May 14, 2007
Thursday, May 10, almost every gas station along a busy road in Detroit posted regular gasoline at $3.17 a gallon at 5 AM; $3.21 at 8 AM; and $3.32 at 11 AM. Los Angeles, Chicago and many other cities may be even higher, but give or take a day, give or take some dimes, it was the same story around the country. The gasoline thieves were on the move again.
They tell us it’s simply a problem of “supply and demand.” Too much demand, not enough supply. Too many motorists. Too little refinery capacity. Or so they say.
But guess who controls the supply, guess who decides how much refinery capacity there will be: those thieves, the five big oil trusts, ExxonMobil, BP-Amoco, Royal Dutch-Shell, Chevron, and Total. Together, they decide which oil fields will be worked and how much oil shipped. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Nigeria may own the oil fields, but the five big oil trusts are the ones who produce the oil, ship it, and refine it. They decide how much will come to market.
For 31 years, these five big oil trusts have not built a single refinery in this country. Not one. And neither have any of the smaller oil companies that trail along behind them. They are milking their old refineries for all they’re worth – and a lot more.
They don’t even put enough investment into maintaining the refineries. Just look at how often an oil company reports another serious accident, explosion or fire, often with deadly results. Two years ago, BP’s Texas City oil refinery killed 15 workers outright, and injured 500 more people in and around the plant.
No, the oil industry doesn’t invest in new refineries – they just run old ones into the ground, then close them. In 2004, there were 11 major refineries in this country, compared to 19 in 1993. And there were 103 fewer medium size refineries. So of course, capacity is tight. The big oil companies made it tight.
The oil companies aim to make more profit out of less production.
They’ve more than fulfilled their aim. In the five years running from 2002 through 2006, ExxonMobil itself admitted to making 143 billion dollars in profit – only to hand 85 billion dollars of that right over to wealthy investors in dividends and stock buy-backs.
This year, once again, as prices shot up, a proposal circulated for people not to buy gasoline on May 15. No matter who started it, and what role the internet played in spreading it, people in the workplaces began to pick it up and spread it on to each other.
It shows our anger with these prices. But it also shows our frustration. We can refuse to buy one day, but we still have to buy the next.
They have us by the throat. We have to get to work, to school, to the hospital, to the store. Most of us live in cities where it’s almost impossible to do those things without a car, that is, without gasoline.
We need something more than a symbolic, individualistic protest. We need to shake the oil companies until their teeth fall out.
The unions, which still represent many millions of workers, plus their families, could bring millions of people out in the streets. Organizations representing immigrants – whose lower wages make these gas prices even harder to deal with – could bring people out in the streets. Organizations representing the masses of the black population could do the same.
The oil companies won’t listen to pleading, or a one day protest. They understand only money and force. And working people have the forces to stop the oil companies’ money-making machine cold.