless friends and family, she was there for a pain management massage with her husband, a mechanic.

Less is known about Daoyou Feng, age 44, who had worked there only a few months.

Paul Andre Michels, age 54, worked as an electrician and was a handyman for the spa. He was an Army veteran originally from Detroit, Michigan.

Survivors Speaking Out

The shooting has allowed Asian Americans to speak out about how unsafe they feel. A recent Harris poll found 75% of Asian Americans report they fear increased hate and discrimination toward them.

In the wake of the shooting, women activists are speaking up and telling the truth about how the prejudice and stereotypes pushed by the rulers of this society put them in danger and belittle them.

An Asian American woman who is a journalist said, “Every time I am called a ‘chink’ or hear a part of my body appraised by a stranger, I feel ... heat rising within me.... Misogyny and racism have never lived neatly in their separate categories.”

The shooter saw himself as having a “sex addiction” and told police he killed to “eliminate temptation.” He was a member of a Southern Baptist Church (SBC) that has repudiated these murders, but not the ideas that led to these murders.

“Ideas have consequences,” according to Rachael Denhollander, a women’s abuse advocate. “Teachings that place the burden and blame for men’s sexual addictions on women are rampant in conservative theological circles.... Women [are] viewed first and foremost through the lens of their sexuality—characterized either by the danger they posed to a godly man, or as a God-given tool to satiate men so they could avoid the sin of lust.” It is a barbaric mindset that can be deadly.

Imperialism Breeds Racism

Those in power in capitalist society pin their ideas on the population. U.S. foreign wars in the Philippines, in Japan, in Korea, and in Vietnam have been shown to coincide with upticks in the objectification of Asian women. The treatment of women ends up reflecting the power inequalities between U.S. imperialism and the Asian countries it controls.

The capitalist class and their profit machine have defined roles that they expect to be met by all that they oppress.

The racist, sexist nature of U.S. society will not be fixed by reform. But growing popular anger against racism, sexism and dangerous workplaces can plant the seeds for the working class fight that is needed to overturn this rotten society.

Crash Protection Is Not Equal—No Big Surprise

Mar 29, 2021

While women get in fewer car accidents than men in the United States, they are 73% more likely to be injured and 28% more likely to die, according to new data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. One important reason for these numbers is that there is no crash test model representing the average female body used in car safety testing by federal regulators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The NHTSA didn’t even start using a female-style model until 2003 and the model used, to this day, is 4’11", 108 pounds, roughly the size of a 12-year-old girl. However, the average woman in the U.S. is around 5’4", and 171 pounds. The model is also not built like female bodies: it’s a scaled-down version of its male counterpart, despite women and men having different spinal alignments, muscle strength, etc.

So what’s the deal with this huge disconnect between what real women’s bodies are and the child-like model version of a woman’s body that is still used today? A spokesperson for the Center for Automotive Research said the reason can be traced to “bad history.” That “bad history” is how society viewed AND treated women: as second class citizens. In the past, they were supposed to stay at home, keep house, and they weren’t supposed to drive. Stay at home, that is, if they weren’t forced to work because they had to!

But today, women make up 47% of the total U.S. labor force—nearly 77 million women in 2019. And women make up more than half of all licensed drivers.

So what’s the excuse for federal regulators of vehicle safety not to take this reality into consideration and step up the work to build and use more realistic female crash test dummies? Or for auto manufacturers not to lobby for this much needed change so they could design their vehicles to be safer for their millions of women customers?

There is none except for the fact that it would cost a lot of money. And the fact that this system still relegates women to second-class citizen status.

Against the Shortage of Vaccines, Pharmaceutical Industry Must Be Requisitioned!

Mar 29, 2021

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

The epidemic is on the rise again and it’s worrying to see just how virulent it is. Some regions are facing a third wave and the disaster scenario is repeating itself with intensive care units reaching saturation, operations being canceled and patients being transported from one region to another.

It’s as if, in one year, the government has learned nothing at all. The fact that there aren’t enough beds in intensive care units to face this third wave is outright scandalous. In a highly populated area like the Paris region—home to 12 million people—the government hasn’t even created a high-capacity ward specifically dedicated to Covid on top of the existing hospitals to help absorb possible sickness peaks.

The other scandal is vaccination. A year ago, the whole world faced the unknown. There was no treatment or vaccine. So scientists worked hard. With messenger RNA technology, we now have vaccines that have even been unanimously approved by scientists for their efficacy, their adaptability to variants and the rarity of side effects. All countries are demanding and eagerly awaiting these liberating vaccines, but production is lagging behind.

Verifications have led several countries, including France, to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccinations. Prior to that, Astra- Zeneca was making the headlines because of its delivery delays. They had committed to delivering 120 million doses to the European Union in the first quarter of 2021. But, at best, they will only deliver 30 million—that’s four times less!

The labs that monopolize the patents are unable to keep up with the scheduled production rate. They haven’t built the necessary production lines or hired the workers to operate them. Sanofi—a French pharmaceutical company that made a profit of 12.3 billion euros in 2020—is about to bottle the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but it will do so by cutting jobs and increasing productivity.

The pharmaceutical trusts do not behave any differently from small-time crooks: with their vaccines, they have sold a lot of hot air. How did the European leaders react when it appeared that they had been cheated? By whining! “They’re making fun of us”, “they’re treating us badly”, some of them complained—but they have no intention of forcing big pharma to do anything.

All governments have imposed drastic constraints on their populations. In France, for a while, nursing homes were closed to visitors, and patients in palliative care were not allowed to see their loved ones. But no political leader is ready to hold the big trusts to account and force them either to make the necessary investments or to share their patents so that others can produce the vaccines.

In times of war, states have requisitioned and taken control of certain industries to put them to work for the war effort. While these requisitions temporarily dispossessed the bourgeois owners, they were always accompanied by substantial compensation. And yet in today’s war against the pandemic, this very basic measure isn’t even being considered!

Trusts hide behind commercial and industrial secrecy to avoid any form of control. Heads of state don’t even know how many vaccines will be delivered, or when, but they accept that, because that’s the normal functioning of capitalism, the system they so ardently defend.

Big capital does exactly as it pleases in other areas as well. The reason affordable housing isn’t available on a worker’s salary is because it doesn’t interest developers to provide it. If investments, research and innovation don’t take off, despite all the money that the state puts on the table, it’s because large groups are more interested in speculating on financial markets to make a quick profit.

To fight the pandemic effectively and to mass produce vaccines on a global scale, all existing production centers and planning would have to be used. But property rights and the appetite for profit of a handful of super-rich parasites stand in the way of what should be a collective production effort. It’s an unbelievable mess and it’s downright criminal because this vaccine shortage will result in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths around the world.

The bourgeoisie and its political servants have an interest in the perpetuation of this system, but the workers don’t. Since the government admits that it’s powerless, let’s call for the requisition of pharmaceutical labs and for them to be run under worker control!

Pages 6-7

A History of Class War Against Asian Immigrant Workers

Mar 29, 2021

The March 16 shootings in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead are part of a surge of anti-Asian violence, particularly against women, in the United States over the past year. Six of the dead were women of Asian descent. This violence recalls a long history of episodic violence against Asians in the U.S., going back to the late 1800s, especially during periods of capitalist crisis and wars.

First Chinese Immigrants: Working in the Mines, Building Railroads

Asian immigrants first came to the U.S. in 1848. After the U.S. defeated Mexico in the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded nearly half its territory to the U.S., including the state of California. None of this territory was very populated. So, U.S. businesses went abroad looking for labor, just as they had on the East Coast decades earlier.

This time, U.S. businesses looked to the vast population pools of Asia to recruit their workforce. Starting at the end of the 1840s, Chinese were brought to the U.S. under “coolie contracts” that were little different than the indentured contracts of colonial times on the East Coast. Most of them were farmers, artisans, craftsmen, or political exiles. With their passage arranged by labor contractors, most of them were also moved directly into labor camps. They first worked in significant numbers during the California Gold Rush, with most employed in the mines or serving as merchants of clothing and equipment for miners.

After the mines were played out and gold fever ebbed, Chinese workers were brought in to work on the railroad. In 1860, the Chinese made up 10% of California’s population, but they constituted almost 25% of its labor force. From 1865 to 1869, as many as 20,000 Chinese laborers worked on the Central Pacific Railroad, which ran from Sacramento to Promontory Summit, Utah, where it was united with the Union Pacific Railroad, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Those workers accounted for as much as 90% of the Central Pacific workforce. They took on the hardest and most dangerous tasks, but were paid 30% less than their white co-workers—the whites received higher pay and board, the Chinese lower pay and no board.

The Chinese workers organized fights to defend their interests against the company. On June 24, 1867, the entire Chinese workforce stopped work, demanding pay parity with white workers. The standoff lasted eight days, broken by a cutoff of goods and food by the company. The company refused to negotiate. But eventually, it quietly raised the Chinese workers’ pay, though not to parity.

After the railroad’s completion, many Chinese workers moved into San Francisco and other cities, coming to dominate certain industries such as cigar-making. The Chinese also began to buy land in California, developing agriculture in the arid conditions of the Western part of the continent.

Stoking Racial Divisions

In California, Chinese immigrants were pitted against other workers for jobs. Many army veterans from both North and South had been encouraged to “go West” at the end of the Civil War. They were joined by former slaves. Arriving in California, they discovered there was no gold and few offers of work. Some of these migrants fell prey to the propaganda of demagogues who organized attacks on the Chinese. In February 1867, a mob attacked groups of Chinese laborers in San Francisco and set fire to their housing. Among the worst attacks occurred in October 1871 in Los Angeles. In what became known as the “Chinese Massacre,” 21 Chinese, or more than 10% of the city’s Chinese population, were killed by a mob of ex-soldiers and Californians of different backgrounds.

Those who benefitted from driving the Chinese out were the large landowners, Anglo and Hispanic, who took over the agricultural holdings the Chinese had been able to develop.

In 1873, a major depression broke out in the U.S. To defend its profits, the capitalist class went on the offensive against the working class, imposing enormous wage and job cuts. Railroad and industrial employers stoked racial divisions by laying off white workers and replacing them with Chinese workers at lower pay. In 1875, Congress then followed these attacks up by passing the Page Act that specified that to enter the U.S., Chinese women had to prove that they were not prostitutes. Such a lurid humiliation stopped most women from seeking to enter the U.S.

In 1876, the federal government officially ended the Reconstruction Period in the South, marking the rise of Jim Crow attacks against former black slaves and their poor white allies. This racist violence then washed back across the country to California in the form of racist attacks against people of Chinese descent. The Californians in Congress supported the Jim Crow laws imposed on the Southern black population, while the Southern plantation owners supported laws barring immigration from China. Out of this tide of reaction, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese immigrants from entering the United States. It also barred Chinese non-citizens from U.S. citizenship and Chinese workers from working on government projects.

The California state constitution added to these racist provisions. No Chinese person could testify in a California court against a white defendant. Municipalities were given the power for “the removal of Chinese” to outside their borders, and authority was given the Legislature to enact laws barring the entry of Chinese immigrants into the state. (It wasn’t until 1943 that Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and then only partially, while the anti-Chinese provisions in the state constitution were only repealed in 1952.)

Japanese Immigration, Unions and Strikes

Chinese immigration was then followed by immigration from Japan and other Asian areas. All told, over a quarter of a million people made their way to the American West in the half century running up to about 1900.

The capitalist class and government officials continued to impose virulent racial divisions, continually scapegoating immigrant workers. In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt reached what became known as the Gentlemen’s Agreement with the Japanese government, which agreed not to issue new passports for laborers intending to travel to the U.S. By that time, about 40,000 Japanese, the vast majority young men, were living in California.

Most of these immigrants had been unemployed or landless agricultural workers and farmers in Japan. They intended and often did bring back brides from their homeland when they had enough money to settle down.

A significant number of Japanese immigrants opened small businesses serving the Japanese community. Some set up truck farms that provided western cities with specialized fruits and vegetables. But most worked for wages on the railroads, in agriculture and in service work in hotels and private homes.

And some of these workers took part in the labor struggles of the day. They helped build the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which sought to unite all workers into one big union. And they participated in some big strikes. For example, in Oxnard, California, 1,200 Mexican and Japanese farm laborers organized the Japanese-Mexican Association and won a hard-fought strike in 1903 against sugar beet growers.

Of course, the capitalist class fought to drive a wedge between different parts of the working class. Japanese immigrants faced the same kinds of racist policies in California as the Chinese immigrants in earlier periods. In 1907, the city of San Francisco banned Japanese students from its public schools. The state of California passed the Alien Land Law, which barred long-term leases to Japanese tenants and sales to Japanese nationals. These anti-Japanese laws had the support of politicians across the partisan spectrum, including Governor Hiram Johnson, one of the most important “progressives.”

Inside U.S. Concentration Camps

The coming of war with Japan during World War II brought the anti-Japanese witch hunt to a head. California attorney general, Earl Warren, who would go on to become a liberal chief justice of the Supreme Court, pushed to have all people of Japanese descent, citizens and non-citizens alike, put in “internment” camps until the war was over. Of course, the term “internment,” commonly used to describe the program, was a way for the government to sugarcoat what was actually happening—the mass incarceration in concentration camps of people merely because of their ancestry. By the fall of 1942, over 110,000 Japanese were forced to abandon their jobs, businesses and homes for a life in one of ten concentration camps throughout the West.

A sizeable number of people in the camps soon began to resist and revolt against this injustice, as well as against the suffocating conditions inside the camps. In 1943, more than one of every four Japanese males born in this country refused to pledge loyalty to the United States. Only 1,200 detainees accepted a government offer to leave the camps with their families and enlist in the armed forces. A larger number of uncooperative Japanese-Americans, over 18,000 in all, were relocated to a camp at Tule Lake, California, where conditions were even more brutal. Riots and collective acts of resistance resulted.

In December 1944, most inmates were finally allowed to leave the relocation camps, though 5,000 were still barred from returning to the West Coast. Over 8,000 chose to return to Japan, an extremely difficult choice since Japan had been totally destroyed during the war. For the most part, those who returned to their West Coast homes discovered that their jobs and property had been taken by others. Legal action and public protest over the course of decades eventually induced the U.S. government to offer the surviving Japanese-Americans modest financial restitution and a formal apology, which finally came in 1989.

End to Racial Divisions?

The situation today shows that there is no end to the racial divisions inside this society. This is not due to the fact that people have different backgrounds and cultures. That was and is the American working class—and one of the marks of its strength. Instead, these divisions come out of the functioning of capitalism itself, the need to deprive big parts of the working class of most or all of its rights in order for the capitalists to always increase their profits.

The only way to end these divisions once and for all is for the working class to unite together to take the power from the capitalist class in order to run society in the interests of all.

Triangle Shirtwaist Tragedy 110 Years Past

Mar 29, 2021

In March of 1911, 146 people, mostly women and girls as young as 14, died due to an enormous fire in a clothing factory in New York City. The doors and windows of the factory were kept locked and escaped.

One of the witnesses to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire wrote, “... the crowds, I among them, looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp....”

Such disasters in workplaces were common one hundred years ago. Our great grandparents could have been those immigrant workers facing locked doors and windows, 12-hour days, six-day-a-week work for $3 a week for women, $6 per week for the men who cut the cloth, with even less paid to two million young children working at the beginning of the 20th century.

The owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, who also owned other clothing factories, had been fined for other fires. When the factory owners were put on trial, they were found not guilty of manslaughter. The owners got payment from the insurers amounting to $400 per victim. But they paid only $75 to each family.

On April 2, 1911, a week after the fire, at a memorial for the Triangle Shirtwaist dead, Rose Schneiderman, a union activist and socialist, spoke angrily: “I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting.... You have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable, the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.... Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience, it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

Pages 8-9

Lebanon:
the Population Is Victim of the Government, the Banks, and Speculators

Mar 29, 2021

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

Days of protest follow one after another in Lebanon, especially with protestors blocking roads. At the same time the country continues to sink deeper into crisis, with serious consequences for the population.

Early in March, the currency was devalued even more than previously. The exchange rate crossed the symbolic threshold of 10,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar. This exacerbated poverty, which has risen for over a year.

The devaluation is a result of the soaring public debt. The rising debt was driven by the looting of the budget by the political and business clans which have governed the country for many years, and also by the banks. The national Bank of Lebanon paid astronomical interest rates to lenders in order to attract the U.S. dollars it needed to try to stabilize the lira.

Capital is now seeking to reinvest outside the country, what with the loss of confidence in Lebanon’s ability to repay its debt. But all that capital flowing out is causing a shortage of dollars, including in the central bank’s reserves.

So, after having maintained the exchange rate of 1,507 lira to the dollar for a long time, starting at the end of 2019 the lira began its rapid devaluation, reaching more than 8,000 lira to the dollar at the end of 2020. This caused a surge in prices. Lebanon’s economy cannot function without imports. To limit the impact on the population, the central bank had to subsidize imported basic necessities, such as wheat, fuel and medicine.

Wages are usually paid in lira and have seen their real value melt away. The minimum wage is now equivalent to 70 dollars a month, down from 450 dollars a month before the crisis. Mutual aid and the assistance provided by charities are less and less successful in limiting the disaster hitting the neediest families. And those who are paid their wage in dollars may only withdraw it in lira, at the much lower exchange rate of 3,900 lira to the dollar. In this way the banks keep control over the dollars—and over half the value of wages—in order to compensate for the flight of big capital abroad. Migrant workers can no longer remit their wages to feed their families back in their countries of origin, like Ethiopia and Bangladesh. Most of them lost their jobs and were forced to leave Lebanon.

The price increases are starting to affect products subsidized by the central bank. The price of bread has increased by half, with the authorities claiming that the price of flour on the world market has risen. But at the same time, merchants who receive government subsidies still raise prices, sometimes with the complicity of the same authorities. Some traders divert merchandise to sell it at a better price in other countries. Or they hoard goods in anticipation of subsidies ending, since the central bank floats that possibility given the steady depletion of its foreign reserves. Faced with shortages, recent days have seen instances of mobs and fights in supermarkets to obtain subsidized products. And in addition to the lack of intensive care space in hospitals to accommodate patients with Covid-19, there is a growing inability to pay hospital fees that private hospitals charge patients.

In January protests erupted in the country’s poorest city, Tripoli. Protesters stormed the homes of city officials, including billionaire and former prime minister Najib Mikati. The army was deployed to protect the officials. The army fired, killing one protestor and injuring more than 300 others. Adding to the crackdown was the arrest of 35 people on charges of terrorism, which carries the death penalty.

The political situation remains deadlocked six months after the administration resigned following a deadly explosion at the port of Beirut, which was the consequence of official negligence. Nothing has changed in the behavior of the political leaders. Their various clans continue bartering to assign seats in a future administration, as they always have done.

So protests continue in the form of blockades, to resist this situation in which the majority of the population sinks into poverty. But more than just the corrupt political class must be brought down. The whole capitalist class of speculators, bankers, and profiteers has to go!

Myanmar/Burma:
Workers Against the Junta

Mar 29, 2021

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

The February 1st coup d’état, which sent Aung San Suu Kyi to prison after five years in power, touched off a powerful reaction by the Burmese population. Escalating repression has caused at least 183 deaths among protestors to date, and led to thousands of arrests, without curbing the opposition movement.

On March 14th alone, no fewer than 50 were killed in the industrial zone of Hlaing Tharyar, where the army invaded, burned barricades, and openly fired on the opposition. Martial law was declared there as well as in other worker residential communities. The repression falls particularly on places where workers are concentrated because workers, in particular young textile workers, play an important role in this mobilization.

Burma, or Myanmar, a former British colony, is among the poorest countries in the world. But its industry has seen spectacular growth over the last decade. Alongside the existing exploitation of natural resources, capital has been invested in light industry starting in the early 2000s, attracted by the low wages—as low as three dollars a day.

Just about every big-name clothing brand produces there now: Adidas, Benetton, C&A, The Gap, H&M, Lidl, Primark ..., subcontracting through companies based in China or Singapore. Today, the textile and food industries together count at least a million workers, often women, in this country of 54 million.

The Burmese working class has grown rapidly over the last decade. Many are peasants driven from the land by expropriations, or due to the destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 [a “cyclone” is what a hurricane is called in the Indian Ocean]. They are so-called “domestic migrants” and live in shanties and shacks on the edges of cities. Over the last decade, they have gone on strike many times, fought, and organized unions.

Even before the coup d’état, many factories used the pandemic as an excuse for mass layoffs, focusing these on unionized workers—the army was already coming in to shut down strikes and arrest organizers.

According to testimony from militants, the announcement of the coup d’état was taken to be a direct threat to the workers. “With the army in power, it would be like before, we would lose our rights, and the employers would once again oppress the workers and lower their wages. That’s what we can expect,” said a worker from an industrial zone.

February 6th saw one of the first open demonstrations against the dictatorship, after calls for a strike and for civil disobedience. Workers organized it, as told by a union militant: “We held a meeting for all workers and started talking about labor rights, rights that we are losing under the dictatorship. On February 5, the workers decided to march.”

According to another militant: “In Hlaing Tharyar there are about 300 factories. Almost all of the factories participated. If a factory has a union inside, the union organized the strike, and the workers all joined. In the factories without a union, the workers individually got their leave and also participated in the protest. So the crowd was huge.

China Labor Bulletin, a web newsletter for Chinese unionists, quoted a white collar worker who had never before supported a strike: “In the first few days after the coup, there was no obvious response. We were waiting for someone who could lead us and denounce the military…. It was inspiring to see that the garment workers took to the streets, potentially in the face of bullets and batons. That gave us courage to do the same.

It’s difficult to gauge the degree of mobilization and the level of class consciousness of the Burmese working class, given how little information trickles out. In any event, it is clear that a segment of the workers saw the coup d’état as a threat of worsened exploitation and decided to react using their own means. A worker at Bogard Lingerie said as much: “For us, the first priority should be to take down the dictator. Under military rule, there will be no rights for our workers.

Evanston’s Meager “Reparations”

Mar 29, 2021

The Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois passed a bill to pay out “reparations” to some of its black residents. Black people who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, or the descendants of those who did, or who can prove they experienced housing discrimination after that date, can get grants of up to $25,000 to help with mortgage costs, a down payment, or home improvements.

The Evanston city council admits that discriminatory realtors and the city government forced black residents into a ghetto neighborhood. True enough!

But how will $25,000 housing grants change that? According to Zillow, the average home in Evanston costs $432,000. If it were $25,000 less—“only” $407,000—would homes suddenly be affordable?

In fact, these grants are designed to keep the black population in Evanston—the city council admits as much. If it works, this will mostly mean keeping black residents in that same ghetto neighborhood, where housing is cheaper. These black workers, after all, provide a low-wage workforce for Northwestern University and the businesses that surround it.

California:
Slave Labor in Prisons

Mar 29, 2021

Samuel Brown, an inmate at a state prison in Lancaster, California, is challenging the system of forced labor in prisons. Brown, who has spent 24 years in California prisons, said he has been forced to work, without having a say on the type of work he did, his pay, or his safety. Most recently, Brown said, he was put on COVID-related sanitation duties, for 55 cents an hour.

There is practically no type of work that prison inmates don’t do. They cook, clean, and do other work needed to keep up prisons. Inmates also produce all kinds of goods, including license plates, road signs, furniture and clothing. In California in particular, prisoners also make up an important part of the fire crews that fight wildfires every year.

For all this work, however, inmate workers are paid much less than the legal minimum wage; sometimes as little as 8 cents an hour. It’s robbery in broad daylight.

As long as there is forced labor and state constitutions that have conditions for ‘involuntary servitude,’” Brown said, “there is still slavery.”

The 13th Amendment, added to the U.S. Constitution after the Civil War, abolished slavery. But it made the exception that slavery and involuntary servitude could be used as “punishment for crime.” States then adopted similar wording in their own constitutions. Brown and his fellow activists are presenting an amendment to the California Constitution, known as the California Abolition Act, so that it bans involuntary servitude under all circumstances.

If forced labor is still alive and well in the U.S., it’s because of the very nature of capitalism: In its relentless pursuit of profit, the capitalist class always looks for ways to strip people of their rights in order to take greater advantage of them.

Pages 10-11

OSHA:
Even More Useless in the Pandemic

Mar 29, 2021

Workers have filed many more safety complaints with OSHA in 2020—not at all surprising, given a deadly pandemic. And during the biggest nationwide safety crisis in a century, OSHA inspections have DROPPED by half! And many of the inspections that did happen were “remote”—they didn’t even visit the workplace. That may keep the inspectors safe ... but it certainly doesn’t help the workers.

Amazon Workers Are Peeing in Bottles

Mar 29, 2021

Amazon’s public relations department last week suddenly declared: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.” But this declaration convinced everybody that “the peeing in bottles thing” is the real thing. “I was the person who found the pee in the bottle. Trust me, it happened,” immediately tweeted reporter James Bloodworth, who worked undercover at Amazon in Britain.

Amazon’s delivery service providers commonly force their truck drivers to work fourteen-hour shifts, and pressure them to meet strict delivery times.

One Amazon driver, James Meyers, said, “I saw no effort on Amazon’s part to push delivery service providers to allow their drivers to use the restroom on a normal human basis, leading many, myself included, to urinate inside bottles for fear of slowing down our delivery rates.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s Washington, D.C. mansion has 25 bathrooms, while his delivery drivers don’t have access to even one bathroom! Now everybody is wondering what Amazon’s next move will be. Getting into the lucrative business of selling workplace pee bottles delivered in no time, perhaps?

Dethrone the Tech Kings!

Mar 29, 2021

During the past year of the Covid pandemic, over 20 million people in this country lost their jobs and about 10 million workers still haven’t returned to work. But while millions of families were being pushed toward poverty, there was a tiny group of people who were enriching themselves—the capitalist class of billionaires.

Just for one example, there were nine people whose own personal wealth increased by more than 360 billion dollars in just the past year. These nine people included Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk of Tesla, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft and the heads of other tech companies. It’s hard to even imagine how much money 360 billion dollars is. But to give some perspective, the wealth of these nine people increased by an amount that was almost equal to the total amount of all the stimulus checks that will be paid to almost 300 million people!!!

Bezos alone had his wealth increase by 58 billion dollars, which was more than the total amount he paid to all of Amazon’s hourly employees last year!!!

Here’s an idea. Take these profits back, and double the stimulus checks—for a start. And then fire the Fab 9 and give the employees the keys to the kingdom.

If It Takes a Revolution to Get a Union...

Mar 29, 2021

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

Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama are right now voting whether they want a union. If the result depended on what workers had already declared, they would today have their union. Almost a half year ago, 3,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted a union. That’s 3,000 out of the total 5,800 people working at the warehouse. A clear majority signed for the union.

But this country has long been a bastion of anti-union activity and well-financed barriers to union organizing. It’s not enough to make it emphatically clear what workers want. Not enough to show with their signature they want a union. They have to get the government to “authorize” their union, go through a convoluted mess of legal steps, just to get an NLRB election scheduled. Then, they have to wait on the election while the company tries to tie up the process in the courts.

You wait, while some union supporters are ridden out of the plant, their livelihood taken from them. You wait, while the company schedules mandatory meetings, where it tells one lie after another. If you speak up, it can cost you your job. Then, there are all the little things: the indignity of sitting on the toilet, having to face anti-union slogans plastered inside every stall, every day, for months on end. And there are the big ones: your co-worker who collapsed on the floor from Covid.

Amazon brags that it pays $15 an hour. That’s not even true, given how Amazon schemes to shave down wages. But even if it were true, $15 an hour comes to only a little more than $30,000 a year for full time work. Amazon’s top executive, Jeff Bezos, increased his wealth by 63 billion dollars last year alone. One greedy, useless man grabbed more wealth than the total wages of all Amazon’s workers put together—not only its 500,000 workers in this country, but also its million and a half workers on the scale of the planet.

Bezos’ wealth came from the blood, sweat and tears—and broken bones—of Amazon workers.

Amazon brags that it organizes its work “aggressively.” That’s true. Amazon is aggressive. It times every task, records every move a worker makes. Any extra time gets marked down. Too much “extra” time taken to grab the items needed, stuff them into packages or send the packages on their way costs someone their job.

All this “aggression” is what poured billions of dollars into the bank accounts of all the Jeff Bezoses in this capitalist world.

Workers throughout Amazon’s empire this year walked out—over heat, over attempts by managers to push up speed, over the rapid spread of Covid, which Amazon tried to keep hidden.

Workers had already attempted at other Amazon facilities to organize a union. They may not have succeeded. But this didn’t keep workers at Bessemer from trying.

Will workers at Bessemer get their union? It’s clear they want it. But the real question is, what will they have to do to get it—and keep it—even if the union wins this vote.

Amazon, which viciously stomped on every attempt to organize, is as bad as any shark from the 1930s who fought to stop workers from organizing.

Workers in that period finally did manage to get their unions. They did it by carrying out the kinds of struggles that anti-union laws prohibited. They ignored the courts. They faced down the police and won over the National Guard. They organized sitdowns, occupied the plants, spread their strikes from one company to the next, from one city to the next. The capitalists thought they owned the plants. The workers showed who controlled them.

Just to get their unions, they practically had to make a revolution.

The same is true today. However the vote in Bessemer turns out, if workers want to keep and build their union, they will need a revolutionary spirit and goal.

And maybe we need to think about this: if you have to make a revolution just to get a union, why not carry out each struggle as far as it will go, with the aim of taking over and running the whole society?

Page 12

George Floyd’s Murder
—An Open and Shut Case

Mar 29, 2021

Jury selection for the trial of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, charged for the murder of George Floyd, is finally complete. It’s now known the jury is composed of nine women and six men; nine of whom describe themselves as white, four as black, and two as mixed race.

How this will play out in their decisions on a verdict is anybody’s guess. Prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned potential jurors endlessly about whether they can be ‘impartial’ in rendering a verdict, how familiar they are with the case, and whether they have sympathies for the murderer or the victim.

How ridiculous! The whole world has seen video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, with two other cops kneeling on Floyd’s back, and another cop standing guard. All the while Floyd said “I can’t breathe!” and told the cops he was dying. A crowd of onlookers pleaded with them to get off of him, because they were killing him.

It’s been over nine months since George Floyd was killed. The reaction has been international, The world’s population has already judged Chauvin and his partners guilty. Yet without the mass demonstrations involving millions of people in over 2,000 cities around the world, these cops probably wouldn’t even be facing a trial.

The city of Minneapolis admitted as much when it awarded Floyd’s family 27 million dollars to settle their wrongful death lawsuit.

This trial will not bring justice. It can’t bring George Floyd back, nor the countless number of those killed in a long history of racist violence.

There have been times in history, when masses of the population have imposed their will on authoritarian governments. There is, however, no reforming a system based in slavery and exploitation.

The whole society has to be overturned and replaced, with a system that puts life before profit.

NFL’s Racist Tricks

Mar 29, 2021

Black former football players have filed a lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL) because the league is discriminating against black players in the NFL concussion lawsuit settlement.

Years ago, thousands of former NFL players filed a lawsuit against the league because of all the head injuries and repeated concussions they suffered while playing football. For years, the NFL denied and tried to cover up the fact that head injuries and concussions were causing great harm to the players. But finally, the NFL was forced to settle the lawsuit and agreed to pay the former players some money.

Now, over 20,000 former NFL players have applied for this settlement. So far, almost 75% of the players, both black and white, were denied any money. But black players were denied at an even higher rate. In some cases, a black player and a white player would test at the same cognitive level and the white player would get money and the black player would be denied.

Why? Because following the NFL guidelines, the doctors were supposed to assume that the former black players started out with a lower cognitive ability. So if a former white player and a former black player were at the same cognitive level today, the doctor was supposed to assume that white player suffered a bigger decline than the black player!

This racist garbage reflects the NFL’s desperate attempt to establish a block against further liability. After all, black players make up about 70% of the NFL players today.

The league just signed a new TV contract that will pay the NFL owners 105 billion dollars. And that is on top of the money the owners make on marketing and ticket sales. The amount of money paid to the former players in this lawsuit amounts to much less than one percent of all this money.

All the NFL players, black and white, through their years of work and training and sacrificing their bodies, have produced huge profits for the NFL owners.

Head injuries caused many former players to suffer mental impairment, early onset of dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These diseases led to many former players dying or committing suicide at a young age.

And now this parting insult. The outrage at the NFL’s attempt to use blatant racist tactics should extend beyond the league to the general population.