the end of pindostan

COVID-19 spreads, deaths rise in Pindostan following return to work
Marcus Day, WSWS, May 25 2020

imageAuto workers leaving after the first work shift, Fiat Chrysler, Warren, Mich, May 18 2020
(Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)

The coronavirus continues to run rampant throughout factories and workplaces in Pindostan, even as federal, state and local governments are dispensing with any efforts to contain the pandemic, allowing businesses and economic activity to recommence. All 50 states have begun lifting shutdowns, with more restrictions set to expire at the end of May, in one week. Deaths could double or triple in the next two months as a result, reaching 200k to 300k by the end of July, according to the latest models by researchers at ICL. Their report warned:

We find no evidence that any state is approaching herd immunity or that its epidemic is close to over.

Millions are increasingly confronting workplaces that have been transformed into death traps. Tens of thousands of workers have already been infected with the coronavirus at grocery stores, meatpacking plants, Amazon warehouses and other industries that have continued to operate during the pandemic. Public health experts have warned that large enterprises where workers labor in close quarters are more vulnerable to becoming “super-spreading” vectors for the disease, a risk which vastly increased with the restart of the auto industry last week. Within just the first three days of the auto industry restarting and over 130,000 returning to work, new cases of COVID-19 were already confirmed at Ford’s Chicago Assembly and Dearborn Truck Assembly plants, and Lear Corporation’s seating plant in Hammond, Indiana, leading to multiple production disruptions at all three facilities. A worker reported to the WSWS that a case was also confirmed at Fiat Chrysler’s Warren Plant over the weekend, and others have previously reported cases, yet to be confirmed, at Magna Seating in Detroit and FCA Toledo Jeep in Ohio. Four workers had previously died from COVID-19 at Warren, and at least 27 FCA, Ford, GM and Hyundai workers have died in Pindostan overall. As the WSWS warned, the temperature checks and other screening measures lauded by the companies, the media and the United Auto Workers union did nothing to prevent those who were unknowingly infected and contagious at Ford and Lear from working alongside their coworkers for several days. A worker at the GM Components plant in Grand Rapids, Mich, told the WSWS:

I go back on Jun 1, and I think it’s too soon to be going back. They’re telling us if we feel sick, we have to go home without pay.  Before all this, we’d be sent home with pay, and they’ve changed it. If we’re sick, we’ve got to go into quarantine for 15 days. Does that mean we have to go without pay for 15 days? We still have to live. We’re coming into this building with no guarantees. I’m terrified.

The rapid emergence of new cases has already sparked renewed signs of unrest and opposition, with workers at the Ford Dearborn Plant downing tools Wednesday after learning of a case at their factory. The UAW has predictably responded not by admitting the return to work was premature, but rather by doubling down on its support for the grossly inadequate “safety protocols” worked out with the companies, attempting to convince its members to continue working. Speaking like a company spox, UAW President Rory Gamble said in an interview with WWJ radio Friday:

The first couple days went better than expected. We expected a few glitches along the way. We feel we have a really solid system in place. We’ve just got to tighten up controls on the application of it.

The coronavirus pandemic has continued to ravage workers at grocery stores, the vast majority of whom have been laboring on poverty wages and without sufficient protective equipment. Roughly 100 grocery workers have died from the virus and at least 5.5k have tested positive, according an analysis by the WaPo. Over 10k workers have either been infected or exposed to someone who has the virus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union. A number of grocery store chains have launched advertising campaigns promoting their “service to communities” and piously celebrating the bravery of workers, attempting to conceal the dark reality of unsafe conditions, low pay, coverup of cases, and victimization of critics. Raquel Salorio, a longtime worker at the Southern California grocery chain Ralph’s, told NPR:

People are suffering, people are dying, and they want us to dress up as superheroes. Our jobs matter, but our health matters more.

In a slap in the face to workers, some 40 grocery stores chains, including Kroger, one of the country’s largest, and its subsidiaries, will also be ending their hazard and “hero” pay raises and bonuses for workers at the end of the month. The WaPo, owned by billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose company also owns Whole Foods, reported over the weekend that a number of health officials have struggled to get grocery companies to accurately report data on new cases. A local health official in Massachusetts wrote to the state’s attorney general’s office:

We have had consistent problems with Walmart. They have a cluster of COVID cases among employees and have not been cooperative in giving us contact information or in following proper quarantine and isolation guidelines.

Explosive new outbreaks have emerged at meatpacking plants in recent days, underscoring the homicidal character of Trump’s executive order mandating that meatpacking plants remain open. Last week it emerged that nearly 600 workers at a Tyson chicken plant in Wilkes County, North Carolina tested positive for the virus, out of a total workforce of 2,224. The company shut just two of three facilities at the complex for deep cleaning after the results emerged. Most of the workers who tested positive reportedly showed no symptoms, in yet another indication of the insufficiency of temperature checks and other screening measures. Also last week, an eighth worker died at the JBS meat processing plant in Greeley, Colorado, one of the first such plants in the US to experience a major outbreak. The plant has the state’s largest cluster of cases, 366. As of May 21, there have been at least 15.8k COVID-19 cases tied to the meatpacking industry, affecting 193 plants in 32 states, and at least 63 deaths among workers, according to tracking by Pindostan Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The outbreaks have significantly contributed to the rapid increase in new cases in rural areas, which are generally poorer and have even greater lack of healthcare resources. An eighth known death of an Amazon worker due to COVID-19 was reported last week. The woman was employed at an Amazon warehouse, CLE2, in North Randall, Ohio, near Cleveland. Amazon has refused to disclose publicly the number of cases at its plants. Spox Lisa Levandowski said:

We don’t think that number is super-valuable.

Like many grocery companies, Amazon is ending its $2 an hour raise for workers at the end of the month. An Amazon spox announced:

With demand stabilized, next month we’ll return to our industry-leading starting wage of $15/hr. We’re proud that our minimum wage is more than what most others offer even after their temporary increases in recent months, and we hope they’ll do the right thing for the long term and bring their minimum pay closer to ours.

While cutting its workers’ pay back to the bare minimum, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has raked in unimaginable sums of money. His fortune has grown $30b over the past two months, a 26% rise, reaching an obscene $146.9b as of Friday. The criminal indifference to workers’ lives and safety by the super-rich, the corporations, the Trump administration and every level of government has provoked widespread anger and opposition, with over 220 strikes since Mar 1, according to Payday Report. The vast majority of the job actions have been launched independently of the pro-corporate trade unions, which have been focusing their efforts on justifying the companies’ decisions to continue operating and endangering workers. Far from responding to protests by providing workers with adequate protective equipment, carrying out mass testing, or implementing serious safety measures, employers have instead sought to stamp out the growing wave of struggles by firing and victimizing outspoken workers, including at Amazon, Target, Dollar General and elsewhere, encountering no significant opposition from the unions. Meanwhile, the organizations and regulatory agencies nominally tasked with overseeing workplace safety, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), continue to demonstrate that they function as little more than arms of the companies. OSHA has failed to issue a single COVID-related citation to an employer since the start of the pandemic. To protect against both the pandemic and the retribution of the companies, workers must take matters into their own hands and build new organizations, rank-and-file factory safety committees. As the SEP wrote in its statement last week:

These committees, democratically controlled by workers themselves, should formulate, implement, and oversee measures that are necessary to safeguard the health and lives of workers, their families and the broader community.

Such committees will take up as their objectives:

  • Control work hours and line speed
  • Guarantee personal protective equipment
  • Ensure safe and comfortable working conditions
  • Enforce regular testing
  • Demand universal health care and guaranteed income
  • Ensure the distribution of information
  • Ensure job security

Workers are confronting not just the indifference, negligence or viciousness of their individual employer, but rather the catastrophic failure and bankruptcy of an entire economic and political system—capitalism—which subordinates all considerations and important decisions to the profit interests of the financial oligarchy. The struggle for safe working conditions and resources to combat the pandemic is at the same time the struggle to break the dictatorship of the ruling elite over economic and political life, the struggle for socialism. The call for rank-and-file committees is eliciting growing support among workers. Tonya, a worker at Fiat Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, told the WSWS:

We have to form rank-and-file safety committees. We can’t rely on the union to have our backs. They’ve shown they side with the companies and don’t care about our well-being. It’s too soon to reopen the economy. This virus may never go away, but it can be more contained. We all should be tested. They want more people to die. Trump doesn’t give a damn and Governor Whitmer bowed to the corporations. They’re not trying to prevent death. They’re only interested in making money and opening back up. Now they are blaming China, which did more to contain COVID. This is damage control. Trump withheld information and thousands died. Workers see this talk about China is to cover up for all the deaths. Rank-and-file safety committees are necessary and needed. They will be widely welcomed by workers to protect us and our families.

Ron, a worker at Fiat Chrysler’s suburban Detroit Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, said:

It’s too soon to go back into the plants. The safety measures they put in place are not adequate. That’s why we need rank-and-file safety committees that focus primarily on our safety and well-being. We cannot rely on the UAW. It is time that workers take back our own power. Nothing moves without us. We cannot let the government and the companies sacrifice our safety for the benefit of billionaires and the stock markets. We’re busting our butts in these plants, and you have to be safe and be sure that you’re not bringing a deadly virus home to your children. The committees will catch the wind, and workers will join the movement for them because we’re not just numbers, we’re way more. We have to put consistent energy into this to change the tide. At the end of the day our lives shouldn’t be disregarded for money. We have to ask, ‘Who benefits and who doesn’t?’ We, the workers, have to defend ourselves.

Memorial Day in Pindostan: 100k COVID-19 deaths surpass combined combat fatalities in Korea and Vietnam
Barry Grey, WSWS, May 25 2020

Trump and Birx at a press conference in April. (Photo: Joyce N Boghosian/White House)

Today is Memorial Day, an official holiday to commemorate the soldiers killed in Pindostan’s wars abroad. On this Memorial Day, the consequences of the Trump administration’s indifference to the death of American workers and subordination of human life to corporate profits is summed up in the tragic milestone of more than 100k deaths from COVID-19. It is an extraordinary fact that the 100k people officially lost to the virus in barely two months already surpasses the combined combat death toll in the three-year Korean War (33,686) and the 11-year Pindo war in Vietnam (58,220). It is also nearly twice the number of Pindo soldiers killed in WW1 (53,402). This staggering loss of human life, however, is only the beginning. The Trump administration is marking the holiday by promoting activities in defiance of all social distancing rules, which will cause a sharp increase in infections and deaths. On Friday, Trump demanded that governors remove all restrictions on church services. He is promoting one quack “miracle” cure or unproven virus program after another, including boasting that he himself is taking hydroxychloroquine. On Saturday he had himself filmed playing golf, without a mask, as is the case with all his public appearances. On Sunday, Trump tweeted:

Cases, numbers and deaths are going down all over the Country!

The last is a flat-out lie. Nationally new cases continue at more than 20k/day, and new deaths at more than 1k/day. In hot spots such as Montgomery, Alabama, hospitals are overwhelmed. Patients showing up at Montgomery hospitals are being shipped to Birmingham. Over the weekend, the horrifying results played out across the country. With the support of much of the media, people are being misled and encouraged to engage in very dangerous activity. There were scenes of packed beaches and boardwalks, with hundreds and thousands of people mingling without masks or any other form of protection. Hundreds of party-goers crowded together in a pool at the Lake of Ozarks in Missouri, a state where nearly 12k have tested positive and more than 680 have died. In the same state which has reopened businesses including gyms and beauty salons, two stylists at a Great Clips hair salon tested positive for COVID-19. The two worked for days while carrying and spreading the virus, exposing a total of 140 customers and staff. Churches in many states took their lead from Trump and held in-person services. This follows a May 10 Mother’s Day service at a church in Butte County, California that exposed 160 people to the virus. One of the recent hot spots is Arkansas, where the number of new cases rose by 147 on Sunday, marking a new spike in the disease. Its Thug governor, Asa Hutchinson, has ordered the reopening of casinos, theaters, arenas, pools and water parks. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, he mentioned in passing a high school swim party in his state that has resulted in new infections. He dismissed the deadly consequences of his policies by saying:

We have to manage the risk, grow our economy.

At the same time, workers are being blackmailed into returning to work by being told they will be cut off of jobless benefits if they refuse. New cases are occurring in reopened auto plants, and last week the eighth Amazon worker thus far succumbed to COVID-19. Meanwhile, the companies are doing nothing to prevent infections and are concealing from their employees cases of infection within the workforce. Given the long gestation period before symptoms, the consequences will be seen in two weeks’ time. Last week, ICL released a study concluding that, based on the present course of reopening in Pindostan:

Deaths over the next two-month period could exceed current cumulative deaths by greater than two-fold.

That means the next two months in Pindostan could see an additional 200k deaths on top of the 100k that have already occurred. Such a death toll will accelerate the enormous economic, social and political crisis in Pindostan and throughout the world. The Bank of International Settlements, one of the leading institutions of finance capital, warned in a report released on Friday (“Dealing with Covid-19: understanding the policy choices”) that the surge in deaths will have immense economic consequences, due to its impact on GDP. It writes off the “trade-offs” involved in restarting production and the “costs and benefits of containment policies.” Whatever conclusions they draw, within the ruling class and the media there is an acceptance of the basic framework, that workers’ lives must be balanced against the “economy.” However, the “economy” is an abstraction which cloaks definite class interests. The “economy” that is being reopened over the bodies of workers and retirees is exclusively the economy of the corporations and the rich. What is being pursued is the ruthless class policy of a capitalist elite that faced a mounting crisis and looming collapse of its stock market bubble before the pandemic hit. It welcomed the deadly virus as a cover to carry out a new multitrillion-dollar transfer of wealth from the working class to the Wall Street swindlers and speculators.

Within this context, Trump has the benefit of articulating most ruthlessly the demands of the financial oligarchy. But it is not just a question of Trump and his administration. The Democrats, whatever their criticisms over tactics, fully support the bailout of Wall Street and are implementing the back-to-work campaign in states controlled by Demagog governors throughout the country. The ruling class in Pindostan, and the same can be said of the ruling classes of Europe, South America and most of Asia, is guilty of criminality on a massive scale. The level of death and suffering is the result of a conspiracy against the people. The broad mass of the working class opposes a premature return to work. A recent poll by ABC News and Ipsos showed that Pindos, by a 30% margin, are resistant to reopening the country. And this is despite the loss of nearly 40m jobs and increasingly desperate conditions, without any serious relief from the government. Nearly two-thirds said they opposed opening the country now because it would result in a higher death toll. The struggle against the coronavirus pandemic is a struggle against the capitalist ruling class and its economy. The fight to implement the urgent and necessary measures to stop the spread of the pandemic is inextricably connected to the fight to overturn capitalism, in the United States and internationally, and to establish socialism, in which the preservation of human life and the needs of society as a whole take precedence over the mad drive for profit and the accumulation of wealth.

White House coronavirus task force labels Faschingstein area a hot spot as region begins reopening
Nick Barrickman, WSWS, May 25 2020

Trump and Birx at a press conference in April. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP)

On Friday, Dr Deborah Birx, the top coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, cited the Faschingstein area as one of the current centers for the spread of COVID-19 in Pindostan. Birx stated at a press conference Friday:

There is still significant virus circulating here. Even though Faschingstein has remained closed, LA has remained closed, Chicago has remained closed, we still see these ongoing cases. CDC will be looking into where these cases are coming from and what do we need to do to prevent them in the future.

On Sunday, jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and the Faschingstein District (DC) reported a total number of cases as surpassing 89k, with an overnight increase of 1,943 COVID-19 infections from Friday to Saturday. Maryland, which reported the first case of COVID-19 among the three jurisdictions in March, has recorded over 46k infections; Virginia has reported 36,244 and Faschingstein has reported over 8k cases. Over 3.8k people in the region have died from the infection as of Sunday. On Thursday, the day before Birx spoke, Maryland, Virginia and the Faschingstein District (DC) recorded a sum total of 2,674 new cases, the third highest daily amount the region has seen in the 3 months since the virus was detected in the area. Birx’s latest announcement comes as the Mid-Atlantic region has reported a constant increase of COVID-19 cases. Despite this, public officials have announced plans for and in Maryland and Virginia’s case, begun re-opening their economies. The statement came a week after regional governments began enacting “stage one” of their reopening plans. Last week, the governments of Virginia and Maryland allowed for the partial reopening of nonessential business and dining. At the time, the states allowed highly infected centers to remain closed, citing the high concentration of COVID-19 in the Faschingstein suburbs in particular.

Despite the growing number of infections, this week officials in Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, two of the state’s epicenters for COVID-19, announced they would begin reopening within days. On Wednesday, the office of Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Demagog, announced that the county could begin easing restrictions within a week, noting that the county had begun seeing a decline in new cases. As of Sunday, Montgomery County had 9,699 cases, nearly a quarter of the state’s total amount. On Friday, Prince George’s County Executive, Demagog Angela Alsobrooks, announced a Jun 1 reopening. Prince George’s County, lying to the east of the District, has seen some of the most catastrophic infection rates in the country. In April, the county recorded a 41% positive infection rate among residents who had been tested. Last week, the numbers were slightly less, standing at 28%. Baltimore County, which includes the city of Baltimore, announced Thursday evening that it would allow beauty parlors and some retail businesses to begin reopening on Friday morning. The literal overnight decision even took small business owners by surprise. Business owner Teresa Blatchley told the WaPo:

We thought Baltimore County was going to stick to its word and not have us open for a few more weeks. We just cannot open our doors tomorrow morning.

Baltimore County has seen over 5k infections and was included in the areas allowed to remain closed during the initial stages of Thug Governor Larry Hogan’s decision to begin reopening the state. The decision to reopen comes after numerous medical experts have advised caution. Prior to the initial reopening of businesses, Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine director Dr Gabe Kelen told the WaPo:

I’m predicting a new spike three to six weeks after everything opens up.

These and other warnings have been willfully ignored. Throughout the Memorial Day weekend, news media reported seeing crowds of sightseers and tourists at popular destinations. A CBS news reporter showed footage of crowds along Ocean City’s downtown boardwalk, with little social distancing or face coverings seen. In Virginia, which also began reopening Mar 15, Demagog Governor Ralph Northam has sought to require local municipalities still sheltering in place to coordinate their reopening. Such symbolic gestures have little substance as the majority of the state has already begun reopening. Last week, Levar Stoney, the Demagog mayor of the state capital Richmond, sent a letter to the governor pleading that he make a requirement of the wearing of facial masks in public. Stoney’s spox said of the letter:

We’re asking the governor to mandate the wearing of face masks consistent with CDC recommendations.

The Richmond official noted that local businesses were seeing far fewer people with masks on, despite the city still having a shelter-in-place order. Leaders of several local unions have also separately urged Northam to make the same designation for wearing masks. For its part, the Faschingstein government of Demagog mayor Muriel Bowser announced plans this week to begin allowing non-essential bookstores and education retailers to begin reopening with restrictions and for curbside service. Bowser issued these permissions despite having recently announced plans to extend the city’s stay-at-home order until Jun 8. The District has closed its schools for the remainder of the academic year, with the possibility of courses starting in August if the city has completed its “phase one” of reopening. State officials and media commentators have consistently seized upon the decline of hospitalization throughout the region as a “key metric” for reopening, despite the clear inaccuracies of such a standard. Related to this push is the effort to frame the rising number of COVID-19 cases in a positive light. News reports of record numbers of infections are routinely accompanied by comments noting such findings are due to increased diagnostic testing in the region. The implication of these statements is that it is not the disease that is spreading, just the authorities’ ability to track it. Even if such an argument were true, the jurisdictions of Maryland, Virginia and the Faschingstein District (DC) have not come anywhere near the required number of daily tests to make reopening a possibility. Virginia previously set the daily goal for adequate testing at 10k, but has routinely hovered at around half of that throughout the month of May. Maryland, which has set a similar goal for itself, has also failed to deliver on an adequate number of tests and a system for tracing contacts. The lag in testing is not due to a lack of demand. Throughout the week, numerous free testing sites set up only days earlier reported having to close their doors earlier than expected, due to the overwhelming demand for a diagnosis. Governor Northam stated last week:

While people who have symptoms are a priority, everyone is welcome at testing events as long as there are tests available.

Governor extends Michigan stay-at-home order to Jun 12 while relaxing social-distancing restrictions
Stephen Fuller, WSWS, May 25 2020

Gov Gretchen Whitmer in Jan 2019 (Photo: Andrew Layton).

On Friday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order from May 28 to Jun 12, while relaxing restrictions on gatherings of under ten people and the operations of some businesses. This comes on the heels of the restarting of automotive production earlier in the week, bringing up to 150k workers across the state back into the factories and putting them at greater risk of coronavirus infection as the pandemic continues to rampage throughout the state and across Pindostan. While the state’s rate of new COVID-19 infections and deaths stabilized over the past week, medical professionals have warned against a large-scale reopening. As of Sunday, the number of total confirmed cases in Michigan rose to 54,365, with 5,223 deaths from the coronavirus. Rob Davidson, an emergency physician in West Michigan and executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare spoke with the Detroit Free Press about the danger of reopening with the continuing shortage of PPE and testing. He said:

In the midst of that lack of testing, he is pushing Pindos to reopen the economy quickly, pushing governors across the country to reopen hastily, and as medical professionals, we’re concerned that he’s pitting public health versus the economy and he’s putting people’s health and safety at risk.

The state of Michigan enacted one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the country on Mar 23 as it was becoming clear that the virus was rapidly spreading in the state. A few weeks later, Michigan had the highest death rate in the country, with the city of Detroit at the epicenter. In the following weeks the virus spread throughout the state, with outbreaks in counties with smaller cities and rural areas. A study by the Brookings Institution in early May showed a marked increase in infections outside metro areas, with 31 of Michigan’s 83 counties reaching “high-prevalence status” for coronavirus. High COVID-19 prevalence counties are those that show 100 or more cases per 100k population. The virus has spread widely through the state, of the 80 counties outside of Metro Detroit, only 3 have no cases reported. 28 counties have exceeded 100 cases. Washtenaw, Kent and Genesee counties have 1,282, 3,308, and 1,936 cases respectively. Metro Detroit, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have 34,371 cases and 4,093 deaths. Clusters of outbreaks have become common across the state. At a youth treatment facility in rural Vassar, Michigan, 25 out of the 34 female residents tested positive, along with four staff members. The numbers came after a six-week struggle by the facility to get tests for its residents. 23 residents tested positive at the Medilodge nursing home in Gaylord, located in northern Michigan. Health-care workers at Michigan nursing homes have been speaking out about a lack of PPE. A worker at a nursing home in St Clair Shores told the Detroit Free Press:

My co-workers feel endangered by the lack of PPE. They are afraid for their families at home. Some of my co-workers have been refusing work because they don’t have enough safety equipment to do their jobs without fear.

An outbreak at Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch near Lansing led to at least 84 cases spread across five counties. The first case at Herbruck’s, the largest egg producer in Michigan, was reported in mid-April. According to a company press release, the outbreak spread among a group of poultry workers on the night shift. The company also said many of the workers that tested positive were asymptomatic. The Herbruck’s outbreak likely led to the spread of at least 60 more cases at the nearby Meijer Distribution Center in Delta Township. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said:

If you look at a number of the folks that are infected at the Meijer warehouse, as well as Herbruck’s, a number of them live in that 48911 zip code and are refugees, so some of our population we’ve been talking to in 48911 are connected to both of those outbreaks.

Both facilities remained open during the outbreak. Michigan prisons have been hit especially hard by the virus, logging more deaths than any other state. The Michigan Dept of Corrections reports 3,289 cases and 62 deaths. Inmates are packed together in unsanitary conditions, infecting staff and creating vectors of transmission in the communities where they are located. The lifting of restrictions includes retail stores, auto shops, and non-essential medical services. In northern Michigan, bars and restaurants will be opening at reduced capacity. Houses of worship are now exempt from any restrictions, with in-person services starting this week. With over 70% of Michigan counties reporting deaths from COVID-19, the reopening of auto factories, lifting of restrictions, and the warm weather for Memorial Day weekend celebrations create conditions for another surge of the virus, resulting in more outbreaks and deaths. Small rural hospitals will be unable to properly treat a surge in patients.

Central Michigan flooding exposes criminal neglect of dam safety
Lily Zhao, WSWS, May 25 2020

Dan Dionne looks over his former deck outside his home in Edenville, Mich, May 20 2020. (Photo: Carlos Osorio/AP)

Five days since historic flooding struck central Michigan’s Midland County, there are numerous calls for investigations into the collapsed Edenville dam, the failure of which caused the disaster that destroyed homes, swept away cars and washed out roads and bridges. Flood waters rushed through the city of Midland, population of 42k, the home of notorious polluter and chemical manufacturer Dow Chemical. Dow reported that flood waters mixed with its containment ponds, but insists that no toxic chemicals were released downstream.
With thousands now looking for a way to clean up and rebuild, the Michigan Thug Party is asking the state’s Demagog attorney general to turn over the dam failure investigation to federal authorities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is ordering Boyce Hydro Powers, owner of the Edenville dam, to form an independent team to investigate the conditions of the three other dams it owns, including the Sanford Lake dam, which is still in danger of collapsing after Tuesday’s heavy precipitation. Both parties and the media point to Boyce Hydro as the main culprit, revealing its long history of safety violations, but Boyce is not the only guilty party. The question of all questions is why was nothing done? Why did the dam continue to operate, even though it was out of compliance with flood prevention standards? What transpired, who were the persons involved and who and what class interests do they represent?

The Edenville dam, built in 1924, received multiple warnings from the federal government on its safety violations since as early as 1999. According to reports from the FERC, the dam’s spillway capacity only reached half of the required Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) value, meaning that the dam could not properly release the pressure from a standard amount of waterflow and was vulnerable under extreme weather conditions. However, no improvements were made. After the operation license was transferred to Boyce in 2004, the company’s proposal to build an auxiliary spillway to share some pressure on the major service spillway was never carried out, even though Boyce was granted multiple extensions to finish construction over the next 10 years. Between 2004 and 2017, according to an FERC Compliance Order, operations at the Edenville dam were in violation of many additional safety guidelines, including carrying out unauthorized dam repairs and earth-moving activities, not filing an adequate Public Safety Plan, unduly restricting public access to its facilities, not constructing and maintaining approved recreation facilities, and more. In February 2018, the FERC issued a proposal to revoke Boyce Hydro’s license on operating the Edenville dam for its long-standing noncompliance with the Dam Safety Guidelines. An exchange in 2011 between Boyce and Sanford lakeshore residents sheds light on why these safety risks were never resolved. The owner of Boyce, Lee Mueller requested the lakeshore property owners pay the $83k needed to repair the dam structure and to return the lake to its normal level. Lakeshore residents argued instead that Boyce pay for the repair since the company made revenues from the hydroelectric power generated from the dam. In response, Mueller threatened to drain the lake permanently if the property owners refused to pay up. Boyce was counting on Midland County to intervene, since the county would lose millions in property tax revenue if residents were forced to move away after the lake was drained.

This episode reveals the utter lack of concern about the imminent danger of flooding caused by Michigan’s aging dams. Only profits entered into the calculations of Boyce and the local county boxtops. However, the accomplices in this criminal neglect of dam safety, which has led to the evacuation of thousands of people and loss of their homes, are not only one private company. One has to ask this further question: what happened to the Edenville dam after Sep 2018 when Boyce’s license was revoked by the FERC? Why was nothing done to repair and maintain the dam which would have prevented last week’s catastrophe from happening? After the FERC issued a proposal to revoke Boyce’s license, multiple Michigan state boxtops and heads of local lake associations wrote to request that the FERC either extend the deadline for revocation to Nov 1 2018 or reconsider its decision. Letters sent by State senator Jim Stamas and Congress crittur John Moolenaar stated:

The Lakes provide significant economic, tax and recreational value to the counties and residents. Because of this, it is important to find a solution that satisfies the FERC requirements while also preserving our local assets.

Throughout the letter, no concerns were expressed for the safety risks that the Edenville dam would pose, except for a nominal acknowledgement in passing that there was “a long history of disputes” between Boyce and the FERC. The only solution they proposed to address the safety issues of the dam is to establish “a new ownership structure of the dam,” without a single discussion of repairing the dam in accordance with the FERC guidelines. Submitted on the same day was another similar but lengthier letter from heads of local lake associations, including David Kepler, president of the Sanford Lake Preservation Association. Kepler was a major figure at Dow Chemical for 40 years, where he was the Executive Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Information Officer, and previously a member of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council under Bush 43. Kepler was also the principal donor to the Four Lakes Task Force (FLTF) formed in Sep 2018 after Boyce’s license was revoked. The FLTF is the “new structure of ownership” discussed in the aforementioned letters. It purchased the dams from Boyce and was planning to take full charge of their operations in 2022. Even though the FLTF officially operates as a non-profit, the real purpose of its establishment is made clear in Kepler’s letter, where he requested the FERC to delay its decision on these grounds:

An order proposing license revocation can lead to loss of a project license in a matter of weeks, which would effectively eliminate any possibility for the Lake Associations to rely on the revenue stream (from the hydroelectric power plant energy sales) to fund the ongoing expenses required to rehabilitate and operate the dam.

In other words, the FLTF was formed to retain the license and preserve the revenues from operating the dam. All their talk about repairing the dams was nothing more than an empty promise, as made clear by their 2019 Annual Report and Operating Plan. It stated:

We believe that a significant portion of these repairs can be extended over the next 20 years, further reducing initial capital costs and keeping the bond under $32m.

What’s behind the collapse of the Edenville dam and the damage of thousands of homes is the decades-long bipartisan neglect of the safety issues regarding dams on both the state and federal levels. Despite Demagog Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s statement Thursday that dams and other pieces of critical infrastructure shouldn’t be owned by private entities, she has done nothing to address dam safety since taking office in 2019. The Edenville dam’s regulation was transferred from the federal government to the state in 2018. Dam safety is not just a growing problem for Michigan. The number of potentially high hazard dams has been increasing year by year, and according to the National Inventory of Dams in 2019, about 25% of dams in Pindostan are classified as such. There are a few natural causes for this number to increase, such as their natural aging, more residents living downstream of dams, and improved understanding of hydro effects on the dams. However, the more fundamental reason is the neglect of the repair and maintenance of these dams at every level of government. Due to a shortfall in funding, there is a lack of personnel for dam inspections. According to a study published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, on average, each state inspector is responsible for about 200 dams. In Oklahoma and Iowa, there were only three inspectors for their 4621 and 3911 dams respectively. There is also a nationwide lack of emergency responses to the high hazard dams. Alabama does not have a dam safety program, while no emergency action plans exist for 20% of the high hazard dams. From the same study, the total estimated cost to repair all the high hazard dams is about $45b, and about $71b to repair all dams in the country, only a minor fraction of the trillions of dollars used on military expenses and the bailout of Wall Street during the pandemic. The collapse of the Edenville dam is not a natural disaster, but a man-made one, a result of decades of attacks on critical infrastructure. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the flooding is yet another catastrophic event that reveals the criminal character of capitalism: the subjugation of human lives to corporate profits.

Minnesota nurses oppose retaliation over demands for protective equipment
Anthony Bertolt, WSWS, May 25 2020

Hundreds of nurses and other workers from across the Minneapolis and St Paul metro region rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol May 20 to protest a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital workers and the firings of two union stewards who opposed the unsafe conditions at United Hospital in St Paul. The rally evinced a deep anger over the utter indifference of corporate management to the plight of hospital workers. Health-care workers first assembled in front of United Hospital, owned by Allina Health-Care, and then marched to the State Capitol wearing masks and observing social distancing. In front of the Capitol, several speakers vented against management, calling them out by name over many issues. One speaker pointed out:

The first letter we sent to Allina Hospital, and everybody else, about the coronavirus and protecting our workers was on Jan 28, and four months later, we still don’t have the PPE we need.

Leif Thorsgaard, a nurse in the emergency department at United, told the rally:

Our health-care system failed to prepare for a public health crisis. The hospital industry exerted lobbying pressure on the CDC to relax safety guidelines. Because of these relaxed guidelines, hospitals now have less pressure to secure adequate levels of PPE. When questioned by health-care workers, the hospitals state they follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC, the very guidelines that were eroded due to pressure from the hospital system. This is a call to action. I am calling on us to return to the time of ‘best practice’ and not possible adequate practice. If we are to reopen our economy, we must first be willing to reinstate the utmost of safety measures, because safety is non-negotiable. I am willing to give my life for this job. It is a calling that is at the core of me. But I am not willing to be harmed or die, because decision-makers based their choices on percentages and not on the lives and safety of their employees, their patients and their communities. Allina corporate management work from home, where they are allowed to practice social-distancing. They have never looked into the eyes of a COVID patient drowning in the fluid from their own lungs. These people, who are okay with staff using the same masks over and over, balk at the idea of stockpiling N95 masks because expired equipment is money down the drain. We are standing at a pivotal moment in history. It is a time where the entire world stands together against a common enemy. We don’t want to be heroes. We want to safely do our job and not spread this disease.

Zetella Caauwe, a veteran United Hospital nurse in the emergency department and a Minnesota Nurses Association steward, who is being threatened by management, told the rally:

I am likely to be the third steward fired. I have my next disciplinary meeting for wearing the hospital-issued scrubs on Friday. My discipline is progressive. And in all likelihood, I won’t have a job by next week, because I’m standing up. They have a clear pattern over the years, of not caring about their nurses, not keeping their nurses safe. Not keeping many of their frontline workers safe. We are disposable to them and I say that we are not. None of us, not any of us. Allina, like all health systems, has known that a pandemic was likely to come. There have been reports for over 15 years. And some of those reports even tell them how much PPE they should have been stockpiling. But that would be inconvenient. It would cost them money, and they’re into making money at the risk of my life. It is shameful. And I’m done. I will continue to wear the hospital-issued scrubs so that I’m not taking contaminated scrubs home to my family.

Cliff Willmeng, a Minnesota Nurses Association steward who works in the United Hospital emergency room, was the first worker fired for reporting hospital violations of safety standards and defending multiple nurses who were speaking out about the lack of PPE in the hospital. Willmeng denounced Kelly Johnson, the emergency department manager, for a series of complaints and the harassment of nurses. He also criticized United Hospital President Sara Criger, saying:

We have charged her with overseeing of retaliatory measures, including the firing of two MNA stewards. As a punitive measure, we decided she should be subject to removal from all health care decision-making and transferred to housekeeping duties on the COVID unit of United Hospital. And we have charged Allina CEO Penny Wheeler, whose 2018 compensation was $2.5m, for blindly leading thousands of front-line workers into impossible working conditions with little or no PPE, for overseeing the attacks on union nurses forcing the 2016 MNA strike, and for using the Allina Health-Care system as her personal cash cow and a source of wealth generation.

Cliff Willmeng peaks at the rally

Monica Norberg, a neuro ICU nurse now sacked from the COVID unit, explained the bogus character of the charge and made clear the retaliatory character of her termination by United, telling the rally:

I have been a nurse for almost four years. In those four years I have been in good standing the entire time, without any warnings or disciplinary action against me until May 18 this past Monday, when I was terminated for doing virtual, mandatory education at home. The library where virtual education is done is in the direct path for transfer of patients to the COVID ICU. The state government’s stay-at-home order legally justified doing virtual education from home. I made management aware that they were directly violating the stay-at-home order. I work in the COVID unit mainly, so any chance that I have of not exposing myself means that one day I may be able to see my family again. I may be able to hug my mom. With the current policies that they have in place, I can’t do that. I was actually elected an MNA steward for the COVID ICU at the neuro ICU. That was just six days before I was terminated. Before I became steward, I voiced multiple safety concerns to management since the beginning of the pandemic and prior to it, from education policy to PPE shortages to staffing concerns.

Monica Norberg speaks at the rally

The victimization of the union stewards is aimed at silencing all health-care workers. Workers should demand their reinstatement and an end to all retaliation. However, it has been the long collaboration of the Minnesota Nurses Association, National Nurses United and other unions with austerity measures imposed by corporations and both big business parties that have left nurses and other health-care workers particularly vulnerable in the current crisis. Kera Peterson, president of the St Paul Labor Federation, lamely appealed to the employers, saying:

People who don’t have safe work conditions and take action shouldn’t be punished by their employers.

A spox for National Nurses United had little to add, and of course said nothing about the union’s support for Obama who used his so-called health reform to incentivize hospitals to slash staffing and increase the exploitation of health-care workers. In addition, just like Trump, Obama did nothing to stockpile ventilators and PPE despite warnings from scientists about impending pandemics. State Senator Jeff Hayden was invited by the unions to speak, and demagogically declared:

We look forward to being strong partners to ensuring that nurses everywhere have the protection they need.

He did not explain why they did not have it during the past four months. Neither labor officials nor Hayden mentioned or even alluded to Trump and his criminal policies, or to Biden. Nor did the union officials say a word about Sanders, long promoted by the NNU, who once again packed it in and supported Biden, the chosen candidate of Wall Street and the Pentagon. Normally, the labor bureaucracy, especially in a presidential election year, would have loaded the rally with Demagog politicians stumping to obtain or maintain their positions. But both parties are implicated in ignoring early warnings of the pandemic, concealing the threat in its early stages and even cashing in stock portfolios to avoid getting caught in the initial panic on the stock market. Now both parties are engaged in a reckless campaign of reopening the economy and loosening social distance measures, despite scientific warnings that this will result in a surge in the number of infections and preventable deaths. In Minnesota, Demagog Governor Tim Walz, who initially warned against an early opening of businesses, has joined the back-to-work crusade, even though early COVID-19 outbreaks occurred at meatpacking companies in Minnesota like JBS and Pilgrim’s Pride. A further foreshadowing of the storm to come was the $5.5m purchase in early May by the state of Minnesota of a 71k-sq-ft cold storage facility to store bodies when mortuary facilities are overwhelmed.

Action by nurses and health-care workers to defend themselves must be organized by rank-and-file workers themselves, independent of the MNA, which has a long record of betraying their struggles. In the 2010 contract struggle involving 12k nurses at all the major hospital systems, the MNA limited strike action to one day, opposing nurses’ demands for an open-ended strike, and then rammed through a sellout agreement that ignored demands for improving nurse-to-patient ratios and other improvements. In 2016, the MNA, in collaboration with the health-care corporations, settled contracts with all the other hospitals except Allina. This left the Allina nurses isolated and fighting alone. Nevertheless, they carried out a determined struggle and voted down sell-out contracts three times. Each time, the MNA brought back nearly identical concessions contracts for nurses until they pushed through a final settlement. In the 2019 contract session, after being pressured by nurses to carry out a unified struggle, the MNA began to settle contracts separately and impose ratification votes before other nurses had contracts, once again sabotaging the demands of nurses. In order to defend themselves, nurses should form rank-and-file safety committees at every hospital and clinic, encompassing nurses, doctors, medical technicians and other hospital workers. These committees will lead the struggle against hospital management and take the lead in decisive actions to combat the pandemic, including the provision of the necessary PPE, regular testing, increased staffing and reduced working hours. It must be up to these workers’ committees to determine what is safe based on science, not on the demands of the for-profit health-care system. The pandemic has demonstrated to a broad and growing section of the working class that at the core of the current crisis is the capitalist system itself. The for-profit hospitals and other health-care facilities, run by the corporate executives and bankers who sit on the boards of Allina and other hospitals, must be abolished and replaced by a system of socialized medicine. This means transforming the giant hospital chains, pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers into public utilities controlled democratically by the working class.

More Pindo grocery workers die from COVID-19
Bill Frost, WSWS, May 25 2020

A worker stocks produce at a market in San Francisco. (Photo: Ben Margot/AP)

Another grocery store worker died last week in Denver, Colorado, the second victim of coronavirus at the King Soopers supermarket chain. After news broke of the death of Randy Narvaez, who had been an employee of the company for more than 30 years, the local union and store officials revealed that 11 cases of COVID-19 have been found among other employees at the same outlet. Narvaez’s death came on the heels of an announcement by Kroger, the owners of King Soopers, that the company would be suspending “hazard pay” for workers, a $2/hr bonus added to employees’ wage as compensation for working during the pandemic. Protests by workers led the company to replace the pay bump with one-time payments of between $200 and $400. The same day the suspension of “hero pay” took effect, Kroger, the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant, filed a shareholder statement that shows a combined $37m paid to six executives in salaries, cash bonuses, stock awards and options, along with other compensation, in 2019. By revenue, Kroger is the largest supermarket chain in Pindostan, with $121b in profits. The company operates nearly 3k stores nationwide and employs around 453k workers. Last year, its CEO, Rodney McMullen, received a 21% increase in compensation, taking his annual income from $11.7m to over $14m. The average hourly wage of a worker at Kroger, after decades of wage concessions by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, is $10.53/hr or approximately $21,902k. Kroger is expecting profits to be higher in 2020, as disruptions to supply chains have caused shortages and inflated food costs. Kroger sales increased by 30% in Mar 2020 before the full impact of the public health shutdowns, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and grocery prices increased by 2.6%.

A story published yesterday in the WaPo reported that at least 100 grocery workers nationwide have died from the virus since late March, and at least 5.5k others have tested positive for the coronavirus. Many grocery workers told the newspaper that despite social distancing measures, they often share break rooms, bathrooms and devices for clocking in and out of their shifts. Protests by workers have forced local officials to press the supermarket chains for information and added safety measures, but company officials have dragged their feet. Under pressure from the Health Dept, Walmart closed a store in Quincy, Mass, for a week to clean it, and offered testing to every worker. 34 employees at the location tested positive for COVID-19. At a Walmart in Worcester, Mass, more than 80 employees were infected. According to Congress critturs, more than 20 Walmart employees have died from COVID-19 across the country. When surveyed by the WaPo, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Target, Kroger, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Lidl declined to provide the number of workers who tested positive for the coronavirus or died from it. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has said that it would not uniformly enforce the rules for reporting coronavirus cases except for employers in health-care, emergency response and corrections. New regulations going into effect this week give employers leeway in deciding whether a case is work-related and, therefore, reportable to OSHA. The UFCW, which has 900k members working at the major food retailing chains, reports that in the last five weeks the number of infected or exposed workers has gone from 1,557 to 10,453. Despite the spread of the virus, the UFCW has done nothing to advance workers’ demands for protective gear and additional compensation and has instead worked to ensure that their members stay on the job. Jerry, a Kroger worker in southeast Michigan, told the WSWS:

As the number of cases climbs, management is reporting being overwhelmed by requests for medical leave. This has as much to do with the reckless policies of Kroger as with any natural spreading of the virus, including continuing to employ stockers during the day while customers are present, and not enforcing the wearing of masks by customers. I am increasingly concerned for the well-being of my coworkers. As more workers return to the factories, they will become new hot spots for outbreaks. The profit system, capitalism is to blame. The resources exist to sustain nonessential workers at home and create a vaccine, but in the current system these resources are being funneled to support big business and the financial oligarchy.

The WSWS and the SEP call on workers to form rank-and-file safety committees, independent of the trade unions, to protect the lives of grocery store workers and their families against the deadly conditions created by the corporate drive for profit.

Baltimore police officer shoots man dead, injures another after nuisance call
Dominic Gustavo, WSWS, May 25 2020

On the night of Saturday May 17, a Baltimore County police officer shot two people at the Cove Village town home complex in Essex, Maryland. The police department confirmed that Robert Johnson Jr, 29, died from his injuries. Johnson’s 20-year-old brother, Freddie Jackson, was also shot by police and suffered non-life-threatening injuries during the incident. Johnson, an expectant father whose friends and family said lived by the motto of “family first,” had been celebrating the 15th birthday of a cousin when police arrived. According to eye-witness reports published by the Baltimore Sun, Johnson had gotten into a minor traffic incident with a neighbor when police responded to a noise complaint that had been made about a crowd gathered in the parking lot. According to officer Jennifer Peach, a county police spox, the crowd had largely dispersed by the time the police arrived. Peach said:

The first responding officer was confronted with an armed suspect and discharged his weapon.

Johnson had apparently exited a car brandishing a handgun when he was shot. He died after being taken to the hospital, and a handgun was recovered at the scene, Peach said. The police officer who shot Johnson and Jackson, identified as Police Officer First Class Knight, a 24-year veteran, has been placed on routine administrative leave. However, the official statements given by the county police have been contradicted by the accounts of several neighbors who witnessed the shooting. Kayla Stokes, a neighbor, disputed the PD’s statement that the crowd had dispersed before the officer arrived. She told the Baltimore Sun:

I was sitting near my window when she observed a police car pull up near a group of about ten neighborhood children and teenagers. The officer immediately pointed his flashlight and gun at the group and began shooting and chasing them within a minute or two. There was a man holding a handgun. He threw it down and ran away. The officer didn’t wait. He just started shooting. I told my child’s father, “They shooting him for no reason.” They seen him throw it down. I don’t understand why he would shoot him in the back. It was clear as day he was running away from him. Any of them young kids could’ve got shot. They were hiding behind freakin’ cars. The police had no right to do what they did to that boy at all. Now, some mother doesn’t get to kiss their kid goodnight. That’s all I could think about.

Stokes’ version of events was supported by others. LaKisha Chase, mother of one of the victims, told the Sun:

I saw Robert Johnson get out of his car with his hands up. A handgun fell out of his car. The police officer fired at him as soon as that handgun hit the pavement.

Another neighbor, a 46-year-old woman who declined to give her name out of fear for her safety, said:

I was awoken by the sound of gunshots. When I opened my door moments later, I found a bleeding young man sprawled over my front steps, and police officers with guns drawn shouted at me: “Close the fucking door!” I have a 5-year-old. She saw that. She’s distraught. She was crying, upset, shaking all night.

The recklessness of the officer’s shooting spree is further shown by noting that Jackson, the second victim, was shot while inside a nearby house. According to the Sun:

Johnson’s younger brother was inside their home with several children who watched the incident from their front window. Freddie Jackson was trying to escort the children upstairs when one of Knight’s bullets pierced the door frame and hit the 20-year-old in the leg, relatives said. The children carried the man upstairs and applied a tourniquet to his leg using a T-shirt.

The Baltimore PD has a long history of abuses, outright corruption, and a callous disregard for the lives of ordinary working class people. Last month marked the five-year anniversary of the killing of Freddie Gray. On Apr 12, 2015, Gray was arrested and charged with possessing a knife. He was given a “rough ride” in the police van and died a week later of a severed spinal cord. Mass protests erupted in the city over the mishandling of the case, prompting the governor of Maryland to impose martial law and deploy the National Guard in the streets of Baltimore. In response to the nationwide outpouring of popular anger, the federal DOJ was ordered to conduct an investigation into the practices of the Baltimore PD. The investigation concluded that Baltimore police routinely violated the civil rights of city residents. The abuses included unjustified stops and searches; arrests without proper cause; racial profiling; use of excessive force; sexual discrimination; and retaliation against actions protected by the First Amendment. Despite the uncovering of these routine abuses, all officers involved in Gray’s murder were cleared of all charges by state and federal prosecutors. In Jul 2017, bodycam footage revealed that a police officer had planted drugs, sending an innocent man to jail. In August, video footage was released which showed several officers colluding to plant drugs during a traffic stop. As a result, 41 drug and gun cases that relied on the officers’ testimony were dropped. In Feb 2018, two Baltimore police officers were convicted of racketeering, robbery and fraud. The two officers, along with at least six others, were involved in a wide range of criminal activity, which included repeated armed home invasions of city residents where they stole money, drugs and guns. The drugs and guns were later sold on the streets. In November of last year, three men were exonerated after a wrongful murder conviction, which came about as a result of coerced evidence. They had already served 36 years behind bars. The men were just teenagers when they were arrested in 1983, when they walked out of prison they were in their 50s.

This sampling of cases is merely the tip of the iceberg of corruption and abuse of power that occurs within police forces in Baltimore and more generally. According to killedbypolice.net, police in the United States have killed at least 376 people so far this year. The latest string of killings in the United States includes the Feb 23 killing of Ahmaud Arber, whoy was chased down and shot dead by a former police officer and his son while out on a jog, and local authorities subsequently attempted to cover it up. Only with the release of dashcam footage of the killing and growing popular outrage, did the police finally arrest the killers in early May. On May 7, protests broke out in Indianapolis over police killings the previous night. In three separate incidents, two men were shot dead and a pregnant woman was struck and killed by a police car. In NYC, video footage showing the brutal arrests of people for violating the social distancing ordinance has sparked outrage. The barbarism and backwardness pervading police departments across Pindostan and the corruption of a legal system that tolerates it, is undoubtedly a symptom of the advanced breakdown of society under a decaying capitalist system.

Minnesota buys a warehouse to store expected COVID-19 deaths
Gary Joad, WSWS, May 25 2020

On May 18, the state of Minnesota purchased a 75k square foot refrigerated produce warehouse with the capacity to store 5100 bodies of persons expected to succumb to the surge of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the state paid $5.5m for the Bix Produce Company cold storage facility to serve as an “emergency morgue.” Operational and improvement costs for the repurposing of the property are estimated to bring the total to about $6.9m. The FEMA is expected to reimburse the state of Minnesota for three-quarters of the expense. The property had been for sale for over a year. When the Minnesota Dept of Administration approached warehouse owners in the Twin Cities seeking lease agreements for buildings suitable for the macabre project, none could be persuaded to rent for the stated purpose. The Bix Produce Company is headquartered in Little Canada, Minnesota, a northern suburb of the Twin Cities. The company had used the recently acquired warehouse as a distributing facility for the bulk trucking of pre-cut fruits and vegetables to supermarkets, hotels, schools and restaurants in the greater metro. The Dept of Administration explained:

The building is needed to accommodate a surge in demand for the timely, dignified, and temporary storage of human remains.

A surge in deaths is expected as the direct consequence of the abandonment of any and all effective public health preventive measures across the country to protect the population against coronavirus. Minnesota and other state government boxtops are doubtless mindful of horrid scenes in Pindostan’s major cities in which funeral homes in recent weeks were completely overrun and resorted to piling decomposing corpses in trucks, such as on the streets of Brooklyn. The assistant commissioner at the Dept of Administration, Curtis Yoakum, announced:

The facility will be used if available mortuary facilities are overwhelmed and would not be limited to COVID-19 victims.

At the department’s direction, emergency managers across Minnesota have surveyed hospitals, medical examiners, and funeral homes as to storage capacity. The available storage for the deceased is half full presently. The Dept of Administration consulted varied pandemic models for the expected surge of spread. They expect the peak death rate to jump between now and August to as many as 1k/wk, with half of those total fatalities coming in a 4- to 5-week period. The St Paul Pioneer Press reported on May 9 that the initiative and authorization to acquire the Bix warehouse came from the Minnesota Legislative COVID-19 Response Commission. A ten-member bipartisan legislative panel unanimously approved the acquisition. Governor Tim Walz said of the announced plan:

We will not allow our dead to be set somewhere undignified, which is a horrible worst-case scenario.

Joe Kelly, director of the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency, provided a rationale for the buying of the warehouse:

I know this is a sensitive topic, but we need to have a plan for a large number of deaths.

On Mar 19, Governor Walz signed an appropriations bill for $200m, allegedly for resources to protect the population from the pandemic’s onslaught. $65m remains in the fund, and $135m was used to buy testing equipment and related materials to acquire alternate care sites, and to purchase PPE for health-care workers. The state government reportedly counts on federal reimbursement for these outlays. Minnesota Public Radio announced May 23 that the state had seen the greatest jump in COVID-19 cases in one day since the outbreak, with a record number of persons hospitalized. On Saturday, there were 847 new cases, bringing the confirmed state total to 19,845, including another 10 deaths for a total deceased of 852. Most of the state’s deaths have come from long-term care units. State public health officials have pleaded with persons to use face-masks in public and maintain social-distancing practices in the opening of businesses, reiterating that the spread of COVID comes from the reservoir of asymptomatic individuals of all ages. Minnesota health commissioner Jan Malcolm reported May 22 that several of the Twin Cities hospitals are approaching capacity in their ICUs. The Minnesota State Fair, a 12-day annual event late summer, was cancelled this year. Last year’s fair attendance was 2m, and the last time the fair was called off was for the polio epidemic in 1946. Malcolm reported that she laid out the risks to the state fair and government boxtops, saying:

It would have been a pretty predictable accelerator of community spread.

Lobbyists for tavern and restaurant owners and church boxtops have been demanding loosening of restrictions on populations congregating at their facilities. Governor Walz to date has said all eateries must serve only outdoors. Minnesota Catholic and Lutheran church reps said they would defy Walz’s congregating bans and resume services. Anti-hunger activists confirmed to MPR that many more Minnesotans are depending on food emergency services with the pandemic. In 2018, Hunger Solutions of Minnesota reported food insecurity in one of twelve families. Presently, Blue Cross Blue Shield reports that one in three state residents are food insecure. Jackson County in southern Minnesota has seen a doubling of monthly food shelf use in the last year. Even before the pandemic, use of food pantries in Minnesota surged 775% in the last 5 years. Food pantries saw a jump in usage in 2008 and has been steadily increasing ever since. Minnesota’s hungry have made visits to food relief units 3m times in 9 consecutive years. With the state’s lockdown for the pandemic, 692k applied for unemployment. Gary Colburn, a 66-year-old veteran accessing food at a pantry and homeless 3 times in the last decade, told MPR:

We’re all just one paycheck away from the street.

The Minnesota Dept of Health reports that before the pandemic’s onset, 40% of children qualified for free or reduced-cost public school lunches. The Sheridan House, a non-profit supplying food to children on weekends and extended school breaks, saw an overnight increase in calls for food of 400%. Rob Williams, Sheridan’s director, said with the pandemic and state schools closure, the increased need “was instant.” Pre-COVID, Sheridan supplied meals for children at the rate of 25k/wk, and presently they provide over 100k/wk.

Pindo juvenile detention centers record 474 COVID-19 cases
Sam Dalton, WSWS, May 25 2020

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is the highest authority overseeing juvenile detention in Pindostan. It describes its mission as “Enhancing safety. Ensuring accountability. Empowering youth.” In reality, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the facilities overseen by the authority, the majority of which are privately owned, are continuing the senseless brutalization of children and allowing them to be exposed to COVID-19 and a plethora of adjacent issues that risks seriously impacting their long-term health. According to prisonpolicy.org, at least 48k individuals under the age of 18 are currently in correctional facilities. The vast majority of incarcerated youth are from a working-class background, with around two-thirds of offenders also relying on the child welfare system. 40% of youth who are incarcerated before their 18th birthday are in adult prisons by the age of 25. It is also the case that the poorest inmates are the most likely to re-offend. Mirroring conditions in adult prisons, COVID-19 has spread rapidly through juvenile detention centers. According to sentencingproject.org, as of May 22 there were 474 cases among detained youth across Pindostan, and 561 confirmed cases among staff. These numbers are huge under-estimates of the virus’s true spread. While some states such as New Jersey claim to have tested all of its detained youth, the majority of states have not even nominally promised to address the deadly consequences of the contagion of the virus through their populations of incarcerated minors. As the WSWS reported on May 13, as more becomes known about the disease, initial declarations that youth face no risk from infection were proven reckless and incorrect. The disease is linked to an inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease and can cause sepsis among younger patients. At least five children in New York have died from these conditions following diagnosis with COVID-19. In a study of 48 children and young adults admitted to intensive care units in Pindostan and Canada for COVID-19, 20% experienced organ failure. The study’s co-author, Rutgers professor Lawrence C Kleinman, stated:

The idea that COVID-19 is sparing of young people is just false.

Two of the children featured in the study died. More than 0.5k of incarcerated children in Pindostan are 12 years old or younger, while over 4.5k of under-18s locked up are actually incarcerated in adult facilities. Child inmates typically reside in large groups, with 60% of incarcerated youth in large facilities designed for over 50 inmates. This only increases the risk of infection from the virus. Two-thirds of youth incarcerations are “long-term,” meaning that individuals spend over a month at a facility, and nearly 10% are held for over a year. The turnover of young inmates, just like at regular prisons and jails, means these facilities act as vectors for the disease’s spread in the community. The largest recorded outbreak has been in the juvenile detention center of Cook County Jail in the Chicago area. At least 14 cases have been confirmed among detained minors, including one in the general youth prison population on May 23. This means the majority of the center’s inmates have been exposed to a positive individual. There have also been 21 confirmed cases amongst employees at the center. The juvenile detention center at the jail is part of a wider system at the location, which now has the highest infection rate of any defined population in Pindostan, bypassing Rikers Island in New York in late April. Over 0.5k prisoners at the facility have tested positive, with at least seven dying. Despite the outbreak at least 4.2k inmates including minors remain in the prison.

Even in states that have claimed to address the situation facing incarcerated children there has been little action. For example, in mid-April, both Maryland’s highest court and Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court denied emergency petitions to release inmates under 18 years old. At the end of Apr 27, just 200 youth inmates were released from incarceration facilities in the state, leaving 456 still locked up. The same pattern of hollow executive and court orders has plagued the US adult inmate population. Even before the crisis, the conditions facing young inmates were particularly brutal. In a report, the Juvenile Law Center stated that child inmates are often subjected to solitary confinement, a punishment that is recognized as a form of torture by the UN. Under the cover of social distancing, such measures have become increasingly prevalent in regular prisons, meaning the same is likely true of youth detention facilities. ther measures implemented in the name of tackling the virus, such as the banning of family visits and restriction of phone calls, have led to further isolation from human contact. This is particularly damaging for children who are at sensitive periods of their social development. Furthermore, their academic progress, greatly hindered by incarceration before the crisis, will be further undermined by the indefinite postponement of all educational services throughout juvenile detention centers. During the crisis, child prisoners will continue to face invasive and physically abusive measures such as strip searches, shackling and chemical sprays. The JLC describes the effects of these conditions:

These abusive practices cause physical injuries, emotional trauma and psychological harm, and interrupt healthy development.

According to a 2016 Harvard study, since 2011, 13 states have violent and abusive conditions that are clearly documented. Sexual abuse is also widespread in juvenile detention facilities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2012 one in eight incarcerated young people reported sexual abuse by center staff or other inmates. The JLC report continues:

Youth in prison also face physical and sexual violence, compounding the trauma imposed by their isolation and separation from their families, friends and communities.

Similarly, the Harvard report concluded:

Maltreatment is endemic and widespread.

The cost of housing incarcerated children is also extortionate. The annual cost of locking up one child is $88k, almost 10 times the yearly average expenditure per child in public schools. According to the National Juvenile Justice Center, nearly half of all youth detention facilities are privately run. States’ willingness to pay these exorbitant costs is a reflection of the influence private prison contractors have over bourgeois political authorities. Meanwhile, local police forces happily play their part by supplying a steady stream of inmates for which the taxpayer can be charged. As is the case among adults, minorities are also targeted for arrest and incarcerated at higher rates. For example, Native Americans comprise 3% of all incarcerated girls, and 1.5% of all incarcerated boys, despite making up less than 1% of the Pindo child population. Black children under 18 are also more likely to be tried in adult courts than their counterparts. The cultivation of chauvinistic attitudes toward marginalized minorities among law enforcement is a crucial component of the effort to maintain a high inflow of inmates to ensure that private juvenile detention facilities remain profitable. The continued brutalization of incarcerated youth, whose crimes are a product of dire social conditions and, for want of a better term, the inability to know better, is senseless. Rather than rehabilitation, admittance to a youth detention center is more likely to condemn a child to abuse and a lifetime of poverty and incarceration. The COVID-19 crisis has only further exposed this barbarous reality. The primary cause of the brutalization of working-class youth and the conditions in juvenile detention centers is subordination of the justice system to the drive for profit that is endemic to the capitalist system. The fight against the brutal detention of all prisoners cannot be divorced from the struggle against the international profit system as a whole.

Dozens of Nashville, Tennessee, construction workers test positive for COVID-19
Warren Duzak, WSWS, May 25 May 2020

In a large cluster of COVID-19 infections, 74 construction workers at an exclusive Tennessee prep school building site have tested positive for the coronavirus. Workers for General Contractor Brasfield & Gorrie and the company’s subcontractors at the Montgomery Bell Academy’s athletic facility construction site have tested positive for the virus, Metropolitan Nashville’s Health Dept confirmed last week. The first positive test was confirmed earlier this month, News Channel 5 reported. An email revealed that by May 18, 329 workers at the site had been tested with 60 confirmed cases. There was no information on the condition of the workers or their families or if there had been any deaths. The Birmingham-based construction supplied only a boilerplate press release professing its concerned for the safety of workers and the great lengths it is going to protect everyone. A large sign at the construction site’s main entrance had an image of a worker attired in a highly visible bright yellow-chartreuse shirt and wearing protective glasses and hardhat. He was not wearing a mask. Nowhere on the sign was there any mention of a COVID-19 warning or any requirements or even suggestions for masks or social distancing. If there were such signs, none were readily visible. But on the fence there was a sign cautioning: “Drones May Be Operating In This Area.” At about the same time as the Tennessee cases were revealed, another Alabama-based general contractor briefly shut down operations at a University of Alabama construction site when 10 confirmed cases among workers there were reported. Caddell Construction of Montgomery is the general contractor on the $106m renovation work at the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. As in the Nashville case, the construction company was tight-lipped on the condition of workers or their families, even after details of the infection were reported. Joseph Goodman of AL.com reported:

More than 10 people have tested positive for COVID-19, according to people familiar with the outbreak, but the number could be much higher. With so many exposures, there is a fear that more positive cases linked to the job site are inevitable. The large number of positive tests means, essentially, everyone at the job site could have been exposed.

The COVID-19 outbreak at the Alabama stadium follows an accident which severely injured two workers there in late January. Two men were almost killed when two concrete beams fell and struck the construction vehicle they were in. One news source described one worker as paralyzed with a second worker suffering severe head injuries. Brasfield & Gorrie reported having about 2.6k employees in 2016, and revenue of $2.4b. It ranked #30 in the nation’s top 400 contractors for 2017, according to Engineering News-Record. It also ranked third in health-care general contractors in the nation, Modern Health-Care reported. Caddell Construction is roughly one tenth the size of Brasfield & Gorrie in terms of employees and revenues. The two Alabama-based construction companies share more than a home state. Both companies are working on sports facilities and are under intense pressure to get the job done before the fall sports season. College and even high school sports are multi-million-dollar businesses and are treated that way. The University of Alabama football program brings in about $47m in profits on $108m of total revenues. The college football season is set to begin in September. In Nashville, the MBA private school, with tuition at $27.25k/yr, touts sports as one of the legs on its three-legged student products: “Gentleman, Scholar, Athlete.” A Channel 5 reporter asked one worker at the MBA worksite: “Why don’t you just walk off the job?” The answer from one worker was simple. He replied: “Because you can’t get unemployment if you just quit, so I have to provide for my family.” Another worker responded plainly but accurately: “You just rely on people whose profit is at stake on telling you whether to go forward or not.” Similar answers could be given by workers in all different countries. A construction locksmith in Spain told the media: “I have no other choice. It doesn’t seem normal to have to return to work, but we have no other option. I have to continue covering expenses.” A Madrid bricklayer complained: “I don’t know why the hell we have to go back if there is no way of keeping distance from each other. I only hope that my colleagues also work with a mask. If not, we’re screwed.” In China, courageous and self-sacrificing construction workers build a hospital in two weeks, but in the words of one Chinese worker: “We are all abandoned tools after use. Don’t let the voice of praise fill my screen. There is still a lot of injustice and exploitation in the world.” A comment from a Turkish construction worker was poignant. Özkan told equaltimes.org about his life as a construction worker in Istanbul: “The conditions on our job site are deplorable, and I feel psychologically broken with worrying that I might infect other people, especially my wife or my 8-year-old son. We don’t have any way to disinfect ourselves on the site, so as soon as I get home, I go straight to the bathroom to take a shower. I can’t kiss my son. I can only greet him from afar.” In Pindostan, even though construction is considered an essential activity, construction workers look to lose almost 1m jobs. Archpaper.com reported May 8:

The latest labor figures point to a precipitous drop in construction jobs across Pindostan. 975k construction workers lost their jobs in April, with specialty trade contractors bearing the worst losses (691k jobs), while building construction lost 206.1k.

What may be most galling to many construction workers is the prospect of putting their truly essential lives on the line to earn a living for themselves and their families by building non-essential structures. In recent weeks, the Nashville Business Journal reported financing for the building of two huge office buildings costing more than $100m each. A third $100m project gives conspicuous consumption new meaning. The developer told the Nashville Business Journal:

The Motor Enclave’s appeal to its target audience is simple. People love cars. We will build car condos that start at $180k, with the average price at $350k for a 1,200-sq-ft condo that can comfortably fit four to six cars. Some will be built specifically to accommodate recreational vehicles and car trailers, and those units will be priced between $700k and $800k.

The money invested in these three projects will more than pay for the $237m that Pindostan is assessed by the WHO, which is leading the fight against COVID-19.

Pindo aviation workers face massive job cuts amid talk of airline bankruptcies
Steve Filips, WSWS, May 25 2020

The four major Pindo airlines (Delta, Southwest, United & Pindo) have seen enormous losses as travel volume has decreased by over 90% due the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Other air carriers in the top ten like JetBlue, Alaska and Hawaiian have seen similar declines this year. The profits extracted by the Pindo airline industry from the labor of workers over the course of the last decade have largely been handed back to large investors in the form of stock buybacks aimed at boosting share values. However, this year the top ten airlines have reported losses, leading to talk of the bankruptcy for at least one major airline. On May 12, Boeing CEO David Calhoun told NBC News:

There might be a major Pindo carrier that just has to go out of business, yes, most likely.

There is speculation that it might be Pindo, with nearly 129k employees. This month, one of world’s richest people, Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett, indicated his diminished expectation for profits in the airline industry by selling all his shares in the four major airlines, totaling $4b. The move impacted the ability of the companies to sell corporate bonds to help fund their day-to-day operations. Buffett had shunned buying shares in the airlines until 2016. He changed his position after the mergers that led to attacks on the wages and benefits of airline workers, enforced by the trade unions. The concessions resulted in greater profits and stock buybacks, producing higher share values. Airlines for Pindostan, a passenger and cargo industry lobby group representing the largest aviation firms in North America, has stated the industry spurs $1.7t/yr worth of economic activity and involves 10m jobs in Pindostan. A study issued this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research points to the possibility that up to 42% of Pindo jobs might be lost permanently because of the coronavirus pandemic, which would lead to over 4m job cuts in the aviation industry. Delta and JetBlue have come under criticism from a number of Demagog Senators for cutting the hours of their workers in opposition to the rules set for the receiving of aid under the Payroll Protection Plan. The airlines were granted $25b, with Delta receiving $5b and Jetblue $935m, money supposedly designated to protect the pay of workers, but the airlines have been angling to gain competitive advantage over rival firms through the cutting of hours and pocketing the rest of the money to fatten profits. United was the first to attempt cutting hours, but backtracked that decision after opposition from Congress critturs. Regarding the attack on pay, benefits and jobs, one veteran aviation worker said in social media comments:

We’ve seen this show before. They used the same terminology before they laid people off post-9/11 and during bankruptcy.

The unions have been complicit in the attacks by the airlines on aviation workers. They have assisted in the vast elimination of jobs, the imposition of miserable working conditions and raids on workers’ pension funds. In the face of the present crisis triggered by the pandemic, they can be expected to again work with the airlines to impose massive cuts. Delta has long been a target of unionization efforts, and a number of trade unions have been vying to bring workers into the fold, such as the campaign by the Association of Flight Attendants, which merged with the Communications Workers of Pindostan in 2004. In May 2018, JetBlue’s pilots, members of the Air Line Pilots Association, reached their first contract agreement with the airline imposing “market competitive” pay rates. Earlier in 2018, the JetBlue flight attendants voted to join the Transport Workers Union. AFA president Sara Nelson has been touted as a possible replacement for AFL-CIO Chief Richard Trumka. Nelson was also mentioned in the International Business Times as a potential running mate of Biden. Only in late April had Nelson pleaded in a letter to the Depnt of Transportation Sec Elaine Chao to enact rules mandating that masks be worn by passengers. The union has sought to keep workers on the job even under conditions where proper social distancing is impossible on packed airline flights. Currently there is no industry-wide rule from the USDOT mandating that passengers wear masks, putting passengers and crew at significant risk. The WSWS and the SEP have advanced a program that calls for no return to work until conditions can be made safe. This can only be achieved through the independent actions of workers, not the pro-company unions. It means that workers must form independent rank-and-file workplace safety committees that will place safety over private profit. We urge workers interested in learning more to contact the WSWS.

Global rental car giant Hertz added to growing list of Pindo corporations filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
Jessica Goldstein, WSWS, May 25 2020

Pindo car rental giant Hertz Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday, adding to a growing list of major Pindo corporations that have filed bankruptcy claims in recent weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the country and the world. The company made the decision based on declining revenues and expected sharp declines in future car rental bookings. Hertz’s stock traded at just $2.84 per share on Friday, down significantly from its latest high at $20.25 per share on Feb 20, before sweeping domestic travel restrictions were implemented for Pindostan. Hertz intends to use the bankruptcy filing as a way to restructure its mountain of debt and business operations. The restructuring has already begun with Hertz laying off or furloughing about one fourth of its workforce, or 16k workers, since March. Many more layoffs, job cuts, wage reductions and other attacks on workers are coming as the company and its global investors seek to shift the responsibility for its losses onto the working class. In stark contrast, former CEO of Hertz Kathryn Marinello, who resigned May 18, accumulated $9,138,362 in total compensation in 2019, according to Forbes.com.

Hertz’s filing is significant when compared to other large corporations in the wave of Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings since the pandemic broke out in the US, such as JCPenney and Nieman Marcus, because it controls a very large share of the car rental market with only two main competitors in Pindostan, Avis Budget Group and the privately held Enterprise. The rental car industry has suffered a similar fate to the retail industry due to the immediate impact of the pandemic and state mandates enacted to slow the spread of the virus in Pindostan. Sales and profits nosedived after many states banned non-essential travel, families and individuals canceled vacations and other events out of caution for their safety, and workers who usually traveled for business began to telecommute. The Pindo Car Rental Association reported in late March:

Car rentals in Pindostan declined between 50% and 80% month over month from February into March.

Hertz’s domestic competitor Avis has also announced restructuring plans as an immediate response to lost revenue, with plans to cut more than $400m in costs. This includes cutting back its vehicles and staff, pausing capital spending and slashing compensation for senior employees, according to the website Business Travel News. The grinding to a halt of the global airline industry has severely impacted the car rental industry in recent months. Globally, the car rental car industry has strong links to the airline industry, with nearly two-thirds the number of car rental bookings worldwide occurring at airports where travelers fulfill immediate needs for securing transportation after arrival at their destination. CNN reported that since the beginning of April, the number of passengers passing through TSA airport checkpoints in Pindostan fell by an unprecedented 94% compared to the same time last year. The bankruptcy and restructuring of Hertz and other major car rental corporations will have an impact on the global auto manufacturing industry, where workers are currently being filed back into plants under unsafe conditions to produce profit for the corporations. Hertz bought and leased vehicles from General Motors and other automakers to fill its fleets, and these automakers will likely see lost sales from the fallout, resulting in their corporate shareholders likely seeking to restructure and implement further spending and job cuts as well.

Hertz Corporation is a subsidiary of Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. Based in Estero, Florida, it operates 10,200 corporate and franchise car rental locations in 150 countries on six continents. Its parent company ranked 335th on Forbes’ 500 list in 2018. That year it reported $9.5b in revenues and $21.3b in assets and had 38k employees. Hertz began in 1918 in Chicago as Rent-a-Car Inc. John D Hertz, owner of Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company, bought the company from founder Walter L Jacobs in 1923, renaming it Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System. Three years later, the brand was sold to General Motors and began global expansion into Canada 1938 and later to France. Hertz repurchased the brand from General Motors in 1953, renamed it the Hertz Corporation and started trading shares of the company’s profits publicly on the New York Stock Exchange in 1954. Soon after the company’s Wall Street debut, it went through a series of acquisitions and expansion. In 1967, Hertz became a subsidiary of RCA and in the 1980s went through a series of ownership changes through acquisitions, including a $1.3b acquisition in 1987 by the Park Ridge Corp, owned and operated by Ford. Although Hertz produced about 10% of Ford’s pretax profit in 2005, it finalized the sale of the car rental service to a group of private equity firms led by the firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice in early 2006, after announcing that it would be selling the company in order to focus on building its highly profitable trucks and cars.

The Hertz buyout in 2006 was the second largest ever recorded at the time. Clayton Dubilier & Rice, together with the Carlyle Group and Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity, finalized the purchase for $15b. As a result of the deal, Hertz took on $5.6b of corporate debt, $4.8b of financing of its domestic fleet and $2.1b of debt leveraged against its international fleet. In addition to Merrill Lynch, other major global investors involved in the 2006 buyout included Deutsche Bank AG, which led the debt syndicate, and the now-defunct Lehman Brothers was charged with the asset-backed securities tranche. To pay for the private equity buyout aimed at enriching its top executives and shareholders, then-CEO Mark Frissora eliminated 32% of the company’s workers over the course of several years since taking the position in Aug 2006. In 2009, a year after the 2008 Wall Street crash and subsequent bailout by the Fed, Hertz laid off an additional 4k employees, citing a drop in bookings as workers lost their jobs and incomes and travel declined. In recent years, Hertz and other major car rental companies based in Pindostan have cited expanding competition from ridesharing services Uber and Lyft as major challenges to their ability to maintain profit levels that satisfied investors’ demands. Uber has also announced mass layoffs in the weeks and months since lockdowns have been implemented in countries around the world. The Hertz bankruptcy filing is one example of the restructurings that will unfold as the world confronts an economic crisis on a level not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, which is now only in its beginning stages, with banks and corporations, with the full support of capitalist political parties throughout the world, seeking to unload the consequences of their crimes onto the shoulders of the international working class.

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