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. 703 — May 12 - 26, 2003

Tax cuts - for the wealthy. Bush's latest war on working people

May 12, 2003

After having declared the bombing and destruction of Iraq for the profit of the big U.S. weapons, construction and oil corporations a great victory, the Bush administration and Congress have turned their full attention to the home front. First on their agenda is a package of massive new tax cuts.

These tax cuts are expected to be huge, with the Administration saying it wants half a trillion dollars over 10 years. In fact, the best estimates put the figure at one trillion dollars. And, despite promises by the Bush administration that there is something in it for everyone, almost all of it will go to the wealthiest sectors of the population. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average working family will have their federal income taxes reduced by only $217 a year. That is, if those families still have a job. A family with a one-million-dollar income will have their taxes slashed by $93,500 each year – more than the total income of two average working families.

And the tax cuts don't stop there. Congress is also about to enact more big tax cuts for the biggest companies.

Of course, the politicians mouth their usual justifications for tax cuts to the wealthy. They claim that cutting taxes to the wealthy will "stimulate" economic and job growth. If that really worked, then we wouldn't have such high unemployment – since Congress has been passing tax cut after tax cut for the wealthy. Nonetheless, the corporations cut over two million jobs during the last three years and stopped investing, leading to a recession from which there is no recovery in sight.

In fact, all these tax cuts do is insulate the wealthiest people and corporations from the effects of the downturn, putting a much bigger burden on the shoulders of the working population. The federal government slashes aid to education, Medicare and Medicaid, veterans' benefits – and the small aid that is left for the unemployed. It also cuts block grants and revenue sharing to state and local governments, which then cut social programs, public services and education. At the same time, they cut jobs of public service employees and teachers. Cuts cascade one after the other, feeding further cuts.

Make no mistake about it. In the end, workers pay still more taxes. After the federal, state and local governments impose all those cuts in social services, they use those cuts to justify higher fees, excise taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, that is, taxes that are paid most heavily by working people.

The massive tax cut package making its way through Congress right now is simply part of the larger and unending war of the capitalist class against all working people.

We are not served by this system that takes money from those who do all the work and gives it to the wealthy few. Tax the wealthy, those who today live off the labor of others.

Pages 2-3

Breaking their own laws to hide what they did to the troops

May 12, 2003

After the first war against Iraq in l991, U.S. veterans complained of a mysterious illness that came to be called "Gulf War Syndrome." For years, the government denied that these veterans had war-related problems. Eventually, in a series of compromises, the government granted disability status to the worst cases, which included more than one-fourth of all the vets.

The government argued for years, and still does argue, that they "can't be sure" about these disabilities being war-related, because they haven't enough information about the soldiers' state of health before the war.

In 1997, Congress passed a law requiring the Pentagon to collect health data on troops both before and after deployment to a war zone.

But the Pentagon did not collect this data before invading Iraq. The official alibi is that there "wasn't time" – as though they hadn't been preparing this war for years!

The issue was not time. The issue was liability. The amount of depleted-uranium ammunition used this time was many times greater than the amount which poisoned and disabled the veterans from the first Gulf war. If troops had been examined – as the law requires – the scope of the problem would have become much clearer in the years to come.

So the Pentagon simply broke the law, did not collect the data, and provided itself with something they call "deniability." They can now deny future claims on the basis that the vets "have no proof."

The vets from this second Gulf War will not be the first generation to learn that their biggest enemy is right here at home.

3-day line-up for 200 jobs

May 12, 2003

The line-up for only 200 applications went around the block. The first workers in line had been there for 3 days. Workers brought their tents and lounge chairs and waited day and night on the New York City public sidewalk, because the Metallic Lathers Union Local 46 had 200 apprenticeship applications to pass out. These were not even immediate job openings – only applications for possible future apprenticeships.

Lines like this are a measure of the real job shortage in this country. The Metallic Lathers' jobs are hard and dangerous, laying reinforcing rod in concrete, often hundreds of feet off the ground. But if a worker passes the apprenticeship exam and makes it through a 4-year apprenticeship, the job can pay well: 30 some dollars an hour plus benefits.

Workers wait in these long lines, putting their lives on hold for three days because there are no other real choices. The official unemployment rate of 6% is already enough of a scandal. But hidden in the statistics are many other percentages. Uncounted millions of workers have quit looking for work because no work is to be had. Workers in the millions are under-employed: they must make do with jobs that are part-time, or temporary, generally paying below-poverty wages with few if any benefits. And no one expects things to get any better.

Lines like this reveal workers' employment problems much more accurately than do doctored government statistics.

Smallpox vaccine:
Kill a few, scare 'em all

May 12, 2003

Part of the government's so-called "war on terror" has been to convince us that we are at risk from terrorists having biological weapons like smallpox.

Since smallpox was wiped out worldwide, 20 years ago, the only known smallpox is in samples kept in 2 secure research labs. The Bush administration has insisted that health workers should get smallpox vaccinations "just in case" some terrorist may have been holding onto some other samples somewhere for those 20 years.

Health care workers, however, are good at calculating health risks. The vast majority won't accept the vaccinations. The government itself says that 1 in 25,000 vaccinated people will have serious or fatal reactions from the vaccine. This is a high risk all by itself. But so far, out of about 35,000 health-care workers who have taken the vaccinations, 13 cases of serious reaction are already on file. This is much more risky! And four deaths are "under investigation."

From the beginning, the government's campaign has been a propaganda campaign, not a health campaign. It was a campaign to influence the U.S. population not only to accept the invasion of Iraq, but to accept whatever the government does to anyone in the name of the "war on terror."

Any one of us is much more likely to win a multimillion-dollar lottery than to fall victim to a terrorist's smallpox. Why should we trade those odds for one in 25,000, let alone one in 2,692?

This government had no problem accepting a certain number of sure deaths from its vaccinations, not when the campaign could be so useful for manipulating the population at large.

All those workers who refused smallpox vaccinations understood that believing the government was the riskiest thing they could do. They were right.

A "War Hero" who never got near battle

May 12, 2003

Hopping out of a Navy jet onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, dressed in a flight suit for the benefit of the reporters his press secretary had assembled for the occasion, the junior President Bush told anyone who would listen, "Yes, I flew it." He went on to speak about his happy days in the Texas Air National Guard when he was a young man.

Happy? Of course. Going into the National Guard in 1968, right in the middle of the Viet Nam war, got him out of the draft and out of serving there or in any other deadly war.

Like others who pushed for this war – including Cheney & Rumsfeld – Bush never got his foot dirty on a battlefield. And, like others in this war-hungry administration, Bush avoided the draft because his family had political and social clout. He was put at the very top of a 500-man waiting list after Bush senior requested that Ben Barnes, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, put pressure on the Guard to give Junior Bush a spot. Barnes has since testified that he got Junior the commission – despite Junior's failing score on the aptitude test, and his lack of any previous flying experience.

Once in the Guard, Junior flew planes, it's true. But he also was effectively AWOL for one whole year. This should have meant that he was inducted into the active service.

Not George W. Bush – he was never used as cannon fodder as were the sons of the working class in Viet Nam. Papa made sure of that.

U.S. Foreign policy:
Blood for money

May 12, 2003

The war in Iraq resulted in enormously profitable contracts awarded to U.S. corporations. But the contracts to companies such as Halliburton and Bechtel are only a drop in the bucket. The U.S. military is a regular producer of profit for almost every major U.S. corporation, whether or not a war is currently going on. Although, given the U.S. record, very few years have escaped without U.S. forces fighting somewhere around the globe.

It's not just military producers like Boeing or Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman that benefit from military spending. Of the Fortune 500 – that is, the 500 biggest companies in the country – less than 10 derive no profit from military contracts.

The 2003 U.S. budget includes 379 billion dollars for the military – and that doesn't take into account money for the Iraq war, nor for what the military quaintly calls "replenishing" the stock of weapons, military goods and human beings eaten up by the war.

While part of this budget goes to the troops, the vast majority goes to so-called "contractors" – that is, the large corporations that profit greatly from this spending. Even when the military says the money is spent on troops, most of it is handed over to corporations. Uniforms, shoes, guns, beds, sheets, toothbrushes, anthrax and smallpox innoculations – anything and everything the troops use is supplied by some company. And what's most critical – as far as these companies are concerned – is that these things are supplied at a guaranteed high rate of profit. Not to mention the fact that what these companies charge as "costs" often include, for example, $20 for a screw costing 15¢ in your local hardware store.

Bush likes to point out that military spending is less than 4% of GDP – it would be more accurate to compare military spending to the reported profits of all the corporations that live off these contracts. This year's military spending is almost double the total profit of the top 900 companies in the country.

To get another idea of what today's military budget means, compare it to what other countries spend. The current U.S. military budget, not counting the Iraq war, was more than the combined spending of the 15 next biggest military powers – put together. Adding in the Iraq war costs, U.S. spending is greater than what the 25 next biggest powers spend. And if the U.S. military budget increases over the next ten years as much as currently planned, it will exceed the military spending of the whole rest of the world put together.

This spending is not for "defense" – this level can only signify the intention to keep going to war against other people in order to impose U.S. corporate interests around the world.

The working class of this country pays for this – not only in the wars the young people fight, but also in the real destruction of public and social services in this country. The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that it would cost 1.3 trillion dollars to adequately repair the major parts of the country's infrastructure – roads, sewer and water lines, bridges, etc. That could all be done if three years of military expenditures were used to make the country habitable.

The amount that this country spends in one year in its own nuclear weapons program could provide healthcare coverage for seven million children. The amount it spends to buy one stealth bomber could allow 38,000 elementary school teachers to be hired. What was used up in only one hour of the war on Iraq could have gone to repair and modernize 20 schools. And so on.

This country – by far the wealthiest in the world – provides less medical coverage than any other industrial country. Its children do less well on basic educational tests than those in other countries. It has a higher level of poverty. These things are the direct consequences of where the money is spent – on war, not on the population.

Pages 4-5

Great Britain:
Blair disavowed by his own voters

May 12, 2003

The following is a translation of an article which first appeared in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of our comrades in France.

The partial municipal elections that took place in Great Britain on May 1 marked the spectacular decline of support for Tony Blair's Labour Party. This time, the electorate was disavowing not only the anti-worker policies of the Labour government, but its participation in Bush's imperialist war against Iraq.

In fact, the only political currents that gained votes were those that took a position against this war. Socialist Alliance, a political regroupment of the extreme left, which ran 161 candidates and campaigned on an anti-war platform, doubled or tripled their scores compared to the last election. But with 12,000 positions in the municipal councils up for election, the biggest gain went to the Liberal Democratic Party, the smallest of the three major parties but the only one which more or less took a position against the war before it began. It was the first time in its history that the Liberal Democrats did as well as the Labour Party, each with about 30% of the votes.

The Liberal Democrats gained six% since 1999, which corresponds exactly to what the Labour Party lost. This transfer of votes took place in the bastion of traditional Labour Party support, in the working class cities. In Birmingham, for example, which is the second largest city in the country and a center of the metal industry, the Labour Party lost five seats to the Liberal Democrats, thus losing the majority it had held in the municipal council for over 20 years. In the former mining centers in the north of England, the Labour Party suffered what amounted to a rout: in Chesterfield, they lost 16 seats to the Liberal Democrats and 15 seats in Durham.

The Conservative Party, which didn't take a different position on the war than did Blair, maintained the score it had in 1999, 34% of the vote. It gained more seats in the municipal councils than the Liberal Democrats – 566 to 193 seats. But this simply reflects the lack of a run-off in this top vote-getter take all election – even without a majority.

Before the elections, the "strategists" of the Labour Party predicted that the rapid victory of the Anglo-American forces in Iraq would be sufficient to win over the large majority of the Labour Party voters who opposed this war.... In reality, part of the members and sympathizers of the Labour Party who normally take part in campaigning at election time, simply decided to "strike" this time. Contrary to tradition, the apparatus of the Labour party even had difficulty finding candidates to put up for hundreds of seats in the Conservative Party bastions. As for the traditional Labour Party voters, it is clear that a large number of them had not forgotten Blair's arrogance in carrying out this war despite the workers' opposition. So on May 1, without seeing another way to censure Blair, they voted for a party whose politics are not really better than Blair's but which, because it was not in power, was able to be more demagogic.

Blair refused to comment on the results of the May election. He left that up to his ministers, who rushed to explain that the setback for their party was due to the "Muslim vote"! This excuse is more than scandalous. While playing on racist prejudices and bigotry, it reduced opposition to Blair's policies to a religious motivation.

You don't have to attend a mosque in order to be revolted by the bombardment of the Iraqi people! After all the lies and all the insults that Blair used to try to justify this dirty war, he has now added one more.

Brukman workers kicked out of factory they ran

May 12, 2003

On April 21 the Buenos Aires police violently attacked demonstrators who had come to protest the expulsion of workers from the Brukman factory. There were 20 wounded and a hundred arrests.

The Brukman factory makes men's suits. It includes fifty women workers who sew the suits and a few men who cut the cloth. After the Brukman brothers abandoned it, the factory was reopened by the workers at the end of 2001. The workers were able to cover costs and pay their wages, which wasn't so bad in the difficult situation the country was going through. This was one of the leading workplaces taken over by the workers' movement, which has taken over dozens of businesses when the bosses failed due to the collapse of the economy. They have often been small businesses, but not always.

A judge allowed the occupation to continue and said that the business's future would be dealt with later. At the request of the old owners, another judge authorized the police intervention. Early in the morning, on the day before Easter, the police ejected some workers who were present. This action led to a demonstration by various movements that advocate "business takeovers," unionists, the unemployed movement and militants of the various extreme left organizations. Several thousand people came to support the Brukman workers.

Several weeks ago, the Zanon ceramic business, which was also prominent in the movement of "business takeovers," was similarly threatened with a police takeover but the government finally backed off due to the mobilization.

This tough police crackdown occurred a week before the election for the president of Argentina. The campaign includes the Peronist candidate Kirchner, but also Menem, the former Peronist president, and a right wing candidate, Lopez Murphy. Several hypotheses circulate on the reason for this police intervention.

The working class voters can't count on any of the three candidates who have the most chance of winning the election. The workers can count only on their own forces, as the Brukman workers have done. They still hope to be able to reoccupy their work place, thanks to the mobilization.

Where's the "road map" going?

May 12, 2003

It's more than symbolic that on the day after details of Bush's "road map for Middle East peace" was released, the Israeli army carried out a violent military operation in the Gaza strip, assassinating fifteen Palestinians, among whom was a two-year-old child.

The "road map" is supposed to define the stages that will lead up to the creation of a Palestinian state in 2005. But the publication of this umpteenth pretended peace plan, of which the general outlines were known for months, brings nothing new – only a vague formulation concerning "the possible creation of an independent (Palestinian) state with provisional borders, in 2003." In other words, the "road map" lays out no precise route – only a "possible" and "provisional" one.

Sharon knows this very well. He continues to insist that he won't be held to a schedule and a deadline, and the U.S. doesn't reproach him.

The territory envisaged for an eventual Palestinian state is equivalent to about half of the West Bank and two-thirds of the Gaza strip. Within the West Bank, split-up zones would have to be linked up by an entire system of bridges and tunnels. And there would be no territorial continuity between Gaza and the West Bank.

The "road map" doesn't even envisage a more viable Palestinian state, since so many of the formulations it contains are vague and restricted, being limited to saying Israel will – someday – retreat from "Palestinian zones it had occupied since September 2000" and that "all Israeli settlements constructed since March 2001 will eventually be dismantled."

The "road map" doesn't lay out anything very different from the vague concessions that Sharon said he was ready to make in 2002. But as negligible as these concessions were, they created a storm in Israel on the part of the far right, in particular among the religious. Beny Elon, Minister of Tourism and member of the National Religious Party, went to the U.S. to protest "the road map and the danger that the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank would constitute for Israel." Elon, as many other ministers of the government, has declared himself in favor of deporting Palestinians from the West Bank into the remainder of Jordan.

These internal tensions in the Israeli government could wind up leading to a reorganization of the government and an eventual collaboration with the Labor Party. Mitzna, the Labor spokesman who has said he's hostile to such a possibility, has just resigned. The main remaining Labor Party leaders, in particular Shimon Peres, are rather favorable to it. This would mean the return to the situation that Sharon wanted on the morrow of the last elections: the creation, or more exactly the maintenance, of a government of national unity between the Likud and the Labor Party.

If this comes about, the situation won't be better for the Palestinians. They would then face the two principal parties, those of the governmental left and right, which for decades, one after the other, participated in their oppression. Once again, they'd work together to do it.

The "profits" in occupying Iraq

May 12, 2003

The U.S. leaders are not wasting time getting down to business in managing the occupation of Iraq. The people they have named to head the organizations in charge of the "reconstruction" of Iraq shows that their primary concern is to offer U.S. corporations the chance to make considerable profit.

Jay Garner, the man Bush first put in charge of the occupation, is the representative of the U.S. arms industry. The running of agriculture has been given to Dan Amstutz. Amstutz is a former executive of the giant food company Cargill, the leading exporter of U.S. grain. All this means is that Amstutz is going to be a lot more concerned about dumping a part of the U.S. grain surplus into Iraq, ruining a big part of the Iraqi peasantry, than in developing local agriculture corresponding to the needs of the population. Finally, Bush appointed Lewis Bremer III, a close confidante of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to be the new special envoy to Iraq. Bremer was Reagan's so-called "counterterrorism" ambassador and then went to work for Kissinger Associates, run by Henry Kissinger, with close ties to business clients here and abroad, including the oil sheiks and despots who oppress the people all over the Middle East.

Oil, as could be expected, is receiving special treatment. The U.S. has started back up the old nationalized structure that marketed Iraqi oil, since the majority of its managers are still there and have kept their posts. But this structure has been placed under the control of a commission presided over by Philip Carroll, the former CEO of the U.S. subsidiary of the Shell Oil Company. Who could be better placed than Carroll to know how to utilize the considerable oil resources of Iraq in the best interests of U.S. and British corporations?

After the experience of the last weeks the U.S. leaders are quite aware of the fact that order won't be established without resistance. They aren't taking risks. In Baghdad or in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. has sent in thousands of soldiers to reinforce the occupation forces. U.S. leaders have also left a number of left-overs from the regime of Saddam Hussein, Baathist officials, at their posts, including the head of Baghdad University and the head of the health ministry, where doctors came out in public protest demanding his ouster. In Basra, the British authorities have tried hard to create the appearance of legality by looking for support from the old tribal and clan chiefs. In so doing, the British government resorted to tactics of the old colonial system that it established in Iraq in 1919 and remained until 1958. This system granted the clan chiefs exorbitant rights over the poor.

The U.S. and Britain are preparing for a long occupation, at least in the big cities and the regions where there are big oil resources.

The price of "liberation"

May 12, 2003

War hasn't ended for everyone in the Iraq that Bush prides himself on having "liberated." The U.S. has imposed not only a curfew, but a permanent presence of troops who daily kill or harm Iraqi civilians. For the Iraqi population, the list of its dead grows longer.

Today U.S. missiles are no longer raining down on cities. But the unexploded remains from thousands of cluster bombs have been transformed into anti-personnel mines, which continue to cause grave harm and often death, particularly for children. The occupation troops have also exploded huge inventories of weapons without bothering to pay attention to disastrous results on neighboring communities. U.S. troops have also shot into crowds at anti-U.S. demonstrations in Mosul, Falluja and Baghdad.

The destruction from this war now threatens to bring about a health catastrophe in the cities. Four weeks after the fall of Baghdad, there still is no electric power and running water – in any case not in working class neighborhoods where most of the population of the capital lives. In the cities of Baghdad, Nassiriya and Najaf the population has been reduced to breaking into water mains to get at what remains of the stagnant water. At the same time, sewer lines damaged by bombs continue to spew their filthy contents into the ground water. In Basra, those who can't afford to buy the bottled water which has started to come in from Kuwait (costing $2.50 for 12 ounces, the equivalent to a week's wage for a construction laborer or three days pay for a teacher) are taking muddy water from the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway which crosses the city.

The sanitary situation is so bad that doctors in Baghdad have warned of increases of all kinds of diseases, including cholera. The doctors have also warned that if epidemics break out, they have few tools to fight them. They have no medicine due to both a decade of sanctions that kept medicine out of hospitals, and then the looting at the end of April that the U.S. army didn't bother to stop. And the medicines have not been replenished. In the rest of the country, where the sanitary system and hospitals are still more limited, the situation is even worse.

The development of such a catastrophe, even after such a war, isn't inevitable. During the war, the U.S. flew over a thousand bombing sorties every day. The same number could be flown to bring in food, medicine and water. Today the flight of one big super-cargo jet could bring enough medicine for the immediate needs of all the hospitals in Baghdad. But the U.S. hasn't organized relief flights because there is simply no profit in it. The gigantic aircraft carriers in the Gulf are true floating factories equipped with all kinds of equipment and specialized manpower which could be used to repair the power, water-pumping and sewage plants damaged by bombing. But in Basra it was only the Red Cross that took responsibility for repairing a power plant by bringing in European technicians. The British occupation forces haven't yet authorized technicians to bring in any equipment!

It's not a question of resources, only of priorities – priorities based on profit. U.S. and British military engineers have been working overtime to get oil pumping, and refining up and running near the port of Umm Qasr! U.S. soldiers in Baghdad have expressed dismay at the situation. The Washington Post recently interviewed Army Sergeant Keith Hudson, whose Third Infantry Division unit patrols Baghdad. Said Hudson, "From a soldier's point of view, the destruction is over. The rebuilding should start. Now's not the time to start small and get bigger. You need to stack aircraft end to end. They could be flying crap in from everywhere. Everyone needs to jump on board on this. It's pathetic... I have no answers for the people. I feel like a paid liar. To look people in the eye and say, 'Tomorrow, you'll have electricity.' And then, tomorrow, they look you in the eye and say, 'When?"'

Unfortunately, the total lack of concern by the U.S. about the population's desperate situation is no surprise. To think that an administration that carried out this kind of military attack on Iraq, with all the consequences for civilians during the bombing, would suddenly become concerned about the well-being of the ordinary Iraqis is nonsense.

Pages 6-7

Nina Simone, 1932 - 2003

May 12, 2003

Singer, pianist and composer Nina Simone died April 21 at her home near Marseilles, France. Simone was an accomplished musician who incorporated many musical styles, including classical, jazz, blues and folk. In addition, she will be remembered as an outspoken opponent of racism with a deep political consciousness.

As with so many other musicians of her generation, Nina Simone got her first musical exposure in her church, where she had become the regular pianist by age six. As a result of her renown, sympathetic townspeople donated money allowing her to get quality classical piano training. She later spent a year at the Julliard School of Music in New York thanks to a scholarship she won in high school. At the same time, she experienced a personal taste of racism, in addition to what she'd seen growing up, when she was rejected from completing her musical training at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

Her financial situation forced her to take up playing music in bars and clubs. Simone combined popular music with classical and gospel music to become known in the music scene in Philadelphia and New York. She received a record contract and gained popularity through records like a version of George Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy." She later recorded popular blues tunes like Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You."

As Simone gained popularity, she made the acquaintance of other intellectuals who identified with the rise of the black movement of the late fifties and sixties, including writers and musicians like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry and political activists like Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Simone credited Hansberry, author of the play "Raisin in the Sun," with inspiring her politically. Hansberry died at a young age from cancer, but asked Simone as she was dying to make it to the South for the ongoing political protests. From her own experiences, Nina Simone also became acutely aware of the way the capitalist music industry exploited artists, especially black artists.

Simone's political views come through in her recordings of songs like Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Work Song" and Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," as well as the folk song "Black is the Color." But she was best known for her defiant song, "Mississippi Goddam," which she wrote when the governor of Mississippi went out of his way to shake hands with the man arrested for assassinating civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

While Simone considered the philosophy of non-violence a useful tactic at a point in the movement, she also realized, "the Ku Klux Klan weren't non-violent and neither were the police or the government when they were threatened."

When the movement died, like so many others she ran into personal problems, which included an attempt by the U.S. government to set her up on a tax evasion charge. Nonetheless, Simone continued to speak out against the ongoing racism of this society, but left the United States to live in Europe.

Nina Simone leaves behind a legacy of great music. And her autobiography, "I Put A Spell On You," is well worth a read as well.

The government's war on education

May 12, 2003

Last year's South Carolina Teacher of the Year returns to an elementary school classroom in Columbia South Carolina filled with more children than when she left – about a ten% increase – even though reducing class size is the most important way to improve education.

The South Carolina teacher of the year from the previous year returned from her sabbatical to find her school district had eliminated her actual position. She was the mentor who helped new teachers learn how to improve their classroom lessons.

The cutbacks are the result of fiscal policies at every level of government that are starving the schools for money.

The Bush administration may proclaim, "No Child Left Behind." But its funding cuts can only leave more and more children further and further behind.

L.A. hospital cuts:
A new round of attack on workers and poor

May 12, 2003

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is proposing big cuts in the county's health care system, including the closure of Rancho Los Amigos, the county's main hospital treating spinal cord and head injuries. In total, the cutbacks may result in as many as 2500 layoffs – more than 10% of the county's health care work force.

These hospitals and clinics are the only places where uninsured workers and their families can afford to get any kind of health care.

Community groups have gone to court to stop the cuts. A federal judge temporarily stopped the closure of Rancho, on the basis that this would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. County officials have already countered the judge's decision; if they can't close Rancho, they say, they will cut services at other clinics and hospitals, including trauma centers that were supposedly "saved" by tax increases last fall. County supervisors say that cuts in state and federal funding leave them no other choice.

Certainly, federal and state governments have been busy slashing programs that serve the population, such as welfare, education and health care. But this is not caused by a lack of funds – when the Bush administration obviously has billions of dollars to spend on the war on Iraq, while giving a trillion-dollar tax cut to the richest Americans.

The state and county have been dismantling the public health care system for years – long before the current so-called "budget crisis" began. From 1995 to 1998, for example, the county eliminated 750 beds. At County-USC, where 100 beds are to be cut, the number of beds has already plummeted from 1200 about 15 years ago to 745 today – when the need for these beds was soaring. In court statements, the hospital's doctors have described the conditions that are already deplorable: patients having to wait four days for a bed, some even dying before getting treatment; an overcrowded ER where patients have to wait 16 hours and get examined in the hallways, etc.

The attack on the public health care system is another front in the war waged by the bosses on the workers, with all the layoffs and concessions we are supposed to accept because "there's no money."

There is money – there is enormous wealth in this country and workers create it. The problem for workers is to decide to do what's needed to get it.

Attacking affirmative action to uphold the privileges of the wealthy

May 12, 2003

The Supreme Court is now considering suits brought by the "Center for Individual Rights" on behalf of three white students who say they were denied admission to the University of Michigan (U of M) because of "preferences" given black applicants. A decision on this case is expected in June.

U of M's admissions process works according to a point system. The majority of those points are based on academic factors. This means that the biggest "preference" or advantage goes overwhelmingly to children coming from the very best high schools – the children of the wealthy.

A small number of points are based on "other" factors, including class background or ethnic background. But, even with these points, some of which can go to working class whites as well as blacks, the system is still slanted heavily in favor of the wealthy.

On top of this, the U of M system gives extra points if your parents and other relatives went to U of M – the so-called "legacy." Again, this slants toward the wealthy.

Finally, there are extra points for "Provost's discretion." Overwhelmingly only the wealthy would have access to a Provost – a CEO at the university – and could get their kid this "preference."

The child of a white worker has hundreds of times more of a chance to be pushed out of consideration by a white wealthy applicant than by the child of a black worker. But you wouldn't know it from the way the issue was raised.

This is not surprising when you see who is pushing this case. The "Center for Individual Rights" is partially funded by the "Pioneer Fund," a white supremacist organization dedicated to the disgusting notion that whites are genetically superior to blacks.

This is the organization that tries to convince white working class students that "their place" in the university was given to a black student.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fight that the black population made to open up the universities benefitted the children of white workers. It was this same fight that brought universities to give some extra considerations to applicants who came from the working class or the poor.

The "Center for Individual Rights" wants the children of white workers to blame those of black workers. Better blame the real culprits – those with money, and the system that supports them.

Six Easy Pieces:
A new Easy Rawlins book

May 12, 2003

Six Easy Pieces is the latest book in Walter Mosley's series of mysteries featuring his character Easy Rawlins. Unlike the other books in the series, which were novels, this is a collection of seven short stories.

The book is set in Los Angeles in 1964, and it's interesting to see how much has changed since then, and how much more has stayed the same. Easy Rawlins is different from the typical detective in a detective story. He's a black man working as head custodian at a junior high school. He has to deal with the racism of his boss, the principal of the school – even though Easy and everyone else knows that he is the one who really runs the school. He has two children whom he unofficially adopted years before, simply because they needed him and had nowhere else to go. They live in a small bungalow with his girlfriend, a stewardess. His older son, Jesus, has dropped out of school because it offered nothing to him that seemed worthwhile. Jesus wants to build a boat, and sail around the world. Easy has accepted Jesus' decision to drop out, on the condition that Jesus continue to read and discuss books that Easy gives him – and to be sure to finish his boat.

In other words, everyday life for many workers in this society.

People come to Rawlins because he's more effective than the police. Because he knows people, they will talk to him. In one story he figures out who tried to set fire to his school. In another, he solves a prostitute's murder for her family and the man who loved her.

What haunts Easy is the apparent death of his best friend, Mouse Alexander, who was gunned down two books earlier. Easy feels guilty because Mouse was helping him on a case when he got shot. Throughout the book, Easy carries on a running dialogue in his mind with Mouse's memory, which helps him to figure out what to do next.

Through it all, Rawlins does what working people all over the world do – he doesn't look to the cops or authorities to solve his problems. He solves them himself, with a lot of help from the friends around him.

American Airlines:
From nearly bankrupt to nearly prosperous in just over a week!

May 12, 2003

On May 8, American Airlines' new CEO announced that the company might soon return to profitability.

What happened? Only a month ago, American pretended it was on the verge of bankruptcy. And it used that threat to extort concessions from its workers.

Now that concessions are a done deal, it seems that things don't look that bad after all!

Does that mean the bosses will soon start giving back everything the workers agreed to give up?

Wrong. There is nothing in the new concessions contracts that requires these companies to give back the jobs, pay, benefits and everything else they took from their workers when the companies return to profitability. Not right away. Not ever.

Wonder why union officials didn't think about including this when they joined with the bosses to pressure the workers to accept these agreements.

Page 8

UAW justifies less funds for pensions

May 12, 2003

The New York Times reported that the UAW (United Auto Workers) is supporting a provision in a bill pending before Congress that would allow businesses with union workers to reduce how much they have to fund the pensions of blue collar workers. To justify this funding reduction, companies claim that a recent report by experts who looked at the statistics of life expectancies of blue and white collar workers shows that blue collar workers don't live as long as white collar workers.

In fact, the chairman of the committee that wrote this report, Edwin Hustead, adamantly refuted corporations' claims. He told The Times that his committee found that people who had higher income, both while working and when they retired, tended to live longer than those who were paid less, whether they were blue or white collar. Thus, the higher the income, the longer the worker tended to live.

Of course, it is hardly a surprise that big companies would propose a measure allowing them to cut the cost of funding their employees' pensions, and justify it by using false arguments. But what does it mean when a major union like the UAW, that represents mainly blue collar workers, joins and supports the auto bosses' position?

If an important study did show that blue collar workers died earlier, then a union worthy of the name would immediately find ways to fight against the conditions that killed blue collar workers earlier. The union would organize and mobilize workers to fight to reduce pollution fumes that cause emphysema; the chemical fumes which cause cancer; the speed up which leads to stress; the long hours which mean that workers don't get adequate rest, day after day, month after month, year after year. Given the real conclusions of this study, it would fight for higher pay and better pensions as a way to lengthen life expectancy.

The fact that the UAW doesn't even do this is a real mark of how far and how fast the officialdom of the UAW, as well as the other unions, has fallen.

Even just 30 years ago, the UAW fought and won what it called "30 and Out," full pensions for workers who had accumulated 30 years seniority in the plant, even if they had not reached the official retirement age of 65 or 62. In making an argument for early retirement with full pensions, the union officials stated that the conditions that auto workers worked under were so bad, they tended not to survive as long after they retired, and they did not enjoy the pension benefits that they earned. So, they should be allowed to retire earlier. And, those who worked under still worse conditions, like foundry workers, got "25 and Out."

Of course, this gain had tremendous limits. The union officialdom generally did not fight to improve the murderous conditions of work that shortened workers lives, the long hours of work, endless speed-up and job combinations, and the chemicals and bad air that they worked around. Besides that, these early retirement pensions were not social gains made for the entire working class. They were private pension plans that were always limited to those who worked for the same company for that length of time, an enormous barrier for a full pension. If someone worked for different companies, even if they worked for 30 or more years, they still did not qualify.

But at least "30 and Out" was a recognition that workers had the right to a decent life after retirement.

Today, the UAW not only can't expand this advance. They can't even maintain it. On the contrary, they are working arm in arm with the corporations to severely undermine the existing private pensions. The cuts in pension funding that they are arguing for will eventually lead to actual cuts in benefits – and as the pension study shows, this will in turn lead to cuts in the workers' life spans as well.

This is what the top UAW officials accept – with all the advances in science and technology, the vast improvements in productivity, in the richest and most powerful country in the world, with the richest and most powerful ruling class.

There could not be a worse condemnation of what they are turning the union into.

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