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Vol. 81/No. 34      September 18, 2017

(lead article)

Workers face deepening social crisis after Harvey

The death toll from Hurricane Harvey is over 60, with more likely to be found. Tens of thousands of homes and farms in Texas are damaged or destroyed. Hundreds of thousands are still in shelters, relatives’ homes or hotels, not knowing when, or if, they will be able to return home. Floodwaters are contaminated from chemical and oil leaks in area refineries and plants. This unfolding social crisis is not a “natural” disaster. It’s manmade, caused by capitalism’s unceasing drive for profits.

Most capitalist politicians and media mouthpieces try to dodge the question of responsibility for the social catastrophe, saying it was just a big storm no one could do anything about. But the truth is coming out.

For years government authorities knew that storms like this were coming, yet they continued to promote construction, even in known flood zones. In their search for profits they eagerly paved over wetlands and prairies that absorb floodwaters to put up the roads, homes, parking lots and businesses. And when government agencies learned that Hurricane Harvey was coming, they did little to get food, medicine and other basic necessities ready and in place.

The social crisis continues to unfold as the waters recede. The storm wrecked at least 300,000 cars and trucks, making getting to work, salvaging possessions from flooded homes and apartments, and obtaining aid even more of a challenge.

Thirteen toxic waste “superfund” sites were flooded and a half-dozen oil tanks or more were damaged. Dozens of broken sewage systems added fecal material to the floodwaters.

Texas officials say that more than 12,700 homes were destroyed, and some 200,000 more damaged.

Thousands of cattle were scattered by the storm and ranchers have scrambled to get them to safer ground. Ryan Ashcraft, a helicopter pilot who herds cattle from the air, told the New York Times that “if people lose all of their cattle they’d go broke and have to sell their land.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved $114 million in aid for 161,000 people, out of more than 507,000 applications. But this is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

The owners of the Linda Vista apartment complex in Houston told tenants that late fees would not be waived and anyone who didn’t pay their rent would be locked out of their apartments.

While the storm damaged the homes of rich and poor alike, its impact is not the same. The Washington Post reported that some of Houston’s worst flooding was in Greenspoint, a mostly Black and Latino neighborhood built “not only in floodplains but floodways,” specifically designed to channel floodwaters.

The wealthy and upper middle class whose homes were damaged are already hiring contractors and starting to rebuild. But for working people, the vast majority of whom have no flood or storm insurance, Houston and other communities devastated by the storm will never be the same.

The one thing that prevented even more deaths and devastation was the widespread human solidarity of working people.

For the first few days of the storm, workers used kayaks, canoes, fishing boats, high trucks, even jet skis to rescue thousands who were stranded and abandoned by government authorities. Thousands of people showed solidarity to their fellow workers by donating supplies and time to the shelters. It wasn’t until three days after the storm hit that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott mobilized the Texas National Guard’s 12,000 troops and asked the Defense Department to allow U.S. soldiers to join in rescue efforts.

Revolutionary Cuba shows the way
There is an example for how the threat from natural disasters can be met — revolutionary Cuba.

By Sept. 5, Category 5 Hurricane Irma was beginning to roll across the Caribbean. Almost everywhere workers are being told the same thing the people of Houston were — you’re on your own and you should find some way to get out of harm’s way.

It’s completely different in Cuba. Workers and farmers made a revolution there in 1959 and built their own government, which puts human needs before private profit. They were transformed through the revolutionary struggle and mobilizations since to confront the relentless attacks of Washington, which despises their example.

Days before Irma threatens to hit Cuba, the government had already mobilized its National Defense Council to marshal the resources needed to “prevent damage and the loss of human life.”

They will do as they have done in past storms — use the full strength of the army and a mobilized and disciplined population to prepare to withstand the storm, evacuate people to safety and rebuild immediately after.

In Santiago de Cuba, the government organized to transfer all dialysis patients out of threatened areas so there would be no danger of any interruption in their care. And they moved 1,031 pregnant women for the same reason.

As they work to keep people informed of preparations, the government says, “Ask for help whenever you need it.” And then they add, “Give help whenever you can.”
Related articles:
Cuba: Example for toilers facing monsoons in South Asia
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