The Spark

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

Issue no. 903 — October 31 - November 14, 2011

Editorial:
YES, Occupy the Cities, Oppose the Banks
– and Oppose Capitalism!

Oct 31, 2011

On October 25, at 5 a.m., while people were sleeping, Oakland California police stormed through the “Occupy Oakland” camp, pushing to evict the protesters linked to the Occupy Wall Street movement. They arrested the people rousted out of their beds, tore down their tents and destroyed their belongings.

When protesters reassembled with reinforcements at 5 p.m., attempting to march to the site, they were confronted by police, who used rubber bullets, so-called bean-bag shotguns and tear gas to sweep the downtown area, arresting dozens more. A number of people were injured. Scott Olsen, a former marine, who had served two tours of duty in Iraq, was hit in the head by a police projectile, giving him a more serious wound than anything he experienced in Iraq.

On the same evening, Atlanta police evicted Occupy Atlanta protesters from the site where they had set up a camp, arresting 53 there, also destroying belongings and the camp. Two days later, police forcibly evicted the people camped in Nashville and San Diego, and the next day, Denver police tore up the belongings and tents of people, using Mace and rubber bullets on people trying to reoccupy their camp in downtown Denver.

These were not the first arrests since the Occupy Wall Street movement, which first gained attention with a September 17th demonstration near Wall Street in New York City. But most of the earlier arrests had come in response to “civil disobedience” actions initiated by the protesters, like the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or the attempt to occupy Bank of America headquarters in Boston, or the hundreds arrested in Chicago on two Saturday nights in a row. Or they were the smaller arrests, almost everywhere, with police nipping away at the edges of the movement.

But the cops in all five of these cities – Oakland, Atlanta, San Diego, Nashville and Denver – were dispatched with the specific aim of disrupting and dispersing the whole protest, attempting to break it – and they did it in heavy-handed fashion.

Is it the beginning of a wider crackdown by authorities across the country, or are these just a few isolated cases? At this point, that’s not clear. In any case, what’s more important is whether the movement becomes discouraged by the attacks or whether it is reinforced by many more of those who are outraged. We can only hope the movement expands.

Whatever happens, it’s obvious that the protests, which started in New York City, but quickly spread throughout the country, rolling through big cities and small, have touched an exposed nerve in the population and found support among working people.

Perpetual unemployment has marginalized nearly half the younger generation and made everyone’s life insecure. Wage cutting guarantees this new generation will live less well than their parents.

The rich get richer, spectacularly richer, parading their wealth for TV, while millionaire stockbrokers imperiously tell us they are worth every penny they get. The richest one% of the population own more of the nation’s wealth than do the bottom 85%.

The government bails out the banks, while four million families find themselves expelled from their homes in the banks’ mortgage scam, and 11 million more are “underwater” – with no hope of ever getting afloat again.

The unions, led by bureaucrats in bed with the companies, tell us we have no choice but to give up concession after concession in order to improve the companies’ bottom line – and workers watch their jobs disappear, or the work they still have gets killingly harder and their wages go down; their children are unable to find a job.

So, yes, the youth who flocked into these demonstrations had every reason to do so. Even many of the middle class youth whose families can put them through the university find themselves today without prospects – not to mention the working class youth, unemployed, bumped from temporary job to temporary job, priced out of the university by years of tuition increases.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has opened up possibilities, all the more so since many workers watch it with approval. The question is, where do the demonstrations go from here? A movement like this can develop quite a way, but only if there are people inside it who understand or come to understand that they have to confront the root cause of the problems we face, that is, the whole capitalist system.

Pages 2-3

L.A.:
Another Gift for Business

Oct 31, 2011

The City of Los Angeles has a program that gives each Hollywood Boulevard business owner up to $200,000, which owners don’t need to repay if they maintain their property for ten years. And City Hall offers the free money to the rich even if they don’t ask for it.

But the City has laid off 227 library aides at the schools, along with hundreds of teachers because of lack of funds.

The City has money available for free to the rich, but not for essentials needed by the population.

It couldn’t be more clear!

Illinois Legislature Fills ComEd’s Purse

Oct 31, 2011

ComEd, Illinois’ electrical utility, gets to charge higher electrical rates. The Illinois Legislature, controlled by the Democrats, voted overwhelmingly to give ComEd what it wanted.

ComEd says it needed the increase so it can upgrade to a “Smart Grid,” one that can tell the utility how much power people are using at any particular time. A “Smart Grid” may make sense – but why should consumers pay more for it? They’re already paying for a system that is in disrepair.

ComEd leaves thousands in the dark after storms. It does not invest in maintaining the existing system, and it continues to cut back on workers, so there’s no one to make repairs.

The legislature limited ComEd to increasing prices 2.5% a year – but only for the first two years. After that, the sky’s the limit. What’s more significant, the bill guarantees that ComEd will make at least 10% profit – an enormous amount!

How nice – for ComEd – to have a friendly legislature!

Severe Overcrowding in the Detroit Public Schools

Oct 31, 2011

Two hundred Detroit elementary and middle school classrooms are severely overcrowded. They all have more students than the contractual limit, according to a survey done by the teachers union.

District officials pretended they knew of no overcrowding – even when the Fire Department gave them citations for a high school with 72 students in one room and a kindergarten class with 55 students!

This overcrowding is a product of school closings and teacher layoffs – that is, of decisions made by two Emergency Financial Managers brought in by the State of Michigan to supposedly “fix the schools.”

This is how they “fix” the schools – crowd classrooms so full that no child gets an education!

Weasels!

Obama’s Student Debt Reduction Plan is Small Change

Oct 31, 2011

President Obama wants students to know he feels their pain. Speaking to college students in Denver, he said, “Over the past three decades the cost of college has nearly tripled. And that is forcing students to take out more loans and rack up more debt. ... So the idea is, how do we make college more affordable, and how do we make sure you are burdened with less debt?”

He says he has a proposal to reduce student loan debt: “About 1.6 million Americans could see their payments go down by hundreds of dollars a month, and that includes some of the students who are in college right now.”

Nonsense! Obama’s student debt reduction plan applies only to those few who have at least two very specific types of federal loans, one from the Department of Education and one from a bank under the Federal Family Education Loan program. Those loans had to have been taken out before July 2010. And the interest rate on those loans will be reduced by all of one quarter of one%. Someone who has $20,000 dollars in FFEL loans at 6.8% would save $2.56 a month.

It’s more of Obama’s “Hope and Change” – he hopes he can buy student votes for small change.

California:
Privatization of Public Education

Oct 31, 2011

California state politicians continue to cut funding for public schools – cuts totaling 18 billion dollars in the last three years, and another two billion already built into the current state budget.

As money is cut, many schools turn to raising money from various sources. All this does is reinforce the big gap between public schools serving the wealthy and all the rest of the schools.

A recent UCLA survey revealed that “high-poverty high schools” received $5,000 in private donations, while better off schools received an average of $100,000 – that is, 20 times more!

And these figures don’t even say anything about the elite private schools. In California, where public high schools put 40, even 50 students in one math or English class these days, and where, supposedly, there is not a penny available for new library books or science supplies, there are high schools with 12 students or less in a class, with fully-stocked libraries and state-of-the-art technology in science labs. It’s just that these schools charge $30,000 or more a year for tuition!

Behind the smokescreen of the “bad economy,” capitalist society is baring its naked, inhumane face: A child can get an education only if daddy and mommy have money – and lots of it.

Banks:
Drowning in Money

Oct 31, 2011

More and more banks are discouraging people from depositing money with them, sometimes charging for non-interest-bearing accounts. That’s right, they actually don’t want our money!

Why? Because they don’t see how they can invest any more money profitably.

Production? Forget about it – working people don’t have enough income to buy what’s produced now!

Speculation? They’re already doing that.

Loan it out? No one can afford to borrow any more!

If it seems to you that the problem here is that the banks have too much money and we have too little – then you are right! But we don’t hear the politicians proposing to solve this problem by transferring some of this wealth.

Pages 4-5

Lead Batteries Contaminate Chinese Workers

Oct 31, 2011

Angry Chinese workers and parents have attacked a dozen smelting plants and battery factories in the last three years. With good reason.

Recently China has become the leading producer of lead batteries in the world. And the way lead batteries are produced in China and elsewhere causes serious damage. Not only does the metal used in this production contaminate soil, ruining agricultural areas, but the workers themselves have been harmed and their children have suffered developmental damage.

Even the Chinese media reported that some adults were severely poisoned by lead recently. Twenty-six adults were severely affected and another 494 showed moderate poisoning from lead. Even worse, more than 100 children in the town where lead batteries were produced were also poisoned.

China today is repeating what England went through in the early days of capitalist industrialization. Many English workers died young from lead poisoning and other ills caused by the way capitalism pushes for profit, ignoring the most basic safety precautions.

And just like in England, workers will get no protection for themselves unless they fight to put their needs before the drive for profit – as Chinese workers have been doing.

Greece:
A Two-Day General Strike against Austerity

Oct 31, 2011

The Greek unions called for a two-day general strike on October 19th and 20th, the day the Parliament was voting further austerity measures against the workers. The European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have demanded these attacks as their price for arranging more loans for Greece and to protect the bankers.

In this situation, there have been almost daily strikes. Most spectacularly, the garbage collectors have paralyzed Athens for two weeks. But public workers regularly stop work and occupy the government ministries of Finance and Justice. Union militants of the electric company occupied their computer center to prevent it from sending out bills with the new tax. On October 17th, the port of Piraeus was paralyzed and sailors decided to continue their strike for a week. On October 18th, all the newspapers shut down due to a strike. With the start of the school year, demonstrations began in the high schools and universities.

The demonstration of October 19th was massive, with tens of thousands of workers, retirees, young students, the unemployed and sometimes small shop owners, who for the first time joined a general strike. Workers spread out in the streets of Athens in two march columns. The first was organized by the private sector union confederation called GSEE and the public workers confederation Adedy. The other column was made up of Pame, the union tied to the Communist Party. The two columns came together in Syndagma square, where the Parliament is located, to show the “people’s representatives” the population’s rage over the measures Parliament was about to vote on.

The enthusiasm and participation certainly weren’t enough to win a battle of this type, but they are a thermometer of the will to struggle which exists in the country and they swept away the heavy, demoralized climate weighing on those in the square the week before, during the international day of “the indignant ones.” The columns of protestors marched for almost four hours. The second column hadn’t finished entering the square when incidents broke out between young demonstrators and the police. Incidents continued until the evening, clouding the most important aspect of the day of protest: the remarkable success of the demonstrations in the streets of Athens.

In Athens, the day of protest of October 20th began early, when Pame occupied a part of the square near Parliament at 1 a.m. This space was slowly filled with members and supporters of the union tied to the Communist Party, which wanted to be the self-proclaimed sole and authentic “vanguard” of the struggle.

The remainder of the square was filled starting at 11 a.m. by a crowd of workers from the GSEE and Adedy unions, from committees of struggle and from sit-ins, and from political organizations. The very animated crowd occupied the square, protesting against the government, like the day before. Athens was shut down.

Toward three in the afternoon, a big battalion of koukoulofori (hooded protestors, belonging to so-called anti-power groups) confronted the Pame marshals, trying to burst into the area closest to the Parliament. There were clashes, with many wounded. A Pame union man, a construction worker, died. A doctor said the man had had a heart attack caused by tear gas thrown by the police. Although the crowd began to leave, the koukoulofori continued their personal fight against “the power,” venting their anger against the police and ... windows.

The day of protest ended with Parliament voting new anti-worker measures. One former minister, Louka Katseli, was immediately expelled from the parliamentary group of the Socialist Party for refusing to vote for an article in one of the bills. (The Socialist Party runs the government and has been passing numerous measures that are attacks on workers.) The Minister of the Economy, Venizelos, tried to avoid other votes against the measure from members of his own party, evoking an “irreparable catastrophe for the country” if the law didn’t pass.

For the workers, retirees, the unemployed, immigrants, for all the poorest layers of the population, the catastrophe will be the implementation of the economic measures just passed by the government. Only their capacity to react, to organize themselves, to make a conscious vanguard emerge, to tie themselves to the other workers of Europe, is able to prevent such a catastrophe from being irreparable.

New Libyan Regimes:
Promising Nothing Good
– Backed by Western Leaders’ Hypocrisy

Oct 31, 2011

On October 23rd, three days after Qaddafi’s execution, the leaders of the Transitional National Council (TNC), in front of tens of thousands of Libyans rallying in Benghazi, officially proclaimed “Free Libya” and announced “the end of the revolution.”

The “road map” published by the TNC last August said that after the fall of the Qaddafi regime, a “transitional” government would be set up within a month, there would be an election in eight months for an assembly that would adopt a new Constitution, and general elections would be held in a year.

But without waiting, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the president of the TNC, laid his cards on the table. He announced, “As a Muslim nation, we have adopted Islamic Sharia as the source of law. Any law contradicting Islamic principles is declared void.” So, “the law on divorce and marriage” – meaning the law prohibiting polygamy and allowing divorce – is “contrary to Islam. It is against Sharia and is no longer in force.” It is clear that there will be no democracy or transition for Libyan women. They are being kicked backward! Nor does this announcement signal anything good for the Libyan people as a whole.

This Transitional National Council, the self-proclaimed “sole representative of the Libyan people,” hardly comes to the table with clean hands. It is presided over by an old Qaddafi Justice Minister. It is made up of leading partisans of the old monarchy and those who only yesterday repudiated Qaddafi, and Islamic radicals, tribal chiefs and technocrats educated in the U.S. The imperialist leaders, well aware what such a “transition” implies, gave the TNC its legitimacy.

The governments of the big imperialist powers that intervened militarily in Libya aren’t worried about the condition of Libyan women or of the Libyan people in general. The only objective of the war they carried out in Libya, carrying out massive bombing to support the “insurgents,” was to open up markets for their manufacturers. U.S. corporations, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, Halliburton, Boeing and Caterpillar are all interested. So are the French companies Total, Vinci, Bouygues, GDF Suez, Lafarge and Alstom. The British company Trango Special Projects offers its services to companies wanting to cash in. What does it matter if the promised “democracy” means a retreat toward the Middle Ages for women?

Billions are to be had from Libya!

A Big Day of Protest by the Spanish Movement of the “Indignant Ones”

Oct 31, 2011

On October 15th, many thousands of Spaniards participated in the movement of the “Indignados” (the Indignant Ones). It was part of an international day of protest against the policies of governments and bankers who are making the populations everywhere pay for the crisis.

Several hundred thousand people demonstrated in more than 60 cities throughout Spain. There were some 50,000 demonstrating in Madrid and even more in Barcelona. There were 40,000 in Seville and San Sebastian.

Some carried signs with the slogan, “No, they don’t represent us,” aimed at the representatives of the Socialist Workers Party of Spain (PSOE), which has been in power in recent years and has carried out an anti-worker austerity policy. The PSOE is expected to lose in the national elections on November 20th. The protest was also aimed at the right wing party Popular Party (PP), which is expected to win.

Demonstrators expressed their anger at unemployment and economic insecurity and all the austerity measures that have multiplied in recent months. There have been repeated attacks, cutting education and public services, dismantling medical facilities in workers’ neighborhoods (especially in Catalonia, where half the health centers are threatened with closure), and cutting government workers’ pay.

Anger has grown over these problems. Recent changes in the law on layoffs led to higher unemployment. The managers of government agencies and public sector businesses don’t even hide their desire to lay off workers and cut wages. When the credit rating agencies lower the ratings of Spanish banks, politicians of the right and left use it as a pretext to extort still more sacrifices from the population.

Fortunately, the movement of the “Indignados” in Spain, which developed six months ago, continues to denounce the disgusting policies of the capitalists, the bankers and the politicians who serve them. But, under the pretext of not introducing divisions in their movement, those who organize the “Indignados” insist that politics can’t be discussed, wanting in fact to silence those who dare to call themselves communists or anarchists. The unending, confused debates of the last general assembly in Madrid, which was organized after the October 15 demonstrations, shows the impasse of this pretended apolitical stance, which is hypocritical. It aims at leaving the political field open for those who would be “indignant,” but who don’t want to put in question the capitalist system.

The May 15th Movement, as it is called, has the merit of encouraging protest and above all of having brought hundreds of thousands of people out to protest, among them the young, the inhabitants of workers’ neighborhoods, the unemployed, the economically insecure and workers of every kind – showing that they don’t want to leave the bankers, the capitalists and the politicians free to do as they want.

They need more – to find objectives for themselves for the struggles of tomorrow and, more precisely, a political perspective.

Pages 6-7

Massey:
The Murderer-in Chief Goes Free

Oct 31, 2011

On October 26, a manager from Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine was convicted of covering up evidence about the 2010 explosion that killed 29 people.

The only other person tried for this disaster is a worker convicted of faking a foreman’s license when he performed internal safety inspections.

What about Massey Energy, which organized production, established policies and rewarded managers who violated safety?

Massey got off scot-free.

Too much to expect that a murderous corporation and its executives would be prosecuted – not in capitalist America, where justice goes to the highest bidder.

Attack on Post Office Is an Attack on the Population

Oct 31, 2011

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe is proposing to gut the U.S. Postal Service and hand it over to private interests.

Donahoe has asked Congress to give him the authority to make all sorts of cuts, including cutting Saturday delivery; closing up to 3,600 local post offices; and laying off anywhere from 120,000 to 220,000 postal workers in the next several years. He readily talks about replacing local post offices with kiosks in supermarkets where people can buy stamps.

It’s an attack on the population as a whole, but especially on the poor and working class, the elderly and disabled, rural and inner city populations who need local post offices as a lifeline to basic services.

But closing local post offices and cutting delivery are extremely unpopular with large parts of the population. Congress members up for reelection next year don’t want to admit they voted for such an attack.

So Obama tried to do them a favor: he took the question out of Congress’ hands and gave it to the Budgetary “Super Committee”. This “Super Committee” has already been given powers by Congress to come up with a budget cutting plan behind closed doors, out of sight of the population. If the Super Committee includes postal cuts in its proposal, Congress can shrug and say it had no choice but to go along.

It’s ridiculous to give this to a congressional budgetary committee – the Postal Service gets NO money from the Federal government. It is fully funded through the sale of stamps, etc. So cutting postal services has NO effect on the federal budget at all!

But this will allow Donahoe and Congress to get away with privatizing huge chunks of the Postal Service, taking away the profitable parts – like parcel delivery – while closing down unprofitable services needed by the population – like rural and inner city post offices and mail delivery.

A better idea would be to get rid of socially useless expenses instead – starting with Postmaster Donahoe, and Congress!

Post Office Is NOT Losing Money!

Oct 31, 2011

The idea that the Postal Service is in financial trouble is a complete lie. Mail volume is NOT being hit by the Internet. Just the opposite: its record year was 2006, when people’s use of the Internet was already well established. And while first-class mail may be down thanks to people’s use of email instead of letters, parcel volume is way up – thanks to so much being bought over the Internet!

Yes, the USPS is expected to lose more than nine billion dollars this year – but that’s because of a crooked law Congress passed in 2006, requiring it to prepay 75 years of retiree health care within 10 years. 75 years!

The bill for that prepayment over the past four years was 21 billion dollars – just OVER the 20 billion dollar deficit the USPS ran up in the same time. No other government agency has such a requirement.

In addition, according to several government accounting agencies, the USPS has overpaid its pension fund by up to 75 billion dollars! Take away those two amounts, and the Postal Service has been comfortably making money, not losing it.

No reason to close a single post office, or cut even one worker!

Page 8

UAW Contracts:
Lies, Intimidation, Coercion

Oct 31, 2011

New UAW contracts are now signed at GM, Ford, and Chrysler. The bosses are ecstatic. “It’s the cheapest contract in decades.”

The credit ratings of Ford and GM were immediately raised, and plans were announced to resume dividends in 2012.

GM happily revealed that retirees’ pensions would not rise at all, for the first time since 1953. And as soon as the deal was done, Chrysler revealed a quarterly profit of 212 million dollars, to add to its 27-billion-dollar stash with Fiat.

Workers at Ford, GM and Chrysler gave very deep concessions in 2009, concessions that were supposed to be temporary, to “help” companies in bankruptcy. But the 2011 contracts made those concessions permanent. And even deeper concessions were imposed concerning “alternative work schedules,” skilled trades, and pensions.

The Fear Campaign

To force workers to accept such losses, the UAW officialdom waged campaigns of fear, lies, confusion, intimidation, and fraud in the plants. Corporate suits simply stayed quiet and let their “partner” swing the votes.

Top UAW leaders packed the contract summary with lists of jobs saved – which were nothing but the work already scheduled for the plants. Even before the Ford vote, Automotive News reported that “internally, Ford allocated all of those vehicles to North American plants before it sat down at the bargaining table.”

The top bureaucrats made up the wildest horror stories about the consequences of a “no” vote. At GM and Chrysler, they fed stories to the media which the media ran with – stories that an arbitrator would take away the signing bonuses. At Ford, they threatened to put Ford workers on strike immediately, and to come back with an even worse contract.

And local officials took these stories and piled on lies on top of lies. They said the Chrysler arbitrator would cut wages $4 an hour. At Ford plants, they said workers would spend Christmas around fire barrels on the picket lines, watching as Ford brought in replacement workers, and their mortgages and car notes went unpaid.

Officials Arrange Vote

Officialdom arranged voting rules and procedures to suit the situation. In the Ford Rouge plants, voting was spread out over nine days as officials walked the lines and browbeat every worker, and carried out the voting with unsealed pickle buckets for ballot boxes, making the vote impossible to control. At other plants, voting was set up on a Sunday, meaning it kept down the vote.

In the final bit of brazen dictatorship, UAW President King decided that when Chrysler skilled trades voted “NO,” they didn’t mean it. He “determined” that they weren’t voting NO because of the big losses the trades would suffer – and so he declared the whole Chrysler contract ratified, no matter what the skilled trades voted or what the UAW Constitution had to say about it.

But then, what can you expect from someone fresh from dinner at the White House, dining with President Obama and dignitaries on “Texas wagyu beef” and other dishes that King’s membership will never get near in their entire lives?

Workers Weren’t Fooled

The onslaught was calculated to make workers feel as if they had no real choice. But early votes at all three companies, before the intimidation and fear campaign took hold, showed that workers’ initial impulse was to turn it down.

At GM, the large Lansing Delta Township assembly plant immediately voted no. At Ford, the Michigan Assembly and Wayne Stamping plants – normally a very strong support for the UAW bureaucracy – voted no by a slim margin, and the Chicago Assembly and Stamping Plants voted heavily no. At Chrysler, the Belvidere Assembly Plant, Warren Stamping, and Toledo Machining put their early votes in the NO column.

After the early NO votes, the UAW bureaucracy, top to bottom, went to work.

There were a few local elected reps who bucked the tide, stood up honorably, spoke the truth, revealed the lies, and encouraged their membership to resist the pressure and coercion. There were rank and file members who did their best to amplify the efforts of those few reps. Their efforts were enough to keep the voting close – much closer than the usual votes on UAW contracts.

That’s important. A strong NO vote can have a big impact later on. In 2009, Ford workers voted NO on the second part of the concessions imposed on GM and Chrysler workers. No coincidence, then, that Ford workers were offered bonuses totaling $11,750 in the first few months of this contract, while GM workers got just over half that, and Chrysler workers got only $1750. Ford’s head of global manufacturing, John Fleming, told reporters afterwards, “We always knew we’d have to pay our workers a little bit more to ratify it.”

Prepare for the Next Attack

U.S. auto workers went through a bitter experience with this contract. But experience, even if bitter, can be a good teacher. Workers certainly learned more about who stood with them, and who stood against them. Those who got active against the deals can see how close they did come to winning, despite the fact that their resources were and are so much less organized than the bureaucracy’s. They can take a longer view and keep active, keep organizing, preparing for the next round of concession demands which will inevitably come. Companies now re-open contracts when they want.

The biggest weapon used against the workers was fear – fear of the unknown. There has been no serious national strike since 1976. Workers have no background of experience. They have not seen the power that they do have when they decide to go into action together.

Most workers were not deceived by this contract. They knew it was a rotten deal. But they need to gain confidence in their own forces – in their own power to throw the scare stories and the rotten deals back in the bureaucrats’ faces.

But a strong minority was ready this time – and they can make all the difference in the future.