Flint, USA General Motors strikers-Mexican workers solidarity

Pickets at General Motors’ CCA (Customer Care and Aftersales) facility in Burton, Michigan, USA

By Sheila Brehm and George Kirby in Flint, USA:

“We all face the same thing:” GM strikers in Flint defend Mexican workers fired for making international appeal

24 September 2019

The WSWS Autoworker Newsletter spoke to pickets in Flint, Michigan, over the weekend, as the nationwide strike at GM approached its second week.

Flint, the site of the historic sit-down strike in 1936–1937, is one of the main centers of the GM strike today. Hundreds of workers manned Saturday’s picket lines at Flint Truck Assembly Complex and a distribution facility in nearby Burton. Among their numbers were not only GM workers, but Ford and Chrysler workers, as well as teachers, postal workers and people active in the fight for clean water in the city, an indication of the broad support for the strike in the working class.

Autoworkers on the picket line explained to the Autoworker Newsletter the international dimensions of their struggle. There is “no such thing” as a vehicle produced in one country anymore, Dan, a Flint Truck worker, said. “We get parts from Mexico, China and all over the world. With those parts we build the trucks.”

Dan denounced the firing of GM workers in Silao, Mexico, after they made an appeal for support from American workers. “We make the same truck as they do in Silao, and I think their wages must be very low. I heard about them refusing to increase their production when we went on strike. And now they’re fired? That’s not right.

I want to thank those workers for their stand and we defend them. It’s a global economy. So I think we need a global strike. We all face the same thing. We’re fighting to get everything back GM took from us.”

Buton, a worker from GM’s CCA (Customer Care and Aftersales) distribution center, said: “We are a distribution facility. We repackage parts for the after-sale market. We handle parts that are made in China, Mexico, Serbia, Italy and all over. And then I guess they’re shipped out all over the world again—to dealerships, car owners and wherever.

“I have no problem supporting Canadian or Mexican workers, we should stand behind them. The Democrats and Republicans claim that these people will have fair rights and wages when that’s not the truth. We’re in a global economy now, we can’t fight in one country. But with the UAW, [they try to create] separation between the Canadian, Mexican & American workers.”

Once the center of GM’s manufacturing empire, Flint has been devastated by decades of plant closures and layoffs. Auto employment has fallen in the city from 80,000 workers forty years ago to little more than 6,000 today. The total population of the city has also declined from 196,000 to 96,000. More than ten percent of the urban landscape consists of empty, contaminated lots marking where auto plants once employed thousands of people.

Former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who pled guilty over the summer for using training center funds to pay for lavish meals and luxury vacations, began as a local UAW official in Flint, where he was reportedly a political “kingmaker”. In 2014 Jewell and the UAW supported the scheme which lead to poisoning of Flint’s water supply as a “cost-saving measure.”

General Motors opened the Burton facility, a $65 million, state of the art warehouse encompassing 25 acres, less than two months ago. The company’s expenses were partially offset by a 50 percent, 12 year tax abatement agreed to by local Democrats, a deal potentially worth millions.

The facility is a model for the “Amazonization” of the entire industry which GM is attempting to impose—a low-wage, highly exploited workforce. Two hundred of the 800 total workers are temps, who earn lower wages and fewer benefits than full-time workers. GM’s ultimate aim is to convert 50 percent of its hourly workforce into temps, according to a former GM executive in 2017.

Temp workers at the site have been working a mandatory seven days a week, ten hours a day. They get only one twenty-minute break and a thirty-minute lunch. This is little better than in Mexico, where assembly workers labor for 12 hours a day—demonstrating the convergence of working conditions across national borders.

Flint residents who oppose lead poisoning of the city joined GM strikers

For full-timers, the situation is little better—they work for ten hours each day, six days a week. Prior to the strike, union officials pleaded with workers on Facebook to attend the local union meeting. One worker’s reply summed up the feeling of many, who said: “I’m not coming to the union meeting, because I need to re-introduce myself to my family.”

Full-time workers who spoke to the Autoworker Newsletter expressed enormous sympathy for the temporary workers. “I came from the old CCA plant and have been working with GM for 9 years,” said one second-tier worker. “It’s time we stand up against these powers. I started at $14 an hour during the recession, and I’ve been through three contracts [since then]. We were told $29 an hour from the media instead of what’s on the back end of the contract. They hold a signing bonus in front of workers as a victory [for second-tier workers], then possibly tier 1 health care. That’s good, but what did we lose in the back end of that? Now, we don’t have the right for temps to be hired in.”

Jessica, another full-time worker from the plant, told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter, “My group was one that took 8 years to get to $18 an hour. I have co-workers filing for bankruptcy, who qualify for state assistance. The janitorial department’s wages top out at $17–18 per hour, with very little benefits. There are some serious problems. I hired in at Delphi in 2006 when starting pay was around $15. We got raises up to a little over $16 an hour and then took a pay cut to $14 [when transferring] into GM.”

Detroit rapper GmacCash supports striking autoworkers: here.

Privatised poisoned water in the USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

From Pittsburgh to Flint, the Dire Consequences of Privatizing Ailing Public Water Systems

21 May 2018

The lead crises in Flint and Pittsburgh have many unfortunate parallels. Residents of both cities unknowingly drank water with high levels of the potent neurotoxin, which has long-term health consequences. The rise in lead levels was preceded in both cases by a miscalculation related to chemicals used to control corrosion in water pipes. Officials in both cities have faced criticism for their inaction and failure to alert the public. And in both places, lead levels remain dangerously high.

The two lead crises have another important thing in common: a private water company named Veolia.

United States comedian Michelle Wolf and Flint poisoned water

This 2016 video about the USA says about itself:

Murky Waters of Flint. How a whole city was poisoned

The city of Flint in Michigan, US, has a water crisis. It’s been going on since 2014 when residents were switched to a cheaper supply but it took a year before the authorities admitted there was a problem. As a result, thousands were exposed to lead poisoning, carcinogenic chemicals and legionella bacteria.

Miguel Francis Santiago investigates what caused the problem, its dire consequences and why they tried to cover it up.

For 50 years the authorities of Flint in Michigan, US had bought the city’s water from a trusted source. In 2014 however, the corporation switched to a cheaper water supplier. The former industrial city was now getting its water from the local river.

Before long though, residents were complaining about the colour, taste and smell of the tap water but their concerns were dismissed. Even the local manufacturing giant, General Motors stated that Flint River water wasn’t even fit for making cars, but still, those in power adamantly insisted the water was safe.

Paediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was the first doctor in Flint to recognise the problem. She conducted a study and proved that the number of local children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had doubled since the switch.

Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech spent more than $200,000 of his own money on analysing Flint’s water. When his initial and alarming findings were brushed off by the Environmental Protection Agency, he set up a website to tell the townsfolk about his research.

Thanks to their work, the Flint water crisis finally came to light and the city was forced to admit that the new water was unsafe. By then, thousands of residents had been exposed to lead poisoning, carcinogens and the deadly Legionnaires’ disease bacteria. RT Doc visits Flint to meet victims of the crisis, the heroes who helped expose it and former authority members who are now accused of a cover-up to understand how such wide scale poisoning of Americans happened to continue unchecked for so long and why it was allowed to happen at all.

By Jim Brewer in the USA:

Michelle Wolf’s Flint comment touches a nerve in Michigan’s capital

4 May 2018

As Michelle Wolf was leaving the podium at the end of her courageous and funny takedown of Trump, the Democrats and the press at the White House correspondents’ dinner last Saturday, she added, “…and Flint still doesn’t have clean water.” This is a statement with which a large majority of the city’s 100,000 residents would agree

From the office of [Republican] Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, however, it elicited an indignant rejoinder.

In an email to MLive/The Flint Journal, Snyder’s chief spokesperson, Anna Heaton, said, “Inaccurate comments from comedians will not help the city move forward.”

Snyder’s use of the phrase “move forward” means closing the book on Flint. A month ago, Snyder announced the termination of the last of the PODS, the state-funded distribution sites for bottled water and filters to Flint residents. Even though the city’s program for replacing lead and galvanized steel (which can also act as a repository of lead) service lines is only one-third finished and isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2020, the minimal assistance of providing bottled water to residents has been wound up.

The pipe replacement program does not even include the mains. There are no plans to replace the entire antiquated water infrastructure, which was built decades ago. Moreover, nothing has been done to address the damage done by corrosive Flint River water to the pipes inside residents’ homes.

The governor’s justification for cutting off bottled water distribution for Flint was laid out in Heaton’s comments: “All state scientists and independent scientists who have collected their own samples and data agree that Flint’s water system is testing well beneath the federal standards for lead and that the city’s water is in fact of better quality than many other US cities of similar size and age.”

For Flint’s populace, the vast majority of whom will not drink Flint water, this merely adds insult to injury.

In addition to being poisoned, losing unborn babies, enduring an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed at least 12 people, and having a generation of children who face lifelong neurological damage, the population as a whole has suffered immense trauma and stress, not to mention the collapse of their home values.

The crisis in Flint has brought to light a widespread state and national lead-in-water crisis. Because of media attention and state and federal hearings, it is now widely known that the federal standards cited by the governor are long outdated.

The “action level” set by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1991–only four years after lead pipe was outlawed in new construction–of 15 parts of lead to a billion parts of water, is long overdue for revision. There are no safe levels of lead exposure according to another government agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state’s agenda is no different than it was when officials decided over five years ago to change Flint’s water source: privatize the water system in order to generate profits for investors, speculators and the ruling elite in general.

In February, a report issued by the University of Michigan School of Public Health said Snyder “bears significant legal responsibility for the (Flint water) crisis based on his supervisory role over state agencies,” adding, “But reports, interviews and released emails suggest that by October 2014, the governor’s staff was sufficiently aware… that several top aides were arguing that Flint should return to using water from (the city of Detroit).”

Yet Snyder has never been charged, let alone prosecuted, for any crime, and he remains in office.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, a Democrat elected on the promise of solving the city’s water crisis, issued a pathetic response to the exchange over Wolf’s comment, saying that the comedian was helping the city by “talking and thinking about Flint.” Her administration has taken nothing but palliative measures to address the crisis, concentrating her efforts on dissipating public anger and channeling protests into futile lobbying of the political representatives of the banks and corporations such as Nestlė Waters.

‘The Poisoned City’ chronicles Flint’s water crisis. Journalist Anna Clark weaves together history and science to explain the public health disaster. By Cassie Martin, 7:00am, July 17, 2018.

A state court judge ruled Monday that Nick Lyon, the executive director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, will be brought to trial for two counts of involuntary manslaughter, as well as other felony charges related to the Flint water crisis. This ruling marks the first time anyone has been ordered to stand trial for the criminal conspiracy committed against the population of this working class city north of Detroit. Lyon was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder and still holds the position as head of the state health agency: here.

DETROIT CUTS OFF SCHOOL DRINKING WATER Detroit authorities ordered drinking water shut off at all city public schools after elevated levels of lead and copper were found at more than a dozen buildings with antiquated plumbing systems. [Reuters]

The Detroit Public School system has shut off drinking water at every one of the 106 school buildings it operates because of elevated levels of lead and copper found in water testing at 16 out of 24 schools. The announcement is an admission that the catastrophic conditions in Flint, Michigan, caused by the profit-driven decision to shift the city’s water system to polluted water from the Flint River, are replicated for school children in Detroit, the largest city in Michigan and the poorest big city in America: here.

Emily Sioma, aka Miss Michigan, didn’t snag the top crown at Sunday’s Miss America pageant — that honor went to Miss New York, Nia Imani Franklin — but she won hearts nationwide with a sly bit of activism. “From the state with 84 percent of the U.S. freshwater but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan, Emily Sioma,” she said during her introduction.

EX-GOVERNOR’S PHONE SEIZED IN FLINT WATER PROBE Authorities investigating Flint’s water crisis have used search warrants to seize from storage the state-owned mobile devices of former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and 65 other current or former officials, The Associated Press has learned. [AP]

Michigan attorney general seizes cell phone of former governor Snyder in probe of Flint water crisis: here.

KANSANS ALLOWED TO DRINK CONTAMINATED WATER Kansas officials reportedly allowed hundreds of residents in two Wichita-area neighborhoods to drink contaminated water for years without telling them. [The Wichita Eagle]

Rick Snyder, the former Republican governor of Michigan and one of the chief conspirators in the lead poisoning of Flint’s water supply, has been named senior research fellow at the Taubman Center at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Snyder began his work at the university on July 1, and will “teach and study subjects related to state and local government,” according to a statement released by Harvard. The reaction to the appointment by many Flint residents was summed up by Deanna Avery, a Flint resident and nurse, who told the WSWS: “It is a disheartening choice. The man who was behind the poisoning of Flint is unconscious of human lives. He should not be appointed to anything but prison”: here.

On Wednesday, just days after Harvard University announced that former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had accepted its offer of a senior research fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, Snyder announced on Twitter that he was withdrawing from the position. The decision came in the face of widespread opposition on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts; in Flint, Michigan, where tens of thousands of residents suffered lead poisoning as a result of his administration’s decision to switch the city’s water supply; and nationally. In less than three days, more than 7,000 people signed an online petition that urged the rescinding of the fellowship. Thousands more expressed opposition to the appointment on social media: here.

THE WATER CRISIS IS WORSENING TERRIBLE INEQUALITY As with many aspects of the climate crisis, the impacts of water shortages are not equal. While wealthier people are able to buy private supplies, drill boreholes and fill their swimming pools, poorer people, who already use less water and pay more for it, have few options. [HuffPost]

U.S. DRINKING WATER WIDELY CONTAMINATED The contamination of U.S. drinking water with man-made “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated, with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report by an environmental watchdog group. [Reuters]

Flint, USA poisoned water scandal continues

This video from the USA says about itself:

Corporate Media Is LYING: Flint Water Crisis Not Over

12 October 2017

TYT Politics Reporter Jordan Chariton spoke with Bruce Stiers, a Flint resident, about the ongoing water crisis.

This video from the USA says about itself:

Flint’s Water Crisis Is Also A Poverty Crisis

13 October 2017

TYT Politics Reporter Jordan Chariton spoke to Bruce Stiers, a Flint resident who has been active in speaking out in the midst of the Flint water crisis.

On October 21 hundreds of Flint, Michigan residents attended the premiere of the Lifetime television network movie Flint, screened at the Whiting, a performing arts venue in the city 65 miles north of Detroit: here.

A key former water plant operator for the city of Flint, Michigan recently gave pretrial testimony that city and state officials pushed through the water supply switch, which resulted in at least a dozen fatalities and poisoning up to 100,000 others—knowing that the treatment facilities were woefully inadequate: here.

HUFFPOST OPINION: ‘DON’T FORGET ABOUT FLINT, MICHIGAN’ It’s been over 1,440 days since the city had clean water. [HuffPost]

An audience composed largely of Flint residents gave a warm reception to a showing March 29 of Nor Any Drop to Drink, a new documentary on the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan.The film covers a broader timeline than other productions on the water crisis, spanning the period from the lead-up to the decision by the state to sever the city from its longstanding water source to the present. It has been more than four years since the disastrous decision to begin drawing water from the polluted Flint River: here.

Poisoned water and dead babies in Flint, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

Flint Water Crisis: A Pediatrician’s Job – Lewander Lecture (Hanna-Attisha) 5/24/17

Presented by Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, FAAP
Director, Michigan State University – Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative

The Flint Water Crisis is an ongoing manmade public health disaster. In a cost cutting move, the Flint water source was changed without proper corrosion control treatment. The crisis has wrought widespread lead exposure, outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease, an increase in pneumonia mortality, skin disturbances and community-wide trauma and distrust.

Lead is a potent irreversible neurotoxin with no safe level. An environmental injustice, the Flint Water Crisis disproportionately impacted a poor and minority population and illustrates the role of pediatricians as clinicians, scientists, advocates and educators. Lessons will be shared, especially in light of the current political climate.

Learning Objectives:

Attendees of this session will be able to:

1. Describe the background of the Flint Water Crisis
2. Recognize the role and scope of lead exposure mitigation
3. Identify the many roles of a pediatrician

By Carlos Delgado in the USA:

Michigan researchers investigate connection between Flint water crisis and high infant mortality rate

18 July 2017

Health officials in Michigan’s Genesee County are investigating a connection between the Flint water crisis and the high rate of infant mortality in the city. During 2015, when the lead-in-water crisis was at its height, the city saw a significant increase in the rate of infants who died before their first birthday.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Genesee County, whose county seat is Flint, had 43 infant deaths in 2015, the most since 2009. The infant death rate was 9.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, an increase over the 2014 rate of 8.3. The Genesee county infant mortality rate is the second-worst in the state of Michigan, with only Wayne County (which contains Detroit) faring worse.

The increase is even more pronounced at the city level. The 2015 infant death rate in the city of Flint was a staggering 13.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, a 38 percent increase over the 2014 rate of 9.9 and more than double the US national rate of 5.8.

By comparison, the infant mortality rate in Flint in 2015 was roughly on par with that of Saudi Arabia, which has a rate of 13.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) officials are now looking into whether the city’s water crisis has contributed to the increased infant death rate. Throughout 2015, lead levels in Flint’s water were dangerously elevated. In some homes, the lead levels had risen so high that the water could be classified as toxic waste.

The Flint water crisis began in April 2014, when the city, at the behest of a state-appointed emergency manager, severed its connection from the Detroit water system and began drawing water from the polluted and corrosive Flint River. In gross violation of federal law, the switch was made without implementing corrosion control measures.

That water corroded the city’s pipes, causing lead to leach into drinking water. Local, state and federal officials ignored residents who protested the fetid, foul-smelling water, and both Democratic and Republican officials conspired to keep the high lead levels a secret.

In October 2014, the General Motors (GM) engine plant in Flint stopped using Flint River water because it was corroding engine parts. However, neither GM nor the UAW made any attempt to warn the public of the dangerous state of the water. Water that was deemed too caustic for industrial use was still pumped into the homes of Flint residents for 18 months.

In October 2015, amid an intensifying political crisis, the state of Michigan switched Flint’s water supply back to Detroit’s. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in January 2016. However, extensive damage had already been done to the pipes. The water continues, to this day, to be contaminated with lead and other chemicals.

Lead is a potent, irreversible neurotoxin that has a particularly deleterious effect on children. Because children’s brains are still developing, lead exposure can cause serious damage, including mental retardation, abnormal aggressiveness, inattentiveness, learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Neurological damage caused by lead exposure is permanent, and the effects persist even after the child has been moved to a lead-free environment.

Lead exposure can also cause anemia, kidney damage, and damage to the immune system. Severe damage can occur at even very low levels of exposure. There is widespread scientific consensus that there is no “safe” level of lead.

Pregnant women who are exposed to lead are more likely to experience miscarriage or stillbirth, a fact that was known as far back as the late 19th century, when lead-based abortion pills were in use. Additionally, lead exposure has been linked to reduced fetal growth, low birth weight, and preterm delivery, all significant risk factors for infant mortality.

Throughout pregnancy, lead that has accumulated in a woman’s bones passes to the developing fetus, rapidly damaging the fetus’s developing neurological system and even reprogramming genes, which can lead to an increased risk of disease later in life. Lead exposure during the critical phase of immune system development can severely damage a child’s immune system and cause dysfunction that may not be apparent until a period of immune system stress, such as during an infection. Because infants must consume a larger amount of food per unit of body weight than adults, they can quickly ingest a dangerous amount of lead through lead-laced baby formula or by consuming breast milk from a mother with high blood-lead levels.

Though infants are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead-tainted water, they are not routinely tested for lead. Medicaid screening requirements only call for lead testing at 12 months of age, meaning that many lead-poisoned children go untested.

Even before the water crisis, the residents of Flint had been suffering from a high infant death rate, a result of the city’s high poverty rate and residents’ lack of access to decent health care and nutrition. The poor health care outcomes in Flint are some of the sharpest expressions of the abysmal US health care system as a whole.

A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund comparing health care system performance in the US with that of 10 other high-income countries found that the US’s infant mortality rate was the worst among them, driven largely by the massive gap between the rich and the poor. This rate is likely to climb sharply with the attack on health care currently unfolding in the US Congress.

The GCHD investigation comes as government officials are intensifying their drive to crack down on Flint residents and force them to accept the still-tainted water. Tax liens are being imposed on the homes of residents with outstanding water bills, threatening some 8,000 homes with foreclosure if homeowners do not pay for toxic water. Bottled water deliveries in the city are set to end in September, meaning residents will either have to drink the water or pay for bottled water out of their own pockets.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has filed a federal lawsuit against the city for not signing off on a 30-year contract to buy water from the Great Lakes Water Authority, the entity that took over Detroit’s public water system. This is part of a scheme to maximize the return on investment for wealthy bondholders who were a significant factor behind the drive to seize control of Flint’s water system.

The World Socialist Web Site spoke with Nakiya Wakes, a Flint resident who suffered a miscarriage in 2015, losing twins. She said that she experienced a difficult pregnancy from the beginning.

“My twins couldn’t even really develop,” she said. “I had complications with my pregnancy from the get-go.”

Wakes described her horrible ordeal. “Five weeks into my pregnancy I was having bad pain, so I went to the emergency room,” she said. “They told me I was miscarrying, that the baby was no longer in the sac. I ended up going back, having problems, having pain. And then I miscarried the second twin.

“It was a horrible miscarriage. I was in the hospital three to four days. I had to have a blood transfusion. I had lost so much blood that it almost killed me. Now, what I’m worried about, with them giving me blood, it could have been from somebody that’s already been contaminated by the lead. I don’t even know what’s going on, what is in the blood that they even gave me. It’s ridiculous.

“I lost my twins in 2015. [Michigan Governor Rick] Snyder didn’t come out about the lead exposure until after my miscarriage. I put two and two together. I’ve been drinking this water for all this time. My kids have been drinking it. My daughter had hair loss. My babies couldn’t form. If they had come out about the lead in 2015, my lead levels probably would have been quadrupled to what they are now.”

Wakes denounced those who sought to cover up the extent of the crisis. “If GM is saying that the water is corroding their parts, what do you think it is doing to me, and my babies, and my kids, and the people of Flint? What do you think it’s doing to our bodies? It was really money over lives to me. I don’t see why Governor Snyder is not incarcerated. They’re getting all the small people, but he’s the one that brought in [Emergency Manager] Darnell Earley. It’s ridiculous. Snyder should have to pay. Everyone who was involved should be held accountable for their actions. If it was me, I would be in jail.

“We had 13 deaths because of Legionnaire’s disease. I don’t understand. [Former Detroit Mayor] Kwame Kilpatrick is locked up for years for embezzling money. But Governor Snyder is still governing Michigan. He killed 13 people, and all of these people were poisoned under him. And he’s still governor?”

Whatever comes of the GCHD investigation, it is clear that the state has no intention of doing anything to mitigate the disastrous effects of the crisis. The right to clean water, the right to health care for Flint’s children, and the right to a job and a living wage can only be secured through an international struggle for socialism.

The Socialist Equality Party is holding a public meeting, “Flint & London: Social Crimes Against the Working Class,” on Thursday, July 27, at 5:30 p.m. in Room B1 of the Flint Public Library. We encourage residents to attend to discuss the way forward in Flint’s struggle.

THE FLINT WATER CRISIS IMPACT ON FERTILITY “The number of fetal deaths ― pregnancies that lasted longer than 20 weeks but didn’t result in a live birth ― increased 58 percent from 2014 to 2016, when the city had higher amounts of lead in its water, researchers found. The number of live births declined 12 percent.” [HuffPost]

Flint, USA poisoned water in Ibsen theatre play

Theatre director Purni Morell

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

Theater professionals address the Flint water disaster

Public Enemy: Flint, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play: A remarkable artistic event

15 June 2017

Written, directed and produced by Purni Morell, based on An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen

A remarkable cultural event took place last week in the devastated city of Flint, Michigan, whose 100,000 inhabitants have been systematically poisoned with dangerous amounts of lead and other deadly contaminants.

Actors from across the US, assisted by a British writer-director, performed Public Enemy: Flint, an adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, An Enemy of the People, on June 8, 9, and 10 in the gymnasium of a former school.

Ibsen’s famed work concerns a doctor, Thomas Stockmann, who tries to warn the local authorities—including his brother, the mayor—about water contamination problems and is persecuted for his discoveries. Parallels to the present catastrophe in Flint are striking, and hundreds of residents from the city and surrounding area responded enthusiastically to the performances.

British theater directors Purni Morell and Christian Roe learned about the Flint water crisis in January 2016, while touring the US. In an interview, Morell explained to a reporter: “It’s not about doing a play about a water crisis in a city experiencing a water crisis—it’s about the underlying issues, like what made the water crisis possible in the first place. In the play, as in Flint, the water is a symptom of a bigger problem, and I think that needs to be investigated because it affects all of us, not just the city of Flint.”

Morell’s version follows the general outline of Ibsen’s play. Dr. Heather Stockman has ascertained through laboratory tests that the water in the town’s economic “salvation,” its Wellness Resort, owned by Mineralcorp, is contaminated with lethal chemicals and carcinogens.

Stockman tells the newspaper editor Oscar Hofford: “I mean contaminated, Hofford. Polluted. Impure. Mercury, in high proportions, chloroform off the scale—that means legionella; copper levels way too high…I’m saying the Wellness Resort is a danger to public health. Anyone who uses the water is endangering himself.” It turns out, she explains, that an industrial plant upriver is “seeping chemicals into the groundwater. And that groundwater is the same groundwater that feeds the pipes into the pump room.”

Hofford, at this point supportive of Stockman’s exposé, thinks the contamination speaks to broader issues: “What if the water isn’t the problem, but only a symptom of the problem?… I think this is the perfect opportunity to talk about what’s really going on. The vested interests, the—well, maybe not corruption exactly, but the system, Heather—the system that means these people can do whatever they like without any comeback.”

Audience members in Flint

The newspaper’s publisher, Stephanie Anderson (Ibsen’s Aslaksen), representing the city’s small business concerns, makes an appearance. The embodiment of petty bourgeois philistinism, Anderson’s watchword is “moderation” in all things. As a founding member of the Homeowners’ Association and the Temperance Club, she informs Stockman that the “resort is the backbone of our enterprise…Especially for the property owners.”

Anderson too is initially supportive of Stockman’s revelations, even suggesting that the doctor be recognized for her “contribution to the city’s welfare.”

Everything changes when Stockman’s brother Peter, the mayor, outraged by word of the doctor’s findings, bursts in and demands that the truth be suppressed to protect Mineralcorp’s interests. He claims that re-laying the pipes, to avoid the contaminated water, will cost $7 million and mean closing the resort for at least two years. “Do you have any idea, any idea at all, what this means? … This would finish us. We close the resort, everyone else capitalises on our idea, and in three years’ time, when, if, we reopen it again, this city will face ruin. And it’ll be your fault.”

In Ibsen’s play, Act IV is entirely taken up by a public meeting at which Stockmann denounces town officials and imparts “a discovery of a far wider scope than the trifling matter that our water supply is poisoned … the discovery that all the sources of our moral life are poisoned and that the whole fabric of our civic community is founded on the pestiferous soil of falsehood.” He passes on from that insight to a misguided conception, the defense of “isolated, intellectually superior personalities” and the notion that the “majority never has right on its side.”

In the Morell-Flint adaptation, the director and actors have decided to turn over this portion of the play to a genuine public meeting.

Tyee Tilghman (Horster)

Tyee Tilghman, the actor playing Jim Horster, a soldier who faces deployment to Mosul in Iraq, addresses the audience directly: “What we’re going to do now is change things up a little bit because in the next scene in the play, there’s a town meeting and what normally happens in it is that Stockman tells the people in the town about the water problem, and they call him an enemy of the people because they don’t want to hear about it—but we thought it would be more interesting to do this a different way, since we’re here and you’re here, and so we thought we’d set up a little town hall of our own.”

This prompted audience members of all ages, children, teenagers and adults, to discuss their appalling and inhuman conditions. One man described having to lug endless cases of water up flights of stairs. Some audience members reported owning houses that were literally crumbling. Others bitterly denounced the bullying of the authorities, who threaten to take their homes and even their children. Still others recounted how they had received water bills higher than their mortgages, and how the homes of protesters had been broken into by police who confiscated computers. Angry residents explained how they contracted health problems and even debilitating diseases from the poisoned water.

All of this was reinforced by the fact that signs in the restrooms alerted users not to wash their hands with water from the taps! Cases of canned water were stacked against the wall.

Sign in the restroom warns against using tap water to wash hands

When Public Enemy: Flint resumes, Dr. Stockman and her daughter, Petra, a teacher, both lose their jobs. Moreover, Stockman’s mother-in-law, Eleanor, the owner of the polluting plant, threatens the doctor and her daughter with financial disenfranchisement and destitution. Stockman lashes back at “hypocrites” like Anderson, with her “cheap, small-town flimflam,” and the townspeople themselves.

Petra has the final word: “This town is fine—it’s no better or worse than anywhere else. OK, there are things you can’t fix—you can’t fix that people with money can buy their way out of problems, and you can’t fix that some people care more about their position than what’s right—maybe you can’t even fix the water.

“I think you’re wrong about people, Mom. You said people get the government they deserve but I think people get the government government can get away with. And the government gets away with a lot, not because people are poor or because people are stupid—but because for years, for decades, we’ve eroded our schools, we’ve failed to educate our youth, we’ve failed to invest in ourselves as people.”

And she mentions that like her counterpart in Ibsen’s play, a work now 130 years old, she will start a school.

Public Enemy: Flint is a highly unusual confluence of a classic play, committed, talented actors and a motivated and engaged audience. It is proof, if proof be needed, that art is not something detached from social life. Important, enduring art by definition is work that does not remain indifferent to the crises and convulsions of its time. From that point of view, this modest three-day presentation, staged in a gym, was one of the most significant theatrical efforts in the US in recent years. The participants in the production, which was serious and thoroughly professional throughout, deserve the strongest congratulations and thanks.

The central role of Dr. Stockman was exceptionally performed by Los Angeles-based actress Michole Briana White. She was supported by an outstanding cast that included Charles Shaw Robinson from Berkeley, California as Peter Stockman, Madelyn Porter from Detroit as Stephanie Anderson, Briana Carlson Goodman from New York as Petra, Tilghman from Los Angeles as Horster, Meg Thalken from Chicago as Eleanor and Chris Young from Flint as Billing.

Public Enemy: Flint was the creation of British theater company fieldwork, in collaboration with Detroit Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, the Goodman Theatre (Chicago), Chautauqua Theater Company (New York), Berkeley Repertory Theater, People’s Light (Philadelphia), UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance, M.A.D.E. Institute, & the New McCree Theater, Flint.

Morell’s adaptation honored Ibsen’s play while eliminating its more elitist tendencies. The latter had a great deal to do with the situation in Norway in the 1880s, where, as Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov once explained, “a working class, in the present sense of the term, had not yet developed … and was, therefore, nowhere evident in public life.”

Plekhanov pays strong tribute to Ibsen’s social insight and instincts, in particular the dramatist’s abhorrence of the crude, grasping petty bourgeoisie. The Norwegian writer, observes Plekhanov, despises the “moral rottenness and hypocrisy of small town society and politics” and “the boundless tyranny of petty bourgeois public opinion.” He notes that “Ibsen hates opportunism with all his soul; he describes it brilliantly in his plays. Recall the printer Aslaksen [Anderson, in Morell’s play], with his incessant preaching of ‘moderation,’ which, in his own words, ‘is the greatest virtue in a citizen—at least, I think so.’ Aslaksen is the epitome of the petty bourgeois politician.”

The play’s passion and outrage continue to speak to present-day audiences, not least of all in Flint, whose working-class residents are the victims of corporate predation and government indifference or worse. In fact, when the mayor in Public Enemy: Flint proclaims that “the public doesn’t need new ideas; what the public needs is good, strong, time-tested method, not hare-brained theories that turn the world upside down,” one is tempted to shout out that the world, above all, needs to be turned upside down.

The corporate and right-wing attacks on the production of Julius Caesar by the Public Theater, part of the annual free Shakespeare in the Park season in New York City’s Central Park, illustrate the danger of artistic censorship and more generally that of authoritarianism posed by the Trump administration: here.

Once again thousands of residents in the city of Flint are being threatened with home foreclosures for failing or refusing to pay for water, which is still tainted with lead and other toxins. On Tuesday, an unelected financial board voted unanimously to overturn a temporary moratorium, paving the way for the city to issue tax liens on the homes of 8,000 residents who could then face home foreclosures: here.

Banks, bondholders driving the legal conflict over Flint’s water supply: here.

IF YOU USE LOUISIANA TAP WATER Don’t get it up your nose if you live in these two parishes in the state, health officials warned after the water systems tested positive for a brain-eating amoeba.  [HuffPost]

United States bureaucrats charged about Flint poisoned water

This video from the USA says about itself:

14 June 2017

Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon is one of the highest ranking of five Michigan state officials charged with involuntary manslaughter after 12 people died from Legionnaires’ disease after drinking from the Flint water supply. RT America’s Ashlee Banks has the story.

By Shannon Jones in the USA:

Michigan health director named in latest round of charges over Flint water crisis

15 June 2017

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed charges of involuntary manslaughter Wednesday against the state’s top health officer over an outbreak of deadly Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis.

Nick Lyon, the director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, is being charged in relation to the death of Flint resident Robert Skidmore, aged 85, on December 13, 2015. Lyon is accused of failing to alert the public to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the city. Documents show Lyon was aware of the outbreak as early as January 2015. He is the highest-ranking state official charged to date.

With this indictment, the investigation touches for the first time the inner circle of the administration of Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, Schuette said Snyder is not being charged with any crimes related to Flint’s lead-contaminated water but left the door open to the possibility, according to the Detroit News.

Four other public officials, who had previously been charged with lesser crimes, also face involuntary manslaughter charges over the death of Skidmore. They include former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley; Liane Shekter-Smith, the former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) official in charge of drinking water; Stephen Busch, another DEQ official; along with Howard Croft, who headed the City of Flint Water Department.

If convicted the defendants could face up to 15 years in prison.

Another top Michigan health official, Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, is being charged with obstruction of justice in connection to the water crisis and ensuing cover-up. She was named along with other state officials in a lawsuit filed last year by Flint resident LeeAnne Walters. The suit charges that they bore responsibility for the lead poisoning of Walters’ children.

There are now a total of 15 Michigan public officials charged in relation to the Flint water crisis. There have been repeated public calls for the charging and arrest of Snyder, who oversaw the disaster in Flint that resulted in the lead contamination of the city’s water supply and the poisoning of 100,000 people.

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that resulted in the death of 12 people is also being blamed on the contamination of Flint water that resulted from the criminal switch-over from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River. Snyder administration authorities rolled the dice on the health and lives of Flint residents to accelerate their efforts to drive Detroit into bankruptcy and provide a windfall of profits to private developers of the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) pipeline.

The charges against the Michigan officials have been brought in the face of massive and continuing popular anger over the crisis in Flint. Public documents made available so far point to a conspiracy by Democratic and Republican officials at all levels to keep Flint residents in the dark over the poisoning of their water.

E-mail records show that Health and Human Services Director Lyons was aware at least by January 2015 of a spike in Legionnaires’ disease cases in Genesee County, which encompasses Flint. He even ordered an epidemiological investigation. E-mail records also show while Genesee County Public Health officials were aware of the outbreak, they kept it from the public, informing only a relative handful of physicians.

Lyon apparently sought to divert attention from the real source of the outbreak, the untreated Flint water system, by claiming issues with the plumbing at McLaren Flint Hospital, where many of the victims were treated, was behind the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

In addition to causing 12 deaths the Legionnaires’ outbreak sickened 90 people. Virginia Tech University professors Marc Edwards and Amy Pruden have asserted that the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease resulted from the highly corrosive Flint River water leaching iron from Flint pipes that then combined with the chlorine, thus preventing the chlorine from killing bacteria. This left Flint residents vulnerable to the outbreak of the deadly waterborne disease.

Others charged to date include former Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose; Howard Croft, Flint’s director of public works; and former utilities director Daugherty Johnson. Mike Glasgow, head of Flint’s water treatment plant, accepted a plea deal offered by the state in exchange for securing his cooperation with the investigation. Earley, Ambrose and Croft could face prison terms ranging up to 46 years relating to the corrupt decision to issue bonds to fund the controversial KWA pipeline project, the building of which motivated the switch from Detroit water.

One of those who has so far escaped indictment is former Michigan Treasurer General Andy Dillon, the highest-ranking Democratic Party officeholder in the state at the time of the unfolding of the Flint water crisis. Dillon signed off on the decision to allow Flint to join the KWA.

The breadth of the indictments and the fact that so many ranking state officials had a hand in the Flint crisis and cover-up points to a conspiracy orchestrated at the highest levels. It is simply not believable that Snyder’s office had no role in the disaster.

In remarks following the announcement of the indictments Snyder defended both Lyon and Wells and said they would not be suspended from their posts pending a trial. He called Lyon a “strong leader” completely “committed to Flint’s recovery.” He continued, “Director Lyon and Dr. Wells have been and continue to be instrumental in Flint’s recovery. They have my full faith and confidence, and will remain on duty at DHHS.”

These comments have something of the character of circling the wagons on the part of the Snyder administration. Snyder appointed Lyon to his current cabinet post in April 2015, just as the Flint water crisis was reaching a critical stage, with angry protests by Flint residents building. He had earlier defended Lyon as reports surfaced that Schuette’s investigation was probing top health officials in the state.

The indictments by Schuette appear to be an attempt to salvage credibility by the Republicans. For his part Schuette is being heavily promoted as a possible Republican candidate for governor. In recent polls Schuette had a significant lead over his nearest potential competitor for the 2018 Michigan Republican gubernatorial primary.

It is too early to say how the official investigation into the Flint water crisis will play out. No trials have yet been scheduled as the cases wind slowly through the courts.

While those accused are implicated in serious malfeasance, when viewed in the context of the magnitude of the crimes committed, the court proceedings are themselves part of the cover-up. They are designed to divert attention from the broader implications of the Flint water crisis, which is a crime of capitalism carried out by the most powerful corporate and financial interests and their political front men in both political parties.

The events in this former center of the General Motors manufacturing center demonstrate once again the incompatibility of a social system based on the defense of private wealth with the needs of working people. Beginning with the decision to help fund the KWA pipeline, at every stage of the Flint crisis the health and safety of residents took a back seat to the profit drive of big business.

Nothing has meanwhile been resolved for Flint residents. More than a year and a half after the official exposure the replacement of lead pipes has barely begun while no serious assistance is being offered to the thousands of children suffering irreversible effects of drinking lead-tainted water.

This underscores the fact that an accounting for the crimes committed against the people of Flint, including the full compensation of the victims and a rebuilding of the infrastructure, require the independent political mobilization of the working class against the entire corporate political establishment.

We urge Flint residents interested in finding out more about the socialist answer to the Flint water crisis to attend a public meeting tomorrow:

3 Years on: The Flint Water Crisis and the Case for Socialism

Speaker: World Socialist Web Site Labor Editor Jerry White
Thursday, June 15, 7:00 pm
University of Michigan—Flint
Murchie Science Building, Room 306

FLINT OFFICIALS CHARGED WITH INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged five officials who “presided over a failure to maintain the safety of the city’s water supply, resulting in widespread lead poisoning among Flint children and 12 deaths connected to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.” [HuffPost]

Corporate greed kills retired worker

This video from the USA is called Detroit firefighter discusses utility shutoffs and budget cuts.

By Lawrence Porter in the USA:

Retired autoworker in Flint, Michigan dies after utilities are shut off

23 February 2012

Early Monday morning neighbors found 86-year-old John Morgan, a retired Flint autoworker, dead in his truck parked outside in his driveway on Parkway Avenue. Morgan died a few days after the local utility company shut off his electricity for a bill of $291.

Flint is a city where the autoworkers union made history 75 years ago in its struggle against the largest company in the world at that time, General Motors. Today, it is a ghost town, with many areas blighted, including the street Morgan lived on, because of the massive job cuts carried out by the automaker in the 1980s and 1990s.

Officials say they are awaiting autopsy reports to determine the exact cause of death, as Morgan had various health problems. However, there was immediate widespread anger that another elderly worker has died because he was trying to stay warm.

According to some of those who knew him, Morgan used his home electricity to charge his car battery. When the electricity was cut off, he apparently lost both heat for his home and for his vehicle.

Autopsy shows retired Michigan auto worker froze to death after utility shutoff: here.

A report on employment published by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee reveals a decline over four decades that has affected African-American men in particular: here.