The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 776 — June 12 - 26, 2006

Editorial:
The best future for the young is the one they will fight for

Jun 12, 2006

June – it’s the month that high schools graduate another senior class, parents relax a bit and graduates begin to discover what the future holds for them.

Of course, for those whose families have money, there is no question about what they will do. Their future has been prepared for them for many years – and the next step will take them to the university. For a lucky number from working class families who managed to get a decent enough education in the mostly bad schools in working class neighborhoods, college might also be on the agenda. But for the most part, it will be a different kind of school, and one they will pay for with long hours of work and loans putting them in debt for years.

But there are all the rest of the 18-year- olds in this country – those who only graduated from high school, and those who didn’t even get that far. What awaits them is a very uncertain labor market. They find employers who pay only the minimum wage – or just a little more, with no guarantee from one week to the next of how many hours they will work and how long they can keep the job.

Employers turn them away, saying they want someone with more science background, and more math, plus the ability to express themselves well in English.

More science? Yes, students graduating should have more science – lots more, and it should be up to date, taught by teachers competent in their field with materials and books that are up to date. But the schools to which many working class children are condemned – especially in the middle of big cities or in rural areas – barely teach science. In 2004, teachers at the elementary level devoted only 2.3 hours a week to science – and the time barely increases as students progress into the upper years in school. Textbooks? Many times the books are 30 years or older, in a field where information changes rapidly. That is, when the books haven’t been expurgated by religious fanatics who push to remove everything from science books which contradicts their superstitious view of the world.

Prospective employers act as though it’s the fault of new job applicants when they don’t express themselves well. Well? Give them schooling with plenty of interesting books to choose from, time to read them and talk about them, small enough classes so they can do it, and students will express themselves. But coming from boilerplate classes, filled with too many students, too few teachers and too little interesting material, they will be proficient only in the speech of the streets.

For many 18-year-olds this spring, their first taste of the job market lets them know that they have been betrayed – the efforts they made to get through school were not matched by the efforts this society made to give them the education they need. Not enough money was set aside so that every one of those 18-year-olds could today have the education required to live and function fully in a modern, technologically developed society.

And then some employer dares to fault them. No, fault the society that didn’t give them the preparation needed. Fault the biggest companies who drain off society’s wealth, stealing it from schools, medical care, and other essentials.

Let this generation of 18-year-olds, as they confront the job market, start with the assumption that society owes them a living. It owes them a job, and one with sufficient income. And if capitalist society doesn’t provide them a decent job, this generation should do what previous ones didn’t, but should have done – demand it. Stand out in the street and put society on notice they WILL have a job, they WILL have a decent standard of living. And they won’t pay the price for what society didn’t give them.

Pages 2-3

“ExxonMobil has underfunded its pension plan by almost 4 billion dollars”

Jun 12, 2006

This story from the business pages a couple of weeks ago had to be a misprint, right? How could Exxon – which made more than 36 billion dollars last year, the biggest profit in U.S. corporate history – how could Exxon not be putting what it owed into the workers’ pension fund?

How? It was just doing what a lot of other corporations have done. Even when the auto companies made record profits, Ford Motor Co. and the others didn’t put all the money they owed into workers’ pension and health care funds.

The corporations take the money they owe to the workers and instead give more money to their executives and big stockholders. Then when profits are down, the corporations claim they don’t have the money for the workers.

It’s all a scam by the corporations. They had the money for workers’ pensions and health care. Let them pay it!

Chicago:
A higher minimum wage at “big box” stores?

Jun 12, 2006

For several months the Chicago City Council has been debating a minimum wage of $10 an hour plus $3 in benefits for any store with more than 75,000 square feet, called “big box” stores. This would include a new WalMart store, Target and an additional 33 big stores, employing some 9,000 workers who now get much lower wages. Of course, the owners of retail stores object, threatening that if the bill passed they would close these stores in Chicago and move to the suburbs. Maybe so – that’s why the $10 should apply to all stores in the state – in fact all stores across the country.

Those pushing limited extensions of the minimum wage are tied to the Democratic Party. In Illinois, the governor is a Democrat and the party controls both houses of the state legislature. Why don’t they enact $10 an hour and $3 in benefits in the whole state of Illinois right now? That would prevent WalMart and Target from whipsawing cities, setting them against each other.

Today the Democrats are trying to take back the U.S. House and Senate in the November election. You would think they would fight to increase the minimum wage for all workers in the country to $10, knowing it would increase their election hopes. But still they don’t do it. That shows just how tied they are to the ruling class. They don’t want to touch corporate profits.

$10 an hour and $3 in benefits isn’t much – but it would be a step forward for “big box” workers in Chicago, and even better for the many millions of low wage workers around the country. But don’t wait on the Democratic Party and its friends to bring it about. Start pushing!

Coal mine safety:
Only miners will enforce it

Jun 12, 2006

On May 20, an explosion in Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, Kentucky, killed five coal miners. Within a few days, two more miners died at other mines. These deaths brought the total killed in mine accidents already this year to 33, up from just 22 during all of 2005.

The outcry against the slaughter in the mines put Congress on the spot. It rushed to modify the federal mine safety law. But this was only a gesture aimed at quieting the outcry – even the coal bosses’ National Mining Association supported passage of this law!

The new law requires that operators provide miners with personal emergency breathing devices that can supply two hours of oxygen instead of the current one hour. In many countries, a 24-hour supply is required. Wireless two-way communication systems are supposed to be installed and miners are supposed to have electronic tracking devices – but not until three years from now. Abandoned sections of mines are to have stronger seals against accumulating methane – but not as strong as those required in many European countries.

Minimum fines for some violations are set for the first time, while maximum fines for some serious violations are raised. But nothing in the law forbids mine safety agencies from reducing or not even collecting the fines that are assessed – the current practice. There is nothing to stop mine owners from firing miners who complain about safety – another current practice. And nothing requires unsafe mines to be shut down. In the last month alone, the Darby mine had been cited 10 times for safety violations – but was allowed to go on operating until it killed five miners.

Mine safety can be improved – the same way it has been in the past, with miners organizing throughout the coal fields. A West Virginia coal miners’ wildcat strike in 1969 forced adoption of a state law providing compensation for victims of black lung – a deadly disease caused by breathing coal dust. Later that year miners forced Congress to pass the first comprehensive set of U.S. mine safety regulations. Miners themselves have repeatedly shut down mines when they knew they were unsafe.

Today, the miners can do it again.

Maryland:
Stop electric rate increases

Jun 12, 2006

On May 30, a circuit court judge ruled that Maryland’s Public Service Commission had to hold a new hearing on a disputed 72% electricity rate increase. The city of Baltimore had brought suit against this recently announced rate increase by Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE).

For the moment the rates are not going up. But the relief will be short-lived.

Maryland’s state legislature – controlled by the Democrats – agreed to hold a special session to consider the rate increases. Yet these hypocrites just ended their regular session one month ago – without doing a thing to stop this very same increase. Why would the politicians – or the PSC, which had just approved the rate increase – reverse themselves? In reality, the lawsuit is only part of the ongoing electioneering between Baltimore’s Democratic mayor and a Republican governor, who are running against each other in November for the governor’s chair.

The rate increase is part of the business plan of Constellation Energy, the parent company of BGE. Constellation is proposing to merge with Florida Power and Light. And they want more money from their existing customers to finance new acquisitions.

Constellation is already quite profitable. But like many other corporations, it arranges its books so that one part holds the profitable side while another part or subsidiary supposedly loses money. For example, Constellation gives itself large loans from a pool of money to which BGE must contribute.

Constellation is so profitable that it has offered its top executives 73 million dollars when the merger with Florida Power and Light goes through. The execs get 73 million and the residents get faltering electricity production and a 72% rate increase!

Neither a special legislative session nor a new public service hearing will stop corporate greed. Not unless electricity users of Maryland put them up against the wall.

The Delphi threat to move to China
– a scare tactic to exact concessions

Jun 12, 2006

Delphi workers keep hearing the rumor that Delphi wants to move all its U.S. operations to China.

So why is Delphi offering so many buyout packages to its U.S. workforce? If they were really moving, wouldn’t they just close plants and dump workers – as other companies have done?

No, what Delphi wants is to keep the advantage of staying where they are, but gutting its higher paid workforce, replacing these workers with a newer workforce with much lower wages – right here in the U.S.

They need the threat of China to convince workers to go along with the demand for enormous wage concessions – maybe for themselves, and especially for the new hires who will replace those workers who take the buyouts.

In any case, whether Delphi goes to China or stays here, there’s only one answer to their extortion demands – shove them back in Delphi’s face!

The game against Delphi workers goes into another inning

Jun 12, 2006

On the very eve of the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas, Delphi, GM and the UAW leadership produced an expanded buy-out program. All 24,000 UAW workers at Delphi are now eligible to apply for lump-sum payments in exchange for giving up their jobs, their medical coverage and full pensions. (Of course no one has suggested to the workers what they might do to find jobs to live on, with benefits, when their lump sum payments – after taxes – are used up!)

In cooperation with Delphi, GM and the UAW, the judge overseeing Delphi’s bankruptcy case adjourned (delayed) the hearings on the case until August 11. This same judge previously said he would not grant such a delay. (Even judges’ statements aren’t worth much!)

Could the timing – just before the UAW’s convention – be a coincidence? Perhaps – and pigs do fly!

Delphi’s sham bankruptcy, and the UAW’s policy of retreat in reaction to it, has created a vast amount of unease and anger among Delphi workers themselves, and also among other UAW workers. It’s clear that some of this anger could make itself heard – even on the convention floor in a Las Vegas casino. Delphi’s new offer gives the UAW leadership another weapon against the workers.

At the convention, officers can argue that their policy is making headway and that they are improving prospects for a “better” outcome. In the membership, the offer shifts the focus away from the need for united action, toward forcing each individual to make their own personal decision based on their own personal resources and prospects. On both fronts, the game is planned to attack the morale and resolve of those who understand the need to fight back and who are proceeding accordingly.

But if there is one lesson workers can take from these new developments, it is this: when workers made the officials and the bosses just a little afraid, they came up with more.

The higher-ups have demonstrated what they can produce when motivated by a little fear. The workers’ job is to make them even more afraid – and see what more they will produce!

Bankrupt?
Go race cars!

Jun 12, 2006

Strange how Delphi Corp. can claim to be bankrupt, and still pour millions into sponsoring not one, but two race cars, car #8 in the IndyCar league, and Car #5 in the NASCAR circuit.

“Bankruptcy” apparently is no reason for millionaires to quit playing with their toys.

Pages 4-5

CIA-sponsored warlords lose in Somalia

Jun 12, 2006

If we are to go by George Bush’s rhetoric, the U.S. has just lost another battle in the “war on terrorism.” Last week, warlords sponsored by the CIA were run out of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, by a militia force led by Islamic fundamentalists.

But the Bush administration doesn’t seem too shaken by this defeat. U.S. officials have already said that they are willing to “hold discussions” with the victors on how to keep Somalia “safe from terrorists.”

So the same fundamentalists that the U.S. has been accusing of supporting terrorism are now supposed to be transformed into allies against terrorism. And why not? It’s nothing new for “enemies” of the U.S. to turn into “friends” overnight. The warlords that the U.S. had been paying off secretly are the same ones the U.S. had declared the enemy in 1993, when President Clinton sent troops to invade Somalia.

The fact that the U.S. had been paying off the warlords was revealed only recently, after it became obvious that they were losing the war. This information was leaked to the press apparently by CIA officials who had opposed this policy but probably would have kept quiet if the warlords had won.

Well, call it another episode in Bush’s “terrorism wars.” These wars are fought not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but all over the world. They are fought overtly and covertly, using the U.S. military and paid mercenaries.

Yes it’s raging, the “war on terrorism,” except that it has nothing to do with making the world safe against terrorism, as Bush claims!

On the contrary, U.S. sponsorship of warlords and dictators, whether they call themselves religious or secular, is the main driving force for many of the wars going on in different parts of the world – which makes the world, including the U.S., more violent and more unsafe for everybody.

Afghanistan:
Anger against the occupation troops

Jun 12, 2006

The war which the Western powers continue to carry out in Afghanistan led to more than 400 deaths in less than two weeks in May and produced an outburst by the population in the Afghan capital itself in late May.

In Kabul, thousands of demonstrators expressed their anger when several Afghans were killed in a traffic accident caused by a coalition military truck. When a convoy crossed the city, the truck hit a dozen cars, causing the death of four people. After that, the U.S. officer commanding the convoy announced with typical colonial scorn that financial “compensation” would be paid to the victims’ families.

The population reacted immediately to this latest “collateral damage” caused by imperialist troops in the capital, crowding around the convoy and pelting it with stones. When shots killed people near the convoy – one provocation too many – people’s anger rose higher still. Many people went out into the streets and demonstrated in different neighborhoods, including in front of the embassies of the U.S., Britain and Germany and official Afghan buildings, yelling slogans hostile to the Western forces and President Karzai.

The angry actions of the population aren’t surprising. The 30,000 soldiers of the imperialist countries, including 20,000 from the U.S., are not there on a peace mission. The roars of jets often announce bombing against houses or places suspected of harboring combatants opposed to Karzai, which afterwards turn out to house non-combatants. The same day as the Kabul events, in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, some 50 people were killed in a bombing of a mosque where a few Taliban had assembled. The U.S. A-10 jets weren’t dropping “precision bombs” against only the Taliban, as the occupation commanders of the occupation pretend. The U.S. also bombed a village in the Kandahar region, killing another 16 inhabitants.

The population suffers from the attacks by Western troops, and demands for money by warlord militias which divided up the country with the aid of the U.S. after the Taliban were driven out in 2001.

The occupation of the Afghan mountains and plains by the imperialist forces is not aimed at letting the population benefit from “democracy,” but simply at maintaining control over a region that’s considered strategic for imperialist interests – even if this means waging a permanent war. This winds up reinforcing the hold of the most reactionary groups over the country, whether they are warlords allied to the West or the militias of the Taliban. And it increases the chaos which the population suffers from.

The Kabul demonstrations, which began in the poor neighborhoods of the occupied zone, clearly show that it isn’t only Taliban combatants that U.S. and other coalition soldiers confront, but increasingly the population itself.

The U.S. should get out of Afghanistan too!

Zarqawi’s death has changed nothing in Iraq

Jun 12, 2006

On June 8, George Bush announced the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man the U.S. had designated Public Enemy Number One in Iraq. But barely had Bush’s statement been read when questions arose about the details of the killing.

Zarqawi was supposedly killed in a “precision bombing” when two 500-pound bombs, dropped from an F-16, hit the house he was in. Photos show that the house was turned completely into a pile of rubble. But when the U.S. military displayed a large photo of Zarqawi to prove he was dead, his face seemed remarkably free of injuries.

So a new version of Zarqawi’s killing came out. He was not killed by the bombs immediately – badly wounded but still alive when troops arrived at the house. Then came another twist. It was said that Iraqi police, not U.S. troops, found the wounded Zarqawi first; that U.S. troops didn’t come until later. This, too, contradicted the initial story, namely that the bombing was ordered by the commander of the special U.S. commando unit that had surrounded the house.

And how did the commandos know where Zarqawi was? “An informer from within Zarqawi’s organization provided the information” was the answer – an informer that the U.S. military had been in touch with for quite a while. But then why did the U.S. wait so long to get him? Well, another unanswered question.

All this uncertainty, created by the U.S. military, opened the door for speculation – like the suggestion that Zarqawi was in reality eliminated by members of his own organization who wanted a change in policy. Along the same lines, a CIA official speculated that Zarqawi’s organization would now shift its strategy and attack Americans instead of Shiite Iraqis, as it had been doing lately. So, if anything, things would get worse for U.S. troops.

One thing is certain, though: the elimination of this supposedly important figure will not change anything about the situation in Iraq. Bush himself said it when, immediately after announcing Zarqawi’s death, he added: “We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue.”

What Bush didn’t say is why. Yes, everything indicates that the bloody chaos in Iraq will continue after Zarqawi’s death. And that’s because he was not the one who started it; nor was he a driving force behind it.

In fact, Bush himself is responsible for that – by sending the U.S. military to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq; by using ethnic militias against the population and thus starting a civil war; by condemning large parts of the Iraqi population to a life with unemployment and the constant threat of violence, crime, and in fact more terrorist attacks, with or without Zarqawi.

U.S. offer to end nuclear standoff with Iran:
Part of an “exit strategy” from Iraq?

Jun 12, 2006

Countries from the European Union – with the U.S. signing on to the deal – have offered an “incentive package” supposedly aimed at persuading Iran not to develop a nuclear weapons program.

Officially, neither side has changed its position in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program yet. Iran still insists that it has the right to develop nuclear technology, for both civilian and military purposes. And the U.S. continues to say that its “military option” is not off the table. Nonetheless, statements from the Bush administration have become more conciliatory.

We need to know whether negotiation is a real option or not, and we will soon know that,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, indicating the U.S.’s willingness to talk. She called the situation “a major opportunity, a sort of major crossroads for Iran” – a hint that the U.S. might end its 27-year trade embargo on Iran.

The contents of the “incentive package” have not been announced officially, but diplomats have revealed that if Iran promises not to produce nuclear weapons, the U.S. and European powers will help Iran to build light-water nuclear reactors. The U.S. will also allow Boeing, along with its European counterpart Airbus, to sell civilian aircraft and aircraft parts to Iran. (For almost three decades, Iran has been forced to fly an aged fleet, increasing the risk of crashes.) Some reports have also indicated that the U.S. offer may extend itself to military aircraft parts, and to the lifting of the trade embargo.

U.S. officials still try to appear tough, saying things like Iran has “only a few weeks” to accept the deal or face punishment, including military strikes. But it’s obvious that it’s the U.S., not Iran, that feels it has few options. The proof is that Iran has raised the ante since being offered a deal, announcing that it has actually stepped up the process of enriching uranium – which can be used in weapons as well as reactors.

Why has the Bush administration decided to talk with Iran? We don’t know what’s discussed behind closed doors, of course. But it’s reasonable to assume that this shift in the U.S. stance against Iran has everything to do with what’s going on in Iran’s western neighbor, Iraq.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq with the intention of asserting its dominance over the Middle East more directly. As implied by Bush’s inclusion of Iran into his “axis of evil,” one option the U.S. wanted to keep open was also to attack Iran, a country practically sandwiched between Iraq and Afghanistan.

But things backfired for the U.S., as it was unable to secure military control over either country – forget about the rest of the Middle East. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S.-backed governments have neither real power on the ground nor support in the population; and popular opposition to the U.S. occupation has been growing and hardening in both countries.

So if the U.S. were to establish a different kind of relationship with the Islamic regime in Iran – one geared more toward cooperation than confrontation – it wouldn’t come as a surprise. It could be one part of its “exit strategy” from Iraq.

If this scenario turns out to be true, it wouldn’t be a first. Three decades ago, the U.S. started the process of normalizing relations with China as it was pulling out of Viet Nam. Then, the U.S. used China as an ally in policing the region – and in punishing Viet Nam by further isolating a small country that had refused to bow down to the big bully. Now, the U.S. may be in the process of normalizing relations with Iran in order to use the Iranian regime, which has influence with one part of the Iraqi Shiite leadership, to better police the Middle East – something the Iranian regime has already shown itself ready to do.

The U.S. may shift its strategies and tactics in response to changing realities on the ground. It may begin wars and end wars. It may invade countries and pull out. And the U.S. may declare old friends enemies and old enemies friends. But the underlying policy guiding the actions of the U.S. remains the same: to control the world’s resources for the benefit of big U.S. corporations – which comes at the expense of working people all over the world, including the U.S.

Iraq:
U.S. troops involved in civilian massacre

Jun 12, 2006

Today a dozen marines are under suspicion of war crimes and three officers have been relieved of their duties, stemming from their involvement in the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians more than six months ago. On November 25th last year, a U.S. convoy went through the town of Haditha, where a truck was hit by a roadside bomb, killing a marine. According to the official version at the time, the marines shot back against the insurgents, killing several insurgents and also some civilians. Any further investigation into this incident was squashed by the military hierarchy.

But in March 2006, a video made by an Iraqi journalism student finally appeared on several Arab television stations. It was then picked up by Time magazine. The video showed that marines angered by the death of one of their men went on an unprovoked attack against civilians. The video showed the bodies of women, very young children and old people who obviously weren’t involved in the fighting with their homes all shot up by U.S. soldiers. The video also showed a woman with a child being assassinated in cold blood by soldiers.

This blew the lid off the attempted cover-up.

This isn’t the first massacre of Iraqi civilians since the U.S. military invaded Iraq. The U.S. army carried out another massacre last March 15 in Ishaqi north of Baghdad. When it occurred, the military said only that four civilians had been killed in the collapse of their home while the marines were looking for an Al Qaeda fighter. Afterward, a BBC broadcast showed the bullet-ridden bodies of several children and a man as well as witnesses who said they were killed in cold blood. Then too, the brutal attack on civilians was covered up. A military spokesman announced that an investigation showed the soldiers had obeyed the rules and that the death of the civilians was only “collateral damage.

Undoubtedly tens of thousands of civilians have been killed by missiles and bombs dropped from the air, more “collateral damage.” It’s also likely that in the more than three years since the U.S. invaded Iraq, marines or special forces have killed other civilians in cold blood, with no one surviving. In a dirty war of occupation, there will be such massacres, piled up one on top of another.

The massacres at Haditha and Ishaqi stir up bad memories among the older generation in this country – memories of what the U.S. army did during the war in Viet Nam, killing innocent villagers. Increasingly, the invasion of Iraq resembles what happened in Southeast Asia thirty years ago. And it’s leading to the same horrible fiasco – for the Iraqi civilians as well as U.S. troops.

Pages 6-7

Movie review:
Caught in the Crossfire:
Exposing the brutal truth of the war on Iraq

Jun 12, 2006

Falluja was a modern city of 250,000 people before the U.S. attacked it in November of 2004. It had had a long history of resistance, even against Saddam Hussein. The U.S. set out to destroy the city and make an example of it to all the other cities resisting the U.S. occupation – no matter the cost to human life.

Caught in the Crossfire: The Untold Story of Falluja, released on DVD in 2005, is a documentary made by Iraqi and U.S. film makers about this attack. Since they filmed completely outside and away from the U.S. military, the picture they show is one we very rarely see.

This documentary tells the story of the civilian victims of this attack, the ones “caught in the crossfire.” It tells of the thousands still trapped in the city when the attack began; no one knows just how many of them died in the attack.

It also tells of the hundreds of thousands who were forced to leave their homes and their city. With nowhere to go, they took refuge anywhere they could: abandoned buildings, cars, schools, and even old chicken coops. These refugees have lived in filthy conditions ever since; with no sanitation and no clean water, many children are becoming very ill.

Some of the scenes are graphic and striking. The movie shows children injured in the initial attack, as well as scenes of mass burials in mass graves, the families weeping as they bury their dead.

The U.S. government and media make a big deal about the mass graves created under the rule of Saddam Hussein, as proof of what a vicious criminal he was. We see mass graves in this film – but filled with the civilian victims killed by the United States military.

Once the fighting in Falluja ended, some civilians returned to their city – only to find it a city in ruins. The movie shows images of buildings left in rubble for blocks and blocks – as far as the eye can see. Small children and elderly people walk amid the debris.

The movie ends with interviews on the streets of this devastated city. Speaking in Arabic (with English subtitles), these victims of American atrocities express a very understandable anger and a spirit of resistance. One man says, “The raiding, the burning, the detentions, the evictions, the killing – it is continuous, every day and night.” A woman gives this final thought: “If they are calling people here terrorists, then why are they not calling Americans terrorists also? They would never accept this in their lives.”

How to order the DVD

Jun 12, 2006

The news media in this country very rarely shows us the true face of the war in Iraq: the murder of innocent civilians, and the destruction of Iraqis’ homes, cities, and lives.

We need to combat this coverup of the truth, and the idea that war has no victims. Caught in the Crossfire gives a small glimpse of the reality of this war. It is a movie that everyone should see.

The DVD can be bought for a price no higher than for any other movie: $22.45, counting shipping; $23.79 in California. It is available from ConceptionMedia at PO Box 2219, Santa Barbara, CA USA 93120; or online at www.conceptionmedia.net.

60 years ago:
U.S. strike wave

Jun 12, 2006

Sixty years ago, at the end of May 1946, four hundred thousand miners won a two-month strike, part of the largest strike wave in U.S. history. The miners’ determination overcame not only what their bosses had tried to do, but what the president of the U.S. threatened to do. They won a pay increase and also, for the first time, a health and welfare fund.

The miners were part of a wave of strikes that included steel workers, auto workers, oil workers and truck drivers, among others. Altogether, more than four million workers were on strike during 1946. They were striking over serious problems faced by the entire working class.

Perhaps those who experienced or knew about the strike waves of the 1930s thought that the organizations of the new unions had solved the problem of unemployment. But even before World War II began, employment levels were not back to the levels of the 1920s. And when war production slowed as the war was ending, the bosses began laying off hundreds of thousands. By August of 1945, a million workers had been laid off. With the return of soldiers from overseas, the bosses tried to pit worker against worker in competition over fewer jobs.

When World War II began, President Roosevelt demanded a no-strike pledge from labor, using the excuse of the war to help the bosses’ profits. Roosevelt also instituted a wage freeze in 1942. The next year Congress passed the Smith-Connally Act, making a strike during the war punishable by a large fine and imprisonment.

Workers back at home were experiencing rising prices, stagnant wages, intense pressure to produce, and rationing of meat and sugar and gas. Gross wages rose only because so much overtime was demanded for the war.

Most top union leaders supported Roosevelt’s “no-strike” pledge. But there were plenty of “unauthorized” strikes during the war in various industries – more strikes than ever before or since, even if most of them were small, short-lived wildcats.

In the early 1940s, miners faced food costs that had doubled in mining towns. Between 1941 and 1943, there had been an estimated 240,000 injuries or deaths among miners on their already dangerous jobs. When the bosses refused wage increases, miners walked off the job. Roosevelt threatened to send in the army. The head of the miners union, John L. Lewis, repeated the miners’ defiant phrase: “You can’t dig coal with bayonets.” It took the miners four strikes during 1943 to win an increase in pay.

Some CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) union leaders attacked the miners for standing up for themselves during wartime. The president of the UAW (United Auto Workers), R. J. Thomas, and the vice president, Walter Reuther, came out against the miners’ strike, although auto worker militants pushed to strike in support of the United Mine Workers. The leaders of the electrical workers union, from the American Communist Party, supported the no-strike pledge and even demanded their work force increase productivity for the war effort by 15%.

The conditions that led the miners to strike in 1943 led millions more to strike when the war ended. The federal Reconversion Advisory Board looked into the question of raising wages. The board reported that corporations could afford wage increases of 24% without losing their levels of profits.

But the new president, Harry Truman, opposed the board’s recommendation. When oil workers struck for better pay, Truman took up where Roosevelt had left off. He ordered the U.S. navy to seize the struck oil refineries.

Still, strikes in auto and steel gained some wage increases at a time when the average for production workers in steel was $1.29 per hour. On February 18, 1946, steelworkers won an 18½¢ per hour increase from U.S. Steel. On March 4, striking rubber workers won an 18¢ per hour increase from Goodyear, Firestone, and other rubber companies. On March 15, striking UAW workers gained 18½¢ per hour plus paid vacations.

For the miners, the 1946 strike not only meant a much-needed wage increase, but also health coverage. At the end of the strike the coal operators agreed to put 25 million dollars a year into the miners’ benefit fund.

The vast movement of 1946 showed what workers could gain when mobilized across a range of sectors. And that broad movement certainly threw back some of the bosses’ plans to eliminate jobs. But the 1946 mobilization was the high point for organized labor in this country. And it revealed the problem that was never resolved: the whole working class needed jobs with better pay and benefits. But only labor already organized in unions was called to strike for better pay and benefits.

The strategy of U.S. labor leaders was to take workers out on strike only industry by industry or even company by company. They never proposed to spread strikes from one sector to another. They didn’t include the rest of the working class, those not yet organized in unions, when they made demands for better pay and benefits.

The fact that so many workers from so many different industries were fighting at the same time may have hidden the divisions that existed in 1946. But the subsequent 60 years have shown the limits of this piecemeal strategy. A strategy that allows gains for some workers puts them in competition with lower paid workers. Only the bosses win in such a situation.

Workers always have to fight the bosses and the government to gain anything. We need a new struggle for jobs with decent wages and benefits – one that recognizes our common interests as members of one single class, facing the same problems, with the same needs. And we need to push our struggles beyond the artificial barriers that divide the working class.

Page 8

El Salvador:
When religion dictates medical practice

Jun 12, 2006

Currently, El Salvador is one of two countries in all of North and South America to completely criminalize abortion, allowing no exceptions in the case of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. The other is Chile.

Since 1998, a woman having an abortion in El Salvador faces two to eight years in prison. Anyone helping her faces the same charges and the same sentence, and any doctor convicted of doing an abortion faces 6 to 12 years in prison. At least one judge ruled that abortion is homicide and therefore the woman can face 30 years in prison.

Since that law passed, about 100 cases per year reach trial in El Salvador, for the “crime” of abortion. The only way the woman can avoid a jail sentence is to give the name of the abortion provider, who will then be prosecuted.

But of course, thousands of desperate women still seek to terminate pregnancies today as they have always done. These women end up with so-called “back alley abortions” in which unsanitary methods lead to death or permanent medical problems. Doctors and hospital staff face a dilemma when such women end up in the hospital. If they report the possibility that an abortion took place, they know the woman will go to prison. If they do not report the possibility, they know that the staff could end up in prison.

Although some women organized to fight against this repressive legislation in the 1990s, their fight was overwhelmed by the weight of the Catholic church. El Salvador, of course, is not the only country dominated by the Catholic church. But the church’s reactionary pressure has been felt more strongly there since the 10-year civil war ended in the 1980s, with right wing forces ensconced in power, and the population defeated in bloody fights.

El Salvador gives us a picture of what life for women would be like in this country if religion were to be successful in establishing its dominance over society here.

States stampede to overturn abortion rights

Jun 12, 2006

The political sharks smell blood in the water on the abortion issue, and they’re snapping like a shark takes after its victim.

Hoping that the Supreme Court will at some point overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling which states that a constitutional right to privacy means women have a right to choose to have an abortion, a number of state legislatures and governors – Republicans AND Democrats – have rushed to pass laws banning it.

South Dakota paved the way in March, passing a law criminalizing abortion outright. They did this with the aim of giving the Supreme Court a case it could use to overturn Roe v. Wade. Since then, eighteen other states have passed laws that in one way or another ban abortion almost completely.

Louisiana, with a Democratic governor, is the most recent to pass such a law, which would make abortion legal ONLY if a pregnancy directly threatens a woman’s life. The bill was introduced by a Democratic state legislator.

The penalties in the Louisiana bill include up to 10 years in prison and maximum fines of $100,000.

The politicians who push these bills ignore the fact that the big majority of the population, in poll after poll, has shown its support of a woman’s right to choose. All they’re doing is playing to a reactionary religious base that they believe will be enough to reelect them.

This cynical move by politicians is an attack on all women – but especially on working class women. Statewide bans on abortion don’t interfere with the ability of rich women to receive an abortion. It will be working class and poor women who will not be able to travel to states where abortion is still legal.

This attack needs to be fought in the strongest way possible.

In just two months, abortion rights advocates in South Dakota were able to gather over 38,000 petition signatures – over twice as many as needed – to put a referendum on the ballot overturning the legislature’s ban on abortion.

If the vote on the referendum really reflected the population’s sentiments, the ban would be voted down. But relying on the so-called “democratic process” is a sure way to defeat. We don’t live in a democracy; big monied interests hold all the cards. In an issue like this, deep pockets will weigh heavily. Not to mention all the reactionary forces: all the churches, all the right wing organizations, all the Fox Newses, which will flood the newspapers and airwaves constantly with attacks on abortion. All those who want to turn back this attack will need to get organized, to get out and talk to people in order to mobilize them – not only in South Dakota, but everywhere.

That’s what is needed to beat back these bloodthirsty sharks.

VA data disaster

Jun 12, 2006

A massive data theft was reported at the Veterans Affairs Department last month. Veterans’ personal records, including Social Security numbers and birth dates, were stolen, leaving 26.5 million vets wide open to identity theft.

On top of that, the stolen data also included the records of 2.2 million active-duty members of the military. Someone could return from Iraq – only to discover his or her identity stolen and thousands of dollars of fraudulent debt charged to them.

The government’s story goes that an analyst at the V.A. took home a laptop computer containing the data – and then it was stolen. But it’s not just one sloppy person at fault. The V.A. itself did absolutely nothing to protect the data. It didn’t encrypt it; it allowed the data to be kept on a laptop that could be taken anywhere; and in fact, it allowed the analyst to take his data-filled laptop home with him for three years! And on top of that, once the theft was discovered the V.A. actually sat on the problem for more than two weeks before warning anyone. They were more concerned with protecting the government’s butt than with protecting almost one-tenth of the population.

Now that the story has come out, they’ve made a big show of sending out letters warning all the veterans whose data was stolen. But what do these letters advise? Only that people should spend the rest of their lives checking their credit records. In other words, if any fraudulent debt appears, it will be the vets who have to deal with trying to prove it and clear their names and credit records.

It’s no surprise to see this government – which systematically acts in ways harmful to the population – refuse to take responsibility for its actions.

Nor is it a surprise to see that no politician or official has proposed to cover the costs and hassle for all the veterans and soldiers exposed to identity theft.

This is simply government as usual in a society that puts the population’s needs last.

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