The Spark

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

Issue no. 779 — July 24 - August 7, 2006

Editorial:
Stop massacres by Israel

Jul 24, 2006

On July 22, the Israeli military sent its tanks across the border with Lebanon. It had already pounded southern and eastern Lebanon by air, land and sea, killing and wounding countless numbers of people, turning cities and villages in southern and eastern Lebanon into rubble. The southern part of Beirut, the capital, was laid waste. Over half a million people are now refugees, with tens of thousands more abandoning their homes every day. When refugees poured in to the port city of Sidon, Israeli planes bombed that city too.

Israel’s pretext for all this violence was the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, which is based in southern Lebanon. When Hezbollah responded to the first Israeli bombing with rocket attacks on Israel, that became the pretext for an all-out war.

Even some U.N. officials and European government spokespersons found Israel’s pretexts a little hard to swallow. They meekly protested that the Israeli “response” against the people of Lebanon was “not proportional.”

Not proportional? It has been an open secret that the Israeli government was planning to invade southern Lebanon, practically from the moment it had been forced to end its 22-year occupation in 2000. Last year, the Israeli military actually presented high-tech, Power Point demonstrations to reporters and diplomats, describing the very war that it is right now carrying out. Israeli generals bragged that their future invasion of Lebanon would be the best-prepared war in Israeli history.

All they needed was an excuse to go to war.

No, this war was not a “disproportional” response to a “kidnapping.” It is a continuation of what the Israeli Zionist regime has been doing since Israel was founded – pushing Israel’s borders further and further outward – through violence and terror against whomever happened to be in the way. The people of southern Lebanon have been treated to some of the same terror that the Israeli rulers meted out to the Palestinians for more than half a century. The minuscule and isolated territories in which 3.9 million Palestinians are jammed were little more than a prison for the Palestinians. Now, the Israeli military has been blowing that up and tearing it apart – with the people in them, using many of the same excuses.

For the Israeli people, Israel’s rulers have always justified this terrorist policy, saying it is the only way to be safe and secure. Decades and decades of wars and occupations later, this policy has turned the Israeli people into the hated oppressor of rest of the people of the region, created a deepening ditch of blood between the different peoples of the region. This policy holds the Israeli population hostage as well.

Yes, groups like Hamas and Hezbollah used terrorist methods and are the enemies of their own people, ready to impose a religious fundamentalist dictatorship if they had the chance. But they are not the ones primarily responsible for the carnage.

Israel is. And behind Israel stands U.S. imperialism.

Israel, a small country with the highest spending on the military in relation to its population of any country in the world, is merely an extension of the U.S. military. It is bought and paid for by the U.S. government. And U.S. industry supplies the F-15s, F-16s, Apache helicopters, Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, along with their bombs and bullets. The U.S. rushed to resupply Israel as soon as it began to bomb Lebanon. These weapons are all “Made in the USA.”

And so are the wars. Israel is doing the dirty work for the U.S. in the Middle East, helping the U.S. to impose its control over the whole region, its people and resources. By sowing terror and violence, it ensures that a new crop of violence will be harvested over and over again – as the U.S.’s own bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan prove.

Pages 2-3

Baltimore:
Schools for profit, not for education

Jul 24, 2006

Three elementary schools in Baltimore, Maryland, run by the for-profit company Edison, have released their latest test scores. Students at these three schools did worse than students at comparable Baltimore city schools for 2005.

Making matters worse, while test scores in city schools went up slightly, test scores at Edison dropped dramatically – more than 20% overall, in reading and math and among both third graders and sixth graders. Edison says it can’t explain such an unusual drop in test scores. Could it be there was some maneuvering on test scores the year before, in order to report higher than usual scores?

Whatever the reason for the drop from 2004 to 2005, the Edison school results are no surprise. National results in study after study have shown similar test results to these in Baltimore.

Of course, good results on a test don’t prove that children are really getting an education. But bad results on basic math and language tests certainly point to big problems!

Private and charter schools are hyped as the solution to educational problems. Parents hope these alternative schools will provide what the public school system often cannot: better results. It doesn’t happen that way. And especially not when school systems give contracts to profits or charters. That is money taken away from the public schools in order to give profits to Edison and others like it.

We won’t have a decent education for children until more money is spent – on smaller class sizes, on higher pay for more qualified teachers, on the latest books and computers and resources.

St. Louis blackout
– created by profit-mad utility companies

Jul 24, 2006

More than 500,000 homes and businesses in the St. Louis area lost power July 19 in the middle of a stifling heat wave. Temperatures were in the upper 90s with high humidity. At least 440,000 household and facilities – which means many more people – were still in the dark three days later.

For the people of the St. Louis area the outage was as bad as the big blackout that hit the Midwest and East Coast three years ago. Emergency rooms and health clinics saw many people with heat-related illnesses and there were dozens of heat-related deaths in the region. Stores ran out of fans and ice cubes. The National Guard was sent in to evacuate people from their homes.

Public officials, the utility companies, and the media pretend it’s the fault of thunderstorms that hit the region.

Yes, there were storms in the area and some of them were really severe. But it wasn’t the storms that caused most of the electrical lines to break. Some had trees fall on them. That’s because the utility companies have not devoted enough resources to keep the power lines free of trees. Other lines were not strong enough to withstand high winds, because many of them were not properly maintained.

Beyond that, once the power outages occurred, the utility companies did not have enough repair crews on hand to handle the emergency. They rely on bringing in crews from other areas to help with the repairs – but then those crews don’t know the area and are less familiar with the systems in place there because the systems are different from the ones they are used to working on.

What an inefficient way of organizing an electrical system! Separate private companies are organized individually, for their own profit, with completely different systems and no coordinated planning for emergencies. How much time, effort, and even life could be saved by having a single, centralized and uniform network – one which doesn’t put profit as its goal.

The current patchwork of individual utility fiefdoms is backward and means a steadily deteriorating utility service around the country.

Remove private interests from the provision of public utility service!

Study shows public schools do best
– Bush buries it!

Jul 24, 2006

Public school students score better than comparable private and charter school students in reading and math. Students at conservative Christian schools did the worst, by far. These were the conclusions arrived at by an in-depth study carried out by the Bush administration’s own Department of Education.

This should have been big news, since it contradicts Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policies completely. Those policies push children into charter schools and give out vouchers for private schools, all of which take more money out of public school systems.

As bad as public schools are, they couldn’t help but be better than private schools. They have possibilities private schools can’t match, all else being equal. They’re not run for profit; their main purpose is education, even if officials and contractors siphon off funds. They don’t have an overt religious agenda that gets in the way of a proper scientific education. And they’re centralized; they can pool resources and distribute them efficiently.

Certainly, many public school systems do these things badly. But comparable private schools do them worse.

If Bush is serious about making education better for children – truly “leaving no child behind” – then he would be acting on the study’s results. He would be reversing his policy immediately, and reversing the flow of money back into public schools, to make them better.

Bush didn’t do that. The administration downplayed the results, saying the comparison between schools was of “limited utility”– even though the study carefully separated out all other differences between the student populations, only comparing schools where students came from the same socio-economic background.

Furthermore, the Department of Education released the results, without any comment or news conference, on a Friday evening – the “dead time” right before the weekend, when stories typically get ignored.

No, they aren’t serious about improving education. They simply want to use public school funds to promote a political and religious agenda.

Bush:
Sacrificing lives for votes

Jul 24, 2006

President Bush recently vetoed a bill to provide government funding for embryonic stem cell research ignoring all the medical possibilities that such research holds for saving lives.

Pandering to the most base religious prejudices, Bush claimed to be defending the lives of unborn children. Lining up children conceived from embryos which had undergone fertility treatment, Bush declared that, “They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research.”

So explain this Mr. Bush: Those children were conceived only because of earlier research done on embryos!

New Orleans:
Arresting the wrong people

Jul 24, 2006

The attorney general of Louisiana, Charles Foti, made a big show of arresting a doctor and two nurses in connection with the deaths of four patients in a New Orleans hospital shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

Foti accused the doctor, Anna Pou, and nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo, of intentionally giving the patients lethal doses of drugs used to relieve pain and anxiety among long-term care patients.

The deaths occurred several days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The city was flooded, and the hospital had no electricity, water or phone service. Temperatures inside the hospital rose to over 100 degrees.

Pou, Landry and Budo did not have to return to the hospital but they did, staying at the risk of their own lives, to help patients as much as they could. They had no high tech medical equipment and had to use whatever was at their disposal to try to alleviate the patients’ suffering.

While the three were risking their lives to help patients, Foti and politicians like him were nowhere to be found. A doctor at Tulane University asked, “Where the hell was he? Where the hell was the law enforcement? Where the hell was anybody until Friday [September 2 when large-scale evacuations began]? If you want to prosecute, if you want to know who is responsible for people dying, it’s the people who were NOT here. It’s not the people who were here.”

Foti is one of a long list of people – including the president of the United States, the governor of Louisiana, the mayor of New Orleans, and the head of FEMA – who are responsible for the deaths of those patients and of many more people.

In denouncing the medical personnel, Foti may be trying to absolve himself and all those other criminals of responsibility in the disaster that swept through New Orleans.

No one in the population is fooled by it!

Boston:
Big Dig a disaster ... except for construction companies

Jul 24, 2006

On July 10, a woman was killed in Boston when the ceiling of a highway tunnel collapsed on her car. This tunnel is part of the “Big Dig” project, worked on through the 1990s and into this century, supposedly in order to end delays that have plagued Boston commuters for decades.

Before this death, other problems had already shown up in the tunnels. Leaks were discovered months ago. In less than a dozen years, one of the biggest construction projects in the country has turned deadly.

Why? Because the infrastructure of this country has either been ignored and allowed to deteriorate or used as a means to pour money into contractors’ pockets. In both cases, the needs of the population are ignored.

In Boston, the government said it was investing in a vital new transportation infrastructure. They forked over 15 billion dollars (twice the amount it was supposed to cost) to Bechtel, an eighteen-billion-dollar-a year mega-construction company, and its subcontractors. What was built? A series of new tunnels and roads that are already crumbling and perhaps not even usable!

The government has been nothing but a pipeline, pumping the taxes of working people into the pockets of the rich people who drain wealth out of these corporations.

Pages 4-5

Israel:
This isn’t the first intervention in Lebanon

Jul 24, 2006

Israel has long used an old trick to discredit its opponents, labeling them “terrorists.” Hezbollah and Hamas – with their policies – may not deserve our sympathy, but the terrorism of the State of Israel, which bombs workers’ neighborhoods, massacring men, women and children, is totally revolting.

This is the logic of all imperialist armies, which are ready to level a city to eliminate their opponents.

And this isn’t the first time Israel has decimated Lebanon.

A power struggle inside Lebanon over which clans and groups would control the country grew into a full-scale civil war. Taking advantage of that civil war, in March 1978 Israeli troops invaded Lebanon for the first time and imposed an occupation zone. Israel ran the zone jointly with Christian militias from the Lebanese reactionary right.

Four years later, the Israeli military launched a full-scale invasion of Lebanon, advancing to Beirut. For three months it laid siege to the city and bombarded it extensively. Upon ending the siege in September 1982, Israel acted as the accomplice of the Christian militias, which massacred more than 2,000 Palestinian men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The Israeli troops made sure that no refugees could escape and that no friendly forces could come to their aid. In June 1985, Israel set up what it called a “security zone” in southern Lebanon, jointly controlled with Christian militias. In other words, it continued to occupy part of Lebanon.

Today Israel is making a big deal over the threat of Hezbollah missiles. But in 1992, eight years after that organization began, Israel assassinated its leader, Sheik Abbas Musawi, by firing a rocket from an Israeli helicopter.

Hezbollah retaliated for that killing in 1993. Israel used that as a pretext to unleash bombings against the Lebanese population through artillery, aerial bombs and shelling from ships. Israel cynically called this wide-scale military action “Operation Accountability.” Finally in 2000, Israeli troops withdrew from Lebanon, ending an occupation of 22 years.

Since then, Israel has flown non-stop through Lebanese air space and violated its territorial waters. It continues to occupy the 17-square-mile strip of land along the border inside Lebanon, referred to as the Shaaba Farms.

Throughout all these invasions and massacres, the big powers were totally indifferent. At times, they may have made a little noise about the “disproportion” of the Israeli initiatives. But the Israeli state is their most reliable cop in the region. So they always gave Israel the go-ahead, openly or tacitly.

With last week’s massacres in Tyre, Bayada and Aitaroun, the Lebanese population once again finds itself in the same boat as the Palestinians of Gaza.

Chicago:
Whitewash past police torture and ignore the present

Jul 24, 2006

After four years of an investigation, special prosecutors issued a report on police torture in Chicago during the 1970s and 1980s.

The prosecutors said that there was credible evidence of police abuse and torture of prisoners in half of the 148 complaints they investigated. Prisoners had cattle prods put against their genitals, guns shoved into their mouths and plastic typewriter covers put over their heads and held until they fainted. But prosecutors decided that nothing could be done about it under Illinois law since the statute of limitations prevents prosecutions for crimes committed so long ago.

The special prosecutors refused the suggestion that the cops be brought into grand juries and forced to testify under oath, with false testimony being used to convict them of perjury. The prosecutors said this would be a “perjury trap,” though it is used all the time against those the government wishes to get.

Most significant, the report had nothing to say about the continued torture of prisoners that goes on in Chicago. The number of complaints continues to build because the cops continue to work prisoners over. Anyone at all familiar with the streets in Chicago knows that torture and abuse by police is as flagrant as ever. After all, the cops are just doing the job they were sent to do – control the population – and they know they won’t be prosecuted for it.

U.S. army against its own soldiers

Jul 24, 2006

A U.S. soldier, Suzanne Swift, celebrated her 22nd birthday this July confined to base at Ft. Lewis, Washington. She was arrested at her mother’s home on June 11 for not reporting to return to duty in Iraq. When she returned home in February 2005, she accused three sergeants of sexual abuse and harassment, but the military authorities ignored her charges. So in January 2006, when she received the order to return to Baghdad, she refused to go. She told the press, “when you are over there, you are lower than dirt, you are expendable as a soldier in general, and as a woman it’s worse.” In fact, one story she told was of a superior who, when she asked him where to report for duty, said he wanted her “in my bed, naked.” Her lawyer said she had filed charges against two sergeants for demanding sex and a third for coercing it.

Her case is not the only one, whatever the military says or does about the current charges. The Miles Foundation, an organization that aids victims of violence in the army, has a list of 518 cases of sexual assault on soldiers stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Qatar since 2003. Its emergency hot line receives calls day and night. A congressman asked the secretary of defense for a report on documented cases. The military itself admitted that it knew of 2,347 sexual assaults in 2005 in the U.S. armed forces. This number, which only included recorded cases, is an increase of 40% over the previous year, which in turn was 25% higher than the year before.

It’s impossible to train soldiers for brutally repressing others and then expect that they behave like total gentlemen the rest of the time.

Iraq:
U.S. and British imperialism responsible for the chaos

Jul 24, 2006

On July 9 in Baghdad, dozens of heavily armed Shiite militiamen broke into homes and over several hours killed 42 civilians in a Baghdad neighborhood, including women and children, simply because they were Sunni. On July 17, Sunni gunmen went into a marketplace in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, and using assault rifles, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, killed 48 Shiites in broad daylight in revenge for the July 9 massacre. The next day a suicide bomber killed 59 people in Kufa, a Shiite city in central Iraq. The United Nations said the number of civilians being killed has been rising, going from 1,778 in January to 3,149 in June or more than 100 a day. In July, the number killed seems to have reached 200 a day.

For months there have been almost daily violent explosions and other acts of violence, particularly since the Shiite Golden Dome shrine in Samarra was blown up on February 22.

These aren’t religious conflicts, contrary to what western commentators have repeated for many months. These fundamentalist Shiite and Sunni factions are contesting for power. They are trying to create a bloody gulf between the two communities by means of armed attacks and assassinations so their own population will rally around them. Their main objective is to get in power and impose their dictatorship.

But imperialism is the root cause of this catastrophic situation for the Iraqi population.

The war and then three years of occupation brought additional misery, and left an enormous political vacuum, which the supposedly democratic institutions put in place by Washington and London haven’t filled. For months, these institutions have been totally powerless to restore calm to the country. Several times they decreed a cease fire and threatened prison to anyone carrying arms in public, but without any result. In fact, there has been chaos, bloody chaos, for months.

The violent acts of the imperialist armies, U.S. and British in particular, pushed many youth, and older people too, into the hands of the fundamentalist militias. The list of U.S. caused bloodbaths is long, like the siege of Fallujah in November 2004. There were also revelations of the abuse by U.S. and British troops on thousands of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Most recently, the news that four U.S. soldiers raped a young Iraqi before killing her and three members of her family raised indignation in Iraq as in the U.S. But how many other violent acts have been committed without being publicized? All these facts, all this violence can only increase the hatred against the imperialist occupier.

Bush justified the U.S. intervention and then the occupation by the necessity to bring democracy and liberty to the population. No! Imperialism has brought only chaos and misery to Iraq. The Iraqi population is caught in a pincers – between bombing by the occupation forces on the one hand and violent acts committed by armed militias and waves of terrorist attacks on the other.

Gaza:
The Israeli offensive continues

Jul 24, 2006

The results of operation “Summer Rain” launched by the Israeli government on June 28, under the pretext of rescuing one Israeli captured by a Palestinian commando squad, are appalling.

After the first 22 days of Israel’s offensive, 106 Palestinians were killed as a result of bombings, the incursion of armored personnel carriers and so-called targeted shots. The population is almost totally besieged, deprived of electricity most of the day as the result of the destruction of the main power plant in the Gaza Strip, and lacks food and water. Many homes and basic parts of the infrastructure have been destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, under the pretext of searching for tunnels and explosives.

The state of health of the 1.4 million inhabitants is so much worse that the U.N. and the World Health Organization issued alerts concerning hospital conditions. Supplies of sugar and milk, which normally are imported from Israel, have fallen low, while food processing companies and flour mills have reduced production due to power failures. The price for staples like powdered milk, sugar and flour has gone up so much that many families can no longer afford them.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stands firm on his position, rejecting until now each Palestinian proposition for the exchange of prisoners; Olmert excludes any negotiation with Hamas, which he calls a “bloodthirsty organization.” Under the pretext of preventing rockets from being fired, Olmert and his Labor Party Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, authorized the army to enter new parts of the Gaza Strip. They have sent in armored personnel carriers and infantry units. Murderous air raids continue and intensify, with no end in sight. Despite polls saying that Israeli public opinion is not favorable, the Israeli government once again assumes its military superiority can keep other people imprisoned permanently. Its only dialogue is through bombs, tanks and continual shelling, with the entire population taken hostage.

In fact, these deaths and the insane destruction can only add still more to the despair and frustration of all Palestinians, and pushing the entire population of Israel into a trap with no way out.

Pages 6-7

Judge fired for telling the truth

Jul 24, 2006

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. unanimously decided to remove a federal judge from a case. What did he do? Take a bribe? No. He was removed because of his “animosity toward a party.” That party is the U.S. government! Judge Royce Lamberth had ruled in favor of 500,000 Indians in a suit which has been dragging on since 1996, saying the government squandered 100 billion dollars in grazing, energy and mineral royalties from Indian lands. Lamberth called the Department of the Interior, which handles Indian affairs, a dinosaur that should have been buried a century ago.

Lamberth is a Texas conservative, appointed by Reagan to the federal court and by Chief Justice Rehnquist to head the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1995. Hardly someone with a “bias” against the government.

Lamberth’s blast at the Department of the Interior came from what was produced in court. Several independent investigations found the Interior Department never kept complete records of the Indian trust, used unknown amounts to help balance the federal budget, and let the oil and gas industry use Indian lands at bargain rates.

In other words, Lamberth was removed from the case for daring to say the truth about what the government had done.

12 miners died:
“consistent with industry practice”

Jul 24, 2006

Twelve miners died in the Sago Mine in West Virginia on January 2. They survived the explosion but ran out of air. One miner survived and later said four of the miners’ air packs didn’t work right.

Now an investigative report from the West Virginia governor’s office reveals a second way the miners should have survived. The part of the mine that exploded was sealed off. The explosion should never have affected the 12 miners at all! But the seals blew apart.

The seals were not concrete as has been used in the past. They were of a newer foam-based block, used by mine companies because it is cheaper, lighter, easier to move. The governor’s report said the foam-block seal was “improperly constructed” and the block was “pulverized” by the explosion.

The mine owner, ICG (International Coal Group), issued a statement: “ICG believes that the seals were built in compliance with the MSHA-approved plan using construction techniques that are consistent with industry practice.”

Of course ICG can only “believe” that, because its executives, board of directors, and wealthy shareholders never endanger themselves in a mine! They rest in grand offices and count the money the coal miners load into their accounts.

Doubtless the foam-block seals were built “consistent with industry practice,” since every mine operator – like big businesses everywhere – cuts every corner possible in their constant pressure for more production at less cost. The lowest level of safety they can get away with will be perfectly “consistent with industry practice.”

Those working in government agencies responsible for worker safety find their budgets reduced, staffs cut, and their regulations watered-down by politicians.

The top administrators, confident of being well taken care of by the industry they supposedly regulate, occupy themselves by preparing alibis for the future disasters that mining for profit will bring.

California:
The Republican governor and his Democratic buddies want more prisons

Jul 24, 2006

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to build at least two new prisons as part of his “prison reform” plan. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Democrat, has written a bill authorizing his proposal.

There is no doubt that the California prisons have big problems. The system is severely overcrowded, with 171,000 inmates crammed into prisons that were built for half that many. There is no space for educational or recreational activities, since every inch of space is used for beds. Inmates are forced to sleep on triple-bunks, in gyms, hallways, even on the floors. February’s two-week-long prison riots, pitting Hispanic and black inmates against each other, were undoubtedly a result, at least in part, of severe overcrowding.

Like other states, California has lengthened sentences for minor, non-violent crimes. California’s notorious three-strikes law has sent people to prison for life for stealing pizza.

Far from rehabilitating criminals, these prisons are the number one breeding ground for hardened criminals. And the longer people stay, the harder they get!

Certainly, working people are worried about crime. But that doesn’t mean they agree with this cheap, supposedly “tough on crime” posture of politicians. People know that what drives more and more working-class youth to crime is the lack of a decent education and decent-paying jobs.

But that’s exactly the subject that all these politicians avoid. They are too busy planning how to dish out more taxpayer money to the big bosses they represent.

Generations of young people, whose lives are thrown away to rot in prisons, pay the price.

Page 8

Steel mill retirees condemned to an unsure retirement

Jul 24, 2006

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study of what happened to 167,000 retired Bethlehem and LTV steel workers and their spouses when they lost retiree health care. These benefits were eliminated when the companies declared bankruptcy and their pensions were turned over to the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.

Putting in decades on one of the hardest and most unhealthy jobs, and taking less pay for it, these workers were promised full health care for the rest of their lives. Those promises were nothing but a pack of lies.

Many of the steel retirees were under age 65 – meaning they weren’t yet eligible for Medicare. Half of them drained money out of their savings or sold off some of their assets to get health care. Half of the workers or their spouses had to go back to work after being retired. Half put off a doctor’s visit and 29% didn’t enter a hospital when needed.

Even workers with Medicare had significant health problems. About 10% of them had no supplement to Medicare. One in eight went without needed hospital care and a quarter went without doctor’s care.

Wilbur Ross, a New York investment banker, organized a Wall Street takeover of Bethlehem and LTV once their workers’ pensions and retiree health care were eliminated. Ross himself made a 300 million dollar profit by buying up these companies and selling them a couple of years later. He took this profit and bought up numerous coal mines – including Sago where 12 miners died this year – and eliminated retiree health benefits there. He did the same thing buying up the giant Burlington Industries and Cone Mills in textiles, again dumping health insurance. Now he is planning on buying up auto parts companies and doing the same thing.

It is not only one man who is eliminating retiree health plans. Ross was the front for many other financial interests. And many of the biggest corporations are doing the same thing, like United Airlines and USAir. The Big Three auto companies are targeting retiree health care.

If the working class allows this drive to continue, no one will have any kind of retirement.

Delphi rewards execs for a job well done

Jul 24, 2006

A bankruptcy judge approved the extension of Delphi’s bonus plan for its top 460 executives for another six months. Added to what they already got, this will bring their payout to as much as 74 million dollars this year. That comes to more than $160,000 apiece on average.

This is the same company that is threatening to ask the court to reject its labor contract if its workers do not agree to deep concessions of as much as 60% in wages and benefits by August 11.

The top UAW leadership feigned outrage at the bonuses, warning that the bonuses could “distract from negotiations.”

Of course, workers should be outraged at these bonuses at a time when Delphi claims it will lose two billion dollars this year. The bonuses show that Delphi still has plenty of money – it just intends to use it for those at the top. Yes – and outraged at union leaders who have been pushing them all along to give up concessions to Delphi!

Preparing another “restructuring” in steel

Jul 24, 2006

After several months of stock market squabbles, the Board of Directors of Arcelor, a French steel company and the second biggest steel corporation in the world, decided to accept the buyout offer of Mittal Steel, a company based in the Netherlands, and the biggest company. It has steel mills all around the world, with a large number in the U.S.

The clashes over the price, with their twists and turns, drove up the final purchase price by billions of dollars. The big stockholders in Arcelor increased their fortunes by hundreds of millions of dollars as the price of the company’s stock doubled.

This affair in steel illustrates what’s been happening in other sectors. Thanks to the giant profits that they’ve realized off their workers, big industrial corporations around the world have large amounts of cash which they can’t begin to spend. It’s not profitable enough for them to invest in production by creating new factories and additional jobs, so they spend their money buying up one another.

The merger of Arcelor and Mittal Steel won’t lead to more production. On the contrary, it will lead to more restructuring, more elimination of jobs and layoffs.

Once more, a Board of Directors – a couple of dozen people – decided on a merger that is going to directly affect the fate of 320,000 workers in two companies, not to mention the workers employed by their contractors. If the restructuring leads to steel mill closings, the harmful effects will be felt by other parts of the working class. Arcelor itself was formed by mergers and “restructuring” at the cost of the layoffs and mill closings which transformed certain regions in France into industrial deserts. Mittal was formed by a “merger” with ISG – which was formed by a financier who bought up LTV Steel, Acme Metals, Bethlehem Steel and Weirton in the U.S., and then shut down many of their plants.

This is the way things go in this capitalist society where the economy is controlled dictatorially by industrial and financial corporations: their boards of directors make decisions that favor the financial interest of their biggest stockholders, leaving the workers and the entire society to pay the price.

They tell us that the corporation that will emerge from this merger – which will be far and away the largest in its sector – can better meet world competition. But what’s the advantage for society in this? If the new corporation finds itself in a better position as a monopoly, that only means it will raise its prices and force its consumers to pay more for its super-profits. Consumers certainly have no reason to rejoice over the monopoly position of the oil companies!

Society has no control over an economy managed by private owners. This causes waste and anarchic jolts to the economy. It causes layoffs and unemployment. An economy managed to further private interests in secret meetings of boards of directors can only lead society into catastrophe.

There is no way really to combat unemployment other than to put businesses, their functioning and their decisions under the control of workers, consumers and the entire population. Private interests have to be forced to give up their grip on the economy so that the entire society can benefit.