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. 1161 — September 12 - 26, 2022

The Jackson Water Crisis:
An Attack Against All Workers

Sep 12, 2022

On August 29, daily life for the 160,000 residents of Jackson, Mississippi, a majority-black city, screeched to a stop. Governor Tate Reeves announced that the municipal water system had broken down completely. The main water purification plant is so decrepit and poorly maintained, it was overwhelmed by flood waters.

For almost two weeks, people couldn’t do all the simple functions that everyone takes for granted: fill a drinking glass, flush the toilet, take a shower after a day of hard work, often in terrible heat and humidity. Everything had to be done with bottled water.

For Jackson residents, this crisis is nothing new. For many years they have had to buy huge amounts of bottled water with money they don’t have. That’s how contaminated the water is with lead and dangerous bacteria.

And it’s only getting worse.

Other black-majority cities and towns have been hit by similar crises. Flint, Michigan got the most attention when angry residents protested against all the lead in the water. For the last four years, people in Benton Harbor, Michigan have been forced to use bottled water for all their daily functions!

These attacks are a product of institutional racism. But they are also the leading edge of a much broader attack against the working class. In the state of California, for example, one million residents risk cancer, liver, and kidney problems because they get drinking water from systems that don’t meet water quality standards.

Children are not spared. More than 40% of U.S. public schools have dangerously high levels of lead contamination in their water fountains.

The working class can’t wait on the politicians and public officials to supposedly “fix” these water crises.

Working people have to get together and fight to assure that our needs are met. We as workers have to come together and fight to stop this. And not just the people in the neighborhoods and schools now hit by this crisis. Everybody! Because the crisis is spreading, getting worse, and coming to every neighborhood in one form or another.

We already pay extremely high taxes, water bills and fees that are being diverted and stolen. Instead of going to pay for vital infrastructure and services, this money is paying for ever higher tax breaks and subsidies for big business. It’s being used to make millionaires into billionaires—so they can buy another yacht!

And they will take ever more until working people draw a line and stop them.

The working class needs a class-wide answer to the water crisis. Just like it needs a class-wide answer to the decline in the rest of the infrastructure, such as the roads, bridges, parks, as well as vital public services, like public education and health care.

It’s all part of the same fight.

That’s why the workers need their own political party. Workers need their own voice and their own separate organization to help bring workers together to fight in their own interests.

That party does not exist today. But working people in Michigan, Maryland and Chicago can send a message in the upcoming election that they support the construction of that party.

In those places, vote for the candidates running on the Working-Class Party slates!

Pages 2-3

California:
The Working Class Takes the Heat

Sep 12, 2022

It was the working class that took the brunt of the record high temperatures in the long heat wave that hit California in early September.

While the bosses kept cool and well hydrated in their luxurious, air-conditioned offices, millions of essential workers in commercial kitchens, garment factories, gigantic warehouses and delivery trucks endured temperatures that were much hotter than the extreme heat outside. Not only are the workplaces not air conditioned, the machinery and equipment radiate even more heat. So, when it was 110 degrees outside, workers baked and boiled under temperatures of over 120 degrees. Other workers, such as in agriculture and construction, labored long hours directly under the sun, often wearing heavy equipment that traps the heat against their bodies, like a sauna.

Meanwhile, during the heat wave workers’ children were not allowed to go outside during school recess because the school grounds have no grass, no trees or shade structures. And the playgrounds are often the hottest areas in any community because of the large swaths of asphalt. There is even a lack of cool, drinkable water in the schools. Kids tell their parents the water from campus fountains is too hot or metallic tasting.

And the heat did not let up when workers got home. Working class neighborhoods in the big cities are densely packed, with very little greenery and natural shade—unlike where the rich people live. On the contrary, it’s all concrete and asphalt that radiate heat even long into the night. Moreover, a big percentage of workers do not have air conditioning. And even when they do, they can’t afford to run it very long because of the already extremely high utility bills.

Heat kills. Even U.S. government statistics admit that every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more are injured from heat stress on the job—statistics which are surely an undercount. And the toll from severe heat is much, much higher for the sick and vulnerable.

Bosses, landlords, government officials know this full well. But in their drive to increase profits, the capitalists and their lackeys are always on the lookout to cut costs and increase productivity. They don’t even bother to do the little things that could improve working conditions. So, the effects of the heat wave magnified and extended the gross inequalities and poor conditions that the capitalist class imposes on the working class every single day.

Boil Water Alert in Baltimore

Sep 12, 2022

On the morning of Labor Day, Monday, September 5, residents in parts of West Baltimore City and Baltimore County were informed that they needed to boil their water for washing and bathing, and to use only bottled water for drinking and cooking until further notice. Contamination by E. coli bacteria had been detected in water samples from three test locations in West Baltimore.

Needless to say, this created big problems for people living in these areas. By Monday evening, the Baltimore Department of Public Works began handing out thousands of gallon containers of water at several locations to help area residents.

The CDC says that E. coli contamination can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Illness caused by the bacteria is usually mild and clears up in a few days. But in rare cases a life-threatening complication can result about a week following the initial infection.

E. coli can enter the water supply from sewage overflows, sewer systems that are not working properly, polluted storm water runoff or agricultural runoff. After its detection in Baltimore’s water, the city Department of Public Works said it was identifying construction projects that may have caused the contamination, checking for leaks and monitoring chlorine levels. They also began to add more chlorine to water being piped into the area.

People were shocked to find out the contamination had first been detected on Saturday, September 3, two days before it was announced. City officials claimed this delay was necessary in order to re-test water samples to make sure the first test results were not a false alarm.

On Thursday, September 8, three days after the first public announcement, city officials said the contamination had cleared up in 2 of the 3 locations where it had initially been detected. They reduced the boil water alert zone significantly. The next day they ended the boil water advisory completely. They also announced that the water bills for residents in the areas that had been affected would be reduced by 25% this month.

People are of course happy to have their water bills reduced for a month. But some people have not started cooking or drinking their tap water again, because they have lost confidence in city officials who claim they still do not know what caused the contamination. In addition, the whole incident has focused more attention on the lack of regular water system maintenance and improvement that has been sorely lacking for years despite skyrocketing water bills.

Michigan:
Abortion Rights Amendment on November Ballot

Sep 12, 2022

As soon as news leaked in May that Roe v. Wade was about to fall, volunteers rallied to collect signatures on a ballot referendum to keep abortion legal in Michigan. Close to 30,000 people stepped up to collect 753,759 signatures—more than any previous ballot initiative in state history.

Yet this popular proposal—signed by 1 out of every 7 people who voted in November 2020—almost did not make the ballot. The Board of State Canvassers, made up of 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats, makes all election decisions. This 4-member board deadlocked, keeping the proposal off the ballot. Republicans voted no, citing a lack of proper spacing between some words. This denial was appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

A day before the deadline for printing ballots, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the proposal must be on the ballot because there was "no evidence that anyone was confused about the text" who signed the petition.

Proposal 3, called Reproductive Freedom for All, will be on the November 8 ballot. This proposed constitutional amendment establishes an individual right to decide about pregnancy, prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management and infertility treatment. Like the Roe decision, this proposal allows government regulation at the point of fetal viability.

The work that went into putting this measure on the ballot was impressive and marks a good first step. Now supporters of the measure would be wise to prepare morally and organizationally for the billionaire-funded far-right attack on this proposal that is certainly coming. Politicians, churches, and organizations on the far right will go all out to defeat this proposal.

But just imagine if the 30,000 people who helped put this proposal on the ballot each found 4 friends to join them in the fight. There could be over a million people to mobilize for what could be a next step—a “show me the money” step.

All working women, all poor women, and all families have every reason to demand that society make reproductive healthcare—AND raising families—affordable! The most important part of reproductive freedom is having the money and resources to really have a choice in this life.

Prince George’s County Started a Curfew for Young People

Sep 12, 2022

Prince George’s County, Maryland, recently instituted a month-long curfew for those 17 and under. County executive Angela Alsobrooks claims this curfew—backed by civil penalties, including fines—will deter crime. Never mind that the peak times for juvenile crime are outside the times of the curfew! Alsobrooks takes no responsibility for the high rate of crime. Instead, she blames families and parents. Curfews have been used in the past and have never worked to curb crime. What is really going on here?

The spike in crimes—specifically, carjackings—started when the schools shut down during the pandemic, and students were locked-down in their homes. They were expected to learn online. Now test results have come back showing many children didn’t learn. No surprise there. They were cheated out of two years of learning. Now schools are re-opened and there are still no after-school activities for students.

A curfew does not begin to address the frustration, anger, and boredom that young people have been experiencing, before, during and after the pandemic. This so-called solution to crime may make some voters happy, but it solves nothing.

Pages 4-5

Staffing Crisis at Chicago Hospitals

Sep 12, 2022

If you’re a nurse or support staff at Stroger or Provident Hospitals on Chicago’s West and South Sides, then you know what it means to be consistently overworked, grossly underpaid, and taken advantage of at every turn by management.

Often you are required to work extra hours and handle the work that one or two other workers did before they quit. You’re told to do work you are not trained for, or never signed up to do. There are staffing shortages everywhere in the hospital, including the Human Resources staff responsible for filling hundreds of open positions. Nearly every day you learn of someone else who quit because they just can’t take it anymore.

Both Stroger and Provident are run by Cook County Health, part of the county government. It also includes a network of clinics and is the largest “safety net” healthcare system in Chicago. It covers a large portion of the city’s working class and poor residents. The majority of its patients are Black and Latino.

Cook County Health has chronic staffing shortages that go back before the pandemic. Currently it employs 5500 workers, but more than 2000 budgeted jobs remain open. And pay is so low, it’s nearly impossible to fill those jobs. One hiring manager said that over 50 recent job offers were rejected primarily because of the low pay offered.

Large numbers of nurses and staff continue to leave. Primarily, workers quit or take early retirement because of low pay, sinking morale and burnout due to the terrible overwork. Many nurses continue to demand wages they are owed for treatment of critical patients at the height of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods, desperately needed health services continue to erode. When trained nurses and medical staff are unavailable, patients are left without critical care. Doctors are less available than ever. At Stroger and Provident, appointments to see a urologist, ophthalmologist, or other medical specialists are scheduled out 4 to 6 months and more.

Rather than raising pay to keep those they have and attract the additional workers they urgently need, management and county politicians have fueled the staffing crisis by laying off workers in “low revenue” departments. The Cook County Health CEO even touts his plan to expand revenue-making services and cut costs in others. It’s clear—this system cannot solve the health and overwork crisis epitomized by Cook County Health.

While the bosses have no answers, workers at the County Health System have shown a way forward. Increasing staffing levels and higher wages were demands raised in multiple strikes of Cook County Health nurses and staff in 2021. Their fights are all our fights!

Mass Shootings in Detroit

Sep 12, 2022

Workers have expressed concern about all the mass killings taking place. One of the latest happened in Detroit, when a 19-year-old man apparently shot four people, killing three and wounding another. It appears in this case the young man involved previously suffered from mental illness.

It’s hard to explain all the reasons behind the rash of mass killings and attacks that have taken place, but it certainly needs to be understood as a social problem, not simply the work of bad individuals. It is most certainly connected to a society that doesn’t provide an education to its young people, has no decent jobs for many, and has only prisons or homelessness for the mentally ill. Young people under lockdown during Covid hasn’t helped either.

This is the latest product of a system in which many children are treated like throwaways—the capitalist system. As long as it continues to exist, we can expect to see more of this.

Residents Protest Outside of Baltimore

Sep 12, 2022

Residents of Abingdon, a rural but industrial working class suburb of Baltimore, are protesting plans by developers to turn half a square mile of riverfront forest into industrial warehouses and other commercial buildings.

Not only will 200 acres of trees and wetlands be destroyed around the Haha River. Worse, some of the warehouses with all their heavy traffic will be right across a street from an elementary school. Many students there already suffer from asthma and nearly three out of four are eligible for free lunches.

Will Schools Only Be for the Wealthy?

Sep 12, 2022

Nearly 70% of Los Angeles teachers who responded to a recent survey said they have seriously considered quitting the profession over the last two years.

In the face of the high cost of living in the L.A. area, teacher pay is so poor that about 28% of the teachers said they worked a second job to make ends meet. But pay is not the only reason behind the teachers’ frustration. Teachers pointed to overwork due to large class sizes, and a shortage of other school workers. They also mentioned a lack of supplies and deteriorating school buildings as factors making their job harder.

All of these conditions got significantly worse in the last two years when authorities shuttered schools and put all the burden for the COVID pandemic on students and teachers. Many teachers quit or retired earlier than planned due to burnout.

Yes, many teachers have quit. Not their fault! When it required funding to make the schools livable for teachers and kids, the capitalists and government decided not to spend the money.

L.A.’s public schools started the current school year short by 16,000 school workers—teachers and other staff together—one fifth of positions are vacant or hours have been cut.

The situation in L.A. schools is duplicated on the national level, also. In June 2022, there were about 300,000 fewer school workers in public education in the U.S. than in February 2020.

Why is this happening? The U.S. is underfunding K-12 public schools by 150 billion dollars a year, according to a study done by the Century Foundation in 2020. Money is being diverted to capitalist concerns.

They have the money for all kinds of things. But schools for working class kids? They don’t care. For the wealthy who rule and give orders to state and city officials, education is only for those who can pay for private schools for their kids.

The longer we let them handle our affairs, including our schools, the further back we fall.

L.A. Schools Face Heat Wave with Broken A/C Systems

Sep 12, 2022

In late August and early September, as temperatures rose above the 100-degree mark for several days in many parts of the L.A. area, the facilities division of the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) was inundated with calls for air conditioning service. On one day alone, August 31, for example, facilities got about 2,900 calls from about 1,900 classrooms—roughly 1 out of 16 LAUSD classrooms—for help with A/C. In some of the classrooms, students and teachers were relocated to a cooler room on campus—if available, of course.

It’s no surprise that so many air conditioning systems are breaking in L.A. schools. By LAUSD’s own standards, on 599 of the district’s 676 campuses (nearly 90%!), HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems are at the end of, or past, their lifetime!

The head of LAUSD facilities division, Mark Hovatter, explained what the problem is: during the “Great Recession,” between 2008 and 2015, LAUSD cut its budget for routine maintenance by half! Hovatter said that LAUSD is still dealing with the consequences of a repair backlog stemming from those years of big cuts.

In fact, in “normal” times also, spending on maintenance of school facilities has been chronically underfunded, and not just in Los Angeles. A group of experts recently estimated that, overall, schools in the U.S. spend about 110 billion dollars on upkeep every year, which is only a little more than half of the minimum amount needed to maintain industry-standard levels of maintenance, 195 billion dollars.

Everybody knows that working A/C is needed in schools in L.A. (and everywhere else in the country). Children can’t learn if they are melting. So why the hell, when temps were above 100 degrees for days in a row, were 1,900 classrooms left without A/C? Of course, this affects poor children disproportionately.

The next question is, how long are we going to tolerate this intolerable situation?

Our kids lost two years of learning with COVID. Now these dilapidated buildings with non-functioning A/C are cooking our kids. This is crazy. Enough is enough!

Test Scores Even Lower with the Pandemic

Sep 12, 2022

FLASH: Scores on the standardized tests known as M-STEP that are administered in Michigan’s school districts are down sharply compared to test scores before the pandemic hit.

FLASH: While scores were down everywhere, the biggest declines were in districts that offered the most remote instruction.

Should anybody be surprised that what has been called “virtual learning”—resulted in practically no learning at all for a huge chunk of the student population, especially in working class and poor areas, including rural communities?

Should anybody be surprised that the decline wasn’t as sharp in districts that had hybrid, or even resumed in-person learning in 2021—districts in wealthier communities that had the resources to reduce classroom sizes; hire more teachers and teachers aides, install ventilation systems; and configure some outside classroom spaces?

Test score disparities are nothing new. Historically, scores on standardized tests rolled out by the government have shown a common denominator: the main dividing line between who has higher scores and who has lower scores is social class. The gap has always existed, and with the pandemic, it grew.

So, while politicians and education experts debate and study the problem and what should be done, the solution is obvious: a tidal wave of money and resources should go to the public school system to guarantee that children of working people have access to the same programs, facilities, and staff, as exist in wealthy districts.

And then some.

With no debate about where the money should come from. It’s there.

Pages 6-7

Why Does Britain Still Have Kings and Queens?

Sep 12, 2022

In the course of their developments as major capitalist powers a few hundred years ago, the U.S. and France had revolutions to get rid of their kings. Britain was the first industrialized country, the early capitalist state that conquered the world. So why does Britain still have a monarchy in the year 2022?

Britain did have a series of revolutions. In 1640, a civil war broke out between the monarchy of King Charles and Parliament, which had many different aspects. It was a fight among the ruling classes of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It was a fight over who would control the church, which ran many aspects of society including schools and courts. It was a fight over who got to impose taxes and decide what they would be used for; and a fight over who would control the army and how it would be organized.

But underneath all of these fights was a struggle over who would control society. Would it be the growing capitalist class that made its wealth by investing money? Or would it be the old aristocracy, noblemen who had been the knights in the middle ages but who had increasingly become parasites, living off of the rents they charged to those who farmed “their” land?

This civil war between the different classes of wealthy people also opened the door for ordinary people to express their anger at a system that had long been run against them. Organizations emerged called the Levellers and the Diggers that proposed that ordinary people have a say in running the country, even if they did not own property. Some even proposed taking the land away from the rich and farming it collectively.

The English civil wars would last for decades. Charles I got his head cut off, Ireland was laid waste, a military dictatorship ran the country for a time, and Charles II came back as king. Finally, the various wings of the British ruling class agreed on a compromise in 1688. Britain would keep the monarchy, but parliament would have the main say in running the country. Control over parliament would remain in the hands of the wealthiest capitalists and the old lords (British men without property did not get the vote until 1918!).

This compromise worked out really well for the parties involved—and really badly for ordinary people all over the world. Within England, the new, more powerful government helped the lords take over lands called the “commons” that peasant villagers had shared and relied on to survive. This was a crucial step in the process of kicking millions of people off the land their families had lived on for centuries, a key part of the development of capitalism in England.

Instead of using the land to feed these peasants, capitalist farmers rented the land from lords, and produced wool or whatever other crop would bring in the most money. The lords and the capitalist farmers got increasingly rich. But those kicked off the land would starve in great numbers, or flee to the colonies, before eventually becoming the core of the British working class. This desperate working class was then forced to accept the most atrocious conditions.

This British bourgeoisie took over the trade in enslaved people from Africa. But it did so in the name of the Crown. The Royal African Company, owned by the monarchy and founded in 1660, was the single organization that transported the most human beings out of that continent, to work in the plantations of the Americas. Merchants and plantation owners reaped enormous profits from this “Royal” company, as did the banks and insurance companies that grew up around the slave trade—all while one third of those forced onto the slave ships died on the voyage, before the survivors were forced to work under threat of torture. But the “royal” company gave this murderous “trade” a nice, legitimate-sounding cover!

Starting in the 1750s, the British East India Company moved to conquer the Bengal region of India. This company was owned by politically connected noblemen and capitalists in Britain. Part of the rents paid by peasants in Bengal had traditionally gone to build up food supplies in case of a crop failure, but the British East India Company increased rents and diverted them to profit its shareholders. The results were predictable: a massive famine began in 1769, estimated to have killed between seven and ten million people.

As the Company conquered more parts of India, more famines followed. When Indian people revolted in 1857, the British Crown took over the colony, pretending that Queen Victoria was running this vast subcontinent—when in reality, the English capitalist class continued to organize the entire Indian economy to profit itself.

The last major famine inflicted on India by the British colonial state struck Bengal once again in 1943, killing between 2 and 3 million people—just a few years before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne.

This is not to mention what the British capitalists did to the Irish, or to the native peoples of Australia and New Zealand, or through their policies of “divide and rule” throughout Africa and the Middle East—all under the cover of “the Crown.”

Britain has in fact been a capitalist country for centuries, with the capitalist class making the most important decisions about how the state would be run. And for all those centuries, the monarchy has given this most bourgeois state a convenient cover, with all its pomp, traditions, and cute little Corgi dogs.

Pakistan:
Flooded by Climate Change, Crippled by Imperialism

Sep 12, 2022

The country of Pakistan has been hit by devastating floods in recent weeks, caused by powerful monsoon rains, and an unprecedented rate of glacial melting in the northern mountains. The entire Indus River basin, nearly one-third of the country, is currently under water. Almost 1,500 people have been killed, and millions more have been displaced. Houses, roads, and railways have been destroyed, as well as livestock and crops. Those who have not been killed by the flood now face the very real possibility of death by starvation.

This record rainfall and flooding are almost certainly caused by global warming and climate change. The rains and flooding are getting stronger and coming more frequently. In 2010, Pakistan was hit with record flooding of 400,000 cubic-feet-per-second, or cusecs, of water. This year, 700,000 cusecs are expected, almost doubling the record reached just twelve years ago.

The effects of climate change hit every country in the world; but they are especially hitting poorer countries like Pakistan, even though countries like the U.S. and China make up the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, especially historically. Pakistan, with 240 million people, produces just 6% of the greenhouse gases the United States does—yet a third of the country is under water.

And when natural disasters hit, countries like Pakistan have far fewer resources to address the crises.

Pakistan itself is a creation of imperialism, and it has been left greatly impoverished by imperialism. Until its independence in 1947, Pakistan was part of a greater India ruled brutally by the British crown. British colonialism forcibly shut down India’s textile industry, forcing the colony to export cotton to Britain, which was woven into cloth on British machines, then brought back to India and sold at a much higher price.

When Britain was forced by a massive movement to grant India its independence in 1947, it created the separate countries of India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines between Hindus and Muslims—stoking religious violence and massive migration of populations across the Pakistan-India border. Between 200,000 and 2 million people were killed at this time. It was a last ‘gift’ of divide-and-conquer from the British Empire.

Since 1947, with the United States in the lead, the imperialist countries have continued to plunder Pakistan. To help with this, the U.S. has supported one military dictatorship after another. The current government of Shehbaz Sharif is officially ‘civilian’, but he remains in office only because the military allows it. And behind the military, sits the United States.

Sharif has begged wealthy countries to come to the aid of Pakistan but has received extremely little in the way of money or resources. The UN Secretary General recently visited the country and again pleaded for the wealthy countries to help, saying, "Pakistan needs massive financial support. This is not a matter of generosity; it is a matter of justice."

It’s absolutely true that the ruling classes of the U.S., the U.K., and other wealthy countries owe a debt to Pakistan and other colonized countries around the world, and that the wealth stolen from these countries would go a long way toward addressing the crying needs they confront. But these ruling classes are not about to act justly and return what they stole—after all, theft is how they got so wealthy in the first place!

The solution in Pakistan—and India, and the whole region—lies in what the working class of all these countries could build, by taking back the wealth that they themselves have created as workers and farmers. This would require overcoming the national and religious divisions that only imperialism has benefitted from.

Workers’ Fight Workplace Bulletin Editorials

Sep 12, 2022

The following are excerpts from the workplace editorials of the British revolutionary workers group Workers’ Fight for the week of September 9.

The suspension of strike action within minutes of the notice of the queen’s demise reveals exactly the true function of the British monarchy. Bringing the “nation” together, unity of all! Concealing the deep class divide between the poor and rich, working class and exploiting class—that same class which refuses absolutely to pay workers a living wage today!

The optical illusion created by media-savvy “classless matriarchy,” er … sorry, “monarchy"—aided by incredible (and incredibly expensive!) show-business—is precisely what the British capitalist state has relied upon these past 70 years to help it keep social peace.

And as we hear from the endless messages of condolence from politicians of every stripe, it makes no difference which party has sat in government. They have all upheld—and continue to uphold—this gold and diamond-encrusted system, equally! And to display their loyalty and obedience, every MP wore black when attending the House of Commons the day after the royal death.

The Monarchy Isn’t Neutral

Of course, contrary to the wall-to-wall commentary about her, the queen was never a “neutral figure,” nor even “above it all.” Silence over her own opinions was always the silence of consent….

By saying nothing, Mrs. Windsor was always saying “yes” to the perpetuation of the class system which British capitalism rests upon. And moreover, to British imperialism and its domination over the so-called “Commonwealth” ("her great love!"); wealth which is sucked out of former dominions into British hands. Nothing “common” about it! But this is precisely why it is so vital to the ruling class to keep the monarchy alive, even if this would be an excellent moment to get rid of it for good!

Great Britain:
Liz Truss in the Footprints of Thatcher and Johnson

Sep 12, 2022

This article is excerpted from the September 9 issue #2823 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Liz Truss beat Rishi Sunak 57% to 43% in the Conservative Party’s internal election on September 5. The vote was no surprise.

The queen enthroned the Party’s new leader as new prime minister the next day. Truss replaces Boris Johnson, who was pushed to leave in early July by the scandal of having parties during quarantine (Partygate) and by a tsunami of resignations among his ministers.

First an economist at Shell, Truss was elected MP for the first time in 2010. From 2012 on, she was in all the Conservative governments. They imposed austerity and precariousness on workers to the present day, while helping capitalists accumulate fortunes.

Truss campaigned against Brexit in 2016 but changed her mind for the sake of her career. Despite her weathervane tendency, her consistency in nationalist and ultra-liberal rhetoric is now rewarded. She stands at the helm of government to make the working class pay the price of the crisis. But soaring prices in Great Britain have led to a wave of strikes since the beginning of summer, not seen since the 1980s.

Under these conditions, it is not certain that copying and pasting Thatcher will suffice for Truss to extinguish workers’ anger, nor will promising alms for the poorest, as Sunak did during their race.

Pages 8-9

U.S. Proxy War Against Russia Intensifies

Sep 12, 2022

On August 24, President Biden announced 3 billion dollars in fresh military aid for Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. had "demonstrated that we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes." Two weeks later, Ukraine launched a military offensive against Russian forces. Blinken all but took credit for it, saying: "I think we can say that Ukraine is proceeding in a very deliberate way with a strong plan and critically enabled by the resources that many of us are providing."

For U.S. imperialism, this war has many advantages. They got Putin to launch a war he cannot win and cannot get out of. This has the potential to destabilize the Russian state, the U.S.’s longtime enemy. Whatever deals and accommodations the U.S. has made with it at various times, and however much the ruling Russian bureaucracy long ago turned its back on every shred of progress left over from the workers’ revolution of 1917, the Russian state is still a distant product of that revolution. And so far, U.S. capitalism and its European partners have not been able to completely swallow Russia in the way they have swallowed the former eastern bloc. Perhaps this war will open up that possibility, though how that might unfold no one can say. And yet, so far, no U.S. troops are involved. So, unlike the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little danger that the current deaths and injuries of war will provoke a reaction from the U.S. population.

On top of that, this war has militarized the European continent, which means that increasing amounts of government money are flowing from European countries—especially Germany—into the pockets of U.S. arms manufacturers. And to add the cherry on top, these European countries are being transformed from customers of Russian oil and gas companies into customers of the giant U.S. oil companies.

While this war has been an enormous boon for U.S. imperialism and the giant companies it serves, and a political problem for Russia’s ruling bureaucracy, it has been a disaster for Russian troops and especially for the Ukrainian population. The Russian military has been shelling cities with no regard for the people who live in them. Thousands have been killed or wounded, many more driven from their homes. And of course, both sides have carried out atrocities, including the abuse of prisoners. The UN’s monitoring team in Ukraine reported they had "documented a range of violations against prisoners of war" by Russian troops, as well as "cases of torture and ill-treatment” carried out by Ukrainian forces. All this has dug a ditch of blood between two peoples who have shared a common history for centuries.

On top of its atrocious present, armed conflict also has the potential to spread. U.S. imperialism has gained an advantage so far—but there is no obvious endgame to this U.S. proxy war. No one knows what might result from backing the Russian state into a corner. Who could be surprised if this turned out to be the opening act of World War III? The heads of the U.S. state are certainly aware of the possibility that this war could spread: the rhetoric issued from every level of U.S. government is clearly aimed at preparing the U.S. population for a long fight that might more directly involve U.S. forces at some point.

We have seen similar proxy wars against Russia before. In the 1980s, the U.S. gave enormous amounts of military aid to the mujahideen forces fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan called the mujahideen "freedom fighters," language that sounds very similar to Biden’s: "Ukrainians have inspired the world with their extraordinary courage and dedication to freedom."

Twenty years later, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan itself, fighting forces that came out of those the U.S. had supported against the Soviet Union. Forty years later, the U.S. finally withdrew from an Afghanistan that has been laid waste.

The U.S. working class paid a heavy price for the ruling class’s Afghan policy, in our tax money wasted, in the lives of our daughters and sons ground up in war, and also in the moral cost of accepting to help ravage an entire population in the name of “freedom.”

U.S. imperialism may be able to maneuver and gain even when its policies lead to the destruction of entire countries, entire regions. But whether or not U.S. troops are directly involved, we have no interest in backing the extension of this U.S. proxy war against Russia, which, finally, threatens the safety of our entire species.

War in Ukraine:
Risking another Chernobyl?

Sep 12, 2022

A U.N. inspection team visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant last week, to investigate the situation on the ground. The plant has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war, though the plant’s Ukrainian staff has continued to work. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station is the largest nuclear plant in Europe.

More recently, Russia has placed artillery batteries between the plant’s reactors, using the plant as protection to shell nearby Ukrainian cities. UN inspectors noted that the plant has been hit by artillery; one worker was injured by an artillery strike. The power lines by which the plant supplies electricity to Ukraine’s power grid have been damaged by artillery strikes in recent weeks.

To prevent the nuclear core from melting down, as happened in the Chernobyl disaster, cool water must be run over the reactors continuously. Right now, one of the plant’s reactors is being used to keep the others cool—but the plant was not designed to do that for long. There is a diesel backup system, but that could only run for a few days—and imagine how hard it might be to bring several tanks of diesel fuel every day through a war zone.

Adding to the grave risk is the stress and fatigue of the plant’s staff. They do work that is stressful in peacetime, but now in front of armed Russian troops. Many have been interrogated and some report being tortured.

With the Russian artillery “shielded” this way by the Zaporizhzhia nuclear station, both sides risk an enormous disaster, like the one that took place in Chernobyl in the 80’s, or at Fukushima ten years ago. And this would take place in a war zone! Experts say a meltdown would destroy a huge portion of Ukraine’s most fertile farmland. The U.N.’s Chinese inspector said he had hoped the belligerents would stop their shelling during the inspection. They did not.

Both the Russians and Ukrainians have placed for example, an artillery battery in a school, or a command post in a hospital. Amnesty International cited Ukraine 29 times for deploying its troops in or near residential neighborhoods—though never rich ones; the chalets and resorts of the wealthy have been spared. Both Ukraine and Russia are willing to use civilians as “human shields,” and thus show their contempt for the ordinary population.

This is what warfare means under capitalism—rolling the dice and risking the lives and health of thousands for the politics of imperialism.

Energy:
The War on Workers

Sep 12, 2022

This article is translated from the September 9 issue #2823 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

France has seen no lack of martial declarations in recent days concerning tensions over the cost of energy, what with the Defense Council on September 2 and President Emmanuel Macron’s press conference on Monday 5. The issue at hand was preparing the appetite for sacrifices which will be asked of the population.

“We are at war, that is a fact,” the president said. The Defense Council indeed initiated a quasi-military preparation of minds. The government has been hammering away for several months that everything is ready, that gas stocks are more than 90% full, and that there will be no problem this winter. But now the government also asks the entire population for “a general mobilization.” Without our complying with the “sobriety” he requests, he threatens rationing—even cuts.

For companies, this will mean reducing heat in offices and workshops. Some have already planned to reduce activity altogether, given the explosion in the price of electricity. Companies will ask—some already have—for a return to the partial unemployment enacted during the pandemic, with the government mostly paying for wages.

But as for workers, they will be told to tighten their belts. In addition to the cuts in pay, they are volunteered to consider cutting their gas and electricity consumption. This takes gall when many families are already making forced savings on gas, electricity, heating oil, and fuel. And “experts” like Macron himself shower us with advice such as turning off lights, lowering the heat, or putting lids on our cooking pans!

Of course, the government pretends to protect the population with a few gestures like energy checks distributed to the poorest, and an extension of the tariff shield which somewhat freezes energy prices. Minister of Public Action and Accounts Gabriel Attal praised this system put in place last year. It’s supposed to limit the rise in electricity prices at the regulated rate of 4%. But next year, this increase will be more like 10 or even 20%....

A good way to save energy would be to turn off the television when Macron comes on. This could also relieve stress!

Germany:
Energy Restrictions on Ordinary People

Sep 12, 2022

This article is translated from the September 9 issue #2823 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Germany’s Minister of Economy and Climate Robert Habeck, a member of the Greens, is implementing energy-saving measures.

One decree outlaws lighted advertisements and lighting of buildings at night. Also, it caps heat in working areas of public buildings except hospitals at 66 degrees—54 degrees where workers do “intensive physical” work. Heat is to be turned off in lobbies, hallways, and other common areas. And there will be no hot water for washing your hands! Hot water has already been shut off in some sports facilities, and even in schools.

For the working classes, legal restrictions on using heat at work and at school will add to the de-facto restrictions that inflation will impose on them at home. The surge in gas prices is expected to add on thousand dollars per year to the cost of living per family.

The only ones who won’t pay are the energy trusts and other big corporations.

Pages 10-11

Focus on the System Behind the Schools

Sep 12, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of September 5, 2022.

The Superintendent of Detroit public schools said the 2022–23 school year is going to be different. No more masking, no more testing, no more social distancing. “This year,” he said, “it’s all about student achievement.”

Certainly, the last school year, 2021–2022, was not one of “achievement,” not in Detroit, not in most of the country, especially not in the poorest districts. Throughout big cities and rural areas, students might as well not have been in school last year. A report just released by the National Assessment of Academic Progress showed that nine-year-olds in those districts fell back so far, it will take one whole year’s worth of work just to bring them up to where they should be right now.

Students in those districts were the ones most subjected to “learning at a distance.” Classes were carried out over computer networks. But most students couldn’t regularly hook into them. Some didn’t have computers, or the computers were too slow, or there wasn’t internet access, or other kids in the family were attempting to log on at the same time. When they did get to school, they were condemned to constant quarantines and shutdowns.

Yes, coronavirus set this off. But the virus was only a small part of the problem.

Most public school systems—the ones serving the children of working people—didn’t have adequate air ventilation, the single most important condition for reducing the spread of the virus in school settings.

When the virus broke out, most of those schools had too many children packed into too small a classroom. Wearing masks didn’t overcome the crowding. Sending kids home in constant quarantines didn’t stop the spread—it just ended up creating a problem of chronic absenteeism. In the Detroit public schools last year, 79% of all students were listed as “chronically absent.”

So, it’s true, the coming school year needs to be devoted to “student achievement,” as the Detroit superintendent of schools promised.

What would that require—other than promises? First of all, investment to provide good air circulation in every school. Investment to open more schools so students aren’t packed like sardines in classrooms and lunchrooms. More investment to increase the number of teachers by three or four or even five times as many as there were last year, so each student can have individual attention as needed. More investment to have the support personnel needed—nurses, maintenance workers, office workers—so schools can function in a safe way. More investment to set up a real, complete computer network so that, in case of “at-distance-learning,” every child can participate fully.

What is required during the time of coronavirus? The same thing required in an ordinary year, just magnified because of the virus. For kids of working people to have the possibility to get a decent education means they need the same conditions that exist in the schools where wealthy people send their children. That means money, lots more money than what goes to public schools today.

There is public money in this country that could pay for the schools, enormous amounts of tax money. But it is invested in things that increase the profit of the capitalist class: research for profitable computer chip makers; subsidies for profitable energy companies, subsidies for profitable auto companies, subsidies for a very profitable aerospace industry and its rockets. Banks are bailed out. And money literally gushes into that most profitable of industries: military weapons and this system’s wars.

A system reveals its values by what it spends its money on. This capitalist system spends it on the profit of a very tiny minority of the population, the capitalist class, while condemning children of working people to an education which would not serve them in the 19th century, much less in the 21st.

The push to maximize profit is built into the capitalist system. That’s why children are deprived of a decent education, why public health is decimated, why roads and bridges crumble, why parklands are left vulnerable to fire and rivers to flooding. The system needs to be eradicated.

Culture Corner— Operation Flagrant Foul & Dirty Work

Sep 12, 2022

Film: UNTOLD: Operation Flagrant Foul, 2022, on Netflix

In its latest release, the sports documentary series UNTOLD brings to the fore the 2007 NBA betting scandal named by its FBI moniker “Operation Flagrant Foul.” The film has recent and revealing interviews with Tim Donaghy, the only referee to be charged, and with his two partners from the gambling world. Also included is an interview with the FBI agent who was on their tail. The interviews clearly expose how attitudes of referees can and do influence the outcome of an NBA game, how referees follow unwritten rules, and how some referees were also allegedly illegally betting on games. Was there a cover-up? Is it still going on today? A film worth watching.

Book: Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America by Eyal Press, 2021

The pandemic exposed the vulnerable status of essential workers in perilous times, drawing attention to the health and safety risks they faced. This book goes further and examines the psychological, emotional, and physical hardships these workers face, even in “everyday” “ordinary” times. Through in-depth interviews and visits to the “front line,” the author highlights the burdens placed on people in the prison system (both guards and prisoners), workers in the slaughterhouses and in the meat processing plants, drone operators, oil rig workers and others. The book shows how people are forced into unbearable choices and how they fight for a decent life.

Page 12

Working Class Party on the Ballot:
Cast a Useful Vote!

Sep 12, 2022

The working class needs its own party, to organize its forces and put forth its own interests in the political arena. While such a party does not exist, people who believe it must be built have successfully put Working Class Party on the ballot in the states of Michigan and Maryland plus one U.S. Congressional district in Illinois. People who agree with this idea can vote for Working Class Party in those three states in November.

Below is the text of a leaflet distributed in Michigan and reproduced on the independent website workingclassfight.com.

Working People Need a Party Based on Our Own Class

That party does not exist today. Instead, there are two big parties, both serving the capitalist class and its chase after profit. But working people can build our own party, one that struggles to unite all our forces in a common fight. We refuse to let the bosses set us against each other by race and ethnic background, by sex, by citizenship, by age, by skill and education. We all work for our living. We are proud to be part of the same class, the class that makes society run.

A Working Class Program

to Deal with the Capitalist Crisis

To catch up with what we’ve lost to inflation:

Everyone’s wages must be increased—NOW. Minimum wage should be set high enough to support a family comfortably. There’s wealth enough in this society to pay everyone a decent wage, including young people just starting out.

To keep pace with inflation:

When prices go up, wages could go up an equal amount and IMMEDIATELY. When prices go up, pensions and Social Security should also go up—and IMMEDIATELY.

To get rid of all the unemployment, obvious and hidden:

Share out the work among everyone who wants to work. We could all work fewer hours, and everyone could be paid a full, weekly check. The wealth our labor creates will more than pay for this.

To provide the services the population needs:

Public money should be spent on systems serving everyone: schools, roads, bridges, public health and sanitation, water, sewers, transit, dams, parks, recreation centers, etc. The money is there, wasted today, propping up corporate profit, burned up in war. It must be taken back, made to benefit everyone.

To determine what kind of life we will have:

We have to find the wealth the bosses steal from our labor. We have to put our hands on the public money that is wasted. We can do that. We are in every company, every public service, every school—in the very center of the economy. Not only do workers make the economy run. As a class, we can decide how it should be run. And the working class has the power to make things run for the good of everyone.

Democrats Are No Protection from the Right Wing

Sep 12, 2022

The Democratic Party spent money on ads in an attempt to secure the Republican nomination for truly extreme candidates. In the Maryland gubernatorial primary, for example, the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) effectively came in on Trump’s side, spending more than a million dollars to promote Dan Cox. Dan Cox is an extreme-right racist, anti-immigrant, misogynist. The Democrats also spent around 30 million dollars to help Darren Bailey get the Republican nomination for governor of Illinois.

The Democrats argue that this was an election strategy to make it easier for Democrats to win against far-right, extreme candidates. So, what are they saying? That Democratic candidates can’t win on their own merits?

By this logic, what is to stop the Democrats from supporting Trump in 2024 because they think it would be easier for Biden to defeat him?

The extreme right poses a serious threat to the working class. They are funded by billionaires to protect the interests of billionaires against the interests of the working class. The working class cannot rely on the Democrats for protection against the extreme right. That would be suicide! The working class can only rely on its own forces for defense against the extreme right.

Our Life Expectancy or Capitalism’s?
We Have the Power to Decide

Sep 12, 2022

The wealthiest country in the world with “the best health care system” saw yet another drop in life expectancy for a second year in a row. How is this even possible?

While there were over one million deaths from Covid, accounting for half of the decline in living longer, that is not the whole story. Drug overdoses and other accidental deaths as well as heart disease claimed hundreds of thousands of more lives. But this still doesn’t explain why with the best health care and all the wealth in this country, people are dying younger than in 1992.

The U.S. health care system is fragmented and profit driven. Those without health insurance or those who are under-insured go without routine, preventative medical care. Big pharma over-prices drugs needed for chronic conditions like diabetes—a disease that also leaves a person more vulnerable to dying from Covid. People living in over-crowded living conditions, pollution, unsafe drinking water, these all contribute to shorter lifespans. There is no national public health care. Public health is handled on a state-by-state basis. Over the last several decades the states have gutted funding for public health, which is one of the facts that made Covid so unnecessarily devastating. Many workplaces don’t offer sick leave, forcing workers to come to work sick and spread their germs to their co-workers.

For sure we are going backwards. The last time U.S. life expectancy dropped 2 years in a row was 100 years ago—and that was during a recession. We may live in the wealthiest country, but that wealth is in the hands of the top one percent who can get the best health care money can buy.

Guess what, our labor, the labor of the working class, produced all that wealth. And it is long past time that we benefit from the wealth we made. Exactly because we do produce the wealth also means we can take that wealth back from the bosses, the capitalists, and use it for our benefit.

Search This Site