Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Apache railway: Vulture capitalists play monopoly.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

One obstacle activists of all stripes have to overcome is that which Christopher Hill, the English historian describes as the “Stop in the mind”. He was directing this at the reformers challenging the absolute rule of the monarchy and for a real say in parliament and governance during the English Revolution. They were heroic figures but couldn’t overcome the dominant ideology of the time embedded in their own consciousness; this was the Divine Right of Kings.  The king was king by god’s will. 

Believing this they could only go so far unless they overcame their own beliefs. I always imagine that Cromwell suggested they cut off the king's head and see what would happen. They did and a new day was born.

I am reminded of this by a short news snippet buried at the bottom of the page in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. 

It seems that a US Bankruptcy Court judge in Arizona has allowed a bunch of investors and a local landowner to purchase the Apache Railway, a 55 mile railroad that was built in 1917 and links the small community of Snowflake Arizona with a bigger line in Holbrook in Navajo County. The railroad employs 21 people and is an economic lifeline to the community it serves.

The railroad’s former owners Hackman Capital Management, a California based gang of capitalists, declared bankruptcy I assume. Who knows exactly what that means to the investors and speculators whose decisions affect the everyday lives of entire communities, but we do know that Hackman owns, 270 facilities throughout the United States, totaling approximately 25 million square feet and over 10,000 acres of developable land.”  According to its website.  Hackman also bought the remains of Hostess brands assets at bankruptcy auction for $62.5 million in 2013. When profit cannot be made, value in the form of fixed assets is scrapped, workers thrown on to the dole line.

Hackman took ownership of the railway after it bought an empty paper mill near the town in 2013. I guess it came with the mill, was not a profitable venture, so the vultures used bankruptcy court to get rid of it. It could have been a sausage factory or any other potential asset. Its social use value, the affect on communities if it were closed is of no consequence to these people.

So what should be a public asset and service now passes in to the hands of another group of investors and landlords and the future of the workers’ jobs and the railroad depends entirely on whether or not these faceless people make any money out of it.

According to the media, the railroad serves only one customer, a hog farm.  But Snowflake has a population of more than 4000 people and whether it serves one industrial customer or not is not the point.  This railroad is a national treasure for one thing. It was built in 1917, it employs 21 people which is another, but the most important aspect of this is that any decisions about such matters should not be made by a bunch of vulture capitalists whose entire motive for their involvement is profit and personal gain. The previous owners did not buy the paper mill or acquire the railroad with the interests of the community at heart; they’re social parasites.

The local communities, people living, working and having their children in them should be heavily involved in a decision of this nature. They would have ideas about such an issue. We have no say in the politics that determines how our wealth is used in society.

And how much did the new owners pay for the railroad?  $7 million, a paltry sum by today’s standards.  A guy that plays baseball for a living earns more than that in a year.

That is peanuts to people like Michael Hackman who runs the capital outfit.  Some individuals like Hackman make ten times that in a year. The owners of the NFL, a non profit as far as I am aware, had a good year last year, each team, whose stadiums are normally built with public money received a $226 million bonus apiece.  The NFL’s  deals with CBS, NBC, ESPN and Fox, are worth roughly $30 billion through 2022.

Things will not be changed unless and until the US working class wakes from its long sleep and ensures society gets new managers.

That’s all I have to say about that.

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