The Spark

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

Issue no. 744 — February 7 - 21, 2005

Editorial:
Bush's State of the Union
– Lies, TV Cameras and More Lies!

Feb 7, 2005

Bush's 2005 State of the Union speech topped any speech he ever made – filled as it was with practically a new lie in every sentence.

Point: he proposed to continue the tax changes he had already pushed through, claiming they made the tax code "fair to all." Fair? To ALL? Liar! Those changes guaranteed that the wealthy pay a much smaller share of their income than working people pay from theirs. Furthermore, his tax cuts made the tax code even more "unfair" than it had been.

Bush claimed that his energy legislation "encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid and more production here at home, including safe, clean nuclear energy." Amazing that someone could pack so many bald-faced lies into a single sentence! Every independent analysis of his so-called "Clear Skies" legislation has shown it will create more pollution, higher prices for consumers and no overall increase in production – only a shift to production that is more profitable for the big energy companies.

Bush proposed to get rid of what he called "frivolous asbestos suits" because they are harming the economy. Frivolous? Corporations' conscious decisions to use asbestos, long after it was known to kill human beings, have harmed whole generations of workers and their families.

Bush claimed that the war in Iraq has made us safer from terrorist attacks. Safer? No, his war in Iraq has stirred up the cauldron in which terrorism brews – providing a much larger supply of people with a deep consuming hatred for the United States.

He claimed that the U.S. is in Iraq to establish "a country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself." Peace with its neighbors? In the very same speech, Bush was threatening to go to war against Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran! Democracy? No, the U.S. is in Iraq to control its oil and to establish a base from which to control the oil of the whole region. And Bush's new budget shows it – calling for the establishment of "permanent" bases in Iraq, put right in the middle of the oil fields!

His hypocrisy there is matched only by his promise to "do everything we can to help" U.S. troops who sustained "terrible injuries" in Iraq. He dared to say that, even while the policy of Rumsfeld's Pentagon is to discharge permanently disabled soldiers from the service, cutting them off any income, not to mention decent medical care as soon as possible.

But the centerpiece of Bush's speech was the part dealing with Social Security. Claiming that Social Security is in a financial crisis, he proposed the very thing that will cost more money and deliver lower benefits – creating an even bigger financial crisis, along with a bigger social crisis. Calling his proposal "a reform," he is preparing an attack. Pretending people will have more money for retirement, he has already offered legislation that will cut benefits by as much as 45%.

Bush's State of the Union speech was a declaration of his intent to continue and intensify the war already being carried out against working people. Behind his array of lies is contained a whole series of new attacks – reducing social programs and public services, pushing through greater inequalities, carrying out a wider war in the Middle East.

But don't think it's just Bush. As he told lie after lie with that snotty smirk on his face, Congress applauded him – 63 times, as a matter of fact. As he proposed attack after attack, they all gave him – this arrogant representative of the wealthy – standing ovation after standing ovation. Not just the Republicans – both parties.

The fact that the working class has been quiet for so long has made them believe they can say anything and do anything. But just watch, when the working class begins to move again, how quickly they will change their tune. Working people could wipe that smirk off Bush's face.

Pages 2-3

Most personal bankruptcies caused by medical expenses

Feb 7, 2005

Over half of all personal bankruptcies are triggered by medical expenses. This is the conclusion of a study done at Harvard University.

The Harvard researchers estimate that in 2001 about two million people were affected by medically-triggered bankruptcies, including 700,000 dependent children.

It's not just the uninsured who are being financially ruined by medical expenses. Over three-quarters of those whose bankruptcies were triggered by illness had health insurance when they first got sick. But their insurance didn't begin to cover all expenses.

The financial misery caused by these illness-related bankruptcies is another result of the lack of a comprehensive universal health care program in this country.

David Himmelstein, the Harvard study's lead author says, "Unless you're Bill Gates, you're just one serious illness away from bankruptcy."

Privatization does not mean "greater freedom from want and fear"

Feb 7, 2005

George Bush loves to wax poetic about the benefits of private enterprise. In his recent inaugural address he declared, "By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal." Just as he talks about "democracy" to mask the U.S. war on the Iraqi people, he talks here about "freedom from want" to hide the attack he is preparing on Social Security.

There are other countries that have already instituted plans similar to Bush's proposal for privatizing Social Security, and people there could tell you all about how much "freedom from want and fear" they have received. People in Chile and Britain, which privatized their social security systems over 20 years ago, get lower benefits than before – even while their privatized social security systems cost their governments much more. Many more people in those countries now have to keep working past retirement age.

Supporters of privatization will tell you that this is the United States and everything will be different here. If you want to see a shining example of the benefits of a private system in the U.S., just look at the health care system.

Forty-five million people in the U.S. have no health insurance – 82 million if you count everyone who went without insurance for at least one month over a recent two year period.

That doesn't happen in other industrialized countries. But then the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn't have some form of a socialized health care system.

And yet, the U.S. spends nearly two trillion dollars on health care each year – more per person than any other country. What does all that spending buy? U.S. life expectancy is lower than in at least two dozen countries, including countries that are much poorer than the U.S., such as Spain, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Greece, and Belgium. As for infant mortality rates, 41 countries have better rates than here. Infant mortality rates in Singapore, Sweden, Japan and Iceland are less than half what they are in the U.S.

People like Bush claim the government is bureaucratic, and that is true. But the bureaucracy that has been created to run the private health care system makes the government's bureaucracy look like child's play. Just compare Medicare, which costs about 5% to administer, to private insurance, which takes 25 or 30%.

Or compare the administrative costs of the U.S. health system with that of neighboring Canada, which is a single payer system. In 2003, the private bureaucracy that administers health care in the U.S. was estimated to consume 400 billion dollars, or $1,400 for each person in this country. If the U.S. streamlined its administration to Canadian levels (which themselves are still certainly bureaucratic), it would have saved 300 billion dollars in administrative costs, or about $1,000 per person.

Private health care costs more, not less than government administered health care. The same will be true of a privatized Social Security system. That hardly means "greater freedom from want and fear." It means less. A lot less.

Privatizing Social Security is a huge attack on all fronts      

Feb 7, 2005

Bush has begun the big push for what he calls Social Security "reform," that is, the break-up of traditional Social Security program into individual, personal accounts. In his big sales pitch, Bush claims that allowing people who pay into the system to invest a big chunk of their Social Security savings in corporate stocks and bonds, they can make much more money for retirement.

Never mind that in his State of the Union address, Bush admits that he wants to cut Social Security benefits through a variety of ways, including by "increasing the retirement age," "discouraging early collection of Social Security," and "changing the way benefits are calculated" – as well as by reducing cost-of-living protection. Never mind that the Bush administration aims to slash benefits by more than 40%!

No, the Bush administration insists that this won't be a problem – if his Social Security reforms go through. On the contrary, he says that people will come out ahead and have more money to retire on.

Of course, this is total nonsense, nothing but a promise that people can get something for nothing. Even some Wall Street professionals, in rare moments of candor, point this out. "The entire argument is absurd," said William C. Dudley, the chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs. "These returns aren't free. You are getting these returns precisely because you are taking on risk."

In other words, the only way for people to have a chance to make the big gains that the Bush administration promises is to risk losing a big chunk of their retirement savings. They have a bigger chance they will lose their retirement money.

This is what happened to so many 401(k) and 403(k) individual retirement accounts that were supposed to be a replacement for traditional corporate pension plans. When the bubble collapsed, much of those employees' hard earned savings disappeared. Even today, most of those individual accounts contain less than what people originally had put aside.

That will happen to many, many people if Social Security is privatized.

And that will be just the beginning. Another big chunk of the retirement money in private accounts will be eaten up by administrative costs. The Wall Street financial companies managing the accounts will deduct high fees and commissions for their services – no matter whether the accounts make or lose money. Moreover, the government will also set up an entire new layer of bureaucracy, which will gobble up more money.

Thus, Social Security "reform" will turn a relatively simple and inexpensively run system into a complicated, bureaucratic nightmare, requiring huge amounts of money – also paid out of retirement savings.

Yes, the current Social Security system has enormous shortcomings. People don't get enough money from Social Security as it is now for retirement. But Bush's "reforms" will do nothing but make it worse.

This attack is the first stage of dismantling a system that is a bedrock of income protection (social security) for a big part of the population. It regularly pays out benefits in good times and bad. As opposed to private investment accounts, which run out, Social Security benefits continue for the recipients' entire lives. And, as opposed to even the best traditional private pension plans, it has some inflation protection built in, with annual cost-of-living increases.

If all this is taken away, many more seniors will be forced to work many more years, or live their last years in abject poverty and misery. It will turn the clock back more than 60 years, when senior citizens made up a big proportion of those living below the poverty line.

Working people cannot afford to allow the government, and the capitalists who are behind this attack, to take Social Security away from us. We have an enormous stake in stopping this attack.

Bush uses racist system to justify racist attack on Social Security

Feb 7, 2005

Trying to increase black support for his attacks on social Security, Bush has been pointing out that "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people." Yes, the system is "unfair" – and Bush is one of those whose policies contribute to it.

But let's look at Bush's argument.

Overall life expectancy among black men in the U.S. is 69 years, six years lower than for white males.

By citing this fact, Bush pretends that black workers will live only a few years past retirement age and never collect all the money they put into the system. It's just one more example of how Bush lies with figures.

In reality, a black worker who retires at age 65 can expect to live, on average, to age 79 or 80.

The big reason for the overall 69-year life expectancy is death at an early age: above all, an infant death rate that is 2½ times higher among blacks than among whites in this country. On top of that, black teenagers and young adults die at a higher rate from causes such as AIDS and homicide.

THESE disgusting figures all speak to the much higher rate of poverty among blacks than whites, and much less access to quality health care. They demonstrate the fundamental racism of this society.

These disparities have been reinforced by government policies for years. Does Bush now propose to do anything to alleviate these conditions and actually bring about greater equality? Of course not. Just the opposite, in fact. By what he's saying, he fully expects this inequality to continue for another 40 to 50 years! And many of his policies, like those on health or education, guarantee that this inequality will get worse.

Bush is simply using the life expectancy figure to justify dismantling Social Security – a program that pays out a somewhat higherpercentage of earnings in benefits for lower-income workers than higher-income workers.

Of course, if he gets away with this, the result will be greater impoverishment, misery – and a lower life expectancy for black people, the very ones he is appealing to!

Bush's appeal is nothing but a vile, racist attack masked as a supposed appeal to racial equality.

These crooks had a real sense of humor!

Feb 7, 2005

A Washington state utility company just released tapes made in 2001. A representative of the energy trading company Enron and a representative of a power plant in Las Vegas, Nevada were recorded discussing how to shut down the system by making phony repairs. The Enron employee says: "We want you guys to get a little creative...and come up with a reason to go down. Anything you want to do over there?...Cleaning, anything like that?" The other one replies: "Yeah, yeah. There's some stuff we could be doing."

Later the very same day, the power plant went down and shortages of electricity forced rolling blackouts in northern California that affected about two million customers. Those blackouts were then used to push up electricity rates along the whole West Coast.

When the tape was made public, a spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said, "It's understandable that the folks out West would like to hang Enron from the nearest tree – that's, after all, Western justice." But, he explained, the commission has to move slowly out of respect for due process. "That's what the courts demand," he lectured.

It's touching how sensitive government officials can be about protecting the rights of the rich crooks who ran Enron. And how "insensitive" they were to the enormous ripoff of consumers by all the power companies.

Pages 4-5

Iraqi Elections:
Shades of Viet Nam

Feb 7, 2005

The Bush administration's trumpeting of the elections in Iraq may seem familiar to those who lived through the Viet Nam era.

Twice during that war, the U.S. government trotted out elections for a new South Vietnamese government. Twice, the U.S. president spoke of a new beginning for freedom and democracy.

And both times, it was all a sham, putting back in place the U.S.-backed dictator.

In 1967, with anti-war protest on the rise and an election in the U.S. coming up, Lyndon Johnson wanted something to divert the U.S. population. He pushed for a convention to form a new constitution, and elections to elect a congress and president in September. U.S. officials and other dignitaries paraded through Viet Nam, proclaiming the proceedings to be "democratic" and "fair." Of course, they ignored the fact that any candidates who had advocated peace with North Viet Nam were banned from the ballot!

Nguyen Van Thieu, one of the two generals heading the country, won the election for president with 35% of the vote. He promptly had a number of his opponents arrested.

The U.S. presence in the war continued to grow.

In 1971, it was Richard Nixon's turn. Anti-war protests had really taken hold, including a march of 200,000 on Washington, D.C., with veterans taking a more and more active part. Nixon pretended that the October 1971 Viet Nam election proved that the South Vietnamese were taking charge of their own destiny, and that democracy was being built. Thieu won reelection, after he disqualified his main opponent and another one dropped out of the race. More of his opponents were imprisoned afterwards.

The war continued for another four years. During this time, the U.S. tried to hand the fighting over to an armed force made up of Vietnamese soldiers – who proved very reluctant to fight – while U.S. military "advisors" directed the army and the government. This continued even after the official U.S. pullout in 1973. It finally ended when the U.S. was pushed completely out of the country in 1975, and its puppet government in South Viet Nam fell.

All along, it was never in doubt who really controlled the South Vietnamese government: The United States. It's also clear who was NOT in control: the South Vietnamese people. These elections were basically elaborate shows, aimed at slowing down opposition in this country.

It sounds an awful lot like what we're being told today. And just like then, we know that what we're being told has nothing to do with reality.

The war won't be over until the very last troops are out of Iraq.

Russia:
Retirees take to the street

Feb 7, 2005

During the third week of January, thousands of retirees and war veterans demonstrated in a number of cities across Russia. The largest gathering was in Moscow, with some 10,000 participants. The slogans for these demonstrations were "Putin: worse than Hitler" and "No to the genocide". They were denouncing a series of cutbacks that became effective on January 1, 2005.

These new cutbacks by Putin's government effectively eliminated a system of benefits that the elderly and the veterans have had from the time of the Soviet Union. The aged, the wounded, the veterans and others were partially compensated in the past with virtually free medical care and medicines, free public transportation, reduced rates at sanatoriums or thermal treatment centers and at times reductions in basic phone charges and apartment rents.

Now the ticket controllers of the public transportation systems have been ordered to chase off all the elderly who formerly were accepted for free. On at least one occasion in a town called Tver in the north of Moscow, confrontations and fights broke out as other passengers intervened to stop a controller who started to verbally harass a retiree.

Some of these austerity measures also affect government employees, raising their transportation and lodging costs. Within the army, even a high-ranking general spoke out publicly about the unpopularity of these measures within the military: "Do we really want soldiers taking to the streets (in protest)?"

To attempt to counter-balance the impact of these austerity measures, the federal and regional governments announced new compensation payments for millions of people, supposedly favoring those facing the worst consequences. But the amounts announced are very unequal and in all cases, the sums fall very short of the real needs of the population.

On January 17, in an attempt to diffuse the anger focused on him by the protestors, Putin accused other federal and regional authorities of having failed to adequately explain the reforms to the population. He also proposed to double the sum proposed as compensation for the loss of free transportation and to move the payment date up from the beginning of April to the beginning of March. But that doesn't cover the other losses, most notably the free medicine and virtually free health care system that has been terminated.

The press has cited some examples, like that of a retiree under treatment for cancer, who now needs 6,000 roubles (about 225 dollars) for medicines. But under the new system, he will receive only 200 to 550 roubles (8 to 20 dollars). That is to say, this person is condemned to die. Or as another retire was quoted, "They have added an increase in payments of 200 roubles (8 dollars) to my retirement payment of 1600 roubles (60 dollars), but nothing to cover my diabetes treatments which cost me 700 roubles (25 dollars) a month."

Different opposition parties have come out in support of the retirees. The Communist Party speaks of raising a motion in the parliament (where it has 48 seats) to censor the government of Putin. The Left Nationalist Party (with 39 seats) has called for "the entire government to step down without conditions." But even if such motions to censor are raised in the parliament, they will be out-voted by the majority of representatives who support the attacks that Putin is carrying out against the population.

By taking to the streets in large numbers to denounce these reforms – which will oblige people to choose between food, medicine and transportation – the retirees have taken the only path that can force the authorities to listen and eventually to end these attacks.

What price for a soldier's life?

Feb 7, 2005

Last week, the Bush administration proposed big increases in the military death benefit payment, from $12,420 to $100,000.

"If someone is out there in harm's way, we ought to take care of their families," said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

Take care of their families? As if that was their concern! A young person killed in the war has lost some 60 years more that they could have expected to live. That money won't even begin to keep their families out of poverty for a few years.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld all viewed their own lives as much too valuable to risk going to war when they were young. Now they're joined by the millionaires in Congress in telling today's young generation to sell their lives for $100,000.

Then they send them off to die as cannon fodder.

Iraq:
After the election, the war continues

Feb 7, 2005

When the polls in Iraq closed, Prime Minister Allawi, who was put in office by the U.S., rushed to claim that 67% of eligible Iraqis voted. The Bush administration immediately hailed this as a victory. What did it matter if Allawi's officials admitted that they had no idea how many people voted, since the U.S. had shut down all satellite communications during the election? All the better to make up any figure they wanted!

The few precise figures that were available showed a much different reality. U.S. military authorities themselves admit that participation did not reach even 10% in Ramadi, Falluja and Samarra, three important cities of the "Sunni Triangle." Even Iraqis living abroad didn't turn out to vote. In Great Britain, one of the main places where Iraqis have emigrated, less than 20% of the potential voters used their right. And in Detroit, the biggest concentration of Iraqis in the U.S., only 8% of potential voters turned out. (The press bragged about an 80% turnout, but this was 80% of those people who had registered to vote. And only 10% had registered to vote.)

Bush and others also spoke about the "enthusiasm" for democracy, and the media obligingly showed long lines in front of some polling places. But most American TV ignored statements made by Baghdad residents that officials came through the neighborhoods telling people that unless they voted, they wouldn't get their monthly food rations. (People had to use their food ration cards to vote – which allowed them to be checked on later.)

What Bush and the other western leaders want to pass off as a "step toward democracy" is only a sinister parody, stained with the blood of two years of massacres by the occupation forces – especially the massacre in Falluja less than three months ago. On election day, 39 Iraqis were killed and a hundred others wounded in violent attacks. While the occupying army didn't commit most of these murders, the killings are nevertheless the consequence of their presence. This is not even speaking about the five U.S. soldiers killed that day in attacks, or the dozens of British soldiers who died when their plane was hit by a rocket north of Baghdad.

Bush prattles on about "democracy" over and over again in order to justify his military intervention to an increasingly skeptical public opinion here. But democracy remains an abstraction for the Iraqi people who have to live with the permanent threat of U.S. and British tanks and violent attacks by armed bands while they are deprived of everything. While big U.S. corporations divide up tens of billions of dollars of "reconstruction" money, the life of the Iraqi people remains punctuated by electricity outages and the lack of drinkable water, burst sewer pipes and long lines to get their monthly food rations. Even kerosene, the only available cooking fuel, is constantly running out.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are reduced to living in tent cities, refugees in their own country, due to U.S. and British retaliation bombing.

The "democracy" which Bush is seeking to impose on Iraq is nothing but another word for the increased misery suffered by the Iraqi population.

If we are to remember Auschwitz, then remember everything!

Feb 7, 2005

The following article is a translation from the January 28th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle), the newspaper of the French Trotskyist organization of the same name.

The sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp was marked in much of the media, from the newspapers to magazines to the television. "We must not forget," many proclaimed, so that such a horror can never again be repeated. And it is true, of course, that we must remember. But remember not just the abominable existence of such concentration camps or just the barbarism of the Nazis, but also the reasons that allowed such things to develop.

We are told that Hitler was more or less crazy and that the Nazi leaders were sadistic. But virtually none of those who make such commentaries today explain how and why such crazy and sadistic people found themselves in power in one of the most civilized countries of the world.

The truth is that well before Hitler came to power, the Nazi militias had considerable financial support from a part of the biggest German bosses – such as Krupp and Thyssen – who saw them as an instrument that could be used to attack the German working class. The Nazi militias had recruited thousands of small businessmen who were enraged by the economic crisis that followed the crash of 1929, as well as recruiting those who were at the bottom of the society. The bosses were never very concerned about the morality of the thugs they used.

Hitler came to power in a completely legal fashion. Not because a majority of Germans voted for him (the Nazi Party never had an absolute majority in free elections), but because the president of the German Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, named Hitler the head of the government. Then the right-wing parties gave their support to Hitler in order to carry out a policy to break the powerful organizations of the German working class.

The day after the Nazis came to power, they opened the first concentration camps where – like Pinochet did in Chile – they locked up thousands of militant workers, communists and socialists, unionists – all those who opposed them. Many then faced death either by a single blow or by being worn down into the ground. To operate these concentration camps, special units of the SS were created – in which the most brutal and sadistic types were used, those hungry for the power to appease their fantasies.

But at the time, none of this touched the Allies of the future. Fifteen years after the revolutionary crisis had shaken Europe and resulted in the birth of the Soviet Union, these Allies were not opposed to the Nazi regime that was breaking the organizations of the German working class. For them, Hitler was someone completely respectable. No one moved to oppose Hitler in the beginning. Even when Hitler sent his army to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938-39, calling in question the new division of the world that France and England had imposed on Germany following its defeat in World War I, these future Allies stood by and watched. They share a part of the responsibility for the birth of this regime, which carried out the massacre of millions of Jews who suffered the most horrible part of these crimes, even if they were not the only ones.

The Allies did not discover "anti-Hitlerism" until the German invasion of Poland demonstrated that the Nazis intended to keep expanding.

Something else must be remembered: the possessing class is ready to use the worst torture in order to maintain their privileges. Even if this Nazi regime collapsed in 1945, there are still the Pinochets, the Argentinean generals, the French butchers in Algeria, as well as the sinister methods of the U.S. military today in Iraq. All this reminds us that such barbarism is not just a thing of the past and that it can appear under many symbols other than the swastika.

This barbarism is the fruit of the capitalist system. And the risk of its repetition will disappear only when this system is removed.

Pages 6-7

How to improve water quality?
Don't ask the EPA!

Feb 7, 2005

Late last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency found that 13% of the water supply systems on airliners around the country were contaminated with bacteria. It ordered the airlines to serve bottled water, to clean up their planes and to disinfect the planes' water supply systems regularly.

During November and December, the EPA tested again, only to discover that still more – 17% – planes had contaminated water.

At this rate – if the EPA orders a couple more cleanups – every plane may soon be sprouting bacteria in every glass.

Caterpillar:
Holding retiree health care hostage to take concessions from everyone

Feb 7, 2005

UAW negotiators reached an agreement last month on a new contract with Caterpillar. The contract contains major concessions. It includes an even worse two-tier wage scale than the one Caterpillar workers accepted in 1998. New hires will start at $12.24 per hour compared with $21.79 per hour for older workers. What's worse is they will never reach the full wage scale, as they could under the previous contract. Workers will also give up certain bonuses they received under the previous contract.

This is the third agreement union negotiators have reached with the company. The two previous times, while some local officials were ready to oppose the contract, representatives of the UAW International took a hands-off approach. Both times there was a big vote against the contract.

So in September, Caterpillar upped the ante, suddenly announcing that the fund that it pays into for retiree health benefits was out of money. It unilaterally imposed health care premiums on retirees of $270 per month!

The company then came back with essentially the same contract. This time, the International reps who went to the locals argued there was no choice. If workers did not accept the concessions, it would mean that retirees would have to keep paying high premiums for their health care.

The new contract will not save retiree health benefits. It's true that under the new contract retirees will "only" pay $118 a month in premiums – to start. But because of language in the contract it is estimated that people already retired will pay $332 per month by 2010.

Active workers will also have to pay health care premiums for the first time, $66 per month.

In exchange for supposedly bailing out current retirees – which it really doesn't – this contract drives a wedge between older and younger workers. Who's to say that the next time the company attacks the wages and benefits of older workers and current retirees that the younger workers won't ask, "Where were you when I was under attack?"

If there's anything positive to come out of this contract, it's the fact that the Decatur local voted it down 2 to 1. Given that the overall vote was only 59% in favor, in a vote that is never closely monitored, it shows there are some more workers who are ready to say NO to demands for more concessions.

They are right to say NO. Caterpillar has plenty of money to pay for retiree health benefits. It made a billion dollars a year in profit during the previous six-year contract.

If this major company, which is not even claiming bankruptcy, gets away with these kinds of cuts, we are only a few years away from companies doing away with retiree health benefits altogether. This contract is a warning to every worker who currently has medical benefits on their pension – they're coming for you next!

Tragedy at a Toledo Jeep plant
– "nobody's really surprised."

Feb 7, 2005

On January 26, Myles Meyers killed a supervisor at Chrysler's Toledo (Ohio) North Assembly Jeep Plant. He wounded another supervisor and a team leader, and then killed himself.

Meyers, who had 21 years' seniority, had been given time off the day before for missing ONE job!

Many Jeep workers echoed the sentiment of one who said, "It's sad that it happened, but nobody's really surprised about it."

Workers told reporters of extreme, unreasonable pressures in the plant. Too much forced overtime. Overly strict attendance rules. Constant elimination of jobs, with the work split up and loaded onto already difficult jobs – then discipline for the smallest errors. A worker said, "I love my job, I get paid well, but the crap you have to put up with is unreal." Others echoed him: "It is like trying to squeeze every drop of blood out." "Weekly, speculation comes up about who's going to go – postal stuff. Who's gonna pop?" "Supervisors that try to overstep their bounds." "They need to rethink their policy about how to handle people."

These statements would be understood at any Chrysler plant – in fact, at most big plants in the country. Since 1980, Chrysler, like other companies, has been on a relentless drive to take away whatever advantages workers had won for themselves in prior years. The mandatory 9-hour day gave way to the mandatory 10-hour day. The 16-minute break shrank to 13 minutes. Contractual work standards ceased to be enforced; more and more and more work was demanded of each worker – while job after job was eliminated. Vacation time and personal days off became less and less available. Attendance programs were changed and changed again, each program harsher than the one before.

This tragedy won't change any of that. The corporation simply tosses two bodies aside and puts two more in.

But the frustration expressed in this act shows how far back workers have let themselves be pushed. Meyers' anger, an anger felt by all these workers, can be put into collective action to get these big companies off our backs. We don't need more tragedies like this one.

Oil company profits soar

Feb 7, 2005

The giant oil companies just announced record profits for 2004. Exxon Mobil, the biggest oil company in the world, had after-tax profits of 26 billion dollars last year on its ongoing operations, up 52% from 2003. ChevronTexaco had 13 billion dollars in profits, up 85% from a year ago. And Shell Oil had profits of 19 billion dollars, up 48% from 2003.

That $2 per gallon of gas and those $400 a month heating bills? Right from our pockets to theirs!

Page 8

Los Angeles train crash
– prepared for by cost-cutting

Feb 7, 2005

On the morning of January 26, a train crash near Los Angeles killed 11 people and seriously injured dozens of other passengers. The accident was caused by a car parked on the rails, left there by a 25-year-old man who was apparently suicidal.

Authorities immediately pointed their fingers at this man, Juan Manuel Alvarez, who was not hurt in the crash himself because he ran away before a train hit his car. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley said that he was thinking of using special circumstance charges to seek the death penalty against Alvarez.

Tough words by a politician ... again. But these words can't hide the real problem: California's railway system is just plain unsafe.

First, Alvarez shouldn't have been able to drive his car on the tracks – if the railroad didn't intersect with the street at that location. In the last five years alone, 577 collisions have occurred at such railroad crossings in California. Last summer, federal auditors told California to develop plans for eliminating the most dangerous of its 11,000 railroad-street intersections. At the same time, both federal and state governments cut funding for such projects.

Second, the deaths probably would have been avoided if the commuter train that hit Alvarez's car had been pulled by a locomotive instead of being pushed from the rear.

Railroad companies commonly let the locomotives pull the train in one direction and then push it from behind on the return trip. They thus avoid buying more locomotives or building turnarounds. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen had filed several complaints with Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) showing that this practice created a serious safety risk. A 1996 study by the FRA showed that there would be very severe damage and likely deaths in the front passenger car of a pushed train if it crashed going 30 miles per hour or faster. Yet, federal as well as state officials continued to look the other way as the railroad companies simply ignored all these warnings.

It comes as no surprise that most of the deaths and injuries occurred in the front car which bore the most severe impact in the collision.

To the extent that he was able to judge the consequences of his action, Alvarez may be guilty of reckless behavior. But the real responsibility lies with the company officials who, for decades, have been knowingly running a very unsafe system, and with government officials who have let them get away with it.

We have lost two giants:
Davis and Forman

Feb 7, 2005

On January 10, 76-year-old James Forman, longtime civil rights activist and former organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, died in Washington D.C. And on February 4, newspapers reported the death of writer, actor and social activist Ossie Davis at age 87.

Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis was born in 1917 in rural Georgia under the shadow of Jim Crow segregation enforced by the institutionalized terror of the police and the Klan. He studied writing and acting at Howard University in 1935. When he went to Harlem in the late 1930s, he spoke out against the lynchings of blacks in the South. He also associated with the Communist Party, denounced the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in Europe and joined fights by workers in this country to organize unions. After World War II, he fiercely opposed the rise of McCarthyism. At the risk of his own career, he stood by both Paul Robeson, the singer, actor and intellectual, and W.E.B. DuBois, the writer and founder of the NAACP, when they were hounded and smeared for their memberships in the Communist Party.

Throughout his long career as an actor on screen and stage, an award-winning writer and director of films, Davis used his prominence to continue his political fights on every front. "We always knew that struggle and the arts came as a package," Davis said, speaking of himself and his wife, actress Ruby Dee. Starting in the late 1950s, he was involved in the fight by hospital workers in the New York region to organize a union. In 1963, Davis and Ruby Dee were the hosts of the ceremonies at the March on Washington.

After Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, in the middle of the campaign by the entire establishment to smear Malcolm as a black racist who advocated hate and violence, Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy for Malcolm. He called him "our own shining black prince."

Three years later, after Martin Luther King was assassinated, Davis once again delivered a powerful eulogy, this time in New York's Central Park. Davis called attention to the fact that King was killed in the middle of the Memphis sanitation strike, a fight by black workers to free themselves from the poverty to which this system condemned them.

Davis also was an active opponent of the Viet Nam and Persian Gulf Wars, and served as the co-chairman of Mumia Abu Jamal's defense committee.

James Forman

James Forman, who was 11 years younger than Davis, also grew up in the middle of the Jim Crow South, in Mississippi. After serving four years in the Air Force in the early 1950s, Forman also experienced the "hospitality" of the north as a student at the University of Southern California, when the Los Angeles Police Department arrested him on trumped up charges. They threw him in jail and beat him for three days before releasing him.

During the late 1950s, Forman gradually became involved in the Civil Rights movement. His militancy brought him to the heart of the struggle by tens of thousands who fought in the South in the late 50s and early 1960s.

Even though he was somewhat older, Forman aligned himself with the younger generation and began to look for ways to go beyond the more traditional civil rights leaders, like Martin Luther King and the other black ministers of SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

In 1961, for example, Forman objected to King's involvement in the movement in Albany, Georgia. Forman explained years later, "A strong people's movement was in progress, the people were feeling their own strength grow. I knew how much harm could be done by interjecting the Messiah complex – people would feel that only a particular individual could save them and would not move on their own to fight racism and exploitation."

Forman was an integral part of the political evolution of that younger generation. He helped organize the freedom riders, sit-in protesters and voter registration activists of SNCC. Forman was its executive secretary in its early period. As historian Taylor Branch described him, "To the people scattered down in Mississippi going to jail for tiny projects, he was the one who made sure somebody would get you out."

Forman left SNCC later when Stokely Carmichael and then H. Rap Brown became its heads, but he remained a militant, traveling abroad for the Black Panther Party and writing on revolutionary politics. Like many other militants, he connected the fight against violence and injustice at home with imperialist wars abroad. In 1982, he also helped to organize a new March on Washington.

Perhaps Davis and Forman would not have seen eye to eye politically, or would have had disagreements about what direction was necessary to change the country and the world. But both said the fight against racism was a part of larger social struggles. They saw that fight as a fight against the exploitation and violence of a class society – even if they didn't take a position that openly called for the overthrow of the capitalist system. In a country without a working class party, they stood up as individuals and neither one of them ever stopped fighting.