The Spark

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

Issue no. 876 — August 30 - September 13, 2010

Labor Day 2010:
Let the Sleeping Giant Wake Up!

Aug 30, 2010

For the last three months, 305 workers at a Mott’s applesauce plant in upstate New York have been out on strike against the outrageous demands of a profitable company, pushing to take still more concessions.

Mott’s demanded a $1.50-an-hour wage cut, an increase in workers’ share of health care premiums and other costs, a freeze on pensions, and elimination of pensions for new hires – the kinds of concessions that companies all over the country have been stealing for years.

During negotiations, the plant manager told workers that they “were a commodity like soybeans and oil, and the price of commodities goes up and down....[that] there are thousands of people in this area without jobs, and Mott could hire any one of them for $14 an hour.”

In that one statement, we hear the arrogance of the whole capitalist class – their intention to use the bad times that the capitalists themselves created in order to keep on wringing even more concessions out of labor. Even when the capitalists are making a big profit.

It seems to be an unequal fight. Mott is part of a monster conglomerate – Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, which includes 50 brands, among them 7Up and Hawaiian Punch. And, of course, behind this food industry conglomerate stand the big banks, and most particularly Wells Fargo Bank. Not to mention the media, most of the politicians and the other enforcers of modern day capitalist society.

But these 305 workers have something on their side. They are part of a class, the working class. Together our class has the forces to throw back all the industrialists and all their bankers. And large parts of the working class are fed up today with what’s happening.

Witness the “NO” votes springing up here and there this past year. It may not have started when Ford workers nationwide turned down another demand for concessions last October. But that one vote, coming as it did in the face of a union bureaucracy intent on doing the bosses’ dirty work, was a declaration of independence.

What Ford workers set in motion, other workers picked up: city and county workers in Detroit, Michigan; former Delphi workers; teachers in other states; GM workers in Indianapolis. Every one of them was a declaration of intent: we will not give up any more.

But it can’t stop there, just with “NO.” To enforce our “NO,” we must be prepared to fight. And that’s why the Mott strike going on today near Rochester, New York is important. Perhaps it marks the next step in the long road to defend ourselves, our families and our communities.

When we join in to make our own fight, we will reinforce what’s going on at Mott’s, giving those workers a much better chance to win, giving ourselves the way to start taking back what we gave up.

It’s appropriate that Labor Day 2010 is marked by a militant strike, and by resistance from other workers. The sleeping giant has to wake up.

Pages 2-3

Chief Execs Chief Pigs

Aug 30, 2010

Tony Hayward will lose his job as chief executive at BP soon. But “poor” Tony will walk away with $4,107,168.

He’s hardly alone. Here are other top executives from American companies in the oil industry, with their salaries as listed in their last annual reports:

Ray Irani, Occidental Petroleum, 31.4 million dollars;

James Hackett, Anadarko Petroleum, 27.5 million dollars;

Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil, 27.2 million dollars;

Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake Energy, 18.5 million dollars;

D.J. O’Reilly, Chevron, 16.5 million dollars;

James Mulva, ConocoPhillips, 15 million dollars;

David Lesar, Halliburton, 12.4 million dollars.

The median pay for all full-time workers in the U.S. is about $35,000 per year. These chief execs take anywhere from 400 to 1,000 times what we get per year. And they made it off of workers’ hard and often unsafe labor.

Prop 22:
Fighting Over Scraps

Aug 30, 2010

Prop 22, which will be on the California ballot in November, would prohibit the state from taking local government, transit and transportation funds in order to balance the budget.

The transit union officials back Proposition 22 because they say it will save transit jobs. But the teachers, nurses and firefighter union officials oppose Prop 22 because they say it will mean big cuts in funding and jobs for education, health care and firefighting.

Sounds like the different union officials are asking us to fight each other over scraps.

Why not take the money for ALL these necessary services from the big corporations, the banks and the wealthy that own them? Stop using state revenue as their private purse.

Food Stamps:
Another Record

Aug 30, 2010

Every month, like clock work, states announce a new record for the number of people receiving Food Stamps. Today 40 million people are forced to depend on food stamps to live.

The politicians keep saying things are getting better. Getting better for who? Their wealthy friends?

Big Business Got Katrina Money

Aug 30, 2010

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, what has been rebuilt?

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu took some heat on this question when he spoke at a recent community meeting. Residents asked why they still had to travel miles outside their neighborhood to find any grocery store, any doctor, or any hospital. The mayor said communities “were promised more than there is money to do.”

What a lie! Plenty of money has been spent through the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005. Only none of it went for rebuilding in the hardest-hit areas like the Lower Ninth Ward.

Instead, disaster relief money has been lavished on oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico. Marathon Oil got one billion dollars for expanding a refinery and 120 million for an offshore tank storage facility. Exxon Mobil got 375 million to improve a Baton Rouge refinery and chemical plant. Money went to companies that construct offshore rigs or pipelines.

Other money went to real-estate developers who bought luxury condos near the University of Alabama football stadium. Or to owners of beachfront luxury homes in Mississippi.

If you add up all the tax-free bonds, tax credits and other benefits extended to big business throughout Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, the federal disaster relief package is enormous.

How dare Mayor Landrieu tell the people of New Orleans there isn’t money. Tens of billions of dollars were handed out. It’s only when the neighborhood in need is working class, and especially if it’s black and poor – then officials find they have “no money.”

It’s Just Business

Aug 30, 2010

The city of Bell is in danger of bankruptcy – and not just because of the astronomical salaries of its officials. This small, working-class city near Los Angeles owes 35 million dollars – more than twice the city’s annual budget – to Dexia Credit by November 1.

Bell borrowed the money from Dexia in 2006, to buy some federal land for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. Burlington – owned by Warren Buffet – was supposed to lease the land. But after Bell bought the land, Burlington backed away from the deal. Taxpayers ended up with the debt.

Bell is not the first town which ran up enormous debts in the service of the wealthy class. It’s just one of the first where these debts have been so clearly exposed.

Where will the next domino fall?

The Real Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans Uncovered

Aug 30, 2010

Finally, five years after Hurricane Katrina, the real truth is coming out about the violence that occurred in New Orleans, about which there was so much talk and rumor in Katrina’s immediate aftermath. Finally, five years later, the first charges are being brought against the real thugs who shot innocent people trying to survive the massive flooding.

It turns out that everyone charged in the shootings is either a white vigilante or a cop. Despite all the rumors spread at the time about black “looters” and “marauding black gangs” carrying out unspeakable crimes, it was white gangs, both official and unofficial, that did the shooting and killing.

And if they did it, in part it was because the authorities, like New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, instead of organizing rescue operations, set loose these gangs of killers and authorized them to shoot “suspected looters.” This, in a town where none of the authorities at the local, state, or federal level provided any food or water to those stranded, so the only place for people to get what they needed was in boarded up businesses.

It took nearly five years for anyone to be charged with any of the shootings because the authorities buried any information about them. Charges are finally being brought now only because the press, starting with the left press, some of the black media, and then the Nation magazine, brought the shootings to light. Only recently, has the big bourgeois press like the New York Times admitted what the population of New Orleans from the beginning: it was white racists, given tacit approval by authorities like Nagin and Blanco, who did the killing. They shot people who lost everything in the floods and were struggling to survive, because the levees protecting the city were not constructed properly and the government had not organized the necessary evacuation.

In a society as racist as this one, it comes as no surprise that the first hysterical rumors following Katrina were about black violence, when what was really happening was white violence – a violence much greater than we will ever be able to discover. Although the first investigations by the press uncovered at least eleven people who were shot, no one has any idea of the number who just disappeared amidst all of the massive destruction experienced by the people of New Orleans.

Pages 4-5

Aid for Earthquake Refugees Doesn’t Get to Them

Aug 30, 2010

The following was translated from an article in the July 30 issue of Voix des Travailleurs (Workers Voice), put out by Organisation des Travailleurs Révolutionnaires (the Organization of Revolutionary Workers) in Haiti.

Six months after the January 12th earthquake in Haiti – which caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of wounded and pushed two million homeless people into makeshift camps, an assessment of relief efforts was done. In addition to food, water, tents, etc., billions of dollars were collected in record time from people around the world.

But six months later, as all the media point out, very little has changed in the living conditions of the disaster victims, stuffed like sardines in the camps. The vast majority still rot in revolting conditions, despite the billions of dollars donated to help them.

The Haitian state, which is the biggest landlord in the country, pretends that it doesn’t have lands to construct public housing to shelter the victims! But why couldn’t our rulers requisition all vacant lands, wherever it is, whoever it belongs to, to house hundreds of thousands of homeless people?

The charities operating in Haiti, which got most of the funds for humanitarian aid, pretend they depend on the Haitian state, although it has no control over their billions. They hide behind the break-down of the Haitian government while keeping funds collected for their own expenses.

According to the testimony of disaster victims in several camps, even food and water assistance, passed out sparingly in the weeks after the earthquake, has been abruptly stopped.

Are there really no funds available in Haiti? An article published in the Haitian paper Le Soleil (The Sun) gives an idea of what is going on: “In Port-au-Prince, where numerous hotels collapsed in the earthquake, the Plaza Hotel remains standing and does almost $100,000 a week in business.” According to an employee of this hotel complex, “Since January 13th, all our 95 rooms are occupied at $150 a night.... It’s a radical change for the hotel which formerly belonged to the Holiday Inn chain and where only 40% of the rooms were normally occupied during the month of January.”

The figures speak for themselves. But if, in addition to this $100,000 from room rates, we add the profit realized by food and drink, also charged in U.S. dollars, how much does the total add up to?

The Plaza isn’t the only hotel complex to remain standing, nor the most expensive. The Caribe, Villa Creole, Suite Horizon and Holoffson, with higher rates, are all overbooked since the earthquake, and are also pulling in money.

Hotels filled with charity employees and consultants of all sorts are only one aspect of the squandering of the funds given to aid Haitian disaster victims.... In the same way, the car rental companies put in urgent orders for new fleets of All Terrain Vehicles to meet the endless demand.

Since the earthquake, an estimated one thousand non-governmental organizations are in Haiti. It was estimated they had spent two billion dollars in the first three months. Imagine how large the sum is after seven months! In any event, it’s impossible to even roughly add up the sum tossed around by all these organizations since no one can check their accounts.

According to another source, just through the end of March, sums of the following levels were paid out on more than 3,000 foreign “volunteers”: 27 million dollars for air fare, at a cost of $900 per volunteer, a sum 60 million dollars for their housing, at a cost of $200 a person per night in a hotel for 10 days, a sum of 30 million dollars spent for food, at a cost of $100 per person per day, without taking into account other costs, like car and bus travel, etc. In total, more than 75% of the funds accounted for were eaten up in this way.

Movie Review:
“The Tillman Story”
– A Family against the Military Propaganda Machine

Aug 30, 2010

The Tillman Story is a new documentary about Pat Tillman, who gave up a multi-million-dollar per-year NFL contract to enlist in the military after 9/11 – only to be killed in Afghanistan in April 2004. The documentary shows how the U.S. ruling class tried to use Tillman as a recruitment poster boy for their so-called “war on terror.”

Pat and his brother Kevin enlisted because they had been taken in by all the patriotic propaganda after 9-11 – even though many in their family strongly opposed and warned against what they were doing. When the military tried to use Tillman’s celebrity status to sell the war, he refused to go along, declining all media interviews. And from the first days of the war in Iraq, he opposed it. Tillman’s unit was a part of the first thrust into Iraq. A friend from Tillman’s unit later recounted, “We were on this bunker [in Iraq], watching bombs drop all around the city, and he said, ‘This war's so fucking illegal.’”

After serving in Iraq, Tillman was sent to Afghanistan. At the time he was killed, the U.S. government was confronting growing opposition to the war at home. And officials knew the Abu Ghraib torture scandal would break a couple of days later. Desperate to drum up support for the wars, the U.S. military and government latched onto Pat Tillman’s death. The military concocted a story about how he died fighting to defend his unit from a Taliban ambush, and awarded him a Silver Star posthumously. Bush praised Tillman more than once, including in a broadcast at a football game. The military’s big memorial was filled with top generals and politicians.

As the documentary showed, Pat Tillman had told many people that this was exactly what he feared would happen, if he were killed. “I don't want them to parade me through the streets.” The Tillman family also didn’t like being used by the government in all of its ceremonies and spectacles to hype the war. The family refused to allow a religious ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, citing the fact that Pat was an atheist. At the gala military memorial, Pat’s younger brother Richard contradicted all those who claimed that Pat was now in “a better place.” “He’s just dead,” countered Richard angrily.

Five weeks after Pat’s death, the family got the first inklings that he had really been killed by U.S. troops – friendly fire. When the family demanded an explanation, the military tried to drown them in paperwork, sending more than 3,000 pages of redacted – or largely censored – documents. But Pat’s mother, with the help of Stan Goff, a Special Forces veteran with a blog opposing the Iraq war, pieced together what evidence they could. For the next three years, she and others forced the military to conduct one investigation after another, culminating in a supposedly independent Congressional investigation. Of course, all these investigations were just more cover-ups, or as the Tillmans said, more “bullshit.”

The Tillman Story is a powerful documentary that recounts the story about one of the millions of lives that have been wasted and destroyed in those wars – wars that continue to this day.

War in Afghanistan:
A Profitable Market for Military Contractors

Aug 30, 2010

Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, signed a decree on August 17 to dissolve private military companies still operating in the country.

These foreign contractors are deeply involved as mercenaries in the war. They include such notorious U.S. companies as Blackwater, which the Iraqi government kicked out in 2007, after its attacks on civilians.

There are 40,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan, employed both by U.S. and Afghan companies. The U.S. government has a political and an economic interest in these arrangements. These companies employ cheap Afghan manpower, costing much less than employing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. And their use reduces the number of dead Americans that have to be explained to the population back home.

The links between these companies and the U.S. army are close. The top officials of the private U.S. military companies are generally retired army officers. These private contractors have a lot of control over the Afghan army. For example, the employees of Military Professional Resources Inc. work at different levels in the hierarchy of the Afghan security forces. This company has trained the heads of the Afghan National Army.

Some commentators want to see in Karzai’s decree a desire for independence with respect to the U.S. But what can “independence” mean in a country at war, shaken by revolts, where the government power is only maintained by the presence of the U.S. occupation army?

The Pentagon does not speak in favor of dismantling the role of the military contractors. Instead the U.S. military proposes a much slower withdrawal than Karzai does. In fact, it’s hard to dismantle a force of 40,000 mercenaries in a country where the population has no reason to trust its own army, police nor local leaders.

These companies toss around a lot of money. They even pay bribes to the local opposition forces in order to get military convoys through zones where the insurgents are strong. Local opponents of Karzai thus tax U.S. and European convoys, embarrassing the Westerners, along with the taxes they extract from the opium trade.

But whether it is Afghan mercenaries or foreign mercenaries, employed by the Pentagon or linked to Karzai, it makes little difference to the Afghan population continuing to suffer from the war.

Pages 6-7

The 1995 Detroit Newspaper Strike:
A Missed Chance to Turn the Tide

Aug 30, 2010

Fifteen years ago on July 9, newspaper unions in Detroit began the Detroit newspaper strike. It was a militant strike that could have been a pivot point in the struggle against the concessions battering the working class. Instead it turned out to foreshadow a decade of continued losses.

The strike was forced on workers by the Detroit Newspaper Agency (DNA), publisher of the two major Detroit newspapers, the Free Press and the News. The DNA demanded that workers accept hundreds of job eliminations and drastic cuts in wages, benefits, and working conditions.

From the beginning, the strikers had the advantage of their own militancy, plus the active support of workers from other unions, plus the sympathy of vast numbers of workers in the Detroit area, a traditional union town.

The newspaper strikers came out by the hundreds, barricaded News and Free Press plants and offices, stopped newspaper trucks, and at first were so numerous on the picket lines that local police were unable to get the newspapers through. And they were joined in this fight by other workers, especially auto workers and city workers. Labor Day weekend saw some real fights with police. Strikers “got creative” in many ways to stop scab papers, put their strike in front of other workers and show their strike’s vitality. The Detroit area began to recall its fighting union heritage.

But if the workers were mobilized and showing their readiness to fight, the union leaderships were not ready to risk having the strike surge beyond legal bounds. When the inevitable court injunctions ruled against mass picketing, the leadership pulled back their forces. Instead of continuing the workers’ mobilization in an out-and-out contest of strength, where the workers had their best advantage, the newspaper union leaders gradually channeled workers’ hopes into the legal wilderness of courts and NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) rulings – where the workers are at great disadvantage.

The national UAW leadership called for “support” for the strike, but for the most part only in passive terms. UAW workers were asked to give donations to the newspaper strikers and to cancel their newspaper subscriptions. UAW Locals were given orders NOT to reinforce newspaper picket lines, and the union structures buried any notion of engaging auto workers in a simultaneous struggle against their own concessions.

This strike had the potential to become a general anti-concessions movement. When that didn’t happen, the working class was thrown backward for the past 15 years.

Nonetheless, the newspaper strike brought to the fore a large number of worker militants and gave them a rich experience. A core of these militants sustained a guerrilla fight against the DNA for nearly three years after the unions officially accepted defeat and returned to work under the company’s conditions.

The Detroit newspaper strikers gained a fund of experience which can yet enrich the working class.

Page 8

Handing Profits to the Banks

Aug 30, 2010

GM was recently on the “verge of death.” Now, just over a year later, it is making so much profit that it is able to issue new stocks it can expect investors to buy. GM says it will use the proceeds to pay back government loans.

GM is making those profits directly from concessions it and the government extorted from its workers: New hires will get $14 an hour, half of what current workers get. And retirees’ medical coverage will be paid by the union, not the company. And that’s not all: GM also took back wage increases and cost of living protections from current workers and pushed back many gains which guaranteed workers’ working conditions: break times were cut, line speed was increased, and pay for daily overtime was eliminated. In short, GM is getting far more work out of fewer workers for far lower wages.

This new stock offering is being touted as a return to normal for a resurgent auto company. And it is: it’s a move to reestablish the financial ties between GM and the banks, ties that will allow those banks to suck up GM’s profits once again.

So long as the government owned a majority share of GM and it was loaning GM money, the big banks made little money from GM. And this particularly hit the Morgan financial interests, which have long been GM’s bankers, funding it and ultimately controlling it – JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, among others.

These banks are expected to take the lead in orchestrating GM’s new public stock offering. They stand to make billions once the old relationship is reestablished, starting with more than 120 million dollars just on the fees paid by GM to float the stock offering.

But that’s just the beginning: once the stocks are sold and the government is out of the way, the banks themselves will be making the loans to GM, loans that every industrial company needs to take to operate on a daily basis.

To see what this means, we can look to another auto company: Ford never went bankrupt, so it kept taking its loans from the banks instead of from the government. Now, in the second quarter of this year, it paid $1,154 for every vehicle it sold – just on the interest it owes on its debts to the banks. Much of that goes to Goldman Sachs. Ford has had close ties with Goldman ever since the 1950s.

Because the banks control the money that the industrial companies need to operate, they effectively control the companies. They are able to ensure that those industrial companies make decisions that will directly benefit the banks even more.

And, because the workers always produce much more value than they’re being paid for, much of the surplus they create goes directly into the coffers of the banks. This is the relationship the banks have reestablished at GM, the relationship that continues at Ford.

Immigrants without Papers:
Attacked by Three Gangs

Aug 30, 2010

On August 24, Mexican authorities found 72 people killed on a ranch 100 miles from the U.S. border. According to the lone survivor, they were all from Central and South America. They had been walking toward the U.S. border when gunmen stopped them and demanded money. When they refused, they were shot, men and women alike.

This is not the first big massacre of migrants. Last May, 55 bodies were found in an abandoned mine. In July, 51 bodies were found in a field in northeast Mexico.

Human rights groups say almost 20,000 migrants were kidnapped last year, usually for ransom. Besides kidnapping, migrants face thieves, rapists and corrupt Mexican cops.

If they manage to cross the border, they confront a second set of gangs, the various U.S. anti-immigrant militias: the so-called “Minutemen,” the National Socialist Movement, an openly Nazi group, the “Patriot’s” Coalition and the American Border Patrol. These paramilitary groups, armed with assault rifles and other weapons, roam the border in all-terrain vehicles, on horseback or in small planes, hunting down immigrants like animals.

But worst of all, is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). In late August, ICE carried out a three-day raid in seven states in the Midwest, arresting 370. The ICE claimed those arrested were criminals and publicized a few drug dealers. But most of those grabbed were simply people here without legal papers.

This is only the latest attack on immigrants by the Obama Administration. In 2009, it deported 390,000 people, up 20,000 from Bush’s final year. Such attacks only encourage the right-wing nuts to step up their attacks.

The people who try to come here are quite aware of the dangers they face. Only the incredible poverty of Mexico’s farming towns and cities with vast shanty towns and hungry people drive them to take their chances and leave for the United States.

That poverty, in great measure, has been imposed on Mexico by U.S. companies, which go to Mexico to pay slave-labor wages and U.S. banks, which wring every bit of wealth they can out of Mexico through crooked loans.

Stop ALL attacks on immigrants.

Liars’ Dirty Work

Aug 30, 2010

At this time of high and prolonged unemployment, foreclosures and pay cuts, demagogues repeat the lie that workers without papers are “taking the jobs.”

Immigrants aren’t taking the jobs. General Motors is, Ford is, the Wall Street banks are – as are all the other companies that laid off millions of workers, squeezing much more work out of those who remain.

Undocumented workers are part of the working class. Blaming them for the loss of jobs is simply stupid and diverts people from the real enemy, the capitalists, who benefit from the lies that demagogues tell and the divisions they sow in the working class.