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

Electric Power as a Commodity = Blackout

Aug 25, 2003

Bush said he didn’t know what caused the big power blackout of 2003, which ran from New York City through Detroit, including parts of Canada. But, he declared, "We’re going to get to the bottom of this. We’re going to fix it." State governors issued similar statements.

They lie, and not once, but twice.

They do know what is at the root of this blackout, and they are NOT going to fix it.

None of the power companies have invested in the maintenance and upgrades that would keep the system functioning without such "accidents." Nor do they keep enough employees to monitor their systems and to fix problems as soon as they appear.

If politicians of the two major parties were going to fix this problem, they would have done so long ago. After all, they have had plenty of experience with such catastrophic black-outs. There were widespread blackouts before: 1950 in the Pacific Northwest, 1965 in Canada and the Northeast, 1966 along the West Coast, 1976 in the Mountain West, 1996 in the West Coast and Mountain West. And then there are the usual, regular black-outs, triggered by snow storms, heat, thunder storms, cold, etc. Whatever specific incident triggered each shutdown, the same root cause is at work: power companies run for profit don’t invest in the needed equipment and don’t hire the needed workers.

For the population of an industrialized country, electric power is a necessity. But for privately owned capital, electric power is a commodity whose main use is to create profit.

Private capital has never been willing to put in the kind of investment needed to create, maintain and upgrade a utility system that would serve the population. In fact, utilities were first created by city governments in and around cities and towns, or by farmers’ cooperatives in rural areas. Private enterprise wasn’t willing to take the risk until it could be assured of a profit.

Once the systems were built and running, however, private capital moved rapidly to take them over–in most cases buying them up for a song from politicians always eager to do what big business wanted.

It didn’t take big business long to run those systems into the ground, draining money out of them, selling off parts of the utilities so they could throw more money into stock market speculation. In the big stock market collapse of 1929, most utilities in the country shut down. They had to be rescued by big sums of money from cities, counties, states and the federal government to get them up and running again. And for the first time electric power finally reached most rural areas of the country, put in by the federal government.

Once created or rescued, these power producing facilities were put back into the hands of private capital all over again. Supposedly, government was going to "regulate" what they did. In fact, government never really prevented them from making a profit at the expense of the population. In recent years, government hasn’t even bothered to pretend it was regulating the utilities.

Today, we see a repeat of what private capital put the country through in the 1920s.

Montana Power, for example, pushed through deregulation, tripled its rates, sold off its generating and delivery systems, used the money to set up a fiber-optic cable network, then closed the company. Montana was left without cheap, locally-based power, workers were left without a job or pension.

California was held hostage to the Enron created power shortage, with blackouts used to push rates and the public debt sky-high.

Like the "great blackout of 2003," these are only tiny tips of the iceberg.

Private capital can no more provide the whole population with adequate public services than it can with decent medical care. Basic necessities need to be taken out of the hands of big business and run by the population for the good of the population.