The Spark

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

Issue no. 662 — August 13 - September 10, 2001

Editorial:
Use the Wealth we Create for our Needs

Aug 13, 2001

For big parts of the working class, the dog days of summer have been no picnic. And, with Labor Day approaching, the situation of the working class promises to get no better.

Almost all the big companies have been threatening massive new job cuts. In July alone, they announced plans to cut 206,000 jobs, the highest number for a single month in a decade. And this comes on the heels of the hundreds of thousands of job cuts that companies announced since January.

These cuts have come in almost every sector. So far this year, the telecommunications sector announced 175,000 job cuts, the computer companies announced cuts of 101,000 jobs, automotive companies announced 91,800 job cuts, and the electronics and other industrial sectors have said they intend on cutting 162,000 jobs.

These announcements spell nothing less than a new corporate offensive against the working class. Some workers are losing their jobs through layoffs. Still more jobs are being eliminated through attrition, that is, by not filling open positions. This is then being used as the opening wedge to attack the rest of the work force by demanding that those who are left take up the slack. The underlying threat is that if workers don't carry a heavier load, even more jobs will be eliminated –by farming out the work to other locations in the same company, or by selling off parts of the company to other owners, that won't be so "generous." For the new generation, once again the only jobs available will be McDonald’s jobs – or the street and prison.

Of course, for the working class, the elimination of the best paying jobs is nothing new. Over the past two decades, the biggest companies have all reduced their work force. Even during the supposed good times, the last 10 years of supposed unprecedented prosperity, which saw companies' profits leap from one record to another, job cuts continued. Our wages and benefits fell or at best stagnated.

That's how these companies got the working class to pay for its good times.

What’s different today is the extent of the job cuts – and the speed with which the announcements keep coming.

Today these companies dare to say they see trouble. They pretend that profits are in a tailspin, that the companies are "spilling red ink." Of course, in the real world this means that company profits are not rising quite so fast. Even in the rare cases where some of these companies can claim to be losing money, most of those losses have come from the expenses they say they are paying for carrying out their announced job cuts.

The "costs" that these companies incur for cutting thousands of our jobs are then used as the pretext to ... cut our jobs.

The big companies – and the media that serve them – act at though these cuts are inevitable, like some kind of force of nature.

It’s not true. These companies are incredibly rich. They handout fabulously high executive salaries, bonuses and stock options. They provide their executives with fleets of corporate jets, limousines, helicopters and other toys. They pour billions of dollars into plans to boost corporate share prices by buying back company stock, and they pay billions more in dividends. They buy up other companies. They speculate in real estate – and on Wall Street.

The money is there which could be used to improve the situation of the working class. What has been missing so far is the determination by the union leaders to lead a fight against the job cuts. The working class needs leaders who will put the interests of the working class first.

No more job cuts, not a single one. Reverse the speed-up, slow down the pace of work. Bring workers back and hire more workers. Pay us all a decent wage, so we aren’t forced to work gobs of overtime just to pay the bills.

Use the wealth our labor creates to provide a decent life for all of us. Let Labor Day 2001 be dedicated to that aim.

Pages 2-3

Want a good-paying, part-time job?
Run for president!

Aug 13, 2001

When Bush finishes his current month-long vacation, he will have rolled up 96 days of vacation since taking office on January 20 – that’s right, almost 14 weeks!

He wasn’t missed – and not because he occasionally gets things a bit wrong.

Bush, like other presidents before him, is only window dressing. The real work of government is carried on elsewhere by other people – people who were never elected, who don’t even pretend to answer to the population, who aren’t known by the population. The big bankers who shift back and forth onto the federal reserve, corporate lawyers who run the various departments which affect their companies, military men whose movement through the ranks is funded by military goods producers – this is the real government.

While Bush is on vacation, this apparatus continues to act – in his name. And given the wonders of modern technology, he can download the speeches they write for him onto the Teleprompter set up in the living room of his Texas “ranch” – from where he can read them while earnestly wrinkling up his forehead to show he is thinking.

Summer in the city

Aug 13, 2001

Unless your idea of fun is non-stop sweating for 120 hours, Detroit was no place to be during the blistering second week in August. From one day to the next, the temperature kept climbing: from 95 on Sunday, to 96 on Monday to 98 on Tuesday, and near 100 on Wednesday, with the humidity increasing even faster. Thursday, the temperature was “only” 96. But the humidity had jumped so high that you could almost put your hand out and wring water from the air.

As if that weren’t enough, Detroit Edison found itself unable to provide all the power needed to keep the air conditioners running. It seems that Edison calculates its capacity for the times of low usage – and not for the times when it’s most needed!

Even so, there could have been an easy way to resolve the problem: close all those plants which draw enormous amounts of electricity. Certainly, it was outrageous that plants where temperatures inside were even hotter than outside were keeping people inside under these murderous conditions.

No, Ford wanted the electricity and Ford got it. Its River Rouge complex continued to gobble up enormous amounts of electricity from the Edison system.

Unwilling to offend the partner with whom it’s building a new power generating facility, Edison instead ran rolling blackouts through parts of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and southwest Detroit: 6 hours on, 6 hours off. And damn the people who desperately need electricity for medical apparatuses; damn the older people and those with asthma and other breathing problems who can die of hyperthermia when their air-conditioning goes off.

That’s not Ford’s problem – nor Edison’s. They have profits to count.

California:
“Bankrupt” PG&E reports that its profits triple

Aug 13, 2001

At the end of July, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced that its profits had tripled to 750 million dollars for the latest three months over the same period last year. This is certainly not bad for a company that in this same three months declared that it was supposedly “losing” so much money that it had no choice but to declare bankruptcy!

For the last year, PG&E’s largest subsidiary, the electric and gas utility serving northern and central California, has been claiming that it was being squeezed by the high rates that energy producers charge and the supposedly “low” rates that it was allowed to charge its consumers. Under the guise of losing record amounts of money, it got the state of California to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars to buy it electricity on the wholesale market. At the same time, it got the state regulatory board to impose record rate increases on consumers.

No wonder that electric utilities all across the country are pushing to deregulate their states’ electricity markets quickly.

Pages 4-5

Chocolate from misery:
African child labor

Aug 13, 2001

Responding to international protest, the west African country of Mali has announced that children will no longer be able to be taken out of the country without travel passes. Of course, the same authorities who turned a blind eye to the flood of children leaving the country will not be the ones to issue the travel passes. Youngsters from Mali have been taken out of Mali to the neighboring Ivory Coast to work on cocoa and cotton plantations.

Protesters in Europe and the U.S. have also demanded that international chocolate manufacturers begin labeling their products as a guarantee that child labor is not being used in these products. A congressman from New York introduced a bill, which was passed by the House, that requires companies to voluntarily label their products in order to show they are not produced by child labor.

The demand is, of course, unenforceable, which the Congress knows. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, is harvested from plantations located in tropical areas, first and foremost the Ivory Coast in western Africa. Often such plantations are located deep in the jungle, many hours walk from roads which are little more than dirt tracks. It is impossible to say with certainty how many people are working and what are their wages or ages.

More than 80 million children under 15 are estimated to be laboring in the poor countries of the world. According to one study, one in three children under 15 in east Africa is working and one in four children in west Africa is working. Their families are too poor to afford fees to send them to school. And often the countries themselves are too poor to provide schooling for all their children. In addition, the families need the extra income from their children’s labor in the poorest areas of the world where the average income can be less than $1 per day.

Some of the chocolate manufacturers have been accused of using child slave labor in growing the cocoa. And it is true that Africa and Asia are plagued by merchants who sell human beings, both young and old, for labor, as well as into prostitution or domestic slavery.

This problem is not limited to cocoa. The exact same circumstances hold true for all the manufactured products and raw materials circulating in the world, no matter if workers are picking cotton, manufacturing tee-shirts or tennis shoes or throw-away cameras. The same problem exists among those who harvest coffee beans, transport rice plants, or pick tea leaves. Capitalism requires wages as low as possible everywhere. And child labor obviously is paid less than adult labor and slave labor less than wage labor.

No amount of voluntary labeling by the manufacturers will change these circumstances by which raw materials and manufactured goods arrive from the poorer countries to be sold for the benefit of corporate owners in the rich countries.

The results will be exactly the same as what we see in U.S. supermarkets today: products carry a label which says they are “green” or “environmentally sound” or “organic,” without anyone being sure of what these catch phrases mean. One thing is sure: this labeling is simply one more excuse to raise the price!

Labeling will not provide a better life to the children of the poor countries – even if it does provide a light palliative to the guilty conscience of someone munching chocolate or sipping coffee lattes.

In a for-profit society, chocolate production – like all other production, especially in the poor countries – will never be sweet.

Colombia:
Coca Cola accused of assassinating a unionist

Aug 13, 2001

Charges have been filed in Miami by the International Metal Workers Union and by the International Foundation for Workers Rights representing a Colombian union named Sinaltrainal. This union represents a majority of the workers in the Coca Cola bottling plant in Columbia. The U.S. company and its Latin American bottler, Panamerican Beverages, are accused of illegally holding, torturing and assassinating unionists.

The legal charges cite acts of violence which began in the beginning of the 1990s, and which have continued ever since as part of an overall campaign of terror launched against militant workers at this company.

Five workers testified that they were victims of intimidation, illegal detention and physical torture carried out by paramilitary groups supported by their boss. Coca Cola was trying to force them to give up their union activity. The Colombian union Sinaltrainal says that the director of the factory in the town of Carepa threatened openly to kill unionists in his factory, and then proceeded to actually organize the murder of one of them, Isidro Segundo Gil, who was found assassinated on December 5, 1996.

For the moment, Coca Cola has not commented on the charges. Certainly Coca Cola knew what was going on. Since the fall of 1996, different unions have directly informed the top officials of the parent Coca Cola company about the attacks unionists were facing in Coca Cola Colombia. As one of their spokesman has noted, the parent company Coca Cola controls everything in the bottling factories, down to the color of the uniforms. At the very least, Coca Cola is an accomplice in these events in Colombia, just as it was in Guatemala in the 1980s, where three unionists in the Coca Cola bottling factory were assassinated there.

In Colombia, 128 unionists were assassinated during 2000. The multinational companies, like Coca Cola, when they are not directly ordering and financing the attacks carried out by their affiliates, close their eyes to the attacks. Coca Cola, like other companies with factories in countries like Columbia, proved itself ready to intimidate, brutalize and even eliminate workers who dare to stand up against the exploitation of which they are victims.

Genoa, Italy:
The assassins of order

Aug 13, 2001

On July 21and 22, the heads of the eight richest countries in the world, the so-called G8, met in Genoa, Italy. They were confronted by a massive demonstration of 200,000 protesters from various countries of Europe. The Italian state greeted the protesters with 20,000 police whose mission was to crush the protest, including beating up peaceful demonstrators. The city was placed in a state of siege for four days. The entire downtown was made a “red zone,” surrounded by wire fences, with a passage through it controlled by the police.

A cop killed a 23-year-old protester with two pistol shots to his head. During three days, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, who came to parade without intending to take on the police, were made the target of violent police charges, of clubbings and tear gas. A detachment of police seized the office of the Genoa Social Forum, where the protest was organized, savagely beating and arresting the militants who were present.

The cost of this police deployment was one dead, 231 wounded and 288 people arrested. This was the price to be paid for a grand meeting of eight heads of state.

The heads of state who met represent the bourgeoisie of the biggest countries, the principal beneficiaries of an abominable and inhuman world economic order. It's an economic order based on the exploitation of workers by the capitalist class in each country, but also on the pillage of the Third World. Everything is done to favor big capital and enable it to extract still more profit. This world order destroys the lives of millions of human beings through diseases, including those which could be treated, or simply through hunger.

We understand then why 200,000 or more people, mainly youth, seized the opportunity to show their disgust at an unjust and inhuman world. The police violence unleashed against them is unspeakable.

Those who demonstrated against this summit meeting wished to make a symbol of it. But these summits, like so many other international meetings of the same type, constitute only a masquerade for onlookers. Nothing is done there for the people. Given the emptiness of the discussions and the absence of any concrete measures other than freeing up a paltry sum to fight AIDS, if there had been no demonstration, no one would have spoken of this summit conference, unless it was to report on the banquet menu. The only decision was to set the date for the next world meeting of the same type, far away, in an inaccessible valley in the Canadian Rockies.

The "leaders of this world," who each pretend to represent their people thanks to democratic elections, have no illusions about their lack of popularity. Hypocritical speeches deploring world poverty don't make them more popular at home, where they serve those who get rich off this poverty.

The heads of state may occupy the limelight. But those who run things are the big bourgeoisie, the bosses of the big enterprises, the stockholders of financial institutions, who in the shadow of more or less democratically elected politicians, exercise an iron dictatorship over the economy and the running of the world. These are the same people who, here in the U.S., as elsewhere in the world, lay off thousands of people without a thought, worsen working conditions and reduce the purchasing power of wages. Their riches come from the impoverishment of their workers. They are the ones responsible for unemployment, who prefer to speculate on stocks, if that brings them more than by increasing production and creating jobs. They are the sole beneficiaries of a crazy economic system where even the progress of productivity increases social inequalities, instead of lessening them.

It's this dictatorship of the capitalist class over the world economy which must be indicted, not only globalization, which is only one of its superficial aspects and which is only a new name for a phenomenon born a hundred years ago. And it isn't enough to protest symbolically at the time of world conferences, which perhaps are even going to be suppressed. That won’t change anything. It's necessary to take on economic injustice, the super-profits which breed poverty and unemployment. To accomplish that, we have to do everything here where we live, against our own bosses and our own state apparatus.

Environment:
Kyoto accords are "saved" ... but not the planet!

Aug 13, 2001

At Genoa the heads of state of the big powers departed with a declaration saying that there wasn't agreement between the United States and the other industrialized countries over the question of ratification of the Kyoto agreement. This agreement is supposed to commit the industrialized countries to reduce the greenhouse gases which they emit by 5% between now and 2010. Scientists feel these gases are responsible for global warming. On the one hand there is Bush, who refused to ratify the agreement, and on the other hand, those who call themselves supporters of the Kyoto agreement, presenting themselves as more concerned to preserve the environment.

Bush refused to agree to the regulation of greenhouse gases by explaining, without laughing, that it would "endanger the American economy!" In reality, Bush especially didn't want to impose the least restrictions on U.S. manufacturers and particularly oil companies, who, like the capitalists of all the other countries, crazily make fun of the future of the planet and the health of billions of human beings.

This attitude of the U.S., the biggest economic power in the world, which is alone responsible for a third of the world's production of polluting gases, is obviously shocking. This is all the more so as Bush in fact proposes that the principal effort be made by the poor countries, who are supposed to use renewable energy sources!

But the defenders of the Kyoto agreement aren't as great defenders of the environment as they want to present themselves to us. For neither Kyoto nor the latest agreement will settle what's going to happen.

What was finally settled was that emission quotas were drawn up for greenhouse gases, without any penalty punishing those countries which exceeded them. Japan would only accept to sign the agreement on this basis, which says a lot about the way it intends to respect its quota ...

But at any event, the agreement anticipates many ways of exceeding these quotas. Given that forests and farming remove carbon from the atmosphere, certain countries will have a smaller quotas ... as a function of their forested area! Finally, according to the calculation of an ecological organization, the World Wild Fund [we need to see if this is Wildlife], the industrialized countries will only be held to a 1.8% cutback in gas emissions, instead of the previous 5%.

And then, there is still the "pollution market" which permits the rich countries to buy up "emission permits" of polluting gas from poor countries which can't reach their quota. Better still, the industrialized countries could also acquire such "permits" by aiding the poor countries to equip themselves with technologies that are judged to be "little polluting." A new perspective market for the industrial companies of the rich countries!

Fundamentally, in what has been decided, nothing is of a nature to harm the interests and the profits of the industrial polluters. On the contrary, these companies can even find in the agreement a source of extra profits!

Pages 6-7

The ER crisis:
More profit for hospitals, less care for patients

Aug 13, 2001

If you have suddenly gotten sick and want to call an ambulance to take you to the hospital, think twice –especially if you live in a big city.

It has become common for the hospitals in major cities to turn away ambulances due to the overcrowding of emergency rooms. In Los Angeles, for example, the 24 ERs at the heart of the county's emergency system were shut down on average more than one-fourth of the time last May, and one-third of the time in June. Other cities are not much better off. Cleveland had all of its ERs simultaneously closed for ten% of the time in May. The same happened in metropolitan Phoenix on eight occasions between January and April. The state of Massachusetts is investigating two cases, in which patients died after not being admitted to ERs which were closed down.

Hospitals are reducing the capacity of ERs while the number of people who rely on ERs, that is, the uninsured, keeps growing. Today in the U.S. one person out of every six has no health insurance –that's about 48 million people, most of whom are workers holding jobs, and their family members.

Hospitals don't invest in ERs because they are not profitable. Not only that, hospitals also reduce the number of beds –especially expensive ICU (intensive care unit) beds, to cut costs down. According to the figures of the American Hospital Association, one in every six ICU beds in the U.S. was eliminated between 1990 and 1999. So when ER doctors try to send patients out of the ER and into the hospital, often they can't do so because there are no beds available. It is common for ERs to place patients in hallway beds, sometimes for days at a time.

Not surprisingly, hospitals have been making huge profits.

We are told endless tales of how capitalism is the best system humanity can have because, thanks to the law of "supply and demand," it's so efficient. It is efficient all right, but not in answering the demands of society. Capitalism is efficient only in producing profits for a handful of big bosses –at the expense of society's needs, even the most basic ones.

Letter from a prisoner

Aug 13, 2001

August 3, 2001

Dear Spark,

I am writing this letter from the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle Indiana. The purpose of this letter is so that I can generate some support for a friend of mine. His name is Dayon Miller #967420 and he is currently housed here at the Secured Housing Units maximum lockup. On July 25, 2001, Mr. Miller was locked up for allegedly trying to kill an officer. This is what the police that runs this camp is saying. They came to the dorm (GHU left) and took him to lockup. As they were taking him out I heard a couple of the officers state that D. Miller was going to pay.

You are going to pay means that your mail will be destroyed, food tampered with (spit in, urinated in, maced, etc.) and it is nothing that one can do because there are no means of getting word out about these atrocities.

I am writing to request letters, calls, petitions, etc., of support to the Commissioner of the DOC and the superintendent of WVCF inquiring about the welfare of this prisoner who is being harassed daily by these barbaric low life cowards. They are taking vigilante justice into their hands and saying damn the political process. The reasons that I am so concerned is because several murders have taken place here and have been covered up.

Please show your support by contacting the addresses below and inquiring about Mr. Miller. Your time, effort, energy and support is and will be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Kalono Yero Yerdin

Commissioner:

Evelyn Ridley-Turner

Indiana Dept. of Corrections

E334 Ind. Government Center South

302 W. Washington St.

Indianapolis, IN 46204

Tele (317) 232-5715

Superintendent

Craig Hanks

Wabash Valley Correctional Facility

P.O. Box 1111

Carlisle, IN 47838

Tele (812) 398-5050

Legal harassment of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Aug 13, 2001

The Pennsylvania Bureau of Charitable Organizations has sent an order to the main organization which has been raising money to defend Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row. The state agency ordered the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal to stop soliciting money until it clears up questions. The letter from the Bureau demanded from the defense organization the date the group first sought contributions and the amount collected.

In and of itself, this order coming now at this critical point, shows to what extent the authorities are ready to push through Mumia’s execution.

The only reason Mumia is alive today is that there has been a widespread campaign in this country and abroad to defend him. This campaign has depended on numerous contributions, which have paid for literature as well as his legal defense.

This attempt by the state of Pennsylvania to cut off the funding of the campaign is another step by the authorities to stop the development of this campaign of support, and to carry out th execution. Just recently Mumia’s lawyers tried to enter into the record a confession made by Arnold Beverly who said he killed officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Mumia is on death row because the court found him guilty of this murder. Beverly says that the Philadelphia mob and corrupt police wanted Faulkner dead because he was disrupting their rackets. Beverly’s confession seems credible, since several Philadelphia police were convicted in later years in a federal court of corruption. A federal judge has ruled that this confession is not admissible in court – whether or not it is true – because it was turned in too late.

It’s all the more important to step up support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, both by attending protest demonstrations and by contributing to his defense fund.

Bush decides on stem cell research:
Full speed ahead for health care profits

Aug 13, 2001

President Bush finally announced his much-ballyhooed decision concerning the use of Federal funds for stem cell research. In a television address on August 9, Bush said he will allow Federal money to be used for research using what he claimed were 60 already existing lines of embryonic stem cells derived from embryos that were already “dead,” and for research using any adult stem cell lines. But he banned the use of Federal funds for research using any new embryonic stem cell lines that might be developed from embryos that were still “alive” as of the day of his speech.

The build up to Bush’s speech was designed to portray him as a thoughtful president trying to promote and protect the best interests of all the people. His decision was designed to be viewed as a compromise between two opposed camps: seriously ill people, medical researchers and other scientists on the one hand; Catholic and fundamentalist religious leaders on the other.

In fact, the main aim of the policy Bush announced is to subsidize stem cell research that the biomedical and pharmaceutical companies hope will result in therapies and cures for diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease to some forms of cancer to paralysis resulting from spinal cord injuries. If this government-subsidized research is successful, these companies stand to make many billions marketing therapies and cures without having to pay for the research – just as they regularly do with government-funded research.

But Bush had a problem. He had to continue these subsidies while not angering his religious supporters. So while pretending to be a president responding to the moral concerns of the religious right wing, in fact Bush responded to the only moral value of any importance to his or any other administration: their right to maximize their profits with the assistance of government subsidies; their right to continue developing – with the government’s help – a healthcare industry that will give anyone only the medical care he or she can afford –at the exorbitant prices the industry wants to charge!

All the drivers need safe trucks!

Aug 13, 2001

Officials of the Teamsters Union are trying to prevent Mexican truckers from driving into the U.S. to make deliveries.

The Teamster leaders militantly condemn the Mexican trucking industry for running unsafe trucks. They say border inspections found that 37% of the Mexican trucks had safety defects, and that such trucks should be blocked from entering the U.S., because of the highway safety hazards they represent.

It’s certainly true that unsafe trucks should be removed from the road – all of them. For example, we could start with trucks put on the road by the U.S. trucking industry. Inspections found that 24% of them had safety defects! The highway hazards of defective U.S. trucks are just as dangerous as the hazards of defective Mexican trucks.

Why focus only on Mexican trucks? Why not prevent ALL unsafe trucks from operating?

Truck drivers everywhere need safe trucks to drive. And the Teamsters are in the best position to insist that the trucks they themselves drive are completely safe. They have the means to put an end to the even bigger safety problem of fatigue. U.S. trucking companies jumped on the job-cutting bandwagon years ago, eliminating jobs – then forcing the remaining drivers to carry the load. Truckers drive more miles, and stay behind the wheel for longer hours, to bring home the same pay. This is a “safety defect” every bit as dangerous as the mechanical ones.

If anyone wants to fight for more jobs and safer jobs, they don’t have to wait until they get to the Rio Grande to do it.