The Spark

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

Power outages
– not a “natural” product of winter storms

Jan 22, 2007

Recent winter storms around the country left almost a million people without power. In the Detroit area alone, more than 220,000 customers of DTE Energy and Consumers Energy lost power. Thousands of people were left in the dark and without heat for almost a week.

It was even worse in other parts of the country, like Missouri, where more than 300,000 households – meaning many more individuals – lost power. People in St. Louis went without power for the third time since July.

The utility companies pretend power failures like these are simply nature at work. No! Nature may provide the storms, but the utilities don’t hire the number of workers they need. The real cause is a utility system run in the interest of making the most profit, not in providing the best services.

In this connection, the New York State Public Service Commission just issued a scathing report on the nine-day blackout in Queens last July that caused 174,000 people to lose power. The report condemned Consolidated Edison for failing to “adequately maintain, operate and oversee its electrical network.” The report noted that Consolidated Edison’s network had failed many times in the previous two years and that the failures involved components that were 30 to 60 years old! Considering that the July blackout was less serious than the current ones, the recent outages are a real indictment of the nation’s power system.

There’s been a real cutback across the board in the number of workers the utility companies keep on hand as part of their regular workforce. When the inevitable problems arise as a result of wind, rain, and snow, it becomes obvious the utility companies do not have enough people to respond adequately. They need to have a big enough labor force who would regularly work making repairs to the decaying power grid and could be available to respond to the inevitable emergencies when they occur.

Instead, when an outage occurs, the companies hire private contractors from the area or even bring in workers from other states. These workers are not familiar with the system they are functioning in, so repairs naturally take longer.

The millions of people affected by the latest series of power outages lost more than just their electricity. People missed work when their employers were closed. Food spoiled in people’s refrigerators. People were left shivering when they could not heat their homes. Several died attempting to use indoor fires and generators to keep from freezing.

These people were the direct victims of a society that cuts back on essential services to the population, all so that a tiny handful of wealthy owners can make still more money.