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. 748 — April 4 - 18, 2005

Capitalist Greed Knows No Limits—Gas Prices Prove It

Apr 4, 2005

With gasoline prices already at record highs, crude oil prices shot up to over $57 per barrel on April 1, a "super-spike" as some commentators called it. The commentators promised us even higher prices at the pump, and the oil companies soon obliged.

We all know by heart the b.s. given to justify these outrageous prices. Blame ourselves, they say, because we drive too much or use too much heat. Blame the people in China and India, they say, because their economies are growing. Blame supply and demand.

Blame everyone except the ones responsible, the oil companies–who are hiking the prices, even while restricting production, that is, supply.

Oil profits tell the story. A handful of oil companies, called the Super Majors, control the international oil market. They dominate oil production, refining and distribution. This lets them set prices. And set them, they do, higher and higher.

Last year, the 10 biggest oil companies made profits of over 100 billion dollars. These profits are so huge, they are more than the economic output of Venezuela, an entire country that is one of the top oil exporters in the world. By itself, Exxon-Mobil, the world’s largest oil company, had over 25 billion dollars in profits–after taxes. BP, the second largest, made over 16 billion dollars.

More than half of their profits went to hike dividends and buy back company stock–in other words, to further enrich wealthy stockholders, as well as top executives. This did not result in new oil fields or other sources of energy.

The oil companies are becoming more disgusting and arrogant. And they are not alone. All the big companies are doing the same thing, in auto, steel, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, aviation, banking and finance.

It has been a long time since the capitalists have had to answer for their greed. It has been a long time since they have had to face the anger and revolt of an important part of the exploited and the oppressed, when a major social movement rose up and challenged the capitalists, when ordinary people imposed their demands on the capitalists.

The capitalists act like they can do and say anything and get away with it. They will continue to do this until the anger of the working population boils over once again.

Pages 2-3

"Science" Centers That Refuse to Teach Science

Apr 4, 2005

A growing number of science center Imax theaters are refusing to show documentaries that mention evolution, the Big Bang or geology.

In doing so, they are bowing to pressure from religious fundamentalists.

Any film that contradicts a literal view of the Bible regarding the origin and descent of life or the age of the planet and the universe is fair game for fundamentalist activists.

One film in particular, "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," was rejected at about a dozen science centers because of brief references to evolution–a well-established, well-accepted scientific theory that has been confirmed over and over and over again in the last 150 years.

Don’t let anyone tell you that evolution is "only a theory." Evolution IS a scientific theory–that is, the most reasonable explanation, supported by vast amounts of scientific research and observation. Many things we take for granted every day are based on what are called theories: that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around; continental drift; relativity; and even electricity. The same is true for evolution. Just as with these other theories, the evidence supporting it is overwhelming.

The number of theaters refusing to show the film is not large; but since only a few dozen Imax theaters routinely show science films, the impact is huge.

These are SCIENCE CENTERS, turning down scientifically accurate films carrying well-accepted scientific theory–because they might be too controversial with some religious groups!

The science centers that buckle to this kind of pressure not only betray their stated missions–to educate the public about science. They’re also betraying the next generations, leaving them with less of a scientific understanding of the world than the generations that have gone before. At a time when the overall scientific understanding is increasing by leaps and bounds, it’s outrageous that so many children will be left so far behind.

It’s the same thing that is happening in the education systems in this country: by bowing to religion in science classes, leaving out mountains of evidence gathered and retested in a careful, methodical way–because it might contradict something compiled in a book thousands of years ago–they are leaving the next generations poorer and less competent to understand the world. It’s a mark of how bankrupt this system is that such a thing could be true.

Tax Time:
Who Pays?

Apr 4, 2005

A recent study showed that between 2001 and 2003, some of the richest corporations in the U.S. paid NOTHING in taxes. The tax breaks can be carried over to other years to reduce the taxes corporations pay as well.

Tax break

9.4 billion

4.6 billion

4.6 billion

4.5 billion

4.2 billion

These figures and many more examples can be found on the web site of Citizens for Tax Justice.

In addition to tax breaks, the tax code is so favorable to corporations that it sends them tax refund checks. In 2001, the Treasury returned 40 billion dollars in tax refunds to corporations. In 2002 and 2003, the checks sent out totaled 63 billion dollars each year.

But tax avoidance and money back to the corporations didn’t begin under Bush. The government’s General Accounting Office found that from 1996 to 2000, under the Clinton administration, three of every five corporations paid NO taxes.

No wonder the share of federal taxes paid by corporations is only $7 for every $100 collected by the IRS today, compared with $28 per $100 in taxes paid by corporations in the 1950s.

This is government of the capitalists, by the capitalists, for the capitalists.

AFL-CIO Leaders Prepare Workers to Accept Social Security Cuts

Apr 4, 2005

AFL-CIO officials announced they had organized mass demonstrations in 70 cities on March 31 against President Bush’s proposal to privatize Social Security. This undoubtedly came as a surprise, not only to union members, but also to almost all local union officers and activists who were not asked to attend these "mass" demonstrations.

The unions should be trying to organize big demonstrations of workers around the country. And they should be fighting against the whole attack on Social Security, starting with the lie that Social Security is in trouble and has to be "fixed."

Social Security is not in "trouble." Even according to Bush administration estimates, Social Security can pay full benefits up to the year 2041–and we know all about how ready the Bush administration is to lie. And full benefits could be paid after 2041 if wealthy people paid Social Security taxes on all their earnings, rather than on just the first $90,000 each year.

Not only that, if the wealthy paid fully, Social Security benefits could be increased for everyone while the age of retirement could be lowered for everyone. Instead of that, the Democrats are pushing the idea that the age of retirement has to be raised further and benefits be cut by changing the cost of living formula.

The unions by focusing only on Bush’s asinine plan to privatize Social Security draw attention away from the real danger–the readiness of both parties to "reform" it away!

Using Terry Schiavo’s Body as Their Pulpit

Apr 4, 2005

The bitter and ugly feud that divided Terry Schiavo’s mother and father, Robert and Mary Schindler on one side, and her husband, Michael, magnified a personal tragedy. Both sides of the family descended into a fight for control and power over the fate of someone who would never regain consciousness.

Unfortunately such bitter family feuds are only too common. It never would have made the news if it hadn’t been for politicians and political operatives who decided to turn Schiavo’s tragedy and the horrible family feud into a national spectacle.

Grist for the political and religious mill

First, the most right-wing, religious fundamentalists, such as the Right to Life Committee and Operation Rescue/ Project America, made the Schindlers a recruitment and fund raising vehicle. In return, they provided the Schindlers with a steady stream of financial gifts as well as logistical expertise and high level contacts in Tallahassee and Washington.

Next came Florida Governor Jeb Bush. In October 2003, just as he was preparing to mobilize the base of Christian fundamentalists in his own re-election bid, he jammed "Terry’s law" through the state legislature. This law gave him, the governor, the power to intervene in the Schiavo case. And intervene he did.

That tied the case up in the courts for almost a year and a half. When the whole Florida court system reviewed the case, at every level it ordered that the state not intervene in the decision about Schiavo’s feeding tube.

Then the national Republican party swung into action. A White House memo that was leaked to ABC News stated, "...the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue." The memo said that Schiavo’s case could be used to help defeat their political rivals, the Democrats. This calculation was then seconded by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who stated, "One thing God has brought us is Terry Schiavo."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is angling to run for president in 2008, tried to use his supposed expertise as a doctor to take center stage. After viewing a videotape of Schiavo, he pretended that as a heart surgeon he knew more about Schiavo’s condition than a number of neurologists who had earlier carried out careful examinations and tests–in person.

On March 21 in a special session, Congress passed a special bill pertaining to Schiavo’s case only, which Bush rushed back from his ranch to sign into law. And Fox News repeated and repeated and repeated discredited claims made by a TV snake oil "doctor," claiming he could "save" Terry.

Population doesn’t take the bait

Most of the population saw through the politicians and recoiled at the spectacle. In a CBS News poll, 82% said Congress and Bush should stay out; 74% said Congress was playing politics with the issue. Those in opposition included even a big chunk of what the Republicans consider their own loyal base–the religious right. According to an ABC News poll, 54% of conservatives said they support removal of the tube, while evangelical Protestants divided about evenly on the issue. Obviously, the idea that politicians would dare intervene in such personal decisions was anathema to most people.

The Republican politicians quickly took stock of their gross miscalculation, and radically toned down their inflammatory rhetoric and posturing. Jeb Bush, who had earlier let it be known that he was ready to use state troopers to forcibly take custody of Terry Schiavo’s body, also backed off. And George Bush slinked off back to the ranch.

The Democrats’ game

Chances are the Republican politicians will not pay much of a price for this. Neither will their policies, especially their deeply reactionary, supposed "right-to-life" agenda, be set back very much.

As usual, their supposed rivals, the Democrats did not lift a finger to oppose or expose the Republicans and their policies. This can be shown by the way the Democrats voted in Congress. In the Senate, the Democrats approved a measure that allowed a voice vote, without a roll call. This allowed the Democratic Senators to avoid taking any position all together. In the House, only 25 Democrats voted against the bill, while 47 Democrats voted with the Republicans, and 102 conveniently stayed away from the vote, that is, did not go on record with any position.

The most visible Democrat to intervene was Jesse Jackson. It was Jackson, who in the last days, showed up arm-in-arm with all the right-to-lifers, Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, and in solidarity with the position of George and Jeb Bush. Obviously Jackson, a leader of the Democratic Party’s supposed progressive wing with ties to both its base in the old civil rights organizations and labor unions, was an unofficial representative of the Democratic Party in its new and energized efforts to slow its own electoral decline by more openly aping the Republican Party’s most reactionary and disgusting stances.

Pushing to fasten reactionary ideas

The Terry Schiavo case is one more attempt by almost the entire political establishment, Democrats and Republicans, to push the most reactionary ideas on the population. Despite their rhetoric of "small" government, these hypocrites want to impose the right of government and religious officials to dictate to the population the most personal and sensitive decisions, such as in the matter of Terry Schiavo. Under the guise of their "right-to-life" stance, they dictate to women what to do with their own bodies, forbidding women from making their own choices over birth control or ending pregnancy. At the same time, these same government officials are slashing the funding for social programs, thereby denying the right of poor children to have proper health care and nutrition.

A big majority of the population may oppose and even abhor the antics of these politicians and self-appointed regulators of our "morality." But that can only be a start. That majority will have to find a way to express ourselves politically–and oppose and confront these reactionary ideas. Otherwise, these politicians and other self-appointed leaders will drag this society backward, toward the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s, during which midwives and nurses were burnt at the stake for daring to care for women in pregnancy or offering primitive means of birth control.

Send all these snake-oil frauds packing!

Pages 4-5

450 Babies Die Every Hour in the World

Apr 4, 2005

Of 130 million babies born each year in the world, four million die in their first month. In the rich countries, the proportion of babies dying so quickly is four per 1000, while in the poor countries it is 33 per 1000, a figure eight times higher. Of those four million newborns, three-quarters of them could be saved by simple methods.

Two-thirds of the newborn deaths came in only ten countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia and Tanzania. They could be prevented if there were facilities and medical supplies that the poor countries don’t have. Newborn babies also die from serious infections, the majority of which could be prevented with sanitary facilities or treated with simple medications. Add to this the 11 million infants who are carried off by epidemics before the age of five years.

Almost three-quarters of the deaths of newborns could be avoided by taking measures costing perhaps four billion dollars a year. And what is four billion compared to the cost of the war led by the U.S. in Iraq?

In Peru:
A Crime against Women

Apr 4, 2005

Since 2001, Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru, has been living in Japan, supported by one of the Japanese mafias, which has a link with the Moon religious sect and the CIA. Fujimori ruled over Peru from 1990 to 2000 as a virtual dictator, imposing a true shock treatment with extreme privatization of government services. What people called the "Fujishock" plunged the poorest people into an even more miserable situation than before. He is also charged with assassinating 24 civilians accused of being members of the Shining Path guerrilla group. But one of Fujimori’s greatest crimes was the forced sterilization of more than 300,000 women and 25,000 men.

They were victims of what Fujimori pompously called a "program of reproductive health and family planning," which he launched in July 1995. "Peruvian women must be the mistresses of their destiny!" the president proclaimed. He said that families with low incomes and low levels of education would now have access to family planning, which the classes with high incomes already enjoyed.

Two months after he launched his "reproductive health" program, he added a "sterilization" section which took on a particularly revolting character.

In order to make sterilization more attractive it was made free. All the government ministers–not only the one in charge of the "Promotion of women" but also the army and police–threw themselves into the campaign. They organized "festivals of Fallopian tubes" in the countryside and in the slums. They praised the modern family with few children. All information was in Spanish, but the women, the majority of whom were Indian, couldn’t read it, either because they were illiterate or only spoke the Indian language Quechua.

In local dispensaries they used food distributions to lure candidates for sterilization. This was irresistible in a country where poverty affects 44% of women, and where 18% of women are in extreme poverty. The campaign was carried on for several months. The World Health Organization (WHO) was full of praise for Peru’s "success" in birth control. So was U.S. AID (the Agency for International Development).

In total, from 1996 to 2000, 331,600 women were sterilized and 25,590 men had vasectomies.

After the departure of Fujimori, the new health minister, who was close to the Catholic church, launched an inquest. His report admitted that "these people were taken in by pressure, blackmail and threats, even by the offer of food, without their being properly informed, which prevented them from making their decision with full knowledge of what was happening." But, repeating the dictums of the church, he refused to grant poor women full freedom of choice concerning birth control and abortion.

Abortion, in fact, remains prohibited. The women of the wealthy areas don’t have to worry about this since they can pay a doctor for an abortion. On the other hand, women of the poor neighborhoods risk death if they have an abortion.

The fact that the principal victims of the sterilization campaign were poor and Indian women didn’t interest the government’s ministers. The poor women of Peru not only don’t have access to a health system equivalent to that of rich women, as Fujimori promised them, but they barely have the right to life and the right to give life.

The World Bank:
In the Service of the Great Powers, with the U.S. In the Lead

Apr 4, 2005

Bush nominated Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of Defense, one of his closest advisors and one of the main architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to be president of the World Bank.

This choice isn’t surprising. It was simply Bush’s way to emphasize that U.S. imperialism is imposing the interests of its capitalists on the rest of the world.

The World Bank presents itself as a multilateral institution, which distributes 20 billion dollars in annual loans to developing countries. It pretends that its purpose is to fight poverty in the poor countries. But this is just as much a lie as pretending that the U.S. intervened in Iraq to free the Iraqi people. In reality, the World Bank is one of those international organisms created to lubricate the machinery of the international capitalist economy, while assuring the domination of the U.S.

The World Bank is global in name only. It may include 184 countries, but the U.S., Japan, Germany, France and Great Britain alone represent just under 40% of the votes on the Board of Directors. And they each have one director, while 23 countries of Central and West Africa together share only one director, who has just over one% of the votes! According to the outgoing President of the Bank, James Wolfensohn, "there has been a convention that the President of the Bank–and there have been nine of them so far–would be nominated by the President of the United States, and not surprisingly has always been an American citizen." Wolfowitz was rapidly made president by the directors of the Bank.

The World Bank was set up after World War II by the U.S. government to loan money to the European states, which were incapable of paying for products produced by U.S. suppliers. It now loans money to the governments of the poor countries so that they can place orders with the corporations of the rich countries.

The World Bank has several parts. Its International Financial Corporation "seeks to bring together investment opportunities, domestic and foreign private capital." Its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency "may guarantee eligible investments against a loss." Finally it includes the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, whose name spells it out. All this clearly indicates that the role of the World Bank isn’t to protect the population of the world against hunger and disease, but to protect investments.

The selection of Wolfowitz is an exact symbol of what the World Bank is.

Some Go Thirsty While Others Make Gold out of Water

Apr 4, 2005

On World Water Day, March 21, the United Nations reported on the situation regarding water in the Third World countries. Two and a half billion people, over a third of the world’s population, do not have access to drinkable water. In 26 countries, the lack of water is a daily worry, and the U.N. projects that this number will double by the year 2050.

For billions of people, water is not the source of life, but rather a potential source of death. More than eight million people, half of them infants, die each year from diseases such as cholera and typhoid, which are transmitted by dirty water. Poor water is also one of the causes of malnutrition given that some 70% of water is used in agriculture. It is even a leading cause of illiteracy, as children who have to go miles each day in search of water have little time for schooling.

The world council on water declared that it is impossible for there to be real economic development without solving the problem of access to water. Everyone agrees, but there has been no action on the question. In fact, between 1997 and 2002, public aid for the provision of water was cut in half, from 2.7 billion dollars to 1.4 billion.

The president of the world council on water criticized companies and governments that finance projects to create an infrastructure for portable phones in the Third World rather than an infrastructure for the delivery of drinkable water. But that is the logic of a system that, in a sea of misery, remains preoccupied with making profits from what it can sell. This system is incapable of meeting the basic needs of people who don’t have money to pay.

Exactions and Crimes against the Population Continue!

Apr 4, 2005

It’s been more than a year since Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced to leave. The political, economic and social situation of Haiti has hardly evolved. The economy runs slower. Unemployment and misery strike the immense majority of the population.

The transition government of Gérard Latortue (put in place with the blessing of the United States, France and Canada) has shown itself unable to reestablish a bare minimum of public services (roads, water purification, electricity, clinics ... ). Insecurity has struck the entire country. Armed bands–whether they be the police, supporters of former president Aristide (the chimPres), former soldiers, hoodlums and drug traffickers or United Nations soldiers–continue to confront each other. Each day, their activities create new victims among the population.

The following excerpts come from articles published in La Voix des Travailleurs (Workers Voice), put out by the Organization of Revolutionary Workers in Haiti.

While pretending to wage war on the gangsters, the police wage it against the poor

The principal victims of the gangsters are the inhabitants of the workers’ neighborhoods like Bel-Air, Solino, Cité-Soleil, Cité de Dieu, etc... At 5 PM each day the residents lock their doors, fearing the armed bandits, often hoodlums, who live in the area. These criminals, in order to do their dirty work, force the people to go home or be the victims of gangsters. They occupy the area with weapons such as knives and hand guns to extort and rape people who have to go out to the city to go to other districts. In the majority of cases, according to the declarations of the residents of the area, they rape the women and beat up the men after having stripped them of all they have. Those who live near the national highway hear the noise of crying women and men trying to escape the hands of the bandits.

The population is caught between two fires: the gangsters who extort from them and the police who rain bullets on them or arrest them while taking them for bandits.

A police spokeswoman, Jessy Cameau Coicou, declared in a press conference that the inhabitants of the workers’ neighborhoods support the actions of the gangsters. Some middle class people even say it more boldly: they want the neighborhoods burnt down to eliminate all the people who are found there. According to them, there are no innocents in these neighborhoods, everyone is a gangster and the fact that they remain in the neighborhood instead of moving proves they sympathize with the gangsters.

These middle class people, as stupid as they are cynical, seem unaware that the people in these neighborhoods are caught in a trap. Of course, the people want to leave these areas, because they are the main victims of the gangsters’ aggression. They would like to lead a human life like the wealthy who live in Pétion-Ville and Péguy-Ville. But how can they? How can they pay for housing in a residential neighborhood that costs 70 gourdes a day? (The average income is less than half that much.) What about those who don’t even have a wage, because they don’t have a job?

Not only did Jessy Cameau Coicou make declarations. She demanded that the police take action. In Cité de Dieu, on Friday, January 13, around 2 PM, they did. The police killed two youths. One of them was a student, the other a 14-year-old youth.

This student died, because a cop demanded he lie down and he asked for the reason. The police took the student’s body and demanded $600 from his relatives before they returned it. The relatives gave $600 to these police who double as assassins and body traders. This fact shocked several small merchants of the area and other people in the workers’ neighborhoods.

According to the relatives of the victim, his father died some years ago and his mother is a street vendor who lives from her resourcefulness selling bread to educate her son.

That evening, the police spokeswoman claimed the police had killed two bandits in Cité de Dieu. These are the two bandits, these young innocents that we just cited.

The police know the gangsters very well. They speak on the radio stations. They launch declarations of war publicly. The police feel so powerless to confront these bands of gangsters that they beg the journalists of the radio station Mega-Star to stop letting them speak. It’s easier for the police to kill disarmed innocents, while pretending it’s a question of bandits, rather than confront the armed bandits themselves.

Pages 6-7

Oil Explosion in Texas Kills 15

Apr 4, 2005

On March 23, a tremendous explosion at the BP oil refinery in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 workers and injured more than 100, many of them seriously. The section of the refinery used to boost octane had been shut down for two weeks in a "turnaround" to change the catalyst and was being brought back on stream when the explosion occurred. Most major accidents at refineries happen during turnarounds when operations are changing.

Before the smoke had cleared, the price of oil went up in reaction to the explosion, even though only the one section was destroyed, and the company kept the rest of the massive refinery operating. But that didn’t matter to speculators who saw a chance to profit from the tragedy.

Even though the exact cause of the explosion has still not been confirmed, witnesses saw a contractor’s diesel truck idling at the bottom of the unit. The engine began to rev loudly as flammable gas entered its air intake, but the driver was unable to shut off the engine, which may have ignited the explosion.

The 15 workers who died were employed by an outside contractor, hired to carry out the "turnaround." Ordinarily, contract workers know less about a work site than regular workers, since they are not there all the time. This is particularly serious in the case of a refinery, which can offer multiple dangers.

And this was a very dangerous refinery. The very day of the explosion, the company was in court about a worker who had been killed in a September 2004 accident. He and another worker were burned to death by superheated water. The company was fined $109,500 for "serious" violations of OSHA standards. The company was still contesting that fine on March 23 when the 15 were killed.

The company was also fined $63,000 in March 2004 for another explosion. The fine was for 14 serious safety violations. The company appealed, so OSHA reduced that fine to $13,000.

BP has no lack of money with which it could make conditions safe. Last February it announced that its profits after taxes were 16 billion dollars, its highest ever. Instead of devoting that 16 billion dollars to upgrading safety at facilities with bad records, the company announced that it hoped to pay out 23 billion dollars in dividends and stock buyouts this year and next.

The oil companies obviously don’t worry about being penalized for putting their workers and the population around the refineries in danger. They know the State of Texas won’t charge them with murder. And OSHA has shown repeatedly that it will protect company profits, imposing only disgustingly low fines.

Fifteen workers have just died, and more will die in the future, if the workers leave these companies to pursue business as usual and depend on OSHA to monitor safety.

Bosses Use Immigrants to Divide Workers

Apr 4, 2005

Wal-Mart made the news last month because some of its cleaning contractors had hired illegal immigrants. More than 200 immigrants were arrested and some were deported. Wal-Mart and the cleaning contractors paid fines. The eleven million dollar fine Wal-Mart paid is small change to a corporation that sells three times that much every hour. The fine certainly didn’t go to the immigrants who were underpaid and misused, nor to the rest of the Wal-Mart workers. Because the government did not intervene against Wal-Mart in the interests of workers there, immigrant or native born.

Cleaning contractors are not the only companies that hire immigrant laborers, some of whom are illegal. The meat-packing industry today and big agriculture depend on a high% of immigrants to do these difficult and often poorly paid jobs.

In fact, the U.S. bosses have promoted immigration whenever there was a labor shortage. In the 19th century, immigrant labor built the country’s railroads, bridges, and tunnels. In later decades, immigrants worked in auto, steel, textiles and food processing.

The bosses, then and now, did not care whether these workers were legal or illegal. What the bosses wanted were workers who had to put up with low wages and difficult working conditions.

Workers have made gains only in those time periods when they challenged the bosses and the divisions the bosses imposed on the working class. In the 1880s, workers, both native-born and immigrant, fought to change the 10 and 12-hour work day into the 8-hour work day (which has not been reduced further and is still often not respected). In the 1920s and 1930s, workers made enormous fights for union recognition. This upsurge led to a range of social improvements, one of which was Social Security.

In every fight, the bosses and their stooges tried to divide workers–native-born versus immigrant, black versus white. But the fights that succeeded were the ones in which the workers found the way to overcome the divisions inside their own ranks.

It will take new fights in the 21st century–not divided over the question of immigration–before we will see any improvement in wages, working conditions or job opportunities.

Page 8

Iraq’s Workers under Attack from All Sides

Apr 4, 2005

On February 24, armed men gunned down a union activist in the Transportation and Communications Workers Union in a public square in Baghdad. This is just one of the attacks that have been made on the Iraqi workers’ movement.

To mention just a few more of these attacks: Last November 3, four union railroad workers were killed and their bodies mutilated. Two more train engineers were kidnaped and five other workers beaten on December 25. The next day in Baghdad, the headquarters of the Transport and Communications Workers Union was attacked with mortars. On January 4, the head of the largest Iraqi union federation was tortured and killed in his home in Baghdad. The method of his execution–he was strangled to death with his eyes blindfolded and hands tied with metal wire–was the preferred method of the "experts" of the Saddam regime. On January 5, the bodies of 18 murdered workers were discovered in the northern city of Mosul. On January 27, the leader of the Mechanics, Metalworkers and Print Workers Union was beaten and briefly kidnaped. On February 11, a union federation leader in Mosul was abducted. On February 18, a leader of a Baghdad oil refinery union was murdered in front of his family.

Most of these attacks were probably carried out by Ba’athist insurgent forces, or Shiite or Kurdish militias. But some have been carried out by mercenary soldiers hired by KBR and other U.S. contractors working in Iraq, or by U.S. and British occupation troops. All of these forces have made their hostility toward the workers’ organizing well known.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, U.S. and British occupation forces left his regime’s repressive anti-union laws in place. Under Saddam, no unions independent of government control were tolerated and workers employed in the large public sector could not legally form or join a union.

Despite the continued repression of unions under occupation forces, workers in many industries began to organize independently of the old government-controlled unions. Protests for higher pay took place. Within months, 12 new national unions were formed, along with trade union councils in 11 cities. In May of last year, a new national union federation was organized.

This growth in union activity was answered by the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority). Among other things, after taking over as the head of the CPA, Paul Bremer froze virtually all unions’ funds last May. On June 6, the Authority decreed that anyone who "incites civil disorder" would be detained as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention, and it was made clear this could apply to strikes.

On November 23, two union leaders were arrested and detained for 24 hours by occupation authorities. On December 6, ten armored personnel carriers surrounded the headquarters of one of the Iraqi union federations in Baghdad. U.S. troops stormed in, broke the windows, took records, detained eight activists overnight, and forced the unionists to abandon the building.

Despite this, by the end of last year, the new union federation claimed to have 200,000 members, more than 400 workers’ committees and 3,500 activists. It claimed some victories in defending workers’ rights and negotiating some pay increases.

Ba’athist, Shiite and Kurdish forces, plus the joint U.S.-British occupation force, may differ with each other over which group of religious or ethnic leaders should control Iraq. But they are all hostile to the working class. The Iraqi workers can’t rest their hopes on any of them. They have to organize themselves independently to defend their own class interests against anyone and everyone who would oppress them.

A Glimpse into Iraq’s Future

Apr 4, 2005

On March 29, the Iraqi parliament’s second meeting ended in chaos after hours of shouting, finger pointing and walkouts by leaders of different ethnic and religious groups. Two months after its election, those elected have still not formed a government. That gives an idea of what’s in store for Iraq.

So do recent events in Afghanistan. After its presidential election last October, the country was said to be well on its way to democracy.

Never mind the fact that the election itself was a farce, with different warring groups controlling the polling–and the election results–in different areas of the country. After it took several weeks for all the ballots to be gathered, it still took several more weeks for the counting to finish. Not surprisingly, U.S. favorite Hamid Karzai won easily.

That election was supposed to be only the beginning. But Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place last year, were first delayed until sometime early this year. Last month, Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced that the election was delayed once again and would not be held until some time in the fall, maybe September.

These delays are acknowledgments of the reality in Afghanistan: it was one thing to rig elections and anoint a president. But that president has no real power and his government has no influence or control anywhere other than in the capital city of Kabul, where he’s propped up by the continued presence of over 17,000 U.S. troops. With so much fighting continuing between different groups of warlords, the government can’t even decide how many parliamentary seats each region of the country will have to vote on!

In the meantime, bombings and killings continue. During Rice’s trip last month, five people were killed and at least 32 were injured by one bomb in the city of Kandahar. A very real war still continues in the country, over three years after it began, with no end in sight.

It’s much the same situation in Iraq. This newly elected interim parliament, which is supposed to be drafting a constitution, can’t even choose who will hold its top leadership posts without flying apart. The main groups of Shiites and Kurds who make up the parliament each want control over parts of the country the other doesn’t want to cede. And both are looking over their shoulders at the Sunnis who aren’t really represented in the parliament.

Just as in Afghanistan, this "government" has no real power. The only thing that keeps it from crumbling is the continued presence of 150,000 U.S. troops–which, we are now told, will need to stay at least until the next round of elections, after the constitution is drawn up and parliamentary elections are held. And in Iraq, too, there is already talk that the elections will have to be delayed.

This is the "democracy" the U.S. claims to have brought to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Dead Wrong":
The War in Iraq

Apr 4, 2005

"Dead wrong." That’s what the latest presidential commission concluded: U.S. intelligence services got it "dead wrong" about Iraq’s supposed "weapons of mass destruction."

Yes, they were wrong–and tens of thousands of people are dead, Iraqi and U.S. both.

Did the commission recommend removing the whole government–which pushed for "dead wrong" information to whip up a frenzy for war? Did it recommend citing every Republican and Democrat who voted for the war, knowing it was based on lies?

Of course not. Because the role of the intelligence services, just like this commission itself, was to provide an excuse for this war.

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