The Spark

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

Issue no. 979 — January 19 - February 2, 2015

Without Unity, the Working Class Has No Power

Jan 19, 2015

It is January of the new year, and politicians new and old are taking office and making speeches, blathering about the “State of their Union.” Democrats and Republicans both try to tell us things are getting better.

But a real Workers’ State of the Union would show a different picture, a dismal one. While there is a “slight uptick” in the employment data, the deeper truth is that there is a smaller percentage of total workers in the nationwide workforce. The few hundreds of thousands of jobs added each month have been underpaid, mostly part-time, seasonal. The standard of living for most workers has been reduced and at best, wages have not grown in spite of record profits by Wall Street bankers and bosses.

Hardest hit over the past year have been public workers. With wage and benefit cuts, pension cuts, wave after wave of attacks spreading across the country – they bear the brunt of politicians’ giveaways to corporations in the form of tax breaks or outright donations of land and property.

What is increasingly dangerous this year is the growing potential for the right wing to drag workers into divisions and false solutions to the problems we face. The right- wing violence and growth of reactionary ideas is an integral part of this capitalist society – and it is always aimed ultimately against the working class.

Right-wing appeals differ, depending on what section of the population is being addressed. But the political approach and remedy are the same, whether they are working to attract rural or urban workers from the South, North, East or West.

Most openly, the right wing promotes discrimination against women and against any possibility for them to choose whether to have children. The religious right has already jeopardized women’s access to abortion and even birth control in most states in the union by legally forcing facilities to close and by threatening the lives and well-being of doctors and other health care workers. Poor women are the ones who pay the biggest price of this attack.

The right wing attacks immigrant workers. In doing so, they hope to attract the support of workers who have been in this country longer, and make them believe that these newer workers are taking their jobs – when nothing could be further from the truth.

And the oldest and most violent of their strategies, of course, is to encourage racism and the violence it engenders. Most recently, after standing silent on murder after murder of young black men by police, many politicians cheered on demonstrations of defiance by police in New York City and called for support to them.

The strategy of the right-wing is to pit one section of the working class against another; to encourage every bigotry and prejudice available to keep workers from uniting to address the falling standard of living and the attacks on their persons and their neighborhoods.

Finally, the leaders of both Democratic and Republican parties continue to focus the U.S. working class on the right-wing strategy of blaming the poor in other countries for our troubles. The terrorist killings in Paris have provided the U.S. ruling class and their politicians with one more example of what they call a world-wide conspiracy against freedom and democracy.

As U.S. politicians announce their partnerships with European rulers and the most reactionary and violent dictators of the Middle East and Africa, the laboring classes of these countries are also pushed down a political road that leads into a dead end.

The workers and the poor suffer under an international capitalist system that benefits a small minority at the expense of the majority. It siphons off and diverts all wealth possible away from the needs of the world population.

There will be no answer for working people, no remedy to the ills this system breeds until the working class takes up the fight again, until it fights in its own name to take back this wealth. That fight requires working people to see who our real enemies are – and they are not among our fellow workers, in this country or anywhere else in the world. The enemy we have to fight is the enemy that fattens itself off of our labor, our very lives.

Pages 2-3

The Bitter Mark of Imperialism

Jan 19, 2015

January 12th was the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, during which some 300,000 people died and a million and a half were displaced, mostly losing their homes. Today more than 80,000 are still homeless, the country is far from rebuilt, jobs remain scarce, and wages are at poverty level with only an informal economy to keep people alive. Just as before the earthquake, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with schools, hospitals, and justice only for those who can afford to pay.

Buildings, both before and after this earthquake, were built so poorly that they collapsed even in tropical rains, leaving hundreds dead. In 2004, floods killed more than 4,000 Haitians.

An AP journalist named Jonathan Katz wrote of his sorrow, anger and frustration with the so-called reconstruction of Haiti in a book called The Big Truck that Went By. His sub-title is “How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.”

The strength of Katz’s book is his pointing out how France and the United States helped create this poor and poorly functioning country.

Sugar from what they called Saint-Dominique in the 18th century was France’s greatest source of profit. The French forcibly took thousands of black people as slaves from Africa to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. A slave uprising beginning in 1801 eventually drove out the French plantation owners, but the Haitians left behind were forced to pay money to the French for a century. They “owed” the planters an indemnity for dispossessing them of their lands. That was one reason for the poverty of a country that produced a commodity very much desired in the rest of the world.

In the 20th century, Haiti was invaded by the U.S. in 1915, followed by 20 years of military occupation and U.S. control of Haitian finances until 1947. “Papa Doc” Duvalier built his regime of terror in the 1950s; his son would also quickly drain the country of every penny while opening industrial zones for foreign manufacturers to hire Haitians at extremely low wages. Until recently, every baseball used in the U.S. major league was sewn in Haiti, at a wage of $1.79 per day. Even in Haiti, that meant greater poverty. Joseph A. Banks had its $500 men’s suits sewn there. Clothing was hardly the only kind of “foreign” capital to exploit Haiti. The second largest cell phone network in Haiti is a U.S. corporation.

Even the overthrow of the Duvaliers – without, of course, the return of all they had stolen – did not lead to any kind of development of infrastructure or permanent jobs at a living wage.

When the earthquake struck, about one third of the Haitian population lived in rickety slums in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The whole world saw the earthquake disaster on the media and millions of people wanted to pledge money. The reality after the cameras left was that 93 cents of every dollar pledged stayed with the donor organizations and the contractors they used from their home countries. Haitian firms got five million dollars in orders out of the eight BILLION dollars pledged.

Most observers, far distant from Haiti, proclaim the problem is corruption. Without question, Haiti functions with bribes to get anything done. It’s just that in the U.S. we call the same thing “lobbying.” In the U.S. millions and even billions of dollars are passed to contractors with the right connections to Congress.

Instead of development, what Haiti got after the earthquake was the re-introduction of cholera, a disease once eradicated there. The source of the infection was UN soldiers stationed there. In 2010, eight months after the earthquake, Haiti lacked medical facilities to treat cholera: almost 5,000 Haitians died.

Katz also points out that, instead of building housing or hospitals or schools, the first projects funded in Haiti after the earthquake were hotels in Port-au-Prince. Haitians certainly could never afford them! Meanwhile at least 100,000 people squatted in the area outside the capital, hoping for housing that never came.

Katz’s book shows underdevelopment in all its hideous colors. All over the world, ordinary diseases, even ordinary storms, kill thousands who would have survived had they lived in rich countries.

What makes the difference is money – most of which has been stripped out of Haiti and every other poor country by the exploiters of the rich countries.

California Governor Proposes another Anti-Worker Budget

Jan 19, 2015

California Governor Jerry Brown announced his proposed 2015 budget – which, he bragged, is balanced again.

Balanced maybe, but on the backs of workers and the poor.

Look, for example, at Brown’s “proposal” to state workers: to share equally the state’s 72-billion-dollar liability for the health care of its retirees. So Brown wants state workers to pay 36 billion dollars of the state’s debt. And why? Because the state underfunded the program for years – because politicians running the state, like Brown himself, simply DID NOT meet their obligation to state workers!

Brown’s budget would also continue to underfund aid programs for the poor – pushing millions of people into deeper poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California has a poverty rate of 23.4 per cent (almost one out of four, that is) – the highest in the U.S.

Poverty is so deep, and spreading, in California because of persistently high unemployment and low wages. A bigger and bigger part of the working class is being pulled into poverty, including many who have jobs – while big companies keep making record profits.

When asked about low wages, Brown was blunt: “The modern economy is based on individual reward, with most of the money moving toward the top. That’s the system,” he said.

Yes, that’s the capitalist system all right, and there is no reward for workers in this system – only exploitation.

Drastic Cuts to Medicaid

Jan 19, 2015

From January 1, 2015, California’s reimbursement rates to Medi-Cal patients will drop by more than 60 percent, because of cuts to the program funds by federal and state governments. Medi-Cal is California’s version of the Medicaid program, providing health insurance for low income working people. With these cuts, California’s Medi-Cal reimbursement rates became the lowest in the U.S.

These low reimbursement rates will result in fewer physicians willing to treat Medi-Cal patients, causing some patients to wait for months for an appointment to see a primary care provider. Some will end up receiving no health care.

This drastic healthcare cut affects a very large number of Californians. This year, total Medi-Cal enrollment is expected to reach 12.2 million, about one-third of the state’s population.

The healthcare funding was cut while California has had huge budget surpluses in 2013 and 2014. The forecasted budget surplus for 2015 is 3.2 billion dollars. But, although there is a surplus, the Medi-Cal cuts will remain in the budget, according to Governor Jerry Brown’s recent announcement.

In reality, the budget surplus would be larger if there were no tax cuts to companies. Last year, California gave away 420 million dollars in additional tax cuts to the aero-space industry and tripled the tax cuts to the movie industry, which got 330 million dollars. These are only two examples among many huge tax cuts provided to the corporations and rich people.

To satisfy the rich, the health of the working people takes a hit.

Free Reverend Pinkney!

Jan 19, 2015

Political activist, 66-year-old Reverend Edward Pinkney, who has organized against the corporate plans of Whirlpool Corp, headquartered in the majority black city of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was sentenced in December to 2.5 to 10 years in Jackson Prison. He was convicted in October of five felony counts of “forgery under the Michigan election law.”

An all-white jury from the majority white County of Berrien convicted the black community activist. Reverend Pinkney had collected signatures to recall the Mayor of Benton Harbor. The felony convictions were over dates that were changed next to five signatures.

In addition to not having a jury of his peers, two other factors point to a political railroading. The original copies of the petitions are apparently “lost” – xeroxes were used for trial. Second, after the verdict, one of the jurors was found to be a friend of the Berrien County Clerk (who turned over the petitions) and a friend of the Berrien County Sheriff.

The recall campaign cited the mayor’s backing by Whirlpool Corporation, which closed all its local factories while receiving tax breaks and recently took over a large swath of the city’s public land. The recall attempt came after the mayor opposed a plan to tax local corporations.

This case exposes just how much the “justice system” in northern cities resembles the vile racism of the Jim Crow South.

Pages 4-5

Don’t Let Our Class Enemies Set Us Against Each Other!

Jan 19, 2015

These articles come from the January 9 and January 16, 2015 issues of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France. They discuss different aspects of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris that we don’t know about here.

The horror of the recent attacks has shocked the population. Several million women and men expressed their indignation during the weekend of January 10 and 11. But in the name of national unity, political leaders gave themselves a boost that is a trap for the workers.

Yes, these assassins are barbaric. They decimated the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo with the pretext that the magazine had committed a blasphemy. In the process, they killed a maintenance worker and several police officers. They killed four people in a market because the victims were Jewish. These assassins are not only enemies of freedom of expression, they are enemies of all liberty and, at the same time, class enemies.

It is necessary to combat them in the name of the interest of the workers, because the violence meant to silence all diverse expression strikes above all at the exploited classes – their freedom to fight, to organize and to demand, whatever their nationality, ethnicity or religion. That is what happened in Algeria during the terrible civil war of the 1990s. The same kind of attacks were carried out first on journalists, then against feminists and against unionists.

For these people, religion is only an instrument of struggle for power. They use Islam and religious divisions to dig a ditch of blood and to impose themselves, through terror, as the sole representatives of those whom they call their “community.” Against these would-be dictators, the workers must recognize a single and unique community, that of the workers and the exploited of all countries.

It is necessary to reject all calls for a sacred unity of the French people. Just as the U.S. government exploited the emotion of September 11, 2001 to carry out a war in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, French President Hollande wants to profit from this emotional situation to justify interventions in Mali, in Central Africa and in Iraq. In the name of the antiterrorist struggle, he wants to legitimize in advance the military invasions to come.

But who sows the barbarism throughout the world? The jihadist groups, who terrorize parts of the Middle East and Africa and who seek to act here, are not born from nothing. They are the fruit of the filthy politics and the wars perpetrated by the great powers in Afghanistan, Libya and in Iraq to impose their domination.

“War is declared,” one hears after these attacks. But France has been at war for a long time. The Palestinian people and the Israelis have lived in a state of war for half a century!

The Great Powers pillage and bomb whole regions on behalf of the capitalists. They sow frustration, injustice and terror in the oppressed countries. Today, we reap this violence, because barbarism engenders barbarism. For our battle, we need to challenge the capitalist society itself.

On Sunday, January 11, millions of people demonstrated for liberty and tolerance. And what did they hear from Hollande, Valls and Sarkozy? That more security measures are necessary, that it is necessary to harden the rules against immigration. And, worse, they heard from the National Front that the death penalty is necessary!

For a few petty thugs caught in the web of terrorism, how many youth of the poor suburbs will be confronted by racism and generalized suspicion? Young people don’t need more prisons, the primary source of recruitment for the jihadists; they need jobs, education, and a society that offers real possibilities for everyone.

The emotions we feel must lead to class consciousness and class struggle, because the working class today is being ground up.

In the name of the struggle against terrorism, we are supposed to align ourselves behind the camp of the supposedly democratic governments who cover the planet in fire and blood. On January 11, Hollande made a part of the population march behind African dictators like Bongo or state terrorists like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. That says it all about his politics.

We can’t let ourselves be regimented in this unholy union! Don’t let Hollande, or Sarkozy, or Le Pen speak in the name of the workers!

We are all workers, whatever our origins. It is vital that we, workers, exploited, oppressed, we see ourselves as one class united by our interests, to defend ourselves against our exploiters but above all against a capitalist system that plunges humanity into barbarism.

All that Charlie Hebdo Fights Against

Jan 19, 2015

Charlie Hebdo is known for fighting against ALL religions, and the backwardness they all convey. This weekly magazine has denounced militarism, war, and the hypocrisy of politicians who, with the blood of millions of people on their hands, pretend they are supporting liberty and democracy.

Those who organized the demonstration in Paris on January 11 are the very people Charlie Hebdo caricatures in its pages each week. They proclaimed national unity as their excuse for supporting the victims assassinated at the newspaper office, but they are the very ones who betrayed the journalists.

In front of the bell towers of Notre Dame, the representatives of the three religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, stood at the head of the demonstration, side by side with several heads of state, next to French President Francois Hollande, pretending they were the defenders of liberty. It was an insult to all the Charlie Hebdo victims stood for.

One of the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, who decided not to participate in Sunday’s demonstration, had this to say about the people leading the demonstrations: “The African dictators, the religious leaders, these individuals represent all we are against.” Another cartoonist from the magazine said, “As one of the cartoonists put in his caricatures, it’s not easy to be followed by such idiots.... And it won’t bring back our work.” Another journalist there denounced associating with such politicians, saying, “We have been wounded to the core, and now we find they are associating us with policies that make us vomit.”

Freedom of the Press?

Jan 19, 2015

Politicians from the right and the left present themselves as fierce defenders of freedom of expression in recent days, especially freedom of the press.

But in fact the January 11 demonstration with all those heads of state next to President Hollande actually showed what little importance these freedoms are accorded by the French president. Standing next to him was Victor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, especially known for controlling the press; the prime minister of Turkey, described by Reporters Without Borders as the No. 1 prison for journalists in the world; the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs, in whose hellish prisons are incarcerated three al Jazeera journalists and uncounted numbers of oppositionists, not to mention all those executed by the Egyptian government ... and other similar examples.

The so-called democratic politicians have not hesitated in the past to gag the press when it’s a matter of the interests of the bourgeoisie. In France, they pull out these rules especially when they go to war. During World War I, the French press, willingly or by force, was part of the propaganda machine at the service of the warmongers. In 1939, before France entered World War II, the French Communist Party was banned, as was its newspaper. Censure of the press existed in French colonial wars in 1945, 1947 and, of course, in Indochina during the war lasting from 1946 to 1953. During the Algerian war, not only were journalists arrested and articles banned, along with some books and films, the censorship lasted for a long time after the war.

And today, the press, the radio, the television – all are controlled by big capitalist media groups that are biased so as not to call in question their advertising revenues. Charlie Hebdo itself was always struggling to survive financially, and the politicians never gave them any support before these terrible assassinations.

Freedom of the press in this society is above all freedom for the capitalists who control the press.

Terrorism Nourished by the Politics of Imperialism

Jan 19, 2015

Playing on the emotions provoked by the attacks in France, the French leaders, like Hollande and Sarkozy, call on the population for a war against terror. It was a surprise to nobody when the minister of foreign affairs declared further French military intervention in Mali and the Middle East. In the French Parliament on January 13, the deputies voted 488 to 1 for continuing the intervention of French forces in Iraq. Only 13 abstained from voting. The next day a military jet left for the Gulf region to fight against the group Islamic State.

Sending the fighter jet and supply planes to the Middle East indicates more air raids that don’t distinguish between killing civilians and jihadists.

The French government wants to justify its intervention in Mali or Central Africa or the Middle East region, like Iraq. They want to be able to continue these wars, intensifying them with the support of the workers and all the popular classes. But these wars led by France throughout the world, in the name of the war against terror, are really wars to defend the interests of the big capitalists.

For two years, the French government has justified its intervention in Mali by claiming it was opposing the installation of a terrorist government. But it is above all preoccupied with keeping order in the zones where it has influence in Africa, especially in the north of Mali and also near the border with Niger – all to help Areva, a big French company, exploit its uranium mines.

Politicians from Hollande to Sarkozy declare it is necessary to fight barbarism. But who has spread such barbarity around the world? The militias trying to impose a medieval Islamic state through terror in Iraq and Syria didn’t spring forth out of nothing. Militias like those of the Islamic State, claiming under the flag of religion to defend the Sunni population, just like the militias who pretend to represent the Shiite population, would never have seen the light of day if imperialism had not opened the way to them. It was imperialism that reinforced the divisions inside the Iraqi population and utilized these divisions to impose its domination.

These jihadist militias have been politically aided by 10 years of war and imperialist occupation, which have only brought the population misery, destruction and death. And they have been aided materially. For example, the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, carry out the dirty work for the imperialist powers, the U.S. first of all, while giving money and arms to Islamic State militias based in Syria. These reactionary forces are the monstrous creations of imperialism, today more and more out of control.

Even the former French prime minister said, “It’s time the Western countries learned the lessons of Afghanistan. It was a source of terrorism in 2001. Today, 15 years later, there are more terrorists growing out of that war.... How many more terrorists are we going to create?” He was referring to the French decision to continue to participate in a new war in Iraq, calling it “absurd and dangerous.”

Yes, the barbarity of the imperialist wars to maintain their domination of the world has brought forth the barbarity of fundamentalist militias. But if we expect Hollande or the other imperialist leaders to combat these terrorists, it’s like counting on arsonists to control fires.

It’s the capitalist system itself, and the politicians who govern in its name, that we must fight against.

The Catholic Church Should Sweep Its Own Porch!

Jan 19, 2015

The heads of the Catholic Church weren’t slow to join those rendering homage to the murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo – those who were outspoken and militant atheists.

The weekly magazine has had to defend itself with lawyers and money at least 15 times in the past 20 years for cartoons poking fun at religion, “14 of which were instituted by the Catholic far right and one lawsuit by Muslims,” as they summed up in an article in 2012.

They meant they had to defend themselves against a Catholic minority in France and likewise, among some fundamentalist Muslims, both sides with reactionary ideas. The fundamentalists of the Catholic Church try to impose their views on all of French society, even sometimes on its victims.

For example, in 1988, one group of religious Catholics protested against a film called The Last Temptation of Christ, one group going so far as to firebomb a cinema in Paris, seriously wounding four people. The same current tried to stop the production of a play in 2012 called Golgotha Picnic. In fact in March of 2012, the director of that theater was attacked by two fundamentalist Catholics, who threw a bowl full of shit at him. And the cause most dear to the heart of Catholic fundamentalists is the fight against the right to abortion.

So it’s a bit too much hypocrisy when these same Catholic institutions want to proclaim their solidarity with the murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo. At the same time, they drag in their wake their fanatical dreams of imposing their order on all of society, and have done nothing to call in question their own history.

Pages 6-7

Movie Review:
Selma and the Fight for the Right to Vote

Jan 19, 2015

The powerful new movie Selma is about the fight by black people to gain the right to vote in Selma, Alabama. The film, however, focuses mostly on the campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the ministers of the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Council) in early 1965.

In Selma, as elsewhere in the South, almost no black people had the right to vote. Federal law enshrined in the 15th Amendment of the Constitution stated that the right to vote could not be taken away “on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” But those were just words on a piece of paper. Enforced by the government at every level were myriad restrictions and technicalities that deprived black people – as well as most poor white people – of the right to vote. These restrictions were imposed through legally sanctioned violence, repression and terror.

As opposed to most depictions of the civil rights movement, the movie Selma does not portray the federal government and President Lyndon Johnson as the supposed champions of civil rights and allies of the black movement. The film shows Johnson refusing King’s request for help. When King disobeyed Johnson’s order not to support a voting rights campaign, Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover plotted how to stop King, by using the FBI’s bag of dirty tricks to track, threaten and blackmail King.

King went to Selma, Alabama, after a local committee of black activists had already been organizing for two years. This organizing was extremely difficult and dangerous. Selma was one of the main centers of the Klan and White Citizens Councils, that represented the local business elite. Young activists in SNCC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, had also been in Selma for two years. SNCC had been founded by black students who had initiated the 1960 sit-in movement to desegregate stores and restaurants throughout the South. Thus, the basic organizing and several important campaigns had already been carried out long before King ever got to Selma.

The film shows that with the exception of one of the SNCC leaders, John Lewis, the SNCC organizers did not agree with King’s campaign. SNCC organizer James Forman said that their goal was to allow black people to express themselves and organize their own power in a lasting way. And they said they were afraid of what would happen after King’s campaign was over and he left town. They said that if black people were not organized to continue to defend their interests, they would be as vulnerable as ever, even if the campaign won some gains.

Some of this argument is actually in the movie. But, not surprisingly, the main sympathy and attention of the film makers is on King. In the movie, King explains that his main goal for the entire Selma campaign was to convince one man – Lyndon Johnson – to push Johnson to present a voting rights act that would finally gain black people the right to vote. Therefore King was very careful not to defy the framework that the federal government and its courts set for how far the demonstrations could go and what they could do. In other words, King believed that the very same government that was racist to the core could be pushed and pressured to safeguard the interests of black people.

The film shows that the courts and the federal government finally did step in. Johnson even reversed course and introduced a Voting Rights Bill. But these official moves were not made out of some “moral” conversion or reawakening – as King and the SCLC ministers preached. The U.S. political apparatus was trying to get ahead of the movement in order to try to control it and rein it in by temporarily granting some concessions.

They were not successful. On August 11, 1965, just five days after Johnson had signed the Voting Rights Act, the Watts Rebellion erupted in Los Angeles’s largest black ghetto, one of many rebellions that were sweeping through not just the South, but the Northern cities.

The Selma campaign depicted in the film marked the end of just one phase of the black struggle in this country, just as a new phase was opening up.

Flu Epidemic and Sick Time

Jan 19, 2015

As usual at this time of year, the U.S. is in the midst of a flu epidemic. By mid-January the CDC had reported 26 flu-related children’s deaths. Undoubtedly there will be more.

We all know flu spreads like wildfire. Yet it often happens that people feeling lousy with flu symptoms come into work. Why? Because they don’t get any sick leave at all, or because they have used up all their paid sick leave. Consider this fact: Unlike most Western industrialized countries, 40 million workers in the U.S. have no paid sick leave.

It is insane that in this rich country, all workers do not have access to an automatic paid sick leave policy for health crises!

Gas Prices Dropped, But Other Prices Have Not

Jan 19, 2015

The drop in gas prices should have caused other prices to drop together. But, it did not. The price for plane tickets, food, shipping packages have not dropped at all. Those companies had blamed high gas prices for their own price increases. But now, rather than lowering their prices, those companies are pocketing the difference. So, the lower gas price is a boon for them. And we are still getting ripped off!

Metro Neglect

Jan 19, 2015

On the Washington, D.C. Metro subway on January 12, the third rail threw out a spark, with smoke then filling a Metro car. Terrified riders breathed in smoke for more than 35 minutes before firemen reached them. A few tried to help a woman who collapsed, and later died.

The final report on the cause of Monday’s Metro disaster is not out yet. But some things we know.

Metro still hasn’t followed the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations from the 2009 crash that killed nine people. They are behind in maintenance such as fixing water leaks on tracks. They are still using some rail cars from 1976, when the system opened.

These “accidents” could have been prevented.

Detroit ‘Clawback’ Hits Retirees Hard

Jan 19, 2015

Many Detroit city retirees are facing the harsh reality of the huge theft from their pension checks as part of the city’s “grand bargain” bankruptcy agreement. Those workers who had money deducted from their paychecks to put into an annuity while they worked are having to decide how they want the city to “clawback” some of the interest they received on their annuity savings.

That’s right, the city is taking back money already given to retirees. Now they say the interest rate of 7.9 per cent was “exorbitant, and the interest payment was “excessive”.

What nonsense! The transfer of money from the pension funds to the annuity to guarantee the 7.9% rate was something workers agreed to through collective bargaining – in exchange for lower pensions. This is money that was promised. This is money the retirees have depended on.

After months of threats of cuts of as much as 35 per cent to retiree pensions, the proponents of the “grand bargain” trumpeted its “reduction” of the cuts to 4.5 per cent. They barely mentioned the additional elimination of 2.25 per cent in COLA increases, nor the biggest cut – the near elimination of retiree health care, which was replaced with a tiny subsidy of $125 per month for workers to spend through the federal health care exchange.

The media practically never said that as many as 9,900 city retirees who invested in the annuity would see their pensions cut up to 20 per cent, in addition to the loss of COLA and health care.

Now that city workers, under threat of even greater extortion, have voted to accept emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s “grand larceny,” workers who are still on the job already started seeing the “clawback” automatically being taken out of their paychecks.

Those who have retired or left their jobs with the city now are facing two rotten choices: Pay the “clawback” in one lump sum, or have money taken from the monthly checks and pay 6.75 per cent interest! Somehow this usurious interest rate was not considered “excessive” by Orr’s “grand bargainers.”

Page 8

“I Stand for a Working Class Fight”

Jan 19, 2015

The following statement is taken from the web site by teacher Ed Hershey about his election campaign for City Alderman in the 25th Ward of Chicago, Illinois.

I stand for the working class organizing itself to fight for its own class interests.

One alderman by himself cannot overcome the problems we face. We will begin to get what we need only if we organize to fight for it.

My opponent, Danny Solis, is a good example of the problem. He started off decades ago as a community organizer. But now he carries on business as usual – voting with Mayor Emanuel 97% of the time, including for the attacks on the schools. Danny Solis turned his back on the community when he accepted the bosses' framework, their way of doing things.

We need a different framework, a working class framework.

I would use the resources of the alderman's office to help working people organize.

  • I would make public all the information I can get – where the corporations and politicians are spending the workers' money, what plans are being made.
  • I would open the alderman's offices, make them available for people to meet and decide what they want to do, how they want to confront the attacks working people face.
  • I would publicly support all struggles made by working people to defend themselves.
  • I would fight alongside any workers mobilizing to fight who want me with them.

I know City Hall has attacked aldermen for doing much less. But the only alternative is to let City Hall carry on with business as usual.

We will never solve our problems by ourselves in this ward. But if people in this ward make a fight, it could pull other people after us – working people in the rest of Chicago and beyond.

We all know that voting, by itself, doesn't change anything.

But a vote for me in this election could count.

It would be a statement that other working people could hear. A large vote would be a statement that there is a part of the working class who have had enough with business as usual, people who are saying with their vote that a fight is necessary.

CTU Endorses Ed Hershey for 25th Ward Alderman

Jan 19, 2015

The following news release was downloaded from the website

On Wednesday, January 14th, the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates, its ruling body, voted by a wide margin to endorse Ed Hershey in his race for 25th ward alderman. Teacher and Paraprofessional delegates, who each represent the school where they work, voted for a teacher who has stood up to fight for better schools in Chicago. Ed Hershey’s campaign will work to spread the message that working people have to fight for the schools, jobs and public services that they need.

Hershey wants to thank Jim Vail, who raised the resolution in favor of endorsement, and who worked to publicize the candidacy among teachers.

Thanks also to all those teachers who have contributed money and spread the word that it will take a Working Class Fight if ordinary people are to have a decent life.

Interview of Ed Hershey

Jan 19, 2015

The following few excerpts are taken from a much longer interview with Ed Hershey conducted by Katryce Lassle, after the Chicago Teacher’s strike. It was published November 23, 2012 in the Chicago Weekly, (now the South Side Weekly.) It can be found at

Q: How involved were you in the strike, and how did you become involved in the first place?

Well by virtue of being a union teacher you’re involved. I mean, I was the most active person in the union at my school – I’m one of the more active people in the city as far as that goes. Things changed last year – first when Wisconsin happened, and then when Rahm Emanuel got elected, and that sort of ended up catapulting me into doing stuff at my school....

Q: What were the main grievances that teachers were trying to communicate?

Working a longer day without getting paid for it was the biggest thing. Close behind was merit pay, not getting paid accordingly for steps [seniority] and lanes [additional degrees and education]. Those were the main ones, but they were talking about increasing the pension costs and health care costs....

One complaint we had was that we had no professional development time other than at the beginning and the end of the year....

Q: A majority of CPS teachers voted in favor of the new contract. Did you vote? If so, were you in support of or in opposition to it?

I did vote, and I voted against it because I think ... the union cut the strike short. I think a lot of the membership and union apparatus itself believed the hype in the media that the public was going to turn against us.

What we saw in the streets was not what you’d be led to believe by the media. I’m sure there were parents who were annoyed, who wanted their kids back in school, but the proportions of who those were and how they felt ... we could have stayed out. One parent said, “I would have supported you if you’d stayed out; I think you guys should get what you deserve.” I don’t think we were going to win a whole lot more than we did, but we could have pushed further.