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. 661 — July 30 - August 13, 2001

No Job Cuts, No Wage Cuts, Put OUR Needs First!

Jul 30, 2001

Company after company continues to announce job cuts. Lucent–a 20-billion-dollar-a-year company–is only the most recent. Standing behind Lucent is almost every major corporation in the country.

Very few of them say they intend to cut back on production–but even those companies which are cutting production are cutting jobs at a faster rate.

So what’s up? The economists say that we are not–or not yet, anyway–in a recession where people stop buying goods and paying for services. We are simply in a “profits recession.” The companies have to cut jobs–or so we are told–in order to restore their profitability.

Listen to the sound bites we hear night after night on the evening news: “earnings hit a steep decline”; “profits are plunging.” You would think these big corporations were all bleeding money.

Nothing could be further from the truth. They are simply making a little bit less than they were making during all those years they rolled up stupendous profits. Even with their earnings “trimmed” a little, business made almost one TRILLION dollars in profit last year. General Electric, for example, which announced it would cut 75,000 jobs, made 12.8 billion dollars last year–a record! Even Chrysler, which pictures itself on the verge of bankruptcy, made almost two billion dollars last year. And most of its losses this year are accounted for by “special charges”–that is, book-keeping tricks–DCX took to pay for cutting jobs. (We could ask, if it costs so much money to cut jobs, why cut them?)

These companies are not cutting jobs because they are in trouble–they are cutting jobs in order to resurrect their profit-gusher.

What would it mean, if we were to accept this attack which is right now being launched against us?

Some of us will be in the street. Some will be working for new smaller companies, as our factory or office is sold out from under our feet. All of us will feel the pressure to produce more work in the same amount of time. Another generation of young workers will not be able to find a job–or at least, not one which pays enough to support themselves and their children.

And the bosses will use the threat of job cuts to try to get us to accept wage freezes or cuts and reductions in our benefits.

We may not yet be in a recession, but if the bosses get away with this attack, they may soon drag us into another one.

It’s outrageous that any company making a profit would propose to cut a single job. As for those companies which lose money today–more accurately, pretend to be losing money–let them dip into the big profits they rolled up over the last decade. Our livelihood should not be sacrificed so a small minority of very wealthy people can accumulate billions and trillions of dollars.

If companies worth billions of dollars can’t provide decent jobs and good wages for everyone, then push their owners and executives aside. Take their business over and run it in the interest of society.

The unions could fight for such a plan. No matter how much their numbers have shrunk, they are still an organized force, counting many millions of workers. They could lead a struggle to provide decent jobs for everyone. (And if they did it, their numbers would once again increase.)

Why not? Yes, why not!

Pages 2-3

Portable Phones and Throw-away Workers:
The Telecommunications Industry Cuts Jobs

Jul 30, 2001

Lucent, the giant U.S. telecommunications company which AT&T spun off a few years ago, just announced 20,000 more job cuts, on top of about 75,000 announced last year, using retirement, layoffs or corporate spinoffs. A year ago, Lucent had 155,000 workers; they plan on having only 60,000 when these job cuts are completed.

This followed an announcement by Alcatel, the French telecommunications giant, that it plans to get rid of the majority of its factories. Alcatel’s stock went up at this announcement.

For some months, the announcements of layoffs and job cuts in the telecommunications sector have touched workers in all the main industrial countries. The companies laying off are multi-nationals and, besides, are among the world’s most profitable.

This June, the world’s largest phone manufacturer, Nortel of Canada, announced it would cut 10,000 jobs, in addition to the 20,000 it had already announced earlier this year. Another big company in this industry, Motorola, also announced it would cut thousands of jobs.

These big telecommunications companies look to cut their work forces using three methods: layoffs pure and simple, transfering their factories to sub-contractors, and attrition–that is, not replacing workers who leave or are forced out, making the workers who are left work harder.

While these telecommunication companies get rid of manufacturing plants (to the benefit of their sub-contractors), they keep their research and sales divisions. Cisco, for example, has 20 factories producing telephone products, but owns only two of them. This allows Cisco to produce financial results that other companies can only dream of. Its capital is not frozen in the form of machinery or buildings; it simply goes where profits are best. As for the actual production, Cisco gets its products from subcontractors, putting them in competition with each other, making them face the risks of the market place.

The system is widespread in other sectors of industry as well. Nike, for example, is only a product name and a lot of capital. The production of their shoes is the responsibility of Asian sub-contractors, which allows Nike to hide the disgusting labor practices with which its products are made. This system, wherein several big trusts benefit from their dominant position, lets them reserve for themselves the most profitable activities, while leaving the problems of day-to-day production to sub-contractors–including taking responsibility for cutting jobs. Such a practice is as old as capitalism.

Today with sales slowing down, when a company sells its factories, its stock prices go up. But when the corporations which buy the factories then announce job cuts, their stock also goes up. All of this hides the incredible increase in profits enjoyed by the big trusts.

The electronics industry is made up of gigantic industrial groups. Solectron announced 8,200 layoffs in March, a tenth of its work force worldwide. Two weeks later, the company announced another 12,600 job cuts. Flextronics–to which Alcatel had sold one of its factories in France–is in the process of cutting 7,000 jobs in the U.S.

These electronics companies have engaged in a huge swap meet this past year, buying each other’s factories at the lowest possible price, then carrying out massive reductions of the work force in the factories they bought.

None of this makes sense from the standpoint of society’s interests.

All these decisions to cut jobs for the sake of profits are taken in corporate offices. If this threat of job cuts is to be stopped, it will be up to those who labor to do it. And it’s only with a widespread response that workers can force the bosses to give in to what the workers need: an end to job cuts, layoffs and speed-up.

Bush Wants to Legalize Immigrants, but Give Them No Rights

Jul 30, 2001

On July 20 a presidential task force headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft produced a one page memo for Bush proposing a change for some of the immigrants who are living and working in this country–allowing them to “regularize” their status. The proposal would allow about one million Mexicans employed in farm work, health care and meat packing to become “guest workers,” as well as allowing many new immigrants from Mexico to enter the country as guest workers. The task force has already met with a similar committee advising the Mexican president.

Bush himself said what’s behind the proposal: “We ought to make it easier for people who want to employ somebody, who are looking for workers, to be able to hire people who want to work.” That is–people who are forced to work cheaply while wearing a gag.

Bush’s proposal would build on the existing “guest worker” programs. The Florida sugar cane crop, for example, until recently was largely harvested by workers from Jamaica. IBP, the biggest meat packing company in the United States, goes to a village in Mexico and sends up hundreds of workers to labor in one of its packing houses in the U.S., with the approval of both governments.

In fact, the “guest worker” program is nothing but another name for slave labor. Guest workers cannot become citizens. They have no democratic rights. They are not allowed to quit employers and get hired elsewhere. If they voice a complaint over their working conditions, they quickly find themselves on a bus going home.

Today there are an estimated seven to eight million people in the country without legal papers. When workers come from desperately poor countries, the U.S. minimum wage seems good compared to what they received at home. But what keeps workers accepting this situation is their complete and toal lack of legal rights.

That’s obviously why the corporations want to keep them in this half-legal situation from which there is no escape. This gives the corporations a low-paid work force with which to put pressure on the wages of everyone else.

Bush pretends that this program may eventually open up prospects for SOME of the workers here without papers to legalize their situation. That’s nothing but a false hope for MOST.

The millions of workers who are in this country without papers are part of the working class. Their labor contributes to the running of this country. Give them full rights of citizenship immediately!

The working class movement at its best and its strongest always fought for the full extension of democratic rights to immigrant workers. It was a protection for immigrants and native workers, both at the same time.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) said it a long time ago: One big union of all the workers, from all countries, of all races, of all industries, of all skills.

Either the working class stands together–or it falls divided.

Chrysler Results

Jul 30, 2001

Chrysler said it lost money again–not as much as expected, but still they say they lost.

So long as they are the ones keeping the books, we have no reason to believe them.

Ford Wants Us to Think Like Them

Jul 30, 2001

When it comes to the company and the media announcing the latest round of profits, we are bombarded with “Ford suffers 752 million dollar loss.”

Let’s be real. The company has something like 25 BILLION DOLLARS IN CASH RESERVES and has made record-breaking profits for years. IF they are calling it a “loss,” it’s because of this Ford Explorer/Firestone tires fiasco; and because of “restructuring” Mazda.

All they’re doing is fixing the books in order to squeeze out more profits at workers’ expense!

Pay Phone Rates to 50¢ in Many States

Jul 30, 2001

SBC Communications, one of the biggest phone companies in the country, just raised its pay phone rates from 35¢ to 50¢ a call in thirteen states, including Michigan and Illinois. More people today depend on pay phones. They are unable to pay for regular phone service, given how much the cost of owning one has gone up under deregulation.

SBC, which was formed from a merger between Southern Bell and Ameritech, had eight billion dollars in profits after taxes last year and is the 15th biggest company in the United States.

When it comes to phone repairs the phone company is extremely slow, but when it comes to putting in these pay phone rates, it wasted no time. The change appeared almost overnight, everywhere.

They didn’t even have to go through the pretense of a public hearing–it’s just another “benefit” from the rush to deregulate public utilities and services.

Pages 4-5

Great Britain:
The Riots in Bradford Youth Trapped between Social Marginalization and Racism

Jul 30, 2001

Translated from an article in Lutte Ouvriere, a French Trotskyist weekly, issue of July 13, 2001.

The town of Bradford was the latest scene of riots July 7 through 9, following riots in Oldham and Burnley at the end of June. During three nights, there were violent confrontations between hundreds of Pakistani youth and the "anti-riot" squads sent from all over the north of England.

Just as had taken place in Oldham and Burnley earlier, the conflict in Bradford broke out after a small group from the extreme right-wing British National Front acted provocatively in a racially charged atmosphere. The explosion was set off when a group of drunken racists in a bar decided to beat up a young Pakistani. One hour later, more than a thousand youth from the Pakistani neighborhood of Manningham armed themselves with Molotov cocktails and slingshots to face the anti-riot police who had been called to protect the bar where the beating took place.

Against poverty as well as racism

What was different in Bradford was the decision by the young Pakistanis to pull back into their neighborhoods rather than simply battling with the police. They threw up barricades made from whatever they could find, and burned and looted different buildings.

In this sense, the rage of the Bradford rioters resembled the explosion some 20 years ago of the West Indian youth in England who revolted in the poor neighborhoods of large cities all over England. In both situations, the youth took aim not only against the overt racism and the anti-poor attitudes and actions of the police, but also against symbols of the wealth which has always been forbidden them.

Towns like Oldham, Burnley, and Bradford have become economic deserts, thanks to industry pulling out and leaving behind a chronic level of unemployment. Those who are the most affected are the poorest–in this case the minority Pakistani population (which makes up about 15% of the population), but also a whole part of the native white population.

It is this same layer of the poor population which has paid a heavy price for the austerity programs imposed during the last 20 years by successive governments, whether headed by the Conservative Party or the Labor Party. The degeneration of the urban infrastructure, housing and schools, helped exacerbate jealousies, resentments and the racist prejudices which were inflamed by the politicians’ anti-immigrant demagogy.

A policy which feeds racism

These same politicians contributed in other ways to reinforce racial ghettoization. Ever since the riots of l981, successive governments acted to reinforce so-called “community leaders”–giving them subsidies and big new titles. Those who were put on a pedestal were usually the most conservative people of a town, very often the religious leaders. Labor Party leader Blair not only continued this policy, his government actually turned over the control of state schools to the hierarchy of religious minorities.

The poor immigrants, obviously, gained nothing from these supposed gifts which benefitted only a few “important” people. But the giving out of state funds for such projects as the construction of mosques, for example, did not go unnoticed by those in the white population who shouted out in vain for needed funds to fix the plumbing systems in their public housing projects.

These government policies which put the poorer immigrants more under the domination of the reactionary apparatus while seeding the racism of the poor whites, facilitated the development of reactionary currents among the victims of this racism. In particular, it encouraged the development of the fundamentalists among the Pakistani immigrants. In Bradford, the riots were accompanied with fundamentalist slogans written on walls and the burning of a "workingmen’s club,” a kind of bar run by a workers cooperative which has been one of the traditional symbols of the workers movement in England. And this cannot but widen the false gap between different sections of the poor. Indeed, doing so is one of the objectives of the religious fundamentalists.

For the moment, the youth in towns like Oldham and Bradford, while revolting against the effects of government policies, end up beating their heads against a wall. They find no real direction forward for their anger. It would be completely different if the British working class would become conscious of its force and pass over onto the offensive against government policies which make the workers pay a very heavy price. Such an offensive could unify the ranks of the entire working world, and in particular could influence all the poor youth, no matter what their skin color, pulling them to join a battle which could take them out of the current impasse.

Shooting, Barricades, Ghettoes, Misery

Jul 30, 2001

Translated from an article in Combat Ouvrier, issue of July 14, 2001, a bi-weekly Trotskyist newspaper in the French West Indies.

On the weekend of July 7 and 8 there were more than 20 dead and 30 wounded as a result of violence which bloodied Jamaica.

The incidents began in a neighborhood in the west of Kingston called Tivoli Gardens. A shootout occurred between a group of armed people and the police, resulting in dead and wounded. The next day in certain neighborhoods of Kingston–and even in the heart of the city–as well as in other parts of the island, groups erected barricades to prevent the police from penetrating into their neighborhoods. There were still more dead and wounded, among them several cops. A cop was burned in his car when he crossed a barricade. Monday, the banks and shops didn’t open their doors.

Prime Minister Percival Patterson called on the army to reinforce the police, conferring police powers on the army.

These extremely violent incidents are the gravest which have occurred in the more than two months of periodic confrontations which have pitted armed groups against the police force.

In almost all cases, the armed bands which attacked the police are groups favorable to the opposition to the party in power. They say they are close to the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) of Edward Seaga, an ex-Prime Minister.

For more than 25 years the political and social life in Jamaica has been punctuated by troubles between armed bands favorable to the JLP and others favorable to the People’s National Party (PNP), currently in power with Patterson.

But it’s also true that the violence always breaks out in the poor ghettoes, those immense, extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods like this ghetto of Tivoli Gardens where the latest troubles began. In its crushing majority the population of Jamaica is very poor. Most of Kingston, the capital, is made up of these immense ghettoes. The population suffers from enormous unemployment. It suffers from hunger, conditions of deplorable hygiene, the absence of medical care, and from drugs. Many youth become easy prey for the head of gangs, the "dons" who don’t hesitate to enroll them. Very often these little neighborhood gang leaders are in the pay of one of the two principal political parties, the PNP and the JLP. They establish mafia-like relations among themselves. Currently, since the PNP is in power, the partisans of the JLP find it easy to denounce the PNP and to crystalize the discontent around themselves.

These armed clashes are the consequence of misery and the social disaster Jamaica suffers from. They aren’t the sign of any political radicalization of the masses. They are rather the reverse. They especially show to what extent a fraction of the population is desperate. But they also show the criminal character of the leaders of the PNP and of the JLP who in turn seek to profit from the situation for electoral and political reasons.

In such a situation, it’s the working class of Jamaica who could give perspectives to all the poor, the unemployed of Jamaica. But it is without its own political organization. The most conscious workers are linked either to the JLP or the PNP by means of the union federations controlled by the two parties. Among the unions, those who are opposed to the policy of U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean and elsewhere are closer to the PNP. This is the party that brought independence, that drew near at a certain time to Cuba and to certain countries called "socialist" or "revolutionary." And even if in fact it leads a bourgeois policy and quickly springs to attention before U.S. imperialism, some workers have illusions when they see in it a party of workers or a party of the poor. These workers lack a party which would be their own and which would lead a policy independent of the two bourgeois parties. A policy where everything would be oriented toward satisfying the needs of the workers and the ghetto poor.

“Lumumba,” a New Film about the Congolese Leader

Jul 30, 2001

“Lumumba” is a new movie that depicts what happened to Patrice Lumumba, a nationalist leader who was the first prime minister of the Congo after the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960. The film opens with Lumumba, along with two of his assistants, being driven to their execution, after having been forced from office by a coalition of imperial powers and Congolese leaders willing to do imperialism’s bidding.

The rest of the film is a flashback, tracing Lumumba’s very fast rise and fall.

The late 1950s was a time of rising independence movements throughout Africa that held out the hope that Africa would be finally free to develop its own resources and economy. But the film shows most strikingly the absolute ruthlessness and brutality of the different imperial powers, not just Belgium, that clung to their hold over Africa. The film shows that the U.S. played an increasingly important role on that continent.

Belgium had ruled over the Congo, a territory four times the size of France, which had immense natural resources, including huge uranium and copper mines and vast rubber plantations. It intended on granting independence to the Congo in name only, while using a few African politicians to fool the population.

But, as the Haitian film maker Raoul Peck shows, Lumumba did not play the role that the Belgians and the U.S. had scripted for him.

The film, which covers a big chunk of history in a short time, gives only a very short sketch of the independence movement in the Congo. It shows that Lumumba was part of the tiny urban Congolese middle class, whom the Belgians had selected to educate and play a managerial role. Instead, Lumumba and others worked to build the Congolese National Movement, the first nationwide Congolese political party. The film then just hints at the rise of the movement, showing a Congolese nationalist riot in Stanleyville, after which Lumumba was thrown into prison, where he was beaten and tortured.

The movement amongst the population grew and forced the Belgians to accelerate the schedule for granting independence. They whisked Lumumba from jail directly to Brussels to participate in talks on the formation of a new independent government. Lumumba was selected prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu held the ceremonial office of president.

On June 30, 1960, Belgium formally recognized independence for the Congo. At the ceremony, the Belgian King gave a self-aggrandizing speech, glorifying Belgian rule. Kasavubu followed by doing what was required, politely saying, “Thank you.” But in his speech broadcast on the radio, Lumumba strongly denounced Belgian rule for its brutality, and set the goal of building an independent Congolese state.

But the film shows that the army and the economy remained in the hands of the Belgians. At all the government meetings headed by Lumumba, a Belgian adviser sat in. Within days of assuming office, African troops revolted against the Belgian officers, who had been beating and imprisoning them. But as the film shows, Lumumba did not support the troops. Instead, he urged them to return to their barracks and obey their officers. Thus, Lumumba opposed the rising popular revolt. But the troops did not listen to Lumumba. Without any kind of organization, they began to revolt against all signs of European rule inside the country, trying to drive the Europeans out. These attacks soon spread.

To put down the revolt, the Belgian government sent in its own paratroopers. The biggest and richest province, Katanga, controlled by Congolese leaders in the pay of the big Belgian mining trust, seceded. The Congo was swept by civil war, foreign intervention and chaos, and Lumumba was caught in the middle. He broke diplomatic relations with Belgium.

But he did not try to organize the population to drive the invaders out. Instead, Lumumba looked for another force to uphold his rule–the United Nations. Of course, under the influence of the U.S., the U.N. was more than happy to oblige–although not in the way that Lumumba had hoped. The U.S. used U.N. councillors to reconstitute a more solid army around someone who had solid ties to the U.S. and the CIA, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, a member of Lumumba’s party. So, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for military aid.

But by that time, the U.S. and Belgian governments had marked Lumumba for death, not just to get him out of the way, but to make an example of him to other leaders about what would happen if they chose to defy the imperialists.

The film was meant as an homage to Lumumba. Certainly, he was a man of tremendous courage, as the film shows. But if anything, the film, despite itself, also shows what a dead end his policy was. In a world dominated by imperialism, the idea that the countries of Africa could gain their place in the sun is an illusion.

No, the problem for the people of Africa is that imperialism has to be destroyed internationally. The African working class has the possibility to start a fight which can spread and lead to imperialism’s destruction.

Pages 6-7

The Phony Electricity Crisis

Jul 30, 2001

In California, the politicians and the electric companies are all patting themselves on the back because there haven’t been any electricity blackouts so far this summer.

What a joke. The entire crisis was phoney to begin with. They pretended that there was an electricity shortage in the middle of the winter and spring, when usage is ordinarily low, in order to justify jacking up our rates to record levels.

They also used the phony shortage to get the state government to sign billion dollar contracts for electricity that lock in record high rates for the next 10 and even 20 years.

Now that our rates are sky high, now that the state treasury is plundered, now suddenly they have discovered that we have more than enough electricity. They say that we even have an electricity surplus!

Sure we do. But consumers are paying double for a basic commodity that we can’t do without. Poor people are having to choose between paying for food, rent and the utilities. The state, which used to have a surplus, now has no money–again–to put into our basic services, like education, health care, or public parks.

This is nothing but highway robbery. And it isn’t nearly over. The big utility companies, Southern California Edison, PG&E, and San Diego Electric and Gas, are all demanding multi-billion dollar bailouts, even while they pay record salary increases to their top executives. Wall Street financiers are looking to make a bundle on the sale of state bonds to cover the government’s costs to pay for all the electricity. To fund all this, electric rates may easily go up again.

Yet, no one demands that this swindle stops!!!

When Ford Sounds Like Santa Claus ... Look in His Toy Bag

Jul 30, 2001

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just opened an investigation into the safety of a tire manufactured by Continental Tire North America. This happens to be one of the tires that Ford had loudly announced it was giving to Explorer owners as replacement for Firestone tires.

Interestingly enough, tread separations in the Continental tires are now showing up at a rate of 124 per million miles. In the Firestone tires which were recalled, the tread separation rate was 17 per million.

It’s enough to make you wonder. Could Ford have been lying when it claimed that the problems with the Explorer were all Firestone’s fault, that Ford has nothing but our safety in mind?

You bet!

Library Closings:
Robbing the Young to Pay the “Developers”

Jul 30, 2001

The Baltimore library system announced in mid-July which five neighborhood libraries will be permanently closed. All are in working class or poor neighborhoods–Dundalk, Fells Point, Gardenville, Hollins-Payson and Pimlico.

The announcement comes at the very moment 30,000 children are in summer school for not having met adquate standards in their just-completed school year.

When the proposed closings were first announced in March, there was a public outcry. At community protest meetings, parents stressed the importance of neighborhood branches that kids could walk to.

It’s obvious why. They’re safer places for kids to congregate. There they can read more and so improve their skills. And it’s one of the few places many kids get a chance to play computer games and gain skills.

Mayor O’Malley waited until the protest had died down, then gave the green light to the closings.

In Baltimore, whose politicians style it, “the city that reads,” tens of thousands of children can’t. Yet politicians claiming to serve the “people” cannot find money for libraries–only for real estate speculation.

Defend Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Jul 30, 2001

There are new developments in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on death row for almost two decades in a case which sprang from the December 1981 killing of a policeman in Philadelphia. Mumia, who had been active in the Black Panthers as a young man and was an outspoken reporter in 1981, had systematically been targeted for police harassment before he was arrested in the police killing and almost certainly framed up for this murder.

On May 4th of this year, Mumia filed with the courts a confession his lawyers had discovered. Arnold Beverly says he was hired by the mob in Philadelphia to kill policeman Daniel Faulkner because Faulkner had been interfering with rackets that other Philadelphia police were protecting for payoffs. This confession was subsequently backed up by the administration of a polygraph test to Beverly and by testimony from a former FBI informant who was giving information on corruption in Philadelphia during the time of Faulkner’s murder.

Nonetheless, on July 19, U.S. Judge William Yohn refused to let the new evidence be heard in court. According to Judge Yohn, Mumia had waited too long.

Due to the campaign being waged in this country and abroad in Mumia’s defense, money has now been raised to get the evidence he needs. But in his original trial Mumia, like other poor defendants, had a court-appointed lawyer who was overworked and had no money for investigators to obtain all possible evidence. His lack of competency is shown by the fact he was later disbarred.

Nonetheless, the courts are using technical pretexts to prevent Mumia from proving his innocence.

On Friday August 17, Mumia will appear in the Pennsylvania state court in Philadelphia. This is a hearing to consider issues opened by Mumia’s lawyers. Supporters of Mumia are urging all those who can to attend a demonstration in front of the court on that day. The biggest possible turnout shows that Mumia doesn’t stand alone, that this legal lynching won’t pass.

Dead Smokers Save Money!

Jul 30, 2001

Dead smokers save governments money!

This was the conclusion drawn by a new study on the financial cost of smoking–paid for, just coincidentally, by Philip Morris, the international tobacco giant.

The study, done by a U.S. research firm, found that if people die earlier, less money is spent on their health care, housing costs and old-age pensions.

The study looked specifically at the Czech Republic, where Philip Morris controls over 80% of the tobacco market. But the researchers said their study’s conclusions could apply elsewhere.

What’s next for Philip Morris? Will it develop a more quick-killing cigarette? Will it ask for another tax write-off–for saving the government tons of money!?

Train Derails City

Jul 30, 2001

On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 18, a 60-car-long CSX freight train derailed and caught fire in a tunnel running under downtown Baltimore. The two-man train crew notified CSX officials of the fire immediately after escaping from the tunnel. But CSX officials didn’t notify the fire department until an hour later. By that time, the fire was well on the way to creating one of the biggest emergencies the city has ever faced.

Many of the train cars were loaded with flammable materials. But the biggest threat came from tanker cars loaded with hydrochloric acid, fluorosilicic acid, glacial acetic acid and three other chemcials–all capable of producing exceedingly toxic smoke and fumes.

The fire quickly created a nightmare. The toxic smoke and heat pouring out of both ends of the tunnel made it impossible for regular city firefighters to do anything effective to battle the blaze. Even a special chemical firefighting unit and hazardous materials units initially made almost no headway. Fire officials warned of the possibility that the chemical tanker cars could explode sending poisonous smoke and fumes throughout the entire downtown area.

In this potentially disastrous situation, it’s obvious what needed to be done. The whole downtown area should have been evacuated immediately. Given the potential for a traffic jam, exit routes should have been designated and pickup points set up for those needing public transportation. Extra buses should have been put in service to get people out.

Was it done? No! Instead everyone was left to fend for themselves in a highly dangerous and chaotic situation.

As rush hour hit, cars were allowed to continue entering the downtown area even while tens of thousands of workers were trying to leave. Grid lock quickly trapped people in autos. Bus, subway and light rail riders were left stranded–while toxic smoke poured out of both ends of the tunnel.

Three hours after the fire started, a 40-inch water main near the tunnel burst, apparently from the heat. Streets flooded and water pressure was lost in the area. Telephone service went out in several buildings.

Maybe public officials were taken by surprise–maybe they don’t respond well to emergencies! But that doesn’t explain their actions in the days that followed.

The fire burned for four days before all the railroad cars were finally pulled out of the tunnel and all the flames extinguished. On Thursday and Friday, with the fire at its height, public officials issued no order to close all offices, stores, hotels and restaurants. They certainly didn’t tell workers they could stay home with pay at the expense of CSX. They let business go on as usual–and business as usual puts profit first. Even city and state officials expected workers in their buildings to show up in the middle of this dangerous situation. Many workers were sickened and had to go back home. And the potential for an explosion and much more dangerous situation was always there.

And what now–has this fire at least forced a few changes?

Not at all. Within hours after the fire was put out, some track repairs were made, a quick inspection of the tunnel was done and CSX and government officials pronounced it safe for a resumption of train traffic. Normal operations resumed less than two days after the last flames were extinguished. CSX officials announced they had no intention of halting the shipment of toxic chemicals through the tunnel.

This should come as no surprise. Over 15 years ago, officials admitted the dangers of shipping flammable gases, toxic chemicals and occasionally explosives through this very tunnel, yet nothing was done then either. In 1985, a federal transportation safety official said that if there was a fire in the tunnel, “The problem would be just getting in there to fight the fire... If you had an explosion, fire could shoot out both ends like a bazooka.”

But the role of public officials in this capitalist society is not to protect the health and safety of the people they supposedly serve. It’s to protect the profits of the big corporations they really serve. As the fire showed, they do that quite well.

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