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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Criminal capitaists

A coupe of news stories say something about our “justice” system.

British Petroleum has just plead guilty to criminal charges of killing 11 workers and causing massive pollution in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago. They will pay $4.5 billion in fines and other payments for 14 charges including manslaughter and obstruction of justice (they initially lied about the scale of the disaster), but the company will not go to jail and it will not face the death penalty. (A couple of executives do face more charges personally, though.)

That’s how it is when bosses kill workers in their mad pursuit for greater profit and control. At best, they pay some money, but somehow their corporate “personhood” never leads to the company being shut down or its top executives going to jail. That sort of punishment is reserved for actual people — those of us who work for a living, and are for the most part incapable of wreaking the sort of havoc BP was responsible for her.

Meanwhile, the boss press is blaming the Bakery workers union for Hostess’ decision to close up shop, firing thousands of striking workers. Management ran the company into the ground, and then demanded that workers give up their pensions, their benefits, their pay and their working conditions in order to return the firm to profitability. The Teamsters blinked, capitulating to management’s demands for deep concessions, but the bakery workers (who took concessions in their last contract) had had enough of management’s bungling arrogance and insisted on a negotiated settlement.

So management took the company into bankruptcy, and now plans to sell off its assets and throw 18,500 workers on the unemployment lines. Managers, however, will continue drawing paychecks and probably even bonuses for months or years to come as they wind up the companies affairs, sell off its brands (the company makes Ding Dongs, Twinkies and Wonderbread, among other inedible crap) and equipment, and generally fatten themselves on the corpse of the jobs they have destroyed. It would make more sense to turn the company over to the workers, who after all created the assets, then to leave them in the hands of the wealth-destroyers, but such a prospect is unthinkable to the well-paid corporate lawyers who get appointed to judgeships.

Such are the wonders of corporate personhood. These “people” can kill workers and destroy communities, and walk away with pockets stuffed with cash. We are left to pick up the pieces.

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Not a dime’s worth of difference

Earlier in the campaign, the Democrats were working to persuade us that Romney was a heartless corporate plunderer who would plunge the nation into wars, slash social services, endanger our health, and generally be a disaster for working people. All true, of course, but somewhat beside the point.

Over the weekend, Obama conceded that there’s almost no difference between him and Romney. Obamacare, he noted, was almost identical to the health plan Romney put into place in Massachusetts. His economic stimulus looked a lot like Bush’s. They both support the war in Afghanistan. They both want to cut taxes on corporations. There are some differences, of course. Obama wants to tax the very richest a little bit more than at present, though still at historically very low levels. Romney wants to get the government back into people’s bedrooms. But both are committed to government that does what it was designed to do — to keep workers in their place and transfer wealth to the rich.

The one thing you can say for Obama is that he’s been relatively honest about this. He openly announced his intent to dramatically increase troop levels in Afghanistan, and he’s done so. He said during the last campaign that he favored government assassinations of terrorists — the only thing he didn’t make clear was that this extended to teenagers suspected not of terrorism themselves, but merely of propaganda. He was always clear about wanting to transfer massive sums to the banks and corporations. He made it quite clear in the last campaign that he was against real health care reform, and instead wanted a program to enrich the insurance companies and extend coverage a little bit.

There were some promises he didn’t keep, such as immigration reform (instead he’s deporting more paperless workers than any previous administration) or the employee free choice act. But the Democrats always promise labor law reform, and they never deliver it. When I was young they used to promise to repeal the Taft-Hartley slave labor act, but when in office would instead take out Taft-Hartley orders against workers fighting for their rights. Now the business unionists don’t even dare dream of getting Taft-Hartley; they’re reduced to begging for the right to preserve bargaining rights. If this trend continues, soon the standard for getting an AFL-CIO endorsement will be an agreement to refrain from enslaving workers.

Two and a half billion dollars have gone into this campaign so far. Most of course came from the wealthy, but many millions came from workers and our unions. We need to take that money, and more importantly our time, and organize to win through our own efforts the rights that will never be granted us by the bosses and their government.

ADDENDUM:

As is so often the case, things are worse than I realized. Across the entire 2012 electoral farce, the Center for Responsive Politics says (based on official campaign spending filings, more of which are being worked on as I type), some $6 billionĀ  was spent. The Forward (once a Yiddish-language socialist daily, but increasingly part of the Democratic Party mainstream) has the good taste to be sickened. “What a waste,” they editorialize, going on to catalog more worthy projects to which the funds could have been put. The Republican speaker of the U.S. house spend $20 million on his re-election campaign — and he didn’t even have an opponent on the ballot! The Forward suggests the money would be better spent on charity or good works. With $6 billion one could eliminate malaria from Africa (where it kills thousands each year) and have money left over for hundreds of schools and hospitals. Or one could treat more than 7 million AIDS sufferers with antiretroviral drugs. If one pulled money from other wasteful and destructive projects, the possibilities for addressing real problems are endless.

But our rulers would rather spend the money buying renting polytricksters, and too many labor and other activists have been sucked into a pointless and ultimately futile competition to see how many millions of dollars we can pour down this rathole of politics as usual. We’ll never manage to spend more than the Sheldon Adelsons of the world. (He’s a gambling magnate who poured many millions into Newt Gingrich’s doomed campaign for the presidential nomination, and then millions more on the Romney campaign. Not to mention other races…) The means to build an abundant society are already at hand, as Kropotkin noted so long ago; the question is whether we will seize them and put them to that purpose, or whether we will allow the exploiters to continue business as usual.