The Spark

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

Issue no. 1133 — July 19 - August 2, 2021

Families Need $300 Plus the Wealth of Wall Street!

Jul 19, 2021

Payments of $300 a month to parents of children five and under, and $250 a month for each child age six to 17, were sent out by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on July 15. The IRS estimates that 88% of families with children will qualify for at least some help from the Child Tax Credit program.

As any parent knows, there are as many ways to spend this money as there are children in the U.S. Parents have told interviewers they plan to spend on child care, school supplies, medical care, a bed for their child, diapers, and food.

These payments came out of a temporary change in the previous $2,000 per child federal income tax credit. For one year only, amounts were increased to $3,000 for older kids and $3,600 for kids age five and under.

Instead of getting the money at the time of tax filing in 2022, one half of the money is paid in six monthly installments between July and December 15, 2021. Getting the other half of the money will require filing a federal tax return in 2022.

This temporary expansion represents roughly 6% of the 1.9 trillion-dollar March 2021 COVID-19 Stimulus Package. When added to a temporary food stamps increase, this tiny increase to the social safety net allows over 40% of poor children in the U.S. to experience a few months of their childhood above the federal poverty line—only a few months!

According to the skimpy way the federal government makes calculations, 10 million U.S. children live in poverty. Even with this one-year program, six million children will remain in poverty. What kind of so-called leaders trumpet this as a great expansion of the social safety net?!

How cruel that in the wealthiest country in the world, any child ever is condemned to live below the federal poverty line!

Many may wonder, what is the catch with the $300 monthly payments? The catch is that if you work for a living, this was your money to begin with, since the majority of taxes paid to the IRS come from wages and not from corporate profits—from the tremendous wealth that workers’ labor produces, and companies take.

At the start of 2021, the richest one percent in the U.S. held 32% of U.S. wealth, the highest percentage since this statistic began to be tracked in 1989. The bottom 50% of wage earners were holding only two percent of U.S. wealth.

With all of the pandemic economic packages put into place in 2020 during the first wave of COVID-19, wage earners in the bottom 50% saw a collective 700-billion-dollar boost in household wealth.

But this is a sick joke compared to the amount of extra wealth racked up in just one year by the richest one percent. What was their “share”? The wealthiest one percent saw a 10 trillion dollar increase in new wealth in 2020!

If this same amount had gone equally to every person in the U.S., that would have meant $30,000 dollars each for every man, woman, child and baby!

The federal government knows very well how to help out their true constituency. Ever since the crash of 2008, the Federal Reserve has handed out free money at near zero percent interest rates and has bought up 8.1 trillion dollars in government, mortgage and corporate debt. The Fed is pushing a tsunami of money to the wealthiest one percent! That’s more wealth the working class created, with which the richest get bailed out.

Meanwhile, workers struggle more and more.

Right now, according to the Federal Reserve’s own data, almost 1 out of 4 adults need medical care but can’t afford it. A $400 unexpected expense is beyond what 35% of adults can handle. Young people are drowning in student debt. Yet families are supposed to celebrate a few hundred dollars that could only disappear soon?

Essentially, the government is repackaging workers’ same tax money in a slightly different way, while the Fed hands over the real money for stock market speculation and buying up corporate debt—with a price tag the working class will be expected to pay.

This economic system is upside down, turned on its head, just so that a small group of super billionaires can buy another yacht or go into space on an adventure. It is best to face facts. Until the working class uses the power it has to flip this situation onto its feet, until it organizes, fights, and takes down this rigged system, there will be no end to poverty for an ever-growing part of the population.

Pages 2-3

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Crises, and No Help

Jul 19, 2021

Last year, 93,000 people in this country died of drug overdoses—the most ever. This was almost 30% more than in 2019. To put this number in context, it is more than ten times the number who died of overdoses during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in 1988.

Some of the increase in deaths is certainly due to the use of fentanyl, a dangerously powerful drug that is increasingly mixed with many other drugs.

But more lethal drugs can only account for part of this, because the increase in deaths is just the tip of the substance abuse iceberg that has been made worse by the isolation this country imposed in response to the pandemic. One study found that alcohol consumption went up by about 14% in 2020 compared to 2019. In Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana, sales passed two billion dollars, up from 1.7 billion in 2019 and the most in any year since the drug was legalized in 2014. Other states that have legalized marijuana saw similarly large increases in sales. And for every overdose death, how many more people are addicted to opioids or other dangerous drugs?

That increasing numbers of people are addicted to substances, or at any rate cannot cope with reality sober, goes hand in hand with the increase in mental health problems of all sorts. According to a June 2020 survey, 25% of all adolescents reported that they had thought about killing themselves in the last month. Emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts for those 12 to 17 went up 31% in 2020 compared to 2019.

In the midst of this crisis, the already patchy network of substance abuse treatment programs and mental health providers has fallen apart. Holly Wheeler, who runs an organization that links Indiana families to resources, said, “We’re in a crisis situation. It’s buckling under the weight of all of these people who really, truly, need treatment.”

Across huge swaths of the country, there is literally no treatment available: for instance, the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan does not have a single child psychiatrist or pediatric psychiatric bed. One result: increasing numbers of people, especially children, spend days warehoused in an emergency room waiting for a psychiatric bed to open up. In Massachusetts, for instance, this “emergency room boarding” of children in mental health crisis increased at least 200% from 2019 to 2020.

It is already a damning indictment of this society that so many people—including children—are thrown into mental health crises, that so many turn to drugs and alcohol, abusing them often to the point of death.

That this society—that has never once run out of money for a bank bailout or corporate tax break—cannot even provide the most basic care and treatment? It is the choice a tiny minority of filthy rich people make to put profit over human life.

Sorry State of Virginia Mental Hospitals

Jul 19, 2021

Virginia has stopped admitting new patients at five of its eight state mental hospitals. Staffing shortages have created severe safety issues for the patients and the staff. There are more than 1,500 patient-support staff vacancies across the state. In just the last few weeks, more than 100 people have resigned from Virginia’s state mental hospitals, citing unsafe working conditions and long hours.

It’s not just staffing shortages. All the hospitals are running at or near capacity. Meaning they are dangerously overcrowded AND short-staffed.

There have been 63 serious injuries to patients and staff since July 1 alone, according to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). This situation has been brewing for years.

There are several factors that have led to this crisis. Not least of which is the fact that Virginia has put precious little resources into community-based mental health services (clinics, crisis centers, hotlines). This means people don’t get the help they need when they need it, they reach a crisis point and wind up needing to be hospitalized. Little money goes into preventing hospitalizations in the first place.

In 2014 legislation was passed in Virginia commonly known as its “bed of last resort” law. Under this code, Virginia’s psychiatric hospitals are required to admit patients after an eight-hour period if a bed can’t be found at another facility, including private hospitals with behavioral units. Private facilities can cherry pick and not take in complicated or aggressive patients.

The result is not only skyrocketing admissions but an increase in admissions of seriously ill patients into dangerously overcrowded and understaffed hospitals—where no one is safe, and healing and recovery are not possible.

The hospitals were losing staff prior to the pandemic but started hemorrhaging staff after COVID swept through the hospitals. Many staff left to protect themselves from COVID. Filling the vacancies has been difficult because the pay is so low, literally poverty wages, and the working conditions are so bad with long hours and overcrowded, high patient to staff ratios.

Virginia’s mental health system has been allowed to crumble over the years to the point of near collapse. Hospitals are hardly even warehouses for the mentally ill. And now they are not taking new admissions? So, people can languish in emergency rooms. Or be left on their own to commit suicide, or injure or kill other people.

All this at a time when there is a mental health emergency in this country, exacerbated by the extreme social isolation brought on by the mishandling of the pandemic. Depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide all have jumped up dramatically. And Virginia is leaving these people and those around them out in the cold!

Illinois:
Police “Reform”?

Jul 19, 2021

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker just signed a new law that, among other things, bars cops from lying to minors during interrogations.

In other words, they admitted that it was regular practice up to this point to lie to young people.

And the bill doesn’t bar cops from lying to minors generally—just from lying during interrogations. So, if a cop lies to a child on the street, or to a kid they have in a cop car—that is still fine.

So is lying to adults, under any circumstances.

The conclusion is obvious: we have no reason to believe anything the police say.

Homeless Women:
From Violence to Violence

Jul 19, 2021

The Federal government’s policy toward COVID-19 pushed three million women from the labor force, with its lack of support to raise their kids as the shutdowns went on. Then, reports of domestic violence increased by double digits. For the women who build up the courage to leave, they usually run away with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The available services are out of reach for many women seeking help. These agencies place several conditions before providing help. For example, transitional living facilities only help people who have been homeless for over a year. Battered women’s shelters only provide services after the woman has fled and filed a restraining order. Other shelters require these women to quit their jobs upon entry.

With no independent source of income, they flee from one form of violence at home only to face another on the streets. Now in the U.S., 57% of women who flee domestic violence end up on the streets. But they face violence on the streets. For example, according to one study, 40% of homeless women in Los Angeles faced some form of violence inflicted by their partners in the last year.

The capitalists exploit women’s unpaid labor in raising the next generations. Since they have established this system which makes women responsible, they are not about to cut into their profits to provide the necessities for women to truly escape this cycle of violence.

The exploitation of unpaid female labor, old as slavery, a form of slavery, can only be rooted out by revolution.

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan:
A Privatization Scheme, Just like Trump’s

Jul 19, 2021

President Joe Biden is proposing to pay much of the cost of his “Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan” through privatizing parts of the infrastructure—something the Democrats opposed when Donald Trump proposed it during his presidency.

Such schemes in the past have led to selling off expressways to private interests at fire-sale prices, for example, for which the population then ends up paying tolls. Another example is Chicago’s leasing of parking meters to a Wall Street firm for 75 years. The deal not only led to an increase in parking fees, but it obliges the city to guarantee profits by paying the company off when the city closes streets for events.

In fact, by guaranteeing investors a profit, privatization schemes always end up costing the population more than government-run services; and generally the service also gets worse, because companies providing it cut corners to increase profit.

But that’s exactly why politicians running the government at all levels, both Republican and Democrat, are such big fans of privatization, whether they admit it openly or not. It’s one of the ways in which they hand out big profits to the capitalist class.

Pages 4-5

FDA’s Revolving Door for Businesses

Jul 19, 2021

Janet Woodcock, the current head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), called for an “investigation” into links between FDA staff and pharmaceutical company Biogen after the approval of a controversial Alzheimer’s drug, called Aduhelm.

The FDA should never have approved this drug in the first place. FDA’s own experts and eleven advisors unanimously warned that Biogen had not shown that this drug slows the brain-destroying disease. FDA’s own statistician recommended the drug be rejected. Three FDA advisers later resigned over the decision. One of them, Harvard University’s Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, called it the "worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history."

Not only was this drug not effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease, but it also had worrisome side effects. Biogen’s clinical trials showed that patients treated with the drug were three times as likely to suffer brain swelling and hemorrhages compared to those not treated with the drug. Other side effects included painful headaches, vision loss, disorientation and falls.

But this drug is a very profitable product, costing $56,000 a year. Considering that the vast majority of about 6 million Americans with Alzheimer’s are old enough to qualify for Medicare, this drug will allow Biogen to use the U.S. health care system as a cash cow, with which the FDA had no desire to interfere.

No, the FDA is not there to protect the “little guy.” Senior pharmaceutical executives leave their jobs to join the FDA to influence the agency in enacting decisions favorable to corporate profits. For example, FDA’s Patrizia Cavazzoni, who oversaw the approval of this Alzheimer’s drug, joined FDA in 2018 after working many years for drug giants Pfizer, Sanofi, and Lilly. Also, these companies provide FDA officials with cushy industry jobs after they leave the FDA.

The current FDA commissioner, Janet Woodcock, is yet another example. She, as a director of FDA’s drug department, approved the opioid drug Opana without adequate evidence of safety or long-term efficacy, among other questionable decisions.

Over nearly four decades, the pharmaceutical companies hired nine out of the last ten FDA commissioners. This revolving door speaks louder than words to show the immense influence for-profit companies have on the FDA.

What Voting Rights?

Jul 19, 2021

This year, the Republican Party has changed voting and election laws in about a dozen states by making it harder to vote early or by mail. Some of these measures include banning or restricting drop boxes and shortening early or absentee voting periods.

These restrictions are obviously aimed at discouraging some poor and working people from voting. The Republicans’ political calculation is that this will undercut the Democrats and make it easier for the Republicans to win close elections.

Don’t look to the courts to stop these restrictions. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favor of keeping voting restrictions that affect working people and the poor, which it did again in its latest decision in early July.

Don’t count on the Democrats to stop these latest restrictions, either. Sure, Biden made a big speech vowing to fight for voting rights, and the Democrats in Texas temporarily stopped the Texas state government from passing new voting restrictions by flying to Washington. But these were little more than a big show. Because the Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress by a small margin, but they still didn’t get a federal law passed that they claim would beef up the old Voting Rights Act ... because some of their own members wouldn’t vote for it.

Some defenders of the right to vote! Even in states that the Democrats control, millions of working people have to wait in line for hours to vote—because of the lack of polling stations due to all the cutbacks to government services that Democrats impose, in order to pay for big tax breaks to Big Business and the rich.

The fact is that the only rights that working people have are those we are ready to fight for. The only way black people got the right to vote was through a massive movement that swept through the entire country and lasted decades. The only way that women got the right to vote was through a movement that lasted almost a century!

And today, over 20 million immigrants in this country still don’t have the right to vote. They make up an important part of the workforce. They help produce and make society run. But they don’t have even minimal political rights.

And the same goes for over five million former prisoners, who overwhelmingly come out of the working class.

This may be a democracy, but it is only for the rich. It is their government, run by both their parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. And an election won’t change that. The only way working people will get their full rights will be to organize together to fight to throw the whole bunch out.

Climate Change and the Oil Industry

Jul 19, 2021

A series of heat waves with record-breaking temperatures scorched the Northwest for weeks in June and July. Combined with a severe drought crippling western states, the extreme heat then triggered dozens of large, devastating wildfires that have been raging across more than 1 million acres of land, including high-elevation forests in western U.S. and even forests in the boreal region of western Canada near the Arctic.

Exxon made headlines six years ago, when it was revealed that already in the 1970s, the company knew that burning fossil fuels at the same rate would lead to the kind of disasters we are seeing today. But for decades, Exxon executives continued to hide this information from the public; and they bribed politicians to undermine legislation aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

By the 1990s, scientists were predicting the occurrence of more, and more severe catastrophes due to global warming. But throughout the 1990s and much of the 2000s, oil industry executives denied it. Seeing a threat to their exorbitant profits, oil companies called into question the role of human activity in global warming, and bought politicians, as well as a small number of scientists, to help Big Oil to deceive the population.

Today, in the face of the overwhelming evidence, Big Oil executives no longer deny that burning fossil fuels is behind these catastrophes. But it’s just words. They have not changed their policies in the slightest; and the latest proof for this are the words of Keith McKoy, an executive and lobbyist for ExxonMobil.

During a conversation recorded secretly, which McKoy was made to believe was a job interview, McKoy bragged about Exxon’s machinations to forestall legislation to reduce carbon emissions. He described how Exxon has been lobbying (that is, bribing) Congress members from both parties. McKoy names politicians and gestures as if angling for fish, likening his own part in this to that of a fisherman—the fish being the politicians.

Exxon and the rest of the oil industry continue to fight every effort directed against global warming, knowing full well that disasters caused by global warming are throwing millions of people into misery—while their profits continue to go through the roof.

They are merchants of death and destruction, who are being richly rewarded for their crimes by a system that puts their greed above human life—a system called capitalism.

California:
Hiring Robo-dialers to Reach the Unemployment Office

Jul 19, 2021

Unemployed Californians are hiring private companies to robo-dial the phone number of the Employment Development Department (EDD) for them—for a fee for service that varies between $20 and $80, depending on the company and what EDD line is being called.

An EDD spokesperson said, “We never encourage folks to pay for services they can get for free.” But unemployed workers are paying these companies exactly because they are NOT getting the services!

For people who call the EDD, the typical time on hold is TWO HOURS before they can talk to an agent. But people can’t get a hold line in the first place, so they are hiring robo-dialers just to get a hold line for them.

The number of unprocessed and stalled unemployment claims in California has hovered around 1 million for months. So, hundreds of thousands of people have been trying to reach California’s EDD by phone because they are not getting the much-needed unemployment checks so they can pay their bills.

That, however, is not a concern for the politicians who run the California government. If it were, they would have solved this problem a long time ago.

Bangladesh:
Murderous Capitalism

Jul 19, 2021

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

More than 50 workers were killed and dozens more were injured in a fire at a food factory in a suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 9.

The six-story factory produced candies, jams, and fruit juices. Stocks of flammable products and plastics were stored inside. The fire spread very quickly. Some of the workers had to jump from windows. Others took refuge on the roof, where firefighters evacuated them. But the emergency exits on the third floor were locked, trapping around 50 workers.

In addition to multiple safety violations, the investigation found that the factory employed 11-year-old children, paid 20 cents an hour. The boss and managers were arrested for manslaughter. But even though the judges and authorities will no doubt reiterate that it is important to follow safety guidelines, practices will continue as before.

In 2013, the collapse of Rana Plaza killed more than 1,100 people working under similar conditions, mostly for major European clothing brands. The scandal that ensued seems to have intimidated the textile bosses somewhat. But other factories and apartment buildings continue to burn or collapse, killing hundreds of the poor every year.

For capitalists, the obligation to work safely is only a hindrance, an attack on their freedom to operate. In rich countries, it took decades of workers’ struggles to impose a few rules on them, which they constantly try to break. But in the poor countries their true predatory nature is revealed.

Space Tourism:
Whimsies of the Rich

Jul 19, 2021

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

British billionaire Richard Branson, boss of Virgin, has managed to climb 55 miles into space, stealing the show from Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, who was scheduled to take off on July 20.

Bezos retorted that he really will enter space, crossing the fateful 62-mile line, and picking up any space tourist willing to shell out 28 million dollars for three minutes of weightlessness. Branson only asks 230,000 dollars of future space tourists—his operation is low-cost!

SpaceX boss Elon Musk couldn’t help but brag that he’s got the biggest rocket and that he will send millionaires into orbit at the end of the year.

So now, with space flight as with many other scientific conquests: in the hands of a few scoundrels, space flight becomes a ridiculous toy for millionaires, next to their yachts, their thoroughbreds, and their racing cars.

Pages 6-7

The 1941 Ford Strike

Jul 19, 2021

This year is the 80th anniversary of the strike by Ford workers that was one of the most significant victories of the union organizing campaigns of the 1930s and 40s.

Many of those organizing drives were led by worker militants who were socialists and communists. In auto, including at Ford, many of the leading organizers were members of the Communist Party (CP). They helped organize the UAW by building networks of workers in the plants and by leading many of the strikes and sit-down strikes that forced the auto companies to recognize the UAW as the workers’ union.

By 1941, Ford was the only major auto company that still held out. Ford was violently anti-union. At the Rouge complex just outside Detroit, where about 85,000 people worked, Ford had their own private army, inside and outside the plant, for the purpose of keeping the union out. The Ford Service Department, numbering about 8,000, consisted of thugs, goons and spies, many of whom were former criminals and gangsters. They were used to identify the union organizers and supporters in the plant and then threaten them and attack them in the streets or at their homes. Many union organizers and union supporters were also fired.

Another part of Ford’s strategy to keep the union out was to hire black workers at a time when most other companies refused to hire them. Ford recruited black workers by working through ministers in some black churches. Ford hoped that these workers would be grateful and loyal to the company, even though most of the black workers were assigned to the worst jobs, like in the foundry. If that strategy didn’t work, Ford was also ready to play on divisions between black workers and white workers to keep the workforce divided.

Ford’s use of terrorism and division were among some of the obstacles that the CP militants and the other union organizers inside Ford had to overcome. Over the years, these militants built a strong network of workers throughout all the plants in the Rouge complex. This network became the basis for the union. By early 1941, thousands of Ford workers were openly wearing union buttons and union caps in the plant, defying Ford’s Service Department goons. If Ford’s thugs attacked them, they often responded in kind.

The fight of the Ford workers at the Rouge began to build. On March 13, 1941, when Ford fired some union members in one building, 3,000 workers sat down on the job in protest. On March 18, 6,000 workers in another building sat down on the job until some fired union workers were brought back to work. On March 19, workers in still another building went on strike until the company agreed to rehire fired union members.

On April 2, after Ford fired a union committeeman, workers in the rolling mill stopped work and the strike spread throughout the Rouge. By the end of the day, they had shut down entire Rouge complex. Over 80,000 workers were on strike.

Workers set up mass picket lines at all the gates and parked cars to barricade all the roads leading to the plant. Daily strike bulletins and sound trucks were used to keep the workers informed.

Ford tried to use the black workers to break the strike, offering to pay the black workers a lot of extra money to keep working. But many of the black workers joined the strike right away. Black union organizers and members of the NAACP appealed to the other black workers to join the strike. In the end, only a few black workers stayed inside.

Ford’s divide-and-conquer strategy had failed. Ford’s terrorism had failed. Ford workers had organized and fought and had brought this powerful corporation to its knees. The corporation which had vowed to never allow a union was now forced to agree to the workers’ main demand, which was to recognize the UAW as the workers’ union.

But Ford agreed under the condition that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conduct an election where the workers would have to vote to have the UAW represent them.

There was never any doubt that the Ford workers were going to vote for the UAW. A month later, they did so overwhelmingly. But Ford was trying to get workers to believe that they had to follow this government procedure before they could have a union. Ford wanted the workers to believe that what mattered was a vote, and not their organized strength and not the strike they had just carried out.

Ford proposed to begin automatically taking union dues out of workers’ paychecks and giving it over to the union, instead of having the union officials go around and convince the workers to pay union dues. It seemed more convenient. But it was a step toward putting the union leaders less under the control of the workers. It was a step toward tying the union leaders more to the company.

With the agreement of top union leaders, Ford proposed to have a grievance procedure to resolve problems and differences. Workers were told not to take their own actions to settle daily problems as they had been doing; workers were told not to stop working to get the job back of somebody who was fired, as they had been doing; workers were told to instead wait on the grievance procedure to resolve problems, which would often take months.

Ford was the last of the major auto companies to recognize the UAW. But when the Ford workers’ strike forced Ford to back down, Ford immediately took the steps that began tying the union to a way of functioning that we see in unions today.

When auto workers are ready to make a fight to defend their interests, they will have to break out of the legal rules and contract procedures that get in the way of making the kind of fight that is needed. They would do well to remember what the Ford workers did in 1941. Those workers showed the power that workers have when they are determined and make a fight relying on their own forces.

Volvo Workers’ Fight

Jul 19, 2021

Workers at the Volvo truck plant in Dublin, Virginia have decided to end their strike, at least for now, after making a determined fight for a better contract.

In April, the 2,900 UAW members voted down a tentative agreement by 91% and went on strike for 2 weeks. After a 2nd tentative agreement was reached, the workers went back to work while they were voting on the new agreement. The Volvo workers then voted down the 2nd tentative agreement by 90% and went on strike again on June 7.

When a 3rd tentative agreement was reached in July, the workers stayed on strike while they were voting on the agreement. On July 8, Volvo workers voted by over 60% to continue the strike and to reject the 3rd agreement.

At this point, the company said it would try to resume production and tried to get Volvo workers to cross the picket lines. Only a handful of workers did. The UAW International leadership then scheduled another vote on the 3rd tentative agreement that the workers had already voted down. On July 15, the UAW reported that Volvo workers voted to accept this contract, but only by 17 votes—1,147 to 1,130. Even facing the threats of the company and facing pressure from the UAW top leadership to end the strike, over 49% of the Volvo workers voted that they were still ready to continue the strike.

During the strike, Volvo workers who were interviewed said they were striking over 2-tier wages, wages that don’t keep up with inflation and increased health care costs for active workers and retirees. These are issues that auto workers and many other workers can recognize today. We are all facing the same attacks on our standard of living.

In a time period of very few strikes, when the working class has been quiet for many years, the Volvo workers showed a strong determination to fight to defend their standard of living. Certainly, with half of the workforce showing they are still ready to fight, Volvo will have to think twice about their next moves.

The problems at Volvo are shared by almost all of the working class today. A fight such as theirs can easily spread, just as one firecracker ignites another, and then another. This threat scares the bosses! But workers will enjoy the fireworks.

Metro Detroit:
Two Floods in Three Weeks

Jul 19, 2021

Heavy rains caused flooding in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs for the second time in three weeks.

During the earlier rain storms on June 25–26, at least two pumping stations on Detroit’s east side, the Conner Creek and Freud stations, failed due to power outages. The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) was slow in providing backup power to the stations.

For that and other reasons, thousands of homes flooded, many with raw sewage that dumped into the storm drainage system. Major freeways became flooded, and many drivers’ cars became submerged. I-94 remained closed for days and required major repairs from the flooding.

Detroit officials say that over 24,000 homeowners reported flooding from the June rains, with at least 1,000 reporting dire conditions.

After the June floods, residents of nearby suburb Dearborn held demonstrations to protest the lack of preparation for the flooding and came out in force to speak out at a recent City Council meeting. The area experienced major flooding just seven years prior, in 2014.

Dearborn residents point out that the main flooding took place in the city’s East End, which has a higher concentration of working class and lower-income residents. Hussein Berry, a candidate for mayor, points out that when the city made repairs to its sewers and added giant pipes called “Interceptor Lines” that use pumps to push water to discharge stations, no Interceptor Lines were installed in the city’s East End. He also points out that while the West End, the more affluent section of Dearborn, has 13 discharge stations, the East End has only two.

Residents of another suburb neighboring Detroit, Grosse Pointe Park, filed a lawsuit against the GLWA, saying officials knew of the “infrastructure deficiencies” for years and did nothing to put in place an emergency plan in case of these kinds of heavy rain events. Deficiencies by the GLWA would hardly be surprising given its history. The GLWA was formed after the City of Detroit went into bankruptcy. As part of the bankruptcy settlement, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) was swallowed up into the GLWA and laid off 41% of its workforce. Prior to that time, those workers helped the DWSD to be considered as one of the best operating water departments in the country.

The latest rains have simply added insult to injury. Water officials claim to have solved the problems of pump failures, yet at least one station, the Blue Hill Pump Station in Detroit, experienced a power failure. The news media quoted numerous residents reporting flooding similar to what others reported back in June.

These types of flood damage are the result of politicians “kicking the can down the road” for decades on infrastructure repairs and improvements, or when repairs are made, looking out for the interests of the wealthy and the corporations at the expense of the rest of the population. The last thing anyone can expect is for them to make their rich benefactors pay the bill.

Pages 8-9

China:
From a Party of Revolutionaries to One of Billionaires

Jul 19, 2021

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

The Chinese regime opened celebrations of the centennial of its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in late June. How can a dictatorship of billionaires that brutally exploits the world’s largest working class call itself communist?

The CCP was founded in 1920 by a small group of intellectuals won over to the ideals of the Russian Revolution—the idea that the capitalist system has had its day and that the working class has to fight for power, including in economically underdeveloped countries like Russia or China at that time.

The CCP’s first period ended in 1927 with a terrible defeat. Thousands of revolutionary workers and communist militants were massacred by the nationalists of General Chiang Kai-Shek. That happened after the CCP leadership followed the instructions of the Stalinized Communist International and told them to support Chiang Kai-Shek.

The CCP, or rather what was left of it, then split in half. The minority followed longtime leader Chen Duxiu, rallied to the theses of Leon Trotsky, and tried to continue to militate at all costs in the working class—and therefore in the cities. Many died under the blows of nationalist repression. The others, including a certain Mao Zedong, withdrew to the countryside in an attempt to build a revolutionary army of peasants.

It took 22 years for Mao to conquer the cities and take power. As eventful as these 22 years were, full of twists and turns and political reversals, one constant held: the working class never intervened, and never again did the CCP led by Mao try to organize it or rely on it to move toward social revolution. In other words, under Mao, the CCP never acted like a communist party. By breaking with the cities and therefore with the working class and going to the countryside, the CCP became a nationalist party. It competed with Chiang Kai-Shek’s party, offering an appearance of honesty in contrast with corrupt and worm-eaten officials. But fundamentally it defended the same bourgeois social order.

In 1949, Mao entered the cities at the head of armies from the countryside, without any working-class mobilization. The fact that his new regime briefly turned toward the Soviet Union owed much more to the hostile attitude of the United States—which shut China out of international trade—than to the will of the new rulers.

In 1972, Mao formally reconciled with U.S. President Richard Nixon. Starting then, China opened itself to investment by the imperialist countries, cautiously at first and then frenetically. It ended up producing for a considerable share of world markets, which gave rise to a plethora of billionaires and exploiters.

Historical circumstances—mainly the delay of the world revolution due to the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union—let the Chinese bourgeoisie develop under the wing of a government labeled communist. Once China was rid of its medieval structures, the country’s huge size and breadth of resources and the enormous facilities of the government born with the peasant revolution gave this bourgeoisie the chance to assert itself. The balancing act between China, imperialism, and the bureaucrats of the USSR contributed as well.

However, the Chinese bourgeoisie shares with its Western predecessors the honor of having produced its own gravediggers: the hundreds of millions of Chinese proletarians who form the largest army of the world working class.

Haiti:
A President Assassinated, Workers Caught Between Disinterest and Worry

Jul 19, 2021

Translated from an article by comrades of OTR, the revolutionary workers organization active in Haiti.

News of the July 7th assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse struck Haiti like a shock wave. At every level of society, fear has been the foremost reaction. In the capital, all the stores, factories and public services have remained closed, with the streets completely empty.

There was no uproar in response in working class neighborhoods, like there was after the coup against Aristide in 1991, or even when the U.S. forced Aristide into exile in 2004. The response: people shut themselves in, fearing confrontations between different armed groups.

No one shed a tear for Jovenel Moïse in these neighborhoods. For them he represented five years of heavy-handed rule: price hikes on necessities, lower wages and increased poverty. Moïse offered only empty promises for 24-hour electricity, schooling for children from the population, food for all thanks to his banana fields.

They held him responsible for the growth of armed gangs that control the poor neighborhoods. His death looks like “just desserts” for the club he brandished against the poor. So, no one in these neighborhoods regrets his death– it’s even become the butt of jokes. They remember him declaring, on February 7th, when he refused to step down from power: “Certain presidents have been overthrown, exiled, killed, but me, I’m going to stay there, caught like a fishbone in your throat!” In one town in the provinces, they even held a mock burial for him.

Fear remains, fear that the power struggle to come will rebound against the poorest. No one is fooled by the comedy put on by the police, who run from the gangs, and then the day after the assassination have arrested a commando team of twenty heavily armed ex-military veterans. If these are the killers, who are their commanders? Is it Moïse’s party? Is it the Haitian oligarchy, who had had enough of their puppet? Or is it the United States, through their embassy? Moïse’s home lies only a few minutes from the ambassador’s house. It was threatened a few hours before the killing, without any reaction from the Americans.

Neither Moïse’s death, nor the answers to these questions, will change anything for Haiti’s poor. The streets remain under the control of armed gangs which ransom, rape, kidnap and kill. That’s why more than 5,000 had to flee their neighborhoods in the South of Port-au-Prince, to take refuge in a sporting complex, or at someone’s home, waiting to be able to return to their own home.

People continue to worry about the possible reactions of these gangs, armed in the service of the political clans that contest for power. For the moment, the different parties are working to nominate a president and a prime minister to organize new elections. They call for the population to remain calm—and for the workers to go back into the factories for exploitation!

South Africa:
Poverty Riots

Jul 19, 2021

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

South Africa has been rocked since July 10 by protests that became riots. The army was called in to reinforce the police. The crackdown has already left more than 70 dead.

The struggle between two clans within the ruling ANC party was the trigger. Several years ago, current President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters dismissed their rivals, grouped around former President Jacob Zuma, who was charged with corruption. He had to give way to Ramaphosa in 2018, before the end of his term. For two years, he refused to respond to summons from the courts, which eventually sentenced him to 15 months in prison for contempt.

After Zuma’s arrest, pro-Zuma protests began in KwaZulu-Natal province. The highway that connects the port of Durban to the country’s economic capital, Johannesburg, was cut off. The turmoil then changed in nature, reaching Johannesburg and especially the poor and densely populated suburbs surrounding the city. Riots led to the looting of businesses, including of food.

These old townships like Soweto are where the black population had to live during the days of the racist apartheid regime. They still hold concentrated poverty. The problems of the population of this country, one of the most unequal on the planet, are particularly acute.

A bourgeois minority, traditionally white but admitting a few rich blacks after the ANC came to power in 1994, monopolizes all the wealth. But at the other pole of society, poverty is concentrated. Thus 90% of black households cannot afford medical insurance. Unemployment rose in 2020 and has since remained officially at 32%. More than 7.2 million workers are unemployed. The lack of Covid vaccines has further accentuated this unsteady social situation, which has led to the current outbreak of revolt. The pro-Zuma unrest was only the trigger.

Before coming to power, the ANC represented a political hope for the black working class. It no longer offers any prospect for those whom poverty drives to revolt.

Afghanistan:
Devastated by Imperialism

Jul 19, 2021

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

U.S. and NATO troops evacuated Bagram air base 30 miles from Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on July 2—a step toward the final withdrawal scheduled for September. Twenty years after the start of the war launched by the U.S., the country is in catastrophic condition.

American leaders said they wanted to bring peace and freedom to the Afghans in this war begun after the attacks of September 2001. They targeted the Taliban, which they accused of protecting Osama bin Laden. But the war certainly didn’t bring peace and freedom. For the Afghan working class, the situation only worsened over the years. Armed gangs mushroomed amidst what became a quagmire for the U.S. military.

Today, terrorist attacks follow one after the other, whether committed by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS militias, or one of the many armed gangs which try to establish their rule amid the chaos. On May 8, bombings outside a girls’ school in Kabul left at least 50 dead and around 100 injured, many of them female students. A bomb exploded in a bus in the Badghis region in northwestern Afghanistan in early June, killing 11 people including three children.

During the same week, four other passenger minibuses were attacked in the Shiite neighborhoods of Kabul, killing a dozen people in total. These are just a few examples.

Afghans who have family abroad or the narrowest opportunity to get out seek exile. The others are trapped in this daily violence compounded by poverty and the Covid epidemic. Many Afghans die in their homes or in the streets—turned away by public hospitals which lack emergency services and supplies of oxygen. The U.N. estimates that almost half of the country’s 38 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Taliban are winning out against the Afghan army day by day. Now they are said to control two-thirds of the territory and are maneuvering to surround Kabul. The American leaders want to prevent the spread of Afghanistan’s instability to the entire region and would be content with the Taliban’s return to power. This is revealed by their discussions with those who were their enemies after first having been their friends in the 1990s.

Today as 20 years ago, the imperialist leaders do not worry about the toll the various armed bands take on the population, nor the poverty into which the people are sinking, nor the probable establishment of a new medieval dictatorship.

Pages 10-11

Repairs to “Ensure the Safety of Residents” Were Deferred, “Too Costly”, People Died:
Inhuman Result

Jul 19, 2021

The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of June 27, 2021.

“Buildings in the United States do not just fall down,” said the Mayor of Surfside, Florida. Not in this day and age.

But in Surfside, in Florida, in this country, in the year 2021, on June 24, in the very early hours of the day, a building did “just fall down.” And it buried in its rubble almost 200 people, only a few dozens of whom have been rescued as of June 27.

The almost automatic striving to reduce costs in every enterprise, a striving with which the whole, overriding capitalist system is imbued, led to this disaster, this loss of human life.

Workers in this country—not just in Florida, but throughout the country—know very well how this system works. They see it every day at their workplace. Engineering designs are skimped on. Corners are cut on standards. Materials are shoddy. And the people who do the work to build something—whether it be a building or a car—are pushed to put out too much work in too little time. Maintenance is incomplete—and after the fact, after something goes wrong. Inspections are often cursory—as was the one carried out by municipal authorities one day before the building fell, finding the building safe enough for continued human habitation. But even when an inspection is thorough—like the one carried out by an engineer three years before at Surfside—its calls for repairs “to ensure the safety of residents and the public” often are deferred to some later date because of cost. But deferral can be as bad as not doing anything at all.

In a system where the bottom line is the only one that matters, it costs too much money to repair something correctly. That system, where profit sets the rules, has a name. Its name is capitalism.

Every business in the country is infected by this same “bottom-line” mania, the capitalist mania to reduce spending in order to protect the profit margin. It matters not what the business is: a gigantic monopoly like Amazon or a family-run management company, managing residential buildings for condominium associations. Whether or not they are organized to make profit, they all function within a profit-oriented system, and they are all constrained by the system’s inhumane logic.

The Washington Post reported that two nearby hotels, the Seven Seasons and the Residence Inn, pushed up their rates to $800, even $1500 a night, including for residents displaced from the collapsed building, or for family members seeking a place to stay while awaiting information on missing relatives. Every mean, despicable action finds its justification in this system’s profit-driven logic.

Press for more profit, violate safety, and bank on the odds—that’s the reasoning around which capitalism organizes itself. Usually, buildings don’t fall, cars don’t run out of control, bridges don’t collapse. But sometimes they do, sometimes it happens even in a condominium, in an area where prices run one million dollars or more.

As of early Sunday morning, the remains of seven people had been found. Another 154 were still unaccounted for.

How much more often doesn’t this kind of thing happen in ordinary working-class residential areas. With safety ignored, people die, by twos and threes, in fires instead of collapses, day after day, instead of every 40 years. But the logic is the same.

This is a system that long ago proved itself incapable of making human life its priority. That’s even more true today, in this period when capitalism rushes from one crisis to the next, from one financial explosion to another—and from one human disaster to the next.

A system like this can’t be repaired. It has to be pulled up, rooted out, ground up, tossed aside, replaced by one which uses humanity as its standard. Hard to imagine how this can start—but the other option, to let capitalism continue, ever more destructive of human life, is impossible.

Workers On-the-Job Heat-Related Injuries Vastly Under-Reported

Jul 19, 2021

A new study in California shows that workplace injuries caused by high temperatures are many times those officially reported: Roughly 20,000 more injuries per year in California alone.

These on-the-job injuries officially caused by things like falling, workplace vehicle collisions and machinery accidents occur both outside and inside.

On days when the temperature was 85 to 90 degrees, the rate of injuries, regardless of the officially recorded cause, was 5 to 7% higher than on 60-to-70-degree days. Days over 100 degrees saw injury rates 10 to 15% higher.

Heat-related accidents hit the lowest-paid workers the most. The lowest 20% of workers suffer five times the number of heat-related injuries as the highest-paid 20%, reflecting the more dangerous nature of their work on average. Men are three times as likely to have more injuries than women. And younger workers are more likely than older workers to be hurt.

The California study also showed that a few simple measures could reduce the elevated number of heat-related injuries. In 2005, California started requiring employers to provide outside workers with water, shade and rest breaks on days hotter than 95 degrees. Heat-related injuries went down by one-third.

Unless global warming is combatted, halted and ultimately reversed, more and more workers are going to be injured and sometimes die on their jobs. But right now, on-the-job heat-related injuries can clearly be reduced if workers force their bosses to provide protection for them on hot days.

Baltimore:
It’s Hard Just to Get Around

Jul 19, 2021

Disabled Baltimore residents and supporters sued the city in June over its inaccessible sidewalks. The city’s own transportation department reports that only 1.3% of over 37,000 sidewalk curb ramps comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Meanwhile, one in 11 people in Baltimore has a disability that affects their walking. It’s hard to get around when utility poles are situated right in the middle of sidewalks or there are high curbs at crosswalks.

But where is the profit in making sidewalks and curb cuts easy to use for people with wheelchairs, walkers, canes—or baby strollers?

Minor League Baseball:
Paying Peanuts

Jul 19, 2021

Minor league Double-A baseball team Bowie Baysox, controlled by the Baltimore Orioles, cut the players’ away-game hotel room reimbursement in half this season. Some athletes protested the reduction.

Minor league pay is very low. This year, most minor league players earn only $400 to $700 per week, for a total of less than $14,400 per year. But having a second job is difficult. The paid season from April to September involves many 60-hour weeks, including travel and conditioning. Another two months of intense work starting with February spring practice are unpaid. One athlete said, “I would play hungry and would go to bed hungry.”

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball’s 30 companies—which depend on their minor league professionals—have combined revenues of over 10 billion dollars a year!

Washington, D.C.:
It’s Hot Inside

Jul 19, 2021

A number of residents of the 653-unit Paradise at Parkside apartment complex in northeast Washington, D.C. went without working air conditioning for at least 10 days starting the first weekend in July.

Washington’s summer heat reaches the mid-90s by day, with heat indexes over 100, and the 80s at night, and it’s very humid. Going without air conditioning is intolerable and unsafe. But for landlord Telesis Corp. and property manager CTG, which rake in millions of dollars in rent from the tenants of these 15 buildings, providing enough maintenance is their least concern.

Page 12

The U.S. and Cuba:
The Robber Complains of his Victim’s Poverty

Jul 19, 2021

Hearing politicians in the U.S. crow about poverty in Cuba is a bit rich, given that the U.S. first exploited and then squeezed this island for more than a century.

In 1898, the U.S. invaded Cuba, in an alliance with the island’s bourgeoisie. The U.S. claimed it was helping Cuba win independence from Spain—but in reality, the U.S. was ensuring that the poor population that had organized the uprising against Spain did not gain power. The U.S. bourgeoisie soon brought Cuba under its own domination, imposing a dictatorship upon the island, importing Jim Crow racist laws from the U.S., and taking over much of the economy.

When Fidel Castro took over in 1959, U.S. capitalists owned 80% of the island’s services, mines, ranches, and oil refineries, 40% of the sugar industry, and 50% of the trains. The Mafia had made Havana the brothel of the Americas. And the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista relied on prison, torture, and execution for opponents of the regime.

Castro and his followers wanted an end to despotism and corruption, an improvement in living conditions for the population, and the end of the country’s control by the United States. They did not at first call themselves communists. But when it became increasingly clear that the U.S. was determined to impose its will on Cuba, and that the basic exploitation of the island by U.S. imperialism was non-negotiable, Castro’s state increasingly turned to nationalizations of industry and an alliance with the U.S.S.R.

Already in 1960, the U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba. In 1961, the U.S. launched a military invasion at the Bay of Pigs. This was a fiasco for the U.S.—the Cuban population mobilized to defend the island. Since then, the U.S. has repeatedly tried to overthrow the regime, without success. But it has succeeded in severely limiting the Cuban economy through the embargo.

Cuba’s regime certainly lacks many democratic freedoms—but that was even more true before the revolution, when it was a close U.S. “ally.”

No, U.S. opposition to Cuba is not about freedom or democracy. Nor is it about the poverty the U.S. itself has played a big role in imposing on the island. It is about the fact that Cuba—often alone in Latin America—has stood up to U.S. imperialism for more than 60 years.

Cuba:
Social Crisis and Consequences of the Embargo

Jul 19, 2021

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

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on July 11 to demonstrate, shouting, “We are hungry,” “We want vaccines,” “We are not afraid,” and, “Freedom.”

Anti-Castroists of all stripes, and first of all those in Miami, hoped to see the fall of the Cuban regime come from that day of protest, which involved several cities in the country. That’s taking things a little too fast. But the fact remains that this protest—whoever the instigators may have been via social networks, which have been authorized since 2018—has revealed something. The Cuban population is having to cope increasingly with an economic and health crisis. They are not alone. Reactions of anger and revolt are occurring in many countries where economic degradation is immense, from Peru to Lebanon.

Cuba is not exempt. The country’s economy is largely based on tourism. But letting in tourists has let in the virus. Now, however, the tourists have disappeared and with them the activity they generated.

Added to this was a recent monetary reform that caused a meltdown of the two coexisting money systems, an undervalued currency for locals and an overvalued currency for tourists. The result is high inflation.

But a final cause, and not the least, is the fact that since 1960 the embargo imposed by the United States has deprived Cuba of access to essential consumer goods, food, and medicine.

Cuba has no shortage of dollars. But because of the embargo, many countries that could deal with the island refuse to do so, so as not to suffer Washington’s wrath. In this regard, President Biden is following in the footsteps of Trump, who put an end to Obama’s half-openness. At the same time Biden gave a tip of the hat to the Cubans of Miami, cynically calling on “the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.” This is the pot calling the kettle black!

The embargo Biden and his predecessors promote is the economic weapon of an imperialist state that wants to punish a people for having fought and won their independence. The hardships thus caused provide the pretext for new interventions. The Cuban people certainly have no reason to trust such so-called defenders.