The Spark

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

Issue no. 1139 — October 11 - 25, 2021

Editorial:
Price Increases:
The Bosses Steal More from Workers

Oct 11, 2021

Prices are rising fast. The official inflation rate is close to 6%, higher than it has been in 20 years. What’s worse, basic necessities that working people spend the most on, like rent, energy, transportation, and many kinds of foods, like meat and dairy, are rising at double digit rates.

That’s not all. Need a new car? The average price is $12,000 higher than last year. Two-year-old “pre-owned” cars are just as bad, costing what new cars used to cost.

The news media blames the price increases on the chaotic reopening from the pandemic and economic slowdown. They say the reopening has caused shortages and bottlenecks that are a normal part of the ups and downs in the market economy, of companies “struggling” to meet “supply and demand.”

In reality, this latest economic chaos shows how backward and destructive these companies’ profit-driven economy really is. Rather than plan and invest in preparation for the economy’s eventual recovery, the big companies that dominate the economy did the exact opposite. They kept costs as low as possible for as long as possible to increase their short-term profits. Car companies didn’t bother to order enough computer chips to build new cars. Shipping companies didn’t bother to stock enough containers. Oil and gas producers slashed production and distribution worldwide.

Then these companies turned around and used the shortages that they themselves created to charge much higher prices for the very same products! Car companies, meat producers, supermarket chains, and energy companies have all cashed in by charging much higher prices. Here’s one typical CNBC headline: “Ford Raises its 2021 Outlook after Surprise Higher Second Quarter Profit.” Some surprise!

These shortages also super-charged speculation and debt supplied by the banks, leading to much higher profits for banks and finance companies, and pushed up prices even more.

No wonder that the latest U.S. corporate profits were 24% higher than they were before COVID hit. These companies engineered these profits … at the expense of the working population.

In fact, companies use inflation and higher prices as a weapon against the working class, a way to steal even more money from us. Any tiny wage increases these companies may have granted “out of the goodness of their heart” is quickly eaten up by much higher prices.

In order to stop higher prices from driving down our standard of living, working people have to fight for much higher wages, and—in order to preserve their purchasing power—people have to fight for wages to rise along with price increases.

If the point of the capitalist economy is for workers to sacrifice even more to make a few people even richer, then who needs it? The working class has to fight to defend itself—and that fight will also have to prepare to challenge the disastrous control over the entire economy and society by a tiny minority for its own profit, the capitalist class.

Pages 2-3

California:
Abortion Not Accessible to Working-Class Women

Oct 11, 2021

California is often held up as the beacon of abortion rights. The “Golden State” doesn’t only recognize a woman’s right to have an abortion, without the restrictions found in many other states; it also mandates that health insurers cover abortion. And despite the federal Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funds to be used for almost all abortions, Medi-Cal, California’s health insurance for the poor, pays for abortions also.

But despite all this, women still face real difficulties and barriers in getting an abortion, especially for the working class and poor. First of all, more than 20, mostly rural, California counties have no clinic that provides abortions.

And it’s not just abortion. In some rural parts of California, there is not even basic healthcare available for women. In 2014, about one third of rural counties in California had no hospital obstetrical units. So, women often have to travel as much as 300 miles to find an abortion provider. But many working-class women can’t take time off to travel such long distances, either out of fear of losing their jobs or because they don’t have anyone to take care of their other children when they are away.

As for insurance coverage, yes, California requires health insurers to cover abortions. But even with insurance, the out-of-pocket cost for deductibles and co-pays can range anywhere between 300 dollars (for a medication abortion) and more than 1,000 dollars.

So, even though insurance may cover abortion, many can’t afford it anyway.

Of course, for the poorest segment of the working class, Medi-Cal does provide coverage for abortion for free. But the barrier there is that many healthcare providers in California, including abortion clinics, don’t accept Medi-Cal because the reimbursement rate is so low, they don’t even cover the providers’ basic costs.

Like all legalities, rights granted on paper don’t necessarily come true in the real world—not in capitalist society, which erects obstacles in front of the working class and the poor in all areas of life.

Willing, But Not Able to Get Vaccinated

Oct 11, 2021

A report by the Department of Health and Human Services in August found that close to half of the unvaccinated people were willing to get vaccinated but did not because of real barriers that they face getting the shot.

That comes to tens of millions of people, many of whom are just out there on their own. They have little or no contact with health care providers. They don’t have access to a computer to make an appointment, or don’t have transportation to a clinic or pharmacy to get a shot. And many hesitate to get a shot because they think they can’t afford it. They don’t realize the vaccine is free.

Other people feel that they just don’t have the time. They fear that if the vaccination causes side effects, they may need to stay at home to recover, and they can’t afford to do that, since they are so far behind on their bills as it is. About a quarter of the workforce, 24%, or roughly 33.6 million people, have no paid sick time. And 22% of workers have fewer than five days of sick leave. So, if they don’t show up at work, they risk terrible consequences.

There are also millions of undocumented workers who don’t get vaccinated because they fear that the government can deport them using the information they provide for the vaccination.

Many unvaccinated people also have questions: How is it going to affect me? How will it interact with the drugs I already take? Others are confused by all the false information that is circulating about the vaccines. But they cannot readily reach medical staff to have their questions answered. For these reasons, they prefer to wait and see.

These are the hurdles big parts of the working class and poor face to get vaccinated. The rich do not experience these issues.

Insufficient or no public healthcare is the primary source of all these hurdles. Because public healthcare is not a profitable business, the companies did not invest in it. Because public healthcare is mainly for the working class, the Federal and State Governments drastically slashed funding to funnel more money to the rich as tax cuts for their businesses. Investing in the rich and neglecting public healthcare are the conscious choices of this government for the wealthy.

As a result, there is not sufficient public healthcare infrastructure to support medical staff to answer valid questions about vaccines, to mandate companies to provide ample paid sick days to their workers, to provide mobile or stationary vaccination centers so that the workers and poor can get easy access, and above all to have approaches to develop a public healthcare infrastructure the workers can trust. They do nothing.

Instead, the State and Federal governments have dumped their responsibility on workers through dictatorial decrees: vaccine mandates. This is the typical approach of the capitalist class and its government officials.

The Pandemic Has Been Good to the Rich

Oct 11, 2021

Forbes came out with its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, all billionaires. While many Americans have suffered financially this past year due to the pandemic, the collective fortune of these 400 billionaires increased 40% over the last year.

The usual suspects were in the top five. Jeff Bezos (Amazon), worth 201 billion dollars, up from 179 billion dollars, is still the richest. Then there is Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Larry Page (Google).

But there are some new faces on the Forbes 400 list. At least three people with a stake in the coronavirus vaccine race are among some of the new arrivals to the list!

These 21st century wealthy 400 are not so different from the robber barons of the 19th century—like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. One example: taking advantage of the pandemic by making profits off a potentially life-saving vaccine.

Yes, the rich have gotten billions and billions richer during and because of the pandemic. That’s enough to make anyone sick. Too bad there is no vaccine for that!

Poor Job Gains Show Systemic Problems

Oct 11, 2021

The U.S. economy added only 194,000 jobs in September, the slowest gains of 2021.

Most pundits blame the recent surge in the COVID Delta variant for slowing hiring and job growth. But in fact, the problems run much deeper than a temporary blip.

Many predicted that September would see a surge of hiring and economic activity: kids were going back to school, after all, and extra unemployment benefits were ending for many.

In fact, the opposite happened. Many workers stayed away even after their unemployment ran out. So much for the story that “generous” benefits were keeping people from looking for jobs!

And the Delta surge caused many schools to scale back or reverse their plans for in-person school. Public education jobs declined by a big amount in September—right when they were expected to go up. Many families, especially working mothers, were faced with the same old problem: Their kids were still staying home; or even if their kids were going to school, they could be sent home at any time due to a new COVID outbreak. The jobs the mothers can find pay so little that childcare would cost more than the income they’d take in. As a result, 309,000 women over the age of 20 dropped out of the workforce in September.

Economists try to point to the drop in the unemployment rate to 4.8% as a silver lining. But in fact, the unemployment rate dropped because people—especially women—dropped out of the workforce; NOT because more people are working! More than 5 million people stopped looking for work during the pandemic; and that trend is not getting better.

The problem is not just the Delta surge. The problem is too many jobs with dangerous conditions and poor pay, forcing parents to put their lives on the line while leaving their kids alone at home—or remain unemployed, without an income, but at home with their kids. The problem is too many school systems across the country that did nothing to truly prepare their schools to bring students and staff back during COVID. The problem is governments and employers putting all their focus on blaming workers for being unvaccinated while doing nothing to improve wages and working conditions to make it possible.

The problem is this system based on profit. The result is an economic crisis that only gets worse.

Pages 4-5

Kellogg Workers on Strike:
Our Future Is Not for Sale

Oct 11, 2021

Starting Tuesday, October 5th, 1400 Kellogg factory workers in 4 states—Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee—went out on strike after contract negotiations that had dragged out over a year broke down. They are members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International union.

They join their comrades of Nabisco, Frito-Lay, and El Milagro Tortilla—some of the other food workers who have recently decided to draw the line on overwork, and the gutting of their wages and benefits and jobs, and stand up and strike. As one Kellogg worker’s strike T-shirt reads: “Will strike if provoked.”

And provoked they were. Kellogg wants to end workers’ cost of living raises that make up for inflation. It wants to expand the two-tier pay and benefits the company was able to shove down workers’ throats in 2015, under the threat of closing plants and sending work to Mexico. It wants to cut health care, holiday and vacation pay; and cut retiree benefits for new hires.

But here is a workforce that has worked all through the pandemic, producing the popular breakfast cereals that can be found in millions of homes in this country, like Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes, Raisin Bran, and Fruit Loops. Here are workers who have worked 12 to 16-hour days, 7 days a week, often for months at a time, with no time off, because breakfast cereal has been in even more demand, given that many people have worked from home and children were not in school during the pandemic.

Here are essential workers who should be getting more—not less, and who work for a company whose CEO brags to its investors about its far increased sales, profits and cash flow compared to pre-COVID 2019. Paid an $11.6-million-dollar salary, he says how disappointed he is in workers’ decision to strike. Really?

Today, some food industry workers have decided to take a stand. Will these strikes be the beginning of something in the working class? We don’t know. But what is important is that there are workers who have decided to take a stand. As one picket sign reads: “Our Future is Not for Sale.”

Poison Water in Benton Harbor

Oct 11, 2021

In 2018, high amounts of lead were found in the drinking water in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Three years later, the problem still hasn’t been fixed and lead levels are higher than ever. The water in some homes tested with lead as high as 889 parts per billion, almost 60 times higher than the federal safety limit!

Exposure to excessive lead causes multiple health problems, especially for children. Children can suffer permanent damage to their brain and nervous system, and develop learning, behavioral, hearing and speech problems.

What has been the response of politicians and government officials to this human crisis? Little and nothing! The lead is leaching from old, corroded lead water lines. After three years, little has been done to replace them with new water lines. Democratic governor Whitmer proposed to spend 20 million dollars to replace the lead lines, which was not even enough money. The Republican majority state legislature then cut that amount in half. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to order immediate emergency action, but the EPA says they are only “carefully considering the issues and concerns.” While they consider, people are still being poisoned.

What has happened in Benton Harbor is similar to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Like Flint, Benton Harbor is a city of mostly poor and working-class people. Eighty-five percent of Benton Harbor residents are black. Like in Flint, residents and environmental groups have had to protest to get any response from the government. After some protests, the government provided water filters to Benton Harbor residents, but they failed to show people how to properly install the filters. After more protests, the government now said they will help people install the filters.

The state government also just announced they will now provide free bottled water to Benton Harbor residents. The state Health and Human Services director said, “out of an abundance of caution we are recommending that people use bottled water for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth.” How outrageous! Three years after they knew about the problem and did nothing, they are just now recommending an “abundance of caution”.

The problem of lead in drinking water is not confined to Flint and Benton Harbor. It is estimated that there are at least 9 million homes across the country that have old lead water lines. Lead has been found in drinking water in schools, factories, and workplaces. It is a nationwide health crisis.

The response of the federal and state governments to this crisis has been the same as the response in Michigan. Ignore the problem, unless and until they feel enough public pressure. This capitalist government, which gives away trillions of dollars to banks, corporations, and Wall Street investors, hasn’t spent even a tiny fraction of that amount to immediately replace all the lead water lines.

A capitalist system, which consciously makes choices to enrich a wealthy few, while failing to provide clean, safe drinking water for all, is a system which is not in the interests of humanity. If the capitalist system can’t even replace lead water lines, the system itself needs to be replaced.

Will the Grand Prix Return to Detroit Streets?

Oct 11, 2021

Suddenly there’s talk about bringing the Detroit Grand Prix back to the streets of Detroit. They make it sound like they’re doing it because they’re looking out for the interests of residents of the city.

Remember why they took it off the city streets in the first place? It was because the city roads were in such poor condition, it was bad for the race cars and the safety of the drivers. So, what’s changed now? Are the streets of Detroit suddenly smooth sailing?

Clearly, they must be planning to fix the roads in the area where they plan to hold the race. What are the chances they’ll be fixing the roads in other parts of the city? Most Detroiters probably won’t be holding their breath on that one.

Homeless in D.C.

Oct 11, 2021

A bulldozer was used to clear a homeless tent camp in D.C. A man, still inside one of the tents, began screaming. Some people heard the screaming and were able to stop the bulldozer before it completely crushed the man. He was taken to the hospital.

Posting signs is not enough. Someone actually has to check inside each tent. Homeless or not, people are not garbage!

This is all part of Mayor Bowser’s “clean sweep” of the city’s homeless and their over 100 tent encampments with over three hundred tents throughout the city. The city is only hiding the homeless in temporary housing. It is not providing jobs, mental health services, drug rehab, or other services that might actually make it possible for people to permanently improve their situations.

Chicago Public Schools
—No COVID Measures

Oct 11, 2021

In Chicago, school has been back in session for six weeks. All students and teachers came back to school in the midst of the Delta wave of the COVID pandemic. They are all required to mask, vaccines have been made available for all staff and some students … but that’s it.

One of the unpleasant surprises—no COVID testing took place in school buildings for the first few weeks. What?! Yes, this was doubly surprising, as testing took place regularly for teachers and the few students in the buildings back in Spring. But somehow, with buildings now packed to capacity, the testing disappeared. And even when it got started, many teachers got word that their tests were “lost.”

Contact tracing has also come up short—some people have reported having to wait up to 10 days to get the call from a tracer. By that time, the tracing is useless. Parents raised such a stink that Mayor Lightfoot was compelled to apologize. All schools were to have COVID testing available ... five weeks after school started.

Working for Chicago Public Schools feels like being a soldier in the Tzar’s army in World War I—they sent soldiers to the front without guns. Here, they are sending students and teachers to the COVID frontline, deprived of even the most basic tools necessary to keep us safe.

Michigan:
Black Women in Prison for Life

Oct 11, 2021

Michigan has 31 prisons, but only one is a woman-only correctional facility. An organization called The Sentencing Project did a study looking at women in the U.S. serving life without parole (LWOP). In the whole U.S., Michigan has one of the highest percentages of black women serving that kind of life sentence.

The study’s lead researcher points out, "A majority of the women [facing extreme sentencing] have endured sexual and/or domestic violence, and the legal system has consistently failed to take their experiences into account." Often a husband or romantic partner coerces involvement in a crime, but so-called tough-on-crime laws require mandatory sentences. So, women often face harsh punishments for minor roles "where laws require identical punishments for all defendants regardless of their role in the crime."

The new study found that one in four women sentenced to life in Michigan played only a minor role. A sentence of life without parole means the women usually die in prison. In Michigan, in general, black women serving life terms were very young when sentenced. More than one-third of women serving a life sentence have attempted suicide.

Other studies have shown that between 40 to 80% of women convicted of murder acted in self-defense against an abuser. Such women rarely have criminal histories. While only four percent of murdered men are killed by female partners, one-third of murdered women are killed by male partners. Women’s need for self-defense is a matter of life and death, not that the capitalists’ legal system cares.

Black women face double oppression by racism and sexism. Add to that the class oppression of the so-called justice system that criminalizes poor and working people. Study authors plead for criminal justice reform. But a society that so casually condemns abused women to the death sentence of life in prison is a system that itself should be buried.

Pages 6-7

The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women

Oct 11, 2021

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

The emancipation of women is an integral part of the struggle of the communist workers movement. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was the first seizure of power on a large scale by the working class. It blew a wind of emancipation over the workers and peasants, despite the terrible difficulties linked to Russia’s underdevelopment, to the revolution’s isolation in a single country, to sabotage by bourgeois and aristocratic circles, and to aggression by all the united imperialist powers.

The steps taken toward the emancipation of women, and the way in which they were taken, give the measure of the uprooting which a deep social revolution allows. It was only later that the Stalinist bureaucracy, once consolidated in power, reverted to a conservative view of the role of women as housewives and pushed back the initial advances.

During the First World War, women entered Russian factories en masse to replace the men who left for the front lines. They made up 43% of the workforce. Their situation remained marked by submission to the family patriarch, to domestic violence, to the weight of religion and tradition, to illiteracy, to wages lower than men’s’, and to the obligation to work up to the moment of childbirth and return to work the next day.

The Russian Revolution began with a demonstration of female textile workers in February 1917 in Petrograd. In October and under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, the revolution led to a new power based on the mobilization and organization of the workers themselves. The Council of People’s Commissars was also the first government in the world in which a woman sat: Alexandra Kollontai.

In terms of legislation, the new power quickly achieved what feminists were fighting for in so-called democratic countries in Europe and the U.S.: the right to vote and run as a candidate, the end of the legal domination by the head of the family, civil marriage, simpler divorce procedures, equal rights for children born out of wedlock, a ban on night work for women, equal pay, maternity leave of 16 weeks for wage workers and 12 weeks for salaried employees, and for legal and free abortion (in 1920).

As Lenin said at the end of 1918: “Nowhere in the world has the equality and freedom of working women been so fully realized … For the first time in history, our law erased everything that left women without rights.” He went on to say: “Of course the laws are not enough.” Because there is a chasm between equality on paper and real equality in everyday life!

Lenin observed in 1919: “Woman continues to remain the domestic slave, despite all liberating laws, because the small domestic economy oppresses her, suffocates her, stifles her, humiliates her by attaching her to the kitchen, in the children’s room, forcing her to spend her strength in terribly unproductive, petty, annoying, stupefying, depressing tasks.” Inessa Armand clarified the matter: “To replace thousands and millions of small individual economic units, rudimentary, unhealthy and poorly equipped kitchens, and the inconvenient laundry tub, we must create exemplary collective structures, collective kitchens, collective canteens and collective laundries.”

What was new was that the workers’ state was an organ in the hands of the workers, functioning thanks to their initiatives and in particular those of working women. Despite the country’s poverty, many women set about changing the way of living, by setting up community housing, canteens, nurseries, kindergartens, and maternal homes welcoming women before and after birth.

The Bolshevik Party waged a militant struggle to involve women more in political action. Lenin underlined the difficulties in building a socialist society: “It is the beginning of a more difficult, more essential, more radical and more decisive revolution than the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, because it is a victory over our own routine, our laxitude … on these habits that capitalism has bequeathed to the worker and the peasant.” To workers and peasants, the past had bequeathed religious prejudices, lack of education and political awareness, and lack of self-confidence.

To combat this legacy, Bolshevik leaders Alexandra Kollontai, Inessa Armand and Concordia Samoïlova gathered more than 1,100 women in the fall of 1918 for an All-Russian Congress of Women Workers and Peasants. In 1919, despite opposition by certain militants, they created a section of the central committee of the Bolshevik party in charge of militating among women workers, the Jenotdel, which existed until 1930. Delegates elected for three to six months by women workers and peasants brought working women together to listen to their problems. They took part in meetings, in propaganda campaigns against alcoholism, domestic violence, epidemics, and so on. They learned how to manage collective institutions like kindergartens, nurseries, and canteens. Nadezhda Krupskaya estimated that 10 million women were delegates at one time or another.

Bolshevik newspapers Woman Worker and Woman Communist played a role in political education and became a sounding board for the problems and concerns of working women. The struggle for literacy gave millions of women access to reading for the first time, especially in the countryside where the male heads of the Orthodox Church and its elders opposed it, seeing it as the influence of the Antichrist!

In the Eastern Soviet Republics, the power of the Soviets prohibited polygamy and dowry and sought to rely on the mobilizations of women to overthrow the feudal and archaic religious castes. In 1921, a congress of Eastern Communist Women said: “Slaves we were born and slaves we died … It seemed this was to be our eternal destiny … But then, in October 1917, a red star appeared, never seen before, and so the workers and peasants joined the Revolution and it changed their lives.” There was still a long way to go: in Uzbekistan in 1928, more than 200 women were murdered by their families for trying to exercise their rights, or for attending a Jenotdel meeting.

In the countryside, activists spoke about contraception, participation in the life of the Soviets, and reading. They clashed with patriarchal traditions. One young woman was flushed out of the book club in her village by her mother-in-law and was dragged by her hair to the matrimonial home. One reader wrote to a socialist newspaper that her husband “practically overwhelms me with insults and beatings. He doesn’t want me to work. He wants me to sit by the stove … but I want to be a worker of the great October revolution. I’m tired of being a good woman, I want to be a human being.”

The power of the Soviets, with its legal and material achievements, expressed the will for change that was emerging among millions of working and peasant women and many of their companions, and this undermined traditions that had weighed on the lives of women for centuries.

Women Can’t Wait for Courts to Decide Their Fate

Oct 11, 2021

As of October 9, 2021, abortion is effectively illegal in Texas. The Texas Heartbeat Act was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on May 15 of this year. The Act took effect on September 1, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop it. On October 6, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ordered Texas to suspend the law. Then, on October 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit put the law in effect again!

While the courts are flip-flopping, women are told to wait. Wait for the courts and the Democrats to protect their rights. Time is something pregnant women do not have. Wealthy women can get on a plane and fly somewhere. Poor women cannot.

There is a whole range of social consequences to unwanted pregnancies. Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to experience depression and stress during pregnancy. Teenage girls have a higher rate of dropping out of school. Women drop out of the workforce. Higher crime rates. Increased levels of household stress, which can lead to domestic violence. These consequences can lead to the impoverishment of women and their children.

No. Women cannot wait for the courts, the Democrats, the legislature, or anyone else. Waiting means having a baby that could have a variety of problems, like fetal alcohol syndrome, or born addicted to drugs. Or born into an abusive and dangerous situation.

All children deserve the best a society has to offer. If women are not treated as human beings, if they are forced to take on roles they are too young for, responsibilities they are ill-equipped to handle or afford, then women, children and society at large will suffer.

Women cannot wait for reactionary ideas about “a woman’s role” to change.

Women Demand Abortion Rights

Oct 11, 2021

Following what is effectively a ban on abortion in the state of Texas, women and supporters came out on Saturday, October 2, in all 50 states to protest. In hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S., demonstrators marched, many for the first time. Some expressed shock that “established law"—the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision that legalized abortion—looked to be in danger.

A refrain in city after city was, "Keep their laws off my body." Homemade signs abounded, in particular, signs with a real wire coat-hanger attached to the phrase, "We won’t go back."

In Washington, D.C., thousands marched to the steps of the Supreme Court. The court went back into session on October 4 and will hear oral arguments on December 1 on a Mississippi case that threatens to overturn the fetal viability standard established under Roe v. Wade. That 1973 ruling declared abortion legal, nationally, up to the point at which survival is possible outside the womb.

In practice, restrictions on access to abortion have piled up for working class and poor women ever since 1973. Barriers to obtaining abortion have worsened to the point that today, there are no medical facilities or doctors who perform abortions is 90% of all U.S. counties.

Called by the Women’s March organization that formed soon after Donald Trump was elected president, this was the first large women’s protest of the Biden Presidency.

Because you had to have internet or social media access to hear about the demonstrations, those who came out were largely young people, white collar workers and professionals. Some of the organizers, linked with the Democratic Party, talked about elections and voting being important. But many who came out expressed a serious fear for women’s safety and a sense of urgency. That instinct that something more needs to happen is correct.

No politicians and no courts ever gave women the rights that are now under attack. Women and allies have had to come together, organize, and fight every step of the way. The right to an abortion was won along with a package of social gains by the many social movements of the 1960s—the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the black power movement, and the anti-war movement.

On the heels of last year’s massive protests against police brutality following the horrific murder of George Floyd, a new layer of people may be learning not to wait on the politicians and the courts but to go into the streets. But to rely on organizations linked to the Democratic Party to call the demonstrations will mean the fights that are called will be limited in scope. Fights that aim to bring the working population together to take on the whole system are what is needed.

Pages 8-9

U.S. Imperialism Responsible for Violence in Mexico

Oct 11, 2021

Nearly 100,000 people have disappeared in Mexico, about 88,000 of them just since 2006, according to a recent report by Mexico’s National Search Commission. Most are presumed to have been killed and dumped in mass graves. This on top of more than 150,000 people murdered since 2006, with the numbers rising toward record levels again in recent years.

The cartels that have directly carried out most of the killings emerged in the 1980s to sell drugs to people in the U.S. When they came into being, they often worked with U.S. forces—the CIA in particular—against “leftist” rebels in Central America and Colombia. Their more recent wars with each other have mostly been over access to the U.S., where they sell their main products.

These cartels are also armed to the hilt by U.S. gun manufacturers. Firearms are almost illegal in Mexico—the Mexican government issues fewer than 50 gun permits each year. And yet, Mexico is full of military-style weapons. According to a lawsuit filed by the Mexican government in August, U.S. gunmakers sell more than 340,000 guns each year that flow into the hands of criminals in Mexico.

The Mexican military and police have also been involved in many killings themselves. This past spring, 30 Mexican marines were arrested for orchestrating a wave of disappearances and killings. Text messages proved that Mexican police and cartels cooperated to murder 43 students in Iguala, Mexico in 2014—and these are just a few of the most recent, proven incidents. In fact, the military and the cartels are often the same people—one of the most notorious cartels, Los Zetas, was even formed by people who came out of the Mexican special forces.

These forces are armed and trained by the U.S., of course—Los Zetas members even received special forces training. Then, starting in 2008, the U.S. launched the Merida Initiative, funneling 3 billion dollars to aid Mexican “security” forces. And despite these forces’ links with the cartels and role in the violence, the Biden administration just approved a 5-million-dollar gun sale to the same navy and marines accused in the latest wave of killings.

The violence in Mexico is not just about drugs—the country is also suffering from a wave of kidnappings aimed at extorting money from relatives who are working in the U.S. The prime targets of these kidnappings are Central American migrants, passing through Mexico on their way to try to get to their relatives in the U.S. The U.S. expels thousands of these migrants into Mexico every month, under a policy started under Trump and continued under Biden. Whole families are dumped on the Mexican side of bridges, with crying small children, shoes with no laces, their few possessions stuffed in plastic bags with the U.S. government logo. They are essentially being handed over by the U.S. government as targets for criminal gangs: according to the group Human Rights First, at least 6,356 of these migrants have been kidnapped, abused, or attacked so far this year.

This violence is not some “foreign” problem that can be contained with a wall. It is the direct result of U.S. domination of Mexico.

The Whole War in Afghanistan Was a Disaster, Not Just the Withdrawal

Oct 11, 2021

At the end of September, the U.S. Senate grilled military leaders about the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan. Everyone in the room looked for someone to blame.

And yet, even as senators and military leaders were pointing fingers at each other, they also all admitted that well before the final withdrawal, the U.S. had already lost the war, that without U.S. military support, the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government was inevitable. What these hearings ignored was the obvious question: if the U.S. occupation had brought freedom and prosperity to Afghanistan, as they always claimed, why didn’t the population support it?

The U.S.-backed Afghan regime was based on a set of warlords and mujahideen. Many had worked with the U.S. since the war against the USSR in the 1980s and had then thrown the country into a disastrous civil war after the Soviet withdrawal. In the 1990s, the U.S. and Pakistani security forces had helped create the Taliban in an attempt to find some organization that could stabilize the country and end that civil war. But once the U.S. moved to overthrow the Taliban in 2001, it relied on the old warlords once again. No level of corruption or brutality among them was too much for the U.S. Neither was the revived oppression of women in the countryside, even in those areas under the control of the U.S.-backed government.

If we were to believe U.S. officials, the violence in Afghanistan was caused by the Taliban and by terrorists, while U.S. strikes carefully targeted those killers. But the reality of those strikes was revealed by the last two drone attacks ordered by the Biden administration on August 29. Instead of killing terrorists, they killed an aid worker and nine others, seven of whom were children. This was just the latest “targeted” killing to hit civilians: according to the U.N., 5,200 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting in just the first half of 2021. Over the twenty years of U.S. occupation, the toll of dead reaches into the hundreds of thousands, with many times that number wounded.

The poverty of the majority of the population is also even more dire than it was before the U.S. invaded. Despite all the billions of dollars poured into the country, essentially no economic development took place, especially in the countryside where three quarters of the population lives. Just two months after the U.S. defeat, almost half the population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Aid groups warn that millions face the danger of starvation this winter. This crisis has been made worse by the U.S. cutting off aid and suspension of Afghan accounts—which itself shows the U.S.’s disdain for even the survival of the Afghan population. But the continued dependence on aid also shows how devastated the Afghan economy is after decades of U.S. occupation.

While the U.S. occupation might have improved the situation for the small layer of privileged people in Kabul and a few other cities, for the majority of the Afghan population, the 20 years of U.S. war were a disaster, not just the final chaotic evacuation. And in the end, this occupation set the stage for the return of the Taliban religious fanatics, except in an even more destroyed and impoverished country than before.

Haiti:
Facing the Dictatorship of Gangs

Oct 11, 2021

The following text is taken from the September 28 editorial of Workers Voice (La Voix des Travailleurs), the monthly published by the Haitian revolutionary workers group, Organization of Revolutionary Workers.

Gangs don’t officially hold power, but the situation is not far from that. For now, the main leaders of the criminal gangs are establishing and expanding their domination over the country. These armed gangs have turned the government and the political class into a peanut gallery, despite all their institutions and the international leaders in the CORE-Group who endorse them.

The gangsters live out their fantasies and freely carry out their macabre plans in the capital. The National Police are reduced to their own shadow since the workers it usually oppresses now are armed. The police suffer defeat after defeat. The police force was already plagued by corruption and riddled with internal conflicts. It has never been able to fight the gangsters. Quite the opposite: those cops who do not join these mafia groups are singled out and murdered. Throughout the capital, the police stations where they are assigned are attacked.

Law enforcement being neutralized, the whole country lies at the mercy of armed gangs. In the Martissant neighborhood and around the southern entrance to the capital, the armed bands control National Road number 2. No fewer than four provinces are regularly isolated from the rest of the country. It is the same on the north side of the capital, with the 400 so-called Mawozo gangs in Croix-des-Bouquets and G9 in Cité Soleil and Bas-Delmas.

The distribution of petroleum products—the heart of Haiti’s economy—is jeopardized. For the past six months or so, refueling at a gas station has been difficult. With their power to disrupt everything, the gangs decree temporary ceasefires at their whim to let hospitals stock up on fuel or to let NGOs rescue earthquake victims in the south.

As the government disintegrates, the gangs consolidate their bases, grab new turf, recruit new young people, and acquire sophisticated weapons. To finance themselves above what they make from kidnapping, arms trafficking, and drugs, the gangs hold small merchants and independent businesspeople for ransom.

The inhabitants of the neighborhoods are constantly monitored under the rule of the gangs. They are forced to swear allegiance to these bandits. Those who refuse are considered enemies, and risk death. This process takes place everywhere, in neighborhood after neighborhood and from one city to another—sometimes with the complicity of politicians in office and of opposition politicians.

But, despite their ferocity and the terror they bring to the people, these new thugs—like the Tontons-Macoutes thugs of fallen dictator Duvalier—are only a minority. As in the past, they won’t have much weight faced with the revolt of the entire population. Ordinary people can become determined to regain their freedom and safety.

A Big Scandal?
No, Same Old Same Old

Oct 11, 2021

An international journalists’ organization reported in its Pandora list how rich people hide their money: they put cash into property or stash it in so-called tax havens all over the world. The rich have their lawyers and accountants make up shell corporations. This Pandora list includes kings, princes, nobility, dictators, presidents and prime ministers.

None of this is a surprise. Every trick of these wealthy parasites has already been used by corporations for as long as capital has existed, not just decades but centuries.

We just forget what the rich, their political lackeys and the earliest corporations used to do: buy up all the gold and silver, or the tulips or the tea; grab free land to make fortunes in railroads; guarantee profits with military contracts; re-write the tax code every 10 years, so that this industry or that one won’t pay taxes. That’s why oil got the nickname “black gold.”

We forget there is a list published every year of dozens of the largest corporations in the U.S. finding legal ways to pay no taxes, like Microsoft or Amazon or Walmart. Apple has left more than 200 BILLION dollars in Ireland to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

As a rich woman once put it, “Only little people pay taxes.”

Pages 10-11

Biden’s Mandates, Republican Opposition—Both Serve the Capitalist System

Oct 11, 2021

The following editorial appeared in the SPARK workplace newsletters the week of October 4, 2021.

Nine Republican governors issued executive orders penalizing cities or school districts that implement vaccine or mask mandates.

They pretend to oppose mandates in defense of “individual freedom”—millionaire politicians who hog freedom only for their own class. Autocrats who stomp on the civil rights of millions of people—they call it a “civil rights issue.” They claim they are protecting the rights of everyone “to choose for themselves what is done to their own bodies.” Yet they push laws making it increasingly difficult for women to control their own bodies.

Hypocrites, every one of them. Every one of these nine governors is vaccinated. Most rushed to get the vaccine as soon as it came out, even cutting in line to get it first.

Playing politics with the mandates, they reinforced the spread of false ideas about vaccines. Looking for an issue for the next election, they were ready to damn those who would listen to them to death by Covid. And deaths aplenty there have been: almost 700,000 in the U.S., almost five million in the world.

Vaccines and masks are a very inadequate protection. But in the midst of this medical disaster the capitalist system let loose on us, they are the only ones this system has left us with. They seem to protect most individuals AND eventually may stop the spread of the disease.

Years ago, the possibility of this kind of viral epidemic was already widely known by medical science. But the medical system continued as before, organized around the most efficient way to make profit for pharmaceutical companies and other suppliers. More hospital systems and nursing homes became for-profit enterprises. Public health funding was slashed and slashed again.

When the virus struck, the population—including people working in the medical system—was left without protection. Medical supplies and protective equipment hadn’t been stocked. Production facilities for those supplies weren’t prepared. Drug companies got billions to develop vaccines, but little money was put into clinics that could reach the whole population. People with medical and public health experience were not trained and hired. Most decent public hospitals and clinics were gone.

All of this was the result of a capitalist system whose priority is profit and not human need. It’s the same reason workplaces are not made safe—even though technology exists to do it. It’s the same reason weather has been allowed to become more extreme—even though science knows what causes climate change, and what remedies are needed. All the basic ills we face within this capitalist system come down to the same issue.

The capitalist drive for profit did not create the virus, but it guaranteed Covid’s spread.

The mandates pushed by Biden and Democratic governors are directed against working people, whether in rural areas or in big cities. The penalties attached to the mandates threaten our livelihood, that is, our lives.

The mandates ignore the responsibility of the capitalist class and so does Republican opposition to them. They hide what the politicians of both parties have done to the public health system for decades, making it almost useless for organizing a response against the virus.

Under the pretext that vaccination is “good for you,” the mandates accustom the population to obeying orders coming from a government that is not theirs and does not serve them. And Republican opposition gives us no way to intervene ourselves in our own class interest.

The capitalist system long ago outlived its usefulness. Whatever was progressive in it has turned into chains that imprison us. But capitalism left us with one important force. In the words of Marx, capitalism created its own gravedigger, the working class, the class that has the capacity to get rid of capitalism and build a socialist society.

Culture Corner—Books and Videos worth a Look:

Oct 11, 2021

Movie: Respect, 2021, featuring Skye Dakota Turner as the young Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson as the adult, Audra McDonald as her mother, and many others in this strong cast. Available in theaters and for streaming at home.

This film follows Aretha Franklin through her life and development and shows the influences on her of the men in her life, of her family and of the church community. It also shows how she was a product of the times: growing up in Detroit, her involvement in the civil rights movement, its impact on her, and her voice joining the call for freedom. More than anything, this movie is about her voice, her music and how her songs resounded with all her listeners in a time where millions were raising their voices. Even today you can hear an echo of the power of that time; her voice carries the hopes and dreams of us all.

Book: The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Book 1 of 3 Is The Fifth Season, 2015.

This award-winning author has written an amazing science fiction work that describes a dystopian world where “… the world ends … for the last time. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.”

It highlights race, class, exploitation, brutal effects of climate change, and the need and call for change. All this in a world imagined like nothing we’ve seen, and yet hauntingly echoes our own.

Page 12

Postal Slow-downs:
DeJoy’s Sabotage Plan

Oct 11, 2021

On October 1, a plan to slow down mail delivery went into operation. That’s right, to slow it down. Supposedly this is to save money. But in reality, every “money-saving measure” has been a way to damage the mail service and drive more and more of it into private hands.

The U.S. Postal Service lengthened its “service standards"—now, instead of saying it will take no more than three days to deliver first class mail anywhere in the country, the USPS now says it will take between two and five days. This is because it will use fewer planes to fly mail across the country, instead relying on trucking, which will take longer—especially when it has to go across the country.

At the same time, the USPS is raising prices from October 3 to December 26, through a “holiday season surcharge.” First-class package service will go up by 30 cents; priority mail and others will go up by 5 dollars! Also, the USPS announced it will be raising rates two times a year now, instead of one.

This is all part of a 10-year plan put forth by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. DeJoy was appointed by the Postal Board of Governors in May 2020. At the time, many saw his appointment as a way for then-president Trump to interfere with the mail leading up to the November 2020 election—and the slowdowns caused by his policies certainly had an effect. But here he is, still in office ten months after Biden and a Democrat-controlled Congress took office.

DeJoy proposed his 10-year plan to the Board of Governors back in March, and it was approved by both Republicans AND Democrats on the board.

Their explanation for all of this is that the USPS is making less money because people are sending less mail these days. But that’s not really true. First class mail may be down, but parcel mail is way up. It’s also said that the Postal Service is deeply in debt. Yes, it is—but it’s completely a manufactured debt. The debt appeared after Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act in 2006, which compelled the USPS to pay in advance for the health and retirement benefits of all its employees—50 years in advance! Overnight the USPS went from making a surplus to deeply in debt.

This real cause of the USPS debt has been pointed out many times, but nothing has been done to change the law or remove that obligation. It still remains as an excuse to make further cuts and layoffs—and to drive more business into the hands of private shipping companies.

Biden has said nothing. A bill has been put forward in Congress to undo parts of the 2006 law, but of course, it has gone nowhere. The same Democrats who COULD remove DeJoy, who COULD push through reforms to wipe out the USPS debt, are acting helpless and repeating the lies that these are necessary moves to save the Postal Service.

DeJoy made millions of dollars as the head of a private shipping company. His interest in downsizing the Postal Service and driving more business to private companies is clear.

But it’s also clear that BOTH parties in government are on board with these plans.

California Oil Leak Disaster

Oct 11, 2021

An underwater pipeline leak off the coast of Huntington Beach, California released tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean on October 2nd. As of this writing, a week after the leak occurred, many of the main questions about how and when it happened—or even how big a leak it is—have yet to be answered. Considering how much offshore pipelines are supposed to be regulated, inspected, and monitored, this shows just how dangerous they really are.

In all, California has eight oil platforms and islands in state waters and 23 in federal waters off its coasts. Hundreds of underwater oil wells connect to these platforms and islands. And this is far from the first time there has been an offshore oil leak.

About 32 years ago, almost 400,000 gallons of crude was spilled near the location of the current leak when an oil tanker ran aground on its anchor near shore.

In 1969, the largest spill in California history triggered the beginning of the modern American environment movement and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A well blowout at a drilling platform off the Santa Barbara coast shot 4.2 MILLION gallons of crude into the water and onto nearby beaches before it was finally cut off after 11 days.

The oil from the current leak is doing serious environmental damage. Balls of crude oil and muck are littering and coating the southern California coast. Birds, fish, and other marine animals are eating or being coated with oil and are dying. And at least some of this damage will likely be permanent to the environmentally delicate marshes and wetlands that are being contaminated.

This disaster is the result of money-grubbing on the part of oil pipeline operators, oil processors, the big oil companies themselves and shippers. They of course put their profits before the environment whenever the two conflict.

And government agencies supposedly responsible for protecting the environment have looked the other way. According to the federal General Accounting Office, for example, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement neither monitors safety nor enforces environmental rules. It has allowed the oil and gas industry to abandon 18,000 miles of old underwater pipelines off the U.S. coast without confirming that they have been properly cleaned out and decommissioned.

Working people and our environment are the main victims of all this money grubbing and irresponsibility. So long as the control of the world’s oil and gas resources remain in the hands of big oil capitalists, they will continue to destroy the environment which we, as humans, are a part of.