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. 846 — May 18 - June 8, 2009

Editorial:
Axing 3,000 Dealerships to Serve Wall Street

May 18, 2009

The auto “restructuring” has hit home – not only in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, where the big majority of GM and Chrysler plants are located – but this time in cities, suburbs and town across the country. Chrysler, via the bankruptcy court, terminated nearly 800 dealerships. GM, without benefit of bankruptcy, condemned 1,100 dealerships to an early death, with at least another 1,600 to be closed when GM dumps Pontiac, Hummer, Saab and Saturn later this year.

It gets worse. President Obama’s auto task force, which pushed Chrysler into bankruptcy, has demanded that Chrysler and GM eventually cut nearly half their dealerships. That would mean another 1,000 dealers or so would get the ax.

But even these first 3,500 closed dealerships will cost 193,000 workers their jobs. All those companies that provide goods and services to the dealerships will face cutbacks – with still more jobs lost.

The loss of the only dealership in a small town will crush that town, deprived of its main tax base.

And it doesn’t stop there. If the dealer near you is gone, where do you take your car for service every few months? Worse – where do you have it towed when a ball joint, for example, collapses, or a timing belt breaks? In small towns the loss of the only dealer and its service department can be catastrophic – with the next closest dealer perhaps 50, 60 or even 200 miles away.

What possible reason does the Obama task force have for demanding that the companies ax their dealers? If the dealers make money, the companies make money; if the dealers lose money, the companies don’t lose, the dealers lose.

In fact, by closing dealerships, Chrysler and GM will lose sales – certainly not all the sales, but enough of them to have an impact. And the companies themselves admit it.

So why close the dealerships?

This has nothing to do with making the auto companies more “streamlined” or “efficient.” It has to do with freeing up still more money for GMAC and for the biggest Wall Street banks, which, through their investments, control not only the auto companies, but the auto finance companies.

Wall Street doesn’t want so much of its money tied up in dealer inventory. When banks lend money to a dealership to keep all those cars on the floor, the banks get their interest payments, they get their investment back, but it comes in gradually. The big banks want that money to come back faster, they want it to turn over faster, producing ever more profit, whether or not more cars are sold – whether or not any cars are sold.

In other words, they want it available for the kind of financial speculation that produced the current crisis.

Axing thousands of dealership like this, all at once, can only aggravate the worsening economic crisis. It makes no sense, not for all those people losing their jobs. Not for all these towns and suburbs that will be severely hurt. Not for the economy as a whole.

But it makes sense for the banks – and for the Obama administration, which has been pushing the big banks’ agenda, just like the Bush administration did.

This capitalist system, which today even strangles the functioning of its own economy, long ago outlived its usefulness. Why would any ordinary person, who lives by his or her own work, want to see it continue?

Pages 2-3

Water Floods Two Cities ... More to Come

May 18, 2009

On May 7, a 22-inch water main burst in downtown Washington D.C. A few months before, a 66-inch water main had burst in a Washington suburb. The flooding was so bad that some people had to be rescued by helicopter.

In Washington, D.C. the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission, which oversees the District of Columbia and the Maryland suburbs nearest to Washington, had not inspected the line that burst – nor hundreds of other miles of pipes – in more than 10 years. Last year, they had more than 2,000 water pipe breaks.

Aging water and sewer pipes and lack of maintenance personnel are afflicting cities everywhere.

In February a 30-inch water pipe burst in downtown Baltimore, closing offices, businesses and streets. In April a 20-inch water main burst in downtown Baltimore with similar results. One of the Baltimore water pipes that broke was more than 100 years old!

Baltimore’s system had continually burst (5,000 times in the past four years), sending sewage into its streams and water system. Like many other cities, Baltimore has been under a federal court order to spend a billion dollars over 10 years to upgrade its water system.

Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, we are supposedly guaranteed safe drinking water and contained sewage. When the act was passed, Congress put in the funding so that the federal government was paying 78% of waste water treatment costs. States and local municipalities paid the rest.

Three decades later, the federal government only pays THREE%, according to the testimony of the executive director of the National Resource Defense Council to Congress in 2007. So states and cities – that is, residents – everywhere have to come up with the rest of the funding.

Baltimore residents got a 13% increase on water and sewage after the federal lawsuit. An additional 9% increase is coming this July. The average Baltimore household is paying $69 a month for water and sewers.

The WSSC got a 9% increase from residents, also to start July 1. And since January 1, 2005, every household in Maryland has paid an extra $7.50 per quarter “flush tax,” toward water and sewer repairs.

Instead of the government using our tax money to provide the services we need, it cuts the funding. So at the very moment more money is needed to replace aging infrastructure, it goes – by the trillions – to the banks and investment firms. Those who can least afford it already pay way too much.

Maybe Congress ought to have a little of that garbage and sewage directed their way.

Detroit:
Meet the New Boss
– Same as the Old Boss

May 18, 2009

Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit businessman and newly elected Republican mayor, ran his election campaign around three issues. He promised to create more jobs, to improve public safety and to change the way city government functions.

As soon as Bing took office, he announced his Cabinet – many of whom helped decimate the city under the city’s previous administrations. Charles Beckham, his administrative assistant, was convicted of corruption in awarding contracts when he ran the Water and Sewerage Department, and then was appointed by Kwame Kilpatrick to several posts, most recently public lighting!

Bing’s treasurer, Norman White, served as Kwame Kilpatrick’s chief financial officer – hardly a recommendation. George Jackson, who oversaw “economic development” while developers and corporations bled the city dry, will continue bleeding the city under Bing.

So it comes as no surprise that Bing, on the very next day announced he was putting jobs and public safety on hold, because of “fiscal challenges.”

No doubt – challenges in how to direct more city money to Bing’s fellow capitalists.

California:
The Governor Proposes Another Big Gift to Bosses

May 18, 2009

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state may have to sell some real estate it owns to raise cash and “balance the budget.” The proposed sales include the Coliseum and the San Quentin state prison.

But a statement by the governor’s own office revealed that the proposed sale has nothing to do with the “budget crisis” the state is supposed to be in. The sales would take two to five years, and would not have any effect whatsoever on the current budget.

Most properties the governor proposes to sell are prime real estate. San Quentin, for example, sits on scenic waterfront near San Francisco – land that would make developers drool. And sure enough, the proposal to sell that land has come before the state legislature four times already – and has been rejected each time. Rejected, because it’s such an obvious rip-off for the state that no politician can justify it: The state would have to close the prison and transfer the prisoners elsewhere, probably building new prisons – all of which would cost the state a lot of money.

And then there are the 11 large state office buildings that Schwarzenegger also wants to sell to raise cash – and then lease back from the new owners. Other states and the federal government have been doing this kind of thing – enriching a few fat cats at the expense of the taxpayers.

No, what Schwarzenegger proposes has nothing to do with “balancing the budget.” He is just trying to do what government officials have been doing for decades: hand out huge gifts to big real estate developers. Apparently, the governor thinks he and his fellow politicians have created enough hype around the fictional “budget crisis” to get away with another taxpayer rip-off.

Chicago:
Layoffs or layoffs?

May 18, 2009

Mayor Daley of Chicago gave city workers the choice of 1,100 workers to be laid off, or 14 days off without pay for every worker this year and comp time instead of overtime. In other words, pick your poison.

This is the same Mayor Daley whose administration gives business each year as much as the city collects in property taxes. The same Mayor Daley who just turned all the parking meter revenue of the city over to the giant bank Morgan Stanley while doubling the rates.

Don’t tell us there’s no money for city workers.

Detroit Public Schools:
Gutting the District

May 18, 2009

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) “emergency financial manager” Robert Bobb announced drastic school cuts and rearrangements last week.

Twenty-eight buildings will be closed. Forty others will be “restructured.” Thirty-three principals will be let go, and 37 will be reassigned to different schools. In all, one out of every four schools will be affected.

Just like all the other so-called “reformers” that have come before him, in the name of “improvement,” Bobb is doing the very thing that will make things worse.

Two excuses are given for these moves. One is money: the DPS has been losing students and tax money in recent years, and they are running a deficit. So what kind of solution is it to close even more neighborhood schools, forcing more students to travel long distances to go to school? This practically guarantees that the district will lose even more students to other districts and to charter schools – some of which will open in the very same school buildings the DPS will close!

The other excuse is performance: Bobb states that the 40 schools to be restructured are “miserably failing” the students. This includes a number of schools that have not met “Adequate Yearly Progress” as set by the notorious “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) law, according to a set of narrow tests. NCLB puts everything backward: if a school underperforms according to a set of narrow requirements, its budget is CUT, virtually guaranteeing that things at that school will get worse.

We can see what BS this talk is: The principals losing their jobs, supposedly for poor job performance, are eligible to apply for positions at the 10 schools labeled the most underperforming in the district!

Not only that, but oftentimes the promise of a stable school community is the only thing bringing students back on a day-to-day level. That stability can create achievements that go way beyond narrow tests: high attendance and graduation rates; active participation in teams, clubs and other extracurriculars; and just a solid rapport between the staff, students and parents. Completely throwing those schools into turmoil by gutting them of their administrators and teachers will only guarantee that conditions will get worse, not better.

Some school communities have reacted with anger. Parents and students at Western International High School, for example, immediately protested the firing of its principal, Rebecca Luna, whom they credit with improving academics and keeping gangs out of the school.

Everybody in the city knows that the main problem with the schools is economic. With so much poverty in the city, the DPS needs more money, not less, to stand a chance of offering a decent education to its students: money to rebuild school buildings that are falling apart; to supply textbooks, computers and even basic supplies to students who could not possibly afford to pay for them; and to ensure a low teacher to student ratio.

If Bobb truly wanted to transform the district, he would not close buildings or cut services at all, but fight to retain and expand them. He would demand a HUGE influx of money and resources from both the state and the federal government – not just beg for a few token handouts. And he would organize all the parents of Detroit to make that demand. That’s a fight people in Detroit can be ready to make – people who’ve seen funding of their schools deteriorate as the state’s money goes to the big banks and corporations and the many behind them. And that kind of fight could make the Granholm and Obama administrations cough up that money, whether they want to or not.

But Robert Bobb doesn’t do that. He’s just another vulture, picking at Detroit’s bones.

He Ought to Have Nightmares!

May 18, 2009

Arne Duncan, the Education Secretary, said that the Detroit Public Schools could possibly receive millions of dollars in federal aid – but only AFTER it becomes “drastically better.” He’s holding Detroit in a trap – there’s no way to become “drastically better” without a big influx of money!

Duncan once said that he loses sleep over the poor education Detroit’s children are getting. If he’s tossing and turning now, he better blame himself!

Michigan Lies about Charter Schools

May 18, 2009

Last month the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) published a report claiming the state’s charter schools were outperforming their rival public school districts.

Problem is, the report is one big lie.

Independent experts have declared that the report’s own data shows that the public schools are consistently outperforming the charter schools within their borders. This INCLUDES the Detroit Public Schools. And yet the report claims just the opposite.

Not surprising – since the report was written by a charter school advocacy organization!

These problems were pointed out to the MDE back in March. But even so, they voted to adopt it in April.

Clearly, the MDE is pushing privatization of its schools – and actively lying in order to do it!

Gas Prices:
It’s NOT Supply and Demand!

May 18, 2009

Prices at the pump are rising again. The oil companies always say it’s because of supply and demand.

But today there is a deep recession. The demand for oil is at a 10-year low.

Meanwhile, the supply is high. Tankers of crude are anchored offshore in fleets, waiting.

According to “supply and demand,” pump prices should be dropping like a rock.

If not, it’s because of an oversupply, all right – an oversupply of speculators!

Pages 4-5

Guadeloupe:
Workers Confront Bosses' Maneuvers

May 18, 2009

The following is from an article in the April 25 issue of Combat Ouvrier (Workers' Fight), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in the recent general strike on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean. For more information on the strike, read the May-June, 2009 issue of Class Struggle #62.

Thanks to the pressure of the workers, numerous businesses in Guadeloupe had to provide the agreed-upon raise – 200 Euros a month, a raise of about $270. When the strike ended in February, about 17,000 workers were due to gain the raise. But today, thanks to strikers' efforts, some 50,000 workers have gained the raise. Another 30,000 workers will have to fight to get this raise from their bosses.

...

Every day the bosses' flunkeys sing their eternal song on the air waves – claiming that the general strike killed the local economy, or that strikes kill tourism, etc. These mouthpieces for the bosses blame the workers and make the unions responsible for what they call a disaster.

The bosses and the békés (very rich descendants of the former slave owners) lead a daily and pitiless class war against the workers. It's not just the 200 Euros, which most of them can pay very well.

What's at stake is whether they can make workers bow down, whether they can smother the social struggles using many kinds of pressure and threats. The workers, in fact, came out with their heads held high, proud of their 44-day general strike. Others were encouraged by the general strike to begin many new strikes in various parts of the islands.

This is what really disturbs the bosses. They want to set traps everywhere on this road of dignity, regained by workers' fights in this period.

But the general strike created a shock wave favorable to continued strikes, demanding that the Bino agreement be applied in its entirety. And even if the strikes are sometimes cut short, the workers know that it is only to gain a little time, in order later to resume the fights. The majority of the 30,000 workers still not covered by the agreement won't accept a "legal" social injustice – that is, with some getting the 200 Euros and some not.

The current state of mind directly came from the general strike. Workers understand they must fight against the bosses until they give in on the 200 Euros and on many other demands. Workers don't intend to accept any stupidity from the békés or other arrogant, vengeful bosses, trying to weigh them down or threatening to hold them back.

One Million Refugees in Pakistan

May 18, 2009

The U.S. war on Afghanistan has spilled into neighboring Pakistan. Since last August, the Pakistani military has been supposedly fighting a “rebellion” of insurgents in tribal areas near the Afghan-Pakistani border – supported by U.S. missile fire. Supposedly aimed at the “militants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” missiles fired by the U.S. military from Afghanistan into Pakistan have killed over 400 people since August, and turned many villages into ruins. Then, about two weeks ago, the Pakistani military launched another offensive against insurgents, quickly labeled “Taliban militants,” in the mountainous Swat valley.

As the current rulers of Pakistan fight their rivals for power, the Pakistani population pays the price. The Pakistani military claims to have killed 800 “Taliban militants.” Whatever the real number of casualties is, no one doubts that most of them are civilians killed in the heavy bombardment by the military.

This veritable massacre has created a tragic refugee crisis. Since August, nearly one million Pakistanis have become refugees in their own country, according to United Nations officials. NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have denounced the overcrowding in the refugee camps, the disastrous sanitary situation, the lack of electricity, of water, of food, of medicine – all aggravated by hot weather.

News reports about this refugee crisis provide a rare glimpse into what the U.S. war in Afghanistan really means for the people who live in the region. The Obama administration has aggressively expanded that war, calling on the Pakistani government to “do their part” in “fighting the Taliban.” And, for sure, the Pakistani military is now doing in its own backyard what the U.S. military has been doing in Afghanistan: bombing towns and villages – killing thousands of civilians and making hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

Afghanistan:
The U.S. Steps Up the War against the Population

May 18, 2009

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that the current commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be replaced by General Stanley McChrystal, who was formerly the head of special forces operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McChrystal is known for sponsoring the big propaganda lie concerning the death of Pat Tillman. So we know what kind of “reports” we can expect through his command!

More importantly, the appointment of McChrystal shows what plans the Obama administration has for Afghanistan. McChrystal is a “counter-insurgency” specialist, who proved in Iraq he can “soften up” and “bring in line” a population that is not necessarily willing to co-operate.

The recent bombing of a village in western Afghanistan confirms that the Obama administration has every intention to do the same kind of thing in Afghanistan. On May 4, U.S. bombs killed at least 147 civilians in the village of Granai – the greatest “collateral damage” so far in this war. The heavy aerial bombardment of the village took place hours after fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents had ended, ensuring that any fighters would have fled the village by then, and that only civilians would be left. And the bombs used by the U.S. military were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds.

U.S. military officials disputed the number of casualties, but they acknowledged that people’s houses were bombed and dozens of civilians were killed. By all appearances, this was a planned, vicious attack on defenseless civilians, intended to send a message to the Afghan population: don’t let insurgents into your village, or else you’ll be punished mercilessly.

This massacre was so brutal that even the U.S.-sponsored president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was forced to publicly protest it and to demand that the U.S. suspend the bombings.

Despite all the public outcry over such “errors,” however, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its intention to step up the war in Afghanistan. Additional U.S. troops are to be sent in, raising their number up to 68,000 by next fall.

For decades, the big powers have been trying to impose their order in and around Afghanistan. The latest chapter of this bloody history, the U.S. war on that country, has only worsened and deepened the disaster for the Afghan population. This war must come to an end.

Iraq:
Sergeant Shoots Fellow U.S. Soldiers

May 18, 2009

John Russell, a 44-year-old Army sergeant, shot and killed five fellow U.S. soldiers in Iraq on May 11.

The incident happened in a mental health clinic at “Camp Liberty,” a U.S. military base near Baghdad. A fellow soldier in Russell’s unit said that Russell was angry because he thought the doctors at the clinic were refusing to treat him.

That description of the doctors’ attitude towards Russell matches the words of Tim Albone, a British journalist, about the same clinic at Camp Liberty: “Soldiers are referred to as warriors, not patients; PTSD is referred to as post-traumatic growth; and trauma is talked about as something to be learned from – something that will ‘help you grow.’ ” Albone also quoted Major Kevin Gormley, the clinic’s commander: “Our job is to keep soldiers on the battlefield, not send them home.”

Those words too, as inhumane as they sound, ring true. The U.S. military has been using and re-using its troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001. Nearly half of the 1.7 million troops who served in the two wars have completed at least two tours. And, according to Rand Corporation, more than 300,000 of these troops suffer from either PTSD or major depression – probably a conservative estimate, considering that Rand is a think-tank with close ties to the military.

John Russell was near the end of his third tour in Iraq. His father, Wilburn Russell, said that Russell’s job involved salvaging robots that set off roadside bombs, and that he probably saw “a lot of carnage and a lot of things that he shouldn’t have seen, that nobody should have seen.”

Shawna Machlinski, the mother of 19-year-old Michael Yates, one of John Russell’s victims, agreed: “As much as I have a lot of anger towards him, I also have some sympathy because I know he must have been going through a lot, as well.”

They broke him,” the elder Russell said, referring to his son’s superiors. “Nobody should have to go three times. They should’ve realized that.”

It’s not that they don’t realize. But their bosses, the big warmongers, need cannon fodder for their wars – wars fought to control other countries. These warmongers, whether they wear uniforms or gray suits, care about American soldiers as little as they care about Iraqi and Afghan people, whose lives are also ended, or otherwise ruined, by these horrible wars.

Pages 6-7

Detroit Reporter Who Exposed Cops Is Falsely Convicted

May 18, 2009

Diane Bukowski, a reporter for the Michigan Citizen, was convicted on two felony counts of assaulting, resisting and obstructing the police. Bukowski was arrested while taking photos after the cops struck and killed both a motorcyclist they were chasing and a bystander.

Bukowski is someone with a history of exposing police corruption, violence, brutality, as well as the protection that prosecutors have given to the police.

The judge, prosecutors and the cops took this opportunity to throw the book at her. Every one of them is complicit in this blatant attempt to shut her up.

The police arrested Bukowski for stepping over a police line. Bukowski had photos on her camera that would have shown she had not crossed the line, but a cop at the scene took the camera and destroyed them. When the case came to court, Bukowski’s defense showed television footage of her arrest showing that Bukowski did nothing to resist.

The judge disallowed any testimony that would have shown the jury why Bukowski was at the scene taking photos and cut off Bukowski’s own testimony when her defense attorney tried to cross- examine her.

Prosecutors had previously tried twice to get Bukowski to plead down on the charges against her, but she refused. She vows to continue to fight her conviction, which is nothing but a support for brutal police who want to send a message that they’re going to go after any reporter who tries to show them for what they are.

Contributions to the Committee to Support Diane Bukowski can be sent to: 1055 Trumbull, Detroit, MI 48216.

Toxic Waste
– Straight from the EPA

May 18, 2009

The Tennessee Valley Authority just announced that the EPA will take charge of cleaning up its coal ash mess in Tennessee.

“Cleaning up”? This is the very same EPA that dragged its feet for a decade!

Coal ash is a by-product of burning coal in power plants. Each year these plants produce more than 100 million tons of coal ash. Studies done by the EPA before 1999 show how dangerous coal ash sludge is. Yet under Democratic and Republican administrations, nothing was done. The EPA has not even issued a federal regulation on coal ash storage.

It’s just a coincidence, of course, that utility companies have pressured the EPA to allow them to continue dumping it with no provisions to prevent leaks.

In every state, people living close to some 1300 coal-ash waste sites are at higher risk of serious illness, for example, cancer. An average of five sites in more than 20 states leak, allowing heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury to go into the ground and into local streams.

Last December, coal ash from a Tennessee utility company broke through its barriers, creating 300 acres of waste. Coal ash covered an area of about a mile wide by a half mile long. A local EPA representative then declared the drinking water was safe from coal ash contamination. It wasn’t.

Nothing the EPA says about safe water or land is believable – so long as the utility industry calls all the shots, while Congress funds what its energy buddies want.

Senators Ready to Gut EFCA

May 18, 2009

Senators Kennedy and Harkin were the lead sponsors of the bill called The Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA. This bill as written would have allowed workers to have a union as soon as a majority in a workplace or company signed cards; and workers could then demand binding arbitration if bosses refused to negotiate a first contract within one year.

Unions poured money and manpower into electing a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. In exchange – Senator Harkin is prepared to gut EFCA of its most important provisions!

News services report that both the card-check provision and the mandatory arbitration of a first contract will be eliminated, replaced by a promise to “speed up” the election. If so, the workers will gain only another law on the books with a nice-sounding title and no teeth.

Once again, a few thousand bosses will have their interests upheld by Congress, against the interests of many millions of workers.

The unions today don’t attract new members when they accept concessions on top of more concessions, and they lead no fights to defend their memberships. But it’s also true that existing law favors the bosses so much that you would think the bosses wrote it.

Even if workers succeed, against all odds, in organizing, 44% of new union locals never get a first contract! The laws protect the employers to the end.

On the campaign trail in 2008, Senator Barack Obama pledged to get EFCA passed and signed. He said, “it would change the situation.”

Yes, it would – tipping it just a little bit less in favor of the bosses. The Democrats, who pretend to be labor’s friend, act like the enemy they are.

Book Review:
The Given Day

May 18, 2009

The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane, is a novel set in working-class Boston during the Boston police strike of September 1919. When World War I ended, 1200 police officers formed a union and went out on strike – leaving Boston streets without a police force, at the very time when the capitalists had been trying to use them for strike-breaking duties.

This created a big problem for the capitalist class – they had no armed force to maintain capitalist order in a major city! And, the capitalists worried, the police might become more sympathetic to the workers' problems – at the very time the workers' movement was breaking out.

In 1919, the U.S. economy had fallen into crisis. Returning war veterans were jobless, homeless. Unemployment soared as the war industries shut down. Inflation ate up what small paychecks there were.

In November 1917, workers in Russia had succeeded in overthrowing the old czarist state and establishing their own state, dethroning the rich and powerful. So workers in Boston, as everywhere, saw a ray of hope in the first successful workers' revolution, a hope for improving their own beaten-down condition.

In 1919, there were over 2000 strikes across the U.S. In Seattle, 65,000 workers organized a general strike of the whole city. Bosses everywhere took extraordinary precautions to keep this "infection" from spreading.

They tried to create hate and division among the workers. The usual targets were provided by the authorities: immigrants, socialists, black people. Hysteria against recent immigrants, like Italians, was whipped up. Union organizers and political dissidents were persecuted. In 1919, there were white riots against black communities in 26 cities across the U.S.; there were at least 51 documented lynchings. In some places, like Chicago, black army veterans organized armed defense.

The Given Day puts two central characters into this intense setting. The first is Danny Coughlin, an Irish cop on the Boston force, a police captain's son whose family pushes and pulls him toward "moving up the ladder." But Danny is conflicted by loyalty to his fellows in their ever worsening conditions.

It's a world of massive political corruption, ward bosses, politicians who play off the needs of the population.

It's a clear irony that while Danny is involved in organizing the police union, he and his fellow cops are sent to break strike after strike.

The book's second central character is Luther Laurence, a talented black baseball player who is kept out of the all-white major league. Luther is also a skilled worker who is laid off from his wartime job to make room for returning white veterans. As Luther's story intertwines bit by bit with Danny's story, many of the dimensions of life in the black community can be seen.

A police commissioner guns down an innocent black youth in cold blood in front of Luther, to force Luther to cooperate in setting up a raid on NAACP headquarters. Danny's father receives a satchel of cash from local manufacturers, in exchange for police files on workers.

At the end, the novel veers off toward Hollywood. Luther and Danny are shown withdrawing from events to focus on a happy home life. As if events would go on and leave them and their families alone!

Nevertheless, this is a rare novel that shows much about working-class life in a turbulent period.

Page 8

Michigan State Employees Stabbed in the Back

May 18, 2009

On Friday, May 15, officials of the UAW International, led by Ron Gettelfinger, went behind the back of State of Michigan workers and the majority of local union leaders to sign a concessions deal with state administrators.

Workers were denied their right to vote on contract changes.

This backroom deal allows the Local 6000 UAW contract to be violated. Six unpaid furlough days will be imposed – spread out between June 19 and September 4, 2009.

This is not just a technicality about when furlough days are scheduled.

UAW local 6000 had contract language that requires furlough days to be consecutive, which means that if you’re furloughed for 6 days, you can collect unemployment. This new agreement blocks that possibility.

Instead, the unpaid furlough days will rob workers of roughly $1000 or more.

State politicians lie that they are “fiscally responsible” – something they certainly are not! In reality, state politicians have been draining the budget like a sieve. How? Primarily through ruinous tax breaks for big business. If you add up all the tax breaks given out in Michigan in 2008, it comes to $33.6 billion in lost revenue, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

The UAW International agreeing to this latest backstabbing deal, is helping cover this up. State workers are losing money so that tax breaks for the rich can continue.

The state expects that by scattering furlough days, they will force state workers to kill themselves to get 40 hours of work done while only being paid for 32 hours. After this dirty deal, the state leaders may find themselves disappointed.

Demands for concessions from state workers are just beginning. This backroom deal was meant to send a signal to state government that the UAW International will give the state whatever it wants.

It also sends another message. If workers were okay with this deal, the conniving backroom dealers could have put it out there for a vote.

Workers will make themselves heard yet.

Robbing Pension Funds

May 18, 2009

In mid-April, just as Steven Rattner was trying to strong-arm UAW workers into accepting a new round of concessions, he was named in a massive “pay-for-play” scandal involving the New York state pension fund.

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed that Rattner’s company, Quadrangle Group, a private equity company, had been hired to manage a chunk of the huge New York state pension fund, in exchange for a million-dollar payoff. Also named in the pension scandal was the Carlyle Group, which has included as investors or consultants a few former U.S. presidents (Bush, father and son), U.S. cabinet secretaries and several former corporate CEOs, as well as foreign dignitaries.

What attracts such corporate vultures is no mystery: the outsized management fees and commissions. As the New York Times explained, “The fees paid to the money managers can be very lucrative, even when there are losses....”

There are similar kickback scandals in at least three dozen other states – such scandals have become commonplace. Often they take the form of corporate contributions to politicians’ campaigns. After the contributions, the companies get contracts to manage public pension funds. These kinds of kickbacks are not considered criminal. At most, they may result in a slap on the wrist. The Carlyle Group, for example, just settled with the SEC by accepting a 20 million-dollar fine.

In 1997, there were so many kickback scandals involving California pension funds that the state legislature actually passed a bill banning them. But the California state courts quickly threw out the law. The judges declared that a ban would “discriminate” against some politicians, who depended on the campaign “contributions” to get elected.

These scandals offer a rare glance into how politicians and financiers use public funds for their own benefit. The pension funds, which contain close to three trillion dollars, are taken from state and local government workers in order, supposedly, to pay for retirement. For the capitalist class and its political lackeys, this money is used to fund their own enrichment. They milk these funds for huge management fees. Capitalists also use pension funds to help finance big real estate developments, or to buy up corporate stocks and bonds, thus pushing up the value of the capitalists’ holdings. Speculators throw pension fund money into commodity markets, often resulting in higher prices for oil and food. Speculators also use public pensions to help fund corporate takeovers. Workers at the companies taken over often end up with concessions – including cuts in pension benefits!

Obama appointed an extremely wealthy speculator, Steven Rattner, to strong-arm auto workers. That says all that needs to be said.

Rats Cash in

May 18, 2009

Six top GM executives sold all their GM stock, a signal the stock market took to mean bankruptcy.

Having stripped the company of the value workers produced year after year after year, they manage the company into a phony bankruptcy, calculated to reward the biggest crooks.

On the way out, they strip everything they can get for themselves.

And it’s all perfectly legal, in their system!

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