The Spark

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

Issue no. 671 — January 7 - 21, 2002

What a deal!
And just as crooked the second time around!

Jan 7, 2002

Just look at it – this deal that America West cut with the newly formed “Air Transport Stabilization Board”! (This “emergency board” was authorized by Congress to hand out 15 billion dollars to the airlines, after September 11.)

America West is the first airline to be granted loans by the “emergency board.” The federal government will guarantee loans totaling up to 380 million dollars for America West. In exchange, the federal government will be given “stock warrants” which would allow the government – if it wants – to buy stock from America West. In other words, these warrants will allow the government to ... hand over still more money to America West.

In any case, this is not the worst part of the deal. The “emergency” board refused to give loan guarantees unless America West agreed to suspend currently scheduled wage increases for some of its workers and to “control labor costs” for all of them over the next six years.

America West, of course, was more than ready to agree. We can just hear its executives telling the unions: “the government says we must freeze wages until the year 2007.”

It’s the same game that was played in 1980, when Chrysler claimed, just as a number of airlines are doing today, that it was about to go belly-up. The government agreed to guarantee loans that Chrysler took out, in exchange for stock “warrants.” It also required Chrysler to demand wage and benefit concessions from its workers.

Unfortunately, two decades ago, when Chrysler demanded the union agreed whole heartedly to this rotten concessions deal. It would protect workers jobs – or so they said.

What will this game mean today, not just for America West workers, but for other airline workers and even workers in other industries?

We should remember that when Chrysler workers gave wage and benefit concessions so the company could get loan guarantees in 1980, Ford and GM then demanded concessions, too. And they didn’t need any loan guarantees from the government to do it. They just yelled, “we can’t compete,” and the union stepped forward to help them take wage and benefit concessions too. In fact all three companies took two rounds of concessions.

And – just as a reminder – after Chrysler, Ford and GM, came almost every other major company in the country, lining up to take back some of what workers had gained for themselves in earlier struggles.

So far, no major airline has submitted a request for loan guarantees. Some may never do it, some are just waiting to cut a better deal. (The fact that they can wait demonstrates something about their claims that September 11 did them in. Despite the big losses they talk about, they apparently all still have ready cash on hand, accumulated from the period when airlines profits were booming.)

But regardless of whether all or some or even none of them ask for loan guarantees, the main point of this deal has already been put in play: that is, to put pressure on the workers to reduce their standard of living.

We may have been dealt the same dirty hand that was dealt to workers two decades ago. But it doesn’t mean we have to play it. When someone cheats you at poker, then tries to deal from the bottom of the same crooked deck a second time, most people say STOP.

It’s time for workers – starting with those at America West – to say STOP, too. And if workers are determined, they can keep the weakest-hearted union official from caving in, not to mention reinforcing those union officials who do want to make a fight.

Pages 2-3

What’s up with pay raises for Maryland state workers?

Jan 7, 2002

Maryland state workers are scheduled to get a 4% across-the-board pay raise in January, showing up in their paychecks in the middle and end of the month. This raise was in fact promised a year ago by Governor Glendening who announced it with great fanfare, trying to pretend, once again, that he is a great, good friend of labor. However, in recent months he has kept strangely silent about the raise, when ordinarily he would be patting himself on the back right about now.

This has caused state workers to worry. And for good reason, considering that Glendening and state politicians have recently been talking continually about a big deficit in the state budget. Glendening already announced that he is proposing a significant budget cut in the various Departments of the state – with the exception of security and the military.

What’s with the secrecy? Could it be that this governor is carefully watching to see what bosses do in industry, and what state and local politicians are saying around the country, as they take advantage of September 11 in calling for cutbacks and layoffs and other sacrifices on the part of workers? Is he trying to figure out just how far he can go and what he can get away with?

The workers have enough to say to each other without worrying about Governor Glendening. We need a decent living wage – that’s all that needs to be said.

Anthrax attacks
– as they designed it to do

Jan 7, 2002

On January 1, the EPA declared that, pending final test results, they believe Senator Tom Daschle’s office to be free of anthrax spores.

From the first discovery of the spores, on October 15, it has taken nearly three months to clean up this contamination. Not because it was low priority! U.S. senators and their Senate Office Building are going to get the best care money can buy.

Yet, the clean-up took this long, with all the fumigations (and failed fumigations) and the very best technology available.

The very best available does not seem to be very good. And isn’t that curious? Because the people in charge of the U.S. military biological weapons program have said, for years, that the only purpose of their anthrax program is to develop defenses against it. They have said, over and over, that they are not producing anthrax as an offensive weapon.

But now, some renegade from their own ranks, with an anthrax strain that they made, in a weapons-grade form that they invented, has succeeded in killing five people. And where were all these advanced defensive measures that they were supposed to be working on? Nowhere to be found!

Imagine some other renegade, or even an accidental release or – what the U.S. military has been preparing for – to use it themselves against a civilian population. Imagine the impact of anthrax if it were released over a wide area.

This is the real significance of this very contained anthrax attack: the possibility of a much wider one.

These liars have an anthrax program, all right. Their program is to find the best way to turn anthrax into an efficient weapon of mass destruction. In that they have succeeded.

Dumping more medical bills on us

Jan 7, 2002

Everything we read would have us believe that employers are suffering and can’t afford to pay our health care.

An annual survey of 2800 employers projected an average rise of 13% in health care costs in 2002. This is after an 11% jump in 2001, and 8% in 2000.

The employers blame it on rising costs of drugs, hospital care, and doctors’ fees.

So they intend to make the workers pay. Higher co-pays, higher deductibles, higher premiums, for workers with some kind of company health plan. For workers without a plan – just pay more. Period. Or go without care.

Ford Motor Company, for instance, recently hit their salaried workers with increases on health-care premiums and drug co-pays. Even retirees who were salaried will have to start paying part of their premiums, this June.

Also, a recent teachers’ strike in New Jersey was largely against a proposal to raise their annual flat fee from $250 to $600 a year, on top of the other $1400 deductible they pay before their insurance covers anything at all.

The examples go on and on. The bosses play copy-cat. All of them claim they are nearly broke. All of them say there’s no choice but for workers to tighten our belts even more.

But they lie. When they have something they want to do, some merger they want to make, some executive bonuses they want to give, they always find money. The money is there.

In the health care game, like so many other things, the capitalists are simply seeing what they can get away with. If the drug companies can jack up their prices and profits, and no one opposes them, then they will do it.

If the auto and steel companies can protect their profits by passing along all of these increases – and more work on us besides! – then they’ll do it.

When a one-cent aspirin costs you a dollar in the hospital, you know that the actual costs of health care are not the problem. All of the companies using health care as an excuse to pick our pockets – there’s the real problem!

Michigan HAS money
– despite all claims

Jan 7, 2002

The state of Michigan, like many states, is crying broke. Spending is being cut for nursing homes, public health care for poor children, mental health services, senior citizen centers, and burials for the destitute. State workers are receiving only small raises, putting them further behind inflation, and those who leave or retire aren’t being replaced.

There is no choice but to cut the budget – there is no money. It’s all the fault of September 11th – or so they say.

Michigan’s budget shortfalls are not surprising. Long before September 11th, Michigan politicians decided they didn’t need so much income and handed out new corporate tax cuts.

During the past two years, the following corporations were given a total of 40 million dollars per year in NEW property tax cuts: GM, Ford, Visteon, K-Mart, Dow Chemical, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, Johnson Controls, Siemens, Gyricon (A Xerox spin-off), American Axle, and Comcast.

These tax cuts, for roughly 20 years into the future, will total 675 million dollars in lost income the state decided it didn’t need! That’s part of the reason there’s no money for what the population needs.

It’s also no surprise Michigan has budget problems when you examine the grants that are being handed out to corporations, even after September 11th.

In November of 2001, the state announced that General Motors and Visteon would receive eight million dollars from the Dept. of Transportation for improvements to roads adjacent to property they own. So the next time you hit a pothole, just think about those smooth roads going into GM’s Lake Orion Plant and Visteon’s new world headquarters!

In 2001, corporations were given 3.1 million dollars in “Development Job Training Grants” by the Department of Education. Money that in past years paid for troubled teens to get a high school diploma now goes to corporations to fund their own retraining and technical training costs through programs administered by Michigan colleges.

In 2001, many corporations received “Brownfield Grants.” This money was intended for cleaning up the damage caused by industrial pollution of water and land. Instead, the state has given grants to corporations to build brand new factories. Corporations are handed money for a new highly profitable factory under the guise of cleaning up pollution.

The state of Michigan certainly HAS money. But instead of spending it on services and roads for the population, they’ve been handing it over to corporations, with no slowdown in sight!

Two national surveys, one by Plant Sites and Parks Magazine and another by Site Selection Magazine, rated Michigan the #1 state for a climate favorable to big business.

In other words, Michigan’s new tax breaks and government grants have made Michigan THE place to be for corporations looking for government hand-outs.

This is what creates problems for working people – no matter how much they try to blame it on September 11th.

The state pays a fine
– so it can intimidate strikers again

Jan 7, 2002

After nine years of legal battle, California’s Orange County settled a lawsuit by more than 100 drywall workers, paying them a total of $280,000. When lawyers’ fees are taken out, this leaves each worker only about $1,200.

In 1992, workers had sued the county for arresting them on bogus charges in an effort to break their strike. Earlier that year, 153 strikers had been arrested after picketing a construction site in Orange County – the largest mass arrest in the county’s history. The workers were charged with “conspiracy to kidnap” strikebreakers. Later these charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

But before that happened, the strikers were held on $50,000 bail each, making it impossible for these low-paid workers to post bail and get out. In jail, some of them were slapped, kicked and otherwise abused by jail deputies attempting to intimidate them and break the morale of the strike. Federal immigration officers came by the jail to check their legal status and eventually deported dozens of them.

Nonetheless, the workers did not cave in to this intimidation. Nor did they depend on their court suit to win their battle. For five months they maintained their solidarity and daily activities. Ultimately they won a small wage increase and partial medical coverage. They also won effective recognition of their union in an industry where bosses had broken the unions ten years before.

So now, nine years later, the workers have finally been compensated for the false arrest. Of course they felt they had no choice but to accept only a tiny fraction of their original demand of $70,000 each because the case had been dragging on for so long. But even the small award they got is an admission by the state of its own illegal activities.

Does this mean the state will no longer arrest and otherwise intimidate strikers? Not at all. The state is perfectly ready to pay out money years later if its activities – legal and illegal – help to disarm the workers and throw back their struggles.

The workers main recourse is to do what the drywall strikers did – continue their fight in a militant and determined fashion.

Mumia Abu-Jamal:
First overturn of part of trial

Jan 7, 2002

U.S. District Court Judge William Yohn Jr. ruled on December 18 that the penalty phase of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial was wrongly handled. He then concluded that the state of Pennsylvania needs to convene a new jury to decide sentence. This jury can look at evidence concerning what happened, in order to decide the sentence.

If the state chooses not to do this within 180 days, then Mumia would be sentenced to life in prison.

This doesn’t mean that the threat of a death sentence is completely removed. The prosecutors in Philadelphia said they will appeal Judge Yohn’s decision to the U.S. Appeals Court, where the death penalty could be reimposed. Or the new jury could also reimpose the death penalty.

Nor does it mean that justice is being done. Mumia has already spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And there is no indication he will get another trial, much less be freed.

Nonetheless, this is the first time since former Black Panther Mumia was framed up in 1981, on charges he killed a Philadelphia cop, that a court has thrown out part of the results of his original trial.

This ruling – highly unusual at this stage – reflects the pressure being brought by protests in this country and especially abroad. These protests have thrown a spotlight on this country’s truly horrible “justice” system, including its reliance on the death penalty. This barbaric practice has been outlawed by civilized countries around the world.

It would be a mistake if the movement were to step back in the false belief that Mumia no longer faces the death penalty. It is essential that the campaign continue, for Mumia still faces possible execution for a crime he didn’t commit.

And because life in prison is also a gross injustice.

Pages 4-5

War “games” between India and Pakistan

Jan 7, 2002

Today both India and Pakistan are mobilizing troops along their 1,800 mile common border. The armies on each side have exchanged artillery and mortal fire. They have mobilized missiles, jet planes, artillery and tanks, have built bunkers and laid land mines. Both sides have nuclear weapons, which as the commentators point out, raises the stakes of any war here enormously.

This military mobilization follows the December 13 suicide terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which left 11 Indians and five of the attackers dead. India blamed the attack on Islamic terrorist groups based in Pakistan, which have been engaged in fights in recent years in Kashmir, an area of India bordering Pakistan that is mostly Muslim and which Pakistan claims. Twice before India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir, so the possibility of a war remains real.

But the question is not simply the history which runs between India and Pakistan. The current threat of war comes as a consequence of U.S. policies in the region and specifically of the US. involvement of Pakistan in the war on Afghanistan. The military ruler of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was pressured to allow the U.S. to use military bases in Pakistan from which to bomb Afghanistan and to use the Pakistani army to capture Taliban and Al Qaeda soldiers fleeing into Pakistan. This meant Musharraf has had to crack down on Muslim fundamentalist groups inside Pakistan, which have not only been a prop to his own government, but even part of the armed forces staff. The Pakistani government has long supported the terrorist groups operating inside of Kashmir and making violent attacks on India. Now India is using the pretext of Bush’s war on terrorism to demand that Pakistan arrest and turn over to India the terrorists operating in Pakistan. If that doesn’t happen, the Indian government says it will have to use the option that the United States has relied on in the war on terrorism, military intervention.

The roots of the dispute over Kashmir go back to the years when the former British colony of India was fighting for its independence. Britain fomented fighting between different ethnic groups and between Hindu and Muslim. The British established the “partition” of the colony, creating a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan. At partition about a million people were massacred as Hindus living in Pakistan fled to India, and Muslims living in India fled to Pakistan.

In recent years the rulers of both India and Pakistan have increasingly relied on religious fundamentalism to maintain themselves in power. The main political party in the government of India today is a Hindu nationalist party, which won for itself mass support by supporting the hundreds of Hindu fanatics who tore down a major Muslim mosque. In Pakistan the military rulers both finance and rely on Muslim fundamentalist parties which they hope to use to prop up their support. The religious fundamentalist parties in both countries are able to build a mass base by offering schools and hospitals when the government fails to provide them, and by offering the mass of their followers religious fanaticism tied to nationalism, which only leads to constant wars and conflicts with the workers and peasants of different beliefs.

Since 1947 the U.S. has sold arms at various times to both countries. It armed the Pakistani military dictators as a counter to China, and armed India because it too had conflicts with China. The nuclear arms of both countries were possible only because U.S. and European corporations sold them reactors and crucial technology.

Today the U.S. government is putting considerable pressure on the Pakistani regime to crack down on terrorist groups operating in its country and to avoid a war with India. At the same time it is trying to throw a few sops to Pakistan’s regime.

This may be enough to prevent a war – at least for the time being. But the dangers of war in the region, which could become a massive conflagration, are nonetheless very real.

If and when war does break out it can only be a consequence of the policies carried out – right now and in the past – by the various big powers, with the U.S. leading the pack.

The latest stage in Argentina’s permanent crisis

Jan 7, 2002

In Argentina, unrest has been growing. Food riots have been sweeping the country, as thousands and thousands of hungry people have broken into food markets. Then just before Christmas, mass demonstrations erupted in the capital city of Buenos Aires against the government. The police tried to stop the demonstrators, firing into crowds, killing 27 people and wounding several hundred more. But the demonstrations only grew larger, until they forced the president of the country, Fernando de la Rua, to resign.

But this resignation did not quell the unrest. One politician after the other took office, only to resign almost immediately. On January 3, Eduardo Duhalde became the fifth person to assume the office of the presidency in less than two weeks.

Driving these protests is worsening unemployment and misery. The official unemployment rate now stands at 18%. Over15 million people, or close to one-third of the population, are living below the official poverty line. Each day, an estimated two thousand more people are forced to live on less than four dollars per day.

This growing misery is hardly an accident. In just two years, the government and business worked together to impose eight austerity programs on the population: slashing jobs, wages and benefits. At the same time, the government has slashed all the social programs that served as a safety net, including pensions, education and health care, while raising taxes paid by working people.

The last straw came at the beginning of December when the government restricted how much money could be taken out of individual bank accounts.

Setting the stage for more imperialist plunder

This latest crisis in Argentina is dramatic, but it is hardly unique. For the last 30 years, Argentina has been mired in crisis, marked by several harsh economic downturns, bulging international debts, growing unemployment and misery. Accompanying all this have been spasms of harsh government repression, most famously carried out by a military dictatorship, which lasted from 1976 to 1983, that was responsible for murdering tens of thousands of people.

Through all these crises, the government has put forward one plan after another to supposedly reform the economy, always promising that both economic growth and higher living standards were just around the corner. The latest version of these so-called reforms began in 1989. At that time, production was lower than it was in 1974, the official unemployment rate stood at 15%, and wages were, on average, one-third lower than they had been in 1974.

In 1989, upon taking office as the newly elected president, Carlos Menem immediately instituted an ambitious plan to sell off the major industries and the infrastructure that had been under the ownership of the government to big financial companies from both the U.S. (including Citicorp and J.P. Morgan) and Europe, and a small handful of big Argentine business groups that had previously made their money from the Argentine state-run industries. The government’s pretext was that the money it took in from the sale of what amounted to most of the Argentine economy would go to boost social programs, as well as to pay down the big international debt. And – it promised – the big companies that began to “invest” in Argentina, would then plow more capital in to build up the infrastructure and the economy, boosting jobs and the standard of living.

It should be noted that Argentina was not alone in carrying out such sweeping “reforms.” Under the urging of the U.S. government, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the international financial community as a whole, these kinds of so-called reforms were being carried out to a greater or lesser degree in the rest of Latin America, as well as much of the underdeveloped world and Eastern Europe.

Fire sale

In less than two years, the Argentine government sold off an astounding number of state run enterprises: the national telephone company, the electric utilities, the water system, the ports, the airports, the airlines, the railways, chemical plants, shipyards, big stretches of highways, the post office, the oil industry, the gas industry, the national pension system. What the government did not advertise were the big discounts at which these businesses were sold, as well as the generous tax breaks, subsidies and even guaranteed profits that the government tacked on. These new privately-run companies did NOT invest to expand production or services, as promised. On the contrary, they cut back. For example, the company that took possession of the railroads, cut service substantially. These cutbacks helped feed a continuation of mass downsizings in other companies.

For a short time, Argentina’s stock market and real estate markets boomed, while its international debt and government deficit declined and the economy showed some weak growth. But the financial panics that broke out in Mexico in 1994, and in Asia and Russia in 1997, spread immediately to the Argentine financial markets and then to the Argentine economy as a whole, leading to back-to-back recessions. To continue to reassure both foreign and domestic speculators, the Argentine government carried out one more major economic “reform”: it tied the Argentine peso directly to the U.S. dollar. With one Argentine peso equal to one U.S. dollar, speculators would not have to worry about a devaluation of the Argentine peso reducing their speculative ventures in Argentina.

Capital flight

This soon boomeranged against the Argentine economy as a whole. As the value of the U.S. dollar increased in relation to most other currencies, so did the value of the Argentine peso. This made exports from Argentina more expensive and often priced them out of the market. The fall in Argentina’s exports then fed a decline in industrial and agricultural production, and more layoffs. With the Argentine economy going on a downward slope, the big capitalists, both foreign and domestic, began to pull their money from the country, leading to a fast decline of the Argentine speculative markets.

In the face of this capital flight, the Argentine government continued to maintain the Argentine peso at its peg to the U.S. dollar, but only at a stupendous cost by borrowing larger and larger sums on international capital markets. Last year alone, the Argentine government borrowed 40 billion dollars. The foreign debt ballooned to 140 billion dollars. This kind of borrowing did serve a purpose. It allowed the big speculators to pull most of their capital and profits out of the country, without great loss. Of course, by aiding and abetting this capital flight, the Argentine government also assured that the economic collapse would deepen.

What measures will the new officials who wind up leading the Argentine government carry out? One thing is sure, whatever new so-called reforms are instituted, the government, representing international finance and the Argentine bourgeoisie will want the Argentine masses to pay.

The people of Argentina have already shown their unwillingness to go on paying. Their problem now is to make the people responsible for the current crisis – that is, the owners of capital – pay for the crisis.

After the ravages of war, a “peace” full of threats

Jan 7, 2002

Several weeks ago, the U.S. announced that the anti-Taliban forces had finally conquered the caves of Tora Bora. But while the pounding by the B52s may have left hundreds of dead in the rubble of the underground caverns, Washington’s spies haven’t picked up a trace of bin Laden. It seems they’ve also lost track of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader whom they have made public enemy number two.

In other words, Bush has nothing to offer to U.S. public opinion except the ignoble bombing of a civilian population which had nothing to do with the terrorist attack.

This is undoubtedly why U.S. authorities, with the consent of the other Western powers, threw themselves into making such a show around the famous video of bin Laden discovered in Jalalabad. Unable to deliver bin Laden and his lieutenants to the military tribunals which he has prepared for them, Bush has called on the U.S. media to judge them – evidently hoping to prevent U.S. public opinion from knowing about the thousands of innocent people killed or maimed by U.S. bombs.

In the meantime, Western diplomats are beginning to compete with each other in Kabul. Each of the governments of the rich countries which make up the “coalition against terrorism” is determined to defend the part of the crumbs that it thinks its big capitalists will get. Afghanistan is perhaps a poor country, but even in misery, there are profits to be made by giant corporations.

This is the meaning of the bargaining which continues to develop around the constitution of the “international security force.” proposed by the U.N. at the behest of the U.S.

What will the future hold for the people of Afghanistan? Western leaders one after another demand the right for their troops not only to interpose themselves between possible belligerents, but to “maintain peace,” that is, order, by force of their own arms.

After the bloody war which the imperialist powers have made the Afghan people suffer, they are now imposing a “peace” which will worsen the situation still further. This so-called “peace” will be imposed by the U.S. and its allies supporting in power this fragile coalition of rival Afghan warlords: warlords who are notorious for the violence they carried out against the population when they held power before.

Pages 6-7

Movie Review:
No Man’s Land

Jan 7, 2002

No Man’s Land is a film about the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, made by Bosnian director Danis Tanovic. It tells the story of three wounded soldiers who are trapped in a trench between enemy lines – Serbians on one side, Bosnian Muslims on the other. One of the soldiers is a Serb, the other two Muslims, and one of the Muslim soldiers is lying on a “bouncing mine” (“made in USA,” as a Serb soldier boasts), which will explode if he moves away from it.

The situation described here (enemy soldiers trapped in the same trench) is a familiar one. But this takes nothing away from the movie’s originality and the urgency of its message: in wars like this, the “enemy” soldier you are shooting at is somebody just like you. In Bosnia, people belonging to the three “different” ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats and Muslims – share a common language and culture. What separates them is religion (Serbs are Greek Orthodox Christians and Croats Roman Catholic, while Muslims are descendants of Bosnians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule a few centuries ago). But that need not be significant in a society which is overwhelmingly secular and, especially in the cities, characterized by mixed marriages.

The movie gives some hints about the callous attitudes of those who called the shots during the war – whether Serb or Muslim commanders or officers of the U.N. “peacekeepers.” Tanovic doesn’t spare the media either: the actions of the journalists at all levels are guided by self-serving sensationalism, devoid of the slightest compassion towards their fellow human beings trapped in this massive human tragedy. All of this is done in a manner of natural, often humorous, storytelling – making its powerfully humane anti-war message all the more efffective.

Could Tanovic tell more about the war? Probably. Perhaps he could try to give the audience a better idea about how the war was started and dragged on by war chiefs on all sides who just wanted to grab more land for the country they wanted to run; how the “international community,” that is, the U.S. and other imperialist countries like France, Britain and Germany, not only appeased but actively supported these warmongers – which explains the role played by U.N. “peacekeepers” in Bosnia, so well-depicted in the movie.

Regardless of this, No Man’s Land is definitely worth seeing because it deals with a very real, very important topic so passionately and realistically.

No Man’s Land is not likely to play in many theaters in the U.S., but if you can find it in a theater or video store near you, see it.

Deeper in Debt

Jan 7, 2002

Until recently, the bosses and the government told us the economy had been doing well. Yet in the past 12 years, consumer debt has doubled. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that the level of consumer debt is so large that it averages out to over $20,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

Clearly OUR economy was never doing as well as THEIR economy.

Enron and the 401(k) pension time bomb

Jan 7, 2002

Seeing their 401(k) plans sink with the fall of the stock market, many people are beginning to wonder just how safe and secure their 401(k) plans really are. And they are also watching what happened to employees at Enron, the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history. Of the 21,000 employees at Enron, 12,000 lost most of the money in their 401(k) pension plans because their holdings were in Enron stock, and today that stock is virtually worthless. All told, those employees lost 1.2 billion dollars.

But employees at Enron are not alone. Thousands more employed by such well-known large companies as Polaroid, Lucent Technology (one of the Baby Bells that came out of the break-up of AT&T), Nortel Networks and Global Crossing have also suffered similar fates.

Companies have increasingly shifted their retirement plans – that is, when they still offer them – from the old fashioned pension plans, where there is a stipulated pension, to the 401(k) plans, which are most often laden in company stock. Certainly, the old fashioned plans were extremely inequitable, since a worker had to keep a job at one single company for at least 30 years to get a full retirement package. But the 401(k) plan is even worse. The company shifts the risk of retirement completely to the employee, and it also shifts much of the cost. Not only do workers pay for the stock out of their pay check, they also pay the exorbitant fees to the financial companies that manage it, fees that are often hidden, or very difficult to understand, but fees that the financial companies collect year in and year out, whether the stock rises or falls.

The workers have little to hope for from this capitalist world where speculation is the order of the day and where wealth is fictitious. The only guarantee that workers can give themselves is social – that is through the struggles we make collectively in solidarity with each other to improve the condition of every one.

Religious Fundamentalism:
– and “reborn”
– in the USA

Jan 7, 2002

Today, we hear a lot about Islamic fundamentalism and its espousal of terrorism. But, in fact, religious fundamentalism is not limited to Islam nor is terrorism limited to the poor countries where Islam is the dominant religion.

Contrary to common prejudice, the first modern selfproclaimed “fundamentalist” current did not emerge from the backwardness of a poor country, like Afghanistan. In fact, it was formed in what was then already the world’s most advanced economy, that is, right here in the United States. Between 1910 and 1915, a dissident faction of Protestant laymen produced a 12volume treatise entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony of the Truth. Proclaiming themselves “fundamentalists,” they organized a religious current to oppose changes in the society of that time: specifically, the increase in Catholic immigrants in the latter part of the 19th century; the rise of social unrest and class polarization, and the rapid progress of scientific thought. These original fundamentalists stood for a literal reading of the Bible, claiming, at the same time, that the explanation set down in Genesis gave a complete explanation of the origins of life.

The fundamentalists were a motley crew coming from very different backgrounds, although usually from the most reactionary layers of the middle class. Despite their differences, they sometimes found common ground. Such was the case in 1925, during the high profile trial of John T. Scopes, a high school biology teacher accused of teaching evolution theory, violating a law adopted earlier that year in the state of Tennessee – a law which remained in force until 1967! Scopes was fined $100 although the state supreme court quashed the ruling later on. This trial provided a major platform for one of the fundamentalists’ favorite hobby horses – what they called the “science of creation.” Since then hundreds of books have been devoted to substantiating this socalled “science.”

It was not until 1987 that the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down all state laws requiring that “creationism” be taught in any public school where evolution was discussed. Even today, there is a “Creation Evidence Museum” at Glen Rose (in George Bush's own state of Texas) which displays “scientific” proof for “creationism” – for example, human footprints allegedly dating back to the dinosaur era, a fossilized human foot in a boot, and so on. These “proofs” – most of which could only be pure and simple fabrication – indicate to what extent the fundamentalists try to play on many people’s lack of scientific knowledge.

Starting from the small number of dissident bigots of the early 20th century, the American fundamentalists diversified on a very large scale. Today, about half the 60 million “bornagain” Christians in the U.S. describe themselves as “fundamentalists.” They are organized in a galaxy of churches, congregations and sects of all kinds. The Traditional Values Coalition, by itself, claims the adherence of 31,000 different churches.

Predictably this fundamentalist milieu leans towards the right of the political spectrum, and usually the farright. Developing in the late 1970s, the Christian fundamentalists have carried out an ever more vocal lobbying of the government to pass laws which favor their religious positions. Their fight against evolution, for example, is still going on. The state legislature of Kansas, responding to their pressure, recently passed legislation which would allow public schools not to teach anything about evolution, plate tectonics or current knowledge about the development of the universe – all three of which contradict the account in Genesis. They have also waged campaigns trying to have the United States be declared a Christian Republic and compulsory prayers be introduced in public schools.

But it is in their fight against abortion rights that the fundamentalists have shown their real face most clearly. While Republicans and Democrats alike have courted them, taking a number of small steps restricting abortion rights – at least for poor women – up until now, neither party has been ready to completely prohibit abortion – an action which they calculate would provoke an electoral backlash.

Thus, the fundamentalists moved to direct action through antiabortion groups like Operation Rescue. Not only have they engaged in systematic picketing and harassment of the medical staffs and patients at women’s medical clinics; they have also carried out physical assaults, arson, bombings and shooting attacks – not to mention the anthrax threats which continue to be sent to such clinics. These attacks were so widespread that by the early 1990s, it had become impossible to get an abortion in 83% of all U.S. counties – not due to legal prohibition but to the mounting terror campaign carried out by the antiabortion groups.

It seems that these “American values” the Christian fundamentalists speak so much about have also produced their own fanatical terrorists!

It is significant that when Bush announced his list of terrorist organizations, it did not include any of these home grown terrorists.