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. 714 — November 3 - 17, 2003

Editorial:
Who is taking our jobs?
No one but the big U.S. corporations!

Nov 3, 2003

Since the economic recovery officially began two years ago, jobs losses have continued to mount. According to the official explanation, economic growth was not strong enough to produce more jobs. Well, last week, the U.S. government reported that the economy had expanded at a 7.2% annual rate from July through September, officially the fastest three month expansion in over two decades.

And still we lost jobs! This is especially true in manufacturing, where another 101,000 jobs were cut during the last three months.

Why is this happening?

Union officials and all those politicians who pretend to be "pro-labor" have been telling us for years that U.S. manufacturing jobs are being exported overseas. Our jobs are going to Japan – supposedly – or to Mexico or to China, etc.

Of course, if that were the case, we should see big increases in manufacturing jobs in those countries. So take a look at what happened.

According to a new study reported on in the Wall Street Journal (October 20), over two million manufacturing jobs were lost in the United States between 1995 to 2002. That's 11% of the total. Did manufacturing jobs increase by two million in the other countries to account for these losses? Not at all. Just the opposite. Other countries also lost manufacturing jobs, and in most cases, much more than here. In China, 15 million jobs disappeared – 15% of the total. In Japan during the same period, 16% of its manufacturing jobs were lost. As for Mexico, there was only a modest increase in manufacturing jobs over this entire seven-year period. But during the last two years, the maquiladoras, which were blamed for taking so many U.S. jobs, lost 21% of their total jobs – proportionately a bigger decline than anywhere else.

In fact, manufacturing jobs are being cut all over the world, 30 million of them in just seven years time, according to the same study. And this is not because of a drop in production. On the contrary, worldwide, production INCREASED by 30% in the same period.

Despite all the propaganda from union officials and politicians, we are not losing jobs to other countries. We are losing them to the bosses' drive for ever higher productivity. While production increased in this county by 15% over the last seven years, the number of jobs decreased by 11%. Working harder, faster and longer, we are working ourselves out of our very own jobs.

When someone tells us that our jobs are going to other countries, not only are they distorting reality; they are disarming us for the fight we have to make – right here at home against our own bosses who are pushing us for more production so they can accumulate still more wealth.

So long as we do not fight to take the benefits of increased productivity – ALL the benefits – we doom ourselves to more job losses.

Work harder still so that someone else can get richer? Nonsense! Given the enormous increases in productivity, we could all be working six hours a day, four days a week – and still enjoy a much higher standard of living. IF we took a good part of the benefits of productivity increases for ourselves.

We should enjoy the fruits of our own labor ourselves.

Pages 2-3

The ghouls of Florida

Nov 3, 2003

Surely, one of a family's worst nightmares is to have a relative on life support for years, and to have to face the awful decision about ending life support.

No sensitive human being would dare to assume they could tell a family in that situation what to do. But in a monstrous and ghoulish act, the Florida legislature butted in and passed a bill – and Governor Jeb Bush rushed to sign it – that took the decision away from Terri Sciavo's family. It ordered her reconnected to a feeding tube.

Terri Sciavo was 29 years old when, in l990, her heart stopped. By the time doctors re-started her heart, she had gone into a coma from severe brain damage. She never woke up.

Through all these years, her husband and her parents clung to hope, and tried different therapies to revive her. A crisis came when her husband was convinced that nothing more could be done – but her parents disagreed.

Such tragedies visit many families. They are thrust into unbearable situations where there can be no good outcome, regardless what decisions are made. It's impossible to think that families in this situation won't disagree at times.

But nothing seems to be too impossible or too monstrous for Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature, when there are votes involved. It was for no other reason than a chase for votes – for himself and for his brother George – that Jeb Bush signed the Sciavo feeding bill.

He didn't need the bill to clarify the law, because the laws are quite clear and had already been followed to the letter. He didn't need the bill to apply new medical advances, because the most highly regarded doctors all agreed that Terri's case was hopeless.

Bush signed the bill because religious fanatics had adopted the Sciavo parents' case as a cause – and Bush can use these fanatics to turn out a lot of votes.

Bush's action belongs in a horror movie, not in a so-called civilized society. By day, hiding behind a mask of concern for life – by night, governor of the state that has executed more prisoners than any other except Texas. Pusher of laws against abortion that would merely guarantee the suffering and death of women not rich enough to avoid the butchery of underground abortion mills.

Jeb Bush is using Terri Sciavo's body to harness fanaticism's energy to deliver votes for his brother in 2004.

"Right-to-life"? No – call it for what it is – Bush is playing with life for despicable ends!

Michigan charter schools:
The 124 million dollar rip-off

Nov 3, 2003

Charter schools have been around in Michigan for 10 years now – more than enough time to judge their track record. So, how are they doing?

Well, that's hard to say – since no mechanisms were ever set up to measure and keep track of their performance. The state Education Department doesn't even have a full list of who runs what charter schools in Michigan – even though they receive millions of dollars in tax money each year.

But an investigative report by the Detroit News showed very clearly that Michigan charter schools have performed poorly – on just about every level.

The standard test used to judge school performance in Michigan is the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test – the MEAP. At the fourth grade level, charter school students averaged far below those of public schools in all three areas of math, reading and writing. In public schools, 66%% of students met state standards in math; in company-managed charters, only 44% did. In reading, 76% of public school students met the minimum standard; only 56% in company-managed charter schools did.

Charter school supporters argue that the public school averages include the wealthiest, best-performing public schools while the charter schools draw from the poorest school districts. The News investigation demonstrated reporters discovered that even when poverty levels are taken into account, the charter schools still perform way below comparable public schools.

Charter schools were supposed to show the biggest improvement – so promised politicians and company officials – because the profit motive would push those schools to show results.

No, the profit motive only pushed these companies to take the money and run. The charter schools spend a smaller part of their budgets on the classroom – on teachers, books, supplies, etc. – than any other schools.

So, why do parents keep sending their children to these schools? Why do these schools continue to have long waiting lists?

Many parents are desperate. They bring their children from poorly performing public schools in an attempt to provide them SOME kind of quality education..

And no one gives parents the information that would allow them to make a real choice. Just the opposite. The schools themselves and the state agencies that are supposed to monitor them have hidden the results that show how poorly these schools perform.

The fact that the state never set up ways to monitor their performance shows what this was from the beginning – a way to funnel money to the politicians' business associates, so that they could make some money, or to religious organizations, so that they could use public money to push their doctrines.

The tragedy for over 60,000 working class children tricked into the charter schools is that they are getting an even worse education.

Southern California:
Burning down the house

Nov 3, 2003

At the end of October, eight separate wildfires swept through outlying areas of Los Angeles and San Diego, with the two largest fires merging into a single forty-mile-long red wall. Within six days, the wildfires consumed an estimated 745,000 acres, causing a devastating toll: 20 people, including one firefighter, were killed, an estimated 2,612 homes were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes. As of the beginning of November, most of the wildfires had yet to be brought under control.

Most news reports immediately blamed these fires on arsonists, real or imagined. In so doing, they covered up the real evolution of these fires.

Southern California has little or no rain in the hot summer and autumn months, leading always to a big build-up of dead trees and bushes. In this environment, fires are a normal part of the natural cycle, clearing out the dead trees and brush, creating the ash that fertilizes the soil, contributing to the flourishing of new plants and trees. But with more and more homes, especially luxury homes with million dollar price tags, being built on the hills just outside major metropolitan areas and suburbs, these smaller fires have normally been put out immediately. So, dead trees and brush have been left to build-up, without anything being done to clear them out.

Despite the warnings of experts inside and outside the government, none of the layers of government – federal, state or local – budgeted even a tiny fraction of the money necessary for fire prevention, that is, first of all, to clear away all the dead trees and chaparral that constitutes the fires' prime fuel.

Just as the government had done little or nothing to prevent the fires, it did nothing to prevent the construction companies and developers from turning these areas into fire traps. The mostly luxury homes may have been put into very pretty locations, but those locations are naturally fire prone. Developers often surrounded the homes with attractive, but highly flammable trees and shrubs, such as the very oily eucalyptus tree, which actually explodes in a fire. They also often made the worst choices in building materials. Especially popular on the roofs are the very expensive and beautiful cedar shake shingles, which also immediately burst into flame when a cinder or ash lands on it.

In October, which is the end of a long dry season, the strong, hot and dry Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert provided the optimum conditions for the "perfect fire." It only took a spark to set them off.

The fire departments in the surrounding areas as well as the federal fire system for the national forests – hit by one budget cut after another – are so undermanned and ill-equipped, they have trouble dealing with the normal levels of fires, not to speak of the vast emergencies of late October.

The same system which prepared the way for these fires will now try to see that the monetary cost of the fires will be borne by the population of the state, in higher fire insurance premiums, as well as higher taxes, accompanied by further cuts in social programs and public services – like fire protection.

The nightmare wasn't Isabel - it was the power companies

Nov 3, 2003

Referring to Hurricane Isabel as the "storm of the century," "the most destructive in our history," power companies explained away their inability to restore electric service quickly in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The excuses had a familiar ring, since they were similar to the ones the same companies had used after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 or even following power outages during rain storms this August..

Potomac Edison (Pepco), Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) and Virginia Dominion claim that it's all the fault of Mother Nature. The numbers tell a different story.

Pepco's spending on distribution lines fell between 2000 and 2002, although building is booming in the region. Ten years ago, according to the union at Pepco, the company had 209 overhead linemen; today there are 135.

BGE's maintenance spending declined from 43 million dollars in 2000 to 39 million in 2002. Dominion dropped routine tree trimming by a third, from 18 million dollars to 12 million in the past year.

BGE said that over half of its outages during the storm were caused by downed trees or fallen branches. But not a single outage happened in areas where the right of way was cleared. In other words, the big majority of the outages could have been prevented if BGE had spent money on tree trimming and clearing.

Another option is to bury power lines, which would have required coordination throughout the state and local political divisions. It would have also required that politicians force builders and developers in new areas to pay for putting in these lines – along with sewers, roads, etc.

However, a recent survey by MaryPIRG, Maryland Public Interest Research Group, showed that only 10 out of 23 Maryland counties get money from developers. Some don't get back a penny and even those that do got back only 33¢ on every dollar spent.

What's shocking is not that big storms cause problems. What's shocking is that big companies can always avoid their responsibilities to the consumers who pay the bills – thanks to their backing by the politicians.

Chicago high rise fire kills six

Nov 3, 2003

On October 17, a fire broke out in a high rise building owned by Cook County that killed six people. The fire occurred on a lower floor of the 35-story building, apparently caused by a short in an electric fixture. Those who died choked on smoke in a stairwell around the 22nd floor, where the doors in the stairwell were locked, preventing their escape to safety.

The building, which was put up in the early 1960s, was bought by the county in 1996 for 40 million dollars. The county spent 22 million dollars to spruce it up, but it didn't put in sprinklers – cost two million dollars. It didn't put in fans to keep the stairways free from smoke – cost a half million dollars. Nor did it put in a centralized system to release stairwell doors when a fire alarm was sounded. County officials might as well have decided to murder someone – since they made decisions that guaranteed someone would sooner or later die in a fire.

David Lucht of the center for fire safety of the Worchester Polytechnic Institute said after this current fire, "I was shocked when I learned that a high-rise building in Chicago didn't have sprinklers."

This is not just any building – it is a county building, run by the very government supposedly responsible for safeguarding the lives of people. Instead of doing that, it took advantage of a loophole in the fire code in order not to put in fire protection, just like any slumlord willing to take full advantage of this loophole at the expense of their tenants. So six people died.

Pages 4-5

October 25 protests against Iraq war and occupation:
An important voice

Nov 3, 2003

On Saturday October 25, there were demonstrations against the U.S. occupation of Iraq in several U.S. cities, the largest in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The main slogans of the demonstration were to demand an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and withdrawal of U.S. troops. The demonstrators insisted that the best way to support U.S. troops is to bring them home now! The protests were organized by two anti-war organizations: ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and United for Peace and Justice.

Included in the march was a contingent from Military Families Speak Out, an organization of people who have family members who are soldiers, sailors and marines currently in Iraq or recently brought home. A spokeswoman from this group said, referring to the troops: "Don't extend them. Don't redeploy them. Don't replace them. Bring them home now." She also addressed the suffering of the Iraqi people from the war and occupation. Families in this situation sought each other out at the demo, sharing the situations of their son or daughter or husband, drawing strength and courage in their outspoken opposition to the war. And they often repeated the idea that they were speaking out for their loved ones in Iraq who couldn't express their opposition to the war.

In Washington, police estimated between 40,000 and 50,000 participants, while organizers said 100,000. Whatever the actual number, the demonstration was certainly smaller than the more massive demonstrations in the months leading up to the war. Smaller, but with an important difference. In earlier demos, participants included not only people 100% opposed to war on Iraq and many who had opposed earlier U.S. led wars: Vietnam, Panama, the 1st Gulf War. There were also many people – often from the left wing of the Democratic Party or from churches – who called on the U.S. not to go to war unless it first had U.N. approval. The very large February 15 protest in New York City, for example, was focused on the U.N.

To hope that the U.N. would hold back U.S. imperialism's desire to get its hands on Iraqi oil was, at best, foolish, when it wasn't deceitful. The U.N. had all along given its backing to the U.S. push for war on Iraq. In November 2002, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that Iraq disclose details of its "weapons of mass destruction" programs – weapons which U.N. inspectors knew did not exist – or face the "consequences", i.e. a war. In May 2003, while the war was in full swing, the council passed a resolution lifting economic sanctions against Iraq, recognizing American military occupation forces as the only authority in the country. And just days before this October 25 demonstration, the Security Council unanimously voted for a resolution which had no concrete application, but de facto gave the U.S. the right to claim it had U.N. support for the war that continues to this day against the people of Iraq.

It is an illusion to believe that the U.N. is willing to stand up to the war policies of its most powerful member, the U.S.

In this regard, the October 25 demo was an important step. In speeches, signs, banners and chants, it was clearly an unqualified protest of the U.S. war and occupation.

France:
Religious fundamentalism and the oppression of women

Nov 3, 2003

The last decade has a seen a very big increase in religious fundamentalism in the so-called "advanced"countries. And the basic human rights of women have become one of the main targets of this exceedingly reactionary trend. In the U.S., Christian fundamentalists push to deny women the right to choose abortion or even have access to many birth control devices or medicines. In some Western countries, where Muslim fundamentalism plays a role, the veil has also become a symbol of the growing oppression of women.

The following article is taken from several different articles which appeared in various issues of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle), the weekly newspaper of the French Trotskyist organization of the same name. They recount the struggle carried out by teachers in some French schools against the wearing of the veil in school.

The veil in the classroom

A number of teachers who tell the Muslim girls to remove the veil do so, not because it's a question for them of maintaining schools free of religious symbols, but because it's a question of the oppression of women. The veil is a symbol of the oppression which reserves to women the sole function of reproduction. In the name of barbarism left over from the Middle Ages, today in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, as well as in many other countries, hundreds of thousands of women live shut in behind walls and bars of their homes and behind the wire netting that shows only their eyes in the "burka" which covers them from head to toe. It's in the name of this same backwardness that women are prohibited from carrying on a profession, from visiting a doctor, having an operation or even driving a car.

In the same way, family councils (of course constituted only of men) condemn certain women to be stoned to death, have lye or acid thrown on them or to be strangled, for the simple fact that they bear a child out of wedlock or refuse to marry an old man who is the friend of the men of their family or simply because they don't remain in the place that's imposed on them.

In France today this isn't the condition of women. But there are changes going in this direction. Some young women are forced by their families to wear the head scarf; they are prevented by their families from taking part in Physical Education classes. Some towns have segregated swimming pools and there is a push to segregate the schools by sex. All of this is the beginning of setting up a ghetto for women, imposing on them a life of inferiority and submission.

In the name of "the right to cultural difference" or a pretended respect for "roots," some well-minded people and leftists call for the "right" of Muslim girls to wear the veil in school. They sometimes add that if the girls are told they can't enter the classroom with the veil, the girls won't attend school and will lose access to culture and learning that schools provide. It's a way to give in to reactionary pressure. What's at stake isn't the "right" for a few girls who want to wear the veil, but the right of thousands of girls and young women NOT to wear the veil. Today they can rely on the fact they aren't permitted to wear the veil in school to stand up to the reactionary pressures which their families or religious fundamentalists in their neighborhoods want to impose on them. What's at stake is whether women, often from childhood, will have a yoke imposed on them, a yoke which in the name of "tradition" denies their human worth and tries to make them wear a badge saying they are beings of a lower order.

Of course, some girls say it's their personal choice to wear the veil. Lila and Alma Levy, for example, assert they willingly wear the veil, that it's their choice. Certainly it's not imposed on them by their family. Their father comes from a Jewish background and is an atheist. Tomorrow, when they decide it, they will be free to throw their veil in the garbage. If they feel like it, they could embrace any other belief or none at all, they could marry the man of their choice or just live with him. But it's not a question of the personal choice of these two individuals who will not suffer the oppression the veil signifies. It's a question of the liberty of hundreds of thousands of girls of Muslim origin who don't enjoy this cultural and social environment and the freedom that goes with it. If it becomes possible for these two young women to attend class with a veil on their head, others will be forced to wear it by the men of their family and neighborhood.

Once the schools give in on this issue, this contributes to the oppression of all those other girls, by far the majority, who would like to resist wearing the veil and want the support of schools which prohibit it.

"For women's rights and freedom, against the veil in school"

On October 16 the teachers of the Henri-Wallon high school in Aubervilliers organized a press conference: "For women's rights and freedom, against the veil in school." This is the school where two students, Lila and Alma Levy, were expelled by the discipline council because, after months of discussion with the school's teachers, they persisted in their refusal to take off their veils in class.

Gisele Halimi sent a letter of solidarity with the teachers in which she recalled that, " ...the veil is a weapon turned against these principles (secularism and equality between the sexes). It's not a question of freedom of expression but a wish to flaunt a religion and, often, a political choice. Especially, it attempts to make women inferior and maintain them in a true sexual apartheid."

That's exactly what it's a question of: the oppression of women by men, of their freedom and their rights. The veil isn't a simple piece of cloth, it isn't only a symbol, but also the concrete mark of the situation of inferiority in which certain people want to maintain women in the name of religious freedom.

Chahdortt Djavann, who knows what she speaks of because she lived in Iran under the weight of the veil for thirteen years, recalled that the veil, which hides the hair and the entire body of women from the gaze of men, is a true moving tomb. "As they (Muslim fundamentalists) can't exterminate women, because they are used to satisfy their desires and for reproduction, they hide them in the veil," she emphasized.

In the course of the press conference, Mimouna Hadjan, a feminist who lives and has been a militant for 21 years in the housing development in La Courneuve, where she is a leader of the Africa Association, denounced the responsibility of the state in the rise of fundamentalism in the suburbs: "For generations, they have condemned immigrants of the housing developments to live in insecurity and unemployment. Fundamentalism is nourished on this misery. The state has let this happen and has sold these housing developments to the Islamists to get peace ... Certain youth have gotten off drugs, but have fallen into another drug: religious fanaticism ... In the 1980s, after the Islamic fundamentalist revolution in Iran and the arrival of Islamists from the Algerian FIS (Front of Islamic Salvation), in our housing development we see a return to polygamy, men have taken the road of the mosques."

With emotion, she concretely described the increase in her housing development of the wearing of the veil under the pressure of the fundamentalists and the physical and moral attacks against girls of Muslim origin who refuse to wear it.

Bernard Tepper, president of UFAL (Union of Secular Families), who is currently circulating a petition for a law against all religious symbols in the public schools, emphasized, "North Africans and Muslims living in France today make up the majority of signatures on this petition," adding that they are "in their majority favorable to secularism and opposed to the wearing of the veil in school."

He added, "The struggle against the headscarf in school is a legitimate struggle for equality between men and women and for the continuation of the movement of emancipation of women ... There are thousands of girls to be supported against fundamentalists who wish to oblige them to wear the veil."

It's these girls who in fact risk being the first victims if the schools cave in.

The "Donors Conference" in Madrid:
Negotiating the plunder of Iraq's wealth

Nov 3, 2003

For two days in October top-level U.S. government officials and representatives of big U.S. banks met behind closed doors with government officials and business representatives from 77 other countries in Madrid, Spain. Officially, the purpose of this "Donors' Conference" was to negotiate and determine the amount each country would "donate" for "the reconstruction of Iraq."

Of course, in the doublespeak of these governments, "reconstruction" stands for occupation. The Bush administration had made a decision to conduct the invasion of Iraq on its own, "without U.N. approval," that is, without the participation of other economic and military powers because it did not want to share Iraq's oil with the other powers. But now, faced with mounting difficulties in Iraq, the Bush administration is asking other countries to chip in to carry the burden of occupying Iraq.

In order to get that support, the Bush administration had to back down from its insistence that it would control all the spoils of the war. In exchange for sharing the costs of occupation, the U.S. promised to allow companies from other countries to "do business" in Iraq. Ten days before the Madrid conference, in fact, the U.S. had organized an international investors' conference entitled "Doing Business in Iraq: Kickstarting the Private Sector." These companies, many from other countries, were promised a share of the contracts, worth billions of dollars, which so far have been given only to U.S. corporations.

Nevertheless, no one is rushing to do business in Iraq, and even less to finance the country's occupation. Two days of negotiations produced some pledges from a number of countries, led by Japan with 1.5 billion dollars. The European Union followed with 812 million dollars. However, the total amount governments pledged in Madrid, 13 billion dollars, is only about one-fourth of what the Bush administration said would be needed from other countries for the occupation. And it remains to be seen, of course, how much of these pledges will actually materialize in the coming months. Besides, most of the pledges are for loans or business deals, not for the donations that the U.S. had asked for.

What's holding these governments back is first of all the fact that the situation in Iraq remains highly unstable. The U.S. military command in Iraq has admitted that the number of attacks on U.S. troops has increased significantly in recent weeks. The U.S. military has been using the word "resistance" more often in describing these attacks, admitting that much of it is coming from the population. The situation is so serious that so far even oil companies have been reluctant to start operations in Iraq.

The other governments also want the U.S. to allow them not just a few crumbs, but to share control of Iraq's assets before they send money and troops to Iraq. And they weren't given this share. All the revenues from the sale of Iraq's oil, as well as its former government's assets, are currently controlled by the Development Fund for Iraq, which may officially be a U.N. body, but in reality is controlled by the U.S. occupation authority.

Missing from this whole picture are the people of Iraq. No matter what agreement may be produced by these negotiations between the U.S. and other countries, mainly European powers like France and Germany, Iraqis will pay the price – for generations to come. Not only is the wealth of their country being plundered, Iraqis are also being indebted with loans so "generously" extended by the U.S. and other countries.

The Bush administration – unwilling to give much of a share of the spoils of war – had to know in advance that this conference would produce little but a pale show of support. In fact, that's mainly what this whole conference was all about – to create a show for the U.S. population, to slow down the growing opposition to this war.

At a time when the working class in the U.S. has been facing layoffs, cuts in wages and benefits, as well as cuts in social programs, Bush is certainly worried about the difficulty of getting the population to accept a costly continuing military occupation abroad. Not to mention the fact that opposition to the war is increasing among U.S. troops in Iraq themselves and among the population inside the U.S. that wants them brought home now.

The show put on in Madrid changes nothing. It's still a dirty war. U.S. troops still need to be brought home NOW!

Pages 6-7

Big pension and health care cuts being forced on millions of retirees

Nov 3, 2003

About 7,000 Bethlehem Steel retirees – roughly 1,300 of them in the Baltimore area – were recently informed they will have to pay back thousands of dollars in pension benefits to the so-called Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).

Melvin Schmeizer, for example, was told he will have to repay $15,000 to the PBGC. The PBGC is cutting his pension checks from about $2,850 a month to only $1,580. And he will have to pay back the amount the PBGC supposedly "overpaid" him since the time Bethlehem's pension plan was terminated last December. His case may be extreme, but he's not the only one.

When Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy, the pensions of all Bethlehem workers were taken over by the PBGC. All former Bethlehem workers will take some several kind of cut. Retirees who are less than 65 will have their pensions severely reduced. Retirees who designated a beneficiary will have their pensions cut in half. 28,000 employees still working at former Bethlehem mills or elsewhere will take even bigger cuts when they retire. All 95,000 of Bethlehem's current and future retirees will receive no cost-of-living increases in their PBGC pensions, as Bethlehem retirees did before the company declared bankruptcy and sold all its assets to International Steel Group (ISG).

Finally, all these retirees – current and future – have also had all their Bethlehem-paid retiree health insurance benefits terminated.

The Bethlehem bosses are far from the only ones to have done this to the workers who made them rich. Tens thousands of other active and retired steelworkers at LTV Steel and National Steel have been similarly attacked in just the last couple of years. Millions of other workers in other industries have also been stripped of their pensions and health benefits, in most cases following so-called bankruptcies that allowed their bosses to escape from their retirement obligations to them, while selling the plants they worked in to other bosses who continue to run them for a profit.

The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation is clearly misnamed. It doesn't guarantee pensions. But it certainly does protect the profits of companies that want to junk their pension plans.

Two largest "for-profit" Blue Cross firms merge

Nov 3, 2003

WellPoint Health Networks, Inc. and Anthem, Inc. are merging. Between the two, they currently control Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in 13 states, providing the health insurance for 26 million people. That's 13% of all Americans with private health insurance and 30% of all those covered by a Blue Cross plan.

The two companies are the product of the move to convert Blue Cross Blue Shield plans from "non-profit" to "for-profit" companies. That's not to say that the so-called "non-profit" Blue Cross companies weren't producing profits before; they were. They were conduits for profits to the pharmaceutical industry, the medical supply industry, the hospitals, banks and others that fed off the medical industry. In addition, some ran for-profit subsidiaries, like their own HMOs or even, for example, lawn care companies whose only business was to take care of the company grounds.

But the so-called "non-profits" weren't producing as much profit as the big financial interests and big banking houses thought could be produced by the medical insurance industry. It was Wall Street that underwrote the transformation of some Blue Cross Blue Shield plans into openly for-profit enterprises.

The profits of WellPoint and Anthem show that these profits can be immense. Last year, their profits totaled over 440 million dollars. They expect that the merger will result in 250 million dollars in additional profits by 2006.

The companies' profits grew by over 15% last year, fueled by increases in their premiums that are rising faster than the rate of medical inflation. That's the medical inflation rate – which is much higher than the general rate of inflation!

Corporations that don't want to pay higher health insurance rates for their employees and consumer groups representing insured individuals have fought against further Blue Cross conversions. In some states, legislatures blocked the conversions.

So the moneyed interests that pushed to convert more Blue Cross plans to "for-profit" ran into a kind of roadblock.

But there's more than one way to skin a cat – and Wall Street is hip to all of them. Today they are creating a huge health insurance mega-monster, hoping to drive smaller health insurance companies out of business and make higher profits possible further down the line.

This process has nothing to do with providing quality health care to people who need it. Wall Street analysts have already said that the new company will "pursue small businesses and the uninsured by offering lower-cost policies that shift a bigger share of the growing tab for health care to patients." In other words, profits are to be made at the expense of workers' health care benefits.

Los Angeles transit strike

Nov 3, 2003

Two weeks into the Los Angeles public transit strike, the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), announced it had reached an impasse and broke off negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union that represents the strikers. The MTA went over the heads of union officials, saying it wanted the workers to vote on its last contract offer – even though it still included the same takeaways as previous offers, first of all, an enormous $200 per month increase in what the mechanics would have to pay for health benefits, with the chance that this would increase in years to come.

In fact, behind this proposal is the implied threat that the MTA will impose this last final contract offer.

To this outright attack by the MTA, union leaders merely back pedaled, declaring they were ready to end the strike immediately and send workers back to their jobs, while the contract went to binding arbitration. But the MTA was not appeased by this offer to end the strike. Instead, the MTA reinforced its ultimatum: either agree to all of the MTA's terms, or else.

Unfortunately, this arrogance by the MTA has been encouraged by the stance union officials have taken from the beginning of the strike. They organized no actions to show the workers' willingness to resist the MTA. Picket lines have been little more than a formality. Union leaders have communicated almost nothing to the workers, leaving the workers open to the propaganda from the MTA managers, as well as the usual anti-union mass media. In other words, the strike has been almost invisible – except to the 400,000 mainly poor people who depend on the trains and buses.

If the strike continues this way, the MTA will have little reason to back away from any of its main demands.

If this were an active strike, the transit workers would have plenty of cards to play. They could try to gain links with people who depend on mass transit, organizing van pools and car pools, calling on workers in other unions to help out. Why not? During the last L.A. transit strike three years ago, ordinary people themselves began to do this very thing. If unorganized individuals did this on their own, the strikers, with many more resources at their disposal, could do it too.

The transit workers could try to link up their strike with all those facing similar attacks, starting with the striking supermarket workers, as well as the 30,000 Los Angeles county workers whose health benefits are also being threatened by the very same public officials behind the MTA.

In fact, the transit workers are positioned to link their struggle both with the mass of working poor and with unionized workers under attack. And linking struggles, bringing more forces together, is what gives possibilities to the workers.

Bankruptcy Blackmail:
The steel companies are on the roll

Nov 3, 2003

The same day Rouge Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Russia's second largest steel producer, Severstal, announced it had reached an agreement to buy the steel-making operation within the giant Ford Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan.

UAW leaders representing a couple thousand workers at Rouge Steel announced they had agreed to discuss a new labor contract as part of the reorganization. A few days later, the chairman and CEO of U.S. Steel Corp. said it was still interested in buying Rouge Steel in bankruptcy court proceedings: "We want to see what opportunities exist. It's just the beginning of the game..."

It's just the beginning of the game all right, the bankruptcy game that is stacked against the workers. Declaring bankruptcy supposedly means you don't pay your debts, but it's not true. Rouge Industries isn't going to stop paying its debts to suppliers. If it did, it couldn't continue to produce. Yet the same day it filed for bankruptcy, company officials announced that Rouge Steel will continue to provide uninterrupted service to its customers.

No, bankruptcy is directed against the workers as a threat to get them to accept big concessions, rather than risk having their pensions junked, like National Steel workers had in the Detroit area.

The president of the UAW local representing the Rouge Steel workers said that the steel operation is in "serious financial straights" and "something had to be done."

But IF this is the case, it isn't Rouge Steel workers that should be responsible for doing it. For 66 of its 80 year existence, Rouge Steel was owned, lock, stock and barrel, by Ford Motor Company. Even today, effectively it is a creation of Ford Motor Company, for whom it supplies most of its steel.

Over the years, Ford TOOK OUT all the profits it has made throughout the Rouge, steel operations included, and didn't invest in the maintenance, the modernization that it should have. Not even the minimal maintenance, as Rouge workers can swear to.

The money has been there – to keep the steel operations modernized. But over the years, it has been drained out of the Rouge. Now they want to come to the steel workers for more. This cycle of concessions has got to stop!

Exec scam

Nov 3, 2003

Peter Karmanos Jr., CEO and president of Compuware, announced he was cutting his wages by 69% for next year. Then he announced that Compuware would cut employees salaries and require them to share health premium costs.

Karmanos, like executives of all major corporations, have made millions of dollars; between his salary, his stocks, his bonuses. They all have special arrangements that include the best health care and pensions.

So what if Karmanos volunteers to cut a tiny portion of an overinflated salary TEMPORARILY? The rest of the regular folks have to give back wages PERMANENTLY for health care and the like!

It's a shameful hypocrisy!

Page 8

Southern California supermarket strike:
70,000 workers can extend and build their fight

Nov 3, 2003

The 70,000 striking workers at southern California supermarkets have demonstrated real determination, battling to keep the gargantuan supermarket chains from gobbling up their health benefits, and imposing a two-tier wage and benefit structure.

Their strike has been visible and vocal, and it has struck a real chord in the working class. Teamsters, working for the same corporate chains and who face similar contract demands next year, refused to unload their cargo at the striking stores. Many customers of the supermarkets have shown up on the picket lines, often bringing food or coffee. Family members join the picket lines. Workers from other unions picket alongside the grocery workers with their own union's signs. And there is a constant stream of cars and trucks going by, honking their horns.

This support and solidarity shows that the supermarket workers could possibly widen their fight, turning it into a social struggle for the right to a job that pays decent wages and benefits, a fight that could engage many other workers.

Instead of building on this support and sympathy to widen the fight, the heads of the union, the UFCW, have done the exact opposite. From day one of the strike, they limited its impact. They struck only one store chain, Von's, rather than all three. Only when the other two chains, Ralph's and Albertson's, locked out their workers, did the union set up picket lines at all stores. Three weeks into the strike, UFCW officials pulled the pickets from the 300 stores owned by Ralph's, even though the company said it would continue the lockout and that it would share whatever money it makes with the other two chains.

Union officials explained this move, saying they wanted to give people a way to get food. Obviously, since the three chains so dominate the supermarket business in southern California, where to shop has become a bigger problem, as the strike continued.

But the unions could have offered a different option for other working people, setting up cooperatives with local farmers and suppliers, bypassing the big stores all together. Why not? This could have involved more people with the strike and tied other working people and even small businesses to the striking workers.

Some union officials have publicly declared they are holding out a "silver bullet" in case the strike founders: they will call on the Teamsters, who now service the huge, centralized warehouses, to go out on strike and therefore paralyze the entire food distribution system.

Why wait? Why not call on the Teamsters right away? Why allow the supermarket workers to face the growing problems of how to pay their bills in a lengthening strike? In any case, the strikers themselves can ask the Teamsters to do this.

John Sweeney, the national head of the AFL-CIO, announced that he and the other union leaders held a conference call with more than 150 institutional investors and analysts on Wall Street to explain why they shouldn't support the strike. As if the Wall Street financial institutions that are the major stockholders and creditors to the supermarkets, weren't behind the attacks on the supermarket workers in the first place!

Wall Street could, of course, decide to back off – if tens and hundreds of thousands of workers clog the streets of Los Angeles, and besiege the headquarters of the big banks and other big companies. If the functioning of their money machine is disrupted, Wall Street could very well be the first to demand that the supermarkets cede to the workers.

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