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. 782 — September 18 - October 2, 2006

Stop U.S. terrorism

Sep 18, 2006

With the ceremonies to mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the politicians of both parties rushed to try to turn a horrifying tragedy to their own political advantage. Competing with each other, they pretended that their “War on Terror” is protecting us from further terrorist attacks.

But the truth is that by far, the biggest and bloodiest terrorist in the world is the U.S. super power. Look at how the U.S. has set the Middle East region into flames and turned the region into a living hell for the people living there. The U.S. itself invaded Iraq in 1991. It then continued to bomb the country and starve the people with an economic embargo. In 2003, it invaded the country and now its occupation is a bloody and barbaric debacle. Its war against the people of Afghanistan is, if anything, worse.

At the same time, the U.S. army, planes and ships patrol the Middle East. They serve as a constant threat of war and terror to the people living there.

U.S. forces support the brutal dictatorships in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, that are used against their own peoples. Its closest client state, Israel, has waged one war after another against the Palestinians, as well as the other peoples of the region.

In the past, U.S. forces overthrew governments, such as those in Iran and Iraq. The U.S. also encouraged and fueled the Iran-Iraq War, which left more than a million people killed, and both countries laid to waste.

Today, U.S. politicians decry the religious fanaticism of the terrorists. Bush talks about stopping “Islamo-fascists.” Politicians from both parties talk about “a clash of civilizations.”

It is all hot air. For decades in the Middle East, the U.S. encouraged, financed and armed religious fundamentalists against communists, socialists, trade unionists and nationalists. In the 1980s, the U.S. armed and financed religious fanatics in the war in Afghanistan – calling them “freedom fighters.” Even the name, Al Qaeda, is Arabic for “The Base,” which refers to the guerrilla base in Afghanistan that the CIA had set up and outfitted for Osama bin Laden and his forces in the 1980s.

As for today, regimes most closely tied to the U.S., such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, continue to support and arm these terrorist organizations – with the full support from the U.S. government. These regimes, with U.S. support, use religious fanaticism, prejudice and ignorance to enslave and control the people. And when that doesn’t work, they resort to terrorist methods.

Yes, the murderous terrorist attacks of 9/11 against the people of this country, as well as the bombs in London, Madrid, and Bali, have taken a horrible toll. Killing civilians in order to get at the government is an abomination.

But the wars that the U.S. carried out are themselves terrorist actions – and even more of an abomination because they are carried out by governments using the most advanced weapons of destruction. The attacks on 9/11 resulted in the immediate death of 3,000 civilians. The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in the death of more than 100,000 people. This is nothing but terrorism on the grand scale, wars fought for control of oil and the global economy.

These wars have created many thousands more people whose bitterness pushes them toward terrorism – just as prior U.S. destruction of Middle East countries led to the terrorist attack of 9/11.

If we want an end to terrorism, we have to start by opposing the terrorism carried out by this government against other peoples – terrorism carried out in our name but against our interests.

Stop U.S. terrorism in the Middle East! Stop U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan!

Pages 2-3

Women under attack again

Sep 18, 2006

The last abortion clinic still functioning in the state of Mississippi has been under siege for months. The same extreme right-wing group that organized protesters to intimidate women entering the clinic also organized harassing of the doctor who works there. The protesters rang his neighbors’ doorbells, telling them they lived on the block of a baby killer. The owner of the clinic has seen 17 suspicious fires at abortion clinics she owns. A doctor who worked for one of her clinics was murdered by an anti-abortion activist. In fact, eight abortion providers have been assassinated since 1993.

Only ten years ago, there were six clinics still performing abortions in Mississippi. But the combination of protesters and anti-abortion state regulations closed them down. And the problem, of course, is not just in Mississippi.

In the year 2000, 87% of counties had no abortion provider, with none at all in 97% of the country’s rural counties, and the situation is undoubtedly worse today. In that same year, eight states had five or fewer abortion providers for the whole state.

Congress Provides a Way for Religious Zealots to Murder Doctors and Women

The ink had barely dried on the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, when Democratic Senator Frank Church proposed an amendment to a funding measure, which the Senate quickly passed and the House ratified with the support of most Democrats and Republicans. It allowed medical providers (including not only doctors, nurses and other support personnel, but more importantly, the owners of hospitals and clinics) to “opt out” of performing abortions or sterilizations if these medical procedures violated “their moral or religious beliefs.” Very quickly, 46 of the 50 state legislatures passed similar “refusal” statutes. It has since proved to be the basis for the single biggest restriction on abortion.

Such a limitation has never been set on other medical procedures – at least until a similar “opt-out” was extended to pharmacists whose “moral” standards are violated by dispensing birth control medication.

Almost immediately, Catholic hospitals moved to take advantage of the opt-out. Four of the ten biggest hospital chains and health care systems are owned by or are under the control of the Catholic church. Regardless of what doctors working in those hospitals might have wanted, they were prevented from carrying out abortions because the Catholic church refused to let them do it. But publicly funded hospitals and clinics also followed suit in one state after another, as politicians intervened.

The legal provision letting big hospital chains and clinics “opt out” is what opened the door for violence and intimidation to be carried out against individual doctors and small clinics that continue to provide abortions. These clinics and doctors became targets for the “right-to-life” zealots – for whom murder, arson, disfigurement and psychological harassment are all justified by their “mission from God.”

In addition to eight abortion providers murdered, attempts were made on the lives of 17 others. There have been more than 4200 violent attacks on clinics reported to the police: bombings, arson attacks and assaults. In other words, pure terrorism.

Speaking at a 1993 camp organized in Indiana to train religious zealots how to attack women’s clinics, Randall Terry, the head of “Operation Rescue,” had this to say: “I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good.... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.” At another session, speaking of doctors who perform abortions, he commented: “Intolerance is a beautiful thing. We’re going to make their lives a living hell.” (Both of these comments were reported in the Fort Wayne, Indiana News-Sentinel.)

If these religious forces succeed in imposing their agenda on the whole of society, they will take us back to the period before Roe v Wade, when, according to figures supplied by NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League), there were almost as many abortions performed annually as there were in the years after the Court’s decision. Legal or illegal, there have been around a million abortions performed year after year, but with this difference: more than 90% before 1973 were illegal, most of those performed under unsafe conditions. Obviously estimates of illegal abortions can only be educated guesses. But what has been documented are the 350,000 women a year who arrived before 1973 in hospital emergency rooms as the result of botched abortions, and the number of women who died each year, ranging from nearly 1,000 to as many as 5,000.

Pretending to speak for “life” is nothing but a cynical ploy by religious zealots who are ready to leave a trail of dead female bodies in their wake.

Ten years of Welfare “Reform”

Sep 18, 2006

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quietly published its new rules for welfare this summer – the most sweeping changes in 10 years. For example, the new rules make it harder for states to provide education or training for low-income families on welfare. And it cuts childcare for those who have found work.

It has been exactly 10 years since a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, worked with a Republican-controlled Congress to “end welfare as we know it,” as Clinton said at the time. Clinton’s changes eliminated welfare as an entitlement, open to anyone whose income qualified them for aid. As a result, over the next five years, the welfare rolls collapsed. Three million families with nine million people were axed from the welfare rolls. This eliminated one of the social “safety nets” the black mobilization of the 1950s and ’60s had forced the government to establish, a small protection from the worst poverty and want.

As a result of Clinton’s “reform,” at least one million single mothers neither have a job, nor receive any social assistance. They exist on the margins of society, working jobs that pay under the table, peddling, petty crime – or forced to accept abusive relationships.

Those who did get work often found low-paying jobs, with pay so low that most welfare mothers don’t even qualify for unemployment benefits when they are laid off. And any gains were wiped out by these mothers having to pay for childcare and even more expensive health care.

When the recession of 2001 hit, the situation went from bad to worse, as both the state and federal governments cut programs to aid the “transition to work.” Millions of children are without medical coverage or care today. Thirty-two states cut low-income child care programs, while 22 states cut children’s health insurance programs.

The federal government had promised to supplement the income of the working poor with an Earned Income Tax Credit, to give back some money at tax time. But Congress told the IRS to audit the poor – leading to all kinds of outrages, costing the working poor money to defend themselves and garnishing wages.

Welfare “reform” means that several million very desperate workers, mainly single women with children, were thrown onto the labor market filling the ranks of retail, food services, hotels and lodging, manufacturing, nursing and personal care facilities and temp agencies. The bosses took advantage of this influx of desperate and very vulnerable workers to impose low wages, which in turn contributed to the increase in the national poverty rate – despite the supposed economic “recovery.” There are more than 37 million people today living below the government’s official poverty level.

So what will the new welfare rules do? By removing aid for medical care, childcare and training, it will create even more “working poor.”

Charter schools don’t deliver

Sep 18, 2006

In the middle of August, the Department of Education finally reported on test scores comparing public schools and charter schools. Comparing fourth graders in both reading and math, the charter schools had significantly lower scores than did the public schools.

The report was based on testing from 2003. But since Bush appointed his conservative friends to the top of the Department of Education, all of whom support charter schools, the report was delayed. Some claimed the data had not been properly analyzed to compare students by income and background. So the Department of Education looked at the testing again. Despite this, the results went against charter schools.

It’s not surprising that some parents in poorer neighborhoods send their children to charter schools. They want their children to have a decent education, an education they know the public schools are failing to deliver.

The public school system has been a disaster in both big cities and rural areas for some years: students graduating high school who could barely read or calculate; high rates of teenage drop-outs; large classes; a lack of text books or other resources; disciplinary problems.

But how could charter schools show better results? Two groups have stepped forward to create charter schools: for-profit educational companies and religious institutions.

In the case of for-profit companies, how could they possibly deliver as much as public schools? They are set up to allow an owner or a group of investors to make money from providing this service. The profits have to come from somewhere. So these schools must squeeze teachers’ salaries, use old books, pack many students into few classes, etc. in order to show a profit.

As for the religious institutions, how could they provide an adequate education? Their opposition to science goes back many years. A scientific education would challenge their superstitions and myths. A real education forces children to learn to observe and to reason.

Behind the attack on science is another issue: many Christian fundamentalist groups want to get rid of the public schools completely. Their opposition is well-known. A leader of this movement, Robert Thoburn, from the Fairfax Virginia Christian school, wrote The Children Trap. In it he says:

“Christians should run for the school board. This may sound like strange advice. After all, I have said that Christians should have nothing to do with the public schools. What I meant was that Christians should not allow their children to have anything to do with public schools. This does not mean that we should have nothing to do with them.... Our goal is not to make the schools better.... The goal is to hamper them, so they cannot grow.... Our goal as God-fearing uncompromised Christians is to shut down the public schools, not in some revolutionary way, but step by step, school by school, district by district.

Free public schooling was once the way forward for the entire working class. It was a gain that had to be fought for and won – first by the ex-slaves and poor whites during Reconstruction in the South, then by trade unions around the country. We shouldn’t let it be taken from us and our children.

How much education can you afford?

Sep 18, 2006

College tuition rates in many states have gone up by nearly 50% – or more – in the last six years. In most states today, a family needs between $7,000 and $10,000 a year to send a child to a state university. Add to that, money for books, gas, food and housing. That’s a very big chunk out of a worker’s paycheck.

We live in a society that preaches at young people to get a good college education if they want to get a job. But that same society makes it nearly impossible to get that education.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Southern plantation owners made it illegal for anyone to provide an education to a slave. Today, in this technologically advanced society, the ruling class makes it financially impossible for the children of working people to get the education they need.

Pages 4-5

End of the miners’ strike

Sep 18, 2006

The workers of Escondida voted to end their 24-day strike on August 31st. Escondida is the biggest privately-owned copper mine in the world, located 800 miles north of Santiago. The strikers won a 5% wage increase as well as a bonus of $16,500. The new contract will last 40 months.

This settlement is short of the strike’s demands. The 2,052 mine workers had demanded a wage increase of 13% and a bonus of $30,000. According to the mine workers’ union, this would have cost the British and Australian multinational which owns the mine only 1% of its profits last year from Escondida alone. The price of copper tripled over the last three years, going from 80¢ a pound to $3, giving rise to a profit bonanza for the copper capitalists. Escondida produces 3,600 tons a day or 8% of world production.

Even if they won only some of their demands, this strike was a victory for the miners, who work under very difficult conditions, 10,000 feet above sea level, in the middle of the Atacama desert. They forced back an intransigent boss, who employed threats and slanders as well as scabs. This was the first real strike in this mine since it opened in 1991 and the longest strike in Chile since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. This strike could encourage other workers, particularly the copper miners at the six mines of the government-owned Codelco, whose wage negotiations come up in October.

Viet Nam documents:
Systematic U.S. policy of terror didn’t just start with Iraq

Sep 18, 2006

Before Iraq and Afghanistan, there was Viet Nam. The infamous My Lai massacre of March 1968, in which U.S. troops killed more than 500 Vietnamese villagers, put the issue up front. But declassified military documents show that such atrocities were carried out systematically, under orders from the top of the chain of command. And the U.S. government and military brass not only did their best to cover up reported crimes; in many cases they also harassed and tried to discredit those who did the reporting.

Two recent articles in the Los Angeles Times recounted examples of such incidents. In a 1970 letter to General Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Viet Nam, a sergeant described widespread killings of civilians by the members of the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta. “If I am only 10% right, and believe me it’s lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lai each month over a year,” wrote the sergeant, and blamed superiors who ordered high “body counts.”

According to an August 1971 memo to Westmoreland, military investigators tried to find the anonymous letter-writer – not to help the prosecution of those responsible for the murders, but to “prevent his complaints from reaching” certain politicians, who were likely to publicize them!

This pattern repeated itself over and over. In February 1968, then-20-year-old Army medic Jamie Henry witnessed the murder of 19 unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, by members of his company. When Henry reported this and several other murders and atrocities he had witnessed to an Army legal officer, the officer threatened him with “the million and one charges you can be brought up on for blinking your eye,” if he didn’t keep quiet.

In 1970, after he was discharged from the Army, Henry published an account of the massacre he had witnessed in a magazine. He also held a news conference. Army investigators interviewed Henry the next day for show – but nothing ever came of it.

Lt. Col. Anthony B. Herbert had it worse. In 1969, Herbert reported about the systematic torture of detainees in U.S. military prisons. Not only did his superiors ignore his reports; they also fired him from his position as battalion commander and started a campaign of slander against him. According to the Army’s own documents, other witness accounts corroborated Herbert’s descriptions of torture, but this didn’t stop the military brass from continuing to publicly attack Herbert’s credibility. The case was closed without anyone being charged.

Officials allowed L.A. Times reporters to see only about one-third of the documents released. These contained accounts of seven massacres in which at least 137 civilians died; 78 other attacks in which at least 57 were killed, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted; and 141 cases of torture. Military investigators recommended formal charges against 203 soldiers, but most cases were closed with just a letter of reprimand, a fine, or no action at all. Only 57 of the accused were court-martialed and 23 convicted. The sentences ranged between six months and 20 years, but almost all of them were reduced.

More importantly, no charges were ever brought against higher-ranked officers who demanded higher body counts, or even those who directly ordered massacres. For example, the massacre witnessed and reported by Jamie Henry was independently confirmed by several other witnesses. All witnesses stated, consistently and unmistakably, that the murders were committed under a direct order by the company commander to “kill anything that moves.” No one was ever charged.

This grim chapter of U.S. military history is relevant today, as the U.S. military is now playing exactly the same game in Iraq. Once in a while reports of torture, such as in Abu Ghraib prison, or of arbitrary killings of civilians, such as in Haditha, penetrate the news and gain publicity. In an effort to control the PR damage, military brass then puts a few low-ranked soldiers on trial and hands down some prison sentences. If, on a rare occasion, a higher-ranked officer, such as the former commander of Abu Ghraib, is punished – with nothing more than a demotion, to be sure – then it’s not for overseeing the barbaric acts of torture against prisoners, but because she wasn’t able to keep a lid on it!

Obviously these atrocities, in Viet Nam then and continuing in Iraq and Afghanistan today, are not accidents or aberrations. They are part of a conscious, systematic policy – the policy of terrorizing a civilian population into accepting foreign occupation. It is the policy of the U.S. ruling class, which is out to control more and more parts of the world by any means, no matter how murderous and barbaric it gets.

The garbage dump of the industrialized countries

Sep 18, 2006

Seven people have died so far in Abidjan, the main city of Ivory Coast, after European petroleum wastes were dumped in open-air sites, polluting the city. Residents hit by headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea fled to the hospitals seeking treatment. This is just the latest fatal result from toxic dumping in the poor countries, carried out by U.S. and European companies.

There are two main beneficiaries from these practices: big business, which gets reduced costs, and African leaders, who get bribes to let it happen. The cynical heads of state of the rich countries allow it all to take place. They churn out legislation and regulatory agreements prohibiting the toxic trade, while behind the scenes they negotiate permission with poor countries for the burial of toxic wastes.

On a global level, there are two billion tons of industrial wastes, of which 400 million tons are dangerous. Ten% of all maritime freight is composed of illegal and dangerous waste. The cost to get rid of toxic waste in the U.S. or Europe is $250 a ton ... but only $2.50 in Africa. Businesses quickly make the calculation, and their financial gain is considerable. This is how Africa became the garbage dump of the industrialized countries over the past decades.

Since January 31, 1991, the Bamako Convention agreed to by the industrial countries prohibited the import of toxic waste into Africa. But businesses found legal ways around the prohibition. There are “export” agreements through which the multinationals give financial compensation to African states in exchange for toxic burials. As a result, tens of thousands of tons of waste have poured into Africa totally legally. This includes various chemical products, toxic slush from oil refining and infectious wastes from big European hospitals. These wastes are either covered over with some dirt or just thrown on the ground. The result has been irreparable damage to the environment and the health of the African people. Rates of infectious disease and cancer have shot up.

European countries paid the government of Angola a paltry two million dollars to permit five million tons of industrial wastes to be buried. Somalia is another favorite dumping ground, with ten million tons of waste poured over its coasts and territory. Numerous rusted out and burst containers sit on its beaches. Industrial and hospital waste spill out, containing uranium, cadmium, mercury and all sorts of highly toxic chemicals. In 2001, a report on the business of toxic waste disposal showed that the U.S. and European countries were planning on sending 29 million tons of toxic waste to eleven African countries. This will result in a great windfall for the European and U.S. multinationals and the leaders of African countries, but pollution and fatal diseases for the continent’s poor masses! This is another reality of capitalism.

Book review:
Come back to Afghanistan by Said Hyder Akbar (with Susan Burton)

Sep 18, 2006

This book reveals the daily reality of war in Afghanistan through the eyes of an American teenager who spends three summers there in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Said Hyder Akbar, who grew up in affluent suburban California, had never been to Afghanistan. His Afghan parents emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1980s, when Hyder was two years old. As a young boy, he heard stories about Afghanistan, provoking his curiosity.

After 9/11, his father sold his clothing store and returned to Afghanistan to participate in the new government. Hyder felt drawn to investigate Afghanistan for himself and check out his family’s roots.

Even with all the scholarly books and National Geographics he had read, Hyder was totally unprepared for the primitive conditions of war-torn Afghanistan, beginning with his arrival at Kabul International Airport, a “dump” with destroyed planes strewn over airfields.

Attending the Loya Jirga, the Grand Council where hundreds of representatives gathered in Kabul to vote for president, Hyder gets his first glimpse into the 20 ethnic groupings and tribal divisions and loyalties of the Afghan people. He observes respected Elders; corrupt warlords with ties to the opium trade and lumber smuggling, maneuvering for power over their domains; and delegates who speak against warlords, removed from the Jirga and jailed for hours at a time. He begins to see through Hamid Karzai, who, as a political colleague and friend of his father, he had always idolized. He is disappointed when Karzai, immediately upon being elected president, allows an established warlord to cozy up to him. Hyder feels contempt for “warlords, power brokers and politicians who trailed Karzai like groupies.”

Hyder becomes increasingly aware of the role of women only after the first summer when his mother is furious that with all his video-taping, he hardly covered women. Jolted by her anger, he recalls the 160 women delegates at the Loya Jirga, some outspoken, reminding other delegates that “the Taliban were not the only ones to commit atrocities against girls and women.”

In the summer of 2003, Hyder’s father is appointed governor of Kunar, a rural province in “a remote tribal area with scant electricity, ample rocket fire and with no paved roads.” Gone are the comforts of relatively modern Kabul. En route, Hyder views Khas Kunar, a beautiful landscape of mountain ranges, “a green blue vast open plain and silver river.”

We see the people of Kunar come to terms with their historical past with the 1979-89 Soviet invasion. These poor farmers, living in mud brick huts next to their cows and chickens, insist that the new governor visit the village of Kerala, pointing out mounds of earth-graves where 1,000 local men were massacred by the Russians and Afghan government tied to them. Some villagers were buried alive as punishment for fighting in the resistance as mujahadeen.

Hyder confronts the current justice system when he and his father visit the local jail, responding to a request from the prisoners. The 13 men complain about filthy conditions and ask why they’re in prison. It turns out these supposed Al Qaeda members are “impoverished Pashtun day laborers who crossed the border looking for work, and were jailed simply because they carry Pakistani ID cards.”

In Kunar, a volatile province with a history of tribal feuds (too many tribes for Hyder to name) and daily rocket attacks, Hyder starts to question: Who’s the enemy? Who are the terrorists? What’s really Al Qaeda?

The most disturbing part of the book is Hyder’s involvement with a young, terrified Afghan, Abdul Wali, whom the Americans accuse of being a terrorist. He claims innocence. The U.S. military decides to “capture” him, forcing him to go to the U.S. base in Kunar for questioning. Hyder’s naivete is revealed when his father assures the trembling man that American interrogators will be fair as long as he tells the truth. Hyder, sensitive to Wali’s fear, volunteers to go with him and help translate. But Hyder stops translating as he becomes un-nerved by the interrogator’s escalating aggressiveness. Hyder and his father are puzzled when later they find out Wali died. Not until a year later, with Abu Ghraib, do they come to grips with the reality that he was probably tortured to death by the U.S. interrogator.

In the summer of 2004 Hyder is asking questions faster than finding answers about the purpose of U.S. involvement. It angers him that the U.S. spends a billion dollars a month on the war on terror; yet makes excuses for not meeting Kunar villagers’ repeated requests for a simple bridge or for a few miles of paved road.

Hyder rankles each time Bush declares Afghanistan a “success.” He is revolted when Bush uses the 2004 Afghan election for his personal agenda during the U.S. presidential election, proclaiming the Afghan elections as a “symbol of American success. Hyder asks how can Afghanistan be a success with life expectancy 42 years; when only one out of three Afghans is able to read; that even today “in public, most women still shield themselves with burkas.” He sees that the people are “desperately poor, at the mercy of warlords, terrorists, opium, the country’s carnivorous neighbors.”

The book ends in early 2005 without firm conclusions; rather sticky questioning and distrust of U.S. policies; and a deep conviction that Afghan common people are fed up with war and have the capability to build a better country.

Pages 6-7

Detroit teachers return to work

Sep 18, 2006

Striking Detroit teachers voted on September 13 to return to work. They had been on strike since August 28.

A final vote to accept or reject the proposed contract will come some time in the next month.

Teachers voted to strike after the district demanded 88 million dollars in concessions, coming after a year in which the teachers had already accepted 63 million in other cuts.

After those cuts last year, the district gave ADMINISTRATORS a pay RAISE. Top administrators are among the highest paid in the state, and the superintendent, William Coleman, is among the highest paid superintendents in the country with a $225,000 a year salary.

Teachers were fed up with shouldering the blame and the burden for the district’s supposed problems, problems that don’t bother the administrators any. They sent that signal when they went out on strike – even though it’s officially illegal for teachers to do so in Michigan. They sent that signal in their spirited picket lines over the next several weeks. And they sent that signal when they defied a judge’s order to return to work on Monday, September 11.

It was the teachers’ militancy and their determination that got the district to back off on some of the cuts. More to the point, they’ve put the jerks who run the district, who care about nothing but their own big pay and the bottom line, that they’re sick of it. And they’ve demonstrated to the district – and to each other – that they’re ready to fight. That can make the district think awhile before it comes back to demand more sacrifices.

But the teachers did end up giving up concessions. They didn’t take the five% wage cuts the district wanted, but the contract includes a complete wage freeze this year (of wages that were cut last year), and raises of only one% next year and 2.5% the year after – less than the rate of inflation, which makes it effectively a wage cut anyway.

In addition, all teachers will be expected to pay ten% of the premium for their health insurance. And there are other concessions, including the loss of five sick days and the elimination of some bonuses.

Clearly, this is not a victory. Most teachers are unhappy with this deal; most voted to go back to work only grudgingly. They went back because many of them felt they had no more possibilities.

This is the mark of how limited a fight can be – when the strikers don’t control their own strike. For example: even though several meetings brought teachers together, these meetings were controlled from the front. All the membership was asked for was to vote the contract up or down. At no time did the strikers discuss what further actions they could take to strengthen (or even spread) the strike. The meetings were not organized for such discussions. And the strikers didn’t find the way to make the meetings their meetings. Without that, it was harder for them to counteract the union leadership when it decided to give in and cut a deal.

When workers fight back with militancy and determination, they can win something – even if it’s only to make the bosses think twice about imposing further cuts in the future.

But if workers go out on strike, they MUST control that strike themselves – or their own activity will get them much less than they could have won, and sometimes be turned against them.

Daley says living wage has to be at the state level

Sep 18, 2006

Mayor Daley vetoed the “big box” ordinance which would have required the biggest retail stores to pay $10.50 an hour in wages and benefits by 2008. He said he was against it because companies would refuse to build in the city and go to the suburbs. What was needed, he said, was a statewide living wage.

True! So why didn’t Daley rush to the state legislature?

After all, he could have. The Democrats run the state legislature and Daley controls a very large block of Assemblymen and Senators. He could have got a statewide “living wage” – but didn’t.

In other words, it was just a bluff. No one in Chicago was surprised!

Page 8

Not for everyone

Sep 18, 2006

CBS, in its Labor Day coverage, labeled workers who don’t take a vacation “workaholics.” For most workers, nothing could be further from the truth.

For example, in Baltimore, Maryland, a significant number of state office workers, many single-parent women, haven’t had a vacation in years. Those with families quickly use up their leave time and then turn to vacation days for family responsibilities: taking kids to the doctor, attending to school needs, caring for elderly parents, and medical appointments for themselves.

And what about workers who work two jobs – going from plant to Wal-Mart, or office to Lowes or working weekends at the stadium. Workaholics? What an insult! Many workers don’t make enough money with their 40-hour a week job to pay their bills. It’s a matter of survival.

That’s one reason why 40% of all U.S. workers took NO vacation this year. The other reason is that almost one fourth of all workers in private industry get no paid vacation or paid holidays. ZERO. No law in this country entitles every worker to a vacation.

Compare this to most European countries where by law workers are entitled to three, four or even five weeks off a year.

Don’t think the European bosses have hearts of gold. Years ago workers fought for the right to a month’s vacation ... enough time to have a real break, time to travel, spend relaxed time with family and friends, play some sports, time to read that pile of books, climb that mountain, go to museums, to enjoy life. And they fought not just for their own workplace, but for the whole working class.

Here in the richest country in the world, where the wealthy spend $12,000 a night for a fancy hotel and spa on the Island of Aruba ... a real vacation for many workers remains a luxury, a dream.

The race to the bottom has become a sprint

Sep 18, 2006

Ford Motor Company decided to follow the full General Motors game plan. Announcing a second wave of huge cutbacks, they dangled the possibility of buy-out offers for all hourly workers.

Leaders of the UAW, the auto workers’ union, threatened there would be no buy-outs unless workers accepted concessions, and they adopted the company’s stance, forcing wholesale plant-vs.-plant “competition” to impose drastic workplace concessions.

The new “competitive operating agreements” dramatically increase already existing hardships for workers. Attendance penalties are much stricter. More job classification protections disappear. Many more off-the-line jobs such as clean-up (janitorial) and material handling and transportation are to be contracted out.

Workers can be forced to work ten-hour-day, three-shift operations, so that some plants run every possible minute while other plants close. And – the hidden purpose of this whole scheme – the gates are being flung wide for Ford to hire long-term temporary workers, to avoid the expense of actually keeping higher-paid workers.

These changes, soon to be imposed on Ford workers, follow identical concessions granted by the UAW recently at GM and Delphi, on a somewhat smaller scale at some Chrysler plants, and much earlier at agricultural-implement companies such as Caterpillar.

When this policy of concessions began in 1979, few union members could have imagined it would result in this shameless scramble to give back to the companies all the gains of years of workers’ struggles, as rapidly as possible.

There is no future for workers in following such a policy. Arguing that concessions save jobs, top UAW leaders have presided over a union that has shrunk from about 1,500,000 members in 1978 to 557,000 in 2005.

A different policy allowed the UAW and other unions of the CIO to be built. Rank and file leaders who struggled during the Great Depression to organize the mass production industries called on workers to use their collective power. The sit-downs of the 1930s and the massive strike waves of the 1940s conquered those bosses who then, too, cried poor, having one set of books to show the workers and another to show their stockholders and banks.

Corporations and corporate media today complain endlessly about the costs of health care and pensions, with top union leaders agreeing. But the rank and file of the Depression era understood that they were fighting for a larger social guarantee, for pensions and health care for the larger working class, not for one or another company that could go out of business at any time. In 1949, a UAW leader in Ohio reacted to membership sentiment by proposing a centralized pension fund for all workers in the greater Toledo area. Businesses immediately attacked it as “efficient and rational, but too dangerous.” It would give workers freedom to change employers without losing built-up benefits.

The very next year, as pensions were made an issue in auto industry contract talks, General Motors insisted on having a company-by-company pension plan, to tie workers more tightly to each individual employer. It was in fact Walter Reuther of the UAW who promoted GM’s scheme, against the objections of rank and filers who were unwilling to so fragment their power and limit their future. Reuther’s approach sowed the seed of today’s mad scramble to the bottom.

There are many workers today who want to reject the unions’ race to the bottom and avoid the sweatshop conditions that await. For those workers, the only solution is to find the way to return to the policy and the consciousness of the UAW’s early militant organizers. The working class still has its power of numbers, still holds the tools of production in its hands, and still can organize to turn off the faucets of production – and all of the bosses’ profits.

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