The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 939 — May 13 - 27, 2013

Fantasy vs. Reality

May 13, 2013

Media pundits and the business world crowed about the unemployment figures that came out last week, saying the figures showed a steady movement toward a healthy economy.

What fantasy world are they living in?

Officially, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 per cent from 7.6 per cent last month. That, and the report that more jobs had been created over the last couple of months, led the news media to declare that the job market was strengthening.

But behind the headline numbers, the latest government report shows something very, very different.

First of all, the government admits there are still 12 million workers unemployed, despite the fact that the economic recovery officially started five years ago.

And when the government tallies up those who are UNDERemployed – that is, workers who are part-time but want to work full time, along with workers who want to work but gave up looking – it brings the total up to 22 million, or more than 14 per cent of the workforce, almost doubling the official unemployment figures.

Not only that, but a high proportion of the unemployed have been without a job for more than six months – the long-term unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed is at an all-time high.

The joblessness rates for young people are horrific: only 45 percent of young workers aged 16 to 24 have a job. For young people between 25 and 34, over a quarter are not employed – the worst rate among the wealthy industrialized countries, including European countries mired in depression.

More and more, young people are shut out of this economy. How is this good news? How is this an economy getting better?

Or consider that the part of the workforce with a job remains at its lowest in three decades. When the “Great Recession” hit in 2008, more than 10 million jobs were lost, and they are still gone. The slight downturn in unemployment figures doesn’t change that: only 58 percent of American adults have jobs.

The situation for those WITH jobs is also getting worse: employers have drastically cut work hours; they push their workforce to do more in less time. April saw a decline in hours worked that is the equivalent of firing more than 500,000 workers if work hours were steady!

Increasingly, jobs are part-time – and they pay so little, ever more workers have no choice but to seek more work. Over the last month, those working two or three jobs leaped to 7.26 million. In other words, almost all “new” positions are going to people who already are working, mostly part-time.

As higher-paid jobs have been eliminated, nearly two thirds of the jobs created since 2010 pay less than $13.83 an hour. This is what is offered to people as a path to their future!

This is the new, rising economy? We’re supposed to be happy and content with that?!

It’s no wonder that a series of demonstrations has taken place in St. Louis, New York, Chicago and, most recently, Detroit, demanding a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It is not enough, but it’s a start.

For those with full-time jobs, wages have also been forced down. And on top of that, the shift hours and conditions of work are getting worse and worse. Workers at Ford and Chrysler have inhumane shift schemes, bouncing between day and afternoon hours.

On May 3, when the government employment report was released, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed over the 15,000 mark for the first time ever. This was BECAUSE the job situation is so bad, the capitalist class hopes to be in a better position to squeeze even more profits out of the workforce.

Bad news for us is good news for them. They seriously ARE happy with this rotten economic news!

But workers aren’t happy, and we shouldn’t be, no matter what the news media tries to tell us.

We don’t have to settle for what’s being offered us. We all know that the wealthy have the money. Corporations have been making profits hand over fist. We have a right to demand good-paying jobs for everyone who wants one.

It’s time to tune out their fantasy and insist on a better reality: a decent life for all of us.

Pages 2-3

Infant Deaths:
A Barometer of a Sick Society

May 13, 2013

According to a Save The Children Foundation study, 11,300 infants born in the U.S. each year die within 24 hours of birth, primarily from complications of premature delivery.

This U.S. figure is the very worst of all the world’s 34 industrialized countries. In fact, if ALL the other industrialized countries are added together, their first-day deaths total less than 7,600 – even though the combined population of those 33 wealthy countries is three times larger than the U.S.!

In fact, the only countries with higher numbers of first-day infant deaths are India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

Why does the U.S. infant death toll most resemble those of the great impoverished nations of the world? The Save The Children Foundation, since it is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, does not go into detail. Their favorite capitalist society might be too strongly indicted!

But this wealthiest of countries is most of all a country divided into economic classes. Most of the working class, the poor, the unemployed, cannot afford to pay for pre-natal health care for pregnant women. Nor can they afford healthy conditions to live in, nor access to family planning, nor even basic healthy food.

The ripping apart of the U.S. social safety net has created a more extremely sick society. The sickness is accurately measured by the fate of so many infants, unable to live even 24 hours in the class society into which they are born.

Prison Food for Profit

May 13, 2013

After pressure from state Republican legislators, the Michigan Dept. of Corrections reversed itself and WILL privatize state worker jobs in prison food services.

Aramark – one of the world’s largest food service providers – is the company that got the contract. They are known to donate heavily to politicians’ campaigns and are owned by Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.

They sure didn’t get the contract because they provide good service! An audit published in the Detroit News found that the State of Florida cancelled their prison contract with Aramark after food costs kept rising. An audit in Kentucky determined that a 2009 prison riot was provoked by poor food service and skimping on meals by Aramark.

U.S. prisons warehouse a largely working class and poor population who are victims of an economic and legal system organized to promote profits over the interests of people. Prisoners deserve adequate and healthy food as a most basic human right.

Aramark provides the elite of Wall Street access to some of the best chefs in New York City at the corporate cafeteria they operate at Goldman Sachs’ headquarters. Prisoners deserve nothing less!

From Civil War to Open War?

May 13, 2013

For the third time in four months, the Israeli Air Force has carried out a raid over Syria, destroying military installations of the regime in power and causing several dozen deaths. Once again, the pretext given by the Israeli government was Syria’s supplying weapons to the Lebanese party Hezbollah, and, once again, Barack Obama approved the bombing.

At the same time, while new images of massacres come out of Syria, a United Nations official affirmed that the Syrian opposition might have used sarin gas against parts of the population thought to be loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The U.N. quickly denied it, in light of the U.S. government’s recent announcement of Western intervention to arm the rebels IF the use of chemical weapons by the regime were proven.

This civil war catches the Syrian population between the violent repression of Assad’s regime and an armed opposition, which, it seems, is no better.

The United States and the other imperialist powers are concerned only insofar as their interests in the region are protected. For them, it matters little if they must monitor oil fields, pipelines, and sea routes by relying on terrible dictators and by shoving entire peoples behind barbed wire. As long as his regime was stable, Assad was satisfactory in their view, even though he was an ally of Iran and Russia and an enemy – if not with open hostilities – to their ally Israel.

However, Assad is currently opposed by armed groups that are clearly supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are faithful allies of the West in other respects. Despite the countless massacres, he has not been able to silence the opposition.

Added to this unstable situation is the complication that the armed opposition consists of groups disunited and uncontrolled. They present no guarantee of stability in the future.

Finally, Israel, the guardian of imperialist interests in the region, ignores the fate of the Syrian population, concerned only to weaken its enemies Hezbollah and Iran.

The Israeli Air Force’s raid can in this sense be understood as a warning – or even as a full-scale test prepared with the U.S. Army – addressed not only to Assad but to Iran and Hezbollah.

In this way, the peoples of the region seem trapped under the heel of imperialism, either directly or through the intermediary of secular or religious dictatorships fighting among each other.

Morning-After Pill:

May 13, 2013

In a clearly political move, the Obama administration recently overrode once again the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to allow the morning-after pill to be sold over the counter, without a prescription, to women of all ages.

In 2011, the administration blocked the sale of morning after drugs by forcing pharmacies to keep the drug behind the counter and to sell only to women 17 or older.

Last month a federal judge ordered the administration to make the contraceptive available. Even the judge said that this blocking by the administration was “overtly political.”

What is all the uproar really about? Obama’s spokespersons claim that he has taken a “moderate” position: he refers to his own daughters in saying he wouldn’t like to see very young girls able to secure the drug.

As much as the right wing of the Republican party, the Democratic administration is inferring that the availability of this drug could make young girls promiscuous. What complete nonsense!

There is no scientific reason that women of all ages should not be afforded this drug and the opportunity to avoid an unwanted pregnancy or abortion. Young girls do have sex, and the morning-after pill will not change that in any way. No, it is not okay to condemn young girls to pregnancy to satisfy backward stereotypes or secure votes.

Obama’s “moderate” position causes unnecessary harm to women, especially the young. “Moderation” like this has chipped away at reproductive rights ever since Roe v. Wade!

School District Closes Just Before Graduation

May 13, 2013

In early May, parents, teachers and staff of a small Michigan school district were suddenly told that their school district could not make payroll. Just a few weeks from graduation, the Buena Vista school board shut down its schools and laid off all but three staff.

The governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, rejected appeals to use money from the state’s “rainy day fund” to help the students finish their school year. “That’s not what the rainy day fund is really intended for,” he said.

For the students and staff of Buena Vista, it’s a cloudburst, a torrent, a flood. How much rain does the governor need?

Hockey Owner Looks to Get Over

May 13, 2013

Low-income residents of downtown Detroit are being pushed out of their apartments for a land grab aimed at building a new hockey arena.

What’s more, if the wealthy “pizza-pizza” Ilitch family has their way, taxpayers of the State of Michigan will “own” the new arena!

Taxpayers already own Detroit’s Cadillac Place office building – formerly General Motors headquarters – through a transfer of ownership to the Michigan Strategic Fund in June 2011.

A New York investment bank, First Southwest, which specializes in public finance of sports arenas, has been in discussions with state legislators, according to Crain’s Detroit.

An e-mail from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) detailed $2 million in arena project funding to come from the City of Detroit and $2 million from Wayne County.

According to Crain’s, the Ilitch family is “interested in the state, through the Michigan Strategic Fund, owning a new hockey arena for the Ilitch-owned Detroit Red Wings....”

According to journalist Neil deMause, author of the book Field of Schemes, a look at public funding for sports stadiums, “If the state owns the building, presumably [the Ilitches] don’t have to pay property taxes. That’s huge.”

The State of Michigan IS HELPING the wealthy Ilitches avoid paying taxes to the debt-burdened City of Detroit while NOT HELPING displaced Detroiters to have new affordable housing – business as usual in Michigan!

Pages 4-5

Immigration to the U.S. through the Centuries

May 13, 2013

From the very beginning, immigration policy in this country has been set to meet the demands of the ruling class. For them, the problem always was to cut labor costs. For that, they have always tried to divide the work force, and pay one group less than another.

Or not pay at all, such as in slavery and indentured servitude during colonial times. The use of direct bondage certainly had to do with particular circumstances existing in the colonies. When the land to be worked was large and open, the landowners tried to prevent their workers from running away, especially since they weren’t paying them anything.

In the 19th century, it was mainly German, British and Irish immigrants who built the infrastructure in the East for the bosses. And especially Irish workers faced blatant racism. Irish immigrants who came to America to escape poverty, racism and oppression at the hands of the British rulers, found more of the same, this time at the hands of American bosses, who adorned their businesses with the infamous “No Irish Need Apply” signs. Not surprisingly, the Irish got some of the lowest-paying, most dangerous jobs, such as mining and building the railroads.

While the railroad bosses put Irish immigrants to work on the railroads in the East, they used Chinese workers for that purpose in the West. Starting in the 1840s, Chinese workers had been brought in under so-called “coolie contracts,” the West Coast version of the indentured contracts of colonial period on the East Coast. By 1860, Chinese people made up 10% of California’s population, but almost 25% of its work force.

The 1870s brought economic depression, and the bosses did not need all the work force they had been using. In the West, people of European descent were turned against Chinese workers. In 1871, in a massacre that was apparently planned, a mob of more than 500 white men entered L.A.’s Chinatown to attack, rob and murder Chinese residents of the city. Attacks on Chinese people continued in Western states, and led to a political campaign by California bosses (especially large landowners, who had been taking over the land holdings of Chinese people) to legalize discrimination against the Chinese. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring Chinese people from entering the U.S.

Southern plantation owners supported the Western landowners in passing this immigration law written specifically against the Chinese. When, in turn, the Southern plantation owners imposed Jim Crow laws on the black population, Californians in Congress supported it. It was a deal that Southern and Western bosses had cut.

If bosses joined forces to divide the working class and attack different parts of it, workers also found ways to get together to defend themselves. Irish workers, who had been turned against black people during the “draft riot” of 1863 in New York City, were the backbone of the organizing effort to form a miners’ union in Pennsylvania, which culminated in a six-month strike in 1875. And Irish workers along with German workers were among those who led the great railroad strike of 1877, which set off near-general strikes in several major cities in the East and Midwest. In some of these cities, the strikes engaged a significant proportion of black laborers.

In this same time period, immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe surged, providing the cheap labor force capitalists demanded for expanding industry. The bosses also tried to use Italian and East European workers, often without their prior knowledge, as strike-breakers, along with black workers. All this was done with the complicity of some union leaders, who contributed to the divisions with their own racism – by excluding black workers, for example.

Italian and Eastern European workers didn’t always allow themselves to be used against other workers. Many of them were familiar with workers’ struggles in their own countries, and even brought with them some socialist traditions to their new country. The American capitalist class saw this as a threat, especially after World War I, when a wave of workers’ revolutions swept Europe. These revolutions were echoed in the U.S. by a national steel strike and the 1919 general strike in Seattle. The government responded with a wave of repression, known as the “Red Scare,” along with the most restrictive immigration laws passed in U.S. history, the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924. Using an openly racist language, these laws barred almost all immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, where worker uprisings had occurred.

In this time period, internal migration replaced immigration from abroad as a source of labor. Black people, fleeing the poverty and terror of the Jim-Crow South, migrated to the industrial centers of the North and Midwest. They were joined by Midwestern and Southern white farmers who, fleeing economic devastation, also migrated to the industrial centers and the West. These migrants were used as a source of cheap agricultural labor in California and other Western states. When the internal migration did not supply enough workers, the bosses brought in temporary workers (“guest workers,” that is) from Mexico in the 1940s under a legal program known as the Bracero Program (originally in agriculture but later in other industries). And then the federal government opened the borders somewhat with the Immigration Act of 1965.

By allotting each country the same number of immigrants, the 1965 law led to an increase in the number of immigrants from most countries; but it caused the number of immigrants from Asia and Mexico to go down. This law also eliminated the Bracero Program. But migration into the U.S. from south of the border increased due to economic crises and persistent poverty in Latin America in general, and wars in Central America in particular. So the bosses continued to use workers from Mexico in ever-increasing numbers for low-wage jobs. But that meant these workers were forced to be “illegal,” that is, they were forced into a precarious existence, vulnerable to the whims of politicians and desires of the bosses – exactly what we are discussing today.

The American ruling class has always used immigration as a source of fresh workers to exploit. It has used the state, and politicians that run it, to try to regulate the flow and use of immigrant labor in its own interests. Even when the bourgeoisie legalized a record number of immigrants (more than three million) in 1986, it made sure the legalization was accompanied by a series of repressive measures and an expansion of immigration police and prisons. Today, once again, they are trying to do something similar – legalize a large number of immigrants (this time with all kinds of penalties and long waits), while stepping up repression enormously, and worsening the conditions for immigrant workers. And law or no law, this country has also seen big upsurges in the number of deportations – such as in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, but also today. That’s what immigrant workers have to expect from an immigration policy set and controlled by the bosses.

That’s why, to counter the policy of the bourgeoisie on immigration, or labor in general, the working class has to pose its own policy based on the understanding that, first of all, what divides people is not nationality but social class.

Bosses are the ones who have drawn the borders, for their own purposes. Big companies always move and operate across borders if it’s profitable for them – for example to exploit cheap labor. American companies have been among the biggest employers in Mexico for a long time.

The U.S. has always been a country of immigrants – immigrant workers. American workers have always come from different countries – if not themselves, then their parents or not-so-distant ancestors. They do have different backgrounds and cultures. But that is a strength of the American working class, not a reason to be divided.

A working class policy must emphasize the common class interests of all workers.

For sure, the bosses have always attempted to divide workers – not only by country or region but also by company, by skill, by age and gender and a hundred other ways. The working class can defend itself only when it is united in its own class interests. And workers can get their rights only through their own collective struggles.

Immigration “Reform”
– Holding Immigrants Hostage

May 13, 2013

At a press conference a few days after the presidential election last November, President Obama said that he would take on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” that is, changes to the immigration law: “My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration” – his words.

And sure enough, four Republican and four Democratic senators began to meet in January to work out a bill. No final draft has been made public yet, but some details were reported by the media. And in the meantime, some details of a plan by Obama have been “leaked” to the press (as such news is usually presented to the public).

The most discussed part of the “reform” is the so-called “path to citizenship” for immigrant workers, who work and live in this country without papers. That may sound like a decent answer to the problem – as though the 11 million or so undocumented workers who are forced to lead a precarious existence in constant fear of being deported will finally get their full rights.

In fact, this “pathway” will be a very long and expensive process for undocumented workers, riddled with tough hurdles.

Obama’s proposal specifies that immigrants who have registered with the federal government wait eight years before being eligible to apply for a green card (legal permanent residency). According to the bill drawn up by the “Gang of Eight” senators, it would take 10 years or longer.

During these 10 years, immigrants will not be eligible for federal public benefits such as food stamps, public cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance, no matter whether they have worked and qualified for them. And that eight or ten years is only the beginning. They still won’t be close to citizenship.

Immigrants who apply for legal status will have to pay back taxes. In other words, they will have to pay taxes a second time, or to try to prove that they have already paid taxes – meaning some of them would have to admit to having used a false Social Security number, a felony for which they could be deported!

And Obama, like the senators, says that immigrant workers must learn English before they can apply for legal status. Yes, workers in this country should know English, so that they can fully participate in the social life of the country. But this language requirement is another hurdle, another barrier in front of immigrant workers. Typically, undocumented workers work long hours in physical jobs that sap their energy. They live in neighborhoods where they have only limited access to English language culture. Women workers often do the housework and raise children also. When will these workers learn the language? And in what schools?

The companies that hire them, and exploit them doubly, certainly don’t provide language classes. All those budget cuts at all levels of government have led to cuts in these type of programs! In California, for example, Governor Brown just proposed to eliminate the state funding to school districts for adult schools – which is exactly where most immigrant workers learn language and other skills.

No, Obama’s proposal is not friendly to immigrant workers either.

“Guest Worker” Servitude

May 13, 2013

An important part of immigration reform – important for the U.S. bosses, that is – is the so-called “guest worker” program. Guest workers are workers who are not in the U.S. now, but will be brought in temporarily, and sent back to their countries when the bosses no longer need them.

Whether the politicians call it “probationary legal status” or “guest worker,” what they are proposing is basically some kind of modern-day version of the 17th century indentured servitude.

Pages 6-7

D.C. Public Schools on the Chopping Block

May 13, 2013

D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson plans to close 15 public schools. She says these schools do not enroll enough students, so they cost too much.

Cost too much? Only because these 15 schools are in poor and working class neighborhoods where Black and Hispanic people live. Of 2,600 students affected, more than 96% are low-income.

In most cases, the schools to receive the students have larger class sizes than the schools to close – but 140 staff positions will be eliminated. Some of the receiving schools perform no better than the closing schools. Some of the receiving schools lack a library, gym, auditorium, science lab, or media center. DCPS would not do this in the wealthier areas of the city!

This plan is a plan to jam poor students into already overcrowded classes, leaving children in the wealthier parts of town alone. It shows that DCPS officials don’t want to educate working class children – they just want to stash them in warehouses!

Baltimore City:
Something Does Not Add Up!

May 13, 2013

The mayor of Baltimore proposed that more city workers should pay toward a shortfall in their pension fund. City workers’ pension and health care fund is supposedly 681 million dollars short of what is needed over the next 10 years. The proposal would mean a 5% per year pay cut for city workers.

At exactly the same moment, the Baltimore Development Corporation proposes the city give a 107 million dollar special tax break to yet another fancy waterfront developer, Harbor Point Group. These deals, called tax increment financing, which the city does by the dozens, pay for redoing roads and utilities. The site to be developed will become regional headquarters for multi-billion dollar energy corporation, Exelon.

Baltimore City politicians have the spending backwards. It’s the kind of math that politicians love – and THEIR pension fund is fully funded with generous benefits!

In Detroit, Sales Are Up, Even When They’re Down

May 13, 2013

In Detroit, car capital of the world, they know how to sell a clunker.

The local papers’ headlines were like this: “April U.S. Auto Sales Best Since 2007.”

The fact was that sales actually dropped off. The sales rate was the lowest since last October.

But that news might discourage shoppers! So the spinmasters focused only where they could polish the chrome. They took only the month of April 2012, and compared it only to April 2013.

Presto! Sales were up, even when they were down!

Just as David Cole, son of ex-GM president Ed Cole, once said: “In business, lying is something you do all the time.”

Bosses Same Worldwide

May 13, 2013

On May 2, strawberry pickers near a wildfire in California were caught in showers of ash so thick they could not breathe. They had to leave the fields and find cleaner air. But their foreman said they would be fired if they left.

Sure enough, the next day they were fired when they returned to work.

After some publicity and the help of the United Farm Workers, the 15 were offered their jobs back. However, a Crisalida Farms agent defended the firings, saying that the workers left without permission, while orders still needed to be filled.

Whether it’s a collapsing factory in Bangladesh, or a strawberry field in California, the bosses sound the same.

Chicago School Demonstrations

May 13, 2013

The past weeks have seen a number of demonstrations against the mayor’s school board, and their drive to privatize Chicago’s public schools and decrease the educational opportunities available to Chicago’s students.

More than 200 students from half a dozen high schools in the city boycotted the second day of Illinois’ state tests. The students first gathered at the Board of Education headquarters, protesting the overuse of standardized tests and school closings. The Board did not allow them to speak. The students then bused down to a demonstration at Banneker, an elementary school slated to be closed.

In another demonstration, parents at Dewey Elementary protested the Board’s plan to “Turnaround” their school this year. In a “Turnaround,” the entire staff of a school is fired, from the principal to the lunchroom staff, and a new staff brought in, under management of a private contractor. Parents upset about the plan gathered at Dewey and disrupted an attempt to inventory the school’s materials for the private operator.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to use an advanced curriculum program as an excuse to fire a number of veteran teachers at some high schools. When students at Lincoln Park High school heard that eight of their teachers would be fired, they staged a walkout. Hundreds of Lincoln Park’s 2,000 students stayed out of the school for three hours on a Friday morning, to protest the firings.

Five parents and sixty-five students at Williams Elementary on the South Side of Chicago staged a sit-in at that school to protest its closing.

Emanuel says he will not listen, that his closings plan is final. But a number of parents, teachers and students are showing they’re not ready to accept that.

Bangladesh Tragedy:
How Bosses Do Business

May 13, 2013

More than one thousand bodies have now been pulled from the rubble of the building that collapsed April 24 in the capital of Bangladesh. The building housed five garment factories employing 3400 workers. The owners had been warned that a wall had serious cracks in it the day before, but one boss ordered his work force back to work. These poor women working for about $40 per MONTH went to work because they desperately needed these wages.

Such factories – with four million workers in Bangladesh – supply clothing to Walmart, Sears, Benetton, Gap and many other big retailers in Europe. The big bosses are quick to try to escape responsibility for conditions of what they call the far end of their supply chain.

Work is organized in poor countries with lax rules on everything from pay to fire safety, because it saves big bosses money. They will happily blame some middle man – some little exploiter – for not enforcing safety, health and labor laws the big exploiters claim to support.

In fact, neither the factory owners nor the authorities take safety seriously. One of the nine people now under arrest was the engineer who warned them that the building was unsafe!

And worse yet – eight more people died this past week in yet another clothing factory fire in Bangladesh.

Thousands of death-trap factories around the world need to be shut down – and capitalists everywhere need to be held accountable for putting profit ahead of human lives.

Lives Turned Upside Down

May 13, 2013

Seniors, workers and poor residents are being pushed from downtown Detroit apartment buildings. Notices to vacate went out at Griswold Senior Apartments, at a river-front high rise and at three apartment buildings near the site of a possible hockey arena. This leaves 600 limited income Detroit residents without a place to live!

The wealthy who are sucking the life out of working class Detroit consider this to be “urban renewal” and “progress.”


Thieves Want to Cut Disability Insurance

May 13, 2013

Disability insurance provided through Social Security will be cut by about 20%, starting in 2016. Supporters of this cut say that there are no funds for this program. These people even claim that program beneficiaries game the system and therefore don’t deserve this insurance. What a crock! These are same bare lies propagated to gut budgets of all other public programs, including Social Security.

Working people pay for such programs when they work. Social Security contributions are taken from our wages before we receive our paychecks. If there are “no funds,” it is because funds have been taken out to find more money for the rich.

Disability is actually hard to get, requiring mountains of proof and long waits. Most claims are denied the first time and only granted after the person appeals the decision. To be eligible for disability, workers are required to work one quarter of their adult life, starting at age 21, and be employed in at least five of the previous 10 years. Only 41% of all applicants end up getting disability checks.

The average disability payment is $13,000 a year, which comes to less than $1,100 a month, less than minimum wage! It hardly allows those with chronic diseases or serious injuries to live with any decency, keeping them in poverty.

The real cause for a growth in disability is poverty and an aging population. Only the bosses have recovered in this recession. Many people cannot retire. The one age group where employment has increased is among people 55 to 64. At the age when people used to look forward to retiring, many older workers must keep working. Working longer takes a greater toll on older bodies: more than 70% of the disabled are over 50 years of age.

And even worse, those with the hardest physical labor show the highest rates of disability. Currently, the five counties with the largest percentage of people receiving disability live in rural areas with many farmers and miners – in West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi.

Are these people slackers? Of course not. The bosses have caused 10% of the population to live in poverty. It’s the bosses who keep this recovery a “jobless” one, and it’s the bosses who risk people’s lives and health – as in mining or in manufacturing.

Let those who caused the problem pay more into the disability funds, and there would be no problem with funding!

Page 8

Scottsboro “Boys”
– Racist Injustice

May 13, 2013

More than 80 years ago, nine young black men, ages 13 to 19, were accused in Scottsboro, Alabama of raping two white women. This April, after 82 years, the state of Alabama has proposed to pardon these young men who were sent to prison or even condemned to death thanks to a completely racist judicial system.

The defendants became known as the Scottsboro Boys. (The fact that young men as old as 19 could be referred to as “boys,” even by their supporters, is the mark of a racist society that refused to acknowledge black men as men.) This case was tried and retried – with the verdict going to the Supreme Court to be overturned twice. The young men gained support and free legal assistance from a widespread campaign carried on outside Alabama. In the end, four would be freed after six harsh years in prison and a third trial. Two ended up escaping from prison and the other five were eventually paroled – having survived years in prison and the threat of the death penalty.

Their trials were infamous because no evidence linking them to any crime was ever presented; because they were originally denied legal counsel; and because they were not tried by a jury of their peers, since black people were rarely allowed on juries in Alabama in that period.

The two women making the accusation of rape later recanted their stories. But that was too late for these young men whose lives were ruined. As one said at the time the case was most in the news: “They told us if we didn’t confess they’d kill us – give us to the mob outside.”

Has Alabama changed its racist use of the judicial system since 1931? Right this minute, the state of Alabama is involved in a Supreme Court case over violations of the Voting Rights Act, attempting to stop some people from voting, particularly some who are black.

It has taken the state of Alabama eight decades to get around to “pardoning” these young men. It is not the Scottsboro men who need a pardon. A racist judicial system still inflicts unequal and unjust penalties on black men, especially those not rich enough to hire a good lawyer.

No, a pardon cannot wipe out what was done to Roy Wright, Andy Wright, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Charlie Weems, Haywood Patterson and Clarence Norris!

Racism Widens Gap in Family Wealth

May 13, 2013

According to an Urban Institute study based on government data, the gap in the amount of wealth owned by families has widened significantly between white families and Black and Hispanic families during these years of recession, beginning in 2005. By “wealth” the study means assets held by families (savings, homes, and retirement accounts, minus debt – like mortgages and credit card balances).

They point out that while millions lost wealth during this period, the rate of loss of wealth for Black and Hispanic families was greater by far than the loss of wealth by white families. While the income gap between white families and Black and Hispanic families remained stable, with white families earning $2 for every dollar earned by Black and Hispanic families, the gap in actual wealth held by the families increased dramatically. Before the recession, white families held up to four times as much wealth as Black and Hispanic families. By 2010, it was up to six times as much.

The study cited two main reasons for this dramatic increase in what is called the “racial wealth gap.” The first cause cited is the disproportionately high loss of homes by black and Hispanic families – they were targeted and preyed upon by the banks for subprime or predatory loans at twice the rate of the overall population.

The second cause was the loss of retirement savings, which for black families shrank by 35 percent between 2007 and 2010.

In total, the study reports that Hispanic families lost 44 percent of their wealth between 2007 and 2010 while black families lost 31 percent. White families lost, by comparison, 11 percent.

Of course, these broad categories of white, black and Hispanic do not differentiate between classes – upper, middle class or working class. The figures are based on averages that include the extremely wealthy as well as the very poor, and the incomes and wealth of upper class whites with millions and billions of dollars skew the picture of family wealth of white working class families. Even with that in mind, according to the research, the trends remain the same. Lower earnings and higher unemployment rates have left black and Hispanic families with much less of a safety net to protect against having to spend accumulated savings like 401(k) funds to survive day-to-day.

The worst indictment of all: the authors of the study concluded that we are seeing the result of institutional racism that has diminished wealth for black families in the U.S. for more than 70 years; that is, for as long as it has been recorded and measured.

For those who claim the system works or that the recession is getting better and turning into a recovery, this study is the ultimate indictment. A system that generates this horrific institutional racism should have been buried long ago.

Southwest Detroit Refinery Fire

May 13, 2013

After an explosion and fire at a Marathon Oil storage tank containing ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide on Detroit’s southwest side, more than 80 residents and activists came out to demonstrate on May 3. They voiced pollution concerns and protested the lack of an evacuation plan for Detroit residents.

A recent environmental report found that the most polluted zip code in Michigan is adjacent to this refinery: 48217.

Imagine residents’ surprise to hear the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) planned to present its Platinum Safety Award to the Marathon Refinery at a ceremony on May 8!

Under scrutiny, the state hastily cancelled the ceremony. Too bad reality interfered with their plan!

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