The Spark

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

Issue no. 920 — July 30 - August 20, 2012

The Caterpillar Workers’ Fight Is Our Fight!

Jul 30, 2012

Almost 800 workers at the Joliet Caterpillar plant near Chicago, Illinois are in their 13th week on strike. Defying the bosses’ attempt to extort more concessions, Caterpillar workers made the decision that “enough is enough” and came out on strike.

Caterpillar’s latest round of attacks includes a 6-year wage and pension freeze for top-tier workers, along with higher health care contributions – almost $2,000 more in costs per year for all its workers.

This huge corporation spearheaded two decades of cuts imposed on the whole working class – cuts that city and state workers are reeling from today.

Caterpillar laid out the path the auto bosses followed, splitting the work force into lower paid tiers, dumping retiree health care benefits into an underfunded VEBA account, eliminating pensions for the lower tiers. In spite of a determined fight by Caterpillar workers, the company succeeded in crushing two strikes led by the UAW in 1992, then in 1994-95.

Just this past year, Caterpillar locked out workers at a London, Ontario plant who refused a 50% wage cut.

Caterpillar wants more. Why? Could it be the company is in financial trouble?

On the contrary! Despite what they call “softer” global markets, Caterpillar, Inc. just announced first quarter profits at all-time record highs – a whopping 1.586 billion dollars for an increase of 67%! This on top of 2011 record profits of 4.9 billion dollars – profits amounting to $39,000 per employee!

Demanding further concessions, the Caterpillar bosses have issued a declaration of war. No record profit, no mountain of cash is high enough – no labor cost is low enough.

Don’t believe it’s only Caterpillar! The rest of the bosses are eager to follow. When the first quarter 2012 Caterpillar record profits were announced, it rallied the stock market in a frenzy of anticipation of profits to be taken by big bosses all over the country.

They are lining up behind Caterpillar to launch another round of deeper attacks on all workers throughout the country, tearing up the unions, the workplaces, the cities, the entire existing economic and social fabric.

They are doing it because they think they can get away with it, that workers won’t respond.

Well, the Joliet Caterpillar workers did respond. They are right to dig their heels in: to strike and to fight despite the odds. There is no other choice for any of us if we want to retain any fragment of a decent life.

This is not just the Caterpillar workers’ fight. Of course, we should stand in solidarity with them, offer support.

But it will take much more than just building a support movement for the Caterpillar workers to throw back this latest attack. It will take engaging in a fight ourselves to force the bosses and their politicians back. The longer we wait, the harder the fight.

There is an opening to engage a struggle today; to join the Caterpillar workers and city workers and state workers across the nation in a groundswell of anger and defiance that can put the wealth we create back where it belongs: in our pockets and in our communities.

What do we have to lose? We are losing already. We need to join our forces and look beyond the walls of our own individual workplaces and communities to a mass fight, strong enough to stop Caterpillar and the other bosses in their tracks.

Pages 2-3

911 Failures Magnify a Dangerous Thunderstorm

Jul 30, 2012

2.3 million Northern Virginia residents lost emergency 911 service for up to four days after the June 29th thunderstorm. Worse, Verizon, which administers Northern Virginia’s 911 calls, did not alert the 911 call center about the breakdown.

Fairfax officials, dealing with a surge of calls as a result of the storm, shut down the storm response center because they believed all its calls had been resolved. In fact, the calls could not get through. By 7:30 a.m. on June 30th, 911 calls had stopped coming in and police and fire officials could not call out on their emergency lines. But it wasn’t until 9:30 a.m. that Verizon notified officials of the problem with 911.

Residents were told to use non-emergency numbers. But Verizon and FiOS land lines and wireless networks were also not working. So people were unable to call anyone. Residents were then told to flag down police.

Why not use telepathy or smoke signals?

This is not the first time. In 2010 and 2011, in Maryland, 911 service failed on four occasions in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Verizon also failed to notify the emergency call centers all four times. In the worst one, some 10,000 calls to 911 failed to go through.

And what have we learned from all these 911 outages? That leaving a necessary public service in the hands of a private, profit-making company spells disaster, no matter what the emergency.

Who Knew?

Jul 30, 2012

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that expansion of Medicaid coverage lowered the death rates in several states.

Wow, how about that! If people have access to medical care, they’re less likely to die! And that’s with Medicaid – which certainly does not provide really adequate care to those who have it.

So, if we want to stop people from dying needlessly from lack of health care, we need to expand coverage to everyone, universally. That’s absolutely clear.

But are the Democrats or Republicans talking about anything like that? No....

HMO Profits Skyrocket

Jul 30, 2012

HMOs in the state of Michigan raked in 38% more in 2011 than in 2010. Their profit margins increase from 2.1% to 2.6%. Blue Care Network was the most profitable, with 163.7 million dollars in net income and a 6.2% profit margin!

At the same time, patients in the Detroit area are using fewer in-patient hospital days. That may be because so many people have higher deductibles, and are choosing not to get needed medical treatment.

HMO profits are certainly healthy, but what about their patients?

Stealing from Poor Chicago Schools to Give to the Rich

Jul 30, 2012

A few decades ago, Chicago politicians announced a plan to “develop” “blighted” neighborhoods. It became the tax program called TIF (for Tax Increment Financing), which siphons half of the property taxes collected in the city.

TIF fund money is money diverted away from schools, which rely heavily on property taxes – no wonder the school system has a deficit! Much of this money has been handed over to big businesses, like United, the Mercantile Exchange, or Miller Coors.

Some TIF money is spent on school projects – building new schools or renovating old ones. The question is which schools.

More than 200 million dollars of TIF money went to Chicago’s elite selective enrollment schools, like Payton College Prep. Among the best schools in the state, many serve middle and upper-class students and are located in well-off, white areas of the city. These selective enrollment schools are only 1% of the schools in Chicago. Add to this the TIF money that went to charter schools and you have more than 40% of the money spent on schools. Charter schools also restrict enrollment, and they are privately run – many by people friendly with the city’s political elite.

Chicago’s neighborhood schools, the schools that educate all students, wherever they come from, are more than two thirds of the schools in the city. But they received less than half the TIF money.

There you have it: a program advertised as helping poor and working people in the city takes money away from their schools and gives it to schools for the wealthy and middle classes. And the resulting deficit in the school budget is then used to attack the public school system.

Like other plans that pretend to aim at “development,” this program is a win-win – for the arrogant rich and their cronies.

Fees and Fines:
The New Tax

Jul 30, 2012

In early July, the L.A. City Council voted to increase parking fines by $5, the sixth set of increases in seven years. The council also voted to increase the price of admission to the zoo. In seven years, the price to go to the zoo has doubled.

At the same meeting, the city council voted to exempt new car dealerships from paying the gross receipts tax, which will save dealerships about four million dollars per year.

So, fines on parking tickets and taking the family to the zoo cost us an arm and a leg so that a handful of wealthy car dealers can make a bigger profit.

Public School Libraries:
No Librarians, No Books

Jul 30, 2012

Washington, D.C. public school officials plan to cut 34 school librarians. The cuts will mean 57 schools and 16,000 students will not have a librarian, according to a parents’ group.

Even before these latest cuts, only three of the city’s 16 high schools met the standard of 11 books per student. Others have only nine books per student, or four, or even only one book per student, and they are often “ragged, old, and insulting,” according to a protestor. And now, conditions will get even worse.

And it’s not just in D.C.; public schools in working class cities across the country are being thrown back to the 1950s when only 40% had a library, and with only three books per student. From 2009 to 2010 one-third of public school libraries had their budgets cut.

Think of how much wealth has been created in this country within the past 60 years. Yet public schools for the children of the working class are being squeezed back to where they were 60 years ago!

There is something wrong with this picture – that something is capitalism, an outdated voracious system, which accumulates wealth for a tiny few while pushing everyone else backwards.

Tuition Increases:
Squeezing Every Last Cent Out of Us

Jul 30, 2012

Western Michigan University announced it is increasing its tuition by 3.9% for the coming school year. It’s just the latest of a series of public universities in Michigan to do so. Eastern Michigan, Wayne State, and Michigan State all increased their tuition at similar rates.

Tuition at public universities in Michigan, as in most of the country, has been skyrocketing for decades. Tuition for a liberal arts student at the University of Michigan rose 74% in just nine years from 1999 to 2008. Nationally, tuition increased by 54% from 1997 to 2007 and 49% in the preceding decade – beyond the increases in inflation!

A college education has been priced out of reach for most workers’ children. It’s why student loan debt is skyrocketing.

The banks are using the rising cost of a college degree to their advantage, by securitizing student debt like they did mortgages during the housing bubble. It’s actually a safer bet for “investors,” since Congress made it impossible for students to get out from under debt through bankruptcy.

Big companies and government agencies demand some college for most jobs today – but in order to pay for college, the children of the working class go into debt for their whole lives.

And the banks find another way to make money off someone’s misery. Capitalism becomes more and more cannibalistic by the day!

Pages 4-5

Olympic Games:
The Olympic Spirit at the Highest Level ... on the Stock Exchange!

Jul 30, 2012

The Olympic Games, the “great festival of sports,” are a worldwide operation aimed to impress on two billion brains the logos of big brands. The objective is clear: persuade a maximum number of people on earth of the advantage of buying such and such a brand of shoes, T-shirts or other products, even if they obviously have to pay more than for competing brands. And what does it matter if it’s all built in factories where the workers are paid $50 a month?

What’s important is that out of 130 million babies born on the planet this year, the greatest number possible know how to quickly say, at the same time as “Mama” and “Dada,” such words as “McDonalds” and “Coca Cola.”

Organizing the “great festival of sports” causes many problems. First, it was necessary to convince the British population to pay not only the cost announced in 2005, but four times as much – currently running at 14 billion dollars.

Much effort is needed for organization and control. Imagine the horror if spectators wear T-shirts saying Pepsi that might get photographed, when Coca Cola is the official sponsor! That’s what they call “ambush marketing.” It was a double horror in 1996, at the Atlanta games, when a sprinter passed before millions of TV viewers wearing a Puma logo, while Reebok was the official sponsor of the games. That’s probably why the security budget of the Olympic games had to grow. You don’t joke around with billions of advertising dollars that support, among others, the International Olympic Committee.

There are inspectors spread out on London streets, threatening for example a saleswoman for displaying some colored rings in the form of the Olympic logo, among the pants and bras available for her customers. There was a butcher who dared to design the Olympic ring out of sausages. And you can bet neither of them contributed to the honorable Olympic committee.

There can be no Olympic games without medals. But because the price of metals is up, especially gold, there is less gold per medal: only a quarter of an ounce instead of 14.5 ounces! All the same, that added up to an order of eight TONS of gold, silver and copper for the Rio Tinto Mining Company. And Rio Tinto, one of the world’s greatest polluters, wants to burnish its image. After all, these games are presented as the “greenest in the entire history of Olympic sport.”

To see how “ecological” the games are, check out British green companies and Dow Chemical, one of the main sponsors. Dow, of course, made millions selling “Agent Orange,” causing death and devastation during the Viet Nam war. The corporation still refuses to pay compensation to the victims of the chemical catastrophe in Bhopal, which pushed India to boycott the games. Then there’s British Petroleum, responsible for the catastrophe of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago. BP has now been baptized a “sustainable sponsor.”

All that is the magic of sport!

Economic Miracles and Early Death in India

Jul 30, 2012

In India, more people are starving or malnourished than anywhere else in the world. For example, 75% of its 1.2 billion people cannot get enough food. And four out of ten malnourished children in the world live in India. These children are physically so weak that they die of malaria, diarrhea or other easily curable diseases.

And the situation is getting worse! Availability of rice, wheat and other food-grains has actually fallen from 177 kilograms in the early 1990s for each person a year down to 153 kilos in 2004, according to Utsa Patnaik, the author of The Republic of Hunger. These are levels not seen since the 1930s!

It’s shocking that this growing starvation and hunger is happening in a country talked about as being an “economic miracle,” that is, one of the fastest growing economies in the world. India averages higher than a 7% rate of growth per year – even over the last years of economic crisis.

The reality, though, is that most of the growth of the Indian economy has been concentrated in just a few narrow sectors, which are mainly tied to increases in investment and outsourcing by a few big companies in the imperialist countries, especially high tech companies like Microsoft, Intel and IBM. Other big companies, from banks to airlines, have also outsourced some of their work to India.

This outsourcing has certainly benefitted parts of the Indian upper and middle classes that gained business and jobs. But this work did not develop the country.

The middle and upper classes of India are like tiny islands in a growing sea of misery, as inequality continues to widen. The 810 million people who live in rural regions are forced to survive on a shrinking share of what is produced by the national economy. And some of the biggest slums in all of Asia are in and around cities like Mumbai, where one-third of its 18 million inhabitants are either homeless or live in tiny miserable shacks.

No, there is no miracle in India – economic or otherwise.

Olympic Games:
Rid Me of These Poor!

Jul 30, 2012

For the few days of the Olympic Games, London looks after its image. The organizers established what they call a “dispersion zone.” This is a perimeter from which the poor who look disreputable in the midst of the festival of sport must be cleared.

When the Chinese did the same thing in Beijing, Western countries were indignant. But what was condemned yesterday thousands of miles away has become acceptable in London today.

To carry out the great cleansing of London, the organizers used all measures: they moved out beggars, the poor, the miserable; stopped youth with hoodies; inspected brothels from basement to attic. New benches were provided for bus shelters to make it impossible for the homeless to sleep.

Just like a sparkling post card, the Olympic Games hide a reality – because it would spoil the festival!

Heat Crisis:
There’s a Lot of Work to Do

Jul 30, 2012

It’s sweltering! And not only are people pushed to the limit. In the extreme weather, the infrastructure, the stuff we depend on, is also at or past its limits.

Like all construction, roads and bridges are built to expand and contract according to past normal weather patterns. But the old “normal” is not what we are getting today. The last 10 years are the hottest on record – July’s hot weather has already buckled subway rails and derailed trains. The drought and heat are causing roadbed failures from Alaska to Nebraska.

Storms of increasing intensity meant more rain falling in a shorter time than drainage systems were planned for.

The electrical grid, which hasn’t been upgraded or expanded, nor even really maintained, is over-stressed. Cooling systems aren’t built for this heat. A power plant shut down when its supply of water ran dry.

There is a tremendous amount of work of all kinds that needs to be done, in order for society to adapt successfully to the changing weather patterns. By coincidence, there are several million unemployed workers available right now! Strong and energetic youth are available; the unemployment rate for 18-to-24-year-olds is near 50%!

And, even more coincidental – or maybe not coincidental – an estimated TWO TRILLION DOLLARS in unproductive capital is being held in reserve by capitalist society’s banks and financial elite.

What more could we ask? The money is there, the labor power is there, and after this sweltering summer, the need to get work started is obvious.

There is only one problem: the financial and political rulers of this society don’t make socially responsible decisions. That will have to be imposed on them by the collective force of working people fed up with paying the cost.

Drought to Hit Food Prices:
Workers’ Wages Should Go Up!

Jul 30, 2012

The worst drought in half a century will drive up food prices in 2013, the USDA says.

Surprise surprise, food companies are already using the drought as an excuse to drive prices up now.

It’s a stark reminder of how a natural disaster is made worse by the capitalist economy.

Many farmers are already being damaged by the drought: 88% of the current corn crop is being grown in drought-stricken areas. Soybeans and other crops are almost as hard-hit. Cattle farmers who no longer can afford the feed are “culling” their herds – selling off part or most of them.

It means more and more smaller and medium-sized farmers will be driven into ruin, losing their farms to the banks and forced to sell at rock-bottom prices to large, corporate farms. And those corporations will turn right around and sell their produce at even more inflated prices to consumers who can barely afford them.

People with a lower income spend a higherpercentage of that income on necessities like food – so even the 4 or 5% price increase predicted by the USDA will hit working-class consumers much harder than wealthier ones.

Unemployed workers can afford that more expensive food even less. And food prices are expected to rise even higher internationally than they will in the United States.

Capitalism automatically assumes that working people will be the ones to pay for a natural disaster – while the wealthy make money off of it!

Enough of this! Let the capitalists, who benefit from every twist and turn of the capitalist economy, be the ones to pay. Our wages need to be linked directly to the real increase in prices. When prices go up, our wages should go up. Immediately!

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Book Review:
Not in My Neighborhood

Jul 30, 2012

Mortgage scams, redlining and racial and ethnic segregation are nothing new. In fact, they are as American as apple pie, as Antero Pietila’s book Not in My Neighborhood shows so well.

Pietila, a reporter on the Baltimore Sun for more than 40 years, shows the decades leading up to World War I, during which immigrants poured into the U.S. Baltimore was a large port of entry, and also a city to which black people came as they tried to escape the South.

Baltimore’s leaders were determined to keep Jews and black people out of their neighborhoods, hence Pietila’s subtitle, “How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City.” Realtors led the way by writing what were known as restrictive covenants for home sales: the contracts stated no Jews and no blacks were allowed to buy the homes.

Baltimore’s rapid population growth forced black people into a few neighborhoods. Homes lacked indoor plumbing. Crowding helped spread tuberculosis. Mortality rates for tuberculosis among black people were seven times higher than among white people in the early 20th century.

By 1910, Baltimore was segregated by race and religion in housing, restaurants, cemeteries. Its department stores allowed black people to buy, but they could not try on clothing. Black people could not attend concerts at Peabody Institute of Music. Finally, a black lawyer, W.A. Hawkins, challenged this housing discrimination by buying a house on McCullough Street, which until then had been a whites only street.

Jews and Catholics as well, were considered undesirable home buyers. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt’s housing administration created a list ranking how ethnic groups “improved” or “worsened” a neighborhood. The A list, the most desirable, included English, Germans, Scots, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants. The list was color coded, with city maps showing the least desirable housing areas in red. That’s where the word “redlining” came from in real estate.

The city government, usually Southern Democrats, promoted this segregation, spewing forth racist and ethnic lies to justify it. An interesting side note: A black professor at Morgan University in Baltimore invented the blood bank. But the Red Cross refused blood donations from black people during World War II.

Baltimore experienced a further population explosion before and during World War II: some 250,000 more white workers from the Appalachian states, and another 25,000 black workers, came to Baltimore. They found work at two booming defense industries, Bethlehem Steel and Glenn L Martin (an aircraft factory), both with a workforce of more than 50,000 each. The housing market was so tight that tiny houses were thrown up near the plants in eastern Baltimore County.

After the war, these so-called “undesirable” Appalachian white areas plus Baltimore City’s black areas remained red-lined. But such areas made millions in profits for realtors.

The Supreme Court may have formally ruled against housing discrimination in 1948, but reality was far different. The restrictions against blacks, Catholics and Jews, and Appalachian whites remained in the Baltimore housing market well into the 1960s.

Pietila’s book also shows how the big money developed in Baltimore. It came from the real estate men but also from fortunes made in liquor during Prohibition and from numbers running.

Racist and other questionable real estate tactics also helped to fund some of Baltimore’s best-known philanthropies.

Read Not in My Neighborhood for a good look at this historic phenomenon of mortgage scams. What happened in Baltimore happened in almost every U.S. city.

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Who Will the Cops Kill Next?

Jul 30, 2012

On Saturday, July 20, police shot and killed 25-year-old Manuel Angel Diaz in Anaheim, California.

Diaz was with two friends, minding their own business, when Anaheim cops approached them in the usual kind of harassment that cops carry out against young people in working class and poor communities. Diaz was neither armed, nor did he have any drugs on him. But having been arrested several times before, he fled. The cops fired and wounded him in the buttocks. Witnesses reported that when Diaz was down on the ground, a cop fired one shot to the head, execution-style.

The cops then proceeded to let Diaz die. A video recording, which appeared on the Orange County Weekly website, showed Diaz after the shooting, lying wounded and bleeding on a lawn, surrounded by cops. One person in the video shouted at the cops, “He is still alive, man.” But the cops did nothing except push people, including the person recording the cops on video.

After Diaz was finally taken to the hospital, he was pronounced dead.

A few hours later, the cops claimed that they were attacked by protestors. But in another video broadcast on CBS’s KCAL-TV, the police are shown firing bean bags and pepper balls at panicked families, including many young children and infants. The video shows a police dog attacking a mother and infant. It then bit a man, who was trying to protect his one-month-old baby.

Over the next four days various protests confronted the police, which city officials and the news media denounced as “violent.” These are the same officials who in just this year have presided over the killing of six people by the Anaheim cops, including a young man who was shot and killed by the police the day after they killed Diaz.

For more than two years, the mother of another man killed by Anaheim police, Caesar Cruz, has been staging weekly protests at police department headquarters. In late 2009, the cops had cornered Cruz in a Walmart and shot him nine times in the back.

One woman living in the neighborhood said about the cops: “I'm not scared to live here. I'm just scared of who's next.”

As in so many impoverished communities now under siege by killer cops, these kinds of protests are a matter of self-defense.

Detroit Demonstrations against Cuts

Jul 30, 2012

It seems there is a new protest every day!” exclaimed a state worker at Michigan’s Cadillac Place Offices in Detroit.

On July 26 a barely publicized community meeting with the mayor, required by city charter, turned into “the most raucous public meeting in Bing’s administration,” according to one aide.

A routine call for police protection alerted angry off-duty police, fire and EMS employees of a chance to discuss their reaction to 10% pay cuts and other cuts imposed by the mayor.

While angry demonstrators lined the street outside, more than 500 people overflowed the Northwest Activities Center.

The meeting opened with ten minutes of bitter chants for the mayor to come out and talk. Even after the mayor came out, the angry chanting continued. While Mayor Bing addressed the crowd, regular outbursts of boos and chants of “Liar! Liar!” continued. One after the other, public safety workers, other city workers, and family members challenged the cuts, to thunderous support from the crowd.

Drastic attacks on public employees and the population are turning Detroit into a city where different demonstrations are all starting to say the same thing: “We are NOT letting them take any more!”

On June 28 and July 12, a coalition of community groups demonstrated at the Court of Appeals at Cadillac Place, to demand that the Emergency Financial Manager Law to be placed before voters.

Detroit Public School teachers rallied on July 19 with teachers from other districts and again on July 27, reinforced by teachers from across the county who were in Detroit for their national convention.

Detroit Water and Sewage workers angrily demonstrated on July 24. Public Safety Unions and their families were not deterred by rain and came out in the hundreds on July 26.

Since July 19, protestors and supporters around Occupy Detroit have staged a continuous demonstration to prevent an eviction in a Detroit neighborhood.

Separate groups may be fighting separately – at the moment. But as in nature, each emerging stream increases the probability for joining up and forming a mighty river – in this case, of determined resistance.