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. 1195 — February 12 - 26, 2024

Where’s the Beef?
Too Expensive to Eat—Food Prices Are Too High!

Feb 12, 2024

Spending more at the grocery store and leaving with fewer bags of food is infuriating. In only four years, grocery prices have jumped by 25%. People need food to stay alive. This basic necessity has been hit hard by inflation. The items recently seeing the biggest rise in prices are beef, chicken, fruits and vegetables, and snacks.

Low-income working families now spend 30% of their income on food. The inflation rate may be down, but prices went up and stayed up. The U.S. Consumer Price Index showed a 2023 inflation rate of 3.4%. But most prices have not gone down after four years of inflation. Families are feeling squeezed.

The lie told to the public is that supply chain problems from the pandemic are still to blame for sky-high prices. A new report by Groundwork Collaborative exposed that lie. They studied U.S. Department of Commerce data and looked at price increases in food and household goods between April and September 2023. By analyzing corporate costs, the prices they charged and the profits they made, the Groundwork Collaborative showed that corporate profits accounted for 53% of price inflation! Over half!

By comparison, for the 40 years before Covid hit, corporate profits drove 11% of price increases. If recent inflation feels different, that’s because it is!

The corporations carrying out this enormous price gouging give every indication they want this to be the new normal. Duke University and the Richmond Federal Reserve just asked major corporations about future plans. Sixty percent of companies said that they plan to hike prices at a faster rate in 2024 than ever, regardless of their costs.

Other studies now show the same thing as the Groundwork Collaborative study—that more than half of recent price increases went directly to corporate profit increases.

Corporations are cutting back hours, laying off, and refusing decent raises—right when families are paying more for the food that kids and families must have!

Biden said in a speech in January, "To any corporation that has not brought their prices back down—even as inflation has come down…—it’s time to stop the price gouging." Right. But who is listening?

Trump talks about inflation on the campaign trail, and this may be putting him ahead in the polls. But he offers no controls on corporate profits—he just falsely blames different groups of workers and not corporations—for the problem.

In the meantime, corporate profits are up 29% since the pandemic started. Corporate conglomerates are charging ever higher prices just because they can. So much for speeches and promises!

The share of company income going to workers is less in 2023 than it was before the pandemic in 2019! Workers are right to fight, but the isolated fights the unionized working class has been waging have not brought workers back up to even 2019 levels. This shows the profound need to expand the fights beyond one workplace at a time.

Inflated prices are not meaningless statistics. They are the same thing as a wage cut. Our wages buy less this month than last year and the year before that.

The high food price is added to high housing costs, transportation costs, and medical costs—the basics. High prices are causing a crisis for working families. Wages and pensions could be tied to price increases—going up IMMEDIATELY whenever prices go up. This needs to be the aim of the struggles workers carry out today.

But it’s not enough to demand this. It must not be left to bosses and politicians. Workers can organize to make a fight to take the next step. Teams of workers and family members can be organized to monitor prices in the stores and wages at the workplace: whenever prices go up, wages should IMMEDIATELY go up.

Pages 2-3

What’s Behind Sky-High Drug Prices in the U.S.

Feb 12, 2024

A U.S. Senate Committee led by Bernie Sanders questioned CEOs of three of the biggest pharmaceutical companies about the high drug prices. Sanders used the opportunity to point out that the companies charge much higher prices here in the U.S. than for the same drugs in other countries.

For example, Johnson & Johnson charges $79,000 a year in the U.S. for its arthritis drug Stelara and only $16,000 in Britain; Bristol Myers Squibb charges $7,100 a year for its anti-blood-clotting drug Eliquis here, but only $900 in Canada and $600 in France. The drug companies charge more than three times as much for brand-name drugs in the U.S. on average as in 33 other industrialized countries, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Some Republicans were quick to claim Big Pharma must charge high prices to pay for developing important new medicines. This, of course, is a bunch of hooey since the drug companies historically have taken almost three times as much of their income as profits and for marketing and administration as they’ve spent in research and development, according to a study from Boston University. A U.S. House Committee reported that the largest drug companies spent 57 billion dollars more on stock buybacks and dividends to benefit their stockholders than on Research and Development from 2016 to 2020.

It’s interesting that Sanders and the Democrats choose to bring up the issue of high drug prices right now, smack-dab in an election year. They’re playing up the fact that Medicare and Medicaid will finally be able to negotiate prices with the drug companies because of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Those prices still must be negotiated, and whatever prices the government and the corporations agree to still won’t go into effect until 2026, assuming it even happens.

Even then, Medicare and Medicaid only cover part of the population, so what’s to stop Big Pharma from charging high prices to other insurers and the uninsured to make up the difference?

If other industrialized countries pay less for drugs, it’s partly because they all have some form of national health care, unlike here in the U.S. That’s a result of past fights their working classes have fought to get more universal health care. That’s not to say their medical care is perfect, either. To get the best medical care possible, workers here and in other countries need to fight to take profit out of medical care altogether.

More Layoffs at Los Angeles Times

Feb 12, 2024

The Los Angeles Times laid off 115 journalists in January. Together with the 70 layoffs in June, management has thus eliminated about 30% of the Times newsroom staff within seven months.

The reporters have not been silent in the face of these attacks. In 2019, for the first time in the paper’s 138-year history, they organized a union. And in January, they staged a one-day walkout, again a first in the paper’s history, in protest of the impending layoffs—as well as the chaos in the organization, where seven editors-in-chief have come and gone in the last 10 years.

The big reason behind the Times decline is that, since 2000, the paper’s various owners have treated it like a plaything they could make a quick profit out of.

In 2000, the Chandler family decided to get out of its 119-year ownership of the L.A. Times. The Chandlers walked off with 6.45 billion dollars and left the Times behind with a 1.8-billion-dollar debt.

After that, it was just downhill for what was one of the most prominent newspapers in the U.S. The Tribune Company, which bought the L.A. Times from the Chandlers, itself was sold twice. To the billionaires and private equity firms that bought the company, it did not matter that the L.A. Times and other Tribune newspapers served millions of readers. They sold various company assets, including the headquarters and one of the printing plants of the L.A. Times. The billionaires pocketed the money and saddled the Tribune Co. with more and more debt. Tribune workers even lost part of their pension in a 2007 sale of the company.

In the meantime, management kept reducing the number of reporters and pages of the L.A. Times. Between 1990 and 2010, the paper’s circulation shrank by half.

When Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the Times in 2018, commentators presented him as an enlightened local businessman who could rescue the paper. But Soon-Shiong was just another billionaire buying the L.A. Times, and no newcomer either—he had already been the second-largest shareholder in the Times’ parent company, with 25% of the shares.

So, the high hopes did not last. The Times eliminated even sports listings and box scores from its print edition last summer—apparently the last straw for thousands of readers who canceled their subscriptions.

What’s left of the Times is a shadow of the newspaper that once had 1,200 journalists and more than 25 foreign bureaus. Today, the number of L.A. Times journalists has shrunk to less than 500. Even the paper’s Washington bureau has practically vanished, down to only five reporters. And the second-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. is left with a newspaper that fewer and fewer people consider worth reading.

Insurance Rates Make Driving Unaffordable

Feb 12, 2024

A new study found that car insurance rates have increased 26% across the U.S. over the last year—and more than 50% from two years ago. The average cost of car insurance in the U.S. is now at 2,543 dollars a year and, in some cities, much higher than that. Detroit is the undisputed leader with $5,687 per year, while the runner-up, Philadelphia with $4,753, saw a whopping 150% increase from last year.

So, even if you can somehow afford to buy a car these days, you can’t afford the insurance. And state regulators across the country have been approving the rate hikes insurers propose, no matter how obscene. The top ten auto insurers all got premium increases of 20% or more approved. In Texas, insurance premiums shot up close to 50% over the last two years.

Not surprisingly, insurance companies’ profits and stock prices are through the roof. Progressive and Travelers reported record-breaking profits last year and said more rate increases are coming. Allstate’s shares have gone up more than 50% since last summer, while the value of total Progressive stock surpassed 100 BILLION dollars.

Of course, the insurance companies come up with all kinds of reasons for the premium hikes—such as paying more for claims due to natural disasters or rising crime. But the truth is, they don’t lower premiums when they make super-high profits, as they are doing now. They just pass all that money on to their shareholders.

No, the insurance companies are simply price-gouging because they can—because state politicians, who are supposed to prevent such a rip-off through regulation, actually aid and abet it. The result is that, given the exorbitant car prices plus sky-high insurance rates, driving is becoming unaffordable to more and more people in the U.S.—even while it is the only option for millions of American workers to get to work.

Layoffs in a “Booming” Economy

Feb 12, 2024

The tech industry is often viewed as providing stable jobs. The wave of the future. But last year, tech companies laid off more than 260,000 workers, according to layoff tracker In January, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Discord, Salesforce, and eBay all made big job cuts. On February 4, PayPal said in a letter to workers that it would cut another 2,500 workers or about nine percent of its workforce.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, described it well: "That is the way the American capitalist system works. It’s ruthless when it gets down to striving for profitability and creating wealth."

To increase their profit margins, all bosses, regardless of the industry, lay workers off and make the remaining workers work faster or longer hours. Capitalists don’t care about workers’ job security.

Pages 4-5

One Year After East Palestine Derailment:
Railroads More Unsafe Than Ever

Feb 12, 2024

In February of 2023, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Eleven of the rail cars contained toxic chemicals. Five rail cars containing vinyl chloride were deliberately burned, sending toxic fumes throughout the town and polluting a nearby creek.

The residents of East Palestine, a small working class town, are still suffering the effects. Many people still have health problems and are worried about the long-term effects. Some people still have not been able to return to their homes. Small stores have lost business.

After the accident, politicians from both the Republican and the Democratic parties rushed in and promised to do something. Donald Trump showed up to hand out bottled water and get his picture taken. Joe Biden sent in some aides and his transportation secretary. Congress pledged to pass a bill that would enforce stronger safety standards. The railroad companies promised to make the railroads safer.

The result of all these promises? A big fat nothing!!! Actually, it’s less than nothing! The Railroad Safety Act was never passed by Congress. In the past year, there have been more railroad derailments than in the year before. The five biggest freight railroads have had 256 accidents in the past year, an 11% increase. Train derailments are up 13%.

An overheated wheel bearing caused the derailment in East Palestine. In the last 10 months, there have been 17 incidents involving overheated wheel bearings, more than double the previous year.

This problem could easily be addressed by installing more detectors that would alert when a wheel bearing was approaching an overheated condition and taking that rail car out of service. But installing more detectors would increase costs for the railroad companies and cut their profits. So, the companies have opposed any law that would force them to do so. And all those politicians from both parties, who made all those promises about safety? Well, they certainly were not going to mess with a corporation’s profits! After all, who do the politicians work for???

Graffiti Artists versus Capitalist Private Property

Feb 12, 2024

Over a period of three nights in early February, teams of young graffiti artists clambered over broken fences and spray-painted the outside of three abandoned, unfinished skyscrapers, each over 20 stories tall, in downtown Los Angeles. The taggers finished just in time for the glitzy Grammy Award ceremonies that took place across the street at the Arena at the L.A. Live entertainment complex.

These abandoned buildings were slated to be one of the biggest real estate developments in downtown Los Angeles, with over 500 super-luxury apartments, a hotel, and retail stores. But back in 2019, the developer’s funding ran out, and construction stopped. The developer eventually abandoned these massive structures. And they’ve been abandoned ever since … in a city that has some of the biggest concentrations of homelessness in the country. In fact, Skid Row, with thousands of homeless, is only a few blocks away.

So, graffiti artists placed a great big spotlight on buildings that have turned into monuments of capitalist waste, corruption, and greed. And they did it with artistic flair and vibrancy.

For many, many decades, graffiti has been an art form of working-class youth. While the authorities demonized it as vandalism, capitalists swooped in and appropriated it. Large corporations and art collectors made boatloads of money buying and selling the works of famous graffiti artists, such as Keith Haring and Banksy, for millions of dollars.

But the dozens of Los Angeles graffiti artists who tagged those buildings weren’t in it for the fame and fortune. Many of them risked great big fines since they knew that the police were waiting for them at the bottom of the buildings.

One way or another, the young artists were making a statement: "All of this doesn’t just belong to the developers. It belongs to all of us," Michael Lopez, one of the artists, told Gustavo Arellano of the Los Angeles Times.

Baltimore County, Maryland:
Robin Hood in Reverse

Feb 12, 2024

The Baltimore County government plans to give local developer P. David Bramble six million dollars and let him negotiate lower property taxes for nearly 1,000 rental units in three apartment complexes. In exchange, Bramble promises to reserve half the units for renters earning less than the local average income, with rents supposedly adjusted down. For years, local governments have let landlords negotiate lower property taxes for this kind of “affordable housing.” But now the county is cutting Bramble a break on the hundreds of other, “market rate” units—and lending him six million dollars they say he won’t have to repay.

With these gifts, county officials mimic city officials. Last year the Baltimore city government sold to Bramble, FOR ONE DOLLAR, an industrial property the city had bought for $2 million. The year before, the city pledged to give him one million dollars for his redevelopment of the Inner Harbor pavilion area.

See how much money a developer can get from politicians—who collect taxes from working people to hand it to the rich!

Los Angeles County’s Landfills Emitting Toxic Odors

Feb 12, 2024

Two massive landfills at Chiquita Canyon and Sunshine Canyon, located northwest of Los Angeles County, have been smoldering for months, emitting toxic gases like benzene, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide. These disastrous conditions have been worsening over time. In Chiquita Canyon, steaming-hot, contaminated water has also surged to the surface, forming bubbling ponds and rivers of odorous waste and, at times, erupting like a geyser.

As a result, people living near these landfills have been experiencing headaches, dizzy spells, and breathing difficulties, in addition to constant toxic odors in the air.

These two landfill facilities accept a total of more than 7,000 tons of trash a day from Los Angeles County. The landfill operators cover the dumped trash with soil to isolate it from the atmosphere and the surrounding land. This buried trash is known to produce combustible gases, which should be removed by a piping system below ground.

Because of the high environmental temperatures experienced at these landfills, the cheap plastic pipes used for the piping had melted, blocking the removal of methane. The operators reported that temperatures within the dumps have climbed to more than 200 degrees, increasing underground pressures, and eventually causing eruptions.

Los Angeles County has eighteen landfill sites near Los Angeles, all operated by private businesses. Others could easily have the same toxic gas and contaminated water emission problem as these two. This pollution could increase over time.

This landfill problem has rapidly been turning into an extensive environmental disaster, affecting the health of close to 10 million people living in Los Angeles County. Private companies are only concerned with their profits. Either they do nothing to mitigate the hazards or else they use the cheapest shortcuts.

Southtowns Water Crisis

Feb 12, 2024

Working class communities just south of Chicago continue to suffer severe emergency conditions caused by a rapidly crumbling network of underground water pipes.

South suburban Dixmoor was plagued with 14 water main breaks in just two weeks, with more breaks expected in the weeks and months ahead. Freezing January temperatures (normal winter weather in Chicago!) triggered the initial breaks. Once these were patched, a slew of new fractures popped up as weather further strained the rapidly deteriorating 70-year-old water delivery system which has been on its last legs for years.

Dixmoor Elementary School District 147 was closed because toilets couldn’t flush and school faucet water was contaminated. Public health officials called a boil order for more than 300 Dixmoor homes, and a larger number experienced basement flooding and other damage.

During the same weeks a similar water crisis was already in progress several communities away in south suburban Robbins. There, a major water main break poured thousands of gallons of water under a gravel pile beneath CSX railroad tracks. Water remained gushing for over two weeks causing flooding of public streets and homes. Repair efforts were obstructed by railroad officials, who restricted access to repair crews on their property so it could maintain its normal freight train schedule.

For years, city and state capitalist politicians have been fully aware of the dilapidated water system, with its miles of corroded and deteriorating pipes. Millions are needed for replacement of these systems. Now that the city mayors are screaming about it, the politicians are pointing fingers at each other hoping to foist responsibility back to these poor communities and elsewhere.

The capitalist system’s political structure again finds itself incapable and unwilling to address even the most basic of society’s needs.

Profits Before Buses

Feb 12, 2024

Maryland’s Department of Transportation proposes major cuts in mass transit services starting July 1—3.3 billion over six years. Eight commuter bus lines will be eliminated, and 26 will be reduced, including ten in the Baltimore area, and hiring will be frozen. Meanwhile, the Motor Vehicle Administration will increase fees and Baltimore Washington International airport will charge more for parking.

Maryland is home to 250 big corporations earning nearly half a trillion dollars per year total, plus 10,000 military contracting companies, 150,000 millionaires, and 11 billionaires—yet the state government can’t find any money?!

This attack on mass transit is bipartisan. The Democrats in office in Maryland today were elected in part because voters were sick and tired of the self-interested Republicans in power before, who always threw money at highways. But with either party, people in Maryland get politicians who favor big auto companies, oil companies, and other rich bosses at the expense of working people, who are impacted most by transit cuts.

Pages 6-7

Middle East:
The U.S. Prepares for Escalation

Feb 12, 2024

This article is translated from the February 7 issue, #2897 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

On February 2, U.S. aircraft bombed 85 targets in Iraq and Syria, killing at least 34 people. Claiming responsibility for these attacks, Joe Biden said without laughing: "The United States doesn’t want conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world!"

These bombings are intended as retaliation for the deaths of three American soldiers, killed in late January at an American military base in Jordan by a drone launched by a militia armed by Iran. Since the start of Israel’s destructive and deadly rampage against Gaza following the Hamas attack, militias based in Iraq and Syria have launched drones and rockets against various American installations in the region.

It takes the boundless arrogance of American leaders, led by Joe Biden, to pose as victims who wish to “keep the peace” and “avoid any escalation” in the Middle East. For decades, the American administration has maintained a permanent state of war, with, among other attacks, the embargo and blockade against the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979, the destruction and invasion of Iraq in 1991 and 2003, support for various Islamic militias in Syria in 2011, then the war against Islamic State in 2014, and support for all of Israel’s wars against the Palestinians or neighboring Lebanon.

These bombings, occupations, and regime overthrows have destroyed entire countries, killed thousands of men and women, and driven many more into exile. This ongoing criminal policy can only stir up deep-seated hatred of the United States throughout the Middle East. It can only provide new recruits for the militias that claim to fight them, whether or not Iran finances them. The unconditional support given by American leaders to the Israeli army, which has killed nearly 30,000 Palestinians since October 7, further reinforces this rage.

Of course, neither the American nor the Iranian leaders nor those of the other rival powers in the region—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, or Turkey—want a general military confrontation in the Middle East. They all affirm it, calibrate their rhetoric, and all seem to control the actions of the militias they support so as not to cross the red line. But the United States has set so many time bombs and cornered so many peoples in deadlocks that an escalation out of all control could be triggered.

It could be the consequence of a poorly controlled Houthi attack in the Red Sea, which would cause a spectacular shipwreck and be followed by a massive American or British response. It could be the result of an extension of the war between the Israeli army and Hezbollah militias in southern Lebanon. A fraction of Israeli officers claim to be “ready to attack” to establish a demilitarized zone on the border, while most ultra-Zionists, such as Lobby 1701, a group of displaced Israelis near the Lebanese border, are calling for the opening of this northern front.

American leaders, who “don’t want conflict,” have demonstrated to Israeli generals over the last four months that they are ready to arm and re-arm them and to support them in the conflict as far as they want.

Palestinians Still under Bombardment

Feb 12, 2024

This article is translated from the February 7 issue, #2897 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Israeli fire continues day after day in the Gaza Strip which, under the intensive bombardment of the past four months, has become a field of ruins.

On Saturday, February 3, these strikes were intense in the south of the Gaza Strip, particularly in Rafah, now home to 1.3 million of the enclave’s 2.4 million inhabitants. Many have fled the bombardments in the north and are living outside in the cold, threatened by famine and epidemics. Some 17,000 children have been separated from their families. Fighting has also raged in the neighboring town of Khan Younis in recent weeks and has continued in the northern part of the enclave, which is already largely destroyed. More than 27,000 Palestinians are thought to have been killed since October 7.

The Israeli army also intervenes frequently in the West Bank. Since October 7, 23 raids have been carried out against the town of Jenin, and one raid a week against Tulkarem. Military operations have targeted Hebron, Ramallah, and Nablus. In the West Bank, 350 Palestinians are thought to have been killed in these attacks since October 7, and almost 3,000 arrested. The Israeli authorities want to keep the West Bank’s population terrorized to avert a new explosion of anger.

This is still not enough for the Israeli far-right, which has organized demonstrations to denounce humanitarian aid to Gaza. Demonstrators tried to stop the passage of trucks at the border between Israel and Gaza, shouting “Shame.” One of them declared: "As long as these people are in good health, as long as they receive food, water and medical care, they will continue to fight. But if we deprive them of everything, we’ll manage to stop the war." Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich lent his support to the demonstrators.

For the first time, on February 1, U.S. President Biden decided to sanction four Israeli settlers accused of anti-Palestinian violence in the West Bank. They are banned from entering the United States, and their assets, if they have any, are frozen.

This very limited measure reflects Biden’s desire to take account of a section of public opinion opposed to the war in Gaza, just a few months before the presidential elections. Perhaps American diplomacy is also seeking to put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to move toward a truce with Hamas. But Biden continues to provide military support to the Israeli army, delivering the ammunition and shells used to destroy Gaza. The massacre of its population can thus continue, with the active help of the major Western powers.

The Imperialist Military Presence in the Middle East

Feb 12, 2024

This article is translated from the February 7 issue, #2897 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

American troops are permanently present in the Middle East to ensure imperialist domination of an oil-rich and strategically important region.

Even before war broke out again in Gaza between Hamas and Israel on October 7, some 45,000 American troops were stationed in the region. On the southern shore of the Persian Gulf, facing Iran, there were 13,500 stationed in Kuwait, 9,000 in Bahrain, 8,000 in Qatar, 3,500 in the United Arab Emirates, 2,700 in Saudi Arabia, and a few hundred in Oman. Further west, Turkey was home to 8,500 U.S. troops, Iraq 2,500, Syria 900, and Jordan, where three of them died in late January, nearly 3,000. The United States also maintained at least one base in Israel, although the number of personnel is not known, as well as a number of advisors in Lebanon, which was linked by a military cooperation agreement.

As a result, the United States has a military presence in every country in the region except Iran, which is its enemy, and Yemen, which is in the throes of civil war.

Since October 7, the distribution of troops may have changed, although not all these movements have been made public. Overall, the United States has increased its presence by at least 1,200 soldiers, probably 2,000. Its navy has increased its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea: it has dispatched two fleets, with aircraft carriers, frigates, and submarines, carrying around 12,000 sailors, as well as landing ships carrying 2,000 marines. The air force has also been reinforced, although it can carry out bombing raids from its bases in the United States, as it demonstrated on February 2 in Iraq and Syria.

The war in Gaza is an opportunity to expand an American base in Israel. At the same time, American officers, including a Marine Corps general, have been sent to advise the Israeli army on its offensive, and the Pentagon is giving it access to images from its military satellites.

The USA also supplies Israel with a wide range of weapons. Immediately after October 7, it delivered Patriot anti-missile systems, 57,000 155 mm artillery shells, 15,000 bombs, some of them very powerful, designed to pulverize Hamas bunkers and tunnels in Gaza. Israel dropped at least one on the Jabaliya refugee camp on October 31, crushing an apartment building and killing more than a hundred Palestinians in the process. In December, Biden bypassed the usual procedure controlling foreign arms sales to allow Israel to continue the war despite the depletion of its stocks: 14,000 tank shells were authorized for $106 million, followed by the sale of artillery shells for $146 million.

French imperialism, commensurate with its far more modest means, is also present in the Middle East alongside American soldiers and 2,500 British troops. Pursuing a ten-year war against Islamic State, 600 French soldiers operate in Iraq and Syria. One of their bases in Jordan was visited by Macron over Christmas. With two frigates, the French navy is supporting its American ally against the Yemeni Houthis in the Red Sea. The French army is also present in Lebanon, with 700 soldiers currently serving under the U.N. since 1978.

Western leaders justify their military presence in the name of maintaining stability and peace in the Middle East. On the contrary, this military presence and their constant interventions maintain the risk of war.

Life for the Poor—Ever More Harsh

Feb 12, 2024

This article is translated from the February 7 issue, #2897 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

In Senegal, as in the rest of Africa, life is becoming increasingly difficult for the poor, and it’s easy to understand why so many young people risk their lives trying to flee to Europe on overcrowded rafts or across the Sahara.

In Dakar, the Senegalese capital, inequality has exploded in recent years. It’s true that there’s a whole layer of bourgeois, large and small, who can afford villas in the nicer districts, get medical treatment in private clinics, and send their children to study in fee-paying schools. But for the majority of the population, the difficulties continue to grow.

Our comrades from the Union Africaine des Travailleurs Communistes Internationalistes (UATCI—UCI) described the situation in their newspaper Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs last September:

"Food prices have soared, instead of falling as the government had announced. A kilo of sugar, which was worth 600 CFA francs last year, is now selling for 800 at shopkeepers in working-class neighborhoods. A liter of oil, which used to cost 1,200 francs, is now between 1,500 and 1,800 francs, depending on the district. A kilo of rice, which used to sell for between 400 and 450 francs, now sells for between 500 and 550 francs.

In Keur Massar, a working-class suburb of the capital where rents are relatively lower than in other areas, the same one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment that used to rent for 25,000 CFA francs a month has risen to 50,000 CFA francs in the space of a year."

Faced with this explosion in expenses, workers’ salaries are virtually unchanged, and the many hours of overtime they work often go unpaid. In any case, a large part of the population has no permanent job and lives on odd jobs. As for public services, they have been abandoned. Hospitals are poorhouses and schools only prepare the youth for unemployment. But that’s just the situation in the capital; elsewhere it’s even worse.

Life is becoming impossible—the ever-increasing misery is the fuel for all revolts, from the one in the summer of 2023 to those brewing today.

Pages 8-9

Farmers Defend Their Interests, Workers Must Do the Same!

Feb 12, 2024

What follows is an excerpted translation of the editorial that appeared on the front of all Lutte Ouvrière’s workplace newsletters, during the week of January 31st, 2024.

Blockades of main roads and freeways, sieges of prefectures, raids on supermarkets and perhaps a blockade of the capital. Farmers have been mobilizing on a massive scale for the past week. All this because despite their hard work, some of them are unable to earn a minimum wage. We share their anger!

Farmers have already forced Gabriel Attal, the Prime Minister, to make concessions, but they are far from satisfied. The anger is deep. The majority farmers association has taken the lead and is calling for further action.

In agriculture, as in other economic sectors, there are big and small operations. The big ones are true capitalists, like Arnaud Rousseau, boss of a major food company called Avril group, who is also president of the association. They help set market prices and behave like financiers. They can cope with crises, and even take advantage of them to crush the smaller players.

. . .

Small farmers, on the other hand, are workers on the land, crushed by middlemen: agribusiness, supermarkets, and banks, to whom they are often deep in debt. The biggest companies strangle them. For example, Lactalis buys a liter of milk from producers for 40 cents, a liter that consumers pay 1 or 1.20 euros for in supermarkets. It’s no wonder the Besnier family, shareholders in Lactalis, are among the richest in France, with a fortune of 40 billion euros. On top of this, farmers must contend with the vagaries of the weather, animal diseases and a thousand and one constraints.

Working from morning till night, unable to pay the bills and dependent on the biggest companies, they have one thing in common with all workers. Living without control over wages and working conditions is the lot of almost all salaried workers, blue-collar, white-collar, and technical. Seeing one’s purchasing power plummet, risking unemployment and homelessness, is the fate of millions of workers. Well, what the mobilized farmers won’t accept, we have no reason to accept for ourselves!

These small farmers are, like us, workers at the base of society. They feed the population, they say proudly and rightly. But without the workers who transport, process and package farm produce ... they’d be feeding nobody but themselves. And without the laborers, hospital workers, bricklayers or cleaners, society would come to a screeching halt.

Workers and small farmers are the source of all wealth. But it’s the capitalists, parasites and financiers who profit from this work. We don’t have to accept this!

We live in an unjust economy where billionaire capitalists crush all the working classes. So yes, the working class and small farmers, craftsmen and shopkeepers can join forces in the fight against big business and the banks!

The irony of the situation is that small farmers, victims of the survival of the fittest at the heart of capitalism, are its defenders, as they aspire to consolidate their ownership. Even if, for many of them, this means a lifetime of debt, and the threat of bankruptcy and expropriation. Even if their free enterprise turns them into quasi-salaried employees of the big agribusiness groups.

Like all the exploited, small farmers will not rest until capitalism is overthrown. But this fight is first and foremost the responsibility of the working class. Solidarity, compassion, and admiration for the farmers’ struggle are not enough. Their mobilization must be a source of fighting spirit for all of us workers. To be listened to and respected, we have no choice but to fight for our class interests and the prospect of a completely different, collective, and planned society.

The Population Confronts the Gangs

Feb 12, 2024

The political news in Haiti these days is dominated by demonstrations across the country demanding the departure of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. In the space of a week, around ten people have been killed and many injured by the police, who are powerless to stop the bandits. In power for over two years, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the Prime Minister has done nothing since to counter the terror of the gangs, with whom he makes a good bedfellow. The country is plunged into indescribable chaos. But the politicians of all stripes who aspire to power—from Guy Philippe to Moïse Jean Charles—have no plan of their own to rectify the situation. They simply want access to the public coffers to continue looting with their cronies. “It’s my turn now": That’s what they’re all about!

Below are two articles from Voix des Travailleurs, published in Haiti by the Organization of Revolutionary Workers (OTR-UCI). They are taken respectively from the last two issues: 313 and 312.

February 7, 1986: Masses in Revolt Toppled Duvalier and his “Tontons Macoutes"

On February 7, 1986, uprisings by the underprivileged urban masses put an end to one of the region’s most bloodthirsty dictatorships and ushered in a period of hope for the poorer classes. It will also be through their revolt that the masses will overthrow the dictatorship of armed gangs imposed on them by the wealthy classes today.

The end of the bloodthirsty dictatorship supported by some 40,000 Tonton Macoutes [Duvalier’s militia] and army soldiers on February 7, 1986, should remind the population that gang dictatorship can and must come to an end. This will not be the work of any government or military intervention, as the government claims. It will be the work of the revolt of the workers and the laboring masses in general, just as the fall of Duvalier had been after thirty years.

The first signs of this anger began after the murder of three young schoolchildren in Gonaïves. Demonstrations and riots then spread to all the towns, involving more and more sections of the poor population. Duvalier had no choice but to flee into exile aboard an American military plane.

The Tonton Macoutes militiamen, who indulged in all manner of crimes, theft, plunder, and rape, had no such option. Many of them were punished.

This movement, which created a political awakening among the masses, could have led to a change in their living conditions. But to achieve such a goal, the masses would have had to organize themselves into a party to defend their interests to the bitter end.

Today, the population’s living conditions are deteriorating, reaching an untenable level. Admittedly, the gangs’ dictatorship—unlike that of the Duvaliers—is not centralized through a leader whom they all recognize and obey. But to get out of this situation, the working masses can only count on their own strength to fight.

Popular Resistance to Gangs

Since the fall of Operation Bwa Kale last summer, it is clear that the balance of power has shifted back in favor of the gangs, who are growing ever stronger and continuing to wreak havoc, mainly in the West Department. Were it not for the resistance of the population, through isolated but heroic acts, the bandits, who are besieging and controlling most of the capital, would already have extended their tentacles into most of the provincial towns.

During the month of December, the inhabitants of Tiburon, in the South Department, put out of action more than twenty bandits who were rampaging through the commune. On December 10, the inhabitants of Tiburon and Les Anglais mobilized en masse to counter the criminal actions of thugs who had set up shop in the area. The vigilance brigades, having already located their hideouts, directed the crowd, aided by a few police officers, to proceed with the uprooting of the criminals. More than fifteen thugs were killed.

Also in Tiburon, on the night of December 23, four other bandits from the same gang were surprised by local residents and left for dead. Speaking to a journalist, members of the local population made no secret of their satisfaction, arguing that the commune was becoming increasingly unlivable due to acts of kidnapping, robbery, and rape. Several families had been evicted from their homes by this gang to consolidate its base. Last November, the mayor of this commune also sounded the alarm, fearing that Tiburon would become like Port-au-Prince, the capital.

In Lyancourt, local residents put up strong resistance to bandits on several occasions during 2023. There were deaths and injuries on both sides. Police officers from the area’s sub-police station fled at the first attack by the gangs. It’s a truism to say that these men in uniform are only as strong as the unarmed poor claiming their rights.

In La Croix St Joseph, in the Northwest Department, during 2022, the inhabitants of this village completely dismantled a gang that had been terrorizing the population for over a year.

In most cases these acts of resistance have not been reported by the press. But the information is circulating by word of mouth and on social networks. Gang leaders in Port-au-Prince have made numerous attempts to set up branches in provincial towns, but have failed miserably in most cases, thanks to the vigilance, intelligence and fighting spirit of the masses.

Pages 10-11

Attacks on the Migrants in Texas Are Aimed against the Whole Working Class

Feb 12, 2024

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of February 4, 2024.

A caravan dubbing itself “God’s Army” has reached Eagle Pass, Texas. Leaving Virginia five days ago, it now includes about 200 vehicles, whose declared purpose is “to secure our borders” and to reinforce Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Abbott pushed laws through his state’s legislature making migration into Texas illegal. Migrants who do get across the border are subject to prison—as is anyone who might aid them or offer them a place to stay when they get here. He presents himself as a “patriot,” leading the charge against what he calls the “migrant invasion.”

It is a dishonest, calculated attempt by a slimy politician to appear radical. And it is aimed far beyond the fools in the caravan who dub themselves “god’s agents.” Abbott plays to the insecurity touching a large part of the working class—white, black, and Latino.

Abbott is not the only politician to play on our worries: "they are taking our jobs;” “they are driving down our wages;” “they are bringing in drugs and crime with them."

We’ve all heard this litany of abuse that politicians of both parties direct against migrants attempting to come into the country. It is like the abuse heaped on the heads of black workers, aimed at fanning the flames of racism among whites.

It is not innocent, this language. It is not harmless. Its aim is to set up scapegoats, to divert our attention from the forces that ARE taking our jobs, from the economy that IS driving down our wages, and from the capitalist system that creates poverty, from which crime inevitably springs.

Who is taking our jobs? Look around you. Every workplace is driven by the push for greater productivity—meaning, fewer people are working harder to put out more production. So, jobs are cut. And who is taking the jobs? The bosses are—the same companies that freeze our wages while inflation cuts our paychecks, so they buy less.

Who benefits from inflation? First of all, the banks, whose interest rates go up, but above all, the big companies benefit. They raise their prices faster than the rate of inflation, thus raking in more profit.

Yes, of course, the corporations are happy to have a whole large section of the workforce which must take lower wages. And, yes, the migrants’ lower wages drive down other workers’ wages—just as two-tier in auto kept the wages of “legacy” workers frozen for over a decade.

But why do migrants—or immigrants as they used to be called—must work for a lower wage? Because they have no rights. Politicians like Abbott, Trump, Biden, Obama, Bush, and Clinton made them “illegal” with their laws.

The migrants will keep coming here because the capitalists want them here. They want a section of the work force without any rights, a section that can be used against the rest of the workers.

Sometimes, they even bring them here. In Mississippi, black workers at chicken processing plants formed a union, and began to strike for higher wages and safer conditions. The bosses in that industry went to Mexico and hired workers from there, shipping them in to break the union. Today, the food processing industry in the South is made up of immigrants, many of them “illegal.” Slaughterhouses are employing 14-year-old migrant children—often in the most dangerous jobs.

The best protection for our jobs and wages is to fight so every worker has a decent job, every worker a decent wage. The best protection for all of us is the fight to make the migrants “legal.”

If there are too many workers for not enough jobs, then fight to spread the work around, with no one’s paycheck getting cut. Productivity can let us all work fewer hours—for more money.

We can’t stop the onslaught on migrants at just one workplace. But we can struggle so our whole class recognizes we are one class, migrant and native-born, black, and white and Latino. This is our guarantee for success in future fights.

The Auto Companies Have Plenty of Money—for Wealthy Owners

Feb 12, 2024

With great fanfare and a lot of media publicity, Ford announced their yearly profit-sharing payouts to their UAW hourly workers. At the very same time, the financial media quietly reported that Ford would be paying an EXTRA dividend on top of their regular quarterly dividend to all their stockholders.

The total amount of money that Ford is giving to the stockholders will be 1.34 billion dollars, which is more than double the total amount of profit-sharing paid out to all of Ford’s 57,000 hourly workers.

GM did their stockholders even better. They had already announced they will be giving their stockholders a 10 billion dollar stock buyback, plus increasing their dividend payments by 33%. GM’s stock buyback alone will give the stockholders about 18 times as much as the total amount of profit-sharing paid out to all 45,000 GM hourly workers.

Where are these billions of dollars going? It is not going to the ordinary people who might happen to own a few shares of Ford and GM stock. It is going to the real owners of Ford and GM. Most of the stock is held by big Wall Street investment firms. In fact, the big investment firms who own Ford—Vanguard Group, BlackRock Inc., and State Street Global Advisors—also happen to be the biggest owners of GM. The same wealthy people are getting rich off the labor of both Ford and GM workers—the workers who built all those vehicles and produced all the profits.

During the UAW strike against the Big Three auto companies, the bosses were crying that they could not afford to pay what the union leaders were asking for. But as soon as the strike was over, suddenly the auto companies had billions of dollars to give to wealthy people who didn’t build a single car or truck. That’s something for autoworkers to remember the next time they are ready to fight for what they rightfully deserve.

Page 12

A Call to Anti-Arab Violence by a Major U.S. Newspaper

Feb 12, 2024

The Wall Street Journal recently published a column entitled "Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital."

This outrageous, inflammatory, racist, Islamophobic garbage did not come from some extreme right-wingers like Gary Jones or Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Wall Street Journal is a major newspaper that speaks for a section of the American capitalist class.

The column basically labeled Arab Americans of Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb in Metropolitan Detroit, as dangerous terrorists. Why? Because Dearborn, Michigan has a majority population of Muslims and Arab Americans, the largest concentration of Arab Americans in this country?

Racist hardly begins to describe their stereotyping.

The Wall Street Journal, like the majority of bourgeois press, has supported the policy that the U.S. and Israeli governments are carrying out in Gaza and the Middle East. That amounts to support for the massacre of Palestinian people, if not in words, in the omission of any protest.

Using rhetoric like this, calling Dearborn America’s Jihad Capital, is dangerous and outrageous. It will be used by the far-right, by the Republican right currently fomenting attacks on all immigrants to enflame hatred. It is a call to attacks and open violence on the Arab residents in Dearborn because it insinuates that people living among us, be it in Dearborn or Detroit, are the enemy.

It is not just The Wall Street Journal that is pushing this anti-Arab hatred. It also comes from other media and other organizations. This racist propaganda has led to other attacks on Arab Americans, like the protester recently stabbed in Texas, the 6-year-old boy killed near Chicago, and the three students shot in Vermont.

Like many around the world, people in Dearborn, and not only Arab residents, have been horrified by the killing taking place in Gaza, where the Israeli military, backed by the U.S. government, has bombed, and killed over 28,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom are women and children. Many of the Arab Americans in Dearborn are from Lebanon, which was occupied by the Israeli military for many years. Others include Palestinians who have fled here from Israel’s violent policy. They have had family members and friends killed in Gaza. Since Israel invaded Gaza, people in Dearborn have rallied and protested almost daily, calling for a ceasefire. They have condemned Joe Biden and the U.S. government for its support of Israel.

They are absolutely right to do so.

As they raise their voices in protest, they are being attacked. The entire population, workers from across the region, should join ranks to defend and support them.

Biden Begs for Votes while Continuing to Bomb Gaza

Feb 12, 2024

When political analyses showed that Biden would suffer a hit in Michigan for his support of the bombing of Gaza, he decided that he needed to do damage control.

First, he sent members of his political team to Metropolitan Detroit’s Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Arab-American population in the country.

When Dearborn officials rebuked his team, saying that they were not interested in a talk about elections when they were fighting for a halt to the genocide in Gaza, Biden’s team regrouped.

Then they sent representatives from the Biden administration to launch a P.R. campaign to pat down the truth about how the U.S. government, headed by Biden, supplied the military might and the political clout to kill what is now estimated to be 28,000 Palestinians. At the same time, Israel was continuing this killing and bombing up to this very moment.

Biden’s deputy national security adviser expressed regret for what he called missteps made by the U.S. He pledged the administration would do better. He apologized for the oversight of never mentioning Palestinian deaths during the first 100 days of the conflict. And, oh, yes, they said they should have reacted more strongly to refute statements by Israeli military leaders that they were “fighting human animals.” Apparently, they forgot that Biden said that Israel had, not only a right, but an obligation, to bomb Gaza.

Now that Gaza has been decimated, now that at least 28,000 civilians are dead, now that a majority of the population has been forced out of their homes, only to relocate to the south of Gaza where they are now threatened by a new renewed ground invasion, now that Gaza is rubble.…

How do they even dare to mouth this garbage publicly?

The rotten opportunism of rotten politicians has no limit, apparently.

Stop the violence raining on Gaza!

Culture Corner:
Violent Borders and The Last Repair Shop

Feb 12, 2024

Book: Violent Borders by Reece Jones, 2016

This book eloquently describes the horrifying and haunting crisis of the world’s population as they risk even death to seek to escape from war, climate catastrophe, and crippling poverty. The author shares the stories of these harrowing flights on a personal level, describing how the situation worsens each year. Their plight is the plight of workers everywhere.

Film: The Last Repair Shop, streaming on YouTube and many other services, 2023

This beautiful film is nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Documentary of 2024. In a period where music and art programs are everywhere being cut, this film celebrates four unsung heroes who tirelessly repair musical instruments for students in L.A. public schools. It explores their background stories, representative of migrant struggles everywhere, and the stories of the students impacted by the gift of access to music and creativity. The film culminates in a full orchestra performance by the musicians, young and old, who have benefited from the L.A. public school music program.

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