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. 777 — June 26 - July 10, 2006

Editorial:
Iraq:
With blood on their hands, the two parties blame each other

Jun 26, 2006

With disasters growing by the day in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans in the House put forward a motion calling on Bush to pursue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of “the war against terrorism.” They accused the Democrats of wanting to “cut and run.”

The following week, Democrats in the Senate put forward motions calling on Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq – tomorrow, next December or, at any rate, sometime. They accused the Republicans of having “no plan” to end this war.

It was nothing but election-year posturing by both parties, each trying to throw the blame for these increasingly unpopular wars onto the shoulders of the other party.

And posturing it soon proved itself to be – since the real vote, when it came, showed the two parties lining up in the same camp, voting 98 to 1 in favor of extending and even increasing funding for the wars. (The one vote cast against was simply on procedural grounds.)

Ninety-eight to one. That says it all. Republicans and Democrats engage in a pissing contest in public, but work together behind closed doors to pursue this war.

While the Congress was electioneering over Iraq, the 2,511th U.S. soldier was being killed. More than 10,000 have already been so seriously injured that they will never completely recover. The Veterans Administration expects 20,000 cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among returning troops this year alone, with thepercentage affected expected eventually to reach 25% to 40% of all troops serving. PTSD is not some chic diagnosis offered to the wealthy resting on their psychiatrist’s couch – it’s the real damage done to human beings who have internalized the horrors they were forced to live through. And many never get past it. The streets of this country have been littered with the living victims of earlier wars, and they will be so again.

As bad as that is, what the U.S. military has done to the people of Iraq is infinitely worse. For every U.S. soldier who has been killed, maybe 40 to 50 Iraqi civilians have been killed. Their country has been laid waste. The public services required for people to live have been nearly eliminated. According to a June 6th report made by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, one neighborhood in central Baghdad had no electric service at all for more than a month – in the midst of 115-degree weather. Filth lays in the streets, sewers don’t run, water is unclean. The only reason there is no such thing as Post-Traumatic Stress for the Iraqis is that the trauma never stops.

U.S. troops, under orders to “clean out” a supposed “terrorist” hideout, mow down the civilians who are there – what the army manuals called “collateral damage.” On occasion, as with Haditha which finally made its way into the news five months later, the lowest ranks may find themselves brought up on murder charges. But the generals, who gave them their orders, the man sitting in the White House, who sent them there, and the Congress, which provided the money, are allowed to pretend that their hands are clean.

No! The two parties can’t hide their blood-soaked responsibility for the disaster of these two wars.

Pages 2-3

Phony hearing

Jun 26, 2006

The governor of Maryland announced a hearing so anyone could tell him what they thought about the BGE (gas and electric) rate hike. Yet the hearing was held in Annapolis at 3 p.m. – which made it hard for people with jobs to get to.

Doesn’t seem like he really wanted to hear from working people, does it?

Using Hurricane Katrina as an excuse for yet another charter school “experiment”

Jun 26, 2006

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced the federal government would give 24 million dollars to develop charter schools in Louisiana in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. The news media talk about it as a great “experiment,” a “pre-eminent laboratory,” and a “major testing ground” for the charter school approach.

It’s like proposing to do a study on the effect of lobotomy on school children. Everyone already knows the result, that it’s harmful to the human brain. And so are charter schools!

Charter schools have been tried elsewhere and failed. They drain money from public schools into the hands of private companies and, when looked at overall, their students fare worse on standardized tests than do those in public schools. A few individual charter schools may fare better, and they’re always the ones held up as the example. But most, at best, score the same. Even when they show similar test results, there is more to the picture, since they drain money from the public schools, and so worsen the results for other students.

They’re not even required to give standardized tests, and when they do, they don’t always agree to release their scores, so it’s hard for people to even make a real comparison.

They are usually allowed to operate without the same level of oversight as the public schools. Their goal is to make a profit, so naturally, they’re set up to spend as little as possible on actual education. Who would believe that this would result in a better education for the children?

Eighteen out of 25 schools currently operating in New Orleans are charter schools. There are at least 45 charter schools already in Louisiana. The government plans to use this latest funding to open up 30 more.

The federal government, the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans are taking advantage of a perfect opportunity to push their plans through. What opportunity? The devastation caused by Katrina, of course. Many people from the area, including teachers, are still scattered to the winds. Many of those who have gotten back to the area are busy just trying to make ends meet.

This is yet another example of the politicians giving money to capitalists who profit off the “rebuilding” of New Orleans and Louisiana.

Bosses, politicians and bureaucrats:
Those who claim to speak for immigrant workers

Jun 26, 2006

On March 10, a massive demonstration in Chicago kicked off six weeks of rallies by immigrants and their supporters. On March 25, more than half a million people in Los Angeles demonstrated, along with numerous young people who walked out of high schools to attend rallies. On April 9 and 10, more than a million people took to the streets in Washington, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and other cities. These demonstrations culminated on May 1 with massive rallies throughout the country. Often, people took off work and school to attend.

But since that outpouring, the demonstrations stopped as suddenly as they started.

Certainly, the immigrants have more reason than ever to take to the streets. Right before Memorial Day, the U.S. Senate had passed the Hagel-Martinez bill, which is an outright attack on every immigrant without papers. Presented as a so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” the bill was supported by the Democrats in the Senate, along with the Senate Republican leadership and President George W. Bush himself.

Advertised as a “pathway” to citizenship for the “undocumented,” the bill includes harsh new enforcement measures. It calls for the construction of a triple layered wall along hundreds of miles of the border.

Its dense and complicated rules and regulations virtually disqualify most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants from even applying to become legal. Thus it condemns them to remain undocumented and face the same awful choice as now: live and work in the shadows or leave the country. As for those who have the “privilege” to qualify, the reform requires them to pass test after test, pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees, and agree to let members of their family be deported if they don’t have the same status. Above all the reform would force them to keep quiet for long stretches of time, for at least 13 years and probably more, until they finally gain citizenship – or risk being disqualified and returned to an “illegal” status.

Under the guise of “a pathway” to citizenship, the reform actually gives the bosses the legal right to employ a workforce with few if any rights. This “reform” allows the bosses to threaten deportation for anyone who dares protest or stand up for their rights under terms that are much, much harsher than they are under today’s rotten laws.

It is an outright, naked attack against not just immigrant workers, but all workers. By depriving part of the working class of its rights, the bosses then pit those workers against the rest of the working class, thereby pushing down wages and benefits, fostering greater speed-up and worsening working conditions. Hanging over all workers’ head is the threat of more unemployment and misery.

Most of the biggest institutions and organizations that had pushed and encouraged the demonstrations up until May 1 support the Hagel-Martinez bill. Certainly, this includes the big bosses’ coalitions, starting with the Essential Immigrant Worker Coalition, which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Catholic Church, as well as the SEIU and the other big unions with ties to the Democratic Party, criticize the Senate bill for some of its harsh repressive measures – but still support it, saying that it is a step forward. Large immigrant defense and advocacy organizations like MALDEF or MAPA make only a slightly more harsh critique, but don’t go any further, obviously reflecting the fact that they are tied to the Democrats, with MALDEF also funded by Fortune 500 companies and philanthropies like the Ford and Carnegie Foundations.

As for the myriad pro-immigrant, self-help and defense groups, they make a more realistic condemnation of the Senate bill – only to follow in the wake of the bigger, more powerful organizations, such as the unions, the churches and the Democratic Party, reconciling themselves to it. Their support is rationalized by saying that it is better than HR 4437, which was passed in the House back in December.

This should come as no surprise. The coalition of business, unions and big immigrant rights organizations had called the demonstrations in order to push Congress to enact the kind of legislation that came out of the Senate. As for the unions and the immigrant rights organizations, their political agenda also consisted in putting the Republicans on the spot, and strengthening the Democrats.

Now, many of them, starting with the SEIU, have gone on to form the “We are America Alliance,” whose goal is to lobby Congress to get a law passed, one based on Hagel-Martinez but a little nicer! The “We are America Alliance” is pushing its “Democracy Summer,” which is little more than a registration and get- out-the-vote drive to support the Democrats in the fall election – the very party that worked hand-in-glove with Bush and the Republicans to get the Hagel-Martinez attack on immigrant rights passed in the summer.

In other words, they are trying to mobilize immigrant workers to support what amounts to an attack on their own rights. It is a trap – just at the point that the attacks against immigrant workers’ rights are growing.

Immigrant workers should have only one response – get out in the streets. And they cannot just do it for one day in a symbolic march or boycott that includes their bosses and politicians, that is, their enemies. No, immigrant workers have to carry out a real struggle, against their enemies, including their bosses and the government, by really mobilizing their power through strikes and massive demonstrations. Other workers have every reason to join them.

The divisions inside the Republican Party over “immigration reform”

Jun 26, 2006

The Republican leadership of the House of Representatives decided to hold hearings during the summer about the overhaul of the immigration laws. Effectively, this postpones until after the November election any final decision on immigration reform legislation.

This decision highlighted divisions over “immigration reform” inside the Republican Party, between the Bush administration and the Senate leadership on the one side and the House leadership on the other side.

Obviously, Congressional Republicans have their reasons for distancing themselves from Bush. As a result of loyally supporting deeply unpopular policies that favor the U.S. bourgeoisie, including the war in Iraq, the multiple tax cuts for the corporations and the wealthy, and the enormous cuts in social spending, like education and health care, they have scored lower in opinion polls than even the very unpopular Bush.

With the November elections quickly approaching, the Congressional Republicans fear that even a part of their loyal voting base, the extremely conservative religious fundamentalists, will stay home and not vote in November. They fear that not even the advantages that they have from running in very gerrymandered Congressional districts will save them from defeat.

To resuscitate their election prospects, the Congressional Republicans have tried to energize this base, by resorting to one of the oldest tricks in the book: fanning the flames of xenophobia, that is, a fear of foreigners. This was symbolized by the passage of HR 4437 that would criminalize the 12 million undocumented immigrants and those who help them. It was a virulent attack.

This position has led to an open squabble inside the Republican Party. Bush and the Republican leadership in the Senate had been trying to expand support for the Republican Party inside the Hispanic population, especially in some of the biggest states, including California, Texas, Florida and New York. And HR 4437 was a red flag in the face of the Hispanic population.

Traditionally, immigrant voting blocs have been a part of the Democratic electoral base. But in his election campaigns for both governor of Texas and president, Bush had already successfully demonstrated that it was possible for Republicans to take a part of that base away from the Democrats. This has been especially true of the increasing proportion of Hispanic immigrants who are evangelical Christians or staunch Catholics, and who were won over to the same conservative “values,” such as attacks on abortion rights, as other fundamentalist Christians. In fact, in the 2004 election, Bush gained 40% of the Hispanic vote, which constituted his margin of victory.

Of course, Bush’s proposals for “immigration reform” are just as much an attack on immigrant rights as those of the House leadership. The difference is that Bush parades them as a gift. And the Democratic Party pretends the same thing.

So the Republican Party is caught in an internal squabble today. Faced with the 2006 elections, the House Republicans are trying to shore up their most dependable extremely conservative voting base by advocating xenophobic attacks against Hispanic immigrants. The other half of the party, headed by Bush, is looking toward future elections. And they fear that the open, xenophobic attacks will undercut their efforts to broaden their extremely conservative base by making an appeal to Hispanic immigrant voters.

As for the Democrats, while they are happy to let the Republicans squabble, they are just as much the enemies of immigrant workers as both sets of Republicans.

In the end, we can be sure that all these politicians will give the ruling class in this country what it wants.

Pages 4-5

Castro’s “fortune,” according to Forbes

Jun 26, 2006

Forbes magazine, which publishes different angles about the biggest fortunes in the world, does a list each year on the fortunes of kings, queens and dictators. The queen of England, for example, is high up on the list, along with the sultan of Brunei and the king of Saudi Arabia.

For some years, this list has included one of the dictators most hated by the U.S. government – Fidel Castro. This year his fortune is supposedly valued at 900 million dollars. Castro indignantly replied after the list’s publication: “If anyone finds a single secret bank account in which I have so much as a dollar, I will resign.” No one took up his challenge.

Malcolm Forbes, who began Forbes magazine, held one of the biggest fortunes in America. Not only is his son the head of this magazine, he is also the honorary president of “The Commission for the Economic Reconstruction of Cuba,” a commission created by Ronald Reagan. Reagan proposed bringing together all the anti-Castro immigrants, supporting their activities with tax dollars – although their activities weren’t exactly legal. No surprise – Cuba, before Castro’s revolution, was plagued by all sorts of illegal trafficking. The island – before Castro – was a kind of subsidiary of the Mafia. These criminals tossed out by the Cuban revolution ended up in the U.S.

The way that Forbes magazine figures Castro’s supposed fortune is rather funny. The editors put together all the companies controlled by the Cuban state, such as the building where the Cuban congress meets; also a series of stores and a company run by the Cuban state called Medicuba, which makes vaccines and medicines for commercial sale. After the Forbes people decided on the value of all these enterprises – which no individual owns – they decided that Castro must nonetheless have taken a cut. After all, they certainly would have done so! Although the editors explain their calculation saying, “we suppose,” they should just have admitted, “we made it all up”!

Of course, there are criticisms to be made about Cuba – such as the lack of liberties. But that country has plenty it could show the richer countries about education and public health. These are achievements the real billionaire dictators and kings have never concerned themselves with. Their fortunes are built on the exploitation of the entire world.

Too bad that the reality of where billionaires come from, unlike Castro’s supposed fortune, is no fiction.

Immigration from Africa to Europe:
The horror of hope

Jun 26, 2006

Fifty-three people, most from southern Senegal, went by plane to the Cape Verde islands off the African coast. There they boarded a boat on Christmas Eve 2005, hoping to get to the Canary Islands off Europe and then Europe itself. They hoped for a job, an income for themselves and their families.

Four months later, this past April, their boat was found ... three thousand miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic in the Caribbean Sea. Eleven corpses were found in the boat. The others were thrown overboard when they died following terrible agony. Six men had escaped this awful fate: a little after departure the boat’s motor failed and it returned to Cape Verde for repairs. They refused to get back on.

Forty-seven men drifted over the Atlantic in a 36-foot tub, dying of hunger and thirst, simply trying to get work in order to live. The official figures say that so far this year 9,000 Africans reached the Canary Islands with this hope. Humanitarian organizations think that only half the Africans who attempt the voyage arrive safely.

According to one of the survivors of this horrible crossing, each man paid between $1,500 and $1,900 to the boat’s owner and organizer of the voyage, who took in $88,000. But such crooks who feed off misery and the hopes of would-be immigrants are small fry compared to the greediness of a system which leaves the poor of the Third World only the choice between dying of hunger in their country or taking the risk of perishing in a shipwreck.

Thirty years ago
– June 1976:
Bloody riots in Soweto, South Africa

Jun 26, 2006

Thirty years ago, in June 1976, the white government of South Africa decided to force black students to study math, history and geography in Afrikaans, the language of the Boer settlers who originally came from Holland. This provoked a riot among the youth in the black ghetto of Soweto, located in the Johannesburg suburbs.

This government decision was perceived by the black youth as one more humiliation after so many others. It pushed tens of thousands of youth into the streets. But the reasons for the revolt against the racist regime were much more profound. The governmental decree crystalized the hatred that had grown for decades among the poor black population living in the townships. Since the Sharpeville riots of the 1960s, the black population and particularly its youth had never ceased fighting for emancipation against the exceptional laws of the white racist regime.

The repression of the Soweto riots was bloody. The police shot the youth with real bullets. They released dogs against the demonstrators, while tanks and helicopters took control of poor neighborhoods. Very quickly tens of thousands of university students joined the younger students. On June 25, 1976, there were already more than 1,000 wounded and 1,300 arrested. The demonstrations spread to the cities. The “official” figures listed 600 dead, but the real number was near 1,000. In addition to the thousands of arrested youth, the regime grabbed the chance to throw political and union militants into prison. Among them was Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, whom the police assassinated in his cell in September 1977.

Repression didn’t stop the challenge to apartheid, the systematic oppression of black people. The government, which had decided to maintain order “at any price,” was forced to retreat on the question of the Afrikaans language and to back track.

The Soweto insurrection was inscribed in the long struggle of the South African black population to free itself from the oppression of the white minority that had been in power since their colonization of the country. It took until 1994 for the apartheid system to be abolished and replaced by the one person one vote system, at least formally.

Today, the black government of Mbeki may commemorate the revolt of the Soweto students, but social inequalities remain in the country. A two-track education system exists everywhere, one for the wealthy and another for the poor.

Poverty, misery and unemployment strike more blacks than whites. Soweto remains a ghetto in which the poorest black population is crowded. South Africa has an unemployment rate of almost 30%, while 87% of the cultivable land remains in the hands of whites, who are only 12% of the population!

If apartheid has been officially abolished, poverty and misery continue. Behind the apartheid political system of South Africa lay the capitalist system which drains wealth from the four corners of the world into the banks of the biggest imperialist thieves. It’s this system which remains to be knocked down.

When the CIA covered up for ex-Nazis

Jun 26, 2006

The recent opening of U.S. government archives confirms that the CIA knew in 1958 that Adolf Eichmann, a high Nazi official and one of the organizers of the extermination of the Jews, was hiding in Argentina, but did nothing to reveal it. The CIA wanted to protect a certain number of its own spies, former Nazis whom Eichmann knew quite well.

It was common knowledge that after World War II the U.S. used scientists and members of the Nazi secret services. West Germany and Austria employed large numbers of Nazi administrators and political and economic leaders, just as France and Italy used former collaborators and fascist officials.

The close relations between the leaders of the victorious “democratic” camp and all the ex-Nazis reveal the hypocrisy of those who portray World War II as the triumph of democracy and civilization over Nazi barbarism.

Palestine:
Olmert carries out the worst policy

Jun 26, 2006

On June 9, the Israeli army shot a rocket onto a Gaza beach, killing eight people and wounding 35. Houda Ghaliya, ten years old, lost her parents and three brothers and sisters. On June 13, nine Palestinian civilians were killed and 32 wounded by an Israeli bombing of one of Gaza’s main streets. Two rockets were fired, one on a car supposedly carrying Palestinian militants which missed its target; the other rocket went into a crowd.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he “regretted the death of innocent civilians” and that an investigation was taking place to evaluate the “possible responsibility” of the Israeli army in the massacre on the Gaza beach. Investigation? No, it was simply a whitewash. The Israeli army demonstrated it was a Palestinian mine that killed the family on the Gaza beach on June 13. Olmert himself admitted that it was an Israeli rocket that killed the nine people on the beach, and again deplored the civilian deaths. But he added that the army “is not a danger to civilians.”

What hogwash! Not only has the Israeli army occupied all or part of the Palestinian territories for 40 years, but it has the power of life or death over the population. Everything is done under the pretext of combating Palestinian terrorism. Yes, the Palestinian side has carried out some small attacks. They have fired homemade rockets, with a short range and little power, onto Israeli territory located near Gaza.

On the other hand, Israeli military operations have assassinated militants and Palestinian leaders. They have murdered civilians, including entire families. Such massacres occurred on April 10, May 20 and June 9. The population in the Gaza territory, which Israel pulled out of last September, has been under a permanent threat of being bombing. The territory is surrounded by the Israeli army which decides everything that goes in and out, people and goods.

Israel has support from all the Western powers for its policy of cordoning off Palestine. Using the pretext of the Islamic Hamas Party’s election victory, these powers suspended all financial aid. Government employees haven’t been paid for four months, the economy is blockaded, hospitals have no medicine, etc.

Supported by the great powers, Olmert can continue the policy begun by Sharon and all his predecessors. Israel creates the de facto situation on the ground that allows it to unilaterally decide new borders, for example, by annexing new territory. Further, Olmert very hypocritically declared, “If the discussions with Abbas (the president of the Palestinian Authority) don’t succeed, Israel will take its destiny in hand.” But it’s precisely Israel which, by its entire policy of terror, makes discussions with Abbas or with any Palestinian government impossible. Not only have the years of occupation and repression resulted in bringing the Islamic Hamas Party into power, but provocations like the bombing of families on the beach only reinforce the partisans of a hardline policy inside Hamas.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the leader of Fatah, the current minority party in the Palestinian parliament, is trying to organize a referendum which would permit him to open discussions with Israel. The Palestinian government and the Hamas ministers are opposed to it, arguing that they have been elected and they are the only ones able to legitimately decide the country’s affairs. The opposition between Hamas and Fatah becomes more acute every day. Each has its militias and its bastions, and armed confrontations have already led to some twenty deaths.

There is a real possibility that a civil war could break out between the Palestinian factions. If it did, it would not only be a catastrophe for Palestinians, in particular in Gaza, the most isolated, the poorest and the most overpopulated territory, but it would further strengthen Olmert’s position and that of the State of Israel, giving them still freer hands to annex new territories. Moreover, Olmert himself may set off this war between Palestinian parties by pursuing his policy of terror, economic strangulation and scorn for the Palestinian population.

A majority of Israeli voters brought Olmert to power after Sharon, because his party, Kadima, and the Labor Party promised to put an end to the war and the occupation of Palestinian territories and to establish “secure and recognized borders” for Israel. Instead, Olmert proposes only to continue to build the wall of separation started by Sharon. The Israeli population pays a price for this policy, not only economically but morally. And it would lead to an even bigger catastrophe. The sustained tension among Palestinians, and between Palestinians and Israelis, can only turn against Israel itself. The population of Israel must fight to force Israeli leaders to respect the rights of the Palestinians.

Evidence of “terror plot”
– one man’s word

Jun 26, 2006

The federal government says it broke up a “terror plot” to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. It arrested and charged seven men it says were involved in the plot.

The so-called “Justice” Department admits it has no explosives, no weapons and no evidence the men had ties to Al-Qaeda. All it has is the testimony of an informant, who says the men gave him a list of materials and equipment needed to build an “army.” The government admits the men didn’t do anything – they were only thinking about doing it! Supposedly.

With this kind of “evidence” – what’s to stop any two-bit informant from making up any story just to make ten bucks? And what’s to stop politicians up for re-election from providing an “informant” to make a big splash? Certainly not “justice.”

Minimum wage proposal:
An offer to provide poverty

Jun 26, 2006

Liberal Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy just proposed raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 per hour. He even mentioned that during the nine years the minimum wage has remained at $5.15, the Senate has given itself raises of $30,000. That’s the Senators’ raise, not counting their already huge salary, benefits, expense accounts and perks.

In other words, pretending he is concerned for the lowest paid workers, Kennedy proposes a raise which would bring their wages to $15,080 per year – which would still leave a family of four almost $5,000 under the poverty level. And the change wouldn’t be completed for three more years.

Democratic concern for low-paid workers? No – it’s Democratic concern for the next election. The Democrats are a minority in the Senate. Their votes won’t put it through. But the proposal can embarrass the Republicans just before an election.

It’s what the politicians call a “can’t lose” proposition – for themselves, of course, not low-paid workers.

Pages 6-7

60 years ago:
Walter Reuther begins to gut the union

Jun 26, 2006

Sixty years ago, at the 1946 UAW Convention, Walter Reuther became president of the United Auto Workers. One of his first goals was to consolidate his own position by getting rid of all the militants who had done the work of building the union in the 1930s.

For the most part, it was communists, socialists and other radicals who had worked to organize union locals, fights and strikes. It was the leftists who pushed for an industrial union of all the workers, forcing people like John L. Lewis to form the CIO – the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

This militant activity played a key role, as the working class organized broadly in the 1930s. Even during World War II, when the labor bureaucrats had made a “no strike pledge,” workers still fought, carrying out thousands of wildcat strikes.

The year after the war ended, 1946, workers carried out the largest strike wave the country had ever seen – 4,600,000 strikers engaged in 4,985 strikes. The working class was feeling its strength – and it pulled along many of the bureaucrats like Reuther – but it was the work of the radicals in the labor movement that had led the way.

The corporations and the government wanted to get rid of the radical leadership that had made these fights possible. People like Walter Reuther were only too happy to help them do it, as a way to gain positions themselves.

In 1949, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, a wide-ranging set of anti-labor laws that included a requirement that union officers swear loyalty to the U.S. government. At first, Reuther and the UAW, along with the CIO as a whole, made a show of denouncing the act; but very soon, they turned around and enforced it in all their unions, using it to root out and remove as many militants as they could. Reuther, especially, demanded that all UAW officers sign a loyalty pledge, using it to consolidate his own control over the UAW.

Between 1947 and 1953, thousands of militants were tossed out of the UAW and other CIO unions. Whole unions – local or national – were “reorganized” – taken away from the local leadership that had built them – or completely kicked out of the CIO. The UAW leadership used thugs to march into factories and remove worker militants by force – doing the companies’ dirty work for them.

Some workers resisted this attack. In 1952, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) held hearings targeting UAW Local 600 at the Ford Rouge plant; the Local fought back.

Right after HUAC finished its hearings, Reuther removed the local officers and placed the local under an Administrative Board. Ford workers resisted. That August, they overwhelmingly rejected the Administrative Board’s candidates for local office, and returned the officers who had been removed by Reuther just a few months before.

In most places, though, Reuther and his crew were successful in driving out the radicals who had built the union. It was a defeat that the UAW and the workers’ movement more generally has still not recovered from.

Walter Reuther and his successors may have rewritten the UAW’s history. But the fact remains that unions today require a new generation of militants as determined and devoted as those who led the struggles of the 1930s.

Page 8

Secrets and lies about GM’s “legacy costs”

Jun 26, 2006

The whole world has been led to believe that high pension costs for UAW retirees at GM have bled the company dry. The big lie!

Well, none other than the Wall Street Journal revealed that executive benefits are what is “playing a large and hidden role in the health of America’s pensions.” The well-kept secret.

Come to find out, GM’s pension plan for UAW workers is OVER-funded, containing about nine billion dollars more than is needed in years to come. This very pension plan’s assets PRODUCED 10 billion dollars in investment income for GM in 2005 alone.

But there is one pension plan which is underfunded – the one for GM executives, to the tune of 1.4 billion dollars.

This is the pension squeeze companies like GM aren’t talking about, as they continue to repeat the lie about “legacy costs” of union retirees.

UAW leaders promise more of the same

Jun 26, 2006

During June 11-15, the United Auto Workers (UAW) held their Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas.

The opening speech by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger described the severe crisis faced today by the UAW. He mentioned the dramatic loss in membership, the plant closings, bankruptcies, workers losing ground in every aspect of work and life.

But his message to the delegates about the UAW’s future course was: more of the same. In fact, the entire convention as set up by the UAW staff gave no direction to delegates except: more of the same.

In the opening convention discussion, delegate Mike Parker from UAW Local 1700 proposed that the rules be changed to allow several hours’ discussion specifically about the crisis situation and the extreme concessions being demanded of active and retired workers. The chair swatted down that motion.

The convention went on to resemble previous conventions. Vague general resolutions, worded to mean all things to all people, were proposed and passed. Support for the Democratic Party and its leading politicians was the only real action proposed for delegates to go home and pursue. Stopping give-backs was said to be dependent on changing labor laws first.

The fact that more concessions are on the way was not even disguised. Gettelfinger said, “In the not too distant past, when the U.S. economy grew and productivity increased, we could expect wages to rise as well. That’s no longer true.” And, “The challenges we face aren’t the kind that can be ridden out. They’re structural challenges, and they require new and farsighted solutions.”

The “farsighted solutions” proposed to the assembled delegates were: more organizing; more dues money returned to the locals; more money shifted out of the strike fund; electing more Democrats; and promoting the auto industry’s change to alternative fuels.

No wonder the delegates were a very unenthusiastic lot. No wonder there was very little participation in discussion for the first two days. No wonder that Gettelfinger’s attempts to start chants failed miserably.

The few appeals to the delegates as fighters stirred them. But there was a vast gulf between the UAW’s “solutions” and the kind of fight that everyone knows is required. This gulf weighed very uncomfortably on the delegates. It was perhaps the UAW’s least enthusiastic convention ever.

When workers are faced with runaway corporations, with speed-up, with two and three-tier wage structures, with phony “bankruptcies” taking their pensions, with CEOs paid 300 and 400 times a worker’s pay, with unemployment lurking around every corner – what use are the UAW’s kind of “solutions?”

What use is it to talk about “organizing,” when the union’s track record is only give back, give back, give back? Who wants to join such a weak and faltering union?

What use is it to talk of electing Democrats, when they’ve made no difference in years past, and when all the help supposedly voted by Democrats came only when workers were mobilized and fighting?

What use is it to propose changes in labor law without proposing to use union muscle to enforce the current laws that employers break every day, every hour, every minute? New laws will be broken just as easily.

What use is it to pass resolutions to help the companies carry out what they want to do anyway?

The leaders could not generate enthusiasm for these non-solutions. But only a few delegates were ready to openly say they disagreed with the leaders.

UAW Local 659 president Paul Baxter opposed the shift of money out of the strike funds, saying that “corporations look at what we’ve got in that fund too.” Past UAW Local 2488 President Justin West attacked the two-tier wage structure as “tearing apart the fabric” of the union. Gregg Shotwell of the “Soldiers of Solidarity” movement at Delphi asked, “Where is the cavalry? We at Delphi feel like we are in the Alamo.” Gary Walkowicz, a past unit president from UAW Local 600, spoke on the first day to say that concessions don’t save jobs, and on the second day denounced the broken promises toward retirees’ health-care coverage. Retiree Wendy Thompson, a past local president of UAW Local 235, seconded delegate Parker’s call for a special crisis discussion.

Some others wanting to speak were ignored by the chair. But these voices remained straws in the wind. The union’s structure is tightly controlled, and speaking out – or supporting those who do speak out – requires unusual determination.

A union leadership that calls upon its membership for no action in a crisis, other than to get out the vote for some Democrats, is a leadership declaring its readiness to let the union die, rather than engage the full power of the union in a real struggle to defend the workers’ positions.

The workers’ future, just as the future of their unions, will be decided by the course of action that the workers set for themselves, independent of such “leaders.”

Throwing away those who built the union

Jun 26, 2006

At the UAW convention, delegate Gary Walkowicz of Ford Local 600 presented the only resolution proposed from the floor. He proposed to bring out of committee, for full discussion, a resolution passed by four locals, for retirees to have the right to vote on any contract that would diminish the terms of their retirement.

The union structure, aware this might happen, opposed it so strongly that in advance, they prepared a two-page full-color statement urging delegates not to consider such a thing. Their statement also carefully misrepresented the actual resolution.

What does this show but that the union leaders already have in mind further cuts against retirees? The welfare of those who built up the union is in the works, to be concessioned away piece by piece in the leadership’s pursuit of peaceful cooperation with the corporations.

If not, they would have no problem with a resolution such as Walkowicz championed.

It’s no surprise that corporations use up workers and then wish to do nothing but throw them away without proper compensation. The UAW, under the influence of its “partnership” and its concessions policy, finds itself adopting the identical point of view.

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