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. 1169 — January 23 - February 6, 2023

Debt Ceiling:
An Excuse to Launch Another Attack on Workers

Jan 23, 2023

On Thursday, the U.S. treasury reached its debt limit, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Yellen said the U.S. Treasury will start implementing “extraordinary measures.”

It’s funding cuts Yellen is talking about, although they are couched as temporary. She laid out what funding was to be cut: The Civil Service, Postal Service and Federal Employee Retirement Funds.

So, at least for now, it’s funding for retirees and workers who will retire that will pay for the U.S. debt! And who can guess when or how much will be repaid to the funds, if any. Bet they don’t report on that.

As usual in Washington, D.C., the Republicans in Congress started this talk on cutting spending. They said they will refuse to raise the government debt ceiling. They said cuts in spending are necessary—cuts in social programs. But the Democrats, who control the executive branch, are doing the cutting—Joe Biden and his Treasury Department led by Yellen.

Last month Congress, still controlled by the Democrats, and with the votes of Republicans, passed the 2023 military budget overwhelmingly—a record-breaking U.S. military budget of 858 billion dollars, and 45 billion dollars MORE than what President Joe Biden had asked for!

So, for the Democrats and Republicans, there is obviously no “ceiling” when it comes to spending billions upon billions of dollars for war. The U.S. has already spent 50 billion dollars on the war in Ukraine—for that bloody, destructive war, for example. And what are Ukrainians and Russians suffering and dying for, and what are American workers paying for? So that the U.S. can use this war to “weaken Russia,” as U.S. officials have openly declared.

When it comes to spending billions upon billions of dollars for that carnage, all that bloodshed and destruction to weaken a rival country that the U.S. cannot completely control, there is obviously no “ceiling” for the Democrats and Republicans in the Capitol.

But when it comes to the pensions of retired government workers, they say, “We have to stop paying you.” And these hypocrites already have their game plan set. The Democrats, who are actually doing the cuts, will blame the Republicans. And the Republicans, who openly front for the military contractors, will resort to their usual “national security” rhetoric.

If they get away with this kind of game again, we can only count on these politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, to go after their favorite targets also: Social Security, Medicare, aid programs for the poor—what millions of working-class people need to survive in today’s economy, and what these fat Washington politicians shamelessly call “entitlements.”

For decades, uttering all kinds of lies, Republicans and Democrats have kept cutting government programs and services that the population needs: health care, education, the infrastructure. At the same time, they started one war after another around the world and poured billions of dollars into the coffers of military contractors—along with the huge tax breaks they handed out to big companies in the civilian sector.

As the living standard of the working class kept deteriorating, and as more and more workers lost their jobs and homes, the profits of big companies broke one record after another.

Now these politicians want to cut more. And their excuse this time is the debt ceiling. It’s another game the Republicans and Democrats are playing, to cut government services for the working class even more, so they can hand out even more to the class they both represent and serve, the capitalist class.

Pages 2-3

DTE Tries to BS a Rate Increase

Jan 23, 2023

Southeast Michigan’s power utility, DTE, just sent out a mailer to let electricity users know that if you have increased costs this coming year, it’s your fault. Really?! They say that between 3:00 and 7:00 pm you should use less electricity—because it’s when most people use it! Then, if you do use it, it’s your choice to pay more.

What rubbish! It is DTE and big energy that decided to keep their profits sky-high instead of investing in infrastructure. It is big auto that chooses enormous profits on electric cars over public transit.

So now we should stop using electricity between 3:00 and 7:00 to do necessary stuff like cooking, lights, dinner and laundry in the only hours we are home? Haha and bull! Just call it what it is—a rate increase!

Sky-High Rent:
Because of Computers, or Capitalism?

Jan 23, 2023

Landlords controlling hundreds of thousands of apartments across the country use a computer program to decide how high to raise rents. Software sold by private-equity-owned RealPage is apparently now used to set rents in the vast majority of apartment buildings in the U.S. The software is able to learn how much nearby landlords charge, and it uses that information to calculate similar rent—usually on the high side. The company boasts that its algorithm helps landlords "outperform the market by up to 5%" and raise the rent "year over year, between 5% to 12% in every market."

Rents around the country shot up 20% in the last two years, even after many tenants saw rents rise by a third between 2014 and 2020. More than five million apartments that used to rent for under $1,000 a month now cost much more.

Senate Democrats proposed a law to stop landlords from using the software. But this will not stop landlords from raising rents. The owners of big apartment buildings are in business to make profit. The software is one tool which gives them an excuse to raise rents. But even without this tool, they would still raise rents, just as they did for generations before the software existed.

To have housing we all can afford, we need a society that is not based on the accumulation and maximization of profit. Housing is a human right.

Restaurant Workers Pay Bosses to Cheat Them

Jan 23, 2023

In four of the biggest states in the U.S.—California, Texas, Illinois and Florida—wait staff must take food-handling classes. Millions working in other states’ restaurants or bars must also take these classes, run by ServSafe. ServSafe was bought by the National Restaurant Association.

For more than a decade ServSafe has collected about $15 from every person taking these classes for a food service job.

These fees help pay for the National Restaurant Association to lobby Congress and state legislatures. As a result, almost half of all states allow tipped workers to make less than $3 an hour. In 2021 the restaurant owners’ association lobbied successfully against raising the federal minimum wage for all workers, including those getting tips. Twenty years earlier, the association also lobbied successfully against providing health care benefits to their workers.

In other words, a mandatory fee, paid by millions of waiters and waitresses, goes to lobby Congress to keep them receiving a below-living wage!

Tech Workers Feeling the Pain

Jan 23, 2023

Google’s parent company announced 12,000 tech layoffs; Amazon announced 18,000 workers to be cut in tech jobs; Microsoft announced 10,000 layoffs, and Facebook’s parent company Meta announced 11,000 to be fired. Twitter got rid of half its staff when Elon Musk’s deal to buy it went through.

And ironically, Musk tweeted the bad news. Another big company laid people off by a Zoom meeting; other corporations have merely sent emails to tell workers they were losing their jobs. Yes, big tech has brought a lot of pain, and not only for those laid off.

Now we see that big tech, often announced as the new savior of humanity, is an industry just like all the others—it lays off, trying to get each person working to do the work of two! It tries to push down wages and benefits; it moves from state to state, depending on where tax benefits are best. Tech bosses are bosses, and live and die by how much profit they make.

Albertson’s 4-billion-dollar Dividend

Jan 23, 2023

Albertson’s, the grocery store chain which also owns Jewel-Osco, announced it is going to pay out a 4-billion-dollar dividend to its shareholders.

On January 19, the Washington State Supreme Court decided it wouldn’t even hear a legal challenge to this dividend coming from the Washington Attorney General, who had argued that paying out this much money would weaken the company and likely lead to store closures. A federal judge threw out similar efforts by lawyers for California, Illinois, and Washington, D.C.

These four billion dollars come from the wealth this company has squeezed out of its workers, cutting wages, benefits, and working conditions for decades. And it comes from the money it has squeezed out of all of us who buy groceries—look what’s happened to the price of eggs!

And as the Washington Attorney General pointed out, after Albertsons completes its 25-billion-dollar merger with Kroger—which also owns Mariano’s, Ralphs, and other chains—the new company will have no reason to operate stores that currently compete. This will likely mean more store closures, which will cost thousands of jobs. The company will also then be free to jack up grocery prices even higher, since there will be fewer competitors.

Several grocery unions put out a joint statement: “We are disappointed to see a ruling that favors a small number of ultra-wealthy shareholders over the many thousands of essential workers and millions of Americans who will be left to suffer the consequences of this outright financial looting of Albertsons.”

They are right, of course. But who can be surprised that the courts took the side of these financial looters? Like Sears or Toys-R-Us, this is just one more example of a company that sells something we need, being looted to funnel billions more to the super-rich.

But workers still deliver the groceries, stock the shelves, clean the stores, and work the registers (even the supposedly “self-check-out” registers). That means that when they come together, workers have the power to change this situation—when they count on their own forces, not on courts that are run in the interests of the super-rich.

Attacking Black History to Grandstand for the Right

Jan 23, 2023

Florida announced that the new Advanced Placement African American Studies class, a college level class to be made available to high schools, would be banned in state schools. The Department of Education wrote "As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value." They said nothing about how the new course violated the law, or where it was supposedly “inaccurate.”

Last year, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed one bill to broadly restrict teaching about this country’s history of racism—what they’ve been calling “Critical Race Theory"—and another to prevent teaching about gender and sexuality.

Right wing operatives are coordinating a national campaign to cultivate "universal public school distrust," in the words of Christopher Rufo. DeSantis appointed Rufo to the board of a small public liberal arts college in Florida this year, and he is attempting to impose similar policies there. It’s a way of undermining public education so that they can pull the money out—and send it to private schools or corporations.

The right has been using these reactionary politics to mobilize parents at local school boards—and as a way of garnering votes. DeSantis is eyeing next year’s presidential race. He wants to make an appeal to the reactionary prejudice to try to drum up the votes that went to Trump. It’s a big and disgusting move to make the teaching of black history “illegal.”

Foster Children Drugged

Jan 23, 2023

One in three foster children in Maryland is being given psychotropic (mind-altering) medications, according to a recent lawsuit filed against the state by civil rights groups and advocates. The children are drugged to restrain them. Three in four do not even have a psychiatric diagnosis. More than half who are given these medications got multiple drugs, up to seven at a time. Drugging children into oblivion is obviously not healthy and not good for their development into responsible adults. They are not being treated, they are being made more compliant and subdued.

Maryland has more than 2,500 children in foster care. The number has gone way down in recent decades, even as the need has increased. But the funding has dried up, dropping by nearly one fourth from 2008 to 2018. Caseworkers are overloaded. Foster parents are worn out. So adults slam drugs into children to control them.

Capitalist society is less and less able to take care of its young people.

Pages 4-5

Pretending Immigrants Are Welcome in Chicago

Jan 23, 2023

Responding to the Chicago mayor’s boastful claim that Chicago is a “welcoming” city, immigrant workers are arriving in busloads at the city’s downtown Union Station. But they are experiencing a starkly different reality.

In pompous political grandstanding last year, Democratic Party officials made a pledge they knew full well would not be realized—that the city’s doors are wide open and migrants will receive the support necessary to continue on with their lives. This cruel deception is now leaving thousands of immigrant workers in a state of desperation, to fend for themselves in their search for shelter, food, and clothing during the coldest months of the year.

Since August, more than 5,000 immigrant workers have arrived on buses and many others are coming on their own or in groups. Fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries, they are in a frantic search for jobs that pay enough to support themselves and their families.

On one January night, 40 Venezuelan migrants who came on the same bus departed the bus station in different directions in search of a warm place to sleep. Most spent days wandering the streets seeking shelter and food, sleeping on concrete sidewalks, under bus shelters and in parking garages.

They were told to use a 311 emergency number for help with housing and other needs. But since existing shelters are already overcrowded, many are being routed to train stations, police stations, or public buildings. Often, if allowed to sleep overnight, they are required to leave by 5 a.m. The emergency number provides little help. Callers are most often told to go to warming centers and wait for a callback when a shelter becomes available. Often there is no callback. If a shelter is eventually found it is sometimes miles away.

In early January, a family of four, including a baby, roamed the streets for days without jackets or money for food. After calling 311, the family was told to wait for a callback which never came. Finally, the family received help from a church member.

The Chicago city government and the capitalist billionaires it serves posture with fake humanitarian-sounding public pronouncements that immigrants are welcome in this city. But at the same time, they ensure that the massive public funding for desperately needed social services is channeled instead into their own pockets. The wealth exists to help everyone who needs it. This inhuman treatment is abominable.

Skyrocketing Natural Gas Bills in California

Jan 23, 2023

California natural gas companies recently declared to their customers that their January gas bills could double. These companies point out that the unit wholesale price of natural gas more than quadrupled over one year and tripled over only one month. They claim that they naturally have to increase what they charge to their customers. For example, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) would jack up a household’s monthly bill from $65 last January to $160 this January, and a $130 bill would be more like $315.

Their excuses for suddenly jacking up their bills by 250%, if not more, are endless, including sinking inventories, supply constraints, high rainfalls, and colder-than-usual weather. These companies argue that a cold and wet winter increases the demand for natural gas used in heating and powering gas stoves.

But the duration of this bad California weather has been no longer than one month. At the same time, wholesale natural gas prices have been dropping in other regions of the United States, presumably because of warmer weather. As a result, the demand in the rest of the country should have been decreasing. So, there should not be any overall shortage of natural gas to justify such high prices.

Indeed, the American Gas Association, a trade organization of these very gas companies, admitted that the U.S. “has more than enough natural gas to satisfy the current level of exports and more while keeping prices affordable and stable for natural gas customers,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

So, why are the natural gas prices in California skyrocketing? The answer is simple. The filthy rich are using any excuse and every opportunity to rip off workers to get even richer at every turn, this time through skyrocketing gas prices. Their excuse is no more than Hollywood-style nonsense.

2023 in Los Angeles:
Three Police Murders in Two Days

Jan 23, 2023

In Los Angeles in early January, the police killed three men in two days. On January 2, the cops shot and killed 45-year-old Takar Smith. Cops had been called by Smith’s wife during a domestic dispute. Smith’s wife had told the police dispatcher that Smith was schizophrenic and was acting erratically because he was off his meds. "He’s acting crazy and he’s supposed to take medication because he has like a mental illness," Smith’s wife said. But cops shot Smith anyway after they surrounded him and he picked up a knife.

On the following day, January 3, L.A. cops shot and killed 35-year-old Oscar Sanchez in South L.A. after he had been throwing objects at passing cars, according to the official LAPD account. On that same day, the cops also killed Keenan Anderson, after they said he tried to run away following a minor traffic accident. Body camera footage released by the LAPD showed that Anderson, a 31-year-old high school teacher and father, was begging for help as several police held him down. At one point Anderson said, "They’re trying to George Floyd me." One cop had his elbow on Anderson’s neck while he was lying down before another cop Tasered Anderson for roughly 30 seconds straight before pausing and Tasering him again for five more seconds. Four hours later, Anderson was declared dead in a hospital after he suffered cardiac arrest. Because Anderson was the cousin of Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, his death at the hands of the police received widespread coverage by the news media.

In all three cases, the LAPD carried out cold-blooded executions. To try to quell rising public outrage, L.A. Chief of Police Michel Moore took the unusual step of holding a press conference in order to publicly criticize his own cops, admitting that the cops probably should have called for county social workers trained in de-escalating standoffs, especially for people thought to be suffering mental trauma.

But these killings were not the result of so-called “mistakes” by a few police officers or dispatchers, as Moore tried to make it seem. L.A. cops are trained to be aggressive and impose their authority in poor and working-class communities. Those cops with the highest numbers of arrests, traffic stops and custodial stops are rewarded with the most prestigious assignments, or else they get a better shift and an easier assignment. In other words, the policy of the LAPD, like police forces in big cities around the country, is to act like an occupying army in working class neighborhoods.

Regular, systematic police violence is one part of a class war carried out in the interests of the capitalist class, in order to protect the profits and privileges of the capitalist class, as they degrade and destroy the living standards of the vast majority of the population.

Detroit Officials Propose Bigger Handouts to Billionaires

Jan 23, 2023

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and other city officials are pushing a proposal to give a 797-million-dollar handout to the billionaire family of Mike Ilitch and fellow billionaire and real estate mogul Stephen Ross. They claim the money will go to the construction of six buildings and renovation of four buildings controlled by the Ilitches. The new development would supposedly include 695 residential units, of which at least 140 would be available to low-income households. It would also include space for commercial office space and hotel rooms. According to the officials, the proposal would come close to paying for itself by resulting in 751 million dollars in tax revenues over 35 years.

Who believes that will happen? The city of Detroit and the State of Michigan already gave the Ilitches 400 million dollars in 2014 for the construction of Little Caesars Arena (LCA) for the Ilitch-owned Detroit Red Wings to play hockey in, and the surrounding area known as “District Detroit.” At the time the city announced awarding the money for the LCA construction, in order to win support from residents of Detroit, the website for “District Detroit” carried attractive artist renderings of developments the Ilitches promised to put up to benefit the community. They referred to five new neighborhoods with names like “Cass Park Village” and “Wildcat Corner,” complete with outdoor cafes and small shops. They predicted 184 new apartments would be available by the time the LCA opened.

None of these developments have actually been built. In 2019, resident activists from the 50-block area of Detroit known as “The District Detroit” spoke out about the Ilitches’ broken promises.

The promise that the new development will bring in almost as much in revenue as the city’s investment will cost also amounts to smoke and mirrors. The 751 million in tax revenue is what they predict will come in over 35 years. That money will be worth a lot less 35 years from now than it is worth today.

Though the Ilitches couldn’t manage to deliver on promises to provide affordable housing for low-income Detroit residents, they have certainly found the way to profit off of the city’s investment in "District Detroit." Because the city technically owns the LCA, the Ilitches pay no property taxes on it—but they were given rights to all revenue from the arena, including parking, food and beverage sales, souvenirs, TV and radio broadcasting contracts, fees for luxury suites, and naming rights.

The experience with "District Detroit" thus far is just one more example to show that billionaires like the Ilitches and Ross don’t build developments in cities like Detroit out of the goodness of their hearts, nor out of concern for poor and working class residents. They do it to pad their billion-dollar bank accounts.

Pages 6-7

December 30, 1922, The Birth of the USSR

Jan 23, 2023

This article is translated from the January 11th issue, #2811 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

On December 30, 1922, the Congress of Soviets, which brought together delegates from four Soviet socialist republics, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia, which included the populations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, decided to create a federal union: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR.

Geographically, this new state corresponded in large part to what had been the Tsarist Empire. But the “prison of the peoples” had given way to a freely agreed arrangement between new states from which the old ruling classes, feudal and bourgeois, had been driven out. The very term USSR had no national or geographical reference. This union was destined to expand to other countries as new workers’ revolutions were victorious.

The Revolution and the Peoples of the Tsarist Empire

Since its creation, the Bolshevik Party, the party of the working class, had brought together communists from all over the Empire, regardless of their nationality. And for all of them, starting with Lenin, the proletarian revolution was inseparable from the end of the national oppression of non-Russian peoples. As soon as he took power in October 1917, a decree proclaimed the end of the Empire and the right of all peoples “to free self-determination up to and including separation.”

It was obvious that this declaration could be used by the ruling classes of Ukraine, Georgia and other regions to cut all ties with the new workers’ power. Just as it was certain that the imperialist powers would seek to get their hands on these newly proclaimed independent regimes. But with this decree, the new revolutionary power showed the non-Russian poor masses of the Empire, mainly peasants, that it was breaking with the methods and goals of tsarism. And with this policy, after years of civil war, it did win their confidence.

The civil war first reduced the revolutionary territory to a small scrap. With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918, imposed by Germany, the latter got its hands on Finland and Ukraine, the granary of the region, and a quarter of European Russia. The following year, the White armies arrived at the gates of Petrograd. Plans were made to evacuate the city, to prevent its working class from being exterminated. However, the Whites did not succeed in taking the city. And in the same year, 1919, the working class rose up in Bavaria and Hungary, creating short-lived council republics. Hope lay in the spread of the revolution.

Every time the White armies took over a territory, they executed the communists, and reinstated the old privileges with the old social and national oppression. The new Soviet power, on the other hand, where it succeeded in establishing itself, created autonomous national republics and gave the land to the peasants. The poor masses of the former Tsarist Empire thus chose their side. The imperialist powers were forced to back down, for they feared that by intervening too directly they would accelerate the revolutionary contagion. For example, the sailors of the French Black Sea fleet had mutinied, joining the camp of the Soviets, raising the red flag on their ships.

The Red Army was finally victorious. But the Soviet power came out of the ordeal isolated, because the revolution had not spread in Europe. And the population of the future USSR was bled dry by years of war. The economy, on a backward basis inherited from tsarism, was devastated. This situation allowed the development of a bureaucracy within the state and the party.

Lenin’s Last Struggle

In 1922, Lenin was already very ill and had to retire for six months. In early October, when the doctors allowed him to return to work, he realized how much the bureaucratic apparatus had grown. During the summer, in his absence, Stalin had made the Central Committee vote not for a federal union of all Soviet republics, but for the integration of all republics into the Russian republic. Lenin returned and imposed the idea of the USSR, a federation where each republic would have equal rights, including the right to secede.

Then came the Georgian affair. In Georgia, the entire Central Committee had resigned after an envoy of Stalin beat up one of the local leaders who refused to submit to a discussion. Lenin took up the cause of the Georgians, together with Trotsky, against Stalin. It was then that he wrote a text, later known as his testament, which contained this warning: "Stalin is too brutal, and this defect, fully bearable in the relations between us communists, becomes intolerable in the function of general secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to consider how to move Stalin from this position." But the relapse of the disease and then his death prevented Lenin from leading this fight to the end.

A denial of Lenin’s policy, Stalinism was based on Russian chauvinism. Two years after the creation of the USSR, Stalin invented the theory of socialism in one country. Later, in 1943, he dissolved the Communist International and replaced the International, the anthem of the USSR since 1922, with a Russian patriotic song.

The revolution of 1917 and the civil war had profoundly changed social relations. The bourgeoisie had been expropriated. On this basis, in spite of Stalinism and international isolation, the economy progressed rapidly throughout this immense country, while the capitalist world sank into crisis in 1929. The USSR was a unified economic entity, with fully organized production and trade. Many regions that Tsarism had left in backwardness experienced an urban, industrial and cultural development that was unequalled in any other poor country in the world. Alphabets were invented for languages that had none. Schools were set up, with the means at hand, giving education an unprecedented boom.

Despite the parasitism of the bureaucracy, the USSR partly escaped the plunder of the imperialist powers. And when it broke up in 1991, one of the worst consequences was that this economic entity was split up. The republics were left to be plundered by Western oligarchs and trusts. For the population of all these countries, both Russian and non-Russian, this was a catastrophe. The standard of living and even life expectancy collapsed.

The USSR will remain the example of a union between peoples based on their free consent and the awareness that the development of all was in the general interest, a union that was only possible after a revolution that expropriated the exploiters.

The U.S. Continues the Ukraine War

Jan 23, 2023

U.S. military and political leaders met in Germany with their counterparts from NATO to discuss increasing military aid. While the U.S. said they would supply Ukraine with armored vehicles and personnel carriers, along with more ammunition and air defense missiles, they said they would not be sending tanks to Ukraine, at least for now, despite Ukrainian president Zelensky’s requests. The U.S. and NATO leaders continue to make the decisions about how the war will be conducted, while the Ukrainians serve as their proxies, supplying the soldiers.

The decisions that the U.S. leaders made on what weapons to send, and not send, to Ukraine were in line with what they have done during this war. The U.S. has been providing much of the ordnance; they have been training Ukrainian forces in tactics and use of weaponry. U.S. military leaders have been planning strategy and providing the Ukrainians with intelligence from their spy satellites and other technology.

But at the same time, the U.S. appears to be careful not to go beyond a certain point. They have not provided the Ukrainians with the kind of weapons that would likely lead to a larger escalation of the war. The result is that this war has settled into a kind of stalemate, at least for now.

The war in Ukraine started when Russian president Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine last February. The flashpoint for the war in Ukraine came when Putin demanded a commitment that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, and the U.S. refused to agree to this.

But the real causes of this war go back many decades, as the U.S. brought the countries of Europe into the NATO alliance, which was aimed against Russia. NATO forces and U.S. troops and bases have now surrounded Russia, right up to its very borders.

The way the U.S. government has conducted the war suggests that the goal of the U.S. government is a weakened Russian regime, but not one that would fall and leave a power vacuum in the areas where the Russian regime maintains order against the population, by military force, when necessary.

This war in Ukraine continues to devastate the populations involved. Many thousands of civilians have died, both as a result of Russian attacks on Ukrainian areas and Ukrainian attacks on Russian-held areas. Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes, while many Russians suffer as their economy is affected by the war and sanctions. It is estimated that over one hundred thousand soldiers on each side have been killed or wounded. Many of the Russian soldiers killed are draftees forced into the army. And much of the Ukrainian economy has been destroyed, with the Ukrainian working class paying the biggest price.

The blood and devastation, the inhumanity of this war, falls on all those leaders conducting it. Meanwhile the Ukrainian people, the Russian people and the rest of the world’s population pay the price.

Populations Taken Hostage

Jan 23, 2023

This article is translated from the January 19th issue, #2842 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The images of the Dnipro apartment building collapsed on its inhabitants by a Russian missile (which Moscow denies) are frightening and are shown on all the television channels.

The number of dead, missing and wounded is also frightening: they are civilians, especially workers, because this city, the former Dnipropetrovsk, is a very large industrial center in east-central Ukraine.

The city seemed far from the fighting. Until recently, the civilian casualty statistics that Kyiv publishes did not even mention the region, unlike Kharkiv, which tops the grim picture, and Donetsk, in the Moscow-held Donbass, which follows close behind. Not far away and both densely populated, but located on either side of the front line, these cities have seen, are seeing or are likely to see killings like that of Dnipro, so much so that the leaders of the opposing camps have no concern for the population.

From Putin, head of a bureaucracy that oppresses and exploits the Russian population, this seems obvious. He, the high bureaucrats, the oligarchs who are linked to them, and the generals who are conducting this war on the Russian side are doing it with the skin of the Ukrainians but also with that of their own soldiers, whom they are sending to massacre and be massacred. The mobilization of 300,000 men recalled in September has already been largely consumed in the fire of the fighting, to the point that there is more and more talk that the army, a great devourer of men, will demand 500,000 more in the near future.

As far as the Ukrainian leaders are concerned, we have been told for months that they are on the “right side,” since they have chosen to be the advanced point of NATO and “our” governments toward the east, against Russia. They would thus support the camp of democracy. The same one, no doubt, that they have supported in wars against the Algerian people, the Vietnamese people and so many others, from Afghanistan to Iraq, passing through all the African countries that France plunders and where its army supports the plunderers that are the big French capitalist groups and the local dictators who serve them.

With such sponsors in “democracy", the Ukrainian bureaucrats and oligarchs as well as Zelensky do not have to be ashamed of their own politics, nor of making their people pay for their desire to move from the Russian sphere of influence—which has been theirs since the end of the Soviet Union—to that of the great powers of the world bourgeoisie, led by the United States.

Zelensky and the Ukrainian well-to-do knew what this meant: dismantling social rights, opening the country wide to Western firms that had come to plunder its resources and exploit its labor force. Before the war, Zelensky had pursued this policy so well that a large part of the population saw him as an enemy.

This policy, which was dictated by the interests of the major Western groups and imperialist powers, also involved the risk that the Kremlin would seek to prevent it by force of arms, in order to force Kyiv to compromise.

The American and Western European leaders have made Ukraine and its population take this risk. The Ukrainian leadership has done so by bombing civilians in Moscow-held areas and by imposing martial law elsewhere.

The Ukrainian leaders have also allowed the companies to push on the little that remained of social rights, to make profits at any price, notably in energy by extorting the population, and to impose miserable wages. They have reduced unemployment benefits to 90 days and 180 euros maximum, while 30% of workers are officially unemployed. They have also entrusted the bosses with the task of sending military summonses to their employees. Meanwhile, the employers complain in the press that workers only want to work illegally so as not to risk being sent to the front.

Pages 8-9

French Pensions:
War Is Declared

Jan 23, 2023

What follows is a translation of the editorial that appeared on the front of all Lutte Ouvrière’s workplace newsletters, during the week of January 9, 2023.

The latest pension demolition plan will be official on Tuesday. But we already know that Macron and Borne have chosen to push the retirement age up to 64 and to increase the minimum contribution period very soon after that.

In 2019, Macron wrapped his attack in proposals from the CFDT to rally them to his cause. This time, he has made a deal with the right to ensure a majority in the Assembly.

So, it’s no frills. No more points-system! No more babble about a ‘pivotal age’ or supposedly ‘choosing’ your retirement age! All workers will have to work at least two years longer, period. Those who are not forced to do so by the extension of the contribution period will be forced to do so by the new official age.

All the trade union confederations are forced to recognize that this reform is brutal. It will hit the working class hard, the very people who started to work early, who do the most difficult, hardest and poorly paid jobs. And it will be carried out in a hurry because Macron wants it to be applied by the end of the summer. The 1961 generation will be the first one impacted.

The government claims to be saving the retirement system but it is lying through its teeth. The board in charge of anticipating the future of the pension system has written quite clearly that there is no long-term threat to the system. Much of the dirty work was done by the socialists, under the Hollande government. It was the Touraine reform that imposed 43 years of contribution on the generations born after 1973.

In that case, why be so relentless? Because 10 billion euros are and will be missing in the pension funds for a number of years. But when it comes to finding 10 billion to subsidize big business, there’s no problem. There’s plenty of money for that.

This year, the shareholders of the CAC 40—the index indicating the value of the forty biggest French corporations—will pocket 80 billion. This 80 billion is the fruit of our work, but it will go to those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, born pensioners and who live off unearned income!

If we don’t force them to respect us, as long as our fate is in the hands of big business and its puppets like Macron, we shouldn’t expect to be treated differently.

They really don’t care whether manual workers, cashiers, nurses, home helpers and technicians can hold on that long or not.

More and more workers will end their careers jobless, disabled, or surviving on minimal benefits. The government knows this. But from their point of view, it’s cheaper than paying out full pensions. And the money saved in that way will help line the pockets of the bourgeoisie.

Again, it’s not surprising! Macron isn’t governing to prevent crises or wars. In a system as crazy as capitalism, that would be impossible. He’s governing to enforce one of capitalism’s fundamental laws: everything that goes into the exploiters’ coffers—profits, capital gains, dividends—must grow and grow. To achieve that, the workers must be made to suffer more and more, their wages must be kept down, their rights must be taken away.

With this reform, Macron claims—seriously!—that he is preparing for the future, for a safer 2040! But the future he has in store for us is not only a future without retirement. It is a world where speculators can take society by the throat by making prices soar. It’s a world where the drive for profit destroys everything, from health care and electricity supply to transportation and education.

And who knows if, in a few months, war and bombs will not be part of our everyday lives? If so, it will not only be a question of our right to retire, but also of our right to live.

No, the future cannot be left in the hands of the irresponsible people who are sacrificing everything on the altar of their capital. The future belongs to the workers and their struggles. Today it depends on our ability to defend our wages and our pensions. And the future is not written yet!

The confederations say they want to lead the struggle. But the simple fact that they are waiting until Tuesday evening to announce what they intend to do shows that their leaders are very poor generals. [At that time, they called for demonstrations and strikes on January 19.]

What matters most is the reaction of the workers themselves. We have to find the energy and determination within ourselves to push Macron back.

For the moment, the massive opposition to this attack is measured only by the polls. Well, we will have to express it in the workplaces through our strikes and in the streets with mass demonstrations!

More than a Million in the Street, Tomorrow We Continue

Jan 23, 2023

This news brief, posted on January 19th, is translated from the website of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the revolutionary workers group active in France.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, more than a million workers demonstrated against the pension reform. Even more went on strike. The workers’ response is clear: they reject Macron’s reform.

This big success must be the first step of the counter-offensive. After two hours of discussions, the eight union federations together called for another strike day... on January 31 and “actions around January 23.” In the name of unity, all have aligned themselves with those who are not in a hurry.

To inspire fear in the bosses, to make Macron back down, the workers will have to show strong determination, and organize themselves at the base, through general assemblies and strike committees, to decide together on their mobilization, its forms, its pace and its objectives.

the Pacific, the Other Powder Keg

Jan 23, 2023

This article is translated from the January 19th issue, #2842 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

On Friday, January 13, U.S. President Biden received Japanese Prime Minister Kishida to announce the strengthening of their military alliance.

This alliance is aimed straight at China, which according to Kishida represents an “unprecedented strategic challenge,” and against Russia, also bordering the Pacific Ocean. The United States is therefore going to strengthen its presence in the Japanese archipelago and, in particular, install a heavily armed rapid intervention force in Okinawa. Okinawa is of course the closest island to China and also to Taiwan, an ally of the United States and claimed by China, around which rival navies maneuver constantly.

Japan, for its part, will continue its armament effort and plans to devote the equivalent of 300 billion euros by 2027. The so-called self-defense army set up after 1945 under close American supervision is increasingly being transformed into a real military instrument of an imperialist power, now allied with the United States.

The Japanese navy had already circumvented the 1945 treaty forbidding it to launch aircraft carriers—in 2013, it set out two large helicopter carriers. With Washington’s blessing, it is beginning to upgrade these two ships to make them capable of carrying F-35s, the American fighter aircraft that the Japanese army fields.

Western governments condemned the joint maneuvers of the Chinese and Russian fleets in the China Sea in early January. They also denounced the incursions of Chinese planes into the skies over Taiwan, and North Korea’s missile launches into those waters. Japan is obviously part of the anti-Russian front and Kishida reaffirmed his support for Biden, saying that "to let Russia do this in Ukraine would be to create a precedent." Thus, camps are emerging and with them the threat of war.

The clearest and most convincing demonstration was, as always, given by the real boss, the United States, whose military budget and firepower crushes all others by comparison. On the very day of the Biden-Kishida meeting, the aircraft carrier Nimitz and her group were on maneuvers in the South China Sea. Its mission statement, issued by the U.S. Navy, states that the wing is there to "demonstrate its ability to provide an unmatched maritime force, if required."

Behind the arms race and the profits of the gun merchants, the imperialist powers stand ready to maintain their order by force.

Iran Protests:
“For Every Person You Kill, A Thousand Others Will Rise”

Jan 23, 2023

This article is translated from the January 11th issue, #2841 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

On January 7, Mohammad Karami, 22, son of a street vendor and Mohammad Hosseini, 39, a worker, were hanged in Iran. Mohsen Shekari, 23, a waiter, and Majid Rahhnavard, 22, a vendor, were executed in December.

More than a dozen other young protesters, sentenced to death after mock trials, are awaiting execution. Threatened for four months by street protests, the Islamic regime would like to break the revolt by terrorizing those who dare to defy it.

In a sign that the regime considers its survival threatened, it strikes hard and in broad circles. The four executed came from poor and pious backgrounds, long supporters of the Islamic Republic. Well-known personalities were arrested, such as Toomaj Saheli, a popular rapper, who was tortured in prison while awaiting trial, or the Oscar-winning actress Taraneh Alidoost, who was released on bail in early January, but prevented from leaving the country. Even Ayatollah Khamenei’s niece was sentenced to three years in prison for having denounced a "murderous and child-killing" regime!

The French newspaper Le Figaro wrote on January 9, in a tone of rejoicing, "There has been a decrease in the number and size of demonstrations." But the videos coming in show that these barbaric executions are fuelling the determination to overthrow the dictatorship. Thus, rallies were held in several cities, especially in the region of Isfahan, Bandar Abbas in the south of the country and Tehran. In addition to the slogan “Death to the Dictator", there also appeared the slogan “Every person killed has a thousand others behind him.” In Baluchistan, large demonstrations continue every Friday. Clandestine networks of doctors have been organized to treat, and even operate on, protesters injured by the police. The protesters don’t dare enter hospitals, where they would be rounded up. These doctors take the same risks as all opponents of the regime. One such doctor was kidnapped and beaten to death by the police in Tehran.

In Bandar Abbas, the demonstrators also shouted “Poverty, corruption, high prices, we are advancing until we fall.” Since the beginning of the revolt, between September and December, the economic crisis has deepened, the Iranian currency has lost 40% of its value and prices have risen by 50%. The government refuses to sell dollars to support the rial, the national currency, as it regularly did. This is a cynical calculation to pit the working classes, caught in the throes of high prices, against the protesters. There is no evidence that it is working.

At the same time, strikes to demand wage increases continue. In Mashad, striking courthouse workers wrote in late December, "Our salaries are in rials, our fees in dollars. No justice in Justice." In Khuzestan, retirees from the Haft-Tapeh sugar factory protested on January 1 in front of the Social Security against the abolition of their supplementary pension.

If terror allows the leaders of the Islamic Republic to gain time, their social base is shrinking and the rage against their abuses is building up day by day. The fall of this infamous regime will be a deliverance. But for the lives of the tens of millions of Iranian workers and poor people to really change, it will take a real revolution.

Pages 10-11

Needed in 2023:
A “Social Wildfire”

Jan 23, 2023

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of January 15, 2023.

Nurses at two New York City hospitals went out on strike last week. After three days facing picket lines, the hospitals made a new offer. Did it give nurses everything they asked for? Definitely not. But hospitals agreed to fewer patients per nurse, which they refused to do before the strike.

There have been local strikes like this all over the country in the last year: little ones with just a few hundred workers, sometimes a thousand.

It’s welcome news. The bosses’ ongoing drive to increase profits weighs on workers everywhere. No one has wages that keep up with inflation. Working conditions are destructive, even deadly. And although there are job openings, very few are for stable, well-paid, decent-benefits jobs.

So these local strikes are important. Isolated they may be. Alone, none of them can begin to overcome all the problems. Some were openly defeated. But taken altogether, these strikes look like the working class gathering its forces to fight.

This year, there are some big union contracts expiring: 200,000 U.S. Postal Service carriers in four unions; 250,000 United Parcel Service drivers and warehouse workers; 151,000 auto workers, with hundreds of thousands more at parts plants and “non-union” plants tied to what happens in the main auto contract; 75,000 hospital workers in California; teachers everywhere.

The problems workers face won’t be settled by a strike at just their own workplace—even one of these big companies, with many workplaces.

But when workers are angry and frustrated, any of these strikes can be the match touching off a fire that spreads to other workers.

That is what we need, a social wildfire, a strike that spreads from company to company. Faced with a problem like inflation, we won’t get the wages we need at just one company or in just one industry. We need to wrench wage increases from the whole capitalist class, and their big banks who set this inflation in motion.

Union contracts over the years have been carefully organized to make sure there is no social wildfire. Contracts expire at different times in different industries or companies. And the unwritten, but always enforced law is that workers can’t strike unless their contract has expired.

Who says we have to obey such an anti-worker law? It’s aimed at keeping strikes from coalescing into the wider struggle we need.

The bosses don’t reduce their forces. When there is a strike, companies don’t take on striking workers alone. As soon as big picket lines go up, police and courts act to cut them down. And companies also depend on the federal and state governments. The Biden administration just worked to handcuff railroad workers with a contract they didn’t want, using courts, arbitrators and laws to do it. State governments declare teachers’ strikes illegal, then threaten to fine the teachers or their union. Michigan has imposed such fines. So has Wisconsin and Ohio.

After the 1997 UPS strike, the government issued a criminal complaint against one of the main leaders of the strike—then used it to remove him from the union. Even when a trial found him innocent, he didn’t regain union membership. Government is on the bosses’ side in a strike.

And companies band together. Imagine what will happen if postal workers go out—UPS will step up to deliver more mail. In a UPS strike, the Postal Service will deliver more packages. When GM was on strike, it got stock delivered from one of its struck plants which furnishes parts to other auto companies. And those companies paid GM.

What we need in our current situation is a real social wildfire. One that puts no limits on itself before it starts, one that lets no government, no court, no company, no contract put limits on it when it gets going. The only limits should be the ones workers decide on for themselves.

Our goal in 2023 should be to make our strikes as powerful as we and our fellow workers can make them. In other words, spread them and organize ourselves so we can be the ones who decide how our strikes are carried out.

Culture Corner:
Demon Copperhead and The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks

Jan 23, 2023

Book: Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver 2022

This book follows the life of a boy in modern southern Appalachia, a society where the mining jobs are long gone. He faces crisis after crisis in his life: the overdose death of his teenage drug-addicted mother, foster care, abuse, exploitation. We see through his eyes and caustic wit what today’s society has to offer: unemployment or overwork, broken bodies, alcohol, the opioid epidemic, drugs, pit mines scarring the earth, and the elusive golden ring, football. The author captures the hurt and the hope of youth, with a clear-eyed view of a society consumed by greed and rot, and yet offers us a sliver of hope for the future, if we don’t turn away.

Film: The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, 2022, streaming on Peacock.

This film is based on the bestselling biography of the same name by Jeanne Theoharis and was produced by Soledad O’Brien. It tells the entire story of Rosa Parks’ life and places it in its historical context, in the burgeoning civil rights struggles, first in Montgomery and later in Detroit. It shows how she was a militant her entire life, fighting for change, and it reveals her activism, her radical politics and her courage and dedication. She never wavered, never gave up, never stopped being active, in her entire life. Yes, the battles she fought are not yet won, but it is people like her that one day will finally turn the tide so that we don’t have to fight for equal rights yet again.

CNH Workers Continue Their Fight

Jan 23, 2023

After eight months on strike, workers at CNH Industrial voted to accept contract offer from the company after a recent vote to continue their strike. These CNH workers, represented by the UAW, work at two plants in Iowa and Wisconsin, building backhoes, tractors, and other agricultural equipment.

The 1,100 CNH workers began their strike in May because the company offer was not enough to keep up with inflation and rising health care costs. They have continued the strike while the company gets out only a limited amount of production using “scab” workers.

Workers from CNH were delegates at the UAW Convention in July, and they proposed changes to the UAW Constitution to increase strike pay from $400 a week to $500 a week and to start strike pay on Day One. The majority of delegates approved both resolutions overwhelmingly, although the UAW top leadership was later able to get the $500 rolled back to $400. But the CNH workers kept up their fight. The fact that the majority of them voted to continue their strike after eight months shows their determination.

The details of the agreement are not clear as of this writing. But it is difficult for one group of workers to go up against the bosses by themselves, especially for eight months. Many other workers today have the same problem as the CNH workers—wages that don’t keep up with inflation. Other workers have the same reason to fight, and a reason to make that fight together, in larger numbers. The larger the numbers, the more power workers use, the faster will the bosses see the light.

Page 12

After UAW Run-off Election Comes the Big Auto Contract
—and Others

Jan 23, 2023

Active and retired UAW members have been getting ballots for the run-off election for offices not decided in the first election, which the government oversaw during October and November.

The runoff for president features one candidate representing the Administrative Caucus, which has run the union for decades, Ray Curry.

The other candidate, who often is referred to as the “reform” candidate, is Shawn Fain. Both promise to negotiate a better contract than the ones expiring this fall. But what comes out of these contracts will not depend on negotiations, no matter who wins the election.

It will depend on the situation facing every worker today, and the readiness to organize massively to change that situation. This is particularly important with the Ford, GM and Stellantis contracts coming up this year, along with many at the parts plants, as well as the one at Blue Cross of Michigan, whose work is directly tied to auto, and whose contract subsequently impacts medical insurance companies around the country.

Consider, first, the situation:

1) The auto industry says the “transition” to electric vehicles is in its future, and it must cut workers. In fact, it has already begun the cuts, even before producing many electric vehicles.

2) Last year, auto produced almost three million vehicles fewer than the year before. But it made much more profit—with fewer workers. That’s the real “transition” the U.S. auto industry intends, shrinking its own market. It produced essentially only expensive, high-profit vehicles for high-income buyers—regardless of whether the vehicles were gasoline, electric or hybrid. Long before this year, the three U.S. companies had already been cutting out production of small, mid-size and family-size vehicles, leaving only luxury models and trucks.

3) Changes like this affect not only the three U.S. companies. They impact the parts plants that feed into them. They impact companies like Blue Cross that service their workforce, or maintenance companies that service their facilities. They will impact the steel and aluminum industry, and all the other materials industries that feed into auto.

4) The government sits on top of the union today. The government monitor and the courts set the terms of the election, including putting up a bar to prevent retirees running for the union’s high offices. If workers push for the strike that is needed, the government is already on the scene, ready to block them. And the government is not neutral. Biden jumped in to block railroad workers who were trying to get a better contract. Trump threatened to do the same with teachers who decided to strike.

Workers will have to prepare to face this situation—the worsening economic situation, as well as the political one, which directly implicates the government in a direct role, attempting to control their struggle.

The only answer to this is the workers’ determination to fight, and first of all their readiness for a fight—especially this fall, with the big UAW contracts expiring. It will take a fight—and not just any fight. What’s needed is a fight that takes on all the companies at once, a fight that knows in advance it will at some point have to take on the government that serves the big companies. What’s needed is a fight that makes every effort to spread itself out beyond the auto industry.

A fight like this doesn’t just happen the day the contract expires. It depends on organizing far ahead. It depends on workers preparing, getting ready for a strike that could cut into their income. It means preparing, building up organizations in the plants, the one thing that can let the voices of the workers be heard, and their collective forces exerted.

Prepare for the strike we need to carry on this fall: that’s the least that someone who wants to lead the union today would say now, just a few months before these contracts expire.

Exxon Knew, and Lied, about Climate Change

Jan 23, 2023

A new study shows that, already in the 1970s, executives of the oil company Exxon had very accurate data about global warming in their hands.

It is no secret that Exxon knew burning fossil fuels would cause the earth’s average temperature to increase—old company memos, revealed in 2015, had already shown that. But this new study carries that finding further and makes it more precise.

Now we know that in the 1970s, Exxon’s own scientists accurately predicted how much the earth’s average temperature would increase in connection with the increase in carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Exxon scientists also stated that effects of this warming would be visible starting in the early 2000s.

But Exxon executives not only kept a lid on their own scientists’ findings; they also tried to cast doubt on such findings, and on warnings from other scientists. In 2000, former ExxonMobil (the company’s name changed when it merged with Mobil in 1999) CEO Lee Raymond said, "We don’t have a sufficient scientific understanding of climate change to make reasonable predictions." In 2013 another company CEO, Rex Tillerson, who later was Trump’s Secretary of State, said, "There are uncertainties around the climate … what the principal drivers of climate change are."

They flat-out lied!

Other industry documents, unearthed by researchers and journalists, have revealed that other oil companies, coal companies and auto manufacturers all knew, at least since the 1970s and some even earlier, that burning fossil fuels would cause global warming. And yet company executives in all these industries did what Exxon executives did: they lied.

They lied because they put company profits above everything else, including the interests of humanity. One more proof that we cannot afford to allow these people to stay in charge of the economy.

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