OVER FORTY YEARS OF LEAD POISONING IN CHILDREN — THE CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM

By Nayvin Gordon and Karyn Pomerantz, October 28, 2019


The US Department of Health and Human Services promoted October 20-27, 2019 as national lead prevention week. As of 2017, pediatricians reported that more than half a million US children had lead poisoning (AAFP, 2019).


The poisonous effects of lead have been documented for over 2,000 years. It is an environmental toxin whose effects are totally preventable; it has no biological role in the human body. Lead causes irreversible brain damage, especially in children. It affects numerous organs, such as the heart and kidneys, and influences behavior and cognition measured by IQ scores and other tests. Researchers have postulated that lead poisoning contributes to higher rates of impulsive behavior, attention deficit disorders, and poorer ability to process information. Nonetheless, the law does not require testing of all children for dangerous lead levels.

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Maternal Mortality-Racism Kills

by Karyn Pomerantz, October 13, 2019

Washington, DC has the highest rate of maternal death in the country, and deaths of black mothers and pregnant women are three times higher than white women. The  maternal mortality rate is 33 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the national rate of 17 and Maryland’s 12 deaths. This huge disparity persists no matter what the level of income or education.

So what does the DC government do? Rather than improving and reopening an obstetric service at United Medical Center (UMC), which was closed because of poor quality, the City wants to replace it with a for-profit, union-busting hospital that will take years to build, leaving women far from hospitals for delivery and emergency care. UMC (formerly Greater Southeast Hospital) serves residents of Wards 7 and 8, primarily black families, where there are high rates of poor housing, poverty, unemployment and displacement as developers ravage historic neighborhoods to enrich the rich. Housing insecurity and homelessness multiply the stress for pregnant women and new mothers dealing with inadequate income and a new life to support. 

At this writing, there will be 2 community meetings to organize and protest this attack on women’s health (see below for URLs):

October 21: City Paper Community Conversations – HEALTH & WELLNESS: The State of Maternal Health in D.C., 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (EDT), The Outrage – 1722 14th Street NW DC

October 25: Health Public Oversight Hearing, 11:00 am, Wilson Building Room 412, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, DC, 20004.  Come testify for a public 

The DC Health Justice Coalition, a coalition of anti-racist activists, health care advocates, and community organizations, have mobilized to fight these plans. They organized community forums and a social media presence (DC Health Justice Coalition on Facebook), and plan to testify before community and City Council hearings. Other NGOs have produced analyses and recommendations for years. In 2018, the City established the Maternal Mortality Review Committee to ascertain the reasons for the high rates in order to implement solutions. It will initiate meetings and hearings soon.

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United Auto Workers (UAW) Strike Update – October 9, 2019

by Al Simpson, Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The UAW-GM strike is now over 3 weeks old. The UAW has not given out much information regarding the sticking points in the negotiations. Below is the publicly available information on these negotiations. 

Health Insurance Payments by Workers Increase
GM wanted the health insurance payments by the workers to increase from 3 percent to 15 percent. According to the Detroit Free Press, this demand has been rescinded.

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Book Review: Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl

Book Review:
Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl

by Karyn Pomerantz, August 2019

Dying of Whiteness examines how racism hurts white working class people. Metzl counters the common ideology of white privilege, which posits that white people benefit from racism in terms of social status, safety, education, and housing. While racism devastates non-white communities, it also hurts ordinary white people. Metzl’s analysis doesn’t explicitly frame these inequities as different levels of exploitation caused by capitalism, but he demonstrates how racism enriches the rich, prompts people to support policies against their best interests, and divides people to keep the working class weak (see other blog pieces on white privilege).

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Reflecting Back on the Peterloo Massacre at 200

 

By Karyn Pomerantz, August 2019

         On August 16, 1819, 60,000 men, women, and children gathered in St. Peter’s Field in the heavily industrial city of Manchester, England to demand political representation and better living conditions. It was the most massive assembly to have taken place at the time, amounting to roughly half the population of Manchester. Wearing their Sunday best and accompanied by musicians, they carried banners and signs calling for liberty, a parliament of the people and repeal of the Corn Laws. It was a peaceful, celebratory, yet emphatic crowd: little did they expect the brutal response of their “own” government. However, the ruling class was terrified of insurrection that would topple them from power, as had the French Revolution 30 years earlier. No sooner had the speeches begun than the rulers sent in the British cavalry, backed up by local volunteer militias, to strike them down, disperse the crowd, and arrest the leaders. The sabre-wielding forces wantonly murdered 18 men, women, and children, and injured 650. This pivotal incident became known as the Peterloo Massacre, and this year marks its bicentenary.        

As Mike Leigh, director of the film, Peterloo, writes about its continuing significance:“Despite the spread of universal suffrage across large parts of the globe, poverty, inequality, suppression of press freedom, indiscriminate surveillance, and attacks on legitimate protest by brutal regimes are all on the rise… Peterloo is of seminal importance.”           This article looks back on the events of 1819 and the lessons they hold for us today. It draws on the book, Peterloo by Jacqueline Riding and the film by Mike Leigh, as well as the contemporaneous commentary of several leaders and participants.

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Taking Action Against Detention Prisons

by Karyn Pomerantz, August 2019

While the US ruling class clamps down on the freedom of migrants seeking asylum and survival in the US, ordinary people are mobilizing to liberate the incarcerated. These protests have taken many forms.  Immigrant rights organizations educate immigrants about their so-called legal rights to avoid detention, communities and religious institutions provide sanctuary, lawyers negotiate to stop the police from sharing arrest records with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of Homeland Security), and activists confront anti-immigration institutions with direct actions.

In recent weeks (Summer 2019), there have been more direct actions and civil disobedience to stop detentions. Direct action protests and civil disobedience can use illegal or legal disruptive tactics to change conditions and policies.  Instead of negotiations and voting, they include strikes, demonstrations (think Yellow Vests in France), mutinies, prison rebellions, attacks on right wing rallies, urban rebellions, and sit-ins. They are instrumental in securing reforms and making revolutions.  While individuals can use direct action, such as assassinations or suicide bombings, they are not effective and usually harm co-workers or the public. Successful, militant protests involve large numbers of participants, unity, collective outrage, and organization.  

Imagine if thousands of anti-racists operating in a planned cohesive manner opened the prisons and released the children and individuals held in these camps!  Are we headed for this? Would this strategy succeed?

This article explores the value of direct action and civil disobedience, and recent and historical examples of workers defending their brothers and sisters.  We welcome your examples.

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International Solidarity Marks Amazon Strike

by Karyn Pomerantz, July 19, 2019

On July 15, 2019 during Amazon’s Prime Day sale, Amazon warehouse workers around the world walked off the job to protest grueling working conditions and poor wages. US workers also demanded that Amazon cut its collaboration with ICE and implement climate control practices. Strikers hit Amazon sites in the US and 50 locations in Europe, including France, Germany where 2000 participated, and the UK. French employees blocked trucks from leaving distribution centers, and European unions coordinated their efforts across borders. Unions in Spain and Poland also planned protests during the week.

Amazon represents the worst of modern day capitalism, extracting as much profit as it can by increasing productivity among its workforce, contracting out many delivery services, and automating many functions that reduce expenses. It has attacked the unions, claiming safe working conditions and adequate pay and benefits, and accusing unions of using strikes to recruit more members to increase revenue. Yet Amazon earned $5.8 billion over the two days. In 2018, Amazon made $232 billion in sales with CEO Jeff Bezos earning $110 billion, generating the strike slogan, No more discounts on our incomes!

Brutal working conditions include holding workers to the rate, the time it takes to retrieve, box, or process merchandise, an average of 6-8 seconds per task. Workers are docked time to use the bathroom and threatened with firing if they fall below the rate 4 times. Workers report that they limit drinking fluids to avoid bathroom times. While robots deliver products to workers, many report they walk 10 miles a day to retrieve them. Amazon invests heavily in robotics to reduce their payroll, threatening jobs. Constant surveillance of worker movements adds to the stress. Over a 5 year period, Amazon called emergency services in the US 189 times for workers experiencing severe mental health problems. While these problems may have occurred prior to their Amazon employment, the speed up, social isolation, and surveillance promote suicidal ideas. As one employee wrote, “It’s this isolating colony of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence. It’s mentally taxing to do the same task super fast for 10-hour shifts, four or five days a week.”

Multiracial and Multiethnic Leadership

The Amazon strikes and organizing highlight the strengths and potential of collaboration with workers of various religions, nationalities, and racial categories. In the major Minnesota site in Shakopee, the Awood Center for East African Muslim workers, mostly from Somalia, organized the work actions. They also protested Amazon’s denial of their religious needs, such as time to pray during the work day. Unions and community organizations supported them, and workers of all backgrounds followed their leadership to strike.

While the number of strikers was low and the strike only lasted 6 hours, it demonstrated the potential for tech staff, Amazon airline pilots, warehouse workers from multiple countries to unite around common goals. It also appealed to the public to boycott the Prime Day sales. Demands included economic, safety, and political issues, such as climate change and opposition to anti-immigrant attacks by ICE. Employees showed that they could not be co-opted by Amazon’s recent $15 per hour minimum wage.

Such fightbacks can reinvigorate a docile labor movement and increase class consciousness around the world. It can turn workers against the capitalist system and not just one of its worst examples. It will take militant organizers who refuse to rely on politicians and union leaders but instead fight for an equitable society.

Read more:

No Bargain for Workers. https://www.france24.com/en/20190716-amazon-workers-strike-prime-day-france-germany-usa

https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/15/business/german-amazon-workers-strike-prime-day-scli-intl/index.html

Video on Amazon’s delivery processes and safety issues from company reps and workers at https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/15/amazon-workers-prime-day-strike-begins-in-minnesota.html