The Spark

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

Baltimore State of the Workers’ Address

Mar 4, 2013

The following is the speech you would have heard if you had attended the Spark Winter dinner in Baltimore on February 23.

You would also have enjoyed a great potluck dinner – everyone brought something: BBQ ribs, fresh salmon, grilled shrimp, kielbasa, chicken, chili, casseroles and lots of sides and home-made desserts.

A great time was had by all, with a chance to compare notes with people from other workplaces and renew old acquaintances.

Assurances of Progress Ring False

To listen to the President’s State of the Union Address two weeks ago, one might think we are all doing great.

“…There is much progress to report…after years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs…. We have cleared the rubble of crisis and can say with confidence that the state of our Union is stronger.” End quote.

Good thing Obama wasn’t hooked up to a lie detector – he might have blown a fuse! A fact checker for the Washington Post politely referred to the six million new jobs as “fact-challenged.” He went on to explain that “since the start of Obama’s presidency 1.2 million jobs have been created and the number of jobs in the economy is about 3.2 million fewer than when the recession began in December 2007.” There are fewer jobs today than before the recession began. Moreover, the potential workforce has grown by 8 million. At the current rate – it will take close to 10 years to return to a pre-recession unemployment rate!

Decades of Job Loss

Look at Baltimore. Last year Baltimore lost almost 3% of its manufacturing jobs. That ranks 3rd in the U.S. for percentage of manufacturing jobs lost. RG Steel (used to be Bethlehem Steel) laid off 2,000 workers alone. But this hemorrhaging of good paying jobs that used to have something called a pension didn’t just start last year or even in 2007 when the Great Recession started.

No, this bloodletting has been going on for decades. Between 1950 and 1995, Baltimore lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs. At its peak in 1959, Bethlehem Steel employed 35,000 workers. Generations of workers worked at the Sparrows Point plant. These were decent paying jobs with pensions and health care. Steel workers could buy homes. They could send their children to college without accumulating an avalanche of debt. Bethlehem Steel may have been the largest, most important workplace, but many others also employed thousands of workers over decades. GM, which closed in 2005 – for 70 years it employed thousands, sometimes 7,000 at a time. General Electric. Western Electric. Solo Cup. London Fog. And so on.

Big Capital Consolidates Profit

This catastrophic loss of jobs wasn’t some natural event, beyond human control. On the contrary, the lost jobs are the direct result of the normal mechanisms of capitalism seeking to increase profit through speed-up and consolidation. Big capital buys and sells companies over and over, in order to make money – instead of producing goods. All this buying and selling leads to accumulating more and more debt – running companies into the ground – like Bethlehem Steel for example. There is still steel being produced in the U.S. – just as much as before but with many fewer workers, so companies close. Productivity increases and speed-up ate up these jobs. The bosses get rewarded with big bonuses for ruining a productive company while the workers get pink slips!

Of course, the very means the bosses use to increase their profits hasten and magnify the crisis. And so the bosses hasten and magnify their attacks on us. Our jobs and our wages have been ground up in the bosses’ drive for ever increasing profits!

Corporate profits increased by nearly 46 billion dollars in the third quarter of last year alone; bank profits increased by more than 68 billion dollars in the same period! The combined net worth of the 400 richest Americans was 1.7 TRILLION dollars in 2012, that’s “trillion” with 12 zeroes! And that’s an increase from the year before. The stock market is back up above 14,000, gaining back nearly every point it had lost in the crash of 2008 – making the richest investors richer.

Democrats and Republicans Cut Programs Nationwide …

The Democrats and the Republicans are ganging up on us in order to protect, serve, defend and help increase the massive, record-breaking profits the bosses have made during THEIR recovery.

The politicians of both parties are finding more ways to attack Social Security and Medicare. These are programs paid for through payroll taxes – deducted from our paychecks. We PAID, in advance, for these programs. This money is not supposed to be part of the regular spending budget. However, the government has been raiding the Social Security and Medicare funds, leaving behind a pile of IOUs. More than four trillion dollars of the 16 trillion dollar debt is owed to Social Security, Medicare and other “trust funds.” That’s one quarter of the debt!!! Those programs are not running out of money. The government stole the money to give it to the wealthy in tax cuts. The government wants to cut Social Security so it won’t have to pay back the money it owes to Social Security. And it will get away with that theft if they can get us to agree to enormous cuts in Social Security. This is what is behind all the bogus fiscal cliffs and the outright lies the politicians are saying about Social Security – Democrats and Republicans alike.

… And in Baltimore

The same thing is happening here in Baltimore. The mayor says there is a budget crisis. Well why? The big corporations got huge tax breaks so now there is less income tax money coming in to the city. There are fewer jobs. So less tax money is paid. Whose fault? The bosses. But what solutions to the budget woes did the mayor propose in her State of the City Address?

Mayor Has No Solutions

She doesn’t propose to make the bosses pay. No. She proposes many attacks on city workers and residents like having people pay for garbage collection and reducing collection of garbage to once a week – good for the rat population – not so good for the human population. She would like 10 “model” rec centers. There are currently 55, although funding for them is already cut. Rawlings-Blake is also proposing cuts in street lighting, tree maintenance, library hours and book purchases. While at the same time the mayor continues to increase tax breaks to developers, which amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

One example of this is regarding the “Superblock” in West Baltimore – the mayor has proposed two ways to cut the developers’ taxes by 95% over the next 15 years – using a payment in lieu of taxes or a cut in property taxes. Great! She can cut our property taxes by 95% for 15 years!

How dare she propose all these cuts that affect working people while she hands fistfuls of our hard earned money over to the people that are responsible for the mess in the first place. She is making us bail out the rich! These are just a few examples of the attacks on working people that she is proposing – and she is a Democrat.

Workers Can Draw the Line

At a certain point we have to draw a line in the sand and say “No!”

Democrats and Republicans don’t get to throw us under the bus while making sure the wealthy live in luxury.

Where I work, workers took a stand on something and drew a line in the sand. During the Christmas rush, we get one extra day of paid vacation for every consecutive seven days worked. This was something we had fought for and won many years ago. One Friday during this past Christmas rush, the supervisor had a meeting with us to tell us we were not working Saturday, the seventh day, and therefore would not get an extra vacation day. Mind you, people had already worked six days.

All hell broke loose. Picture 50 angry women shouting down the supervisor. The supervisor tried to threaten us by saying “Do you want me to get the manager?” To that we all shouted back, “Yes! Get the manager!” She did and he repeated the same thing. But we had drawn the line. And no matter how many times they came back to tell us the same thing, to try to wear us down and get us to give up and believe the situation hopeless, we did not give in. Workers were yelling and shouting at the manager. While we waited for the manager to return with the correct response, lively discussions continued. One worker chanted “revolution, revolution!” (No, it wasn’t me). After several attempts to make us give in, the bosses gave in. We got our extra day. Okay, this is a very small example, but it shows that the bosses don’t always win. When we fight, we don’t always win. There are no guarantees. But when we don’t fight, we lose – always. That is guaranteed!

We Are Entitled

We don’t have to give up more of our standard of living just so the wealthy can be more wealthy. We can have jobs. We can have decent wages. It is up to us. Workers made big fights in the past [in the 30s for Social Security and in 50s and 60s for Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps]. We absolutely can do it again. But this time when we do it, we shouldn’t leave the bosses in control anymore. We should run things.