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. 794 — March 19 - April 2, 2007

4 Years of War in Iraq Is 4 Years Too Many!

Mar 19, 2007

Four years ago, March 2003, the United States went to war against Iraq for oil. It went to solidify the grip of big U.S. oil companies and financial interests over the whole Middle East, and to build up dozens more military bases to dominate the region.

One year from now, March 2008, the U.S. government, if it is left free to do what it wants, will continue its war on Iraq for the same reasons.

The war in Iraq is an imperialist war–a war fought to extend and reinforce U.S. domination of the whole planet. Like England before it, the U.S. today has an empire on which the sun never sets. Its financial system is overflowing with wealth stolen from the rest of the world.

That outright theft, which impoverishes billions of people, is imposed by brute military force and its threat. In mid-2003, the U.S. had 702 bases in 130 other countries–by the military’s own admission. And it has built dozens more since then–not counting the 14 permanent bases it has built in Iraq. The U.S. has so many bases that there isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have at least one base in it or in a neighboring country.

In the 20th Century alone, the U.S. carried out more than 100 different wars, invasions, covert “interventions” and bombings of other countries.

The U.S. stands as the most militaristic power not just in the world today, but in all history–hated by most of the peoples in the rest of the world.

The population of this country pays a price for this total, permanent dependence on war.

Young–and these days not so young–working people are turned into cannon fodder. The most technologically advanced military equipment may allow U.S. soldiers to kill more people than ever before. But all that has done is to create more anger in the populations being victimized, more people ready to sacrifice themselves against the “infidel” or the “gringo,” or whatever other name people give to the hated U.S. invaders.

If we accept to be used, and to let our young people be used, like military weapons against the rest of the world, we should not complain that other people hate us with a passion. They also hate us with reason.

But the U.S. has another tradition–one which also is known–people who regularly fought against these wars. Opposition to war did not just start with Viet Nam. Every major war in the 20th century saw a sizeable opposition–including World War II, which has been rewritten as the war to stop fascism, but which was nothing but a war to take over control of the whole world.

What earns respect for this country is the willingness of the population to stand up to the government, to oppose its militaristic adventures.

There has been opposition to this war, just as to previous wars. In fact, the opposition recorded to this war today is bigger than that to the Viet Nam war. While the major demonstrations–like the one last Saturday in Washington and other cities, or the earlier ones in January–have not drawn as many people as did the biggest ones during Viet Nam, the fact is there are many more people registering their opposition in little demonstrations or vigils or weekly protests in little towns around the country.

The military itself is producing out of its own midst people ready to stand up and be counted against the war–despite the dangers involved. The army is not yet disintegrating to the extent it was in Viet Nam, forcing the U.S. to get out of that war, but neither is it the trustworthy, professionally disciplined army the government needs to carry out this vicious war.

What can we do? We can oppose this war where we are–pull together the people we know to express opposition, to talk against it, speak against it, show up on the street against it. Connect with other people doing the same thing.

Support the desire of the troops to get out of Iraq. Show them that they have real support in this country–the only support that matters–full complete opposition to the war, demanding that the troops be brought home now, not in 2009, not in 2008, but NOW.

U.S. get out of Iraq!

Pages 2-3

Detroit Mayor Blames the Victims for the City’s Crime Problems

Mar 19, 2007

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick gave his state of the city speech. He talked about the problem of crime in the city, saying, “We have to come to a point in our community where there is no conspiracy by outsiders doing this to us. This is us killing us ... And we, as a community, have to stop it now. Nobody’s coming to save us. We have to stand up for ourselves and stand up now.”

What a hypocrite! This is a man who–like others before him–has presided over all kinds of cuts in city services that make life more difficult for people living in the city–closing recreation centers, cutting bus routes, closing schools, eliminating bulk trash pickup–while increasing water rates and the amount senior citizens pay to ride buses. This is the same administration that has reduced taxes on the wealthy, handed over money from the public schools to private companies and given big gifts for expensive construction projects.

All of this can only create more crime. Kilpatrick is blaming the victims! He is the criminal–as are the wealthy people and big corporations he really serves!

Yes, people in Detroit have to “take responsibility” for stopping crime. They need to organize their neighborhoods to fight for social services, to fight against drugs and organized crime.

Yes, drive the criminals out! Organize patrols of the neighborhoods! And the first ones to drive out are the cops who protect the criminals and take money on the side! And politicians like the mayor!

Anti-immigrant Law Hurts Every Worker

Mar 19, 2007

In the last half of 2006, state governments began enforcing a new federal law that denies Medicare and Medicaid to anyone who doesn’t have perfectly certified legal papers.

This law was touted as an anti-fraud measure against undocumented immigrants. As a result, many undocumented immigrants have been denied benefits to which their work had entitled them. But the same thing is true for even more U.S. citizens who are poor, as a New York Times investigation reported.

A Georgia pediatrician said, “Georgia now has 100,000 newly uninsured U.S. citizen children of low-income families.”

A Florida Department of Children and Families spokesman said, “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people who don’t qualify for Medicaid because they cannot produce proof of citizenship. Nearly all of these people are American citizens.” Since last July, 63,000 children have been cut off of Medicaid in Florida.

State after state repeats the story. Sometimes the problem is as simple as a family lacking the fee of twenty or thirty dollars per person for a state birth certificate. Sometimes the problem is as daunting as the Katrina refugees whose records were all lost. Sometimes persons born years ago in rural areas never had birth certificates. This law hits everyone equally.

It’s no accident. Every law passed under the cover of being against “illegal” immigrants is aimed in one way or another at every worker, the employed and the unemployed.

Full legal rights for everyone, without all this legal double-talk!

Electric Rates Up 24%

Mar 19, 2007

In January, ComEd, the Chicago area electric company, raised its rates by 24%, after they were frozen for ten years. Recent changes in the laws regulating utilities allow electric power companies to buy electricity from themselves. And ComEd rushed to take advantage.

Half of its electricity is generated by nuclear power plants owned by Exelon, which also owns ComEd! Exelon tells its stockholders that the cost of producing electricity from nuclear power has gone down in recent years, not up. Nonetheless, ComEd used the charade of purchasing power from itself to demand a rate increase.

ComEd told the people of Illinois it would have to go bankrupt if it didn’t get its 24% rate increase. Bankrupt? What bull! Its parent Exelon’s profits were up 29% from the year before, and the company gets a very high 17% rate of profit on its stockholders’ investment.

The only people who may be bankrupted are us–by these thieves!

Congress Pretends It Just Learned of VA Health Care Crisis

Mar 19, 2007

The U.S. House Veterans Affairs subcommittee is holding hearings into the medical treatment of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Government Accountability Office reported that the VA system is on the verge of a crisis, with a backlog of 600,000 claims and a waiting time of 127 to 177 days for an initial claim to be processed.

Since the scandal broke about dilapidated conditions at the Walter Reed Medical Center, three high-ranking military officers have either been fired or forced to resign. Kevin Kiley, the army’s surgeon general recently resigned, following the firing of Major General George Weightman, the commander of Walter Reed, and the resignation of Army Secretary Francis Harvey.

Everyone understands that the three ousted officers are being used as scapegoats. Members of Congress pretend as though this is the first they are learning of the problem–as if they didn’t know it costs money to run a health care system, to staff hospitals, provide equipment, etc.

Every member of Congress, who voted on the VA budgets year after year knew full well that it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to treat returning wounded soldiers. Each time, they all, Republican and Democrat alike, voted to shortchange the veterans’ medical system. The president knew. The whole top military staff knew.

They all agreed that the human beings they used as cannon fodder to fight the war should be tossed aside on a garbage heap when they returned.

Don’t let them pretend they didn’t know!

Helpless Democrats?

Mar 19, 2007

Today the Democratic Party completely controls Illinois state government: governor, assembly and senate. The Illinois Assembly just overwhelmingly voted to roll back the 24% electric rate increase. But Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, a Democrat, says he is against the rate freeze and so will prevent any Senate vote.

What? One man, Emil Jones, can stand in the way of a rate rollback? Are the Democratic senators helpless?

No, they just agree to play this little charade to help out ComEd.

I.R.S. Turns Rule Writing over to Tax Shelter Lawyers and Accountants

Mar 19, 2007

The I.R.S. has asked tax lawyers and accountants to write new tax rules. These are the people who design tax shelters and exploit loopholes for the wealthy.

Up to now Congressmen and top federal bureaucrats wrote the rules to help the rich dodge taxes. Apparently, they decided just to simplify the process–handing the tax code directly over to the very top grifters.

Dead from Capitalism, Not Tooth Decay

Mar 19, 2007

Recently, a twelve-year-old boy, Deamonte Driver, died because an untreated tooth infection spread to his brain. Routine tooth cleanings, cavity fillings or a simple tooth extraction could have prevented this needless death.

Where did this happen? In a poor country? No! It happened in a predominantly black suburb of Washington, D.C., the capital of the richest country in the world.

Some people want to blame the mother. For what? Alyce Driver’s only mistake was being poor. She tried to get her children medical care, but at every turn there was another roadblock. Few dentists accept Medicaid in Maryland, fewer than 20%.

Plus, Alyce Driver’s children lost their Medicaid coverage because they had been temporarily homeless, living in a homeless shelter. When they moved out of the shelter the paperwork was sent to the shelter, instead of their new address.

Alyce Driver did not know Deamonte’s tooth was bothering him. She was struggling to help his younger brother get his more obviously bad teeth fixed. She had to wait almost two months just to get him a consultation with an oral surgeon!

This tragedy is much bigger than the Driver family. Of Maryland’s 5,500 dentists, only about 900 will accept Medicaid patients. Fewer than 16% of Maryland’s Medicaid children received restorative services–like filling cavities–in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available. The number of those who can see oral surgeons is even lower.

Add those problems together with the other problems that come with poverty–lack of transportation, periodic homelessness, erratic telephone and mail service (because of changing addresses or living in shelters) and it’s a recipe for tragedies like the death of the Driver boy.

What kind of society allows a little boy to die from a completely preventable disease? What kind of society does not take care of its children, its future? This would not have happened to a child of a wealthy family.

The newspapers say Deamonte died from a rotten tooth. Deamonte and many other children like him died because of this completely rotten society.

What do you do with something rotten? You pull it out.

Pages 4-5

Elevators for Profit:
Otis, Koné, ThyssenKrupp, Schindler

Mar 19, 2007

Otis, Koné, ThyssenKrupp and Schindler are well known names to those who ride elevators ... or have to climb the stairs when they are broken.

These four giant industrial corporations, the world leaders in the elevator sector, were recently fined 1.3 billion dollars by the European Commission. They were accused of dividing up the market for the installation and maintenance of elevators, rigging bids and fixing prices. This occurred between 1995 and 2004 in several European countries including Germany, Holland and Belgium. Some of the companies said they will appeal the fine. But it’s clear that all of them will simply pass the fines on to the purchasers of elevators, adding to all the profit they extracted from them over the years.

This is the biggest fine ever imposed on companies for colluding to fix prices, but not the only one. Just last January the European Commission issued a fine of almost one billion dollars against some of the biggest providers of electric equipment. The companies were Siemens, Schneider, Alstom, Areva, Mitsubishi, Hitachi and Fuji. They were accused of colluding around the world to raise the price of gas-insulated switchgear used to control energy flows in electric grids. Their collusion lasted 16 years, during which time these corporations organized a real racket. According to the investigation, they established a sophisticated communication system with anonymous and encoded e-mails, and code names for rival companies included inside ordinary-looking messages, all to divide up markets and rig bids.

Business account books are hidden from the world. All these sharp practices occur under the cover of sacrosanct business secrets.

And these businesses dare to say that they face fierce international competition!

Mergers and Acquisitions Set a New World Record of Waste

Mar 19, 2007

Last year the fantastic sum of 5.4 trillion dollars was spent worldwide in what are called Mergers and Acquisitions. This new record illustrates the absurd and parasitical character of capitalism. This sum represents around $900 for every person on the planet, in a world where more than a billion people live on under a dollar a day!

A merger or acquisition is when one company buys up another, with or without the others’ consent. Even if capitalists, journalists or politicians call it “investment,” it has nothing to do with constructing new buildings and putting in new equipment. In a merger and acquisition, only the owners of the bought-up business change. The ever-more-gigantic sums spent by the purchaser don’t at all increase production or raise the productivity of labor. While buying up their competitors at a high price, these companies don’t create one new factory or add one new job. Most often, these mergers are an excuse to cut back on workers and demand concessions out of the workers of both the new and acquired companies who are “lucky” enough to keep their jobs. This is what happened repeatedly in the steel industry as one mill after another was bought up.

For years, capitalism has more and more resembled a gigantic Monopoly game, where businesses don’t bet on a growing market. Because they have a lot more profits than they know what to do with, they consecrate these profits to purely financial operations. Economists call these mountains of money, which businesses hold instead of reinvesting in production, “war chests.” But the war which flows from this loot is the war that the bourgeoisie wages against the standard of living and working conditions of the working class.

On the basis of profits which never stop growing, the sums devoted to real investment diminish continually in relation to the amounts wasted in all sorts of sterile financial operations ... which are actually risky for the stability of the system itself.

The defenders of the capitalist system justify the exploitation of workers by explaining that “profits today are investments tomorrow and jobs the day after.” But for a long time now, the reality of the capitalist system is that the profits of the day before yesterday have been the financial operations of yesterday and the layoffs of today.

An “Alternative” Form of Profits

Mar 19, 2007

Ethanol is suddenly being touted as a way to save the environment. If we run cars on ethanol instead of gasoline, global warming will be solved. At least, that’s what we’re told by the Bush administration, by big business in general–and by agribusinesses in particular.

What is ethanol? It’s an alcohol that can be burned like gas–and it’s made from corn. That certainly sounds “green” enough! Wouldn’t corn alcohol be a lot less polluting than dirty old gasoline?

Well, no. As usual, the publicity spin is one thing, but reality is much different. An article in Scientific American summed up several studies. They concluded that compared to the energy from a gallon of gasoline, a comparable amount of energy from ethanol would create just as much global-warming pollution. In fact, probably a little more! It’s because of all the extra energy burned while farming the corn, refining it into ethanol, and distributing it.

So if ethanol’s net gain for the environment is zero, or even minus, what is behind this sudden enthusiasm?

The price of corn already jumped up, and it will only go higher as the ethanol programs–with their 51 cents per gallon federal subsidy!–gear up. Every business that deals in corn and corn-related products will make a killing. Very large agribusinesses such as Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill, and Monsanto control most of the market and will profit accordingly.

For workers, however, not only will pollution continue unchecked, but the cost of living will continue to rise. The ethanol subsidy will be paid by higher taxes, and higher prices at the gas pump. Everything involving corn will be more expensive. For example, foods and soft drinks are sweetened with, surprisingly, corn syrup.

And in countries where corn is the staple food, the poor will only get poorer and hungrier. In Mexico, protests already happened against the rising price of corn tortillas.

In the end, the only thing “green” about the ethanol craze will be the amount of “long green” pumped from workers’ pockets into corporate vaults.

Bush in Latin America:
Trying to Divert Attention away from Iraq

Mar 19, 2007

During his recent tour of five Latin American countries, George Bush was greeted by hostile demonstrations. In Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, riot police were deployed against protesters, who called Bush a murderer and burned effigies of him. A few thousand protesters tried to storm the U.S. embassy in Mexico, knocking down steel barriers and throwing gasoline bombs. Scared by the militancy of these protests, Mexican authorities closed schools and blocked roads in Merida, where Bush met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been publicly criticizing the Bush administration, seized the opportunity and went on his own tour of Latin America. As Bush was hiding behind police lines in Uruguay, for example, Chavez spoke in neighboring Argentina to tens of thousands of people, who filled a soccer stadium and cheered him on as he denounced Bush and U.S. policy toward Latin America.

Perhaps in an effort to compete with Chavez, Bush used a language that is quite unusual for him. He said it was a “scandal” that tens of millions of people in the region had to live on less than two dollars a day. And he promised his government’s help to ensure “social justice” for Latin America’s poor.

It was easy for Bush’s critics to point out that U.S. aid to Latin America, 1.6 billion dollars per year, was less than what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war in just one week. Not to mention that, of course, this “aid” is nothing but a small crumb compared to the enormous profits U.S. corporations extract from the region.

In fact, Bush had nothing to propose during this tour other than what is already going on: “free trade” with the U.S., he said, was the way to lift Latin America out of poverty.

No wonder nobody was impressed by this rhetoric. Mexico, for example, has officially had a free trade agreement with the U.S., known as NAFTA, for more than ten years and sends 88% of its exports to the U.S. Yet, unemployment and poverty have only increased in Mexico in the past decade, while food has become significantly more expensive for the population. As a result, every year 400,000 Mexicans are forced to cross the border to find work in the U.S.

It’s not that a formal agreement like NAFTA really matters anyway. Regardless of whether governments sign trade agreements or not, Latin America’s economy is dominated by the U.S. About half of the whole region’s exports go to the U.S. This is true also for Chavez’s Venezuela, which sells 70% of its oil to the U.S.

Corporations based in the U.S. and their subsidiaries are also often the biggest private employers in Latin American countries, where they take advantage of conditions typical throughout the region: low wages and a lack of rights for workers. Not surprisingly, in these countries, most of the managers and government officials overseeing these conditions are educated and trained in the U.S.

It’s for good reason that Latin America has been called “the U.S.’s backyard.” For a century and a half, the U.S. ruling class, with the help of its local cronies, has been draining the wealth of the whole continent.

That’s why, in the end, it doesn’t really matter what Bush said publicly when he visited Latin America–or even that he visited at all. And, in fact, the real issue behind Bush’s trip was not Latin America itself. The real purpose of this little show was to divert attention, inside the U.S., from the embarrassment that the Iraq war has become for the Bush administration.

Immigration Raids:
Terrorizing Workers and Endangering Their Children

Mar 19, 2007

On March 6, hundreds of federal officers raided a leather goods workshop in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which employed about 500 mostly female workers.

The workers were made to wait, handcuffed with plastic ties, for as long as nine hours. In the end, the cops rounded up 361 workers and took them to a former military base 60 miles away. By the evening, 207 of these workers, who the authorities said were suspected of being “illegal aliens,” had been put on airplanes and shipped to detention centers in Texas and New Mexico, each about 2,000 miles away! Ninety others were sent to various jails in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In the meantime, more than 100 young children were stranded at schools or with baby-sitters or neighbors. One breast-feeding baby, whose mother was jailed, had to be hospitalized for dehydration.

Massachusetts social workers, sent 2,000 miles away to interview the women being held in Texas, said some mothers were so afraid their children will be taken away that they denied they have children.

The owner of the company–which makes backpacks and vests for the U.S. military under a 138-million-dollar contract, as well as high-end leather goods–was also arrested along with four others. They were charged with knowingly employing undocumented workers. But, unlike the workers they exploited, the bosses were immediately released on bail. The owner of the company was even allowed to travel to Puerto Rico on business.

So what was the purpose of this raid?

The Bush administration, like previous ones, has organized very few immigration raids. From 2001 to 2004, for example, the number of company officials who were served “intent to fine” notices was only 318, or fewer than 80 per year. Since 2004, the government has not carried out many raids, either–but they have been really spectacular.

The government makes sure that these raids are publicized widely. For the purpose of these raids is to send immigrant workers the message that they don’t even have the most basic human rights in this country; that they have to accept low wages and harsh working conditions, or else they will be deported back to their countries where there are no jobs at all. The government doesn’t want to prevent companies from keeping undocumented workers in a situation of near servitude–it wants to terrorize the workers to accept it.

The publicity around these raids is also intended for native-born workers–to create and fuel anti-immigrant sentiments among them; to spread the idea that immigrant workers “take jobs away” and cause wages to go down.

No, they don’t. The bosses do that, in their endless drive to lower wages and maximize profits.

The government helps these greedy bosses every way it can, not even shying away from throwing 100 young children in the street, putting babies’ lives in danger and terrorizing their mothers–hard-working women who contribute to society in exchange for little pay.

It’s only ironic that all this is done by the same Bush administration that claims to be the champion of “family values!”

Pages 6-7

The L.A. Times:
Cutbacks and Profits

Mar 19, 2007

Over the last few years, the owners of the Los Angeles Times have been slashing their workforce. The newsroom staff of reporters and editors was cut by more than 25%. And there were big job cuts in every other part of the operation, the pressroom, distribution and other services. A lot of these jobs were outsourced. Home delivery used to be done by Teamsters in company trucks. Now it is done by “independent contractors,” who drive their own cars and are compensated at barely the minimum wage. Customer service lines are now answered by operators in the Philippines.

The owners, the Tribune Company, claim that such cuts are necessary because of a rapid slide in circulation over the last decade, with weekday circulation plunging from about 1.2 million to a little more than 800,000.

Of course, the driving interest of the newspaper owners is not to improve news coverage and increase circulation–but only to increase their profits. And in that, they have succeeded mightily. Last year, the rate of profit at the L.A. Times was about 20%, which is several times higher than the average big U.S. company. Yet the owners and investors have made clear that they are not satisfied. They are demanding more improvements ... in profits. Last August, in a memo leaked to the press, the owners stated that they wanted more big staff cuts in order to increase their profit rate from 20 to 30%.

What is happening at the L.A. Times, the fourth largest newspaper in the country and the most important newspaper in the western United States, is happening to newspapers almost everywhere.

By cutting the newspaper workforces, the owners are cutting back on the very small trickle of real and relevant information that ordinary people used to get from newspapers.

In essence this is little different from what the owners of every other big industry are doing, from auto and steel to health care. All these capitalists fatten their profits and wealth at the expense of their workforce and society in general. They are in the business of making money, not of providing health care or of providing cars, steel or newspapers.

Shipyard Workers Strike

Mar 19, 2007

On March 8, about 7,000 workers went on strike against a Northrop Grumman shipyard. The Mississippi yard, near Pascagoula, builds Navy ships. Workers said they could not live any more on $18.32 an hour and the company’s offer of $2.50 over three years doesn’t begin to make up what they need.

The area around the shipyard was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and it has been just as little rebuilt as New Orleans. Rents have doubled, and milk costs $4.19 a gallon. A welder told reporters that half the workers are still living in trailers.

But how much different is this from the general social catastrophe surrounding the whole working class today? The hurricane of cutbacks in jobs, wages, health care, and social services, as well as price hikes in essentials such as gasoline, heating fuel and electricity, means that the standard of living for every worker is dropping fast.

Northrop Grumman said its contract offer was “fair and competitive.” This is company-speak the world over. It means, “we are making a lot of money and we want to keep it all.” Workers hear that story all the time, whether in a hurricane-devastated area or not.

The only resort left for workers is to take joint collective action, in self-defense. The shipyard workers deserve a decent life from the value their work has created–and that is true for each and every worker who is under attack today, whether hit by Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Capital.

Page 8

Ford Workers Don’t Give Up

Mar 19, 2007

The following article is from the March 2 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

On February 14, the Ford night shift at Vsevolojsk, near St. Petersburg, went on strike. In the morning, another shift joined them, and then other workers joined in, out of 1,900 employed at the plant. In total, 80% of the workers decided to strike. In response, management got a court to declare the strike illegal.

The Russian labor code puts so many conditions on the right to strike, finding a way to strike that the authorities would consider legal is mission impossible. In reality, the application of the law depends on the relation of forces. The Ford workers already have had some experience with this.

The workers, who call themselves the "Fordovskys," went on strike last March and then in December. Each time, their demands concerned pay and working conditions. Each time, they forced management to retreat a bit, and raised the average wage from 15,000 to 17,000 rubles a month, or about $650 per month.

Management, the authorities, and certain Western reporters in Russia claim that the strikers are "privileged," since the average worker makes less, on average $390 dollars per month. During a previous strike, the Ford strikers responded by showing that managers in their departments got twenty times more than what workers made. They also pointed out how high the cost of living is. It costs 40% of a worker’s pay to rent an apartment.

Ford, like the other Western car companies, a few years ago began to export cars to Russia by advertising them as exotic foreign cars. Then, as a middle class grew in the big cities with relatively high incomes, the foreign companies decided to assemble some of their models in Russia.

This seemed like a great business opportunity. The central state chose to stop supporting the antiquated Russian auto industry. The Moscow and St. Petersburg authorities urged foreign companies to set up factories. Foreign firms found operations extremely cheap. Labor costs were so low that they invested much less in machines, robots, and other forms of automation that are found in assembly plants in other countries. The French company Renault went so far as to brag that it assembled its Logan car at Avtoframos in Moscow with all work done by hand!

Ford and the other foreign auto companies rely on elbow grease and the sweat of their workers to produce cars and substantial profits in Russia. So it’s not surprising when the Ford strikers in Vsevolojsk denounce unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, the lack of paid vacations (that even the weak Russian law is supposed to guarantee), forced overtime on days off, the absence of a contract and job guarantees, and wages that never rise ... except when they go on strike.

Work More ... Earn Less

Mar 19, 2007

Overtime work is increasing in Germany. The experts explain that this is a sign of good economic times.

In reality it’s only a sign of extra exploitation. In many workplaces, workers put in more hours without any increase in pay. This first occurred at the end of 2003 at the tire manufacturer Continental and the maker of medical equipment B. Braun. Then very profitable companies started doing it, like Siemens, Daimler-Chrysler, Opel (GM), etc. At other companies, when workers work overtime, the hours aren’t paid for–just put in a “bank,” to be used later.

Even when overtime is paid, it often doesn’t make up for the decline in real wages, which have been going down due to inflation. The Hans Böckler Foundation estimates that in 2006 real wages were down 0.7%, following a decline of 1.5% in 2005 and 1.1% in 2004. And, in 2007, since the national sales tax increased by 3%, going from 16% to 19% on whatever workers buy, workers’ purchasing power will go further down.

Workers Sacrificed on the Altar of Profit

Mar 19, 2007

The directors of Airbus, who have been tagged the Power 8, announced a “cost reduction” plan to eliminate 10,000 jobs in Europe and sell a number of factories where there are no job guarantees included for the future. In Germany, 3,700 jobs are to be cut. Another 3,000 out of the 23,000 who work for Airbus in German will be affected by these job cuts.

In reaction to the bosses’ plan, the unions called for a Day of Action on February 2, with rallies held at the seven Airbus sites in the country. But on February 28, as soon as the official Power 8 plan was made public, there were spontaneous reactions by workers at the three sites that are to be sold. In Laupheim, near Ulm (Baden-Wurtemberg), a part of the afternoon shift workers spontaneously stopped work and a demonstration of 1,000 people was immediately organized. At Varel (Lower Saxony) as well, the workers spontaneously stopped work and then on Thursday, March 1, blocked the gates of the factory. The anger also exploded in Nordenham (Lower Saxony). Meetings held on March 2 ended in a tumult, with union leaders who proposed nothing concrete booed down. The workers didn’t go back on the job until Monday, March 5.

At other Airbus plants–in Hamburg, Bremen, Stade and Buxtehude–there was less of an outburst. The fact that these plants were left open, at least for now, and that management announced there would not be any immediate massive layoffs (for example, “only” 800 jobs lost out of the 12,000 workers at the Hamburg-Fenkenwerder location) obviously played a role. But the leaders of the IG Metall union also worked to calm the workers’ reactions, explaining that it was better to wait until the plans of the bosses became clearer. Those union leaders made no effort to organize a common struggle of all the Airbus workers at the moment when anger and emotions were the strongest. The German metal workers union, for example, didn’t call for actions at the same time that a Day of Action was called in protest of cutbacks at Airbus in France.

The bosses’ projects are even more shocking because the workers all know that there is work for everyone and that there are already plenty of orders on hand. In order to build all the planes already ordered over the last couple years, the bosses increased the number of employees and installed special Saturday and even Sunday shifts. There is not a single extra worker in the factories. It’s obvious that the announced cuts can be carried out only if work is dangerously sped-up or if new, lower-paid workers are hired to replace those whose jobs are cut. Or both.

There was a Day of Action for all Airbus workers across Europe on March 16, a work day. Some 40,000 Airbus workers protested. In Hamburg, 20,000 protesters were in the streets. About 7,000 marched in Toulouse, and 4,000 rallied at factories in St Nazaire and Méaute in France. In Laupheim, Germany 2,000 workers formed a human chain around the plant. In Chester, Britain more than 2,000 protested near the wing plant. Some of these protests included workers at Airbus contractors. Some 1,900 workers in Seville and 2,000 workers in Madrid, Spain also protested. There were sizeable demonstrations in the streets to say “No Layoffs” and “Down with the Plan of the Power 8”.

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