The following video was produced by the Florida AFL-CIO about the actions that workers took to fight back against the reactionary legislature in Florida.
The following video was produced by the Florida AFL-CIO about the actions that workers took to fight back against the reactionary legislature in Florida.
[originally posted at PSLweb]
April 18, 2011Deepwater Horizon explosion, April 20, 2010
The writer was part of a delegation that traveled to the Gulf at the onset of the crisis to meet with affected fishermen, workers and activists as part of the Seize BP campaign calling for the seizure of BP’s assets to pay for the cleanup and fully compensate economic losses of those in the region. Demonstrations were held in cities across the country at that time.
One year after causing the worst oil spill in history, BP has claimed 2010 as their “best year in safety performance” in their company’s history, even as workers in the Gulf region continue to suffer from the disaster.
Adding insult to injury, BP executives recently rewarded themselves with “safety bonuses.” BP’s CEO Steve Newman’s bonus last year was $374,062, which is really just a tip since Newman usually rakes in almost $6 million a year. Transocean managers—the owners of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig—received up to two-thirds of the total possible “safety” bonuses.
Role of capitalist state exposed
The explosion on the Deep Horizon off-shore rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast left 11 workers dead, 17 injured and more than 200 million tons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, wreaking untold damage on the environment and economies of the Gulf states. The aftermath of the profit-driven catastrophe showed the true power of big oil and exposed the government and state as managers of the interests of the capitalist class.
Millions of gallons of oil poured into the Gulf and hundreds of thousands of gallons of Corexit and other toxic dispersants—banned in 19 countries—were pumped in to conceal it. At the same time, the Obama administration approved dozens of off-shore drilling projects in the early days of the crisis, showing all the more in Obama’s own words that the federal government’s relationship to big oil is indeed “cozy.”
It took BP several attempts to cap the gusher, finally succeeding on July 15—nearly three months later.
CNN just received the “prestigious” Peabody Award for journalism for their comprehensive coverage of the disaster, acting as only one mouthpiece of the apparatus to echo BP’s efforts and the federal government’s endorsement.
BP headquarters in Houma, La., carefully released information on their efforts and promises to deal with the disaster—although the press or public could not walk into BP headquarters to verify that. Again, to show the relationship between big oil and the government, it was not BP’s private security at the gates of their operations headquaters in Louisiana. It was staffed by the Department of Homeland Security.
Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, is pressuring federal officials for $100 million, not to clean up the Gulf disaster or compensate workers and residents, but to speed up the infrastructure to approve more permits for drilling in the Gulf. Already in mid-March, Anglo-Suisse claimed responsibility for another oil spill, while yet more lip service was given to the need for “federal oversight.”
Workers, residents report chronic health effects
The working and oppressed people of Gulf have another story to tell. Exemplified in one man’s story who lives 100 miles from the coast, a recent report showed that he tested as having higher levels of chemicals from BP’s spill than actual clean-up workers.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic dispersants were pumped into the Gulf at the time.
The health problems resulting from the spill continue to become apparent while peoples’ pleas for medical care to address the toxic health affects of the spill continue to be ignored by BP and government authorities.
Many of the clean-up workers were fishermen and others who became unemployed during the disaster. These workers lived under appalling conditions and became exposed to toxic oil and chemicals.
“If I wanted to be in prison, I would break the law and go to jail,” explained one clean-up worker when asked to describe the living conditions of the “floating hotels” set-up by BP.
At one point, these workers carried out a strike to demand better housing. Most of them are still waiting for compensation for their claims from BP.
Major health problems are being seen among people exposed to both the oil and the dispersants used in the cleanup. According to Dr. Rodney Soto, a Florida physician, both the oil and the dispersants contain volatile organic compounds that cause an array of negative health problems. (Al-Jazeera)
According to Soto, between five and seven VOCs have been found in his patients who also report symptoms and illnesses including vomiting, kidney damage, lung damage, burning sensations in the nose and throat, skin irritation and liver damage.
Alabama resident Lloyd Pearcey worked on a BP clean-up team for four months. He has chemicals from oil and dispersants in his blood, according to tests conducted by Soto. Pearcey is now battling cancer.
Others who did not work in the cleanup currently have similar medical complications. Even more troubling, others with toxins present in their blood today may present symptoms or illnesses later as a result of the exposure.
As time goes on, there are potentially “tremendous implications in the human immune system, hormonal function, and brain function,” according to Soto.
Untold environmental damage
While BP reports that they have completed clean-up efforts in Mississippi, residents report a strange foamy substance washing up on shore that could very well be connected to dispersants used.
Yet the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state health departments and President Obama have joined the chorus with BP that the beaches and seafood from the Gulf are safe.
“It’s criminal for the government to tell people to eat the contaminated seafood, and that it’s alright for people go to our toxic beaches and swim in the contaminated water,” Dr. Soto said.
The environmental impact continues to be assessed with alarming statistics. One report showed that 60 percent of Louisiana coastal land erosion resulted from the spill. In reality, the extent of the erosion has not been fully calculated, but could be as much as the size of the state of Delaware.
The Gulf Coast shoreline is a fragile and complex ecological system—a system that protects the interior against hurricanes as well as providing a cycle of food for many different species. Thus, oil contamination on the coast kills off microscopic algae, a base food, cutting off nutrients to fish, shrimp, oysters and then larger species, such as birds, land animals and humans.
Toxic dispersants remain in the Gulf of Mexico. It is clear that this was a strategy not to clean up the spill, but to conceal it deep in the sea, impacting deep-sea wildlife for generations to come.
Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia. She presents evidence that the oil is not degrading as expected and is killing life on the sea floor.
Her videos and photographs taken deep below the surface show dead crabs, pale starfish and suffocated tube worms, which are all sea life key to the larger ecological cycle.
The sea life not only suffered from the oil itself; the fire that lasted for days produced a tremendous amount of methane and soot that ultimately will reach the marshes, beaches and barrier islands where other wildlife nest and breed in the Gulf.
No real compensation for the people of the Gulf
BP has assets of $152 billion. If British Petroleum were a nation it would rank 35th richest in the world, if its assets were calculated as gross national product. The Seize BP Campaign demanded that the assets of British Petroleum be seized by the government—the only entity that could carry out such an action.
These demands did not place faith in a government at the service of big oil, but demanded that the funds be placed into a trust that could quickly and easily assist the people of the Gulf and the clean-up efforts and be made available as more damages became uncovered.
This trust would have been administered by the people from the harmed area. The trustees were to include representatives of the fishers, shrimpers, crabbers, unions, small business people and workers in the tourism and recreation industry, local elected officials, clergy, and independent scientists and environmentalists.
Instead of full compensation for the people of the Gulf or the people of the Gulf having a say in their futures, Obama made Kenneth Feinberg trustee for distributing what BP was willing to pay. Feinberg was previously appointed to hand out the billions of taxpayers’ money in the bailout for the banks, insurance companies and their criminal executives. Feinberg holds the purse strings to the escrow fund rather than the people who are most impacted.
BP has been promoting the idea that the tourist industry in the Gulf was not affected by the disaster. In fact, many hotels were booked with clean-up workers and others working on the spill. Yet hotel and tourist industry representatives report that these visitors did not come to the Gulf to enjoy the beaches, eat in the restaurants and participate in one of the largest industries—sport fishing.
Just a month ago, local workers who assisted in the clean-up efforts and are suffering from poor health and other damages to their boats filed suit in New Orleans, naming BP and the other co-owners of Deepwater Horizon as well as the manufacturer of the toxic dispersants. The suit is seeking compensation for bodily harm and unpaid wages.
The White House announced a criminal investigation into BP, Transocean, the well operator contractor, and Halliburton, the second largest company in the world in oil field services, which cemented the rig. We know all too well what the result of a White House-led investigation will be—a slap on the wrist at best.
The oil giants’ drive for profits has resulted in theft of land from indigenous peoples in Louisiana to peoples of the Middle East, untold environmental havoc and millions of deaths from wars and occupations. The BP oil disaster has made all the more clear the need to continue to build a movement to eradicate the private ownership of the earth’s resources, so that the people of the planet can plan and safely extract needed resources without jeopardizing the poorest now and generations to come.
Recently it was announced that the Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina. This means that both the DNC and the Republican National Convention (RNC) will both be held in the Southern United States (with the RNC being held in Tampa, Florida). The importance of the region is clearly highlighted with both major political parties holding their conventions in North Carolina and Florida respectively.
The interesting thing about this, for the “radical Left,” however will be to see how grassroots organizing against these conventions will take shape. Over the past decade or so, Leftists have organized large demonstrations at both conventions, and while many who attend come from out of town, the majority of organizing is done by grassroots organizations. What could be demonstrated by that kind of organizing is a show of progressive Southern politics that runs counter to the idea of Southern passivity or conservatism. This is what could make these conventions important, not the plans of the two parties of capital.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
By: Gregory W. Esteven
[Originally posted to pslweb.org]
Project Gulf Impact forum provides glimmer of a new people’s movement
On October 10, Project Gulf Impact and Loyola University held an Oil Spill Forum on the Loyola campus in New Orleans.
The purpose of the forum was to allow coastal Louisiana community members to speak about their perspectives and experiences in the aftermath of the Gulf oil catastrophe. Panelists included a former director of an EPA-contracted laboratory, wives of fishermen and other workers, and activists who live along Louisiana’s coast and surrounding areas. In all, there were around a dozen speakers and about 50 audience members.
The forum, which included videos, panel presentations, and a vibrant discussion period, had political importance beyond its turnout. It provided a view of an emerging social justice movement in the areas affected by the spill. Two prominent themes dominated the discussion period: sharp criticism of the U.S. government and corporations responsible, and the need for a reconstruction effort that meets the needs of poor and working people.
Scientists, community members and new activists speak out
Cheri Foytlin, an activist and a mother of six, described her attempts at dealing with the authorities since the oil spill: “The government wouldn’t listen to me because I’m nobody.”
Susan Felio Price, a Cajun woman born in the Louisiana bayous, said, “I have been waiting for Obama to do something—to save us. He hasn’t. … I believed in a system that I thought worked.” She went on to describe how she has been personally lied to by representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Navy and the Federal Department of Agriculture.
Kimberly Wolf, a former director of an EPA-contracted laboratory, perhaps expressed the sentiment most strongly, trembling with emotion as she spoke. “This government is willing to poison over 14 million people for profit. The U.S. government is not going to protect you. They are going to drop you on your heads…We have to be at war with our government. This is a war for the generations.” Similar messages were repeated throughout the forum and met with frequent applause.
Most of the panelists themselves had experienced medical conditions because of the spill, and to have witnessed the profound public health implications in the coastal communities. Noting the authorities’ lack of interest in this aspect of the oil spill, panelist Vicki Perrin said, “We see people getting sick. We talk to them.”
Perrin is a leader of Project Gulf Impact, which started out as a documentary film project and has transformed into a non-profit organization whose mission is to “document the economic, environmental and human health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”
Multiple panelists brought up the fact that people in the fishing communities have unexpectedly become activists in response to the oil spill. Working class leaders have emerged in the Louisiana coastal region, and they are beginning to get organized.
Several panelists emphasized the important role being played by women from these communities in the movement for social and environmental justice. All of the panelists, excluding two from Project Gulf Impact, were women.
One panelist, Lauren Goldfinch, is even known as the “accidental activist,” because, like others, she never envisioned herself doing this kind of work. Goldfinch explained how necessity pushed her to take action: “My homeland is being ravaged before my very eyes.” Undoubtedly, many others would share Goldfinch’s sentiment if they knew such a movement existed.
BP’s “gobbledygook” science
The forum exhibited profound mistrust about the supposedly “scientific” information being put out by the U.S. government, the mainstream media and major corporations. Attendees suggested a monumental campaign—bordering on conspiracy—has been launched to suppress the truth about the causes of the spill and its impacts.
Panelists argued that alternative media and scientific sources were required to get the real story about the environmental consequences of the spill.
Heather Rally, a veterinary medicine student who worked on the “Project Gulf Impact” documentary and has experience in marine mammal rehabilitation, called the level of misinformation “mind-blowing.” “The media and scientific community are bought and paid for by corporate dollars,” she explained, in reference to the scientists contracted by BP to “investigate” the spill. Their lack of transparency makes their findings dubious, and they do not adhere to the basic principles of scientific investigation.
Environmental scientist and panelist Lauren Goldfinch called BP’s data “gobbledygook.” She also said that the FDA is insufficiently sampling the entire coastal area when looking for signs of oil contamination. She maintained that they are only testing where oil is visible on the surface of the water. It is clear, however, that oil can be found at much lower depths, in large part because the application of chemical dispersants has caused the oil to sink. In addition, Goldfinch explained that authorities have adjusted the “danger” level for contamination, setting it three times higher than it had been before. This fosters the impression that the levels of contamination are much lower than they actually are.
Gavin Garrison, the director of the documentary project, asserted that the EPA has gone back and removed data from their website and that critical media articles have changed or removed from websites.
Some have taken the investigation into their own hands. Vicki Perrin, the vice president of the Coastal Heritage Society of Louisiana, stated that she and other activists have been testing rainwater for the presence of dangerous chemicals in the aftermath of the spill. She maintains that they have been finding dangerous levels of chemicals like copper, magnesium, chloride, nickel and aluminum in the rainwater. Some of these problems predate the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe as Louisiana has a long history of environmental degradation. Like economically impoverished areas elsewhere in the country and the world, it has been used as a dumping ground by the worst corporate polluters.
A regional history of underdevelopment
Louisiana is one of the richest states in terms of natural resources, but its residents remain some of the poorest in the country. Institutionalized racism and national oppression remain intense and seemingly intractable here. This is a legacy deeply rooted throughout the historic “Black Belt”—the geographic band that stretches across the southern United States in which slave populations were concentrated and the largest plantations dominated.
Before U.S. imperialism began its worldwide march to extract resources and expand its markets, it first had to extend its reign over its own territories. The South in particular became a virtual colony of Wall Street, which—like the “banana republics” of Central America—delivered raw materials, agricultural goods, and eventually cheap labor, while remaining far less developed economically.
The economic condition of Louisiana—along with much of the South—remains an especially powerful indictment of U.S. capitalism and its political institutions. Rather than provide the “American dream” of social mobility, chronic poverty, underdevelopment and extreme inequality have been the norm.
Louisiana’s historical experience continues to provide a deep well of resentment against the U.S. government, among different sectors of the local population. For some, this resentment has echoes of Huey Long populism, which electrified the state in the 1930s. For others, it takes the form of “state’s rights”—which has long been used as a slogan for the country’s most reactionary right-wing currents. The simple characterization of Louisiana as a mere hotbed of reaction, however, is misleading. These different strains often mix together in a complex, if contradictory, way. Understanding these contradictions will be necessary for activists who seek to build a revolutionary, class-conscious alternative in the South.
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and now the oil spill, criticism of the government has increased sharply in the state. Local activism has increased dramatically as well, even if the movements are still in early stages of development and often lack coordination.
The for-profit system has proven that it can only function with that purpose, and has been unable to respond to the multiple crises. Elites, both national and local, have demonstrated their unwillingness and inability to envision a reconstruction program that prioritizes the needs of poor and working people.
It is partly in this light that laissez-faire “libertarianism” has gained traction in Louisiana—as part of a general anti-government attitude. But if implemented, the libertarian program would allow the unrestrained rule of private corporations; it would make the region’s economic and natural disasters even worse.
Among youth, on the other hand, there has been a striking interest in socialist and anarchist ideas. A recent nationwide Pew poll on capitalism-versus-socialism found that the millennial generation is essentially divided on the merits of each. While the poll did not include any meaningful details or definitions, it seems to be confirmed among the youth of Louisiana, who have not grown up in the era of Cold War anti-communism.
Since the Deepwater Horizon spill, many now refer to the corporate domination of society. There has been a noticeable shift in everyday conversation with workers and students, at protests and in public forums such as the one hosted by Project Gulf Impact.
While vast potential exists to build a vibrant social movement in Louisiana, we need strong working-class organizations and activists who are unafraid to talk about a new system, socialism.
Such organizations help provide coordination among disparate oppressed sectors, and give political direction during these difficult times of crisis. There is undoubtedly a rise in right-wing, racist extremism, and the Tea Party’s fake populism aims to channel the people’s righteous indignation in the wrong direction.
The multiple crises facing Louisiana will not spontaneously create the revolutionary change we need. Revolutionary organization, and tireless self-sacrificing fighters are required to show the people of this state that there is an alternative. If you’re one of those fighters—or you want to be—we invite you to join us.
The author is a life-long Louisiana resident and activist in Hammond, La.
One of the political groupings that lost the most in the elections last week were southern Blue Dog Democrats. The conservative group of Democrats formed in 1995 represented the most right-wing of the Democratic Party. The Party spent a lot of time hoping they could gain power at the national level by appealing to the more conservative elements of the South (something the GOP has historically done since the end of segregation). This “neo-Southern strategy” has to some extent, come to an end (at least in the short run).
I’ve said, and am not alone in saying, that the failure of the Democratic Party last week is their responsibility. It doesn’t represent a major right wing shift or prestige of the Tea Party (although within the conservative movement in the United States, it has obviously grown considerably) but instead was a failure of the Democratic Party to bring anything to the table to get their even liberal supporters to stand behind.
Take health care for example. The Democrats started at a compromise: a public option. Then the GOP negotiated away from that compromise and the health care reform that was passed was significantly watered down, in a major part as the result of the poor political choices of the Democrats.
But why do the Democrats do this? There are of course various different factors. One factor, the Blue Dogs. The conservative section of their party is constantly a road block for progressive legislation that also blocks the Democratic Party from ever being able to reach the status of a Social Democratic party (which puts America in a strange position compared to the rest of the “Advanced Industrialized World”). Another, perhaps obvious factor, is the power of Pharmaceutical and Health Insurance companies. They are some of the most profitable industries in the country and are not currently being threatened by any major/strong labor movement. The relationship between the Democratic Party and capital is no surprise to the Left. And in a place like the South that disproportionately lacks a strong labor movement, even the mainstream “alternative” to the GOP is significantly more right leaning. As a result, the discourse in Southern politics revolves less around class consciousness, and fighting capital, but instead is more around conservative issues like abortion (which was one of Rick Scott’s big talking points). This and the resistance to what the right has labeled “Obamacare,” are some of the things that have galvanized the right.
But the Left often makes the mistake of thinking that the working class is just moving more to the right, and that things like the Tea Party are made up of misguided workers. This is a misconception, as the labor movement in the US (while it has its host of problems, both historically and today), is not the base of these reactionary movements, and never has been. The “mobilization of the Tea Party” for this election should instead be viewed as a “lack of support by and lack of mobilization of the working class” instead.
So in a place like the South, where labor has to chose between overtly pro-business candidates, and just-a-little-less-overtly pro-business candidates: it’s easy to see why groups like the Blue Dogs have failed this time around. That’s not to say that the strategy of playing on conservatism of elements of the working class in the South won’t work in the future for the 2 pro-capitalist parties that rule America, but if we are to measure this election as anything: it should be a lack of faith in the party that is self described as being pro-labor. This is why an independent working class organization (party, social movement, whichever your flavor of the Left) is greatly needed, especially in the US South.
Further reading: Election nearly wipes out white Southern Democrats AP Article
Fidel Castro, who recently returned to the media spotlight, wrote an article that is published in the “Reflections of Fidel” section of the Granma International talked about the oil spill in his latest letter entitled “A Call to the President of the United States.”
Some if it may seem a little, apocalyptic, it’s still an interesting read (and he deals with many other issues, including the DPRK, Iran, and the recent Afghanistan wikileaks story)
A few days ago, an article was published that really contained many facts related to the oil spill that occurred 105 days ago.
President Obama had authorized the drilling of that well, trusting in the capacity of modern technology to produce oil, which he wished to make abundantly available, thus freeing the United States from its dependence on foreign supplies of that product vital to current civilization. Its excessive consumption of oil had already given rise to energetic protests from environmentalists.
Not even George W. Bush had dared to take that step given the bitter experiences suffered in Alaska with a tanker that was transporting extracted oil there.
The accident was caused in the search for that product so desperately needed by the consumer society, which the newer generations inherited from preceding ones, the difference being the unimagined speed at which everything moves these days…
I apologize for this being so last minute, but the announcement was just forwarded to us. – hastenawait
BP Oil Spill Protest, New Orleans, May 30, 2010.
New Orleans Secular Humanist Association presents:
Larry Everest – “A Capitalist Oil Catastrophe – System Not A Fit Caretaker of the Planet”
Saturday, July 17 at 2pm
6500 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70118
Larry Everest (www.larryeverest.com) correspondent for Revolution newspaper (revcom.us), reporting from Iran, Iraq, Palestine and India. He’s the author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda, which former United States military analyst and Pentagon Papers author Dan Ellsberg calls “remarkable, horrifying, brilliantly illuminating,” and which director Oliver Stone drew from in making “W,” his film about George W. Bush. In 1986, Everest wrote Behind the Poison Cloud: Union Carbide’s Bhopal Massacre, based on his on-the-scene investigation. He’s currently in New Orleans reporting and working with the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster (www.stopgulfoildisaster.org)