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. 1198 — March 25 - April 8, 2024

Yes, We Can Have a Shorter Work Week, If the Working Class Fights for It!

Mar 25, 2024

Bernie Sanders introduced a bill into the Senate that would make standard a 32-hour work week with no loss in pay. Sanders called in Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers union (UAW), to speak in support of this bill at a Congressional hearing.

Work 32 hours and get paid for 40 hours? That is not some pipe dream or pie in the sky. It could easily be done. It would be totally possible for workers today to work even less than 32 hours and get paid even more than the same 40-hours pay. Workers in the U.S. today are 400% more productive than they were in the 1950s. In other words, every worker today produces four times as much as similar workers did 70 years ago. This big increase in productivity should allow every worker to live a much more rewarding life. We could work 10 hours a week and have four times as much vacation time. We could be making much more money and retiring much earlier. The increase in worker productivity makes such things possible.

But things are going in the opposite direction. Workers are working longer hours for pay that is falling farther behind prices. Vacations and pensions are disappearing. Workers are being pushed through speedup to work harder and harder. Our lives are getting worse. That is happening because the benefits of increased worker productivity are not going to the workers, they are going into the profits and pockets of a handful of people—the corporate owners on Wall Street. These wealthy few are people who don’t work but live off the labor of people who do work. Today 756 individuals have a total wealth of 4.5 TRILLION Dollars. These 756 people and their families have a wealth equal to almost 20% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—wealth that is produced by hundreds of millions of workers. For workers to get what we deserve, it would mean reducing the profits that are stolen by the wealthy few.

Sanders says that the answer is for the government to address this inequality and that his “32 for 40” bill will do that. Fain, in his testimony, cited Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt as someone who stood on the side of the workers. But both of them are just making election year propaganda for the Democratic party they support. Both of them are spreading illusions and hiding the reality.

Perhaps the government could take from the wealthy and give to the working class. But this government, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, has never done so. Both parties have always, always stood on the side of the wealthy and the capitalist class.

The Republicans have always been known for being on the side of big business. And the Democrats have done what? In the 1930s, Congress had a bill similar to Sanders’ for a 30-hour work week. This bill never passed, even though Roosevelt was president and the Democrats controlled Congress. In the 90 years since then, neither party has ever passed such a bill.

Franklin Roosevelt has often been cited by union leaders like Fain as a president who did things for workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shortly after Roosevelt was first elected in 1932, the working class began to fight back against the low wages and unemployment of the Great Depression. There were strikes across the country and a militant working class struck fear into the capitalists and the politicians who represented them. Roosevelt pushed legislation recognizing that workers have the right to organize unions—something that the workers had already been doing by mobilizing their own forces. In 1933, Roosevelt told workers “no aggression is necessary now to attain these rights.” By aggression, Roosevelt meant strikes. These strikes by workers were threatening to go way beyond just a fight to attain legal recognition for their unions. The massive strike waves of this time period had the possibility to go in the direction of threatening the whole capitalist system. Roosevelt and the other politicians had the goal of trying to stop these strikes by promising to pass some laws and convince workers to put their faith in the politicians and the government.

Today, by proposing legislation for “32 for 40,” Sanders is telling workers that the government will do something that it has never done. Fain had put “32 for 40” as a demand in the auto contract, but he never proposed for workers to make the kind of all-out fight it would take. Fain instead held back the UAW strike against the auto companies and quickly dropped the “32 for 40” demand. Today both Fain and Sanders are trying to convince workers to put their faith in the Democratic Party.

But a real fight for a shorter work week, a fight for a better future, is possible only when the working class puts its faith in its own power in its own capacity to fight, not in any politicians or legislation. The working class will have to bring forth its own leaders who are ready to lead this fight.

Pages 2-3

D.C. Crime Law:
An Attack Against the Poor

Mar 25, 2024

On March 11, Mayor Bowser signed the Secure D.C. public safety omnibus bill into law. This law is supposed to make D.C. residents and tourists safer from crime. Maybe. But this is also an election year. One of the attacks the Republicans make on Democrats is that they are soft on crime and advocate defunding the police. So, would it be that surprising that a Democratic D.C. city council and a Democratic black mayor pass a draconian anti-crime bill to counter the Republican attack?

This law gives the police more power to do more things. They can designate any neighborhood they want as a high-risk area and once done, they can stop, search, or arrest anyone walking with so much as one other person. They can arrest anyone wearing any kind of face covering at the sole discretion of the police. They can demand anyone riding the Metro to identify themselves to the police for no legally justifiable reason, whether the police have identified themselves or not. They have the right to legally kill suspects during car chases. They have the ability to review body camera footage before writing their statements. It is now a crime to discard a gun—it would become a separate crime the moment the gun touches the ground. And these are just some of the things in this new crime law.

Since George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the police were pushed back—a little. Some cops have been charged with murder and other crimes, for instance. This law takes back those small gains. It gives the police union what they have been demanding. And it allows the Democrats to say they are tough on crime and criminals.

D.C. is the nation’s capital—the seat of the U.S. government. And yes, there is crime, there is homelessness, there is poverty, there are young people who have been thrown away by this society.

These politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who say they are tough on crime, do nothing about poverty, nothing to address the fact that the education system has failed young people, nothing against the hopelessness and despair people feel. They only authorize an occupying army, the police, to restrain the needs and desires of the poor.

The Bus Is Always Late

Mar 25, 2024

Students with disabilities in Washington, D.C. are far too often picked up late or never by school buses, and a group of parents sued the city government in March to provide more reliable service. The basic problem? The city doesn’t hire enough school bus drivers and attendants.

D.C. public schools count over 3,300 disabled students who can’t easily ride the subway or commuter buses, plus hundreds more at dozens of charter schools. The city’s school buses have to take disabled students to more than 200 public, charter, and private schools in the city and to schools in Maryland and Virginia where parents may transfer their disabled children. It’s more than 500 routes covering more than 25,000 miles daily. But this volume doesn’t excuse how many delays and cancellations these children and their families have had to experience: over 1,000 in the first five months of this school year.

D.C. is short at least 75 drivers and 90 attendants this winter, around one in eight positions. And the city seems to have cut several hundred positions over the last decade. These are 35 hour a week jobs, not even full time. So, hire drivers, and pay a decent wage. What our tax money should be used for!

Maine Mass Shooter Had Traumatic Brain Injury

Mar 25, 2024

Autopsy results came out recently on Robert Card, the Army Reservist who carried out a mass shooting in Maine last October, killing 18 people and wounding 18 others. The autopsy showed Card had severe brain damage.

Card spent eight years as a grenade instructor. As a result, he was repeatedly exposed to grenade blasts.

The autopsy showed he had shredded nerve connections deep in his brain, torn blood vessels that could no longer support nerve cells, and clumps of dead cell debris in his brain. According to the New York Times, the connection between Card’s brain’s frontal lobes responsible for executive functions and parts of his brain that control fear, anger, impulsiveness and violence were badly damaged. “If your frontal lobes are not online,” neurologist Dr. Lee Goldstein said, “you are not acting like a normal adult who can exercise judgment and tamp down aggression.”

There were clear warning signs that Card was showing increasingly erratic behavior well before he undertook his mass shooting. His relatives warned police he was becoming paranoid as far back as May of last year. He was sent to a psychiatric unit in July after shoving a fellow soldier. The Army took disciplinary action against him.

In September, a close friend of his, Sean Hodgson, texted his Army Reserve supervisor after a night out with Card, when he said Card “flipped out,” pounding the steering wheel while driving, and nearly crashing several times. When his friend asked him to stop and let him out, Card punched him in the face. Hodgson was so alarmed by Card’s behavior that he suggested that authorities change the passcode on the gate at the Army Reserve training grounds. Knowing Card had access to guns, Hodgson wrote in his text, 40 days before the shooting, “I believe he’s going to snap and do a mass shooting.”

Studies show that vets exposed to explosive blasts are more likely to have behavioral problems, to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, to get divorced, to commit suicide and to commit crimes. Some soldiers from artillery crews that fired many explosives during combat experienced paranoia and delusions, according to the New York Times. Many vets exposed to blasts are misdiagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, causing their brain-injuries to be missed, according to Dr. Goldstein.

So, while not every blast-exposed vet carries out a mass shooting, it is certainly not a stretch to attribute some connection between Robert Card’s brain damage and his committing a mass shooting.

Frank Larkin, the sergeant-at-arms of the U.S. Senate tells of his son Ryan, a Navy Seal who died by suicide, and was found to have brain damage after being exposed to explosive blasts. Larkin said of Card’s autopsy findings, “The implications are just so large. We now have to acknowledge that the weapons and the training are creating a major problem.”

The military won’t admit that repeated exposure to explosions can lead to events like mass shootings because it doesn’t want to be liable for damages and wants to justify exposing more soldiers to such dangerous conditions.

The real solution, then, would be to prevent repeated exposures to explosive blasts, but that’s not going to happen with the never-ending wars and the obvious increase in preparation for a larger war on the part of the U.S. and other militaries around the world.

Certainly, there are many other causes for mass shootings besides exposure to explosive blasts in the military, but in the case of Robert Card it certainly appears to have played a role. Preventing similar tragedies requires putting an end to a society in which war is an everyday business.

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Culture Corner:
Solito and The Teacher’s Lounge

Mar 25, 2024

Books: Solito: A Memoir by Javier Zamora, 2023

The author was born in El Salvador in 1990. This book is his story, the tale of his 9-year-old self, making a 3,000 mile journey from his grandparents’ home to join his parents in Arizona. He was unaccompanied by family members but watched over by fellow travelers. He writes of dealing with coyotes, of a boat ride in the Pacific Ocean, a trek through barbed wire and desert, of being caught and deported, and more. The book is beautifully written, describing the dangerous world of migration from the viewpoint of a child—harrowing and horrifying, yet also brave, adventurous and full of hope and love.

Film: The Teacher’s Lounge, directed by Ilker Çatak, 2023

This German movie, with subtitles, depicts a young idealistic teacher full of ideas and hope. Her sixth-grade students respond and she is encouraged. But then things fall apart. She herself gets trapped in the effects of class society. You see class determining who does well and who does not. Then thefts occur in the school and blame again follows class lines. She battles entrenched stereotypes and racism among her co-workers, who blame “minorities”. But then she herself unwittingly causes blame to fall on a minority family. Her students unite and rebel. The students are the real stars of the movie. They carry the promise of a classless society, of a future where all can do well.

O’Hare Workers Confront Wage Theft

Mar 25, 2024

On February 13, over 500 flight attendants from United, American, and Southwest Airlines picketed outside O’Hare Airport demanding higher wages and a halt to airline stalling tactics in ongoing contract negotiations. For years, flight attendants have been working under outdated terms of expired contracts. This was one of many coordinated protests organized by unions representing flight attendants at airports around the country.

One of the key issues is the “free work” flight attendants are required to perform. Flight attendants only get paid when flights are in the air. As a result, they are unpaid during boarding, during delays, and while in other cities awaiting return flights.

Flight attendants are especially angry about unpaid work during the boarding process. Prior to departure, they are expected to help customers load luggage in overhead bins, answer questions, deal with unruly customers, manage on-board pets, clean baby diapers, clean up vomit, and handle masking concerns (which remains an issue even post-pandemic).

One research company estimates that across the industry refusing to pay during boarding cheats flight attendants out of over $700 million per year!

Stolen time is a hot issue for other O’Hare workers as well. Many are required or pressured to use personal time to complete on-line training, or to obtain the tools and equipment they need at the start of their shifts.

For example, baggage handlers need tractors (motorized vehicles) to do their job, but there’s always a shortage of working tractors. Management fails to ensure they are readily available, and they are often scattered around the airport. As a result, the task of finding a tractor falls on the worker. Frequently, workers feel compelled to get to work early so they can search the airport for a tractor to use during their shift. Once they locate one, they need to make sure it is in working order and fully charged or fueled prior to the start of the shift.

United ramp workers who work in bag rooms on conveyor systems need to verify their work area is equipped with baggage carts and cans. When management fails to ensure they are in place, it falls on the worker. Without carts and cans, the worker has nowhere to put the bags, and they fall to the floor, creating a disorganized mess and a high-pressure and unsafe work environment.

Many workers refuse to do the free work, understanding they may not be required to do it per existing labor contracts. But many others are under great pressure to do the unpaid work to avoid a hectic, disorganized, and pressure-packed regular shift that they know they’ll face if proper equipment is not available at the start of the shift.

All the hours devoted to gathering tools and equipment prior to the shift is time stolen by the airlines. An end to wage theft at the O’Hare requires a major airport-wide fight that unites all airport workers.

Maryland Factory’s Toxic Wastewater

Mar 25, 2024

The maker of Gore-Tex waterproof fabric has a factory in northeast Maryland near Delaware, where the chemicals are made. The W.L. Gore factory in Cherry Hill near Elkton knowingly released extremely toxic molecules in its wastewater for 40 years until 2014, neighbors and former workers claim in a lawsuit filed last year. These chemicals include PFAS, which cause cancer and reproductive and immune system damage. They also hardly break down in nature, so they are called “forever chemicals.” This means they are still there. But a number of people living near the factory relied on well water, where shockingly high levels of PFAS were detected.

There’s every reason to believe Gore knew the plant and its unlined storage ponds were polluting the groundwater. For example, the company bought up nearby property to block a housing development. Management discouraged a newly hired scientist from living right near the plant. But the plant’s hundreds of workers and neighbors were told that everything was all right.

Radioactive Waste Dumped in the Ocean

Mar 25, 2024

University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers discovered that old barrels dumped into the Pacific Ocean by companies, sitting 3,000 feet underwater near Santa Catalina Island, contained radioactive chemicals, including tritium and carbon-14.

A few years ago, the same UCSB researchers found that Montrose Chemical Corporation, the leading manufacturer of a highly toxic pesticide, DDT, dumped its chemical waste into the ocean, covering an enormous swath of seafloor larger than San Francisco.

The “discovered” government records clearly indicate that starting in the 1930s and continuing through the 1970s, the U.S. Federal Government allowed hospitals, laboratories, and industrial companies to dispose of their toxic, dangerous waste, including radioactive chemicals, DDT, and 3 million metric tons of petroleum waste in the ocean. The U.S. Army also dumped military explosives from World War II into the same ocean.

In fact, thirteen other areas off the Southern California coast were approved for such dumping. Nobody knows the extent of the damage that has been and will be caused by such criminal dumping, but it certainly destroyed or endangered the plant and animal life in and around it—including that of humans.

Capitalist business practices as usual.

Shot by Police for Holding … Anything

Mar 25, 2024

Two San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed 15-year-old Ryan Gainer on March 9 at his family’s house in Apple Valley, California. The sheriff’s department said the deputies felt threatened because Gainer was holding a five-foot gardening tool.

A 15-year-old holding a gardening tool—and what the cops do is shoot him the moment they set their eyes on him! But still, these cops’ trigger-happy, shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude is no surprise—not in the U.S. where, on average, three police killings happen every day. One reason the killing of Ryan Gainer caught special attention, though, is that it fit into a string of recent police shootings in Southern California, where the cops claimed they felt threatened by the everyday objects the victims were holding.

In two of the shootings the victims were holding cell phones, and in two other cases, lighters. L.A. cops also shot people who were holding a small car part, a small bike part, and a wooden board. And then came the white plastic fork!

In February, after cops shot and killed Jason Maccani, a 36-year-old mentally-ill man holding the notorious plastic fork, the LAPD claimed in a briefing that Maccani had been holding a “screwdriver or knife,” and that he had “charged” at the cops and grabbed their beanbag shotgun—none of which turned out to be true.

After cops shot Jermaine Petit in L.A.’s Leimert Park area in July 2022, the authorities went even further and began a prosecution against Petit, who survived the shooting, for “brandishing a replica gun.” In the meantime, the LAPD itself has admitted that Petit was actually holding a small car part called an actuator, and video footage shows that Petit was walking away from the cops when two of the cops fired at him. “I expected the police to demonize Jermaine,” said André Horton, Petit’s cousin. “The department has its purpose—to keep a certain sect of people in line.”

Disproportionately, the targets of police aggression are young black men like Jermaine Petit and Ryan Gainer. But not only—Jason Maccani was white. In capitalist society, where the capitalist class lives off the exploitation of the working class, it’s the job of the police department to keep the working class in its place by any means necessary, including lethal force.

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Israel Expands Land Seizures in West Bank

Mar 25, 2024

On March 22, Israel announced that it would seize about four square miles of Palestinian land in the West Bank. This is the single largest seizure of Palestinian land since 1993 and would effectively divide the Palestinians in the West Bank between north and south.

About 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. They already live under an apartheid-style military occupation. Ever since it took the territory in 1967, Israel has refused to recognize Palestinian claims to the land they and their families have lived on, often for generations, opening it up piece-by-piece to be taken by Israeli settlers. Already before October 7, about 700,000 Israeli settlers had seized 40% of the land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The result is that Palestinian lands are carved up into little pieces, divided up by territory controlled by Israelis. There are Israeli-only highways, modern and well maintained, next to falling-apart roads open to the Palestinians. Clean, filtered water is piped to the Israeli settlements, but the Palestinians cannot access it. To pass from one part of the territory to another, Palestinians have to pass through innumerable military checkpoints—if they are allowed through at all. To build a home or build onto their homes, Palestinians need permits from the Israeli authorities—which are basically impossible to get—and many Palestinian homes have been bulldozed by the Israeli authorities.

Since the October 7 attacks by Hamas, the Israeli settlers have dramatically stepped up their attacks and attempts to grab land. These settlers have built dozens of illegal outposts on land owned by Palestinians, and then attacked the residents to drive them off. The U.N. has recorded 650 such attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians since October 7, killing at least nine people. In one case, a settler is accused of using his own bulldozer to destroy the school for a Palestinian village. In another, Israelis seem to have dropped poison from a drone into a Palestinian swimming pool.

The army occupying the West Bank is now largely composed of settlers themselves, called up into the reserves, as the regular conscripts have been sent to fight in Gaza. It has backed these increasingly outrageous attacks by settlers every step of the way. Israeli security forces have themselves killed about 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7.

Many of the right-wing Israeli settlers are in fact Jewish religious fundamentalists, who justify their claims to the land by referencing the bible. This includes the Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is himself a prominent settler. He represents a Zionist-religious party that claims Israel has a “right” to the entire West Bank, which they call “Judea and Samaria,” a reference to kingdoms from biblical times, 3,000 years ago. These right-wing Zionist religious fundamentalists have increasingly become the political base for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, especially as his government carries out its murderous war in Gaza.

The U.S. has condemned the most violent attacks and has even sanctioned a few of the most violent individual settlers. But it has done nothing to actually rein in the Israeli policy of stealing land from those who have lived there for generations—ever since it supported the founding of Israel in 1948 by a similar process of land theft.

Death Count Grows as Famine Looms

Mar 25, 2024

The United Nations and aid groups on the ground in Gaza are reporting that vulnerable children in the territory are starving to death, along with vulnerable elderly.

The death toll in Gaza from the Health Ministry just hit a horrific 32,141 on March 23. More than two-thirds of those recorded deaths are women and children. Because this figure only includes those who died at a hospital or whose bodies were brought to a morgue, it is certainly an undercount.

The fact that over 65,000 tons of bombs and missiles have been unleashed on the 2.3 million imprisoned inhabitants of Gaza would indicate the death count is likely much higher.

With only 12 hospitals “partially functioning,” out of the original 36, the ability to record fatalities lessens. The death toll largely does not include those dying of disease. The official count also does not include those buried under rubble or hastily buried near where they died.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Center of Humanitarian Health recently used past studies of deaths associated with war to project future deaths in Gaza.

It is known that even after war ends, more will die in the future from wound complications, from infectious disease, from maternal and infant mortality, from untreated cancer and diabetes, and from unexploded ordnances.

The Johns Hopkins study estimated 15,000 more deaths if the war stopped tomorrow. And as high as 85,000 more deaths if the war continues six more months. These excess deaths would never have happened except for this war on the people of Gaza.

One health administration official in Gaza quoted on National Public Radio in February grimly explained, “The only way to really know how many people have died is to count the number of people still alive—compared with the population of Gaza before Oct.7.”

Textile Mill Strike Win

Mar 25, 2024

This article is translated from the March 8 issue, #2901 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, re-elected in January during the war in Gaza and an acute social and economic crisis, announced a 50% increase in the monthly minimum wage for many workers, bringing it to 6,000 Egyptian pounds, or 121 U.S. dollars. This increase took effect March 1, but barely makes up for inflation. The official annual inflation rate is 39.7%—but for food it’s 70% or higher. The price of sugar has almost quadrupled.

On the eve of Ramadan, when families spend more money, this raise, granted to public servants, was a breath of fresh air.

But it was not granted to workers at publicly-owned companies, and these workers did not accept being excluded from the salary increases. The 3,700 workers at the Ghazl al-Mahalla spinning mill went on strike over their pay on February 22. The mill is one of the factories of MSWC, a publicly-owned textile company employing more than 16,000 workers in Mahalla el Kubra in the Nile delta.

Workers chanted slogans in the mill and then stopped working. Their slogans spread from one factory to another. Their anger shot up again on pay day when they saw the government was withholding their pay instead of conceding to their demand. “The government is depriving us of our pay and using the weapon of starvation, as if we are in Gaza,” a worker told the press.

The strikers succeeded in drawing workers from other textile factories and from the Assiout oil company into their movement. On February 24, 7,000 of them gathered in Talaat Harb Square in Mahalla. These determined strikers were not intimidated by 100 arrests. No doubt fearing the conflict would spread, Sisi hastened to announce they also will get the monthly minimum $121 pay.

The workers returned to work. But they also made another demand about their lunch credit, demanding it be raised to 61 cents, roughly the price of a quart of milk. Mass outrage is brewing in Egypt, where two thirds of the population live at or below the poverty line and most people are getting poorer.

The dictatorial Sisi has exercised power with an iron fist since 2013. But he gave in to the textile workers’ anger. He knew he risked confronting a bigger strike wave that would be much harder to control. This is encouraging to workers in the private sector, and to workers in the informal sector who get no raises. This victory encourages all who oppose this regime supported by the imperialist powers.

An Entire Population Pushed into Hunger

Mar 25, 2024

In its March 6 report on Sudan, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) reported that only five percent of the country’s population could afford “a square meal a day.”

That’s a truly shocking figure: it means 46 million Sudanese are facing hunger!

The immediate cause of this crisis is a barbaric war raging for 10 months. Two generals, one heading the country’s regular army (SAF) and the other the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), united to put down the popular movement that threw out Sudan’s former dictator in 2019. Now, they have been fighting each other for power.

Both generals have been targeting the population, bombing and machine-gunning people and committing ethnic cleansing. The war has killed tens of thousands, destroyed infrastructure and crippled the economy. Millions of people go hungry as the warring armies block passage to aid workers and seize aid supplies.

More than 8 million people, forced to flee the violence, are trying to survive in camps in Sudan and neighboring countries. They also have no food to eat, and their water is totally polluted. In the absence of health centers and medication, diseases such as malaria and measles are taking their toll, particularly among children.

Like other civil wars, regional as well as bigger powers are taking sides and supplying arms: Egypt, Iran and Ukraine have been said to back the SAF, while the UAE (an ally of Saudi Arabia, which in turn is an ally of the U.S.), Kenya, and Russia have been named as supporters of the RSF. But it’s also common for alliances to shift in such local conflicts. In any event, there is no end in sight to the brutal war.

The world has forgotten the Sudanese people, said Cindy McCain, the director of the World Food Program. And while the U.S. has been backing Israel and Ukraine with billions of dollars in two other bloody wars, Africa—a continent brutally plundered by imperialism for centuries—has not been a focus of U.S. imperialism lately, nor its capitalist news media.

Ever more destructive wars, poverty and starvation: the world is thrown more and more into barbarism. This is the world that imperialism—an outgrowth of capitalism—has made.

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Chaos, the Other Side of Capitalism!

Mar 25, 2024

Chaos, terror, “humanitarian” disaster, repeated assaults, massacre, state of emergency, airlifts, humanitarian corridor—all terms referring to a country “in a state of war” and which appear in the headlines of the international press to illustrate the situation, not in Ukraine or Russia or Palestine, but in Haiti. What these journalists and reporters describe reflects reality to some extent, but none of them has dared to point out the heavy responsibility of Western powers such as the United States and France in this chaotic situation.

Ariel Henry Gone, But the Gang Attacks Continue

In fact, since February 29, the main gangs in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, have banded together to launch assaults with a view to overthrowing the government of Ariel Henry, according to their spokesman, Jimmy Chérisier, alias Barbecue, a gang leader with a high profile in the national and international media.

A few days later, they got the better of the Prime Minister, hated by the population and dropped by his White House bosses, who were just waiting for an opportunity to remove him. But the coalition of gangs, armed with heavy weapons from the United States and reinforced by hundreds of prison escapees, continues to put the capital on fire and in blood. Every day, dozens are killed, hundreds are wounded and tens of thousands of local residents flee their neighborhoods. The unlivable capital is increasingly becoming an open-air cemetery and a field of ruins. Virtually all activity has ground to a halt, except for the killing, terrorizing and kidnapping machine, which is running at full speed. Allied gangs control almost the entire metropolitan area, creating terror on a daily basis. Living conditions for the laboring classes, already very precarious, are worsening by the day as a result of this unprecedented upsurge in violence and escalating gang dictatorship.

Who Is Responsible for the Chaos?

But contrary to what these journalists, lackeys of the bourgeoisie, would have us believe, this untenable situation is neither a misfortune specific to Haiti nor an historical inevitability. Rather, it’s the other side of capitalism, which generates immense wealth on the one hand, and extreme poverty on the other. And gangs are nothing more than the products of unemployment and misery, which make some desperate people very quick to obey those who hand them weapons and supply them with ammunition.

While the majority of the population is dying of hunger and disease, wealthy Haitian families are fleeing the country to the Dominican Republic in helicopters costing up to 15,000 U.S. dollars for a ticket for a flight of less than half an hour. On an international scale, capitalism generates a billionaire every day, while a child dies every five seconds from malnutrition.

The chaos in Haiti is the result of centuries of plundering of the country’s wealth and shameless exploitation of its people by Western powers such as France and the United States. The history of Haiti and the Caribbean is closely linked to that of capitalism. In the 16th century, the plundering of this region, and indeed of Latin America, played a fundamental role in the accumulation of capital that enabled the development of capitalism in Europe.

Haiti Looted by France and the United States

France itself was not content to extort wealth from Haiti through slavery for some two centuries. Its rulers imposed a fine of 150 million gold francs as compensation for the former slave owners, in exchange for recognizing Haiti’s independence, which had been won at a bloody cost by the revolutionary slave army in 1803. It was also a gift to the French national bank, which provided the loan to finance the repayment, which put Haiti in debt for decades. The New York Times revealed that this double debt has cost Haiti between $21 and $115 billion in lost economic growth over time.

After France, it was the turn of the United States, whose marines landed in Haiti on July 28, 1915, on the pretext of coming to the rescue of the then president. They crushed a popular uprising and stayed until 1934. Before the occupation, on December 17, 1914, marines from the warship Machias broke into the National Bank of Haiti and seized $500,000, the equivalent of the bank’s gold reserve.

During the occupation, American officers took control of customs, finance and so on. American companies like the Haitian American Sugar Company (HASCO) took advantage of the situation to get their hands on the best land, stripping thousands of peasants of their means of survival. By virtue of their geographical location, Haiti and the Caribbean countries had the painful privilege of being in the immediate vicinity of the USA, which went on to become the dominant nation in the capitalist world. As the Haitian intellectual Dantès Bellegarde put it: “God is too far, and the United States is too close.” The United States refused to recognize Haiti as an independent nation for 60 years and has maintained its stranglehold on political power to this day. It’s the White House that makes and breaks presidents, all of them extras, hacks who can’t make any major decisions of their own.

An Explosion of Anger Is Inevitable

These are the mechanisms used by the Western powers to carve up Haiti, impoverish it, strangle it economically and push it further and further into underdevelopment and total destitution, to the point where every storm and earthquake of varying magnitude turns into a social catastrophe. To achieve this, they naturally rely on the complicity of local economic and political leaders.

So why is Haiti the poorest country in the region, despite its geographical proximity to the richest country on the planet, the United States? This is the hallmark of an entire economic system and social organization. Haiti is a country in front of which capitalism blocks any future, any hope even. And it will continue until the accumulation of despair explodes in anger like the slave revolt of 1803.

Putin Re-Elected, What Next?

Mar 25, 2024

This article is translated from the March 21 issue, #2903 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Unsurprisingly, Putin was re-elected president of Russia with almost 88% of the vote and a voter turnout of 73.33%.

In the big cities, the management of companies and administrations put pressure on their employees to indicate whether they were going to vote, where, on what day and at what time. It was a thinly veiled threat to the undecided. On the carrot side, as usual, the authorities also organized raffles at polling stations. But social networks also produced some edifying micro-reports. In one production area of a Moscow factory, for example, only three out of ten workers were preparing to vote. Admittedly, this example cannot be generalized, even if others point in the same direction.

After blocking the candidacy of anyone remotely opposed to his policies, Putin garnered a large number of votes among the bureaucrats and the wealthy, of course, but also among the working classes. This is probably less a vote of confidence, as it once was, than a vote of fear. Fear of the crackdown on anyone who criticizes the government. Fear also, and the government has played on this, of a military defeat that the population equates with material and human sacrifices made in vain, as well as a promise of a worsening of their situation.

Having eliminated all legal or tolerated forms of dissent, Putin has linked the regime’s fate and his own to war. This has manifested itself in increasingly unpopular measures, such as expanding the draft. He said he would refuse to do so before the election, but he may do so soon, just as he raised the sales tax to 20% just after the 2018 presidential election. This time, workers will have to tighten their belts all the more as inflation eats away at their purchasing power, while the Kremlin has already slashed social budgets, with the war budget absorbing half the state’s revenue. The result is that, deprived of any legal means of expressing their discontent, Russian citizens are sometimes expressing it more radically. Even in circles other than those of the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia and student youth, who in the recent past have formed the bulk of anti-Kremlin demonstrators, some have resorted to actions that have become the legal headlines.

In several cities, videos have shown voters throwing dye into ballot boxes or setting them on fire, knowing that the police would come down on them. Then there’s the pensioner from Perm, a large industrial city in the Urals, who set fire to a military recruitment post. Arrested, she said she wanted to denounce the fact that she could no longer pay her rent with her pension.

Such examples have been multiplying since the war in Ukraine began, in regions and sectors of society that had no reputation for protest. In Bashkiria, a working-class crowd recently clashed with the police, who had to use gas against the demonstrators—a rare occurrence in the last thirty years. But most of these actions are individual, unorganized and even desperate.

Because the war and the oligarchs demand it, Russian power can only accelerate its attacks on the working population. In the face of this, they will have to rediscover the path of organization and collective struggle for their class interests.

Pages 10-11

The Dictatorship of the Gangs

Mar 25, 2024

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters during the week of March 17, 2024.

In Haiti, the government, the army and police are so corrupt and rotten, they collapsed completely, leaving a total power vacuum.

So, the U.S. government and other governments in the region intervened. They juggled politicians, substituting one set of corrupt politicians to take over from the current ones. The U.S. forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to the African government of Kenya to send 1,000 cops to Haiti to protect the new government. And the U.S. is also sending a contingent of Marines to protect the U.S. embassy in Haiti. Not mentioned are the CIA, U.S. mercenaries and hitmen who are certainly there, as well.

Behind this crisis in Haiti are powerful criminal gangs. Several gang leaders had united together to overthrow the government. They invaded state prisons and broke out thousands of prisoners, including several gang leaders. They set fire to many big police stations. And they occupied the main international airport, stopping all flights.

In other words, these criminal gangs went rogue.

In the past, Haitian dictators, politicians and the very rich used gangs as their own private army to impose a reign of terror over the population. Gangs broke strikes, attacked demonstrators, and murdered opponents. The gang members kept everything they could steal and extort from ordinary workers, small shopkeepers and peddlers.

As long as the gangs only attacked, murdered and raped ordinary workers, and small shopkeepers and peddlers, the U.S. government looked the other way. For U.S. and other foreign companies in Haiti operating sweat shops, export‑import companies and tourist hotels, this reign of terror allowed them to pay the Haitian workers the lowest wages possible.

But now the gangs have brought the Haitian government and economy to its knees. So, the U.S. and other governments may agree to integrate some gangs into the power structure: a dictatorship of the gangs.

The Haitian population has seen a lot of this before. Military dictatorships and politicians come and go. But what always stayed the same was that those in charge stole as much as they could, at the expense of the population.

Today, the gang attacks have made living conditions worse than ever. Everything is closed. There is no work. People can’t even sell things in open markets or on the street. Store shelves are empty. There is little or no food or water. People are being murdered, with their bodies left on the streets. Gangs plunder hospitals, forcing them to close. Masses of people desperately try to get out of the country, only to find that borders in other countries are closed and they are treated like criminals.

This descent into a living hell is not the exception. Already, in many other countries, from Ecuador and the countries of Central America to Libya and the Congo, people face barbaric conditions.

Conditions in bigger countries are not far behind—especially given all the crises, wars and destruction that are spreading everywhere.

Capitalist society, a society run in the interests of the billionaires and the super wealthy, is falling apart—including in this, the richest country in the world.

Capitalism, the rule of the billionaires, is a dead end, a true catastrophe.

Only the working class, the class that produces everything and makes society run, represents the future. That is true in Haiti, the home of the biggest and most successful slave revolt in the world.

That is also true for workers in this country, where we face worsening poverty, falling wages and benefits, and increasing attacks aimed at dividing workers against each other in every way possible.

There is no escape from the ravages of capitalism.

Workers need real leaders, real fighters, who understand the need to organize, fight, and take down capitalism. Workers everywhere need an independent party that will help bring workers together, as a class force.

Pink Slips over Baltimore

Mar 25, 2024

Baltimore is seeing an uptick in layoffs. UPS is laying off 12,000 workers including 118 in Halethorpe just east of the city. The Walmart in Towson is closing and those 207 workers are not all going to be able to transfer to other Walmarts. Good-bye pharmacy, good-bye shopping runs, good-bye wages.

Biden is trying to sell us on the idea that the economy is doing well and unemployment is down. If that is true, why so many layoffs and store closings?

Page 12

Texas Governor Abbott’s Border Show

Mar 25, 2024

Texas Governor Abbott has been making one show after another about the “crisis on the border.”

He sent busloads of migrants to cities like Chicago and New York. He put up razor wire on the border and floating barriers in the Rio Grande river. He has spent more than 10 billion dollars deploying Texas State Police and National Guard troops on the border.

Now, the Abbott administration pushed through a law that would let Texas police arrest migrants who cross without permission, and let the state prosecute and deport them. The Biden administration objected that this law violates the constitution, which gives the power to enforce immigration to the federal government. In February, the courts sided with Biden and blocked the Texas law. Then, in March, the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect—before, a few hours later, it was again blocked by an appeals court.

This is all part of the big show Republicans and Democrats are making over the border. Abbott claims that if Biden did what Texas was doing, “you would eliminate illegal immigration overnight.” Biden answers by saying that he proposed a harsh border restriction law, that would allow him to completely “close the border,” but it was blocked by Republicans in Congress.

In reality, immigration policy is and always has been driven by the needs of the bosses. In 2008, immigration was largely cut off as the economy collapsed. Then as the economy began to recover, and the demand for workers went up around 2014—so did immigration. Large numbers continued to arrive during Trump’s first three years—until the pandemic hit and the bosses panicked that the economy might collapse. Immigration was closed off again. By the middle of 2021, bosses started complaining about a labor shortage and … all of a sudden … the numbers of immigrants coming into the country went back up! As long as we have a government run in the interests of the companies, it will let in the immigrant workers the companies want. And as long as the world is organized by this capitalist, imperialist system that makes one country after another unlivable, there will be people needing to flee, looking to come here to find a job and survive.

So, what is this debate really about? Well, workers in Texas face the same problems as everywhere else—wages that don’t keep up with prices, rising homelessness, drug addiction and hopelessness. Neither party has an answer for these problems, created by this capitalist system in decay. Blaming immigrants for these problems lets the real culprits off the hook—the capitalists who run this whole society in order to maximize their profits, and the politicians of both parties who help them do it.

What Is a Solar Eclipse, Anyway?

Mar 25, 2024

On April 8, there will be a total eclipse of the sun visible in some parts of North America, from Mexico through the U.S. and up to Canada. On average, a total solar eclipse happens every 18 months somewhere on earth. The last one visible in North America was seven years ago.

So, what causes this phenomenon? A total eclipse of the sun occurs when the sun, the moon and the earth line up so that the moon appears to cover the sun. A reminder: The sun is the center of our solar system and the earth takes a year to circle around the sun while the moon takes a month to circle around the earth. The earth is also spinning. It takes one day to make a complete rotation. These planetary motions allow eclipses to happen. In fact, eclipses happen on other planets with moons in our solar system.

But how is it that the moon which is about 400 times smaller than the sun can appear to block the sun? The moon is also about 400 times closer to the earth. This causes the moon and sun to appear to be the same size.

When the eclipse reaches totality, the sky darkens and the temperature drops like it does at night. The event takes about 2 hours while the moon slowly covers up the sun. How long the sun is totally blocked by the moon depends on your location—somewhere between 1 and 4 minutes of totality. The sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, will suddenly be visible (looks like strings and swirls of light).

While the path of the eclipse is only about 50 miles wide, people outside that range will still experience a partial eclipse. It is important when viewing an eclipse to use protective eyewear—not sunglasses! Paper solar viewers and glasses are available to order on line. When using binoculars or a camera, use a filter. The paper glasses aren’t sufficient. Never look directly at the sun. It only takes seconds for eye damage to occur.

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