The summer months are a time to spend with our families, visit relatives in other cities, and simply hang out and get some rest. But for workers, the family time and relaxation has to be squeezed into our schedules before we have to clock back in to work. Without a job all you have is time and no money. And for those who are working, it seems like we have no time and still not enough money.
The United States is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee workers annual leave. If by chance we work for an employer that offers vacation time, we often have to work for decades to get close to four weeks. And if we do get time off, we rarely get the days we want since we have to request the days off so far in advance. Staffing is constantly being reduced, with companies not replacing workers who either get injured, sick or leave. Not only does this mean that we are stuck with more work, it also means that it is harder to take time off because there aren’t enough workers to cover absences. We can use our sick days but for many of us that might mean risking our jobs. More times than not, it ends up meaning we get no real time off at all. Or if some of us do get time off, it just means even more work piled on the rest of us who are stuck at work.
Everywhere, the bosses are taking advantage of the fact that so many workers are looking work, desperate to find jobs. Where workers are seeing more misery, the bosses see an opportunity to make even more money. They tell us we are lucky to even have jobs. Then they want to dump the rest of the work onto fewer workers while they cut our wages at the same time. If they do hire new workers, the bosses are doing their best to make sure it is for a part-time or temporary positions. Our poverty, our uncertainty, our desperation – to the bosses, it is just a chance to squeeze more out of every one of us.
The truth is, that there is so much work put on so few people that we are working harder than ever. The amount of work each worker does in the average workday has increased by 18 percent since 2008, the highest increase since 1947.
We are working harder and longer hours than ever before but our income has either stayed the same or gone down over the past 30 years when considering inflation. With the rising cost of goods, the mounting debt, and wages that won’t go up, we know that we’re working more for less.
We see examples of this in every industry. Teachers are being laid off, leaving the rest to teach larger classrooms and for less pay. Bus drivers have seen their wages cut and work hours increase. Nurses have had to treat more patients and cover more medical stations. Our break times are being shortened, if we even get breaks at all – many of us either work through our breaks or sneak a meal in between the cracks.
And with any time off that we can get, it’s harder to spend it doing what we actually want. Not only do we have less money, the price of everything has become more expensive. If we were thinking about going on a road trip, the gas prices make us think twice whenever we fill up our tanks. The same is true for traveling by air. Airline prices jumped nearly 18 percent since 2011. Interested in going camping? California’s budget cuts have not only closed down many state parks, but also raised fees to visit them. So even if we get time off, it’s not likely we’ll spend it on a vacation.
If there ever was a time we might be able to spend more time with our family – summer should be it. But just because our kids are out of school does not mean that we are freed from work. So what should be a time to spend with our kids turns into a time to find somewhere to drop them off. The more we work, the more we are deprived of family life.
There is only one solution – for workers, those of us who do the work of this society, to organize together and fight for a life in which we can spend time with our families, take vacations, and enjoy life. This summer we should take as much time as we can with friends and family, and get some rest and relaxation. But we should also get ready to fight. We do the work, and we should have the good things in life as well, especially the most valuable thing in the world – time.
In the last weeks, armed forces calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have seized over ten northern cities in Iraq, including Mosul, one of the most important cities. This conflict is an escalation of the violence inflicted on Iraq by the U.S war of occupation since 2003. The government put in place by the U.S. is based on a divide and conquer strategy has become the basis of a civil war which has increased the horrors of life for Iraqis.
Like every population in the world, people in Iraq are defined by different cultures and religions. In Iraq this includes the two major sects of Islam, Sunnism and Shi’ism. Between 60 and 65 percent of Iraq’s population are Shi’a, and much of the remaining population are Sunni.
The U.S. put in place a government run by Al-Dawah, a Shi’a Islam-based political movement who for decades had fought Saddam Hussein with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Iraq. The government led by Nuri al-Maliki relies on terror to rule, not only using the guns, tanks, and helicopters provided by the U.S., but also arming and funding militias that carry out mass murder and terror against the Sunni population. In urban centers like Baghdad, neighborhoods that were once mixed ethnic and religious communities have been “cleansed” by these militias, and the Sunni population murdered or driven out.
At the same time the U.S. armed and funded tribal militias in the villages and towns with a Sunni majority. The Sunni tribal and religious leaders accepted weapons and funds with a promise to keep the peace in their regions, and allow the U.S. occupation to continue.
Many media and political commentators say that Iraq has been divided for centuries between Sunni and Shi’a communities. This is a lie. Since the 1920s, Iraqis have fought against imperialism together, first against the British, then against the U.S. Even Saddam Hussein’s regime, for all its violence and ugliness, did not instigate violence among the population along religious lines.
In its efforts to control Iraq, the U.S. has funded and set in power violent forces whose politics are based on religious identity. And now the divide and conquer strategy has led to a violent explosion. In other words, the U.S. government has engineered a civil war.
There can be no question of the origin of this conflict. Since 1991 and the first gulf war, the U.S. has waged war against the people of Iraq. Through both Bush administrations, the Clinton years, and the Obama presidency, the goal of the U.S. government has been the same – to control the oil for the benefit of U.S. banks and corporations. Those who control the banks and corporations always feared that this region and its massive oil resources, would fall under the influence of one of their competitors in Europe or Asia.
In 1991 the U.S. invaded Iraq, destroying its military and infrastructure. From 1991 to 2003 the U.S. imposed sanctions making it impossible for Iraq to trade on the world market. During this time half a million children died from starvation, malnutrition and disease. Meanwhile the U.S. military kept up a constant bombing campaign. Finally in 2003, the U.S. undertook the invasion and occupation, which has led to the death of over a million people and has forced millions of people to flee. The goal of this violence – to either gain control of the oil, or destabilize Iraq so that no one could control it.
It is no wonder that Obama has announced his intentions to intervene militarily. It is a continuation of this same policy. Some 300 so-called “military advisors” are headed to Iraq to attempt to ensure the survival of the Iraqi government and the delicate balance of power they have imposed.
There is no question what the root cause of the violence is – U.S. imperialism’s policy in Iraq. We should not fall for the lies and the excuses of the politicians as they send money, weapons, bombs, and finally troops. The U.S. is the greatest perpetrator of violence in the world, and this is more true than ever today in Iraq. We should say clearly – U.S. out of Iraq!
The eyes of billions of people all over the world will be watching Brazil in the next weeks during the World Cup. The most popular game in the world, soccer is a source of joy and excitement, more than any other sporting event.
But there is another story taking place behind the scenes, the real story of the suffering and struggle of working people. This is a story, which – like the games themselves – people all over the world can identify with because the rich of Brazil are using the games to make billions of dollars while ordinary people suffer from their greed. But as we shall see in the coming weeks, people won’t suffer in silence.
What is at stake in Brazil? The ruling party is known as the Worker’s Party. While the Worker’s Party pretends to be a party that supports workers, in the last decades since it has governed Brazil, there have been huge cuts to social spending, and workers suffer wage cuts and massive unemployment. This same so-called Workers’ Party has spent billions of dollars on hosting the World Cup. FIFA, the world soccer association, demanded huge investments in return for allowing Brazil to host the games. Estimates of the cost of the games themselves are around $15 billion, including the construction of twelve new stadiums, the largest one costing almost one billion dollars.
The Brazilian state has used the games to increase repression on the poor and working people. The government has passed so-called anti-terror legislation, forming riot squads and militarized police forces, an army of over 170,000 people. These police have already been used to clear out over 200,000 residents of Brazil’s favelas, the poor communities of the big cities. The wealthy in Brazil have wanted this real estate for decades, and now the World Cup has become the pretext for bulldozing homes and seizing land.
The stadium for the World Cup is not only a waste of money and resources, it is a major blow to the environment. The stadium is constructed deep in the Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the world,” which produce 20 percent of the oxygen for the atmosphere. The construction of the unnecessary stadiums means massive destruction for the sake of a couple of soccer games. The Brazilian government even suggested it might use the stadium as a massive prison afterwards. No wonder the construction is making people angry!
All of the attacks that have accompanied the World Cup have not gone unanswered. It’s not that Brazilians are opposed to soccer, but they are opposed to the waste and exploitation that the World Cup is being used to cover for. Last year, Brazil saw the largest protest in a generation with a million people taking to the streets under the slogan “we want FIFA quality hospitals and schools.” Only 22 percent of Brazilians plan to root for Brazil’s team in the coming games!
In the last few weeks we have already seen resistance beginning with bus drivers. The official bus drivers union is linked to the ruling government party but the bus drivers themselves have gone on strike, paralyzing transportation in Sao Paulo. In addition, 10,000 people occupied a square near a stadium, calling themselves the “People’s Cup,” protesting the government’s priorities. Anger is boiling under the surface of Brazilian society.
As the World Cup begins, the eyes of the world will be focused on Brazil and the struggle between the soccer teams but the struggle of the poor and working people in Brazil will go on in the streets. This is a struggle against the agenda of the wealthy and their government that any worker in any country can identify with because it is the same struggle in every country in the world. Soccer fans may root for different teams depending on who they like, but we should all see which team is ours in the streets of Sao Paolo – not the wealthy or their government or their police, but the workers and the poor struggling to get what they need.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, along with other billionaire owners said they were shocked by L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling’s, racist comments. But they couldn’t have been shocked at what he said – only that he got caught.
Sterling and his racism were not a secret to the NBA. He is a billionaire, racist slumlord, who made his money ripping off low-income tenants. In a 2009 lawsuit, court documents have him saying that “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building” and “black tenants smell and attract vermin” – and that’s why he doesn’t rent to them.
Even the general manager of the Clippers, Elgin Baylor, sued Sterling for racial discrimination. He testified that Sterling has a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude,” that he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach,” and that Sterling said he didn’t like “offering a lot of money for a poor black kid,” no matter how good he was.
These lawsuits were public, all covered in L.A. and some national media. But for 33 years the blatant racism of Sterling was tolerated by the NBA. This time something was different. Yes, it was caught on tape for anyone to hear. But the NBA could have delayed their punishment. They could have taken their sweet time and called for some prolonged investigation. But they didn’t.
In a sport with over 70 percent black players, Sterling said he does not want his girlfriend to bring black men to his games, that he doesn’t want her to post pictures hanging out with black men. When she asked him, “Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you,” Sterling replied: “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses.”
The night before the commissioner issued the punishment to Sterling, there was a conference call with the commissioner, other owners, and players throughout the league, where the players said they were ready to strike until Sterling was dealt with.
Golden State Warrior, Stephen Curry, said that the players planned to all walk off the court right at the jump ball in game five. Curry said: “It would have been our only chance to make a statement in front of the biggest audience that we weren’t going to accept anything but the maximum punishment. We would deal with the consequences later but we were not going to play.” So, the NBA gave into the players’ demands instead of provoking a potential strike of the whole playoffs.
It’s true that the huge salaries of many pro athletes put them in a different world than workers. But there are still similarities that wouldn’t have been missed by the millions of workers watching the playoffs had this strike unfolded.
An NBA team is like most companies: the workers do all the work, customers pay all the money, and the owners, who do nothing, make all the profit. Players along with the coaching staff play the games, the fans pay the money, and the owners who collect all the profit are pointless.
How many of us can relate to this at our own workplace? How many of us have to deal with racism and discrimination from our own boss? How many of us know what it is like to work ourselves to exhaustion during the whole week just to make some rich boss we’ve never even seen wealthier?
In this climate of record profits for bosses and bankers, of outrageous fortunes for the richest one percent, it’s not hard to imagine workers seeing a connection between the fight of the players and our own lives. And of course the NBA, corporate sponsors, and CEO’s across the country did not want working people to witness the collective struggle of people to bring down a racist billionaire – whether some of these people were millionaire players or not. The last thing they want is for workers to feel empowered to do something similar against the rest of this class of bigoted billionaires.
That’s why Donald Sterling won’t be going to any more games, not because of his racism – the NBA had no problem with that for decades.
In 1886 the working class of the United States was engaged in a struggle for the eight hour day. This struggle of working people across the United States was not just a struggle for better conditions, it was a struggle for a better world. For this reason May first came to be known as International Workers Day, a holiday celebrated in every country in the world, but almost forgotten in the U.S.
In the 1880s, the working class suffered from extreme conditions, working up to 16 hours per day for low wages. Many workers were immigrants, from Germany, Eastern Europe, Italy and other countries. Just like today immigrants faced discrimination, the loudest voices coming from the wealthy elite and the politicians who serve them.
The working class did not suffer exploitation in silence, they organized to fight back. By 1886, a mass movement swept the country, demanding that the bosses and the government reduce working hours. The movement united workers across the U.S. under the slogan “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will!”
May first, 1886 was chosen as the date for a major fight to be launched, to force employers and the government to accept the eight hour day. But the bosses were also preparing. The media began to attack the movement using scare tactics, racism, and every other dirty trick. The owners of the big companies funded paramilitary groups, and the federal government expanded the National Guard. The ruling class was prepared for violence.
In early Spring, strikes began to break out, involving almost a quarter of a million workers. The movement was strongest in the big working class centers, but it spread all over the midwest and east coast. Mass rallies, parades and demonstrations involving thousands of workers took place around the country. Brewers, bakers, furniture workers, clothing cutters, tobacco, shoe, packinghouse and other workers won reduced hours at the same pay.
In the following week, 340,000 workers stopped work in 12,000 work places in the U.S.. It was a festival of the oppressed, with bands and flags and joy. Many struggles were victorious, with workers forcing their bosses to accept the eight hour day.
The workers’ leaders, especially in Chicago where the movement was strongest, were revolutionaries – socialist and anarchist militants. They opposed the capitalist system, and believed that workers could put an end to capitalism and run society for human need and not for profit. For these revolutionaries the eight hour day was just a step on towards the transformation of society.
It wasn’t long before the ruling class struck back at the workers on strike and especially at the revolutionaries. On May 3, in Chicago police attacked killed four strikers and wounding 200. The next day the workers held meetings and rallies to protest the killings and police brutality. In Haymarket Square, the revolutionary leaders in Chicago held a meeting to denounce the violence used to by the bosses to defend their system. as the last speaker was finishing up, hundreds of police marched in and declared that the rally must disperse. At the same time dynamite began to explode among the police killing seven. The cops fired at the crowd wounding hundreds of workers.
No one ever found out who threw the bomb, but eight anarchist leaders were charged with the bombing even though there was no evidence that they were involved. Seven were sentenced to hang and one to a long prison term. The government used the frame-up to launch a campaign of repression against revolutionaries and union activists.
Despite these attacks, the movement showed the potential power of the working class. In 1889, workers organizations from around the world voted to designate May first a day of solidarity to honor workers’ struggles and the revolutionaries who died for the cause of the working class.
The struggle of working people around the world is far from over. This year we have seen major strikes of garment workers in Bangladesh, shoe factory workers in China, railway workers in Korea. Here in the Bay Area we felt the power of BART workers on strike, and the potential this strike had if it was united with other transit workers and beyond. This International Workers Day, lets remember that we don’t have to suffer in silence. We can organize together against the attacks of the ruling class, and eventually to put an end to their system altogether.
Every April we sit down to pay our taxes, calculating the amount of our monthly earnings which have already been drained, or worse, discovering we owe money. But not everyone faces this burden. Those of us in the working class pay a disproportionate amount of taxes compared to the wealthy, and some of the wealthiest corporations pay no taxes at all! In other words, we pay, but they take home all their profits.
The tax system is a maze of laws and loopholes. It’s simple enough to just pay the standard amount, but in order to save, we have to claim deductions, itemize them, keep records of everything. And what if you have two or three jobs? With all the different tax forms to fill out no wonder people get headaches around tax time?
What do the wealthy do? They employ dozens of financial experts and manipulators to hide their money, minimize their costs and make sure they pay as little as possible. Households earning more than $10 million per year pay 19 percent in taxes, while households making $55,000 per year will pay 27 percent of their income.
The rules are even more unfair when you look at how corporations are taxed. Corporations are supposed to pay an average of 35 percent taxes on their profits. But after the lawyers and financial experts go to work, the average Fortune 500 company only pays 12.6 percent in taxes. In fact, the richest 280 companies only paid 4.6 percent and 26 companies managed to pay minus seven percent – the government paid them!
How do the corporations do this? They move their money around to avoid paying. For example, JP Morgan Chase has 50 subsidiary companies based in tax havens like Bermuda and the Bahamas. Companies park their money in offshore accounts and keep it off the books. Then when it comes to tax time they pretend to pay their “fair share” which is really a fraction of their wealth. Corporations, banks and wealthy individuals are sitting on around 21 trillion dollars in off-shore accounts around the world.
In other words, while workers are forced to pay almost a third of their earnings, the wealthy, the banks, and the corporations pay very little or sometimes nothing at all. In fact, for every dollar that the average tax payer pays, corporations only pay 22 cents.
It is even more shocking to see how the tax system has changed over time. Today’s tax rate on the wealthy of 35 percent is nothing compared to the 1970s when the wealthy were taxed at a rate of 71 percent. The millionaires and billionaires of the 1970s did not go hungry, or take their kids out of private school, or miss payments on their mansions. The rich have simply gotten richer. In 1970, the average CEO made 50 times as much as the average worker. Today the average CEO makes 300 times as much as the average worker. The changes in the tax system are no different than every other aspect of this society – exploitation has increased on the backs of the workers.
What are we paying for? The tax money that comes out of our pockets is hardly getting us the things we need. Education is a good example. Education is getting worse and worse as schools deteriorate and budgets are slashed. The result is an education system ranked #29 in the world. And higher education costs have shot up drastically, robbing working class students of a chance to go to college. The tax money clearly isn’t going to things like education. So where is it going?
In fact, 57 percent of the federal budget is spent on the military – an increase of five percent from last year. In other words more than half of the taxes which go to the federal government are spent on the world’s biggest killing machine – the U.S. military. Whose priorities does this reflect, except for the companies who profit by dominating the world.
Taxes are worse than just a headache, they are a symptom of the injustice of this society. By doing the work, workers are the ones who create all of the wealth. But we are robbed by the corporations when they profit off our work. And we are robbed again when taxes are collected, and used pay for a system that does not meet our needs. At tax time, we are the ones who pay, but they are the ones who profit.
Last week California Senator Leland Yee was brought up on so many charges that his story seems like a TV show. Yee has been charged with taking bribes, wire fraud, working with the former leader of a Chinese criminal organization – Raymond (Shrimp Boy) Chow – and conspiracy to smuggle firearms, including $2.5 million in weapons.
Yee has a record of being the kind of politician that says one thing and does another. The SF Chronicle has written that Yee has made campaign promises to voters only to turn around and do the exact opposite once he’s elected, receiving funds from businesses that benefit from his new position. So this charge of smuggling weapons isn’t that surprising even though Yee regularly speaks in favor of bans on automatic weapons. The idea that he would smuggle weapons while arguing for a ban on them is just a more extreme version of the way he has operated throughout his career.
Other Democratic politicians have tried to distance themselves from Yee, condemning his corruption – the last thing they want is an investigation into any of their own political dealings. Yee was one of three Democratic senators brought up on similar charges, along with Ron Calderon and Rod Wright. They’ve been suspended from their roles as senators but will still collect their salaries of $95,000 per year.
So politicians have been taking money for political favors? And this is supposed to be surprising? Being willing to say and do anything to get elected is just what it means to be a politician. The partnership between politics and business is so close it’s hard to even tell the two apart. Businesses get priority contracts, tax breaks, subsidies, bail outs, free passes on legal violations and in exchange politicians expect to be paid off.
Politicians don’t just take bribes – they build their entire careers off of being the servants of the corporations. Yee is being charged for doing on a small scale what the government, banks and corporations do on a large scale all the time – but for them it isn’t corruption, just business as usual.
What about the largest banks in the world carrying out trillion-dollar housing scams, targeting working families? Millions of families lost their homes, their jobs, their retirement. All of this was because of the corruption of large banks, mortgage firms, government credit agencies. Dozens of politicians knew about what was happening and did nothing. Of course nobody ever went to jail for any of this – because politicians made sure they passed the laws so these scams would be legal. That’s what it means to be a politician in this society.
Yee has been charged with small-time weapons smuggling, but this is nothing compared to the largest arms dealer in the world – the U.S. government. To carry out the interests of U.S. businesses around the world, the U.S. government uses a brutal military to overthrow elected officials, to prop up dictatorships, to torture and assassinate opposition figures in other countries. This is a military responsible for the deaths of millions of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the same military that is carrying out regular drone strikes on civilians, the same government responsible for spying on U.S citizens, recording our emails and phone conversations, and threatening journalists for reporting information that challenges official government positions. But all of this is perfectly legal.
Living in their society means dealing with their dishonesty on a daily basis. It means politicians who present one face to the public only to deal behind our backs as servants of the banks and corporations.
None of the corruption charges against Yee or any of the others are really that surprising. If we want to talk about corruption – it is their whole system that is corrupt!