Mar 3, 2014
The winter of 2013-14 has brought apparently never ending snow, ice storms and record cold temperatures in much of the country. It also brought real paralysis. Streets, highways and sidewalks often weren’t plowed or salted. Many places ran out of salt altogether. So many giant potholes weren’t repaired, big stretches of roads and highways are crumbling. In the South, all it took was a couple of inches of snow that turned to ice for hundreds of thousands of motorists to be stranded in their cars for up to 36 hours.
In many cases, public services practically collapsed.
So did the service provided by private utilities. Millions of people, including in parts of Kansas, Michigan and Pennsylvania, lost electricity for long stretches of time. And weeks after the snowstorms hit, the utilities still did not have power back on for tens of thousands of households.
It became risky and dangerous just to try to get to work, pick up the kids at school or go to the store. With large stretches of ice, many people fell, often breaking bones. For those most vulnerable, those who couldn’t get out because they are old or sick or poor, it was even more dangerous. People die when streets are unpassable and ambulances are blocked. People die when water lines break and firefighters don’t have water to fight fires. People freeze to death in their own homes when they are shut in without electricity or gas. Homeless people freeze to death on the streets or in their cars.
In many ways, the winter of 2013-14 is a repeat of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Public services disappear when the public needs them most. But that’s because those services aren’t there during “ordinary” times.
Politicians of both parties have constantly slashed budgets and drained them of money and resources in order to provide big businesses and banks with ever more tax breaks and subsidies of all sorts. Today, entire departments are little more than empty shells. The work that all those people did is simply not done. Vital infrastructure, including roads and bridges, are not maintained, let alone built up and modernized. Streets, bridges, sidewalks, public lighting are left to fall apart, especially in working class neighborhoods and communities. So are water and sewer systems.
It’s not one bit different with private utility companies. More and more of their budgets and resources are used to provide fat profits, dividends and interest payments to big shareholders and the banks. Almost nothing is left for actually repairing or maintaining all the necessary lines and equipment for electricity, gas and water. No wonder so many systems break so often, setting off countless outages ... in so-called “normal” times, not to speak of “extreme” weather.
From Obama to every governor, mayor and county executive, every Republican and Democrat, it is the same story. They all blame the “extreme” weather. Yes, the weather is bad. But what’s really “extreme” is the length to which the capitalist class and its political flunkies go to cut the cost of labor, by attacking jobs, along with the vital services that the laid off workers used to provide. It is a self-reinforcing cycle of worsening joblessness and ruin.
Working people have every reason to demand that everyone’s needs be met, that vital public services be brought back and expanded. Millions of people must be put back to work, including all the experienced workers, who had been tossed aside, along with millions more young workers who have been either shut out of the job market, or slave away in temporary jobs that pay next to nothing.
But we won’t get that just by asking. Working people will have to take on the capitalist class, along with its political lackeys. Until the working class organizes its forces to impose its needs on the capitalist class, the capitalists will go on destroying our livelihoods, along with the cities and towns we live in.