The Spark

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

Issue no. 715 — November 17 - December 1, 2003

Editorial:
U.S. Troops out of Iraq NOW!

Nov 17, 2003

The first two weeks of November were the bloodiest two weeks for U.S. troops in the "post-war" war on Iraq. The four helicopters brought crashing down symbolize the quagmire into which the U.S. government has placed American soldiers.

A few weeks ago, the Bush administration sent out teams to explain that "good things" were happening in Iraq. In the infamous words of Republican U.S. Representative George Nethercutt, the "reconstruction" of Iraq "is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day..."

But reality, in the form of helicopter crashes, reasserted itself. And even Bush, as adept a liar as has been seen in a long time, can't pretend that things are going well.

So Bush retreated to the tried and true: blame Saddam Hussein, and when he can't be blamed, blame Osama bin Laden.

Absurd. But for the sake of argument, accept his claim. It still begs the question. This is a guerrilla war, what General Abizaid, U.S. commander in the region, called a "classical guerrilla campaign." And guerrilla campaigns cannot be carried out by their partisans without support from a very sizeable part of the population.

Not possible, says Bush, that the Iraqi population could support Saddam Hussein, who for decades imposed his rule through a brutal military dictatorship. It's only a few die-hard Saddam Hussein loyalists in the so-called "Sunni triangle" that want Saddam Hussein back – again, according to Bush.

But there's a big problem with that claim – it ignores the facts. Attacks have been taking place in all areas of the country – those with a Sunni majority, those with a Shia majority and those with a Kurdish majority. In fact, the Kurdish areas have seen some of the biggest demonstrations against the U.S. authority in recent weeks, and the Shia areas of Baghdad are some of the most dangerous for U.S. troops.

However much they may have hated Saddam Hussein, large parts of the Iraqi population today hate the U.S. more.

Was Saddam Hussein a butcher who used nerve gas on the Shiites? The U.S. used a napalm like substance on concentrations of troops in the first phase of this war. Did Saddam Hussein kill tens of thousands and put them in mass graves? The U.S. has killed close to 50,000 – directly or indirectly – in the current campaign, coming on top of the million and a half Iraqis who were killed in the first Gulf War, its after-effects, and the decade-long embargo.

Today, as the result of the U.S. occupation, there is no work. As the result of the bombing, there isn't enough housing or medical care. Some electricity may finally have reappeared in Baghdad, but not all the time, and most villages are without power. The population is living in misery – much worse than before the war – while the U.S. authorities have taken over the sumptuous palaces and luxury hotels that Saddam Hussein and his friends used to occupy. U.S. troops patrol the streets, shooting down people who don't quickly obey an order. U.S. troops drag people out of their beds in the middle of the night.

The U.S. has invaded their country, throwing them into misery. The U.S. is imposing the military dictatorship that controls them now – in order to take over Iraq's oil.

Today, U.S. troops say they don't know who their enemy is. That's what it means to be fighting a guerrilla war in a country from which the population wants you gone.

U.S. troops today are finding out just how dirty such a war can be, and not only because they are coming under attack. It's a dirty war because of what the troops are ordered to do – attack civilians.

Thirty years ago, a whole generation of young men, ground up in the quagmire of Viet Nam, went through the same filthy experience. We should not let it be repeated. This government should not be allowed to continue this war for years – as the recent call-up of more reserves and voting of more funds make clear that the government intends to do.

Get U.S. troops out of Iraq! Return them to their own homes now! Let the Iraqi people decide their own fate themselves.

Pages 2-3

Michigan schools:
State to cut 350 million dollars

Nov 17, 2003

The State of Michigan announced November 7 that it will cut 350 million dollars from the money it gives to state school districts this year.

The cut, which amounts to $196 per student, is to make up for what they say is a shortfall in the state's School Aid Fund.

These cuts from the state will mean fewer teachers, reduced school programs, deteriorating facilities – in other words, further damage to the education of hundreds of thousands of Michigan students.

Detroit alone, with 157,000 students, stands to lose 30 million dollars.

School districts in poor and working class areas will suffer the most. Many wealthy school districts have socked away "rainy day" funds totalling 1.8 billion dollars that they can draw from for a while. The working class districts, of course, do not have that luxury.

The Michigan Education Association, one of the two big teacher federations in the state, suggests that more of the 350 million dollars in proposed cuts should come from those wealthy districts with the rainy day funds. They also propose expanding the six% sales tax to include services not currently covered by the tax.

But either one of these proposals would still mean an attack – on the education of Michigan's children and the living standards of its working people.

Redistributing the cuts still means accepting cuts in the school budget. What sense does it make for a teacher's union to accept any cuts at all?

Just last July, as they put together the state budget, Governor Granholm and the legislature stated very loudly and clearly that education was the one big thing they would not cut.

They say now that they have no choice – just like they say with every other cut to services and state worker pay.

Of course there is a choice – and they've made theirs. They continue to give big handouts to corporations, even as they talk about "budget deficits." For example, the Michigan Department of Treasury, in its Tax Expenditures Report, reports that the INCREASES in tax breaks to businesses will cost the state almost one BILLION dollars in 2004. That's just the new tax breaks, not to mention all the ones already in place.

Not only could that one billion dollars cover the 350 million dollar "shortfall" in the state's school fund, it could pay for lots of other cuts to state services.

That's where the state's money would go if government were established in the interest of the population.

GI's brutalized by this brutal war

Nov 17, 2003

In personal stories of soldiers, in statistics tucked into tiny corners of some newspapers, it's possible to glimpse something of the accumulating injuries to the U.S. soldiers occupying Iraq.

The deaths of soldiers are but the tip of the iceberg – though the government even forbids news coverage of that tip, the coffins flown daily into Dover Air Force Base.

Nor do their physical wounds measure the damage, even though 1,059 were classified as wounded in action from May 1 (when Bush proclaimed the major combat over) through October 22. More than 30 soldiers per day are flown out to the Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where the medical staff is working 60-hour weeks and the commander said, "We don't have any illusions that it's going away."

A stark measure of the deeper wounds being suffered today, that will show up tomorrow, is from Viet Nam: 180,000 Viet Nam veterans have committed suicide, compared to 60,000 who died there in battle.

Whether in Viet Nam or Iraq, soldiers who are sent to occupy a place where they are not wanted use brutal methods. They must suppress a whole population, including women, including children, never knowing who is harmless or who may be a deadly threat. The experiences and the suicides of a whole generation of Viet Nam veterans shows how difficult a return to "normal" can be.

The Iraq-Afghanistan reports are only beginning:

At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, three veterans of Special Operations in Afghanistan and one airborne soldier killed their wives in the six weeks between June 11 and July 29 of this year. Two of the veterans then committed suicide.

Four soldiers from Fort Benning, Georgia, are accused of stabbing to death a fifth soldier just days after their return from Iraq.

In October, Iraq combat veteran Pfc. Tyrone Roper of the 101st Airborne was a machine gunner whose weapon blew people apart. A married father of two, Pfc. Roper went AWOL less than a month before he was to be discharged. Roper is now in hiding, and sometimes writes letters to his hometown newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. In parts that are published, he has written of his nightmares from the war, his loneliness, and his guilt: "i know it was my friends or myself or them but i still feel guilty ... why i don't know." "Im starting to drink too much and im scaring myself." His wife reports that he would cry over his children, and would awake in bed screaming. His mother, interviewed, said, "They sent our boys over there for what – the sake of oil? – and these boys who came home can't function. He was an emotional wreck; his life was ruined."

The Army says 478 soldiers had been evacuated from Iraq for mental health reasons, as of September 25. At least 13 soldiers are confirmed suicides in Iraq, with two dozen more likely. So far.

This cruel, brutal ruination of lives is another cost of this filthy war – one which will go on many years after it's over.

Water privatization leads to ... big rate increases

Nov 17, 2003

When a company called California-American Water Company (Cal-Am) took over the water system in Sacramento, California, it sent out notices to all homes that read, "Welcome to our Family." Cal-Am is the largest private water-services company in the nation, with over 16 million customers in 27 states and three Canadian provinces. And it promised that it would use its considerable resources to improve service – and not raise rates.

But, no surprise, a few months later, Cal-Am closed the local business offices, laid off dozens of workers... and applied for a 62% rate increase.

Up until recently, water supply and service historically have been owned and operated by government agencies. Of course, as with everything else, local governments – too busy handing tax money over to big corporations – did little maintenance of these systems. Over the decades water systems around the county have become increasingly inadequate and run-down.

A few major corporations, claiming they were ready to make those investments, demanded that water utilities be opened up for private ownership. In 1997, Congress passed a law that relaxed water-privatization rules. Companies like Cal-Am jumped to take advantage of it.

Cal-Am, in fact, is the product of three different mergers in less than three years' time, and is now a subsidiary of a much larger multinational, called Cal-Am/RWE Thames. Each one of those mergers was financed by debt – for which debt the people of Sacramento today find their water being held hostage.

Cal-Am now claims that it needs the rate increase to cover increased electricity prices and to upgrade the water system. In fact, this increase will just go to pay for the mergers and the future profits of the new company.

Three years ago, Fortune magazine dubbed the privatization of water and water services the "new oil," the investment opportunity of the next century. Since water, like oil, is an increasingly precious commodity, this magazine of the bosses thinks it should be turned over to those who will make a profit from it.

What's next – the air we breathe?

Asbestos:
Congress acts to protect the criminal

Nov 17, 2003

Congress is considering setting up a trust fund for workers who have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is made of very tiny fibers, which can float in the air and be taken into a person's lungs. The human body cannot break down the fibers, so exposure to asbestos can cause a variety of diseases, including cancer and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs that makes it hard to breathe.

One lawyer representing asbestos victims said, "Science knew about the dangers going back to the '30s and '40s, and businesses didn't even put warning labels on their products until the '70s. The amount of deceit and the amount of misconduct, gross negligence, is staggering."

It's not out of any consideration for the victims of this criminally murderous conduct that Congress is acting now to set up the trust fund. No – it's to protect the corporations who used asbestos in their production long after its hazards were known.

Under the proposed bills, the corporations and their insurance companies would have to pay into the trust fund. But the amount they would have to pay is much less than what they could lose in a court suit. In recent years, juries have awarded asbestos victims and their families over 10 million dollars from their employers. One of the bills being considered would set up a fund that could pay no more than $180,000 to a victim.

Ten million can't compensate for the loss of life or a lifetime of pain and inability to work! Nothing can. But the fact that the government will set $180,000 as the limit shows that once again, Congress sides with the criminal and not the victim.

Pages 4-5

Hunger:
The corollary to wealth

Nov 17, 2003

The United Nations organization for food and agriculture reported that 840 million human beings suffer from chronic hunger.

The large majority of those facing starvation, 800 million, are in the Third World countries. Over 100,000 people die from hunger in those countries every day, including 12,000 infants.

But at least 40 million of the desperately hungry live in the so-called rich countries.

These 40 million people starving in the rich countries underlines the fact that hunger is not the result of some natural or geographic situation, but of the organization of this society. Wealth for a minority translates into misery for the masses, in each country as well as on the scale of the planet.

Israel-Palestine:
Who can end the violence?

Nov 17, 2003

In the middle of November, four former heads of Israel's security service, Shin Bet, issued a joint statement condemning the Sharon government for its tough military policies toward the Palestinians. One of them, Ami Ayalon, declared, "Many Israelis thought we could defeat the Palestinians by military means, and this would solve our problems. But this hasn't worked. Our economy is deteriorating and we have to change directions."

This follows similar criticisms expressed by the chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon in October. He said then that the comprehensive travel restrictions and curfews imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli government "increase hatred for Israel and strengthen the terror organizations." He added that "there is no hope, no expectations for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, nor in Bethlehem and Jericho."

It's certainly unusual that top officials in the Israeli state publicly break ranks and voice such criticism of the government policy. And it's also certain that these officials are not alone in seeing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hardline policy against the ongoing Palestinian uprising as counterproductive.

These five Israeli officials are not criticizing Sharon because of concern for the hardships faced by the Palestinian population. They are worried that Sharon's heavy-handed tactics are backfiring.

Since Sharon became prime minister in 2001, the Israeli army has routinely been assassinating Palestinian political leaders and activists, bombarding civilian areas, besieging Palestinian cities, towns and refugee camps, arresting thousands of residents, demolishing houses and shutting down its borders to Palestinian areas, depriving tens of thousands of Palestinian workers from jobs across the border in Israel. Sharon's government is now constructing a two-billion-dollar fence through the West Bank to shut off the entire Palestinian population there.

All these repressive measures, however, have not stopped the uprising. In fact, they have only provoked further reactions from the Palestinian population. So now official Israeli voices are heard in favor of working with Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to try to control this revolt. Yaalon himself made this clear, saying: "In our tactical interests, we are operating contrary to our strategic interests."

If the Israeli government eases its policy toward Arafat and asks for his cooperation, it will certainly not be doing it for the first time. A decade ago, Israel concluded the U.S.-sponsored Oslo Agreement with Arafat's PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). Arafat was allowed to go back to the occupied territories as head of a newly-formed Palestinian Authority. This was an admission on Israel's part that its mighty army, one of the world's best-trained and best-equipped, had not been able to stop the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising, which had started in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 1987. A Palestinian police force, under the command of Arafat, was supposed to help with that task.

But police measures alone – whether Israeli or Palestinian – did not stop the Intifada. This uprising has taken deep roots in the population. The stone-throwing teenagers, who have come to symbolize it, have seen their parents' and grandparents' generations spend their entire lives in refugee camps, without land, without jobs – without a hope for the future. They seem determined to carry this fight to the end, and they have awakened that kind of fighting spirit in their parents' generation also.

On top of that, Israel never respected the Oslo agreements. It not only continued direct military repression in the areas now supposedly under Palestinian control, it also has continued to expand the Jewish settlements, cutting deeply into those areas. The frustration of the Palestinian population with Israel and its junior partner, the Palestinian Authority, exploded three years ago into a new upsurge of the uprising, now dubbed the Second Intifada. Since then this uprising and Israel's all-out repression against it have resulted in the deaths of 900 Israelis and over 2500 Palestinians.

In the face of this spiraling violence, there are signs that the Israeli people are getting tired of living in a constant state of war, not only in the occupied territories but in Israel itself. In September, 27 fighter pilots signed a letter calling airstrikes on Palestinian population centers "illegal and immoral" and saying that they would no longer participate in such operations. Some parents of slain Israeli soldiers have also condemned the army's operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Then, on the first of November, 100,000 people showed up at a rally commemorating the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin eight years ago. The event was advertised as a peace rally, and there were large banners at the rally calling on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Even if limited, these signs of dissent within the Israeli population are much more significant than any public disagreement within the ruling elite about how to most effectively suppress the Palestinian revolt. The workers and poor in Israel, who make up the rank and file of the Israeli army, can break with the policy of their government which has increasingly sunk Israel and the occupied territories into a vicious cycle of bloodshed. They can start taking steps toward building a peaceful future with the Palestinian workers and poor, within a new political framework which will recognize the right of all workers and poor in the region to a decent future regardless of race or ethnicity.

Dominican Republic:
Demonstrations, strikes and repression

Nov 17, 2003

At least seven civilians and one policeman were killed during a clash between protesting strikers and Dominican authorities on Tuesday, November 11. Police bullets killed at least three of the demonstrators. But the regime refuses to confirm the number of dead, wounded and arrested.

In this country with eight million inhabitants, known as a tourist destination for Americans and Europeans, the economic crisis has plunged the population into catastrophe. The local currency has lost 100% of its value in one year and inflation has already reached 35% this year.

But it was the austerity measures imposed by the government that led the unions to call for a general strike on November 11. These measures meant a rise in the price of items of consumption subsidized by the government, like fuel and electric power. Public utilities, health and hospital services deteriorated, thanks to government cuts. Instead government funds went to pay off debt to foreign banks and corporations.

The organizers of the strike – the unions, most of the opposition parties, and even a part of the Dominican Revolutionary Party which currently runs the government – accuse the government of taking austerity measures due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund. They call for the government to stop paying its overseas debt and to suspend its agreements with the IMF.

The day before the strike, the government imprisoned several leaders of the organizations that called for the strike. Nonetheless, the strike began the next day and was well-supported. Strikers were determined, managing to paralyze the country. Offices of the governmental party (the PRD) were burned down. On the second day of the strike, the army deployed a massive number of tanks. But still the strikers continued; commercial shops remained shut in the capital city and the nearby villages; public transportation didn't move.

The Dominican population – which is being strangled by the world economic crisis – can protect itself only by taking such measures.

The condition of immigrant women in France

Nov 17, 2003

In recent years there has been a growing controversy in France about whether girls wearing veils should be allowed to wear them in the public schools. This is not only or even essentially a question of religion being brought into the schools. This question, apparently over something as trivial as a head-scarf, in reality is based on an increasingly terrible oppression of women in some of the immigrant milieus. The following explanation comes from the October 20 issue of the paper Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Power to the Workers), published by the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers, a Trotskyist organization with militants active both in Africa and among African immigrants in France.

The first veiled girls appeared less than 12 years ago, in and around suburban housing projects with a lot of North African immigration.

The housing projects in the suburbs of the big cities are in terrible condition, since the authorities decided to reduce spending on public housing. Buildings and grounds have progressively deteriorated in every way, physical and social. Stairwells, corridors and basements became places where all kinds of dealing flourished, including drugs. Criminal gangs found the ideal place to grow, to recruit among the young, all the easier because unemployment, the lack of anything to do and the lack of hope pitilessly strikes the poor neighborhoods.

Youth who drive motor bikes to add to their authority in their gangs or to impress rival gangs aren't generally animated by honorable sentiments. Macho posturing and the hatred of women are part of the values in this milieu. Since social education has been cut back due to the drying up of public funds, it's the Muslim "basement imams" who have rapidly taken the place left vacant. Under these influences, that of the environment and that of the imams, numerous youth end up finding approval for their behavior, which is hostile and authoritarian toward young women.

The girls who refuse to go along and don't wear the veil, for example, are treated as "heathen" or "whores." It's not a question of religion. It's a shocking hatred for women being expressed. Harassment and insults have become the daily lot of girls who dare to refuse to be subservient. Gang rapes have been carried out by gangs of youth in the basements of buildings against girls without veils. A year ago, a girl was brutally burned alive after being splashed with gas by youths her age and thrown in an empty garbage dump. Her crime? She resisted her rape.

In communities of African origin, girls are also oppressed, even if the forms are somewhat different. There are cases of arranged marriage, which are actually forced, by nearby relatives or by relatives remaining in the villages in their original country. These arrangements have been made more public, thanks to the mobilization of women's networks or by the determination of militant women's associations. Some girls who are still students in the high schools in France were able to escape through these networks when they had been sent back to their original countries to marry someone chosen for them.

Workers have nothing to gain by accepting the oppression of women. The emancipation of women is an integral part of the program of socialist revolutionaries. The fraternal society that we seek to build will be a society of liberty, that is to say, freed of all forms of exploitation and oppression.

Pages 6-7

Rouge Steel and its workers, used up and junked

Nov 17, 2003

In October, Rouge Industries, Inc. of Dearborn, Michigan added itself to the long list of steel companies using the bankruptcy courts to cut workers' wages and nearly to eliminate the pensions and benefits of those who are already retired.

When Rouge Steel filed for bankruptcy, it claimed that it had reached agreement with a Russian steel company, OAO Severstal, to sell its assets. The very same day, the chairman of U.S. Steel said his company was still interested in buying Rouge – at fire-sale prices, to be sure, and under the condition that the new buyer would not be responsible for any payments whatsoever to retirees.

This means that Rouge simply becomes the latest in a string of steel companies that have used bankruptcy to shuffle ownership in such a way as to leave workers out in the cold. By going through bankruptcy, companies can legally stop paying for retirees' pensions and benefits. Regardless of previous commitments, Rouge Steel is allowed to get away with cutting off retirees' health care plans. For the retirees' monthly pensions, they are left at the mercy of the government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Changing owners through bankruptcy also allows companies to evade whatever union contracts they have signed. And this is actually the heart of the matter: the big companies want to inflate their profits by drastically cutting workers' wages and benefits. At the same time, they expect to benefit by dumping onto others the costs of upgrading obsolete plant and equipment.

What is today called Rouge Industries, Inc. was for 65 years an integral part of Ford Motor Company. In those years, Ford recouped its steel-making investment many times over, and did so partly by running the place into the ground. When it judged that the steel works were squeezed dry, Ford turned it into a separate company and sold it off in 1989, using the sale to swindle the workers into a lower level of wages and benefits.

The present owners are simply following suit. If bankruptcy threatens to have more severe consequences for the workers who are caught up in these manipulations, Ford paved the way into bankruptcy court.

Steel imports drop:
Where are the jobs?

Nov 17, 2003

The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that steel imports into the U.S. dropped during the first nine months of 2003, compared to the same period last year.

This drop is supposed to be the result of tariffs imposed on foreign steel by the Bush administration last year. The United Steel Workers Union had joined the steel companies in asking Bush to impose tariffs, claiming that reducing the flow of foreign steel would save the jobs of U.S. steel workers.

So what happened when imports went down?

Domestic steel production did not increase – but it didn't go down either. The only thing that went down was the number of jobs – they decreased by over 5% compared to last year.

So what cost the jobs this time? Imports? No. Cutbacks in production? No.

Just good old-fashioned American-style profit-making by corporations who try to squeeze more work out of fewer workers.

People who tell us we have to worry about "foreign competition" help no one but the American bosses who take our jobs.

Mumia Abu-Jamal risks being executed

Nov 17, 2003

On October 8, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the latest appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been in prison since 1981 on trumped-up charges of murdering a police officer, Daniel Faulkner. Mumia was an activist journalist who supported a radical black group called Move and who had regularly written and spoken on the radio indicting the racism and corruption of the Philadelphia police department.

Mumia's lawyers were appealing his case on the basis of testimony which could clear him. In 1999, Arnold Beverly confessed that he had killed the police officer in the 1981 case. His testimony was especially damaging to the prosecution because he explained he had been hired by crooked cops to murder another cop who had turned some of them in for corruption.

But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court turned down this appeal, grounding its ruling on a recent Supreme Court ruling that new evidence had to be introduced within a year of a case being heard. In the Mumia case, the new evidence didn't exist until Beverly confessed, 18 years after the original case. Mumia and his lawyers didn't have access to it.

While his appeal was making its way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the courts had put his execution on hold. But now the state of Pennsylvania will try to move quickly to kill him.

Mumia had been given the death penalty by the presiding judge in the 1981 case. His determination to "get" Mumia was on record. His own secretary swore that the judge told her concerning Mumia, "I'm going to help fry that nigger." But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also ruled that the secretary's testimony provided no grounds for a new trial, because it, too, was offered too late.

Those defending this justice system claim that guilty people are often released in this country on the basis of technicalities. In fact, Mumia is being railroaded to the execution chamber on the basis of a technicality.

Hiding behind this technicality is the whole state apparatus, which has always aimed to put this man – who exposed the functioning of their system – to death.

Mumia's case has been taken up widely around the world. It's obvious to the rest of the world that he is a political prisoner.

International protests supporting him continue. They need to develop and grow in this country as well.

Warren Michigan Truck Assembly:
No Means NO!

Nov 17, 2003

Workers at Chrysler's Warren Truck Assembly recently turned down a local contract proposal by an overwhelming 90% "NO" vote.

Once again, Chrysler and union heads were trying to sneak in parts of what they had once called an MOA (modern operating agreement), which aimed at making it much easier for the company to get more work out of fewer workers. "MOA" had come to symbolize the vast range of concessions Chrysler was trying to push through at the local level, and it stood for everything the workers didn't want. So the company long ago dropped the term, but kept trying to push it through under other forms.

This year, once again, local and international officials agreed with the company to try to impose some of those terms on workers at the Truck Plant.

Workers, when they heard, quickly objected – especially to a provision that would have let the company force workers to take their vacation when the company wanted to close the plant down for maintenance, changeover or anything else. With so few weeks of vacation, auto workers have long looked to the lay-off periods as a second vacation, paid for by unemployment funds. But for their own vacations, they wanted to take them when they wanted, so they could co-ordinate with other family members, etc.

The new contract would have done away with that. Effectively, it took away two vacation weeks. That's what prompted the big "NO" vote – so big that union officials could not even pretend that the agreement had passed.

After the vote, local officials indicated they would take a new vote on the same contract, and this time, they let the workers no, the vote WOULD be "yes."

They began to spread a range of rumors – the main one being that if workers didn't vote for the contract, they would be forced to strike. (It used to be that the union threatened the company with a strike – these union officials, however, think they can use it to threaten the workers.)

In fact, this is a threat that can be turned back against the company – and against any union official who does the company's dirty work. If union officials push a strike, then the workers can take advantage of it for their own demands – and not only to defend their vacation weeks. Jobs at the Truck Plant are overloaded. More workers are needed in every department, more janitors, more hi-lo drivers, more medical relief people. More time off is needed. Violations of overtime restrictions need to be stopped. Etc. etc. etc. Workers, sitting down together, could come up with a list of similar items, hundreds and hundreds of them.

If there's going to be a strike, make good use of it!

Page 8

Profit-driven medical care takes an ever bigger bite out of working people's incomes

Nov 17, 2003

The U.S. spends more per person than does any other country – but fewer people get care than in any other country. All of this is the result of the fact that the medical system in this country is organized first of all to provide profit, not care.

The deadly results are shown in a recent study carried out by the Institute of Medicine, an organization of experts advising Congress on medical questions. They reported that more than 18,000 adults die each year because they are uninsured and can't get proper health care.

Medical insurance for profit

At the center of the U.S. medical care system is the insurance industry, which is dominated by for-profit insurance companies that administer the financial parts of the system. While there still is a part of the medical insurance industry in the non-profit Blue Cross system, that portion continues to shrink. Today, the non-profits cover less than 27% of the insured.

Not only is the health insurance industry today dominated by for-profit companies, it's dominated by only five companies, which cover 40% of the insured. Such tremendous concentration has made it easier for the insurance industry to increase premiums at a rate that is going up much faster than is the cost of providing medical care, a cost which also increases outrageously.

Hospitals for profit

Six years ago, one fifth of all hospitals were for profit.

Today, a recent study, whose results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that for-profit hospitals are always more expensive than public or non-profit hospitals. And they also tend to provide less care. Besides that, they don't usually provide extremely important medical services such as burn treatment, spinal cord injury treatment, AIDs treatment, and neonatal intensive care, since these community services generate little net revenue and are often operated at a loss. Private for-profit hospitals also provide almost no care for people who cannot pay.

Said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard and the co-author of the study, "It's a myth that for-profit hospitals are efficient. They save money by laying off nurses, then hire consultants and bureaucrats to figure out how to avoid unprofitable patients and maximize revenues. For-profits increase costs, decrease care and generate windfall profits like the $359 million pocketed by Rick Scott [the CEO] of Columbia/HCA [the biggest for-profit company]."

A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that patients at for-profit hospitals are two to four times more likely than patients at not-for-profit hospitals to suffer complications from surgery or delays in diagnosing and treating an illness. In fact, the only thing these hospitals are good at is generating profits that are often four to five times greater than the surpluses generated by non-profit or public hospitals.

The golden pharmaceutical industry

Drug costs are consuming an ever larger part of spending on medical care. In 1993, prescription drugs made up 5.6% of all health care spending. It rose to 8.0% in 1998. It has risen even faster in the last five years. This increase is one of the reasons that the elderly pay a larger share of their income today for health care than they spent before the advent of Medicare in 1965.

The giant pharmaceuticals may justify these rapidly increasing costs by saying that the money goes to fund research and development of new drugs. But, in fact, only about 10 to 15% of what these companies take in actually goes to what they call research and development. Most of the rest goes to big marketing campaigns, administrative costs – especially the high salaries and bonuses of the executives – or to profits.

Pharmaceutical companies regularly earn profits at rates that are three times higher than companies in all other industries. It's not research but profit that has driven drug prices into the stratosphere.

Bureaucracy and waste

The very structure of the health care industry, which is organized around the production of profits, is incredibly fragmented, bureaucratic and inefficient. There are multitudes of private insurance plans, public programs and no programs at all for the uninsured. Enormous staff are needed to create and revise provider plans, then administer them. There is a whole bureaucracy whose work is aimed at keeping sick patients out of hospital beds and sick patients away from doctors. Armies of administrators are used by hospitals to try to squeeze payments from insurance companies, and at insurance companies, armies of administrators do the reverse. And they both are busy trying to squeeze down the prices they pay to the pharmaceutical companies. Rather than work together, the administrators from one sector of the medical care system are constantly at war with administrators from other sectors, wrestling over who keeps each health care dollar.

Over the last 30 years, as the health care industry has become a more and more important provider of profits, this bureaucracy has mushroomed, increasing in size 25 times! It grew at a rate that was 10 times faster than the number of people who actually provide health care and make the health system run, from doctors and nurses to technicians and janitors. Last year, administrative expenses accounted for 400 billion dollars, or more than 25% of all health care costs. If the administrative costs were reduced to the level of Canada, which has a single payer system of medical care, more than 286 billion dollars would be saved. This is enough money to extend health care coverage to the uninsured – and better coverage to the rest of the population.

The fact that profit dominates the health care industry is what has been pricing health care increasingly out of reach of people with ordinary incomes. According to Hewitt Associates, a benefits consulting company, the annual out-of-pocket costs for employees of large companies have more than doubled over the last five years to an average of $2126, with bigger increases projected in the years to come. Part of this is due to the rising prices that the health industry charges. But it is also due to the fact that companies large and small are increasingly shifting the burden of these costs onto their employees.

Nowhere is the parasitic nature of capitalism more clear than in the very profitable health care industry in this country.

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