The Spark

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

Issue no. 774 — May 8 - 22, 2006

Editorial:
Hold Big Oil accountable!

May 8, 2006

With gas prices soaring at the pump, politicians in Washington pretend they are “getting tough” on Big Oil.

George Bush proposes to cut two billion dollars over 10 years off the oil companies’ tax breaks. But that’s not even peanuts to the oil industry, which recently got the right to pump oil and natural gas from federal lands without paying a penny in royalties over five years. That alone amounts to a tax break worth at least 65 billion dollars!

Congressional Democrats came up with their own ridiculous proposal: a “windfall profits” tax. Profits have been too high for years! When does it become a windfall?

And Republicans suggested to give every consumer a $100 check.

None of these suggestions would bring down the price of gas, which has already left many working families with no choice but to cut back on necessities such as food and clothes.

These proposals don’t begin to address the real problem: For over a century, oil production and distribution has been monopolized by just a few companies.

Oil products are vital necessities in a modern society. Capitalist society allows a handful of super-wealthy families that control the oil companies to set the prices of these necessities as high as they want them to be.

A political party ready to deal with this problem would roll back the prices of gasoline, heating oil and gas to one-half, even one-third of what they are now. Whatever profits that were left would be used to maintain existing refineries and build new ones – something oil companies have not done for decades.

No company or private interest would be allowed to control products necessary for the functioning of society. Gasoline, heating oil, natural gas etc., would not be allowed to become commodities speculated on – driving their prices ever higher.

Big Oil executives themselves say that’s what’s going on. Trying to absolve themselves of responsibility, they point out that the market price of crude oil has risen at least 20 to 30% in the last few months because of speculation. In other words, the same barrel of oil is sold and resold over and over again – always at a higher price – by speculators who turn a profit on each sale. These speculators are nothing but criminals gambling on the life blood of the whole society to recklessly fill their own pockets.

But this is nothing new. It’s the same game played by Enron and others that drove the price of electricity higher and higher in California six years ago!

The politicians in Washington can’t even pretend they haven’t seen it before. But still they don’t hold these vultures, and the oil industry, accountable.

Doing so would mean to call into question the very functioning of the capitalist economy – a line which these politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, have never crossed.

But that’s exactly what needs to be done – call into question the capitalist system, a system that is geared toward one goal only: producing bigger and bigger profits for the big bosses, by any means, at the expense of the whole society. This outworn system needs to be junked!

Pages 2-3

Immigrants made May 1st their day

May 8, 2006

Billed originally as a “day without immigrants,” May 1st was marked by a range of actions – from vast demonstrations during work hours to after-work or after-school meetings in parish halls widely scattered across a city. The demonstration through downtown Chicago was massive, lasting hours, as was the one in Los Angeles.

By contrast, Washington D.C., which had been the site of the one big national demonstration on April 10, saw a rally numbering not much more than ten thousand, if that, although more people attended events scattered throughout the city. Something similar happened in New York and other cities, where events marking the day were dispersed. In many cities, like Las Vegas, immigrants were called on to express their sentiments only before or after work.

This dispersal in time and place blunted the really massive outpouring of sentiment on May 1. The real strength of these million and many more people was not felt with nearly all the force it could have been.

It’s certainly not because the immigrants are less determined to gain legalization. But many of the coalitions and people who had called for the earlier demonstrations shifted gears – insisting that to stop work or school on May 1 was counter-productive, and might even lead to firings or legal problems.

This shifting of gears should come as no surprise. From the beginning, the coalitions that have called for the demonstrations looked for support to bosses’ organizations as diverse as the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Restaurant Association, the American Health Care Association, and others. And they have gained part of their money from foundations funded by the bourgeoisie.

Inevitably they will reflect the interests and the aims of the bourgeoisie.

What the bourgeoisie wants today is an “immigration reform” that will make it legal for them to hire immigrants, while not giving real legal rights to the immigrants themselves.

That’s what they will get from the current Senate bill – Hagel-Martinez. It would immediately send several million people back to their home countries. Others, who have been here between two and five years could get a 3-year work permit, but any number of infractions could lead to expulsion. And those who have been here more than five years could become legal residents – but only after working six more years, and then working another five years before gaining the right to apply for citizenship.

Those allowed to stay “legally” would have to pay big fines at different times, high fees, not to mention all back taxes for those times when they could only get work with employers who paid “under the table.” Loss of a job for 60 days could be enough to get someone expelled from the country.

The real meaning of this reform is that immigrants who keep quiet, don’t antagonize the boss and accept low wages can stay. For everyone else, there will be a hundred excuses for declaring them “illegal.”

Up until now, the bosses may have been ready to encourage demonstrations – but only to bring pressure on Congress to pass this bill. Senator John McCain even said it openly to the Washington Post: “Turnouts in the hundreds of thousands – particularly among Hispanics – at recent rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington helped galvanize support for the bill.”

But the bosses certainly aren’t ready to see those demonstrations go further, to see immigrants demanding and fighting for real legalization.

The bosses and their flunkies don’t have to have the last word in this matter. Even if May 1 was not what it might have been, hopefully there are many immigrants who felt what it could have been – immigrants who understand that in order for them to get the legalization they need, they will have to turn their backs on the bosses and their politicians, depending only on their own strength and forces.

Oppose attempts to divide the working class!

May 8, 2006

On May 3, the Minuteman Project kicked off a 10-day cross-country caravan to Washington, D.C. with a rally in Leimert Park, the heart of the traditional black section of south Los Angeles. The Minuteman Project is the anti-immigrant group that has gotten itself a lot of publicity for its supposed “patrols” of the border to stop so-called “illegal invaders.” On the stage with Minuteman leader Jim Gilchrist was a well-known black advocate for the homeless, Ted Hayes, who echoed much of what Gilchrist said about “illegal invaders” taking jobs and then demonstrably gave Gilchrist a big hug.

This supposed rally was little more than a cheap publicity stunt, and it got the tiny turnout that it deserved.

However, even though the rally was a flop, it still illustrates a political calculation that is being made by the extreme-right wing – that it can extend its base of support for anti-immigrant policies to part of the black population. After all in Los Angeles, there have been sporadic but ongoing clashes between Latinos and black people in schools, on the job and most spectacularly in prisons and jails. In the last few weeks, radio talk shows on black stations have been filled with anti-immigrant tirades. Black newspapers have been bombarded by letters blasting “illegal” immigrants. These reflect the ever worsening situation in the black population concerning jobs – a stark reality in which 70% of black men without high school diplomas between ages 20 and 30 are without work today, even while the capitalists continue to hire immigrants without papers at the lowest wages.

As the bourgeoisie cuts good-paying jobs and reduces funding for schools and other social services, it pits the most desperate parts of the immigrant community against the most vulnerable parts of the black population, creating an ever more explosive situation.

To defend themselves, workers have to respond with force to every attempt to cut jobs, lower wages and get rid of benefits. This means all the workers – black and white native-born, Hispanic native-born, immigrants who have legal status and immigrants without legal papers. The working class has strength only when it’s unified and mobilized. To oppose the attacks being carried out by the bosses, workers have to break through the things that divide them. These divisions were created by the bosses and serve only the bosses.

When any part of the working class is denied full legal status, every part can be more easily attacked.

Full legal rights for every worker! Jobs with decent pay for every worker! Down with violent reactionaries like the Minutemen, who are nothing but another KKK!

Administration ready for rise in temperature?

May 8, 2006

After four years of study, the administration released a report saying there is “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.” Finally, Washington has admitted what scientists have said for more than a decade.

But wait, Bush’s “Climate Change Science Program” has another 21 studies planned on global warming. So it may be a few more years – or decades – before they admit what scientists have been documenting for years.

One author of the report changed his previous opposition to the idea that human activity, especially burning fossil fuels, has caused average temperatures to rise. And then he immediately concluded that it was now impossible to counteract that. He suggested that countries need to “adapt” to the problem.

As the oceans rise, the residents of New York, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, Bombay, Amsterdam, etc. will just have to push their houses back a few feet. That’s all!

Montana sedition pardons:
88 years too late!

May 8, 2006

On May 3, the Montana governor posthumously pardoned 78 people who were convicted of “sedition,” that is, criticizing government policies, in 1918.

Twenty-seven states had passed sedition laws during World War I. Montana’s version, which made it a crime to say anything “disloyal, profane, violent, scurrilous, contemptuous or abusive” about the government, became the template for a federal law Congress passed later in 1918.

Authorities in Montana didn’t waste any time using this law against people. Seventy-nine people were convicted; 41 of them got prison sentences ranging between 1 and 20 years. One man, for example, was sentenced to 7 to 20 years in prison for saying that the government’s wartime food regulations were a “big joke.”

Most of the victims were of German descent, which authorities used to accuse them of “siding with the enemy.” In fact, historian Clemens P. Work, whose book about the sedition law paved the way for the pardons, points out that the Montana law was influenced by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which saw the law as a way to deal with “labor unrest.”

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, mine workers throughout the Western states organized strikes and protests against the low wages and deplorable conditions in the mines. Many times, troops were sent to crush the strikes, resulting in many deaths among workers and their families. We don’t know how many of those charged with sedition in Montana were organizers in this movement. But we do know that many of them were workers. And we also know that, during World War I, state and federal governments used the sedition laws to jail many leaders and organizers of the Western Federation of Miners as well as the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).

Issuing the pardons, the Montana governor said: “God bless America, because we can criticize our government.” Yeah, right. Eighty-eight years later – after people were sent to prison for no reason, their farmland was confiscated and not returned, their children were sent to orphanages and put up for adoption, when their descendants still suffer the consequences of this grave injustice!

No one should believe things are any different today. Today’s sedition law is called the Patriot Act, which the government uses to lock up immigrants of Middle-Eastern descent without any evidence of terrorist activity. And no one should believe that the government can’t and won’t find ways to use similar repressive laws already on the books against any worker who tries to organize against the bosses’ ongoing drive to cut jobs, wages and benefits.

This leopard sitting in Washington, D.C. hasn’t ever changed its spots.

BGE rate hike brings public anger

May 8, 2006

On April 27, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) finally held a public hearing on the huge BGE rate increase. The room in the state office downtown was jammed. People expressed their anger, speaking of the hardships it would cause, warning that some people, especially seniors, would die if heat were cut off in winter and fans or AC cut off in summer.

With tempers running hot against BGE and its electric rate hike proposal, the commissioners adjourned the public meeting. Two hours later, the PSC met behind closed doors and voted 4-1 to go along with almost everything BGE and Constellation Energy asked for.

Why didn’t they meet where the public could see and hear them? Obviously they wanted to hide their dirty work.

It will take much more than this protest to change the minds of the PSC commissioners and their rich friends at BGE. But this protest at least kept the heat coming up.

Arson experts testify innocent man was executed

May 8, 2006

Four of the country’s top arson experts released a report on May 2 showing that an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed by the state of Texas.

Willingham’s three children were killed in a fire in Corsicana, Texas in 1992. His wife had gone out of the house and he testified he was awakened by a child’s screams. He got out alive but the children died.

The state’s deputy fire marshal and the local town’s assistant fire chief testified that the fire was caused by arson. Neither had any scientific training – which didn’t stop them from posing as experts and railroading Willingham onto death row. They said that cracked glass found after the fire could only have been caused by a chemical accelerant. In fact, arson experts say that cracked glass is often caused by water firemen spray on hot glass. A prosecution witness in the trial also insisted that dropped cigarettes rarely cause fires; in reality, they are the main cause of fire deaths.

Another Texas man sentenced to death for arson, Ernest Ray Willis, was released from prison in 2004 after 17 years and given $430,000 by the state for wrongful imprisonment. Prosecutors in his trial had used the same “evidence” as in the Willingham case. But Willingham was put to death because the courts and the Texas governor relied on technicalities to ignore a report which also showed his innocence.

Texas leads the country for the number of people in prison for arson, 666 in 2002. And Texas has accounted for more than a third of the 1,020 people executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

There was a murder that occurred in the Willingham case. Willingham himself was murdered – by the prosecutors, all the Texas courts who upheld his conviction, and the governor who let his execution go through despite having in hand a specialist’s arson report saying the testimony against him was completely wrong.

It comes as no surprise that a state that leads the country in executions was willing to imprison and execute innocent people for arson.

Pages 4-5

Indonesia:
How a gold mine is ruining the region

May 8, 2006

The confrontation between the police and the population of a mining region, West Papua, in Indonesia, resulted in seven deaths in mid-March. The police shot into crowds of demonstrators.

The protests were against the take over of the region by the U.S. mining company Freeport McMoran. Since 1971, Freeport has had the exclusive concession to extract gold, silver and copper from this region. More than 14,000 miners dig out 200,000 tons of ore per day from the world's largest open pit gold mine. The hole in the land goes down more than two miles. An additional 7,000 tons of other minerals, mixed in water, are sent by pipeline for shipment to Japan or to the U.S.A. Next to the mine is a mountain, made out of rubble from the pit.

The miners of Freeport supposedly make three times the average worker's wage for Indonesia. And the company provides the miners with housing. But another 120,000 people surround the mine, the so-called “illegal” miners, working at whatever they can in the surrounding slums that lack actual roads, let alone sewage removal. The only public building is a barracks for troops. The government is represented there by the police and the army, whose wages are partially paid by the company.

The CEO of Freeport says such payments to the police are the best method to ensure their “dependability.” Likewise, the mining director was quoted in the local press saying that the police are needed to ensure that demonstrations are “peaceful and quickly ended.”

In 1995, the police in Papua assassinated several Papuans who opposed the extension of the mine. Even women and children were killed. In 2003, Freeport actually admitted to paying the Indonesian army to try to forcibly move the population out of the area.

It's not just that the company bribes the local police. Freeport also helped to finance the dictator Suharto. During his 30-year reign of terror, Suharto guaranteed the company would receive loans. Three payments of 673 million dollars each were given to Freeport. In exchange, Freeport promised to keep its company headquarters in the mining region, guaranteeing the length of the concession.

Freeport also engaged the services on its board of directors of Suharto's good friend, Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State. When Suharto was overthrown in 1998, Freeport made sure it engaged the services of a judge from the International Tribunal in the Hague. This judge was one who specialized in “crimes against humanity.” He assured Freeport it wouldn’t be considered liable for any crimes in West Papua.

There is a terrible price paid for Freeport McMoran's profits: the daily lives of the local population. Yes, $7.00 is supposedly a high salary. In exchange, miners breathe in dust all day long under harsh working conditions. For some of them, starvation is the goad to dig through a mountain of debris with their bare hands to find gold dust. They endanger their lives to make a bit of money. And their lives are plagued by slums under police control, prostitutes afflicted with AIDS, a military dictatorship, destruction of their countryside, poisoned rivers and the semi-disappearance of the Papuan people, who were the only inhabitants of this region until 1960.

These are some of the “incidental expenses” of capitalist exploitation.

Zimbabwe:
Death at age 34

May 8, 2006

Life expectancy is an important measure of the well-being of society. A new report by the World Health Organization shows a rapidly declining life expectancy for the people of Zimbabwe. Women in Zimbabwe have the lowest life expectancy in the world: age 34, down from 36 in 2002; that of men is 37 years. Child mortality is another important measure. One in eight children in Zimbabwe never reaches the age of five, compared to one in 13 children in 1989.

There are several reasons for the deteriorating situation, based on poverty and disease – the gift of imperialism. The HIV/AIDS epidemic and re-emergence of tuberculosis, along with the lack of drugs to fight it, weaken the entire population. The overall economic crisis has driven health care professionals out of the country. Those who remain are overwhelmed with huge caseloads.

The economy is in shambles. Seven out of ten Zimbabweans are unemployed. Though historically Zimbabwe farmers have grown essential crops to feed the people, including beef, vegetables and fruit, most food is now imported. Inflation is out of control – 800% in March and more than 900% in April. The price of a loaf of bread can go up by 60% overnight. One loaf now costs 90,000 Zimbabwe dollars. There is an acute shortage of food, fuel and jobs. People spend hours in line for handouts of necessities of life.

Zimbabwe is not alone in having a life expectancy in the 30s. Swaziland’s life expectancy is 38 years; Sierra Leone’s is less than 40 years of age. The ten countries with the lowest life expectancy are in Africa.

This is what imperialism has done to Africa. Great Britain, once the colonial power in Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe, exploited its natural resources: gold, cola, nickel and large commercial farms. The wealth went to Britain; the black population of Zimbabwe was left impoverished.

Today the U.S. and Western capitalists are predators in Africa. All that Britain and the U.S. offer are usurious loans, weapon sales and the plunder of the natural resources of Africa.

Chinese workers strike

May 8, 2006

In March, thousands of workers struck Yunnan Textile for four days. This company, located in Yunnan Province in southeast China, created a so-called “employee committee” to decide on restructuring. But there were only bosses and city officials on this committee – not even one representative of the workers.

Striking workers gathered in front of Yunnan headquarters to demand a meeting with management. They were told there would be layoffs, with compensation. But the compensation was the ridiculous amount of $108 for each year on the job. And for those NOT laid off, working conditions would get worse. For example, working hours are supposed to increase from 8 to 12 hours per day without any increase in pay!

The workers decided to write and sign a protest, which they collectively delivered to city officials. The workers also denounced the bosses who had just generously rewarded themselves for these changes with large numbers of stocks in Yunnan Textile.

And what did city officials do? They assured the strikers that workers would be able to participate in decisions about this restructuring of the company. So, pleaded these politicians, would the workers please go back to work?

Capitalism uses the same methods everywhere, with the same excuses. So it is only to be expected that workers will have the same reactions everywhere!

Bolivia:
Hydrocarbons are nationalized
– but no break with imperialism

May 8, 2006

On May 1, the new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced the re-nationalization of the country’s most important resources – natural gas and oil. He stopped there – not taking over all facilities and assets completely.

Bolivia will negotiate with the foreign multinational companies that buy Bolivian gas; the Bolivian state will take a greater share than it currently owns. And just to make sure, the president sent in troops to occupy a number of hydrocarbon sites, especially in the important region of Santa Cruz.

This brash decision by Morales, who dares to step on the toes of big oil, deserves support. But the new president was pushed to take action by a massive mobilization calling for re-nationalization.

The re-nationalization of hydrocarbons, but not the facilities of the oil trusts, is the first point on Morales’ economic program. He explained in an interview last March that he did not intend “to confiscate or to expropriate the property of the oil companies. But they do not have the right to own the hydrocarbon sites that belong to us. Rather, it is our government that will control them. We are going to nationalize the hydrocarbons, but not the property of the oil companies.” And he invited any foreign companies that reject this nationalization to leave the country.

It is easy to see why Washington, the European Union and even some neighboring countries like Brazil, which buys half of Bolivia’s gas production, are unhappy with this latest move. The imperialist powers obviously prefer to rob Latin America as they please. This re-nationalization of hydrocarbons puts into question all the other privatizations the Bolivian government carried out over the last 10 years. Still, the oil and gas companies will be able to make sizeable profits under this new arrangement.

Up until 1997, Bolivia used enough of its hydrocarbon reserves to satisfy its domestic market and export small quantities of natural gas. From 1936 until 1996, the national enterprise Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales de Bolivia (YPFB) was responsible for its exploitation and commercialization. Apercentage of the operations went to the state to finance various budgets, especially in the provinces. The money collected was not used, however, to take control of new exploration below ground, an activity left to the foreign oil companies.

In 1996, a former president privatized most of the economy, including hydrocarbons. Beginning in 1997, a number of foreign multinational companies joined those already present in Bolivia, their appetites whetted by the discovery of new gas reserves. More than 20 large companies used their technological mastery to carve up Bolivian gas reserves. Among them were Total, British Gas, Chaco-Amoco (Dutch), Repsol (Spain), Shell and Exxon-Mobil, and Pluspetrol (Argentina).

Beginning in 2000, the Bolivian population was mobilized over the demand to take back their natural resources, including gas and water. A number of movements developed, including the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism), the party of Evo Morales, which has its social base among the growers of coca; the Bolivian Workers Center, the main union organization in the country; and the Neighborhood Federation of El Alto, a poor suburb in the capital, La Paz.

These social conflicts, sometimes bloody, had led to the downfall of two earlier presidents and to the election of Morales. A 2004 referendum affirmed that 70% of the Bolivian people were in favor of nationalizing hydrocarbons. This demand became the #1 point on the electoral platform of the MAS.

As is often the case in political parties, the MAS expressed the demand ambiguously in its program. There is a radical wing of the MAS that wants to go all the way to the complete expropriation of the foreign companies. The policy announced by Morales does not go that far.

Morales, elected in January with 54% of a very large turnout, has respected the wishes of his electorate. The decision to re-nationalize hydrocarbons will inevitably lead to a battle with the oil trusts and with a part of the privileged class linked to them.

By satisfying this demand, the government of Morales has at the same time strengthened its ties with the popular movements that elected him. By leaning on the population, Morales expects to gain enough strength to maneuver with the imperialists to lift some of the pressure they put on Bolivia. At the same time, he is not taking radical moves against the interests of these imperialist powers, nor putting into question their private ownership of the means of production – all of which makes it more difficult to improve the living conditions of the poorer classes.

The reason Morales made these moves was the popular mobilization pushing for them. The poor classes would do well to continue to pressure the new government to carry out its maneuvers against the oil trusts – but also to make sure that the poor classes are not forgotten during the redistribution of wealth that the Bolivian state is pretending to rule over once again.

Lodi, California “terrorism” verdict:
Thirty years for hearsay

May 8, 2006

A jury has found Hamid Hayat, a 23-year-old resident of Lodi, California, guilty of “providing material support to terrorists.” In his sentencing, scheduled for July, Hayat will get at least 30 years in prison.

Government officials declared the verdict a victory against terrorism. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issued a statement, saying: “... Justice has been served against a man who supported and trained with our terrorist enemies in pursuit of his goal of violent jihad.”

But did Hayat really do that? In fact, the prosecution produced not one shred of direct evidence to support the only accusation against Hayat – that he attended terrorist training camps in Pakistan. Nor did it even try to show that he was preparing terrorist acts after his return to the U.S. It couldn’t.

The only thing the prosecution had was a videotaped confession by Hayat. When Hayat finally agreed he had been in a camp in Pakistan, he had been held for days incommunicado, harassed. His so-called “confession” was nothing but a repeat of the very words used by the FBI agents themselves. Anyone who has watched enough cop shows on TV knows what this kind of “confession” is worth as legal evidence!

The government had little concern for legality or fairness in this case. The proof is the way Hayat was indicted in the first place.

Hayat, who was born in the U.S. and is a U.S. citizen, was accused by Naseem Khan, a man who volunteered to give “evidence” to the FBI – for a price! Khan befriended Hayat, who is about 10 years younger. In his taped conversations with Hayat, Khan is the only one who talks about “training.” Once Khan even swears at Hayat and tells him to “be a man” and go to a camp!

In May 2005, on his way back from Pakistan, Hayat was interrogated in Japan by the FBI and cleared for entry to the U.S. But the FBI visited Hayat a month later in Lodi, where he had gotten a job packing fruit. When he and his father Umer showed up for an interview in Sacramento, the FBI put them under lock and key until it got these so-called “confessions.”

The father’s trial has ended in a hung jury. And since the verdict against his son, at least one juror has already come forward saying that she was pressured by other jurors to vote guilty even though she felt Hayat was not guilty.

In any other time period, this kind of case would not even have gone to trial. But in the aftermath of 9/11, every prosecutor eager to make a career move looks for a Middle-Eastern man he can point at, crying “terrorist.”

This is what the campaign against so-called “terrorism” has produced – false arrest, false imprisonment, under an atmosphere of hysteria.

Stop the victimization of the Hayat family and others like them!

Pages 6-7

UAW at DCX:
Giving away the store

May 8, 2006

“We are changing the way we do business.” With these words, a UAW region 1A representative explained an unprecedented “shelf” contract to give up concessions on wages, classifications, jobs, break time, personal days, the eight hour day and overtime pay – starting five and nine years from now!

This UAW leader wasn’t waiting to see how much “trouble” DCX and the Chrysler Corporation may claim to be in, five and nine years from now. He was ready to give away the store in advance. And he was not the only one.

The “shelf” agreements were forced through votes at rushed membership meetings at Chrysler engine plants in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Trenton, Michigan. Workers were pushed to vote instantly on giving Chrysler this future bonanza after seeing only a one-page summary and hearing union officials threaten that their plants would close if they did not vote yes immediately.

Parts of the new agreements are to begin at Trenton in the year 2011, for workers in a new engine plant to be built beside the existing one. The full agreement will come into play in 2015, after current engine models are discontinued.

Only 600 of the current 1200-plus Trenton workers will be allowed to transfer to the new plant. Management will be allowed to pick which workers transfer. All janitorial and other off-the-line work will be outsourced. Any skilled tradesmen hired will have to cover the work of all trades.

Four ten-hour days will be mandatory. Workers can be forced to work 11.5 hours per day if needed. Overtime will not be paid until after a worker puts in 40 hours per week. Break time for a ten-hour shift will be reduced from today’s 58 minutes down to 24 minutes.

New hires will not be paid full rate – whatever that will be! – for five years. The attendance policy will be changed to match the strictest in the industry. Fewer union representatives will be available for workers.

And these are only the highlights that top union officials admitted they had agreed to.

This is the latest step backwards, produced by the UAW’s policy of giving concession after concession to management. Just like every concession before this, it increases the speed of the race to the bottom.

No worker is safe so long as concessions policies are pursued. And no worker can put their trust in union leaders who push through such deals.

The drive for concessions will be stopped when workers – union activists as well as rank-and-filers – decide they will fight. Period.

Miners’ families denounce unsafe conditions at Sago hearings

May 8, 2006

Last week, families of the 12 miners killed in the Sago mine disaster in early January testified at public hearings. They raised hard-hitting questions for the government mine safety agency, MSHA.

The hearing may have begun with relatives in tears, but their tears soon turned to anger as they stepped up to the mike. Parents, spouses, and children questioned safety regulations and lack of enforcement; what caused the explosion; why it took so long for rescuers to begin their search; why they were first told all miners were still alive; why everything took hours and hours before they got any information from the International Coal Group, parent company of Sago. They challenged officials’ explanation that lightning caused the explosion. And they confronted MSHA officials who insisted that all air canisters used to provide oxygen in emergencies had been tested and found functional.

The relatives referred to the letter written by Randal McCloy Jr., the sole survivor who said that at least four of the canisters never worked. And they questioned the reliability of safety equipment for men going into the mines today. Repeatedly they pressed officials for the truth.

The son of one dead miner said, “We’re not going to let this rest. We know this can be corrected and needs to be done now.”

Auto workers rally against concessions while politicians misdirect

May 8, 2006

About 1000 people attended an April 29 rally in Lansing, Michigan, to demonstrate support for Delphi workers facing disastrous wage and benefit concessions. The majority of the crowd was made up of 600 rank and file auto workers and their families. The crowd also included about 200 UAW union representatives from other workplaces and about 200 additional people pushing only the Democratic Party agenda.

It was a rally that never would have happened without the efforts of Delphi workers who are organized to fight concessions as Soldiers of Solidarity. They pushed the UAW leadership to sponsor a rally before federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain considers Delphi’s request to cancel labor agreements.

A regional director in mid-Michigan agreed to sponsor the protest and publicize it. But once UAW officials headed it, the rally that the workers ended up with was not the rally workers had envisioned. They had wanted to demand government relief from corporate greed. What they got was a rally cheer-leading the very Democratic Party that sides with the corporations against the workers.

Speeches by Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow bashed imports and President Bush. The message boiled down to the same thing. Sit back and wait for the Democrats to save you.

The powerful need for workers to continue to organize themselves to fight against the companies’ vicious attacks was never mentioned. There was no message congratulating workers for the brave fight they have been waging so far. The politicians and their union official friends might just as well have said “Stop what you have been doing so far and vote for Democrats in November.” Fortunately the majority of workers were not hearing this message.

Most workers at the rally – while happy to bash Bush – were not impressed with the Democrats’ speeches. The crowd response was just the bare minimum polite applause. But speaking with each other, workers were vocal about their disgust. The majority of the crowd was not happy with what the rally turned into – nor fooled by it.

Homemade signs in the crowd said it better than any of the speeches. Signs like: “Honor Contracts: NO CONCESSIONS,” “Delphi: Morally Bankrupt Too!” “The Rich Get Richer,” and “The Government Has Failed to Stop Corporate Greed! Do Your Job!”

The auto workers who came saw that the politicians have nothing to do with the fight that is in front of workers right now. They were right. The more Delphi workers rely on themselves to organize their own rallies and all aspects of their struggle from beginning to end, the better results they will get.

Page 8

Soldiers Speak Out:
An important voice against the war

May 8, 2006

Soldiers Speak Out is a powerful video showing interviews with former Iraq war veterans who oppose the war.

All of these soldiers, men and women from all branches of the military, began speaking out once they were back in the United States. Some, like Carlos Mejia, refused to go back to Iraq even though they still had time left on their enlistment – and spent nine months in prison for it. Mejia came to see the war as fundamentally inhumane and unjust.

The soldiers speak about the dehumanizing process of basic training and the dishonest recruiting methods being used. More than one talked about how they thought they were joining to fight for freedom, only to find out later that it was “all a con.”

One after another, the soldiers describe the destruction they witnessed in Iraq: for example, tanks firing into villages, leaving men, women and children terrified, injured, bloody – and dead. One states, “I can’t imagine what those kids think now, about ‘the day the Americans came and shot up our village’.”

Presented with these descriptions of attacks on unarmed civilians are graphic images of the dead civilians, lying in the streets. These images are rarely shown on television inside the U.S.

The soldiers make the point that most soldiers in the war can’t question it at that point; they’re too concerned with survival. But it’s not only that; soldiers can’t normally express themselves freely when they oppose the war they’re fighting! But a recent Zogby poll showed that 72% of troops believe the U.S. should leave Iraq within a year at the latest.

One soldier reminds the audience of Vietnam, when the “government lost control of the military.” “Sooner or later,” he says, “the military will refuse to fight.”

The soldiers in this video have chosen to tell what they know, and to expose the lie that the troops support the war. These soldiers, and others now back here in the U.S., are speaking for many still in the war when they speak out in opposition to it. The video is well worth seeing.

This video is available on DVD for $14.95; it can be ordered directly from its producer by calling (919) 225-5449 or online at www.empowermentproject.org.

What’s going on at Guantanamo

May 8, 2006

The Bush administration says the reason it’s dragging its feet on releasing people from Guantanamo – is that they’re afraid the detainees will be abused once they get to their own countries!

Detainee abuse? The U.S. would know!

British soldier refuses to serve:
The tip of an iceberg?

May 8, 2006

A British Royal Air Force doctor was sentenced to eight months in jail after refusing deployment to Iraq.

Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith refused to serve in Basra last July, saying the invasion was an act of aggression similar to Nazi war crimes.

Judge Advocate Jack Bayliss said that even though Kendall-Smith had acted on moral grounds, the government couldn’t put up with it. Bayliss said the jail sentence was intended to send a warning to all of the troops, that “those who wear the Queen’s uniform cannot pick and choose which orders they will obey. Those who seek to do so must face the serious consequences.”

In other words, the British government is sending a warning to all those other British soldiers who feel the way Kendall-Smith does. It’s an admission there are others “who wear the queen’s uniform” who are not ready to “obey.”

Making the Iraq war disappear

May 8, 2006

Perhaps a hundred thousand people marched down Broadway in New York City on April 29 – the lower avenue cleared of all traffic by the police. What were these thousands protesting on all their signs, in chants and in speeches? The nasty little disturbance over in Iraq, the one in which people continue to be killed every day.

If you depended on the bourgeois press for news, you’d never know the demonstration took place – they disappeared it not only off the front page, but even completely out of some newspapers. Even though it took place a short distance from The New York Times building, it got only a spare two paragraphs. Since the rulers of this country won’t stop this war, they have tried to do the next best thing – make it disappear.

No matter. Thousands of people are determined to continue opposing it – with or without press coverage.

Where was “organized labor”?

May 8, 2006

In the press’s disappearing act about opposition to the Iraq war, organized labor has disappeared even further. The AFL-CIO, supposedly representing organized labor, has carefully avoided calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq or Afghanistan. And the break-away group of unions, called “Change to Win,” has even avoided mentioning the war.

So the participation by many unionists and other workers in the April 29 march was all the more important. There were numerous banners from labor unions and organizations with hundreds or even thousands of unionists marching behind them to show their opposition to the war. On the scale of the whole labor movement, they may not have been so many, but their appearance at the demonstration reflects more about the opinions of working people on the Iraq war than does the absence of top leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.