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

California Fires and Mass Blackouts:
Corporate Profits!

Nov 11, 2019

Wildfires have plagued California from top to bottom since early October. Because of climate change, the weather has become hotter, dryer and windier for much longer, while the winter rains have come much later. The underlying conditions are more explosive, increasing the chances that a small fire will turn into a raging inferno. And while the fire season used to last a few months at the end of the summer, now it lasts practically all year round.

Most often, these fires are ignited by the equipment and machinery of the big electric utility companies. In order to eke out as much profit as they can, those companies have run the entire system into the ground. They didn’t do vital repair and maintenance. They didn’t replace aging equipment. They don’t remove or trim hazardous trees. As soon as the winds pick up, lines and poles snap. Transformers crash to the ground. Sparks fly everywhere.

The biggest company supplying power in the country is Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), with 16 million customers in the northern and central parts of the state. It’s big and powerful. It’s also a complete catastrophe. Over the last six years, that company’s equipment and machinery caused more than 1,500 wildfires. Last year, a power line that was almost a century old snapped, causing a wildfire that incinerated the entire town of Paradise, killing 85 people.

To protect itself and its big stockholders, PG&E used the wildfires as an excuse to charge higher rates, gouge the customers even more. It declared bankruptcy in order to limit how much it has to pay out for all the damage it has caused.

Rather than make its system safe, it simply cuts off electricity to millions of customers when the winds pick up. These blackouts are an attack on the health and well-being of the population. In mid-October PG&E cut off the electricity to close to a million households, with 2.5 million people for several days. Countless tons of food and medicine spoiled and rotted. 1,370 public schools serving 483,000 students went dark. And the lives of 30,000 customers with potentially serious medical issues were endangered.

But the poor state of the companies’ equipment and machinery is so widespread, they sparked fires anyway. On Sunday, October 27, PG&E hardware ignited at least four fires in the San Francisco Bay area. On that same day, in Lafayette, PG&E admitted a transformer and open wire were in such poor condition, they started sparking. In Oakley, PG&E equipment cast sparks for 200 yards, prompting evacuations.

It wasn’t the wind that caused this equipment to spark, but simply because they were in such poor condition to start with. And PG&E was not alone. Southern California Edison’s equipment sparked the Easy fire in Ventura County. A day later, a tree branch in Los Angeles hit a power line, sparking the Getty fire that burnt up 650 acres, prompting more evacuations.

These disasters will only get worse. Just look at what’s happening at PG&E. Because the company is in bankruptcy, it has become a target of wild speculation. Companies like Elliott Management, Abrams Capital, and Knighthead Capital, in true vulture fashion, bought up big chunks of PG&E stocks and bonds. They bought cheap with the goal of squeezing billions in profits out of the company. Those profits won’t just be from PG&E. The entire state of California will pay. The politicians have already set up a fund to funnel tens of billions of dollars from all over the state to reimburse and further enrich the capitalists behind the big utility companies, like PG&E.

Thus, the profit-making cycle turns endlessly. From the ashes of devastating wildfires come only further profits, which only beget more disasters ... and profits.

California is supposed to be big and modern. It is the fifth largest economy in the world. It is an important global center for scientific research and technological advancement. But the goal of all of that is simply to enrich the capitalist class.

California has more billionaires than almost anywhere else. It also has more homelessness and hunger. Nowhere is the gap between rich and poor, the capitalist and the worker, more pronounced, more disgusting.

When it comes to the fires, which are a part of the environment in California, everything that the capitalist class has done has made them much, much worse.

The capitalists have known how climate change is caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases. But they did nothing about it. The capitalists have known how dangerous the electric power companies’ equipment is. But they chose their own profits over safety.

The capitalist class destroys everything for its own profit and benefit.