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. 678 — April 15 - 29, 2002

“A peace mission” in the service of state terrorism

Apr 15, 2002

The reaction of the Bush administration to the Israeli invasion of the West Bank has been a case study in cynicism and hypocrisy. On April 4, President Bush shook his finger and pretended to order Sharon to withdraw his forces immediately. He even commanded that the Israelis show “compassion” to the Palestinians (while they were massacring them no doubt)!

Massacres there have been, even if the press in this country says very little about them. The European press is more honest about what is going on in Israel. Whole villages and refugee camps have been leveled to the ground. Water and electric supplies have been cut off, and food supply lines have been blocked. Under the pretext of killing terrorists, the Israelis are killing men, women and children who are not terrorists. They are using the classical methods of terror, including torture, to terrorize a whole population.

Bush pretended to give orders to Sharon not out of concern for the massacres of Palestinians in the West Bank. His play-acting was prompted by the large demonstrations and protests rocking many of the Arab countries, which threaten that gang of Arab dictators, kings, princes, generals and sheiks who keep the lid on the impoverished populations of the Middle East for the U.S. and the other big imperial powers. By pretending to lecture Sharon, Bush was hoping to calm things down in the region.

Bush dispatched his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on what he called a “peace mission.” Of course, the Bush administration made sure that Sharon and his troops had plenty of time to do their dirty work. Powell took a full week to lazily make his way to Israel. And while the Israeli army made a gesture to Powell’s “peace” mission by withdrawing from 24 villages it had already destroyed, at the same time, it went on to occupy others. Sharon proclaimed that much more work – in other words more killing and more destruction – remains to be done. There was barely a word of protest from Bush or Powell.

Why should the U.S. protest? Israel is the most staunch defender of U.S. corporate interests in the region. Its army is today smashing a section of the Arab population, the Palestinians, who for decades have been a symbol of defiance and militancy for all of the oppressed and impoverished people throughout the region. For the big imperialist powers, starting with the U.S., which are sucking the wealth out of the region and impoverishing hundreds of millions, any show of defiance has to be smashed, massacred and demoralized. How else can a tiny, corrupt minority rule over the entire world of misery that they have created?

This is why Bush has given Sharon the green light, despite his pretense of being upset. Without Bush’s okay, Sharon could not continue his deadly mission. The Israeli military is little more than an extension of the U.S. military, a kind of mini-U.S. army in the Middle East. Its main funds come from the U.S., as do its high tech weapons.

What Sharon does today against the Palestinians is not in the interest of the Israeli people. It gives them no prospects other than a permanent state of war. The long term policy of Israel is what created the climate in which the Palestinian terrorist organizations gained influence in the Palestinian population.

The same thing is true for us. What Bush does today, just as presidents before him have done, is engage us in a permanent state of war with hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

We are not served by Bush’s war in Afghanistan, his threats against Iraq, his use of Israel as a U.S. cop in the Middle East. We are not served by a U.S. military apparatus which sits on top of vast parts of the world. This only creates more enemies for us, more people who look at the United States and its people with loathing. To the extent that we support what Bush does, we are helping to create more enemies for ourselves, people who are ready to kill themselves if they can also harm us.

If we want to live in this world, we have to live in it with other people, accepting to let them live too.

Pages 2-3

The demonstration of March 23 against the right to lay off

Apr 15, 2002

The Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) has called for a general strike on April 16. This follows the success of the demonstration it organized in Rome on Sunday, March 23. On March 23, there were between one and two million demonstrators, and possibly three million, according to the organizers.

The CGIL put a great effort into this demonstration against Prime Minister Berlusconi’s proposed bill to repeal Article 18 of the labor statute – an article which, in every workplace of more than 15 workers, prevents bosses from laying off people arbitrarily. 9,200 rented buses, five charter flights, four ferries and thousands of cars of CGIL militants brought people from all over Italy.

The CGIL needed to show its influence and its capacity for mobilizing workers at a time when the Berlusconi government and the bosses want to force through bills attacking workers. The bosses want to increase insecurity, giving themselves flexibility and making layoffs easier. But they were also ready to dump the national three-way “consultation system” under which the union leaders, the government and the employers settled matters.

Under all the governments of the left which preceded the current Berlusconi government, the majority of attacks on workers benefits and social conquests passed, thanks to the cooperation of the unions. Because they accepted almost everything the bosses and the government wanted, the unions were discredited among the workers, to the point that the bosses began to think they could get along without the collaboration of a union like the CGIL. And they felt they could challenge a big part of the contract rules and social legislation imposed by the working class in more than a century of struggles.

For several months, the conflict between the government and the unions has crystalized around the question of Article 18. The labor minister proposed to get rid of the union-employer-government “consultation” and the system of national collective bargaining. In its place, he proposed to establish individual contracts between an employer and each worker.

This demonstration was a success for the CGIL, which showed its influence with respect to the government and the bosses, and also with respect to the two other smaller union centers, CISL and UIL, on whom the Berlusconi government tried to support itself against the CGIL. These two unions wound up saying their members could participate in the demonstration of March 23, and they also support the general strike call for April 16.

But is a success for the CGIL truly a success for the Italian workers? This is the same union with the same leadership which collaborated for years with the governments of the center-left, assisting them in pushing the working class further and further back.

The demonstration of March 23 shows the limits of CGIL. A few days earlier, a government economic expert, Marco Biagi, was assassinated in Bologna by a group calling itself the “Red Brigades.” Does this terrorist group, pretending to replace the workers’ class struggle by its own armed actions, really still exist? Or was this a provocation? There have certainly been many other acts of this type in Italy. The Berlusconi government used the assassination to accuse the unions of encouraging terrorism.

Obviously, this assassination, which is horrible in its method, has nothing to do with the workers’ struggle. Nonetheless, the CGIL leaders declared that the demonstration of March 23 would also be a demonstration against terrorism and “for democracy,” even demanding that the participants at the final meeting observe a minute of silence in honor of Marco Biagi, though he was one of the authors of the bill against which the demonstration took place. Not only did this help instill support in the workers toward the Italian state and its institutions; at the same time it detracted from the meaning of the demonstration itself.

In fact, the assassination question had little influence on the workers. The power of the demonstration, its character at once peaceful and determined, wiped out the attempts to lower the morale of the demonstrators by accusing them of collusion with terrorism. And in the following days, a climate of optimism reigned in many workplaces, giving the workers at once a new-found confidence in their force. The workers realized they had scored a point against the government and the bosses.

So there will be a general strike on April 16. But what’s desirable is that the confidence which so many workers doubtlessly found in themselves after the demonstration of March 23 not be transformed into a simple blank check for the union leadership.

The workers can make use of the occasion not only to force the government to keep Article 18, but to extend its guarantees to all casual workers, part-timers or temporary workers. They can present a bill to the bosses and the government for years of reductions in their living and working conditions and in their wages. They can make the strike of April 16 not the final stage of their current mobilization, but a big step toward a true movement of the entire working class.

Towards a new holocaust in the Middle East

Apr 15, 2002

How many Palestinians did the Israeli military kill in the first two weeks of its invasion of the West Bank? No one knows. Taking a page from how the U.S. tightly controls the news coverage of its own military operations by the supposed free press, the Israeli military banned journalists from any district where it was carrying out its operations.

But the stories which have filtered out through aid workers in the West Bank are truly horrific. They tell of Israeli death squads, massacres and mass graves, indiscriminate killing of civilian men, women and children. They tell of the Israeli army using U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopter gun ships, heavy tanks and troop transports to carry out coordinated attacks on cities, towns and villages, blasting, shelling and bombing their way through, sometimes sending captive Palestinian men ahead of them at gunpoint as human shields. They tell of homes flattened by D9 bulldozers, often with their occupants in them. They tell of bodies rotting for days, the wounded moaning unattended, while the Israeli military prevented ambulances or U.N. emergency aid convoys from entering the war-torn areas. Everywhere, they say, there is the stench of rotting corpses, the stench of death. They tell of the Israeli military taking 4185 Palestinian prisoners to Tel Aviv or to the “Russian camp,” that is, its main torture centers, to undoubtedly be tortured – or worse.

The fiercest fighting was in the tightly packed Jenin refugee camp, which measured one kilometer by one kilometer and housed 15,000 Palestinians. Today, after the Israeli slaughter, the camp no longer exists. In taking the camp, the Israeli military killed at least 500 people, most of them civilians, and in the process, completely destroyed the camp.

Who knows what the outcome of this military operation will be. Certainly, the Israeli escalation during the last 18 months of the present conflict, this latest Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, has destroyed so much of the cities and towns, it has rendered much of the West Bank practically uninhabitable. For most people, there is no housing, drinkable water, electricity, food, medical care, jobs – that is, no way to live. Perhaps the Israeli army can force the Palestinians to continue to live under the most unspeakable conditions, in little more than concentration camps, under the permanent guard of the Israeli military or other mercenaries working for them. Or perhaps the Israeli government will take the next step, and force masses of Palestinians out of the occupied territories all together, that is, it will carry out mass ethnic cleansing.

Throughout its history, the state of Israel has the distinction of winning, often in a completely overwhelming fashion, all of its wars against the Palestinians and the other people of its region. But the victories, the piles of bodies of those it slaughtered, have not brought the Israeli population either peace or security. It has brought them only more war, more death and destruction. It has only turned the country itself into more and more of a besieged garrison state.

As the Israeli state, with massive U.S. aid, drives the Palestinian population into increasingly dire circumstances, it only produces a more implacable foe.

This, the Israeli population pays for and will continue to pay for – as long as they support the murderous policies of their own state. As long as the Israeli people accept to be the hangmen and prison guards of an entire people, the Israeli people become in turn, the targets of millions of people who have nothing more to lose.

The interests of the Israeli people are not served by Sharon’s war. The only hope in the current situation is that more and more Israelis break with his policies and refuse to follow him into the impasse where he leads them.

“Refuse-niks” refuse to play oppressors' role in the occupied territories

Apr 15, 2002

“Refuse-niks” – that’s what they call themselves. They are reservists in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) who are refusing to fight in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In January, 100 reservists signed a published statement of refusal. February the number grew to 173. By the first week in April, with the intensified war-occupation, the number had grown to 390. Twelve more “Refuse-niks” were jailed.

One reservist said, “We were ordered... 'Whoever picks up a stone, shoot em.' This is an immoral order that we refuse to follow.” Another said, “We can't be nice occupiers. There is no such thing as a nice occupation.” A reservist about age 20 said, “Look at us. We are white and most of us have western backgrounds and are western educated. We are told to shoot and tear down houses and do whatever we want to people who are darker and mostly poor. What does that say?”

This is not the first time there has been resistance within the reserves of the IDF. During the war in Lebanon, those who refused to fight in Lebanon organized a small group called “Yesh Gavol,” Hebrew words which translate into “Enough! No more!”

Out of 30,000 men and women currently in the Reserves, 390 Refuse-niks is a very small number, a little over one%. But to refuse in this situation is very difficult. Their very existence shows that the Israeli population does not unanimously stand behind the oppressive policies of their own government.

Pages 4-5

Fuel efficiency:
Automakers cry all the way to the bank

Apr 15, 2002

Do you like breathing polluted air from car exhaust? Do you enjoy paying more and more for gas-guzzling vehicles? Thanks go to Congress, assisted by the Bush administration. They recently voted down a bill to increase the CAFE, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy.

The defeated bill, even if it had passed, would not have forced automakers to improve fuel efficiency by much – and not until the year 2013! But the threat of it had automakers lobbying Congress, moaning they would be ruined economically if the CAFE went up: they threatened to close plants and lay off auto workers.

This is an old and familiar song, the same one the automakers sang in the early 1970s, when the CAFE was first implemented. Yet despite their whining, fuel efficiency jumped from an average of about 15 miles per gallon to about 25 miles per gallon between 1975 and 1983. Automakers were not ruined and sales did not decline. The auto industry was manufacturing more vehicles than ever.

But in the last 10 years, automakers found a method to make the CAFE decline, despite technological advances which had allowed fuel efficiency to improve very quickly. The car manufacturers got Congress to agree in 1985 to exempt vehicles known as “light trucks” from the CAFE, on the grounds that these vehicles were used by farmers and small businesses that could not afford what it would cost for better fuel mileage.

Then an amazing thing happened: the sale of “light trucks” and any other vehicle the car manufacturers could slide into that category started climbing right through the roof. The so-called sports utility vehicle became the most popular selling car of the 1990s. The now popular Chrysler PT Cruiser was another vehicle exempted from the CAFE standards, with the ridiculous excuse that it was a “light truck.”

Automakers spent multi-millions to convince us that the SUV would give us a whole new life style. They suppressed the manufacture of station wagons, which had previously filled the job of hauling around families with lots of kids or groceries. And they leaned on their friends at the National Highway Safety Board to ignore the mounting evidence that SUVs were inherently unsafe from the moment they were designed. Growing sales of these heavier vehicles, which guzzled gas, pushed down the overall fuel efficiency.

What Congress has done is to agree to yet another “study” which will appear a few years down the road – to tell us what we already know: it is possible to make cars more safely and more fuel efficiently. The designs already exist for cars which get 50 or 60 or 70 miles to the gallon.

So it is possible to drive vehicles that do less damage to the air, to the roads, to our health and to our pocketbooks. But we won’t be seeing ads for them any time soon. Why? It’s simple. The profits on gas-guzzlers are outstanding. A sale of the Ford Expedition is said to bring in $18,000 per vehicle in PROFIT. And those are the only corporate standards that Congress is interested in.

Catholic Church protects child molesters

Apr 15, 2002

The scandal in the Catholic Church widens, with calls for the resignation of the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law. Documents just released show that Cardinal Law knowingly sent a pedophile priest, Father Paul Shanley, to new parishes where he would be in contact with children.

Father Shanley had been the subject of accusations of sexual abuse of boys since at least 1967. Yet Cardinal Law and other church officials kept him in positions where he was in regular contact with children. In 1990, they sent Shanley to California, recommending him as a priest who had “no problems that would be a concern to your diocese,” despite his long history.

As late as 1990, a bishop wrote that if Shanley “came back [from California to Boston], I don’t know what we could do with him.” Not only did the leaders of the church know the man had a problem, they chose to do nothing about it, allowing him contact with youngsters until 1995.

If this case is too well documented for the church to shove under the rug any longer, there have been many other cases of priests molesting boys that it is still trying to keep hidden – including by paying money in exchange for the victim’s agreement not to reveal anything. Everything was kept secret while church officials moved such priests from state to state, from parish to parish, perhaps sending them for treatment, but not preventing them from having contact with children.

What the Catholic leaders say in their defense is that the vast majority of priests do not molest children. That is undoubtedly true. Yet, in order to protect the church’s absolute authority, the Catholic hierarchy has been willing to let more children become victims.

This Catholic Church hierarchy, which sets itself up as a moral authority, is arrogant enough to use their pulpits, their money and their political weight to impose their views on abortion, birth control and other reproductive issues upon all of society.

Perhaps this misogynist hierarchy should be looking to clean up the moral cesspool in its own house.

D.C. public schools:
Punish the children instead of vaccinating them

Apr 15, 2002

Washington, D.C. school officials discovered last year that as many as 41,000 of their 68,485 students lacked complete vaccination records. Some children may be immunized, but the records aren’t there to show it. Did officials begin a crash program to update their records and set up public health facilities so all children could be treated?

No, they simply started to order children out of school because of lack of immunizations – and then declared them to be truants. Their parents and guardians were warned of potential fines and jail time.

Of course, all children need to be immunized, not just to protect the individual children, but all those around them. But kicking them out of school solves nothing, it just punishes the child. They can still catch diseases and spread them. Nor does punishing the parents with threats of fines and jail time prevent measles.

What is lacking – not only in D.C. but in all poor neighborhoods – is access to health care. What is lacking are public health facilities in every neighborhood with hours convenient to the parents, good record keeping, shots available in elementary schools, to name just a few of the many things needed. It would also help to have facilities which do not chase off the poorest parents, but rather invite them in.

Poor people often get the worst medical care and they have good reasons to mistrust the medical establishment. So educating parents on the importance of immunization is necessary. Safeguards, like providing shots at school, are needed when parents are irresponsible.

When school officials punish children and threaten parents, they are simply covering up for the lack of public health care. They would do better to begin making that health care available.

DCT Inc bankruptcy:
Detroit’s local mini-Enron scandal

Apr 15, 2002

In February, auto assembly tools supplier DCT (Detroit Central Tool) went belly up, laid off its last 400 workers with only 30 minutes notice, and left hundreds of its employees with no final pay checks, hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills, and no way to get money from their 401(K) retirement accounts. Hundreds of small vendors of DCT equipment were also left with tens of thousands of dollars of unpaid bills.

According to auditors looking into the DCT bankruptcy, DCT’s executives lived high off the hog for years, while cheating everyone they could. The company used a variety of subsidiary companies to provide perks like country club memberships and expensive company-paid entertainment and trips for its executives. The companies top brass were known in the industry to frequently enjoy more lavish perks than even those enjoyed by executives of the Big Three auto companies.

Just a month before the company went belly up, DCT executives, their families and friends were wining and dining in high style at the Detroit auto show preview at the company’s expense. Tickets to the preview alone cost the company over $10,000, not to mention all the money spent on transportation, dinner and drinks at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Point Farms.

The biggest losers in this shell game that the owners of DCT carried off were the DCT workers, who not only lost their jobs, their last paychecks and their pensions, but now also owe medical bills. After them comes the pension fund for Detroit city employees. It has been left with unrepaid loans plus interest of over 32 million dollars. The City of Detroit not only is ready to give tax money over to all the corporations, it does the same thing with its workers’ pension money.

The owners and top executives of DCT are clearly nothing more than common crooks and swindlers. They resemble the executives of Enron Corporation only on a smaller scale.

How many more Enrons and DCTs are there? Many. Their operations were in fact no different than those at most medium and large size companies today. It’s just that at Enron and DCT, the sad state of the economy revealed them for what they all are: crooks.

A vaccine against greedy companies?

Apr 15, 2002

Currently, there is a nationwide shortage of vaccines needed to prevent childhood disease.

Last summer, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) asked doctors to hold off on giving the tetanus/diphtheria shot to incoming high school freshmen in order to save doses for people who need it more. Since then, shortages have surfaced with other vaccines, most recently varicella (chicken pox); MMRII, (measles, mumps and rubella); diphtheria/tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) or DtaP; and Prevnar, a newer vaccine used to protect against strep throat, pneumonia and meningitis.

Children are supposed to get a series of four shots as infants to prevent diseases which once killed millions. But doctors are delaying the fourth shot for some because others haven’t even got the first shot.

For more than a century, we have known as a society the vast benefits of public health. It means sanitary water, trash and garbage removal and vaccinations. All of these combined work to prevent disease. And it was disease prevention and adequate diet that were responsible for the rapid increase in life expectancy.

Smallpox, which killed millions each year, was the first disease to be vaccinated against (1796). Two hundred years later, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disappearance of smallpox from the earth. Polio, which usually strikes children between the ages of 5 and 10, was eradicated from the western hemisphere in 1994. In 1952, there were nearly 58,000 cases of polio in the United States. Today, we no longer see polio, measles, whooping cough and other diseases because children have been immunized.

So why is there a shortage of vaccines today? In a word, profit. Where once 30 companies were producing vaccines, now there are only four. This is partly the result of mergers. But, more important, this is tied to the system of patents which lets a company charge outrageously high prices on medicines while they are still under patent. But when a patent ends, a generic version can be produced and sold more cheaply so profit goes down for the manufacturers.

Last year, drug manufacturer Wyeth-Ayerst stopped making tetanus, the vaccine which wards off lockjaw, leaving only one manufacturer to produce the vaccine. Doug Petkus, the company spokesman, said that the company periodically decides what is “worthwhile” to continue making. For Wyeth, “worthwhile” clearly does not mean keeping people healthy.

Drug companies are no different from other capitalist businesses. They product to make a profit – not to satisfy a need. But drug companies – precisely because the patent system gives them more means to charge whatever price they want – make more profits than any other industry. In 1999, they admitted to making 27.5 billion dollars in profit.

There’s a name for a system which believes it’s not “worthwhile” to produce something which has been proven to save lives and to do it cheaply. Capitalism.

Pages 6-7

Wrong man imprisoned:
Justice delayed is justice permanently denied

Apr 15, 2002

State prosecutors in Baltimore have been forced to admit they imprisoned the wrong man for a murder in 1992. Another man recently pled guilty and has now been imprisoned. Henry Roberts, the man falsely convicted of the murder and sentenced to 50 years in 1992, always asserted his innocence.

In 1992, prosecutors charged that Roberts, a 63-year-old retired steelworker, had shot and killed his 21-year-old nephew. The nephew had been spending the night with Roberts to try to prevent any more burglaries at Roberts’ house. Prosecutors claimed that after shooting his nephew, Roberts then shot and critically wounded himself. Prosecutors also claimed that despite serious wounds, Roberts had somehow managed to throw the murder gun into the creek behind his house.

Police based their case against Roberts on conflicting statements he made in the days immediately following the murder, when he was in a hospital under heavy medication recovering from his own wound. A nurse said she heard something that sounded like a confession.

After Roberts was convicted, police got an anonymous telephone tip naming the man who has now been imprisoned for breaking into Roberts’ house, shooting Roberts and then murdering Roberts’ nephew. Police now admit they got this telephone call. But at the time they did nothing about it.

Once the police and prosecutors put Roberts away, as shaky as their case against him was, they weren’t interested in admitting they had been wrong the first time. If it had not been for the fact that the guilty man admitted the murder and provided corroborating evidence, this never would have come to light.

Baltimore’s current chief prosecutor, State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy, recently commented on the case, “Sometimes justice is delayed.”

In this case, a delay was the same as a death sentence. Henry Roberts died in prison in 1996.

Los Angeles school bus drivers on strike

Apr 15, 2002

Seven hundred Los Angeles school bus drivers went on strike on April 2. The striking drivers are employed by Laidlaw Education Services, which is the Los Angeles Unified School District’s largest contractor, covering about one-third of the district’s 2200 bus routes.

Laidlaw has ignored the drivers’ demands for better wages and health and retirement benefits since last August, when negotiations for a new contract began. The company pays drivers between $8 and $15 while the district pays between $15 and $22 to the drivers it directly employs. The Laidlaw drivers want to reduce the difference.

School district officials have called themselves “innocent bystanders” in this strike, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are the ones who contract out more than half of the district’s bus routes to six private companies – supposedly to cut costs. Of course Laidlaw makes a tidy profit off the top of this contract – not to maintain high salaries and all sorts of “expenses” for executives, etc. And this figures into costs.

As soon as the strike began, the district started to use its own supervisors and drivers from other contractor companies to cover the routes on strike. These drivers make extra trips every morning and afternoon to pick up students. So there are long waiting times for many students who miss their early morning classes and get home late after school. Hardest hit are students from working class neighborhoods who are the ones most often bussed because of school overcrowding and whose parents often can’t give them rides to school. Obviously, the district isn’t terribly worried about these students.

The district’s efforts to break the strike are no doubt aided by the fact that the workers at Laidlaw are working under a different contract than those at the other contractor companies – even though they’re all members of the same union, Teamsters 572.

Local officers have been telling the other drivers it would be illegal for them to join the strike. As for the other unions that represent the school district’s own bus drivers, they made statements criticizing the strike, thus encouraging their members to cross picket lines.

With friends like these union officials, the striking drivers certainly don’t need many more enemies.

But other workers have ignored such statements before. When you want to fight, you don’t have to accept advice which weakens your fight.

Gas prices reflect
– absolutely nothing

Apr 15, 2002

Over the last month, gas prices have shot up at the pump, averaging $1.41 per gallon throughout the country and much higher in some areas.

Why have gas prices gone up?

Choose one:

•The war in Afghanistan could disrupt oil supplies: prices up.

•The rioting in the Middle East could disrupt oil supplies: prices up.

•Strike in Venezuela could disrupt oil supplies: prices up.

•Saddam Hussein could disrupt oil supplies: prices up.

•George Bush has a cold, could disrupt oil supplies: prices up.

Actually, in the real world, the price of a barrel of oil fell from $28 to $23.47. So why did prices go up?

Highland Park, Michigan
– A city gutted by fires and corporations

Apr 15, 2002

On Thursday, April 11, a fire started in Highland Park, Michigan. Three hours and three fire departments later, (Highland Park, then Hamtramck, then Detroit) seven houses on two separate blocks ended up in flames, with five families left homeless.

The newspaper articles which reported these fires focused on the 15 mph winds as the cause of the fire spreading. Wind is a problem – but so is lack of water. The firemen who arrived on the scene were unable to locate water in the hydrants nearest the burning homes, and ended up having to go block to block, running their hoses from some distance away, in order to find any water to put out the fires. Certainly that fact was a major contribution to six houses being gutted and a seventh being partly destroyed.

These fires are the product of a more basic problem: the long-standing practices of big corporations, namely, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, that have gutted the entire city of Highland Park over the last years and left it without any possibility to pay for things like fire hydrant maintenance and enough fire equipment.

Historically, Highland Park was a city built up around the auto industry. It was originally the site of Henry Ford’s Model T plant, the first auto assembly plant. In later years, up until 1993, it was the site of Chrysler’s World Headquarters. Both companies used this tiny city, carved out of Detroit, as their fiefdoms.

Ford and Chrysler blocked the development of Highland Park and blocked what would have been logical: its incorporation into Detroit.

Then Ford left. Eventually, so did Chrysler – taking with them, the jobs and what tax money they did pay. In 1993, for example, when Chrysler left Highland Park, that took about 12 million dollars out of a budget that at the time totaled only 16 million dollars.

Admittedly, to a small city, their taxes counted for something. But they were, in fact, a pittance compared to the benefits these major corporations got from the city and its residents over the years.

Companies like Ford and Chrysler, which ravage a city and then leave it without support, should be made liable for city services and for jobs until the city recovers from what was done to it.

The Baltimore sewer system spawns a crying crocodile

Apr 15, 2002

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley recently voted to raise sewer rates for residents of the area by 10% and water rates by 16%. These big increases come on top of five others in the last seven years. O’Malley says more increases will take place in the next few years, too.

O’Malley claims that these steep increases are not the city’s (that is “his”) fault. The increased rates are needed, he says, to pay for extensive repairs and improvements to sewers, many nearly 100 years old, and for increased security at water treatment plants.

O’Malley is complaining that while the federal and state governments are ordering these extensive repairs, they are refusing to pay any of the cost, forcing the city to foot the entire bill.

Of course – they are spending their tax revenues on subsidies to corporations.

But the same is true on a smaller scale for O’Malley and other local Baltimore area politicians. They have been providing tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other subsidies to the developers of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Canton, Fells Point and other areas, as well as to General Motors, Bethlehem Steel and other big commercial and industrial corporations. This is where the money has been going over the years in Baltimore and other cities, instead of into better sewers, bridges, roads, mass transit, public housing, schools and recreation facilities that the working people, who have been paying most of the taxes, need for a decent life.

O’Malley’s tears about the financial priorities of other politicians are crocodile tears, even if they are from a little crocodile.

OSHA standards:
Asking the boss not to be a boss

Apr 15, 2002

On April 5, the Bush Administration announced a new policy for preventing repetitive motion injuries. Injuries of this type include neck sprains, carpal tunnel syndrome, back sprains, and tendinitis. They come from repetitive motions such as lifting, bending, typing or pushing buttons on a press. And almost all of them come from jobs.

Bush’s head of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), John Henshaw, said he would leave it up to industries to draw up their own guidelines.

Leaving it up to business – that’s what they do now, isn’t it? And look what they’ve got – 1.8 million injuries every year.

April 15:
Tax day in a society where wealth rules

Apr 15, 2002

An average family earning $31,000 per year pays close to $9,000 of it in taxes: federal income tax, state and local income taxes, Social Security taxes and sales taxes, not to mention gasoline tax, cigarette tax, alcohol tax, etc. In fact, the lower our income, the more we pay as a% of our income. There’s a simple reason for this. The tax laws are written by people who represent the wealthy.

And the corporate world is also helped by their friends in Congress. In 1960, taxes on corporate profits made up 23% of all taxes going to the federal government. In 2001, these taxes made up only 10% of the federal government’s taxes collected. Instead of paying taxes, some corporations get tax credits and others get money back: Texaco, Chevron, Pepsico, General Motors and Enron, to name a few.

To add insult to injury: Not only do working people pay proportionately more of our income in taxes than do wealthy people, but the IRS also admits that it checks the little guy’s tax return much more frequently than the wealthy guy’s tax return. It’s certainly not because the wealthy cheat less often. So, it must be that the wealthy have a friend at the IRS!

So April 15th reminds us of why we hate to pay our taxes. It’s not that we don’t need the services that taxes pay for society – like education or Medicare or Social Security or fire departments. It’s that working people pay so much more than is necessary and yet we get services that are completely inadequate.

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