The Spark

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

Issue no. 909 — February 6 - 20, 2012

Editorial:
Republicans:
Keep Your Grubby Hands off the Workers’ Unions!

Feb 6, 2012

February 1, Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, signed so-called “right-to-work” legislation, which formally prohibits the “union shop,” that is, any requirement that workers join or give dues to a union in order to get or keep a job.

These laws are grossly misnamed. No worker has ever been given a “right to work” because one of these laws passed. In fact, in most states where they exist, unemployment is much higher than average.

The aim of these laws has always been clear: to prevent union organization, by cutting back their source of funds.

Indiana is not the first state to pass this “right-to-prevent-a-union” legislation. But it is the first state in the last ten years to pass such a law. And it is the first state in the industrial centers of the country – the Midwest heartland, the Northeast and the Pacific Coast – to do so.

Certainly, states have been chipping away at union rights for decades now. And that’s especially so in states, where the Republicans gained control – since the Democrats have always gained from the electoral help the union apparatuses gave them.

But up until now, even the Republicans held back from this kind of attack on the unions in their strongholds. In the South and the Plains states and parts of the Mountain West, yes – but not in a state like Indiana.

Today, it seems, the Republicans have crossed that threshold – and that means that the capitalist class or a good part of it stands poised to tear up the framework that has governed labor relations for the past 77 years.

It was a very formal framework: One that required workers to get the government to certify their right to have a union. One that prevented workers from having a union unless the majority of the workers voted for one.

This formal framework ended up with the company deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks and sending them on to the union apparatus, freeing it from even that little bit of worker control.

This formal framework determined that workers could strike only every three or four years when a contract expired – and, eventually, over the years, not even then.

All of these things, which were the “norm” of labor relations in this country, served the company’s desire for “labor peace” and the union apparatus’s desire for a stable income.

But they didn’t serve the workers. Why can’t 40% of the workers, for example, decide to set up their own union and make it function? Why couldn’t the workers decide whether or not to pay their dues, based on how the union represents their interests? Why do they have to go through such tortured procedures, instead of just deciding, among themselves, to strike?

This framework that didn’t serve the workers is being torn up today – but not in a way that serves the workers’ interests.

Not a single thing in these so-called “right to work” laws makes it easier for workers to set up their own union, to decide when and how to take on the company. Nothing in them turns the union’s source of funds over to defending the immediate and long term interests of the workers – which could only be served by deciding to prepare for a real fight.

Just the opposite. Because, even while the Republicans – and some Democrats – attack the union apparatus, both parties increase the legal impediments put in the workers’ way: they add more restrictions on the right to strike, more restrictions on the rights of workers to express themselves in the workplace.

There are huge problems with the unions. But the workers can change it; they can take the situation in their own hands.

Let the politicians of both parties keep their grubby hands off the workers’ unions.

Pages 2-3

He “Saved” the Auto Companies by Attacking the Workers

Feb 6, 2012

In the State of the Union Address, President Obama signaled that the Democratic Party will campaign for votes this year by claiming they “saved the auto industry.”

They gave the auto COMPANIES a lot of money, all right. But they took away OUR money — raises, COLA, bonuses. They took away OUR right to strike. They permanently took away break time, vacation rights, and overtime protection. They made it easier to dump retirees’ pensions and healthcare. And they took away new hires’ rights to get into first tier.

And this whole program was started under President Bush.

Democrats and Republicans are OK with “saving the auto industry” by throwing workers under the bus. They play their “good cop, bad cop” roles. Why would we want to support either one?

Election Promises:
More Manufacturing Jobs

Feb 6, 2012

President Obama used his State of the Union Address to signal the Democratic Party’s slogans for this year’s election campaigns, including his own re-election.

In the speech, Obama promised to “bring manufacturing back,” and with it manufacturing jobs from overseas.

But here’s what the chief economist of Comerica Bank headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, the auto industry’s center, said: “Manufacturing is a productivity-driven industry and that fundamental force will reassert itself, leading to flat or even declining manufacturing employment even as output increases.”

The economist remains reality-based, since he is not running for re-election this year. It was not jobs sent overseas that cut manufacturing employment. It was the push for productivity – speed-up – right here in this country.

Stop the speed-up.

Election Rhetoric:
Taxing the Wealthy

Feb 6, 2012

In his State of the Union address, President Obama denounced tax cuts that allow wealthy people to pay taxes at a much lower rate. As an example, he cited the extension of the Bush tax cuts, saying, “Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.”

The extension of these tax breaks were passed in December 2010 by the Democrats working with the Republicans in Congress. President Obama himself signed them into law!

Obama and the Democrats had denounced these same tax cuts for the wealthy, when they were running for office in 2008.

What do YOU believe – pre-election promises or post-election actions?

Nickeled and Dimed

Feb 6, 2012

Going shopping in Montgomery County? Bring your own bags or pay 5 cents. Virginia wants to charge 20 cents per bag. Washington, D.C. already charges a nickel per bag. It’s just a matter of time for Prince Georges County and everywhere else. No more free trash can liners or lunch bags.

And all the money that they get from bag sales is supposed to go to cleaning the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.

But don’t hold your breath for a cleaner river – unless of course you are standing next to it.

Detroit:
Extorting Concessions from City Workers

Feb 6, 2012

Leaders of 25 of the 48 City of Detroit unions announced they reached a tentative agreement on deep concessions with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. Of course, the membership still hasn’t voted yet to accept the cuts. And leaders of other unions where there is more resistance haven’t yet joined the latest stampede – including unions representing water department employees, bus drivers and police and firefighters.

The contract proposal includes a 10% wage cut, an increase in health insurance co-pays, pension benefit cuts, a defined contribution plan for new hires instead of a pension, elimination of overtime pay for more than eight hours, and 1,000 layoffs.

The city had imposed furlough days on city employees in the last concessions – which amounted to a 10% pay cut. Now the city wants the pay cuts AND for employees to work those days so the city can lay off workers.

This so-called deal was pushed through with threats that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will impose an Emergency Financial Manager on the city, who will impose worse concessions if the unions don’t agree. It was a campaign carried by Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, the City Council and all the media.

Some City Council members jumped in to demand even bigger cuts, 1,300 additional layoffs, closing the remaining city recreation centers, increasing bus fares, privatizing more city services, and, perhaps, ending subsidies to the art museum, zoo, and African-American history museum.

Why in the world should city workers be the ones asked to pay for Detroit’s budget mess? Why should the population suffer even more cutbacks?

City workers didn’t move corporations out of the city, eroding the tax base. City workers didn’t drain the budget by giving tax breaks to corporations to bring work back. City workers didn’t give no-bid contracts to politicians’ friends. And they didn’t authorize high interest loans/bonds in order to fund banks and the wealthy.

Get any needed money from the wealthy – they have robbed the city for decades!

Jerry Brown Says:
Let There Be Screw-ups and Deaths, but Keep Going

Feb 6, 2012

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown fired two top state officials responsible for regulating the oil industry: Derek Chernow, head of the Department of Conservation, and his deputy Elena Miller.

After a Chevron worker died in an accident caused by company practices, the regulators issued orders to cease operations near the damaged well. Then, after the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that oil companies were not adequately protecting drinking water resources, the two California regulators tightened permit requirements.

In the past, candidate Jerry Brown posed as an ardent supporter of environmental regulations. But Governor Jerry Brown acted no different from his Republican predecessor.

Brown sided with the oil industry and pressured Chernow. Brown proposed to issue permits with minimal oversight. Accidents and contamination would be fixed after the fact. Chernow refused this shortcut and got fired together with his deputy a week later.

When new and obedient regulators started to issue shortcut permits, Brown said: “It’s not easy. There are going to be screw-ups. There are going to be bankruptcies. There will be indictments and there will be deaths. But, we’re going to keep going.”

All these screw-ups and deaths are preventable, but the state’s only task is to keep company profits going. Giddyap Brown!

“Auto Boom”

Feb 6, 2012

The Free Press’s big headline said “Auto Boom: 15,000 jobs on tap.” Some boom. The bust lost us more than 200,000 jobs in Michigan.

Then in the small print they say it will take until 2015 until those 15,000 jobs (two tier) open up.

15,000 isn’t a boom. It’s not even a peep.

We, our families, brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins, need jobs RIGHT NOW.

Michigan:
Tax the Bosses, Not Retirees

Feb 6, 2012

Starting in January, retirees born after 1952 have to pay state income tax on their pension checks. That’s a loss of 4.35% of their income!

When workers retired they had no reason to expect this. How were people supposed to plan for their futures, when they were promised for decades that their pensions would be tax exempt?

Michigan workers aren’t responsible for the state’s budget problems. Take the money from the corporations getting huge tax breaks.

The Phony Unemployment Rate

Feb 6, 2012

The Labor Department’s most recent figures show the official U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 8.3% in January from 8.5% in December. The media was quick to hail the new figures.

Of course, if there was a real recovery, a growing part of the workforce would be working. But the Labor Department’s own figures show the exact opposite. What it calls the labor participation rate is lower than at any time since the recession began in 2007! That means less and less of the workforce has a job, and the depression is getting worse.

Government statistics lie! Are we surprised?

Pages 4-5

U.S.:
Komen Tries to Choke off Funding for Women’s Health

Feb 6, 2012

On January 31, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, the famous breast cancer charity, which advertises itself with pink ribbons and has big corporate support, announced that it was breaking off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast-health services for women. The public outcry was so great, Komen was forced to reverse that decision within three days.

But by that time, the top officials of Komen had been exposed for what they are: a bunch of right-wing Republicans, who virulently oppose women’s rights. Komen’s CEO Nancy Brinker, the sister of the late Susan G. Komen, is a major Republican donor who held several positions in the George W. Bush administration, which did all it could to promote anti-abortion legislation. In 2010, Brinker made Karen Handel her senior vice president for public policy. When Handel ran for governor of Georgia, she won Sarah Palin’s support by describing herself as “staunchly and unequivocally pro-life.” In other words, she is ready to condemn women to death by refusing them access to contraceptives and abortion.

Once in charge at Komen, Handel looked for a way to cut off Komen’s funding to Planned Parenthood. “I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood,” she declared.

Several members of Komen’s board of directors resigned over the decision to cut off Planned Parenthood funding. They then came forward and explained how Handel openly worked with Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns, a virulent opponent of Planned Parenthood, who swore to cut its funding and support “now and forever.” Handel used Stearns’s phony investigation into Planned Parenthood to cut off its funding.

Religious and right-wing zealots and fanatics, who want to control women’s sex lives, have opposed Planned Parenthood for a long time. Planned Parenthood provides health services, especially reproductive health care services, including for abortions, contraception, and venereal disease, to almost one-fifth of all women in the country. By attacking the ability of women to get the health care services, these “pro-lifers” are ready to see women lose one of their few sources for cancer screening if they don’t have health insurance.

The public outcry against the Komen attempt to cut off cancer screening money for Planned Parenthood shows that women were outraged at this attack. But it also shows how dangerous it is for the purse strings for vital and critical health care needs to be in the hands of privately run charities that have their own political agenda.

Iran:
Horror and Barbarism against Women

Feb 6, 2012

In 2006, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 44 and the mother of two children, was condemned to death by stoning for adultery and the murder of her husband. She has always proclaimed her innocence.

The following year, the penalty for murder was reduced to ten years in prison. There remains the death penalty by stoning for adultery, an atrocity imposed on women since 1979 when the religious authorities seized power.

In 2010, faced with international protests, the Iranian regime announced the suspension of her execution, but not its repeal.

Today, the self-proclaimed chief justice of the province where she’s being held announced that for “technical” reasons the death penalty by stoning has been converted to ... hanging.

Everything must be done so that Sakineh escapes this barbarism, so that she’s freed and acquitted. And everything done so that women are freed from this inhumanity.

Israel:
Religious Fanaticism against Women

Feb 6, 2012

In Israel, a minority of several thousand religious fanatics tries to impose segregation from the Middle Ages on half the population, women – especially in the neighborhoods where the fanatics live.

Women are excluded from certain public ceremonies, from funerals, forced to bunch together on the sidewalks or in spaces reserved for them, and to sit at the back of buses. This is applied not only to the women who belong to the haredim, the ultra-orthodox “men in black,” but on all women.

Three women have recently reacted. An eight-year-old girl was seen in tears on Israeli television, refusing to return to her religious school in a settlement in the west of Jerusalem, because she was afraid of being once again insulted and spit upon because of her dress and her sleeves, which these Jewish Taliban think aren’t long enough. Some days before, a 28-year-old student refused to sit at the back of a bus. And another woman, even wearing a wig and long skirt in the manner of orthodox Jews, chose to sit just behind the bus driver, refusing to be sent to the back of the bus.

On December 27th, several thousand demonstrators gathered against this segregation that the fanatics try to impose through moral and sometimes physical violence. The reaction of the fanatics was to respond by a grotesque march where they wore the yellow star, their children being dressed in the stripes of deportees to Hitler’s camps, implying by this that the rest of the Israeli population were no better than ... Nazis.

Although the government of Netanyahu and the far-rightist Lieberman is officially hostile to this segregation, it makes the population pay the price of compromises so that it can gain the parliamentary support of religious parties like Shas. The dictatorship exercised by a more and more extremist Israeli power against the Palestinian people once again has consequences for the Israeli population itself.

Catholic Church Wants to Impose Its Will on Women

Feb 6, 2012

Every Catholic who went to church two Sundays ago heard a denunciation of the Obama administration. And why is the Catholic Church making political speeches during mass? Because one of the mandates in the Affordable Care medical reform requires all employers to provide contraception in their employees’ health insurance. And that includes, among other things, a Catholic-run hospital that hires non-Catholic workers.

You would think the world was about to stop revolving around the sun. This two thousand year old, backwards, reactionary institution totally blew a head gasket over what – free condoms!

Most women, including Catholic women, use contraceptives. Of course the Church knows this. That is why they read the letter during mass – precisely because they want to dictate women’s personal behavior. They want to politicize women’s reproductive behavior. Most Catholic women have the good sense to ignore the Church mandates and priestly threats of burning in hell for using contraceptives.

Bishops and priests need to stay out of our bedrooms and our doctors’ offices. This is not the Middle Ages.

Guantanamo Prison:
Ten Years of Inhumane Practices

Feb 6, 2012

In January of 2002, Guantanamo Prison was set up at a military base the U.S. maintains in Cuba. In ten years, 779 “suspects” who came from 48 countries have been locked up in an arbitrary fashion, without any proof of their links to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization, without knowing why they were locked up nor when they would be tried. Some were only 13 years old. They had no right to contact with the outside, and lawyers had to confront all sorts of obstacles before being able to meet their clients.

Despite being the self-proclaimed champion of freedom in the world, the U.S. government deprived them of elementary rights, and detained them in an inhumane fashion. In the beginning, they were held in metal cages outdoors, and suffered abuse of all sorts and confessions obtained through torture.

After spending years in Guantanamo without being accused or judged, some of the detainees were finally declared innocent and were freed. Today, 177 men are still locked up, including 89 considered “eligible for release” but who remain imprisoned because the government doesn’t know where to send them. On the one hand, it refused to allow them to come to the U.S., and on the other hand, even though they were innocent, given their detention, they risk being executed if they go back to their home country.

Guantanamo was set up by George Bush, under an executive order in 2002. It was maintained for seven more years by his administration and three more years by Barack Obama, who had promised to close it.

Guantanamo remains the symbol of the barbarism carried out by the U.S., which pretends to free the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Pages 6-7

California:
Strike against Kaiser’s Attack

Feb 6, 2012

Kaiser Permanente workers held a one-day strike across California on January 31 to protest the company’s proposal to cut retirement and health care benefits.

This is the fourth short strike called since last March by the National Healthcare Workers Union (NUHW), which represents about 4,000 Kaiser employees, including registered nurses and mental health and social workers, who left the SEIU in disgust with SEIU leaders’ policies.

About 17,000 nurses of the California Nurses Association and 650 maintenance workers of the Stationary Engineers Local 39 joined the strike in solidarity. But the leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 44,000 Kaiser workers in California, have been telling their members to cross the picket line!

It’s outrageous that people who call themselves union leaders – those at the head of the SEIU – should so blatantly betray workers’ interests.

Workers who remain in SEIU have some decisions to make.

Germany:
Poverty Wages ... in One of the World’s Richest Countries

Feb 6, 2012

The media regularly goes into raptures about what they call the “German miracle.” Germany’s Gross Domestic Product seems to have grown by 3% last year, and once again unemployment is down. So, despite the crisis, all is well in the most powerful capitalist country in Europe.

All is well, in fact, for the profits of the German bosses, but it’s not the same for those who produce them. German workers absolutely don’t profit from this fine economic health. Several recent studies have shown that one in five German workers has very low wages, less than 10 euros ($13) an hour. In Germany, where prices are higher, that buys about a sixth less than it would in the U.S.

There is no minimum wage covering all jobs in Germany. Some industries, like construction and cleaning services, have minimum wages. But the downside is that a laid-off worker must accept any job, even in industries outside their own, and even if the pay is worse. So a number of workers must take two or three low-paid jobs to cope with the cost of living.

Today one third of workers in the western part of Germany and one half of workers in the eastern part work in businesses not covered by union contracts. As a result, their wages are often 30% lower than those covered by a union contract.

But even those covered by contracts aren’t assured of having decent incomes. A newly-hired worker in a confectionary shop in Bavaria gets 5.25 euros ($6.77) an hour. Butchers in Saxony and hairdressers in Schleswig-Holstein get 6 euros ($7.74). And in many occupations the wage is below 8 euros ($10.30), for example, in airport security, call centers, cleaning, farm work, etc. Moreover, in the eastern part of Germany, more than 20 years after the two parts were reunited, wages are a lot lower than in the west, in the private as well as the public sector.

When German bosses hire temporary workers, they don’t pay them what the job normally pays. After years of discussion, the German government has finally decided that temps will get wages of 7.89 euros ($10.18) in the west and 7.01 euros ($9.04) in the east.

And the bosses, believing they can get away with anything, have truly disgusting attitudes. For example, eight construction workers of Polish origin, working in Essen, fought for two months against their employer who didn’t want to pay them the promised rate. The boss wanted to pay them 64¢ an hour. Only their determination allowed them to finally win better wages.

A similar determined fight is necessary if German workers are going to prevent more workers from plunging into poverty.

Southwest Ramper Killed

Feb 6, 2012

A Southwest ramp worker was killed last Thursday when a baggage cart hit a passenger shuttle at Dulles. Whatever caused the accident, the more shorthanded the airlines get, the more they push people to hurry, the more accidents and even deaths they will cause.

Page 8

Offering Everyone an Education
– If They Pay for It!

Feb 6, 2012

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said that they are considering doing away with adult education.

The L.A. school board has already cut the adult education program down to half, and this kind of talk is a signal that more cuts are to come.

Adult education serves predominantly working people who didn’t get a high school diploma or the job skills needed. School district officials are now effectively telling people who already have low pay to go to private schools and pay for education.

Dirty hypocrites!

Politicians are using the economic crisis as an excuse to attack public education and other government programs that the population needs. In California, these attacks happen to come from Democrats, who control both the governorship and legislature. In other states, Republicans do the attacking.

Democrat or Republican, both political parties represent only the interests of Big Business.

Legislators Look for Money in All the Wrong Places

Feb 6, 2012

Democratic leaders of the Maryland legislature say the state must cut a billion-dollar budget deficit during the just opened legislative session.

Maryland has 325 credits on its tax books, which were estimated to be worth six and a half BILLION dollars in 2010 alone. These tax credits are called “tax expenditures” to confuse everyone.

“Tax expenditures have become a lot more popular because corporate lobbyists have figured out they are easier ways to get subsidies from tax payers,” says Greg LeRoy, Director of Good Jobs First, a non-profit research group.

The credits give away an estimated 3.7 billion dollars to businesses, although it is not clear exactly which corporations get what, says Leroy. The state does not keep track.

Will Maryland legislators try to reduce business tax credits?

Don’t hold your breath. Last year, they killed off an attempt to end them.

The corporations are the main cause of the Maryland budget deficit, so get the money from them.

Attacks on Teachers Are Attacks on Students

Feb 6, 2012

Maryland’s governor proposes to shift 300 million dollars per year in expenses for teachers’ pensions from the state to the local jurisdictions.

Maryland’s superintendent of schools admitted that one third of Maryland’s counties put less money into their school budgets this year than last – which shows that the counties will not make up the difference.

Teachers already pay Social Security plus 5 to 7% of their salaries for their retirement, like other state employees in Maryland. Now the counties and city of Baltimore will demand still more.

It’s nothing but a scam run by politicians who drain public money into corporate bank accounts.

Chicago:
Better, Not Closed Schools

Feb 6, 2012

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to set people who live in poor neighborhoods with underfunded schools against teachers and those schools. A pastor tied to Emanuel went so far as to pay people to protest in favor of closing some schools. But this backfired. Some of those hired to speak for closing the schools switched sides, joining the protestors trying to keep the schools open! Emanuel wants to divide and conquer, but workers, parents, students and teachers all share the same interest: well-funded public schools for every child.

Guadeloupe:
Police Summon a Youth of Rebel

Feb 6, 2012

This article is translated from the paper Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight), produced by the revolutionary workers organization of that name active on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean.

Raphael Cécé, one of the young comrades of the paper Rebelle (Rebel), and also a militant of Combat Ouvrier, turned himself in at the police station in Pointe-B-Pitre (the capital) on January 13th. The police had demanded he come in after a complaint was filed against him.

A good thirty people accompanied him to the police station. The surprised police pretended it was a private matter, but in reality, it was a political affair (as was shown by the thick folder of the paper Rebelle, which was lying on the desk of the cop who called him in). In fact, the complaint was made by Jean Alice, principal of Baimbridge High School, following the September 30, 2011 mobilization.

That day, many high school students went on strike at the call of Rebelle to protest the schools’ abuse of power. There had been a lot of harassment since the start of the school year, especially in the Lamentin High School, where 52 students were expelled because their hair didn’t please Christian Louis, the head of the school.

In front of Baimbridge, the high school students took up a slogan that’s often heard “chak kochon ni sanmdi a yo” which is a popular proverb in the Creole language of the island literally translated “each pig has its Saturday,” meaning everyone gets his due! The principal pretends this means it was a death threat against him. That’s a laugh.

But Mr. Alice’s complaint reveals that the Guadeloupe school administrators were engaged in some strange doings.

Mr. Alice explained in his complaint that he had phoned the school administrator, who put him in touch with Mr. Delag, the boss in charge of its Mobile Security Team. Mr. Delag searched out information, in order to file the complaint against Raphael Cécé, and also implicated another student with Rebelle!

It seems that the school administration practices political espionage against youth whose only crime is protesting through a paper.

So ... “every pig will have their Saturday!”