The Spark

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

Issue no. 1142 — November 22 - December 6, 2021

Charlottesville Trial Strips the Mask off the Far Right

Nov 22, 2021

The “white supremacists” who organized to bring violence to Charlottesville, Virginia have now been put on trial. Their two-day rally in August 2017 stepped off with lit torches, while demonstrators chanted, "Jews will not replace us." It ended with a murder by car when a self-styled Nazi barreled into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 16 others. In the immediate uproar, DeAndre Harris was battered by six white supremacists carrying clubs, spouting abusive racial slurs. All told, 35 people were wounded in mob attacks by those who “united” to demonstrate the supposed “supremacy” of the “white race.”

The right-wing mob that invaded Charlottesville came from all over the country: from Virginia to Montana; from Florida to as far away as western Canada.

The mob left no doubt what it stood for. Swarming through the town, they carried swastika-adorned pennants and Confederate flags. Some sported “battle shields” embossed with Nazi insignia or Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia.

The civil trial that began this November issued a clear indictment: the violence that broke out on those two August days in Charlottesville was planned. The organizers’ aim had been to make these few hundreds seem to represent something much greater than themselves. It was contrived to create the appearance of a mass movement, styled like the photos of fascism’s marches in Germany in the 1930s or the KKK’s mob attacks in the 1920s.

Contrived, yes, and people in the small town of Charlottesville were grievously harmed by it.

Although the neo-Nazi who sped his car through the crowd was convicted of murder, and four more were convicted of a beating, no one has been held accountable for organizing what happened. This current civil suit by nine people from Charlottesville is an attempt to hold 24 organizers of the rally accountable. Fourteen of them are leaders of the different organizations that planned the rally; ten of those put on trial are the organizations.

The defendants repeatedly claimed during the trial that they hadn’t intended for violence to happen—claims disproved by their own words introduced into the record of the trial. For weeks leading up to the rally, its organizers had discussed among themselves, via a common chat room, how to bring out the people most ready for battle. They discussed how to “troll” the left, in order to attract counter-demonstrators. We want a “war,” said one of the defendants. In advance, they called it the “battle of Charlottesville.”

Immediately after the rally, one of its main organizers called the attack by car, "a victory for the white race." In the trial, they tried to disown the car’s driver, but on the day he killed Heather Heyer, several of the organizers said he had killed people "who deserved to die." Another referred to the woman killed as a "fat pig who had no right to take up space on this planet ... a disgrace to the white race."

The claim of self-defense by people who murder is not a new tactic. It was the claim made by the man who came to Kenosha and killed two people, blowing off half the arm of another person. The same claim was made by three white men who killed a black jogger in Georgia. All down through the history of this country, it was the claim made by the KKK, when it lynched black men, in defense—supposedly—of “pure, white womanhood.” It was the claim made by thugs organized by Henry Ford when they murdered five hunger marchers in 1932. It has been the standard claim of every right-wing force in this country. It is so often upheld by the so-called “justice” system because that system defends the capitalist order. These right-wing thugs, no matter what kind of inconvenience they might be, ultimately serve the interest of those who rule the country.

No matter what finally happens in this trial, these organizations—or ones like them—will continue. And, yes, they pose a danger to black people, first of all, to women, to all others oppressed by the system and targeted by the right-wing.

But the biggest danger we face, the one that clearly can be mortal for humanity is the fact that the working class today is not organized in its own name, fighting for its own aims. In that absence, organizations that seem to be radical like those who came to Charlottesville will continue to attract people.

The goal of all those who want to prevent the growth of the extreme right, and of supremacists of any stripe, can only be to work for the working class to develop its own voice, its own struggles; in other words, its own organizations.

Pages 2-3

No Democracy for Women

Nov 22, 2021

A recent poll, by the Washington Post and ABC News, found the majority of people in the U.S. support a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

Those calling themselves Democrats were in favor of keeping abortion legal by 82%; those calling themselves independent by 58%; those calling themselves Republicans by 42%.

The poll more or less showed that three quarters of adults in the U.S. favored keeping abortion legal. But one quarter may influence the Supreme Court toward either overturning Roe v. Wade or making it almost impossible for a poor woman to get an abortion.

While women with access to money may find abortion providers, poorer women won’t. It’s past time to keep this minority out of our bedrooms and away from our bodies.

Some Get Away with Rape

Nov 22, 2021

A young man in New York, guilty of raping at least four young women, just got a sentence of eight years on probation.

The incidents took place four years ago, when he and the young women were teenagers. By 2019, the criminal charges had already been reduced to lesser ones, and he had been given probation—and broken the terms of his probation subsequently.

The young man was white and from a wealthy background. If he had been poor and from a black or immigrant background, he might still be in prison awaiting a court-appointed lawyer to take him to trial.

One victim of his brutality spoke in court: “I stand before you now asking you to not let this be the end, to not let this rapist walk away from two years’ probation with a clean slate.... I am asking you because you have the ability to save future girls. You have the ability to put this fire out or to let it continue burning.”

In this society, it is accepted that some men can force women to have sex as they choose. And it’s common that white men of wealth rarely get convicted of a crime when they do.

Oil Price Gouging

Nov 22, 2021

A main driver of the wave of inflation besetting the country is the price of all forms of energy.

Gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, natural gas, electricity and coal, all cost much more than they did a year ago. Or, even a month ago. The national average for gasoline is $3.42 a gallon, up by more than a dollar from last November and the priciest it has been in seven years. Home heating oil bills are expected to be up 39% over last year. Natural gas bills are expected to be 26% higher than a year ago, and electricity 6%.

No, this is not because the big energy companies can’t keep up with increased demand caused by the economic rebound following the pandemic. It’s because energy companies are simply using the slow economic expansion as the excuse to greatly increase prices—that is, they are carrying out price gouging.

Even the news media admits that the few big energy companies that thoroughly dominate the entire energy sector have simply decided to hold production down to boost prices … and their profits. And it has worked. At Exxon, the biggest oil company in the world, profits were close to seven billion dollars—after taxes—for the last three months, as opposed to a loss last year. At Chevron, the second biggest oil company, profits were six billion dollars, or 17 times higher than profits in the same period last year.

And rather than reinvesting all that money—even in the production of alternative forms of energy—as these companies claim they are doing, they are simply using super profits to enrich their big stockholders. That’s why shares of Exxon are up 56% so far this year, while Chevron shares are up 33%.

And the capitalists are laughing all the way to the bank!

Biden in Detroit:
Not-So-Slick Salesman for Auto

Nov 22, 2021

President Joe Biden dropped into Detroit last Wednesday, joining local Michigan Democrats to crow about his infrastructure bill on the site of GM’s “Factory ZERO.” He drove around for the cameras in a brand new Electric Hummer, smiling and waving like a used-car salesman—helping sell GM’s new cars ... and his own policies.

“This law is going to help rebuild the backbone of this nation,” he said. “This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America.” He says, driving a car that starts at $115,000 “without the wheels.” A car that costs almost three times what an actual “blue collar” worker takes home in a year.

And it flies in the face of facts. Factory ZERO in Detroit/Hamtramck may get up to 2,200 workers ... eventually. This is less than the 3,000 workers that the Poletown plant on this same site employed at its peak—which was less than half of the number of jobs GM said would be there, after they bulldozed 400 acres of Detroit and Hamtramck to build it. And Poletown replaced the Fleetwood Body and Clark Street Cadillac Assembly plants which employed over 20,000 workers at their peak in the 70’s.

But Biden, a crafty salesman, knows a good line. He ignores GM’s constant attacks on its own workers, and instead calls out China, and points out a couple of new jobs that are “Here in America, not halfway around the world.” Peddling some of the same nationalist poison that Trump loved to dish out, as did the unions and the Democrats before him! Following in the same worn-out footsteps.

Raising Prices Because They Can

Nov 22, 2021

The U.S. is experiencing the biggest inflation rise in decades. The consumer price index rose 6.2% last month, the highest rise since November 1990.

The pandemic and the “supply chain crisis” are often cited as causes. But there’s a more basic cause that companies are openly bragging about: they’re raising prices because they can.

Two-thirds of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies are reporting better profit margins this year than in 2019. A big reason for that is that they have used inflation as an excuse to raise their prices, according to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Large companies like Proctor & Gamble, Kroger, and Walmart, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, oil and gas companies, are raising prices beyond the rise in their own costs, actually increasing their profit margins while their own costs go up. They can do this because they’re so large and they control so much of the market that they don’t have to worry about competition from others charging less. And when some raise prices, all of them do—taking their leads from each other. It’s monopoly capitalism, pure and simple.

They have even bragged about this to their shareholders in their quarterly reports. Kroger CFO Gary Millerchip said in October, "We’ve been very comfortable with our ability to pass on the increases that we’ve seen at this point. And we would expect that to continue to be the case." Colgate-Palmolive CEO Noel Wallace said, "What we are very good at is pricing. Whether it’s foreign exchange inflation or raw and packing material inflation, we have found ways over time to recover that in our margin line."

These vultures are very pleased with their ability to use a crisis to squeeze even more money from working class consumers who can ill afford to pay.

Medicare Premium Jump

Nov 22, 2021

At the same time that seniors are being told they are getting an increase in their monthly Social Security checks in 2022, the increase in the cost for Medicare’s “Part B” outpatient premium will take a chunk out of their checks. The premium increase is $21.60 a month, one of the largest ever.

According to Medicare officials, about half of that increase is to plan if the program has to cover ONE DRUG, Aduhelm, the new $56,000 a year medication for Alzheimer’s disease, from pharmaceutical company Biogen.

When an individual robs a convenience store, they go to jail. But when a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company puts a $56,000 price tag on ONE drug, 64 million Americans are supposed to pay for this grand larceny out of their own pockets.

Social Security Increase After Years of Decrease!

Nov 22, 2021

Whooooo-weee! Social Security recipients are practically being told they are in for a windfall because their “annual increase [is] expected to be the largest in decades” for 2022. Several estimates put the cost of living increase at around 6%—the highest paid since 1983.

But that isn’t saying much. Because Social Security COLAs averaged only about 1.7% a year over the past 10 years. Recipients, especially those who relied solely on their Social Security to live, fell further and further behind every year.

Security recipients need a heck of a lot more than 6% to contend with higher prices on everything!

Pages 4-5

Afghan Youth Refugees in Crisis

Nov 22, 2021

Forty-one Afghan children and teens evacuated from Afghanistan this summer ended up in a shelter in Bronzeville on Chicago’s South Side. The shelter, part of Heartland Alliance, has long accommodated refugees. Workers there have had experience helping children from Central America who were separated from their parents.

But they found they were ill-equipped to help the young Afghanis who have known only war, and many of whom were suddenly separated from their parents or relatives this summer.

No one at the shelter speaks either of the main Afghan languages. One worker at the shelter told a ProPublica reporter: “We don’t know if [the children are] saying they’re going to self-harm until we finally get a translator on the line. They could be telling us something. ... We try to guess. We try to communicate with cues, sign language, making motions like if you’re hungry or they need this or that.”

Staff needed to get translators over the phone or on an internet call. Of course, translators are obviously needed for working with children and youth suddenly brought from a war zone. But the Heartland Shelters didn’t receive translators along with the children. It was only after several of them attempted suicide, and Heartland workers blew the whistle, that translators got hired.

Torn from relatives, and with little idea of where they are, many of these youth have lashed out: becoming suicidal or violent. Police were called several dozen times just for this small group.

American imperialism wrought destruction in Afghanistan for two decades. And we see young people, already harmed by that violence, further harmed here by this country’s tattered “safety net.”

Chesapeake Bay Polluters

Nov 22, 2021

While world leaders pretended they plan to do something about climate change during the summit in Scotland, what’s happening in the real world?

Forty years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Alliance was formed to help push seven states and Washington, D.C. to change their practices and prevent pollution from flowing into the bay. In 40 years, the best the Alliance has measured is 40% of water quality goals met. Current measurements are only at 33% of water goals met.

For pollution on the ground, the Pennsylvania pipeline owned by Energy Transfer, a Texas company, has been fined 20 million dollars for spills and 120 other violations in the last four years.

In Baltimore, Maryland, the sewage system has been under a consent decree for almost 20 years. But repairs are nowhere near finished. The Maryland Department of Energy found this summer that sewage goes from two area sewage plants into the water, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. This sewage sends excessive nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria into the water. Meanwhile sewage bills have doubled and doubled again.

Clean-ups of water, land and air pollution have been promised for 50 years in the United States—without success in stopping never-ending industrial pollution. Companies consider such fines as a normal cost of business and residents can’t catch a break on what we have to pay.

Maryland School Bus Drivers Fight Back

Nov 22, 2021

Public school bus drivers in a growing number of counties in Maryland have organized job actions like protests, sickouts, and strikes this fall to demand decent pay and benefits, safer working conditions, and in one county, recognition of the union they built.

In Prince George’s County outside D.C. in September, drivers rallied for regular hours. In late October, 100 of rural Calvert County’s 134 drivers did a sickout. At the same time, drivers in southern Maryland’s Charles County struck for three days—some for longer. In early November, dozens of drivers in Anne Arundel County struck and then voted 49 to 29 to approve their new union. A few days later, 89 drivers in Baltimore County did a sickout one day, with 77 calling in sick again the next school day.

Becoming a school bus driver takes time and money, for example to train for and get a special kind of commercial driver’s license, as well as getting a physical, a background check, and getting tested for sleep apnea. All of this together can cost well over one thousand dollars.

But school bus drivers earn less than many truck drivers. And public school systems in Maryland have outsourced around half of the 7,300 public school buses to private companies, which have even lower pay and benefits.

Ostracizing Unvaccinated Workers

Nov 22, 2021

A labor union that represents Montgomery County government employees filed an unfair labor practice charge against Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, over their treatment of unvaccinated workers. Almost 90 unvaccinated workers are now required to report to two work sites in the Maryland suburbs north of Washington, D.C. Vaccinated employees of the park system are reporting to different work sites throughout the county. These workers work outside, where there have not been cases of Covid-19 spreading.

The commission rolled out this separation policy, which now has unvaccinated workers clustered together with no Covid-19 testing in place. But how is this policy really safer for anyone? The truth is, it is not. It puts workers more at risk by ostracizing workers who haven’t gotten the vaccine.

L.A. Sheriffs Harass Working-Class Bicyclists

Nov 22, 2021

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies use minor violations as an excuse to stop and search bicyclists in working class and low-income neighborhoods.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that bike riders in those neighborhoods are stopped and searched far more often than those in more affluent, upper-class parts of Los Angeles County. For example, in the working-class neighborhood of East L.A., the deputies stopped 3,700 bike riders within the last four years, and they searched 93% of riders they stopped there. By contrast, the deputies stopped fewer than ten riders in upscale neighborhoods such as Agoura Hills and Westlake Village within the same period, and didn’t search any of the bike riders they stopped.

The main goal of the Sheriff’s Department is not to stop crime but to harass the working-class population.

D.C. Jail:
Appalling Treatment

Nov 22, 2021

Federal marshals transferred around 400 prisoners of the D.C. jail to a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The marshals say they are removing prisoners from horrible conditions inspectors found during an inspection in October.

Activists point out that prisoners have raised the same problems for years. Issues like food and drinking water withheld from prisoners to punish them. Water shut off so toilets couldn’t flush for days. Feces and urine on walls and not cleaned for months. Mold. Nearly 100 guard positions vacant.

In fact, federal marshals are punishing D.C. by removing the prisoners from a deal negotiated in 2015 where the federal government pays the city $228 per inmate per day to house prisoners accused of federal offenses. This 23-million-dollar per year deal has made up one tenth of the city’s “corrections department” budget.

Being relocated to Lewisburg—nearly 200 miles from D.C.—will make it harder for these 400 prisoners to be visited by their families and lawyers. Officials didn’t fix any problems. They made problems worse, all so they could make themselves look good in front of the cameras.

Detroit’s MLK High School Students Protest

Nov 22, 2021

On Wednesday, November 17th, about 200 students at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Detroit, joined by some of their teachers, took their health and safety into their own hands by walking out and protesting over problems related to COVID at their school. They talked about how their administration has under-reported cases of COVID among students and teachers, and how there is little social distancing and no deep cleaning.

At the protest, students spoke up, saying that it’s not just their school where there are multiple COVID cases that have not been addressed: “… too many people are catching it and they’re not even closing it”, said one student. Another said, “Either shut us down or get us right.” And, “We are out here trying to get our schools clean.”

So far, the administration’s response to the protest is for Friday classes to be moved to online to allow for deep cleaning. And the entire Detroit public school district is also making that switch.

But one day of deep cleaning, by itself, is not the answer.

You can’t socially distance if class sizes are too large—and that is still the case at most schools. Not to mention the fact that parents are, once again, put in the difficult situation of having to figure out what to do when schools are closed every Friday.

Twenty months into this pandemic, the vast majority of public schools have not been transformed into the safe schools they could be—with more and bigger ventilated buildings, fewer students in classes, more teachers and support staff; and more medical staff. Maintenance staff could keep up with the deep cleaning, on a daily basis, with sufficient numbers and the right tools.

These are the only real answers.

Pages 6-7

FBI Cover-Up Exposed in Malcolm X Murder as Two Men Are Exonerated

Nov 22, 2021

A judge in New York recently exonerated two men, Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, wrongly convicted for the assassination of Malcolm X. Malcolm was killed on February 21, 1965 while speaking in the Audubon Ballroom in Upper Manhattan. One man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, also known as Talmadge Hayer, was prevented by the crowd from leaving the scene and immediately arrested. Aziz and Islam were arrested within two weeks and indicted, along with Halim, for Malcolm’s murder.

During the trial in February 1966, Halim confessed to being involved in the killing, but testified the two others were innocent. There was no physical evidence tying Aziz and Islam to the killing and both men had alibis. Nevertheless, the jury convicted all three and they were sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

In 1977 and 1978, Halim filed two affidavits again stating that Aziz and Islam were innocent, giving details of how the killing was carried out, and gave partial names of four members of the Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, New Jersey, as his partners in the assassination. Despite Halim’s efforts, Aziz was only granted parole in 1985 after nearly 20 years in prison, and Islam in 1987 after two more years.

In 2011, a biography of Malcolm X by Manning Marable encouraged others to call for the U.S. Justice Department and the New York State attorney to re-investigate the assassination. Both refused to do so. But only last year, in February 2020, did Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. agree to review the case. He did so in large part thanks to the efforts of historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, who spent decades investigating the case. His documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X?” encouraged public support for re-opening the case and led lawyers from the Innocence Project to become involved.

The nearly two-year-long review by Vance and the Innocence Project proved people’s suspicions were quite justified. The review turned up dozens of reports from the FBI and the New York Police Department’s Bureau of Special investigations that showed witnesses to the killing could not identify Aziz and Islam as being involved and instead implicated other suspects. The reports show there were as many as nine undercover FBI informants in the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was killed, and some filed reports clearly describing the assassins, particularly one named William Bradley, who some experts believe used a shotgun in the killing. One of the FBI reports describes Bradley as a lieutenant in the Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, New Jersey, and that he had been a machine gunner in the Marine Corps.

The reports also showed that the FBI ordered witnesses not to tell police and prosecutors that they were FBI informants. Those orders came down directly from none other than longtime director, J. Edgar Hoover. None of these documents were provided to lawyers defending Aziz and Islam at the time of their trial.

Many in the black community have long suspected government involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X. It has been known for a long time that the FBI carried out a program of “counter-intelligence” toward leaders of the black movement, including Malcolm X, which included bugging his telephone and spying on him. They did the same to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but they were particularly concerned about the appeal of Malcolm X, due to his outspoken stance in favor of self-defense by black people against racist violence directed toward them.

There was also reason to suggest Nation of Islam involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X. He had become very popular as a spokesman for the NOI, but broke with it over Elijah Muhammad’s sexual involvement with several young female members. He was seen by some as dangerous to the organization and possibly even a competitor to replace Muhammad as its leader.

Clearly, however, the FBI was at least involved in the cover-up of Malcolm X’s true assassins. Its leader, J. Edgar Hoover, was implicated and hurried to close the inquiry by sending two innocent men to prison for decades. The newly exposed information that the FBI had informants present at the time of the killing certainly shows, at a minimum, their indifference to his death, if not their involvement in it.

The Legacy of Malcolm X

Nov 22, 2021

Malcolm X was assassinated in February of 1965 by a gunman while he was speaking in New York. Someone influenced by the Nation of Islam may have pulled the trigger, but it is certainly possible, as many believed at the time, that the U.S. state apparatus was involved in his murder. It had already tried—unsuccessfully—to marginalize Malcolm X because he was giving voice to what many in the black population had concluded and were acting upon in the streets: that to win their demands it was necessary to go beyond the turn-your-cheek tactics of the Civil Rights movement.

Born Malcolm Little, he had seen his father lynched. Like many others of his generation, as a teen he gained his first education in the streets, becoming involved in street crime like gambling and later burglary, for which he was convicted and sent to prison. While in prison, he read and learned from Elijah Muhammad’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, most importantly from Muhammad’s expression of the right of black people to defend themselves and be proud to be black. The Nation of Islam taught discipline to its members and helped many to overcome personal problems such as addiction to drugs.

When he got out of prison, Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam. Over time, he built strong bases of support in several cities, particularly Harlem and Detroit. His eloquence and ability to address people’s concerns led to a huge increase in the Nation’s membership.

He came into conflict with Elijah Muhammad, first because he took as a practical aim Muhammad’s call for self-defense. When he publicly described the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost,” it set him apart from the road Elijah Muhammad was taking. Malcolm pointed to Kennedy’s assassination as a consequence of the violence carried out by the U.S. government. He made the connection between the violence here and the brutality carried out by the U.S. state around the world.

In doing so, Malcolm X went farther than Elijah Muhammad was ready to go, and when Muhammad attempted to silence him, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam.

Following the break, Malcolm X continued to articulate what many in the black movement were thinking.

At the time of his death, Malcolm X had not yet come to articulate the goal that the black population, in order to get what it needs, has to get rid of capitalism—and tie that to the key position black workers hold in the American working class.

But Malcolm X left behind a legacy which touches all those fighting against the racism and violence of this society.

Oklahoma Governor Trades a Death Sentence … for a Death Sentence

Nov 22, 2021

Just hours before the scheduled execution of Julius Jones, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Sitt “commuted” Jones’s death sentence to life in prison without parole. That is, Sitt condemned Jones to die in prison later.

This is the governor’s response to a long-standing, widespread, public outcry against Jones’s murder conviction in 1999. Back in February, hundreds of supporters of Jones had presented the Oklahoma parole board with a petition signed by 6.2 million people—more than one and a half times the population of Oklahoma—which, no doubt, influenced the parole board’s recommendation for the governor to grant Jones clemency.

For years, prominent athletes and celebrities have come forward in support of Jones, who has spent 22 years—more than half of his life—in prison, and 20 years of it on death row. But still, Oklahoma courts rejected Jones’ appeals, and the governor dragged his feet announcing his decision. Frustrated, hundreds of students from Oklahoma City high schools walked out of their classes—and occupied the state capitol—on November 17, one day before Jones was scheduled to be executed.

It’s obvious that Jones, then 19 years old, was railroaded to death row for the murder of Paul Howell. Jones and his family testified that he was at his home at the time of the murder, for example, but not even Jones’ lawyer mentioned it during the trial. Even the parole board, in its recommendation for clemency, pointed to “doubts” cast about the evidence used at Jones’ trial. Yet in the end, Oklahoma Governor Sitt not only swapped one type of death sentence for another; he made it in fact legally more difficult for Jones to fight for his freedom.

The case of Julius Jones is another chapter in the long history of legal lynchings of black men in this country.

The U.S. Has Another Huge Gift for Pfizer and Moderna in the Works

Nov 22, 2021

The Biden administration announced that it’s planning to “invest in expanding U.S. manufacturing capabilities of mRNA-based coronavirus vaccines.”

Translation: the federal government will hand out to two U.S.-based companies that produce mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, billions of dollars—on top of the billions of dollars it has already given them.

Moderna is expected to close 2021 with a profit of 14 billion dollars, a 70% profit margin on its projected revenue of 20 billion dollars from its coronavirus vaccine, the company’s sole product. Pfizer, a global pharmaceutical giant that has many other products, made about 58 billion dollars in sales and about 19 billion dollars in profit in the first nine months of 2021, nearly half of it from vaccines, including the coronavirus vaccine.

So why can’t Pfizer and Moderna use their fabulous profits to build new plants and expand their own manufacturing capacity?

Because we live under capitalism, a system whose purpose is to increase profit, and where government officials act as reverse Robin Hoods, handing taxpayer money to the biggest capitalists.

Determined John Deere Strikers Achieve Gains

Nov 22, 2021

In 2021, before over 10,000 UAW workers at farm equipment maker John Deere went out on strike, the company gave the CEO a raise of 160% and said profits of 6 billion dollars were expected for the year. On October 14, over 10,000 UAW workers went out on strike.

Five weeks later, having voted 61% YES and 39% NO on November 17, strikers are returning to work, having approved the company’s third offer. It is impressive that after 5 weeks on strike, staring at the coming holiday season, 39% of the workforce was ready to continue the fight! This solid group of workers can bring a militant mindset into the workplaces, serving up a warning to the company.

After a close ratification vote back in 2015, when 51% voted YES and 49% voted NO, the 49% began urging their coworkers to prepare for and save money for a strike in 2021. It worked!

The approved third contract differed from the second because the company agreed to some changes around productivity bonuses called the Continuous Improvement Pay Program. Strikers wanted adjustments to better account for circumstances beyond a worker’s control, like supply chain disruptions. The third contract made some steps.

Upon voting yes and going back to work, workers are to receive an immediate 10% pay raise and a ratification bonus of $8,500. The 6-year agreement includes 20% in total raises and 3% lump sum bonuses in the 3 years without raises.

In the first rejected contract offer, the company had created a new 3rd Tier with lower pay and benefits. That 3rd Tier was GONE in the ratified agreement. New hires will have the same healthcare as all workers. New hires will also have a pension—the same pension as the 2nd Tier workers have—those hired since 1997.

Benefitting all workers, a new health fund will be created to pay for retiree healthcare, something that was lost for all workers since 1997.

The issues raised by this strike touched problems many other workers face today: Pay not keeping up with inflation, the company trying to create new tiers of lower paid workers so the next generation has it harder than parents and grandparents, and underhanded company work rules that swindle workers.

This question of fighting the company to prevent a lower standard of living for the new generation came up in the previous nationwide General Motors strike of 2019. That strike did bring some improvements for workers.

The determined and well-organized workers at John Deere went about as far as a group of workers can go within one workplace and within one industry. Yet the confidence this fight can give to other workers can lead to a more generalized fight.

John Deere workers stood up not only for themselves but for future generations. Said one striker, "It’s a decent win for the American labor movement. Hopefully it will help empower workers."

Pages 8-9

Down with Fortress Europe, Workers Unite!

Nov 22, 2021

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

What is happening on the border between Poland and Belarus is appalling. Almost 3,000 migrants are massed at this border, wandering and sleeping in the forest, hoping to enter Poland without being turned away. A dozen people have already died, exhausted from days and nights out in the cold. Each new day threatens to claim new victims.

European leaders accuse the dictator of Belarus of facilitating the arrival of migrants at the border to destabilize Europe. They are outraged that he “instrumentalized and manipulated migrants.” This is true. But what are they doing, if not letting migrants suffer and die?

When they do not let migrants perish at the gates of the European Union, they arrange for them to stay locked up in the barracks making up camps in Lebanon, Libya, and Turkey—or for them to remain prisoners of their own homelands, like war-torn Afghanistan. Famine there drives families literally to sell their children.

Yes, the prize for cynicism goes to European leaders. Would-be immigrants only ask to enter and seek asylum using secure and legal means. Instead, they find themselves dependent on unscrupulous smugglers and hunted down like criminals.

There’s no need to go as far as Poland to see that the European leaders do not care about the fate of migrants. It’s enough to go to Calais or Grande-Synthe in northern France where thousands of migrants trying to cross over to England are constantly hunted down!

Among the millions of Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans driven from their homes by wars, destruction and poverty, only a small fraction try to reach Europe. But this fraction is enough for xenophobic demagogues like Eric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen, and many others to talk about an “invasion.” In this crisis, migrants are presented as “weapons launched against Europe.” These words allow any delusion, painting migrants as future delinquents and terrorists!

But these women and men are workers, secretaries, technicians, engineers, or doctors. Tomorrow some will work in hotels, restaurants, or construction. They will be drivers, caregivers, or temporary workers in food service or manufacturing. Others will help run hospitals or schools. Among their children, there may be future sports or chess champions—like undocumented 14-year-old Syrian Leen Yaghi, who won the French championship. Accompanying those who will become famous this way, are those who will work alongside us. These women and men are our kind. They need to feel welcome in the working class.

There have already been too many deaths, shipwrecks, and tragedies. Migrants need freedom of movement and settlement. We need to open the borders for them. The gates are wide open for rich foreigners, even financial sharks. But for workers who ask only to be useful to society, they are closed.

Some workers are worried because there are already a lot of people unemployed. But unemployment, underemployment, and low wages are not caused by migrants. They result from the balance of power with the employers, and from the level of struggles the working class is waging against layoffs and all these rapacious capitalists.

The bourgeoisie and their politicians pit private workers against public workers, temporary workers against permanent workers, and French against immigrants, in order to dominate and enrich themselves at the expense of all. To confront them, workers must unite to defend themselves.

Europe has become a fortress. The crisis and the anti-worker policies led by all governments, left and right, have let anti-immigrant sovereignist parties flourish.

The far right, champion of retreating into national identity, pushes politicians in an increasingly reactionary and even racist direction. The evidence is the rise of anti-immigrant proposals from presidential candidates on the right and even on the left.

If we are not careful, the barbarism of this society, its xenophobia and wars, will win us over. Nationalism and widespread mistrust of others have already become current. Conscious workers must oppose this poisonous tendency.

Capitalism exploits workers all over the world. We can become a force if we are aware that we are on the same side, the workers’ side—whose interest is to revolutionize society from top to bottom.

U.S. Airstrikes:
Murdered Civilians and Coverups

Nov 22, 2021

On March 18, 2019, a U.S. jet dropped three bombs on a group of people in a dirt field next to the Syrian town of Baghuz.

Immediately after, a military analyst watching footage from a drone above the strike typed in a military chatline: “We just dropped on 50 women and children.” A U.S. legal officer noted that this airstrike was a possible war crime and that the military needed to launch an independent investigation.

But instead, the military covered up the strike. The unit that carried it out intentionally entered false log entries. The Defense Department began an inquiry, but the report didn’t even mention this attack. The site where it took place was bulldozed, pushing fresh earth over the bodies of those killed. A Navy officer who refused to keep silent and criticized the cover up was eventually forced out of his job with the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office.

When pressed by the New York Times in November 2021, the U.S. military admitted that 80 people were killed in this strike, but claimed it was justified because 16 were fighters—defined as adult men—and only four were civilians. It insisted that the other 60 could not be identified as civilians because the Islamic State sometimes used women and children as fighters.

Throughout the five-year war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. carried out about 35,000 air strikes. It claimed to have restrictive rules in place to protect civilians. But the military set up all kinds of loopholes, allowing air strikes in any case where the U.S. forces or allies could claim “hostile intent”—which could mean just driving a car, miles from forces on the ground. The reality of these strikes on the ground was mass death and destruction. The group Human Rights Watch identified at least 7,000 civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes in Syria alone, but the real number is undoubtedly much higher—whole cities like Raqqa and Mosul were turned into little more than rubble.

This is what the never-ending U.S. wars have really meant for whole populations across a huge swath of the world, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Anger Mounts

Nov 22, 2021

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

Roadblocks went up at a number of places around Guadeloupe on Monday, November 15th. This was the day that suspensions went into effect for healthcare workers who refused vaccination. Several hundred were subject to suspension.

The actions were called by a coalition of unions and political organizations during a press conference on Friday, November 12th. What the press has been calling the LKP [the coalition that organized the general strike on the island in 2009] is in fact a coalition of nearly thirty unions and political organizations, including the UGTG, FO, CGTG, FSU and Combat Ouvrier. They have demonstrated since mid-July against the August 5th law mandating vaccines and levying heavy sanctions against workers. A section of firefighters, also subject to the August 5th law, joined the mobilization early on. The organizations called for an ongoing general strike, starting on November 15th.

Saturday, November 13th, 2,000 demonstrated and blocked roundabouts at Perrin aux Abymes and the last roundabout before the entrance to the airport.

A section of healthcare workers is on strike at twenty hospitals and establishments. The most important pickets are at the teaching hospital at Pointe-à-Pitre-Abymes and the hospital at Basse-Terre.

One hundred workers at the most important hotels on the island elected a struggle committee and are prepared to go on strike if the vaccination mandate is applied to them. They declared themselves in solidarity with the healthcare workers on strike. They also called for salary increases to deal with the hikes in prices. Workers at ArcelorMittal have been on strike for two months against a scornful boss they can no longer stand. Gas station workers at some stations struck November 15th. They demand that their labor rights be respected as well as an end to sanctions against the healthcare workers.

The student unions, particularly the FSU, called a strike for Tuesday, November 16th and a rally in front of the school administration. They are protesting the threats of suspension levied against some categories of workers: psychologists, nurses and teaching assistants.

For the moment, the strike only touches those sectors. The roadblocks put up by the different unions and the confrontations between workers and police there have been the highest points. At Morne-à-l’Eau, firefighters at a roadblock turned their firehoses on the police when they intervened. At the picket at the Espérance aux Abymes clinic, the police intervened brutally. The CGTG union delegate and a UGTG militant were violently arrested and handcuffed, then taken to the police station. Soon, several hundred striking workers and militants demonstrated in front of the headquarters at Pointe-à-Pitre–Abymes. The two arrested militants were released after 17 hours; they must appear in April to face charges of rebellion.

Very early in the morning of Tuesday, November 16th, new barricades went up in many places, notably Gosier, in front of the casino on “hotel row”. The firefighters put up their roadblock once again at the Perrin aux Abymes roundabout. Other roadblocks went up elsewhere on the island, notably at Pointe-Noire. Union leaders called for a general strike and for roadblocks against the sanctions imposed by the August 5th law, and also against the vertiginous increases in prices of necessities and gasoline. Some called for salary increases, pensions and a social safety net. Others sought to bring the entire island to a halt, calling on all workers and the population to join in.

By threatening to take the jobs and salaries of workers who refuse vaccination, Macron and his government, loyal servants to capital, act like arsonists, provoking the justified anger of thousands of workers, both vaccinated and not.

Pages 10-11

Behind their Fight Over Vaccination, Both Parties Hide Capitalism’s Culpability

Nov 22, 2021

The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of November 15, 2021.

As the world settles into a possible fifth upsurge of Covid, there is no let-up in the fight over vaccination. Republicans pose as defenders of “liberty” and “civil rights.” Democrats step forward as champions of “science.”

Both lie. And their squabbling hides the enormous culpability of the capitalist system—and their own—in the spread of Covid. Both parties continue to feed into capital’s drive for profit which has stripped bare the public health system. Draining money from public health, they left society with no way to organize a real response to the virus, just as they left roads and other public services to rot, just as they left education for working class kids to decay. Both parties reinforce the pharmaceutical industry’s grip over health care.

Vaccination was an enormous advance in its time, giving human society the possibility of escaping from the spread of contagious diseases, some of which wiped out whole societies.

Some of the vaccines against Covid also seem to be a big advance, based on new discoveries about the structure of viruses. Of course, no one can know for sure what lies ahead.

Some people said they were worried because this vaccine was developed so rapidly. In fact, they weren’t exactly wrong. Others said they felt like a guinea pig. They also weren’t exactly wrong.

But we face this reality: a contagious virus is spreading. To do nothing in the face of danger is a mistake. So we have to choose. The vaccine seems the least bad choice. It may even be very good.

How good is it? Time will tell. But we have to act right now. We do have to choose. And most scientists with experience in contagious diseases chose to take this vaccine. This is why the militants who work with SPARK chose to be vaccinated. It is how they explain their choice to other people.

Having said this, it’s important to say that the vaccine is not the end-all-be-all. To put all our hope in vaccinating just this country ignores the reality of how Covid spreads. The Delta variant should have made it very clear: until Covid is controlled in the whole world, it won’t be controlled anywhere.

The virus is able to spread because so much of the world is impoverished, and poverty is an invitation to the virus to come right in. But poverty itself developed out of the way that capitalism divided up the world. In the middle of this epidemic, too many people have no access to the vaccines, to medicine and to medical care. It’s true in the world, and it’s true in this country.

The pharmaceutical industry shows what the hold of capitalism means. The vaccines and new medicines, which ought to be used to benefit humanity, instead are being used to benefit the profit line of big companies, and of the banks and investment companies that lie behind them.

The vaccines themselves were developed in facilities that were publicly funded. Yet Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson were given control of them for their own benefit.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans propose to take control of those vaccines and medicines away from the three companies.

Neither party proposes to cut ALL funding to big corporations and the wealthy class that owns them. Neither proposes to give that money instead to public health, public education, roads, water systems, forests, bridges, tunnels, etc.

This latest squabble between the two parties shows they offer nothing to working people. Why should any of us line up behind either of them? That’s a fool’s game.

Working people have to organize to take on the problems we face, starting with the lack of decent jobs and adequate pay. We need safe workplaces, safe schools for our kids. We need training for young people so they can qualify for “modern” jobs. We’ll touch none of this until we prepare to fight—that is, until we start to organize.

Culture Corner
—Books and Videos worth a look:

Nov 22, 2021

Book: “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake,” 2021, a non-fiction book by renowned historian Tiya Miles. The author also wrote a history of slavery in the north called “The Dawn of Detroit,” 2017.

This national book award winner starts with a cotton sack that was on exhibit for years at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and is owned by Middleton Place National Historic Museum in South Carolina. It is embroidered by a woman named Ruth, with a message that related how, in 1850’s South Carolina, this sack was given to Ruth’s grandmother, an enslaved woman named Ashley, by her mother Rose (Ruth’s great-grandmother), when Ashley was nine and about to be sold and separated from her mother forever. The author takes the heart-rending but meager facts of the embroidered message, and using historical records, documents, and autobiographies of the period, tries to find and trace these women’s lives.

Movie: “A Taxi Driver,” 2017, a Korean film, on Amazon Prime. It stars the incredible actor Song Kang-ho (from the movie Parasite). Set during the bloody Gwangju Uprising against the South Korean military dictatorship in the Spring of 1980, director Hun Jang’s “A Taxi Driver” delivers a powerful and heartbreaking, yet inspirational, true story. It is a Drama/History movie in which we watch a widowed father who works as a taxi driver driving a German reporter from Seoul to Gwangju in order to cover the 1980 uprising in which hundreds were massacred in a locked down city during a media blackout. The movie powerfully presents and combines the real footage of the uprising with the scenes of the movie. Though some melodramatic touches are added to the true story, the film successfully conveys the haunting courage of those involved.

Page 12

Profits Over Safety

Nov 22, 2021

Lawsuits have piled up against the concert organizers of 2021 Astroworld Festival, where ten people died and several hundreds were injured, from being crushed together in the crowd during headliner Travis Scott’s performance.

The set-up of barricades, pathways, exits, and lights was insufficient, making the audience more vulnerable to collapsing into each other with no way out. This made it immensely difficult for security and emergency personnel to intervene with audience members in desperate need of medical attention. The hired security contractors reportedly assembled their team of workers within mere days of the event and with minimal training, according to one of the security guards.

An estimated 5,000 people apparently broke into the sold-out festival as a result. The 56-page security and emergency response plan for the festival made no mention of how to handle a dangerous crowd surge nor any specific strategies on how its staff should act in an emergency situation.

The festival was primarily organized by Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in the world. It generates billions of dollars a year from events, making more than 53 million dollars in revenue from the 2019 Astroworld Festival alone.

Live Nation has been cited for numerous safety violations over the years. Since 2006 they have been connected to at least 750 injuries and around 200 deaths, according to court records and OSHA reports.

It is absolutely intolerable for there to be that many casualties occurring at events where people gather together to enjoy some entertainment. But like damn near every other capitalist enterprise, Live Nation makes all its decisions on the basis of maximizing its profits. As we witnessed from the Astroworld tragedy, these decisions come at the expense of safety, at the cost of human lives.

Keeping Us Broke and Sick

Nov 22, 2021

During 2020, that is, during the pandemic, the largest drug-makers hiked the price for seven of the 10 costliest drugs, adding more than a billion dollars to what users paid.

For example, Humira is widely advertised for arthritis during the big news programs on television. It is just one example of a drug whose maker pushed up the price by almost 500% since it came on the market in 2002.

The manufacturers constantly trot out the excuse of how much it costs to make new drugs, but they spend the largest amount of their budgets on advertising and pushing doctors to prescribe their drug versus another one.

The U.S. spends twice as much on drugs per person as do the other rich countries. It’s always about the Benjamins, no matter what some politicians up for elections have to say.

Chicago Sports Betting Bonanza

Nov 22, 2021

Powerful owners of Chicago professional sports teams and politicians are pushing to launch sports betting in the city and challenge Las Vegas for the title of “Gambling Capital of the World.”

The meteoric rise of sports betting is the direct result of a 2018 Supreme Court decision that ended federal sports betting prohibitions. Previously, sports betting was restricted to Nevada. Now it’s legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia. A horde of profit-hungry hucksters jumped into action, scurrying frantically for a piece of action—a national jackpot expected to exceed 81 billion dollars a year.

Sports betting was introduced in Illinois as part of a massive gambling bill signed into law by Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker in 2019. Since the law passed, more than 4.6 billion dollars has been wagered, and all ten of the state’s casinos have launched “sportsbooks,” a section dedicated to sports betting. Fan Dual and Draft Kings are the two most prominent sportsbook brands.

Currently, sports betting in Chicago is banned, but passage of a new law in the City Council would change that. The city’s professional sports teams are already counting on it, greasing the wheels of government one way or another.

Passing the law would allow owners of large sports arenas like Wrigley Field and the United Center to establish sports betting parlors within or near their arenas. They want to entice as many fans as possible to gamble at losing odds, bringing owners many millions in new revenue.

The Chicago Cubs have already forged a 100-million-dollar partnership with Draft Kings which would give Wrigley Field the first stadium sports betting parlor in Major League Baseball, which would allow game-goers to gamble before, during and after the game.

Steadily declining economic conditions and the general malaise of the quarantine lifestyle under the COVID pandemic make gambling even more enticing to those targeted and most vulnerable to addiction: male workers from late teens to 35. Smartphone apps enable easy access to on-line betting parlors and sites 24–7.

The gambling industry has been a scourge on the population. Experts generally estimate that 2 to 5% of the population deal with gambling disorder, which would be about 635,000 people across Illinois.

What little discretionary income families have is disappearing at even faster rates, while addiction consumes families, jobs, homes, marriages, you name it. Online gambling—one more way to rob a population on the edge.

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