Because of inherent racism, capitalism turned Hurricane Katrina into a destructive disaster for working people, a result which could have been prevented. Four years ago this coming August, Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, causing damage from central Florida to Texas and displacing over a million workers.
The majority of destruction was in New Orleans where 80% of the city was flooded and 1,836 workers’ lives were lost. The federal flood protection plan failed in 50 places and almost every levee was breached. Working-class people were stranded in flooded neighborhoods as the police and National Guard pulled guns on them, preventing them from entering the Superdome.
The areas in New Orleans affected the most and suffering the highest death rate were those in black and Latin communities. The local and federal governments did nothing to protect these communities, which were poverty-stricken even before the hurricane.
The news media painted a racist and anti-working-class picture of the city’s residents. While levees were breaking and police were preventing residents from crossing bridges to non-flooded areas, the media focused on attacking people that were “looting” food from local grocery stores. People who had been stuck on roofs and in flooded areas had no other choice but to take food to survive.
The violence, which the media skewed, was mainly by cops and the National Guard against the people in the affected areas. The media, a ruling-class tool, is used to slander working people. However, from the beginning CHALLENGE exposed the bosses’ neglect of the working class and the media’s lies.
Today, we see little change in the politicians’ and government agencies’ response to problems stemming from Katrina. Of the 1,859 public housing apartments in the St. Bernard and Lafitte Housing developments, only 10 have been replaced. Only 11% of families have been able to return to the Lower 9th ward, one of the poorest and most devastated communities. There are 25% fewer hospitals in New Orleans than before Hurricane Katrina hit. Almost the entire school system, formerly public, has been privatized and has left teachers without a union.
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was scheduled to give $2.6 billion to the state of Louisiana and $1.9 billion to New Orleans, neither of which has been delivered (San Francisco Bay View, 11/09/08). But the government has no problem spending $750 billion dollars to bail out U.S bankers.
On June 1, FEMA was set to evict thousands of residents from their FEMA trailer homes, but after militant protests, the government was forced to sell the trailers to the residents for $1. Here, four years after the hurricane, workers are still living in trailers, many of which were poisoned with toxins and poor construction, sickening many people.
The rulers have used this disaster to gentrify New Orleans and profit off the reconstruction in the tourist and rich neighborhoods. Undocumented workers have been hired at poverty wages, sometimes going unpaid, to work in unsafe conditions to rebuild the city. What was a disaster for the people of New Orleans has been turned into a gold mine for the ruling class.
Cuba has created a hurricane emergency system which, even as a remnant of the system that existed before Cuba gave up on fighting for the interests of the working class, has consistently kept death tolls to a minimum during hurricane season. Cuba assigns people to distribute medication to those in need and prepare food for times of natural disaster so people won’t have to “loot.”
PLP has gone to New Orleans every year to stand with our working-class brothers and sisters to help rebuild homes and work with groups to spread revolutionary ideas. A communist society will plan in advance how to handle natural disasters, which will minimize loss of life and provide food, clothing and housing to those who may suffer losses.
That’s why we need to build a society that values workers above all, abolishes profits and destroys racism. Join the struggle to fight for communism!