The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 742 — January 10 - 24, 2005

Editorial:
End the U.S. occupation of Iraq

Jan 10, 2005

The U.S.-sponsored Iraqi elections scheduled for January 30th are a complete travesty. The biggest Sunni party is boycotting the election, as will big parts of the population. On top of that, many won't be able to vote, even if they wanted to, either because the war is going on every day in the streets around them or because the U.S. has bombed their neighborhoods to smithereens, and they are refugees.

To fill in the vast gaps of the people who won't participate in the election, the U.S. State Department has already let it be known that it might decide to appoint a few Iraqis.

The elections are such an obvious disaster, even the Iraqi president, defense minister and ambassador to the U.N. in the U.S.'s own hand-picked government have publicly called for a postponement, as have 17 other parties and associations. And several former U.S. officials, including Brent Scowcroft and Zbignew Brzezinski, who had been the chief advisors in the National Security Councils of two former presidents, warned that the elections threaten to fuel a civil war.

Nonetheless, Bush claims that the elections will be another milestone in making Iraq "free." No, the only "milestone" that the elections will mark is another step down the worsening spiral of horrendous war and violence.

The Bush administration's own actions prove the depth of its lies.

The Pentagon is now acknowledging that the "extra" 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq that were supposed to be there only until after the elections will remain in Iraq indefinitely. Obviously, more U.S. troops in Iraq means a bigger war, the war is escalating. And this isn't the end of it.

The U.S. has not "rebuilt" Iraq, but destroyed it even more. Living conditions are much worse than they were under Saddam Hussein during the U.S.-sponsored economic embargo that strangled the economy. Electricity production continues to be much lower than the already depressed pre-war, embargo levels. There are also terrible fuel shortages in the middle of winter. Oil, gasoline and kerosene are siphoned off by members of the U.S.-backed government, who then reap great profits selling them on the black market at prices that are 100 times higher than the official price, prices way out of reach of most ordinary Iraqis. There are also terrible shortages of basic food staples, such as wheat, sugar and rice. And the number of Iraqi children under five years old suffering from malnutrition has nearly doubled since the U.S. occupation began.

The U.S. is not creating new sovereign institutions, as they claim, but empty shells. The so-called Iraqi police forces or army have collapsed almost every time these forces were called upon. Even the State Department admits that it has trained only a fraction of the troops and police that it had planned to. And the U.S. military's own experts admit that even those numbers are overblown, that the Iraqi forces are not only beset by desertions, but are riddled with people working for the insurgency.

The U.S. is an occupying power and seen as such by the Iraqi people. The people who help the U.S. are seen as its puppets. Nothing the U.S. does can change that except to get out. The more destruction the U.S. has wreaked on the Iraqi people, the bigger the number of people who have joined the insurgency and taken up arms against the U.S. and all the forces tied to it. Over the last year, the number of attacks against U.S. forces has multiplied, going from 30 attacks per day to more than 120 per day. These are figures the U.S. military itself admits to.

Bush may try to stick his head in the sand, like an ostrich, and refuse to hear bad news about Iraq, as some of Bush's aides have told reporters. But no U.S. official is proposing anything different than Bush. None are proposing to pull out from Iraq immediately.

This change in policy will happen only if, first, the Iraqi people continue to oppose the U.S. occupation of their country; second, the U.S. generals fear they can no longer depend on their own army; third, the U.S. population more and more actively opposes this war.

The U.S. should pull its troops out of Iraq NOW!

Pages 2-3

Bush tries to burn asbestos victims

Jan 10, 2005

President Bush's rantings now include a drive to keep corporations from suffering under lawsuits. He wants to limit the dollar amount that juries can award victims, and also set up ways to block victims from filing at all. The president calls these "junk" lawsuits, and one of his targets is – he says – asbestos.

While Bush gives a nod to the workers who have been injured (and killed, though he never mentions those), he mostly speaks of limiting the damages done to the asbestos-industry corporations. As if the corporations were the innocent victims of workers with vile intent! Instead of the other way around.

Asbestos companies, like the tobacco companies, knew for years that microscopic amounts of asbestos caused lung damage leading to cancer and death. They hid the knowledge from workers until the human casualty toll was overwhelmingly high and in public view. Then, when faced with the day of reckoning in court, the companies simply evaded their responsibilities by using the bankruptcy escape hatch. In this way, they preserved their blood-soaked profits and escaped paying what they truly owed to hundreds of thousands of workers.

George Bush says he wants to limit lawsuits in the court system. Well, there are two simple steps to take. Force companies to provide up-to-date exposure controls so that there are no more victims. And confiscate all the money that was made and is being made by asbestos polluters, and use it to pay the damages.

Rewarding the biggest crooks

Jan 10, 2005

Chief Executive Franklin Raines and Chief Financial Officer Timothy Howard resigned from the giant mortgage agency Fannie Mae. (Fannie Mae was created by Congress to buy mortgages from banks in order to protect their investment, as well as funnel still more money into the mortgage industry.) Raines and Howard were accused of fraud, cooking the books to make Fannie Mae's required capital look nine BILLION dollars higher than it really was.

So these two lost their jobs. But they are not leaving without getting a little something Raines will receive 19 million dollars in cash and stock, plus a lifetime pension of more than $100,000 per MONTH, with Howard getting just a little less.

Raines is hardly the first chief exec to gain millions and millions in yearly pay. But usually the capitalists and their supporters claim the bosses earn this money because the company has done so well.

We'll have to remember such deals when the bosses tell us they can't give us a raise because the company is not doing well!

Andrea Yates:
One injustice reversed
– a bigger one remains

Jan 10, 2005

A Texas appeals court reversed the 2002 conviction of a severely mentally ill woman convicted of drowning her children, because the prosecution had presented false evidence in the trial.

There was no doubt that Andrea Yates had drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001. What was in question was her mental state.

Yates had been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis for years, and had been hospitalized several times. She had attempted suicide, and she was taking anti-psychotic drugs. She was, in short, a very sick woman. A doctor who had treated her after the birth of her fourth child had said that she was one of the most mentally ill people he had met.

Clearly, Yates was not in control of her actions – and four psychiatrists testified to this effect for the defense.

Seeking to obscure this reality, the prosecution found an "expert witness" who would distort the truth – and flat-out lie.

Dr. Park Dietz, the prosecutions's hired-gun witness, stated that Yates, though psychotic at the time of the killings, somehow knew right from wrong – because she called the police on herself; and because she heard the voice of Satan telling her to kill her children and not the voice of God!

But his most damning testimony concerned the "Law & Order" TV show. Dietz asserted that he had consulted on an episode in which a woman had drowned her children in a bathtub and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Dietz claimed this episode had aired shortly before Yates killed her children.

Yates was known to be an avid "Law & Order" watcher. The prosecution ran with this tid-bit, saying that it showed Yates had planned the whole thing, and got the idea from the show to make it LOOK like she was insane.

The problem was, no such episode had ever run on "Law & Order." Dietz openly lied about it and the prosecution added to his lie.

The lie was discovered by a reporter after Yates was already convicted, but before she was sentenced.

Not only did the prosecution not call for a mistrial, it continued to defend the verdict. Even now, the prosecution says it will appeal this reversal, saying that this central part of their case was unimportant to Yates' conviction!

Andrea Yates and her children are all victims – of a society that is deeply reactionary toward women – and all the more so in recent years as politicians pander to and try to reinforce reactionary ideas. Denying the reality of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, they brand women suffering from this as morally depraved – as bad mothers. And they reduce the already inadequate health care, denying the mentally ill the consistent help that they need.

What has happened to Yates and to her children is a horrendous tragedy. The prosecution and the trial court in Texas were ready to compound this tragedy – in order to push a reactionary social agenda.

A cold fact:
Growing homelessness

Jan 10, 2005

A homeless man sleeping in a dumpster in Ann Arbor, Michigan, barely escaped being crushed to death in a garbage truck – apparently saved by trash too hard to compact.

This man is just one of a growing army of homeless people in this country.

About four million people in the U.S. were homeless at some time during 2004, on average for about eight months each – a monumental social failure, considering the amount of wealth generated in this country.

There are people who explain away homelessness pretending the homeless are simply alcoholics or drug users. But that's just wrong. One-third of all the homeless today are people who have jobs. They are the poorest of the working poor, with jobs that pay so little that they can't even afford a house to live in! Whole families are homeless, while the parents try to feed them on jobs that pay minimum wage.

As for people who are drug or alcohol addicts, many of them are on the streets today because local and state officials have closed down treatment facilities – just as they have closed down most state mental facilities – literally throwing many helpless people onto the streets.

The homeless man who almost lost his life in a dumpster is a sickeningly accurate symbol of this society's priorities. Bent on producing billions of dollars for a few, it's content to throw millions of people on the trash heap.

Hiding reality behind the numbers

Jan 10, 2005

The Labor Department announced that 157,000 jobs were created in December, with 2.2 million added for all of 2004. Bush, practically cheering, proclaimed that the economy did its "best in five years."

Maybe – but they were a lousy five years. In fact, what the numbers really show is a bad job market. It took the U.S. economy almost three years to replace the two million jobs that were lost in 11 months of recession. Since the recession began, the adult population grew by about four million. At least another two million jobs are needed if all these adults are to even enter the work force. And the employment picture remains worse for key parts of the work force: people aged 34 to 55 and manufacturing workers.

According to The New York Times, economists are predicting even slower economic growth and fewer jobs created in 2005 than in 2004.

For working people, there's nothing to cheer about.

California:
Governor announces attack on "special interests"

Jan 10, 2005

On January 6, Governor Schwarzenegger of California declared war on "special interest groups." Which special interests? The electric utility and natural gas industries that together have nearly bankrupted the state? Big agribusiness, which draws water from the whole region, devastating large parts of it?

No – not at all.

The "special interests" Schwarzenegger targeted were state workers and their pensions and two public schools and their pupils and teachers.

Could it be any clearer who Arnold "The Terminator" Schwarzenegger really represents?

Torture-promoter Gonzales promoted

Jan 10, 2005

Some FBI agents, along with 12 retired generals and admirals raised objections to Bush's nominee for U.S. Attorney General at Senate hearings last week. And surprise! they criticized Alberto Gonzales, legal counsel to the White House, for writing the memo justifying the torture of detainees from the war in Afghanistan. Among other things, he called the Geneva Convention against Torture "quaint" and "obsolete."

Actually, these military officers and secret police weren't objecting to the use of torture because of humanitarian concerns. Military and intelligence services have used equally reprehensible methods for decades. What about the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities in World War II or the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany? What about the destruction of Viet Nam and its people by means of carpet bombing and Agent Orange? What of the bombing that wiped out most of Fallujah? These are all military tactics used to terrorize civilians. What torture does on a small individual scale terrorize these actions were carried out to do on the large scale.

But the memo Gonzales wrote in 2002 raises a practical problem for the U.S. military: because the arguments for torture were made so openly, the generals worried it would make retaliation against U.S. soldiers more likely.

When questioned by a reporter, one of the generals agreed it was possible that the dressing of Nick Berg in an orange jumpsuit by those who beheaded him could have been suggested by the orange jumpsuits worn by detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, Cuba.

The other problem the military raised is that torture is not useful for getting real intelligence. When interrogators repeatedly almost drown their prisoners or attach electric wires to prisoners' genitals, they can, of course, get lots of confessions but not real information. And prisoners kept in detention for months and months have no intelligence to give. How is intelligence useful unless it is current information?

But the use of torture in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo does serve a purpose. And this purpose the generals and FBI agents act dumb about. In Afghanistan the false confessions won by torture and murder allowed the U.S. to claim Al Qaeda was a worldwide conspiracy involving the Afghan and Iraqi governments giving it propaganda to justify the wars it wanted. And once the troops were in Iraq, the torture of people picked up by the U.S. inside Iraq was used to spread terror through the whole population. If Iraqis didn't cooperate with the U.S. occupiers, they could face torture.

A few people may criticize Gonzales for show but if he's getting a promotion, it's because he did what was asked of him.

Pages 4-5

A tsunami of hypocrisy

Jan 10, 2005

The U.S. government's aid to tsunami victims is essentially public relations advertising – and they even admit it.

Former president G.H.W. Bush said "I think it will help the United States in every one of the countries that have been devastated." And judging by news reports, Colin Powell was concerned with how the aid will improve the U.S. image among Muslim peoples.

These politicians made the tsunami disaster into just one more self-serving ad campaign.

The human slave trade

Jan 10, 2005

As if nature had not inflicted enough tragedy on the peoples caught in the tsunami, human vultures played their part to enlarge it. Reports tell of organized gangs preying on the huge number of orphaned children to kidnap and sell them into slavery and prostitution.

U.S. authorities expressed horror and outrage at the reports. But those same authorities are well aware that human slave networks function throughout the U.S., providing a steady supply of sex slaves and "domestic help" for those who can pay. "Every 10 minutes, a woman or child is trafficked into the United States for forced labor," writes author Gilbert King.

Humans are the third most lucrative commodity traded illegally, after drugs and guns. And it's because the commodity is so lucrative that authorities pretend to be outraged at one moment – only to wink at the human slave trade the rest of the time.

A brotherly favor

Jan 10, 2005

President Bush picked his brother Jeb, governor of Florida, to be high-profile co-ambassador of "good will" to the tsunami-devastated area of the Indian Ocean.

The cover story was Jeb's "experience" in emergencies like the Florida hurricanes.

The many people in Florida who still haven't gotten the promised relief and replacement housing would probably question Jeb's qualification. But in fact, the important "experience" involved is the raising and polishing of Jeb's political profile as the next-in-line of the Bush dynasty.

Politicians never seem to lose their capacity to snatch self-promotion from the jaws of human tragedy.

Oil companies' interests complicate aid picture

Jan 10, 2005

ConocoPhillips has 13 licenses, covering 13.5 million acres, for exploring and producing oil and gas fields in Indonesia. In Indonesia's Aceh province, a place hard-hit by the tsunami, ExxonMobil operates one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, which has enriched the company by perhaps 40 billion dollars. At least 9 other oil and gas companies have Indonesian interests, including ChevronTexaco with 107 active oil fields and 6,569 production wells.

Thus, when the oil family of Papa Bush, George, and Jeb say they are sending aid to tsunami victims, it might be important to ask: exactly which victims will end up with the dollars? The oil companies?

Promises, promises, promises

Jan 10, 2005

On January 6, world leaders met in Jakarta, Indonesia. Posing for lots of propaganda photos, they pledged nearly four billion dollars to aid tsunami victims in Asia. The U.S. contribution finally came to 350 million dollars; the Japanese, 500 million; Germany, 662 million; and Australia, 810 million dollars.

Germany and Britain proposed that the countries most affected by the tsunami could suspend payments on their foreign debt. Indonesia owes 132 billion dollars and Thailand 59 billion dollars, with the total debt relief of all the affected countries about four billion dollars. But the U.S. representatives balked, apparently believing the banks come first.

Whether eight billion or four billion dollars, it's not nearly enough, given the scope of the disaster. Nor does it begin to match what the rich countries could afford. The U.S. alone spends nearly four billion in Iraq every two weeks.

But no one should believe the tsunami victims will benefit from even these inadequate pledges. After past disasters, the rich countries made similar pledges – only to forget about paying up after the cameras were gone.

Exactly one year to the day before the tsunami struck in Asia, the city of Bam in Iran was hit by an earthquake. In this city of 120,000 there were 32,000 dead and 18,000 wounded, including many severely handicapped. Tens of thousands were homeless. The city itself was 85% destroyed. One billion dollars in aid was quickly promised.

A year later, the city is still in ruins, with tens of thousands still living in tents; others don't even have a tent. To date, only 17 million of the one billion dollars promised has been paid – that is, less than two% of what had been promised was ever delivered.

Tsunami:
Put the "relief effort" in perspective

Jan 10, 2005

More people will die in the days and months ahead than in the monster waves themselves. Serious injuries left untreated, lack of medicines, unclean water, no food, and no sanitary facilities all this will kill them. At least five million have no place to live. In Sri Lanka alone, which has since been hit by severe rain, 850,000 are without housing. Even before the tsunami hit, the situation was drastic; today it is a veritable catastrophe for tens of millions of people.

Yes, we hear a lot about all the money and supplies being promised. And we are daily treated to photographs of some helicopters and a ship or two being sent with supplies. But even those photos show some of the reality with the desperate attempts of many people to grab one of the very few packages delivered, ending almost in fights.

What has been sent, or even what has been promised, is next to nothing compared to what the rich countries could do. They have armies made up of millions of people, equipped and organized to be put into service almost immediately. They have field hospitals, earth-moving equipment, equipment to produce safe drinking water, numerous field kitchens able to produce meals for tens of thousands of people on one spot. They have air, sea and land transport, designed to go into areas that have been ravaged by war. They could be used in places ravaged by a tsunami. They have means of communication that could be used to organize the relief.

But where are they today? The U.S. has its forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a number of other lesser known combat areas around the globe. France and Britain have troops in Africa. Germany has troops in Afghanistan. All of them may make a show of sending aid. But none will use even an insignificant part of the resources they have to relieve the misery of these desperate people living around the Indian Ocean.

The amount the U.S. has promised in aid is less than a tiny fraction of one% of the U.S. budget. It is less than 5% of what it spends every month in Iraq, destroying that country. The resources it uses in Iraq show just how much could be made available to aid the tsunami victims.

Those resources aren't used because the U.S. chooses not to use them. Its priorities are elsewhere controlling other countries in order to exploit their labor and steal their material wealth.

The tsunami couldn't have been prevented
– but the human tragedy didn't have to happen

Jan 10, 2005

Day after day, the toll of tsunami victims jumps from one awful figure to the next, with estimates in early January running at more than 150,000 people killed. It's a human catastrophe that can only provoke horror – above all, because it should not have happened.

It's true that scientists cannot yet predict exactly when earthquakes will happen, nor exactly where their worst consequences will be. But it was not the earthquake that killed most of those who died. It was the tsunami that came afterwards. And most of the people caught in those monster waves could have escaped if they had been warned. Most would only have had to go a mile or so inland to avoid it. And there was enough time to warn most of the areas hit by those monster waves – if a warning system had existed in the Indian Ocean.

Such a warning system is in place all around the Pacific Ocean that borders on rich countries like Japan, Australia and the United States. Sensors give advance warnings of disturbances that can produce the monster waves on shore. In Japan, the shorelines are outfitted with loudspeaker and siren systems, which can be used to warn people of an advancing tsunami, just as such systems are used in this country to warn of a tornado or an advancing hurricane. And military and police forces are trained to evacuate people in the case of severe weather warnings.

There is no such system in the Indian Ocean – and not because there was no risk. Scientists have been warning of the danger of a serious tsunami in the region, calling for the establishment of a warning system there.

But who would pay for it? The countries themselves are impoverished – and all the more so because companies from the U.S., Europe and Japan control their economies.

The population of countries hit by the tsunami are used as very cheap labor in the tourist areas around the shorelines, as well as in textile, shoe, electronics and other factories producing goods for the big international companies.

These companies pay little in local taxes – not enough to allow a warning system to be built. And they demand that the taxes they do pay be put into the local military – to be used to keep down a population when it revolts against their situation.

Not only is there no special warning system. Like other countries exploited by the imperialist countries, they have few roads, and little infrastructure that might have helped the population.

In the eyes of the big international capitalists, the people who live around the Indian Ocean are expendable, easily replaced by other impoverished people forced to work for next to nothing.

Maybe we will never be able to prevent earthquakes and the tsunamis they produce, but we can get rid of a system that considers a large part of humanity as something to be tossed out to sea.

Pages 6-7

Happy New Year?
What happened to my doctor?

Jan 10, 2005

Some Michigan auto workers have already discovered they don't have a doctor any more – at least not one their insurance will pay. Starting January 1, Blue Cross Blue Shield's Preferred Plus plan is cutting 1,300 doctors from the UAW health insurance plan. That's 10% of the plan's doctors.

This cut was negotiated as part of the September 2003 contracts, which were presented with promises that the "Contract Delivers on Health Care" and "Health Care Protected."

Not true! A year and a half later, the size of the health care concessions can now be seen: elimination of the traditional Blue Cross plan; near elimination of HAP, the longstanding HMO favored by many workers; cuts in prescription coverage and increased fees.

Auto workers are finding out the hard way what happens when you don't demand to see every line of fine print in the contract.

Retiree health benefits:
An endangered species

Jan 10, 2005

Retirees find they are losing benefits they thought had been promised to them for the rest of their lives. Eight% of large private employers completely eliminated retiree health benefits last year and another eleven% plan to do so this year, according to a study just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

By the end of 2004, only 36% of companies with over 200 workers provided retiree health care. Just 16 years ago, 66% of such companies did so; in other words, almost double today's number. That's an enormous drop in so short a time.

As for retirees who kept their medical coverage – they've done so only at a price. Companies raised premiums for retirees over 25% in just this past year alone. Most companies also raised co-pays on health care services or prescription drugs to active and retired workers.

Some of these cuts have been made in contract negotiations with unions, but most have been made unilaterally by companies, including in places with a contract still in existence. And the courts have said the companies have the "right" to make changes in retiree benefits because of some obscure language hidden deep in a part of the contract no one sees.

It has never been contracts or language that granted workers "rights." It was a readiness to fight that won health care benefits in the first place.

There's more than enough money to provide retiree health benefits. The companies included in this latest survey are some of the largest, most profitable companies around. But the money that should be used for retiree health benefits, like many workers' pension funds, has gone to buying up other companies in this country and abroad, investing in real estate, or gambling on other forms of speculation.

There are no guarantees in capitalist society, no promises the bosses won't violate. The only assurance is to refuse to accept cuts the bosses try to impose.

Airlines:
Government cuts pay, trashes pensions

Jan 10, 2005

On January 6, two different federal bankruptcy courts attacked airline workers. In Alexandria, Virginia, a judge cancelled the machinists union contract at USAir and told the company it could end its pension contributions. In Chicago, the judge ordered 11.5% pay cuts for United baggage handlers and agents covered by the machinists union.

Court orders aren't written in stone – and workers have sometimes forced them to be torn up. Are the USAir and United workers ready to do the same thing today? Maybe.

In any case, chaos recently broke out at USAir's Philadelphia operation, with 10,000 lost bags and thousands of angry customers. Part of the problem was weather and severe understaffing, but part was due to workers who called in sick. One USAir maintenance worker, Don Logan Jr. said to the press: "Back at Thanksgiving, we were short. Did they think it was going to go away come Christmas? I don't blame any employee who wants to spend the holidays with their family after what they have been put through this year."

Teamsters organizer murdered in El Salvador

Jan 10, 2005

Two months ago, on November 5, an organizer from the U.S. Teamsters union was shot and killed while he was visiting his mother in Usulutan, El Salvador. The shooting was apparently a planned assassination: the three shooters, who had been waiting for Jose Gilberto Soto, shot him when he stepped out of the house and then ran away.

Soto, who emigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago, had gone back on union business. He was scheduled to meet with truckers from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua the following day. The meeting was part of an international organizing effort among U.S. and Central American truckers who often work for the same shipping companies.

Salvadoran authorities first called the killing a random street crime. The attackers, however, had not even attempted to rob Soto. Then, in early December, the Salvadoran police arrested Soto's mother-in-law, claiming she had contracted to have Soto killed. According to El Salvador's top human rights official, Beatrice de Carrillo, the case was built entirely on statements from unnamed witnesses, and the police have never investigated the most likely cause of murder: to intimidate truckers and sabotage their organizing effort.

It is not uncommon for governments and bosses to resort to naked violence against unionists. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, about 100 union activists are murdered every year, and hundreds of others receive credible death threats. Most of these incidents are reported in Latin America.

El Salvador has its own history of anti-union violence. During the civil war between the government and the rebel FMLN in the 1980s, more that 5000 labor activists were assassinated by death squads organized by the government and big bosses. The civil war ended in 1992 when the government and FMLN signed a peace accord. The number of assassinations may have gone down since then, but not the bosses' hostility and attacks against unions. In fact, since 1992, the proportion of unionized workers in El Salvador has gone down drastically, from 15% to 5%.

Maersk, the main shipping company targeted by the truckers' organizing campaign, has a history of bullying union organizers. In El Salvador, Maersk subsidiary Bridge Terminal Transport fired 100 drivers when they tried to organize a union three years ago, calling the drivers thugs and terrorists. In 2000, after speaking at a rally protesting Pacific Rim Transport, another Maersk subsidiary, Oakland, California trucker Naim Sharifi had his contract cancelled by the company. He was subsequently called a "terrorist," too.

If Soto was killed by the bosses, as it seems likely, it wouldn't be the first such murder. No matter how much the bosses denounce "class warfare," they have never been shy about using open violence against workers in their quest to maximize their profits.

Page 8

Privatization of Social Security?
Look at Britain and Chile

Jan 10, 2005

People who are pushing to privatize Social Security claim it will provide increased pension benefits to retirees. Some even point to Great Britain and Chile to prove their point. Bad examples – they prove just the opposite!

Chile privatized its social security system over 20 years ago – with all the same claims made for private "investment accounts." Today the investment accounts of retirees are so much smaller than originally predicted that 41% of those eligible to retire in Chile are forced to continue working. Many receive only the minimum pension – and this only because the government has poured huge continuing subsidies into the system it supposedly "privatized"!

In Britain, the results of the social security privatization started in 1978 have had similar results. The government's Pensions Commission recently warned that those who think privatization has solved the British pension problem are living in a "fool's paradise." One pension expert said, "What looked like a very good idea from a financial perspective in cutting costs (in Britain) has put pensioner poverty, which had been all but eradicated, back on the agenda."

In brief, privatizing social security means lower pensions, outright poverty, and longer years of work for many older workers and retirees. Workers in Britain and Chile will tell you – don't accept it!

Social Security "reform":
Stop this huge attack in its tracks!

Jan 10, 2005

In a memo to Republican lawmakers that was leaked to the press on January 5, Peter H. Wehner, the Bush administration's Director of Strategic Initiatives, described the White House plans for the upcoming fight to "reform" Social Security.

The memo confirms that the Bush administration intends to cut Social Security benefits by as much as 40% over the next decades.

The memo then gives the broad outlines of the Bush administration's campaign to convince the public to accept this enormous attack. The message the White House will try to convey is that "we are on an unsustainable course... the current system is heading for an iceberg... the notion that younger workers will receive anything like the benefits they have been promised is a fiction, unless significant reforms are undertaken."

To get that message across Wehner proposed: "We will focus on Social Security immediately in this new year. Our strategy will probably include speeches early this month." He ends by saying, "That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the pre-condition to authentic reform."

In other words, the public is about to be bombarded by the entire spectrum of the political establishment, including bi-partisan, high-minded sounding organizations like the Concord Coalition, and all the other self-proclaimed experts whom the news media will feature non-stop from now on. They will tell us over and over again that Social Security is in crisis. This is what they will try to " sear into the public consciousness."

A Campaign of Lies

From beginning to end, everything they will say is a complete lie.

Lie Number One has already been exposed by this memo: the assurance by Bush and everyone else that their "reform" of Social Security won't cost future retirees anything. No, they plan on cutting benefits by 40%.

Lie Number Two is that Social Security is running out of money, that "it is heading for an iceberg." No, it is not. Social Security is NOT running out of money. Not even the official reports of the Social Security Administration and Congress dare claim this. At most, they say there might be a possible small shortfall in 40 or 50 years, which is not exactly around the corner, as Bush and others want us to believe. And as many economists have pointed out, even these predictions are very slanted, based on the assumption that over the next half century there won't be appreciable growth in the economy, employment or productivity, which is highly unlikely. This is why many economists say that there won't be a shortfall in Social Security.

Bush will tell us that all he wants to do is to "save" Social Security. Of course, if that were really the case, he wouldn't break up Social Security into private individual accounts, privatizing Social Security. That's the worst thing to do. Much of the money in those accounts would be eaten up by Wall Street companies, charging big commissions and fees... every single year. On top of that, many people will watch their holdings decline when stocks go down, as people with 401(k)'s learnt so painfully during the recent stock market dive.

Giving Social Security to Wall Street won't save Social Security for retirees. But it would hand hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars over to the big financial corporations so they can speculate with it and profit from it for themselves.

This would transform an entitlement which pays a pension for as long as a person lives into the equivalent of a 401(k) account that will very often run out of money and stop making payments long before someone dies.

This is a huge, across-the-board attack on the single most important gain that working people won over the course of many, many decades of struggle.

Won in struggle it will be defended the same way

This gain, the right for anyone who worked to have a pension, was won in the big workers' struggles of the 1930s, the same struggles that built big unions for the first time in the major industries. Over the next decades, especially as a result of the widespread black movements from the 1950s into the early 1970s, Social Security was both extended to more sectors of the population and the benefits were boosted. By the early 1970s, for example, an automatic cost-of-living clause was added, giving seniors a small, but obviously very vital protection from inflation.

As these struggles receded starting in the 1970s, what had been won came under attack. In 1977, under Jimmy Carter, the inflation coverage was partially reduced. In 1983, with Reagan as president and the Democrats controlling Congress, a cost of living increase was delayed for six months and the retirement age boosted. In the 1990s, Clinton introduced a sneaky cut in benefits, by twice revising down the cost of living formula. These benefit cuts may not have been obvious then, but they have built up over time.

Then in the late 1990s, after Clinton was re-elected for his second term, he began to talk about carrying out many of the same kinds of reforms that Bush is pushing today at the beginning of his second term. This so-called reform has been in the works for a long time, and support for it has never strictly come from the Republican party, but from the Democratic party as well. The person Bush appointed to head his commission that recommended privatizing Social Security and handing the money over to Wall Street was the Democratic liberal from New York, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

What has kept both Republican and Democratic politicians from carrying out this outright attack has been the fear that it could provoke a huge reaction from the population. In fact, Social Security has been called the "third rail" of American politics. Even today, after decades of relative social quiet, even after so many big attacks against the population have succeeded, the politicians still fear that they could awaken a hornet's nest by beginning to dismantle Social Security. According to the Wall Street Journal of January 6, Republican legislators told Bush's main political advisor, Karl Rove, that "they were scared to death" of what would happen if they supported such a measure.

Every time a politician says he or she wants to save Social Security, watch out they are preparing to attack it. Every time they say they want to reform it, working people should get ready for battle. They want to take it from you.

If our grandparents and great grandparents in the 1930s were able to fight to win Social Security, we ought to be able to step up and fight to keep it.

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