The Spark

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

Issue no. 733 — August 30 - September 13, 2004

Convention time:
Round two

Aug 30, 2004

Now it's the Republicans' turn to nominate their candidates. One thing is sure – the man they are nominating is a conniving, greedy, mean-spirited, down-right reactionary liar.

Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to take this country into war for Iraq's oil. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have paid the price with their lives, as have nearly 1,000 American troops.

Bush connived to have innocent people arrested so he could pretend to be doing something about terrorism.

All that does is reinforce the hatred already felt by many people around the world toward the U.S.

Any country that goes into other countries, rips out their wealth, destroys their cities, impoverishes and kills their people will create a big reservoir of hatred. And that's just what George Bush's policies have done.

Of course, Bush was not the first U.S. president to carry out such policies – look at the wars against Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Colombia, carried out by the Clinton administration.

Bush's wars against Afghanistan and Iraq simply created more people around the world who hold the U.S. in contempt.

Bush is not getting rid of terrorism. His policies are simply creating the field in which terrorism grows.

On the domestic front, Bush lied about everything he did, starting with the big tax cut we all supposedly got from his administration.

It's true we all got a few hundred dollars, but if you want to talk about big tax cuts, look at Bush's wealthy friends who got billions of dollars cut off their taxes.

Speaking about lies and deceit – Bush said he had no choice but to cut spending on all the programs that matter to working people because of the budget deficit. Cutting his way through Head Start and veterans' benefits, he moved on to reduce if not eliminate public services, ranging from highways to bridges to dams to water systems. He cut money to states, cities and counties, forcing them to cut back money for schools.

Of course Bush had a choice – and he chose to cut all these programs in order to hand over still more money to the corporations and the wealthy class that own them.

Finally, there's the question of jobs. Even as the job situation gets worse, Bush says it's getting better.

So yes, we have every reason to want this liar out of office.

The question is who to replace him?

Did someone say John Kerry?

Is that the same John Kerry who criticized the way Bush went to the war, but then said he will keep the war going and even send more troops to Iraq?

Why should we settle for that? Most people want an end to this war.

Is someone talking about the same John Kerry who says he will create jobs by giving still more tax cuts to the corporations?

Bush showed that is no way to produce jobs. Why should we settle for it?

If you want to see what John Kerry will be like as president, ask the state of Michigan workers what Michigan's Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm did as soon as she got in office.

Almost her very first act was to announce cuts in the number of jobs and to demand money take-aways from state workers.

Then, after promising to protect the schools, she cut money for education.

The Democrats may talk a good line – but when it's all said and done, they have lined up with the Republicans on every important issue: the war, the tax cuts for corporations, the cutting of the budget, the slashing of government jobs.

Where does that leave us? Right where we've always been – caught between two parties, neither one of which represents us.

Working people shouldn't settle for that.

Why should we give either of these parties our votes? That's like shaking the hand of the thief who robs you.

We need our own party, a party of the working class, one which fights for the interests of working people by calling on workers to use their own forces.

We may not be able to get that party this year, but we certainly don't have to give our stamp of approval to parties who thumb their noses at us.

Pages 2-3

Got milk?
Got any money?

Aug 30, 2004

Consumers are being gouged with very high milk price in some places, inching up on four dollars a gallon.

The milk industry and the grocery stores tell us it's a matter of supply and demand. Well, the supply was fine until the demand for more profits took over.

The National Milk Producers' Federation, representing those 60,000 producers who supply the majority of the nation's milk, has since last October deliberately decreased the amount of milk going onto the market, in order to drive prices up. The Federation's program targeted a reduction of 4.6 billion pounds in the milk supply.

Going for their own cut of the action, groceries pushed their prices up on top of the producers' hikes. In New York State, for example, the Attorney General's office found that 30% of stores were charging more than 200% mark-up over the price that they paid to milk producers.

It's only "supply and demand" because the supply is manipulated, and the demand is for workers to hand over their wallets.

Changing state budget priorities with no $$ saved

Aug 30, 2004

In the early 1980s, Michigan's biggest state department was Mental Health. Later in the 1980s, the largest department was the "Family Independence" Agency (FIA). By the 1990s, the largest department was the Department of Corrections. How many people pushed out of Mental Health clinics and FIA programs are now clients of the Department of Corrections?

National study shows what teachers knew
– charter schools worse

Aug 30, 2004

For years there's been a great hullabaloo about charter schools in this country. They have been pushed as the answer to failing public school systems. At least 3,000 of them have been set up around the country in the last decade. Allowed to operate outside the authority of the public school systems, without the regulation and testing required of public schools – they nonetheless get their money from the public school system.

Up until now, there were few studies done on these schools. But recently the federal Education Department carried out a national study, comparing student results in charter schools to results in regular public schools. It showed exactly what should have been expected – charter schools did a worse job of preparing students!

The study depended on math and reading tests given to fourth grade students around the country. The charter school students performed about half a year behind other public school students. Only 25% of the charter school students were proficient in math and reading compared with over 30% for other fourth graders. When students from exactly the same impoverished areas and backgrounds were compared, the charter schools still did even worse.

It's no wonder – since charter schools are often set up for different purposes than education. Many were set up to make profits for private corporations, others to give churches a place to push their beliefs, others as money-making ventures for universities or just as a gift to the friend of some politician.

It's true the public schools in working class areas throughout the country do not provide an adequate education for most children. The test results show that, when only 30% of public school children are preforming at grade level, something is wrong. But reducing that number to 25% at charter schools only makes things worse.

In fact, the inroads made by charter schools pose an even bigger threat to education in this country because they are draining money away from the public schools. What's wrong with public schools today? Money – or lack of it. The public schools don't have enough money to hire fully qualified teachers, or to keep class sizes small. They don't have enough to provide up-to-date text books, labs and equipment needed for science or language study, time and facilities for extra curricular programs, etc.

Public schools in wealthy areas, of course, have enough money to provide a good education. But public schools in working class areas are sorely lacking.

The experiment in charter schools has made it worse for students who went into them than if they had stayed in the public schools. And by draining money and giving it to any charlatan who considers the public school treasury a cash cow, they have depleted public school resources.

Why were the results hidden?

Aug 30, 2004

The study showing that charter schools performed worse than public schools may have been done by Bush's own Education Department – the same Education Department which has been pushing charter schools. But it took teachers poring over data on a website and piecing together information from different places to finally make the report public.

Of course the Bush administration hid the results of the study! It shows what "No Child Left Behind" really means – "No Profit-making Corporation Left Behind," "No Friend of Mine Left Behind," and "No Snake-oil Salesman Left Behind."

Latest figures show enormous poverty during a recovery

Aug 30, 2004

The Bureau of the Census just issued its latest report on average income. To no one's surprise, the top 20% of the population gets half the nation's income. This is a big increase from the 44% of the nation's income the wealthy had 30 years ago, and it was stolen from the rest of the population. The bottom 20% saw their share of the nation's income go to a miserable 3.5%, down from 4.2% 30 years ago. Despite the administration's claims about an economic recovery, the poverty rate is worse, with 30 million people today living in poverty, according to the government.

By the government's own statistics, a family of four was living in poverty if it made below $18,810 for all of last year. In reality, for four people to have a roof over their head and food, twice that amount of money is barely enough. Millions more than 30 million are living on the edge.

Poverty is only too common in the world's wealthiest country. It was true in 2004, it was true in 1994, it was true in 1984. Sometimes the rate of poverty has gone up a little, sometimes it has gone down a little. But tens of millions of people have been living in poverty over all these decades.

The only time the poverty rate really fell was after working people fought back, demanding decent jobs at decent wages. Only then did corporations find they had jobs to fill, wages to increase and benefits to add.

Los Angeles:
Hospitals close ERs because too many people use them

Aug 30, 2004

Three large hospitals in Los Angeles County have said they may close their ERs in the near future. Six other hospital emergency rooms serving 75,000 patients a year have already closed in the last 14 months. Most of the ERs in question are in working class neighborhoods.

Los Angeles is not alone. This is the trend throughout the country. In the state of California alone, 65 ERs have closed in the last decade. Hospital officials blame the closures on a surge in the number of uninsured patients.

Yes, there are more uninsured coming to the ERs for treatment. There are more people uninsured today. Workers who have no health insurance have little choice but to use ERs. The only places where they can get any affordable health care – county hospitals and clinics – are few and far between. In a move that greatly aggravated this crisis, L.A. County closed 11 of its 18 clinics two years ago. In many neighborhoods, ERs are the only places where uninsured workers and their families can go when sick without being turned away at the door.

As companies keep eliminating health care benefits for their workers, more and more workers and their families are left without any medical coverage. In 2003, the number of uninsured people in the U.S. increased from 43.5 million to 45 million, which is almost one out of every six Americans. In California, nearly one in five – seven million people – have no insurance. In L.A. County, one in three residents has no coverage.

In such a situation, hospitals and other health care providers should be searching for ways to expand access to medical care. Instead they shut their doors just as more people need access. Illogical yes, but quite simple: hospitals are run for profit, and ERs are not making a profit.

An official of the Hospital Association of Southern California admitted that, as a result of the ER closures, "Eventually people are going to start to die. That's basically what it amounts to."

What it amounts to is murder by neglect, carried out by a medical care system organized first of all to provide profits, and let human needs be damned!

Regulations for the benefit of business

Aug 30, 2004

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has decided to let automakers keep safety defects hidden from the public. The change was actually made several months ago, buried deep in thousands of pages of federal rules and regulations called the Federal Register.

The automakers and their lobbyists argued that allowing their competitors to learn from their safety problems would be unfair. In other words, said the head of a group suing to change the rule, "They want their rivals to keep making defective products ...."

The automakers have repeatedly shown safety comes last. For example, despite decades of regulation which automakers have fought, they continue to make vehicles with defects that can kill. That was the Ford Explorer roll-over scandal of five years ago and the current Saturn Vue scandal.

But automakers are scarcely the only ones helped by the government, which has shown itself ready to let consumers die to cut costs and raise profits for many industries.

The power industry has supposedly been regulated to prevent pollution in the air for many years. In reality, they continue to pollute. And rules put into effect last December exempt them once again, letting them trade poisonous emissions with one another in such a way that the total pollution goes UP.

The trucking industry also benefitted from a new regulation last year, issued supposedly to "save hundreds of lives," according to the Department of Transportation. This new rule actually lets the companies demand truckers drive 11 hours without a break instead of 10 – even though tired truck drivers already help account for some 5,000 fatalities every year.

Whether it is the vehicles we drive, the food we eat or the air we breathe, we can count on government safety regulation – but only to ensure corporate profits at our expense.

A swift trip away from real issues

Aug 30, 2004

As if he had done nothing of interest since Viet Nam, Senator John Kerry reaches back 35 years, to base a large part of his campaign for the presidency on his war record on Swift boats.

The Bush campaign understands full well the unpopularity of George W. Bush's sitting in a "champagne unit" to avoid the risks of that war. Behind the scenes, Bush people put together a front group to attack Kerry's war record – hoping to keep the focus off Bush's own record.

The resulting media frenzy has actually had an effect helpful to both candidates. By re-fighting old issues of Viet Nam (but not the important ones!), both Bush and Kerry avoid the issue of the current war in Iraq.

For Bush, the war is going badly. The Iraqi people want the U.S. troops out. The U.S. troops want out. The more the U.S. population hears about the war, the less they support it. Bush benefits by every headline that distracts attention from Iraq.

Kerry also benefits. If he intended to end the Iraq war, of course he would do everything to keep the issue front and center, to take advantage of the widespread opposition to the war. But in fact his position on the war is called "Bush lite" for good reason. Kerry may want to run the war a bit differently – but he intends to see it continue, not stop it. So more focus on other issues suits Kerry just fine.

Jumping aboard the Swift boats is handy for candidates who both prefer to be AWOL when it comes to the hard problems that their society inflicts on the working class.

Pages 4-5

Millions of people condemned to death from malaria
– no money for treatment

Aug 30, 2004

Malaria, a "weapon of mass destruction" as Doctors Without Borders has labeled it, kills some two million people every year, half of whom are infants. Recently, between 300 and 500 million cases have been reported each year, with over 80% of them in Africa. Instead of declining over the last 30 years, malaria cases have been increasing! There are now four times as many cases and three times as many deaths as there were in the 1970s, a rate of increase many times faster than the increase in population. And the disease is reappearing even in parts of the world where it had previously been wiped out.

In the developed countries, there have been campaigns to eradicate malaria and to eliminate the mosquitoes that transmit it. In the last half century, there have also been a number of new drugs developed for use against the disease. ACT, for example, cures 90% of the cases of malaria, according the World Health Organization. But ACT costs five or six times as much as the older drugs used to treat malaria, which are much less effective, curing only about 65% of those stricken by the disease. But only 32 out of more than 100 countries hit by malaria have access to this drug, or more precisely, have the resources to purchase it. The poor countries don't have the funds, and the developed countries whose economies grew through exploitation of the poor countries, are not about to come up with the money to combat the disease.

To cure the world's population of this disease would take about one billion dollars a year. Sounds like a high sum until it's compared to the amount gobbled up each year by the armaments industry – more than a thousand times as much. Even the cosmetics industry rakes in seven billion dollars a year – just on the sale of "anti-aging" creams!

The Sahel devastated by locusts

Aug 30, 2004

In the United States, we know about the swarms of 17-year locusts that arrived this year. They may be a big inconvenience here, but for the people living in the poorest countries of Africa, these locusts spell a disaster. In the U.S., there are technological means to limit the destruction, but in Mauritania, for example, there is only enough insecticide to cover 13% of the fields. There is only one airplane available to spread insecticide, and this plane is grounded due to lack of fuel. So, of course, the locusts are destroying the crops. The inevitable result will be famine.

The population in these poor countries resort to whatever means they think can work: setting fires and digging trenches, for example, in hopes of capturing the locusts before they are old enough to fly – but with little success.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, some 100 million dollars is needed immediately to stop the spreading disaster of the crickets. This amount is less than what was spent on the Olympic Games spectacle in Athens. If the money isn't spent now, the need will only increase, as it did some 15 years ago, when it took five years to control the damage and 600 million dollars.

It is relatively easy to control this catastrophe, and the money required is relatively modest as well. If nothing is done, it's because the governments in the wealthy countries choose to do nothing – after having impoverished the Sahel and other regions of Africa for centuries.

Torture of prisoners in Iraq:
Investigations blame those responsible, but let them off scot free

Aug 30, 2004

Two recent reports about the torture of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq officially acknowledge what's been obvious. Officials at the highest levels of the army, the CIA and the Bush administration hold the final responsibility for the torture and abuse of prisoners.

The army's internal investigation determined that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq at the time, and his deputy, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, were partly responsible for the torture. The three generals who conducted this investigation did not, however, recommend any action be taken against the two generals. It recommended only that the colonel and lieutenant colonel in charge of the prison be given disciplinary reprimands, along with three of their immediate subordinates and 29 lower level prisoner interrogators.

A second investigation, carried out by former U.S. Secretaries of Defense and other high government officials, reported that the blame for the torture at Abu Ghraib went as high up as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Once again, however, they recommended against taking any action against Rumsfeld or other top officials.

Of course not – because to have taken action against Rumsfeld and the others would have opened the door to the very top levels of power – to Bush himself, to the Congress, to officials in all the departments involved in carrying out this war. And it would have laid bare the fundamental underlying cause of the torture and other abuse carried out by U.S. forces in Abu Ghraib and throughout Iraq – the war itself. Trying to suppress opposition to military occupation of a country can only lead to abuse of the population – or worse.

From the beginning, it was clear the Iraqis in their majority want the U.S. out of their country. It's what we should want too.

Chavez's victory ... but what guarantees for working people?

Aug 30, 2004

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez easily won the referendum of August 15 organized against him by the right wing opposition. There was a very high turnout of 80% of the electorate. And nearly 60% voted to keep Chavez in office.

Chavez was elected in 1998 and then re-elected in 2000. Now he's won this test of forces with the opposition grouped in the Democratic Coordination. He received two million more votes than he had won before in the presidential elections.

When the results came in, thousands of Chavez supporters demonstrated their happiness, especially in workers' neighborhoods where there had been massive mobilizations to get out the vote. In the well-off neighborhoods, which opposed Chavez, the opposition cried fraud, even though observers from the Organization of American States and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that the election was fair.

The attempt to remove Chavez by referendum is only the latest episode in a fight waged by the opposition against him. In April 2002, there was an attempted coup d'etat, supported by the United States. It failed when Chavez supporters massively mobilized. Then there was a long strike led by top management and technicians in the state oil company – aimed at paralyzing the country and blocking oil exports that account for half of Venezuela's income. Chavez survived this bosses' strike and removed the top layers of the state oil company.

In fact, since the election of Chavez in 1998, the capitalists and their petty bourgeois allies, supported by U.S. imperialism, have never stopped demanding the resignation of this "left" government, which they see as threatening their privileges. Chavez wasn't part of the corrupt leading circles who lived well off the profits of the oil industry and who drowned a popular revolt in blood in 1989. In fact, Chavez, a former paratrooper lieutenant-colonel, had attempted a coup d'etat himself in 1992 against these corrupt layers. After it failed, he was imprisoned for two years. These actions were what gave him his popularity in the poor neighborhoods and in a big section of the army.

Chavez uses populist arguments, appeals to the anti-rich and anti-U.S. sentiments of the population. This is why he is hated by the oligarchy and a good part of the petty bourgeoisie, and has been attacked by U.S. leaders.

Up to now, Chavez has been successful in mobilizing his partisans and reinforcing his power against his opponents, while neutralizing the maneuvers of the U.S. leaders to remove from power. Nevertheless, even though he has carried out token spending on some social programs, especially in the weeks before this referendum, he has never seriously taken on the interests of the capitalists, which he defends in his own manner. This is why the imperialist oil companies consider his hold on power a lesser evil, taking everything into account.

The poor layers of the population who have put their hopes in Chavez are far from having their problems solved. Some 80% of the population lives beneath the poverty level. Chavez hasn't really addressed this problem himself, nor has he proposed to the poor layers that they organize to take what they need from the capitalists who benefit from their labor. He leaves them only one solution: applaud Chavez and vote for him when he calls upon them. But what would happen to them if Chavez were no longer there?

The only guarantee for the workers and the poor layers of the Venezuelan population would be to really attack the power of Venezuelan and imperialist big capital. This is where the resources are to overcome Venezuela's poverty. If the poor do not mobilize to take the oil and other wealth away from the exploiters, they will remain disarmed in front of the exploiters.

After the truce in Najaf

Aug 30, 2004

"There will be a mechanism that will preserve the dignity of everyone in getting out of the holy shrine," said Hamid al-Khaffaf, an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "We're close to being in a position to finish this," said an American official. But without the withdrawal of all of the militiamen loyal to cleric Moktada al-Sadr, "there will be a fight," he said.

In the end, it seemed that at least some of the "dignity" of all the top leaders involved was preserved. Al-Sadr and hundreds of his militiamen did not surrender to U.S. and Iraqi government forces as they left the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, mingled in among thousands of people who had come to the shrine at the call of al-Sistani. Al-Sistani could claim that he had saved the shrine from destruction as well as the lives of al-Sadr's remaining fighters. U.S. officials could claim that American military forces had forced the withdrawal of al-Sadr's rebel forces from both Najaf and nearby Kufa. And Iraqi government officials could claim that they had negotiated a deal with al-Sadr through al-Sistani that eliminated a violent end to the affair.

Most of Najaf, however, now lies in ruins. Hundreds, if not thousands, of ordinary people died – many from U.S. tank shells and bombs, but also from intense automatic weapons fire, exploding grenades and mortar attacks as American forces tried to capture al-Sadr's militiamen.

The fighting in Najaf may be over at least for now – but the violence in the rest of Iraq seems to be increasing. Fighting broke out between U.S. and rebel forces allied with al-Sadr in the Sadr City area in Baghdad, another of al-Sadr's strongholds. In the mixed Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim town of Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, gunman killed six policemen and wounded five. A mortar attack in Baiji, north of Baghdad, killed an Iraqi civilian and wounded another, as well as a policeman. Rebels blew up a pipeline inside an oilfield in the southern part of the country. Another oil pipeline was set afire in Nahrawan, a region east of Baghdad. And during the three weeks of the fighting in Najaf, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's army who had accepted appointment to head one of the Iraqi National Guard battalions in Falluja was executed by militiamen there, precipitating the final breakdown of those battalions. The mayor of Ramadi after the kidnaping of his three sons publicly renounced his support for the government, resigned from his post and urged other government officials to do the same.

In fact, the situation in Iraq is developing toward a wider civil war – a disaster prepared by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The continued U.S. occupation only makes things that much worse.

The end of this story has not been told, and won't soon be.

Knock, knock... It's the FBI!

Aug 30, 2004

In a number of states, FBI agents have been questioning anti-war protesters as well as their friends and family members. One 21-year-old woman from Denver was visited by no fewer than six agents. In Missouri, agents followed three young activists for several days, then told the men they were "suspected of domestic terrorism." They were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury. Of course, charges weren't filed – no evidence was produced. It was nothing but outright intimidation aimed at stopping people from expressing their opposition to the war.

People visited by the FBI said the message was clear: "Stop publicly protesting the war, or we'll continue to harass you."

It's not the first time for such vile tactics. It's what the government has done during every war, "hot" or "cold." Trying to be the cop of the world means the U.S. government starts the job right here at home.

Today's activists will discover what earlier generations did – they are being attacked because they express the anger felt by the majority of the population against the war. Their biggest protection from this bullying government will come from the same population itself.

Pages 6-7

Payday loans
– legalized loan sharking

Aug 30, 2004

The Chicago Sun-Times ran an investigation of payday loans, which are particularly prevalent in Chicago.

People usually take out these loans because of sudden emergencies – high medical expenses, the threat of eviction and expensive car problems. Of course their pay is too low to begin with. Banks aren't willing to lend to them, so they turn to the payday loan office, which is quick to loan the money since it knows it'll get the loan back many times over. Before the loan is paid off, people have often handed over three or four or five times what they borrowed. The newspaper found that interest payments on this kind of loan averaged 512% a year.

The state legislature, when controlled by the Republicans before and the Democrats today, has refused to make these extortionate interest rates illegal, despite the fact they are higher even than what loan sharks charge on the street.

With good reason, postal workers call the payday loans offices "robbers." When workers can't meet the sky-high payments, judges routinely order garnishments from wages. Loan sharks may enforce their loans with threats by thugs. The payday loan companies get thugs from the court system to do their dirty work.

US Air Chief threatens to liquidate

Aug 30, 2004

The Chairman of US Air, David Bronner, demanded a third round of concessions from the airline's workers. He said they had 30 days to give the concessions or he might liquidate the company. Bronner said that Retirement Systems of Alabama, the pension fund he heads and which is the biggest owner of US Air, would be better off if the company were forced to sell off its planes, gates and routes. And – so he said – he could open up another airline, called Bama Air.

Yes, and he might just take the money and run to the Bahamas.

Rotating shifts:
Jet lag on the assembly line

Aug 30, 2004

Two new auto-engine plants near rural Dundee, Michigan, are under construction by DaimlerChrysler, known on paper for this project as GEMA – a "joint venture" of Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

While the plants' new equipment will be very up-to-date, the management intends to set working conditions back 100 years. New hires will be expected to work 10-hour days, and to rotate shifts, working a different shift every week, with varying days off.

Rotating shifts were an artifact of the old steel industry, developed so that the open hearths and furnaces could be kept hot 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The aim at GEMA is the same: keep the equipment working as many hours as possible. GEMA says the plant will run at least 294 days a year, 20 hours a day, instead of the usual 245 days, 16 or 18 hours.

There are good reasons why workers of past generations opposed the rotating shift whenever they were able!

Imagine trying to care for children, or merely arranging to see your children, on a work shift that is always changing.

Moreover, many volumes of studies show clearly that while any work on shifts other than daylight is overly stressful, rotating work shifts are positively dangerous. Workers don't have the time to get accustomed to regular sleeping hours. A condition similar to jet lag develops and does not go away. This reduces workers' alertness on the job, leading to more frequent injuries.

Living in constant tiredness means that one's general health never quite gets up to par. Shift workers are ill more often, for longer periods of time. Very few workers can adapt to rotating shifts without suffering this "shift lag" to some extent.

In a final benefit to the bosses, shift workers die earlier, reducing the pensions to be paid. (And there are undoubtedly bosses who put this into their calculations!)

For workers, there is not one single good thing about rotating shifts. The benefits flow only one way – to the owners of capital.

Page 8

"A speculator's paradise"

Aug 30, 2004

Gasoline prices have fallen slightly over the last couple of months. But they are still at near record highs. Meanwhile, crude oil prices continue to fluctuate wildly, dropping suddenly before hitting new record highs.

The newspaper headlines pretend that these high prices are due to unsolvable problems, such as the high growth of demand for oil in China, or terrorist attacks on pipelines in Saudi Arabia or Iraq, or OPEC production running flat out and no longer able to meet increasing demand. In fact, all these stories are nonsense. International agencies estimate that the world has a buffer of spare oil-pumping capacity of at least one to two million barrels per day, or one to two% of daily consumption.

Instead, one of the biggest factors driving these recent price hikes has been the frantic speculation on crude oil by the biggest financial groups in the U.S. and the world. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Oil has become a speculator's paradise." With oil companies increasing oil prices for at least the last two years, big speculators have been trying to get in on the action, madly buying up crude oil anywhere they can get their hands on it. They expect then to sell it for more than they paid, thus driving prices even higher – to their great profit.

The big financial companies, like Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, have been making big profits off oil speculation while playing several roles. They set up their own oil trading departments, taking a cut while acting as middle men buying and selling crude oil. These same financial companies also provided financing and big loans to other speculators.

Not to be left out of this game are the big oil companies themselves. They have also been carrying on a big trade in buying and selling oil contracts, trying to boost their already humongous profits even farther.

If this sounds a lot like the California electricity crisis of a couple of years ago, that's no coincidence. Enron may not be playing a key role this time around, but most of the very same companies and people are. Just as they engineered the fake electricity crisis in California a couple of years ago in order to justify huge increases in electricity prices, they are at it again – this time on a far bigger scale – and raking in even more money off the backs of the population of not just one state, but the entire world.

Mt. Clemens nurses strike for themselves and their patients

Aug 30, 2004

Over five hundred nurses have been on strike since August 9 at Mt. Clemens General Hospital outside Detroit. The nurses are striking over shortstaffing by the hospital, which is overworking them and endangering patients' health. They are also fighting for better health care benefits for part-time nurses, who make up the big majority of the nursing staff.

The hospital has been refusing to negotiate staffing levels, trying instead to pretend the issue is wages, offering two offers that contained raises. The nurses rejected both.

As is usual when health care workers strike, the hospital has denounced the nurses for endangering the patients. What a crock! The main thing endangering the patients' well-being is inadequate staffing levels. And that's the hospital's responsibility.

A hospital which put patient care first would not be pulling nurses from one area to work in areas that they are not used to, which Mt. Clemens does all the time. It would not pull nurses to work in intensive care or the emergency room without additional training. As one nurse said, "If it were true that we are all interchangeable, then all doctors would be the same. You could have a cardiologist setting your broken leg."

Profits in health care are increasing steadily. The hospitals cry broke when it comes to staffing and wages, while they funnel huge profits to themselves, the drug and medical supply corporations, the insurance companies and everyone else that touches health care.

The nurses at Mt. Clemens are right to fight against this situation. And we all have every reason to support them – first out of worker solidarity, but also because when service workers are attacked, the people they serve suffer as well.

3,000 jobs available
– 250,000 apply

Aug 30, 2004

A quarter of a million people submitted applications to be part-time longshore workers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Only 3,000 were chosen in a drawing on August 19.

Don't let any reactionary pretend there are jobs available for everyone who wants to work.