The holiday season is supposed to be a time when people look forward to getting together with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, relaxing and eating good food. It is supposed to be a break from our normal routine, a chance to take time off of work and kick back and enjoy ourselves.
But for many of us this is not the reality. Some of us get no time off from work for the holidays and some work even more hours. Others of us have no jobs and are barely getting by. Some are homeless with no place to go and the holiday season makes it even more painful when you feel left out. Many of us have families who live far away from us; across this country or in other countries so we cannot be with them.
We are told that the best way to celebrate is to spend money – to show our love and affection by giving gifts. We are surrounded by television commercials and announcements of this or that product – as if these are real news stories. How can we not feel the need to buy the next Xbox or PS4, the latest cell phone or tablet or monster TV or whatever? The pressure can be enormous and people can end up buying gifts they can’t afford.
People are pushed to use credit cards, which puts them deeper in debt, which is not the way anyone wants to go into the New Year. So, showing our love for those close to us, will mean turning our backs on them in the coming year – working overtime or another job to try to make the bills.
This is also the time of year when we are asked to give money to charities, to help those who are less fortunate than us. As a result, working people are the ones who give the most to charities, much more than rich people who can afford it and often get publicity because of their supposed generosity.
Something ends up missing and that is the sense of a real holiday – whether you are religious or not. If the holiday is about getting stuff, there is never enough. In fact the only people who get to spend the holidays the way they say we are supposed to – who get the time to relax and have the money to spend for gifts, meals and drink – are the very wealthy. They have this privilege not because they’re smarter or work harder or are more deserving. They have this privilege because they are the one percent – the ones who own the corporations and banks, all the property and wealth of society. And they are the ones who benefit, not from their work, but from the work done by the rest of us.
We do have some choices. We can choose to celebrate the holidays on our own terms and many people do. Some people help out at a soup kitchen or shelter and serve dinner to those less fortunate. Others open their homes to friends and family or join them in a real celebration. This is not to say that we should be content with just doing the best we can over the holidays because often it falls short of expectations – especially for the children.
No matter how hard we try we can’t make it right – not the way the world is today. San Francisco boasts the addition of new millionaires ever day, while people who have lived in the city for years are being evicted from their homes.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We only have to look around to see the possibilities. There is no reason why everyone can’t have a decent job and if we shared the work no one would have to work so many hours. Everyone could have a place to live and a role to play in the greater community. Education could be for a lifetime. Theaters and museums, concerts and movies could be free and available to all. The intelligence and creativity of each child could be encouraged and developed. We live in an incredibly beautiful area – wouldn’t it be nice to be able to walk the beaches and hike the hills whenever we felt like it?
That world should and could be a reality. But it won’t come into being by following the path set up by those who rule over society today. That reality will only come into being when working people decide not just to keep society running for others but to run it for ourselves. Then each day will be a celebration of life.
More than 10,000 people may have been killed in the Philippines from one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. Typhoon Haiyan created huge waves and winds as strong as 195 miles per hour, destroying entire towns along the coast. More than four million people have been displaced, and thousands have no access to food, water or medicine. The city of Tacloban has become like a warzone, with bodies scattered in the streets and buried under buildings as the smell of death has polluted the air.
The devastation left by this typhoon is overwhelming. The impact from all of this will last for a lifetime. It was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. But at the same time it was just a glimpse of the kind of extreme weather that will only continue so long as the financial interests of corporations and energy companies are more important than the lives of human beings. There is nothing natural about this disaster.
To call an event a natural disaster means it occurs for reasons independent of human influence. That’s not the case here at all. This was not a disaster from nature, nor even a disaster from weather – this was an economic disaster. When the reason this typhoon was so powerful is because of climate changes caused from corporations continuously dumping carbon into the atmosphere, then we must call this an economic disaster.
As millions of people in the Philippines are trying to recover from this devastation, a global climate conference has just finished up in Warsaw, Poland. For years, these sorts of gatherings have been happening. Delegates from countries all over the world come together to discuss the growing problem of climate change and its impact on the planet and the world’s people. And every year, the conference plays out like political theater, and nothing changes.
Regardless of the devastating impact of these weather events around the world, the response from the world’s largest economic countries – led by the U.S. – is the same. They continue to defend their economies despite the environmental and human destruction that follows from them. And meanwhile, the world’s largest energy corporations continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars looking for new oil reserves, new ways to drill in the arctic, new ways to blow up mountains for coal, and more ways to frack for oil and gas in our backyards. As increasing numbers of people on earth are impacted from climate change, these corporations are busy making things even worse.
The extent of the damage from this typhoon is still being discovered. The death toll keeps rising every week. The damage to the infrastructure was estimated at a minimum of $14 billion. The U.S. – the world’s largest economy, and by far the greatest contributor to climate change – has promised to provide $20 million in relief. This is an insult. Not only is it a miniscule amount, but it does nothing to address the role of U.S. corporations in forcing these sorts of events on the rest of the world. This is like destroying whole countries and then throwing money at them, hoping they will shut up. To call it relief is a joke.
Let’s let this typhoon and other extreme weather events be a wake-up call. We’ve seen enough of the type of disasters that will only continue to happen, with increasing intensity, if we allow these corporations to continue to wreck our planet. We can’t count on them to do anything differently.
If we want to see an end to the destruction of our planet, we are going to have to take control of our society, take it out of the hands of these corporations. Only then will we organize society to meet people’s needs – starting with the need to maintain a planet that we can actually live on.
Monday November 11th is Veteran’s day, the day on which politicians from all corners of the Democratic and Republican parties emerge to give speeches and make gestures honoring the soldiers who have died in the wars waged by the U.S. Big parades are held, tears are shed by families and loved ones, but no one asks the most simple and obvious question – What did these people die for?
In the last two decades, the U.S. government has ordered thousands of men and women to fight two brutal wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, U.S. troops have carried out attacks in Pakistan and Libya. And the U.S. military was almost put into motion to attack Syria.
The results of these military attacks speak for themselves. In Iraq, an estimated three million people have died as a direct result of violence, or through malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical care. Violence in Iraq became extremely intense during the occupation. In 2006-2007 an average of 3,000 people were killed in paramilitary violence per month. The government itself executes from twelve to twenty prisoners per day.
The war devastated the infrastructure and the economy. Nearly one quarter of Iraqis are unemployed. Today over 40 percent of Iraqis are living below the poverty line. One in five Iraqis do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. Most Iraqi households only receive four to six hours of electricity per day. Two million Iraqis have fled the country to escape these conditions.
During the war, the U.S. military used weapons containing a radioactive element called depleted uranium. The rate of cancer and birth defects in Iraq has skyrocketed with 50 times as many Iraqis diagnosed with cancer than in 1991.
Afghanistan is no better off. No one knows how many Afghan civilians have died in the war, but estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. One in five Afghan children die before the age of five. In addition, 3.7 million Afghan refugees have fled to Iran or Pakistan.
The wars have been by far the worst for the populations of the countries which the U.S. has occupied. But what about the soldiers who fight the wars? Over two million Americans have been sent off to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Over 50% of these soldiers have been sent more than once, and many four times or more. Over 7,800 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those who survive, more than 360,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered brain injuries. At least 18 percent of female and 20 percent of male soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. Veterans also suffer from exposure to the same depleted uranium that they used in Iraq. Thousands of soldiers are developing blood cancers and other disorders due to depleted uranium exposure.
Veterans face a horrible economic situation when they return. Benefits and programs for veterans are underfunded and almost impossible to access. In 2011, the average unemployment rate for veterans aged 18-24 was 30.2 percent. On any given night, 120,000-200,000 veterans are homeless, living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings. That is about 23 percent of the total homeless population.
The soldiers don’t just bring home wounds, they bring home the violence which is a way of life during war. As many as one in three female soldiers are raped by male members of the military. Domestic violence has increased dramatically. The divorce rate among military couples has increased 42 percent throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And 18 U.S. veterans commit suicide every day.
What is the purpose of these wars? Nothing honorable whatsoever. The U.S. government wages war to dominate the globe and secure resources for the profit of the big banks and corporations. Do the sons and daughters of the rich and politicians fight their wars? No, they leave that up to the poor and working class. This Veterans Day, rather than listen to the proud speeches of these warmongers we should clearly say – the only way to honor the dead is to refuse to let war be waged in our name.
This week BART workers will be voting on their contract. For four months they have faced an all-out attack by BART management. Management began by hiring Thomas Hock, a notorious union buster, at a salary of $400,000. The BART general manger didn’t show up at negotiations for months. Management refused to bargain for weeks at a time, and submitted contract proposals that were insulting and disrespectful. Twice the bosses provoked BART workers to go on strike. Management’s final act was the killing of two BART workers by running a train driven by a management trainee.
BART management has shown a lack of concern for the safety of both BART workers and passengers. They lied about money saying it wasn’t there. But after they had the blood of two workers on their hands, the money appeared in their contract offer – an admission that it was there all along.
Management represented and had the full support of the bosses in the Bay Area, throughout California and throughout the country. The attacks on BART workers, who are probably the most visible Bay Area workers who carry over 400,000 passengers on their system daily, is part of an attack that has gone on for the last decade. The bosses have tried to force workers to pay the cost of the crisis of this system. They have often made an example of public workers, attacking wages, benefits, working conditions and even the right to a union, with attacks in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin and now attacks on pensions in San Jose.
The corporate media was used to lie and confuse the public, claiming that BART workers are lazy, overpaid and greedy. In fact BART workers barely make enough to even live in the Bay Area. These lies are meant to confuse and disorient other workers. The bosses want people to believe that because so many have been attacked and seen their standard of living cut, that BART workers should be cut too. Bringing BART workers down doesn’t bring anyone else up. But that doesn’t prevent the bosses from spreading their lies.
While the bosses and their allies mounted their offensive, the union officials for the most part tried to act “reasonably” so as not to offend the public. That meant not meeting the bosses head on, exposing their lies and actively reaching out to the public. This “nice guy” strategy put workers in a weaker position. What was needed was to mobilize the BART workers to be really active in defending themselves. Even though the contracts of BART and AC Transit expired at the same time, there was no coordinated struggle proposed to the workers. The issues of the AC contract were kept separate from that of the BART workers, when both are facing attacks on their standard of living and working conditions. And many BART workers are in the same union as AC Transit workers.
A few rallies were held by the unions, but they didn’t propose anything for people to do. And no real effort was made to involve other workers in the Bay Area to support the BART or AC workers’ struggles. Every train and bus provides an opportunity for workers and their supporters to hand out fliers and talk with people about our common interests. For us to have a safe, affordable and efficient system of public transportation requires a respect for passengers and the workers who maintain and operate it.
Now BART workers face a vote on a contract that to many in the Bay Area, seems pretty good. There are still take-aways but fewer than what were originally demanded. Faced with the public backlash against them for striking it is understandable if BART workers feel that they can’t vote “No” and make a fight for what they need and deserve. But a contract settlement doesn’t mean that the problems are over.
Most workers confront the same problems today. To stop the bosses’ attacks we need to mobilize ourselves and reach out to others who have been attacked and victimized by the bosses’ system. We saw the power of the BART workers. If we unite our forces, just imagine our collective power!
People across the Bay Area were shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic death of two BART workers on Saturday. Less than two days into the BART strike the lives of two people were taken due to BART management’s incompetence, recklessness, willful neglect and disregard for those who operate the BART system.
For months the well-paid management have spewed forth lies and contempt for the workers who maintain and operate the system every day. Now, through this tragedy, the public, including those who might have been taken in by management’s campaign, can see what is at stake.
Disregard For The Safety of Workers and Riders
Management has painted BART workers as greedy, lazy, overpaid workers who do nothing but sit in station booths or push buttons on the trains. This tragedy shows the reality. BART is a complex system operated and maintained by trained, competent and dedicated workers. When management claims that train operators sit and just push buttons all day, they know it is a lie. Operating a train involves months of intense training, and a high level of concentration and coordination with those who oversee the movement of trains transporting hundreds of thousands of people each day. And we can see the tragic consequence of this disrespect. The blood is on their hands.
The safety of riders is dependent on BART workers – from the time they enter the station until they leave the train. This year assaults on station agents have increased nearly two-fold. When workers say it is not safe for them to open stations in the early morning or close them late at night, it is a reality that affects the safety of workers and riders.
A Disregard For Us All
Management’s attacks on BART workers are in fact an attack on us all. How many people who work each day feel disrespected by their bosses? How many are pushed to cut corners, pick up extra work, and skip breaks – all in the name of getting the job done. Many of us have had our wages fall behind inflation, and pay more for medical benefits and pension costs – if we even have them.
Our Common Interests
The media campaign encourages resentment against BART workers because they are demanding wage increases (after having a 4-year wage freeze). Why should workers agree to cuts that would come from increases to payments into their medical and pension plans? Why should they give management free reign when it comes to work rules – which impact working conditions?
Why should any of us think they should accept these attacks? How does dragging another group of workers down benefit us? We should want the opposite – to see workers win this fight. It could set a higher goal and possibilities for us all.
An Attack On Us All
The attack, against BART workers aims to divide and discourage us – to convince us that BART workers don’t have a right to a level of security that we all deserve. Are we supposed to believe that those who control or manage things today represent our best interests? We should know better.
Look at the condition of our schools – are teachers to blame? Look at the growing disparity of wealth in society – are poor and working people to blame? Look at the growing cost of healthcare – are hospital workers to blame? When people are forced from their homes – did they trick themselves into bad mortgages? Of course not!
One voice has been missing and needs to be heard is the voice of the BART workers. It is clear that they cannot rely on the corporate media to present the truth. But they could speak for themselves – directly to riders and people they know – through fliers and other means.
We need to see our common interests. And when we do and stand together we might begin to see other possibilities. Workers in the Bay Area have a tremendous power. We can use that power to win a different future. This is what the bosses fear. The choice is ours.
We’re entering our third week of this so-called government shutdown. And it is an outrage that the politicians think they can play games with our lives. Because Democrats and Republicans in Congress can’t agree on a budget, working families have had to suffer. And the main disagreements over this budget they are trying to pass are about how deeply to cut various social programs. But that there will be huge cuts is already agreed upon.
Congress may not have agreed on a budget, but they had no problem agreeing on which services to cut off during the shutdown. They announced repeatedly that they would only cut funds to “non-essential” services. That means any services that wouldn’t affect the rich, the banks, the corporations – only those that workers and our families rely on.
The priorities of the government couldn’t be made any clearer than by this shutdown. In many states, the delayed funds have meant people have stopped receiving unemployment checks. Veterans benefits have been threatened with being cut off. About 1,600 Head Start programs around the country providing education and food assistance to over 1 million poor children and their families have been threatened to close down. Housing assistance, disability assistance, food assistance, domestic violence shelters, and more – all of these services have been disrupted and are threatened with being closed until their funds are restored.
At the same time, an estimated two million federal workers have lost paid days at work, or have had to keep working while their paychecks are postponed. Many of them have been told they will never be repaid for these weeks during the shutdown. For the few wealthy administrators this may just be an inconvenience. But for workers – we’re struggling to get by as it is, and a delay of a paycheck, even for a week can mean disaster. Our bills don’t wait until we get paid.
But that’s not the case for the politicians. Congress passed a law so that they would continue to get paid under this sort of a shutdown. They are collecting their salaries of about $190,000 per year – which costs about $258,000 per day to pay for all of them. So whether they pass a budget or not, they will keep bringing home all of their money.
And as they made sure to keep their money flowing to their bank accounts, they also chose to keep it flowing to their House gym, equipped with a swimming pool, spa, sauna, steam room. They couldn’t stand the thought of losing out on that. The same goes for their underground Capitol subway system, shuttling them from their buildings to the Capitol, so they don’t take a ten-minute walk – that remains open.
What hypocrites! When we’re at work and we don’t get our job done in time, we get fired and our pay is shut off immediately. But for Congress, they’ve arranged it so they can keep getting paid.
This is the same hypocrisy we see in the BART and AC Transit negotiations. When the workers are pushed to shutdown transit because they won’t accept management’s huge takeaways, they are demonized for disrupting people’s lives. The media and politicians from all over criticize the workers, and try to pressure them not to go on strike. But when Congress disrupts the lives of millions across the country – they still get paid to do it.
None of these decisions to shutdown funding to needed programs was necessary – this was a choice. Congress could have easily agreed to keep funding all the programs while they fought over how deep the cuts would be in the coming budget. The funds exist. All of this could have been avoided.
But it is clear – the government doesn’t serve our interests. We are not the banks and we are not the corporations. They couldn’t care less if workers can’t afford rent or groceries or medical care or other needs. To the politicians, workers’ lives already don’t matter, so it makes no difference to them if they make our lives even worse.