The Spark

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

Issue no. 767 — January 30 - February 13, 2006

Big Oil Vultures!

Jan 30, 2006

Thousand-dollar heating bills, fifty dollars to fill up at the gasoline pump – what do the big oil and natural gas companies think they’re doing?

Ripping us off, that’s what. And they know it very well. They planned it that way!

Publicly, they may tell us that oil and natural gas are in short supply – but they don’t act like it. If there were a real shortage, they would have been using their profits to build new refineries producing gasoline and heating oil, as well as new installations producing natural gas.

They certainly have the money to do it – their profits have been setting new records from one year to the next. In 2005, the five biggest oil companies alone made 100 billion dollars in profit, up from 84 billion the year before, which itself set a new record. Never before in the history of capitalism has a single industrial sector recorded such profits.

So yes, they have more than enough money to invest in new facilities, to ease this supposed shortage they talk about.

But they haven’t done it. They have NOT invested in new facilities – they have been closing existing ones!

Don’t blame the closures on Katrina. The big oil companies were closing refineries long before anyone heard about Katrina. And certainly don’t blame it on countries that produce petroleum and natural gas – today, there is a surplus of crude oil supplies and natural gas sources. What’s in short supply are the refined products. And that shortage has been consciously created by big companies closing down their production facilities.

The oil companies are not the only ones to benefit off the shortages they created. So do the big investment banks like Goldman Sachs, the brokerage houses that specialize in oil and the speculators who trade on oil. So do the big construction companies like Halliburton and the companies that own and run those broken down oil tankers, which so often leave oil spills in their wake. Not to mention politicians who are put and kept in office thanks to money from these companies.

Did you think you’d ever see a thousand- dollar-a-month heating bill? What about two thousand dollars? That’s what the big companies have in mind – just like they are aiming to make $3 a gallon the base price for gasoline in the U.S.

It’s not just what we pay at the pump or to the utility company. Not only do our cars need gasoline and our furnaces natural gas or heating oil. Petroleum and natural gas provide much of the energy needed to create electricity and to transport almost everything we buy, including food. Oil is the basis for fertilizers and plastics. The prices of everything keep going up because the big oil companies are gouging out as much profit as they can find.

Our standard of living, our hopes for the future, are being sacrificed to this mad chase after profit. It’s the very picture of the capitalist system, a system gone haywire. Even while it creates enormous wealth, even while it wields the most modern technology human experience has devised, this system rushes from one catastrophe to another. Wars are carried out to ensure the big U.S. companies’ control over the world’s oil; price gouging in the market place impoverishes us. These are the products of a system whose very core is rotten.

Like other rotten things, it deserves to be tossed aside.

Pages 2-3

Detroit homeless:
Out of sight, out of mind

Jan 30, 2006

The city of Detroit, home of this year’s Super Bowl, announced it is throwing a Super Bowl “party” for homeless people, complete with a big screen TV, food, pop.

No – tell it like it really is. This is no help to the homeless – it’s only a way to keep them from panhandling near the stadium or the downtown hotels.

The same city administration along with the state government spent vast sums of money to throw a two-week bash for the wealthy. They built a bridge on the freeway leading into town from the airport incorporating football shapes into its design. They built a skating rink in front of the new tax-subsidized Compuware headquarters to be used as part of a winter festival before the game. They’ve built luxury condos and painted all the local freeway overpasses.

Use a fraction of the money they spent sprucing up the city to really solve the problem of homelessness! Build enough reasonably priced housing so no working person goes without a home. Give the social services needed so no one retired, disabled, or taking care of children is without shelter.

Not a chance! The politicians just want their photos in the media with the Super Bowl guests.

– another name for “thief”

Jan 30, 2006

The Internal Revenue Service’s own taxpayer advocate, Nina Olson, denounced the IRS for freezing the tax refunds of 1.6 million taxpayers over the last five years. These were some of the poorest taxpayers. Their average income was a tiny $13,000 a year. The refunds the IRS held back averaged $3,500. The taxpayers weren’t notified their refunds were being held up and investigated. No, they had to realize something was wrong and then go through the government bureaucracy to find out what happened. Many didn’t. But for those who did, it took an average of eight months to get their money.

The IRS tagged these people’s returns with a computer program, saying they were suspected of fraud. The taxpayer advocate said, far from being fraudulent, 80% of the taxpayers whose refunds were held back were owed money. Even of the returns the IRS labeled “conclusively” fraudulent, almost half of these refund requests were legitimate. Finally, according to the taxpayer advocate, most of the requests for illegitimate refunds were due to honest error rather than fraud. Anyone who has tried to fill out an IRS form knows how easily this can be the case.

The U.S. Congress is spending a whopping 875 million dollars a year on this IRS program – and for what? To investigate tax returns of only the poorest tax filers. These are the working poor with children, whom the U.S. government robs of their refunds year after year.

Meanwhile, the government does everything it can to facilitate robbery by hundreds of thousands of businessmen who under-report their income. And the IRS performs very few audits of the biggest corporations, which consistently lie on their tax returns, knowing they won’t be caught. To add insult to injury, the government then gives them subsidies – paid for out of the taxes we pay!

The IRS perfectly reflects this capitalist society it serves.

Alito nomination:
An attack on democratic rights by both parties

Jan 30, 2006

Democrats are claiming they have no way to stop the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. That’s pure bull.

Democrats may be a minority in the Senate, but they could still prevent the nomination from going to a vote. All they need are 41 votes to stop it – and there are 45 Democrats in the Senate.

Alito CLEARLY opposes a woman’s right to abortion, and any restrictions on government power or corporate power. There’s no question that he opposes everything the Democrats SAY they support. Yet they say they can’t muster the votes to stop his confirmation!

Of course they could – if they wanted to. Republicans were able to block the health care bill pushed by Clinton early in his presidency – and they were a smaller minority than the Democrats are now. Just a few months ago, a small minority of conservative Republicans were able to block Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Court – just by yelling about it.

Clearly, a deal has been cut: Democrats won’t stand in the way of Alito’s confirmation, while Republicans agreed to take a roll-call vote – so Democrats can make a big deal about their no-votes when they run for election later this year.

Why would anyone put their hopes in two-faced windbags like these?

100 lies don’t create one job

Jan 30, 2006

Government economists give us rosy figures for employment numbers. They tell us capitalism is a growth engine that offers plenty of jobs.

Plenty? Why did 25,000 people apply for 325 openings at a new Wal-Mart in suburban Chicago? Is a nine-dollar-an hour job such a prize? Out of every 80 people looking for work, one gets a job – that’s what this society has to offer!

The politicians and their economists can doctor unemployment figures all they want – but reality was standing there outside the employment office for Chicago’s new Wal-Mart.

Electioneering hypocrites

Jan 30, 2006

Maryland’s legislators overrode the governor’s veto to pass the so-called Wal-Mart bill. Employers with more than 10,000 employees are supposed to spend 8% of their expenses on health care.

And what huge employer does NOT cover 7,000 of its employees? The state of Maryland!

Contractual workers have grown everywhere in state employment. And these workers get no health care, no sick days, no paid holidays.

Bills like the “Wal-Mart bill” are for show in an election year.

Bush hands judgeship to Abramoff prosecutor

Jan 30, 2006

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a major fundraiser for George W. Bush, is under federal prosecution for corruption. He has made a deal with the prosecution to name names.

“Coincidentally,” George W. Bush just appointed the head prosecutor on the case to a federal judgeship. The prosecutor will leave the case immediately.

Feeling a little defensive, Mr. Bush?

West Virginia passes new mine safety bill
– too little, too late!

Jan 30, 2006

The West Virginia legislature just passed a new mine safety bill – but only after a second mine disaster within two weeks killed two more miners.

The bill calls for every miner to be equipped with an electronic tracking device so they can more easily be located in case of an accident. It requires companies to create stocks of oxygen at locations throughout the mines. It creates a 24-hour emergency response phone number, requiring mine operators to call it within 15 minutes of an accident. And it provides for each miner to be equipped with a one-way text-messaging device to inform them of an accident and the best escape route.

Of course, the mines should employ simple, basic precautions. But why weren’t they already doing it?

In this day and age, astronauts are equipped to survive in space for weeks, including with two-way communication systems. If the technology exists to live in outer space, it exists for those working in mines. Mine owners certainly use up-to-date coal extraction equipment, so why don’t they have up-to-date mine rescue equipment?

But even worse – there were already safety laws on the books that might have saved the lives of these 14 dead miners. If the companies had followed the safety laws. Instead, they had dozens of violations, for which they were fined a few hundred dollars. The owners ignored the rules and the fines and continued with their unsafe operations.

But there is one simple safety rule that could have saved miners’ lives: shut the mines down as soon as they violate safety regulations.

If the mine owners couldn’t obtain their coal, see how quickly they would solve the safety problems of their miners.

Stop the legal lynching of Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Jan 30, 2006

On January 17, lawyers for Mumia Abu-Jamal filed briefs with the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals challenging his conviction on charges of murdering a Philadelphia cop. Mumia is the black radio journalist and political activist who had long exposed police corruption and brutality in Philadelphia.

The facts of his case show clearly that he was arrested only because of this activity and that the Philadelphia police and a known racist judge conspired to get his conviction.

Since his arrest in 1981, he has been denied even the appearance of a fair trial and appeal. No one should believe this latest hearing will remedy the injustice of what has been done to him. The rulings of the court so far show this.

The court did agree to hear his case, but only regarding three of 29 reasons Mumia’s lawyers raised.

But the court refused to consider 26 other issues, including evidence that the state’s only eyewitness admitted lying when she accused Mumia of murder and the confession of another man that he had murdered the police officer, without any involvement by Mumia.

At the same time, the court agreed to review an appeal by government prosecutors to reinstate the death sentence of Abu-Jamal, which had been lifted by a lower-level federal judge in 2001!

Abu-Jamal is alive today only because his case has gained so much support around the world. Even the European parliament, hardly a radical organization, has called for his conviction to be thrown out.

Mumia was framed-up 25 years ago for a crime he didn’t commit. This legal lynching will finally be stopped when protests make it too difficult for the courts to carry it out.

Pages 4-5

Anger over a CIA raid

Jan 30, 2006

On January 13, the CIA ordered the bombing of the village of Damadola located in northwest Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. The raid was carried out by pilotless planes, called Predators, armed with missiles. Eighteen villagers were killed, including eight women and five children. CNN reported that Ayman al-Zawahiri, supposedly #2 in al-Qaida, was the target. According to information furnished to the CIA, Zawahiri had been to the village for a dinner.

CNN immediately announced Zawahiri was likely to be among the dead. But he was not. Not only did the deaths enrage a small Pashtun village, they most certainly intensified the resentment of this population against the U.S. presence in the area. Thousands of Pakistanis demonstrated across the country, especially in the largest city of the south, Karachi. Even the government of the military dictator Pervez Musharraf, allied with the United States, felt obliged to condemn the U.S. raid and to call the U.S. ambassador to Islamabad to issue an “official protest.”

Two things are clear: the Pakistani secret services gave false intelligence to the U.S. And the Musharraf government still supports U.S. policy in the region, as well as the frequent military intrusions by U.S. armed forces stationed in Afghanistan against poor villages. Eight other people were killed just a week earlier in another U.S. military operation carried out along another border.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan increases the misery of Afghans, Pakistanis and those in nearby northwest India. But people in those areas suffer the impact of the policies of U.S. imperialism in other ways. U.S. imperialism encouraged the development of Islamic fundamentalists to fight the occupation of the USSR in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Today the United States government presents its actions as a fight against the “terrorism” of those very forces it helped develop. Operations such as this criminal raid on the Pashtun village not only reinforce the anger of its inhabitants; they probably also reinforce the influence of fundamentalists who appear today as Bush’s enemies. Facing both, the population pays with its blood.

Palestinian elections:
A clear vote against a “peace process” that isn’t

Jan 30, 2006

The Palestinian parliamentary elections resulted in a landslide victory for Hamas, the main opposition to the ruling Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas. This outcome puts Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist party long identified with suicide bombings, in a position to form a new Palestinian government.

The mainstream U.S. media called the victory of Hamas “shocking” and a blow to the “peace process” in the Middle East. The Israeli government announced that it would not even talk with Hamas, because it is a “terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction.”

What annoys Israel and the U.S.

Certainly, Hamas has been responsible for terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings randomly targeting civilians. And it’s true that Hamas leaders speak about destroying Israel. But the same was true for Fatah, and the umbrella organization it belongs to, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). This certainly did not prevent the U.S. government from bringing the PLO and Israel together to sign the 1993 Oslo accord, which in turn led to the formation of the Palestinian Authority, led by the PLO.

So if the outcome of the election annoys Israel and its sponsor, the U.S., it’s not because Hamas has used terrorism. It’s because this election has failed to rubber-stamp the status quo in the Palestinian areas, as Israel and the U.S. wanted it to. In fact, before the election, Israel went to great lengths to help Fatah win – by preventing eligible voters from registering, restricting the movement of campaigning candidates and even arresting candidates belonging to Hamas and other opposition parties.

The status quo: A people imprisoned

Palestinians did vote against the status quo anyway, and overwhelmingly. Fatah was able to win only 43 seats, about one-third of the 132 available. This is a strong protest vote against the ruling party – and not only because Fatah has become a symbol for official corruption, as the news media keeps repeating. The widespread corruption among Palestinian officials is only a symptom of a larger problem, that is, the horrendous conditions that Israel and the U.S., with the help of Fatah and the PLO, have imposed on the Palestinian population.

Just look at the Gaza Strip, from which Israel recently withdrew after nearly four decades of military occupation. This has been hailed in the media as a big step toward “peace,” but Gaza is still the same tiny, 140-square-mile area where 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped in perpetual poverty.

The Gaza Strip was initially set up as a collection of refugee camps after Jewish terrorist gangs carried out terrorist attacks and a full-scale war to take the Palestinians’ land from them and establish Israel. Gaza now houses the second, third and even fourth generation of refugees who lost their homes in what was then made into Israel. The area still lacks any kind of viable economy – there are simply no jobs there for the vast majority of the population. The Israeli army has sealed off the area, preventing the population from traveling to Israel or the other Palestinian area, the West Bank. In effect, the Gaza Strip is nothing but a huge prison camp for Palestinians.

The conditions in the West Bank are only slightly better. Israel has built walls and fences to cut the West Bank into pieces. The Israeli military has permanently blocked roads between – as well as within – the two Palestinian areas, preventing Palestinians from going to work or visiting their friends and family members.

This is the “peace process” that the results of the Palestinian election are supposed to have “endangered”!

Two decades of rebellion

Yes, endangered they are, that mockery of a “peace process” and the status quo. But not because Hamas, a party that uses violent tactics and a militant language, has won an election. What threatens the status quo, and thus worries the U.S. and Israel, is the anger of the Palestinian population that has carried Hamas to power.

That anger has already done things much more significant than handing election defeats to corrupt politicians. That anger has exploded into two broad, long-lasting uprisings in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, known as the First and Second Intifadas in 1987 and 2000.

It was because Israel was not able to contain the First Intifada that it agreed in 1993 to bring its arch enemy, the PLO, into the Palestinian areas to help calm down the anger of the population. But it didn’t take long for the one-time symbols of the Palestinian struggle, the PLO and its leading faction, Fatah, to discredit themselves by turning into corrupt cops doing Israel’s dirty work – hence the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2000.

Hamas: Another group of “rebels” turning into cops

Everything indicates that Hamas is now ready to step into Fatah’s role. In any event, the leaders of Hamas haven’t wasted any time in making conciliatory gestures toward the U.S. and Israel. Hamas won a clear majority with 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Assembly, which allows it to form a government on its own. But as soon as the election results became known, Hamas proposed to form a joint government with Fatah, which Fatah rejected – for the time being. Hamas also proposed to merge all Palestinian militias into a Palestinian army. In other words, Hamas leaders are ready to share the task of policing the Palestinian people with Fatah.

This should come as no surprise. At times when the population is in a state of rebellion, politicians may use a militant language to ride the tide and come to power. That’s what Hamas leaders have done. But all along, their political choices, like those of the PLO and Fatah before them, show that they never intended to let the population independently organize itself, make its own choices and carry its struggle as far as people are ready to go.

One indication of this is Hamas’ religious fundamentalist ideology, which automatically excludes women, that is half of the population, plus anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to Islam, from playing any role. Another is Hamas’ use of terrorism, especially suicide bombings – that is, the notion that a select few, “worthy of martyrdom,” should carry out the fight in the name of the population, instead of the population collectively organizing and controlling its fight. Finally, Hamas’ choice of civilian targets for these “operations” shows what to expect from Hamas when it is in power. A political party that is ready to randomly attack and kill Israeli civilians, Jewish or Arab, is also likely to have no qualms about attacking Palestinian people who disagree with its rule.

This capacity of Hamas also explains the conciliatory tone of the U.S. toward the group that supposedly is way up its list of “terrorist organizations.” Both President Bush and Secretary of State Rice called on Hamas to renounce violence now that it has won the election – a hint that they would probably allow Hamas to form the new government, without officially recognizing it.

The U.S. will probably keep the pressure up on Hamas by refusing to talk to Hamas directly and cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority for a while. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. would not work with Hamas leaders unofficially, to see if they can control the population effectively. Nor does it mean that the U.S. couldn’t eventually reward Hamas with official recognition and direct support, as it did with the PLO before. This process can take many years – in fact, the transformation of the PLO from “terrorist” to “partner in the peace process” took several decades.

Palestinian workers and poor must control their uprising

Perhaps Hamas’ electoral victory will calm down the anger of the Palestinian people for a while, but for how long? The U.S., Israel and their Palestinian partners, be it the PLO, Fatah or Hamas, are interested only in keeping the status quo – a status quo that has rendered the Palestinian areas unliveable, a status quo that has borne and fueled the Intifada, a status quo that leaves the Palestinian people no other choice but to continue to fight for a humane existence.

That fight, which has lasted for more than half a century, has proved, generation after generation, the resilience and determination of the Palestinian people. But working-class and poor Palestinians still have not been able to break the vicious cycle of oppression imposed on them. For that to happen, Palestinians will have to break the grip of the political parties that have come to lead their struggle – parties that represent the interests of a small, elite layer of the Palestinian population, not the interests of the workers and poor.

History shows that the Palestinian population is capable of doing that: it was neither the PLO nor Hamas that started and organized the Intifada – the population did it, especially the youth, the working class and the poor. The Palestinian workers and poor have kept the Intifada alive for nearly two decades. To win their freedom, they also have to take control of it.

Nuclear weapons, monopoly of the great powers

Jan 30, 2006

When the Iranian government announced it would restart nuclear research activities, a spokesman for the U.S. government declared that the U.S. was keeping its options open: while it might not immediately use military force against Iran, it wasn’t ruling it out either.

For months, France, Germany, Great Britain and the U.S. have been indignant because the Iranian government wants to restart research on uranium enrichment. Now they envisage bringing it before the United Nations Security Council. French President Chirac said, “the international community must respect engagements agreed to for the security of everyone.” But this famous “international community” is nothing but a coalition of the biggest powers, which are themselves armed to the teeth.

In the first place, Iran has gone out of its way to prove to the U.S. and the other big powers that it wants this research in order to establish nuclear power plants. It signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and agreed to all its conditions. It allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into the country, and allowed them to inspect what they wanted. The inspectors found nothing. The Iranian government even stopped enriching uranium for more than two years in order to demonstrate more good will and negotiate an agreement.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. and European powers ignored all this. They just continued to churn out ever more outrageous lies about Iran – at the same time they prevented Iran from getting fuel for its nuclear power plants.

The five permanent members of the United Nations – the U.S., Great Britain, Russia, France and China – along with Israel, India and Pakistan make up the atomic club. That is, they are the countries that have nuclear weapons. The so-called great powers want to keep the door to the atomic club locked. They preach a morality they don’t respect themselves. By themselves alone, they are responsible for 85% of all the arms sales in the world! The pretended “security for everyone” they talk about results each year in the deaths of 500,000 people killed by conventional arms.

Bush declared that an Iran endowed with nuclear weapons poses a grave threat to world security, hiding the threat that comes from the U.S. itself. The U.S. government remains the only one that has ever dropped atomic bombs – laying waste to two cities in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945.

The current Iranian government is hardly a guarantor of peace, nor a defender of freedom in Iran itself or in the Middle East, nor a protector of the rights of other people. But the big powers, which set themselves up as arbiters of the world, don’t worry about peace and “human rights” when their interests are at stake. What right do they have to enact rules and impose prohibitions which they ignore themselves? They simply took that right by force.

Today, under cover of preaching to Iran, they are acting to preserve their monopoly of “nuclear force.” It continues to be a threat against people who contest their control of the whole world.

Pages 6-7

We"ve put them on notice

Jan 30, 2006

Chrysler and the UAW International are discussing how to bring the concession contract to the Chrysler workers. But they have a big problem.

What happened at Ford showed that most Ford workers are against this concession contract, no matter what the vote was reported to be. And will Chrysler workers vote for this contract after what happened at Ford? Not likely.

Ford workers, GM workers, Chrysler workers – none of us want these concessions. We"ve already started to stand up against them. If we continue, we won't have to take them.

Call It Fraud

A lot of workers do not believe that the contract really passed. The way the vote was done in some places was suspicious.

In the Final building of the Truck plant, the vote was done in a proper manner and the vote came out overwhelmingly "No."

But in some plants at the Rouge, they carried buckets around to collect ballots. In some instances, there was no control over who voted; or whose name got marked off, or if your name got marked off, or how many times someone voted. And those units reported great big "Yes' votes.

Workers have every reason to demand that this vote is overturned.

Bill Ford Admits the Truth

For weeks before workers voted on the concessions contract all the newspapers were reporting doom and gloom about Ford Motor Co. and GM losing money and market share. Even the top UAW leadership wrote a letter within the contract Highlights saying the same thing.

But after we voted, they admitted the truth.

On January 8th, Bill Ford gave a speech at the Detroit Auto Show in which he said, "We"re going to be solidly profitable in 2005 when we close the books." He also said that Ford Motor Co. losing market share was something they chose to do because they were concentrating on selling the higher profit vehicles.

In other words, talk about Ford's crisis is a trick to get us to stab ourselves in the back.

They Tell the Truth to Wall Street Audience

V.P. Mark Fields said it directly: our plan is being launched by a profitable company. They made $2 billion in profits in 2005.The Chief Financial officer said the company was working with nearly $38 billion in cash! That their liquid assets far outstrip their debt.

Accounting Tricks in Order to Try to Scare Us

They try to make it seem that they are making money everywhere else in the world except their North American Automotive operations. They use this in order to scare us.

Hogwash. It's an accounting trick. They shift these profits into their finance arm, Ford Motor Credit. They have been doing this for years, to avoid paying us our profit-sharing.

Don't Close Plants, Fire the People Who Wrecked Them

Ford said they had to close plants because they lost market share. But whose fault is that? A lot of the market share Ford gave up deliberately by deciding to concentrate on higher profit trucks and SUVs and deliberately cutting back sales to rental car companies.

The people who made these decisions should be held accountable.

GM and Ford:
Rich companies, playing poor to steal even more

Jan 30, 2006

General Motors and Ford Motor Company are in the midst of a full-court press to create an aura of crisis in their companies. GM claimed a loss of 8.6 billion dollars for 2005. Bill Ford himself actually stopped Ford’s production lines for an hour and a half to tell workers he intended to close plants and lay off thousands of workers between now and 2012.

General Motors was extra inventive in its bookkeeping. By entering into its books every conceivable “charge,” including “charges” for closing plants that might be closed in the future, GM could announce an enormous loss. On paper.

Bill Ford had the harder job, since his company just reported a $2 billion profit for 2005, following $3.5 billion profit in 2004. A little more difficult to persuade workers that the company is nearly bankrupt!

If GM and Ford face a problem, it is not in their cash flow nor on their balance sheets. Their problem is that their campaign to steal even more money from workers’ health care and pension funds has run up against some resistance – more resistance than they will admit!

And their ally in this campaign, the leadership of the UAW (United Auto Workers), is up against that same resistance. The UAW could only report a vote of 61% in favor of the new concessions at GM – despite rushing the vote through, despite misleading and incomplete explanations, despite very loose voting procedures. No one believed it was the true vote.

And when the following Ford vote was reported as passing by only 51%, most workers were convinced Ford workers had in reality turned the concessions down flat.

Now the companies’ problem is how will the union get approval for the same concessions from Chrysler workers? Chrysler is boastfully profitable, and sentiment on the shop floor is so strong, that one-third of the local officials were forced to register their opposition to concessions.

Faced with the workers’ level of resistance, the corporations have put together a far more elaborate “crisis” dog-and-pony show. But if anyone is inclined to believe it, they should look at the actions of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. Kerkorian has made a career of amassing billions of dollars of wealth. He’s not someone to be caught investing foolishly. Last year he bought 56 million shares of GM; sold 12 million in December for tax purposes; and in mid-January bought 12 million again, to hold 9.9% of GM, indicating he wants to buy more.

Or consider that on the day Bill Ford made his spectacular “Way Forward” announcement of crisis, plant closings and layoffs – Ford stock went up!

The big financiers understand each other.

But many workers also understand, and have decided that they will not be fooled into concessions so easily.

At Delphi, which is using bankruptcy as a tactic to impose big concessions on GM’s parts-plant workers, a core of activists have formed the organization “Soldiers of Solidarity” to oppose any concessions whatever.

Workers’ resistance is not only showing up in the auto industry. The mechanics’ strike at Northwest, isolated as it was, revealed a choice to fight. The New York transit workers voted against a proposed contract with health care concessions, revealing their choice to fight on.

We can hope that these few sparks are evidence of a more widespread stiffening of attitude in the working class. It’s long past time that the bosses’ bluff was called.

Page 8

Medicare “reform”:
Corporations hit the jackpot, at the expense of the elderly

Jan 30, 2006

The new confusing, expensive Medicare D prescription drug plan that provides very little benefit for most elderly people is a big bonanza for some corporations. Companies that continue to provide prescription drug coverage will receive a $668 subsidy for every person covered who is over 65 and eligible for Medicare. The company gets that money even if the retiree never uses one penny’s worth of prescriptions. And they get it even if they cut back coverage they offer, as GM and Ford just did.

The federal government will pay out 5.9 billion dollars to these corporations this year, and 71 billion dollars over the next 10 years. That money is tax-free, so it amounts to about 100 billion dollars in income for the companies if they were taxed on it.

The auto companies, for example, which recently extracted concessions from their workers to pay for retiree health coverage, will benefit enormously. General Motors has almost 300,000 hourly retirees and spouses and another 130,000 salaried retirees. Not all of these retirees are Medicare-eligible, but that still means GM will receive more than 200 million dollars in subsidies every year! Ford stands to receive more than 100 million dollars a year. They never mentioned it when they asked workers for concessions.

Any company that provides retiree medical benefits was supposed to be putting aside money during all the years retirees worked. If that money’s not there today, the bosses stole it.

This subsidy is just a reward for stealing!

It’s Congress who’s sick

Jan 30, 2006

Congress is about to pass a law that will cut off many Medicaid-eligible people from the program.

Part of the budget bill up for a vote on February 1, the provision would require Medicaid applicants to show a passport or birth certificate when they apply. There are NO exceptions.

Lawmakers rationalize the move by saying it’s necessary to stop non-citizens from applying for and receiving Medicaid coverage.

There’s only one problem with that: there’s absolutely NO evidence there are any false applications even occurring!

In other words, the administrative costs of the new rule would far outstrip any cost savings from such a change. And yet, the Congressional Budget Office says that the new rule would save more than 700 million dollars in the next ten years.

How can that be? Simple. They KNOW that the majority of people on Medicaid have no passport and no copy of a birth certificate, and would have a difficult time getting one. They KNOW that a huge number of people who are eligible will be denied Medicaid if the rules goes into effect!

Medicaid was supposed to cover the medical care for the very poor. But over and over again, Congress has looked for excuses to exclude more poor from the program. First they barred many immigrants from Medicaid coverage – under the pretext that these immigrants were not fully documented. Then they cut off all immigrants – “legal” or not – under the pretext that they were not citizens. And now they are going after any citizen who doesn’t have all the necessary paper work.

This is a slick maneuver to steal medical care from poor people.

How sick is that!

Medicare Part “D-saster”:
A gift for insurance and drug companies

Jan 30, 2006

Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage just started at the beginning of January, and seniors all across the country are already running into big problems.

Many are being charged much higher copays and deductibles than they thought they’d have, and being told that their specific medications are not covered.

Problems are so bad for low-income seniors who are not getting the medications they need, that they are turning to state agencies across the country seeking emergency Medicaid coverage. Vermont’s secretary of human services commented, “The federal system simply is not working.”

This is not a surprise – given how the program was set up.

In most states, on average, there are 30 to 40 different plans that seniors have to choose from, with more than 3,000 plans nationwide. Each insurance company has its own set of plans, each set up to make a profit, each covering different sets of medications. The system is so complicated that there’s no way it can efficiently get people the medications they need.

Medicare D is such a bureaucratic mess because it was set up to be a boondoggle to private companies. The government contracts most of the work with private insurance providers to run it. And they’ve jumped in there every way they can, to squeeze as much out of it as they can.

Private insurers take 25 or 30% of their revenues just for administrative costs. On the other hand, Medicare A and B, which are government-run programs, cost just 5% to administer.

Medicare D is also a gift to the drug companies. It’s why the federal government is prohibited from negotiating prices or setting prices directly. For Medicare D, drug companies can charge as much as they want. In the Veterans Affairs drug plan, in which the government negotiates directly with the pharmaceuticals, drug prices are half of those in Medicare D – or much lower.

Estimates are that drug companies will make more than 13 billion dollars in profits in the first year alone from this one program – and as much as 139 billion dollars over eight years.

In Medicare D, HMOs and drug companies are set to make a killing. Where will all this money come from? First, the “beneficiaries,” through outrageous deductibles and copays. Second, the taxpayers. It’s been estimated that the government will be paying more than 900 billion dollars over the next decade for Medicare D. That means WE’LL be paying.

It’s no accident. This was why Medicare D was set up – under the guise of helping seniors, it was designed to be a huge gift to insurance companies and pharmaceuticals – directly from our pockets to theirs.