Israel: More Right and Too Little left

by Ellen Isaacs

January 19, 2023

There is much consternation about Israel’s move sharply rightward under Netanyahu’s new government, but it is really just a move to more overt fascism, by which is meant rule by force without any pretense of democracy or respect for human rights. The change is really minimal as Israel has created a society of inequality, racial and gender discrimination and has unleashed terror upon Palestinians since its founding in 1948. This article will discuss some of the ways in which these conditions are manifest and how any substantive change will demand unity between Arab and Jewish workers within all of historic Palestine and most likely with workers of the world. Unity not only to struggle together but to build a non-racist, non-exploitative society beyond capitalism.

Continue reading “Israel: More Right and Too Little left”

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.

Continue reading “Stolen: Native American Children and Lands”

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”

Climactic

by Ellen Isaacs

November 20, 2022

There is nothing new to say

Except that it is astounding, it is horrifying, it is revelatory that

Those who began it, who knew what they were doing, who now know

That the warming world, their enterprise, will kill itself and us too.

And still they barely act.

We will not say anything new

Except that we will omit the part

About how it might be averted, might reverse itself

Might not destroy our home —

Unless we destroy the destroyers.

Let’s not forget that scientists noted that something was amiss as early as the mid-1800s. In 1824, Joseph Fourier calculated that an earth-sized planet, at our distance from the sun, ought to be much colder, and in 1856 Eunice Foote discovered that carbon dioxide and water vapor were trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. By 1886, Svante Arrhenius predicted that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase surface temperature; by 1956 climate change was predicted.1

.

Continue reading “Climactic”

THE FIRST BLACK PANTHER MOVIE: A Review

by a retired teacher, 11-14-2022

Yes, movies are entertaining and fun, but they also convey important viewpoints about life.

Undoubtedly, we won’t all agree about the ideas in a movie. I’m sharing this review to offer some thoughts that you may wish to consider while thinking about the implied themes in the brand new Wakanda Forever film. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Here’s the original review:

For sure – as compared to many thousands of movies with no Black characters; or with just a few Black characters, all depicted as subservient; or with many Black characters but none given depth, complexity and leadership on the world scene – Black Panther is a breath of fresh air.

And it’s truly pleasing to hear about that day on the set, with hundreds of Black actors on the mountainside in a joyous mood between takes, celebrating the fact that so many actors of color have been employed in a major film, in a story about the most technologically advanced civilization on the planet. And it’s great to see women in leading roles: powerful, insightful, and on the cutting edge of scientific breakthroughs.

Continue reading “THE FIRST BLACK PANTHER MOVIE: A Review”

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.

Continue reading “Covid Protections- Not War!”

The West Must Stop Blocking Negotiations Between Ukraine and Russia

Secretaries of State and Defense Blinken and Austin visit Kyiv in April, 2022

by Vijay Prashad

October 27, 2022

Editors’ Note: This article presents evidence that the US scuttled efforts to negotiate an end to the war in order to see Russia weakened. As many thousands of Russians and Ukrainians die, as the possibility of wider or nuclear war grows, and as billions are spent that are needed for human needs, this information strengthen the basis for an anti-war movement. Please note that the links do not work on this site, but can be followed by going to article on Counterpunch at https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/10/27/the-west-must-stop-blocking-negotiations-between-ukraine-and-russia/

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This war has been horrendous, though it does not compare with the terrible destruction wrought by the U.S. bombardment of Iraq (“shock and awe”) in 2003. In the Gomel region of Belarus that borders Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian diplomats met on February 28 to begin negotiations toward a ceasefire. These talks fell apart. Then, in early March, the two sides met again in Belarus to hold a second and third round of talks. On March 10, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia met in Antalya, Türkiye, and finally, at the end of March, senior officials from Ukraine and Russia met in Istanbul, Türkiye, thanks to the initiative of Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On March 29, Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said, “We are pleased to see that the rapprochement between the parties has increased at every stage. Consensus and common understanding were reached on some issues.” By April, an agreement regarding a tentative interim deal was reached between Russia and Ukraine, according to an article in Foreign Affairs.

Continue reading “The West Must Stop Blocking Negotiations Between Ukraine and Russia”

Never Throw Away the Key: The Compassionate Radicalism of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. A Book Review

by Joseph G. Ramsey, 10-17-2022

The editors welcome this article from Joe Ramsey who analyzes Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. He argues that we must extend our compassion and beliefs that people can change to those whose situations lead to harmful actions. He states that: “the hierarchical sorting of people into the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ invariably draws upon and contributes to the toxic legacies of nationalism, race, class, as well as gender, homophobia, ableism, and more. But, as Stevenson makes clear, it is not simply abhorrent as an expression of such injustice. It is fundamentally dehumanizing and alienating for all involved, and corrosive to the potential for positive social change in general.” Ramsey’s review contributes to the discussion of abolition, restorative justice, and mitigation. Is it possible to treat people with compassion under capitalism? Do we want to forgive perpetrators of crimes against the working class, whether police or fascist rulers? Can we abolish or mitigate racism under capitalism? Read on. The Editors.

————————————————————–

Our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing.  Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.”

                -Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

                    “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”*

                                       -Terence, African Roman playwright & former slave

                                               (*favorite ‘maxim’ of Karl Marx)

Far too many people in the United States are officially condemned to have their futures cut short.[1]  The most extreme of these cases are found on Death Row, where thousands now sit, sentenced to be executed by the state—some likely for crimes they did not even commit.[2]  To these we must add another 55,000 people who languish permanently in US prisons, sentenced to “life” without even the possibility of parole.[3]  They too are condemned to die, behind bars, if not today, then eventually—no matter what they do or say, no matter how unfair the events that landed them in prison in the first place.[4]

What does it mean for a society to condemn so many, so finally? 

Continue reading “Never Throw Away the Key: The Compassionate Radicalism of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. A Book Review”