The Spark

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

Issue no. 899 — September 5 - 19, 2011

Help Wanted
– A Jobs Program that Produces Jobs

Sep 5, 2011

Obama is poised to announce his “jobs program.” He let it be known he might encourage states to let people keep their unemployment benefits while they work eight weeks for a company, which pays them absolutely nothing and doesn’t have to keep them. In other words, eight weeks of labor for which a company pays nothing. Obama talked of cutting payroll taxes for Social Security so those of us working would have a little more money in our pockets – robbing tomorrow’s pensions to cover what our wages have lost in pay cuts today. And, as usual, he wants to give companies money or tax breaks, pretending this will make them hire again.

From Ronald Reagan up until today, every tax cut for the rich and the corporations has been presented as a way to increase hiring. And where are we today after 30 years of such cuts? Stuck right in the middle of the worst depression in 75 years.

We are in the midst of a jobs crisis, which touches the unemployed, their spouses, their young children – or their parents who have to dig into their pension savings to bail out their adult children, or adult children trying to bail out their own unemployed parents.

So, yes, a jobs program is needed. But which one?

People are out of work. They want to work. Put them to work. If the bosses don’t want to hire more people, then divide up the work they want to provide. Instead of some people working 40 hours (or 50 or 60), put everyone to work 25 or 30 hours – but with no loss in anyone’s weekly pay.

And don’t let unemployment get worse. No company making a profit should be allowed to lay off new rounds of workers.

Wages need to be indexed to increase right along with the real increases we meet every week in the supermarket, the gas pump, utility bills, school fees.... And no boss should be allowed to cut wages.

Less money in our pockets means less that we spend on the goods and services that other workers produce – and greater unemployment.

If the bosses say they can’t afford this jobs program, let workers audit their books. People working for a company can pick apart falsified balance sheets – they know how much is being shipped, how much material is being brought in, how much the payroll for production and needed support activities really costs. They can begin to figure out how the companies are lining the pockets of the rich, how they are sloughing money off to the big banking interests.

Some would say that this jobs program is a “radical” program. Some might call it “revolutionary.” Well, maybe it is. In any case, the moderate measures have been tried for 30 years now – and they aren’t working.

So it is time for a revolutionary, radical program!

Pages 2-3

Their Profit Is Our Lost Income

Sep 5, 2011

American companies have increased their profits so much that they broke a 60-year record during the second quarter of 2011. Big business enjoyed a spectacular 54% increase in profits over the last two and a half years.

But U.S. companies sold hardly any more to rake in this huge increase in their profits. No, they achieved this miracle by severely cutting wages and benefits while employing fewer workers and increasing productivity through speed-up.

This capitalist system truly is parasitic.

Michigan Schools:
Funneling More into Private Profit

Sep 5, 2011

The State of Michigan just announced it had hired John Covington as chancellor to head its new “Education Achievement Authority” (EAA) – at the grand price of 1.5 million dollars over four years.

This EAA is a new state-wide school district created earlier this year, supposedly to help students in failing schools. Individual “failing” schools will be split out of their local districts and put under the EAA’s control.

So, once again, the governor is appointing yet another over-paid bureaucrat to address the problem of the schools. And these bureaucrats are proposing to do what they’ve already been doing in Detroit for the past several years – to privatize schools they say are failing.

This epidemic of for-profit school privatization is already meeting a growing opposition in Detroit, as well as other cities around the country – Philadelphia, D.C., Chicago and New Orleans among them – where parents and teachers have seen first hand that most charter schools result in an even worse education for their children.

All credible studies show that charters do nothing to help educate students, so why would these administrators and politicians keep pushing a failed idea?

Because they are being funded and supported by a handful of corporate-backed private foundations, like the Broad and Gates foundations, that are pushing hard for charters. Their whole purpose is to allow private corporations to get their hands on the money devoted to public education – at least, that money going to educate the children of the poor and working class.

Covington himself graduated from the Broad Academy, which trains administrators to do just that. The Broad and Gates Foundations are paying Covington’s signing bonus of $175,000.

And now, right when more parents and teachers are souring on school privatization, this new state-wide EAA “district” will ensure even less control by local school boards, parents or teachers: How will parents in the Upper Peninsula organize with parents in Detroit? What school’s administration building will students march on?

This lack of control will allow Covington to turn even more schools over to private profit.

And he’ll be paid handsomely to deliver the goods!

Michigan Public Workers to Fund Corporate Tax Breaks

Sep 5, 2011

The Michigan legislature recently passed a bill limiting how much counties, cities, school boards and other local public employers can pay for employee health benefits. If premium costs exceed $5,500 for individuals or $15,000 for a family, workers would be required to pay at least 20% of their premiums.

So why are state politicians concerned by what local governments pay? Because the state legislation is about to cut one of the taxes on business through which localities fund themselves.

So Snyder and the legislators are offering local governments a way to cover the money they lost in this latest corporate tax break – take it from public workers!

Hurricane Irene:
Danger from the Government

Sep 5, 2011

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been busy ever since Irene passed through, patting himself on the back for saving New York.

It’s true, he ordered public transport shut down. The entire system of buses and subways was shut down more than eight hours before the storm arrived.

But Bloomberg did not require businesses to shut down. And many did not, leaving their employees, who depend on mass transit, scrambling to find a ride just before the hurricane hit. And without public transit, many families in the evacuation zones had no way to get out.

Moreover, thousands of families in the huge public housing projects within the evacuation zone, such as in Red Hook, Brooklyn and the far Lower East side of Manhattan, were trapped in their apartments, because management shut down the elevators “for the tenants' safety.”

Just as with Katrina, a city administration was saving property to the detriment of the population.

In fact, if Hurricane Irene had been severe, the Bloomberg administration’s measures would have cost many people their lives.

Attack on the Most Vulnerable

Sep 5, 2011

The Michigan Legislature and the Governor passed a law cutting 12,000 families off welfare – effective October 1st.

The Dept. of Human Services estimates that 11,188 adults plus 29,707 kids – averaging around the age of 7 – will be cut off from money for rent and necessities on October 1st.

This will likely throw more than 40,000 people into homelessness. The government’s own statistics say it takes Michigan’s unemployed over six months to find a job – an all time record high!

The same politicians who lavished 1.8 billion dollars in tax cuts on rich corporations are now preparing to give them more by cutting off those who are the poorest.

Demonstrators voiced their anger and opposition at Cadillac Place on September 1st. They chanted: “Stop the war on the poor!” Regular Thursday demonstrations are planned.

Utilities Make Hurricane Worse

Sep 5, 2011

After Hurricane Irene passed up the East Coast and through New England hitting areas from South Carolina to Quebec, power outages left more than six million homes and businesses without lights, air conditioning and refrigeration. Six days later, there were still more than 580,000 homes and businesses without electric service.

The hurricane is not responsible for this – the utility companies are. They have failed to properly maintain their lines and other equipment: Trees near power lines have gone un-trimmed. Old wires and transformers have not been replaced. As a result there are many more power outages than there would be if the utilities were doing their job.

The problem is that the utility companies have repeatedly cut back on the number of line workers they employ in order to boost their profits – particularly during the past decade. During this time the average utility company reduced its line crews by 25 to 30%. During the same time the population of the U.S. went up by about 10%.

Hurricane Irene was an act of nature. But much of the disruption and losses it caused are the result of the utility companies’ never-ending drive for profits.

Ohio Prison Sale
– One More Handout to Big Business

Sep 5, 2011

The state of Ohio is selling one of its prisons to a private company. Though many state and local governments have privatized the management of their prisons, Ohio becomes the first state to turn over prison property outright. The state is looking for buyers for four other prisons as well.

Such sales will undoubtedly mean a worsening of conditions for prisoners, as their private owners seek to “cut costs.”

It’s only one part, however, of a much bigger pattern of governments handing over publicly owned property to private hands.

The politicians claim the sell-offs are necessary due to increasing budget deficits.

The federal government has cut its revenue sharing with the states, which therefore have less to pass down to local governments. The economic crisis and high unemployment mean lower sales and income tax revenues. The bursting of the housing bubble in turn means the states collect less in property taxes.

Politicians use the “budget deficits,” as justification for cutting social services and putting less money into pension funds, which are already underfunded due to shaky financial investments.

The deficits also give local politicians a convenient excuse for privatizing services. The city of Chicago privatized its local toll bridge, the Skyway, and parking meter collections. The state of Pennsylvania privatized its toll roads. The mayor of Detroit is looking to privatize the city’s lighting department.

What the politicians never mention is the biggest reason for budget shortfalls – the systematic hand out of tax breaks to big corporations.

All these maneuvers, whether it’s handing out tax breaks, investing public money in risky financial instruments, paying ridiculous fees to banks or handing over public property outright to private interests, are done to prop up profits for the corporations – who can no longer make their own economy run without collapsing.

Pages 4-5

Plans to Stop Soldiers’ Pensions

Sep 5, 2011

As if the neglect and poor treatment of soldiers and veterans is not scandalous enough already, a new Pentagon consulting group recommends ending the military pension program entirely and replacing it – with a 401(k) personal-savings plan!

It’s the creation of the Defense Business Board, a Pentagon private-sector advisory panel – that is, business interests, already feeding at the military budget trough and hungry for more. They want fewer dollars put into military retirement funds, so that more dollars are available for their very profitable military contracts.

The Pentagon says it is “only a proposal” and that nothing is decided yet.

Workers all across the country who used to have pensions, and now have only 401(k) plans, have heard that line before!

Ten Years of Terrorism against the Afghan People

Sep 5, 2011

Playing on people’s fears for all it was worth, pretending he was launching a hunt for bin Laden, Bush in fact launched a devastating war against the people of Afghanistan.

It was always obvious that this was only a pretext for the U.S. to establish its control over an area of the world central to oil pipelines, and strategically located in relationship to the Middle East and Near East. But bin Laden has been killed, the U.S. pretends that al Qaeda has practically been put out of existence – and yet the war in Afghanistan goes on. Bin Laden was a product of U.S. close ally, Saudi Arabia, part of its privileged upper class – and he had also been for years the recipient of funds from the U.S., conveying CIA money and support to Afghan warlords who were fighting against the Soviet Union. No – the hunt for bin Laden, whoever and wherever he was all during these years was nothing but a pretext for war.

It was a war fought against the Afghan people, fought by the biggest imperialism in the world, fought for reasons of empire.

For the Afghan people, its consequences have been devastating. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, many hundreds of thousands more wounded. More than three million have been turned into refugees, without a country, and nearly a half million more are refugees in their own country, driven from their homes.

The U.S. and its allies have laid waste to a country already devastated by the previous war during which bin Laden was a U.S. ally. Just as in that war, U.S. intervention has let loose a civil war fought out by warlords, holding the population hostage.

Afghanistan is lying in ruins, with income solely from charitable agencies and the sale of poppies for the heroin trade.

Just as with the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has taken its toll in U.S. soldiers: 1594 U.S. soldiers and 874 allied soldiers dead, plus 763 contractors. Not to mention thousands wounded.

The U.S. population has paid with money taken from education, from public services, from roads and bridges, from preparation for hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, from social services for the poor and the elderly.

The cost of imperialism’s wars.

9/11 Attacks:
Terrorists Target Population

Sep 5, 2011

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings ten years ago, this is what SPARK had to say about the attack itself:

“With complete indifference, the organizers of this attack set out to kill people, people whose only crime was to work in those buildings or to travel on those planes – people who left home that morning thinking only that they were going to work....

“Whoever carried out the attack was ready to kill indiscriminately and randomly in order to demonstrate that symbols of American power could be attacked. Attacked the symbols may have been. But symbols can be replaced. The people killed and wounded cannot be.

“Those who directed and carried out this disgusting attack are enemies of all people, including the people they pretend to defend. People in Afghanistan and Pakistan were among the first to be attacked by them years ago.

“No cause can justify such an action.”

No more than the 9/11 attacks can justify what the U.S. has done over the last 10 years to millions of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and throughout the Middle East.

U.S. Government Also Terrorizes Population

Sep 5, 2011

And this is what SPARK had to say about the responsibility of the U.S. government for what happened:

“The news media showed us pictures of crowds in Gaza cheering the news of the attacks in New York and Washington. If there was such a reaction, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Palestinians have suffered for over a half century the bloody consequences of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The terrorism, the daily repression, the violence they have suffered at the hands of the Israelis has been paid for by the United States. If the U.S. is hated in many areas of the Middle East, it is precisely because the U.S. government carries the biggest responsibility for the destruction and desperate impoverishment of the Middle East....

“What the people of New York so terribly suffered on September 11, the people of Iraq have faced since the Gulf War and the people of Palestine for almost 60 years. This does not lessen the horror of what people here experienced. It does show the real and complete consequences of U.S. foreign policy.”

It’s a foreign policy made 10 times worse over the last 10 years. The wars the U.S. has carried out since 9/11 are nothing but terrorism unleashed against civilian populations by the most powerful state apparatus in the world.

Vets Kicked to the Side in L.A.

Sep 5, 2011

In June, the ACLU sued the department of Veterans Affairs and the director of the V.A. Greater Los Angeles Healthcare Systems for not providing housing to homeless veterans.

The ACLU pointed out that the U.S. government has the land. In fact, it was given 387 acres of land in Los Angeles as far back as 1888 – with the express provision that the V.A. had to use it to provide housing for vets.

The V.A. has kept the land, but never put housing on it. Instead, it leases the land to Enterprise Rent-a-Car Company to store cars, to Marriott Hotels for a laundry facility, to a private school for its sports facility, to UCLA for a baseball stadium and for a dog walk.

Don’t let any U.S. official pretend they care about veterans. The 8,000 homeless vets in L.A., some of whom camp out every night on the sidewalk bordering V.A. land, know better!

The Money and Social Cost of Imperialist Wars

Sep 5, 2011

Both parties repeatedly say that public services, Social Security, Medicare, education, all must be cut due to the budget deficit. Not a word is said about the enormous drain on the U.S. budget of the so-called “wars on terror.”

But there is a new report on the human and financial costs of the wars against terror – that is, U.S. imperialism’s wars in the Middle East for oil. The report, issued this summer by researchers from Brown University, shows that the real cost to the U.S. taxpayer approaches four TRILLION dollars, although the Defense Department budget has numerous ways in which it hides the real costs.

Obama’s estimate of a trillion dollars does not include soldiers’ medical care in Iraq and Afghanistan and medical care after they return wounded, their pensions, security costs, building bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as interest on the debt used to pay for the wars.

The imperialist powers spend colossal sums on the wars that maintain their control of the planet’s resources and leave countries in ruin in the wake of their wars. And that includes the ruin of education, public services, infrastructure and social services in this country, drained of funds to pay for these wars. This is what their supposed defense of order, morality and civilization really means.

U.S. War on Iraq:
An Enormous Human Toll

Sep 5, 2011

One and a half years after 9/11, in March 2003, the Bush administration launched a full-fledged war on Iraq under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.”

Never mind that Iraq, under the then-dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, or religious fundamentalism in general.

Instead, the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, which continued under the Obama administration, has proved to be a war of terror itself – and on a far greater scale than 9/11.

This war has exacted a horrible human toll on the people of Iraq. First, nearly one and a half million deaths as a result of U.S. bombing and raids going back nearly 30 years, as well as the civil war fought between different Iraqi armed gangs, some of them directly aided by the U.S. Millions of Iraqis suffering from PTSD – including, and especially, children exposed to the horrors of war. Millions more deaths, caused by spreading disease because of the destruction by the war of the Iraqi health care system and infrastructure (including a widespread lack of water, electricity and sanitation). The uprooting of one in about five Iraqis, forced to flee their homes.

And there’s a hideous cost in U.S. lives too. Nearly 4,500 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq since 2003 – about 250 of them since Obama took office. Add to this more than 300 military deaths from other countries allied with the U.S. Add at least 1,300 deaths of “contractors” used by the U.S. military (exact number unknown) – most of whom are not mercenaries but provide menial services for the army. Add tens of thousands of severely wounded U.S. troops (exact figure unknown, because the U.S. military systematically downplays war injuries and undercounts such figures). Add to all this hundreds of thousands of U.S. combat veterans who have succumbed to PTSD and depression – many of whom unable to hold down a job and condemned to homelessness.

In the hands of self-serving political and military leaders, who represent the interests of an aggressive, totally reckless U.S. ruling class, the tragedy that befell American people on 9/11 has turned into a bigger, never-ending tragedy that now plagues millions of working people around the world, including in the U.S.

9/11 Used against Working People

Sep 5, 2011

In September 2001, this is what SPARK had to say about the way 9/11 would be used against working people:

“The attack on September 11 may well serve to make American workers feel they have no choice but to give Bush a blank check to carry out the policies he proposes today – new wars overseas, more repression at home, and a demand for sacrifices made in living and working conditions. This would be a mistake.”

But this is exactly what happened. Bush used people’s fears to force acceptance of wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan – and acceptance of sacrifices at home. At the time, we said it would be a mistake for working people to fall into this trap.

It’s even more of a mistake today to go along with these wars and demands for sacrifice. The president may have changed, Obama has replaced Bush, but the demand that we pay an outrageous human and social price continues.

Pages 6-7

Fullerton, CA:
Police Cover Up Murder

Sep 5, 2011

Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally-ill homeless man, was beaten to death by six cops in Fullerton, California in early July. Outraged and horrified, dozens of witnesses repeatedly urged the cops to stop the beating. Videos posted on the Internet showed that the cops continued to batter Thomas, shooting him several times with a taser, long after they had clearly subdued him.

Fullerton police and city officials took no action against the six cops for weeks – until demonstrations by hundreds of Fullerton residents, who joined Thomas’s family in protest, finally forced authorities to take the murdering cops off the street.

Police and city officials refused to release the 911 calls and the police’s own video of the incident.

Once again, police brutality and subsequent cover-up by authorities – outrageous, but nothing new. The only thing unusual about the murder of Kelly Thomas is that it happened in a suburban area, and not in a working-class neighborhood, where police brutality is a reality of everyday life.

“Deporter-in-Chief” Starts His Election Campaign

Sep 5, 2011

The Obama administration recently announced a “change” in its deportation policy.

Among many immigrants, Obama has become known as the “Deporter-in-Chief.” And he has certainly earned his title: Since he took office, about a million immigrants have been kicked out of the country – far more than Bush ever did!

The Obama administration always pretended that the immigrants deported were “criminals.” But look at their “crimes”: burning leaves in their front yard in New Mexico; failing to signal for a right turn in Minnesota; calling 911 in Los Angeles because someone was being beaten; being arrested for speeding....

Obama’s announcement doesn’t signal a policy change. It’s simply a reaction to recent protests by some Latino activists against the flood of deportations. And it’s the beginning of Obama’s 2012 election campaign.

But remember what Obama promised before the 2008 election – and what he did! “Deporter-in-Chief,” yes!

Great Britain:
Harsh “Justice”

Sep 5, 2011

Two weeks after the riots in Great Britain, the authorities began to hand down sentences for almost 3,000 people arrested during or after the four nights.

A 23-year-old woman was condemned to six months in prison for having stolen bottles of water worth $5.75. An 18-year-old man got two years in prison for stealing cigarettes from a supermarket. Another 22-year-old is in temporary detention for being served an ice cream he didn’t pay for in a confectionery store being looted. Two young people are condemned to four years in prison for writing on the Internet that their cities, where no riots occurred, should have riots! Obviously, the judicial authorities were told to give very heavy sentences. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, those accused of theft are getting longer than normal sentences. And sentences for attacking the police are also much heavier than normal.

This extreme severity led even The Economist, a financial magazine of the ruling class, to call it surprising that the British prime minister “seems to deny that poverty is the backdrop of the riots.”

Those condemned are mainly youth from the poorest neighborhoods in Britain. They cannot find jobs. A good number of the condemned were unemployed. The looting which accompanies these riots expressed the resentment and also the envy aroused by the wealth of a society to which most of the youth have no access.

The Conservative government plays on the fear that violence during the riots can engender. The prime minister also hopes to please the most reactionary electorate, by appearing very firm in the face of these so-called “criminals.”

But his administration and the Labor Party administration that preceded it are responsible for this situation. Their policy was to cut social spending, lay off tens of thousands of public workers, and, above all, allow the bosses to carry out mass layoffs.

A Two-Day National Strike

Sep 5, 2011

On August 24th and 25th, 600,000 people rallied throughout Chile in a national strike called by the Central Union of Workers. Universities and local government offices were closed, with dozens of avenues barricaded.

In Santiago, the capital, the processions were impressive, despite the fact that the Chilean government used water cannon, tear gas and mounted police against demonstrators, with 1,400 arrested.

This strike is the culmination of a protest movement begun in January in the city of Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of South America. The population there revolted thanks to the high cost of gas. The cold climate there means heating is needed 10 months of the year. Then there were big demonstrations against a proposed hydroelectric dam which would have flooded a vast natural reserve in Patagonia. Finally, beginning in June, students protested in large numbers against the high cost of education, blocking universities in the big cities. Families have to go into debt to finance higher education for their children.

In the August 25th demonstrations, one sign said, “Five years of studies, fifteen years paying back.”

But many other demands were also expressed in the demonstrations, like those of workers for better pensions, favorable labor laws, lower taxes, better public services in education and health.

Strikers and demonstrators were fighting to defend their living and working conditions. Their fighting spirit is far from exhausted.

Page 8

Ford Workers’ Statement

Sep 5, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, some workers in the Dearborn Truck Plant, on B Crew, circulated a statement to send to the top UAW International leadership. It took off like wildfire, with hundreds of workers signing it just at one shift change. And workers in other plants are circulating it, too. The statement reads:

“It is time for the Ford workers to get what we deserve and what we are owed for all our hard work. After many years of concessions, it is time to get back what we have lost. Alan Mulally has got his. It is time to get ours.

We want you to demand from Ford Motor Company that:

1. We have to get back all the concessions that we have lost.

2. We have to get yearly raises and cost-of-living.

3. The ‘Equity of Sacrifice’ grievance must be settled before the national contract is settled.”

And when International union leaders ignore them, workers will have a decision to make.

Strike Vote at Ford

Sep 5, 2011

The strike vote passed with unusually high numbers – better than 97% voting for a strike at Ford’s five biggest plants.

Some top union leaders told the press that the vote doesn’t mean anything, it’s only a formality.

But Ford workers were the ones who voted, and Ford workers know what their vote means.

Formality? We’ll see!

Chrysler and GM:
Arbitration or a Bad Contract
– NOT the Only Choice!

Sep 5, 2011

UAW President Bob King gave yet another speech to business leaders. He said he did not want to raise fixed costs for automakers. That tells you right there what kind of contract he will bring in.

But top UAW leaders already are telling GM and Chrysler workers they have no choice – if they vote down the contract, it will be sent to arbitration. And the result will be worse.

They say we can’t strike, so there’s nothing we can do.

Well, we’re the ones who do the work, aren’t we? We’re the ones their production depends on, aren’t we?

Yes, we have a choice. We can vote down the contract – and let the company know by our actions that we aren’t going along with a rotten contract brought back to us – from negotiations or from the arbitrator.

We don’t have to roll over and play dead.