Tuesday, January 14, 2014

West Virginia disaster is market driven


Richard Mellor
Afscme Loccal 444, retired.

The video above gives more attention than the average media outlet to the disaster in West Virginia where a toxic chemical was leaked in to the local water supply.  We have earlier pieces on this blog about this.

These disasters just keep coming and as we have explained before, they are not accidents in the sense that they weren't preventable or occurred despite stringent measures taken by those in power, politicians, community leaders, corporate bosses etc.

The BP spill, the mine disasters, the factory fires in Bangladesh, all these are a product of the market; they are a direct result of decisions taken by human beings in power; the capitalist class through one or the other of their two parties makes these decisions. It is not an accident for example that there are only 2200 OSHA inspectors for 8 million workplaces and as As Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen pointed out with regard to the explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas last year:
“The chemical industry has been one of the most effective lobby groups in this regard. In the 1970s, for example, the industry lobbied Congress to prohibit OSHA from regularly inspecting workplaces with fewer than 10 employees in industries with low reported injury rates. Fertilizer plants are included on the list of exempted industries. This may be why OSHA hadn't inspected the West Fertilizer plant since 1985. If they put profit before people, and allow greed or indifference to put lives at risk, they should be punished”
The plant that leaked this toxic chemical in to the water supply in West Virginia had not been inspected in over 20 years and its safety record is abysmal.  As the Charleston (WV) gazette pointed out last week, "At the same time, shrinking revenues and declining investments in public infrastructure have led more and more small communities to contract with private companies like West Virginia American Water to provide drinking water services.".

The savage attacks on public services, the privatization binge, is being carried out with the cooperation of the two Wall Street parties, Democrats and Republicans. When I was active in Afscme in the 90's we were fighting off privatization and welfare to work then.  Al Gore, a darling of the liberals and concerned environmentalist was telling us how important it was to have him as a friend.  He told organized Labor's hierarchy at the AFL-CIO convention in 1996

"As employers and unions, as neighbors and friends, we can help each other by creating family-friendly workplaces and creating strong communities where neighbors can rely on one another in times of need."

But Gore boasted to his real friends and class colleagues in Business Week the previous year:
"In one year we downsized by 100,000 employees.  We have locked in place plans to eliminate another 200,000 workers.  That's a bold start."  BW 1-23-95 Clever bugger, he knows most workers don't read it.

So while it is somewhat refreshing to watch left liberal sources like Democracy Now, they can be somewhat frustrating and at times demoralizing because they put forward no real solution to the crises we face and don't criticize the failed efforts of liberals no matter how well intentioned. 

Amy Goodman interviews Erin Brokovitch who held a Town Hall meeting in the Charleston area Monday night.  She asked Brokovitch if she had any advice for the residents of the area who can only flush the toilet with their water, nothing else.

Ms Brokovitch said that in her work she sees "every single day situations like this.".

She said that organization was important which it is of course  because "communities seem helpless" and that people "can't get through to their legislators."  She pointed out that new technology helps as people can "exchange information" and that they can "reach out" through Facebook pages, texting  and the like, so that they can be "gathering info" and start "banding together."

I was waiting for something concrete, some real explanation as to why this keeps happening, especially from Goodman.  I thought I might get something when Ms Brokovitch talked about the "Laissez Faire attitude on safety"  although she wasn't specific as to who or what force possessed this attitude.  She goes on as you'll see in the video to say that she's not sure "we've learned anything" and that at "Some point we've got to change how we do business."

Well I would agree with the last quote especially but who are the "we" and what changes are we talking about?

The video ends about there so I don't know if Amy Goodman offered some advice of her own but the first thing we have to raise is the political power.  The governor is a Democrat who is in the pocket of the coal industry by all accounts. He even jumped to the defense of his backers and blamed the chemical industry outright.  There was no assault on this party and its politicians who allow these situations to exist. It is not an accident some thug can own an industry like this or that it can function free of oversight.  If the Democratic Party were the party that represents workers interests as many left liberals claim, Governors like West Virginia's Earl Ray Tomblin and Jerry Brown here in California would be expelled from it.

Amy Goodman pointed to Brokovitch winning the largest lawsuit against a corporation in US history but so what. This doesn't stop them.  No more than it stops the bankers who have forked over billions for their role in the Great Recession and housing market collapse to avoid jail time. Their profits are too vast for that to bother them. A solution that will work is to take such vital public services out of private hands.  Even within a capitalist economy, under the direction of capitalist parties like ours, nationalization would be a step forward, could lessen the frequency of events like this and West Texas.  But public ownership in the most democratic sense, by workers, consumers, engineers, scientists and all those who use and produce these services is the only real answer. In this way production can be planned based on social needs as opposed to profits.  In a for profit economy, profits come first we should not be so naive to think safety does.

So I get a bit frustrated when I watch these alternative outlets as they leave the viewer/reader with no way forward.  It appears to me that Democracy Now and publications like In These Times and Mother Jones, the Nation etc are simply muckrakers.  I accept that they publish information that is useful, but we need more than that or it adds to the helplessness people feel, that feeling that you can't change city hall. Anyway, most workers do not read these publications.

Reports like these should wage a savage war against the liberal wing of the capitalist class represented by the Democrats.  They should make a stand on the need for a mass workers' party as an alternative to the two capitalist parties and call for the labor leadership to break from their Democratic friends.  These media outlets report on a development like the Sawant campaign that stands for independent political action and a united working class movement but they don't help to advance the idea particularly.

I accept that they are not socialist outfits, that they more accurately represent the views of the liberal middle class.  But Sawant's success in Seattle shows that there is a mood for change out there. And environmental catastrophe is a major issue on people's minds.  This spill in to the Elk River will affect the Ohio River also as it runs in to it.

I don't want to burst bubbles but at times they leave me groping for more.

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