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. 675 — March 4 - 18, 2002

Which is the shadow, and which is the real government?

Mar 4, 2002

The Bush administration has leaked a “top-secret” secret – and with such fanfare that everyone was sure to notice. It seems, according to administration spokespersons who confirmed the leak, that there is a “shadow government,” set up in place in case the “real government” is unable to carry on.

According to stories circulated in the press, plans for this “shadow government” were set up during the Eisenhower administration, during the height of the Cold War, but never implemented.

Bush, however, has decided that the time is now ripe to put this “shadow government” into existence. Al Qaeda might be able, he says, to detonate a portable nuclear device in Washington, knocking out the real government. Thus, top officials of the army, the state department, the treasury and other such essential agencies have been taking turns living and working in hidden underground bunkers, “somewhere on the Eastern seaboard.” A Pentagon spokesperson added, “you don’t want the bad guys to know where you’re putting your people and what your plans are.”

The Bad Guys! Sounds like the Bush administration has seen one too many Westerns, getting its scripts mixed up.

In any case, one thing is true: There is a “shadow government,” but it’s long been in place, although not in these secret “bunkers.” The “shadow government” is that part of the state apparatus which continues, no matter who sits in the White House pretending to make policy. It’s that part of government that no one sees, but which makes all the “real” decisions. The generals, the diplomatic corps, the top layers of the secret police agencies, the people who control the federal reserve bank and its various parts, the top courts – these people are not elected, they do not serve at the will of the people, but they make the basic essential decisions. Most of them the population couldn’t name. They don’t appear in public defending their policies. But they are, in fact, the real government. Elected officials, sitting in the White House and Congress, are in reality only THEIR shadow, window dressing for all the non-elected people who make public policy.

Of course, when a Republican sits in the White House, certain corporations get more consideration than others – the Enron affair shows us that. Just as when a Democrat sits there, capitalists like Marc Rich got an extra bit of help. And the Democrats occasionally give a few crumbs to the unions to assure their loyalty at the next election.

But underneath, there is always a continuity of policy, the main goal of which is to defend the basic interests of the capitalists who control the economy and who require the help of the state apparatus to do it.

But, of course, this is not what Bush is talking about today, when he refers to the “shadow government.” Bush is simply making more propaganda, still trying to keep our fears alive and to use them against us. We continue to be bombarded by “terror alerts,” telling us that a new attack could happen any day – even while big companies like Boeing which carry on military work have been told they can relax their security procedures.

For the Bush administration, September 11 has been a very useful weapon, and they’ve used it almost every day since in one way or another, always with the aim of convincing us we must sacrifice. They tell us we must accept more layoffs, lower wages, worse conditions in the cities where we live, worse schools for our children, reduced pensions for people who retire, less access to medical care for the elderly, even while the biggest corporations in the country are getting ready to grab still more profit. Our sacrifices go for nothing other than to pay for these profits.

This is the real policy of the government today – both “shadow” and “real.” And we are not served by either one.

Yes, we have to defend ourselves – but against all these rapacious agents of American capitalism and against the corporations that make their profit from our labor.

Pages 2-3

Some 15,000 Americans died of cancer caused by U.S. nuclear testing

Mar 4, 2002

The U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finished a study over a year ago on the effects of nuclear weapons testing on the population of the U.S. That study has never been released, but USA Today managed to get a copy of it and published some of its findings. According to USA Today 15,000 people probably died from cancer in the U.S. as the result of tests carried out above ground by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, with most of the fallout in the U.S. coming from U.S. testing.

The U.S. government exploded over 200 atomic bombs in the atmosphere from the 1940s up until 1963. About half the explosions were at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles from Las Vegas, but winds carried radioactive particles to most of the country.

People got cancer in two ways from the radioactive fallout. Radioactive particles fell on the skin of people and gave rise to melanoma and breast cancer, among other cancers. People also absorbed radiation internally from breathing the fallout and eating food that the radioactive particles fell on. The study estimated that internal absorption caused at least 550 fatal leukemia deaths and 2,500 fatal cases of thyroid cancer. The study said, “all organs and tissues of the body have received some radiation exposure.

Of course 15,000 deaths isn’t much when compared to the several hundred thousand people who were killed from the two atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan to demonstrate to the world it had the bomb and would use it. But this study at least shows that the disregard for human life that U.S. authorities exhibit toward the rest of the world extends to the population here.

Profits trump patriotism every time

Mar 4, 2002

A number of big corporations are establishing headquarters on the Caribbean island of Bermuda. That’s not because they’ve suddenly started a business there. No. Most of them don’t even hold a meeting. They just set up a mail drop.

But it did save them a lot in taxes: Tyco International saved 400 million; Ingersoll-Rand saved 40 million dollars; Cooper Industries, 54 million dollars, etc.

Kate Barton, a tax partner at the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, said in a Webcast to clients: “Is it the right time to be migrating a corporation’s headquarters to an offshore location? And yet ... a lot of companies feel that it is, that just the improvement on earnings is powerful enough that maybe the patriotism issue needs to take a back seat to that.”

The corporations who call on us to sacrifice in the name of patriotism certainly sing a different tune when it comes to making more money.

Andrea Yates case:
Society doesn’t give a damn for children

Mar 4, 2002

The tragic case of Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her five children on June 20, went to the jury for a decision last week. The state prosecutors are calling for a verdict of first degree murder, which can carry the death penalty.

The state of Texas says Yates is legally responsible: she is not so much a mother as she is a murderer. The prosecutors have argued she knew what she was doing and deserves the full punishment of the law.

If there were any doubts about what justice represents, the Yates case would be one to put those doubts to rest. This woman had been under treatment by a psychiatrist for severe depression for two years. She had already tried to commit suicide. One psychiatrist said on the stand at the trial that Andrea Yates was the sickest person he had ever treated.

Yet the court, and many people, argue that Yates was both sane and knew what she was doing when she drowned her five children, ages 6 months through seven years, one after the other, then laid them out on their beds.

Yates herself believed sometimes that she was Satan. During the trial, a psychiatrist testified that Yates said, “My children were not righteous. I let them stumble because I was evil. The way I was raising them they could never be saved ... They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell.”

And this sick woman is being accused of being completely sane, able to tell right from wrong, and responsible alone for what happened. And plenty of media attention has been paid to her unfortunate husband, who is also accused of being a bad parent because he supposedly let this tragedy take place.

What happened is exactly the proof that we live in a world where nobody except parents give a damn about what happens to children. We live in a society that provides no kind of family assistance in any form that is real and gets at the problems parents face.

You don’t have to be in the Yates family to know the problems of raising children. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to understand how tired and frustrated parents get, even as they struggle to raise their children well.

Our society places the blame for everything that could possibly go wrong with children first and foremost on the mothers. Fathers are also certainly blamed, but mothers are expected to do the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of their lives, without rest, without help, without complaint, without a break. Yes there are joys in raising children. But in a society which puts all the responsibility on the parents, there are immense pressures. Some people crack.

Andrea Yates had at least one problem that is common to hundred of thousands of women. She suffered from post-partum depression after the births of her fourth and fifth children. This is a problem affecting millions, yet medical research is overwhelmingly focused on men. So it scarcely recognizes the problems of birth or knows how to treat it.

Yates suffered from severe depression, which again affects millions of women and is treated with drugs. Sometimes, for reasons that honest doctors will admit they scarcely understand, the drugs work and other times they do not help.

Andrea Yates was one of those who cracked under the pressure. The Yates children paid the ultimate price. There will be other children in the future, as there have been in the past, who will pay this same price – precisely because this capitalist society does not devote its resources to its children.

Pharmaceutical drugs
– the crisis hits home

Mar 4, 2002

Last year the 18 biggest drug companies had a rate of profit of 28.4% on stockholders’ investments, almost four times the average rate of profit of the 900 largest corporations in the United States. Nor was 2001 an exceptional year. The top five pharmaceutical companies have averaged a rate of profit of 30% a year since 1988.

The drug companies like to say that they need high profits because of their high research costs.

No, most of the research is, in fact, done by universities and government labs and is funded by the taxpayers. Working people, who paid taxes all their lives, help finance this drug research. But when they need drugs, they have to pay for the super profits of the drug companies.

Business Week certainly told the truth about drug prices: “the price set for a drug has little to do with development costs. Instead, pharmaceuticals are just like any other product: The producers charge what the market will bear.” And the market bears an awful lot since people often need drugs like Lipitor to keep them alive.

Modern medicines offer remarkable benefits to their users, relieving pain and speeding healing. But the production of pharmaceuticals is done entirely for profit.

What principles!

Mar 4, 2002

On February 22, the U.S. General Accounting Office filed a lawsuit to get documents from the White House showing who met with Vice President Cheney’s task force which drafted the Bush administration’s energy policy.

Up until now, Cheney and Bush have refused to release this information.

A White House spokesperson said on behalf of the president and vice president, “We are ready to defend our principles.”

Yes, indeed! And what fine principles! The White House – no matter who occupies it – carries out its real policies behind closed doors. No democracy wanted here!

The White House is also defending a long held principle – again no matter who is president: the right of U.S. business to direct U.S. government policy.

Despite Cheney and Bush’s stonewalling, information has begun to come out. And guess what it shows? Cheney’s Energy Taskforce met with representatives of the biggest energy corporations and then produced recommendations favorable to ... the same energy corporations.

And this is called the principle of the golden rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

Governor wants to cut 3,800 jobs and eliminate social programs

Mar 4, 2002

On February 20 Illinois Governor George Ryan called for the elimination of 3,800 state jobs through layoffs and early retirements and massive cuts to social programs. He claims there is a drastic falloff in state revenues and that “everyone has to take a cut.”

The governor calls for reductions in many programs that benefit the poorest people in the state. He wants the elimination of school breakfast programs, early reading and math programs, disabled programs and bilingual education. He would cut state Medicaid payments to hospitals and pharmacies, which in turn would lead to reduced health care for poor people. He would close a center for the mentally ill in Elgin.

In recent years Illinois politicians have issued all kinds of tax breaks to the corporations and the wealthy – on the grounds that the state had a big budget surplus. So where did the surplus go? This little recession isn’t enough to get rid of it. The surplus went to the corporations and the wealthy.

The state changed the way the corporate profits tax is calculated. Before it was based in part on how much investment a multi-state corporation had in the state. Now it is based only on the company’s sales in the state. Big corporations that have many factories in the state sell only a small% of what they produce in the state. The state lost 96 million dollars a year from this change alone.

The U.S. Congress recently passed Bush’s proposal to sharply cut the estate tax paid only by the richest two% of the population. Illinois, because it refused to rewrite its law, will lose 90 million dollars from its tax on the estates of the richest families, which is currently tied to the level of the federal tax.

The state of Illinois recently decided to pay a subsidy to the racetrack industry of 38 million dollars a year. Almost every other industry has received additional subsidies in recent years, too.

Governor Ryan pretends that this year there is a 500 million dollar shortfall in the state budget. Compare that to the 4.3 billion dollar reductions in taxes that corporations get.

Why should any Illinois state worker be laid off or any social program be cut? Let the politicians eliminate all the gifts to the corporations and the wealthy that they have enacted in recent years. Then not only would there not be a shortfall. There would be plenty of money to provide the kind of schools all children need, medical care for all, decent wages and working conditions for state workers. And so on.

Brutal NYC cops go free on a technicalities

Mar 4, 2002

On February 28, a federal appeals court in New York City threw out the conviction of Charles Schwarz, a former NYC cop, on charges he assisted in the 1997 station house torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. It also overturned verdicts that Schwarz and two other cops conspired to cover up Schwarz’s role to a federal grand jury. All of these convictions were overturned on technicalities, with the court admitting that there was abundant evidence against the three.

This was the famous case which showed just how brutal and sadistic are New York City cops – and how much their behavior was condoned by city authorities. Falsely arrested, Louima was beaten up twice on the way to a Brooklyn police precinct house. At the station, he was taken into a bathroom by two cops, one of whom held him down while the other rammed a broom stick up his anus and then into his mouth, knocking out several teeth. He was thrown into a cell where he would have died from rectal bleeding and a punctured bladder except that other inmates in the jail kept screaming that he needed to be cared for. He was finally taken to a hospital in critical condition.

The next day the cops at the station denied any knowledge of what had happened. The police Internal Affairs unit then refused to answer any questions about what had happened.

The incident couldn’t be buried because witnesses came forward – including EMS ambulance drivers and hospital workers.

Still the cops involved weren’t charged until thousands of people demonstrated in the streets demanding justice for Louima. One cop was convicted of brutalizing Louima after he confessed to the crime and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Schwarz was convicted of assisting him and sentenced to 16 years. Schwarz and two other cops were convicted of trying to cover up Schwarz’s role in the attack.

But that was four years ago. Now the heat is off and the court system has returned to its normal mode of operation.

The court says there was abundant evidence of the cops’ wrong-doing – but it couldn’t be used. It’s also abundantly clear that the courts will only grant a smidgen of justice to an ordinary person against the police when the threat of popular revolt hangs over them.

Pages 4-5

When the parties of the left legalize prostitution

Mar 4, 2002

A “law on prostitution” took effect in the German state of Rhine, on the first of January. Under the pretext of ending the “dual morality” of the state, which condemns prostitution, while in fact tolerating it, the new law gives legal recognition to prostitution, today no longer considered a “violation of society’s mores.”

The law recognizes that prostitutes, who had no legal existence up until now, have the right to social protections (like unemployment, medical care and retirement.) That is certainly a minimum ... since it ought to be guaranteed to every person.

But at the same time, this law has reactionary aspects, and the immense majority of prostitutes will not be better protected from exploitation and violence.

The encouragement of prostitution is no longer considered a crime. For the managers of bordellos this is certainly an advantage – since they can no longer be prosecuted. Nor will it be illegal for a bordello to advertise its services.

According to the Social Democratic minister for women’s questions, Christine Bergmann, prostitutes can now, for example, if a client doesn’t pay them, call the police and reveal the identity of the client! The prostitutes can decide “freely” – so says this new law – which services they choose to give to their clients, and the boss of the bordello can’t legally force them to do otherwise.

This is sordid. Prostitution is never a “free” choice. To recognize it like an activity that has no problems ignores that basic fact.

Of the 400,000 prostitutes noted in the German census, about half are immigrants from other countries such as the Ukraine, Albania, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc. At most, they have only tourist visas; some don't even have any immigration papers. They are, in fact, even more at the mercy of the pimps. If a government wanted to help them get out of the profession, the first thing it would do is give them legal papers, so they could get out of their clandestine life. It would help them find a normal job.

Germany keeps thousands and thousands of border guards on its eastern border, to prevent the poor – who flee the misery of Eastern Europe and the Balkans – from finding refuge in one of the rich countries of Europe. But this formidable police presence doesn’t prevent the traffic in women from taking place and prospering.

The leaders of the German Social Democratic Party and the Greens, who together voted to pass this law, boast of how clever they have been. “The new law is a great success for Green politics,” according to a spokesperson for the ecologists on women's questions, Irmingard ScheweGerigk.

It is now more than a century since one of the founders of the German Social Democratic Worker Party, August Bebel, explained that the degree to which a society is emancipated can be judged by the degree to which its women are emancipated.

Bebel was more ahead of our times that those supposedly modern “enlightened” people!

“Civilian” government or not, the army continues to kill

Mar 4, 2002

At the end of January, there was an explosion in a military arsenal in the center of Lagos. A flood of shells, rockets and projectiles of all kinds went off in this port city of 10 million inhabitants. The neighborhood surrounding the arsenal was set ablaze, leaving thousands homeless. Officially, more than 600 bodies were recovered from the scene.

Most of the victims died trying to escape to the other side of the canals which cross this part of the city. Some were victims of the panic. Many others were trapped in the industrial sludge which fills the canals.

The authorities have never seen fit to construct bridges across these canals, nor to drain them of this waste, which is often toxic. Nor have the authorities ever gone after the polluters, which for the most part are large western petroleum companies that have transformed many regions of the country into industrial dump sites. The Nigerian authorities have been more preoccupied with obtaining their cuts of the riches pillaged in natural resources by British Petroleum or Elf, than they are concerned about the health and the well-being of the population.

Caught between pillage by the western companies on the one side and the rape of the Nigerian bourgeoisie on the other, the only thing the poor population has ever seen from the petroleum in their country is the nauseating and even deadly, sludge in the canals of Lagos.

The catastrophe of January 27 made clear the role of the army in Nigerian society. The commander of the garrison in Lagos appeared on television immediately following the first explosion, not to explain what happened or what emergency measures should be taken, but rather to assure the population that a military coup had not taken place. This is quite symbolic.

During the last 41 years, since Nigeria became independent from Great Britain, this former colony has lived through 29 years of dictatorship, six military coups and the most deadly civil war ever known in Africa, that of Biafra. The current president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is a former general who ruled the country under a military dictatorship from 1976 to 1979. Today his government may be called “civilian.”

But there’s little difference. The military still runs the show. The Ikeja barracks, where the explosion occurred, demonstrates this. Not only is it a military barrack located in the heart of the largest population concentration of the country, but it is also a kind of city within a city. It has its own infrastructure, family housing facilities, school system from kindergarten through high school and even its own stores and entertainment center. To be in the military in Nigeria, and especially in Lagos, is considered a real privilege for all soldiers. Even more so, for the ranking officers who in addition benefit from a share in the corruption. Everything is set up so that there is little contact between the ordinary soldiers and the poor population of the city – one day or another, these soldiers will be ordered to shoot them down defending the common interests of the privileged castes and of the big western trusts.

Paradoxically this time, the barracks of Ikeja protected the population. Its enormous sized meant that the fire which broke out was largely confined without spreading too far into the surrounding poor neighborhoods.

But this explosion is nonetheless a warning to the poor population of Lagos. All these explosives stored in the middle of the city by the Abasanjo regime – this “democracy” supported by Washington, London and Paris – were destined for use against the poor population.

Gallup poll shows U.S. policy NOT winning any friends

Mar 4, 2002

The Gallup Organization just released the results of a poll involving interviews in nine Muslim countries. Whatever the problems of having a U.S. poll conducted in foreign countries, the results demonstrate that the part of the world most affected by the U.S. war on terrorism strongly disagrees with what Bush has done.

Less than one in four people polled had a favorable opinion of the United States and only one in eleven thought the military action against Afghanistan was morally justified.

The figures for two U.S. allies are also interesting. In Saudi Arabia, only one of every six had a favorable opinion of the U.S. In Kuwait, which is supposed to look upon the U.S. as its rescuer, the figure was one in four, meaning three fourths of those polled had an unfavorable view of the U.S. Almost three quarters of Kuwaitis in the poll were against the war against Afghanistan.

Bush has declared the war is necessary, for something must be done after the terrible acts of September 11. Yet here is a poll by a U.S. company that shows what the U.S. government is doing seems to be creating a huge number of people who hate the United States. These people are a ticking bomb, waiting to explode against a U.S. population which accepts what the government is doing in our name.

Bush celebrates China’s opening to U.S. capital

Mar 4, 2002

Bush has just returned from his first trip to China – where he went to celebrate China’s recent entry into the World Trade Organization.

Bush – this representative of some of the biggest corporations in the world – had a lot to celebrate. Under the WTO, China is to throw its doors open to much more foreign investment – especially from the U.S.

The big capitalist firms from the rich countries have long cast their eyes on the Chinese market to spread their empires and their profits, of course.

Coca Cola, which already had 28 bottling plants selling half a billion cases, plans to invest another 150 billion dollars in China to build six new factories over the next five years. The big oil company British Petroleum, BP, plans to spend five billion dollars over the next five years, having already invested three and a half billion in China. EDF, the French power giant, hopes to put in its third nuclear power center in China in the next six months and it hopes to transfer its Asian headquarters there. Motorola counts on investing six billion in manufacturing there and Ericsson five billion dollars. Alcatel plans to take control of Shanghai Bell for about 30 million dollars. In a situation of general recession, the big capitalist enterprises, which are betting on the Chinese market, expect to profit from an economy which, despite the current slow-down, grows at a rate of seven% per year.

Big capitalists on the look-out

The entrance of China into the WTO will mean a lowering of trade barriers, for example, custom tariffs which China places on imported automobiles will fall from 80% to 25%. At the same time, quotas, which China up until now imposed on foreign corporations, will be ended. With the exception of salt and tobacco, every product will be able to enter the Chinese market. Wal-Mart has already received authorization to open a superstore in Beijing.

In theory the Chinese market is more than a billion consumers; but in reality, there are many fewer who have the money to spend. Perhaps only ten% of the Chinese population make up this potential market, but that is 130 million people! These are the people who have prospered since the Chinese rulers decided to “reform” their economy and open it to capitalist penetration. As a Chinese economist worried about the WTO entry explained, “One joins the WTO to preserve the wallets of the rich.”

The Chinese regime invites foreign capitalists in

China’s entry into the WTO means that it has agreed to follow the rules governing trade in the capitalist world. These rules do not establish an equal exchange, as the defenders of the imperialist world would like us to believe; they are based only on the relationship of forces. In order to be admitted in, China has to carry out so-called “economic reforms,” that is, it must continue dismantling what remains of state-owned enterprises. China must continue economic policies that have already caused the standard of living of the vast majority of the population to decline – and specifically policies which can only create more unemployment. Whatever economic development occurs as the result of opening China to foreign capital will certainly benefit the big corporations and, with them, the local ruling classes which have opened the door. But for the majority, it will be a giant leap backwards.

The damage to workers and peasants

What threatens the Chinese population is an explosion of unemployment, helped by the dismantling of the state enterprises. In such a precarious situation, the Chinese population will find itself plunged into greater misery. Currently, unemployment in Chinese cities is estimated at 15%. According to Chinese statistics, 18% of state employees are laid off. But that’s not all. Thirty% of the 900 million people who work in agriculture are threatened with the loss of all resources. One hundred twenty million peasants, according to Chinese officials, will find themselves looking for work in the cities, so far as any work exists. The peasants will not be able to compete with the massive importation of agricultural products which entry into the WTO allows.

During the last 20 years, the policy of so-called “reforms” has already resulted in a decline in the population’s standard of living, with a deteriorating school system and public health. But the entry into the WTO removes a series of barriers which had blocked the entry of world capital into the Chinese market.

In making this choice, the Chinese rulers choose to align their functioning more in tune with the ruling classes of the world economy – creating slums at the feet of skyscrapers.

Pages 6-7

Movie Review:
John Q.

Mar 4, 2002

John Q., a movie made by Nick Cassavetes, takes on the health care industry. In doing so, the movie also shows some of the problems that working people face in this country.

The main character of the story is John Archibauld, played by Denzel Washington. Archibauld is a Chicago factory worker whose company has cut his hours down to 20 a week. Since Archibauld’s wife, Denise, has a low-paying job at a grocery store, the couple has a hard time making ends meet. The movie opens with one of the Archibaulds’ cars being repossessed because they have failed to make the payments. John’s search for a second job also remains fruitless – nobody is hiring.

The Archibaulds’ problems only get worse when their son, Mike, collapses during a baseball game. Mike has a heart disease, and only a heart transplant would save his life. John finds out that his insurance doesn’t cover Mike’s expensive surgery because his company has changed his coverage to save money. John and Denise also don’t qualify for Medicare, and the hospital administration refuses to put Mike on the donor list until his parents make a $75,000 down payment.

Running out of options and time to save his son’s life, Archibauld resorts to a desperate move: he holds up the hospital’s emergency room and threatens to kill his hostages if his son is not placed at the top of the organ donor list. The rest of the story is told in typical Hollywood fashion, with melodramatic scenes and with a happy ending.

John Q. raises some important issues faced by the working class in this country, and sympathizes with workers – which is unusual in a Hollywood movie these days. But it doesn’t really address the question of what the solution might be. Quite obviously, desperate, individual acts, no matter how daring and dramatic they might be and no matter how much sympathy they may draw from people, will not solve the problem of over 40 million people in the U.S., many of them holding jobs, having no health insurance. Nor can workers have any illusions in “sympathetic” politicians, as the movie at one point implies. Nor will any politician, whether Republican or Democrat, prevent companies from laying off or cutting the hours and benefits of their workers to increase their profits.

These are social problems which can only be solved by those who have the interest to do so: the workers. And the workers’ power lies in our ability to organize and fight for our class interests – collectively, not through desperate individual acts.

Maryland state contract negotiations:
A scam

Mar 4, 2002

MPEC, a union affiliated with AFT and one of the three main state workers’ unions in Maryland, has tentatively agreed to a contract proposed by the state. It’s the second contract offer made by the state after all three unions turned down the first offer. The other two unions are AFSCME and FNHCP, another union affiliated with AFT.

It’s true there were some changes in this second contract offer. Paycheck deductions for health and drug insurance would not go up quite as much as in the first proposal. Step increases in workers’ pay based on seniority (equal to about 2% for most workers) would be delayed “only” 4 months instead 6 months as originally proposed. But in return for these “improvements”, workers would have to wait 10 months after the contract goes into effect before they would get a 2% across-the-board pay raise instead of the 6-month delay that was originally proposed.

In other words, the total amount of money going to the workers is about the same, it’s just shifted around.

This is a scam, a con game to sell a contract that is filled with attacks on workers’ pay and benefits. The state figures by shifting money around, it can fool workers into ratifying a contract just as bad as the first one. And it seems that MPEC is ready to go along with the game. It’s typical of the way many contracts are negotiated today.

There are two more unions that haven’t yet agreed to the second contract offer. But nothing they’re doing should give the workers any confidence in them.

Both contract offers feature big demands for concessions – workers will give up money in delayed annual raises. And they will pay much more for their medical care.

If the other two unions were intent on stopping this threat, they long ago would have mobilized workers to make their wishes plain. Work places all through the state would have seen big meetings where workers really decided what they wanted in the contract and what they were ready to do to get it.

That hasn’t happened.

Contract negotiations don’t mean a thing if the union officials don’t go into them as the true representatives of the workers – expressing the workers’ demands and conveying to management what the workers have decided, having done everything possible to prepare workers for a fight.

Certainly state workers in Maryland run up against an obstacle: The executive order the governor issued several years ago (and that was later written into state law) which “gave” them their unions, also declared that they couldn’t strike.

So, of course, the governor believes he can do as he wants – give big handouts to the corporations while taking pay and benefits from the workers. And the unions have done nothing to challenge that idea. No – just to show their gratitude, they worked to get out a big vote for this governor who today demands concessions from the workers.

The question is, will the workers accept this?

If state workers in Maryland decided they wanted to make a fight to protect their pay and benefits, they could surely come up with many ways to make such a fight on their jobs even without putting up a formal picket line. And when workers really do decide to strike, legal prohibitions don’t stop them.

The real issue is what the workers want and are ready to do, and whether there are union representatives who take their stand with the workers.

Old buildings get a new face and developers get richer

Mar 4, 2002

The state of Maryland, in cooperation with the Maryland Historical Trust, has gotten into the habit of awarding big tax credits to wealthy developers for renovating old buildings, turning them into commercial projects.

When a restoration project is approved by the Maryland Historical Trust, the developer receives a tax credit from the state equal to 25%, that is, one-fourth of the project's cost. In addition, commercial projects get another 20% of the cost of the renovation from the federal government. Small wonder developer David Hillman brags that the Hecht Company building on Howard Street, renovated by his firm, is "The house that tax credits built."

In 1997, the first year this tax credit program was in effect, 2 ½ million dollars was awarded to 13 projects. It’s been growing ever since. Last year 74 million was awarded to 219 projects.

Recently – given the state’s so-called “budget crunch” – there have been proposals to cap the amount of money that can be credited for each renovation project. But this tax credit program will continue.

Contrast this to the proposals of Maryland’s governor to cut money for drug programs and lead abatement programs, withhold funding for a planned expansion of aid to public schools, and delay pay raises which were owed state workers.

It's all a question of priorities. As the tax credit program shows, the priorities of state politicians are with wealthy businessmen.

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