The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 1158 — August 1 - 15, 2022

Oil Company Profits, Directly from Our Pockets

Aug 1, 2022

The world’s oil companies just announced record profits in the second quarter of this year—after making record profits in the first quarter.

Exxon Mobil pulled in nearly 18 billion dollars—in the second quarter alone. Chevron made 11.62 billion dollars. BP has yet to announce their profit windfall for the second quarter, but they also had record profits in the first quarter.

It’s a 235% increase in profits over this time last year. Meanwhile, gas prices at the pump have skyrocketed to record amounts of over five or six dollars a gallon.

Major companies—oil companies, food companies, and others—are using this supposedly uncontrollable inflation crisis to jack up their prices and make even more profits from the goods and services we are forced to buy. They act as if it is just the way of the world, an act of nature, unstoppable. And yet, THEY make record profits from it, paid for by the higher prices we pay.

It’s obscene! So much for the lie that higher prices are due to the war in Ukraine, or Covid supply chain issues, or whatever excuses they try to use. It’s profit, pure and simple! Were they “forced” to accept those profits? Come on! It’s obvious that they are inventing excuses for what was a planned raid on our bank accounts! Gouging is what they’re doing. Pure and simple.

The companies are not investing in further drilling and refining capacity. Instead, the profits go directly to their shareholders. Exxon paid its shareholders $4.21 a share, exceeding analyst expectations of $4.02 a share. Chevron paid out $5.95 a share, exceeding expectations of $5.16 a share. And, beyond dividends, the oil companies have used their profits to buy back shares at premium prices, further rewarding shareholders.

From our pockets to theirs! Their wealth is coming directly from working people here AND around the world. Their record billions in profits are taken directly from our labor—while we struggle to pay to drive to work, and beyond that to feed our families and do anything else. Their record profits are directly hitting our standard of living.

The heads of the oil companies have proven that they will not run industry in the interests of the public. They’re destroying our lives and destroying the planet.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden grumbled last month that the oil companies have more money than God. Did he do anything to stop their price gouging, or to take their profits and put them at the service of the population? Of course not. He just complained and threw up his hands.

There’s also been no peep from Congress about this issue. Clearly, we can’t count on any of them to address the problem. The politicians all accept that companies can set their prices and make whatever profit they can.

Working people created this wealth. Our labor makes this whole society run. WE can shut down this society; and beyond that, our key position in the very center of the productive economy means we could come together to run it, for the benefit of all of humanity—not for the benefit of these profit-greedy billionaires.

Pages 2-3

Stock Market Crashes and Pension Fund Losses

Aug 1, 2022

State and local pension funds lost half a trillion dollars in the first half of 2022. These funds are supposed to provide secure retirement income for 21 million active workers and retirees, including teachers, in the public sector.

Currently, estimates are that these losses over the last six months have increased the funding gap up to 1.4 trillion dollars, that is the gap between the cost of pension benefits that states and localities have promised their workers and what is there to actually pay for them. That gap is enormous, about 15% of U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

What is behind these losses? All public pension funds depend upon Wall Street investments for the bulk of their funding. About 77% of the contributions for these pension funds is supposed to be generated by “investment earnings.”

This means that the state and local governments actually contribute very little to these pension funds. The state and local governments claim that they are setting aside enough money for the future retirement of their employees, money that is supposed to be part of the overall compensation package for each employee. But they never follow through. Instead, public officials take the money that should go into the workers’ retirement funds and hand it over to big business and the banks through ever more tax breaks and subsidies.

Instead, public officials turn over the main responsibility for funding pensions to various Wall Street financial companies, including money managers, hedge funds, private equity funds, etc. These companies use this money for their own profit in many ways.

First, they generate enormous profits from pension funds by taking out huge fees and commissions.

But that is just the beginning. For they use this big pot of pension fund money to fuel wave upon wave of various kinds of speculation.

Over the years, pension fund money has been used to help fuel the big run-up in the price of stocks and bonds. It has been used to finance wave upon wave of speculative corporate takeovers and corporate buyouts. And it is used to buy up huge amounts of commercial and residential real estate. In other words, pension fund money is used to enrich corporate executives, real estate developers, construction companies, as well as banks and investment houses.

This does not in the least benefit ordinary workers. On the contrary, when Wall Street companies use pension fund money to finance buying up private homes and apartment houses, it drives up the price of housing. When Wall Street companies use pension fund money to buy and sell companies, it leads to plant closings, big layoffs and pay and benefit cuts. And when Wall Street companies use pension fund money to speculate in commodity markets, including on such essentials as oil, gas, copper, wheat, etc., it is used to help fuel the very inflation that is impoverishing ever larger parts of the working population … including public sector retirees trying to survive on fixed incomes.

Thus, in order to enrich itself, the capitalist class uses the workers’ pension fund money against the working class.

Of course, since it is the workers’ money that the Wall Street financiers have been speculating with, when speculative markets eventually crash, it is the workers’ pension funds that take the hit and suffer the biggest losses.

These losses are then used by public officials to demand ever further sacrifices from public employees in order to supposedly “save” the pension funds, including big cuts in pension benefits, and much higher contributions to pension funds by the employees. In the future, workers can expect more of the same.

The working class long ago produced more than enough wealth to allow everyone to be able to retire young enough, with a decent income to be able to do other things with their life. Instead, over the last decades the capitalist class is pushing the working class back to conditions of centuries past.

For workers, the only security is in their capacity to organize and fight. Workers can only keep what they are ready to fight to defend.

Child Labor in Alabama Auto Plant

Aug 1, 2022

Excerpts from the Warren Truck Newsletter

An auto stamping plant near Montgomery, Alabama was in the news for violating child labor laws. Called “SMART,” this stamping plant is majority owned by automaker Hyundai, yet it is technically a “separate company.” Reuters reported that in recent years they have employed up to 50 children as young as 12 years old! These children were working so much they could not go to school!

The child labor was discovered when State of Alabama Child Protective Services investigators went looking for a missing young girl. When the young girl was found, the truth of the child labor violations going on at this factory began to be exposed.

Hyundai can pretend they are not responsible for child labor because this is a “separate company.” Is anybody really fooled?

Real People, Real Life and Abortion

Aug 1, 2022

The news media keeps saying that abortion is a divisive issue in this country. But actually, the vast majority of the people in this country, in every poll you see, state they are in favor of abortion remaining LEGAL in one form or another.

The percentage of people who believe that abortion should be against the law in ALL circumstances are between 10 to 14% of the population in the U.S.—a small minority. This has been shown in multiple opinion polls spanning decades. To look at this another way, 86 to 90% of the population understands that criminalizing abortion is a problem.

The real-life situations in which abortion happens are complicated. Some situations in which an abortion becomes necessary are heart-wrenching. Most people understand that. It is only a small minority that wants to completely outlaw abortion.

The issue of abortion rights is being used by the two main political parties to energize their voting base to come out to the polls. For political gain, controversy is being deliberately amplified when in reality, much room for agreement exists.

Olivia 1, Matt 0

Aug 1, 2022

Congressman Matt Gaetz from Florida attempted to humiliate a 19-year-old woman who is an activist for abortion rights. He tweeted: "Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb."

The young woman, Olivia Julianna, from Texas, “clapped back.” She thanked Gaetz with a bouquet of flowers for incentivizing her to raise over $700,000 in funds to support abortion care all across the country.

Olivia 1, Matt 0!

Organizing for Their Future

Aug 1, 2022

Many young people working at Starbucks have tried to organize their branch co-workers into a union. Starbucks has 25,000 stores, and every single one is considered a separate entity, even when they are only a few miles apart. So counter staff have to organize store by store, in 25,000 locations, in order to gain a union.

The company has fired people trying to organize, despite a law saying that is illegal. And other companies do the same, keeping workers divided by category, by race, by sex, by immigration status. Starbucks management even closed stores when a union campaign got going.

So far, 150 Starbucks locations have succeeded in going through the long process, talking with other workers to convince them to apply to different unions, hold a vote, and fend off management attempts to ruin their campaigns.

The difficulties are the same for workers at Amazon or Apple or any other large company, especially in retail where pay is low and conditions can be difficult. Corporations gain even more money by keeping their workers disorganized.

Perhaps these 150 Starbucks successes will encourage other workers to organize!

Pages 4-5

Michigan:
Judge Rules in Favor of Minimum Wage Hike

Aug 1, 2022

Back in 2018 in Michigan, two ballot proposals got enough signatures to be voted on in November of that year. One would have raised the minimum wage to 12 dollars an hour in 2022 and would have instituted built-in increases for inflation. The second, would have created paid sick leave for almost all workers in Michigan.

The people of Michigan never got a chance to vote on either the Minimum Wage or Paid Sick Leave proposals. State legislators passed their own version of these proposals BEFORE the election, to stop these measures from being voted on during November 2018 elections.

AFTER the election, Michigan legislators reversed themselves. They gutted the initiatives, leaving only a watered-dawn minimum wage law.

A judge just ruled that what the legislators did in 2018 was illegal. The judge said the State Constitution protects the right of citizens to initiate laws through petitions and then vote on those laws. The judge said what the legislature did thwarted that right.

The current minimum wage in Michigan is $9.87. One result of this judge’s ruling should have been that, since it is now 2022, the minimum wage should have immediately gone up to $12 an hour—an improvement, but certainly NOT a living wage!

But this did not happen. First, the State of Michigan Office of Attorney General appealed the judge’s ruling. Second, the very judge who made the ruling issued an order delaying the implementation of the ruling until February 19, 2023.

The judge said time was needed to give companies and state agencies time to implement the required changes.

But what are minimum wage workers supposed to eat while they wait for their wages to go up? Cake?

Stellantis Profits Up!

Aug 1, 2022

Automaker Stellantis just reported it made 8 billion dollars in profit during the first half of this year. This was more profit than was reported at GM and Ford.

Stellantis—formerly Chrysler—employs a higher percentage of low wage workers. The percentage of Tier 2 and Supplemental Employees (temporary workers) at Stellantis is more than at General Motors and Ford. All things being equal, enhanced exploitation of workers at Stellantis has yielded higher profits!

Stellantis keeps people at starvation wages—$15.78 is what newer hires are making. Then later, at the time a new contract is ready to be voted on, the company uses the money they have piled up by robbing workers to dangle a thousand-something-dollar “signing bonus” in front of workers.

A lot of the union contracts that dangle a signing bonus out front hide a Jack-in-the-box within. Everything takes a few months to activate. After the contract passes, then suddenly, boom! Right in workers’ faces, they find out about all the take-aways that were hidden inside the contract.

Some workers—no longer fooled by the games the companies play—want to discuss now with fellow workers. The question? How to prepare now for a necessary strike in the future.

Excuses for Corporate Handouts

Aug 1, 2022

The Detroit City Council just approved yet another 60 million dollars in tax breaks for billionaire Dan Gilbert, supposedly to pay for “cost overruns” for construction on the site of the old Hudson’s department store. This is on top of the more than 200 million dollars he had already received from the city, county and state, and the valuable downtown land he was given for a grand total of $1!

Workers have seen this scam before. Somehow politicians always have money to pay billionaires for “cost overruns.”

When residents and some city council members have rightfully spoken out angrily to say this is money that could go to improve city services, the constant refrain from apologists for these corporate handouts is that the money for these tax breaks comes from property taxes in downtown Detroit, which is collected by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and therefore does not take money away from city services.

This is patently false, because the DDA is allowed to capture money from libraries and community colleges. Just ask commissioners and staff from the Detroit Public Library, who voiced their anger in March of last year about money going to the DDA that’s needed to re-open neighborhood branches of the public library. They pointed out that in 2020, the DDA ‘captured’ 12% of the library’s millage revenue and is expected to do so in future years, despite Detroit voters approving a library millage renewal in 2014 that called for the DDA’s capture to be capped at 5%. The DDA has been allowed to exceed that cap supposedly because of previous agreements the library was bound by.

Even setting aside the question of money being taken from libraries and community colleges, someone has to pay property taxes to pay for the “re-development” the DDA pays for. Jerry Belanger, the owner of Cliff Bell’s jazz club, Bucharest Grill and the Park Bar voiced his displeasure when the city voted to hand over 39 parcels of land to the billionaire Ilitch family to build Little Caesar’s Arena for the Detroit Red Wings hockey team.

Downtown businesses that receive money from the DDA get police, fire, and sanitation services. Those cost money that comes out of the city budget, not from the DDA, and therefore is paid for by city taxpayers, not the billionaires getting handouts from the DDA.

It’s obvious to anyone who looks around the city of Detroit that the fancy new developments that will continue to pour money into the coffers of billionaires like Dan Gilbert come at the expense of residents in the rest of the city.

Baltimore Firetrap

Aug 1, 2022

On July 7 the Baltimore city sheriff evicted people living in the Copycat Building, a century-plus old former factory whose landlord rents out nearly 100 rooms, many to artists or musicians. The tenants fell behind on rent during the pandemic. The building has no rental license because of code violations. Lead. Asbestos. Ungrounded wiring. Not enough lighting and ventilation. Not all rooms have running water. But the sheriff and the Maryland Court of Appeals plowed ahead with the eviction anyway.

Such unsafe conditions, but the landlords weren’t closed down for it! It was the tenants who were evicted instead!

Prince George’s County:
Jailing the Poor

Aug 1, 2022

The Prince George’s County, Maryland, jail outside Washington, D.C. regularly holds hundreds of people who were arrested and whose trials have not yet happened. They wait for their trials for weeks or months. These detained people were not convicted of a crime. They have even been cleared to be released by a judge who decided they are not a threat to the community or a flight risk. But they are not offered bail, so they have to wait behind bars.

According to a federal class action suit filed in July on behalf of nine inmates, a jail official estimates that one-third of the jail’s nearly 1,000 inmates are in this horrible situation.

Detroit:
Children Shooting Children

Aug 1, 2022

Again, a child was fatally shot by another child. This shooting is one of many just this month. They often don’t understand the consequences of shooting and think they are playing a game.

Legal authorities go after the parent, the gun owner. It may feel like justice to some, but it does nothing to stop the ongoing problem. For sure, adults have to be responsible to lock down guns if they have them, while children old enough can be trained in gun safety. But there is more to it than that.

Beyond the parental responsibility lies the bigger picture of the casualties of living in an environment where people feel forced to carry weapons for self defense. Also, the street violence created by huge inequalities in income and opportunity are the responsibility of those who run this system; a system that feeds a handful of millionaires and billionaires on a gold platter, and leaves everyone else fighting over the crumbs.

Slashing Another 8,000 Jobs

Aug 1, 2022

According to the Detroit Free Press, Ford is getting ready to eliminate up to 8,000 more salaried jobs in the coming weeks in their push to switch from gasoline powered to electric vehicles. They’re continuing to get rid of the people who have worked on the gasoline engines, instead of retraining them.

This announcement “comes on the heels of Michigan giving the automaker a $100 million tax-fund incentive package in June as part of a plan to create new jobs in the state.”

So is the state going to withdraw that incentive since Ford is getting rid of jobs?!

The Government Ignores Wage Theft

Aug 1, 2022

There is a crime wave sweeping the country. And none of the officials and police spokespersons are talking about it. There is a media frenzy about lawlessness and chaos every time a “snatch-and-grab” occurs at a luxury store. And yet, none of these officials say anything about the largest crime wave sweeping the country—wage theft. That is, the bosses stealing workers’ wages.

According to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, companies stole 2 billion dollars from workers in California in 2015 alone. Nationwide, experts estimate that employers steal at least 15 billion dollars a year from workers through minimum wage violations. This is more than 12.7 billion, the total annual value of all robberies, burglaries, larceny, and motor vehicle theft in the country, according to the FBI.

And minimum wage violations are only one type of wage theft. Some of the common ways bosses steal from workers are when bosses don’t pay out tips, don’t pay overtime, deny breaks, don’t let workers accrue sick time, or bounce checks. At any one of these instances, the bosses are breaking the law by stealing from the workers.

In supposedly “liberal” California, where politicians claim to be openly pro-labor, wage theft wasn’t even considered a felony until last year. But despite the rampant wage theft, there have been no criminal prosecutions since then either, and no one has been put in jail.

Officials tell workers to look to government to resolve their problems. But the state government continuously violates its own deadlines for resolving wage theft cases. The average case filed last year that got to a decision took double the time allowed by law. Thousands of cases from 2021 are still waiting for a hearing date.

According to a CalMatters report, workers filed nearly 17,000 claims totaling more than 300 million dollars in stolen wages. However, only one in eight recovered stolen wages.

Such outright lawlessness by the bosses reflects how the capitalists operate. The less they pay, the more profits they rake in. And even when they break their own laws, government officials look the other way.

Pages 6-7

90 Years Ago:
U.S. Troops Attack U.S. Veterans

Aug 1, 2022

By 1932, the Great Depression had seen millions laid off, unemployed and desperate, with only charity soup kitchens as possible aid. Shantytowns, filled with tents and makeshift shacks had sprung up across the country. Often, they were called “Hoovervilles,” as President Hoover opposed doing anything for the millions who had lost their jobs.

At the end of World War I, when perhaps two million soldiers came back from fighting in Europe, they found an economy shrinking and few jobs to be had. Over a million had served in combat units, with thousands suffering not only bullet wounds but the effects of gas in the trenches, and including shell shock, now known as PTSD. The government had to open 10 new military hospitals and five psychiatric centers for all the wounded vets returning.

In 1926, eight years after that war had ended, Congress finally voted a bonus to veterans of the war period—but it was not to be given to the veterans until 1945! In other words, thanks for risking your lives and limbs, but the government cannot pay you for 25 or more years. The bonus was worth $8,500 in 2016 dollars.

In January of 1932, some 25,000 unemployed people from Pennsylvania walked to Washington, D.C. to protest for the unemployed and farmers, already suffering from three years of depression.

Veterans sought at least partial payment of the promised bonus. Led by a veteran, some 20,000, along with their wives and children, went to Washington, D.C. to protest in May that year. They put up shacks or tents on an empty field across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. in Anacostia, Virginia. President Hoover referred to them as a bunch of bums and thugs—yes, veterans of the Great War.

On June 15, 1932, a Congressman got a bill for partial payment of the bonus passed in the House of Representatives, but U.S. senators turned the vets down two days later. Hoover sent out the police and military to use tear gas and bullets on protesters near the Capitol. Half the families left.

Meanwhile, the president acted as if the nation were facing a siege, by unarmed vets and their families. He accused them of being communists, trying to undermine the government when they asked for some relief.

On July 28, General Douglas MacArthur, aided by Major Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major George S. Patton, leading four cavalry troops, four infantry companies, a machine gun squadron and six tanks, went across the bridge into Anacostia, where they shot tear gas and then live bullets at about 10,000 people remaining in the camp. A baby died and a boy was partially blinded. An estimated 1,000 others sought help at area hospitals. Two were said to have died.

President Hoover was not re-elected that November.

The bonus did not pass Congress, over President Roosevelt’s veto, until 1938, twenty years after these men came back from world war.

Veterans of subsequent U.S. wars could also tell tales of horrible treatment by the government that wants us to constantly “thank” these latest vets. And this same government wants young people to line up for their next war, too.

Senators Screw Veterans While Supporting War

Aug 1, 2022

At the end of July, 25 senators who had voted on a bill to expand veterans’ coverage for cancer decided to renege, voting to oppose the bill at the last minute.

Veterans’ advocates, including a sergeant who just died of cancer, had for years tried to get the Congress—you know, those “patriots” who constantly ask us to “thank” our vets—to pass a bill. The bill would have made it easier for vets from all U.S. wars to claim cancer benefits. These vets served in Viet Nam where so many were exposed to Agent Orange, and others served in Iraq and Afghanistan, vets exposed to toxins when they burned substances in “burn pits” that the military knew were cancer-causing.

Jon Stewart, the former talk show host, put it best, in angrily addressing the 25 senators who just turned their backs on the vets: “You don’t support the troops. You support the war machine.”

Exploiters Pay Less for Child Labor

Aug 1, 2022

This article is excerpted and translated from the July 26th issue, #2811 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Child labor is on the rise all over the world. The International Labor Organization reports that one of every 10 children in the world must work for a living. In parts of Africa, it is one in every four children who must work.

The economic crisis, the health crisis, and wars in different areas of the world are causing an increase in poverty. These children who work seldom get any education: they are forced to take employment, sometimes in very dangerous conditions. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, approximately 40,000 children work in the mines in southern Katanga. In South Asia, at least 17 MILLION children work, a fifth of whom are under the age of 11. Some children in India work up to 20 hours a day, chained to looms in weaving cloth. Some children are trafficked for the sex trade.

Even in rich countries, more and more young people take part-time jobs at low wages, with a worrying number of accidents.

The conditions of the world mean ever more children will be forced to work. No matter that the United Nations and the International Labor Organization oppose it, this is the logic of capitalist exploitation.

Canada:
The Catholic Church Strikes a Pose

Aug 1, 2022

This article is translated from the July 29 issue #2817 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

In Canada, around 150,000 Native American children were forcibly enrolled in Catholic boarding schools for over a century. The program intended to eradicate their culture and language and to integrate them into the dominant society—at times with bludgeons. Now the Pope has apologized. But does the Catholic Church deserve to be excused for this crime?

The pontiff came to Maskwacis in the Canadian province of Alberta on July 25 to ask for “forgiveness for the evil committed” against the Native American children abused in the boarding schools the Catholic Church ran. He also lamented that men and women of the faith participated in this policy of “cultural destruction” by imposing “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” on children. The testimonies of adults who suffered this abuse—which lasted until 1990—are revolting. For example, a nun beat a young schoolgirl with a belt because she did not learn her lessons quickly enough.

The Canadian government also apologized 14 years ago for having created these schools, which were designed to “kill the Indian in the heart of the child.” The government paid millions of dollars in reparations to former students. The Anglican Church did the same. But the Catholic Church, which administered more than 60% of these boarding schools, had always abstained until now.

The Church only changed course in 2021, after the discovery of more than 1,300 children’s graves near the old residential schools shocked public opinion. So, last April the pope dutifully denounced this “ideological colonization” before showing up in person. Native Americans are now waiting for the return of art objects held by the Vatican for decades.

All these apologies and repentances come very late. They must not be allowed to paper over the many criminal acts which accompanied the spread of imperialism all over the planet—nor the despicable role often played by major churches in bringing people into line.

Covid-19 Out of the Spotlight, Yet the Crisis Continues

Aug 1, 2022

Covid-19 is getting less attention these days from government officials and the media. Yet virtually everyone knows someone who’s gotten sick. While some levels of government have re-instituted mask mandates, others are saying they will ignore them.

Some of this is the result of people pushing back against government lockdowns and mandates, which the Republicans have seized upon to politicize the question and blame Democrats for the bad consequences of earlier policies. Yet no one attempts to get at how we got to this point, what is the root cause of the problem or what it would really have taken to prevent it from getting to this point or to truly solve it.

Instead, the politicians and the media promote the view that Covid-19 is now at the stage where it’s endemic rather than a pandemic. It’s something we supposedly simply need to live with. They want us to see it as something like the flu.

Except it’s not like the flu. The currently most common variant, the omicron BA.5 variant, is way more contagious than the flu. While deaths have remained relatively low compared with previous times, cases are on the rise and hospitalizations are rising with them. This would seem to indicate that rather than the current variant simply being less serious, improved treatments are preventing deaths, but even those who are vaccinated can experience symptoms serious enough to require hospitalization.

In fact, a new study from Portugal appears to confirm exactly that. It found that BA.5 cases were twice as likely to result from reinfections than among BA.2 cases. Booster vaccination only reduced the risk of hospitalization by 77% among those with BA.5 compared with 93% for those with BA.2.

And even though there are fewer deaths compared to the number of cases than before, there are enough new cases to produce as many deaths over a year’s time as around three to four yearly flu epidemics.

Yet despite the evidence, the bosses want us to act as if the pandemic is over, because they’re not about to do what would be required to really solve the problem. They’re not about to pay people what they would really need to stay home from work, or to properly ventilate workplaces or schools. They’re not going to provide proper daycare for children when they can’t go to school, so their mothers can go to work. They won’t make it easier and affordable for workers to have groceries delivered to their residences like more affluent people are able to do. They don’t even make sure vaccines are available everywhere in the world, which would be necessary to prevent new variants from arising on a regular basis.

The bosses complain that they can’t find workers and blame Covid-19 for everything from microchip shortages to the high price of gas. It’s a joke, except the consequences are anything but funny! The continuing pandemic is extremely disruptive to people’s lives. Many of those who’ve had the disease continue to experience chronic effects on their health. Even those who haven’t battle childcare problems, the effects of inflation, and even horrific depression.

It’s one among many ongoing crises that are part and parcel results of a system based on profit in the hands of the wealthy capitalist ruling class. If left in their hands, it will no doubt continue, if not worsen, in the period to come.

Pages 8-9

Fellow Delegates and UAW members,

Aug 1, 2022

The following is a reprint of a letter addressed to all delegates of the 38th Constitutional Convention of the United Auto Workers by Gary Walkowicz, delegate, eight-term elected UAW representative, now retired from the Dearborn Truck (Ford) plant, Local 600.

We know that some of our former UAW leaders, for their own personal gain, have betrayed the trust of the members. We should be glad these leaders are gone. But whatever corruption existed in the union, we would be better off if we had found the way to root it out ourselves, rather than having the government intervene in the union. Government interference in any union is not about finding corruption. If the government really wanted to get rid of corruption, they would start with the corporate world and the government itself where there is much more corruption than what happened in the UAW. Government interference in a union is about getting control over the union, standing in the way of any fight. It happened with the Teamsters. And look at what just happened when a Democratic president stepped in to stop a strike by railroad workers.

This Convention needs to be about deciding the direction our union will take. At the last 3 Constitutional Conventions, I ran for UAW International President. I ran in order to raise issues about the policies of our union, specifically the policy of “partnership” with the corporations that our leadership followed. I ran because my goal was to change the policies of our union.

I would have run again for the same reason, but the President and the International Executive Board have interpreted the Constitution to say that retirees are not eligible to run. But whether I run or not, I believe that what is important for this Convention is that we look at and discuss where this policy of “partnership” has gotten us.

Decades ago, UAW members went on strikes to gain yearly wage increases and COLA that at least partially protected workers against inflation. Autoworkers often led the way for manufacturing workers to gain a higher standard of living. We pulled other workers up with us. Today, after years of concessions, UAW members, like all workers, are seeing our standard of living falling as inflation rages. We have pulled other workers down with us. Today, starting wages for 2nd-tier autoworkers have fallen down to, or even below, pay levels compared to jobs that were always considered low-wage jobs. We can’t keep going in this direction.

Our policies have to change. The corporations are not our partners; they are our enemies. They are the ones who are driving down our standard of living. We have to begin to prepare our fellow workers and organize now for a fight against these corporate bosses. That fight will happen when workers are ready to fight. But when it happens, we have to make that fight as strong as possible. It can’t be just a small fight, contained within government-imposed limits. We have to find the way to spread that fight to as many workers as possible, in as many workplaces and industries as possible. That is how fights were made when the unions were organized in the first place. It has to happen again.

In solidarity,

Gary Walkowicz

Report from the UAW Convention

Aug 1, 2022

In the closing week of July, the UAW (United Auto Workers) held its 38th Constitutional Convention in Detroit, Michigan. This convention was attended by almost 900 voting delegates, split between 8 regions across the United States, organized and directed by the International Union, the UAW. Staff and guests comprised an additional 600 to 800 people.

This convention took place following a long period of government interference. In a consent decree imposed by the federal government following a series of charges of corruption, the International Union agreed to be supervised in two major respects. One, in the election of International Executive Board officers, including the President of the International Union. Secondly, in the administration of the union’s affairs. The Convention itself was supervised with a federal monitor in the background.

This convention appeared to be significantly different than the four previous UAW conventions. While there was no fundamental shift in the policies of the union, there was much more discussion and open dissent from more of the delegates. For the most part, the Convention was run in a seemingly democratic fashion, at least for the first three days.

The shakeup and prosecution of the top leadership of the union, accompanied by the imposition of a government monitor, appear to have encouraged a less controlled functioning. More resolutions were considered on the convention floor. In addition to the mandatory subjects for discussion and decision, like a vote on the process to be used for electing the next President and Executive Board, the delegates discussed more freely on a wider range of issues than before. While resolutions continued to be controlled by the leadership through its Resolutions Committee, delegates voted in large enough numbers to bring out and debate other issues that they wanted to discuss. Their energy around the issue resulted in an attitude that reflected the delegates’ desire to have more say-so in decisions taken.

A marked change for delegates was the lack of intimidating behavior that the International Union leadership has historically organized to cut off discussion, debate and voting on any issue they have not planned to take action on. Shouting, hissing, and booing were, for the most part, not allowed.

Strike Pay

The most interesting activity of the convention was centered around the question of strike pay. In anticipation of the energy around this issue, the leaders of the International Union had recently made a decision to raise the amount of strike pay from $275 to $400 per week per striker. During the convention, delegates voted to increase strike pay to $500 per week. They were clearly ready to fight on this issue, challenging the International not only on the level of weekly pay, but also on getting the pay earlier in the strike. As well, delegates challenged the diversion of interest payments from the strike fund to other organizational funds and insisted that any interest generated by the fund would be plowed back into the fund. Although the leadership managed to defeat most of these initiatives, delegates were successful in getting strike funds paid out starting day one of any strike, instead of starting strike pay on the second week of a strike.

The Reversal of the Strike Pay Decision

On the last day of the convention, the International Union leadership called for a reconsideration and reversal of the decision made by delegates to pay $500 per week to those on strike. This imposition of the leadership’s will to reverse that vote had a real impact on the attending delegates that will echo into the workplace upon their return.

While delegates were not successful in their attempts to increase strike pay, the actions of the International Union executive board put a brake on illusions that the International leadership had become democratic under the federal monitor. More importantly, it will no doubt serve to encourage discussion and debate around the issue of strike fights in the current period.

An Uncertain Future

Delegates at the convention were clearly considering the necessity of a strike fight on the horizon. The delegates had empathy for the striker from CNH (Case New Holland) a workplace currently on strike and supported the call for increased pay in strike situations.

It appeared that, in addition, delegates may be anticipating a fight around auto contracts terminating in 2023. No doubt, the current turbulent environment and threat of recession, with Covid still widespread, with disruptions to the normal work environment and with rampant inflation, combined with the internal problems of the union, have workers, including delegates, considering what they need to do to fight back.

A Strike from the Top Down or a Fight?

No doubt, UAW workers and delegates are right to look for ways to assert their control over their union’s strike fund. This money from the workers should be theirs to dispense with. But the actions of the International leadership to block further expenditure show clearly that those who control the money today, in its bank accounts and investments, under the watchful eyes of the federal government, have no intention of allowing workers to access this money in an “unsupervised” way.

The UAW organization, through the policies of its current leadership, shows that it is part and parcel of a system of capitalist exploitation—that is, it accepts to continue the super-exploitation of auto workers with lowered wages and benefits and to distribute the lion’s share of profits to its bourgeois stockholders, while workers get a no-longer “living wage.”

Yes, auto workers have every right to lay hold of their money to launch an all-out war against this exploitation. But what is needed, what has to happen, to defend even the sorry level of wages and rewards auto workers have been forced to accept, is a real fight. That is, an all-out, alley scrap that takes the fight to the street.

The money in the strike fund, even if workers can get it, isn’t enough. The corporations have many, many times more money than unions have in their strike funds. But money is not the main issue. The workers will have to make a bigger kind of fight—a fight that forces the bosses to let go of their riches, their bank accounts, and give it back to those who produced it: the workers.

Beyond money in their strike fund, the auto workers have a much more valuable asset. They are part of a huge, powerful, working class with friends and allies in every corner. They are part of the class that produces what is necessary to make “every wheel turn,” a class that can stop production as well, and force the Wall Street thieves to give it up.

Pages 10-11

We All Need a Wage Increase to Catch Up with Prices, and We Need It Now!

Aug 1, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of Jul. 24, 2022.

Go to the grocery store, stop at the gas station and your money runs out. Oh, yes, gasoline prices are coming down—a lot slower than they went up, by the way! But gas is still almost double what it was a couple of years ago.

So-called “experts” have lots of reasons to explain it: the war in Ukraine, the corona virus, problems with shipping. Everything but the main reason, which is that every company is raising prices as fast as it can. Will they drive up inflation? They don’t care. They are protecting their profits.

Well, their inflation is killing us. And we need to protect our standard of living.

First, we need a wage increase—a big enough increase so we can all catch up with what we already lost to inflation. And we need it now.

Second, we shouldn’t ever again lose out to inflation. Our wages should be tied to prices, with a system for pushing wages up just as soon as prices go up again. It should be automatic, it should happen immediately, and it should go up every bit as much as prices go up.

Third, minimum wage should be set so a small family—the family of a young worker just starting out—can live comfortably. No one should have to work for today’s “minimum wage,” no matter what it is. The minimum wage set in every city and state is pitiful—even the $15 an hour some cities and states brag about.

From the standpoint of working people, these are reasonable measures. But capitalist society lives by different measures, ones aimed at protecting the drive for more profit.

If you doubt that, look at what just happened to the railroad workers.

They recently voted to strike. It was long overdue. They had gone three years without a wage increase, three years during which the railroads stonewalled the union in contract negotiations.

The union leadership, based on the strike vote, finally settled on a strike date—only to have the government jump in to block it. Biden used provisions of an anti-worker law, the Railway Labor Act, to call for a 60-day “cooling off period.” It was a government-caused delay, after three years of delays created by the railroads—which, by the way, were turning in record profits.

At the end of 60 days, there can be more delays. The same act has other provisions allowing the government to continue blocking a strike.

In other words, the same union contract negotiations that at one time might have protected parts of the working class no longer do so.

That doesn’t mean that we have no way to protect ourselves. It just means we have to look for other ways to organize our forces. We have to go beyond our own union—if we even have one, anymore. We have to go beyond our own employer or industry.

It’s important that rail workers took the step of voting for a strike. Unless someone decides to fight, we all just sit on our behinds, caught in a swamp.

It will be even more important if rail workers actually do strike, whether in 60 days or 120 days ... or tomorrow. That could be the trigger to set off a much wider fight—just as any struggle anyplace by any group of workers can be what sets off a new movement by the working class.

It’s obvious we all have a reason to fight, the same reason. We all face the same big problem today, galloping inflation.

The answer to it is simple, the same for all of us: an immediate wage increase, a way to keep our wages tied to prices, and an adequate wage for everyone.

Of course, we won’t get that without a fight. But fights will break out. The problem then will be to focus our fights on common goals that unite us all. What will be key is whether there are enough militants committed to finding common aims around which the whole working class can fight.

Culture CornerWhere the Crawdads Sing & Wastelands

Aug 1, 2022

Film: Where the Crawdads Sing, directed by Olivia Newman

This movie was based on the bestseller book of the same name. Both this movie and the book Wastelands are based in North Carolina.

The movie is based in the North Carolina marshlands that ring the ocean’s edge. A family that is plagued with poverty and failure settle on the cheap land in the undesirable marsh. A young 10-year-old girl of the family ends up abandoned, and lives there alone, mostly rejected and ostracized by the more well-to-do city community. In her isolation, she discovers and explores the beauty and brutal force of life and death of the marsh. She becomes a scientist and an artist, recording all she sees. It is a love story, a story of survival, a legal thriller, and a story of the power of nature. A beautiful and haunting story.

Book: Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial by Corban Addison, 2022

You might already have heard about the horrific conditions on the huge hog factory farms. This book takes the narrative a step further. It introduces us in North Carolina to the close-knit small family farms that are neighbors to the Big Ag (big agricultural) factory farms. It was these predominantly black landholders, descendants of slaves and sharecroppers, who were most affected from living next to the farms, and who led the fight for decades against the damage caused by them. Piles of dead pigs left to rot right across the street, feces and urine raining on the farmers and their homes, trucks rumbling down their roads 24 hours a day, etc. The book reads like a fictional thriller but is all true; you meet the women and men who took on the huge corporations and powerful politicians.

Gilbert Gets the Green

Aug 1, 2022

Not once, not twice, but three times, the Detroit City Council had postponed its decision, allegedly to determine whether Gilbert’s downtown development project met the criteria for tax relief. But the fourth time was the charm for Gilbert: On July 26, the Detroit City Council voted 5 to 4 to approve a 60-million-dollar tax break, because, apparently, the city council members who voted “for” were satisfied with Gilbert’s promise of a “community benefits package.”

This decision comes as no surprise to many Detroit residents, who, time and time again, have seen billionaire businessmen come to the city coffers for money. In 2017, the site on which the skyscraper and a luxury hotel are being built was deeded to Gilbert for ONE DOLLAR by the Downtown Development Authority. And Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit already received 618 million dollars in brownfield tax credits for this and three other projects.

The 23rd richest man in the world, whose net worth, according to Forbes, is 50 billion dollars, says he can’t cover the inflationary costs of an extra 400 million and so he needs a 60 million dollar tax break from the city?!

Give US a break!

Page 12

The Weather Becomes More Extreme, But It’s Capitalism that Kills

Aug 1, 2022

In mid-July another week-long heat wave hit more than 100 million Americans. For more than 60 million people, thermometers rose above the 100-degree mark.

Barely a week after that heat wave, catastrophic floods caused by torrential rains hit areas as widespread as eastern Kentucky and Las Vegas, Nevada. Powerful flash floods swept everything, including cars and houses, before them, and killed 25 people in Kentucky’s Appalachian region, with at least 12 more people missing as of July 30. Las Vegas got an inch of rain in two hours on July 28, half the rainfall for the year in the area—an area that’s in the middle of a severe drought!

The drought itself is a historic one, plaguing nearly 20 U.S. states and covering close to half the land area of the continental U.S. The largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Mead, is down to less than 30% of its capacity, the lowest it has ever been. This lake, created by the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, is a crucial source of water for 25 million people, as well as large agricultural regions.

Scientists had been warning for decades that increasing temperatures, what is known as global warming, would have such consequences: extreme weather events would become more frequent and more severe. The climate change scientists had been warning us about seems to be here already.

To slow down the effects of global warming, carbon dioxide emissions have to be reduced—which means using fewer fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) for energy, and building more fuel-efficient engines for vehicles. But big companies in the energy and auto manufacturing sectors, concerned about nothing but higher profits, put out a lot of propaganda disputing even obvious facts about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. They may have softened their tone by now, but they certainly have not reduced carbon dioxide emissions—quite the contrary.

But executives and big shareholders of these big companies are not the ones who suffer the consequences of the natural forces unleashed by a warmer climate. After a storm and a flood, it’s working-class people who lose their homes, livelihoods, their kids’ schools—and many of them lose these things for good. Many of them become permanent refugees, much like refugees fleeing a war zone.

As for heat waves, they kill people—a lot of people, in fact. It’s difficult to pinpoint how many, because death certificates often don’t state temperature as an underlying reason for death. A recent study estimated that, each year, as many as 20,000 deaths in the U.S. and Canada may be related to hot temperatures. And those who die are people who live in the hottest neighborhoods—working-class neighborhoods, that is—which have less green space and shade, and fewer trees than wealthier areas.

Large apartment complexes in working-class neighborhoods are heat traps, built of materials that absorb heat and release it only slowly back into the surroundings. These buildings typically don’t have air conditioning. But even those residents who have AC in their homes often don’t operate it because they can’t afford the high electricity bills.

Then there are the power outages that utility companies impose during heat waves to “pre-empt” upsurges in power usage that risk crashing the system. But that risk exists only because these same companies have been neglecting upgrades and maintenance necessary to ensure the electric grids can continue to provide adequate power. It’s a conscious choice by power companies, so they can hand out fatter dividends to their shareholders.

It’s one of the forms of class war that wealthy classes wage on the working class—a war with many casualties. Because if heat kills, heat without electricity kills even more people—people who are on medication that needs refrigeration or on dialysis machines and ventilators; people too old, too sick, or too poor to quickly go to a hospital.

That’s why, the solution for the problems caused by global warming and climate change—in addition to all the problems that this capitalist system imposes, day in, day out, on working people—have to be addressed within the larger context of a fight against the capitalist system, waged by an organized working class, defending its common interests.

Biden’s Environmental Bill

Aug 1, 2022

Top Democrats, including Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Joe Manchin, took a chance to crow over their so-called “Inflation Reduction Act,” once it looked like they had a deal last week. Senator Schumer called it "the greatest pro-climate legislation that has ever been passed by Congress." The bill does include 369 billion dollars in spending on clean energy technology over the next decade.

But how will this money be spent? They are continuing tax credits for people who buy electric vehicles, for one. Electric vehicles start at over $30,000 for a new one—so few working people will be able to benefit from the credits. Of course, the tax credit will help the different auto companies move cars. Added to that, there’s a provision that the Postal Service will buy 3 billion dollars worth of electric vans, again a handout to the auto companies. There’s also two billion dollars in grants for auto manufacturers to upgrade their factories.

Companies that produce solar panels, wind turbines and batteries—"clean energy"—can take advantage of tens of billions in tax credits. And then Manchin held out for a few sops to be thrown in the direction of his favorite fossil fuel companies.

This is how they do it: handing money in various ways to the companies—paid with our tax money. In other words, they are making the working class bear the cost of any “green transition.”

Climate Change is a serious issue—we see it with the heat waves, wildfires, and floods as they become more and more common here and around the world. The Democrats say, and the media repeat, that this is the biggest package put toward climate change yet. That may be. 369 billion dollars sounds like a lot, but this money is to be spent over 10 years—about 37 billion each year. That is peanuts next to the 850 billion this country spent on the military just this year. It shows exactly how seriously the ruling class takes the climate crisis.

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