The Spark

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

Issue no. 756 — August 15 - 29, 2005

Don't let companies scam us with the threat of bankruptcy!

Aug 15, 2005

Delphi is threatening bankruptcy if it doesn't get the concessions it wants out of its workers. Northwest is threatening a lock-out and then bankruptcy if it doesn't get a 25% wage cut from its mechanics. Delta Airlines is talking about bankruptcy if it doesn't get its way. US Airways already declared bankruptcy in 2002, followed a few months later by United Airlines.

Not to mention the steel industry. In the six years running from 1998 through 2003, 44 steel companies declared bankruptcy, including Bethlehem Steel, the second biggest integrated steel company in the country – as well as Weirton, LTV, National Steel, Wheeling-Pitt and Republic.

Then there was Kmart, WorldCom and Federal Mogul, only a few of the other big "bankrupt" companies still making money.

Hardly any of these bankruptcies led to the closure of the companies involved. No, they continued in business, in one way or another – either under their old name, or as part of a merged company, or under a new name. And most of them quickly began to show big profits.

Today the steel industry includes some of the most profitable companies in the country – built out of the ones that declared bankruptcy. Moreover, the executives involved made out like bandits. W.L. Ross, a Wall Street banker who bought up a number of these companies only to sell them off a couple years later, made a tidy four billion dollars from his speculative venture.

Or look at Kmart – not only did it continue in business, it came up with enough money to buy Sears, which was bigger than Kmart.

Or check out the money paid to executives at these companies. United's CEO, for example, made 6.5 million dollars compensation in the first two years of United's bankruptcy. In addition, he got a 4.5 million-dollar trust for his retirement, money that couldn't be touched by anyone but him, no matter how many times United declared bankruptcy. Or look at two of the big honchos at Northwest, who just cleared 43 million dollars by selling stock given to them by the company.

No, these bankruptcies are not the old-fashioned kind, spelling the end of a company going out of business. These bankruptcies are simply the newest way of doing business, aimed at making still greater profits for the companies involved, as well as tremendous income for the executives.

And oh, yes, they are aimed at one other thing: dumping contract protections and gains negotiated by unions that had once been some of the strongest in the country.

Across the board, retirees at these "bankrupt" companies lost their medical benefits. Most pensions, which were handed over to a government agency, were reduced or even eliminated. Active workers found themselves saddled with new premiums and large co-pays on medical care. Wages were cut – almost 25% at United, for example. In most steel plants, income was cut 15% – assuming that workers got the biggest possible profit-sharing and incentive bonuses allowed for. If bonuses don't pan out, the wage cut is even worse. Job classifications were eliminated, seniority rights done away with. And jobs were cut wholesale: United has already cut 40% of its jobs, and it continues to cut more. The whole steel industry has lost 41,000 jobs since the bankruptcy scam began. Holidays and vacations were reduced or eliminated.

It's a scam, a dirty filthy scam. Every one of these companies produced account books to show they were losing money – tons of it. And every one of them was a liar.

These "bankruptcy" attacks aren't about losing money – they're about making still more stupendous profits for the whole capitalist class.

The biggest companies in the country are coming after their workers simply because they think they can get away with it. They have been pushing the working class back for so long, they think there is no resistance left in any part of the working class.

Well, they are surely wrong. Workers are angry. We all feel it.

Maybe most top union leaders say there is nothing workers can do to stop the onslaught. Many even say that workers should give up concessions in order to stave off bankruptcy.

But there still are some local union leaders ready to lead a fight. And there are certainly rank and file activists, unionized or not, who want to make a fight.

The working class needs more such people. They can lead the way out of this morass the working class is stuck in today.

Pages 2-3

"Not enough oil" say the oil companies, laughing all the way to the bank!

Aug 15, 2005

Almost in unison, the oil companies present the same reason for why gasoline prices have been skyrocketing. They claim the world is running out of oil. One advertisement from Exxon Mobil says, "The world faces enormous energy challenges. There are no easy answers." Chevron, the U.S.'s second-largest energy group, went even further, calling for help and ideas from oil industry critics about how to deal with the so-called energy shortage. "One thing is clear: The era of easy oil is over. We call upon scientists and educators, politicians and policy-makers, environmentalists, leaders of industry and each one of you to be part of reshaping the next era of energy. Inaction is not an option."Of course, behind this campaign, the oil companies, news media and government officials trot out the usual villains, especially the OPEC countries, which supposedly have a vice grip on the dwindling oil supplies.

There's only one problem with this story: it's not true. The world is not running out of oil, and there is no oil shortage.

On the contrary, production is rapidly increasing worldwide. As Daniel Yergin, a prominent oil energy consultant, author and government advisor wrote in the Washington Post on July 31, "between 2004 and 2010, capacity to produce oil... could grow by 16 million barrels a day – from 85 million barrels per day to 101 million barrels per day – a 20% increase."The high price of crude oil is not due to any real shortage. Instead the price of crude oil is being driven up by oil speculators, among whom are the big oil companies themselves, as well as enormous investment funds run for the capitalist class, like hedge funds, which are calculating that the few oil companies that dominate the international oil market will be able to keep driving up oil prices.

That is not to say that there is no real shortage in this country. However, the real shortage is not in crude oil, but in gasoline, heating oil and other products from crude oil, after it is refined and processed. The reason for this shortage is not lack of crude, but the policy of the oil companies, most of which are based right here in the U.S.

No oil company has built a major new refining facility in the U.S. since 1976, that is, in nearly 30 years. Instead, they have all systematically closed them. In 1980, there were over 300 refineries here. By 2004, there were only 149, a drop of more than 50%. So, the refining industry, which used as little as 70% of its capacity as recently as the early 1980s, in recent years has reached as much as 97% of capacity. Refineries in the U.S. have been operating at full steam, since some capacity is always down for maintenance or retooling. This puts the oil companies in a much better position to use any little excuse to boost prices – if a single pipeline bursts, or there is a refinery accident, or if a winter is a bit colder than usual, or if people drive a bit more during the summer. The oil companies even immediately raise prices on gasoline, hours after the news of a price hike in crude oil – even if the gasoline they are selling was made from crude that cost a lot less.

This, of course, is no secret. At an energy conference in Houston in February, according to the June 27 Kansas City Star, Edward Galante, a senior vice president of ExxonMobil admitted it. "In tighter markets, one can expect higher margins," Galante said.

In other words, just as during the fake energy crises of the early 1970s and early 1980s, a handful of oil companies that dominate the world market are claiming oil shortages as an excuse to boost prices. The result has been ever more spectacular profits. Last year, the top 10 international oil companies made profits of more than 100 billion dollars. The profits of the biggest oil company, Exxon-Mobil, hit 25 billion dollars, a record for any publicly traded company. And this year is even worse – with big oil company profits running at levels that are one-third higher still. Of course, oil company profits are shared with the rest of the capitalist class in the form of ever higher stock prices, dividends and even Board salaries. It's why the other companies don't complain much.

No, there is no shortage – especially when it comes to the growth of oil industry profits, and the increasing wealth of the capitalist class which it serves.

The latest traffic jam is brought to us by Exxon Mobil

Aug 15, 2005

News commentators tell us we're driving more – despite higher gas prices. As if it is our fault that gasoline prices are so high: we won't give up our supposedly "selfish" driving habits!

What nonsense! Most of us have to fight our way through traffic every day to get to work or school. We have no other choice. In most metropolitan areas, there is no mass transit system. Or it is woefully inadequate, with not nearly enough routes and schedules and frequency to cover the real needs of the population. Neither do we have any other way besides the car nor an expensive plane ride to travel between cities and regions of the country. As a result, on Interstates in the middle of nowhere, there are more and more absolutely ridiculous traffic jams stretching forever.

This whole rotten situation has been brought to us by those friendly sounding oil and auto companies, that throughout the last half century have systematically opposed mass transit systems of all sorts, even dismantling them in cities like Detroit and Los Angeles after they were built. This is because for these companies, the more people drive, the more money they make. For them, every traffic jam is simply a profit-maker.

These companies advertise incessantly about the "freedom" to drive – and sure, sometimes driving does make sense. But all too often, what we need is to be liberated from the enslavement and the enormous waste of time, money and pollution that comes from being stuck in the car. But that will only come when people begin to fight to organize society around our own collective needs, instead of the drive for profit by a few gargantuan companies.

Replacing science with religion
– returning to the 1800s

Aug 15, 2005

The Kansas State Board Of Education voted August 9th to teach "intelligent design" along with evolution in Kansas science classes. If the final vote this fall confirms this decision, Kansas will join three other states in teaching religion in place of science.

President Bush endorsed the views of these reactionary board members, saying to reporters that he "felt like both sides ought to be properly taught." This sentiment is in line with what religious fundamentalists say about evolution: that it is only a theory. Yes, it is a theory – the ONLY theory that explains life on the planet and how it has changed in the four and a half billion years of the earth's existence.

Evolution is a theory in the sense that scientists call all scientific explanations "theories." "Theory" in science means a set of ideas that has actually been confirmed, above and beyond doubt, by observation, experiment and application. For example, electricity is explained based on the motion of tiny charged particles called electrons, which we have no way of seeing. But how can anyone deny that what scientists know about electrons must be true, when one can just look around and see this "theory" at work literally thousands of times a day? Inventors and engineers have used this idea, this "theory," to radically change our lifestyles and the face of the earth in the past century and a half. Without this theory, there would be no computers, no cars, no washing machines, no air conditioning.

In the same way, evolution and its mechanisms have been confirmed by observation, experiment and application. Evolution is the theory by which humans can understand the development of all living things, starting from the first life on this planet 3.85 billion years ago – which were bacteria – up to today, with the multitude of living things around us.

Too bad for the children of Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and New Mexico. They will be prevented from understanding the way the world works, if this board majority has its way. They will be prevented from really understanding what scientists have been learning for the last 150 years, even before Darwin published Origin of Species. These children will be denied the means to develop a scientific approach to the world they live in.

In fact, if Bush and his supporters fully have their way, they would prevent the next generation from contributing to scientific research, from finding the next treatments in medicine. Only by understanding how life evolved could scientists come up with vaccines against viruses and antibiotics against bacterial infections.

With attitudes like those of the president, we would all still die in our 40s, like our great grandparents did. With attitudes like the president's, doctors would still hand out alcohol-based "tonics" to pretend to cure sicknesses. Without real scientific knowledge, humans would continue to die in epidemics of smallpox or malaria. Less than 100 years ago, a flu epidemic during 1918 and 1919 wiped out at least 25 million people worldwide.

Let Bush and his fellow-thinkers stop going to their doctors and start praying for cures. Let them return to the days of untreated water filled with sewage. Let the rest of us go forward.

The pension fund racket

Aug 15, 2005

The workers at United Airlines now face enormous pension benefit cuts after their pension funds were looted.

United took one billion dollars out of the pension funds when it bought up overseas routes of Pan Am Airways – and never paid it back. United paid 30 Wall Street companies to run the funds. These companies treated the pension funds like their own piggy bank, using the money to buy up junk bonds, dot-com companies and an Albanian energy venture. When the investments went bust, the pension fund lost huge amounts of money. And the Wall Street companies made off with 125 million dollars from the funds.

The capitalists cannot be trusted with the workers' money – ever. The workers' only security is in our own solidarity and willingness to fight.

Los Angeles:
Proposals to further dismantle King/Drew hospital

Aug 15, 2005

Los Angeles County officials talk a lot about "saving" the King/Drew hospital near Watts these days – while they are busy dismantling it piece by piece!

Now the county health director Thomas Garthwaite is proposing to close King/Drew's obstetrics, neonatal and pediatrics wards – those parts of the hospital that provide birth and children's services.

The excuses are the usual ones – that the hospital is running over budget, and that the number of patients treated in these wards has dropped recently.

Running over budget? What a surprise, given that Garthwaite himself, with the backing of the county supervisors, handed a 15-million-dollar contract to an outside consulting firm last year to "oversee" the hospital – in addition to all the other juicy deals awarded to countless "consultants" and contractors!

Number of patients going down? Another big surprise, given the horror stories about the lack of quality of care at King/Drew, given the endless articles in the Los Angeles Times about how King/Drew kills patients!

There is no doubt that the quality of care needs to improve at King/Drew. But is that really what Garthwaite and the supervisors are worried about? If so, why did they close King/Drew's trauma center, one part of the hospital which had consistently gained praise for the good job it did?

And what was their excuse for closing 11 of the county's 18 clinics three years ago? Then again, the supervisors claimed there was no money – until it was revealed that the county's health department ran a 200 million-dollar surplus that year!

The supervisors will vote on Garthwaite's proposal on August 16. Don't hold your breath. Two of the supervisors have already said that they will vote for the closures. And none of the other three has said that he or she will vote against.

It's true that King/Drew, a hospital that was born out of the Watts Rebellion 40 years ago, a hospital that has been serving a poor, working-class community, needs to be saved. It needs to be saved from these bourgeois politicians and their rapacious capitalist buddies, who are after every penny of taxpayer money they can put their hands on.

Pages 4-5

Set up on the basis of racism and state terrorism

Aug 15, 2005

On Thursday, August 4, in Shefaram, an Arab town in the north of Israel, an 18-year-old Jewish soldier got on a bus and opened fire, killing the driver, two students and a 55-year-old man, all Arabs, before being beaten to death by the people on the bus.

This terrorist, a sympathizer of the religious far right, deserted with his weapon to protest the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. His worried family several times contacted the army, telling them where he was and asking that his weapon be taken away from him. In vain.

This anti-Arab terrorist attack, which is only the latest of a long series of similar attacks, roused the indignation of the Arab population of Israel. A strike appeal was launched. More than 20,000 people came out for the funeral of the four victims.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, along with several members of his administration, immediately condemned the terrorist attack and demanded a "priority investigation" by the intelligence service. Sharon called the shooting "a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens."This could not hide what Sharon himself has done – his anti-Arab provocations in Jerusalem in 2000 which ignited the second Intifada, or uprising, and his continued policy of putting Jewish settlers into the West Bank and annexing Arab land.

In the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank – at multiple check points on the border and at all the internal borders – the army, the intelligence service, religious extremists and even ordinary settlers assassinate Palestinian Arabs.

But Sharon's hypocritical words did reveal something about the tinder box Israel itself has become. Arabs living inside Israel – unlike Palestinian Arabs living in the occupied territories – are Israeli citizens. They may be second class citizens, suffering higher unemployment, poverty, and the lack of infrastructure as well as all sorts of discrimination. And there is a disgusting and constant anti-Arab atmosphere, which reinforces discriminatory laws and regulations. Nonetheless, the police, the army and the intelligence service try to avoid taking on Israeli Arabs too openly inside of Israel proper.

Sharon's rush to denounce the attack his policies provoked shows that the Israeli government wants at all cost to avoid movements of revolt and riots inside Israel itself.

Israel to end settlements, but not occupation of Gaza Strip

Aug 15, 2005

On August 15, the Israeli army will begin to evict the 8,500 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. Of course, in the U.S., this is being pictured by the U.S. news media and political establishment as a very big step taken by the Israeli government in the peace process.

But the reality is very different. The Israeli government is withdrawing this relatively small number of settlers in order to make it easier to police and control the 1.3 million Palestinians, who for more than half a century have been forced to live under the most appalling conditions. The Palestinians in Gaza have lived in a kind of stateless limbo, stuck in refugee camps and almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. They are crowded into a territory which is 25 miles long and about 7 miles wide at its widest point, and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It is also one of the poorest, ravaged by unemployment for 80% of the working population, malnutrition and rampant disease, where raw sewage flows freely down the streets.

Starting in the 1970s, the Israeli government had encouraged Israelis to settle in a section of this tiny territory, in order to eventually annex it into Israel. But the Israeli settlements always remained besieged, tiny islands amidst a sea of misery. The Israeli government tried to attract settlers with heavy financial subsidies and incentives, including relatively spacious homes with gardens, grocery stores and beach access. But who, besides a relatively few fanatics, would want to live surrounded by 1.3 million angry people for whom these settlements could only be a red flag? Who would want to bring their children into settlements that resembled upscale prison camps, with their barbed wire, watchtowers and heavily armed guards?

In 2003, the Israeli government and its U.S. backers decided that these small settlements had become just too expensive to maintain, in troops and resources. "The presence in Gaza with everything it entails, the price we are paying, had to end," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told an Israeli newspaper on the eve of the pullout.

Of course, Israel's pullout from Gaza will not end the occupation. The Israeli military has reserved the right to invade at any time. At the same time, it has already created an almost impenetrable barrier around the territory that will soon include the completion of a high-tech wall, with plans to slowly choke off the flow of Palestinian workers – already reduced to a trickle – into Israel. Finally, there will be no link between the Gaza Strip and Palestinians living in the West Bank, which has also been occupied by Israel. The Gaza Strip will be more and more turned into a kind of reservation, Bantustan or concentration camp.

The Israeli government will also continue its plans to beef up the settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank that are already home to half a million Jewish settlers. This includes continuing to enclose the main settlement blocks in the famous fence which also cuts up the small West Bank into tiny Palestinian enclaves, surrounding them too by walls, barbed wire and Israeli armed guards.

Today, a sizeable part of the Israeli settler population, especially among the settler youth, remain energetically opposed to the Gaza pullout. This just shows how much the Israeli settlers have embraced their role in the oppression of the Palestinians through violence of all sorts. This dehumanization of a sector of the Israeli population, too, is a fruit of the Israeli occupation.

Saudi Arabia:
The smell of petro-dollars

Aug 15, 2005

Bush sent condolences to the Saud royal family upon the death of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Cheney went to the funeral. It is hardly surprising since the reactionary Saud dynasty is one of the chief defenders of U.S. imperialist interests in the Middle East.

This monarchy was established by Ibn Saud, essentially a local warlord in the region in 1932 when the British were beginning to exploit the oil there. Ever since, he and his descendants have ruled the country as an absolute monarchy. Saudi oil has never benefitted the population nor have the profits made on oil gone back into building up the country. Instead 7,000 Saud family members live the life of luxury from a small part of the profits made on this oil. The bulk of the money goes into imperialism's multi-national corporations and financial institutions.

Such wealth in a poor region of the world can only be kept in place by vicious repression. The regime applies torture and the death penalty on a grand scale. Amputations of limbs and whippings are common. The press is heavily controlled; all opposition in savagely repressed. Twenty% of the Saudi budget is devoted to military expenses, much to the profit of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.

It has taken the Saudi regime until this year to hold an election – and even then it was only for city governments. But the majority couldn't vote! Women were not allowed to vote, nor were the huge numbers of immigrants who make up most of the work force of the country.

Another very effective method of repression is the imposition of Sharia, the Islamic law. From the beginning, Saudi Arabia was the main home of Wahabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam. The religious police are everywhere to enforce their rules. Women are deprived of any rights, unable even to go out without a male relative escorting them, or to drive a car. Women were not even allowed to go to school until 1960. That was also the year slavery was abolished in Saudi Arabia – but only on paper! It still exists for many immigrant families in Saudi Arabia.

Shakespeare has the murderous Lady Macbeth say about the blood on her hand, "all the perfumes of Arabia can't sweeten this little hand." Today's perfume of Saudi Arabia has the stink of oil. And all the world's imperialists love the smell, as Cheney and Bush could certainly testify.

Great Britain:
Blair and his "war against terrorism"

Aug 15, 2005

The British government hoped to use the victims of the July 7 attacks in London to solidify public opinion behind Blair's policy of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the events seemed to have had the opposite result, confirming what many English people already thought. These wars carried out by Bush and Blair in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to spawn a larger pool of desperate and angry people, from which more terrorist actions can spring.

And what the British government did inside London caused a big reaction in the population. There was shock over the killing of the Brazilian electrician – who turned out to be a completely innocent young man. And the deployment of heavily armed police throughout the London transport system seemed to turn the city into a war zone, without bringing Blair any additional support for his "war against terrorism."What Blair wanted was to create an atmosphere which demanded a kind of patriotic unity, in order to push through a series of new repressive laws he proposed. Blair wants to allow the police to hold someone without charges for up to four months, instead of the current 14 days. Blair proposes to change the laws to make it easier to expel those considered "undesirable" from the country. An immigrant could be expelled for the use of certain Internet sites or for going to bookstores connected to groups the British government calls "extremist." British citizens would also be subjected to stricter controls.

It's obvious that such laws do little to stop terrorists, since governments around the world have already de facto been carrying out such measures under "emergency" powers. But once such repressive laws are in place, they can also be used against combative English workers.

There is little chance of Blair convincing much of the British population to support the continued presence of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why would they think it worthwhile to risk the lives of British troops, much less support the imposition of police-state tactics at home?

The ravages of hurricane Dennis made worse by the ravages of gangsters

Aug 15, 2005

The following article is translated from the newspaper Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight), published by the revolutionary workers organization of that name active in Guadaloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean.

Hurricane Dennis ravaged the south of Haiti on July 6th and 7th. Preliminary reports said 11 people were dead, 20 wounded and 15,000 left without necessities. Two hundred fifty homes were destroyed or damaged.

In Grand-Goâve six people were killed when a bridge collapsed and 25 houses were destroyed. Seven-hundred fifty others were disaster victims. The region of Grande-Anse was also seriously affected. Beaumont, a town in Grande Anse, remains isolated because of numerous mud slides and floods. In the south, rivers overflowed their banks, tearing up trees, pulling up electric poles and ruining farmers' fields. Some homes along the southern coast were flooded by sea waters. And more than a hundred people cannot be accounted for.

But what aid will the authorities provide? We can see from the example of Tropical Storm Jeanne in September 2004. That storm left 3,000 dead or disappeared, as well as thousands of additional victims. The regions of the north of Haiti and particularly the city of GonaVves are still in a dilapidated and abandoned state. When international aid arrived, it went into the pockets of officials or was squandered. The population of the poor areas never got any of it, for armed men have always been in control, whether they were partisans of [former president] Aristide or those in the service of the next Haitian government. The Haitians live in terror, threatened by these gangsters.

This is the same oppression that the inhabitants of Port-au-Prince live under, particularly in the shanty town of Cité Soleil. The latest episode was the death of gang leader Dread Wilmé, shot last week during a confrontation with the blue helmets of MINUSTAH (the United Nations forces). His lieutenants organized a symbolic funeral on Sunday, July 9, in a church in Cité Soleil. His funeral allowed his supporters to threaten the local population in neighborhoods they control with reprisals.

The population of the south has suffered the passage of Hurricane Dennis; the number of victims will never be known. But each day in Haiti the population suffers from assaults of "armed bands in the service of politicians of every stripe." With killings, kidnappings and fear, these gangsters, these police, these soldiers ravage more people each day than a hurricane does.

Pages 6-7

Chemical plant explosion near Detroit

Aug 15, 2005

On August 9, a hazardous-waste processing plant exploded in Romulus, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. As reported later, the plant had no general alarm system. Evidently it was only by a stroke of luck that a worker realized the danger when he smelled something unusual and heard a hissing noise. By a second stroke of luck, all seven other workers were able to hear his radio message, "Get out! It's going to blow!" And it did blow, just as the workers ran out.

Thousands of residents and workers from other factories around the plant were evacuated. More than 50 people were reported treated at area hospitals for itchy skin, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness.

The fire burned for more than two days. Ash and grit fallout covered homes in the area – lawns, cars, children's pools, gardens. Before the fire was completely out, evacuated residents were told they could return home – even though officials still could not tell what was in the fallout!

A day later, officials headlined that lab tests had found no hazard. But in the small print, readers found that only 60 of the most immediately hazardous chemicals had been ruled out. Results of other tests for heavy metals like lead and arsenic would take several more days – yet residents were being given the impression that the danger was past.

In chemical spills or fires, the danger is never past. A doctor specializing in environmental and occupational medicine noted that there's a relationship between high rates of chronic illnesses and high rates of chemical releases in the region.

A local environmental official, in a broadcast news conference, dared to brag, "We always err on the side of safety." Yet authorities seemed in a big hurry to minimize the danger from a whole hazardous-chemical processing plant exploding and burning to the ground.Officials didn't even know what chemicals, or how much of them, were in the plant! In May, state inspectors warned EQ Resource Recovery, the plant's owner, that it was not storing materials in the proper areas, and that it was not doing proper paperwork to verify what it was receiving. This for a company that processes millions of pounds of the most hazardous solvents and chemicals – 28 million pounds in 2003 – mostly toxic waste from the auto industry.

In fact, contractors such as EQ are an escape hatch for the companies who actually create hazardous wastes. After the waste is "sold" to contractors, the creators of the problem have no further legal liability. Whatever the future holds for the victims of this catastrophe, the inevitable lawsuits can only go so far as EQ – which can always, if things get too hot, declare bankruptcy and start life again under another name.

The entire system is set up with the full understanding that public health disasters are bound to happen. Companies simply make sure that safeguards are in place. Not safeguards like effective alarm systems, or like building hazardous factories away from residential areas! But safeguards for their wealth, against the all-too-legitimate claims of those who will be injured.

NLRB to workers:
The company owns you

Aug 15, 2005

The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) claims to be an impartial umpire in disputes between companies and workers. A recent amazing decision proves just how much it is merely a tool of the employers.

A security guard company was given the right to discipline workers who "fraternize" – that is, have any sort of contact with each other – after work.

Yes, AFTER work! This NLRB ruling is now a legal precedent. Any company may now legally forbid workers from seeing each other in any way, at any time, except during working hours.

This is not only a ruling to keep workers from doing things like organizing unions. This is a ruling which baldly declares that companies own their workers, body and soul, 24/7, with the U.S. government's full approval and support.

If anyone still thinks this is a land of the free for working people, they can read the NLRB ruling and weep.

And then, organize.

Book Review, Thomas Kelly, Empire Rising

Aug 15, 2005

In 1930, thousands of workers built the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world. The hero of this novel is Mike Briody, an iron worker on the building, recently arrived from Ireland.

The workers have to pay a tenth of their pay to the mob to keep their jobs. And every contractor building the Empire State Building had to pay a kickback to Tammany Hall, the headquarters of the New York Democratic Party. The money went to pay off cops, legislators and judges, who fixed cases important for the mob. In exchange for his job, Briody has to do service for Irish gangsters, headed by Tough Tommy Touhey, based in the Bronx.Mike Briody, like some other workers newly arrived from Ireland, was part of the Irish Republican Army, who fought first the British and then the newly independent country of Ireland because it accepted a nation on only a part of Ireland. Briody continues his IRA activity in America, shipping guns overseas and assassinating political enemies. The IRA group in New York is led by a slick lawyer, whom the iron workers are distrustful of as a man of a different class.

Briody finds solace high above the city streets as the new building soars, but he can't escape the hold of the IRA, the mob and the corrupt Democratic Party. This is an engaging novel that gives a good feel for this part of the working class in New York at the time.

Page 8

Soldier's mom to Bush:
"Tell me why he died"

Aug 15, 2005

Spc. Casey Sheehan was killed in Baghdad in April 2004. His mother, Cindy Sheehan, wants George Bush to explain to her why her son had to die. When Bush took to his Crawford Texas ranch for a 5-week vacation, Sheehan camped out near the ranch asking to see Bush. So far, Bush has refused.

Cindy Sheehan says, "I don't believe his phony excuses for the war. I want him to tell me why my son died. If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged – if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil."It certainly is about controlling the oil of the Middle East, using Iraq as a base. The Bush administration's phony excuses for starting the war have long since been demolished.

The phony promises about bringing the troops home have also deflated like a limp balloon. As Cindy Sheehan camped out, in the first 10 days of August, more National Guard reserve troops died in Iraq than in any single month of the war so far.

Cindy Sheehan told AFP, "Before my son was killed, I used to think that one person could not make a difference. But one person that is surrounded and supported by millions of people can be heard."Sheehan has become a political problem for Bush precisely because she has come to represent all those parents who think it not right for their children to die before them, certainly not six thousand miles away, and most certainly not for the interests of oil companies. Some of them are beginning to appear as a political force.

They represent the troops themselves and their sentiments: hatred of the war, hatred of the pointless deaths, the pointless sufferings, Iraqis and GIs alike.

If the GIs' hatred of the war grows, it can erode the ability of their commanders to keep them at war. Just as in Viet Nam, the combined pressures from the soldiers who do not want to occupy another country and the people who do not want to be occupied can end this war.

Sixty years ago:
How the troops forced the government to bring them home

Aug 15, 2005

This August marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Thus it is also the anniversary of another important, though certainly lesser known, historic event: the "Bring Us Home" movement of American GIs.

Soldiers, and their families and friends back home, greeted the end of the war with great joy, because to them it meant to be reunited with their loved ones. U.S. government policy-makers had other concerns, however. They were worried about how to control the countries formerly occupied by Germany and Japan. A U.S. senator explained in February 1945: "It would be an anomalous position for the United States to occupy, after putting up the men, the money, and enduring all the sacrifices which these mean, to have our country precluded from the markets we have liberated." So, the U.S. now intended to occupy many of these countries, to make sure that they didn't end up with governments not controlled by the U.S. – especially countries where popular revolts were underway, such as China, Indonesia, Korea and Viet Nam.

Thus, not only did the U.S. military command decide to keep troops stationed abroad; it actually ordered additional units to be deployed in Asia and the Pacific.

And the troops reacted – swiftly and forcefully. By August 21, 1945 – that is, one week after the surrender of Japan – the White House had already received a telegram from 580 members of the 95th Division stationed at Shelby, Mississippi, protesting their deployment. Congress was soon flooded with similar letters and petitions.

The troops' letters were accompanied by those of their families and friends back at home. Soldiers were rubber-stamping their letters home with such slogans as "Write your congressman – get us home" and "No boats, no votes." The head of the U.S. Senate Military Affairs Committee complained that mail from mothers, wives and sweethearts demanding that their men be brought home was running to almost 100,000 letters daily – excluding letters from the soldiers themselves!

By the end of the year the soldiers were in the streets, protesting. On Christmas Day, 1945, 4000 soldiers marched in Manila, Phillippines, demanding ships to bring them home. Within the following two weeks, more demonstrations involving 1000 or more soldiers took place in Manila; on the island of Saipan in the Pacific; in Hawaii; in Calcutta, India; as well as in Europe, including Paris, London and Frankfurt, Germany. Soldiers booed down their commanding officers during rallies, held mass meetings, formed committees of elected representatives, wired telegrams with thousands of signatures, and took out full-page ads in U.S. newspapers demanding the removal of the U.S. Secretary of War Robert Patterson. On the island of Guam, 3500 Air Force men staged a hunger strike. The fact that the soldiers' committees were racially integrated while the military was still segregated is a sign of the unity among the troops.

The military was caught by surprise. Chief of Staff Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an order on January 17 banning all demonstrations by soldiers, but the troops didn't back off. Being faced with a strong and widespread revolt of the rank and file and having no good options, the government and military brass gave in to the troops' demands. The number of enlisted soldiers was reduced from 12 million to 3 million within a year. After another year, by the summer of 1947, the number was down to 1.5 million. Congress let the conscription law expire in March 1947 and waited until June 1948 to restart the draft. Very few soldiers were punished for the revolt, and in those cases the punishment usually didn't exceed transfers.

What made the soldiers' revolt at the end of World War II so strong? One reason was the time period itself. Many of the soldiers were workers who had participated in the great labor struggles of the 1930s, which gave rise to big unions such as the UAW and Teamsters. These workers-turned-soldiers had gained very valuable experience in how to organize a fight, and used that experience to demand to be brought home.

Today's troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may not have that kind of experience under their belts. But this little-known episode of U.S. history shows them, and those of us here at home, what it takes to force the government to end the occupation of other countries.

That's exactly the kind of history the warmongers don't want the population to know. No wonder there are very few history textbooks that devote even a few lines to the successful "Bring Us Home" movement 60 years ago!

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