The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Issue no. 655 — April 23 - May 7, 2001

In Cincinnati, patience ran out

Apr 23, 2001

In the early morning hours of April 7, two-off duty cops working in a Cincinnati, Ohio bar tried to stop Timothy Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old black man, walking home.

The moonlighting cops said that they recognized Thomas as someone with outstanding warrants. When Thomas wouldn't stop for them, they called for back-up, and 12 officers joined chase. One cop, Stephen Roach, shot and killed Thomas.

Roach executed Thomas on the spot. And for what? Because Thomas had outstanding traffic tickets. Yes, that's right, traffic tickets. Tickets for not having a driver's license, five tickets for not wearing a seat belt, a ticket for not having a child's seat, a ticket for tinted glass, two tickets for running a stop sign. Thomas also had two warrants for not showing up to answer the traffic tickets.

Between March 17 and May 4, 2000, cops stopped Thomas 20 times in his own neighborhood when he drove by them in his 1978 Chevy, minding his own business. Each time, they checked his seat belt, his license and registration. They looked in his car, tried to spot something that they could use as a pretext to charge him for something, anything. Yet, they found nothing. All they had were the traffic stops –almost all of them on pretexts.

The liberal politicians and the new media may call what happened to Timothy Thomas racial profiling –but that's just a polite term to cover up what it really is: racist brutality. Call Timothy Thomas's murder what it was: a lynching, carried out by the official guardians of law and order.

The police and the authorities said that Thomas shouldn't have fled. But to be taken into custody by the Cincinnati cops means to have your face pushed into the ground or to be slammed against the door or whacked upside the head with a night stick.

Sometimes it means to be murdered by the police. Timothy Thomas, living in Cincinnati, had good reason to run. Over the last five years, 14 black men and one 12 year old – who was also driving without a license –have been killed by Cincinnati cops.

Yet not one cop in Cincinnati has been punished. Not one cop has been tried and convicted, or even fired!

The murder of Timothy Thomas was –as they say –the straw that broke the camel's back, the last in a long line of officially condoned violence against the black population. After this last crime, masses of people flooded the city council chambers, confronted the politicians and other officials, demonstrated in the streets and rioted.

That only proves... how patient and restrained and moderate they have been up until now.

Patient? You bet. They were the model of patience, the soul of moderation while one young black man after another was murdered by vicious cops. If they finally decided that they had too much, they were right.

Yes, people have been patient, not just in Cincinnati, but everywhere. The patience of the population gave the police the idea they can take us backwards 50 years and more.

By going into the streets, the people of Cincinnati declared their patience had run out.

Pages 2-3

Two Americas:
One where babies die

Apr 23, 2001

In April, the Department of Health announced a rise in infant mortality rates in Washington, D.C. The number of infants who died before their first birthday was 15 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to 1999 statistics.

And for black infants, who are the majority of newborns in Washington, the rate was 18½ per 1,000. In one of the city's poorest districts, the rate was even higher: deaths of infants averaged 27½ per 1,000 live births.

This makes the number of infant deaths in Washington comparable to the death rates for infants in Panama (18 per 1000) or South Korea (18 per 1000) or Sri Lanka (21 per 1000).

The world's richest country, which spends the most on health care of any place, nonetheless cannot prevent babies in the nation's capital from dying at the same rate as poor babies in underdeveloped countries.

Washington D.C. is one of the showplaces for tourists from all over the country and from every place in the world. On their way to the beautiful buildings, free museums and government offices of downtown D.C., visitors pass streets of boarded up, broken down houses and apartments, full of the despairing unemployed poor. The capitalists are so happy with their system –which benefits them so well – they don't even bother to hide what it does to a large part of the people.

It's a rough life, but somebody's got to rough it

Apr 23, 2001

President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney publicly released their 2000 federal income tax returns.

Cheney's income for the year turned out to be 36 million dollars. He was paid a mere salary of $800,000, but was able to make the rest off of stock profits and bonuses! Not bad for a year's work –if work it was!

Cheney's one year income was equal to the income of one thousand "average" workers making $36,000 a year!

But don't worry –President Bush didn't make as much as Cheney by the way his accountants did his bookkeeping. However, if Bush's tax cut plan goes through as planned, his tax break alone would amount to $39,000 –more than the yearly pay of tens of millions of workers in this country!

Children in day care:
"Family values" are for families with money

Apr 23, 2001

On April 18 researchers from the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development announced their findings in a study of 1100 children in day care. The children were found to have more "behavioral problems," including aggression, than children who spent under 10 hours per week in day care.

Once again, working mothers are submitted to a barrage of not very scientific comments, especially in the media, to make them feel guilty about how they raise their children. The majority of working class mothers with children MUST work; many of them –including the majority of black women –are single parents. For most parents, day care is a necessity, not an option.

But the problem is not day care as such. It's the way it's organized in a society ruled by profit. Day care in the United States is a business like any other, in which large and small entrepreneurs hope to make a buck by paying the lowest possible wages for the greatest amount of work.

Many day care workers earn little above minimum wage; many have little education or training in handling small children in groups. Most have too many children and/or too little equipment.

Yet when children of better-off parents are studied, the same results don't show up. The benefits of day care then are better socialization skills and greater intellectual development. But this kind of day care is for the wealthy children –requires more money.

A study like the one just done hides the class nature of day care, like all institutions affecting children. Children of richer families get good day care, children of working class families get poor day care.

It is possible to set up decent day care in this country. It is possible to make day care available at work places and to have the bosses pay when parents need to take time out to be with their children.

But in a society which shows more concern for raising the bosses' profits than for raising children, this will never be done voluntarily, out of the goodness of the capitalists' hearts.

Those who are concerned –that means all of us, for we all have a responsibility for the next generation –have to insist on it, in the only language the bosses understand: a forceful one.

Drive-by shooting in Cincinnati... by the cops

Apr 23, 2001

In the middle of the upsurge in Cincinnati, following the murder of Timothy Thomas, the 19-year-old black man gunned down by Cincinnati police, there was a small demonstration on a street corner. A few people were holding up a banner calling for an end to police abuse. Suddenly three Cincinnati police cruisers and one Ohio State Highway Patrol car drove up. Officers and troopers jumped out, and fired several so-called "bean bags" into the small crowd. They then jumped back into their cars and drove off.

It was, as one of the witnesses later said, like a drive-by shooting.

Four people were wounded, two girls, ages 11 and 7, a 37-year-old French teacher and a 50-year-old man. One person had to be hospitalized, the French teacher, Christine Jones, from Louisville, Kentucky, who suffered a fractured rib, bruised lung, and internal bleeding from her spleen.

Bean bags make the ammunition that the cops use sound like they are not harmful. In fact, the bags are filled with lead buckshot. That is why they did the damage that they did.

This attack on a small peaceful demonstration illustrates the viciousness of the Cincinnati police –and show, once again, that people are correct to use whatever force is necessary to defend themselves.

And it wasn't only the cops who were vicious. After suffering her wounds, Jones went to a hospital in Cincinnati that wouldn't even treat her. They just gave her some pain pills and told her to go home. Only when she checked herself into a hospital in Louisville, was Jones given the treatment that may have saved her life.

What can be said about doctors and hospitals who take sides against the people they are charged to heal? Simply that they are scum.

Gas shutoffs for non-payment

Apr 23, 2001

Over 14,000 households in the city of Chicago are having their gas shut off by Peoples Gas. The law says the company can't cut off gas for non-payment of bills until April 1. Over the last year, the price of gas increased to three times what it was the year before, making it extremely hard for many people to pay their bills. As a response to protests, the company delayed the shutoffs until the middle of April.

Peoples Gas claims that people who make some arrangements for paying aren't cut off. But the experience of people who did make partial payments was they received letters threatening to disconnect them if they didn't pay up.

To make matters worse, a new automatic meter reading system sent out, incorrectly, enormous bills to many people. Some people got bills for $5,000 or $6,000 for one month. When they called to protest, they had to wait forever on the phone. In some cases, they couldn't get through at all.

Chicago is not the only city with utility shutoffs this year. In 18 states alone, nearly 4 million households could be cut off.

Last winter's skyrocketing gas prices resulted in double the profits for the big gas producers –the giant oil companies, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Texaco; tens of millions of dollars in profits for Peoples Gas, and gas shutoffs for thousands of poor Chicagoans.

New Baltimore, Michigan:
Police and prosecutor hold youths
–who didn't do it!

Apr 23, 2001

Charges of murder, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery brought six months ago against 17-year old John Kaled and 19-year old Frank Kuecken have just been dropped in the town of New Baltimore, Michigan. They had been held in jail awaiting trial ever since one "confessed" to murdering 16-year-old Justin Mello during a robbery of the pizza shop where they all worked. The other "confessed" to driving the get-away car.

There were always problems with the confessions. The two had been held by police for many hours without being allowed to contact anyone. They had not had a lawyer. Afterwards, they said they had been harassed and kept without sleep by the police. Both said they had signed confessions just to get the police to stop. No physical evidence or witnesses tied the two to the murder. But the police and Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga denied that false confessions had been forced from the young men.

Kaled and Kuecken might have been convicted of murder and spent decades in jail. But, this month two other former employees of the pizza shop were arrested in Kentucky after a crime spree involving a number of murders. And one of the two confessed to robbing a gun store last year. And one of the guns from this robbery had been used to kill Mello and at least one other person WHILE Kaled and Kuecken sat in jail. The prosecutor continued to insist that the right young men were in jail for Mello's murder because he had confessions.

Obviously, if Marlinga had let them out, he would have been admitting that the police forced false confessions from them. Ultimately, as the evidence mounted up, he was forced to release them. But even then he defended police "procedures."

Kaled and Kuecken are "lucky," if you call it "lucky" to have wasted a half year of your life in jail accused of murder.

There are many others in a similar situation –but not so lucky. They spend their whole lives in jail.

Violation of your rights:
Normal in Detroit:

Apr 23, 2001

Recent law suits and FBI homicide statistics prove what many people in Detroit knew already: that the Detroit police have been regularly arresting people who did nothing –illegally holding and interrogating them for hours or even days before releasing them. While in most big cities an average of roughly one person per homicide case is arrested, since 1996 an average of almost three people have been arrested in every such case in Detroit. The police say the extra people were witnesses.

But in every state, including Michigan, arresting alleged witnesses to a crime is illegal unless the police have a "reasonable suspicion" that the person was involved in a crime themselves. The police are supposed to convince a judge within 48 hours after arresting someone that they have evidence that supports such a "reasonable suspicion."

These restrictions on police arrests were designed to stop the police from forcing someone to falsely testify against another person. After long hours of confinement and interrogation by the police –not to mention brutalization –some "witnesses" "remember" things that they never heard or saw just to gain their release from jail. Some people even "confess" to crimes they never committed.

In case anyone wonders, these high arrest figures don't mean the Detroit police solve more crimes. FBI statistics show the Detroit police end up identifying fewer homicide suspects than most other big city departments.

But it is obvious that many people who never did anything are being convicted on the basis of false testimony by witnesses who have been coerced by the police.

And that, people in Detroit also knew already!

Democrats fight so that rich supporters can pay no taxes

Apr 23, 2001

Right now, Bush is pushing his giant tax cut program for the rich and the Democrats are supposedly standing up for the little guy. But behind all the media attention, it turns out that Democratic Party senators are hard at work trying to get the Alternative Minimum Tax repealed. This tax is applied only to rich people who have so many deductions that they would pay little or nothing in tax. Only 1.3% of all taxpayers pay this tax, and almost all have incomes from $100,000 to $500,000 a year. For the last thirty years they have had to pay an Alternative Minimum Tax.

If the Democratic senators' proposal goes through, more of the richest people in the country will pay no income tax at all, which is estimated to save them 162 billion dollars over the next ten years. This is how the Democrats fight for working people!

Pages 4-5

US spying on China:
What nonsense!

Apr 23, 2001

Up until now, the U.S. has been unable to get its spy plane back. China, they say, is being unreasonable.

After all, according to U.S. leaders, the spy plane was only on "a routine surveillance mission."

But imagine what would have happened if the situation had been reversed: imagine that a high-tech Chinese spy plane had been flying "routine surveillance" less than a hundred miles off the U.S. coast, using high-tech listening devices, photographic equipment, etc. Imagine that a Chinese plane was caught mapping the U.S. radar and communications systems, gathering the information needed in order to send in bombers and missiles to destroy U.S. cities. Imagine that China had the same enormous military presence surrounding the U.S. that the U.S. today has all around China.

Or imagine that Libya or Iraq, for example, sent planes this close to the U.S. –or that Cuba sent any kind of aircraft like this up to Washington D.C.

We know what would happen, and it wouldn't have been handled as politely or the way China handled it. It seems that the most powerful imperialism in the world, which possesses the most advanced military satellites, believes that it is the only one which has the right to spy.

It's certainly a bit hypocritical –to say the least!

40 years since the attempted landing at the Bay of Pigs

Apr 23, 2001

On April 17, 1961, some 2000 heavily-armed anti-Castro mercenaries, supported by the American CIA, landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba with the goal of bringing down Castro's regime. In 48 hours, they had been repelled by the Cuban militia.

Those attacking had been trained and armed by U.S. military officers and transported by the U.S. navy. The entire operation had been orchestrated by the CIA with the agreement of President Kennedy. An "Anti-Castro Council" was formed by some rich Cuban exiles in Miami, Florida, exiles with ties to the former Cuban dictator, Batista. Batista's corrupt regime had been brought down by the Cuban Revolution which had chased him from power on January 2, 1959.

On April 15, 1961, U.S. planes had bombed Cuba, a little matter arranged by the CIA and the Mafia. Both organizations had been chased off the island at the same time as Batista.

The Mafia had, before they were tossed out, run Cuba as a vacation spot for rich Americans, complete with casinos and prostitution, including even the selling of children. So the Mafia was a useful tool for the CIA in its attempt to bring down Castro.

While the bombing and the invasion were not officially carried out by the U.S. government, they were done with its backing. The U.S. refused to accept what had happened to their henchman, Batista.

Castro wanted U.S. aid and recognition, but he certainly would not give up the revolution he had made in order to gain it. He began bit by bit to nationalize American investments in Cuba, at first the big landlords, then the industrial and commercial interests. The U.S. suspended all technical and economic ties, and finally ceased to buy any sugar from Cuba. Next, the U.S. got Cuba excluded from the Organization of American States, then enacted an embargo of all exports from the U.S. to Cuba, and finally ended diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961.

It was the attitude of the United States government which pushed the Castro regime to turn to the USSR to obtain aid and to set up commercial trading relations. But the fact that Castro did so was given as justification for a more overt attack on Cuba. The green light was given for the attempted landing at the Bay of Pigs. It was a disaster.

Since that time, the U.S. has maintained an embargo and even a blockade around Cuba. Still the U.S. government was not prepared to launch direct military intervention against Cuba –in part because the Cuban population remained mobilized, at least supportive of the Castro regime.

Without a crushing military defeat, the U.S. government was going to be unable to get rid of the Castro regime. The vast majority of the Cuban population benefitted from health and social improvements, and therefore supported Castro's regime.

Despite the U.S. government's desire to overthrow Castro, they were not about to send a Cuban exile with a U.S. soldier standing behind each one in order to reestablish the former dictatorship. And that's what they would have had to do. And that could have created problems at home –at a time when Viet Nam was occupying more attention.

McVeigh learned his trade in the Persian Gulf

Apr 23, 2001

In a recent interview, Timothy McVeigh declared that the deaths of 19 children in the bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City were unintended "collateral damage."

Commentators expressed outrage at McVeigh's words. And, of course, his attitude is outrageous. But where did he learn it? Who uses that term "collateral damage," when they mean the deaths of civilians, including children –who, but the U.S. military.

McVeigh was in that military –a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, the horrendous attack by the U.S. armed forces on Iraq and its people. Counting the casualties of the U.S. bombing, which continues to this day, the "collateral damage" of this war has amounted to over a million people, including more than a half million children.

Disgusting, inhumane, barbaric –yes, McVeigh is all of those things –and he learned it from his masters.

Zapatista rally draws 150,000

Apr 23, 2001

On March 11, two dozen representatives of the Mexican rebel army of EZLN, also known as the Zapatistas, were greeted by an estimated 150,000 people in Mexico City. This huge, enthusiastic rally was the culmination of a two-week motorcade from the southern state of Chiapas to the capital.

Seven years ago, on January 1, 1994, the Zapatistas surprised the Mexican government as well as the international mass media when they took over several towns in Chiapas. Since then, the activities of the Zapatistas have aimed at drawing attention to the unbearable conditions faced by indigenous people in Chiapas.

Those conditions are extremely oppressive indeed, even though Chiapas is quite rich in natural resources. The state produces considerable amounts of oil and natural gas, for example, and provides 20% of Mexico's energy, while only four% of the country's population lives in Chiapas. Yet, as many as 67% of the homes in Chiapas have no access to electricity. Furthermore, 58% of the homes lack running water and 67% lack sewage.

The state is also rich in agricultural products. For example, 35% of the coffee produced in Mexico comes from Chiapas, and more than half of that coffee is exported to the U.S. and Europe. The statistics are similar for other crops, such as cocoa, bananas, corn and honey, to name a few, as well as cattle.

The workers and poor in Chiapas, especially indigenous people who make up roughly one-third of the state's four million people, see practically no benefit from the wealth produced in the state. A very large part of the population in Chiapas suffers from malnutrition –over 50% overall, and 80% in the highlands and forests where most of the indigenous people live. One-third of the municipalities have no access to paved roads, and almost half the population of Chiapas has no access to medical services. The state has only one clinic per 5000 people and one doctor per 2000 people, one-fifth and one-half of the Mexican average, respectively. The literacy rate in the state is 69%, compared to 87% nationwide; more than half of the schools don't offer an education beyond the third grade.

These statistics are from seven years ago, when the Zapatistas started their rebellion. But certainly nothing has changed for the workers and poor in Chiapas since then, especially given the response of the Mexican government to the uprising. The president at that time, Carlos Salinas, immediately sent 70,000 troops to Chiapas to effectively put the entire state under siege. His successor, Ernesto Zedillo, continued the repression which directly targeted the indigenous population. Death squads started to attack civilians and drive them from their towns and villages.

In February, 1996, Zapatistas and the government reached an agreement which would grant the indigenous communities of Chiapas some political and cultural autonomy. This so-called San Andres Accord, however, has remained a dead-letter on paper; it has not even been voted on by the Mexican congress since 1996. Instead, the Mexican government has continued to keep Chiapas under siege and isolated from the rest of Mexico.

In December, 1997, a right-wing paramilitary group, aided by the army, massacred 45 indigenous people, mostly women and children, in a village which was known as pro-Zapatista.

Since the election of Vicente Fox as president last year, there has been a certain change in government rhetoric. Eager to get elected, Fox basically promised everything to everybody during his campaign, including a resolution of the Chiapas conflict. After taking office, Fox made a few gestures towards the rebels. He freed 80 pro-Zapatista prisoners and closed seven army bases near rebel strongholds in Chiapas. He also told the Zapatistas it would be safe for them to come to Mexico City and talk with the authorities. Fox also allowed the Zapatista leaders to address the Mexican congress, which they did on March 28 before heading back to Chiapas. With all these gestures, Fox is apparently trying to diffuse the momentum of the rebel movement in Chiapas.

It remains to be seen what will be next. The Zapatistas demand that the San Andres agreement be legalized by the congress. Even if the Mexican congress ends up passing such a law, however, control over land and natural resources is not a question that can be resolved by laws or by agreements signed by politicians. Those who today control the land and resources in Chiapas, Mexico control them everywhere else through their control of the economy. And they have never once, anywhere, given up their power and control without a fight.

The huge Mexico City rally of March 11 shows that the guerrilla movement in Chiapas finds an echo in the population, including the working class in the cities. That's certainly not surprising. Today, two out of three Mexicans are unemployed or underemployed, and two out of five Mexicans live below the poverty line with less than two dollars per day –while Mexico claims as many billionaires as Germany and Japan. And things are certainly not getting any better. It hasn't taken Fox, the former head of Coca Cola in Mexico, long to renege on his campaign promises towards the working class. One of his first acts as president was to lay off one% of the government employees. He also announced a new tax on food and medicine, and he proposed to open up the state-run electric and oil companies to private, especially foreign, investment –which, if it happens, will undoubtedly lead to more layoffs.

Like the poverty and repression in Chiapas, these attacks, and the worsening of the conditions for all Mexican workers and poor, can be stopped only by a massive mobilization, especially since behind these attacks there are not only Mexican capitalists but big international, especially U.S., corporations and banks.

In the meantime, after their well-publicized trip to Mexico City, the Zapatistas are back to their remote hideout in the jungles of Chiapas. They may have aroused sympathy in the population, perhaps even hope for change, but the necessary task of organizing a big fight, especially in the centers of economic and political power –that is, in the cities –still stands in front of the Mexican workers and poor.

Pages 6-7

Railroad tries to blame genes for carpal tunnel injuries

Apr 23, 2001

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad, one of the largest railroads in the country, began to require every worker who developed carpal tunnel syndrome to give a blood sample. Why? What relation could blood possibly have to a wrist injury?

Management said it wanted to check their DNA to see if they had...a predisposition to the injury!

You might say that certain genes predispose a worker to some injuries. For example, tall workers are more prone to hit their heads...on low ceilings. And being tall is certainly a result of their genes. But no company should build a ceiling so low that workers could hit their heads on it.

No scientist or medical worker has ever claimed that carpal tunnel is a genetic disease. Carpal tunnel is caused by repeated movements of the hands and wrists under strain. But the railroad was hoping to find a common genetic make up –and they undoubtedly thought that since the workers come mostly from a Mexican background, they would have more genes in common than do other people.

This is simply "bad" science. In fact, we have most of our genes in common of us with each other. And with mice, too, for that matter!

Does that mean that mice have a "predisposition" to carpal tunnel? In fact, if they worked the way we have to, they'd develop carpal tunnel too!

Support Fred Hampton Jr.'s appeal for clemency

Apr 23, 2001

Fred Hampton Jr. has been in prison for nearly eight years accused of an arson attack on a store in Chicago. His name is easily recognizable, because his father, Fred Hampton, a leader of the Black Panther Party, was killed in his bed in a Chicago police attack in 1969. In a well-publicized trial, the police and sheriff's office were found guilty of Fred Hampton's murder. The police decided to take vengeance on his son, Fred Hampton Jr., who continued the political activity of his father. In March 1992, he was arrested for murder and armed robbery. The judge found him not guilty. The prosecuting attorney yelled out, "Fred Hampton Jr., we'll get you yet."

On May 11, 1992, Fred Hampton Jr. was arrested by a squad of Chicago police and FBI agents, accused of arson against two stores. In his trial, jurors with close ties to the police were kept while potential jurors who said that they thought the police could lie were dismissed. The charge involving one store was dropped. The other store was closed only for ten minutes due to fire damage. The prosecutors introduced the political newspaper Burning Spear which had an article attacking the role of Korean merchants in the black community, although this wasn't written by Hampton. The prosecutors said this was the motive for the attack. A witness said he saw Hampton leaving the area. This witness had had a verbal argument with Hampton two weeks before and was known in the community as someone who would lie for the police. Hampton was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

As a result of a political campaign across the country and abroad, a clemency hearing was held for Hampton on April 4th of this year. The issue is still to be decided. His defense committee asks that people please send letters of support to:

Governor George Ryan

State of Illinois

207 State House Road

Springfield, IL 62706

or fax to (217) 524-4049

Anne R. Taylor, Chairman

Prisoner Review Board

319 E. Madison Street Suite A

Springfield, IL 62701

or fax to (217) 524-0012

Layoffs proposed:
Mayor wants us to pay

Apr 23, 2001

April 17 was Baltimore's annual Taxpayer Night, at which about 100 city residents came to protest high taxes and a city budget that does not meet their needs. It's a tradition in Baltimore: once a year, the mayor and other city officials listen to their "constituents."

This year, about half the protesters were city workers whose jobs are being threatened. The mayor has proposed that the city might save some money by laying off 150 people from the Department of Public Works and then farming out these services to private companies.

But 100 people is nothing in a city of 650,000. And the mayor knows that 100 people won't prevent him from doing what mayors traditionally do after the speeches are over –forget it ever happened. Of course, the union leaders cannot be faulted just because the turn-out was low. The problem is, what was done which might have brought more people out?

There was no campaign made in city offices and other workplaces to bring people out.

A really large, angry demonstration that wouldn't fit in any meeting rooms or halls –that's when mayors start to listen to residents. City workers and residents crowding city government chambers can get a lot of attention from officials –and very quickly.

But demonstrations like this would embarrass the mayor. And, just like in many cities which are strongholds of the Democratic Party, the union leaders view the mayor as their pal. Yet this administration, like the previous ones, has presided over endless cuts in city services and rises in city taxes. The recession is not even here yet, according to the media, but the mayor is already proposing more layoffs and cutbacks and tax increases.

The system of profit-before-anything has been catastrophic for U.S. cities. No administration anywhere, neither Democratic or Republican, is ready to force the rich ones who make the mess to clean it up. In every city, officials want ordinary working people, and especially the poorest ones, to pay the price for how capitalism works.

One city worker who spoke on April 17 was cheered when he made a suggestion to save some money: "Let's eliminate five deputy mayors at a cost of $600,000."

That's a beginning. But there's a lot more money to be had –from the people who caused the problem. But we won't get it just by politely asking, hat in hand.

Baltimore City library closings

Apr 23, 2001

At two April meetings, Baltimore City residents protested the planned closing of as many as ten of the library's current 26 branches.

All the branches proposed for closing are in working class areas of the city. These libraries are one of the few city institutions that offer a real benefit to working class and poor people. They are one of the few places where young people can find the culture which is available through books. Libraries offer special programs for children and have the computers available that many poor people cannot afford to buy.

In Baltimore City, which proclaims itself the "City Which Reads," almost 7 out of every 8 children read below grade level by the time they are eight years old. Obviously, the city administration is ready to let the proportion get even worse.

The libraries are already understaffed. The system has funds for only 100 employees to cover 26 branches. And they have already cut back on the hours the libraries are open.

City officials choose to fund plenty of other real estate projects –those around the Inner Harbor that benefit developers and large corporations. But the real estate investments that would help us some of the neighborhood libraries are always last in line first cut.

O'Malley pretends to be the mayor of Baltimore. In reality, he represents only one part: the rich. For their interests he is ready to sacrifice the quality of lives of Baltimore's working people.

UAW defeat at Toledo Hospital:
A missed opportunity

Apr 23, 2001

Workers at TTH (The Toledo Hospital) in Toledo, Ohio, voted almost two to one against organizing with the UAW (United Auto Workers union). The vote was carried out over three days, running from April 4 through April 6.

This vote was marked by a big turnaround by the TTH workers. When the UAW petitioned the NLRB for an election to certify the union on February 13, they did it with the signatures of well over half the eligible workers at the hospital –the same margin by which the vote went down to defeat seven weeks later. In February, it seemed as though a union victory was a sure thing –especially since this followed on the heels of a similar campaign at St. Vincent's Hospital in Toledo where the workers had voted for the union.

Certainly, the hospital administration did everything it could to ensure the union's defeat at TTH. Last summer and fall, when the union's card signing campaign was underway, the hospital made it clear to all the workers that they were opposed to having a union on their premises, and they harassed workers involved in the campaign.

After the union petitioned for the election, the hospital carried out a well-oiled propaganda campaign against the union. This campaign had been prepared by one of these firms that today specializes in helping employers stop union organizing drives.

The campaign was kicked off by a letter that the hospital sent to all workers claiming that a "small group" of union supporters was trying to impose the union on all the workers and that the hospital had protected the democratic rights of all the workers to a secret election.

When the hospital held anti-union meetings, making sure that within each meeting there were very vocal opponents of the union who spoke up. Workers were presented with a barrage of videos, handouts and speeches. The aim of this campaign was to show that the UAW was undemocratic; that it was interested in the hospital workers only to make up for the dues it had lost when the number of auto workers organized declined; that it didn't really represent the workers already in the union when they had grievances, and so on. It, of course, talked about the risk of strikes –but even here it was done in a particular way, as though the company was trying to protect the workers. The company talked about a UAW strike in Kentucky which had been particularly long and difficult, in the middle of which the UAW cut off strike pay to its members on strike.

The hospital, of course, never talked about why the workers in Kentucky felt the need to strike in the first place, that is, what the company had done.

But, obviously, employers are going to use rotten tactics. If there weren't a way to get past these tactics –and much worse, in fact –unions never would have been formed in the first place.

And, here, it has to be said that the UAW's general policy, just as that of all the unions today, helps contribute to the inability to organize.

The UAW is not the only union trying to organize today. All the major ones, along with the AFL-CIO have made a special campaign. They say it openly: if they don't organize, they will die. And yet, year after year, the rate of union organization goes down. In private industry, the rate of unionization stands today significantly lower than it was in 1932, before the big organizing drives which created the CIO. And, with only a couple exceptions in the last 12 years, the actual number of workers organized in unions has gone down year after year.

The policy of the unions, the UAW included, is marred by the union's view of its own role –in the workplace and in the working class. The UAW leadership, for example, says openly that their aim is to have a partnership, cooperation, with "their" companies. They talk about how efficient and productive union workplaces are. And of course they are –for the companies.

But there is an antagonism between the workers and the company: basically, the company makes its profits off the work the workers do. The more work they can get, and the less they have to pay, the more profits they get. Even in the best years of the UAW, when workers enjoyed a real increase in wages while the companies increased their profits, it was not a "win-win situation," and it can never be. The higher wages paid to UAW workers were paid for out of rapidly increasing productivity –which eliminated jobs year after year. But, now, in this time period, the situation of the workers is actually going down, even while the unions talk about wanting a partnership.

After the UAW was recognized at St. Vincent's, it immediately proclaimed that its goal was to have a "cooperative" arrangement with management. Even at TTH in the middle of the campaign, the union was careful not to do anything which would have created what it called "an antagonistic relationship" with the company which might cause problems for future negotiations.

When hospital administration called the UAW a "strike-happy union," the union responded officially by saying don't worry –97% of contracts are bargained WITHOUT a strike! In other words, they weren't even then ready to attack the bosses who provoke strikes.

There's a problem in this desire to accommodate to management, however: hospital management was openly antagonistic toward the union.

Even when the hospital tried to portray the TTH workers who had been active in the campaign as a "tiny minority," imposing their views on the majority, union organizers did nothing to refute this –which was the boldest lie of all. They never even informed the workers just how many of them had signed for the union. Union supporters, the real majority, began to feel like an isolated minority within the hospital itself.

Instead, the main axis of the union's campaign was to tell the hospital workers just how much the UAW would be able to win FOR them in a UAW-bargained contract. Given the experience of the last 20 years –a time of losses for the working class and for the UAW, of which many Toledo workers are certainly aware –this is not even very convincing. But most important, this perspective does not present the union as the organized power of the workers themselves, but as a group of people selected to negotiate with the company.

All of this conveyed the idea that the union is something separate and apart from the workers. This was exactly what the hospital played on.

Even the workers most active in the campaign did not find the way to respond to the slanders of the hospital with the most efficient answer of all: WE are the union. WE make the decisions. WE decide what we want to do. That response, which should come naturally in a union which the workers build, did not come at all.