Stolen: Native American Children and Lands

by Karyn Pomerantz, 1-14-2023

Stolen indigenous lands, stolen and enslaved people, stolen resources, and stolen elections mark US domestic and global history. Democratic and Republican Administrations have conducted wars and assassinations to annex foreign territories (Hawaii and Puerto Rico among others), oppose imperial competitors (Germany, Russia, and China), and remove pro-socialist governments (Congo and Chile among many others). Beneath its patriotic and racist calls to arms is a rapacious grab for for profits  (https://multiracialunity.org/2018/02/02/as-u-s-imperialism-declines-we-must-fight-racism-and-nationalism/).

The US ruling class unleashed one of the worst genocides against the Indigenous inhabitants of the US territories beginning in the 16th Century. When the settler colonialists arrived, there were 5-15 million Native Americans; by the late 19th Century, only 238,000 remained. Because of 1,500 wars, massacres, the Indian Removal Act that pushed 60,000 people on the Trail of Tears into reservations, 230 treaties that seized Native land, and diseases like smallpox left untreated, rich white landowners and their government grabbed 99% of tribal lands to build their wealth.

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IT’S SICKENING: Lack of Sick Pay, Leave, Insurance

by Ellen Isaacs

December 12, 2022

Given the level of attention to the recently imposed freight rail contract that provides no, zero, acute sick days for railroad workers earning an average wage of $64,210 (before the recent 24% increase spread out over 5 years), let’s remember their huge toll of Covid-19 cases as shown in this table of infected rail workers from the Federal Railroad Administration.1

And let’s remind ourselves how terribly the US compares to the rest of the developed world in minimum sick days that are mandated for workers on a national basis.2

Then let’s recall that despite being the richest country in the world, the US has the worst health outcomes among developed countries.3 Moreover, within the US there are huge disparities of health and benefits based on race as well as class (for an overview, see https://multiracialunity.org/2017/04/13/racism-is-a-scourge-on-the-publics-health/), a fact that helps to hide this woeful state of affairs, blame it on the most deprived, and diminish the struggle for change.

Sickness Among Workers Spreads Disease and Costs Money

Workers who get sick are not just a problem to themselves because of pain and suffering with possible long-term consequences, lost income, contagion, and family difficulties, but society has a lot to lose too. Sick workers without sick pay are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with a contagious illness than those with this benefit. Three million unwell workers go to work each week, mostly low wage earners, mothers with young children or both. Moreover, most have jobs such as restaurant or child care workers that directly interact with the public. It was estimated that five million people contracted swine flu in 2009 because of lack of sick leave.4 Temporary emergency paid sick leave for Covid through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 is thought to have prevented 400 Covid cases in each state.5

Capitalist enterprises may think they are saving money by not offering sick days, but they are actually hurting themselves as well as the society at large. Paid sick days lead to more preventive care, like vaccinations, and getting earlier treatment when ill and thus avoid preventable emergency room visits. This alone would save an estimated $1.1 billion annually.4 Workers who go to work sick are also 38% more likely to be injured on the job than those who can take time off, and the resulting loss of productivity at work is estimated to cost about $208 billion annually. Access to sick pay also reduces the chance of job loss by one fourth over five months, while a need for new workers increases bosses’ costs for new worker recruitment and training.6

Who Has Sick Days

As of March, 2022, over 33 million workers in the US lack even a single sick day, which is disproportionately true of low wage service workers. 55% of retail and fast food workers are in this category. Only one fifth of workers with the lowest 10% of private salaries have sick days compared to near 90% in the top tenth of wage earners. Almost half of working mothers – 54% of Latin and 42% of black mothers – have no paid sick time.6 A little over half of hourly service workers at 91 large companies like Costco and Walmart have paid leave, although the figures vary widely. 7

Even though worker organizing in 15 states and dozens of cities has resulted in laws mandating sick time, there is no such federal law, and 24 states actually have statutes preventing cities and counties from enacting their own laws.6 The federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides up to 26 weeks off a year for unpaid medical leave for one’s own serious illness or to care for a sick family member, but it has many restrictions. The employee must have worked for a firm with at least 50 employees for at least 12 months and for at least 1250 hours a year. Only 59% of workers meet these criteria.8 In the case of rail workers, the requirement that the worker has put in 1250 hours over the past year excludes many because hours on call do not count, which may be 24 hours a day, seven days a week.9

Everything Is Worse Without Insurance

As of 2021, 30 million people, 9.2% of Americans, had no health insurance, the main problem being affordability The highest percentage of the uninsured is those of working age, 19-64, and is disproportionately black and Latin, the latter group being 30% uninsured.10 Approximately 5.2 million people have gained health coverage since 2020 via the American Rescue Plan, which has increased marketplace subsidies and expanded Medicaid.4 Although originally expected to end in 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act has now extended these benefits through 2025.11 Then, who knows?

According to the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey of a representative sample of adults,

  • 43% of those of working age are still inadequately insured in 2022
  • Of these, one tenth had a gap in coverage during the past year
  • For nearly a quarter their coverage does not provide affordable access to care.
  • Half said they could not pay for an unexpected medical bill of $1000 within a month, which includes 68% of black and 63% of Latin workers.
  • Undocumented immigrants, about 12 million people, are ineligible for any federally subsidized insurance
  • 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid have huge uncovered medical cost risk.6
  • The result of these large gaps in coverage is that one fourth of people with chronic diseases like diabetes have skipped prescriptions because of out of pocket costs.11

The Overlap of Sick Pay and Health Insurance

It is very difficult to find data that show the combined effects of sick days and health insurance. The table below, although nine years old, illustrates that the combination of lack of both sick leave and insurance leads to the highest incidence of delayed medical care, while those with insurance and sick days do better than those with the ability to take time off but no insurance to pay for care. Doubtless the same is true today.12

Railroad workers, one group of insured workers without sick days, may take occasional personal days, but even these must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance and so are useless for acute illnesses, which includes most infectious ones. If a worker does call in sick, there may be severe penalties, even termination. Since work schedules are irregular and may change at the last minute, it is very difficult to schedule any preventative or chronic health care.

What Is the Remedy?

It is hard to even contemplate the mindset of the US legislators or the President, well paid with generous benefits, who see fit to deny railroad workers even a single paid acute sick day. But it somehow is not out of kilter, not outrageous, in a  society where workers are treated merely as means to an end, means to make a profit, rather than as human beings with intrinsic worth. And the disregard continues even though, overall, profits and general social health and costs are negatively impacted.  

Partly this reflects the difficulty of planning beyond the next quarterly report under capitalism, always concerned with beating the competition in the here and now. Partly it reflects the need to reinforce the idea that workers, even in their own minds, are only an entity of service to a boss. And, of course, the poorer wages and benefits of black. Latin, women, and immigrant workers serve to physically and ideologically separate us and prevent the massive struggle that would be needed to overcome politicians, corporations, and sold out union leaders.

In order to uplift the status of US workers – from the unemployed to railroad and retail workers, to teachers and nurses – we must build a movement that unites us all. We must come together across all ethnicities and job categories to fight the injustices of this system, which range from working conditions to poor schools, housing and hospitals, to paying for and fighting in unjust imperialist wars. It is critical to build this unity. if we want to consider changing this whole system to one in which we can avoid climate disaster, pandemics, and nuclear war, we must overthrow capitalism and build a society we run ourselves in our own interests, without profits or racism, with only our own well being as its goal.

References

1. https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/railroad-employee-covid-19-infections-hit-pandemic-high/

2. https://cepr.net/report/contagion-nation-2020-united-states-still-the-only-wealthy-nation-without-paid-sick-leave/

3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danmunro/2014/06/16/u-s-healthcare-ranked-dead-last-compared-to-10-other-countries/#76bd1600576f

4. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/lack-paid-leave-risks-public-health-coronavirus-outbreak/

5. https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/paid-sick-days/paid-sick-days-improve-our-public-health.pdf

6. https://www.abetterbalance.org/sick-without-a-safety-net/

7. https://shift.hks.harvard.edu/paid-sick-leave-brief/

8. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/coronavirus-puts-a-spotlight-on-paid-leave-policies/

9. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/rail-strike-threat-brings-new-focus-on-work-attendance-policies

10. https://www.moneygeek.com/insurance/health/analysis/americans-without-coverage/

10a. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/08/02/new-hhs-report-shows-national-uninsured-rate-reached-all-time-low-in-2022.html

11. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2022/sep/state-us-health-insurance-2022-biennial-survey

12. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0965     

I’ve Been Striking on the Railroad

By Karyn Pomerantz, 11-20-2022

UPDATE: US workers just rejected the contract offer. 11-21-2022

There’s an old song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” that goes like this:

I’ve been working on the railroad

All the live-long day.

I’ve been working on the railroad

Just to pass the time away.

Can’t you hear the whistle blowing, rise up so early in the morn…

Written in 1894, this famous song depicts the back-breaking work of railroad workers. Built in the 19th Century, largely by black and Chinese workers, the railway system played an integral part in building capitalism in the United States, carrying oil, steel, and other critical products to western markets. The “robber baron” industrialists, such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, made a killing in these industries by cheating and violently attacking workers to create massive wealth.

Today, railroad workers are on the rise. This article will describe potential, current, and previous railway strikes. Because these militant multiracial actions disrupt business, they can improve the lives of workers much more substantially than any electoral strategies. Mass struggles teach us how to work together, identify our enemies and allies, and how to make changes.

Continue reading “I’ve Been Striking on the Railroad”

Covid Protections- Not War!

Presentation at the People’s Public Health Conference, November 4, 2022

Karyn Pomerantz, 11-8-2022

An audio file with slides is listed at

Introduction:

This talk will define imperialism and apply it to Russia and the US, identify the material and political causes of the war, depict the health and economic costs of this war, and recommend urgent strategies to end it.

Imperialism

Imperialism operates when industrialized countries must find new markets to sell an overproduction of goods and to buy cheap labor to reduce their expenses on the backs of workers losing jobs at home and workers exploited abroad. It is a strategy to carve up the world and control other countries for their  resources, cheap labor, and markets.

Examples include the British Empire occupying India, the Belgians devastating citizens of the Congo, and the US invading Iraq to seize its oil. When imperialists vie for control, inter-imperialist rivalries result, often in wars. That is the scenario today between the US and EU vs Russia and its allies.

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Capitalism Floods Pakistani Working Class 

By an anonymous Pakistani activist

September 8, 2022

Workers in southern and north-western Pakistan have been devastated by severe flooding over the last several weeks. Thirty-three million people are affected, mainly being displaced, by what may be the worst flooding in the history of Pakistan. The official death count from the floods is at about 1,400 people; unofficially, the estimate is over 4,000 dead. There is nothing natural about the scope of this disaster. The blame is squarely on capitalism. Namely, climate change, mass poverty and neglect of developing infrastructure, all caused by the drive for ever increasing profit at the expense of the working class. Many reforms, like decent housing and new sewers, would save many lives and spare many workers the loss of their homes, but those reforms seem like a distant impossible dream. In fact, the situation keeps repeating and will continue to worsen as capitalist crises only get more severe.

Worsening climate change brought heavier rains than usual into this region which destroyed the homes and belongings of millions of poor workers, who the capitalist system sees as expendable. Many of those displaced and killed were among the millions of workers in Pakistan who were forced out of the countryside by the abject poverty of the agricultural system under capitalism that leaves small farmers on their own. Recent droughts, also worsened by climate change, left family farmers in the impossible position of staying on their barren land to starve or heading into the cities to find work at poverty wages (ARY News, 9/2). These workers were forced by the conditions to settle on the banks of rivers, among the riskiest places to live but one of the few ways in the cities for the working class to have access to water.

Continue reading “Capitalism Floods Pakistani Working Class “

Shut It Down and Shut It Tight, Workers of the World UNITE!

Metro Access workers on the picket line

By Karyn Pomerantz, 9-10-2022

Anatomy of a Strike – Class Struggle or Business Unionism

During August, 2022 in Prince George’s County, MD, 170 paratransit operators of Metro Access in the Amalgamated Transportation Union (ATU 689) walked off their jobs to demand increased wages, more sick leave, and improved health and retirement benefits. Metro Access transports people living with disabilities to medical appointments, grocery stores, and social events. Most are too poor to have cars or pay for cabs or Uber and need transport that accommodates wheelchairs.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which operates the bus and subway systems, contracted out Metro Access to the billionaire French Transdev Corporation known for its anti-union activities. In 2019, WMATA bus operators working for Transdev struck for 85 days to achieve pay parity with other WMATA drivers. These contract arrangements weaken the ability of workers to organize larger strikes and forge solidarity across the work sites.

Continue readingShut It Down and Shut It Tight, Workers of the World UNITE!

Disability Justice

Karyn Pomerantz, 8-11-2022

Demonstration against cutbacks in health care

Covid-19 has re-emphasized the inequities of capitalism, displaying how it leaves the aged, those with chronic illness, and those with low-paying jobs who labor in close-packed, unprotected workplaces and live in crowded housing more vulnerable. Even without Covid-19, capitalists treat older workers, whether sick or retired as surplus, disposable people who drag down profits and require costly health care. Under capitalism, the ruling class values workers only by their ability to produce and thereby create profit.

This article will discuss the politics of disability from a class perspective that supports the participation and inclusion of all workers in society according to their abilities and preferences. It argues against creating another category of identity politics.

Continue readingDisability Justice

Revolt in Sri Lanka: DOES A SEISMIC STRUGGLE GUARANTEE SYSTEMIC CHANGE?

by Ellen Isaacs

August 6, 2022

To quote Ahilan Kadirgamar, a political economist at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, the uprising is “a revolt and not yet a revolution, because it doesn’t want to change fundamental social relations… or property relations.”1

As was the case with the massive upheaval in Egypt in 2011, or the more recent large uprisings in India and Burma (https://multiracialunity.org/2021/02/24/revolt-in-india-does-a-seismic-struggle-guarantee-systemic-change/, https://multiracialunity.org/2021/03/18/revolt-in-burma-does-a-seismic-struggle-guarantee-systemic-change/), without a program to challenge capitalism or an organization to analyze and lead the struggle, even a large and valiant rebellion does not lead to lasting change. There may be some reforms, as in India, or the door may be opened to a military takeover, as in Egypt and Burma. In Sri Lanka, a politician from the same ruling clique as the deposed rulers has become president and already several protest leaders have been arrested as others are being hunted or banned from travel (NYT 8/4/22).

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Walter Rodney – A Revolutionary to Inspire Us Today

by Ellen Isaacs

July 23, 2022

All of us who yearn to see a mass movement of workers united across national, racial and gender lines against capitalism and imperialism should remember and learn from the life of Walter Rodney. A Guyanese historian and activist who was murdered by his own ruling class in 1980 at the age of 38, Rodney understood the pitfalls of pseudo-socialism and neocolonialism like few others. And also like few others, he combined a profound understanding of history from a Marxist perspective, the ability to convey his knowledge and learn from broad swath of workers, and a commitment to actively participate in workers’ struggles. It is that combination that made him so dangerous to the Guyanese rulers.

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Soldiers Must Refuse to Fight to End theWar

Anti-war actions

Karyn Pomerantz, 6-26-2022

Imperialist countries cannot wage war for global power without the tens of thousands of workers they recruit and arm to fight for their empires. To the ruling class and military brass, these workers are cannon fodder for their interests. WWI wasted millions of young men sent to carry out insane combat orders. The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq relied on voluntary soldiers, some motivated by patriotism and more by the economy and difficulty finding jobs. Army recruiters prowled the halls of high schools and promised training and benefits. During the 1960s when the Vietnam War began, the Army instituted the draft, giving deferments and better positions to college students. This deferment ended as the Army required more soldiers.

Class divisions mirrored those in civilian life causing resentments and conflict. During the Vietnam War, most combat soldiers had working class backgrounds and a high school degree or less while the officers had high school and college degrees. Officers working in safety far from the fighting made the combat decisions and ordered the troops to implement them. As we will see, the draft of men who did not want to fight created a tinderbox of rebellion.

As earlier articles on this blog have explained, we, the working class of all nations, should not take sides in the war in Ukraine. Russia, the United States, and the EU are fighting for control of natural resources, minerals, oil, gas, grains, and pipelines. Russia has aggressively and inhumanely devastated cities in order to grab territory to assert power. The US is intent on weakening the power of Russia and boosting the number of NATO military bases around Russia. The US has intervened in Ukrainian politics since 2014 when it installed their new president. Russia has retaliated against these threats with horrendous attacks on civilians.

Capitalism kills, and war is the most extreme example. Capitalists send working class men and women into horrific situations and count success as the number of enemy troops killed and territory seized. These capitalists are willing to sacrifice our lives whether in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, or Libya. As we see on the news, Biden is more than willing to shelter 100,000 Ukrainian refugees while deporting hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who also face desperate situations in their home countries. He sends billions of dollars for military equipment to Ukraine, slashes funding for Covid relief, and maintains trade barriers on distributing vaccines to poorer countries with primarily black and brown people. This war is draining billions for arms (currently over $56 billion) from domestic social needs, such as healthcare, housing, and climate improvements.

On the “positive” side, soldiers have significant power by deserting, sabotaging equipment, and refusing orders. There are some reports of Russian soldiers deserting; over 30,000 have died! International Business News (June 22, 2022) reported that 200 Russian soldiers hid out in a village in Ukraine rather than fight. An officer shot himself in the leg to avoid combat, and another GI ran over an officer with his tank. The Russian Army released 100 national guardsmen who refused orders. Another soldier told a reporter that “none of us wanted this war.”

If soldiers on both sides refused to fight, they could end the war.  WWI and WWII led to revolutions in Russia and China. The role of the armed forces was instrumental for their victories; soldiers mutinied against their ruling classes and refused to attack the revolutionaries. However, this is not inevitable. Successful revolutions require people’s commitment to egalitarianism and anti-racism, and the organization of workers, students, and soldiers into a party.

This article recounts the GI rebellions against the War in Vietnam. Later articles will cover other wars during the 20th Century. Soldiers from Ukraine and Russia must follow these heroic examples to end the war.

Continue reading “Soldiers Must Refuse to Fight to End theWar”