The Spark

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

Issue no. 956 — February 3 - 17, 2014

Editorial:
YES, Workers Need a Raise

Feb 3, 2014

President Obama decried inequality in his latest State of the Union address. He called on business leaders to raise the pay of low wage workers, and on government lawmakers on all levels to raise the minimum wage. To prove that this was not just empty rhetoric, Obama promised that “as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example.” He issued an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their low wage workforce a “fair wage” of at least $10.10 an hour.

Give America a raise,” Obama said in his address.

Yes, workers need a raise. A big one. But we are never going to get it from the very people who have driven down our wages for the last four decades.

Look at what they have done to the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage, $7.50 per hour, is 30 per cent lower than it was in 1968, when taking the official rate of inflation into account. And since consumer prices increase at a much higher rate than the official government rate, the minimum wage has lost even more than that.

So, every year, inflation silently erodes what those who earn the minimum wage can buy. This fall in the buying power for minimum wage workers has been used as a weapon against the rest of the working class. Rather than pay full-time workers their old rates of pay, companies and government agencies outsource those jobs to low-wage companies. They create part-time and temporary jobs that pay a fraction of what the old full-time jobs used to pay. Over the last several years, the only new jobs being created for workers are in low-wage sectors.

And – no, the federal government is no different. A recent report by a public policy organization, Demos, found that Federal tax dollars fund nearly two million low-wage, private-sector jobs – which is more than the number at Walmart and McDonald’s combined. And, as most commentators admitted, Obama’s proposal in his “State of the Union Address” will affect few, if any, of these low-wage workers because it applies only to new or renewed contracts with private companies.

The government and corporate bosses have created a more and more gigantic army of low-wage workers, an army that swells by millions every year. Today, almost half of all workers in this country have to survive on less than $20,000 per year. That is less than what a full-time worker earning the minimum wage made in 1968, after accounting for inflation.

For the big companies and the banks, the less they pay their workforce, the more money they keep for themselves. These profits have grown so gigantic, companies can’t give the money away fast enough to the capitalist class. They have been increasing dividends and interest payments to enrich the capitalist class to record highs. And yet, their profits are growing so much, cash keeps on piling up at faster rates. Just over the last four years, the pile of unspent cash that the biggest companies hold and speculate with has more than doubled to almost three trillion dollars! Added to this pile are trillions more held by the big banks and financial companies.

This vast amount of wealth in the hands of the capitalist class was literally stolen from the labor of the entire working class. It comes from paying starvation wages and driving all workers to produce ever more. Waiting on a bunch of politicians to raise the minimum wage by some tiny amount will only let these thieves and criminals steal even more from us.

Yes, workers need a raise, a great big one. And that increased wage should be indexed to inflation so that the bosses cannot cut it like they cut the minimum wage.

Certainly, more than enough wealth is there to pay for this for all workers who want to work.

Pages 2-3

EDD Answers Only 1 Out of 10 Calls

Feb 3, 2014

Late last year, the checks of some unemployed people in California were cut with no reason. This problem started when California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) switched to another software, which messed up their system.

But these people could not reach anybody over the phone for months to fix their problem. Because of short staffing caused by layoffs, EDD answers only one out of 10 calls.

The computer upgrade cost 196 million dollars, about 100 million more than originally budgeted. So, EDD fired its staff, and stiffed the unemployed – and made a rich company richer. Very good job EDD!

Health Care Prices Soar in California

Feb 3, 2014

On April 1, steep rate increases are scheduled to go into effect in California on individual health insurance policies written before the Affordable Care ACT (ACA) became law. At Anthem Blue Cross alone, about 306,000 people with individual policies will pay average increases of 16%, with some forced to pay as much as 25% more.

Even if California regulators convince Anthem to voluntarily back off a little bit, these increases will surely still be huge. They come on top of premium increases of as much as 50% during the past three years!

Steep rate increases on virtually all pre-ACA health insurance policies are being imposed in every state. Many of the tens of millions of people with these policies will have to drop them.

The big majority of ordinary people in this country are being forced into a future with higher deductibles and co-pays, where health care is less affordable than it was in the past.

This is what happens when insurance companies are in the driver’s seat; when they write the regulations that government officials and politicians then proclaim as a grand “reform” of something as critical as health care.

Further Restricting Our Medical Options

Feb 3, 2014

The Blues, like other health care insurers, are moving to partner with hospitals and their doctors to create local networks. These networks are being set up to control the cost of benefits to be provided to individual subscribers.

Of course, this will restrict the subscriber to one set of doctors, one set of hospitals. In other words, it will restrict choice, and people be damned who like their current doctor or have been going to a hospital not on their list for treatment! Unlike Traditional or PPO models, there are no out-of-network benefits, except in tightly defined emergencies.

The best in health care should be offered to all regardless of wealth or class. Instead of controlling medical costs for all, this system looks to a separate but unequal treatment for the population.

California:
Billionaires Attack Teachers

Feb 3, 2014

A group calling itself “Students Matter” is suing the State of California to get rid of laws about “tenure,” as existing teacher job protections are known.

It’s not that public school teachers’ jobs are well protected. School boards and district administrators have been systematically hiring more and more teachers on “non-tenure-track” contracts. This process has sped up along with teacher layoffs. About 32,000 teachers in California lost their jobs between 2009 and 2012 alone. But with this lawsuit, so-called “education reformers” hope to speed up the relentless war on teachers.

The so-called “reformers” say tenure “protects bad teachers,” and hurts students. So then, do these so-called “reformers” oppose teacher layoffs, which have caused class sizes in California’s public schools to soar to 35 or even 45, hurting students badly? Not at all! On the contrary – the “reformers” want MORE teachers fired. In reality, they want the more experienced teachers, who tend to make more, to be fired!

If this sounds like a scheme to reduce payroll – well, it is. Behind the “reformers” are some big capitalists. The group that wants to get rid of teacher tenure was founded by Silicon Valley “entrepreneur” David F. Welch. He is supported by Eli Broad, a real estate billionaire and another self-declared “education reformer.”

For teachers, this war will certainly not be won in courtrooms, no matter what the outcome of this ongoing lawsuit may be. Against the billionaires’ money, teachers have to mobilize their own forces and allies, as broadly as possible. And that includes working-class students and parents, who rely on public schools – the very schools that are being gutted by state politicians, school board officials, and administrators bought by the billionaires.

Parents Protest Utah Elementary School Action

Feb 3, 2014

School lunches were taken away from 40 elementary school children in Utah and thrown in the trash in front of other students and staff.

The excuse given for this action was that the parents were behind on their payments to the lunch accounts. So this is the school’s answer to that? Take food from school children? And then trash it? Outrageous!

School officials are apologizing now because parent protest has put this story in national headlines. “It was a mistake,” they claim. They even put the cafeteria manager on paid administrative leave.

But this nasty little action reflects the disdainful attitude taken daily toward workers and their children, especially the very poor. Fortunately in this case, parent outrage is teaching school administrators a well-deserved lesson. That is, that no child should be subjected to this abuse.

Secrets, Lies, and Secret Lies

Feb 3, 2014

The spy chiefs finally admitted that we are a bigger threat to them than the terrorists are.

The heads of U.S. intelligence appeared before Congress at the end of January, and listed the greatest threats to “national security.” Number one on the list was cyber-attacks on infrastructure. Number three was terrorism. Number two? Leaks to the public about what they’re doing, like the release of information by Edward Snowden.

Snowden revealed that the government is tracking everyone in a hundred ways: recording e-mails and texts, tracking where we are at all times through our cell phones, keeping track of who we talk to, how long, and how often. They claim it’s all to stop terrorism, but they can obviously use this information against anyone they choose to target, as they have done many times in the past. The government has repeatedly targeted people active in the labor movement, communists and socialists, the black and anti-war movements – in other words, people fighting to make the world a better place, against this system of exploitation.

No wonder they’re more afraid of us finding out what they’re doing than almost anything else. But it’s too late: We’re on to them!

Syria, Iraq, Lebanon:
Chaos Spreads

Feb 3, 2014

This article is from the January 10, 2014 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The December attacks in Lebanon, and the capture of Fallujah in Iraq by a Syrian Islamic group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Middle East, shows how the Syrian civil war has helped destabilize the entire region.

Popular protests against the Assad dictatorship took place beginning in 2011. But since then, the conflicts in Syria have turned into clashes between military cliques cut off from the population, each one more reactionary than the next. The imperialist states, starting with the United States, must take responsibility for this evolution. At first they bet that the Syrian dictatorship would withstand the challenges to it. Then the great powers changed their minds and bet on its destabilization. The civil war in Syria quickly became a regional battleground among Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran as each sent weapons, troops or financial support for one side or another.

The Syrian civil war further destabilized neighboring countries like Iraq and Lebanon, which were already weakened by internal conflicts. In Lebanon, on December 27, one attack killed seven people. The target was a member of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition, representing the interests of the Sunni ruling circles, yet also linked to certain wealthy Christians with financial and personal ties to the Saudi regime. On January 2, another attack took place in the suburbs of Beirut, in a stronghold of the Hezbollah organization, which killed five people and wounded 66 more. Hezbollah is part of the Shiite Muslim community, with links to a different part of the Lebanese Christian ruling circles, and is supported by Iran. Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria on the side of Bashir Assad.

Above all, Iraq, a country already heavily destabilized by U.S. military intervention, has seen a further deterioration. The taking of Fallujah by the jihadist militia called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Middle East is a sign that jihadist militias are resurging.

These clashes are presented as a religious war throughout the region between Sunnis and Shias. But religion hardly counts. What is really going on is clashes between regional powers, through proxy militias, fanned by the maneuvers of the imperialists. And sometimes imperialism fails to control its own creations.

Pages 4-5

The Bosses Created the Crisis, The Working Class Can Get Us Out of It

Feb 3, 2014

The following is the text of a presentation at a SPARK public meeting in Detroit in January.

For the past 40 years, we have lived through an ongoing economic crisis. There has been one recession after another. But the recovery at the end of each recession has never returned things to where they were at the start of that recession. So the next recession takes us down even lower.

The standard of living for working people has steadily declined for the past 40 years, but this decline has accelerated in the past decade.

Certainly, there is no need to tell working people that our lives are facing an economic crisis. We live in this crisis and feel this crisis every day.

There are not enough jobs for everyone. We ourselves might be looking for work. Or if we have a job, then we have family members, friends, neighbors who can't find a job. I work at Ford and have for many years, and I couldn't begin to tell you how many people ask me weekly and even daily if I know a way to get a job at Ford for themselves or for their family members. Long-term unemployment has become the norm in this economy, not the exception.

And there are many, many people who are working but have only a part-time job because they can't find full-time work. About one-third of the whole workforce today is working part-time or temporary jobs.

But even for people who have a full-time steady job, it is getting more and more difficult to make ends meet. The reason is very simple – prices go up and our pay doesn't. Staying at the same pay for years, if you think about it, is really a wage cut.

And for many workers, especially younger workers, things are even worse because for many jobs, wages have gone down. There are 2nd tier wages and 3rd tier wages and 4th tier wages, where young workers are making half or less than what their parents made for doing the same job. The minimum wage today is less than half of what it was in 1969, relative to the cost-of-living.

There is a crisis in the basics of our lives. Having a job where you can support yourself and raise a family and have a decent life for them – that is out of reach for many.

Costs for health care are outrageous, even as the so-called Affordable Health Care Act goes into effect. Plans for a comfortable retirement are disappearing as pensions are being reduced or eliminated.

Things in our cities and towns and neighborhoods are falling apart. We continue to pay high taxes, but the things we pay taxes for are being reduced or taken away. Public schools are deteriorating. A college education is becoming financially out-of-reach. The streetlights are out and the garbage doesn't get picked up. The buses don't run on time; the potholes in the road don't get fixed. Parks and recreation centers and libraries are closing.

This increasing poverty of the population, along with the destruction of opportunities for young people – meaning no jobs, few after-school activities or social opportunities of any kind, leaving them in the street with little hope – all this has led to the increase of crime, so that people don't feel safe in their streets, or even their homes.

The Wealth Is Still There

It could seem as if the wealth of the whole society is disappearing. But that is not the case. It is not nearly the case. There are parts of the society where the wealth is increasing – in fact, increasing rapidly. Corporate profits are going up and up, an increase of 17% just in the past year; Wall Street is hitting new highs. The millionaires are becoming billionaires.

But the money we hear about is nothing compared to the wealth that we don't see – the money that is controlled by and held by the banks. The banks that were given several trillion dollars by the government. A few days ago, I read in the newspaper that Chase Bank has paid fines of more than 20 billion dollars for various financial “irregularities.” And what did Chase Bank say about giving up 20 billion dollars? “It's not a problem, it's no big deal." And for Chase, it isn’t a big deal – 20 billion dollars is a drop in the bucket for the big banks.

The rich of this country have accumulated wealth that is unheard of in human history. So no, the wealth of the society has not decreased. It is just that more and more of the wealth is going into the pockets of the few wealthy, and less and less is going to the rest of us who need to work for a living.

This growing accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few people is in stark contrast to the growing impoverishment of the rest of the population. And it is all due to how the capitalists operate their economy.

Corporations constantly push workers to work faster and produce more. Three workers today produce what five workers produced a few years ago. Increasing productivity could be a wonderful thing. It could mean that people work six hours or four hours a day, with no loss in pay. You know, people used to work 14 and 16-hour days. But as productivity increased, and where the working class fought to have lower hours of work, the workday was eventually cut down to eight hours a day for many workers. That happened over a hundred years ago. But today this increased productivity is not used to benefit those who do the work. Today workers on so-called “alternative work schedules” are again working 10 and 12 hours days. If three workers do the work of five, the bosses lay off the other two workers, adding to the growing unemployment. This higher productivity today is used only to increase the profits of the corporate bosses. And those extra profits from increased productivity are not invested to build more factories and produce more consumer goods, which would mean more jobs and cheaper prices. The bosses instead take those profits and speculate in the stock market, or in real estate or in different currencies.

The bosses protect their profits and increase their profits by cutting our wages and benefits. They increase prices, which is more money in their pockets and less in ours.

It is these jobs cuts and wage cuts by the corporate bosses which have worsened the economic crisis and guarantee that we will soon face another recession, or even worse.

At the same time, other decisions are made which have worsened the crisis for working people. The politicians at every level of the government make decisions every day to benefit the wealthy at our expense. Government decisions are made to give money to the banks and cut taxes for the corporations.

In order to pay for the money given to the banks and corporations, the government cuts out jobs, which, in turn, leads to cuts in services. The workers who drive the buses, clear the roads of snow, repair the streetlights, clean the parks, teach the children – these jobs are cut, and we all suffer.

Government-regulated utilities eliminate workers, and so people have to live in the dark and cold for a week after a storm. All this money the government saves by cutting services and eliminating jobs is re-directed into the hands of the wealthy. A health care program is set up to profit the insurance companies and drug companies and hospitals, and not the ordinary people who need health care.

Working Class Answer to the Crisis

All of the problems of the crisis that the majority of the population is suffering are a direct result of decisions made to increase the profits of the few. The corporate bosses and the politicians who serve them have no answers to the crisis; they are not going to fix the crisis, because their policies have caused the crisis.

But there are answers to the crisis. There are ways to fix the problems that we face. There are very simple, common sense, straightforward answers to the problem of an economy that isn't functioning well. These are the answers that the working class would have.

First of all, everyone who wants a job should have a job.

No company that is making a profit should be allowed to lay off a single worker. Not one layoff!

Now, that would not solve the problem of all the jobs that have already been lost. So the next answer would be to put people back to work by sharing the work that is needed to be done. If three people are now doing the work that five people used to do, then bring back those two people. Increased productivity could be used to reduce the hours we all work without any loss of pay. Share out the work so that everyone who wants a job can have one. Put people back to work who provide the services. And by putting more people to work, more people would have money to buy things – and more people buying things would mean more jobs created to produce those products; this would get the economy going.

The next answer would be to deal with the problem of low wages. Wages should be high enough so that every worker and every family can have a decent standard of living. I'm not talking about making everyone rich, but we should be paid enough to live comfortably. Why not? Our labor produced all this wealth. And again, increasing wages would be a boon for the economy because when people have more money to spend, they buy things, which leads to an increase in jobs.

Workers need protection for our wages, too, so that we don't lose them to inflation. But there is a simple answer that, too. Any time prices go up, our wages should go up. I'm not talking about the cost-of-living pay that used to be in some union contracts and never covered the true amount of higher prices. I'm talking a pay adjustment that would immediately increase wages by the full amount that prices increased.

Putting people back to work and restoring wages would solve almost all of the problems we face today.

Of course, putting more people to work and increasing wages would cut into the profits of the corporations. The corporations would cry that they can't afford to do this. OK, well let them prove it. Let the workers who work in these corporations have a look at the real financial books of the companies. Let us see where the money is. Of course, we don't believe that the bosses would ever willingly show us the real financial books that would show their true profits and where the money went, year after year. But, in the future, when workers are making a real fight against the bosses, this is something we have to keep in mind – let us look at the books and where the real money is.

And there answers to the other problems of the crisis that we are facing in our cities and our neighborhoods. Our tax money should be used to pay for the things we need – like schools that educate our children, clean, lighted streets, roads without potholes; parks and libraries re-opened. If the politicians say there is not enough money for those things, then the answer is that the politicians should stop giving money away to the wealthy. Make the rich pay the taxes that they can afford to pay. Make the corporations give back all the tax breaks they have been handed over the years. Get back all the money from the banks that the government gave them during the bank bailout. If they stopped giving money away to the wealthy, governments would have plenty of money to pay people to fix the roads and schools. They could put more teachers and public workers back to work and pay them a decent wage to provide the public services that we need.

It Is all Possible

All of these things are possible. Jobs at decent wages for everyone who wants to work. This is not some kind of fantasy world or utopia. The wealth that exists in this society makes these things very possible.

What is needed to make these things happen is that the wealth of this society, the profits produced in this society have to be distributed differently, so that the people who actually do the work can benefit from what we produce.

All of the profits and wealth of the society are produced by working people, the people who build the cars, make the roads, grow the food, work in the offices and hospitals, teach the children. We have every right to say how this wealth and these profits are distributed. The wealth we produce should be and can be used to benefit everyone, not just a privileged few.

The working class will have to make a fight to do this. When we look around today, we don't see many people making a fight. But I know that this fight will come. Working people in this country have always fought; those who came before us fought very militantly. The working class movement in the 30s and 40s and beyond; the black movement in the 60s and 70s. People fought, and they got something. But then they stopped the fight. Whatever gains they achieved were taken back. The basic issues of jobs and wages were never addressed in any complete way. And the same problems are in front of us today, worse than ever. When the next fight starts, we need to keep in mind those things that we have to fight for. We have to know to continue the fight until we are in control. There is no point to fight if we sit back afterwards and let the ruling class take back those things we once won.

Pages 6-7

Detroit Bankruptcy Deal
– Anything But ‘Benevolent’

Feb 3, 2014

City of Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr delivered the basics of his plan to reduce the city’s debt. No matter what he says, it’s an attack on city workers.

The plan includes a deal for private foundations, the state of Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Arts to contribute 820 million dollars into city worker pension funds.

The suburbs would also pay 1.88 billion dollars for Detroit to turn over its water department, which currently provides water to much of the Detroit area, to a regional authority.

Orr and the media make the pretense that the state, suburbs and private foundations are doing this out of benevolence to the city. They portray the deal as being even-handed, or even favoring city workers, because city worker pensions would be paid 25 cents on the dollar owed them, while bondholders would get only 22 cents.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The deal actually amounts to stealing from city retirees to pay off bondholders, many of them the same banks the city is now suing over crooked loan deals. Emergency Manager Orr, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the wealthy of the region are using the deal to reshape the city to suit their own goals.

The spinoff of the DIA and water department will mean higher admission prices to the museum and increases in water rates, especially for residents of Detroit.

Under the guise of benevolence, they want other workers to support huge cuts in city worker pensions. Other workers shouldn’t buy what they’re selling. An attack on the city workers is an attack on all workers.

Detroit Retiree Health Care:
Going, Going...

Feb 3, 2014

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr reached a settlement with a committee set up to represent retired Detroit city workers in negotiations on cuts to retiree health care benefits. The deal, though better than what Orr proposed last year, is still a huge attack.

Under the settlement, retirees under 65 will receive $175 to buy health care coverage from the federal government’s new Health Insurance Marketplace. That’s a whole $50 increase from what Orr initially proposed, but it still leaves the retirees facing additional premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

Retirees over 65 will get city-sponsored Medicare Advantage plans. Those plans do not provide supplemental insurance, which they will have to purchase themselves or be left with high out-of-pocket expenses.

This settlement only covers retiree health care for 2014. Orr’s proposed plan for settling the city’s bankruptcy includes a proposal to dump health care for the current city retirees by putting money into a VEBA, with the possibility that the VEBA could eventually run out of money and leave city retirees empty-handed – as auto workers know all too well!

It’s all just one more way the officials are stealing from city retirees to hand over more to wealthy bondholders.

The Cutting Season:
Mystery AND History

Feb 3, 2014

The Cutting Season, written by Attica Locke, is a modern-day mystery, unraveling the murder of an immigrant worker from Mexico whose body is found near a sugarcane field in Louisiana.

The story unfolds at a tourist attraction: A fully restored slave plantation called Belle Vie, that hosts school history tours and banquets.

The author explained in a recent interview that the novel was inspired by a real place, the Oak Valley Plantation, just outside New Orleans. Attica Locke attended a wedding reception at this restored plantation in 2004. “There is no way to not feel the beauty of it because it is so stunning. But it also kind of made my stomach turn, because of what it represented.”

The author takes on the ways that history intrudes on today. The book draws parallels between the original slave labor that created wealth by harvesting sugarcane and the wage slavery of today. The book describes who does this work today: “Mexican mostly, and some Guatemalans, plucked out of rice fields and fruit groves for a few months of working Louisiana sugarcane.”

The impact of the past is felt on the present. The book’s main character, Caren Gray, has ancestors who were slaves at the very plantation she now manages. Young people who work at Belle Vie perform historical re-enactments of plantation life. An enjoyable sub-plot of the book is when these young people rebel and re-write the script, throwing out the sugar-coated history they had been required to perform.

Available in paperback, audio book, e-book and at the library, this “page-turner” of a murder mystery illuminates today’s racism and class society by linking “today” with history.

Greed Strong Enough to Ignite a Social Explosion

Feb 3, 2014

“The bottom half of the world’s population owns less than the richest 85 people in the world,” noted a report from the nonprofit Oxfam, at the same time that some of the wealthiest individuals on the planet gathered together for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

These 85 billionaires are quite well known. The winning pair consists of Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecommunications magnate, and Bill Gates, the CEO of Microsoft. Each one has a net worth of more than 50 billion dollars.

Coming at a time when we are told that the government has no money to spend, these figures speak volumes!

The mere fact that 85 people possess the same amount as half of the human race says a great deal about the madness of capitalism, which acts like a huge vortex sucking all of the wealth into one tiny part of society.

At the same time that money is overflowing out of the bourgeoisie’s pockets, it impoverishes the working class. But reality will catch up to it. Sooner or later, workers will demand what is rightfully theirs.

Page 8

Snowmaggedon Atlanta Style

Feb 3, 2014

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed are trying to defend their decision to keep Atlanta open during the snow storm last Wednesday. “We don’t want to be accused of crying wolf,” explained Deal. “We would have had to shut down a major city for a day.” He told reporters he was concerned about all the money that would have been lost.

Far from closing down the city, the officials didn’t even pre-treat the roads or do any sort of planning and preparing whatsoever. The result? Thousands of drivers spent the night in their cars, and students spent the night in their schools – more than two and a half inches of snowfall.

Winter happens every year. Rush hour happens five days a week. There is no defense for what happened. They put tens of thousands of people’s lives at risk, all because capitalists and their politicians wanted business as usual. They gambled on our lives, and we paid the price!

Michigan Families Left Out in the Cold

Feb 3, 2014

Many families in rural Michigan are dependent on propane gas for home and farm heating. With January cold and snow at record levels, propane gas has been getting harder and harder to come by and prices are escalating. Almost 800,000 people, or eight to ten percent of the Michigan population, are dependent on propane.

In a situation where families need more help, not less, to deal with the weather crisis, what does the for-profit system do? As shortages develop, the price of propane has gone from around $2 a gallon to $3.61 a gallon, the highest propane cost since 1990. And suppliers are pushing prices higher, some as high as $5.60 a gallon!

It is not enough that the U.S. and State of Michigan government officials call for penalties against price gouging. If they are going to allow companies to take a profit during the shortage, they should be forced to increase incomes to families and farmers to keep them from being impoverished and without heat.

Sound crazy? What’s crazy is encouraging oil companies to create shortages by making them profitable!

Bosses “Forgot” About Winter

Feb 3, 2014

Old Man Winter came to most of the U.S. with a vengeance this year, and the country was totally unprepared.

In Chicago, known for dealing with snow, main streets were salted and plowed after most of the snowstorms, but neighborhood streets were not. In many other cities, even the main streets were barely plowed.

Cities and states are complaining that they’re running short of salt for the highways. This is the most basic necessity for keeping highways safe when there’s a snowstorm – look what happened in Atlanta, where they did not salt the roads, with less than three inches of snow.

In cities throughout the country, thousands of potholes have opened up, wrecking cars and causing accidents. And everywhere, road crews are way behind in filling them. Cities like Chicago and Detroit complain that they’ve already used up their budgets for filling potholes – so instead we have to use up our budgets to fix our cars.

Sidewalks remain uncleared of snow throughout much of the country. On top of that, in cities like Detroit, many streetlights are out. So people wearing dark winter clothing are forced to walk down the middle of unlit, unplowed city streets at night. This means deadly accidents waiting to happen.

Other infrastructure, like power and water lines, is also breaking down. In Baltimore, for instance, over 300 water mains have already broken from the freezing and thawing. Many of these pipes should have been replaced decades ago.

The bosses and their tools, the politicians, pretend that it’s just the weather – nothing can be done. But in a reasonable society, you could easily fix these problems. If it’s dangerous to drive, cancel non-critical work for a better day while reinforcing critical jobs with extra workers and extra safety precautions. Set up warming centers, and give parents the day off automatically if school is canceled. Make sure there are enough plows, trucks to remove snow, salt stashed away, and workers to drive those trucks, clear sidewalks, repair potholes, fix sewer lines, and upgrade the power grid. Tens of millions of people need jobs; well, here is work that needs to be done that they could be hired to do!

The problem is the bosses don’t want to spend money on services for the population. They want all the money for themselves. This winter is one more piece of evidence, if we needed it, that the capitalist system we live in is incompetent to solve the most basic human problems.