The Spark

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

Issue no. 923 — September 17 - October 1, 2012

Editorial:
Who Said Strikes Always Lose?
Not Chicago Teachers!

Sep 17, 2012

A week after Labor Day, Chicago teachers went out on strike. They may have had real grievances concerning pay and benefits, but the big issues of this strike turned around the drive of big money to “reform” the schools, that is, to grab a bigger part of the funds that go to public education.

Back in 1996, Lehman Brothers, an important Wall Street bank at the time, organized a meeting for big money investors. “Public schools are ripe for takeover by private management companies,” said one of Lehman’s executives. Another trumpeted: “Wall Street is very interested in any big-spending industry.” You bet!

The last four presidents – George Bush the first, Bill Clinton, George Bush the second and Barack Obama – all passed education “reform” bills opening the door for Wall Street’s “interested,” greedy wolves.

Chicago has been key in the attempt to put public education money into private hands. Chicago politicians – Mayor Richard Daley, and his henchman Arne Duncan, followed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – aimed, first of all, to reduce the amount of money spent on teachers. Why? Why else? They wanted to free up more public money for big business.

Under various pretexts, they closed public schools, replacing them, directly or indirectly, with charter schools. Numbers of poor children were shoved out of schools in poor areas that Chicago developers were trying to “gentrify,” that is, to take over from the poor, upgrade, and hand over to the rich.

Standing right in the bulls eye were the teachers. “Take down the teachers, take over school funding” – that was the reasoning of big money.

One hundred schools were closed – and those closures were used to push out more experienced, higher-paid teachers, replacing them with newer, lower-paid ones. The push for basing “evaluation” on nearly worthless testing is aimed at getting rid of still more experienced teachers.

Back-up and support staff for teachers have been cut – eliminating janitors, school nurses, librarians, social workers. Physical education, art, music, special needs classes all began to disappear.

When Chicago teachers decided massively to strike, they took on this so-called “reform.” In so doing, they defend not only themselves, but the children.

These issues won’t be settled in one city alone, nor in one single strike. This attack on the public schools comes out of a general offensive organized from the very top of the federal government. But this school privatization steamroller will never stop on its own – not until someone does decide to fight. And Chicago teachers did just that.

Teachers in Chicago, said NO MORE. And they said it with their feet, walking out, picketing, demonstrating, even before the strike started.

The strike was a real slap in the face for Rahm Emanuel – and for Arne Duncan, Obama’s education chief.

Emanuel may have thought, when he ceded wage increases to the teachers and removed merit pay, that he could avoid the strike.

But Chicago teachers “ain’t no fools” – they know they got those wage increases because they foiled Emanuel’s attempt to prevent them from striking. He had contrived to get a bill passed by the Illinois legislature requiring Chicago teachers – and only Chicago teachers – to vote by at least 75% of the whole membership for a strike. He might have thought that teachers couldn’t do the impossible, bringing out that many people to vote.

But in their classrooms every day, Chicago teachers do the impossible. They voted, 90% of them, to strike. And they went on to rub Emanuel’s face in that decision when they went out. By their actions, Chicago teachers said they will not be trifled with.

Whatever settlement finally comes out of this strike will not, in itself, give teachers the way to resist many of the attacks they face. But their readiness to strike gives them worlds of possibilities if they build on it. And they already got more than they would have without striking.

The whole question now is for them to be ready to continue – however they finally vote on this particular contract offer, whatever they do in the next weeks.

What they started could be only the beginning of the fight that so desperately needs to be made – and not just about the schools, but about this whole capitalist society that stands ready today to throw workers’ children to the wolves.

Pages 2-3

Internet For All
– Who Can Pay

Sep 17, 2012

Last year, Google said it had chosen Kansas City as a demonstration model. It would wire the entire city with the nation’s fastest internet connection.

This raised many hopes among those who can’t afford Internet. More and more, Internet access is vital for children’s education, for access to social services, and for adults to find and hold jobs.

But Google came back this July and said no, not really. They will only wire neighborhoods that can collect enough money.

The Internet was developed with public money, tax money. It uses bandwidth and airwaves that belong to the public. It is a social resource, and everyone in society needs access.

This is just another case where privatization promises one thing but delivers something else.

The Same Film
– What a Coincidence!

Sep 17, 2012

Which party showed the anti-teachers and anti-union film “Won’t Back Down” at their convention? Both did, first the Republicans showed it at their convention, then the Democrats showed it at theirs. The film won great cheers from both parties for portraying teachers as the cause of the problems in education today.

The parties don’t agree on who should lead the country. But they do agree that the teachers’ unions should be broken, their standard of living reduced and that public education should have its funding reduced.

Which party says charter schools are the solution? Both Republicans and Democrats. It began with Bush’s No Child Left Behind “reforms,” and continues with Obama’s Race to the Top “reforms.”

Which party gets support from billionaire capitalists who see ways to make money from public schools by selling them computers, supplies, text book, special consultants, and running them into debt. Both parties.

D-Day is January 2

Sep 17, 2012

After wrangling for months over next year’s federal budget pretending they couldn’t come to an agreement, Democrats and Republicans in Congress recently put off drawing up a new budget until after the November elections. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to extend the current budget for another six months – through March 27, 2013. The extension is expected to be quickly approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama.

What Congress didn’t put off was big budget cuts both parties agreed to earlier. They will take effect automatically on January 2. These cuts – including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs, as well as public services and education – will be devastating.

No matter who wins the elections, one thing is sure: the two parties have already set in motion big cuts on January 2. This is what we have to look forward to unless we pull our forces together and fight back.

Clean Air?
Not in Corporate America

Sep 17, 2012

A federal appeals court just ruled against the EPA’s latest method to clean up air pollution. It was just another means – among many used by the biggest polluters over the last 40 years – to avoid restrictions on their “right” to pollute.

Both the EPA and OSHA grew out of a time period when much of the population was in motion against an array of injustices. The 1950s and 60s saw the civil rights movement grow, then the women’s movement and the anti-war movement grew in the 1970s.

All of this was joined by militancy in the work places, for example, the struggle of miners against black lung. The federal Coal Mine Safety Act was passed in 1969, to gather data on this deadly disease and propose regulations to protect miners. The Occupational Safety and Health Act became law in December of 1970, due to health and safety issues raised by union workers in many different industries. The Environmental Protection Act was also passed in 1970.

While these regulations helped diminish some of the worst dangers in both work places and in communities located close to manufacturing or refining facilities, industries have sabotaged the intent of such regulations every step of the way.

It’s not enough to have an EPA and an OSHA set up when we still have a society based on profit. In this system, companies fight legally and extra-legally to delay implementing even minimal regulations so long as to make them nearly meaningless. Today the EPA has a list of 300 manufacturing sites and refineries that are “high priority violators.” These sites have been in violation for at least 10 years. And many other sites have been identified by the EPA with lesser amounts of pollution.

Companies say the cost of environmental and safety and health regulations would force them to raise prices. What they really mean is that they will not accept anything that impinges on their profits.

Today, the EPA and OSHA seem like paper tigers. Yet it is quite possible to monitor pollution and work place safety. There are forces able to do it – all those who work in every industry and the neighbors who live in every community affected by nearby dangerous sites.

It would be possible to clean up the air, the water and the land – but only if working people take control out of the hands of a class that puts profit first.

“Reforming” Education Back to the Stone Age

Sep 17, 2012

When the Chicago Teachers’ strike broke out, the news media was hit with an anti-union campaign. A full-page ad in USA Today (September 14) declared, “Someone New is Blocking the Schoolhouse Door: Teachers Unions.” It was paid for by a Washington lobbyist who has long represented companies out to bust unions.

A television ad that ran on local Chicago ABC stations blared out attacks on the union, the teachers and the strike, with veiled threats against teachers if they don’t cave in. This ad was paid for by a group calling itself Education Reform Now (ERN).

Reform? What a joke! ERN, like its parent, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), is headed by a board of directors made up of six Wall Street speculators and one so-called “educator.”So it’s no surprise that DFER openly calls for ending teachers’ seniority rights, increased testing, busting unions and privatizing public schools by turning them into charters – all in order to reduce how much money is paid for schools and staff – so that the very richest can pocket massive profits.

These financiers may pay big money for advertisements, but it is very small change compared to the profit they hope to squeeze out of public education nationwide. When lobbyists for Wall Street helped to push through a new law in the New York State legislature allotting more money for charter schools, a New York money manager congratulated his partners “on an investment of one million dollars that yielded an estimated 400 million dollars.” (New York Sun, May 31, 2007)

A few multi-billionaires are trying to get even richer by destroying the education of young people and the jobs and livelihoods of masses of educators.

Get their filthy hands off our schools!

Happy Bi-Partisanship!

Sep 17, 2012

The day the Chicago teachers started to strike, Republican vice-presisdential candidate Paul Ryan expressed the Republican viewpoint: “Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teacher’s union strike is unnecessary and wrong. We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

On this both parties agree: teachers are the enemy – that is, the bosses’ enemy.

Obama, of course, didn’t have to say a word. It was his former chief of staff Emanuel and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan who led the charge on the teachers.

It was a perfect bi-partisan agreement.

Pages 4-5

Aid to Poor Countries Comes First and Foremost from the Poor

Sep 17, 2012

A new report of the World Bank shows that money from emigrants back to their home countries totaled 372 billion dollars last year, a rise of more than 12%. In 2012, the figure is expected to reach 400 billion, which is an underestimate according to the report. Even so, it represents three times the aid the rich countries give to the poor countries.

The largest amount of money goes back to India, with China in second place, followed by Mexico, the Philippines, Egypt and Nigeria. In some of the smaller countries – like Tadjikistan or Lesotho – the transfers of money from emigrants constitute a quarter or even a third of their gross domestic product.

Migrant workers continue to make enormous efforts not only to support themselves in new, often unfriendly countries, but to send money home to their families. The main aid going to poor countries comes from the poor themselves.

Greece:
Thousands of Workers Against Austerity

Sep 17, 2012

On September 8th, at the Salonika International Fair in Greece, there were several demonstrations involving 30,000 people protesting austerity. The day before, representatives of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund arrived once again in Athens, to specify the necessary measures to take another 15 billion dollars from Greek workers, especially public workers.

The financial leaders had sent a letter to the Greek ministers of finance and labor demanding they introduce more “flexibility” into labor law, for example, imposing a six-day work week with no increase in pay, reducing break time, etc.

The angry demonstrators included both public sector workers, private sector workers and in yet another demonstration, the union tendency of the Greek Communist Party. Even the police demonstrated to protest cuts in their wages.

Over the past two years, the income of Greek workers has already been reduced by 17 billion dollars. Nine hundred jobs are lost each day. Unemployment affects almost one person in four, and more than half of young people are unemployed. In northern Greece, the unions estimate the unemployment rate is 30%.

From the demands of the financiers to the denials and delays of the government, announcements rain down on the heads of Greek workers: pushing back the retirement age to 66; reducing Social Security retirement payments of those getting over $9,000 a year; laying off another 150,000 government workers between now and 2015; cutting public sector workers’ pay by 35%. All this is meant to give capital back to the banks and pay back the public debt of private businesses, while public services are dismantled. Health care is in critical condition. At the national level, Greece needs 20,000 nurses and 6,000 doctors; aides in health care haven’t received overtime pay for time worked for seven months. Even the union of soldiers has protested pay and pension cuts.

On September 12th, state hospital doctors, school teachers and local government workers went on strike to protest wage cuts and local government funding reductions. So the protests continue. The Greek working class has shown it is not willing to pay the cost so the bankers can grow fatter.

The European Central Bank Sets the Euro Afire

Sep 17, 2012

On September 6, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that from now on it is ready to buy up the debts of the European governments in financial difficulty, and that there is no limit on the amount of debt the ECB will take. This decision was made in an attempt to guarantee the big banks around the world that they will be reimbursed.

For these gentlemen of the ECB, there is no question of putting any constraints on the bankers, and certainly nothing that limits their profits. The Central Bank is going to flood them with public money in order to convince them to be “reasonable,” that is, not to raise interest rates on these loans beyond the already enormously high rates they have demanded.

The job of lending money to governments remains very well paid, given that these banks can continue to lend at 2, 3, even 4% interest for capital they borrow from the ECB at only one-half of one%!

This decision will force the populations of the various countries to pay dearly because each loan will have new austerity plans attached to it and will contain new attacks on the living conditions of workers.

This new attempt by the banking magicians, if it takes effect, will not succeed any more than did the previous attempts to calm the financial storm. Instead the economic crisis will take new forms. In trying to limit speculation on the debts of governments and on the Euro, the ECB will provide new capital to the financiers, which they will inevitably use to feed other forms of speculation – on other currencies, on raw materials, or on some new “derivative product” thought up in the sick imagination of yet another speculator.

Furthermore, this new creation “without limit” in the amount of euros, this monetary inflation in the proper sense of the term, initiated by the ECB itself, offers unlimited capital without any material backing in the real world, and will inevitably lead to an acceleration of rising prices. Given that wages and pensions are frozen, this decision will only lead to an acceleration in the decline of workers’ standard of living.

The initial reaction in the financial markets was to welcome the decision of the ECB, with two days of rising prices on the stock markets. Yet the financiers continue to pretend to be worried, using the excuse of a recent German court decision. But the German judges approved the ECB decision. They certainly were not going to take the only effective measure possible – to expropriate all the banks, all the financial institutions and their funds, without compensation and to put the creation and circulation of money under the control of the workers and the public.

The Violence U.S. Forces Inflict

Sep 17, 2012

After the U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three officials were killed during a devastating assault in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked, “How could this happen in a country we helped liberate in a city that we helped save from destruction?

No, the U.S. did not “help liberate” Libya. On the contrary, U.S. officials worked closely with the Qaddafi regime for more than a decade before it fell. The big international oil companies made great profits from Libyan oil. And the U.S. government partnered with the Qaddafi regime for more than a decade to safeguard oil investment in the explosive region. A new report by Human Rights Watch, “Delivered into Enemy Hands: U.S.-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Qaddafi’s Libya,” describes how opponents of the Qaddafi regime were first tortured by the U.S. CIA, which then turned the opponents over to the Qaddafi regime for further torture.

In February 2011, U.S. officials changed gears and withdrew their support for the Qaddafi regime, not because U.S. officials had suddenly “discovered” how brutal the Qaddafi regime was, but because, faced with growing opposition coming out of the Arab Spring, the Libyan military and police could no longer keep order.

The U.S. and its NATO allies backed “the rebels,” a large assortment of different militias, local strongmen, and former Qaddafi regime officials, by bombing many cities and towns. This bombing was credited with hastening Qaddafi’s fall in August 2011. President Obama even claimed that the U.S. military campaign in Libya was a new model for future interventions around the world. “We are seeing the strength of American leadership across the world,” said Obama.

The “strength of American leadership” led directly to the terrible toll taken by U.S. bombs and missiles on Libyan lives and the destruction of their cities and towns. But that went unmentioned.

Today, much of Libya continues to be torn apart by various rivalries and militias, in which there are frequent armed battles over control of territory and wealth, creating more casualties and destruction. And, while the international oil companies reap new riches from Libyan oil, there are no jobs for the Libyan population. There is not even any reconstruction of what had been destroyed during the civil war and by U.S. and NATO bombs and artillery.

It is in this explosive situation of continual fights between militias and gangs that the U.S. ambassador was assassinated.

This attack did not come as a surprise to U.S. officials. U.S. authorities in Libya had already been targeted many times. Just last month, a car carrying U.S. embassy personnel was attacked in what was considered to be an attempted car jacking. Two months before that, an IED attack was carried out against the U.S. Office in Benghazi.

Who knows what gangs or militias have been behind these attacks and the assassination, or what they are after? Nor is it clear what groups rushed to take advantage of the demonstrations against the video on the internet that erupted in Libya and elsewhere throughout the Middle East and the rest of North Africa. But no matter what reactionary aims may be behind some of these groups and militias, underlying these demonstrations is the overwhelming poverty, misery, violence and repression in Libya and throughout North Africa and the Middle East. And this is due, first of all, to the domination by imperialism, supported by, in Obama’s words, “the strength of American leadership.” This domination has turned the entire region into a powder keg, ready to explode at the smallest spark.

After the U.S. ambassador was killed, the U.S. Navy dispatched two warships off the coast of Libya, along with a contingent of marines and a small armada of drones. This is a show of force and a threat of continuing violence against not just the Libyan population, but the population of the entire region.

Pages 6-7

Caterpillar Gets Subsidy

Sep 17, 2012

The U.S. government is giving Caterpillar 3.4 million dollars to develop truck engine parts. The money is to look for new metal alloys and examine the cost of casting the parts.

Caterpillar is constantly complaining about high taxes. But it is eager to grab up government subsidy money. This is a company with 4.9 billion dollars in profits after taxes last year. Why should a penny of workers’ tax money go to subsidize it?

La Grange Plants:
EMD on the Warpath

Sep 17, 2012

Supervisors are giving out discipline points for any reason they can and they’ve already fired many workers for getting too many points. If you punch in one minute late, you get points. If you get sick and have to leave early, you get points. They’re even disciplining people around FMLA, though it’s a federal right to take unpaid leave. This company is constantly at war with its workers. The company makes it perfectly plain: they’re every workers’ enemy.

Chicago:
BP Refinery Accidents, Motorists Pay

Sep 17, 2012

Gasoline prices in the Midwest jumped up following two incidents at BP’s Whiting, Indiana refinery.

First, there was a fire in the coker unit, which the company took out of service. Then, BP sold 4.7 million gallons of tainted mid-priced and premium gas in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. This caused hard starting, stalling and rough idling. Motorists went to dealers to have the fuel system cleansed. BP said it will pay them, with many claims at $1,200 a person. So far 9,600 claims are in.

But then the price of gas went up! Due to the accidents, they say the supply of gas is down. BP is passing the cost of its accidents onto drivers. And other companies are going along for the ride.

Pakistan:
Workers’ Lives Sacrificed To Save Blue Jeans

Sep 17, 2012

Almost 300 textile workers were killed in a fire at a factory in Pakistan. Many who tried to escape were trapped because the plant managers ordered the factory’s main sliding doors locked so workers could not leave without permission. Workers were kept in the plant to help save stocks of stonewashed jeans manufactured there for stores in Europe.

“They prevented people from leaving, so they could save the clothes,” said one worker.

Those who tried to leave found only one exit available. Others took the only other route out, jumping from the few windows in the plant with no bars on them because they were on floors considered too high for people to leave from.

This workplace disaster was not an isolated incident in Pakistan. Twenty-five additional workers were killed in a fire earlier that same day at a shoe factory in another suburb of the same city, Lahore.

“Accidents” like these are hardly surprising. They are a predictable outcome of the drive for profit in a poor country that produces goods like fashionable jeans for richer countries using cheap labor. The textile industry accounts for 7.4% of Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product and employs 38% of its manufacturing workers.

Many workers at the Ali Enterprises jeans factory where the fire occurred worked 12 hour days for as little as $58 a month. That’s one-third less than Pakistan’s minimum wage. One worker who survived the fire said she was forced to lie about the number of hours she worked and how much she was paid under threat of losing her job.

Pakistan’s Constitution supposedly guarantees workplace safety, but it’s common knowledge that companies get around the laws by bribing officials. “The state inspectors can make a lot of extra money. They have lifestyles that go beyond their wages,” says Sharafat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labor and Research.

The high death toll from the fires produced an angry response from people in the area. It was enough to force the provincial labor minister to resign and the government to promise an investigation, for whatever that’s worth. The owners of the factory immediately went into hiding.

Unfortunately, “accidents” like these will continue as long as we live in a society that puts profits before human life and poorer countries remain under the thumb of the big imperialist powers.

Echoes of Triangle Shirtwaist

Sep 17, 2012

The factory fire in Pakistan is highly reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that happened 101 years ago in New York City. In that fire, 146 garment workers lost their lives after managers similarly locked stairway doors to prevent workers from supposedly stealing cloth, and many tried to save themselves by jumping many stories to the streets below.

Little has changed about capitalism in 100 years – Pakistan looks like the U.S. did 100 years ago and in the U.S. there are nearly 4,000,000 work- related injuries and illnesses each year!

Page 8

Saving Banks Won’t Create Jobs

Sep 17, 2012

Flash! Unemployment has been discovered by Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve!

Yes, and now, they say, something will be done!

What will be done? Why, the same thing the Fed has been doing since 2008. Banks holding mortgage securities will be bailed out again, every month. They call it “QE3."

How will this create jobs? Well, it won’t. Just as QE1 and QE2 didn’t create jobs. Very much the opposite.

Four years ago, at the beginning of the massive bank bailout programs, 25% of U.S. adults called themselves lower class, not “middle” or “upper.” Today, 32% say they are lower.

On the other end, the Census Bureau released figures showing that the income for the wealthiest 20% grew over last year, rising 1.6%.

That is the stark result of the “QE” policies of the past. The richest have stuffed more in their pockets, while everyone else has declined.

This new program only means “more of the same” – in every way.

P.G. County, Maryland:
Awfully “Suspicious”

Sep 17, 2012

Nineteen-year old Ryan Dorm and a friend went to a gas station convenience store to buy drinks and chips one night last February in Brentwood, Prince George’s County, Maryland. Two plain-clothes police detectives entered the store and followed him out. One detective hit him from behind in the head with his gun so hard the gun fired – as clearly shown on the videotape recently made available to local TV news.

But the cops filed a report that he tried to take their gun. Ryan Dorm was charged with second-degree assault on a law enforcement officer and jailed on a $15,000 bond.

The same night, internal affairs detectives visited the scene and discovered the surveillance footage from a nearby business. An investigation was opened, and the police were suspended.

But Ryan Dorm spent four long months in jail before he was released and all charges were dropped. The police department took its time looking through his history, trying to find any excuse for keeping him under arrest and in jail.

The detectives said Dorm and his friend – two young black men buying snacks at night – “looked suspicious.” What’s suspicious, as always, is how the police behave! Racist to the bone!

In LA, Better Not Lose Your Metro Ticket

Sep 17, 2012

The LA County Sheriff’s Department paid $200,000 in June 2012 to compensate Carla Sameth, an elderly woman deputies had attacked. In 2009, deputies doing a random search in the Metro system had stopped her on the Gold Line when she was not able to find her boarding ticket.

According to the Pasadena Weekly, deputies roughed her up, ramming Sameth's face into a steel post, breaking her nose, chipping a tooth and causing other facial, ear and neck injuries.

The Sheriff’s Department white-washed the brutal attack, with investigators determining that the deputies had acted “within policy.” They said it! To brutally attack an elderly person without a ticket seems to be fully within the policy of the MTA and LA County!

California Pensions

Sep 17, 2012

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new pension law for state employees that he called, “the biggest rollback to public pension benefits... in the history of California pensions.”

The law boosts what 75,000 current state employees pay for their benefits – which amounts to a two to three% pay cut. It also freezes current employee pension benefits. Newly hired state employees will be required to pay more, for substantially lower benefits. And the age when they will be able to receive full benefits will be boosted from 55 to 67.

Benefit levels had already been frozen for almost two decades, and almost all employees had already been paying a bigger chunk of the benefit costs. As a result, Governor Brown could brag that his new “reform” will slash benefits to levels that are lower than when he previously served as governor in the early 1980s!

Democrats and Republicans in the California State Legislature overwhelmingly approved this attack that was signed by Brown, a Democrat.

On the same day the legislature passed this bill, it also voted to extend tax credits for television and movie productions. Under this bill, media companies, which have already received 100 million dollars a year in tax credits since 2009, will continue to get these credits into 2017.

The money taken from workers is handed over to the rich.