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. 650 — February 5 - 19, 2001

Editorial:
The 5.6 trillion surplus belongs to the working class

Feb 5, 2001

George W. speaks about an economic recession as if it is already here –of course he has political reasons for this. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, says the economy is "very close to zero (growth)", with the risk it could slide into a recession. Other economists say there is only a little "dip."

The corporations, however, are not waiting around for definitions. They are moving to protect their profit rates with another huge round of job cuts, with over 100,000 announced in the last seven days of January alone. In just a few months time, the supposed "endless expansion" we never stopped hearing about seems to have stalled.

So what is the federal government doing to prepare for this coming period? Logically, while there is still time, it ought to be beefing up unemployment funds, social services and other aid programs. Food and housing subsidies should be expanded. Medical care programs and facilities should be strengthened to handle what will be the inevitable increase in demand. Public works programs should be set up to provide jobs for those who could work to rebuild inner cities, housing stock, schools and transportation systems.

Nothing could be more logical than for the government to begin right now to protect its citizens –if it were a government "of the people" and "for the people."

Yes, this would take money. Big money. But these funds exist already in the government's hands. The White House, the Congress and the Federal Reserve all agree that the government's budget surplus will reach the huge sum of 5.6 TRILLION dollars over the next decade! That could go a long, long way to protecting every human being from the ravages of an economic crisis.

Why shouldn't this huge government surplus be used this way? This surplus was generated through all the various taxes, which are taken much more from the working class than from anyone else. What little the corporations and the rich pay finally also comes from the working class, from whose labor their wealth is accumulated.

This 5.6 TRILLION dollar surplus belongs to the working class. It should be used to protect our lives and to rebuild this society for our needs, the needs of the majority of this population.

Today, however, Bush proposes to use this budget surplus to increase military spending –just as Clinton did when he took office until the last day he was in Washington, endorsing a new 100 billion dollar missile shield. The arms manufacturers and aerospace companies couldn't be happier.

Bush proposes a 1.6 trillion dollar tax cut. Of course he says it is for "all the people." But just like Clinton's tax cuts in his two terms of office, 80% of the reductions will go into the pockets of the very wealthiest classes and their corporations.

The Republican plans to supposedly "save" Social Security and Medicare, just like those of the Democrats, are designed to give even greater profits to the pharmaceutical, insurance and finance companies. "The people's" health and comfort are secondary.

It makes not one bit of human or economic sense to give more trillions to the capitalist class which dominates this economy. They will just use it as they always have, to accumulate more profits, recession or no recession. What makes sense is for the working class to claim these funds, to use them to protect our immediate futures if this economic crisis unfolds; and to begin to transform this economy in the interest of "the people."

Pages 2-3

California:
subsidizing the profits of the big electric utility and power companies

Feb 5, 2001

On February 1, California Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, signed a bill passed by the state legislature. It is a big step in the bail-out of the profits of the two biggest private utilities in the state, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE), which claim to be on the verge of bankruptcy. While the Republican minority denounced the bill, and even blocked it for about 12 hours, enough Republicans voted for it to pass.

Under this new law, the state has been authorized to buy electricity for the utilities. The utilities will turn around and sell the electricity to consumers, at a profit, of course. To finance this operation, the state government will sell about ten billion dollars in bonds. Consumers will then have to pay a large surcharge –to cover the cost of the bonds.

This is a bailout of both the public utilities and the companies that own the plants that generate power. The utilities will not have to bear the future costs and risks of buying electricity on the wholesale market. Instead, the state government, that is, consumers and taxpayers will shoulder those costs. It will be the state government that will sign long-term contracts with the companies that own the power generating plants at a time when prices are at an all-time high.

Most analysts believe that, with the economy turning down, the demand for power will fall, leading to lower prices on the wholesale market. But the state will be locked into those big, hefty prices they agreed to today –prices that consumers will have to pay.

This is a beautiful deal for the two electric utilities, which all their fancy maneuvers can't hide. These companies are not broke. They simply cooked their books to make their assets disappear. Both companies split themselves into two parts. One part of each company is the utility that sells electricity to consumers. That is the part that appears to be broke. But the other part –the one these companies don't talk about –owns power generating plants in California, as well as other states and even other countries. In California, for example, PG&E and SCE still own nuclear power plants and hundreds of dams. The cost of producing that electricity is very low, especially from the dams. Yet, they sell electricity on the wholesale market at the same high prices as the other companies, that is, five, ten, or even fifteen times their cost. And who are they selling that electricity to, but to the electric utility that they own. In fact, over 30% of the debt that PG&E and SCE each claim they owe is to themselves!

But the way both companies keep their books, all the profits that the utilities and power generating companies made went into a separate account. According to an audit done by the state, over the last four years the utility part of PG&E sent 4.7 billion dollars to the power generating part. This allowed PG&E to pay 1.9 billion dollars in dividends and 2.7 billion dollars to buy back its own stock. As for California Edison, the utility part paid 4.8 billion dollars to its other half, which then paid 1.6 billion dollars in dividends and 2.7 billion dollars to buy back its stock.

This continued right up through the fall, even while the companies pretended to be losing billions. According to their last financial reports, PG&E paid 108 million dollars in dividends in the third quarter, at same time that it claimed it was losing 2.8 billion dollars. SCE paid 91.2 million dollars while insisting that it lost 2.4 billion dollars. And as a reward for these profits, the chief executives of both companies increased what they paid themselves by a million dollars each between 1997 and 1999.

Of course, the utilities claim that under the deregulation laws written in 1996, all this is perfectly legal – which is true. The law was passed to allow them to do this –and then to extort money from consumers, with the state acting as intermediary. The same thing is true of the law that was just passed.

According to the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, the big investment banking company, is the chief financial advisor for Governor Davis; it was also one of the chief authors of the bill. Goldman Sachs also just happens to be the chief banker for PG&E, as well as being involved in trading electricity on the wholesale market, owning a company that sells natural gas for electric power generators, and it will most likely be one of the chief marketers of the billions in new bonds that the state of California will soon issue. At the same time, another big investment house, Credit Suisse First Boston, helped advise the Democratic Party speaker of the California House, Robert Hertzberg, while also serving as the banker for many of the big power generating companies.

The new law just passed in California is only the first of a whole series of supposed "reforms" of the California deregulation. In the coming weeks, the legislature will figure out how to justify a state takeover of the 12 billion in debts that PG&E and SCE claim they owe the power generating companies (including to their own generating plants) and supposedly cannot pay.

That is the "free market" in action: the companies are free to profit, while they get the politicians and the government to force us to subsidize them and pay off their expenses and debts.

Next:
Rolling freeze-outs?

Feb 5, 2001

People in northern California have been suffering rolling electricity black-outs, as the full force of deregulation begins to take hold.

Other states' utilities –Michigan among them –rushed to say, "It can't happen here."

But now the first phase of natural gas deregulation is coming to an end in Michigan. This was the three-year price freeze designed to convince us deregulation is a good thing. Phase 2 begins on April 1, April Fools Day for sure. On that day, the freeze ends. The gas companies have already announced they want to double their prices immediately.

MichCon's vice president of public affairs said, "If you fix a price, you make it hard for people to come in." He meant, hard for MichCon and all the other companies to elbow up to the trough for their share of that doubled price.

In other words, the consumer has to pay double for deregulation, so that several more companies can profit more and put less money into pumping stations, pipelines, and equipment.

One of these winters, there will no doubt be "rolling freeze-outs" in Michigan. MichCon has already demonstrated that making money takes priority over keeping people warm.

In Michigan, DEQ means "Destroying Environmental Quality"

Feb 5, 2001

A state approved plan to dump hazardous waste in Romulus, Michigan, a working class community near Detroit, is moving full-speed ahead. Environmental Disposal Systems wants to construct two deep wells, into which it will pump millions of gallons of chemical waste considered too hazardous to dump near the surface.

Up in arms about the proposals, many residents of Romulus have attempted to force a cancellation of the project. They fear that the Romulus wells will leak this hazardous industrial waste into the ground water which serves their area. And they point to a similar system near Winona Texas which had to shut down because so much of its hazardous waste had leaked into the public water system.

In January, Romulus residents poured into a state public hearing organized by the state's DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) to protest the project.

According to DEQ Director Russ Harding, they shouldn't have bothered.

He had already overruled the findings issued last autumn by the DEQ's Site Review Board, which found the wells potentially dangerous. The Site Review Board is charged with looking into each proposal, advising the director on its merits and dangers. Ordinarily the board leans in favor of business, so its vote against the Romulus wells was particularly significant.

Harding also told members of the Romulus City Council that he was going to approve the project, no matter what the board found and no matter what the public said in the hearings.

What else can the residents of Romulus do, now that they've exhausted all the legal possibilities? A great many things, starting with demonstrating their unwillingness to accept the project –and asking other people around the state who find themselves in the same position to join them.

Baltimore:
Sewell case shows cops are crooked

Feb 5, 2001

Last week Baltimore's state's attorney dropped criminal charges against Brian Sewell, the cop accused of planting evidence on an innocent man.

The Sewell case raises not only the question of one dirty cop; it shows that he is just the tip of the iceberg of police corruption. He had been photographed by the police internal investigation unit in activities which led to the planting of evidence on an innocent man in one of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods. And, it has now come out, while Sewell may have planted the drugs, at least one other cop, if not more, was involved. The secret investigators had photos of all this.

But, on Christmas eve, the "secret" location, known only to the internal investigators within the police force, was broken into. What was taken was the evidence against cops involved in this case and against at least one other cop accused of crimes. All of this just reinforced what most people know anyway: the police frame up innocent people on a regular basis. They want convictions, not "justice."

In Baltimore and every other big city, plenty of people know from first-hand experience that the police make up testimony. In poorer neighborhoods, plenty of people have seen police brutality.

These events have already had an impact on what happens in the courts. As soon as Sewell's arrest was announced in October, five drug cases that depended on his testimony, were immediately dropped. The state's attorney's office said they would look into his previous cases that had led to convictions.

Recently, juries have confirmed that they don't believe what the police say. In one case, a juror said the police just picked up the first homeless man they saw to pin a murder on. In the other case, a man fleeing at high speed struck a police car with his SUV, killing the officer. The jury would not convict the man of murder based on what the police said. As the state's attorney put it, Baltimore juries believe "the police lie, manufacture evidence and are not to be trusted."

In several cases of police brutality, there have been small protests. In one case, the witnesses disputed what the cops said. Their protest drew the attention of local politicians, who could see they had a potential problem on their hands.

When O'Malley took office as mayor last year, he did so promising he would be tough on crime. He brought in a new police commissioner from New York, who not only instituted so-called zero tolerance on crime; the new commissioner also began a sting operation to root out crooked cops. After all, one of every four Baltimore police officers surveyed last year, said they believed that more than a quarter of the department "is involved in stealing money or drugs from drug dealers." And they are the ones who should know!

So if officials expected they would turn up a crooked cop stealing drugs, they got more than they bargained for –at least two cops shown in photographs taking and planting evidence.

The police internal investigation in Baltimore could turn out to be another scandal like the one in the Rampart division in Los Angeles, which, as it unfolded, just demonstrated more and more how corrupt the police are.

This kind of scandal gets in the way of the police keeping order for the ruling class, an order they impose with lies and brutality all the time against the working class, especially its poorest layers.

Right now, the mayor and the state's attorney may be squabbling over how to handle such cop cases, but they both want to keep careful control over a situation which exposes to public view the likelihood that dozens, maybe hundreds of cops, have dirty hands.

Pages 4-5

VA research on soldiers' illnesses
– only if the results are convenient to US Army

Feb 5, 2001

Asaf Durakovic, a retired colonel and doctor of nuclear medicine, found evidence, while working for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Delaware, that Gulf war veterans had illnesses that could be linked to the use of depleted uranium. He found uranium 236 in more than 60% of the ill Gulf veterans he examined. In other words, radiation which came from weapons is permanently lodged in the veterans' bodies and may cause leukemia or other problems. At first, the VA discouraged his research. But eventually, the VA simply abolished his position, so that he could no longer do the research. A VA spokeswoman said, "We did not need a full-time nuclear medicine physician."

What nonsense –exactly when all the evidence is pointing to serious illness tied to radioactivity, the VA gets rid of the main person researching it.

The VA has been denying responsibility for veterans' illnesses for many decades. In the 1950s, the U.S. army used soldiers as guinea pigs to test the effects of nuclear explosions. It was not until the 1990s when they finally admitted the dangers, after most vets from that era were dead. In the 1960s and 70s, the U.S. army dropped tons of Agent Orange to defoliate Viet Nam of its plants and trees. Then the VA denied for years that this poison could impact the health of U.S. soldiers, while babies born to U.S. vets serving in Viet Nam and to the Vietnamese who suffered these attacks showed terrible mutations. In the Gulf war, the VA has denied responsibility so far for veterans' illnesses. Yet at least one third of Gulf war vets show some kind of disability connected to the service.

When the U.S. armed forces advertise to recruit soldiers, they talk about adventure, careers, education, benefits and patriotism. They don't say to young people, "We will send you to kill women and children with weapons that will harm your health as well!" They don't say it, but it's what they do.

Weapons of depleted uranium:
The military intervention in the Balkans still kills!

Feb 5, 2001

During the NATO "intervention" in the Balkans, all the media shamelessly made themselves the spokespeople for the governments and the armed services chiefs of staff of the great powers. Their aim was to convince international public opinion that these wars had only democratic and humanitarian goals, and that their character was absolutely painless, without any loss for the civilian population or for the soldiers of the imperialist armies. Supposedly, the extreme precision of modern arms permitted them to hit exclusively military objectives, arms depots and arms factories, convoys of armored cars or hangers and military aircraft.

The recent death from leukemia of a soldier from the Italian expeditionary force in the Balkans reminds us that things did not occur so idyllically. Five other Italian soldiers died before him in an identical manner. A seventh, sick and hospitalized, is dying. In Belgium, five soldiers who came back from the Balkans died of cancer. The French defense minister admitted that there are four French cases.

The Italian government finally questioned NATO headquarters about the use of rockets and shells made of depleted uranium. Scientific tests have already shown that depleted uranium presents toxic risks linked to its radioactivity. Nevertheless, the U.S. military chief of staff refuses any moratorium on arms containing depleted uranium.

The generals and the political leaders who pretend there is no evidence linking depleted uranium to the deaths and illnesses are purely and simply cynical. They know very well that every war carries serious consequences for its victims and for its combatants. But they also know the bourgeois media is ready to repeat any lies they tell.

Companies now control the genes of rice

Feb 5, 2001

Two companies announced that they had discovered the genetic composition of rice, the major cereal grain of the world. The companies are Syngenta, a major agricultural chemical and seed company in Switzerland; and Myriad Genetics, a biotechnology company in Utah.

Scientists working for these companies say that this is just the first step, but that it has the potential to open the door to develop improved varieties of rice that could better resist disease and cold, and yield higher amounts of rice with less labor. Moreover, the knowledge gained from rice might make possible improvements in other cereal crops like wheat and corn, which share certain genes with rice.

Certainly, in many areas of the world, there is a need for better food production. But the problem is not just the lack of knowledge about food crops. Farmers have improved the strands of rice and other grains by selecting the better varieties and cross breeding them over many hundreds of years. But this hasn't done away with hunger. The problem is that poor people don't have the money to buy food. This is the problem of the social and economic system, not one of scientific knowledge.

This new genetic discovery simply illustrates the problem. The two companies making the announcement about rice genes said some of the data would be publicly available, but not the most important. Those wanting to use the data would have to pay a fee to access it. Moreover, if they made a useful improvement in the rice, the two companies would receive royalty payments for all the rice sold. And what does this mean for farmers who use a new strain of rice and cross breed it on their farms –will they owe royalties on their improvements too?

The companies will patent the most important genes of rice, making it their corporate property, in order to profit. They ignore the fact that these genes existed in nature and that their current composition is the result of centuries of human improvement.

The giant companies first have to get their profits, and this puts big obstacles in the way of these new developments reaching the poorest people who need it most.

Earthquake in India:
The real disaster is man-made, not natural

Feb 5, 2001

The official death toll from the January 26 earthquake in northwestern India has reached 15,000. Estimates for the final count of deaths vary from 25,000 to as much as 100,000. No matter which of these figures eventually proves more accurate, the human toll of this earthquake is enormous.

It's true that, at 7.7 on the Richter scale, this was a very strong earthquake. And yet, the magnitude of the earthquake cannot excuse the severity of the human loss and suffering resulting from it. For, as an Indian earthquake expert put it, "earthquakes do not kill people, but man-made structures do."

The cities struck by the earthquake certainly had enough of those structures, and the deadliest kind at that. Many high-rise buildings collapsed in these cities, instantly killing or trapping thousands of people. These were relatively new buildings, most of them less than a decade old. They would have probably withstood this earthquake if they had been constructed according to the safety standards prescribed for that part of India, which is in a well-known earthquake zone.

But the contractors who built these buildings obviously didn't pay any attention to those standards. For example, to cut costs, almost all the new buildings were built using the "roof load bearing" design, that is, their entire weight rested on the roof slab instead of being shared by the pillars. In contrast, buildings, in which the "beam load bearing" design was used, have mostly survived the quake.

While these contractors were making a quick –and hefty –profit by using cheaper designs and materials, the government officials who were supposed to enforce the safety codes obviously looked the other way.

The callous and sluggish attitude of these same government officials after the earthquake also contributed significantly to the rise of the death toll. Although a massive earthquake in that region was certainly no surprise, it became clear that the government had made practically no preparations to cope with the aftermath of such a quake.

First of all, there was a severe shortage of rescue personnel and equipment. But even those at hand had to wait, sometimes for days, before being put to work. To mention just one example, a Swedish rescue team carrying sniffer dogs arrived in Ahmedabad in a matter of hours, only to wait for 30 hours to get permission from government officials so that they could start work. These same local officials, however, didn't seem to drag their feet when they quickly prepared for the visit of the prime minister and other leading national politicians who showed up to have their pictures taken with disaster victims.

All this is certainly not peculiar to India. For example, what has been happening before, during and after this earthquake is almost a carbon copy of what happened in August 1999, when a massive earthquake hit western Turkey and killed 40,000 people.

For many decades now, humanity has had enough knowledge and experience to prevent earthquakes from causing the kind of damage and loss of life that this one in India caused. We know exactly in what parts of the world earthquakes will occur, and we know how to build structures that will survive quakes even ten times stronger than this one in India. But those who make the decisions that concern the well-being of the whole society are not interested in spending money to minimize the damage and human suffering resulting from earthquakes and other natural phenomena. And that's because capitalist society is not run to meet the needs of all of its members but for the profit of a small, wealthy minority.

How the government threatened a top nuclear scientist

Feb 5, 2001

The U.S. government in September 2000 dropped the case against Wen Ho Lee, the nuclear scientist of Taiwanese origin who it had accused of giving nuclear secrets to another country, probably China. Tapes that have just been mistakenly released now show how they attempted to force him to confess to something he didn't do.

The government handcuffed him, put him in prison and threatened him with the loss of his job. Then FBI agent Carol Covert told him about the Rosenberg case, saying they were the only people who didn't cooperate with the government in an espionage case and they were the only ones to be executed. In other words, the government held the threat to execute him over his head unless he confessed to what they wanted.

Here was a respected scientist who worked for years in a top nuclear bomb facility on some of the government's most secret projects. When we see how the government treated him, we know how they treat other people.

Pages 6-7

Judge breaks strike of Union Pacific engineers at 2 a.m.

Feb 5, 2001

At midnight on January 27 some 8,000 locomotive engineers of the Union Pacific Railroad went on strike after Union Pacific, the biggest railroad in the nation, unilaterally changed its work rules. It cut back on so called "7 & 3 extra boards" which give engineers three days off after working seven straight days and it imposed new requirements to prevent engineers from taking personal leave days. The workers knew this was a safety hazard, since many of them are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and often have to work more than 12 hours in a row. In 1995 there were 15 accidents on the Union Pacific, many of them fatigue related, which caused 13 deaths.

Union Pacific ran to federal judge Lyle Strom in the middle of the night. Two hours later, just before 2 a.m., he issued an injunction against the strike. It seems this judge is also on call 24 hours a day when it comes to doing the dirty work for the company.

Baltimore:
Behind the purple passion

Feb 5, 2001

When the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, the whole area came down with Purple Passion. Buildings were bathed in purple lights and team flags streamed from car roofs.

The mayor of Baltimore said, "This will bring the city together."

But after the celebration wound down, where did the "togetherness" go? Local politicians who basked in the Super Bowl limelight went back to business as usual –that meant, looking for more tax breaks and subsidies to give to team owners and other downtown businessmen. They continue to claim the city's tax base cannot support the education and other public services needed by Baltimore's ordinary people –hoping we will be blinded by the purple lights.

A lot of people in Baltimore may have tasted some Purple Passion, but only a few profit from it.

In Pontiac Michigan, authorities get their jollies by attacking the most vulnerable

Feb 5, 2001

Authorities in Pontiac Michigan apparently have nothing better to do than harass people down on their luck. On January 23, Pontiac police broke into the Grace Centers of Hope, which offers a residence to the homeless, including a number of battered women with nowhere else to go, and a drug rehabilitation program.

The cops went storming in, in the middle of the night, rousting residents from their beds, serving 30 of what they called "outstanding warrants."

In fact, only one of these warrants was for a felony, and the Center has always co-operated before with police serving warrants. Only three of the warrants were for items which would have even required a court appearance. Many, in fact, were non-existent. The others which were real were for tickets.

One was served on a man who had caught and kept a 12-inch fish, when state law sets a 15-inch limit. This man was driven to Ann Arbor, where the ticket had originally been served. Ann Arbor didn't want to prosecute him, but he was given no way back to Pontiac.

Many others were for traffic or even parking violations in Detroit. More than a dozen of people who had those tickets were taken and dumped in the streets of downtown Detroit in the middle of the night.

None of the other jurisdictions which had issued the tickets had called on Pontiac to pick up the people.

One week later city officials sent in both building inspectors and fire inspectors looking for code violations they could use to shut down the center.

This was plain and simple harassment. Some businesses in the area had been protesting the existence of the shelter, particularly after the shelter filed plans for extending its facilities.

Not content with handing over the keys to the city treasury to big business, Pontiac city officials even stoop so low as to attack those people in the most desperate of situations. They show their true colors and allegiance.

Back to work, Flint nurses stay strong

Feb 5, 2001

As 600 nurses returned to work after their 73-day strike against McLaren Regional Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, management treated the just-signed contract as a piece of paper they could ignore.

A contract IS just a piece of paper. It's only as strong as workers' readiness to back it up.

The nurses were ready. Immediately, nurses in AFSCME Local 875 prepared to go back on strike.

After the union set a deadline for a strike notice, the company agreed to, and did, post 16 new positions that had been created for scab nurses. This opened those positions to returning nurses, by seniority.

Since the return to work, multiple issues have had to be settled. Management retaliations included: messing with pay and schedules, giving workers' positions to managers in an attempt to lay off union nurses, under-staffing, and posting new management "babysitters" on the floors to nitpick over nurses' shoulders. By the end of the first week, approximately 800 grievances had been filed.

Nurses are staying strong and working together to teach slow-to-learn management that the nurses and their union must be respected.

Baltimore hospital workers rally and march to end poverty wages in health care!

Feb 5, 2001

On January 31, about 2000 workers walked off their jobs at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Sinai Hospital. They picketed for a while and then gathered downtown, where they were joined by other hospital workers from other East coast cities for a rally and march to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The one-day strike was organized by Local 1199E-DC of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), which has been negotiating for a new contract. The old one expired in December.

The action shone a light on some of the serious problems facing workers at these hospitals –and others. Short-staffing has thrown excessive amounts of work onto each worker's back. In many cases this endangers the lives of patients. Excessive overtime and constant transfers into unfamiliar areas reflect the short-staffing.

Finally, some hospital workers are being paid wretchedly low wages, and most workers' wages have barely kept up with inflation, or worse. At Johns Hopkins, for example, the lowest-paid workers get only $7.52 an hour –before taxes and other deductions.

Johns Hopkins is one of the richest and most important hospitals in the country. Regardless of what it claims, it has the money to bring its workers out of poverty, and to protect everyone's wages from inflation.

Ron Carey indicted:
Another warning to union leaders

Feb 5, 2001

On January 25, the federal government indicted former Teamster Union President Ron Carey on charges that he was involved in illegal fund-raising for his 1996 Teamster re-election campaign. The government charges that Carey repeatedly lied when he claimed he didn't know that a few members of his campaign staff had gotten contributions from various individuals and groups in return for Teamster Union contributions to four organizations associated with the Democratic Party. If convicted, Carey could get up to five years in prison on each of seven counts.

These allegations were first investigated immediately after Carey defeated James Hoffa, Jr. in the election, but the government brought no charges and gave no indication at that time of any wrong-doing on Carey's part. But suddenly, eight months later, but only three days after the Teamsters won an important nationwide strike against UPS, the government overturned the election, backdating its overturn to the first day of the strike.

Just a coincidence? Not hardly. Eventually the Feds forced Carey to resign from office, then barred him from running in a new election and finally had him expelled from the union forever.

Did Carey do what is charged? Certainly no one should believe the government in such a case. But even if he did, so what? If the government were concerned about campaign funding, they would first go after all the politicians, and then after those union officials most tied to them –since they are the ones ordinarily most implicated in "illegal fund-raising."

But the government isn't doing that. In fact, Hoffa himself was accused of illegally raising funds from Teamster Union treasuries controlled by supporters of his among Teamster officials –during the very same election campaign that Carey is being charged for. But what did the government do about that? Simply made him pay the money back and let him run again and take office in 1998.

Carey is now indicted not because of corruption, but because he stepped over a line that union officials are not supposed to cross. With UPS workers pushing to confront UPS, he agreed to lead their strike. And because it was a nationwide strike of 185,000 workers, it touched the rest of the working class. He even dared to say that other workers needed to do the same thing in order to stop the bosses from using more lower-paying part-time jobs to replace higher-paying full-time jobs. The UPS strikers and Carey said they were making a fight for "good jobs," and that indeed struck a responsive chord in wide layers of the working class.

The sympathy of the rest of the working class for the UPS strikers was tangible. Thousands of workers showed up to picket with the UPS strikers all across the country. Horns were honked and fists raised in support of the picketing strikers by workers passing by UPS warehouses every hour of the day and night. Some supporters stopped to drop off hot coffee and donuts. Perhaps most importantly, workers at thousands of other job sites large and small discussed the strike.

When the strike ended with some small inroads against the use of part-time positions, and with decent raises for everyone, the UPS workers clearly thought the fight had been worthwhile. They went back in with heads held high. And in the rest of the working class a fresh little breeze had blown through.

The next question was, what were the Teamsters going to do with the Master Freight Agreement and the Carhaulers Agreement, both of which were soon to run out. A lot of workers couldn't wait to see.

The government was not ready to let events play out. Carey was thrown out of office and eventually out of the union, making it absolutely clear what lay in store for any other union official who might be contemplating a serious breaking of labor peace: a quick end to their union careers.

Tax cut for the rich

Feb 5, 2001

Michigan's current governor, John Engler, promised "tax relief" when he campaigned for office the first time in 1990.

So, it's time for a balance sheet.

Taking into account all the changes in various state taxes, a working family with a total income of $50,00 a year with a home valued at $100,000, saved $550.

Compare this to the savings racked up by a family whose income came to $150,000 a year, living in a $300,000 home. They saved almost $3,000 this year.

In other words, people who earned three times as much money as working people saved almost six times as much money on their tax bill.

Engler promised to provide the most tax relief to those who need it most. He just forgot to tell us that in his world, the ones who need it most are those with the most money.

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