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. 1172 — March 6 - 20, 2023

Railroad Workers Warned Us about This

Mar 6, 2023

The train wreck outside East Palestine, Ohio, was turned into a disaster that continues to this day. The people of East Palestine are dealing with poisoned air, water, and soil, likely for years to come. The damage is both immediate and ongoing.

The accident itself was the result of cutbacks made by Norfolk Southern rail, and by the rail industry. In the last six years, these companies have cut 29% of their work force. Fewer workers must handle longer trains with less time off, subject to being on call every moment.

These job cuts have enriched the wealthy company stockholders, who have received 196 billion dollars in dividends and stock buybacks over the past decade. The dividends also go to already fabulously wealthy investors through Wall Street investment funds like the Vanguard Group and JPMorgan Investments.

The workers pay the price for those profits in the more dangerous conditions on each and every train. Without more eyes and hands on the trains, workers are driving blind. Engineers can’t see back 150 cars; one engineer and one conductor can’t watch 1200 axle bearings.

One hundred thousand railroad workers warned, again and again, that fewer workers on a train means more dangerous trains, crisscrossing the country every single day. These trains, regularly including cars carrying dangerous chemicals, are moving through every major city and small towns and suburbs across the country. And they are growing longer and longer—all with only two workers on each train.

When railroad workers fought for better working conditions and increased staffing, the railroad bosses refused to budge. This past year, railroad workers voted to go out on strike.

So how did the Biden Administration react to the workers’ demands? They sided 100% with the rail bosses. Biden claimed to negotiate a “compromise” contract. But it contained all the bosses’ cuts. Workers promptly voted it down. So, then Congress showed what side they were on. A Democratic-led Congress voted overwhelmingly to impose the Biden deal on the workers and outlawed a strike.

Of course, their news media’s talking heads rattled on about how a national strike would disrupt the supply chain and the whole economy. You’re damned right! Workers’ power is what makes everything run—or stop. And the workers would have been right to use it. They are the only ones with the real power to stop the bosses dead in their tracks, and the trains as well.

In doing so, the train workers would have saved lives—their own, and now, as we see, the lives of residents of East Palestine, who most certainly will become sickened if they stay there, and the lives of how many other people who will be subjected to upcoming train wrecks.

The bosses, Wall Street, and their representatives in government, Democrat and Republican, know the danger that this situation holds for the population. They have deliberately carried out a policy to put profit before life.

The workers can be just as deliberate. The attack on the rail workers is an attack on us all. Auto workers, UPS workers, postal workers and more have contracts coming up this year that could lead to strikes. But contract or not, union or not, we all have reasons to fight our own bosses and Wall Street.

History has shown us that, sooner or later, the working class will begin to move. When it does, workers learn quickly what the bosses already know and fear: that the workers have the power to up-end the bosses’ agenda and impose their own.

Pages 2-3

Lightfoot out as Chicago Mayor

Mar 6, 2023

Lori Lightfoot is on her way out as Chicago’s mayor, after only one term. She failed to even make the April run-off in her re-election bid.

Lightfoot was Chicago’s second black mayor, second woman, and first openly gay mayor. But in class terms, she made it clear from day one that she was on the same side as her predecessors: that of the capitalists.

Even as she was taking office in 2019, Lightfoot maneuvered to approve controversial tax subsidies worth about 1.6 billion dollars for two giant developments. This signaled that she would keep the spigot of public money open for business.

But for the working class, not so much.

Lightfoot refused to put a nurse and social worker in each school, until school workers struck against her.

Even as developers continue to get handouts, there is an ever-growing shortage of affordable housing. The result is plain for all to see as homeless people huddle in trains or buses to stay warm and dry.

Lightfoot bragged about channeling 750 million dollars in investment into some of the poorest neighborhoods. But most of this amounted to minor projects like chin-up bars in a park, or to projects begun before she took office, or to more subsidies for business.

Lightfoot may have given representation to groups who have been historically shut out of power in Chicago. But she took the side of the powerful every time. Chicago’s working class has lost nothing with her defeat.

With Lightfoot out, Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson will face off in the April run off.

Vallas was CEO of Chicago Public Schools under Mayor Daly in the 1990s. He initiated the “turnaround” program of firing all the teachers in “failing” schools and other policies that undermined neighborhood schools, especially in the poorest, majority black neighborhoods. The undermining of the schools contributed to driving 200,000 black people out of the city over the last few decades.

This year, Vallas has told crowds his campaign was about “taking our city back.” He promises to hire more cops and take “the handcuffs off” the police—telling the same old lie that crime is going up because the Chicago Police are too restrained. It should be no surprise that Vallas, the only white candidate out of nine, won most of the majority-white neighborhoods, and not one black neighborhood.

Brandon Johnson presents himself as the most progressive Democrat possible. He promises to impose a new tax on the “ultra rich” in order make sure "our schools are fully supported and funded," and the city’s residents have "reliable transportation, good-paying jobs, affordable housing."

We have heard promises like these before, including from Lightfoot herself. But Chicago’s “ultra rich” are not about to just hand over the money. And the mayor’s office does not really have the power to force them—even if Johnson actually tried. By saying he can do it for us, Johnson is setting up those who believe him to be disappointed once again.

No matter who the mayor is, working class people will only be able to defend themselves by organizing and fighting in their own interests. An election campaign that says anything else can only lead Chicago’s working class majority into another dead end.

Gearing Up for More Wars and Blood Baths

Mar 6, 2023

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are openly talking up a mad rush to increase military production. “We desperately need to increase our manufacturing base for key weapons systems,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a Fox News interview. “It’s a huge priority for our committee to increase that production capacity.”

According to these lawmakers, the war in Ukraine was a kind of wake-up call. In order to fuel that war, the U.S. and its NATO allies have been burning through enormous stockpiles of artillery, ammunition and air defenses compared to recent wars.

For example, in their 20-year-war in Afghanistan, the U.S. and NATO forces fired at most 300 artillery rounds a day. Compare that to Ukraine, where thousands of rounds of artillery are fired every day. On some days in the Donbas region, the Ukrainian army fires 6,000 to 7,000 rounds of artillery. “A day in Ukraine is a month or more in Afghanistan,” said Camille Grand, a defense expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, who until recently was NATO’s assistant secretary general for defense investment.

According to U.S. and NATO officials, U.S. weapons makers are not producing nearly enough just to replenish those stocks. “We’re on a peacetime footing with our industrial base,” complained Republican Michael Waltz of Florida, the chair of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee.

The fact that Waltz calls the trillion dollars spent on the U.S. military every year a “peacetime footing” is an indication of just how much more both parties intend to increase military spending. That money is aimed at paying U.S. weapons manufacturers to be ready "to flip a switch and start mass producing high-tech, high-end weapons," as Waltz said.

Of course, all that new war spending will be a source of guaranteed profits for the big weapons manufacturers. But their big increases in the production of weapons and ammunition goes way beyond U.S. support for the Ukrainian Army to continue to fight Russia. U.S. officials are openly threatening much wider wars—"high intensity wars"—not just against Russia, but also China.

In other words, the U.S. government is pushing the world toward new mass blood baths—all so that the U.S. super-power can impose its power over the peoples of the rest of the world. And all for the profits of the biggest U.S. companies and banks.

Private Equity Treating Nurses Like Uber

Mar 6, 2023

So-called “private equity” or Wall Street investment firms spend hundreds of millions of dollars to set up or invest in travel nurse staffing agencies. They then push nurses into Uber-driver-like contracts and cut their wages by 25 to 70%. While many travel nurses felt stuck with such deep cuts because they could not find better-paying jobs, as Kaiser Health News reported, these private equity firms expect to extract billions of dollars of profits from such schemes.

After the COVID pandemic started in 2020, millions put off going to the doctor and hospital for non-COVID-related health care. So, the healthcare industry, hospitals, and clinics furloughed many nurses deemed unnecessary, and pushed more work on remaining nurses. This work overload caused, for example, about half of bedside nurses to experience high job-related burnout. About one-third of nurses had already been dissatisfied with poor working conditions before the pandemic started.

As a result, burned-out as well as furloughed nurses started to look for work as “travel” nurses, moving from city to city and working this or that hospital for a few weeks or months, as long as these hospitals paid them better wages with “flexible” work hours.

As it turned out, the pay could be satisfactory, but not the living and working conditions. The hospitals pushed the travel nurses to work long, grueling hours during the contract period. Such work schedules caused tired travel nurses to live close to the hospitals, for example, in hotels, in their vans, or at campgrounds, far away from their families.

Now, the travel nurse staffing agencies backed by the Wall Street investment firms aim to directly engage with hospitals in order to undercut the permanent nurses’ pay and working conditions. As the National Nurses United explains, "If nurses are misclassified as independent contractors through legislation or other corporate schemes, we will lose our federal rights, including the right to a minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, paid sick days, paid family leave, health and safety protections, and discrimination and sexual harassment protections." Soon, private equity firms will also push nurses who have regular jobs at the hospitals into these schemes.

All these schemes are set up to grind down our wages and benefits to make Wall Street bosses even richer. Whose job is next in line? Name it! Every working person, no matter what their qualifications and education, is on this chopping block.

Pages 4-5

Chicago Homeless Banned at O’Hare

Mar 6, 2023

On a cold February morning, as CTA Blue Line passengers exited their train at O’Hare, it was obvious something was up. At the airport turnstiles, blue and red lights from a police motorized scooter flashed as a cadre of four cops scanned the new arrivals for anyone who looked to be poor or homeless. They checked for airline tickets and work IDs. If none were presented, the poor were shooed away like a herd of stray cattle.

In the closing days of her re-election campaign, Chicago’s mayor had just publicly declared O’Hare off-limits to the city’s poor, or anyone else without “a business need” to be there. She was responding to political pressures from local rivals and Fox News critics who noted that the numbers of poor and homeless have greatly ballooned at the airport this year compared to the past. The city’s capitalist politicians, especially at election time, give phony lip service to the idea that everyone has a right to food and a roof over their head, but spend much of their time trying to sweep the ugly reality under the rug to avoid embarrassment.

O’Hare as a refuge for poor and homeless citizens is not something new. Airport facilities have been a refuge for decades. But this winter especially, the numbers of poor citizens seeking food and shelter there has risen sharply. One support center reported a 53% increase in homeless poor in 2022 over 2021. And last month, one nurse-practitioner who for years has cared for the city’s poor and leads a team of volunteers reported that they are “...way, way busier” at O’Hare. “[We’re seeing] three times what we saw before ... people we knew from all over the city. The attractions are obvious—a roof over your head, relatively warm, and restrooms.”

Pushed out of O’Hare, they now need to brave the elements and the winter cold at one of the many other more dreadful locations throughout the city, including Union Station, Lower Wacker Drive, West Madison Street, and countless underpasses.

A recent study by The Coalition for the Homeless reported that during 2020 over 65,000 poor were without proper shelter in Chicago during the year. As always, hardest hit were Black and Latino working class neighborhoods. By all indications the numbers have grown rapidly ever since.

How could it be any different? The 50 city government shelters have been bursting at the seams and turning away new admissions for years. The number of beds provided were severely reduced at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and never restored. And over the last year busloads of migrants have been arriving. Just since August of 2021 over 5000 migrant workers have arrived, greatly adding to the poor and homeless population.

The plight of the poor at O’Hare is only a small piece of a social crisis that all working people now face.

Washington, D.C. Housing Overcharged

Mar 6, 2023

The Washington, D.C. Housing Authority pays private landlords more than one million dollars more a month for providing apartments for poor people than it should, according to a study by the Washington Post. Public money that is supposed to help the poor is being used in a way which pushes rents and rental profits up, in a city where housing costs are already going through the roof.

Voucher housing programs set up nationwide in the 1970s took federal money that used to pay for public housing projects. These programs diverted that money to have the states and D.C. pay private landlords to rent housing to poor people. The tenants generally pay one third of their income, and the public money pays the difference between that and what the landlord charges. D.C. has around 15,000 housing vouchers.

In 2009 during the financial crisis, supposedly to cut costs, D.C. stopped checking whether landlords were charging higher rent for vouchers than for other tenants. They might as well have announced the cow was available for milking. After a federal complaint last year, now it seems some landlords charge D.C. almost $900 more per month for voucher apartments. Many of these apartments are in atrocious condition.

Under capitalism, housing is not a human right. That’s the basic problem.

Deadly Apartment Fire in Maryland

Mar 6, 2023

An early morning fire that started in one apartment in a 15-story building in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., spread throughout the building because the individual apartments still don’t have sprinklers. The three-alarm blaze killed a woman and displaced 400 residents.

The building is one of 80 older high-rises in Montgomery County without individual unit sprinklers. Legislators are giving these landlords 10 years to fix the problem. That’s a murderous delay!

This building was sold again and again in the last 25 years, with the price rising from under $30 million to almost $220 million. No investor paid for sprinklers. Too expensive.

What happens to landlords whose neglect kills people? Capitalism rewards them with wealth.

Profits before Service

Mar 6, 2023

More than 730,000 homes lost power during the ice storm that hit Michigan on Wednesday, February 22. The power outages extended throughout the Detroit Metro area and throughout the state. Five days after the initial power outage on Wednesday, at least 83,000 Michigan households were without power, inclusive of a secondary outage.

Residents faced a whole series of problems from the power outages. They lost heat and lights and perishable food in their refrigerators and freezers; pipes froze and burst; schools were closed, so no food for those children in many families who depend on the school lunch programs; with kids not in school, many people couldn’t go to work.

Or people couldn’t get to work because they couldn’t even get out of their neighborhoods with downed trees and power lines. And even if you could leave the house, traffic lights on major thoroughfares were out everywhere. Individuals with life-sustaining medical equipment found themselves in very dangerous situations.

And then there were the exorbitant expenses people had to incur—IF they had the funds to pay for hotel rooms, or to pay the thousands of dollars for generators, or go to places that had power to buy food at restaurants and having to spend extra money to replace the food they lost.

These power company monopolies blame the power outage problems on nature—on the ice storm this time. In August 2021, 850,000 customers who lost power were told it was due to wind storms. The same thing for some 800,000 households in July of 2019. And in 2017, nearly 1 million households lost power, according to DTE, by the “largest weather event” in the company’s history.

But it’s not nature to blame. It’s the nature of capitalism. It’s that companies, like DTE, are more interested in profits than in providing reliable electric service.

DTE has cut jobs and keeps the bare minimum of maintenance workers on hand, working them like dogs when these storms occur. That means overgrown tree limbs don’t get cut. Old power poles don’t get replaced. And power lines do not get buried underground—that could go a long way to address the problems of bad weather bearing down on the power infrastructure.

DTE asks for and gets increased rates so residents’ costs have increased by 50% over the last decade, while these rate hikes don’t apply to industrial and major commercial customers. These cutbacks in workers and hikes in rates have allowed DTE to make 1.1 billion in profits in 2022, to hand out generous dividends to its stockholders, huge salaries and bonuses to its executives, and have the money to hire expensive mouthpieces to lobby Michigan legislators for yet more rate hikes!

And then there’s the tangled web of campaign contributions, made by DTE, its executives and lobbyists, to 138 of the 148 senators and representatives in that legislature!

There’s a saying in Michigan when weather changes drastically—“What do you expect, it’s Michigan!” Well, workers in Michigan who have had to endure power outages and rate hikes every single year, know very well, it’s not that it’s Michigan. It’s that corporations like DTE of Michigan put profits before our lives.

U.S. Navy:
Waves of Suicides

Mar 6, 2023

The U.S. Navy is experiencing atrocious numbers of suicides.

Four at Norfolk, Virginia last year. Three attempts last fall on the USS Ronald Reagan. Five suicides on the USS George Washington. While docked for rebuilding, the Navy had hundreds of sailors live on board with nonstop construction noise, power and hot water outages, and food always running out. The sailors had to clean and do repairs in shifts up to 20 hours long for the contractor, which got nearly three billion dollars. In South Carolina, sailors training super-long hours to operate and maintain naval nuclear power engines averaged more than double the national suicide average.

These young people are hit hard with job stress. Those who seek psychological help don’t get it. The few mental health workers are overworked and understaffed. Last June nearly a third of the Navy’s mental health provider positions were unfilled. The George Washington’s psychologist and mental health technician had to see up to 20 patients per day, with a four to six week wait for an initial appointment. By then, sailors on the edge killed themselves.

The Navy doesn’t need real enemies to kill the sailors. It is doing that job on its own.

Pages 6-7

U.S. Corporations Exploit Child Labor

Mar 6, 2023

In just the last two years, more than 250,000 children have entered the United States by themselves, about half from Guatemala. Caseworkers interviewed by the New York Times estimated that about two-thirds of them work full time.

Children as young as twelve make parts for Ford and G.M., package Cheerios and Cheetos, prepare baked goods for Walmart and Target, milk cows for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, make Fruit of the Loom socks, and clean equipment in meat packing plants. They often work 12-hour shifts, overnight, in every part of the country, from garment factories in Los Angeles to cereal factories in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Many of these children arrive with debts they have to pay off. They need to send money home to desperate family members—many reported that they left home because their families had no food. Some are also exploited by sponsors in the U.S. who take their wages. But others live with family members who are themselves desperate, already on the lowest rungs of the U.S. working class. An aunt caring for three children of her own on minimum wage is also a victim of this system when she needs the wages of her 13-year-old niece to pay the bills.

When this reality was exposed by an article in the New York Times, the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress swore they would do something about it. They even proposed to increase penalties for companies that hire children illegally—the current maximum fine is just $15,000! But the main crackdown falls on the children and their families.

One 13-year-old girl worked cleaning a meatpacking plant overnight for a contractor, Packers Sanitation Services, owned by the giant Blackstone Group. For employing 102 children, aged 13–17, to clean slaughterhouses, this company paid a 1.5 million dollar fine—barely a blip for a corporation worth tens of billions of dollars. But for the child, the government intervention to “protect” her was a disaster. Her stepfather was sent to jail for driving her to work. Her mother also faces jail time for helping her get the job. The whole family is threatened with deportation.

And if this child is deported to Guatemala, what will happen to her? If she is lucky, she will get a job at a banana plantation, or a textile or garment factory, or maybe in a plant making auto parts. Like in the U.S., she will work for a subcontractor—and the products she makes will end up profiting the same U.S. companies, Ford, Walmart, Target, a U.S. supermarket….

The extreme exploitation of children is not a product of immigration, or of greedy family members. It is a result of the capitalists’ drive to maximize profits by paying as low as they can for labor, everywhere in the world. This system is organized to allow the dominant capitalists in the world—the ones right here in the U.S.—to profit as much as they can from the desperation of children, whether they are in Guatemala, Haiti, or Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Teen Fentanyl Overdoses

Mar 6, 2023

Teenagers are overdosing more and more on counterfeit prescription pills laced with the dangerously powerful opioid fentanyl. More than 30 students have overdosed at High Point High School in Beltsville, Maryland, this school year. Five Montgomery County high school students overdosed and died in January.

At meetings in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, hundreds of students and parents came with questions of what to do. Officials handed out Narcan, which can reverse an overdose if given very quickly. This doesn’t address the big problem. Teenagers are extraordinarily stressed and anxious these days. The pandemic made the problem worse. Staff for after-school activities and for counseling have been cut. Teenagers are left behind.

This is a wealthy society. But that wealth is in the hands of a few. And those few wealthy people don’t care if the children of workers overdose on fentanyl.

Playing Politics with Student Loan Debt

Mar 6, 2023

President Biden issued an executive order that would cancel student debts up to $20,000 per student. Last week, the Supreme Court started to hear arguments from two lower court cases brought against the order.

By their questions, the Supreme Court justices indicate they will probably rule against canceling this debt. If this happens, it would be a big blow against the more than 43.5 million adults (close to 20% of the adult population) that owe student debt. Most of those with student debt come from the working class and other low-income sections of the population.

Paying off their federal college debt would take at least ten years for more than 20 million people, according to the Federal Government’s Education Department. In one case, as reported by the Washington Post, 70-year-old Patricia C. Vener-Saavedra accumulated a student loan of $35,000 when she graduated in 1991. But because she worked low paying jobs, she could only make the minimum payment, and so the interest continued to accumulate, and this debt climbed to $88,141 in 2023. As she says, “I’ll be 85 when the loans are forgiven.”

Private banks and lenders routinely write off other forms of debt they can’t collect. And there is a statute of limitations on debt collection, according to Abby Shafroth, a director of the National Consumer Law Center. But that’s not the case for student loans. It’s almost impossible to get out from under them, and the Education Department routinely contracts with debt collection agencies to chase after low-income working-class people to force them to pay off debt.

But, as Shafroth pointed out to the Washington Post, the Education Department has the power to settle, compromise and terminate the collection of debts. It doesn’t need Biden’s executive order to do that. It could use other regulations that give the Federal Government an out when it can’t collect a debt within a reasonable time.

In other words, Biden could get rid of this debt without an executive order subject to challenge. This order is not about helping the indebted, but about getting those with student loan debt to think he is on their side—and blaming the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court if they overturn it.

Taking Food from Babies and Elders

Mar 6, 2023

Nearly 30 million people, primarily low income families, had their supplemental food benefits cut as of March 1. For almost three years, people eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received additional food stamp benefits to “cushion the economic blow” of the coronavirus.

The emergency program was enacted by Congress at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Under this program, each recipient got a monthly average of $251. According to the Agriculture Department which administers the food stamp program, that monthly average has now declined to about a third, or $82. Older Americans who had qualified for minimum benefits will have their benefit cut from $281 to $23! This loss of food benefits comes at the same time as grocery prices have skyrocketed, as have rents and utilities. NO ONE was getting rich off of that extra $251 a month!

This program was supposed to stay in place as long as the COVID-19 public health emergency was in place. While this public health emergency is set to expire on May 1, these extra food benefits are ending now, as of March 1, two months earlier, because of a deal Congress struck in December to turn the SNAP program into block grants to the states in order to reduce the cost and size of the program.

What was that cost? Apparently it was about 3 billion dollars a month that was going for food—that is, 36 billion dollars a year. A mere pittance, in fact, when it comes to the amount of money this government is willing to spend on weapons and war—about 1.4 trillion dollars a year!

A government that is ready to sign a blank check for weapons and war, but not feed the population.

Lawsuit Aims at Reproductive Rights

Mar 6, 2023

A federal judge in Amarillo, Texas has been asked to rule on whether the abortion drug, mifepristone, can be banned nationally. Well-funded anti-abortion doctors filed a ridiculous petition, asking a judge to throw out FDA approval of this abortion medicine. The petition claims the medicine is unsafe because a woman might be harmed by it, but zero evidence of any woman harmed was provided.

They then went “venue shopping” to find the anti-abortion judge most likely to rule in their favor. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk is who they picked. This one man will decide whether or not to overturn the decision made 23 years ago by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to legalize mifepristone.

Used in more than half of all abortions in the United States, mifepristone additionally is used to prevent deadly complications during a miscarriage and is widely used to treat Cushing’s Syndrome. Mifepristone is one of two abortion drugs currently in use. By design, through this lawsuit, counter-suits, and appeals, it is very likely this case will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back when Roe was overturned, the Supreme Court said it took this move to "return the issue of Roe to the people’s elected representatives." Since then, in state-level ballot initiatives and referendums, "the people" have voted in favor of the right to abortion!

Now this lawsuit is putting the issue in front of a single anti-abortion judge whom "the people" never had a chance to vote for. This judge was appointed by Donald Trump and approved by the Senate.

This case asks federal courts to throw out the huge amount of work done by researchers, doctors, and scientists at the FDA that went into approving mifepristone. Instead, a non-medical judge will decide the future of women’s reproductive healthcare.

Why this lawsuit now? Medication abortion has become the main form of abortion in the U.S.—and thus the target for the next round of attacks. Already before Roe fell, about 64% of abortions at 10 weeks or earlier relied on abortion pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the fall of Roe, experts say that the share of medication abortions is likely much higher.

This judge is such an extremist, that it is widely expected that he will rule to ban mifepristone nationally. Surgical abortion would remain legal, and a second abortion pill would remain legal. The FDA would likely appeal or simply decide to ignore the ruling.

Manufacturers and distributors of the drug could ask the FDA to issue guidance to protect companies from prosecution. Corporations have gotten this type of protection in the past. But working women cannot rely on the bosses’ government. For protection, workers can only rely on each other and collective action.

The chaos of this constant assault on women’s reproductive healthcare is causing confusion. A January study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed much uncertainty exists about whether or not abortion is legal in a particular state. A Kaiser Foundation researcher said, "We’re seeing the most movement within states on abortion laws I think that we’ve ever seen, even pre-Roe. There’s so much action happening on the state level and the public is having a hard time keeping up."

In states where abortion IS legal, 54% of women were unsure about it. As a result, a woman in a desperate situation might think she has no abortion options.

The overturning of Roe has led to women’s right to reproductive healthcare being under non-stop assault. Every day, ordinary people are fighting back against these Whack-A-Mole attacks. But these constant attacks will only stop when a social explosion happens—when women—the majority of the working class—decide they have had enough!

Pages 8-9

Hunger and Freezing in Afghanistan

Mar 6, 2023

Many people in Afghanistan are facing the dangers of both freezing cold and starvation, made worse by an unusually harsh winter there this year. Afghan officials estimate 200 people and 225,000 head of livestock have died as a result of the cold. The United Nations says that 28 million Afghans, two-thirds of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian aid, with 20 million facing life-threatening levels of food insecurity and 6 million close to famine.

Already one of the poorest countries in the world, the economic situation in Afghanistan has been made worse by economic sanctions imposed on it under the pretext of opposing human rights violations by the Taliban-run government. When the U.S. was forced to end its military intervention in Afghanistan in 2021, for example, it froze 7 billion dollars in assets of Afghanistan’s Central Bank being held in U.S. banks.

Now, in the midst of the dangers of starvation and freezing conditions, many international humanitarian aid organizations and their donors have reduced the amount of funds going to Afghanistan, supposedly in protest of the Afghan government’s policies toward women. The situation is indeed made worse because the Taliban-run government has prohibited women from working for many international non-governmental organizations.

This situation is the product of the war carried out by the U.S. and its allies for over 20 years, supposedly to stop the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. In reality, it was a war aimed at U.S. military control over the region and for access to Afghanistan’s raw materials, a war on which the U.S. spent 2.3 trillion dollars, and which resulted in an estimated 900,000 deaths on all sides.

The war carried out in the interests of U.S. imperialism with its destruction of life and infrastructure made the situation in Afghanistan unlivable. Now foreign sanctions and cuts in humanitarian aid threaten to make the conditions of starvation and freezing even worse; the main victims being women and children.

Those who see the result of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan can clearly find reason to speak out against the continuing U.S. proxy war in Ukraine: to oppose interventions of U.S. capitalism across the world.

Extreme Right-Wing and Settler Violence

Mar 6, 2023

This article is translated from the March 3 issue #2848 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Groups of settlers attacked the Palestinian town of Howwarah in the north of the West Bank on February 26. Israeli soldiers stood passively watching. Some were accomplices.

Hundreds of people from Israeli settlements around Howwarah were able to carry out an anti-Palestinian pogrom with complete impunity. They ransacked and torched many buildings. They destroyed 100 cars and injured 100 people. A Palestinian was shot to death by Israeli soldiers, his family says.

This outburst of settler violence comes after two settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman. But that attack followed a raid carried out by the Israeli army in Nablus on February 22. That raid left 11 dead and 100 injured, making it the deadliest raid since 2005.

This time, U.S. authorities expressed condemnation of the Howwarah attack. State Department spokesperson Ned Price called it “completely unacceptable” during a press conference: “We expect the Israeli Government to ensure full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these attacks … bring those responsible to justice.” Israeli police say they have only arrested eight settlers, and they already released six of them. So, the settlers continue to enjoy almost total impunity.

The fact remains that the American administration seems to be preoccupied with avoiding a general revolt by the Palestinians, like the Intifadas of the 1980s and 2000s. Under pressure from Washington, a regional summit was held on February 26 in Aqaba, Jordan, with Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, and American officials present. They pledged to “prevent further violence” and work toward “de-escalation,” in the words of the final communiqué—including stopping “unilateral measures for a period of three to six months.”

Whatever Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants, not even he has a free hand. To maintain his majority in Israeli’s legislature, the Knesset, and therefore hold onto power, he needs the support of the far right, which has several ministers in his government. And they did not hesitate to express their disagreement. “I don’t know what we were talking about or not in Jordan,” one of them said. A leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party said: “There will be no freeze on construction and development in the settlements, even for one day … under my authority.”

The far right’s attaining power and its increasingly decisive influence on government policy cause concern among part of the population. Every Saturday for months now, demonstrations bringing together tens of thousands of people have opposed the administration’s plan to reform the judicial system. The protesters correctly fear that reducing the powers of the Supreme Court will allow far-right parties to increase their grip on political and social life.

It is also true that right-wing former Prime Minister Yair Lapid is among those calling for the demonstrations. He aims to return to power by reinforcing his image as an opponent of Netanyahu. But among the protesters, many sincerely oppose this development. Some of them thus denounce “government by settlers which sets the country on fire with bloodshed.” But, to open a different prospect, it will not be enough to emphasize defending a democracy that never existed for Palestinians.

The only hope the Israeli population has to emerge from the bloody impasse to which its leaders have led it is to question the policies of colonization and expropriation carried out against the Palestinians by the Israeli government since its creation and kick out all those who lead it. There is no other way to succeed in living together in the land of Palestine.

Island of Guadeloupe:
EDF-PEI Strikers Win

Mar 6, 2023

This article is translated from the March 3 issue #2848 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

The workers of electric company EDF-PEI returned to work victoriously on February 17 after 61 days on strike. One particular gain they won is that the company has to make temporary workers permanent and let them keep their seniority.

Shift rotations will also be reorganized to cut the long work weeks. Workers also won a bonus covering their commutes and a hardship bonus because of the temperature in the factory. It’s a total of almost 600,000 dollars for these 160 production workers.

The workers calculated this amount at $53,000 per employee to settle all accounts of what management owed them for the last eight years. Management hasn’t set up the account, but the workers intend to sue about it.

The strike was a material and moral success. The strikers came out invigorated. Their solidarity was strong, despite the pressure, in part, of public opinion. Residents who lost electricity were targets of the bosses’ propaganda. The bosses sang the old familiar tune about strikers “taking the population hostage.” The official press did not hesitate to parrot the bosses’ complaints, which were sometimes echoed by elements among the population.

But the strikers held firm and were supported by a section of the workers and also by unions. The bosses’ side couldn’t march their henchmen out on the picket lines to intimidate the strikers, which they tried to do. The strikers’ morale and determination were mightier.

Why Did so Many Die in Recent Earthquake?

Mar 6, 2023

The earthquake and its aftershocks near the border of Turkey and Syria caused over 52,000 deaths, left about 1.5 million people homeless, and caused nearly 90 billion dollars in damages across both countries.

Scientists now know that earthquakes occur when two tectonic plates come together on a fault line, and one plate slips under the other. The friction between the rocks at the edges of the slipping plates causes waves of vibration to course through the surrounding areas of the plates. Turkey has two major fault lines within it, the North Anatolian Fault and the East Anatolian Fault. While earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 such as this one are rare, earthquakes in this region are not. There have been at least 19 since 2000 in Turkey alone.

Turkey’s Ministry of Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change found 164,000 buildings collapsed or suffered severe damage. These buildings stood in provinces of both Turkey and Syria located very close to the East Anatolian Fault. This raises the question of why the buildings that collapsed were built in such a dangerous area and why were they not built to withstand an earthquake?

Worldwide, construction engineers have developed architectural methods for buildings to withstand earthquakes. Engineers in Japan have built skyscrapers on top of horizontal cylinders on the ground level that act like wheel bearings. Support columns can be constructed around mesh-like materials that help absorb vibrations from earthquakes. Columns can be placed in such a way that if one fails, others nearby are able to prevent a total collapse.

As one engineer, Mustafa Mahamid of the Technion in Haifa, Israel, put it, “Each story of a building should have enough lateral strength and stiffness to transfer the load during an earthquake all the way to the ground. When it doesn’t, the weak story can fail, bringing the whole building down with it." Videos of some of the buildings that collapsed in Turkey appear to show concrete columns on their ground floors which crumbled into dust, whether due to design errors or the use of poor materials.

The drive for profit that lies at the base of capitalism makes it likely that shortcuts will be taken in the design of buildings and the materials used in their construction. The battle of each private investor against all others prevents any rational, large-scale planning to build only in safe areas.

Science and technology can provide the means and materials for safe construction of buildings and cities, but only if construction is taken out of the hands of the realm of private property.

Pages 10-11

Nord Stream Explosion, Media Silence

Mar 6, 2023

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters during the week of February 27, 2023.

On February 8, Seymour Hersh, an American journalist, posted a report claiming that covert forces sent by the U.S. military had blown up the Nord Stream pipeline last September. And—Hersh wrote—U.S. President Biden had ordered it.

Nord Stream was the only direct pipeline bringing Russia’s plentiful natural gas supplies to Germany. Jointly owned by a Russian company and four West European companies, its destruction helped to drive up the international price of petroleum products.

On February 21, Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist, testified at the U.N. that only a “handful of state-level actors”—among them the U.S., Britain, and Russia—had the means and access required to secretly lay explosive charges 260 feet below the surface. Sachs credited Hersh’s report as the only one “to date” that explains in detail how Nord Stream could have been blown up. And, he said, the White House, while denouncing Hersh’s account, offered no information contradicting it. He called on the U.N. to establish an independent investigation.

In another situation, such a claim would have drawn the big media’s immediate attention.

Hersh is an award-winning journalist known for his exposures of other covert operations. Sachs has, for decades, been an adviser to the U.N. on international issues, including on infrastructure.

So, the media’s silence on the issue was particularly notable. None of the usual competition between various media, each trying to put its own spin on a sensational story. Just dead silence.

That’s the big story here. Not Hersh’s article. Not Sachs’ demand for a U.N. investigation. No, the big story is that the media treat it as if there were no story—much like everyone in a room pretending not to notice that someone among them has just produced a loud and evil-smelling fart.

Whatever the final story—whether the U.S. organized the attack or whether Hersh is off on a wild-goose chase—the destruction of Nord Stream is part of the war in Ukraine. And the U.S. is directly involved in that war. Through its weapons and money, it is calling the shots in that war.

In the midst of any war, the media have a role to play—preparing the population to accept the deprivations and destruction that war brings. The media spin tales about “democracy” and “freedom,” and they ignore facts that show the real interest of a country’s own ruling class.

World War I was a “fight for democracy.” Supposedly. World War II was a “fight to stop fascism.” Supposedly. The war in Vietnam was to “stop the spread of communism.” Supposedly. The war on Iraq was aimed at rooting out Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction.” Supposedly.

No, those were only slogans, propaganda pushed by the media, justifying wars to the population. The U.S. military went into all those wars to further the economic and geo-political interests of the U.S. capitalist class. Those wars were the means through which U.S. capitalism imposed itself as the dominant economic power in the world, to the detriment of laboring people around the world, including here.

The media, of course, have always taken the side of the capitalist class that runs this country. The media themselves are part of the capitalist system. They, too, work to make a profit from their product, which in their case is the news, or rather, their version of it. The Washington Post, one of the big papers “of record,” is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns Amazon. No surprise there!

But in wartime, and in preparation for the next war, the role of the media is particularly dangerous for working people. The stories the media tell today, just like the ones they ignore, are part of the preparation to get us in the mind to accept war—against our own interests, at the expense of our lives here and on the battlefield.

Whether the next war comes as an overt extension of the war in Ukraine or by some other means, it will be to our detriment. The people who lead it, the capitalists in our own country, their state, and their media will be our main enemy.

Culture Corner:
Murals in Detroit & the Indelible Legacy of Jimmie Raye

Mar 6, 2023

Murals in Detroit

Large colorful and powerful murals have been used to give voice to the pain, anger and/or beauty of working class life. In 2022, USA Today readers and experts named Detroit number four in the country in the creation of beautiful murals. The Detroit area has over 225 murals all over the city. The Eastern Market area has had numerous festivals hosted by Murals in the Market, which has resulted in artist presentations, dialogue, and over 100 murals in that area alone. There are walking tours or e-bike tours of the art. Southwest Detroit, the Dequindre Cut, the North End, Highland Park, and more, all have incredible murals. The city of Detroit has published a map of all murals, and launched an effort to make Detroit #1 in the country, and is encouraging everyone to participate in finding and reporting indoor and outdoor murals at

A blogger has highlighted 20 of her favorite murals with comments, including the one of Malice Green in Highland Park, and is worth seeing at

Another bi-annual week-long festival was the 2021 BLKOUT Walls Fest in the North End. There are over 20 murals featured and the murals are stunning!

Film: The Indelible Legacy of Jimmie Raye, NFL 360, 2022, streaming on

Jimmy Raye was a black high school football star in segregated North Carolina. He went to college at Michigan State because, at that time, MSU was the only major university, other than the historically black colleges, that was willing to have large numbers of black players on its football team. MSU also gave Raye the chance to play quarterback when other schools didn’t.

Raye was drafted into the National Football League (NFL), but he was never given the chance to play quarterback. Raye later began coaching, first at MSU, and then in the NFL. He was one of the first black assistant coaches and first black coordinators in the NFL. But despite Raye’s success for 36 years as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator, he was never hired as a head coach. Today there are only three black head coaches in the NFL.

Through the life of Jimmy Raye, this video looks at the integration of college football in the 1960s and the racism that exists to this day in the NFL.

Page 12

A Toxic Film over Their Land

Mar 6, 2023

A train wreck February 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, ended with the Norfolk Southern railroad deliberately draining five tank cars of toxic, flammable chemicals into a burn pit beside the tracks, and setting it all on fire.

The governors of both Ohio and Pennsylvania said that the railroad not only rushed to set this fire but also refused to consider alternative approaches. A retired Ohio fire expert said, “They just nuked a whole town with chemicals to get the trains running again.”

Perhaps the railroad had learned from previous similar accidents. In 2012, for example, a vinyl chloride tank car fell off a bridge into a New Jersey stream. It was in a tidal zone, so the Coast Guard took command of the site. They carefully secured the area, removed the chemical, and safely pulled the tanker out of the water. The tracks were closed for 18 days. In East Palestine they were closed for four.

Or perhaps the governor of Ohio was influenced by Norfolk Southern campaign contributions, the known amount near $200,000. Or maybe by the former Norfolk Southern executive who is in the governor’s administration.

Criminals in Charge

In any case, the criminal was given control of the crime scene. Norfolk Southern claimed that one tanker was about to explode. So, they created a burn pit, drained five tankers into it, and lit it up.

They claimed it was a “controlled” burn. But it was no more controlled than a match thrown into a grill with a whole can of lighter fluid in it. Intense black smoke towered into the sky and spread downwind.

By the next night, EPA staff, testing for four airborne chemicals, told the governor that the air was at safe levels. The emergency evacuation order was lifted. People could return home, they said … and the trains could run.

People Get Sick

People returning home immediately felt sick. Children could not breathe well. A dog and a pet fox died. Chickens died. The townspeople demanded answers and officials only repeated, “Our tests show it’s safe.” Something was clearly wrong with the testing!

Sure enough, when reporters consulted chemical safety scientists, the scientists explained that open burning of vinyl chloride can produce hundreds of chemical compounds. “The toxicology of most of these is very poorly understood,” said one scientist.

The 5,000 townspeople face dangers not well understood! But the local hospital and urgent care offices diagnosed case after case of chemical respiratory illnesses.

One month after the accident, a Norfolk Southern lobbyist finally faced a town meeting. One after another, people who had returned home described how sick they are. How a toxic film had been laid over their entire town, and over the surrounding fields and streams. What are all these chemicals? Why are we getting sick? And how are you going to make this right?

Long-Term Dangers

The lobbyist of course said the usual PR things. But there is no way to make this right. Among the many chemicals such a burn produces is dioxin, first made famous by its use in Agent Orange to kill the forests of Vietnam. Vietnamese and Americans still today suffer the recurrent cancers and birth defects caused by this very long lasting poison. Plants take it in from the soil and it moves up the food chain to humans.

In the human body, dioxin lasts 7 to 11 years. “Humans were not designed to deal with exposure to dioxins. There’s no safe exposure limit,” said one epidemiologist.

Not until the day before the town meeting, one month after the accident, did the EPA order Norfolk Southern to test the homes and farms for dioxin. Without the extreme uproar created by the townspeople, they would not have done even this. And who believes that the criminal will truthfully describe the crime scene?

Nuked with Chemicals

Now, the town is poisoned for many years to come, without a way to fix it. Long-term illnesses and early deaths are inevitable. There have been too many previous examples!

The only safe solution is for the entire poisoned area to be closed off as if it were radioactive. Complete funding has to be provided for the people to relocate and re-establish their lives. A humane society would take care of this.

But in this profit-driven system, getting any basic justice requires an explosion of anger as fiery as the explosion from the train.

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