The Spark

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

Issue no. 880 — October 25 - November 8, 2010

Editorial:
Both Parties Swindle Us
– Build Our Own Party!

Oct 25, 2010

Almost two years ago, on November 4, election night, when the returns came in, many workers felt that the country had turned a corner, that the Bush years were being left behind. Large numbers of workers had voted for Obama, and for his party, with hopes that a new administration would find the way out of the morass linked to Bush’s eight years in office.

As a reminder, here is what we had been living through: An economy producing little but growing unemployment. A million homes lost to the mortgage scam pushed by the big banks. Two very deadly wars, which were even then spilling out into other parts of the globe, creating more terrorists, eager to take revenge on the U.S. for the destruction it wreaked in their countries.

Two years later, this is what we face: An economy producing high profits for the big banks but worsening unemployment – with fewer people working than in 2008. Two million more homes lost to mortgage foreclosure since the last election, with the banks revving up to rush four or five million more homes through their repo mill. Two still very deadly wars. The one in Iraq continues, with more than 50,000 U.S. troops, with dozens of bases, and with a government put in place by the U.S. military, ignoring last March’s Iraqi election. The other war in Afghanistan has spread into Pakistan, with U.S. troops numbering more than 100,000, with reports of civilian casualties commonplace, producing more people desiring vengeance on the U.S.

How could it be more clear? BOTH parties serve the interests of the capitalist ruling class and their big banks. We may shift from one to the other, but we get the same deadly policy, the same willingness to reduce the living standard of working people in order to increase the profits on which the wealthiest people in this country feed.

Voting for Democrat or Republican gives our stamp of approval to the policies they have both carried out.

Voting for Democrat or Republican gives them both a blank check to attack us – with our own name signed to the check.

We are stuck in a swamp – created by the capitalist class and their banks, made worse by the policies of both the Bush and the Obama administrations. To get ourselves unstuck, we need to turn to our own source of strength: our numbers and our position in the economy. Our class, the working class, has the power to make things run – or to make them stop running.

Around the globe, the working class is beginning to stir: in France, in Italy, in Spain, in Mozambique, in Korea, in China, in Russia. Even in the United States, where the working class has long been less conscious of its real power, some workers have made the decision to resist, and in so doing have begun to pull other workers after them.

There is no way out of the swamp unless we build a road out by starting to fight. In fighting, we can also create what is so sorely lacking in this country: a political party of the working class, one whose goal is to enable working people to fight for our own interests and take control of our own destiny.

Pages 2-3

Bobb's Blackmail

Oct 25, 2010

Robert Bobb wants to tear apart the Detroit Public Schools.

That much is obvious from the two choices he is about to present for addressing a budget deficit of 332 million dollars – much of which HE created.

Plan A asks the state to wipe out the district's debt – in exchange for having the state completely reorganize the district. Few concrete details have been revealed – Bobb's waiting until after the election for that. But Bobb's office says Plan A will include:

  • State take-over of the schools;
  • Eliminating requirements teachers know much about their subjects or even about teaching;
  • Increasing charter schools;
  • Setting up "cyber schools," making students stay home and "go to school" over the Internet – in other words, giving them no school at all.

Bobb says the only alternative is "Plan B", which includes:

  • Closing 100 more schools in the next three years;
  • Increasing class sizes to 31 students at K-3 grade levels, and a whopping 62 students in high school classes;
  • Outsourcing the finance department (including payroll) and other divisions, and eliminating student transportation completely.

Plan B, in other words, will destroy the district in the name of "balancing the budget."

So – agree to hand over the school district to the state and to charter schools to destroy, or Bobb will destroy it himself!

This is the choice Bobb offers – stab students in the back, or hit them over the head!

This is not reform – it is reaction, moving us back to the early 1800s when there were no public schools!

D.C. Black Population votes “NO” to Attacks on Public Education

Oct 25, 2010

Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty lost overwhelmingly in the Democratic primary to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray. It was a judgment on Fenty – voters wanted Fenty and Michelle Rhee gone.

In 2007, Mayor Fenty appointed Michelle Rhee as D.C. Public Schools chancellor. Rhee, hired under the guise of fixing DCPS, has overseen the firing of more than 400 teachers which led to protests by students and teachers. She closed a number of D.C. schools without holding public hearings. And she spearheaded the charter school movement which steals money from public schools to give to private companies that run charter schools.

Fenty was overwhelmingly defeated in largely black districts – that is the districts where children go to the public schools. In wards 7 and 8, for example, his opponent, Gray, won 82% of the vote. In Northwest Washington, where white, wealthy voters predominate and most of their children go to private schools, Fenty won 76% of the vote. The anti-Fenty vote was fueled by angry parents of children in the public schools.

The media attributed Fenty’s loss to the power of the teachers’ union, implying that black people cannot think for themselves and make their own choices.

In fact, black parents can think for themselves very well – and that’s why – despite all the propaganda carried out by the media, by Fenty, by Rhee and by the Obama Education Department – black parents turned thumbs down on a school “reform” attacking their children.

Baltimore Teachers Say NO

Oct 25, 2010

A majority of teachers voted NO last week on a new contract. The changes proposed would cut annual pay. But even worse, teachers would be paid based on how students do in their school.

It’s hardly a surprise that students in wealthier areas do on average twice as well as students in poorer areas. Wealthier areas put more resources into their schools, hire more teachers and specialists.

This attack, proposed as a way to get rid of “ineffective” teachers, is actually a method of “saving money” on the backs of children most in need of extra education money.

In defending themselves, the teachers were at the same time defending their students.

Outlook:
High Profits, Poor Health

Oct 25, 2010

A recent look at 80 million pharmacy claims showed that almost ten% of people with new prescriptions for brand-name drugs did not pick them up. Eight million people did not take a filled prescription they need.

The reason is simple: outrageous costs – and outrageous pharmaceutical company profits!

In 21st Century America, Women Still Die in Child Birth

Oct 25, 2010

In maternal deaths, the U.S. is 50th among nations, behind all the other rich countries and behind poor countries as small as Serbia or Slovakia.

And in the poor areas of every large city in the U.S., women still die at rates like those in the poorest countries. That’s in part due to a profit-making health care system that refuses to provide the means necessary to cut down on childbirth and pregnancy problems – like nutrition programs and prenatal care and treatment of chronic problems among the poor.

And current cuts in social programs are driving up the number of deaths in childbirth – returning us to the days of our great-grandmothers.

We Need More Teachers, Not Less!

Oct 25, 2010

State and local governments cut jobs in September at the fastest rate in 30 years. 76,000 local jobs were cut, plus 7,000 state jobs, leaving 83,000 more workers without a job. The vast majority – 72,700 – were cuts in education, mostly teachers.

We all know what this leads to: Bigger class sizes and cuts in athletics, art and music. The Toledo, Ohio school district even fired crossing guards and reduced bus service.

What a dumb policy carried out by local and state government officials and justified by federal officials under various “reforms.” What a crazy disregard of the more than 70,000 teachers ready, willing and immediately able to teach. What a crazy disregard for children ready, willing and able to learn. And even for those who aren’t yet able, what a difference a class size of 15 with a good teacher could make!

Government to Social Security Recipients:
“Drop Dead!”

Oct 25, 2010

For the second year in a row, Social Security recipients will get no COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) raise on their monthly checks. The federal government says there wasn’t enough inflation last year.

What a joke! But it’s a cruel one for 58 million retired and disabled – nearly one in five Americans – who rely on Social Security checks to live. For most of them, it is their major source of income.

The government measures inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is based on the prices of goods and services. But in the early 1980s, government economists began tinkering with the CPI, using statistical dirty-tricks to hide inflation. If the same way of calculating inflation were used today, it would produce an annual rate of 8.3% today – which is much more in keeping with our own experience.

Moreover, healthcare is calculated on costs for the average person, counting all the young adults who pay very little for health care, and all those who pay nothing at all because they can’t afford it. Seniors and disabled people use health care services more than most – but increases in the costs that they actually pay are not taken into account for Social Security.

This freezing of Social Security makes it clear: The CPI is a lie – one used to cut the wages of workers who have a COLA and benefits for Social Security recipients.

The politicians might as well say it: “Elderly and disabled drop dead.” Because that’s the meaning of this outrage.

Pages 4-5

October 22:
The Movement Continues
– Spread It!

Oct 25, 2010

Today, by taking on the refinery strikers, Sarkozy made a further step in the war he’s leading against the workers.

Yesterday, he chose to rush through the vote of the “reform” in the Senate. Day after day the government tries to end a mobilization which has only reinforced itself and deepened. The time when Sarkozy boasted, “when there is a strike in France, no one notices it,” is decidedly past!

For years, the government and the bosses have been sowing unemployment and misery. Today, they are harvesting the anger. And it is strong, as the demonstrations of the young people show, as do the strikes that are going on, especially in the refineries and transportation. The government’s pre-emptive attacks, and the bosses’ complaints against strikes and blockages testify that we are on the good path.

Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle) calls for an increase in the mobilization, for generalizing the strikes, and calls for those who want to make the government retreat to participate everywhere in the daily actions. Make them the most numerous possible! We appeal to everyone, to make October 28 and November 6 new demonstrations of the anger and force of the working class.

Union Militants Mobilize Daily

Oct 25, 2010

The Paris militants of the CGT (General Confederation of Labor), joined by those of other union confederations, organize “initiatives” almost every day. There are rallies between noon and 2:00 P.M., with flags and loudspeakers.

The Parisian militants get together in a set place, reinforcing the workplace militants of that neighborhood and district. They discuss with passers-by and workers who come out for lunch. Workplace activists and strikers discuss the movement. Whenever there are enough people, a demonstration is formed and goes through the neighborhood. They are always warmly received.

Demonstrations have already occurred in front of the city hall, at the big national library, etc. Others were planned in front of the Senate for October 22, and in connection with the Tenon hospital workers, who are still on strike.

October 19:
Defeat Sarkozy’s Attacks

Oct 25, 2010

The number of demonstrations and their extent shows that the mobilization against the reform of Social Security pensions is getting bigger and taking root. This last week was marked by the spread of strikes to new sectors where workers met daily to decide whether to keep them going. This led to the blocking of oil refineries and the entry of students into the struggle.

The government breathlessly repeated that the movement was making no headway. Let it dream! But each big day of demonstrations and strikes brings its share of new demonstrators.

Some strike on one, some another, only to remobilize later. That means that the number of demonstrators has been maintained at a high level, which was rare for many years now.

More and more workers are convinced that it’s possible to act to prevent this pretended reform from passing and to halt the attacks against the working class.

If Sarkozy and his henchmen in the administration and the UMP (the conservative party) want to play the game of being inflexible, it’s necessary for all working people to show that they’re still more determined to make them retreat. And not only on Social Security pensions.

The Youth in the Movement:
They Don’t Want a Life-long Sentence to Hard Labor

Oct 25, 2010

Young people have been present, very present, during the great days of protests and in the daily little rallies that are organized everywhere.

Each day, hundreds, even thousands of young people rally before a high school or downtown, often joining demonstrations of striking workers, teachers or railway workers. The students, often organized by the student unions close to the Socialist Party, block the high schools and access roads. They do this with the approval of the majority of the students. Young people then take part in local rallies and regional demonstrations.

Unfortunately, off to the side of these blockages and demonstrations, are deplorable small groups of youth whose goal obviously isn’t to express opposition to the “reform” of Social Security pensions.

These groups snatch some students’ cell phones, smash things, start fires or break windows. The cops take this as a pretext to hurl tear gas, hit harder and harder, pull protesters in for questioning, or simply leave the wounded on the ground.

The youth behind this are obviously not conscious of the brutal society that makes them what they are: individualistic, sexist and proud to belong to a gang. In reality, they play the same games as those in power – the games against which hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have gone into the streets!

But others – high school and college students who think about things – discuss and protest against the attacks by the government and the bosses. They are not deceived about the real battle.

The press quoted a high school student from Hazebrouck, “When I see my father return home, how tired he is, I say to myself, ‘what’s it going to be like for us?’”

Many young people know that the decision to raise the Social Security retirement age is dangerous. For most of them, finding a stable job is a challenge. Most their age face almost 25% unemployment. Many know equally well that the argument of “demographics,” according to which it’s necessary to work longer since people live longer, is a lie. They know that behind this attack on pensions there is a government that serves the rich, and is preparing for more attacks against the working class.

So much the better that they join the movement in bigger and bigger numbers – join with all those who want to make this government and the bosses they serve back down!

October 23:
The Strike Movement Is More Popular

Oct 25, 2010

The government may claim the workers’ mobilization is losing support. But the polls regularly contradict the government. The most recent poll showed more than two-thirds of those polled, 69%, favorable to the strike movement and the demonstrations. This was the highest number so far.

Polls are, by their nature, imprecise, but a number this high is a clear indicator. It shows that when the workers fight, they can gain sympathy from a large section of the whole population.

LO Editorial, October 20:
Strikes and Demonstrations Must Continue and Grow!

Oct 25, 2010

Despite the government’s attempts to minimize them, the demonstrations against the attacks on Social Security pensions are massively followed. Refinery workers, transit workers and railroad workers are on strike. Other sectors could join them. For several days, high school and college students have also been demonstrating. They feel concerned, and rightly because it’s their future which is at stake.

The struggle must continue. The government responds with police interventions against the strikers. Moreover, it acts as if the matter were already settled. It says it will make no more concessions – as if it had made any!

. . .

There’s enough money to pay for current Social Security pensions, just as for health insurance, hospitals, schools and public services, which are falling apart. With the increase in the productivity of labor, the wealth produced in the country has more than doubled in 40 years. Some of this wealth could be used to pay for Social Security pensions, medical expenses and other useful expenses. Instead it goes into profits to increase the income of those who are already obscenely wealthy.

The government could provide the resources the population needs. Instead, it passes more measures favoring the privileged. That is why it’s necessary the workers force the government to change direction.

We need to make the government retreat from its plans to attack Social Security pensions.

To make the government retreat depends on the relation of forces. But the workers are the ones who represent a considerable force. We produce all the riches of this society. Without us and our labor nothing could function. This can be seen in the refineries and transportation strikes.

Yes, the movement against the government bill on Social Security pensions must continue. The demonstrations of October 16th and 19th, which were already a success, can and must be further developed and deepened. But this movement must be only the beginning of a general and explosive struggle.

Why should the wealth the workers produce be taken by capitalists who put society on the edge of bankruptcy through their speculations? Use it to let the population live in decent conditions. Why should the policy of the government consist of saving the bankers and the speculators? Government policy should aim to prevent unemployment and growing misery.

Only the fear of a generalized, explosive struggle will make the government retreat, not only on Social Security pensions, but also on layoffs, unemployment, wages and working conditions.

To make the government retreat, the workers only have to learn to use the immense force they represent.

October 23:
Support the Refinery and Fuel Depot Workers

Oct 25, 2010

President Sarkozy has just declared that he ordered strikers evicted from all fuel depots, saying that “many French people saw their daily life disturbed by supply problems.” Sarkozy presents himself as the defender of widows and orphans, but he and his administration will “disturb” the lives of millions of workers much more seriously and for a much longer time if his “reform” bill passes. The refinery and fuel depot workers occupying their workplaces are fighting against this robbery, as are all those who still struggle, and who, we hope, will be more numerous in the days to come.

There is only one response to give this government that used blackmail, threats and clubs to try to suppress the workers and the youth who dare to challenge it: a generalized reaction of the entire working class and the youth.

Pages 6-7

They Borrow
– Workers Pay the Debt!

Oct 25, 2010

Corn Products International will spend 900 million dollars to buy National Starch.

The arrangements for financing this deal are being made by three of the biggest banks in the country: JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citigroup. The banks will split the juicy fees among them. And Corn Products, which took on big debts to pull off the deal, will try to squeeze Corn Products and National Starch workers to pay the interest, fees and principal on the loan.

The first squeeze will come as the new company tries to cut many of its 10,000 workers and close many of its 37 factories.

Mergers, floated by loans, are only another form of speculation. The workers didn’t take out the loan – it’s not up to them to pay it off!

Chilean Mine:
Miners Rescued from Death Trap

Oct 25, 2010

After 69 days, the Chilean miners were brought to the surface. We can only rejoice that they got out alive and in good health. But all the hoopla surrounding their rescue only serves to hide the cause of the accident itself.

This gold and copper mine was closed in 2007, after an accident that killed one worker. Then it reopened in 2008, and early in 2010 a miner’s leg was badly injured. He accused the owners of getting the authorization to reopen in an illegal manner. The former head of the National Geology and Mines Service confirmed this, when he said the mine wasn’t supposed to reopen after the 2007 accident, which had “radically modified” the geologic conditions.

The company San Esteban, the owner of the mine, naturally refused to take any responsibility for the “unforeseen” catastrophe, saying, it “functions according to the rules.” It announced that it wasn’t sure it was able to pay the miners’ wages and it could go bankrupt, since the company was “small, middle-sized,” and had only this one ore deposit. But the San Jose miners said that the mine was always leaking water, which caused frequent collapses.

According to the testimony of miners working in other “small” and “middle-sized” mines of the same type, it is precisely in such mines that working conditions are worse and the lack of safety precautions is most pronounced.

Obviously, the Chilean government, which buys the minerals from these mines, was well aware of these conditions.

Workers Protest Lake Orion Outrage

Oct 25, 2010

More than 200 auto workers and retirees demonstrated at Solidarity House, the UAW headquarters, on Saturday, October 16. They protested GM’s plan to force Lake Orion Assembly workers to return to work under a 60/40 two-tier wage system – and the deal made by the UAW leadership preventing the Lake Orion membership from voting on it.

“Solidarity” House leaders pretended they didn’t have to take a vote because the contract modification in 2009 included the term “innovative labor agreements.” They say this was a blank check for the leadership to give the companies changes in the contract with no further vote needed or allowed. Even workers with 10 or 11 years’ seniority may be forced back to work at $14 or $15 an hour! Or else be forced to take a job 250 miles away in Lordstown, Ohio.

Not only Lake Orion workers but GM workers from across southeastern Michigan, even Ford and Chrysler workers, came to express their outrage. Every contract has hidden weasel words like “innovative labor agreement” or “living document” that endanger every worker, just like at Lake Orion.

The picket and rally was vigorous and well noticed. Many drivers blew horns in support, and some pulled over to shout encouragement or talk for a bit. A Detroit fire truck crew gave the picketers a long, loud salute. Neighborhood folks walking along the sidewalk were friendly.

The rally was called by a Lake Orion worker out of simple anger and frustration. One Lansing worker caught the mood when he said, “I didn’t know if I would be the only one here. But I knew I had to be here.”

Past and present union reps and activists spoke in support. Among them, Greg Clark, who represented the Indianapolis workers who had just voted NO and enforced their NO; and Gary Walkowicz, who represented Ford workers who, for the first time ever, forced the UAW leadership last November to respect a NO vote on a national contract.

After the speeches, the sidewalk fairly hummed with intense discussion in many, many groups of four and five.

Workers made their own signs to express themselves clearly. “We are the union!” “Is my family 50% less valuable?” “I can build a two tier vehicle. Do you want it?” “Ford voted No, Indy voted No, Lake Orion didn’t vote.” One sign carried the handprints of a worker’s children. A retiree from Indiana brought a button-making machine and helped picketers and their children make buttons to wear.

All these personal messages spoke loudly to the silence from behind the locked and guarded gates.

Stop the Dominos!

Oct 25, 2010

GM and UAW officials claim the Lake Orion deal is necessary because a small car can’t be made profitably without two-tier. Not true – it’s only a pretext to push ever more workers into the so-called “second tier.”

Which small-car plant will be next? And after that, which medium-car plant? And, after that? The dominoes won’t stop falling until they meet resistance.

Page 8

U.S. Doctors Deliberately Infected Guatemalans with Syphilis

Oct 25, 2010

U.S. doctors deliberately infected around 700 poor women, mental hospital patients, army privates and prisoners in Guatemala with syphilis to study the effects of the disease between 1946 and 1948. They sometimes gave penicillin to freshly infected humans; but there were apparently no follow ups to check whether the treatment worked. These experiments included 438 children in the national orphanage, whose blood was tested for syphilis.

These outrageous facts were discovered recently by a medical historian who was going through all U.S. government records.

It was all very “scientific.” To infect the men, a doctor held the subject’s penis, pulled back the foreskin, abraded the head of the penis, put the syphilitic solution onto a cotton gauze and placed the gauze on the abraded penis skin for one or two hours. In other experiments, women who contracted syphilis were also sent to prison to infect the inmates. The U.S. doctors also placed syphilis germs on uninfected women’s cervix before these women were sent to the prison.

Dr. John C. Cutler, of the U.S. Public Health Service, headed these horrible human experiments, under the supervision of Doctor Thomas Parran, the U.S. Surgeon General, and Harry Eagle of the National Cancer Institute.

After these experiments ended in Guatemala in 1948, Dr. Cutler went on to do another study in 1953, this time deliberately infecting 62 inmates at New York’s Sing Sing prison with syphilis. For this work, Dr. Cutler was promoted to assistant Surgeon General in 1958. In the 1960s Cutler was also involved in the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. From 1932 to 1972, government officials lied to 400 impoverished black men, who had contracted syphilis, pretending to treat them for the disease, in order for government researchers to watch how the disease progressed, making the men blind or insane and eventually killing them.

Between 1946 and 1947, while all these horrible experiments were being carried out in Guatemala, the U.S. government prosecuted Nazi doctors in Nuremberg for doing similar experiments on humans.

Only those who lose a war are prosecuted as “war criminals.”

“Thrill Kill Team”
– Part of the U.S. War against Afghan Civilians

Oct 25, 2010

The first trials are underway for twelve U.S. soldiers accused of being part of a “Thrill Kill platoon” in Afghanistan that killed Afghan civilians for sport.

The military pretends that these murders were carried out by a rogue platoon under the direction of a psychopathic leader, Sergeant Calvin Gibbs.

Was Gibbs a psychopath? Maybe. But what about all the others who may do horrible things in a war, but are hardly psychopaths going in. What does it do to a person who is sent to a war zone for 2, 3 or even 4 tours, particularly when much of the duty involves attacks on civilians?

Physical and mental destruction is the price many soldiers pay for being sent to a war for the occupation of a poorer country, like Iraq or Afghanistan. But the biggest price is the one paid by the populations of those countries.

In any case, the higher-ups in the Army were okay with the actions of the “Thrill Kill” team. Last February, a soldier in the unit, Adam Winfield, let his parents know that some platoon members were killing civilians for sport, collecting body parts of the victims for trophies, and having their pictures taken with the victims. He said he did not feel safe reporting it and that he had been told “this stuff happens all the time and that when we get back there is always someone that spills the beans so normally it works out.”

The soldier’s father, Christopher Winfield, immediately tried to warn officials about the situation. He called the Army Inspector General’s hotline and a Senator from his home state of Florida, but received no response.

Finally, he spoke to a staff sergeant at his son’s home base, but was told his son should avoid his sergeant, keep his head down, and report it when he came home.

When the military higher-ups take a “look-the-other-way” approach on such gross conduct, it means the military accepts it.

Just as in Iraq, and just as in Vietnam, this is war carried out against the population of a country. In such a situation, of course civilians are not only victims, but targets. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is carrying out record numbers of drone attacks, including against neighboring Pakistan, wiping out whole villages. Units like the “Thrill Kill Team” are not so rogue. Like much else in the war, their actions help “pacify” the population.

Haitian Tragedy and Lying Contest

Oct 25, 2010

Haiti is once again besieged – this time by a fast-growing epidemic of cholera.

Nearly nine months after the earthquake, the financial aid promised by the U.S. and other rich countries has not yet reached Haiti. The U.S. promised 1.2 billion dollars in March and other rich nations pledged a total of 8.8 billion dollars for reconstruction of Haiti. But time showed that this was just talk: few of these funds materialized. Nor did preventive medical care and aid to sanitation.

Today, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble, without shelter, food, public sanitation or clean water. Just two% of the rubble has been cleared and 13,000 temporary shelters have been built – less than 10% of the number planned. There are no semi-permanent houses – none have been built. During September and October, storms destroyed tarps, tents and shacks built by Haitians with their own efforts. The storms killed many people, including children.

These conditions mean that sanitation is lacking. That is what produced the current epidemic of cholera.

This talk of providing aid to Haiti or other people in difficulty is only a lying contest among rich people.