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Friday, January 8, 2016
Domestic Terrorism: Profit driven politicians poison Flint, Union leaders do nothing.
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Some years ago I was in Flint Michigan visiting some autoworker friends of mine. I spoke at a gathering in a local bar later that evening and talked of how special it was for me to be in this historic American city. In Flint during 1936 and in to 1937, autoworkers occupied the auto plants. They refused to come out. Their answer to the governor’s threats of bringing in the troops was that they were prepared to die there. They bloodied the nose of the most powerful corporation in the world.
Flint today is one of the poorest cities in America and unlike the 1930’s is about 56% black. It is an historic place.
In 2014, in an effort to cut costs and reduce the city’s deficit, Rick Snyder, a Venture capitalist and Michigan’s governor decided to change Flint’s water supply from the Detroit water system and the waters of Lake Huron, to the Flint River which is known to be highly polluted and with a very high salt content. The result was that the city’s old pipes were corroded by the salt and lead leaked in to the drinking water system. Thousand of people, including young children, have been exposed to lead poisoning but what is worse is that Snyder and his staffers were aware of the crisis six months before a state of emergency was declared in October. “Families in Flint were forced to drink lead-tainted water while the administration scoffed at their concerns and cries for help. An entire generation of Michiganders now face an uncertain future because of Republican cuts to essential and life-giving services.”, Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan said in a statement issued Jan 7th.
It’s come to light through internal e mails that Snyder and his high-level staffers were aware of the lead poisoning six months before the administration declared a state of emergency. “These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight),,” Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore wrote at the time.
The calls for Snyder’s resignation, arrest and jailing are mounting. As far back as February 2015 tests revealed “alarming levels of lead in a Flint home” but the city’s officials publicly told residents all was well and there was no threat. Activists didn’t take that lying down and contacted Virginia Tech. They were sent test kids and went door to door. The results revealed what they suspected---poison water. Pediatrician, Mona Hanna-Attisha, did a study of her own and found lead levels in children had doubled or even tripled since the city changed its water supply. "In five years, these kids are going to have problems with special education.” She has stated, “….They're going to have cognition problems, in seven to 10 years, they're going to have behavioral problems."
This is yet another catastrophic market driven disaster as Snyder and his cronies protecting profits and investors attempted to reduce the deficit on the backs of workers and the residents of Flint. We have had the poisoning of the river in West Virginia, the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas and numerous other disasters like the BP spill where government regulators allowed energy companies to write the rules for deep water drilling. GM knew problems with the ignition systems of its cars resulted in more than 100 deaths and no one has gone to jail for that. The Flint catastrophe and other politically driven examples of domestic terrorism against the American population, placing profits before people, have caused far more misery, death and destruction than any of the foreign terrorist groups we are warned about.
Here in California we have a state of emergency down south as a natural gas leak continues to threaten the residents of the Porter Ranch area just outside Los Angeles.
Writing on this blog a week ago, Jack Gerson reminded us that “Climate change is first and foremost a social problem, rooted in what capitalist society values (profits) and prioritizes (profitability). The longer capitalism runs the world, the more intense climate change will be”.
These words are not meant to scare, they are an accurate assessment of the world as it is at the moment and that profits always come first. The decisions of a venture capitalist with power over a community, has just poisoned a town of 100,000 people and did so with reckless abandon. These politicians didn’t listen, they didn’t care, they did what they will always do; they placed the needs of investors and their profits before the safety of 100,000 people.
The cowardly role of the Trade Union Officialdom.
Melisa Hays, a Flint resident and water activist with wateryoufightingfor spoke to Facts For Working People about the crisis. She said that they have been drinking bottled water for months. Consistent help has come from a charity, the Mission of Hope. The resistance in Flint has all been community driven, poor people and citizen driven she said. It was them that approached the university to challenge the dishonest assurances of the politicians with real facts.
I asked about the trade union leadership. What are they doing? They have “stayed out of it” she said although the activists approached them several times. They talked to her like she was stupid, she recalled. This is nothing new, the trade union leadership see the mobilization of their potentially powerful forces as only leading to chaos and a threat to the relationship they have built with the bosses’ based on labor peace. They dread a victory and avoid it at all costs.
This is standard procedure for the union hierarchy. They are an entrenched pro business clique that has not simply failed to halt decades of attacks on workers but have cooperated with them; their actions in all thee cases are criminal betrayals of working people. They organized the usual toothless protests when the Michigan’s right-to-work law was passed in 2013. The law prohibits new contracts from requiring union dues as a condition of employment. Similar legislation aimed at the public sector prohibits school districts from deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks In the wake of this 14.5 percent of wage and salary workers in Michigan were members of a union in 2014, down from 16.3 percent in 2013, according to the BLS.
Throughout the US there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of local community struggles that are a result of the austerity agenda of the 1%. The resistance to police brutality led by the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-fracking campaigns, environmental struggles, low waged struggles and campaigns around health care, racism and sexism are everywhere. These campaigns must be brought together in one united movement against austerity and the capitalist offensive. Ms Hays described herself as an activist stressing that she wasn’t before but she is now. I used to stress to my co-workers on the question of union activity that the boss is our greatest ally in that regard. The US 1% is determined to drive US workers and middle class to conditions that prevailed prior to the great upsurges that built industrial unionism in the 1930’s and that broke the back of Jim Crow in the 1950’s and 60’s. They will not stop; it is up to us to stop them.
The rank and file of the unions must confront the class collaborationist leadership they have today and build a fighting alternative. The union leadership in Flint should be placing the tremendous resources at their disposal at the service of the communities fighting the water battles. Union members, those that pay the dues are also resident of Flint and have suffered drastic setbacks over the past period. These struggles and these communities must be linked up and confront the political agents of the banks as one united force.
I am a Green Party member and will be voting for Jill Stein in this year’s elections if she is the chosen candidate which appears most likely. Where is the Green Party on this? I want to make a direct appeal to Ms Stein to take the first plane to Flint and join with the citizens of that city in their struggle. Is there a way she can, with activists from Flint, also visit the Porter Ranch site of the gas leak in CA, holding rally’s and press conferences as well as linking the two struggles? I also read in Oklahoma there are daily earthquakes due to fracking. There is potential for building a genuine movement against austerity everywhere.
If she if she hasn't already, I hope that Kshama Sawant, the socialist member of the Seattle city council will, perhaps in conjunction with Jill Stein, participate in a campaign of this nature.
Rank and File union members in Flint should approach the folks in the wateryoufightingfor campaign and any other community activist groups and help with money and resources. None of these battles should be fought and cannot be won, in isolation. The concerns of the two sections of society, work and our community must be joined and the full weight of working people’s power brought to bear. Flint should be shut down.Here are two other local sites connected to this issue Flint Water Scandal and Flint Water Disaster.
A protest about the water crisis is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday in front of Flint City Hall, 1101 S. Saginaw St., and is expected to include activists from Detroit, Ms Mays said.