The Spark

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

Issue no. 758 — September 12 - 26, 2005

Editorial:
Charity for Katrina's survivors?
It's nothing but a vicious sleight of hand!

Sep 12, 2005

There are at least one and a half million people turned into refugees by Katrina – or more exactly by government actions that transformed a natural cataclysm into an enormous human catastrophe.

One and a half million people without a home, without a job, without a school for their children, without a hospital or clinic to go to. One and a half million people cut from their families, from their neighbors, from every thing that had made them who and what they are.

It's the biggest uprooting of a population in this country since the Civil War, when Sherman's march from Atlanta to the sea destroyed the economic lifeblood of the South. The closest thing to it was the dustbowl of the 1930s, when hundreds of thousands of farmers were thrown to the winds by the droughts and lack of governmental attention to that growing catastrophe.

In the face of this modern disaster, what does Bush propose? "Contribute cash to a charity of your choice." Charity? It's nothing but a vicious sleight of hand.

The survivors from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama don't need charity. They don't need welfare or hand-outs, which can be cut off whenever the hand that's giving decides. They need a job, a way to rebuild their homes – and a way to reestablish the human connections that once made up the fabric of their lives.

What better way for them to do it but to rebuild what has been destroyed? There is a whole world waiting to be put back together, running from New Orleans, through the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts all the way over to Alabama. There are houses to be replaced from the ground up or repaired and rebuilt. There are hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, water systems, public transport systems, electric grids – all needing to be built or rebuilt.

The people this government turned into refugees could do that work. Why not? They have lived there all their lives. Who better to do it but them?

They can be the ones who organize new temporary schools, hospitals, clinics. Why not? They were the ones who did it before – they were the ones, in fact, who stayed in the hospitals with the patients when administrators deserted without ever organizing an evacuation.

They can work with the scientists this government ignored to re-establish the barrier islands, replenish the marshes, reconstruct the swamps – all of which once gave some protection from hurricanes.

They can work with the engineers this government rebuffed to rebuild the levees to the width and height needed, to reroute the shipping channels, etc.

There's plenty of work to be done – and plenty of money with which to do it.

Even before Katrina had puffed its last breath, the government was rushing to give new cost-plus, no-bid contracts to some of the biggest companies in the country – Bechtel and Halliburton among them – to rebuild military bases and oil installations.

Why should Bechtel, Halliburton and hundreds of other companies – already lining up at the government pig trough – make a profit off this disaster? Put every bit of this money to work giving work and habitation to the people who want to come back to New Orleans, Lafayette, Biloxi, Gulfport and all those little towns in between them.

Bush's appeals for charity, for donations, for benefit concerts are nothing but a blatant attempt to channel our feelings of human solidarity away from the kind of struggles that could force the government to give the survivors what they really need.

Give cash? We need to give support to the struggles of the survivors. We need to join their struggles.

Pages 2-3

The big looters:
Blood-sucking capitalists

Sep 12, 2005

On Wednesday, August 31, when it became clear that the toll from Hurricane Katrina amounted to one of the biggest disasters in this country's history, wiping out the homes and livelihoods of millions of people, the U.S. stock market moved up, led by the big energy and construction companies, whose stocks rose as fast and as high as the flood waters that drowned New Orleans.

All the stories about how hard hit the oil industry had been by the storm were just an excuse for these companies to jack their prices up to record levels – immediately. And while President Bush was talking about "shared sacrifice," the oil companies raised gasoline prices highest – up to $6 per gallon – where the storm hit hardest, thus compounding the suffering and misery of the population. Of course, capitalists from far and wide tried to get in on the expected increase in profits, by buying up oil stocks like hot cakes.

The stocks of big construction and engineering companies did even better. In just one day, the stock of the Shaw Group based in Louisiana rose by 17%, Fluor rose by 6% and Coachman, which builds manufactured houses, went up by 12%.

FEMA may have been a complete no-show in New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama, but immediately after the storm hit, Joseph Allbaugh, the former head of FEMA under Bush and an old Bush crony, flew into New Orleans on a private jet. Allbaugh was there as a business "consultant," representing the Shaw Group and Halliburton's Brown, Root and Kellogg division. Within days, Shaw announced that it had gotten two contracts of up to 100 million dollars each, one with FEMA, the other from the Army Corps of Engineers. Halliburton, with its infamous ties to Vice President Cheney and scamming of billions of dollars from the U.S. government as one of the prime contractors in Iraq, landed a fat contract with the Navy worth 500 million dollars to provide emergency repairs to military facilities damaged by the hurricane.

Of course, Allbaugh was not the only former FEMA director in Louisiana. James Lee Witt, who ran FEMA under the Clinton administration, was "advising" Louisiana's Democratic Party governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, while helping his clients, Nextel Communications, Whelen Engineering, a manufacturer of warning systems, and the Harris Corporation, a telecommunications equipment company, to win fat contracts of their own.

The Bush administration has been doling out contracts at a rate of more than 500 million dollars per day. Perhaps most striking is the government agreement with the engineering and construction giant, Bechtel. Bechtel's zone of operation is the entire state of Mississippi! Bechtel won't have to deal with "pesky" government oversight or control, because, as the New York Times says, Bechtel has "an informal agreement with no set payment terms, scope of work or designated total value." In other words, the Bush administration is granting Bechtel a license to steal on a scale as big as the state of Mississippi.

And, as icing on the cake, the government is already starting to shower these companies with emergency tax credits, as well as changes in regulations on federal contracts that will allow them to pay their work force much, much lower wages and benefits, and ignore environmental protections.

All this amounts to major looting by the biggest companies in the country.

Looting, yes
– but why?

Sep 12, 2005

In the first several days after the hurricane, the media focused on looters, rapists and violence in New Orleans.

Violence? When you throw people already living in poverty into such inhumane conditions, it isn't surprising to see violence.

But the violence the media talked about so much was only a tiny part of what happened. So why was there so much focus on it?

Why – if not to excuse the criminal negligence of the government? There were 20,000 people trapped in the Superdome and another 10,000 in the Convention Center. With no food or water, and no way to keep themselves and their babies clean, what's amazing is how disciplined and orderly they were.

In the desperate situation people faced, the stores should have opened their doors and given things away. The government should have provided food, water, and medicine. Instead, people at the Convention Center had to break through the steel doors of the food service to get what they needed to stay alive.

Did people take food and water? They damn well did – and they had every right to do it!

The flooding of New Orleans could have been prevented

Sep 12, 2005

Bush tried to say there was no way to predict a storm like Katrina, or the impact it would have on the levee system of New Orleans.

He lies. This was the most thoroughly predicted natural disaster in our history.

The current system of levees was built in 1970. Even then, scientists from Louisiana State University and the Army Corps of Engineers warned that it would withstand only a Category 3 hurricane, and that much more was needed to truly protect New Orleans. After all, if hurricanes go up through Category 5, why build levees to withstand only Category 3 storms? They called over and over for better levees to be built. Administration after administration ignored them.

Ever since then, the situation of New Orleans had become even more precarious – and they knew it. Again, scientists came out with the warnings: because of the oil drilling off the coast, New Orleans was sinking even further, and the levee system now would not even withstand a direct hit by a Category 2 hurricane.

In addition, it was well known that the marshes and barrier islands in the South of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were eroding. It was well known that this meant fewer and fewer natural barriers that used to absorb a hurricane's impact.

Many things were proposed that could easily have been implemented – if the money had been granted for the project. The levees could have been built up to withstand a Category 5 storm. They could have been built with floodgates opening onto the vast marshes to the south, delivering silt and fresh water to reclaim the marshes. The Port of New Orleans shipping channels could have been rerouted so that the river's silt would rebuild the barrier islands that block storm surges.

All of this was completely do-able. Various parts of it had been mapped out in plans drawn up year after year. One big consolidated plan was put together in 1998 by scientists, including from the Army Corps of Engineers, called Coastal 2050. The price was the relatively tiny amount of 14 billion dollars.

Fourteen billion dollars to save a city with long traditions – not to mention protecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. But the money wasn't spent.

Government after government ignored the warnings. Clinton didn't do it. And neither did Bush.

This storm WAS predicted, and so was its effect. For at least thirty-five years, there was a clear understanding of the situation and what to do about it. But those with the power to do something did nothing. They chose not to spend the money to protect the lives of ordinary people.

It was negligence – criminal negligence on a vast scale!

People could have been safely evacuated

Sep 12, 2005

Louisiana State University scientists warned the government, six days ahead, that Katrina was coming and it would be fierce. Hour after hour, the National Hurricane Center's weather computers repeated the warnings.

Officials had advance notice, far more advance notice than disasters usually provide! But they failed to act, and thousands of people died.

The resources were there, waiting to be mobilized. Fleets of city and school buses could have been pressed into service. There were Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains. National Guard units from surrounding states, as well as regular army units, were available – some already packed and ready! The 82nd Airborne was on 18-hour standby. Coast Guard and Air Force bases were close by. Navy amphibious vehicles were a few hours away by cargo plane. But no politician gave the order.

Less than 48 hours before Katrina, the New Orleans mayor finally ordered the city evacuated. He did it with these words: "Gas up your car and go." A reporter asked the mayor how many people in the city didn't have cars. He answered, "about 100,000." For those 100,000, nothing moved.

Yet there were plenty of means to evacuate the city. Buses could have run block by block, through every neighborhood, around the clock. Nursing homes, hospitals, housing for the elderly would have been the first evacuated. Passenger trains could have taken carloads of people to way stations a short way north of New Orleans, then returned for more, while trains from other cities mobilized to shuttle people from the way stations further out of harm's way. Receiving centers could have been designated and warehouses of food and water, diapers and clothing and medicines could have been requisitioned and trucked there.

Refugees did not need to be treated like cattle, herded from place to place, dumped in the middle of nowhere. The region's vast array of private hotels and motels, university dormitories, military bases and private academies all could have more than served the refugees, giving them dignified and respectable places to stay. If they had been used.

A mobilized population, given the resources it needs, can accomplish a tremendous amount in five days. It can evacuate a major city in an orderly way, and it can locate safe and dignified conditions in which to live until an emergency is over. If it was not done in New Orleans, it was because the safety of the population was not the government's first priority.

If such things were not done, it was because the officials planned NOT to do those things!

Playing politics?
Not seriously

Sep 12, 2005

George Bush accuses the Democrats of playing politics over the hurricane disaster. The only thing the Democrats are doing is hunkering down, hoping to avoid their responsibility for the disaster.

Human beings were crowded into sports stadiums littered with excrement and urine – and as the days wore on, dead bodies. They had no food or water to drink – except what they scavenged for themselves. No medical supplies. No vehicles were sent to get them away from all the misery. They sat out in 90-degree-plus, blazing-sun weather – without a bit of protection. Who died? The most vulnerable – the elderly, the babies, those in need of medical supplies.

This was criminal negligence; homicide on a mass scale. If the Democrats were really to deal with this, they would already have proposed impeaching Bush and putting his whole administration on trial for mass murder.

But the Democrats don't put the Bush administration on trial – because they're just as guilty as Bush! On the federal level, they all voted down budgets for the Army Corps of Engineers to improve the levee and pumping systems. Democratic politicians on state and local levels also failed to evacuate the population. They sent people to supposed "shelters" they hadn't bothered to stock with food and water.

It's not these criminals from either party who will bring each other to justice. That task lies with the people of this country and especially of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Pages 4-5

How the government handled the clean-up after 9-11:
A warning to the victims of Hurricane Katrina

Sep 12, 2005

The part of the Gulf coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina is the petrochemical heart of the U.S. economy. It is laced by oil and gas wells, pipelines, refineries, petrochemical plants – and at least 400 toxic waste dumps that are so dangerous and vast, the government has designated them to be super fund sites. There is no doubt that the more than 20-foot storm surge from the hurricane and subsequent flooding caused enormous numbers of dangerous chemicals from the industrial infrastructure to leak into the air and water, as well as the toxic waste dumps to leach their poisons into the water.

Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has very carefully downplayed the potential hazards, allowing millions of people to be exposed to a very dangerous mix of industrial chemicals, taking only idle measures to protect themselves. It is all but certain that, in the months and years to follow, countless numbers of people will come down with an array of ailments. Young people, whose growing bodies more quickly absorb these chemicals, are the most vulnerable and susceptible to get sick – and never get well.

This is a replay on a far vaster scale of how the U.S. government handled the clean-up of lower New York City after the attacks of 9-11 and the collapse of the twin towers.

The collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) released a lethal cloud of debris. Concrete, glass, asbestos, plastics, mercury and lead were pulverized into fine dust. Rising above fires that burned for three months was also smoke filled with these poisons. Yet, within days of the attacks, the EPA had declared the air around the WTC "safe" to breathe. The agency did nothing to protect people from what amounted to a massive chemical spill. Neither did any other government agency or company. As a result, clean-up workers, who spent months sifting through rubble, employees in the area who returned to work after a couple of weeks, and residents who returned home were all exposed to not just one dangerous chemical, but multiple chemicals.

Almost immediately, people's health began to suffer.

The clean-up workers began to come down with coughs, wheezing, throat irritation, chest pain. Last September, the Mount Sinai Medical Center released data from its 9-11 medical-screening program, which has tested more than 14,000 first responders and volunteers. The center reported that 88% suffered from at least one WTC-related ear, nose or throat symptom. Over half endured respiratory ailments for months.

Few studies have been done of the residents who returned to their homes. But in 2003, researchers examining 205 asthmatic children found that those who live within five miles of the WTC site endured more bouts, requiring more doctor visits and medicines. That year, researchers surveyed 2,812 residents and determined that half of them living within a mile of ground zero had developed respiratory trouble. Neither has the government undertaken any studies of the enormous workforce that soon returned to work. But many workers in the area have also told newspapers that after returning to work, they experienced chronic health problems that they didn't have before, respiratory problems, infections.

Even to this day, most of the apartments and office buildings surrounding ground zero have not been thoroughly cleaned of this dust, so people are still breathing and touching it!

In a revealing report released August 2003, the EPA inspector general admitted that the White House had instructed the EPA not to issue health warnings about ground zero. Obviously, this was a cold-blooded decision made by the government so companies could make more profit at the expense of the health of the workers and residents.

Most people are not aware of all this, because the government and news media have done their best to avoid exposing it. But if this is how the government and corporations endangered people's lives in New York, which was so much in the spotlight for so long, imagine how much freer they feel to take measures that endanger the health and lives of the people of the Gulf region after Hurricane Katrina.

Barbara Bush indicts herself and that whole political clan

Sep 12, 2005

Barbara Bush told a radio audience, referring to evacuees at the Astrodome, "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working well for them."What a pitiful excuse for a human being she is!

"Underprivileged?" That's hardly the word for it! They were condemned to poverty.

More than nine infants die in Louisiana for every 1,000 born each year, a rate higher than in many underdeveloped countries. Infants in 42 countries are less likely to die than those in the U.S. and more than 80 countries provide polio and measles immunizations to more of their children than does the U.S. The vast majority of those countries have better public health systems than the U.S. All of the countries have smaller gaps between the rich and the poor.

Don't let anyone tell us we live in the richest country in the world. We live in the country that gives the greatest profits to the corporations and the wealthy.

Barbara Bush's mean spirited and demeaning comments say nothing about the brave people of New Orleans – and everything needed to indict Lady Barbara herself, her husband, her sons and the rest of the wealthy class they represent.

Padilla court decision:
What right to a trial?

Sep 12, 2005

Last week, a federal court of appeals ruled that the government has the right to imprison a U.S. citizen for as long as it wants – without ever charging that person with a crime and putting that person on trial.

This ruling came out of the case of Jose Padilla, who the Bush administration had arrested more than three years ago, in the wake of 9-11, on charges that he had plotted with al-Qaeda to detonate a "dirty bomb." This arrest was made at a time when the Bush administration was in the middle of its witch hunt against immigrants of Arab descent, rounding up thousands of people, and then eventually being forced to let them all go when it became clear that there was no evidence whatsoever linking them to any crime. Of those who the Bush administration managed to bring to trial, such as the four people in Detroit, the government case was such a fiasco that even some conservative judges and prosecutors denounced the U.S. Justice Department for its attempted miscarriages of justice.

Clearly, the so-called case that the Bush administration had against Padilla was no different. Prosecutors had no credible witnesses or evidence linking Padilla to any "dirty bomb," and very quickly, after the usual hue and cry from the news media died down, more and more the case looked like the figment of some government bureaucrat's imagination. So, the Bush administration tried a different tack. It claimed that Padilla was an enemy combatant, because for a time he had lived in the Middle East. And it went on to maintain that according to "The Authorization for Use of Military Force Joint Resolution," which Congress passed after September 11, it had the right to hold "enemy combatants" for an indefinite period of time.

In other words, the Bush administration maintained that anyone it decided to call an "enemy combatant" had no legal rights at all, no right to a trial, not even any right to see a lawyer – Bill of Rights, or no Bill of Rights. It said that Congress had given them that right – and the three judge panel of the Court of Appeals says that it agrees.

Now the case will go to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling, it will uphold that the government will have a much easier job of setting up anyone it decides to, anyone who dares organize against their rotten wars, against government repression, and other attacks against ordinary people. All the government would have to say is label that person as a "terrorist" and "enemy combatant" – and it won't even have to manufacture evidence, or blackmail witnesses into cooperating in order to go to trial – because there won't be a trial!

Of course, this won't be the first time that the government has tried to pull that kind of stunt. It did similar things during other repressive periods – such as the Red Scares after World War I, or the McCarthy period in the late 1940s and 50s – not to speak of the legal lynching of black people throughout most of this country's history.

In the end, many of the repressive laws and court decisions that allowed this were overturned. But it wasn't because of who the judges or politicians were, but because of big movements by ordinary people.

The lesson is: the only rights working people have are the rights that they are willing to fight to defend.

France:
Deadly fires in immigrant housing and the tears of those responsible

Sep 12, 2005

The following two articles about the deaths of African immigrants in three recent fires in Paris are translated from the September 2, 2005 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published in France.

After the fire on August 25th in Paris caused 17 dead, including 14 children, leading politicians Chirac, Villepin, Barloo and Delanoë rushed to the survivors or made declarations of sympathy. Yet these men – Chirac, the former mayor of Paris and Delanoë, the Socialist mayor now in office for four years – are responsible for the negligence which led to this tragedy. Only three days later, another fire in Paris left seven dead.

The majority of the families who lived in the building that burned on August 25th have been housed there since 1991, after camping out for four months on the construction site of the new Library of France. This housing was supposed to be provisional. Over these 14 years many things have changed. The Left and the Right changed places in the national government. The mayor of Paris was replaced by a politician of the opposite party. But nothing was done to offer a permanent solution to those families who were living in an increasingly dilapidated building. As if moving people from a six-floor building were an insurmountable problem in a city like Paris, or as if renovating all the dilapidated buildings in Paris were impossible.

In Paris, many thousands of workers' apartments are needed, especially for those with the lowest incomes, who don't have access to privately owned apartments. But the public powers aren't interested in construction to aid the impoverished or in rehabilitating old buildings to serve the men and women who live in them. The Paris city government has money to finance the Paris 2012 plan, which the billionaires are associated with. They're ready to carry out a plan which serves only tour operators, hotel chains and expensive restaurants, but they do nothing about the dilapidated buildings where people live.

After 24 deaths in an earlier April fire at an immigrant housing building, there were plenty of declarations saying it was necessary to correct the situation. But that was only talk to impress the public. Nothing was done.

How many more deaths will be necessary for the public powers to take measures to assure decent housing for all these families and for all others in a similar condition?

The private owners don't carry out any serious repairs and wait until the building is declared dilapidated and dangerous, when the police evict the tenants. The owners then resell the building for the price of the land, which is worth a gold mine in Paris.

And they completely get away with this, under the indifferent gaze of the politicians whose tears are only caused by smoke.

One fire after another – it's not inevitable!

In Paris, in April a slum building burned; in August two other buildings burned. All were inhabited by African workers. More than fifty among them are dead, burnt to death or suffocated, the majority being children. Families of immigrant workers who live in these possible infernos are right to be afraid.

We can't remain inactive in the face of this horror. Several mobilizations in support of the African workers already took place in the days following these murderous fires. It's necessary that the rally of Thursday, September 1st and the demonstration of Saturday, September 3rd be the most massive possible to shout out our anger and our indignation and to demand that immigrant workers not be penned up like cattle, but be decently housed; and to impose on the public powers the immediate construction of social housing and the requisition of empty apartments.

Democrats and the Supreme Court:
Supporting future attacks on women's rights

Sep 12, 2005

The Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings for John Roberts, Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, are about to begin. Democrats on the committee are doing their usual hemming and hawing, especially on Roberts's stance on women's abortion rights.

The Democrats claim to be the brave guardians of women's abortion rights against the Republican onslaught. But these "guardians" have been remarkably quiet about the fact that as a high government official in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, Roberts consistently fought to oppose, deny and restrict women's abortion rights. Instead, the Democrats have pretended that Roberts was just doing his job as a lawyer, that these cases did not represent his "personal views." Of course, if that were the case, that would make Roberts a complete chameleon and hypocrite.

It would be easy for the Democrats to oppose and block any Supreme Court nominee Bush sent them. First of all, with two vacancies now on the court, it would leave the justices who voted by 4-3 margins in favor of upholding abortion rights, that is, it would leave the court in the hands of those justices considered to be more "liberal." Even add O'Connor to the mix and the vote would usually be 5-3.

By actually taking a strong stand against the increasingly unpopular Bush, the Democrats could shore up their base, especially given the fact that every opinion poll shows a vast majority of the people consistently upholding a woman's right to choose and opposing efforts by the government to stick its nose into peoples' most private and personal affairs.

The fact that the Democrats don't do this is only more proof that their stance of upholding women's rights is a complete sham. Just as much as the Republicans, the Democrats are the enemies of women's rights.

Pages 6-7

Sacrificing the young victims of Katrina to increase the profits of private schools

Sep 12, 2005

Tom DeLay, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, proposed that students displaced by Hurricane Katrina be given vouchers to be used at private schools.

Why? Every study shows that private schools available to working class students provide a worse education than do public schools.

A recent study in Baltimore shows the reason. Edison, the largest private school company in the country runs schools in Baltimore. Edison made $1,425 in profit last year on each student. It spent $1,059 per student for administration, twice the amount spent in publicly run schools. So out of the $9,370 per pupil that Edison was paid last year, $2,484 did NOT go toward educating its students.

No wonder Edison students did less well than did students at comparable public schools in the city.

Don't let DeLay pretend to aid Katrina's young victims. He's nothing but another scoundrel trying to take advantage of them for private gain.

College
– Who gets there?

Sep 12, 2005

Only one in five high school graduates has the basic skills needed to succeed in college. This report comes from the ACT, which tests students hoping to get into college.

Less than half of all graduates had successfully completed the core classes needed to prepare for college – four years of English and three years each of social studies, science and math at the level of algebra or higher.

It's no mystery why they didn't – many high schools do not provide this basic preparation for college. Most of these failing schools are in poor and working class areas. There are not enough teachers, not enough good textbooks and other school supplies, not enough pieces of working science and lab equipment, not enough decent, clean classrooms.

Even when students from failing high schools manage to get into college, they can't afford it. Tuition at a typical state university has gone up about 36% since 2002 and even more at private colleges and universities.

As a result, higher education, even at state colleges and universities subsidized by the taxes of working class people, is more and more only for the children of the wealthy.

Northwest mechanics strike:
Government safety cover-up

Sep 12, 2005

Mechanics at Northwest Airlines, who have been on strike since August 20, have been warning that efforts by the company to keep its planes flying with replacement mechanics, that is, scabs, fixing the planes are endangering safety.

Inspections by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) confirm this charge. In 470 FAA reports at Northwest maintenance facilities over an 11-day period, there was a "defect rate" of 58% to 90% – much higher than the 9% defect rate that should trigger an internal FAA alert, according to its own regulations. But not only was no alert triggered, the FAA did not even enter the reports into its electronic database.

When an FAA inspector complained to the FAA about this, and then went public by sending a letter to Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton, the FAA reassigned him. Obviously, this served as a warning to the rest of the FAA inspectors that they better shut up about all the safety violations on the Northwest planes.

From the start of the mechanics strike against Northwest, the Bush administration has claimed that it was neutral and was staying out of the strike. Of course, this has been one big lie. By allowing Northwest to continue to fly planes that are an obvious danger to the flying public, the government is intent on helping the company in its efforts to try to crush the workers and their union – even risking a disaster in the skies and untold deaths.

Shame

Sep 12, 2005

In a speech in late August, leading up to Labor Day, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney included the following remarks:

"You only have to look at the strike at Northwest Airlines, where the machinists are represented by AMFA, to see the perils of going-it-alone. AMFA is not really a union. It's a business outfit. For years, AMFA has capitalized on hard times, attacked other unions and rejected the principles of unionism – of supporting others. Now the workers are out there by themselves – no strike benefits, health care coverage about to run out. It's a terrible situation."You bet it's terrible Mr. Sweeney... that as president of the AFL-CIO you bad-mouth mechanics and cleaning workers of AMFA in the middle of a difficult strike. Exactly when they need all the support they can get, especially from workers in the airline and other industries, you act as Strike Breaker!

Farmer Jack contract:
UFCW "New Labor" uses the same old threats
– against workers

Sep 12, 2005

Last week, Farmer Jack supermarket workers in Michigan voted to ratify a contract full of concessions, including a ten% pay cut.

This vote came after the workers, members of UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) Local 876, had voted the same contract down once already.

Unhappy with the first result, the Local president, Victoria Collins, chewed the membership out and told them they had no choice but to ratify the contract. "Keep voting until you get it right," is essentially what they were told.

At the same time, Teamsters Local 337, representing Farmer Jack warehouse workers in the area, announced that its members had voted to approve a ten% pay cut.

This may or may not have had an effect on the second UFCW vote. But it's easy to see how, in the midst of an attack by their Local leadership, the news that another group of workers had given in would make workers who had voted "no" change their minds the second time. It's difficult to fight alone, and people know that.

It's not the first time union leaders have rammed concessions down workers' throats.

But what's notable is the unions involved in this attack: the Teamsters and the UFCW.

Both the Teamsters and the UFCW were among the unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO earlier this year, saying new, different organizing strategies were needed to confront the 21st century.

So where were the new strategies? These unions didn't propose for the workers to fight this attack, or to make a common fight with others. They only repeated the same tired old lies about how taking concessions now will save jobs in the future.

And they used the same old strong-arm tactics to give the company what it wants.

Los Angeles bus drivers:
Same work, less money

Sep 12, 2005

Drivers who work on four MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) bus lines in Los Angeles have been on strike since August 1.

The MTA has been contracting out these four lines, which are in the San Fernando Valley area. On August 1, a new contractor, Transportation Concepts, Inc., took over the lines and immediately imposed cuts in pay, sick leave and vacation time. A veteran driver's hourly pay went from $14 to $10, for example. Those who made $10 before are supposed to make $8.50 now.

Companies changing contractors to pay their workers less for the same work – that's nothing new. It even has a name: "contract shuffling."

MTA officials pretend they have nothing to do with what's going on. "This is a private carrier. They're responsible for their negotiations," said an MTA spokesman.

That the bosses would act like this is not a surprise. But how about union officials? A spokesman for the United Transportation Union, which represents about 5000 bus and train operators who work directly for the MTA said: "Our members have been instructed to report to work and do their jobs." (The striking drivers are Teamsters.)

These officials may all pretend everything is fine and dandy. But the MTA bus drivers – and, for that matter, other MTA workers – can't afford to do that. No matter what union they are in. For, in their striking brothers and sisters, they may well see their own future!

Page 8

Criminal contempt for the Iraqi population

Sep 12, 2005

With good reason, a National Guardsman just returned from the war called New Orleans "Iraq with a flood."

From the very first days following the invasion of Iraq, it became obvious that the U.S. and British governments had made no plans whatsoever to restore a semblance of "normal" life for the population. Nothing was done to repair the damage caused by the western bombings to the most vital parts of the social infrastructure.

Nor had the U.S.-British strategists made plans for the predictable breakdown of law and order which followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Organized gangs were allowed to loot everything they could lay their hands on, including basic supplies in hospitals and power stations, without the occupying troops doing anything about it. The only exceptions were, predictably, the oil installations, which were protected right from the beginning. After all, the invasion was designed, among other things, to benefit the western oil companies!

After the invasion Bush talked about plans for "reconstructing" Iraq. Enormous funds were pledged to finance this reconstruction. To date, less than 10% of these funds have actually been disbursed, and most of that has gone straight into the pockets of western companies – mainly security and oil companies – or for construction of military facilities.

After two and a half years of occupation, essential services such as water, electricity and transport are still completely unreliable, when available at all. There are chronic shortages of just about everything, including petroleum products – which are produced in Iraq, but for export. Hospitals lack the most basic medical equipment and medicines. Despite the explosion of diseases, many qualified nurses and doctors are still not put to work because they might have had ties with the Baath party. For the occupation authorities, the health of the population is, obviously, of secondary importance.

The criminal disregard of the western powers for the welfare of the Iraqi population was illustrated once again on August 31st, with the stampede which claimed more than a thousand lives during a pilgrimage in Baghdad.

According to news reports, the tension was high among the crowd of Shiite pilgrims after they had been targeted by a mortar attack in the morning. When rumors that a suicide bomber was hidden among the marchers began to circulate, there was a movement of panic on a bridge across the river Tigris. Many people were trampled to death while others were pushed over the bridge railings and drowned in the river.

Most U.S. newspapers "forgot" to mention the fact that the end of this bridge had been blocked by a checkpoint run by U.S. and Iraqi troops to search everyone. The pilgrims knew nothing about the barrier so marchers kept piling up on the bridge to the point where it became virtually impossible to move. When the crowd could move neither forward nor backward, the panic broke out, leading to the huge number of casualties.

In fact, as was pointed out later, U.S. and Iraqi authorities took no measures to avoid incidents during a march which was expected to attract several hundred thousand pilgrims. No provisions had been made to ensure that emergency services would be on stand-by for the occasion, with additional staff and resources. No attempt had been made to design the route of the march so as to minimize the number of bottlenecks. For the top dogs of the military bureaucracy, it was business as usual.

This produced the catastrophic bottleneck on the Tigris bridge. The absence of emergency services to take care of the injured seems to have increased the casualties by a significant number. And the U.S. military did not mobilize ambulance services or send speedboats up the river to help the injured and those who were drowning.

Due to U.S. contempt for the Iraqi population, a simple movement of panic was enough to cause the worst bloodbath seen in Iraq since the U.S. attack on Fallujah!

Both the war in Iraq and the situation along the Gulf Coast are the products of a system which cares nothing for populations in general and the poor in particular. It is a system whose only purpose is to protect the parasitism of a tiny layer of very rich capitalists who own and control everything.

Russian roulette for citizenship

Sep 12, 2005

Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, about 60 immigrants have been granted "posthumous citizenship."

These are the ultimate losers in a deadly Russian roulette game that the U.S. government has been offering to poor immigrants: join the military and go to war, and we'll give you citizenship!

In July 2002, Bush, preparing for the invasion of Iraq, issued an executive order easing citizenship requirements. Immigrants whose legal status would have barred them from citizenship could get it if they volunteered to serve in the U.S. armed forces in a combat zone. Since then, about 20,000 immigrant soldiers have become U.S. citizens.

It is not known how many of these immigrants were undocumented – obviously, no one will declare themselves as "illegal" when they sign up for the military. But the government turns a blind eye when it comes to sending people off to war. And since people who are in the U. S. legally can wait a few years to get citizenship rather than risking their lives in a war, many, if not most, of the immigrants who enlisted probably didn't have legal status.

Every year, millions of people walk across the U.S.-Mexican border in hopes of escaping dire poverty. Many hundreds of them die of exposure to the scorching heat of the desert. Last year in Arizona alone, for example, the Border Patrol reported finding the bodies of 201 men, women and children. How many more aren't ever found in the vast reaches of the desert? In fact, the government tolerates – and therefore encourages – this traffic because it creates a cheap labor force for U.S. business.

Whether they serve as a cheap labor force or cannon-fodder, whether they die crossing the border in Arizona or patrolling streets in Baghdad, these immigrants are victims of government policies that have only one purpose: to maximize the profits and power of American big business.

Demonstrate against the war
– September 24

Sep 12, 2005

A number of organizations and anti-war coalitions have called for demonstrations in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Saturday, September 24 to protest the war in Iraq. It's a good opportunity for more of us to show our opposition to the war.