Sep 29, 2014
A tragic crash on a Detroit freeway that cost a truck driver his life brought a heavily used pedestrian bridge crashing down. It’s typical of the conditions working people face everywhere. TLC Waste Haulers had retrofitted an old dump truck to haul trash. Unknown to the driver, the truck malfunctioned and the hauler began to extend itself while the truck was running on a freeway. When the top struck a bridge, the bridge collapsed.
Another driver working for TLC Waste Haulers had just been electrocuted three weeks before, when he was dumping scrap metal. The company continues to operate, business as usual. But it’s not just TLC. Companies everywhere squeeze as much as they can out of old, outdated machinery.
The government manages the infrastructure in the same way. After the crash, people in the Detroit neighborhood said they had complained for years about the old bridge. Yet officials ignored these complaints and put off tearing it down until 2017. That bridge is two blocks from a high school. Needless to say, if the crash had happened a little later in the morning, many, many more people would have been killed.
That’s how private and public officials put all of our lives at risk. They let the entire vital infrastructure rot, decay and crumble. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the infrastructure a failing grade on its annual report card. The civil engineers say that one-third of all the bridges are “deficient,” that is, have at least one thing significantly wrong with them. Even if they don’t collapse on their own, they are certainly very vulnerable when something unusual happens. Back in 2007 when a bridge in Minneapolis over the Mississippi River collapsed, 13 people were killed and 145 were injured.
Apart from the deaths and injuries, we pay other costs. Drivers pay hundreds of dollars a year in repair costs because potholes aren’t filled. Because water pipes are often more than a century old, they leak like a sieve; water main breaks erupt as regularly as Old Faithful and basements flood. The electric power grid is so decrepit there are blackouts from almost anything: storms, heat waves, branches breaking power lines.
The dangers are huge. Leaky gas lines are like ticking time bombs. USA Today found that deadly gas line explosions happen almost every day because private utilities drag their feet replacing 85,000 miles of corroded and rusting gas pipes, and gas mains that are over a century old.
It’s not enough that those responsible let the needed infrastructure rot and crumble. They use the disasters they create to demand big tax increases and rate hikes. And they demand big concessions from the workforce in those sectors.
They try to act like there isn’t enough money! What a laugh! The public utilities stretch the power grid to its limits, in order to fork over more dividends to make their rich stockholders even richer. The government claims there is no money to carry out repairs, as it forks over trillions to bail out the banks, trillions more on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and trillions more to station troops all over the world in order to impose the interests of the big oil companies, banks and weapons makers. Just last week, the Obama administration announced a new project for which the government is going to spend more than a trillion dollars on the entire nuclear weapons stockpile.
No, there is plenty of money to repair and expand the vital infrastructure. If the government were run in the interests of the population, it would do exactly that. And by immediately employing millions of workers to do so, it would get rid of unemployment at the same time.
But the capitalists won’t do it. They are out to make more profits, no matter what happens to the population or the environment. And neither will the Democrats or Republicans. They use the government to prop up the capitalists’ profits.
To reverse the decline, to make society livable, workers have to fight for it. That is no other answer. And the only political leaders worth supporting are those who tell workers this truth. In Michigan this year, there are five candidates doing that. Running on a common program, they are calling for a working class fight based on a working class policy.