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The true face of capitalism (editorial)
‘You’re on your own,’ NY mayor tells workers during storm
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 32      September 12, 2011


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(lead article, editorial)
The true face of capitalism
‘You’re on your own,’ NY mayor tells workers during storm
Left, AP photo/Mary Altaffer; Right, AP photo/Mike Groll
Left, government closed public transportation at noon August 27 even though Tropical Storm Irene was not scheduled to land in New York City until the following morning. Right, Alex Kraft, Sandra Kraft, and Brianna Floyd carry belongings as they leave Far Rockaway, Queens, for shelter in Manhattan under orders by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to evacuate by 5 p.m. Working people were largely left to fend for themselves.

The true face of capitalism. That’s what was shown by the actions of New York’s City Hall and other local, state, and federal bodies in face of hurricane and then tropical storm Irene.

The propertied ruling families have an easier time masking that brutal face when conditions seem relatively normal. When they’re not—whether under the impact of natural events like Irene, or the global economic and social crisis accelerating since 2007—the class exploitation, inequalities, and political rule underlying the dictatorship of capital are more undisguised.

“Everybody’s left to clean up on their own,” Pedro Beltrán, a construction worker, told a Militant reporting team Sunday afternoon, as he helped a friend whose basement apartment had flooded in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. “Just like people had to figure out how to evacuate on their own.”

But that’s the only way an evacuation can be carried out under capitalism—as an individual responsibility, not an organized mobilization based on social solidarity. As a matter of compliance with bourgeois laws, not voluntary cooperation to prevent deaths and injuries and minimize disruption of people’s lives.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made no bones about it in declaring the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation of more than 370,000 people August 25. “We are today issuing a mandatory—I repeat the word mandatory—evacuation order,” the mayor announced. And he did so in a tone of class contempt registering the view of working people held by the capitalist class whose interests he and other Democratic and Republican politicians represent (and, in his particular case, the class he is also part of).

“Let’s stop thinking this is something we can play with,” Bloomberg said. “Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish, and it’s against the law.”

Then, after he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the complete shutdown of all New York City subway and bus service at noon on Saturday—five hours before the deadline to leave—Bloomberg added, “If you want to evacuate later on, you’re going to be on your own. You’ll have to walk, or you’re going to have to find some way to use a car or a taxi.”

In the view of the capitalist rulers and their political spokespeople, in fact, workers are so stupid, so recalcitrant, that it was necessary to twist facts and fuel fears in order to coax them to evacuate. “Nature is dangerous. Pay attention,” Bloomberg scolded on Sunday. The news article in this issue cites other examples.

For the capitalist ruling families and top government and military officials, Irene was also a chance for a trial run of so-called “Homeland Security” plans they’ve been putting in place since the Clinton administration in the 1990s.

More than 7,600 National Guard troops were deployed along the East Coast and in Puerto Rico, according to a U.S. Air Force news service, including the largest National Guard mobilization in New York since September 11, 2001.

These forces were under the command of officers trained by the U.S. Northern Command, established in 2002 as one of the Pentagon’s seven global military commands. According to its website, USNORTHCOM’s “civil support mission” includes not only “domestic disaster relief operations” but also “counter-drug operations and managing the consequences of a terrorist event employing a weapon of mass destruction.”

Key but unstated among these “civil support missions” is preparations by the ruling families to use their armed forces in years and decades ahead to quell struggles by workers and farmers on U.S. soil to defend our living standards, job conditions and political rights.

As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said August 30, the operations carried out by Washington in connection with Irene “reflected a lot of training, preparation, exercises, equipment, provisions, all of which by the way came in part out of 9/11.”

Perhaps it was one of those “exercises” that had to be aborted in New York when, as reported elsewhere in this issue, repeated statements by Bloomberg and Metropolitan Transit Authority chief Jay Walder that subway service would not resume until long after rush hour Monday morning suddenly gave way to the announcement that trains would be running well before rush hour. Behind-the-scenes arm-twisting by employers and businesses facing another day of lost sales, labor, and profits seemed to trump further “training.”

The ruling families and their government can and do try to prepare for the wars and class battles they know are coming. But no social plan to defend the interests of the big working majority of the population is possible under capitalism.

Imagine what would have happened if Irene had maintained hurricane-force winds that hit New York City. Look at what is happening to hundreds of thousands of working people devastated by flooding in towns and small cities across the Northeast. Remember the deaths and destruction inflicted on hundreds of thousands in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in 2005 due to the social crisis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

This is the true face of capitalism.

It is a powerful argument for why the working class and its allies must build a revolutionary social movement able to conquer workers power and overturn the dictatorship of capital.

It is a powerful argument for workers using that state power to nationalize the land and housing, so working people are no longer evicted, foreclosed, or made to bear the burden on their own of rebuilding or repairing homes damaged or destroyed by flooding or by winds. And no longer forced to live on floodplains and river banks, while high-income professionals and other middle-class and bourgeois layers have their homes in safer locations.

There is one country in the world today—Cuba—where workers and farmers made a socialist revolution half a century ago and brought to power a government of their own. As a result of the organized and disciplined social solidarity made possible by that proletarian revolution, only 30 people have died in 16 major hurricanes there over the past decade, while more than 40 died in the United States as result of Irene alone.

By emulating that road in the United States, not only will working people no longer be “on our own” in face of natural disasters. We will have in our hands the necessary political instrument to fight to end, once and for all, the imperialist wars, exploitation, racism, oppression of women, and destruction of the earth’s environment that capitalism inevitably produces.
Related articles:
The true face of capitalism (news article)
You’re on your own,’ NY mayor tells workers during storm
‘No one even knocked on our door,’ says Brooklyn worker

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