The Spark

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

Issue no. 1144 — January 3 - 17, 2022

The Capitalist Drive for Profit Is the Real Pandemic

Jan 3, 2022

The CDC recently issued a new recommendation to employers, shortening the period that people with Covid infections should remain isolated from 10 days down to five days. On top of that, the CDC also said that a negative Covid test was no longer required for a worker to return to work.

Thus, the CDC gave its stamp of approval for employers to force workers back to work when they are still sick with Covid. It also provided cover for employers that decide to slash sick pay for workers with Covid.

The CDC, the public health care agency that made these recommendations, is supposed to be run by doctors. But only doctors serving the interests of big business would recommend something so inhumane, so barbaric.

Isn’t it obvious? Forcing sick workers back on the job only makes them sicker. And it spreads the disease even more.

But so what, said the CDC—airline executives were complaining that too many workers were out on sick leave and they didn’t have enough workers to keep the planes flying.

This is complete baloney. The pandemic didn’t cause the shortage of workers. The companies did—by cutting their workforce to the bone in order to increase their profits!

Two years ago, when the pandemic broke out, those same airline executives slashed jobs left and right. They forced workers to take early retirement and so-called “voluntary” furloughs. At the same time, the airline companies went to the government, hat in hand, and said they needed hundreds of billions of dollars in aid… to preserve jobs! So, the politicians gave it to them in direct cash handouts, as well as new tax breaks and other giveaways. But the jobs were already gone! The companies just kept the money, handed it out to top executives and distributed it to big stockholders.

Sure, when business began to pick up, the airlines began to hire. But they didn’t bring back nearly as many jobs as they had cut just two years ago. The executives even bragged to their stockholders about it. “…we can fly a schedule 10% larger than 2019 with the same number of employees we needed in 2019,” said Gerald Laderman of United Airlines on November 10.

On December 16, Ed Bastian, the head of Delta Airlines, told stockholders that the company had hired back fewer workers than it lost during the pandemic. “Our staffing is exactly where I wanted it to be,” bragged Bastian. Five days later Bastian officially called on the CDC to reduce the isolation period of workers sick with Covid because of the worker shortage that Delta itself had created.

No, the worker shortage wasn’t caused by the virus—but by Delta’s own drive for profit, forcing fewer people to do more work.

The corporate drive for profit also created the severe shortage of Covid testing that we are now facing, with pharmacies running out of rapid Covid tests and long, long lines of people waiting at testing centers.

It’s been two years since the pandemic broke out. Why is there such a shortage? Last summer, Abbott, the biggest company that makes rapid Covid tests, destroyed hundreds of millions of tests. It also closed one of two factories that make the tests ... and laid off 2,000 workers.

Abbott was paid billions of dollars by the federal government to produce those tests. But it sought to make even more by slashing its workforce and creating an artificial shortage in order to boost the price of each test.

Now, Abbott and other companies are using the shortage that they themselves created in order to jack up the price. Biden says that health insurance companies are supposed to provide reimbursement for those tests. But whether or not we ever get reimbursed, the insurance company will still make us pay by increasing our premiums. Those without insurance—that is, the people who can least afford it—will have to pay the full amount out of their own pocket.

Executives, government officials, the news media—they all say that we have to come together to fight the pandemic. But in reality, the capitalist class is taking advantage of the pandemic in order to enrich itself and increase profits still further. The proof is that profits last year hit record highs. And so did the stock market. Record highs … in the middle of a pandemic, when hundreds of thousands are dying, millions are getting sick, and tens of millions are practically imprisoned in their homes, unable to venture outside.

That’s the class war the capitalist class is waging against the working population for its own profit. It is that class war that is prolonging this pandemic and making it worse—not the virus. The capitalists profit off of this pandemic. They profit off of workers’ sickness and death.

This will not change as long as the capitalists have the power. The only protection workers have is in their own organization and ability to fight. It’s this ability that gives the working class the way to organize health and safety according to the needs of the population—and damn the profits for the few. It’s this ability that will enable the working class to stand up and wrench control away from the capitalist class.

Pages 2-3

The Most Dangerous Tornado:
The Drive for Profit

Jan 3, 2022

The candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky and the Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois that were hit by tornadoes on December 10, did not have to end in the deaths of 14 workers. Eight workers at the candle factory and six workers at the Amazon warehouse were killed.

Why? An act of nature? Hardly. The storm causing these tornadoes was predicted several days in advance. The National Weather Service was putting out regular alert bulletins and alarms on cell phones in affected areas. These tornadoes were not a surprise, they did not come out of the blue.

There was no safe shelter in the factory or the warehouse to protect workers. The roofs were blown off, the walls fell inward, crushing and trapping workers. There needed to be a safe place where workers could go. A safe place that they had practiced going to.

And then there is the question of why the workers were still working. Sometimes plants have been closed for a shift or two for weather emergencies. But this happened during the Christmas rush season. The candle factory workers were working overtime to fill store shelves with scented candles, while the Amazon workers were fulfilling customers’ Christmas orders. The managers were pushing production.

No. This was no act of nature. This is the normal functioning of a capitalist society. The focus of the bosses is not the health and safety of workers. Their focus is on production and making profits even at the expense of workers lives.

Colorado Wildfire

Jan 3, 2022

The news media have been filled with pictures of the terrible destruction caused by a wildfire in Boulder County, Colorado. The fire was not in a forest but was a suburban and urban fire. It destroyed between 500 and 1000 houses, a shopping complex, and a hotel in the towns of Louisville and Superior in just a few hours. So far, there have been no confirmed deaths from the fire.

The fire was fanned by wind gusts blowing as fast as 110 miles per hour. Sparks and embers from the fire easily jumped over highways and roads. Some burned-out houses sat next to ones with little or no fire damage, depending on where the sparks and embers landed. Power lines were down in many areas.

It’s clear that climate change played a key role in this wildfire. Winter wildfires do not usually occur in Boulder County and other similar areas. But Colorado has experienced a severe drought for the last six months. Boulder got only an inch of snow in the last three months, rather than normally around 30 inches during this time of year. Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought.

A climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles and the non-profit Nature Conservancy says that while wind gusts cannot be definitely attributed to climate change, climate change was definitely the reason the ground was so dry, allowing the fire to take off. He says other areas may also experience extensions of their normal wildfire seasons.

“Climate change is clearly making the pre-conditions for wildfires worse across most fire-prone regions of the world,” he said.

Dr. Oz
—Part and Parcel of the Capitalist Medical System

Jan 3, 2022

Dr. Mehmet Oz has attracted more media attention since he recently announced he was running for Senate in Pennsylvania. He was already well known by many people across the country for his daytime TV show, “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Over the years, many people including political officials and other medical people have raised concerns about products and practices Oz has pushed, both on his own show and other news broadcasts. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Oz pushed the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a “jaw dropping” therapy for Covid, “a game changer,” he said, based on one tiny study from France. He promoted the drug more than 25 times on Fox News in March and April 2020. Then President Donald Trump picked up on and echoed Oz’s support for the drug. A Veterans Affairs study eventually showed patients treated with the drug were more likely to die than those without the drug, and Oz stopped pushing it.

In 2014, the British Medical Journal analyzed 80 recommendations Oz had made on his show and found that less than half were based on scientific evidence, including some of his weight-loss claims.

Despite his support of dubious medical treatments, Dr. Oz remains very popular. He is a highly-trained experienced heart surgeon and is very good at explaining and illustrating complicated medical procedures to lay people. In a society in which many people have little access to a physician or other health professional on a convenient or regular basis, Dr. Oz provides some medical knowledge to many.

Obesity is a very common problem in this society. It is partly caused by the way the food most readily available to many people is manufactured. It is highly processed and packed with sugar, salt, and fat. Dr. Oz offers what appear to be weight-loss solutions involving natural cures based on vitamins and minerals, things people can get and are familiar to them. In any case, his televised presentations make use of a media the mainstream population is comfortable with.

Meanwhile the mainstream medical system in this society is inaccessible. Funded by the for-profit pharmaceutical industry, treatments for medical conditions very often revolve primarily around the prescribing of pills as the main cure. Take Oxycontin, for example. It is understandable that people seek out “alternative” medicines, but any medical treatment ought to be thoroughly tested in a truly scientific manner.

Dr. Oz simply reflects some of the best and worst aspects of capitalist medicine. Covid-19 has certainly brought these problems out into the light of day.

Two Years Later … Still No Tests!

Jan 3, 2022

As the omicron wave spreads, we are supposed to get tested before we see older relatives or gather for the holidays. We’re supposed to get tested if we’re exposed to the virus at work. Many schools are requiring students get a negative test result before they can go back from the holidays.

Testing the population makes sense. Except, of course, there are no tests available.

Every CVS and Walgreens has a sign—sold out of at-home tests. Try to order one on the internet—and the estimated delivery time is in a month or two. Biden promised to deliver 500 million rapid tests for free—but that comes to less than two tests per person, not nearly enough for people who have to go to work or school every day. And right now, none of those tests are available.

If you have four hours to kill, you might be able to get a test at a walk-up testing site—but you also might get COVID waiting with other people who could have been exposed!

One example of how ineffective and uncoordinated testing is right now: Chicago Public Schools sent home 150,000 at-home tests for students to take on December 28, with prepaid FedEx shipping. But when tens of thousands of people tried to drop off the tests at once, every FedEx box in the city was soon overflowing, with test kits scattered across the ground. Nobody seems to have thought of that….

As soon as COVID appeared, every public health scientist in the world pointed out that to control an infectious disease, the first step is to be able to test, to see who has it. It’s really just common sense. Yet two years later, this capitalist society hasn’t even been able to take step one.

Los Angeles:
Two Dead by Cop

Jan 3, 2022

On Dec. 23, 2021, police were called to a clothing store in the working-class neighborhood of North Hollywood in Los Angeles after a person was reported to have attacked a customer with a bike lock.

Body camera footage clearly shows: the LAPD police confronted the suspect, Daniel Elena-Lopez, 24-year-old, armed with nothing but a bike lock and 20 feet away from anyone else, and shot three times using a semi-automatic rifle. Elena-Lopez was fatally injured.

Another bullet went through the dressing room wall and struck 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta. She was changing in the dressing room when the commotion started, and she and her mom had decided to hide in the stall. Valentina was pronounced dead at the scene. Her mom later told reporters, “She died in my arms. I couldn’t do anything.”

So, the police responded with deadly force to a situation that was in no way life-or-death. Two people are dead, when none should be. Because “establishing order” is more important in this system than the lives of two young Latino working-class people.

The family of Valentina is demanding justice from LAPD and City authorities. During a demonstration in front of LAPD Headquarters, the father of Valentina said, “My daughter is dead at the hands of the state. That is true. It is not a tragedy, as LAPD continues to state—it is criminal!”

Pages 4-5

Unemployed Workers Vilified

Jan 3, 2022

A disgusting attack on the working class and the working poor is on full display in Michigan. Two extremely separate pandemic events having to do with unemployment benefits are being lumped together into a bullshit sandwich.

At the start of the pandemic, federal rules for unemployment were changed so that for the first time ever, part time and irregular workers, gig workers, and independent contractors could collect unemployment—temporarily.

The news media is now making a big drama over a report just released by Deloitte & Touche of an audit they did for Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). The report states Michigan paid up to 8.5 billion dollars in unemployment benefits to fraudsters during the pandemic. The report states less than 1% of applicants were fraudsters but they collected up to 22% of benefits!

Now, corporations and politicians are rewriting history to create the impression in the public eye that billions are missing in Michigan because of unemployed workers.

It’s not just a Michigan issue. Ohio recently reported 3.8 billion lost and California reported its agency paid out at least 20 billion to people they label as “criminals.”

What should be clear is that the software Michigan and other states use for their unemployment systems is faulty. Michigan admits that, when they say they plan to correct past computer problems by updating their systems. Who created this faulty software? Corporations that contract with state governments to provide “services.” In Michigan, it was FAST Enterprises, SAS Institute, and CSG Government Solutions that created Michigan’s MiDAS (Michigan Integrated Data Automated System).

The company that created the unemployment software in Ohio that was faulty was Deloitte & Touche!

So, the company that just published the audit of Michigan will likely bid on the contract for the new system!

The second event putting the unemployed in the news in Michigan is state actions to recover “overpayments.” For 350,000 people, many with the lowest incomes, overpayment recovery has been waived.

For another 241,000, their cases are being reviewed to see if they have an “eligible COVID-19 related reason to have received benefits.” If not, they might be asked to repay up to 30,000 dollars!

Sugar Law Center Attorney Tony Paris states he has clients labeled as “overpaid” or “ineligible” who ARE eligible. He states he could prove it “if they just for the love of God could get a day in court or actually speak with an adjudicator.”

Michigan’s computer system was able to handle 5000 claims in a week during normal times. But in 2020, with COVID-19 creating levels of unemployment faster than ever in history, Michigan at one point got 388,000 unemployment claims in a single week! That tidal wave of human need was never going to be met by the systems that were in place.

No worker should be on the hook to pay back money because of a broken system! And the drama about missing money needs to put responsibility on the corporations that produced the problem and got paid for doing it!

Chicago Amazon Workers Walk Out

Jan 3, 2022

During the height of the holiday shopping rush, Amazon workers, disgusted with degrading treatment, poor wages, and working conditions, walked off the job at two Chicago-area distribution centers.

Three days before Christmas, the walkout was coordinated between workers in sorting at two busy facilities—one in Gage Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side, and the other in Cicero, a near-west suburb. More than half of the night shift crews took part in the walkouts which disrupted at least one link in Amazon’s massive distribution chain. After the walkout, workers gathered in parking lots to rally and discuss their grievances.

“We know that we’re overworked and underpaid and understaffed ... [and] at greater risk for injury, greater risk for COVID infection ... We’re going to do what it takes to make Amazon take us seriously,” said a Gage Park worker. He explained that before the walkout, 65% of workers at that facility signed a petition demanding a $3/hr raise and safe staffing. The petition was delivered, but management never responded.

Cicero facility workers were angered when management failed to deliver on promises for double-time overtime pay on Thanksgiving and sign-on bonuses of $1,000 for new employees. They are demanding a $5 pay increase to match the pay scale of other sorting facilities in the area.

Workers at both sites are fed up with management demands that they work even faster, heightening the danger of work, and increasing on-the-job injuries. During the holiday rush, inadequate storage space resulted in overflowing storage bins, with sacks of packages and equipment cluttered on floors everywhere, making fulfillment of rushed work orders by workers especially dangerous.

As the busy holiday season approached, break times had been reduced, adding to safety concerns. One worker explained they want a return to the 20 minute breaks provided near the beginning of the pandemic. “They [recently] took away five minutes from our breaks because supposedly the pandemic is over, and yet we got three cases yesterday.”

The walkout has likely gotten Amazon’s attention as it was covered widely in the local media. Following the walkout, workers have returned to work hoping their demands will now be taken seriously.

It’s unclear if improvements will result from the walkouts. But regardless of the outcome, it’s notable that this was the first Amazon job action or strike coordinated among multiple facilities. More coordination is needed on an even wider scale to win what these workers in a first bold step fought to achieve.

Baltimore Tenants Protest Lack of Heat

Jan 3, 2022

Tenants at the Queen Esther Apartments in Baltimore’s east side, formerly called Lanvale Towers and Canal Courts, protested outside the complex on December 14. They had rallied outside City Hall the week before. A number of units had no working heat for over a week. Since last February, a tenants’ group has been raising problems with black mold, holes in walls and ceilings, rodents, cockroaches, bedbugs, leaks, and flooding—active code violations dating to 2018. These atrocious maintenance problems are happening in buildings that have made a succession of investors millions of dollars from public money and real estate deals.

These 321 apartments in the working class Oliver neighborhood were built in the 1970s, as part of a program where the city bought land and sold it to developers who pledged to rent to people with public housing vouchers. The federal government was pivoting away from having cities own public housing projects, and it was setting up various programs to funnel HUD rent money to private landlords and developers instead. Lanvale Towers and Canal Courts was one of those early privately-owned housing projects.

The rents—now as high as $2,000 a month for a four-bedroom unit—are paid mostly by federal housing money passed through the city’s housing department to the private landlord. That’s millions of dollars each year. Then in 2005 the long-time owner sold the complex for 10.9 million dollars. The new owner sold it in 2018 for 14 million dollars, which is three million dollars more. The next new owner sold it last August for over 21 million dollars—which is seven million dollars more! Of course, each new buyer takes out a bigger loan to pay the bigger price, so the lenders are cashing in more and more, too. All these capitalists are using taxpayers’ money to make more money for themselves, without even paying for maintenance.

Making millions while poor, elderly, and disabled people freeze in winter—capitalism’s answer to the housing problem.

New Substitute Teacher Bill in Michigan

Jan 3, 2022

In the past two pandemic years, a record rate of teachers have retired and younger teachers are leaving the profession altogether. This exodus reflects how little has been done in any organized, centralized fashion to make schools, teachers, students, AND support staff safe.

So recently Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, signed a bill to allow bus drivers, food service staff, library aides, paraprofessionals, and secretaries to become substitute teachers throughout the remainder of the 2021–2022 school year. This bill designates that any district employee with a high school diploma or an equivalent certificate can serve as a sub.

True, the state will scramble to keep school doors open, keep the head counts necessary to obtain state and federal funding and to have someone in the classroom, even if it’s to babysit. This will happen in working class and poor communities, because you can bet the richer school districts aren’t going to have non-teaching school staff in their kids’ classrooms.

The official handling of the pandemic has burned through experienced teachers. And what Michigan legislators are proposing is not a solution to this real problem. What they are proposing is NOT education and this bill has nothing to do with providing a high quality education.

Experienced teachers cannot be replaced overnight. At the very least it will take years to train new teachers and staff schools. But it is not likely that this will happen under this for-profit system. And in the meantime, what they are proposing is yet a further step in dismantling public education for the working class and poor.

Minimum Wage Is an Unlivable Wage

Jan 3, 2022

The State of Michigan announced that the minimum wage would increase 22 cents to $9.87 an hour on January 1, 2022. That’s $395 a week, or $1580 a month, before taxes.

So, what will that buy? If you add the average monthly rental cost for a one-bedroom apartment in the Detroit Metro area at $821, plus utilities at $274/month; and food at $252/month for one person, that comes to $1347 a month. And this does not include transportation, car insurance, clothing, health care expenses, etc.

In other words, this $9.87 an hour is unlivable, even for one person. A single worker has to work, minimally, 60 hours a week, for just the basics. And that same worker, if they had one dependent, has to work 80 hours a week or hold down 2 or more jobs!

These politicians, Republican and Democratic alike, broadcast this “rise” in the minimum wage for 2022 like it’s some kind of windfall. While in reality, they agree to poverty level wages for many essential workers.

Pages 6-7

Toward a General Mobilization?

Jan 3, 2022

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

Thursday, December 23, the collective of organizations in struggle in Guadeloupe undertook a protest action that culminated with the 24-hour occupation of the regional council building.

This collective brings together all of the island’s unions, including the UGTG and the CGTG, as well as political organizations such as the LKP, Combat Ouvrier, and the “Nonm” group (or Workers and Peasants). They call for the lifting of sanctions against unvaccinated workers, who will be suspended and then dismissed after December 31. They have been asking for several weeks that the State negotiate with them, but the State refuses to do so.

Starting at 8 a.m., the demonstrators gathered on the picket line of the Basse-Terre hospital center. Then, they left in parade, with 400 people, toward the regional council. They first asked to be received, but found the door closed. It was then that a window was forced, and a glass door smashed, through which several hundred demonstrators entered the enclosure of the departmental executive.

The elected officials were in plenary session but, with the approach of the demonstration, the majority had already left the place, except two or three, including the president Ary Chalus. He received a delegation which asked him to intervene so that the State could participate in negotiations. Chalus then called the prefect, and refused any negotiation with the collective, who decided to occupy the premises, including spending the night there. A sort of popular assembly was then held, with debates and discussions.

The prefect proposed to Chalus to send the police forces. Chalus refused, and the next day, December 24, at the end of the morning, the collective decided to leave the place before calling for two meetings, Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29, in the cities of Pointe-à-Pitre and Basse-Terre. A new large-scale demonstration was to be organized on Thursday, December 30.

Faced with contempt from the State and the powerlessness of local elected officials, the collective intends to strengthen the mobilizations. It calls for developing the social revolt to an offensive that will force the state to withdraw workers’ suspensions and satisfy other demands.

U.S. War Against the Afghan Population Continues

Jan 3, 2022

Afghanistan, already impoverished by 20 years of U.S. occupation, is going through "one of the worst economic meltdowns in history," according to the Financial Times. Basic commerce has ground to a halt. Food and fuel prices have skyrocketed. According to the U.N., more than half the Afghan population is enduring extreme hunger, and at least a million children under the age of 5 are facing the immediate threat of starvation.

This economic meltdown is a direct consequence of U.S. sanctions. According to the sanction rules, even paying any kind of tax, permit fee, or import duty to the Afghan government might count as a violation, and the U.S. threatens any organization that does so with steep fines and criminal penalties. So, the international banking system has cut off all fund transfers to or from Afghanistan. All business between Afghanistan and the outside world has thus been effectively cut off.

On top of this, the U.S. has frozen nearly 10 billion dollars in Afghan government money. Payments to doctors, police, and other government workers stopped. Hospitals cannot buy medicine. Even a printing press in Poland that made Afghanistan’s currency could not deliver its shipment.

The Biden Administration defends these policies by pointing to sanction exemptions that supposedly allow humanitarian aid. But the exceptions don’t allow the Afghan economy to resume operating on even the most basic level, and humanitarian aid is not nearly enough, as the entire economy collapses and the starvation accelerates.

It is possible that more people will die from these policies than from 20 years of war. But the outright starvation they cause is not likely to undermine the Taliban regime in the slightest. All it does is punish a population which had already endured decades of U.S.-wrought destruction.

January 1922, Independence Won

Jan 3, 2022

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

One hundred years ago, on December 6, 1921, the British government granted independence to Ireland, to take effect on January 7, 1922.

From the 12th century, the English gained a foothold in Ireland, but it was not until the 16th century, under the reign of Henry VIII and the Protestant Reformation, that they began to colonize the island. Like all colonization, that of Ireland was accompanied by plundering, deportations, and massacres. The peasants were driven from their lands to the profit of English nobles who, absentees for the most part, did not seek to develop the lands, but were satisfied to rent out expensive plots too small to feed a family.

Expelled from their land, deprived of all rights, and driven into misery, the Irish could not fail to revolt, and were each time savagely repressed. After their defeat by the armies of Cromwell in 1641, Ireland lost more than half of its population, at the same time as the installation of English colonists was favored. The Irish could only sell their production to English merchants, whose profits, repatriated to England, were used to develop its industrialization. And during the Great Famine of 1845–1851, when at least a million Irish starved to death from potato blight, and as many emigrated to the United States or England, England continued to import wheat from Ireland.

In the 19th century, the question of Irish independence came to the fore, along with that of the establishment of a republic. The more moderate within the Irish bourgeoisie demanded Home Rule, a certain autonomy which could offer them a small space to manage the internal affairs of Ireland. But, for the population, it was obvious that independence could only be obtained by opposing the violence of the masses to that of the oppressors. Parties and militias were created, including the Fenians of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, supporters of guerilla methods, which had rural support.

On the working-class side, the strikes that took place in the workplaces, led by Jim Larkin and the Marxist James Connolly, were also linked to the national question: the bosses, the police officers, and the judges that the workers faced were all English. But Connolly’s program did not stop at independence alone and placed itself on a decidedly socialist and internationalist basis. During these struggles was founded in 1913 a workers’ self-defense militia which he led, the Citizen Army, hailed by Lenin as the first communist army in Europe. But apart from the cities of Dublin, Cork, and Limerick to the south, most of Ireland remained agricultural. Only the northeastern part of the country, populated from the 16th century by Presbyterian settlers, had experienced industrial development, in Belfast in particular, through shipyards and textile industries. Most of the Irish working class were not in the territory, but in London or New York!

While Britain was embroiled in the First World War, opponents of colonization sparked an insurgency in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916. It was crushed and the repression was fierce. Fifteen leaders, including James Connolly, were executed. The nascent labor movement was beheaded, and several thousand participants were imprisoned or deported to camps in Britain.

The Irish population, who had not taken part in the 1916 uprising, began to mobilize against the occupier in the years that followed, with women entering the struggle and taking up the torch from the imprisoned men. In early 1918, the English government extended military conscription to Ireland, which it had not dared to do until then, fearing to arm men who could turn against it. The response was not long in coming: huge demonstrations, hunger strikes and clashes with the British police, the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary), followed one another.

In 1919, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), led by Michael Collins, had 100,000 volunteers, 20,000 of whom were women. A guerrilla war began against the British police, to such an extent that by the end of 1920, 700 RIC barracks had to be evacuated. As the insurgents had the support of the population, it was difficult to distinguish the combatants from the inhabitants. Winston Churchill, Minister of War, then created a special body, the Black and Tans, recruited among the veterans of the First World War, to whom all attacks were allowed: assassinations, including of children, rape, torture, house fires. Entire streets were set on fire to empty them of their inhabitants, especially in central Cork.

Indiscriminate violence was not enough to bend the insurgents, however, and the British government eventually had to grant independence to most of Ireland, with the six industrialized counties in the northeast remaining within the United Kingdom.

After eight centuries of colonization, an independent Irish state had just been created. But, run by the bourgeoisie and under the weight of an ultra-reactionary clergy, this state had nothing to do with the democratic and egalitarian ideal for which Connolly and the Easter rebels fought in 1916.

While engaging in the fight, James Connolly had moreover formulated this fear: "If, tomorrow, you drive out the English army and hoist the green flag on the castle of Dublin, your efforts will prove in vain if you do not build the socialist republic. England will continue to dominate you. It will rule you through its capitalists, its owners, its financiers, all the commercial and individual institutions that it has established in this country. [...] To consider nationalism without socialism [...] would be to recognize publicly that our oppressors have managed to inoculate us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality, that we have finally decided to assume these conceptions as our own and would no longer need a foreign army to impose them."

Maryland Animal Feed Plant Recycles by Polluting

Jan 3, 2022

The Valley Proteins chicken rendering plant in Linkwood on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has poisoned nearby Transquaking River for years, illegally dumping wastewaters loaded with chlorine, ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus. State regulators shut down the plant in late December only after activists filmed toxic waste flowing from pipes. The state had let the plant operate on an expired discharge permit for 15 years and had even considered giving the company a 13 million dollar subsidy last spring.

The plant cooks down scraps and feathers from nearby chicken processing plants into additives for animal feed. In 2013 it was bought—and the longtime union eliminated—by Valley Proteins, which specializes in buying up independent rendering plants. The company now owns over a dozen plants converting three million tons of poultry, beef, and hog scraps, roadkill, and used restaurant cooking oil into one million tons of powder and liquid animal feed additives, which it sells around the world. These rendering operations bring in 50 million dollars profit per year for the private owners, the Smith family.

Rendering animal scraps in a system based on profit means throwing environmental concerns aside, because they cut into profit. And since this Dorchester County factory is only one of hundreds of factories in Maryland operating under outdated or unenforced water pollution permits, this government system is no protection for the environment, just as it didn’t protect the workers, either.

Pages 8-9

South Africa:
Desmond Tutu, Apostle of the Transition Preserving the Bourgeoisie

Jan 3, 2022

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

The death of South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu was accompanied by an avalanche of praise from all the world’s leaders. They truly have reason to be grateful to him.

The apartheid regime, officially established in 1950, codified the longstanding system of segregation and discrimination against black, mixed-race, and East Indian people there. The racist system was the institutional counterpart of ferocious exploitation. By the 1970s it met with mass protest mainly by South Africa’s big and powerful working class, which the racist government answered with fierce repression. In the mid-1980s, in an atmosphere of civil war, the South African working class was showing its revolutionary potential in the fight against apartheid—and more generally against capitalist exploitation.

The energy, tenacity, and resistance shown by South African black workers could have become contagious beyond the country’s borders. But even though the working class played the leading role in the struggle, the black petty bourgeoisie which also suffered from the racism of the apartheid regime placed itself at the head of the movement. They were eager to abolish apartheid without attacking the system of exploitation. In addition to the African National Congress (ANC) led by Nelson Mandela, a person like Desmond Tutu—already a bishop by that time—thus was able to play a leading political role.

Tutu represented and became a spokesman of the Unified Democratic Front founded in 1983—a legally allowed, broad coalition of unions, associations, and religious groups in which the banned ANC played the main leading role. Tutu denounced the regime and called for help from Western leaders whom apartheid had never bothered so long as it did not make them fear a social explosion.

Tutu implored the white authorities to start negotiations to end the system of apartheid. And while the prisons were crammed full and the police shot protestors on sight, his pacifist sermons and appeals for non-violence were intended to stymie the risk that the poor masses would organize, defend themselves with guns in hand, and become conscious of their own strength. During the 1970s, especially ferocious government chief John Vorster resorted to Desmond Tutu as a moderator who opposed all violence. Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, which brought him international recognition. Ronald Reagan received him in the White House. The Anglican Church appointed him archbishop in 1986. In fact, the great powers, and first and foremost the U.S., worried about the situation in South Africa and the threat the mobilization of the poor masses posed. The great powers wanted to prepare for the end of the apartheid regime. They understood that men like Mandela and Tutu could be of use to them.

Negotiations between the South African regime and the ANC for the gradual abolition of apartheid began in 1986, first secretly and then openly. The crowning achievement was the 1994 election of Mandela as president. On the official level, everything changed. From then on, black and white people were equal before the law. But in fact, the revolt against apartheid allowed a section of the black petty bourgeoisie to rise to positions of authority—often alongside former torturers. The domination of the bourgeoisie was preserved, and the revolutionary threat was averted.

Tutu then chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, charged from 1996 to 2003 with investigating the crimes and political abuses of the South African regime. In exchange for confessions by torturers, the commission gave them amnesty.

Tutu’s role shouldn’t be exaggerated. Mandela’s ANC and the South African Communist Party played a much more critical role in this political process. But Tutu, as preacher of non-violence against the rich and reconciliation with executioners, was one of the political tools in defusing the social bomb that South Africa had become.

This is his main merit for defenders of bourgeois society, and that is what earns him so much tribute from them today.

Christmas Truce of 1914:
A Glimmer of Hope amid Carnage

Jan 3, 2022

Christmas 2021 marked the 107th anniversary of the Christmas Truce during World War I. On Christmas Day in 1914, soldiers on both sides of battle lines, British and French on one side and Germans on the other, who had been shooting at and killing each other for five months until that day, came out of the trenches, chatted, exchanged gifts, helped each other to bury their dead, and played soccer.

Soldiers did this at many places along the war front in Western Europe, and without prior agreement. The truce often began on Christmas Eve and continued on Christmas Day. Some of the officers, especially lower-ranked ones, joined the fraternization.

Soldiers vividly described the Christmas truce in their letters home. Within a week or so, some British newspapers were publishing excerpts from the soldiers’ letters, despite censorship, along with photos of British and German soldiers mingling.

On Christmas Day we were out of the trenches along with the Germans, some of whom had a song and dance, while two of our platoons had a game of football. It was surprising to see the German soldiers—some appeared old, others were boys, and others wore glasses.... A number of our fellows have got addresses from the Germans and are going to try and meet one another after the war,” wrote a certain Private Farnden.

Rifleman C.H. Brazier felt the same way: “Half-way they were met by four Germans, who said they would not shoot on Christmas Day if we did not. They gave our fellows cigars and a bottle of wine and were given a cake and cigarettes. When they came back, I went out with some more of our fellows and we were met by about 30 Germans, who seemed to be very nice fellows.... All through the night we sang carols to them, and they sang to us, and one played ‘God Save the King’ on a mouth organ.”

In some places, the truce and fraternization lasted several days beyond Christmas. Private Alfred Smith wrote: “We were able to bury our dead, some of whom had been lying there for six weeks or more. We are still on speaking terms with them, so that we have not fired a shot at them up to now (Dec. 29), neither have they.”

The following year, soldiers were set to repeat the Christmas truce. A German soldier, Richard Schirrmann, wrote in December 1915: “When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines ... something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Pumpernickel, biscuits, and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over.”

But on all sides, the chiefs—the generals, that is, who usually did not even go near the trenches, let alone fight the war—were prepared to crack down this time. As early as 29 December 1914, a general order of the German high command had already warned German troops that, “Every approach to the enemy ... will be punished as treason.” Allied commanders ordered artillery barrages throughout Christmas Day to prevent any communication between opposing trenches, let alone fraternization. Soldiers who wanted to stop shooting on Christmas were punished. A British officer, Sir Iain Colquhoun of the Scots Guards, was court-martialed for agreeing to a short truce to bury the dead—even though such agreements to bury the dead were quite common on front lines throughout the year.

In the end the generals had their way, and the utter carnage and barbarism raged on—in a war where workers-turned-soldiers were used as cannon-fodder by their bosses, who were fighting over the division of the world amongst themselves.

In the Battle of Verdun alone, nearly 1 MILLION French and German soldiers were killed between February and December 1916. In another of the deadliest battles, the Allied (British and French) offensive on German lines at Somme from July to November 1916 resulted in more than 1.1 MILLION dead on all sides. In trench warfare, which produced stalemates without either side being able to make an advance, thousands upon thousands of soldiers died not only from gunfire, shelling and poison gas, but often simply because of the horrible living conditions in the trenches—where the cold, wet weather facilitated the spread of all kinds of diseases and infections, including the Spanish flu.

Today, more than a century and many wars later, the generals, and big capitalists for whom the generals run wars, still have their way—and so many parts of the world are engulfed in war.

And today, as in 1914, what provides hope for a peaceful future for all humanity is the natural solidarity that exists among working people of all countries, which the Christmas Truce of 1914 so plainly demonstrates.

Pages 10-11

A Weapon in Capitalism’s War on Working People

Jan 3, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all Spark’s workplace newsletters during the week of December 13, 2021.

Consumer prices are increasing faster than at any time since 1982. According to government figures, prices are up nearly 7% from a year ago.

According to our purses, prices are up more than that. And the government’s breakdown of inflation shows it. Want a steak just to live high for one meal? Prepare to pay 25% more than last year. Gasoline prices may be going down—a little—but they’re still almost 30% higher than a year ago. And don’t think about getting yourself a new car. New car and truck prices were up 11% last year. Used vehicle prices shot up 31%.

The “typical” family spent $4000 more last year just to keep up with price increases on needed items like food and housing. This is according to Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University.

Inflation is a hidden wage cut—and it affects every worker across the board.

In the last year, big corporations have gone on a binge of raising prices. Yes, that just creates or adds to inflation. But big companies have never worried about how their actions tear up their own economy, nor what they do to society as a whole. What they care about is maximizing profit. And raising prices is one way they can do it.

In the three months ending in September, total corporate profits hit an astronomical figure of three trillion dollars—almost 50% higher than they were at the beginning of 2020, many times higher than they had ever been. An even more enormous share of the value produced by millions of workers was grabbed by a few thousand corporations—for the benefit of their bankers and the tiny, wealthy class that owns these companies.

Pure and simple—inflation is an attack on the whole working class, carried out by the whole capitalist class.

The capitalist class that today drives inflation is the same class that pushes speedup in the workplace—destroying the health of those working, leaving millions without a regular full-time job. It is the same capitalist class that makes some workers temporary, seeking to drive down all wages. This same capitalist class ships production from one part of this country to another part, or to another part of the world—pushing workers to compete with each other, driving down wages. It is the same capitalist class whose governments, one after the other, have kept the minimum wage at a poverty-stricken level for more than half a century.

All of this adds to the accumulation of profit.

The governments of this same capitalist class raided public service budgets, leaving the public health system stripped bare, unable to organize a response when the virus hit. Governments of this same capitalist class drained money out of the public school system, condemning children to schools that are unhealthy, unsafe, and unable to provide the education children need.

For the capitalist class, it is all a part of the war to grab still more profit. For the working class, fighting back is a matter of survival.

We can’t fight this war individually, nor in one workplace or one company alone. Simply just to defend ourselves requires a common fight by all those whose lives have been impacted—a fight to share out the work available, to push up wages to a livable level, and keep them there. It requires a common fight to gain a society worth living in, with schools, health care and all the other things a comfortable life requires.

The lives we need won’t be given to us by the bosses who decide everything based on their profit. Nor will it be given to us by the government that serves them, no matter which party is in power. It can be accomplished only by the working class, pulling its forces together for a common fight.

The working class has the capacity to do this. It is the largest class in this society. And it makes everything run. This is a power that can be used not only to defend its own interests but for the benefit of all society. Today, working people don’t recognize the power their class could have. But this can change when workers begin to struggle again.

We are confident the working class will regain its readiness to fight and discover its power.

Culture Corner—Raise a Fist, Take a Knee & Don’t Look Up

Jan 3, 2022

Book: Raise a Fist, Take a Knee: Race and the Illusion of Progress in Modern Sports, by John Feinstein

This book looks at racism in college and professional sports. While there are some black athletes and coaches who may be highly paid and receive much acclaim, even they can’t escape the racism of this society. The author talks to black sports figures, including Patrick Mahomes, John Thompson, Dave Stewart, Nolan Richardson, Mike Tomlin, and Doug Williams.

The book discusses how black quarterbacks in football are still treated differently than white quarterbacks and how and why there are so few black coaches, even in sports like football and basketball, where black athletes make up the majority of players on the teams. And every athlete and coach interviewed talks about being stopped by the police for “Driving While Black” because they drive a nicer car. As Doug Williams says in the book, “None of us are trying to make race an issue. Race is an issue."

Film: Don’t Look Up, 2021, a film just released on Netflix.

The film poses a dramatic scenario: a Michigan State astronomy student and her professor (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) discover a comet that is hurtling toward earth and, when it hits, will destroy all life on our planet. The star-studded cast (Ariana Grande, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, etc.) raise many issues: the crisis of life on this planet, a metaphor for climate change; what we pay attention to; how we talk to each other; and how the politicians and even the scientists can serve corporate profit interests. Worth seeing!

Page 12

UAW Needs a Fighting Policy, However Its Leaders Are Elected

Jan 3, 2022

UAW members have voted to change the process by which the top union leadership is elected. In what was a low turnout, active and retired UAW members voted by 64% for the UAW International President and Executive Board to be elected by direct elections of union members.

It seemed as if the vote to change the election process reflected the anger by UAW members against the top union leaders—a leadership which has presided over many years of two-tier contracts and concessions. And workers were angry at the fact that some of those leaders were caught up in an investigation by the federal government of corruption in the union.

This referendum was imposed by the federal government, which claimed that direct elections were more democratic and a way for union members to control their union. But the government did not allow union members to vote on the details of how the direct election process will work. The federal monitor will impose those details. And this monitor will also decide who can and cannot run for top union office. That hardly sounds democratic!

But whatever the election process is, UAW members still face the issue of confronting the corporations’ drive for concessions and regaining all that they have lost.

The following letter addressing that was written by Gary Walkowicz, a long-time UAW militant.

John Deere workers show the way forward to change the UAW

UAW members have voted to change the way that our top officers will be elected. In a referendum vote of all active and retired union members, those who voted decided that, in the future, the UAW president and the International Executive Board will be elected by a Direct Vote (One Member, One Vote) of all union members.

This referendum was imposed by the federal government as part of the consent decree with the UAW. We were not able to vote on the details of how this Direct Vote would work. The federal monitor will decide those details. The federal monitor even has the right to decide who can run or not run for the top union offices. That is a problem.

But it is not a surprise that people voted to change the election process. I think this vote is a reflection of the fact that many UAW members are unhappy with the direction of the union, angry with the years of concessions and angry at the corruption among some union leaders. I think this vote showed people’s anger and they were voting for some kind of change.

But I don’t think that just changing the voting process is going to change the direction of the union. I think that change is going to come when the union members decide that we have to be done with the policy of “partnership” with the corporations that our leadership has followed for years. I believe change will come when we decide that we have to take on the corporations and make a fight to overturn years of concessions and 2-tier contracts.

The workers at John Deere showed the way forward for us. UAW members at John Deere, like most of us, were working under a 2-tier contract. They made a decision to go on strike and made a decision to stay on strike until they got something from the company.

The John Deere workers were on strike for 5 weeks and they ended up getting much more than what the company first offered. They got an immediate 10% raise and total raises of 20% over 6 years. They got back cost-of-living (COLA) raises and more money for retirees. The John Deere workers also stopped the company from starting a 3rd tier for new hires. The John Deere workers were determined. They were just one group of workers, fighting by themselves, and they took their fight as far as they could. Think about what would happen if all UAW members made a fight together.

As we go forward with this new voting process, we have to keep this in mind. It’s never easy to make a fight. But until we are ready to make that fight, it won’t matter how our leaders are elected. It is up to us to decide when we are ready.

Gary Walkowicz, Local 600 and Dearborn Truck plant retiree.

8-time elected union rep, former candidate for UAW International President.

Kellogg Workers Made a Determined Fight

Jan 3, 2022

On December 21, Kellogg workers decided to ratify a new contract after being out on strike for over two months. It is not yet clear what this new contract will mean for them in the future. But what is very clear is that the Kellogg workers made a very determined fight.

Kellogg workers were among those millions of “essential” workers who kept producing, while many things were shut down during the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Kellogg workers were often forced to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. For all that, they were facing a corporation that wanted to continue to enforce concessions on the workers. When the Kellogg workers went on strike to stop concessions, the company threatened to replace them all.

But the Kellogg workers voted down two tentative contracts, one to go on strike and one to continue their strike, and they managed to back the company off on some of the demands.

The main issue that the Kellogg workers were fighting for was to end the 2-tier system of wages and benefits. While their new contract made some changes, it certainly did not get rid of 2-tier. But the fact that Kellogg workers were ready to make a fight over 2-tier is important. Corporations have imposed 2-tier systems to force younger workers to work for less, while also bringing down the standard of living of all workers.

Millions of other workers in all kinds of factories and workplaces are facing these same attacks. The Kellogg workers faced a difficult fight. They are just 1,400 workers total, working in 4 different plants, in 4 different states. But the determination shown by the Kellogg workers shows the way forward for a much larger fight, by many more workers.

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