Monthly Archives: January 2012

Profit System Hazardous to Workers’ Health; Protest Racist Attacks on Brooklyn Hospitals

BROOKLYN, January 11 — Hundreds of angry hospital workers and supporters rallied loudly in front of the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel here this week as racist financier Stephen Berger, a darling of Governor Cuomo, announced his plan to “save” health care in the borough of Brooklyn. Workers who had never been at such a protest (or at least not for a long time) chanted as bosses from Downstate Hospital, Wall Street moguls and Berger himself entered the hotel for a fancy breakfast.

Brooklyn is a borough of 2.5 million people.  One in five live below the poverty line and two in five are on Medicaid. An untold number are without any health insurance. In 1980, Brooklyn had 26 hospitals — now it has 15. There are now 41% fewer acute care beds, 2.3 beds per 1,000 residents, compared with Manhattan’s 4.7, the state’s 3.1 and the nation’s 2.6. Disparities in health by income and “race” are concentrated in certain New York City communities, including several in Brooklyn. In 2001, life expectancy in our poorest neighborhoods was eight years shorter than in its wealthiest; that is 4,000 extra premature deaths/year in the poorest communities.

Racism: The Worst Disease

The facts show the racist nature of the U.S. health care system. Brooklyn is 36% black and 20% Latino. Latino New Yorkers are twice as likely to have diabetes. Black New Yorkers are three times more likely to die of diabetes than white residents. Ninety-four percent of elevated blood levels in New York City are among African Americans, Latinos and Asians. If infant mortality rates were equalized, the lives of some 200 babies of these ethnic groups would be saved each year (NYC DOHMH “Health Disparities in NYC,” 2004).

The hospitals in Brooklyn who serve its poorest residents have been set up to fail by Medicaid cuts. Stephen Berger, a hedge fund mogul and part of the unelected government of New York has led a task force for Governor Cuomo to come up with a plan to “rescue” health care in Brooklyn. He proposes closing Downstate Hospital in central Brooklyn and Kingsborough Psychiatric Hospital.

Another of the proposals is to invite private investors into Brooklyn hospitals. We have already seen for-profit Medisys’ disastrous mismanagement of  Brookdale Medical Center. We’ve seen Continuum executives making between one and two million dollar salaries while millions of dollars at Long Island College Hospital’s real estate and other assets disappeared under their management. We can’t stand by and watch healthcare for profit drain other hospitals in the poor and black and Latino neighborhoods and, then abandon them for New York State to rescue (or not).

After the rally, workers asked, “Did we accomplish anything? Did anything change?” Our answer is that life is a constant struggle between the working class and the big businessmen who run the economy and the government. We were there in force as this New York ruling class announced its plan to close two public hospitals in the underserved borough of Brooklyn. We took strength from each other. But stopping their attacks is going to take more action. We need to unite patients, communities and workers, black, Latino and white, to oppose them at every stage of their plan, much like what was done during the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s.

Interestingly, the unions were absent from this action. The union that made a deal with the Berger hospital closures a few years ago, SEIU-1199, which represents many of the affected Brookdale and Interfaith Hospital workers, was nowhere to be seen. Also the unions from Kings County Hospital, which is across the street from Downstate, including the city union’s District Council 37, were conspicuously absent. Brooklyn patients and  jobs are in jeopardy. We need working-class unity, not territorialism!

The bottom line is that we live in a capitalist system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; a system where the only funds the demopublicans “can’t” cut are for oil wars and bailouts of banks “too big to fail.” We have to fight against these attacks on medical care. But living conditions for the working class, especially black and Latino workers, are so rotten under this system that we will never be healthy until we rid ourselves of the profiteers and run things according to the needs of our class. Contact revolutionary communist PLP to find out more.

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Remembering Quake Inspires Brooklyn; Students Solidarity with Workers in Haiti

BROOKLYN, January 11 — More than three hundred students at Clara Barton High School, along with about twenty-five staff members, attended an inspiring commemoration of the second anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.  It was organized and led by students who belong to an after-school club that has been fighting attacks by the school administration against teachers and students for many years. Important ideas were raised about imperialism and the roots of Haiti’s poverty, and why students in the U.S. need to build solidarity with the working class in Haiti. Students and teachers grasped the communist ideas of solidarity with workers around the world, of multiracial unity, and of fighting for a better future than the bosses’ plan for wars, drastic cuts in social services, and increased racism.

There were speeches and performances, ranging from spoken word and debate to singing and step dancing. The program stressed unity, solidarity and the struggle for a better world.

One song was sung in both Creole and English, with many in the audience learning the Creole words for the first time. This was symbolically important because students from Haiti have endured a lack of adequate programs and services at the school. There was also delicious food donated by area restaurants, as well as by staff and parents. As many students and teachers commented afterwards, the whole program was “amazing.”

The preparation for the event was as significant as the commemoration itself. The multi-racial student organizers were from Africa, South Asia, China, the Caribbean and the U.S. They were clear from the start in their goal to send a strong message of unity and solidarity with the workers and students who struggle for a better life in Haiti, where 600,000 still live in tents. Their collective effort inspired more and more students and teachers to come forward and offer to help. Each day, more students joined committees and got involved in the planning. The enthusiasm spread.

The fighting spirit at Clara Barton comes out of a long and vibrant history of activism. Students went to New Orleans to help after Hurricane Katrina, organized anti-racist mass assemblies, and marched in New York and in Washington against imperialist war and budget cuts.  More than 300 CHALLENGEs are distributed outside the school. Members of Progressive Labor Party have defended the rights of both students and teachers against attacks by the school administration, which regularly harasses teachers with accusations and investigations. PL members and friends have withstood these attacks and continue to fight for what is in the best interests of students and staff.

Although the Bloomberg administration has built fear and passivity in many schools in New York, the fighting spirit at Clara Barton has not wavered. To sustain and spread the resistance to more friends and other schools, many more people need to be recruited to commit to a lifelong struggle to build a communist world. Join the Progressive Labor Party!

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Asia: Coming Battleground in U.S.-China Rulers’ Dogfight

“The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action,” writes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine. In the article, “America’s Pacific Century,” she announces a major change in U.S. foreign policy, a “pivot to new global realities,” that sets its sights among the three giants of the Asia-Pacific: China, India and the U.S.

Crucial in this strategic turn to maintain U.S hegemony is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a vast trade network spread across the Asia-Pacific rim promoted by Obama at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) forum in November. Currently being negotiated by nine countries, the TPP is essentially a U.S. thrust to exploit the markets, cheap labor and raw materials of the world’s fastest growing region and is also a move to contain China, the main threat to U.S imperialist aims.

In 1997, then Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin likened a similar strategy to having China “play Gulliver to Southeast Asia’s Lilliputians, with the United States supplying the rope and string.” But China is no sleeping giant. The Chinese Global Times warned that, “any country which chooses to be a pawn in the U.S. chess game will lose the opportunity to benefit from China’s economy.”

Obama urged the nine Beijing neighbors to join this “landmark 21st-century trade deal,” noting China’s trade barriers, high tariffs and taxes on foreign investors. Chinese Premier Wen countered that the region’s countries share interests as developing nations with dynamic economies, unlike the West which, “lacks momentum,” and is “plagued by serious financial and debt crises.”

But these threats and promises of economic gains and losses veil serious intentions to control the region’s economy, militarily if necessary.

In November China hosted a meeting of its regional security/economic bloc, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) whose members, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, frequently hold joint military exercises.

At the meeting Wen called for developing multilateral trade and economic ties between its members and recommended Iran, (currently U.S. enemy #1), and Pakistan for membership. India and Turkey have observer status.

Obama makes no bones about U.S. intentions to back up its capitalist interests with military force. On his recent visit to Australia he announced the deployment of 2,500 Marines to Darwin, (the Australian port closest to China) and stated that the U.S. was “here to stay” as a Pacific power.

Hammering the point home, Clinton symbolically chose to speak from the deck of the guided missile cruiser U.S.S. Fitzgerald in Manila Bay, Philippines: “We are making sure that our collective defense capabilities and communications infrastructure are operationally and materially capable of deterring provocations from the full spectrum of state and non-state actors.”

Central to keeping China at bay in the Asia-Pacific is the U.S. backing of puppet regimes in Thailand and Malaysia, strengthening alliances with the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Australia and pursuing “broader, deeper, and more purposeful relationships” with India and Indonesia.

These events come at a time of heightening tensions in the South China Sea over the oil-rich Spratly Islands, whose energy reserves may rival those of Kuwait, and which are claimed by China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations. At a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders, (ASEAN) in Indonesia, the U.S. and China disagreed about how to handle the claims, with Wen issuing a warning to the U.S., saying “outside forces” had no excuse to get involved in the complex maritime dispute.

The stakes are high. Half the world’s tonnage passes through the South China Sea. Control of its sea lanes is a necessity for U.S capitalists eager to invest for super-profits and for China, whose economy relies heavily on sea transportation for its import and export trade, including Middle East oil, vital for its industry.

The U.S. is aggressively attempting to weaken China’s growing economic relationships, such as between China and Pakistan which are involved in the development of a deep-sea port, heavily financed by China, at Qwadar on the Arabian Sea in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. The project came under heavy attack by Baluchi separatists, secretly funded by the CIA and Britain, slowing down completion of the port and forcing the Chinese to work under the protection of the Pakistani Army.

Pakistan is facing increased attacks from U.S. intelligence and military forces in what many see as an attempt to destabilize and break up the nation (composed of four main provinces). An independent Baluchistan (and possibly Khyber Pakhtunkwha) would cut off China’s Gwadar port, leaving the sea lanes under U.S control and give the U.S. access through Northern Pakistan to Afghanistan and the oil and gas fields of the Caspian Basin.

New U.S. relations with India, which Obama calls “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, rooted in common values and interests,” is further straining the Pakistani-U.S. strategic partnership and sharpening tensions between China and India. The U.S. is helping India become a leading military power, selling it uranium and providing nuclear know–how. India, world’s largest weapons importer, accounts for 9% of the world’s arms transactions. They buy warships, destroyers and nuclear submarines to build a navy rivaling China’s.

Finally Russia, another player in the area, threatened to retaliate militarily if Washington goes ahead with a planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. America’s Pacific Century is quickly shaping up into a battleground between superpowers and would-be superpowers. But class struggle is also heating up. Globally the working class is taking to the streets in increasing numbers, in Russia, China, the Arab countries, Asia, Europe and the U.S. It’s time for the world’s workers to unite in a communist revolution, led by the ideas of PLP, to overthrow these bloodthirsty imperialists and wipe out the hell of capitalism with a society run by and for the international working class.

ESL Students Know the Language: A Class Analysis of Capitalism

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to adult immigrant working-class students at a community-based organization that works in the Democratic Party/union-led Coalition for a Strong Economy for All. To prepare their members to participate in Occupy Wall Street, the directors of the organization wrote guidelines about the economic crisis for teachers to use in the “organizing” committees and classes.

The guidelines negated class analysis and said the 1% are the bankers and everyone else belongs to the 99% — the “yes-we-can-people” who want democracy, patriotism and unity, where everyone believes in the American dream and “pays their fair share.” The organization’s campaigns focus on four very limited reform Democratic Party demands — a living wage act, a state law which is a mini-version of the Dream Act, federal and state legislation for a “millionaire’s tax” and Obama’s “job plan.”

By bypassing the reformist propaganda, my students and I created our own lesson about OWS and the economic crisis (in English). First I asked my students what they knew about OWS. Some students responded using words like poverty, unemployment, wealth and equality to explain what the movement is about. I then asked who they think is the 1%. They came up with the following:

Politicians, bankers, landlords, bosses, judges, army generals, professional actors, artists and athletes.

Then I asked who they think is the 99%. They said “workers.”

“Anyone else?” I asked.

“Well, no.”

I wrote economic crisis on the blackboard and below three more words: consequences, causes, solutions.

I asked students to talk in groups about each word. Around each of the three words, the students wrote more words in a circle:

Consequences: low wages, no jobs, rent, bills, family problems, and cuts in education.

Causes: corrupt politicians, bad government, exploitation, racism, greed, and war.

Solutions: change system, unity, fight back, revolution, jobs, no education cuts, no war, end discrimination against immigrants.

Using English vocabulary and without being prompted, the students came up with a basic analysis of class society and the nature of capitalism. They expressed their desire for systemic change. I then asked students to expand their ideas in English. Finally, we switched to Spanish to add more details and debate our ideas in more depth. “Hey, my friends, you need English to talk to workers who don’t speak Spanish and to build the unity and struggle we need,” I concluded.

The class process allowed me to assess which students to talk with more about CHALLENGE and the Party. Five students in the class receive CHALLENGE, one takes four extras. Three former students are taking extra papers as well. Four students are in one of our four study groups at our organization/workplace, where we can talk fully about capitalism and communism, reform and revolution, and recruit new members to PLP. This is what the “road to communist revolution” looks like.

A comrade teacher

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