The Spark

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

Issue no. 792 — February 19 - March 5, 2007

Editorial:
A symbolic vote won’t stop a real war

Feb 19, 2007

After the pretense of a debate, the House of Representatives went on record opposing Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, 246 to 182. All but two Democrats and 18 Republicans voted to rebuke Bush’s proposal.

And so, now what? What is the House proposing to do? Exactly what?

Nothing – that’s exactly what – nothing! The Democrats who sponsored the resolution put no acting point in it. Several of them even said it: the resolution is only “symbolic.”

Well, in Iraq, people are dying – and not symbolically. As of last July, 655,000 Iraqis were found to have died as the direct or indirect result of the U.S. invasion.

And the killing fields have grown only more bloody since October.

U.S. planes have been dropping bombs, helicopters have been firing cannons and using incendiary devices on heavily populated civilian areas, including the capital, Baghdad.

The U.S. army and marines, with a few Iraqi soldiers for cover, are going house to house, breaking down doors, rampaging through each family’s living quarters, terrorizing the Iraqi people who must submit or be shot down.

Shiite death squads, including many with Iraqi soldiers armed with U.S. weapons, are driving Sunni people from their homes, carrying out what has become a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” Sunni forces return the “favor.”

And U.S. troops – also human beings turned into cannon fodder – continue to die, to suffer injuries they will bear for the rest of their lives – not to mention the stress that will pursue them and the nightmares that will haunt them about people they killed or saw killed.

No, the war is hardly symbolic. It needs to be stopped, and stopped now. When the U.S. military commissioned a poll of Iraqi people about what they thought should be done to stop the ethnic violence, the single, most common response was: remove all U.S. troops immediately.

The Republicans have made it clear they have no intention of doing it – most of them say it. And the Democrats, while pretending they would like to bring all the troops home now, act as though there were nothing they could do to bring it about.

Yes, they can do something. They can vote no money to send additional troops. They can vote money, earmarking it only for bringing the troops home immediately. And if Bush used it to continue carrying out the war, they can impeach him.

This isn’t enough – but the fact that they don’t dare do even this shows they are only politicking with the lives of the Iraqi people and the U.S. troops.

No, to this filthy war!

No, to the two parties, which both authorized it in the beginning and still authorize it today by not doing what is in their power to stop it.

This war will stop when the general staff of the armed forces can no longer find enough cannon fodder to sacrifice. The fact that tens of thousands of U.S. troops have publicly made clear their opposition to the war shows the much larger number who are dragging their feet.

Every effort made by U.S. troops to oppose this war needs to be supported by the American working class. They are the sons and daughters of the working class, put into the army by an “economic draft” – the lack of job opportunities at home. Well, killing people is not a job. Bring them home now!

Pages 2-3

Twenty-one more months of this?!

Feb 19, 2007

The 2008 presidential election is already gearing up – one year and nine months before the actual election.

The last elections just ended three months ago. The winners were elected with a mandate – to stop the war, and do something about our worsening living conditions.

But they already want us to look ahead to November 2008. And by doing that, they’re telling us not to expect anything to change – just the same old, same old and wait for the next election.

U.S. government tries to make Padilla Patriot Act’s first victim

Feb 19, 2007

Jose Padilla’s case is finally getting into the courts. His lawyers filed papers documenting the various ways the government has been torturing him.

Padilla’s case shows what the so-called “USA PATRIOT Act” is really about. Under this act, the government picked him up and has held Padilla in solitary confinement ever since 2002. He was not allowed to talk to a lawyer or anyone else for the first 21 months.

For nearly five years, the government tortured him in every possible way short, maybe, of pulling out his fingernails. They prevented him from sleeping. They chained him to the floor and deprived him of light and heat. They drugged him with hallucinogenic chemicals and threatened to kill him.

It is not a surprise that today Padilla suffers from post-traumatic stress and memory gaps, and is unable to watch videos of his interrogations. Like many other victims of torture, he has been turned into one of the walking dead.

As most experts in police methods have explained, torture is not useful in finding real information – only in getting someone to denounce other people or himself falsely. Stalin and Hitler knew all about such methods. So, clearly, does the U.S.

The government’s goal was to use brutal methods to extort a confession. Such a confession would have made for a spectacular trial and would have showed the government was doing something to stop the “threat” of domestic terrorism.

But so far, they have not been able to wring a false confession out of Padilla. And they obviously had no evidence against him. The proof is that they kept changing the charges against him. They first accused him of plotting to detonate a “dirty bomb.” That claim was dropped. Next they claimed he plotted to blow up high-rise apartment buildings in the U.S. – then that claim was dropped. Finally they said he was intending to harm people in countries outside the U.S.

What the government did against Jose Padilla, using the Patriot Act, is what they could use the Patriot Act to do against anyone. Padilla’s treatment is aimed at making a demonstration of just how tough the government can be.

Anyone who is politically active – in a union, community group, against the war, or anything else – has an interest in opposing this case. It is aimed at controlling society – and that means everyone in it.

The high cost of winter in capitalist society

Feb 19, 2007

Interstate highway I-78 in Pennsylvania was a fifty-mile disaster as the snow storms hit on February 14th. The highway was clogged with cars and trucks unable to move for more than 24 hours. It took the state of Pennsylvania an entire day to decide to close off the entrances so that no more cars or trucks could enter the unmoving mess. The National Guard had to be called out to get food and fuel to desperate motorists. “How could you operate a state like this? It’s totally disgusting,” said one man who was trapped for 20 hours.

In several states, thousands of people were left without gas or electricity. The power companies whine for more money as they take our payments every month. The one thing they don’t do is maintain and upgrade the equipment that delivers the power we all need to live. The snow will long have melted before most of us finish paying off the outrageous gas and electric bills we get.

For most of us in the snow belt, the difficulties were caused not by the snow, but by the decisions made in corporate and government headquarters. And those decisions are NOT made to provide for what the public needs.

The only justification for government is to provide the protection society needs, which individuals cannot do by themselves, and to make sure that the actions of private interests are not harmful to the population.

These snowstorms showed exactly the same thing that Hurricane Katrina did. Government doesn’t function in our interest. There is no justification for this government that today works in the interests of a small wealthy minority, at the expense of the rest of society.

Working people have every reason to get rid of it and to establish their own government, which they would control.

Afghanistan:
U.S. increasing troops to try to hold off collapse

Feb 19, 2007

President Bush announced recently that he has extended the tour of duty of a brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan that was about to return home. In addition, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division will soon go to Afghanistan, boosting U.S. troops there to 27,000. This does not include all the CIA agents, mercenaries and private armies that the U.S. government and corporations have in the country.

Bush is also asking Congress to approve another almost 12 billion dollars to increase the size of the Afghan national police force and to more than double the size of the Afghan army. He claims one of the benefits of this will be a greater suppression of the cultivation of poppies and the production and trading of heroin. But it is well known that the police are deeply involved in the drug trade themselves. In fact, this money will go toward suppressing the population.

The problem for the U.S. is that, like in Iraq, its war in Afghanistan has produced a backlash. Today, the U.S. claims the Taliban is making a comeback, controlling an increasing share of the country. In fact, it’s undoubtedly a combination of forces, not just the Taliban alone. But in any case, the U.S. says last year was the most violent year in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. Attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces nearly tripled last year from the year before. Now, the military forces of the U.S. puppet government, which have never really controlled most of the country, are facing attacks even in Kabul, the capital.

It is not surprising that resistance to the U.S. and its government is increasing because conditions for most ordinary people in the country have been made desperate by this war. Even before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the population was suffering and extremely poor due to years of warfare in the 1980s between government forces backed by the USSR and insurgents financed and trained by the U.S. After the fall of the Soviet-backed government, people suffered more as the warlords fought each other. Eventually the Taliban came to power in part because, despite its brutal religious fundamentalism, it largely ended the conflicts between the warlords.

The U.S. went into Afghanistan to demonstrate its military strength after the attacks of 9-11. This war did not impact the terrorists who plotted and carried out the 9-11 attacks – but only the Afghan people who had nothing to do with it. U.S. forces have imposed enormous additional suffering on the Afghan people through bombing, destruction of roads, bridges, whole villages and the imprisonment and torture of thousands in at least 19 prisons the U.S. operates around the country.

The result of all this is that the U.S.-backed Karzai government is facing the possibility of collapse. The infusion of additional U.S. troops may well briefly delay this development – but only at the cost of the lives of thousands more Afghan people and U.S. troops.

All U.S. forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan now!

WMD Part 2

Feb 19, 2007

The Bush administration claims Iran is supplying parts for bombs in Iraq used to kill U.S. troops.

But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, denied it. Pace said the fact that some materials could be traced to Iran “does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.”

The administration needs to make sure who is willing to tell what lies before it plants its stories out in public.

Pages 4-5

A parent broken by the system, children pay the price

Feb 19, 2007

A woman from a Detroit suburb stabbed her two young daughters to death two weeks ago.

In addition to stabbing her daughters, ages 8 and 5, repeatedly, she also stabbed and killed the pet dogs and mouse, then stacked them neatly in their cages. She then sat with the bodies for up to 11 hours, until her sister came by to check on her.

Jennifer Kukla was known to be having difficulties. She and her two girls were living in a mobile home without electricity and water because she did not make enough money at her job at McDonald’s to pay her bills.

On top of that, her car had broken down two weeks before, forcing her to take a taxi to work. McDonald’s refuses to say, but she may have lost her job just prior to killing her children. Family members say she was afraid she would lose her children to Social Services.

Her neighbors knew Kukla was struggling, and tried to help her. One neighbor had given her clothing for her children to wear. Another saw her just the night before, when she borrowed four gallons of water to flush her toilet with.

Of course, other people face similar hardships in this society – or worse – without ever coming close to doing such a horrible thing. But none of us can know what event will cause another person to break. Even that person could not imagine doing such a thing, even days before.

Kukla very clearly did snap. By all accounts, she is NOT someone who planned or intended to harm her children. The court even admits this, by debating whether or not she was sane at the time that she killed her daughters.

But the fact that the court even debates her sanity, or that the prosecutor has charged her with first degree murder saying the act was premeditated, shows again how rotten this system is.

It provides no real safety net, so that more and more families fall through the holes. Then, when a tragedy like this occurs, it looks to blame the person whom the system has broken.

Like all criminals, this system blames its victims.

Portugal:
Referendum on abortion. Women’s rights remain to be imposed

Feb 19, 2007

On February 11th, Portugal’s voters responded “Yes” to a ballot referendum: “Do you agree to legalize abortion, at the request of the woman, in the first ten weeks, if it takes place in a legally authorized establishment?” The vote was 53% in favor.

But less than half the voters turned out. Only 44% of those eligible voted, so the result was not legally binding on the government. Nevertheless, the Socialist Prime Minister José Socrates declared, “abortion will stop being a crime.” He said that by July he’ll have a law passed enforcing it. A good number of right-wing deputies are for legalization, so the law won’t face much opposition.

But neither the Popular Party, which is reactionary and very hostile to abortion, nor the Catholic hierarchy, have given up the fight. They don’t have the habit of submitting just because they’re in the minority. It’s clear they’ll continue to use every means to put pressure on women, doctors and the government, so that this freedom won at the ballot box won’t become a reality in Portugal.

The law doesn’t settle all problems. It doesn’t seem likely that President Cavaco will be opposed to its proclamation. But all kinds of traps, unforeseen difficulties and limitations can slip into the implementing decrees. And then it will be necessary to find doctors, medical personnel, and hospitals so the law can be applied. In the U.S., as the result of terrorist attacks on abortion clinics and doctors who perform abortions, abortion simply isn’t available in the majority of counties in the country.

In Portugal, after a long struggle, women and partisans of freedom for women have scored a point against the church and reaction. But after this victory at the ballot box, a struggle is still needed to insure freedom for women to make their own choices.

South Dakota:
Fundamentalists attack women ... again

Feb 19, 2007

In January, South Dakota legislators with Christian fundamentalist backing proposed a bill that would effectively ban women’s access to abortion. The sponsors of the bill claim that there are exceptions to the ban in cases of rape and incest. But the new bill puts so many restrictions on how such cases would be handled, that abortion would become almost impossible – the exact object of this bill. At the same time, doctors who perform abortions would face a 10-year prison sentence.

The bill passed in the South Dakota House of Representatives, 45 to 25, on February 14. It now goes to the South Dakota Senate.

Just last year, the voters of South Dakota had organized a fight against another bill restricting abortion. Instead of going through the courts, they put a referendum on the November ballot about the previous anti-abortion bill. And, in a supposedly conservative state, largely rural with military bases, people voted down the anti-abortion bill by a wide margin: 56% to 44%.

The message was clear: people don’t want the authorities, state and church, sticking their noses into very private decisions. Obviously that hasn’t stopped the “holy and pious” religious fundamentalists and their political allies from coming right back again to hold a gun to the heads of women choosing abortion and doctors choosing to help them.

We don’t know what the South Dakota Senate will do – faced with an angry reaction – but clearly, if these religious fanatics had their way, they would impose a dictatorship over the population, in the name of supposed “righteousness.”

Mississippi Senate trying to overturn Roe v Wade

Feb 19, 2007

On February 7, the State Senate in Mississippi passed a bill to ban most abortions, except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life. The bill now goes to the Mississippi House, where it may have more difficulty passing. The committee chairman who would have to bring it forward, Steve Holland, said, “I have no intention of taking up any pro-choice or pro-life bill.... It’s just the same-old, same old....”

The bill claims that abortion “places a woman at greater risk for psychological distress, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide than her carrying a child to full term and giving birth.”

It’s obvious that the choice a woman makes to have an abortion is a difficult one. But the fact is that the choice to have a child is equally difficult and more long-lasting for many women. Women are exactly the ones who know whether or not they can pay financially or emotionally the cost of feeding, clothing, protecting and raising a child. And that’s exactly why the choice should belong to the women involved – and no one else.

Let these sanctimonious religious hypocrites go peddle their lies somewhere else.

“Evil” no more?
Bush’s deal with North Korea

Feb 19, 2007

The Bush administration has officially ended its five-year standoff with North Korea over that country’s nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies promised to provide this impoverished, food and energy-starved country some fuel oil and other aid. In return, North Korea agreed to stop producing new nuclear fuel and to allow nuclear inspectors back into the country.

This is essentially the same kind of agreement that the Clinton administration made with North Korea in 1994 – an agreement the Bush administration walked away from in 2002. Soon after that, prior to the invasion of Iraq, Bush named North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as one of the three members of his “axis of evil.”

So what has changed? Why has the Bush administration softened its stance against this supposedly “evil” government which, if anything, has become more defiant, by going ahead with its nuclear program and even testing a missile four months ago?

The answer can be summarized in one word: Iraq. The “axis of evil” talk was part of the aggressive posture taken by an administration that was gearing up for war. That war, in Iraq, has now become a political liability for the U.S. So the Bush administration is taking a different posture – one that is more conciliatory toward other governments. For the moment.

North Korea – a small, poor, isolated country – has never been a real threat to the U.S. On the contrary, the U.S., which has by far the most powerful military and the deadliest weapons – nuclear and otherwise – and regularly uses them to attack other countries, remains the biggest threat to peace and security in the world.

Guinea:
General strike against low wages, the high cost of living and corruption

Feb 19, 2007

The following article comes from the January 15 issue of Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Workers Power), the publication of the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers (UATCI), active in French speaking Africa. An updated portion comes from the February 9 and February 16 issues of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers organization of that name in France.

The Guinean Workers Union and the National Confederation of Guinean Workers, as well as 14 opposition parties, have called for a continuing general strike movement. It began in Guinea on January 10th. The catastrophic economic situation, into which the immense majority of the population is plunged, has been the main cause of this strike wave.

What ignited it was the dictator Lansana Conté freeing two businessmen from jail. Mamadou Sylla, the CEO of Futurelec Holding, the richest man in the country, and former government minister Fodé Soumah had been accused of embezzling 2.6 million dollars. The movement's organizers called the current strike and civil disobedience as a sign of protest against Conté"s decision.

This protest is not the first to take place in recent years in Guinea. At the beginning of 2006, a general strike extracted from the government a 30% raise for government employees and the establishment of a minimum wage. Of course, a short time later, the government took back with the right hand what it had been forced to give up with the left. The devaluation of the Guinean franc in March, followed by an enormous rise in taxes, wiped out the concessions gained by the pressure of thousands in the streets. Prices rose 30%. A gallon of gas costs $4.56 in a country where half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Last June, government forces shot and killed some 20 students and youth.

Guinea is a country where colossal riches are buried under the soil. It has half the world's bauxite, with 12 billion tons of reserves. Several companies that mine and refine aluminum have divided up this wealth. In addition, Anglogold Ashanti de Siguiri and Dinguiraye Mining mine gold. There are also diamonds in the ground. This country has a good climate with plenty of rain, which produces agricultural riches such as bananas, mangos and even potatoes, which are exported to several neighboring countries. Despite all these potential riches, Guinea is one of the poorest countries on the planet.

The opposition parties are right to denounce misery, corruption and the "bad government" of the regime headed by a senile and sick dictator. Conté spends a good part of his time taking care of his diabetes and leukemia in a luxurious clinic in Switzerland. Every so often, he throws opposition leaders into prison. But these politicians bear some of the responsibility. Some of them have held power as prime ministers, for example, Sidya Touré, leader of the UFR (Union of Republican Forces).

The majority of people suffer from poverty and misery. They are the victims of the daily contempt and corruption of government functionaries, large and small. Further, there are serious shortages of water and long power outages, which often plunge the poor neighborhoods into total darkness even in the capital.

Guinea, like so many other African countries, gets poorer year by year. It is no natural catastrophe that causes this decline. The main reason is that most of the riches are in the hands of a few giant corporations, multinationals which make staggering profits for their owners while leaving millions of people in an intolerable situation. The leaders of these countries are complicit in this situation, even if some of them (once they are deposed) denounce certain realities.

On January 26th, there was an agreement to form a transition government, with the dictator naming a new prime minister. The union leaders called for the "suspension" of the strike movement. Some of the opposition politicians also wanted a "pause." When Conté named Eugene Camara, a man close to him, as the prime minister, the unions set February 12th as the date for another general strike. But people didn't wait. On February 9th, they took to the streets by the thousands, calling for the resignation of the new prime minister and the dictator. The youth, the main ones to suffer unemployment, considered Camara's appointment a betrayal of the agreement by which the new prime minister would be "independent." And companies weren't paying all the wages agreed on as a result of previous struggles. These companies included CBK (Bauxite Company of Guinea) and Ingelec. The revolt spread like wildfire, drawing in many thousands. The unions joined in the protest.

Since the night of February 9th, youth have confronted the police and the army with the only weapons they have: stones and sticks. The next day, dozens of youth ransacked the residence of the new prime minister. In the capital Conakry, high school and university students erected barricades. In Kindia, in the west of Guinea, repression left seven dead. The houses of a number of government ministers were attacked, as were government buildings, and police stations burned down. The army killed at least 23 people.

The movement appears to gain support each day among the poor classes. City youth, whether in school or not, the working masses and the peasants who"ve confronted repression and the dictator's bullets, are not satisfied to leave the defense of their interests to the unions or the opposition parties. Of course, the unions and opposition parties called for the resignation of the dictator under the pressure of the popular movement and during the general strike. But a number of opposition leaders have already participated in the government with these same military officers and torturers. The workers and the peasants of Guinea can only count on their own forces to defend their interests.

We hope that in the fire of general strikes, some conscious workers, enriched by the experience of struggles, along with some intellectuals, get down to the task of constructing a true opposition party capable of leading future struggles. Such a party would not replace corrupt leaders by others pretending greater honesty. It would put a complete end to the capitalist system. Certainly that will be a struggle extending over a much vaster scale, involving several countries. But by making misery for the peoples of the entire planet, don't the capitalists themselves help to create those who tomorrow will end their rotten system!

Pages 6-7

Los Angeles:
Another shameless handout to big developers

Feb 19, 2007

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and City Council both overwhelmingly voted to subsidize the “Grand Avenue Project,” which includes a five-star hotel, two residential high-rises with 2,000 luxury apartments and hundreds of offices and retail shops.

This is no small handout. The city and county politicians are giving the developers prime land, acquired half a century ago with taxpayer money, when the Bunker Hill neighborhood of downtown L.A. was cleared. Plus, the politicians are writing off hotel and parking taxes for 20 years, officially estimated at 66 million dollars.

And this is certainly not an exception. Another project planned for downtown, called “L.A. Live,” for example, has already been granted a subsidy of 300 million dollars. And, as is usually the case, there will undoubtedly be more handouts after the work on these projects begins.

Hundreds of million of dollars of taxpayer money given away to big corporations, who are already swimming in profits! Handed out to them by the same politicians who have been dismantling the county health care system that serves the uninsured; who let 40 or more children cram in one classroom in working-class neighborhoods; who close libraries and parks; who cut every public service working people need, claiming there is no money!

The money is obviously there – but politicians reserve it for their rich buddies. Or at least they will so long as the laboring population doesn’t intervene with its own forces.

Don’t think about it

Feb 19, 2007

Companies drilling for oil and gas underneath public waters, like the Gulf of Mexico, are supposed to pay royalties to the U.S. Treasury.

From l998 to 2000, companies were given a “royalty relief” for deep water drilling, that is, a 100% tax break.

The “relief” was supposed to end when oil prices went above $34 a barrel. Well, that happened years ago, but the oil companies continued to pocket billions of dollars that could have gone toward reducing the government’s deficit.

The government has called it a bureaucratic error.

But new e-mail records show that top officials had the chance to correct the “error” and did nothing. When confronted with the e-mails during an investigation, the Interior Department official responsible said she “did not remember putting a great deal of thought into the matter.”

Why bother, when the oil companies “thoughtfully” provide the exact wording that they want, on the “regulations” they are supposed to obey?

When Wal-Mart and union leaders agree, workers need to worry

Feb 19, 2007

Top officials of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and CWA (Communication Workers of America) got together with executives of Wal-Mart, AT&T, Intel and temp staffing company Kelly Services to announce that they would work together to bring about changes in the U.S. health care system.

Our current system hurts America’s competitiveness and leaves too many people uninsured,” said Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott. SEIU President Andy Stern, who in the past has criticized Wal-Mart for denying its workers adequate pay and health care benefits, parroted him: “America can’t compete in the global economy when we ask our businesses to put the price of health care on the cost of their products.”

Can’t compete? Wal-Mart? AT&T? Intel? Ridiculous! These are three of the biggest, and most profitable, corporations in the U.S. – no, in the whole world!

No, these companies are highly competitive in maximizing their profits – by lowering wages, speeding up the work and reducing benefits, including health care coverage. So when these bosses talk about “health care reform,” what they mean – in fact openly say – is that companies should not pay for the health care coverage of their workers. But that means they want workers to pay for it instead, personally as well as through taxes.

This is nothing but a war – a ruthless, all-out war the bosses are waging against workers to squeeze ever more profit out of the working class.

And, in this war, who do these greedy bosses – including the notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart – have on their side? Andy Stern, the head of the biggest union in the country!

Stern, and other union bosses, call this a “partnership between business and labor.” It should more appropriately be called “collaboration with the enemy.”

And like a bad neighbor ...

Feb 19, 2007

State Farm announced it would stop selling new homeowner and commercial property insurance in Mississippi after a U.S. district judge awarded a Mississippi family one million dollars in punitive damages in a Hurricane Katrina claim.

This is a company that made 3.9 billion dollars last year, increasing their reserves to 50 billion dollars, according to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. Their reserves were never touched by Hurricane Katrina claims.

State Farm’s attempt to get out of paying for flood damage by claiming that the damage was due to the storm surge and not by hurricane-force winds was obviously too blatant this time. Their reaction, though, shows the real role insurance companies play – to take money from people under the guise of protecting them in case of catastrophe – but pay as little as possible when catastrophe hits.

State Farm is supposedly a “mutual” insurance company – something like a co-op in which the customers make the decisions. Their commercials say they’re “like a good neighbor.”

No, they are not very neighborly – they are just like all those greedy financial interests that sit on Wall Street.

Page 8

Chrysler:
Workers have seen this game before

Feb 19, 2007

DaimlerChrysler Corporation (DCX) announced on February 14, with great fanfare, the latest “restructuring plan” for its Chrysler Group. The company alleged huge business losses and threats from competition so severe that DCX might have to sell off the Chrysler Group to the highest bidder – unless, of course, workers give back large concessions in the coming contract negotiations and agree to leave quietly.

DCX is copying, in a more obviously staged way, the past maneuvers of GM and Ford against their workers. First, hide the company’s true financial condition. Second, fill the media with dire prophecies of gloom about the company’s future. Third, announce plant closings and layoffs “expected” some time in the future. Fourth, offer to workers “buyouts” packaged to look like their best available option. Fifth, after the buyouts have been taken – return to business as usual, but with a cheaper work force.

GM has gone the full cycle. Ford is near the end of its “buyout” phase. And Chrysler is tagging along, having just announced one plant closing, maybe, 2 years from now, and the layoff of one production shift at each of two truck plants, maybe, this coming June.

It’s nothing but a sophisticated psychological warfare to persuade workers to give up even more of the few advantages that were won in past struggles.

Auto has always been a cyclical industry. Plants run flat out for a few years, then production falls off for a year or two, then the plants rev up again. While the company booms, workers get little extra compensation. When the company slumps, workers are supposed to take the hits.

It’s precisely against these cycles that workers in the past won such protections as seniority order for layoff and recall, supplemental pay during layoffs, and job banks. The auto companies could easily fund these programs from their super-profits made during good years. They won’t do it, if they can take the money away from the workers instead.

In fact, 2007 was still a great year! DaimlerChrysler’s net operating profit for 2006 was 7.3 BILLION dollars. DCX will pay its usual $1.88 per share dividend to the holders of its billion-plus shares. But U.S. media have so far ignored this fact. As they have ignored the profits of DCX’s Financial Services Division, which reported record profits for the fifth year in a row – profits on financing some 6.7 million vehicles, about 70% of them sold in the U.S.

The media report only the alleged “problems” of Chrysler Group. Workers are not told the true situation.

DCX, as GM and Ford before it, attempts to frighten workers by floating rumors of selling off the company. Sold or not sold, what’s the difference? Chrysler was sold to Daimler-Benz in l998. Chrysler bought Jeep before that. In 1980-82 the workers gave up huge concessions without the company being sold at all.

What matters is not who owns a company. What matters is how much workers decide to put up with – or not put up with.

The Chrysler workers have already, without being sold, given up deep concessions at local levels, pushed on them by their union leadership. Workers’ break times were reduced. Contractors operate “independent” parts of the Toledo Jeep plant. The Belvidere plant runs a new shift with “enhanced temporary” workers who have no chance to gain regular jobs. The Michigan GEMA engine plant in Dundee opened just like a non-union shop, without respecting the usual work classifications, without allowing laid-off Chrysler engine workers the right to transfer in.

On the other hand, Chrysler workers have not yet been saddled with the dollar-an-hour wage cut and the new retiree health-care premiums rammed through at GM and Ford. After the resistance to the cuts at Ford, the union leadership decided not to risk rejection by Chrysler workers. The fight by Ford workers against the concessions was enough to set back the corporate plans – at least for the moment.

The moment may pass – or it may be extended and enlarged on. Everything depends on how well auto workers can see through and resist the companies’ games of psychological terrorism. And also resist their own union leadership’s corporate cooperation.