The Spark

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

Issue no. 867 — April 12 - 26, 2010

Take Control of the Economy away from the Bosses!

Apr 12, 2010

The Dow Jones index of 30 stocks topped 11,000, its highest mark since the fall of 2008. And the pay of hedge fund managers came, in the words of the New York Times, “roaring back,” with seven of them making over a billion dollars in a single year. One “trader” actually made four billion dollars last year. Four billion, not four million. And what did they make their money on? They bought up stock in all the big banks the U.S. government bailed out. They even bought up bonds issued by AIG.

This new speculative surge was enough to send some politicians and media cheerleaders into a frenzy, predicting the imminent turn-around of the economy.

Did new unemployment claims jump up? Well, yes, but THAT they explained away by rainy weather – or was it snowy weather, or maybe hot weather – one of those excuses, anyway.

Manipulate statistics as the bosses’ flunkies do, but workers live in the real, every-day world. And in our every-day world, unemployment has not gotten better – only longer.

Did poverty get worse? Well, yes, but THAT they papered over by using thoroughly discredited measures of poverty, ones that the National Academy of Sciences had already poked holes through in 1995 – and even those discredited figures showed a worsening poverty. And in the real world about one fifth of people under 18 and one fifth of the elderly had incomes so low they were living in extreme poverty.

Are the worst-hit cities depopulating? Just like cities in an underdeveloped country hit by severe crisis? Well, yes, but the top dogs explain that away by blaming people for the rotten dishonest mortgage scams the banks ran.

The fact is, we are living in a society, increasingly divided into two groups – with the capitalists, that very tiny minority at the very top, owning more of the country’s total personal wealth than all the workers, all the family farmers, all the small shop keepers put together. That gap between Them and Us has always been there. But in recent decades it has gotten much bigger – bigger today than in 1929, when the greed of the capitalists to accumulate ever more wealth brought society crashing down then too.

A tiny minority is enriching itself by impoverishing the majority. The capitalists are savagely increasing the exploitation of the working class.

And the State apparatus that serves this wealthy minority helps them impoverish us. The State avoids doing the one thing necessary in a situation of growing impoverishment – to take part of the wealthy’s ill-gotten gains to reduce the impoverishment of the laboring majority. What can one man do with four billion dollars? If the State took three to use for the benefit of the population, he would still have one billion to squander.

But the State apparatus does the opposite – at every level. It cuts back on social programs. Cuts back on public services. Cuts back on education expenditures for the majority. By statistical sleights of hand, it has driven down the real value of Social Security checks.

The State apparatus adds to the growing inequality spawned by capitalism.

Today, the working class is beginning to move a little, at least to say NO in a few places. Tomorrow, when that resistance grows, it will get us nothing if workers fight ... only to end up leaving control of the economy still in the capitalists’ hands.

To take control of the economy may seem like a far-off goal today. But a movement of resistance can grow up quickly. It could move quickly to rip apart this old destructive system that traps us today. Challenge the whole system of exploitation. Expropriate the capitalists, remove their hands from the economy, reorganize economic life on the basis of collective ownership of all the means of production – all the factories and other workplaces.

The working class, when it draws up its forces, has the means to reorganize all of the economy to answer the needs of everyone. We may not be there yet. But we can set that as our goal today, so we can get there tomorrow.

Pages 2-3

Where the Money Is

Apr 12, 2010

For the 2008 tax year, we paid more than a trillion dollars to the federal government in individual income taxes. The total for all corporate income taxes paid last year to the federal government was one quarter of that, about 225 billion dollars.

Fifty years ago, the bosses paid twice as much in taxes by comparison. In other words, the bosses got their buddies in Congress to write them so many tax breaks that they cut their taxes in half.

As folk singer Woody Guthrie once put it, “Some men rob you with a six-gun, others with a fountain pen.”

29 Dead at Massey Coal

Apr 12, 2010

On April 5, 29 coal miners were killed in an underground methane explosion in the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch mine, near Montcoal, West Virginia.

The Massey company “is certainly one of the worst in the industry” regarding safety, said a former assistant director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

That may be true! But the assistant director’s own agency did nothing to stop it!

During 2006 and 2007, Upper Big Branch was cited 204 times for “serious and significant” violations, twice the national average. The MSHA warned Massey – without shutting it down – that it was considering stricter oversight. Massey reduced its violations to the national average – for six months – and then allowed them to shoot up again, to double the average again! The MSHA let it go, merely issuing more violation notices, assessing the small fines that amount to less than a mosquito bite on Massey’s profits.

In 2009, Upper Big Branch had over 500 recorded safety violations, including at least 50 recorded as “serious,” including four for violating its own ventilation plans. All indications are that poor ventilation, allowing methane buildup, was the cause of this explosion.

Where was the MSHA during all these years? Filling out violation forms! Writing tickets for mosquito-bite fines! And where was the Massey Energy Company? “Running coal.” As CEO D.L. Blankenship wrote in a 2005 memo to his underlings, “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal ... you need to ignore them and run coal.” This memo was part of a court case against Massey, brought by the widows of two miners killed in Massey’s Aracoma mine in 2006.

A West Virginia writer called her home state “a national sacrifice area.” Yes, human sacrifices, to the gods of profit. A mine safety authority said, safety is “no big secret. It’s time and money.” But coal companies – Massey is only one of the culprits – take that time and money away from safety, to run coal for their greater profit. And the government has helped them do it every step of the way.

Three Million Dollars a Day

Apr 12, 2010

Hedge fund managers had a rip-roaring 2009, earning 25 billion dollars for the top 25 managers.

Hedge funds? Weren’t these the very funds that helped bring about the financial system’s collapse in 2008? Yes. Weren’t these the very people responsible for millions losing a big part of their pensions, thanks to these private speculators? Yes. Didn’t millions lose their homes? Yes.

So what happened with the hedge funds? They used their ties to the banks and the bankers to take a share of the stimulus money, thanks to our tax dollars. While we – and our children and grandchildren – will have to pay back trillions of dollars, the hedge fund managers are figuring out what to do with a billion dollars each, or about three million dollars per day.

These fat cat speculators were richly rewarded by a system that ruins the majority.

Tax day is a good day to ask why we should give them one cent more!

Book Review:
The Appeal:
Justice Bought and Paid for by Big Business

Apr 12, 2010

If you want to see how companies like A.T. Massey Coal operate, read The Appeal, a novel by John Grisham.

Grisham takes events like those concerning Massey Coal, but places them in his own native region: small-town Mississippi. A giant chemical plant has been dumping carcinogenic chemicals into the water for years. In household after household, people die of cancer. Finally, a widow who has lost both husband and son to the toxic waste wins a law suit, and the jury awards her 41 million dollars. The company’s biggest stockholder, a billionaire called Carl Trudeau, vows that “not one dime of our hard-earned profits will ever get into the hands of those trailer park peasants.”

Trudeau hires a crisis management political consulting firm. Why risk an appeal, he’s advised by a senator, when he can stack the judicial deck? The bulk of the book deals with how the agents of the company try to get their own candidate for judge elected to the court of appeals.

The company, using right-wing, xenophobic, homophobic front groups, manufactures scandals and slings mud.

Just as in the novel, Massey Coal company’s chairman underwrote a political action committee called “For the Sake of the Kids,” which charged a judicial candidate with being “soft” on child molesters, among other things. And just as in the novel, three years after the election, the judge Massey backed cast the crucial vote needed to overturn the verdict in a 50 million dollar judgment against Massey Coal. As a former West Virginia judge later wrote, “I believe John Grisham got it right when he said that he simply had to read The Charleston Gazette to get an idea for his next novel.”

The Appeal is a more blunt and accurate indictment of the political and judicial system than most so-called nonfiction books that you’re likely to find.

Which Side Is the Government on?
The Bosses’ Side!

Apr 12, 2010

In the three years since the last big coal mine disaster, coal mine operators have been assessed 113 million dollars in fines for systematically and knowingly violating safety laws. But they hardly paid a dollar – only seven% of all fines they owed.

The government says there was nothing it could do about it, since the coal companies tie it up in court.

Hogwash! The government, under both Democrats and Republicans, had no trouble finding a way around legalities when it came to bailing out the big banks it said were “too big to fail.” There is always something government can do – if it wants!

The government could have put all of Massey Energy’s executives on trial for endangering public safety any time over the past three years. Now it could put them on trial for murder – any reasonable person would have known that conditions in Massey’s mines could lead to deaths.

The government lets Massey get away with murder because – in the words of that old miners’ song – it’s on the bosses’ side.

Coal Miners Killed

Apr 12, 2010

Thirty-eight miners died in a flooded coal mine recently in Shanxi in northwest China, with 115 rescued, weak but alive.

The same week, nine miners died in the a fire in another mine in Shanxi. In another province, 20 miners were killed in an explosion. In a Heilongiang mine, five more were drowned. In Xinjiang, ten miners were buried in a mine collapse.

For 2009, the Chinese government says 2631 miners died in mine incidents, down from almost three times the number of miners dying in 2002. Either way, too many miners still die in Chinese mines, whether seven per day this past year, or 19 per day at an earlier time.

Chinese authorities said they closed 12,000 small mines, those considered most dangerous to the miners. Yet the Shanxi accident took place in a large mine, owned by the Chinese government.

A Shanxi miner told a journalist, “There are galleries where water burst out when we began to dig. I told the foreman, but the bosses didn’t want to hear anything. Production is the only thing that counts for them, production at any price.” Most miners are day laborers, he added, working without days off. They do the dangerous job because the pay is higher than what they can earn anywhere else, about $20 a day.

Electric power plants using coal account for 70% of the energy produced in China. No matter whether the mines are owned by the state or by private capital, miner safety is clearly not the bosses’ concern!

Pages 4-5

Public Workers and the General Public Under Attack

Apr 12, 2010

The following is excerpted from a talk at a recent SPARK public meeting in Detroit, Michigan.

At a recent demonstration, a State of Michigan employee asked the crowd: “As a public employee, do you feel you’re walking around with a target on your back?” The crowd shouted, “Yes!”

That same target is on the back of every public sector worker and teacher and on the backs of working people in general.

State of Michigan workers have lost pay through furlough days. A new two tier healthcare plan will give new hires such reduced health coverage they may face bankruptcy if a family member has a major illness. Older workers have been forced out on retirement that they didn’t want to take.

When wages, benefits and jobs of public workers are slashed again and again, services we all need get worse. Money for roads is being cut; money for schools is being cut; revenue sharing money is cut. This leaves cities with less fire and emergency protection. Schools all over the state are laying people off.

Draining the Public Schools of Money

At Carsten Elementary School in Detroit, 98% of the student body come from low income families. Yet the school is thriving! At this school, 100% of 3rd and 4th graders met or exceeded state goals in math and 97% did in reading.

How did they do it? The school functions as a social services center for the neighborhood. Staff organizes for the kids to be able to get dental work, vision care and health care. Their parents can get help from the Legal Aid and Defender Association. At Christmas, local companies sponsor gifts for the kids. A kindergarten teacher at the school says: “We are the American Red Cross of the lower east side.” All this has been accomplished because people came together as a community to back up the teachers.

So what is Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools “Emergency Manager,” doing with a public school that is doing amazing things? He’s targeting it for destruction.

Also closing in June is a nationally known high school with a 90% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate. This is the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant girls and teen parents.

Less than five months after Detroit voters passed a 500 million dollar school construction bond, nearly half the 18 neighborhood schools Bobb promised are now headed for closure or cut-backs.

Closing neighborhood schools means a further distance for kids to walk, and more kids will drop out. Bobb’s calls to end social promotion at the 8th grade will lead to more kids dropping out. Keeping 14, 15 and 16 year old kids in 8th grade will humiliate most into dropping out BEFORE they ever get to high school. That way they don’t count as high school drop-outs in the statistics.

The public schools in Detroit have been strangled to death through cuts. Cuts to supplies and textbooks. Cuts of teachers leaving overloaded classrooms.

In 2005 there were 260 public schools in Detroit. By 2012 Bobb plans only 117. That would mean more than half of all Detroit Public Schools would have closed within seven years, 74 of them this year or next.

At the same time, Bobb and a team of corporate foundations apparently just got “approval” for 70 new privately run schools.

In other words, school children are being attacked so private interests can get fat off running their own schools.

Another Target on Our Backs

The media, backing up Detroit Mayor Bing, constantly attack City of Detroit workers for being “selfish” – because so far most of their unions have refused 10% pay cuts.

Behind those attacks on workers are the attacks on services. City bus drivers and bus service has been cut.

There is another campaign pushed by the bosses’ media right now: “Shrink the city of Detroit.” Certain neighborhoods have already been pushed into an early death by conscious neglect of services. Others are soon to follow.

This will free up huge areas of the city to make them available in the future for developers.

When the city talks about developers being interested in setting up “urban farms,” this is nothing but a cover – for now. If real estate prices recover later, “farmland” will easily be converted to development for profit by the people owning the land today. The banks and private equity funds buying up this land are speculating on our future.

Pretending to Create Jobs ...

The last years have seen a steady diet of tax breaks given to corporations, justified by the lie they create jobs. Never have, never will.

A good illustration comes from a book called: The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Jobs Creation. It takes place in Massachusetts, but it’s the same all over.

Back in 1995, Massachusetts’ largest employer – Raytheon – threatened to leave the state. They wanted tax breaks from the government and concessions from their workers.

Raytheon carried out a media campaign – selling these tax cuts as a way to create jobs – and a year later Raytheon had its tax breaks.

Raytheon paid $573,539 for a lobbying campaign. For this, they got tax breaks that gave the company 21 million dollars a year – every year. That’s an astronomical return on investment.

They also extorted the concessions they wanted from their workers.

In less than two years, Raytheon used the money they saved by concessions and tax breaks to buy up other companies – after which, Raytheon eliminated 21% of its workforce in Massachusetts.

Raytheon, after all, NEVER promised “no layoffs.”

Tax Breaks Create Budget Deficits

The media today pretend that states are suffering big budget deficits because of today’s bad economy. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Below the surface and seldom discussed are the real structural reasons for the budget deficits. These include: continual tax breaks to large corporations that drain the budget; the complete elimination of certain types of taxes on corporations; the political choice to spend money on prisons instead of social programs and education, the use of government money to provide loans and subsidies to business.

The tax breaks pile up, one on top of the other. They accumulate to huge proportions, like some out of control blob from a science fiction movie.

The recent little scandal about a convicted embezzler getting a nine million dollar tax break from the State of Michigan was classic. While the media has been making a big deal about this guy, he is small potatoes. The biggest corporations, like GM, Ford and Chrysler, have laid off workers and made off with billions. They have never been held under scrutiny. When communities have tried, their attempts were squashed in the courts.

Because of this out of control blob called tax breaks to corporations, the tax burden has shifted over three decades. Working people now pay double and triple the share of their income on state and local taxes compared to what the wealthiest one% pay.

Because of this out of control blob – we are told – there is supposedly no other choice: public services must be destroyed. Schools must be destroyed. The working class must get used to a lower quality of life. It’s the budget, the politicians say. There is nothing we can do about the budget!

What a “perfect storm” we are in!

The wealthy of this society have created these budget deficits by robbing treasuries of all the states – and now they are attempting to solve THEIR economic crisis at the expense of everyone else, using the public treasury once again to help them do it.

They put a target on the back of every government worker in Michigan, and really, in the whole country. A target on the back of every teacher, every school bus driver, every custodian, everyone who works for the city, the county and the state. They target you because they feel YOU have THEIR money.

It’s the same for private sector workers. The financial and industrial sectors have gone through a crisis and what you have in your pockets, the wealthy feel, that belongs to them. Their greed knows no bounds.

Fix It!

To borrow a phrase from a Saturday Night Live sketch, the answer to an economy that is grinding to a halt is: “Fix it!” Fix the broken water mains. Fix the broken bridges. Fix the broken roads. Fix mass transit. Tear down the abandoned houses that are a danger. Renovate what can be restored.

It makes sense that a place that maintains its infrastructure would have low unemployment. Why? Maybe because public money is spent on hiring people to fix things instead of on bankers’ bonuses!

The economy has ground to a standstill because not enough ordinary people have money in their pockets to buy consumer goods. Put people to work. Fix it!

Because of all the abandoned property, Detroit is re-foresting. Build beautiful planned parks. For human beings, it makes sense to have room to breathe.

Fix the schools. THROW MONEY AT THE PROBLEM. Smaller class sizes help. Training teachers in easy classroom discipline helps. Acting on the latest research helps. Art and music classes DO help.

If neither of the two political parties does such things – which could get the economy running again – it’s because they serve the interests of those who own the corporations, the capitalist class.

The working class has no reason to expect an improvement coming from these people. Workers, with the own forces, can reorganize the whole society to meet their needs and the needs of the entire population.

Pages 6-7

L.A. Schools:
Budget Math Doesn’t Add Up

Apr 12, 2010

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines wants to rescind the transfer permits LAUSD grants to students, whose parents work within the borders of other districts. Cortines says his district is losing over 50 million dollars a year in state funding because of these transfers. That money, he says, “could be used to help close LAUSD’s budget deficit,” which supposedly runs over 600 million dollars.

But that money is supposed to be spent for those students – how could it help close the district’s budget gap? Only if the district doesn’t use all of that money for its intended purpose – those students’ education!

Visteon Strike Gains

Apr 12, 2010

The following article is translated from the April 2 issue of Lutte Ouvri re (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Visteon workers at three sites in northern France went on strike on March 22. It was the first time they were on strike together. No truck could carry parts from these sites.

“Poverty wages, 5% increase or nothing,” said their posters in front of the factory. Management had offered only 1.8% for workers, and nothing for salaried employees. Workers were also angry about job reductions. They have had eight layoffs imposed since 2001.

Visteon in France had profits of 128 million dollars, despite the crisis. But that never stops the bosses from “reducing costs.”

On the fourth day of the strike, with pickets at Gondecourt, Carvin and Harnes – and lack of parts causing problems at automakers Renault, Volvo and Peugeot – management came to an agreement. It ceded an across the board wage increase of 4.9%.

Some workers thought, after the auto assembly plants had to shut, that with a little more perseverance they could have had more. But the majority were happy to have shut the plants, to have fought together, side by side.

And this solidarity is what’s important to resist management’s never-ending demands for cuts.

Student Loan
– Indentured for 20 Years

Apr 12, 2010

Barack Obama lauded the education bill he signed into law last month, saying, “To make it sure our students don’t go broke just because they chose to go to college, we’re making it easier for graduates to afford their student loan payments.”

Easier for students to go to college? Absurd! The bill does absolutely nothing to control the cost of college tuition, which is skyrocketing. All the bill does is cap student loan payments. But that cap means that you could still end up paying more than $100,000 – dragged out over 20 years after graduation.

The cost of going to college today, including tuition, room and board, and fees is nine times as high as it was in 1980 and still going up. That increase is twice as high as the inflation in medical care costs, which itself is twice the overall rate of inflation.

The children of the working class are being priced out of going to college. Stretching out loan repayments for 20 years, leaving a person practically indentured for life, doesn’t change that fact one bit.

Former Delphi Workers Say, NO MORE!

Apr 12, 2010

Workers at a GM-Delphi valve lifter plant near Grand Rapids voted NO on a concessions contract that would have frozen wages for five years, cut skilled trades’ pay $3 an hour, and forced workers to pay $100 a month for health insurance.

The deal also demanded a two-tier, new-hire entry wage of $12.

GM’s threat to close the plant didn’t work. Workers voted 238 NO, 136 yes.

Many of the workers were transferred from other plants, where they had experienced giving concessions, only to have their plants close down anyway.

At first, workers were told they would have to vote again since they didn’t get it right the first time. But at the last minute, just before voting was to begin on April 8, the voting was cancelled. Workers were also told that they would get their raise that GM had been refusing to pay since January.

For now, the workers not only have called the company’s bluff, but they have blocked any more immediate attacks.

The power of NO!

Page 8

“Humanitarians” Put Refugees in Jail

Apr 12, 2010

At least 65 refugees of the devastating earthquake in Haiti are in U.S. immigrant jails.

These refugees were pulled alive from ruins immediately after the earthquake, rushed onto U.S. military planes, separated from their families. But when they arrived without visas or passports, they were thrown into a U.S. prison.

They are trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare of so-called U.S. “humanitarian” aid.

Workers in Greece Can Refuse to Pay

Apr 12, 2010

Since January, the world economic crisis has pushed the Greek State to the edge of bankruptcy. The response of the Greek government was to make the workers pay by freezing pensions, increasing sales taxes and reducing government workers’ pay. The bosses of the private sector were quick to pick up on this example, so Olympic Airlines just laid off 8,000 workers. More than half still haven’t received any compensation and the rest will get nothing.

The Greek government and the bosses hope to reassure the other European countries – especially the richest one, Germany – of their capacity to reimburse the short-term loan they hope to get from other countries.

Portugal, Spain and Ireland also hope to get such a loan. The financial circles responsible for the crisis cynically call these four countries PIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – drawing on the old racist cliche of “lazy, thieving Mediterraneans,” who spend too much money. The truth is that financial speculation caused these failures. Moreover, these countries depend more than other countries on tourism. And tourism has collapsed, since workers in other countries are forced to cut back on leisure travel.

Workers in Greece earn on average some of the lowest pay in the Euro zone. Even before the crisis, hundreds of thousands of workers worked two jobs, one legal and the other under the table, to make ends meet. They certainly have no reason to pay for the bosses’ crisis.

On March 11, 90% of the workforce in Greece took part in a strike, according to the unions, the third one since early February. The union leaders proposed nothing more. But the only way to back off the capitalists of Europe would be to organize a total and unlimited general strike. For the moment, that isn’t happening.

Workers are angry, but not yet organized in the face of these blows. What policy must workers have in the face of attacks by the bosses, the governments and the European Union? This is the problem not only for the working class in Greece.

Workers in Portugal face a government that just decided to reduce its public deficit with an austerity plan – a wage freeze and job cuts for government employees.

What’s happening in Greece also threatens Spain and perhaps France. The financiers everywhere continue to speculate, even as the states bail them out– as they have since the fall of 2008.

Perhaps the mobilization of the working class in Greece will be reinforced and organized. Finance capital has caused the crisis and emptied the pockets of the working class. Workers of all countries face similar problems.

Nuclear Deception

Apr 12, 2010

The U.S. and Russia announced a new agreement to “reduce” nuclear weapons – which isn’t the same as reducing the nuclear threat. Each nation will still have enough weapons to devastate the entire world many times over.

Moreover, a “new” policy issued by the Obama administration on the use of nuclear weapons is nothing but Bush’s policy warmed over. It openly threatens nuclear attack against Iran, North Korea, Syria – or any others the U.S. decides to target.

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has invaded more countries than any other country in the world. It has more foreign military bases than all other countries combined. Today it is carrying on horrifying wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, using drones, remote control missiles, helicopters, jet aircraft and other advanced weapons against impoverished men, women and children. AND... the U.S. is the only country to ever use nuclear weapons – against hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians.

Ending the nuclear threat? The U.S.?

Just the opposite: The U.S. is the main war-making power in the world today, the main one whose hold on weapons – nuclear and non-nuclear – threatens the whole world.