Health care and the fight for socialism

24 June 2017

The Senate Republicans’ bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, unveiled on Thursday and set for a vote next week, comes on the heels of last month’s passage of a similar measure in the House of Representatives. These two bills are a milestone in the decades-long drive by the American ruling class to eviscerate the bedrock social reforms of the 1930s and 1960s.

The central feature of both versions is the imposition of more than $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, effectively ending its status as a guaranteed benefit program. The ultimate enactment of this class war legislation, whatever its precise form, will be the prelude to the privatization and dismantling of Medicare, the government insurance program for the elderly, and Social Security, the government pension system enacted at the height of the Depression in the 1930s.

Both the House and Senate bills cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy by more than $700 billion, eliminate requirements on businesses to provide health insurance for their employees, and allow states to exempt insurance firms from having to provide essential benefits such as doctors’ services, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, ambulance service, prescription drug coverage, pregnancy and childbirth care and mental health and substance abuse services.

What is involved here is a social counterrevolution. It has been underway for more than four decades, under Democratic as well as Republican administrations. It was accelerated under the Obama administration following the Wall Street crash of 2008. With the coming to power of Donald Trump, the billionaire personification of the American financial oligarchy, it is being raised to new heights of savagery.

What will be the impact of this legislation on the daily lives of working people in America? People suffering from diseases such as diabetes, asthma, even cancer will suddenly find that they can no longer afford to pay for the drugs upon which they depend to survive. Low income people—an estimated 23 million—will be stripped of all health coverage.

Millions of people will suffer needlessly, and many thousands will die an early death. For the authors of these bills and their corporate backers, this is not an unfortunate byproduct, but the deliberate aim of their health care “reform.” For the richest 10 percent who tower above the lower orders and control the political system and its two major parties, the diversion of money from profits and private bank accounts to keep working people alive and reasonably healthy—especially those too old to serve as a source of surplus value and profit—is an intolerable affront. Life expectancy in America is already declining and mortality rates are rising for the working class, in tandem with the colossal growth of social inequality. The ruling class wants to accelerate this process.

Is it an accident that the Republican plans single out for the biggest attacks low income older adults younger than 65, the age for Medicare eligibility? Insurers will be allowed to charge them five times more than they charge younger people. A 60-year-old woman earning $35,000 will have to spend nearly $6,000 of her own money to buy an insurance policy. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that many thousands, unable to afford health insurance, will be killed off before they can begin to collect Medicare benefits, or, if they do manage to survive to age 65, will collect far fewer benefits because they will die an earlier death, their health having been undermined.

No one should mistake the verbal protests and parliamentary stunts of the Democrats for a serious struggle in defense of health care. The assault on the basic entitlement programs dating from the 1930s and 1960s was begun in earnest by Bill Clinton, who ended “welfare as we know it” during his term in the White House.

Barack Obama had the gall to denounce the Senate health bill as a “massive transfer of wealth from the middle class and poor families to the richest people in America.” True enough! But Trump is taking off where Obama left off. By means of trillions in Wall Street bailouts and subsidies to the banks and hedge funds that lifted stock prices and corporate profits to record heights, Obama presided over the greatest transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top in US history. Along the way he slashed auto workers’ wages and city workers’ pensions and health benefits and imposed brutal cuts in food stamps.

The explosion of the opioid and heroin epidemic that, along with surging suicide rates, is cutting the longevity of large sections of workers occurred on Obama’s watch. His Affordable Care Act set the stage for Trump’s intensified offensive on health care, slashing health care costs for corporations and the government while increasing out-of-pocket costs and reducing benefits for tens of millions of workers. It implemented the principle of partially subsidizing the purchase of insurance from private companies with government vouchers—the framework long advocated by Republicans seeking to privatize Medicare.

The current policy of the Democrats is to plead with the Republicans to negotiate a bipartisan “compromise” that will “fix” Obamacare, i.e., make further concessions to the profit-mad insurance giants by more drastically slashing benefits and raising premiums and deductibles.

The choice offered by the ruling class—between “Trumpcare” and “Obamacare”—is no choice at all. Both lead to untold suffering, misery and death. The working class will not accept the destruction of social gains for which it fought and bled, wrenching them from an unwilling corporate elite in the course of mass social struggles.

America, along with Europe and large swathes of the world, is heading into a new period of class struggle. What the experience of decades of austerity, war and political reaction shows is that the defense of the most basic social needs, such as health care, is today a revolutionary question. Capitalism in its advanced stage of crisis and putrefaction is incompatible with basic democratic and social rights—including the right to a decent-paying and secure job, health care, housing, education, access to culture and a secure retirement.

The working class must advance its own independent program against both Trump and the Democrats, based on the fight for socialism. Profit must be taken out of health care. The health care industry must be removed from private hands and placed under public ownership and the democratic control of the working class. This requires an implacable struggle against entrenched wealth and privilege, and the political system that enforces them.

Barry Grey and Kate Randall

 

WSWS

US Senate health care bill guts Medicaid, slashes taxes for the wealthy

 

By Kate Randall
23 June 2017

US Senate Republicans unveiled on Thursday the Better Care Reconciliation Act, their version of a plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration’s signature domestic legislation. The US House passed its own version, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), early last month.

Like the House plan, the Senate version guts Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled jointly administered by the federal government and the states, slashing its funding by hundreds of billions of dollars. It would mark the effective end of the program, which currently covers 75 million Americans, as a guaranteed program based on need.

Better Care also repeals virtually all of the ACA’s taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, effecting one of the largest redistributions of wealth from the poor to rich in US history. These tax cuts would be paid for by slashing health care coverage and raising costs for the vast majority of ordinary Americans, in particular targeting the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with preexisting conditions and disabilities.

The plan was drafted in secrecy by a “working group” of 13 senators, a process drawing criticism from both Republican and Democratic senators. As of Thursday evening, a group of four ultra-right Republican senators said they would not sign on to the bill, as it was not draconian enough, while other more moderate Senate Republicans said they needed to study the bill before making a decision.

However, it is likely that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to garner the votes of 50 out of 52 Republican senators to pass the legislation with a simple majority, counting on the vote of Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie. The bill would then be sent to a conference with the House, where a final version would be agreed, before being sent to President Trump to sign. Senate leaders hope to receive a scoring on the bill from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) early next week and vote on it before the July 4 recess.

Medicaid

The Senate bill would convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” funding system, in which states would get a lump sum from the federal government for each enrollee. States could also choose to receive a block grant instead, not tied to the number of Medicaid enrollees. This would effectively end Medicaid as an “entitlement” program, so-called because the funding is expanded automatically as people qualify on the basis of need.

The legislation would also change the way federal payments to Medicaid are calculated. The Senate bill would tether funding growth to the Medical Consumer Price Index plus 1 percentage point through 2025, then change over to the urban Consumer Price Index (CPI). This would amount to a funding cut to Medicaid, as the cost of health care typically goes up faster than the CPI.

The bill would also end the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare by 2021. This extended coverage to an estimated 14 million people, mainly low-income adults earning below 138 percent of the poverty line (about $15,000 for an individual), in the 31 states plus the District of Columbia that opted to participate in the expansion.

Better Care defunds Planned Parenthood for one year, meaning Medicaid patients could no longer seek treatment of any kind at the nonprofit organization’s clinics. This will result in forgone screenings, less access to contraceptive and abortion services, and more unintended pregnancies, as well as maternal and infant deaths.

CBO scoring of the House bill, which makes similar cuts, estimated it would slash overall funding to Medicaid by $880 billion over a decade. The cutbacks would force states to remove people from Medicaid, reduce the range of services covered, and cut reimbursements to doctors, hospitals and drug companies.

Tax cuts

The Senate bill cuts taxes on net investment income for wealthy people, repeals an ACA Medicare tax on wealthy people, and eliminates taxes on health insurers, medical device companies and tanning salons.

Better Care repeals a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income (capital gains, dividends, etc.) for individuals making more than $200,000 a year or for couples making more than $250,000. In one of the bill’s most brazen giveaways to the rich, this repeal is not only immediate, but retroactive to capital gains made earlier this year.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that around 90 percent of the tax cuts will go to households with more than $700,000 in annual income, the top 1 percent, who will be freed from the 3.8 percent tax, along with a 0.9 percent payroll surtax on their salaries.

Smaller subsidies, skimpier coverage

The bill would make much less generous subsidies available to low- and middle-income people to purchase health insurance (people earning less than 350 percent of the poverty line, compared to the ACA’s 400 percent cutoff). Individuals earning less than $41,580 and families of four making less than $85,050 would be covered. However, the size of the tax credits would be tied to what it takes to purchase insurance with poorer coverage.

Insurance companies would be able to charge older adults not yet eligible for Medicare five times more than younger people, compared to three times more under Obamacare. The bill would also change the definition of “affordable” insurance. For example, a 60-year-old who earns $35,640 a year would be required to spend 16.2 percent of annual income, or $5,773, before receiving any assistance from the government. Overall, working-class families would pay higher premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for health insurance that covers much less.

Essential benefits and preexisting conditions

The Senate bill would allow states to seek a waiver from ACA requirements for insurers to cover essential benefits, such as maternity care, prescription drugs, substance abuse and mental health services, emergency care, and other vital services.

While Senate Republicans claim their legislation keeps in place protections for those with preexisting conditions, in practice insurers would be able to skirt these protections by simply offering plans that don’t cover a range of preconditions, such as diabetes, cancer, prenatal care, etc.

Such waivers could also affect those with employer-sponsored insurance. For example, large employers in a waiver state could restrict services, impose lifetime limits on health care costs and eliminate out-of-pocket caps from their plans.

Better Care eliminates the individual mandate, which requires those without coverage from their employer or from a government program to purchase insurance or pay a tax penalty. Due to the “reconciliation” process, the bill cannot eliminate the mandate, but it reduces the penalty to zero. Employers with 50 or more employers would also not be penalized if they fail to provide insurance to their workers.

While gutting the mandates, the Senate plan keeps the insurance marketplaces set up under the ACA intact, but insurance will be more expensive and cover less.

While Republicans in both the Senate and House, as well as the Trump administration, have set as their goal repealing and replacing Obamacare, both the AHCA and the Better Care Reconciliation Act keep the ACA’s basic structure in place—all while repealing taxes for the wealthy, gutting Medicaid and raising costs and cutting services for working and middle-class people.

This is in part the result of the procedure chosen for repeal. Lacking the 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, the Republican leadership chose to employ “reconciliation,” which is limited to a single bill each year, and requires only a simple majority. The rules governing reconciliation are arcane, and prevent changes in policy that have no fiscal impact, such as a ban on insurance companies covering abortion, which was dropped from the Senate bill.

But in the final analysis, there was no need to repeal Obamacare outright, since it accomplishes many of the goals agreed on by both capitalist parties. As the WSWS has maintained from the start, Obamacare was aimed at cutting costs for the government and corporations while rationing health care for the vast majority. Whatever version of “Trumpcare” eventually emerges from Congress for the president to sign will take the tendencies already present in the Affordable Care Act, then strip off the limited concessions it offered in the way of Medicaid expansion, essential services and other inadequate protections.

Obamacare took as its starting point the entrenched for-profit system of health care delivery in America, which is based on enriching the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies and the giant hospital chains.

With this as its basis, the ACA had as its aim the development of an even more openly class-based health care system than what previously existed, in which workers and their families are left with rising costs, cut-rate care, or no coverage at all, and the super-rich and privileged upper-middle-class layer avail themselves of the best medical care that money can buy.

As we wrote last year, through its tax credit system and marketplace exchanges, “[T]he ACA essentially establishes a voucher system, whereby minimal government subsidies are given to individuals to purchase private health insurance. It thereby serves as a model for the future privatization of the key government programs, Medicare and Medicaid, wrenched from the ruling class through bitter working class struggles in the last century.”

The Democrats have predictably denounced the Senate plan as a boondoggle for the rich, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer railing against the tax breaks for the rich and the millions who stand to lose coverage.

But they have little to offer in way of an alternative, except the maintenance of the Obamacare status quo, or “working with” the Republicans to fix it. That is because they believe in the underlying premise that health care in America must remain at the mercy of the for-profit health care industry, and that the provision of health care must conform to the interests of the capitalist market.

As the WSWS wrote in July 2009, more than six months before the ACA became law, the Obama administration’s “drive for an overhaul of the health care system, far from representing a reform designed to provide universal coverage and increased access to quality care, marks an unprecedented attack on health care for the working population. It is an effort to roll back social gains associated with the enactment of Medicare in 1965.”

The Republicans’ attack on Medicaid, embodied in both the AHCA and the Better Care bill, marks a further step in this direction.

Grenfell Tower fire victims and survivors treated with contempt by UK authorities

By Robert Stevens
22 June 2017

Those who perished in horrific deaths and the survivors of the Grenfell Tower inferno—which has killed at least 79 people—are overwhelmingly poor and working-class.

Their deaths were the result of the policies of successive governments, going back nearly four decades, through which the social rights of working people, including the right to safe housing, have been eviscerated.

Numerous representatives of the political elite and their media backers have engaged in handwringing and mock indignation over the fate of the victims. Their real attitude, however, is shown in the way that the survivors and their families have been treated by the authorities, with undisguised class hatred and contempt.

This is sanctioned from the very top of government. For days, there was no governmental or local authority assistance for the victims. It took two days for Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to make a 30-minute visit to the site, where she was kept away from the public on “security” grounds. Only after the awareness of growing anger in London and nationwide finally hit home in ruling circles was an emergency relief fund initiated. This was after public donations had already raised more than £3 million—totally independently of the government.

The official “Grenfell Tower Residents’ Discretionary Fund” is a pittance of just £5 million. Of this, a minuscule £500 is being made available as an upfront payment to those who were burnt out of their homes. Another £5,000 is supposedly to be transferred into their bank accounts, which many cannot access, as their entire possessions went up in flames. As of Tuesday, the £5 million has barely been touched, with one news channel reporting that a total of just £330,000 has been paid out to survivors.

This is approximately half of the amount spent on refurbishing the Tower with the combustible cladding that almost certainly enabled the fire to spread with such devastating speed.

Moreover, it stands in stark contrast to the £369 million in taxpayers’ money that has been granted to the Royal Family for a 10-year refurbishing of Buckingham Palace, which stands in the same London borough. The lives of 80 people, if not many more, and the destitution of an untold number displaced—who have lost everything they possessed—is valued at just a tiny fraction of the amount being lavished on one family, already amongst the most privileged in the country.

The work on the Queen’s official residence, estimated to be worth £2.2 billion, will include replacing cables, lead pipes, wiring and boilers. When it was announced last year, a statement from Buckingham Palace read, “An independent specialist report concluded that without urgent work there is a risk of serious damage to the palace and the precious royal collection items it houses from, amongst other scenarios, fire and water damage.”

No such concerns ever crossed the minds of those in power responsible for Grenfell Tower, and the fate of around 600 people, who were left without the most basic safety requirements, including a central fire alarm and sprinkler system.

It was clear to all from the very outset that the fire was a major catastrophe requiring a massive emergency response. Yet no such co-ordinated action was organised by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council—despite it being the wealthiest local authority in the country—to offer emergency respite, including the provision of food, drink, warmth and shelter to those devastated by the crisis. This was their response to working class people, some of whom fled the blaze in terror wearing just t-shirts and their underwear.

It was the local population and others who rushed to the area, coming from as far afield as Birmingham, to organize support and help for those who fled the inferno. Many of those assisting were visibly shocked at the lack of any official emergency operation, complaining they had worked for days providing food, clothes and shelter, with no assistance from the authorities.

The inaction of the RBKC meant that hundreds of people made homeless by the fire, including those who lived in rented social housing adjacent to Grenfell—told to vacate their homes on safety grounds—were not provided with any proper alternative accommodation. Instead many were dumped at the nearby “official rescue centre”—Westway Sport and Fitness Centre. Here they were forced to sleep on the sports hall floor, on rubber mats with sleeping bags and makeshift pillows.

Seeing their plight, many Londoners offered survivors rooms in their houses and access to food, drinks and shower facilities.

Rather than provide decent accommodation for the victims and demand government step in to ensure it, RBKC has sent around 250 of those affected by the fire to stay temporarily in dingy hotels all over the capital.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston on Sunday show, West London film producer Nisha Parti, who has been helping victims of the fire, said, “Victims were going to hotels, arriving at hotels, with no one from the council to greet them, to check them in, to give them clothes and food.” Parti revealed that Kensington and Chelsea council were giving just £10 a day to the survivors on arrival at the hotels, an amount even lower than the daily amount allotted in welfare payments to the unemployed. This barely allowed its destitute recipients to pay for a sandwich and a beverage.

Reports also emerged that RBKC council were sending Grenfell and nearby residents into accommodation miles away from London. The council denied claims that people have been sent outside of central London.

This however is contradicted by accounts, including the detailed statement given by one survivor, who lived in a flat on Grenfell’s 17th floor and who managed to escape from the blaze with his aunt.

In a video widely shared on social media, the young man explained that, “Another guy, they took him out of the hotel [the council originally sent him to] and they sent him to Preston…They [the council] are putting pressure on people that if you don’t accept their offer [of accommodation] you are making yourself intentionally homeless.”

He also revealed that one of his neighbours—whose wife had died in the fire and who “was in a terrible place right now and losing it”—was “put in an old people’s home. He’s not going to get rehoused now. That’s it.”

He continued, “They are doing some disgusting things. They are cutting corners and we are already scared about what’s going to happen to us.”

By announcing the fund, May was acknowledging the scale of opposition that was developing against her pro-austerity government and the ruling elite, fuelled by the blatant refusal of the government and the Conservative-run local authority to assist survivors. May said, “Frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough.”

Yet even as she was forced to state this, after denying it for days, May would not guarantee those made homeless would be rehoused in the borough, only that “as far as possible” they would be placed “within the borough or neighbouring boroughs. Some people may actually want to go to another part of London.”

Shortly after May’s statement, furious local residents descended on Kensington Town Hall to demand “Justice for Grenfell” and that those suffering be afforded basic, civilised treatment. Thousands more participated in a demonstration that marched through central London.

The Labour MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, “We are still hearing stories of people not being allocated properly. There’s one woman this morning and her child, they have been moved three times since Wednesday into different accommodation.”

On Tuesday evening, almost a week after the fire, Sky News reported that a number of survivors were still sleeping in the Westway Centre. They feared, it reported, that if they went elsewhere council officials would wash their hands of them entirely and prevent them from being rehoused in the borough. Sky reported that it had been told that a number of people were sleeping in cars and even in parks since the fire and had received no assistance.

The callous disregard for human suffering by the powers that be and the humiliating treatment that survivors have been subjected to over the past week is an object lesson in the real priorities of the ruling elite.

The terrible, entirely preventable, catastrophe unleashed on the Grenfell residents and the working-class community around it reveals the true face of a society in which a sated layer of multi-millionaires and billionaires wallow in unimaginable wealth and privilege while working people are condemned to live in death traps.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/22/vict-j22.html

Senate Republican health plan could make deeper cuts to Medicaid than House version

By Kate Randall
20 June 2017

As the Senate Republican “working group” continues to craft its plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) behind closed doors, press reports suggest that in some respects the Senate bill will go even further than the House version in attacking working people and cutting health care for low income families.

Both the Senate bill and the American Health Care Act (ACHA) passed by the House would gut Medicaid, the health insurance program jointly administered by the federal government and the states. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the AHCA would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance by 2026, mainly because the House bill would effectively end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion for low-income adults.

The AHCA would cut $800 billion from Medicaid over 10 years, by both ending the expansion of the program and placing a per capita cap on Medicaid spending overall. This would mark the end of the program as a guaranteed social benefit based on need, forcing states to cut back benefits and throw people off the rolls.

The Hill, citing lobbyists and Senate aides, now reports that an option being considered by the 13-member Senate working group would make even deeper cuts to Medicaid by changing the way growth in per-patient spending is calculated. While the proposal would start with the growth rate for the cap on Medicaid spending at the same levels as the House bill, beginning in 2025 it would drop it to a lower growth rate, the Hill’s sources say.

The AHCA would cap Medicaid’s per-patient spending and adjust it upward each year based on the CPI-M, the consumer price index for urban consumer medical care. It would add an extra percentage point each year for spending for the elderly and disabled. The Senate plan would use the same system initially, but beginning in 2025 it would adjust per-enrollee spending using the standard CPI-U, or prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services.

The change is not simply one of bookkeeping. Due to the rising cost of medical care relative to other consumer goods, the change would cripple Medicaid even further by decreasing the already restrictive spending cap and growth rate. To put this into perspective, since 2000, the CPI-M has grown about 41 percentage points more than the CPI-U.

According to the Hill, the “plan has been described as a ‘consensus option’” and has already been sent to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis. The Office of the Chief Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently estimated that the change in the consumer price index used would slash an estimated $64 billion from Medicaid funding over a decade.

While Senate Republicans are in the final stages of drafting the bill, without any public hearings or even a pretense of consultation, Senate Democrats are engaged in a political stunt that will do nothing to stop passage of the reactionary legislation.

The Democrats planned to disrupt Senate business by holding the floor all Monday night to protest the Republicans’ secretive proceduring, using parliamentary tactics to disrupt the ordinary business of the chamber.

While making speeches on the virtues of Obamacare—the Democratic program to cut health care costs for corporations and the government—the Democrats are making only a token gesture against the even more reactionary pro-business replacement plan being drafted by the Republicans.

The Democrats can offer no way forward for the millions of Americans who are currently struggling to obtain health care and pay their bills under Obamacare, and will fare even worse under the Republican replacement. That is because the Democrats share the same class objectives as the Republicans, to boost the profits of insurance companies, drug companies, hospital chains and medical device companies.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set a goal of pushing the legislation through before the July 4 recess, using the process known as “reconciliation,” which allows the bill to pass with a simple majority and exempts it from any filibuster. The main obstacle to passage is not any protest by the Democrats, which is only for public consumption, but differences within the Republican caucus in the Senate and between House and Senate Republicans.

Meanwhile, a new study also shows the potential ill effects of the House bill, the AHCA, on the US economy. The study by the Commonwealth Fund and George Washington University shows that while the economy would see a short-term boost from the repeal of the ACA’s taxes on the wealthy and corporations, in the long run the decrease in federal spending on health care would lead to the loss of almost 1 million jobs over a decade.

Credit: Business Insider • Source: The Commonwealth Fund

The study writes of the AHCA: “It initially raises the federal deficit when taxes are repealed, leading to 864,000 more jobs in 2018. In later years, reductions in support for health insurance cause negative economic effects. By 2026, 924,000 jobs would be lost, gross state products would be $93 billion lower, and business output would be $148 billion less. About three-quarters of jobs lost (725,000) would be in the health care sector.”

The number of people working in the health care sector has risen in recent years due to the greater access to health care by people newly insured under Obamacare or through the expansion of Medicaid, as well as the aging of the population. The study notes that under the AHCA, cuts to Medicaid and federal subsidies for people to access health insurance would lead to fewer people using medical care and fewer jobs in the health care sector.

In other words, the estimated 1 million job losses would be a direct result of people being denied access to needed medical care, and those who are insured would have less money to put back into the economy in the form of consumer spending. The job losses would vary by state, according to the study, with many losing tens of thousands of jobs (see map).

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/20/heal-j20.html

Corporate mass murder in London

17 June 2017

Shock and horror has boiled over into raw anger and fury. Thousands protested in London Friday to demand justice and the punishment of those responsible for mass murder in the worst housing fire in modern British history.

Hundreds chanting “We want justice” for the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno surrounded Kensington Town Hall, London to demand answers from council officials who had barricaded themselves in the building.

Prime Minister Theresa May while visiting Kensington was forced to remain in a church and was then chased away—surrounded by a heavy security detail—with protesters booing and shouting “shame on you” and “coward.”

This sentiment finds its echo throughout Britain and worldwide.

Millions are horrified by the loss of at least 100 and as many as 150 lives of working class residents in Wednesday’s fire.

Most shocking of all, this took place in Kensington and Chelsea, Britain’s richest borough in one of the richest cities in the world. But like so many other areas of the capital, extreme wealth exists side-by-side with extreme deprivation.

Kensington and Chelsea is one of the most socially divided areas of London, with those living on the Lancaster West Estate, where Grenfell Tower is located, in clear view of the homes of multi-millionaires and billionaires. The most expensive street in the country, Victoria Road in Kensington, has an average house price of £8 million.

This imparts a politically explosive dynamic to unfolding events—which is why, incredibly, the police and council officials have stonewalled the appeals of resident’s families and friends and have still refused to admit the real death toll.

Grenfell is not only an appalling tragedy. It is a crime. Those whose lives were taken were murdered just as surely as if a torch had been applied to the building.

Ruthless cost-cutting with no concern for public safety laid the basis for the Grenfell deaths and ensured the devastating, rapid spread of the fire from its initial source in just a single apartment.

The fire spread so rapidly due to the cladding on the building bursting into flames. It was added last year in a “refurbishment.” On Friday, what many already suspected was confirmed when it was revealed that the insulating material used was combustible. It was chosen because it was £2 per square metre cheaper than a “fire resistant” alternative. The saving made amounted to just £5,000.

This and other equally life-threatening decisions were taken or authorised by the Conservative-run Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, who ran Grenfell Tower on its behalf. The tower block had no central fire alarm system, no sprinklers in place and just one exit stairwell. The authorities ignored repeated warnings from a tenants group and residents over many years who insisted that Grenfell was unsafe and a “death trap.”

Such flagrant criminality has deeper causes. The essential fact is that the Grenfell deaths are the product of class society and the “normal” workings of the capitalist system.

London is a world centre of speculation and financial parasitism. And the property market is a vital element of this global web of corruption. Land and housing in the capital have become one of the most lucrative commodities in the world. It is not only that London is home to 80 billionaires, but the fact that fully 60 percent of its skyscrapers and vast numbers of luxury houses and flats are owned by overseas companies or wealthy residents who rarely or never set foot in them.

Catering to this market demands the social cleansing of council estates of their poor residents, especially when they are located in a desirable area. This has become so routine that residents of the Lancaster West Estate are correct to insist that the failure to invest in Grenfell Tower was a deliberate effort to drive them out.

Similar equally anti-social decisions are made every single day by the money-mad oligarchy and their political flunkeys who determine every aspect of people’s lives to ruinous effect. Homes and schools are rendered unsafe. Hospitals closed, beds lost, vital social services withdrawn because someone, somewhere decides they are an unacceptable drain on profit—which must be maintained at whatever cost.

Forty years after Margaret Thatcher declared, “There is no such thing as society,” in order to justify the gutting of social services, privatisation and deregulation, the social conditions facing the working class have been reduced to levels once associated with the so called “third world.” This testifies to the immense class divide and social inequality that now exist in all capitalist countries.

On Thursday in the face of mounting public anger, May ordered a public inquiry into the Grenfell fire. This is aimed at ensuring a cover-up and the protection of those responsible—above all within her own government.

Those responsible for these deaths must be arrested and face criminal proceedings with the truth to come out in trials. Among these should be the former London mayor Boris Johnson, who is responsible for the slashing of London’s fire service and mass deregulation, and Kensington and Chelsea council leader Nick Paget-Brown.

But while leading Tory figures such as Johnson were responsible for the last wave of ultra-gentrification in the service of the super-rich, all the bourgeois parties, including Labour, which runs many of London’s councils, are equally culpable. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan must answer for his role in allowing this situation to continue unchallenged since he took office promising to remedy London’s housing crisis.

It should be stressed that the death toll from Grenfell is expected to exceed the combined total resulting from every terrorist attack in the UK since the beginning of the so-called war on terror in 2001.

Whenever a terrorist attack has taken place in Britain over the last decade, the full force of the state has been brought to bear. Police have carried out raids on every person who is linked, even in the most innocuous way, to the individual terrorist. They have been immediately arrested and hauled off to be detained and grilled for days on end. In response to the Grenfell fire, not a single person in any responsible position has yet been arrested, let alone charged.

Instead we are promised a toothless inquiry!

Whatever the outcome of ongoing police investigations and public inquiry, neither will uncover the essential cause of the corporate mass murder at Grenfell because it is rooted in the failed capitalist system, which is reaping untold misery, and death and destruction against the vast majority of the planet’s population.

The appalling loss of life in London demonstrates the urgent necessity for the mobilisation of the working class behind a socialist programme and putting an end to the subordination of every aspect of social policy to the interests of the financial swindlers and parasites.

Robert Stevens

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/17/pers-j17.html

Hey Bernie! Welcome to the millionaire’s club!

By Tom Hall
13 June 2017

Personal finance disclosure forms submitted by Bernie Sanders, and widely reported in the media, reveal that Sanders’ income was more than $1 million last year. This figure includes both his $174,000 annual salary as a senator and $858,750 from book royalties, including a nearly $800,000 advance for a book, Our Revolution, about his 2016 presidential primary campaign.

The threshold for the wealthiest 1 percent by annual income in the United States is $389,436, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Sanders’ income would put him somewhere in the top one-fifth of one percent, according to US Census data.

The wealth of the average US senator and representative has skyrocketed in recent years, earning Congress a reputation as a “millionaire’s club.” In 2014, the average personal wealth across both houses of Congress surpassed $1 million for the first time in history, with the median net worth of the Senate surging from $2.5 to $2.7 million.

However, few members of Congress are able to amass as much wealth in a single year as Bernie Sanders did last year. Opensecrets.org shows that Sanders’ book royalties alone would been the third-highest outside income in the Senate in 2014, the last year for which the site has figures. At $1.2 million, first place that year went to fellow “progressive” Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who parlayed her brief tenure as a rubber-stamp banking regulator during Obama’s first term into a Senate seat.

We at the WSWS would like to tell Sanders: welcome to the millionaire’s club!

Opensecrets.org’s records show that, for years, you have been forced to subsist on income levels at or around the threshold of the top 1 percent, in the low-to-mid six figures. This, no doubt, is what you had in mind during a primary debate last year when you described yourself as “one of the poorer members of the United States Senate.”

But 2016 was a turning point in your career. The $1 million payday you received last year is payment for services rendered during your intervention in last year’s Democratic primaries. Your fraudulent claims to be leading a “political revolution” against the “billionaire class” were designed to corral popular anger and promote illusions in the Democratic Party, one of the two parties of the American corporate-financial aristocracy, as a party representing the interests of working people.

And while you attracted considerable interest from left-leaning workers and young people with your false claims to be a socialist, you rejected basic socialist measures such as the nationalization of key industries, endorsed American imperialism’s wars of conquest, and defended a truculent nationalism which pitted American workers against their brothers and sisters internationally.

Your intervention was all the more crucial as the Democratic Party was preparing to nominate Hillary Clinton, who was widely and deservedly hated as a stooge of Wall Street and the military. You threw your support to her in the Democratic National Convention and presented her candidacy as a continuation of your so-called “political revolution.” You declared that electing Clinton was an urgent necessity to defeat Trump, in spite of the fact that her pro-war, anti-working class agenda was no less reactionary than Trump’s.

But your work was not yet done. When this produced a debacle for the Democrats in the November election, you were elevated to a more responsible position within the Democratic political hierarchy, working closely with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, whose election campaigns have received tens of millions of dollars in funding from Wall Street. You crossed the country stumping for Democrats with the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Obama cabinet member Tom Perez.

You have even emerged as a de facto leader of a wing of the Democratic Party concerned that the party’s focus on the right-wing campaign over Russia against Trump at the expense of posturing over social issues could open the door to the emergence of a mass popular movement outside the control of the Democrats, a potential threat to capitalism. Nevertheless, you have supported the Democrats’ unsubstantiated accusations of Russian collusion with Trump, which are designed to force a confrontation with the world’s second largest nuclear power.

In your campaign to corral social opposition behind the Democrats, you have received the crucial aid of the middle class, pseudo-left organizations which function as satellites of the Democratic Party. They all presented as good coin your calls for a “political revolution” and either endorsed your candidacy, as in the case of Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialists of America, or, like the International Socialist Organization, issued mildly worded tactical criticisms of your decision to run as a Democrat rather than continuing the charade of running statewide in Vermont as an “independent.” As with your own campaign, their goal was to prevent the emergence of a genuine socialist movement within the working class capable of challenging American capitalism. Many of them made the trek to Chicago this weekend to hear you speak at the People’s Summit, an annual gathering of what passes for the Democratic Party’s “left.”

The pseudo-left is also being handsomely rewarded for their services to capitalism. Last year, the Ford Foundation announced that it was donating $100 million to Black Lives Matter; it has since cashed in through such investments as a “black debit card” and other projects promoting black capitalism.

Last year’s million, you have reason to hope, will be the first of many. Given the explosive character of the political and economic conditions in the United States, and the broad hostility workers feel towards both the Trump administration and his Democratic opponents, the ruling class will very likely continue to value your political services.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/13/sand-j13.html

How America Imploded

The Invisible Fist

When I began writing about economics, one curious set of facts immediately leapt out at me. A fact at odds with the theories and models I’d been taught – all of which said America was the exemplar of a successful economy, its platonic ideal.

Right around 1970, the more that I looked at the data, something seemed to go badly wrong with the US economy. Very badly wrong. Incomes began to flatline – and never recovered. Union participation shrank. Basic measures of well being like education, literacy, and health flatlined. Like an invisible fist had KO’d a society.

But why? What was different, special, about that date – 1970, or thereabouts?

Reality intruded, as it always does. The great financial crisis of 2007, which I’d been predicting, exploded. A Great Recession followed, and a recovery that wasn’t followed that, and then, just as I’d suspected, society shifted hard right in response to being abandoned by politicians all too happy to bail out bankers. Trump happened, Brexit happened. And I forgot all about the question I began with: 1970.

I was too young, and perhaps too idealistic, to see then what is all too obvious now.

What really happened to America? 1970 was roughly the year de jure segregation ended. We don’t need to debate the precise date, call it when you will. I date it to 1971, when segregated school buses were struck down by the Supreme Court. And it tells us a very powerful truth about life, economics, and America.

From slavery, through segregation, the US economy’s capital had a ready made supply of cheap labour. That is a crude way to put a barbaric human reality. People were exploited institutionally and systemically for profit is more accurate.

But in 1970 this supply of cheap labour suddenly began to come to an end. Now capital had to to pay higher costs. It couldn’t simply pool workers into two castes, one of whom was disposable, barely human at all. Exploitation was less efficient than it had been. How did the economy respond?

It simply shifted from exploiting one group of people to exploiting everyone as much as it could.

Union busting, overwork, and wage stagnation began in earnest. Then inflation for life’s basics caught fire: education, healthcare, and so on began to skyrocket in price. Quality of life began to fall.

Capitalism was quite literally eating itself. Without a supply of cheap labour, the US economy was doing the only thing it knew how to do: create another one. Except this time it was everyone, not just minorities. Of course it’s true to say minorities still face steep inequities. Yet what’s truer is that now everyone is exploited mercilessly by haywire capitalism.

In every life there is a past to be reckoned with. Pop psychologists say: forget your past! They are wrong. Until we come to face it’s reality, the past imprisons us. With its forged hope and desperate dreams.

We had a dream once, too. An American dream. But if we see the past carefully, we will see that it never was at all. The economy went from segregation to stagnation, seeking to replace cheap labour lost. The dream hides that ugly truth with a pretty lie, as all dreams of the past do.

Dreams of the past prevent us from having dreams about the future. And they are more necessary. For the past can’t be undone. If we are to have a new dream in America, then we must let the old one go. Even now the economy is still what it always was: a predatory machine creating cheap labour. But now it cannot itself afford to. The middle class imploded has nothing left to spend, save, invest. The machine is broken. The dream never was.

Having seen all that, now we can dream of the future. It should be one where capital isn’t merely seeking to exploit cheaper and cheaper labour until everyone is bankrupt but a few tycoons. By definition, no society can ever prosper that way. It should be one where capital is invested in public goods like healthcare and education that benefit everyone. That is what prosperity begins with.

(No, capital doesn’t “have” to do what it did in the US. Marx was wrong about that. In Canada, Sweden, the EU, capitalism and socialism work together quite happily. And those societies have prospered where the US has failed.)

Despite its talk of innovation and growth, the American economy is still what it always was. A predatory machine. It has never changed. That is the problem.

What has changed is us. There is no meat left to feed the monster with. And so now the challenge is simple: change it, or perish as society with it.

Umair

June 2017