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

Profits Before Service

Mar 6, 2023

More than 730,000 homes lost power during the ice storm that hit Michigan on Wednesday, February 22. The power outages extended throughout the Detroit Metro area and throughout the state. Five days after the initial power outage on Wednesday, at least 83,000 Michigan households were without power, inclusive of a secondary outage.

Residents faced a whole series of problems from the power outages. They lost heat and lights and perishable food in their refrigerators and freezers; pipes froze and burst; schools were closed, so no food for those children in many families who depend on the school lunch programs; with kids not in school, many people couldn’t go to work.

Or people couldn’t get to work because they couldn’t even get out of their neighborhoods with downed trees and power lines. And even if you could leave the house, traffic lights on major thoroughfares were out everywhere. Individuals with life-sustaining medical equipment found themselves in very dangerous situations.

And then there were the exorbitant expenses people had to incur—IF they had the funds to pay for hotel rooms, or to pay the thousands of dollars for generators, or go to places that had power to buy food at restaurants and having to spend extra money to replace the food they lost.

These power company monopolies blame the power outage problems on nature—on the ice storm this time. In August 2021, 850,000 customers who lost power were told it was due to wind storms. The same thing for some 800,000 households in July of 2019. And in 2017, nearly 1 million households lost power, according to DTE, by the “largest weather event” in the company’s history.

But it’s not nature to blame. It’s the nature of capitalism. It’s that companies, like DTE, are more interested in profits than in providing reliable electric service.

DTE has cut jobs and keeps the bare minimum of maintenance workers on hand, working them like dogs when these storms occur. That means overgrown tree limbs don’t get cut. Old power poles don’t get replaced. And power lines do not get buried underground—that could go a long way to address the problems of bad weather bearing down on the power infrastructure.

DTE asks for and gets increased rates so residents’ costs have increased by 50% over the last decade, while these rate hikes don’t apply to industrial and major commercial customers. These cutbacks in workers and hikes in rates have allowed DTE to make 1.1 billion in profits in 2022, to hand out generous dividends to its stockholders, huge salaries and bonuses to its executives, and have the money to hire expensive mouthpieces to lobby Michigan legislators for yet more rate hikes!

And then there’s the tangled web of campaign contributions, made by DTE, its executives and lobbyists, to 138 of the 148 senators and representatives in that legislature!

There’s a saying in Michigan when weather changes drastically—“What do you expect, it’s Michigan!” Well, workers in Michigan who have had to endure power outages and rate hikes every single year, know very well, it’s not that it’s Michigan. It’s that corporations like DTE of Michigan put profits before our lives.