The Spark

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

Issue no. 1137 — September 13 - 27, 2021

Vaccine Mandates:
A Whip That Will Be Used on Us All

Sep 13, 2021

President Joe Biden has issued a vaccine mandate for federal workers. Now he is pushing to include private industries with over 100 workers in similar orders.

He said, “We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal [to get a vaccine] has cost all of us.”

What a crock! The cost of this pandemic hasn’t been paid by Biden, the government or the wealthy they represent. It has been paid to a large extent by the working class, their elderly and the poor.

And it’s not our unvaccinated neighbors who have caused us to sicken and die. It is the failure of those in power, those who run the government, to muster the tremendous financial resources and technology available in this country, to stop the virus dead in its tracks.

The billionaires and their government have created this deadly situation we are in. They have let the pandemic rage, here, and across the world. They have hoarded stocks of vaccines that could have been used to stop the spread. Their priority was to guarantee massive profits to the drug manufacturers. They bought up, with taxpayer money, three to four times more vaccine than what was needed in the U.S.—and at exorbitant prices! The virus was allowed to morph into the deadly Delta variant.

The people who run things have accepted that the pandemic will not be eradicated but will be an ongoing situation. They have decided to move on to what they call business as usual. To call it over as far as any expectation that the government should be responsible.

So now, they are pointing their fingers at the one-third of the adult population who are still unvaccinated, saying they are to blame, that they all are just stubbornly “refusing” the vaccine.

It is a way to turn one section of the population against the other. It makes every unvaccinated person into an enemy, an outcast, someone to blame. By making an example of workers who have not been vaccinated, the Biden administration hopes to shift blame for a continuing nightmare of a pandemic onto the backs of the victims themselves. And it hopes to convince workers who have received shots to do the same.

The vaccine is, to date, the best weapon individuals have to protect themselves. Even though there has not been enough time to see long-term results, the vaccines are, in this current period, protecting those who have them.

The trouble is, they are not equally available. They may be easy to get in one area, but not so much in another. Some people have given up on trying to get them.

And many people don’t trust them. They don’t trust the government, the drug companies, the medical system. And why should they? The politicians lie. Everyone knows it. Conspiracies? Every day! The government and Wall Street carry out secret negotiations, always for what the billionaires want, never for the good of the population. The medical system has messed them over or shut them out all their lives.

Instead of working to overcome the fears of the population, to deliver safety and protections, the bosses have decided to move on.

They want plants and workplaces up and running and forcing vaccines on the workers is the cheapest way to avoid the disruptions in production caused by sick and reluctant workers. It reduces the bosses’ responsibility for medical costs, also. It allows them to hire only workers who are vaccinated and compliant. Much cheaper than making the workplaces safe.

Of course, there will be many bends in the road ahead of us. So maybe Biden’s message of “get vaccinated or get tested” will never reach these levels. But the corporations will use the government mandates as a way to discipline the workforce, to force workers to be compliant while saying, “It’s not me forcing you to do this! It’s the President!”

So, beware of agreeing that it’s a good idea to force workers to get vaccines, which gives bosses the right to suspend and fire those that don’t.

Already, at some workplaces, workers are being suspended without pay even if they have extenuating health problems that prevent shots.

So, will we accept permanent unemployment for those without vaccines? Will we accept that health care companies will no longer waive hospital co-pays for Covid 19 treatment for the unvaccinated? Is it okay to let people die while they stay at home sick because they know the high medical bills will bankrupt them?

Giving the bosses a whip to use on any worker will give them that same whip to use on us all. The bosses have no final goal but to exploit us all for profits. They will take us all to the bottom if we don’t wage a determined fight to get rid of them and their profit system.

Pages 2-3

D.C.’s Hoovervilles and Covid

Sep 13, 2021

The Washington, D.C. city government demolished as many homeless encampments by August as in all of 2020, with plans announced to close even more. Last month the National Parks Service also began shutting down tent cities in local federal parks. Both the city and the national parks had slowed down encampment closures last year because of the pandemic, to avoid potentially dispersing homeless people with Covid into new encampments where the virus could spread. But now, even with the Delta variant raging in the area, concentrations of homeless people are being forced to scatter and re-cluster.

Homeless people trying to avoid the contagion in shelters have set up tent communities in practically every park and underpass sidewalk in the city. Some encampments have been given port-a-potties and handwashing stations. Local officials in one neighborhood voted—with words if not yet with dollars—to provide buses with shower and laundry facilities to service nearby encampments.

The tent cities will keep growing back and spreading, as housing is unaffordable in the city. Forcibly shutting them down leaves homeless people nowhere to turn.

Chicago Mechanics on Strike

Sep 13, 2021

Striking auto mechanics in the Chicago Area are holding firm after six weeks on strike against 53 new car dealerships.

Over 800 members of Local 701 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers walked off the job on August 1st after 99% voted to strike.

“This time they picked a fight with us, but they had no idea how strong and united we were,” said one picket line strike captain. “The dealers are spreading the lie that this is just about our hourly rate, but it’s much more than that. They’re trying to take away what we had already won in the past.”

The car dealers are demanding a “most favored nation” clause in their new contract. This means, for example, that if workers in one dealership within the Midwest region accept an hourly rate less than the other dealerships, then the lowest rate could apply to ALL dealerships!

On top of that, these chiselers are looking to get their greedy paws on the union’s health and safety fund, refusing to contribute unless reserve funds are spent first. And they want to do away with the mechanics’ guaranteed 36 hours work week to boot!

The threat to health coverage benefits angers strikers. One worker said the current coverage is not great, and he had to jump through hoops to reduce his out-of- pocket costs for a hip replacement he needed after an on-the-job injury. If the dealers get their way to cut benefits further, workers in a similar situation could well face medical costs way beyond their means.

In the strike’s second month, picket lines remain solid and spirited. They have been joined by other workers and unions. Strikers’ spirits are lifted by the many “honks” of support they receive from passing motorists. However, they know they could be in for a long fight.

The Mechanics have joined striking workers at Nabisco and Frito-Lay who are under similar attacks and refuse to be rolled over by their bosses. These strikes can spread around the country and send a powerful statement that further attacks won’t be tolerated.

Hurricane Ida Revealed Failings of Capitalism

Sep 13, 2021

Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana bringing destruction, and then carried that devastation right up the eastern seaboard from Virginia to Massachusetts. In Louisiana, people waded through water to stand in long lines for food, water and gasoline. Millions lost power. New Orleans went dark. And this loss of power came with oppressive and dangerous heat and humidity.

More than 2,000 transmission lines and 216 substations were damaged by the hurricane, leaving over a million people powerless. This outage wasn’t supposed to happen. Entergy, the largest power company in Louisiana, spent 100 million dollars on a new natural gas power plant and other grid upgrades. They claimed this upgrade would prevent these devastating power outages—a model of “storm resiliency.”

The company is now being criticized for not doing enough to fortify the power grid against these storms that are increasing in number and intensity. To be clear, this is a company that brought in 10.1 billion dollars in 2020. Entergy can afford to really upgrade and fortify the power grid and not pass the costs on to those who can least afford it—their customers. But they would lose their investors and stockholders. This is how the system works—or doesn’t as in this case. Two weeks after the storm, there are thousands of people without power.

Prior to the storm, more than 800 residents from seven nursing homes were evacuated to a warehouse in Independence, Louisiana. People were lying on mattresses on the floor, not being fed or changed and not being socially distanced to prevent the spread of covid, which is currently ravaging the state. At one point during the storm, water came into the building and some residents had to be moved. On top of these deplorable conditions, one worker said there wasn’t enough staff to properly care for all the residents. Apparently, the owner of the warehouse owns all seven nursing homes. At least seven residents died.

As Ida traveled up the east coast, roads and basements flooded. At least 49 people drowned in their basement apartments, one in Maryland and the rest in New Jersey and New York. Most of the dead were immigrants. They came from Trinidad, Nepal and China. They were busboys, kitchen helpers, and 7-Eleven clerks. They were workers, who could only afford to live underground. They died horribly, because the weight of the water prevented them from opening the doors, and the windows were barred. Their homes had become death traps.

A society based on satisfying human needs, as opposed to one based on making bigger and bigger profits at all costs, could and would do everything possible to prevent the misery and death that rained down on the South and the east coast. A different society, one that is run by the working class—the class that produces all the wealth and does all the work—would not be beholden to stockholders and investors. That society would not make 10 billion dollars in one year because it didn’t fortify its electrical grid. That society would not evacuate its parents and grand- parents to a hell-hole. In a society run by workers, people would be paid decent wages and they would not be forced to live in death traps.

Yes, Hurricane Ida was a bad storm. And according to scientists, there are many more where that one came from, due to the planet warming up. But that is not why any of these people died. They died from the storm called capitalism.

Going Back
—to Unsafe Schools

Sep 13, 2021

After 550 days without in-person schooling for much of the country’s student population, especially kids from working class, poor and rural areas, children went back to in-person school the last week of August and the first week in September. But never fear, if they wore a mask, everything was going to be OK. Or so we were told.

BUT, what about the districts where there were no buses or bus drivers to pick children up to get them to school; where there weren’t enough teachers, so students had to occupy themselves for blocks of time, or be doubled up in other classrooms where there was already no social distancing; where there was poor ventilation in their school buildings; where schools ended up closing because there were COVID outbreaks and exposure in the very first week of classes?

No, these problems, with more to come, are the direct result of the fact that for all practical purposes, little was done in the last year and a half to address all of what would be needed to make schools safe, for students and teachers and staff during this pandemic.

Instead, trillions of dollars were doled out to the pharmaceutical companies and corporations, with banks making profit off of administering these public funds, to make sure that corporations and big businesses didn’t “suffer” from the pandemic. And in the meantime, school systems, many of which were already broken BEFORE the pandemic, were made worse by it.

This capitalist system’s primary goal is profit, not human beings. And so today, if the push is on masking as the solution to opening up the schools, we shouldn’t believe that it’s to make kids safe. It’s because these same corporations and businesses want kids back in school so working-class women can go to work in their plants and offices and restaurants and hotels and hospitals. These workers are essential to corporate profits, and so, who cares if our children are expendable—cognitively, socially, and yes, even physically.

What more proof do we need that this system needs to be replaced by one where human beings, especially children, come first? And it’s the working class, the collective knowledge and labor of teachers, parents, medical professionals, heating and cooling operators and construction workers, who know how to make that happen.

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California’s Recall Election:
Don’t Get Bamboozled

Sep 13, 2021

On September 14, there is an election to recall the current governor of California, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat. If the governor receives less than the majority of votes, the next leading contender will automatically be voted in as governor.

The entire process is undemocratic considering that the next leading contender, Larry Elder, a Republican, is polling at 20%. Elder could be the next governor if Newsom does not get the majority. What a democracy!

Besides the undemocratic nature of the election, both leading candidates are vying to show that they can better represent the interests of the capitalist class.

Gavin Newsom’s record shows he has continuously stood on the side of business interests. Even though investigators have found the utility company, PG&E, at fault for several wildfires that incinerated several towns in California, killing many, Newsom has continued to bail out PG&E with taxpayer money.

Newsom’s administration has used the pandemic to provide numerous no-bid contracts to large tech companies, like Google, which have nothing to do with healthcare. Despite paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to private consultants, the state unemployment department continues to be unable to respond to unemployment claims. After nearly two years, hundreds of thousands still wait weeks and months for their claims to get through.

In the fifth largest economy in the world, 17% of Californians are under the poverty line after adjusting for cost of living. While earmarking 5.6 billion dollars in this year’s state budget to tackle homelessness, most of that money goes into the pockets of so-called “non-profit” companies. In fact, the situation is only getting worse with homelessness increasing 25% in just the last two years.

Yet, the leading Republican, Larry Elder, fares no better. Elder is a right-wing radio personality, one among many. To create a niche among so many right-wing reactionaries, he acts more outrageous than the rest. Elder says that families of former slave owners are entitled to reparations for the freeing of the slaves. He calls the minimum wage and climate change a “crock.”

It is no wonder billionaires are openly supporting both candidates. The founders of Netflix and Facebook contributed to Newsom while several tech investors donated to Elder.

The working class has no horse in this race. Regardless of the outcome of this recall election, the capitalist class will win. This recall will only replace one politician with another. Rather, the working class must recall the entire capitalist system, relying only on our own capacity and candidates to fight.

Ordinary People Can Do Extraordinary Things

Sep 13, 2021

On August 16, Lucille Times died at the age of 101. She was an ordinary woman who fiercely paved the way for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

On June 15, 1955, Times was out in her car in Montgomery, Alabama, doing an errand when a bus driver tried to push her car off the road—three times! He parked the bus, ran over to her window and called her a “black son of a bitch.” Mrs. Times replied, “you white son of a bitch,” and shortly after felt a blow. A white police officer had come up behind her and hit her with his flashlight. She told the story later and remembered the officer saying, “Do you know that was a white man you called a son of a bitch?” Mrs. Times replied, “Do you know I’m a black woman that he called a black son of a bitch?”

With her husband Charles, who had served in the army air corps during WW II, Times owned and ran a café that became a center of the Montgomery black community. Like any black resident of Montgomery, she understood what happened all the time to black people. She decided to drive to bus stops to offer black people rides.

After the incident with the white bus driver, she and her husband called E.D. Nixon, a community activist and head of the local NAACP chapter. They began to plan a way for black people to boycott buses in Montgomery. In December that year, NAACP member Rosa Parks took her famous stance on a Montgomery bus, driven by the same white bus driver who had tried to run Mrs. Times off the road in June.

In retaliation, lawmakers in Alabama outlawed the NAACP in their state in 1956. At great risk to themselves, Mr. and Mrs. Times allowed the local chapter to use their home for secret meetings. They later hosted participants for the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

In the 2000s, Lucille Times received some recognition for her everyday brave efforts against racism in the South. Her neighbors created a community garden and named it in honor of her and E.D. Nixon. Lucille Times was one who chose to make a difference, despite constant threats made by white racists.

Los Angeles:
Whistleblower Reveals Racism in the D.A.’s Office

Sep 13, 2021

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has not charged a single L.A. police officer in a shooting in 20 years. Many times, higher-ups also failed to protect employees, especially Black women, from sexual harassment and racial discrimination. They also stood by when cops and prosecutors framed people and openly displayed racist behavior in the D.A.’s office—for example when prosecutors mocked Black Lives Matter protesters, including ones who were injured by cops.

These revelations came from an inside witness—Adewale Oduye, who between 2008 and 2020 was a prosecutor for the L.A. County D.A.’s office himself. For years, Oduye voiced his concerns to his higher-ups, including the D.A. But when his bosses ignored his memos and grievances, Oduye began to write on the internet.

Of course, Oduye’s revelations about racism and criminal misconduct inside law enforcement will not be news to people living in L.A.’s working-class, Black and Latino neighborhoods. But they show, once more and through the eyes of an insider, the workings of a system set up to frame and criminalize the working class and poor, and to divide them, so that a wealthy, powerful minority can maintain its grip over the whole society.

So, the LAPD “Budget Cut” Was a Lie

Sep 13, 2021

Last summer, amid big protests over the murder of George Floyd, The Los Angeles City Council announced that it was cutting the budget of the LAPD by 150 million dollars.

First of all, 150 million dollars is actually a small fraction of the 3-billion-dollar LAPD budget. But it turns out L.A. politicians are not even cutting that amount from the LAPD. When the city council said most of the 150 million dollars would come from cutting overtime pay for cops, it was simply lying. Instead, the City has “banked” 47 million dollars, about one-third of that amount, in overtime pay, which means the cops will still be paid, but at a future date. And at that point, the bill the City has to foot will be actually much higher than 47 million dollars, because it will be calculated based on the cops’ pay at that future date.

In fact, under a deal the city made with the police union in February, the city has guaranteed cops at least 245 million dollars in overtime pay over the next three budget years.

The LAPD, 10,000 strong and armed to the teeth, is the army that L.A. politicians maintain to keep the city’s working class and poor in check. Ever in the service of the rich and powerful, those politicians are obviously not about to make cuts to the LAPD, no matter what they tell the public.

Purdue Pharma Settlement:
Sacklers Handed a Gift

Sep 13, 2021

The lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the producer of OxyContin, has been settled in bankruptcy court. This settlement makes sure that the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, can keep their enormous wealth.

Thousands of lawsuits were filed against Purdue Pharma by state and local governments, Native American tribes, hospitals and individuals over the opioid epidemic that caused the deaths of over a half million people in the U.S. Purdue Pharma selling OxyContin was one of the main contributors to this opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma kept hidden what it knew—that OxyContin was highly addictive. Meanwhile, the company bribed and solicited doctors and pushed them to prescribe large amounts of this painkiller.

Purdue Pharma made multi-billions of dollars from the sale of OxyContin. And when thousands of lawsuits began to be filed against the company, the Sackler family took over 10 billion dollars out of the company and put it into their own pockets. This was on top of the billions they had already made owning Purdue Pharma! And then, with the money safely in their own pockets, the Sackler family has the company file for bankruptcy.

It is estimated that the real cost of the opioid epidemic in treatment and prevention programs, social services, law enforcement and lost wages has been several trillion dollars. The court settlement calls for Purdue Pharma to pay only a tiny fraction of that—4.5 billion dollars. Another fund will compensate families of those who suffered from addiction or died from an overdose. But divided up among hundreds of thousands of affected families, it will mean as little as $3,500 for each family who lost a loved one.

Meanwhile, the court settlement protects the Sackler family from being sued any further and ensures that they will continue be one of the richest families in the country. And on top of that, the court settlement says that the Sackler family will be protected from any criminal charges.

If the Sacklers were small-time drug dealers and they got caught, they would be thrown in jail and all their money from selling drugs would be confiscated. But the Sackler family are big-time capitalist drug dealers. So, they get to stay out of jail, continue to live in their mansions, and keep all their billions of dollars.

That is how the courts and the so-called justice system work under capitalism.

Go Directly (Back) to Jail

Sep 13, 2021

As many as 4,000 people around the country may have to deliver themselves to prison soon to do time. They are federal prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses such as possession of marijuana, who were sent home last April as the pandemic exploded.

They were kept on home detention, wearing ankle monitors and checking in daily by phone—essentially, quarantined at home to take pressure off the prisons temporarily.

Now federal policy claims the pandemic emergency is over. Thousands of people will have to report back behind concrete and iron.

It’s sick. They pose almost no threat to the community. Of 23,000 people transferred to home detention during the pandemic, only 21 were taken back into prison because of allegedly committing new violations. That’s less than one per thousand.

But the federal government seems determined to drag them back into the Covid-infested hell that is the American prison system.

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Coal Wars:
Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921

Sep 13, 2021

One hundred years ago, an armed force of about 10,000 West Virginia union miners fought a five-day battle against 2000 sheriff’s deputies who were in the pay of coal companies.

The miners were on the march to Mingo County, where 3000 miners had joined the union and been immediately fired. The miners intended to shut down those mines and get those jobs back.

The coal companies sent their sheriff to block the miners’ march. The companies provided the deputies, the payroll, their weapons and machine guns, and also the private airplanes that dropped World War I-style bombs and poison gas on the miners.

The miners fought Minutemen-style on the slopes of Blair Mountain, along the rugged hills east of Logan. World War I veterans, now working in the mines, had been in the war just 3 years before. They knew guns and combat. Reinforcements from many mining towns arrived on “requisitioned” C & O trains.

After 5 days of battle, the coal companies’ forces had to be rescued by the federal government. President Harding ordered troops in. The miners decided not to shoot at U.S. troops and retreated back from Blair Mountain.

The State of West Virginia indicted 985 miners on charges such as murder, conspiracy, and treason against the state. Most were acquitted. In particular, the leader Bill Blizzard was acquitted, when miners produced as evidence an unexploded bomb dropped on the miners from an airplane.

All the convicted miners were released or paroled within 4 years. Keeping them jailed was not a popular thing in West Virginia.

The miners might have retreated, but they scared the living daylights out of the coal companies and their state legislators. A state law was passed preventing school textbooks from making any mention of this battle or any other “social problem” that did not suit the coal owners.

The era of 1890–1930 was known for “Coal Wars” that swelled up, died down, and swelled up again, as miners fought again and again against their bitter mistreatment and exploitation at the hands of brutal owners. The owners got rich from selling coal for steelmaking, for railroad steam engines, for Navy ships, and for home heating. The miners’ families starved on low wages, paid by company scrip usable only at company stores with company-store prices. Real estate was controlled by companies—the only work available was in the mines, and the only housing near the mines were company towns. Private armed “security” forces, like the Iron and Coal Police and the Baldwin-Felts Agency, terrorized mining communities with beatings and murders.

In fact, part of the buildup to Blair Mountain was the open murder of Sheriff Sid Hatfield, unarmed, on courthouse steps, by Baldwin-Felts agents. Hatfield, a sheriff in Matewan, had stepped in to prevent Baldwin-Felts from evicting some fired miners’ families. The sheriff’s murderers were neither arrested nor prosecuted—standard practice in company coal towns, and another reason for miners to not worry much about shooting back if they had to. The 1987 movie Matewan tells this gripping episode.

Guadeloupe:
Toward the General Strike?

Sep 13, 2021

The following is a translation from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

The main workers’ unions in Guadeloupe have called for a general strike starting Thursday, September 9. These are in particular the CGTG, the UGTG, FO and certain teachers’ unions.

Political parties and groups of the labor movement, such as Combat Ouvrière and the Guadeloupean Communist Party, have joined in this call. The main demand is the repeal of the law of August 5 on compulsory vaccination and the health pass. The serious penalties provided for workers in the event of non-compliance with these measures shock many workers and in particular caregivers. All the more so since behind these measures to bring them into line are already looming attacks against pensions and against unemployment benefits.

In the current climate in the West Indies, marked by high excess mortality which affects all families, anger is mounting among a section of the population. The dilapidation of the hospital sector, the lack of equipment and personnel denounced for years, are among the causes of the current health disaster. It is the poorest layers of the population, the most poorly housed, the most malnourished, the most affected by endemic diseases (obesity, hypertension, diabetes), who are paying the heavy price for the crisis. Firefighters, Unemployment Agency workers, Cofrigo workers and ArcelorMittal workers are already on strike or about to start. And workers who for various reasons will not go on strike are preparing to protest in other forms.

The big capitalists are rubbing their hands because their profits are on the rise again from the billions in aid received from the government. At the same time people are dying by the hundreds for lack of sufficient equipment in hospitals because the money goes to the rich. But they will not sleep quite peacefully in the days to come.

Thursday, September 9, from 8 am, pickets were in place in front of a number of companies. Friday morning, a general gathering was scheduled in front of the Pointe-à-Pitre University Hospital, and on Saturday morning an appointment was made for a large gathering in front of the Palace of the Mutuality. The idea of ​​a collective struggle is gaining ground.

Miners:
727 Compensated, Tens of Thousands Dead

Sep 13, 2021

The following is a translation from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary group active in France.

On August 23, after eight years of finally successful proceedings brought by 727 still-living former miners of Charbonnages de Lorraine, the State paid them 10,000 euros for pain and suffering. Since the start of the proceedings in 2013, 320 have been recognized as victims of an occupational disease: cancer or silicosis.

The success of their action must not obscure the tragedy experienced by generations of coal miners, first exploited by private mining companies, then under the aegis of the State since what has been called the Liberation—because the State, which commanded Charbonnages de France, waged an incessant war on the miners to impose the most difficult working conditions.

The first occupational disease that decimated the miners, the one they called “the great killer,” was silicosis, caused by the absorption by underground miners of silica dust during the felling of coal without suitable protection. All the scientists who tried to establish a real census of deaths from silicosis between 1945 and the end of the 1980s came up against the code of silence imposed by Charbonnages de France and the State. Their only concern was to challenge the recognition of this occupational disease as much as possible. The rate of denial of claims has approached 40% at certain times.

Despite everything, the health professionals who carried out these multiple investigations estimate that since 1946 at least 40,000 miners, and undoubtedly many more, have died of silicosis, out of a total of 320,000 miners. That is the death rate! Moreover, requests for recognition of silicosis claims reached 7,876 in 1946, never to fall below 7,500 per year until 1958. 13% to 14% of miners were considered to have silicosis.

The anti-worker and odious behavior of the State and the Charbonnages was further illustrated when, with a view to the programmed closure of the coal mines, the French State teamed up with the Moroccan State to recruit tens of thousands of Moroccan workers and bring them down to the bottom of the wells instead of the other miners. Their working conditions were even worse than those of the comrades they replaced. Exploited, mistreated Moroccan miners, 78,000 for the wells of Nord-Pas-de-Calais alone, with their comrades from the wells of Lorraine, had to revolt and strike on several occasions to obtain a minimum of rights. But the French State, like the Moroccan State, refused the slightest recognition of the occupational diseases resulting from this overexploitation.

This is the way the great French republic treated these workers!

Alabama Coal Miners in a Tough Fight

Sep 13, 2021

On April 1, 1,100 coal miners at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama went on strike. They wanted to get back the huge concessions they were forced to give up after the previous owner of their mine went bankrupt back in 2015. In 2016, in return for keeping their jobs, they agreed to take a pay cut of $6 an hour—from $28 down to an average of $22 an hour. They lost many of their paid holidays, some of their time off and their ability to earn overtime pay. Their health insurance costs went way up, while their safety and working conditions went way down. They also accepted a severe policy that allowed for termination after only four unscheduled absences.

These huge concessions were to last for five years, at which time the workers were supposed to be offered a better deal. But this year, shortly after the workers struck, Warrior Met Coal offered them only a $1.50 an hour raises over five years … and nothing else.

It’s not like Warrior Met Coal can’t afford to give these workers everything they gave up. The company is quite profitable now, producing anthracite coal used in steelmaking for export.

The problem for the strikers is that despite the determined, now months-long fight these miners have been making, they are up against a monster—or actually several monsters. Because the four biggest stakeholders in Warrior Met Coal are all giant holding companies. BlackRock Fund Advisors is the largest with a 13.37% stake alone. Yet even this big stake in Warrior makes up only a tiny fraction of BlackRock’s entire portfolio of $9.5 trillion in assets under its management.

So, the fight of the Warrior coal miners needs to become a fight of many other workers in order for it to put much pressure on the bosses to settle it to the workers’ satisfaction.

The Warrior workers deserve the support of workers all over the country. And it would absolutely make sense for that fight to broaden. We all have something to fight for, and we’re all fighting the same class enemy!

Mexico:
False Hopes South of the Border

Sep 13, 2021

The poor jobs situation in the U.S. and the threatening environment toward immigrants cultivated by Trump slowed immigration from Mexico to a trickle over the last decade. Moreover, presidents Obama and Trump both kept up a steady stream of deportation of Mexican immigrants. Then last year, Mexican workers were not looking to migrate into the middle of the pandemic’s biggest epicenter.

Now for months, the American media has been more than happy to air restaurant owners’ complaints that no one in the U.S. wants to work for them. They’ve been so effective that working people in small towns and villages in Mexico have picked up on it. The lack of opportunities in Mexico and countries like it makes the U.S. sound like greener pastures. Of course, the media fail to mention how hard it is to live on the low wages on offer—the real reason for the “shortage.” Workers looking to immigrate often only hear the bosses’ side of the story, out of the mouths of the capitalist media.

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9/11:
A Natural Human Response Used Against Us

Sep 13, 2021

For several weeks, the media had been building up the approaching 20th anniversary of 9/11. On the anniversary day itself, there were multiple ceremonies across the country to remember the nearly 3,000 people who died in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

On 9/11/2001, it was a natural human response that people were horrified at the deliberate murder of so many people and were angry at those terrorists who were responsible. It is understandable that there are some people today who still want to honor and remember all those who died.

But behind all the planned ceremonies, the politicians, the media and those that run this society have their own reasons to continue to talk about and remember 9/11. That is, in remembering what happened on 9/11, they want people to forget what happened before 9/11/2001 and forget what has happened in the 20 years since.

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 did not happen in a vacuum. They arose out of decades of U.S. imperialism dominating and exploiting the peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world. U.S. government policies in the Middle East are carried out to maintain control over a key area of world commerce and control over the resources of the region, especially oil. To protect the profits of U.S. corporations, the U.S. has sent in its own military forces, or used those of its surrogates, like Israel. The U.S. government has propped up authoritarian regimes and undermined regimes that tried to take a distance from U.S. imperialism. They have pitted one regime against another. For the people of the Middle East, the presence of U.S. imperialism has meant continual wars and lives of unending poverty and despair. U.S. imperialism has produced a breeding ground for people who hate what the U.S. has done—and a few of them, in their blind anger, would kill innocent civilians.

After 9/11/2001, those who run this society, backed by the politicians and the media, tried to rally the U.S. population behind them so they could continue the same policies of U.S. imperialism for the next 20 years. They used 9/11 and fighting terrorism as the pretext to occupy Afghanistan, invade Iraq and to conduct other wars in the Middle East.

Since 2001, over 7,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in wars in other countries—and the number of people, civilians and soldiers, from those countries who have died are hundreds of times that number. And people living in those countries are more impoverished than ever.

After 9/11/2001, the politicians and the media talked about how “people were united” and how “we are all together.” For 9/11/2021, they repeated the same ideas, hoping that people forget that we are not all together, that we live in a society divided into classes.

The truth is, we live in a society divided between the capitalist class and the working class. The capitalist class in this country benefits from the policies that U.S. imperialism carries out around the world, exploiting working people in other countries. And that same capitalist class exploits working people here.

In the 20 years before 9/11, and in the 20 years since, the standard of the working class has been pushed down. That is something that we cannot forget.

Afghanistan:
Women’s Struggle Continues

Sep 13, 2021

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

“Girls need to understand this is for their own good,” said Afghanistan’s new minister of higher education after passing notorious initial decrees against women.

What is good for girls, according to the Taliban?

In private universities, now female students must be buried in a loose black tunic covering them from head to toe and must cover themselves with a niqab, a veil covering their faces.

Mixed-gender classes are done. Women must attend class out of sight of men, in separate rooms. If there are only a few students, women may be in the same room as the men but divided by a hanging screen.

Young women and young men may not cross paths. So, the women must leave class five minutes before the men and wait in another room until these gentlemen have left the premises.

Finally—the height of stupidity, absurdity and ridiculousness—universities must hire female teachers for female students. If there are not enough female teachers, they may be men, but only if they are “elderly teachers whose morality has been vetted,” according to the decree!

Even before the decree was published, and for days since, reports from Kabul have showed demonstrations by several dozen women demanding respect for their rights. They were ready, as one demonstrator said, “to take risks, rather than die slowly.” With determination and courage, they showed up to shout their demands at the mullahs’ beards and were dispersed by the police. “We must be able to participate in decision-making, politics, education, and employment. Everyone here has rights. We cannot stay at home and be silent,” they said.

Prior to the withdrawal of western troops, the corporate media seized upon the issue of women’s rights to foster opposition to the pullout. It’s certainly true that over the past 20 years, teachers, students, intellectuals, artists, and women in the upper rungs of society have gained rights, freedoms and the beginning of equality. Some workers in western countries were understandably concerned about what the Taliban’s coming to power would bring.

But if that small minority of women has been able to see their conditions improved in the big cities and mostly in Kabul under the regimes put in place by the imperialist powers, it has been different elsewhere such as in the countryside. But this was no concern for any of the imperialist governments which intervened in Afghanistan, and which now spew out words like civilization, freedom, democracy, rights, equality.… The vast majority of Afghan women continued to suffer war, bombings, abuses, and poverty. Over the last 20 years, 7 million Afghans were forced from their homes and 200,000 people were killed, about half of them civilians including many women and children. One out of three Afghan children received no formal education, and 60% of them are girls. They saw nothing of the billions of dollars alleged to be lifting the country out of underdevelopment.

Now with the Taliban’s return, even those small gains limited to a minority of women are being called into question. All women will be subjected more and more to the backwards-facing laws of the barbarians and to their exactions and crimes.

Those who fight against this backlash incarnated by the Taliban’s return deserve the support of women and men around the world. But the so-called civilized governments will never offer any help. It is from the Afghan people themselves, including its most oppressed layers, that the forces capable of putting an end to backwardness and underdevelopment will emerge.

Down with Imperialist Intervention in Afghanistan, and Iraq!

Sep 13, 2021

The following is excerpted from the Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter editorial of August 30, 2021.

The fiasco of American imperialism in Afghanistan is plain for all to see. How could anyone say it was a success after seeing the revolting images of tens of thousands of Afghans begging to be evacuated by the American army and clinging desperately onto the planes? And on top of the chaos came the horror of the bomb attacks.

But those who defend the policies of the major world powers tell us that the failure is due to it being impossible to bring freedom in from outside or, even worse, that “the Afghan people are not ready for democracy.” As if that was the reason the Americans, with all the Western leaders behind them, went to Afghanistan!

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the attack on the World Trade Center, ostensibly to track bin Laden, mastermind of Al Qaeda. But it was, above all, a golden opportunity to occupy an immense country in a strategic region and try to set up a regime that it could control.

During the twenty years of war, U.S. administrations sought to rely on every possible clique, including the most corrupt and reactionary ones, to help them develop a semblance of an Afghan state and army. They spent 2,000 billion dollars to do it. The money wasn’t spent on building schools, hospitals or the infrastructure that might change things for the country’s inhabitants and offer them the prospect of a better life!

The death toll is 2,500 American soldiers and 200,000 Afghans. There are millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. And the U.S. is leaving a powder keg in its wake. Not only is it resigned to the return of the Taliban, but it’s counting on them to combat the ISIS militia, who they consider to be even more dangerous!

The population is now trapped in one of the poorest countries in the world, a country poisoned by fanaticism and barbarism. This particularly affects the petty bourgeoisie that developed in the shelter of the Western presence and who believed in the promises the Americans made. Women are hiding without knowing if they will be allowed to work, to study or to leave home without being imprisoned in a burqa. This shows the true value of promises of freedom and democracy made by imperialist leaders.

The principal victims of imperialism are the men and women of the countries that have been pillaged and devastated by wars. They are the women and men of Afghanistan, Iraq and others. But we are all concerned and doubly so. It is illusory to think that we can live in peace in a world that has been made uninhabitable for millions of women and men. And the multinationals who profit from the oppression of populations in poor countries are the very same as those which exploit and impoverish us here.

None of the problems facing humanity—the risk of widespread war, terrorism, the economic and ecological crisis—can be solved unless we challenge the domination of imperialism and the capitalist system on which it’s based.

In this fight, the victims of imperialism, the Afghans, the Iraqis and the Africans who come knocking on our door are not our enemies but our allies. The first thing we should do is reach out to them.

Pages 10-11

Texas Republicans Call for Vigilante Attacks on Women—Supreme Court Says, Go Ahead

Sep 13, 2021

The following editorial appeared in the SPARK workplace newsletters during the week of Labor Day, 2021.

A new Texas law authorizes “any citizen” to take “legal action” against anyone who “aids or abets” the carrying out of an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

On the face of it, the law is an open violation of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which supposedly said women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies without state interference.

But the Supreme Court didn’t declare the new Texas law unconstitutional. Nor did it put the law on hold until the law makes its way through the various layers of the judicial system, state and federal, to be ruled on. The Court just let it stand for now.

In 2013, Texas passed two laws that the Supreme Court let stand for three years until it finally ruled them unconstitutional. During those three years, half the women’s clinics in Texas were forced to close—and almost all remained closed after the Court finally threw out the laws.

This new law, left in place even for a few years, will shut down the remaining clinics through which women gain medical care for reproductive issues—birth control as well as abortion, testing for cancers and sexually transmitted diseases.

In this supposedly “democratic” country, it doesn’t matter that almost three quarters of the population say abortion should remain legal and available. It doesn’t matter that court rulings supposedly codified this right. Access to abortion has been restricted, and restricted again, ever since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Laws have been passed by the states and the federal Congress chipping away at it—over 700 in the past ten years alone.

Roe v. Wade may remain in place, but most women have no direct access to abortion or other reproductive services. There are no medical facilities or doctors who perform abortions in 90% of all U.S. counties. Six states have only one in the entire state; 27 major cities are without a women’s medical facility. In rural areas, there are none.

Backing up the legal restrictions, there has been a terrorist campaign carried out by religious zealots and other right-wing fanatics. In the 40 years from 1977 to 2017, there were over 7,000 recorded acts of violence, most against doctors, nurses, and other personnel in women’s clinics. The record of terrorism included 42 bombings, 185 arson attacks, hundreds of assaults. Between 1993 and 2016, 37 attempts were made to kill doctors or nurses or other employees of a clinic. Eleven people died.

Women who walked into the clinics were violently harassed in a campaign of intimidation.

The Supreme Court’s inaction on this latest Texas law is an encouragement to the same right-wing zealots. It reinforces a call for vigilantism.

There will be even less access to abortion—and this will be true even if the Supreme Court eventually overturns the law.

Beyond the direct impact on abortion rights, this law adds to the official encouragement of a dangerous right wing in this country.

Women have already come under attack. Black people have been attacked; gay, lesbian, transgender people, attacked; immigrants, attacked; homeless people, attacked. Unions, women’s organizations, black churches, homeless organizations were all attacked.

To look to the courts for a defense against this right wing is to fall victim to an illusion. To hope for Democrats or “reasonable” Republicans to change the course is to court disaster. This whole system, which the courts and the two parties represent, stands behind the attacks.

Ordinary people, working people, no matter for which reason we are attacked, will defend ourselves in the only way that has ever shown the least bit of promise, that is, by organizing ourselves. But it’s not enough just to fight. If we understand that behind this right wing is the whole system that set it in motion, then we have to prepare to take on the system itself.

Culture Corner—Books and Videos worth a look:

Sep 13, 2021

Movie: The Killing Floor, 1984. Rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime or Xfinity on Demand

The screenplay by Obie Award winner Leslie Lee is from an original story by producer Elsa Rassbach. It is based on actual characters and events, tracing ethnic, race and class conflicts seething in Chicago’s giant slaughterhouses, where management efforts to divide the workforce fuel racial tensions that erupt in the deadly Chicago Race Riot of 1919.

Damien Leake stars as Frank Custer, a young black sharecropper from Mississippi who lands a job on “the killing floor” of a meatpacking plant C one of tens of thousands of southern blacks who journeyed to the industrial north during World War One hoping for a better life. He then joins the white-led union and organizes workers in the plant.

In 1919, a time period when workers were rising up all over the world, this award-winning film shows how courageous individuals stood up to the racist divisions and dirty tricks and led the fight against the death-causing profit machine. It is an inspiring film.

Today, faced with attacks on our workday and pay, attacks on our health care, increases in part-time, temporary and sub-contracted work, and endless overtime, workers more than ever need to join together to demand control of the wealth we create. The organizing efforts of the past light the way.

Book: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry, 2005.

An engaging and masterful story of the flu pandemic of 1918. It reads like part detective novel, part science fiction. The book tells the history of medical science, how it was not a priority in the capitalist profit system, how the politicians’ main response was to urge people not to worry, to continue with war and business as usual, at horrendous cost. How some fought to alter course. Sound familiar? The author makes it come alive, tells it like the thriller that it is. A story worth reading, as now, 100 years later, it repeats itself.

Page 12

Gas Leak at Ford Flat Rock Plant Forces Area Residents to Evacuate

Sep 13, 2021

An estimated 1400 gallons of gasoline leaked into the sewer systems in Flat Rock, Michigan. The gas leaked from underground storage tanks at the nearby Ford plant.

The Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of benzene in the city’s sewer system. The EPA measured benzene levels at 6 parts per billion. They require oil refineries to maintain levels at or below 2.8 parts per billion.

Benzene in the sewer system could potentially cause fumes to enter local buildings. As a result, officials recommended over 1100 homes and businesses to evacuate the area. Breathing in high enough levels of benzene vapors can lead to death, or at lower levels to decreased blood cell counts, weakened immune systems, and even blood cancers with long-term exposure.

An area resident called a hotline to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) on Monday, August 30, to report the odor of gasoline, before anyone at Ford informed anyone about the leak. EGLE inspectors went to the plant that Wednesday to investigate the leak. EGLE apparently later received an anonymous tip about another leak that day. Ford didn’t report that leak until the following day.

Jerry Clark, a highly experienced pipe fitter who was in charge of the original installation of the gas tanks and pipes at the plant, says an alarm should have alerted Ford right away. He said, "I don’t understand if it was a tank leak or a pipe leak, that was negligence on somebody’s part."

Over 10 days after the original leak, residents who have evacuated are still waiting for test results on air and water quality in their homes and have had to find other living arrangements. Ford made a big pronouncement that it was pledging 1 million dollars toward the costs of temporary shelters. Residents have pointed out that won’t go very far, given the number of homes and businesses forced to evacuate.

Area residents’ questions remain unanswered, but who trusts a major corporation like Ford to answer them truthfully?

Tell It Like It Is!

Sep 13, 2021

Texas’ latest anti-abortion law, known as SB 8, is the harshest in the country. It’s basically a ban on abortion, with its 6-week time limit on the women who might wish to undergo the procedure. When the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, blew off a question about rape, saying women have 6 weeks to get abortions under Texas’ new law, he got schooled. Because menstrual cycles vary between 3 and 6 weeks apart, once a period is missed, there can be zero weeks before abortion is illegal!

Comedian Sarah Silverman summed up the impact of this new law very well. She said, “They know rich people can get abortions. They can leave the state, they can take off work, they can get a babysitter, they can drive 10 hours, they can wait 24 hours to think it over and then afford to do that, right? This is a war on poor people.”

Hands Off Women’s Healthcare Decisions!

Sep 13, 2021

A new Texas anti-abortion law that went into effect September 1st is a clear sign that the right to healthcare choices for working class women is under serious attack. More restrictions on abortion have been enacted in 2021 than in any year since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973. A total of 19 states have passed 97 new restrictions on abortion.

In the U.S., many individual states have abortion bans in place. Should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the next day, abortion would be largely illegal in 22 states. This would leave one third of all U.S. women in a state without access to abortion.

The 6-week Texas abortion ban, like many recent bans, relies on a medical myth. The far-right has adopted the deceptive strategy of calling them “fetal heartbeat bills.” Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains, “When I use a stethoscope to listen to an [adult] patient’s heart, the sound that I’m hearing is caused by the opening and closing of the cardiac valves.”

The sound generated by an ultrasound in very early pregnancy is quite different, she says. “At six weeks of gestation, those valves don’t exist,” she explains. “The flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.” According to Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an OB-GYN at the University of California, “What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity.”

The Roe v. Wade decision defined abortion as legal until fetal viability, which the court said means “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb.” These new laws play games with women’s lives to eliminate the fetal viability standard.

The whole of capitalist society is set up to take power away from ordinary people, from working class people, to reinforce and protect the dictatorship of money. By going after women’s independence by restricting healthcare decisions, the goal of the far-right billionaires who back these laws is clear: they do not want women to be equal players in society.

If women can’t decide for themselves when and whether to have children—women also won’t be able to decide their future. Being forced to continue a pregnancy makes women more likely to remain in poverty. It makes women more likely to remain in abusive relationships. It hurts their children. It makes women more likely to die.

This latest far-right push is not going to be slowed down by a court order—the only thing the Democratic Party has attempted thus far. It’s going to take a massive mobilization to turn this around. The sooner working people stand up for ourselves, for our families and the women who birthed us all, the better!