The Spark

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

Issue no. 718 — January 5 - 19, 2004

Carrying on a fake war (on terrorism) to hide the real war (in Iraq)

Jan 5, 2004

Orange alert! High risk of terrorism!

We were bombarded by this crap whenever we were foolish enough to turn on the radio or the TV during the holidays.

Of course, we do face a risk of terrorism inside this country. And that risk has been made immeasurably worse by the two wars the U.S. is carrying out against other people in Iraq and Afghanistan. The risk of terrorism has been aggravated by U.S. government policies aimed at helping big U.S. corporations to drain wealth from other countries, just like they are pushing to drain out Iraq’s oil wealth today.

So yes, there is a risk of terrorism. But the fake little show of force by the police could not protect us from it.

Just look at the absurdity of what they were doing. Even while telling us that airplanes were at big risk, the government continued to cut back on security screeners at airports. That alone proves they don’t believe their own warnings.

All this talk about terrorism was nothing but a big propaganda campaign.

The Bush administration, which orchestrated the propaganda, certainly had its own reasons for doing so. Bush – who had been photographed wearing a flight suit on May 1, announcing victory in Iraq – planned to use the photo for his re-election campaign. Today, he’s worried that the war will cost him re-election.

The war is not over. The capture of Saddam Hussein did not lead to a lessening of the fighting in Iraq. Just the opposite. The fighting continues with more fervor.

U.S. troop strength in Iraq is not being reduced. Instead, the administration just authorized the call up of 110,000 National Guard for a year and a half.

It’s a real war going on over there in Iraq. That’s what this fake war on terrorism is aimed at hiding.

But Bush does not stand alone in wanting to hide it. And he could not have manipulated the media in such a shameless fashion if the biggest corporations in the country did not stand behind him.

What is their interest in this war? The same interest they have always had in all U.S. wars. They want to be able to hold down wages around the world, and they need an occasional war to show people in other countries who’s the master. And most of the U.S. corporations have an even more immediate interest in this war – oil – whether they profit directly from it, or whether U.S. control over the Middle East’s oil lets them get cheap oil for their production.

The small class that controls and runs these corporations wants this war.

And both political parties recognize this fact. That’s why the Democrats do not really oppose the war – despite the fact that by so doing they could easily win the next election.

Instead, both political parties subscribed to this fake “war on terrorism” carried out in the media.

What the government was doing during the holidays had nothing to do with preventing terrorism, and everything to do with getting us to line up behind these murderous wars and policies.

It’s not in our interest to get behind them. We have every reason to oppose these wars, every reason to oppose U.S. corporations’ attempt to force down wages in other countries.

Pages 2-3

Preparing a renewed slaughter of the Iraqi people

Jan 5, 2004

According to the Bush administration, the 110,000 U.S. troops that it is now preparing to send to Iraq between the end of January and May will lead to a force reduction in Iraq, since they say that these troops will eventually replace the 123,000 now carrying out the U.S. occupation.

Of course, the timing of the Bush administration’s claim to reduce the number of troops in Iraq has a lot to do with politics inside the U.S., since the Bush administration fears that the unpopularity of the U.S. occupation of Iraq may cost it the election this fall. So nothing would suit Bush better than to bring down the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and at least partially make the Iraq War disappear during the summer and fall, just in time for the key months of the re-election campaign.

But the claim to reduce U.S. troops strength in Iraq may also mask something else: in the next several months, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will actually increase considerably. Because the veteran U.S. troops in Iraq are not expected to immediately cycle out of Iraq as the tens of thousands of fresh troops cycle in. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld the reason for this is that: “The people going over are ready, but the people there are experienced and really know their stuff. And who would you rather have there?” What could be more clear? The deadly work of its veteran troops in Iraq is far from over. The Pentagon has much more in store for them.

Of course, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Pentagon blandly explain that the veteran troops will remain in Iraq for a while longer in order to show the ropes to the new troops, in a short apprenticeship period. But there is plenty of reason to suspect that this is just the cover story, that in the coming months, as U.S. troops levels in Iraq sharply increase, the battle-hardened veteran troops will be deployed in a series of bloody offensives to try to crush and demoralize the Iraqi resistance.

According to Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker magazine, the Pentagon is also bringing in thousands of Special Forces and paid mercenaries, that is, the most ruthless and highly trained killers, in order to carry out targeted assassinations. This program is quite similar to the Phoenix program that the U.S. used during the Viet Nam War from 1968 to 1972, which is also now being copied by the Israeli military against the Palestinians.

(The Pentagon, by the way, will not say how many thousands of U.S. Special Forces and paid mercenaries are in Iraq, or whether their numbers are increasing, since they say this information is “classified” and “top secret.” But Hersh’s sources say that the Pentagon plans on boosting these numbers considerably in the coming months.)

U.S. government officials will argue that this bigger occupation force will let it clean up the scattered terrorists and remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime. But if that were the case, then they would not need to have hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq, they would not need to carry out a full-fledged military occupation, with one military offensive after another.

No, the U.S. occupation has always had a much broader target: the Iraqi people. From the beginning, contrary to the reports of the U.S. media, the Iraqi people did not welcome the invasion of the U.S. troops, nor the occupation of their country. To one degree or another, a large part of the population supported the resistance to the U.S. If not, the resistance could not have continued to operate.

So, under such names as “Operation Hammer,” the U.S. forces went after the Iraqi people. It bombed and strafed villages, arrested masses of people, killed and wounded thousands of Iraqis. But this has only fed the anger against and distrust of the U.S.

In the coming months, if the U.S. ups the ante, and begins to carry out even bigger offensives, with more bombings and more military sweeps, the U.S. will be copying the same kinds of methods it employed 40 years ago in Viet Nam, especially the pacification campaigns. U.S. officers at that time said they had to destroy entire villages in order to “save” them. In those campaigns, the U.S. military either drove the population out of their villages and forced them to live under U.S. surveillance in concentration camps, or the U.S. massacred them outright. During the infamous My Lai massacre, over the course of a day, hundreds of women, children and elderly people were systematically killed. When the U.S. government could no longer keep the lid on the news of this massacre, it pretended that it was the fault of a handful of lower-level military officers, led by Lieutenant William Calley. Everyone knew that this was a lie. And this has been confirmed once again by revelations in a recent article in the Toledo Blade, which reported that the U.S. military deliberately carried out countless massacres in order to try to break the resistance of the Vietnamese people.

In Viet Nam, that policy eventually failed. The U.S. military “destroyed the entire country in order to save it.” It killed over a million Vietnamese people. But in the end, it was the U.S. military that was forced out.

Today, the Bush administration is preparing to try do the same kind of thing in Iraq. There is always a chance that the stepped up slaughter and bloodbath of the Iraqi people could break their will. Then Bush can claim “mission accomplished” while standing on the bodies of Iraq’s civilian population.

But it is equally possible that a renewed, terrible slaughter by the U.S. of the Iraqi people could lead to greater outrage and determination to oppose the U.S. war in Iraq, not only by the Iraqi people, but by the people in the U.S. as well.
– ready for what?!

Jan 5, 2004

The Office of Homeland Security has unveiled the latest “weapon” in its “war against terror”: a website, hyperlink The website lists all sorts of items each home needs in order to be prepared for a terrorist attack – things like three days’ worth of clean water and nonperishable food, a hand-operated can opener, first aid supplies, and those cheap little dust masks that block nothing but large airborne particles.

These lists couldn’t possibly prepare people to live through a serious terror attack. It sounds more like the Office of Homeland Security wants to prepare us for the next big power outage like the ones we lived through last summer!

Mutual fund scandal:
Wall Street gorges itself on your money

Jan 5, 2004

Many of the big companies that run mutual funds have been racked by scandal. These include Prudential Securities, Janus Capital, Strong Financial, Bank of America, Bank One, Putnam Investments, Morgan Stanley. Arthur Levitt, the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), calls the mutual fund scandal “the worst scandal we’ve seen in 50 years.” In other words, it is much bigger than Enron or WorldCom, the mammoth companies that shook the world of big investors when they went bankrupt a couple of years ago. Several congressmen have dubbed mutual funds “the biggest skimming operation in history.”

Many ordinary people have little choice but to put at least some of their savings in these very same mutual funds. After all, big companies are replacing regular pension funds with 401(k) individual retirement accounts which offer mutual funds of stocks or bonds as one of their few options. And interest rates are so low, you practically have to pay banks to keep your money in a savings account.

As a result, over 95 million people have put over seven trillion dollars in over 8,000 mutual funds. That is a lot of money, money that Wall Street, from the top managers on down, know what to do with – for themselves.

The big financial companies that run mutual funds profit by charging very large commissions and fees for their services. How much they charge is difficult to know, since they keep much of that information secret. But studies have shown that when these charges and commissions are compounded annually over a period of 20 years, almost half of a persons’ savings can wind up in the pocket of the mutual fund company.

Of course, mutual funds do not treat everyone equally. To attract the holdings of more wealthy investors, the mutual fund companies waive many of these fees and commissions. This is also done secretly.

As an added benefit, mutual funds also secretly provide their most valued (that is, very, very rich) clients with inside information, like what stocks and bonds they are about to purchase. Since these mutual funds deal in big sums, just the fact that they are about to make a purchase or sale will drive the price of a stock or bond up or down. This guarantees profits for the big investors if they buy or sell in advance.

Mutual fund companies also provide other services for the very wealthy. They “generously” allow certain privileged capitalist “investors” to use the money in the mutual funds for their own profit. Large investment companies for the very wealthy, called either hedge funds or private equity companies, secretly go in and bet the money in the mutual funds on their own investments. They then pocket the lions’ share of the profits, while the mutual fund companies get a kickback of a portion of the profits through bigger commissions and fees. So, whether the mutual fund goes up or down, the capitalists profit.

As for the expenses – as well as risk of potential losses – these are borne by the ordinary small mutual fund investor. The mutual fund managers pooh-pooh this by saying that it only costs each person a few pennies or dollars per day. But those expenses and losses tend to mount quickly.

Today, some self-annointed “crusading” district attorneys, like New York State’s Eliot Spitzer or William Galvin of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as well as a congressman here and there, promise to clean up the mutual fund industry. But no one should hold their breath. At most, the biggest financial companies are getting a fine – which happens to be tax deductible. A few underlings may risk some jail time in “Club Fed.” But at the same time, the careers of a few ambitious politicians are furthered while they ram a “clean-up” that is designed mainly to win back the trust from the public in institutions that are, by their very nature, rotten to their core.

The mutual fund industry is nothing but a classic example of how a few big fish feast off millions of small fish – or how the capitalists get richer by taking and using the life-savings of millions of people for their own profit.

Turkeys let the truth slip out

Jan 5, 2004

How could we forget Bush’s trip to Iraq on Thanksgiving? We were inundated with photos of him carrying a big turkey to serve the soldiers assembled around him.

Now it turns out that the turkey was made of rubber. This should come as no surprise! Everything else he’s said about this war on Iraq has been a fake, too!

. . . . .

Tony Blair imitated Bush and made a surprise visit to the British troops in Iraq on January 4. He said that nations that develop weapons of mass destruction are a “huge liability for the whole security of the world” and “no government that owes its position to the will of the people will spend billions of pounds on chemical and biological and nuclear weapons whilst their people live in poverty.”

He couldn’t have said it better about the U.S. and Britain, countries which control the biggest stock of such weapons.

How can they call this a recovery?

Jan 5, 2004

For two years, the economy has been “improving” – according to government figures anyway. And for two years, the media have been telling us that the job market will also “soon” get better.

But up until now, the job situation has only gotten worse. The official unemployment rate stands at 5.9%. And there are millions more unemployed or underemployed – according to the government’s own figures. There are those unemployed unable to find work and who didn’t look for a month. There are those whose full time jobs have been reduced to part time and who are taking home half a pay check – pretty much what they’d get in unemployment benefits in most states.

When all these people are added in, the unemployment rate jumps to 9.7%.

In other words, almost one out of ten workers is unemployed. And it’s getting worse. The average number of weeks the unemployed are out of work is the highest that it’s been in 20 years. And the unemployment rate doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands of young people who go into the Army because they can’t find a job or wind up in prison for the same reason.

For the working class, this is not a recovery. It’s a never-ending disaster.

Pages 4-5

Mexican rubber workers on strike for two years against a plant closing

Jan 5, 2004

Almost a thousand tire workers near Guadalajara, Mexico, have been on strike for two years now. On December 16, 2001, the German company Continental AG had announced it would close its tire factory there and move the machinery to its other tire factory in the city of San Luis Potosi.

Mexican law prevents machinery from being moved during a strike and it also provides severance pay in the event a factory is closed. Since the strikers have 15 years seniority on average, workers ought to receive 13 months of severance pay, plus two years back pay. This is obviously a lot for workers in a poor country.

The Mexican government acted as governments usually do in such a situation. It said the law didn’t apply since the strike wasn’t legal. In response, the strikers mounted numerous actions in protest of the government’s ruling.

When the strike began, some four thousand workers, their families and others demonstrated at the gates of the factory. The strikers then began a caravan with eleven large buses and a dozen cars that brought them to the major industrial centers of the country. The most important was to the other rubber factory of Continental in San Luis Potosi, where the company hopes to transfer the machinery. Other major factories where the strikers held rallies were General Motors, Nissan, National Diesel and Volkswagen. The caravan ended with a demonstration in the main square in Mexico City with 10,000 people in attendance.

In May, 2002, strike leaders went to Germany where they met with Continental’s unions and confronted the head of the company at its stockholders’ meeting. They also attended the European Parliament, with the deputies of the revolutionary groups there helping them to get a hearing. The workers have since been able to keep the machinery inside the factory due to their persistent activity. All this served to put pressure on the company, which decided to start negotiating again with the striking union after six months of refusal.

Finally in July 2003, under the pressure of the workers’ continuing mobilization, the Mexican courts finally ruled that the strike was legal.

Naturally the company still wants to give less than is called for by law and much less than the workers want. But the workers have already changed a lot through their continuing mobilization. And it’s the only thing that offers them the possibility of forcing the company to meet all their demands.

The Continental workers of El Salto decided it’s better to fight and resist the company’s plans. Workers elsewhere can only salute their determination.

Iran’s earthquake:
A disaster floating on oil

Jan 5, 2004

As many as 40,000 people have died, tens of thousands more are wounded, and most of the city of Bam has been destroyed by an earthquake which hit southeastern Iran on December 26. Almost everyone else in Bam was left homeless, facing the danger of epidemics because the city’s hospitals, buildings, water and utility systems were destroyed.

Bam is an ancient city that uses traditional mud brick walls for its construction, similar to adobe. After the earthquake, an ancient fortress in the center of the city looked like a sand castle destroyed by the ocean.

Such construction is guaranteed to collapse in earthquakes. And Iran lies along a severe fault zone, with areas prone to earthquakes. An estimated 15,000 Iranians were killed in a 1978 earthquake and another 35,000 in a similar catastrophe in 1990. This is exactly the kind of area that needs to take special care in its construction materials and techniques.

But clearly the Iranian government has not established nor enforced regulations appropriate for earthquake zones.

It’s not due to a lack of money. Iran has carried out large-scale oil and gas production for over a century, producing enormous wealth. But this benefitted first and foremost the English and American oil companies. These oil profits also enriched a layer of Iranians around the ruling class, whether under the Shahs or under the mullahs after the 1979 revolution. The rest of the country has remained underdeveloped and poor, as in Bam.

As soon as the catastrophe happened, volunteers from other areas of Iran poured into Bam to try to give aid, but they were blocked by the lack of resources.

It’s in this situation, the U.S. government stepped forward, promising “humanitarian aid” – despite previous frigid relations with Iran.

But talk, of course, is cheap. Up until now, little has been done – government officials point to the “practical” problems involved in bringing in supplies to the region.

This is not a practical problem. The U.S. was able to airlift thousands of tons of material into Kuwait in a few weeks, preparing for the invasion of Iraq – earth-moving equipment and construction material, not to mention the thousands of tons of food, water, housing and medical supplies for several hundred thousand U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait.

The same haste could be made to aid homeless and desperate people around Bam. It’s all a question of what priorities a government sets for itself.

Saddam Hussein on trial:
What goes on behind closed doors....

Jan 5, 2004

The Pentagon has already announced that the trial of Saddam Hussein will be closed to everyone, journalists included. It’s a matter of so-called “national security.”

Oh, yes, we can see just exactly what kind of “security” is involved here.

When Saddam Hussein is accused of invading Iran in 1980, ultimately costing the lives of one million people, he can explain that the U.S. government under “peace-loving” Jimmy Carter let Hussein know that the U.S. favored such an attack on Iran. He can show that the Reagan administration issued a National Security Directive in 1982 to support him so Iraq would not lose the war against Iran.

When the accusation comes up that Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in 1987, Hussein can show that the U.S. government not only did NOT protest, but it continued to supply Iraq with the means – like chemical weapons from Eastman Kodak, Dow and Union Carbide – to do the gassing. Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, defended Hussein in front of the United Nations, claiming there was no “conclusive” proof Iraq was actually using chemical weapons.

When the accusation follows that Saddam Hussein accumulated biological agents for possible use in germ warfare, the former dictator might explain he got these agents from U.S. laboratories with U.S. government approval. A company called American Type Culture Collection supplied equipment for making biological weapons. When the accusation is made that Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, it was four months after Hussein met with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie. Glaspie told Hussein, “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction ... that Kuwait is not associated with America.” Glaspie served in the first Bush administration.

When the accusation comes up that Saddam Hussein carried out a massacre of Shiites after the first Gulf War, he can explain that the first Bush administration not only left him in power, it gave him back most of his army, his combat helicopters, his weaponry – which allowed his army to crush the uprising of the Shiites in the south of Iraq and the Kurds in the north of Iraq.

In other words, the “national security” that’s being protected by keeping the trial proceedings secret is the U.S. involvement in this whole series of catastrophes – which it directed, provided, induced or implicitly okayed – all for the purpose of maintaining a tight U.S. grip on the Middle East’s most valuable resource: OIL.

An easy victory over weapons of mass destruction

Jan 5, 2004

George Bush announced on December 19 that Libya agreed to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. Bush claimed this was a victory for his war on terrorism – a result of his willingness to go to war against Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, it won’t be difficult for Libya to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction since it has none. The only chemical weapons it has are a few tons of mustard gas of the type used in World War I. It has no biological weapons. And it has no nuclear weapons. It has only a few centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium, but even that hasn’t been done. It doesn’t have the scientists that could develop a nuclear weapon, much less the facilities in which to do it.

The December 19 announcement followed nine months of secret negotiations after Muammar Qaddafi’s government took the initiative to start talks. Qaddafi had been trying to reestablish relations with the U.S. and Britain for years, and the build up of the U.S. for the attack on Iraq gave him the chance he was looking for. With the U.S.’s “war on terror” in full force, he could promise to renounce weapons of mass destruction – which would cost him nothing, since they amount to nothing, but which would let Bush claim a paper victory. The real deal, however, linked the end of sanctions against Libya and the resumption of U.S. corporations’ investment in Libya’s oil fields.

ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Occidental Petroleum were all pushing this deal. They were forced to leave Libya in 1986 when President Reagan ordered them out of the country. But the Bush Administration has allowed them to talk to the Libyan government for months despite U.S. sanctions. After all, their concessions will expire next year and Libya has threatened to turn the fields over to European oil companies when they do.

Bush at his press conference was already referring respectfully to Colonel Qaddafi, having junked all previous references to him as a dictator and a terrorist. It seems that the threat of Libya’s oil going to Europe turned him into a peace-loving upholder of human rights!

a “democracy” forced on the population by the United States

Jan 5, 2004

Afghanistan’s loya jirga, or Grand Council, after maneuvers and deals, settled on a new charter to set up an Afghan government.

This council was supposed to be democratically setting up a democratic government for the country. What a joke. Its delegates were chosen by the tribal warlords consulting with the U.S. occupation authorities. From the beginning, however, its deliberations were nothing more than a power struggle between Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-installed government and the warlords based on several ethnic groups, all of whom want to ensure control for themselves. Karzai and the U.S. want a strong presidency, which they have written the charter so as to control; the others want a stronger parliament, which will work more in their favor.

What’s most important for either side is not what would be more democratic, but what will favor their interests.

What they call “democracy” can be seen in the process that put the draft charter together. After 10 committees worked on pieces of the charter, a final group of 8 people – representatives of Karzai’s government – put the pieces together. In the process, they completely re-wrote sections, which not only reversed the original meaning, but reflected Karzai’s interests.

Differences were then worked out – on paper, at least – not through open discussion and debate, but through back-room deals in which U.S. representatives played a big part. The final result did not reflect the interests of the majority of the population, but those of these politicians and warlords.

This “democracy” and this “charter” will simply allow all the military power struggles to continue unimpeded, with a little window-dressing to hide what’s going on.

All that’s fine for the United States ruling class, who couldn’t care less if all these factions continue to battle each other and tear the country apart for years to come. It won’t impede U.S. involvement around the globe and might even teach a lesson or two to a few upstarts.

The Bush administration wants several things to come out of this loya jirga as soon as possible, however. They want something in Afghanistan that looks like the end of the war, a constitution and an election. And they want it all to be done before November, so Bush can use it for his own reelection. He wants to be able to say to the U.S. population, “look, my policy is working – it brought democracy to Afghanistan.”

The “democracy” they’re creating will make Florida look like a model for fair elections and Guantanamo look like a model of democratic rights.

Pages 6-7

Mad cow in the U.S.:
A threat to public health, created by the bosses’ mad drive for more profit

Jan 5, 2004

It’s now official. Mad cow disease has reached the U.S. This in itself may not be surprising, considering that the disease has been seen in Europe and Japan for several years already, and that Canada announced its first case last May.

What should be shocking, however, are the circumstances surrounding this case of the first American “mad cow,” in particular the studied indifference of the beef industry and government officials for public health.

Meat from sick animals enters the food supply

The Washington state cow in question was a “downer,” that is, an animal too sick to stand up. It was slaughtered on December 9. It was not until December 22, two weeks later, that test results for this cow were announced. By that time, probably the whole animal had already been eaten by humans or other animals!

The government pretended that this meat was safe because it did not include the parts of the body, especially the brain and spinal cord, most directly infected with prions, the misshaped proteins responsible for mad cow disease. This was a lie. These officials had no way to know this, since the machines that remove the meat from the back bone often also grind in parts of the spinal cord.

It is legal in the U.S. to slaughter very sick cattle for food, even if the cause of the animal’s sickness is not known. Three times in the past three years, Congress rejected bills that would forbid meat from very sick animals to be used for human consumption.

Unsafe feed

The politicians justified this by saying that this measure is not necessary since in 1997 the government had passed a ban on feeding rendered cattle meat, brains and spinal cord byproducts to cattle. But the fact is that the government does not enforce that ban. A study done in 2002 by the Government Accounting Office found that one-fifth of American feed and rendering companies that handle prohibited material had no systems in place to prevent the contamination of cattle feed. The study also found that in Colorado, one of the top beef-producing states, more than one-quarter of feed manufacturers were not even aware of the ban.

Besides that, the common industry practice of feeding cattle products to pigs and chicken, which in turn are fed back to cattle, is known to increase the risk of spreading mad cow disease. Yet it is still legal.

Animals are not tested

Government officials claim that by allowing downed cattle to be slaughtered, they are encouraging the industry to bring out their sick animals so diseases can be detected. Of course, this is complete nonsense. There’s a very simple way to detect disease – test all the animals before they are slaughtered.

Instead, last year, the government tested only 20,500 animals in the U.S., when the government itself admits that probably at least 150,000 obviously sick animals are slaughtered each year for food. Thus, the vast majority of even these obviously sick animals are not tested!

For years, the beef industry and government officials have constantly dismissed warnings that testing of cattle in the U.S. is gravely inadequate. Of the 35 million animals slaughtered in the U.S. last year, only 20,500 animals, or one in 1700, were tested. In Europe, ALL sick animals as well as ALL those older than 30 months are now tested. In Europe, too, meat producers resisted testing – until the spread of the disease in the 1990s forced several countries to kill entire herds. After much public outcry, Japan in 2001 started testing all animals before slaughtering them. The rigorous testing in these countries has revealed many cases of mad cow, often in animals that appeared healthy – which is not surprising, considering that the incubation period of the disease can be anywhere between three to eight years in animals.

When confronted with such facts, the U.S. Agriculture Department’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Ron DeHaven, was quite blunt. He said that the testing in the U.S. was never intended to keep sick animals from reaching the public’s refrigerators in the first place. He added that Europe and Japan simply test too much, “like a doctor testing every patient who comes through the door for prostate cancer.”

In fact, that is exactly what doctors propose to do every year for men who are over 50 years old, just as they want to test every woman for breast cancer.

The government pretends their methods must guarantee safety of the food supply since no humans in this country have yet to come down with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human variant of mad cow disease. But, this is not the proof of anything, since the incubation period for humans is very long – perhaps as long as 20 years or more. Neither should we assume that people in this country have not already contracted or died from it. In fact, one obituary in the January 3 New York Times, cites the death of one person, Maxine Postel, from a disease that could have been caused by mad cow. But the New York Times ignores this in its articles covering mad cow.

Assuring profits, at the expense of our health

What is certain is that humans do contract Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from eating beef products from cows that have mad cow disease. And veterinary science knows enough to easily stop this disease from spreading among animals and threatening human beings. Tests fast enough to allow diseased carcasses to be identified before they are cut up for food are available. Europe and Japan already use them.

If U.S. bosses and the government officials have resisted using testing every single animal before it is slaughtered, it is for one reason only: An extensive testing program could lead to the discovery of the infection of thousands or more of cattle, which would need to be destroyed. And this would seriously cut into profits of big agribusiness, as well as of the animal feed companies, the slaughter houses and rendering plants, not to mention McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King, and the big supermarket chains.

Government officials and politicians have already show they won’t do that – even though this could very well could condemn countless numbers of people to eventually face a horrible death from mad cow disease. But that might be 20 years from now. And capitalism protects today’s profits at the expense of the future.

Workers at Jeep plants vote to outsource themselves

Jan 5, 2004

Workers at Chrysler’s Toledo Ohio Jeep complex voted on a new contract two days before Christmas. There were a number of sacrifices demanded of the workers, but the biggest change involved a proposal to let the company contract out all the work in the complex’s new paint and chassis departments to other companies – which will carry on operations in buildings to be put up by Chrysler in the same complex. One of the consequences is that the older Jeep plant that continues to do some preparatory work for the new Jeep plant.

In exchange, workers at the complex, including 800 currently laid off, were supposed to be guaranteed either a buy-out or a job. BUT – and this is the very big BUT – not only will this agreement not bring any new jobs, there will be fewer jobs still. And the jobs that laid off workers will get to bid on will be at the supplier companies that will take over in the body and paint shops. Others could be in a separate plant to be built in a “supplier park” nearby that could, among other things, construct a complete chassis off the same platforms that will go through the line at the current Jeep plant. Wages for the outsourced jobs are yet to be determined, but it’s obvious they will be set lower than those in the current assembly plant. Currently, production wages run between $10 and $15 an hour at most supplier plants, with some as high as $17..

The Toledo Blade commented, “Such supplier work on the site of a Big Three auto assembly complex is unheard of in the United States.”

No longer – as this contract spells out. Once one of the Big Three has broken down the barrier to this kind of subcontracting, the other two won’t be far behind.

We can already hear GM and Ford salivating at this assault on wages. Having outsourced the vast majority of parts work to other, lower-wage companies, the auto industry is now looking to push wages in the assembly plants down.

It’s obvious that the current leaders of the union will not organize a resistance to this push to transform the whole industry into a low wage bastion. They were the ones who made the biggest push for this contract, arguing that it was the only way to protect the workers who were already laid off and those to be laid off. It was the union that raised the specter of the plant closing if the contract weren’t ratified. They were the ones who argued that Jeep needed to be able to turn a “sufficient” profit.

These companies are among the very biggest in the world – and some of the most profitable. A union that looks first to see how best to guarantee good profits to the companies can’t defend the interests of the workers.

A union representing the workers would demand that those profits be used to guarantee a job for every worker at very good wages. Instead of talking about reducing workers’ wages, it would be talking about reducing profits and multibillion dollar bonuses to executives.

The workers can have such a union, but they are going to have to build it themselves, just as they are going to have to start the fight for jobs and higher wages.

Page 8

Dangers AND opportunities in the southern California supermarket strike

Jan 5, 2004

On December 22, Teamster officials ordered the end of a walk-out by 8,000 Teamster drivers and warehouse workers. The Teamsters had walked out on November 24 in support of the strike by 70,000 workers in southern California who are in the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers.) The Teamsters could read the writing on the wall then. They knew that when their present contract with the supermarkets expires in two years, the supermarkets will demand the same kind of brutal takeaways in health care coverage and pay and benefits for new hires, as they are now demanding of the UFCW workers.

When the Teamsters walked out, UFCW officials claimed it would bring the supermarket companies to their knees, that the Teamster walkout was their “silver bullet.”

Certainly, while it lasted, the Teamster walkout had to have cost the supermarkets a great deal more money, since they had to pay still more to hire scabs and to deal with the added disruptions to their already limited operations. But union officials had already announced ahead of time that the Teamsters would not remain out for an extended time, that they would bring the drivers and warehouse workers back when the fund that paid for their health care was impacted. So the supermarket companies waited the Teamsters out.

As though that wasn’t a big enough blow to the strikers, UFCW officials at the same time drastically slashed their strike benefits. In general, the benefit cut was between one-half to two-thirds of what strikers had been receiving – which already was much less than their weekly wage. Union officials also reported that the health fund for union supermarket workers was expected to soon run out of money – jeopardizing the vital medical coverage to the grocery workers and their dependents. So strikers, who had been out since October 11 and were already under tremendous financial pressure, were faced with much bigger problems.

What did UFCW officials say about all this? They advised the strikers to get other jobs. That in itself is difficult enough, since few companies are hiring, and fewer still hire someone on strike. But even more important, as more strikers do find work elsewhere, the number of people mobilized to fight the stores will dwindle, weakening the strike.

In other words, with the strike entering its fourth month, union officials were proposing to weaken the strike.

This is despite the fact that the strike has made a real mark up until now. Shoppers have been, to a great degree, staying away from the stores, either out of solidarity, or simply because they want to avoid the unpleasant experience of facing angry picketers, often people whom they know. As of the middle of December, sales at the big supermarkets in southern California were said to be down by almost one billion dollars since the strike began.

But, obviously, keeping shoppers out of the stores, and to a certain degree disrupting the on-going operations of the supermarkets, has not been enough for the workers to win. First of all, the three big companies that own the supermarkets involved in the strike – Safeway, Albertson’s and Kroger’s, which owns Ralph’s – are three of the biggest food retailers in the country. They have enormous resources that favor them in any war of attrition with only one section of their work force.

Moreover, they have also been strongly supported by Wall Street and the big financial companies. Wall Street’s analysts are quite candid about this. In a recent report to investors, Mia Kirchgaessner, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., wrote that enduring the strike by the UFCW is “one of the best investments food retailers could make,” one that “is likely to continue to pay off over a number of years.”

Obviously, if the supermarkets are able to successfully impose the major concessions they are seeking in southern California, not only can they try to use that as the new pattern for contracts all through the country. But other capitalists will also take advantage of these concessions, trying to make them the pattern for workers in other sectors as well.

By grinding out a long, painful strike against the southern California supermarket workers, the capitalists hope to discourage other workers from opposing one more new wave of devastating concessions.

Of course, this should give the supermarket workers a powerful argument for other workers – calling on them not only to support the strike by not shopping at the Vons, Albertson’s or Ralph’s supermarkets – but to join the fight, and make it their own. The supermarket workers could push to make their own strike the beginning point of a much bigger mobilization of the thousands and millions of workers who are facing the same kinds of attacks.

It is this kind of wide mobilization that the UFCW and the other union apparatuses have always refused even to consider. But it is the only thing that could really force the bosses to back down.

Workers could be open to this kind of fight – that can be seen by how many, just as individuals, have gone down to the picket lines, regularly joined them, brought the strikers food and support – without any organization, but just on their own initiative.

But a lot of work has to be done to turn this strike around. And, as recent events show, that work won’t be done by the union heads. If it is going to be done at all, it will have to be done by the workers themselves.

Grocery stores workers under attack in Michigan and Ohio

Jan 5, 2004

Right before Christmas, 10,000 workers with the Farmer Jack’s grocery store chain based in Michigan and Ohio were given an ultimatum by their union: accept immediate cuts in pay of 5%, plus cuts in vacation and personal time – OR Farmer Jacks could close all of its 106 stores. IF you accept the cuts, then the company will close only 30 stores! IF you accept the cuts, and you lose your job when the 30 some stores are closed, some of you may be rehired – at newer, lower-priced Food Basic stores, of course.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 76 consistently took the stance that Farmer Jack’s must remain afloat against its competitors – namely Kroger and Meijers, and Wal-Mart. The union pushed for immediate wage and benefit cuts. It insisted that “it is imperative that some stores be closed.”

Farmer Jacks’s is not a local little chain. It is owned by A&P, which includes 643 stores in the U.S and Canada. This giant company wants to be able to pay its workers less in benefits and wages – just like the giant Kroger does in many of its subsidiaries. Just like what the giants of Meijers and Wal-Mart are doing.

If workers voted for this contract, they undoubtedly saw no other choice – given that the leaders of their own union were busy at work assisting the giant companies to maintain their profits while pitting workers against each other.

All the more reason for workers to push to change the “partnership” policies of their own unions.