Katrina & Rita: Profits Before People

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Editorial / October 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

The death and disruption resulting from hurricanes Katrina and Rita are in large measure a product of the social destruction wrought by a decades-long offensive against working people by big business and the government it controls.

A perceptive comment about the clearing of people from New Orleans was that it was the first “free market evacuation” of a major city. The disasters resulting from both recent Gulf Coast hurricanes could be also called the first privatized disasters.

Privatization means that if you are hit by a natural disaster, you are essentially on your own. If you have the means, you use it to save yourself. If you don’t, the government’s main concern is to keep you from causing any trouble. So, you are herded into giant prisons without any provisions or amenities and kept there under gunpoint. The capitalist state is reduced to its bare essential of protecting the property of the rich.

The New Orleans scandal did make the politicians promise to do better. When Rita came along, there was a lot of boasting, but the basic results were the same. The toll was less mainly because of geographical reasons—the hurricane lost strength as it reached colder water near the Texas coast, and no major city was flooded.

As Rita approached Texas, many Houston residents who fled in their cars found themselves stuck in gridlock until they began to run out of gas and had to return to the city. They found themselves as trapped as the poor people of New Orleans who had no cars.

What is evident from both tragedies is that the capitalism of our time offers no real benefits to
humanity. The Louisiana/Mississippi disaster was prepared by the elimination of the shielding wetlands for the sake of Big Oil and real-estate development, the neglect of the flood-protection works, and ultimately the unbridled worldwide destruction of the environment—global warming—which is generating more powerful hurricanes.

When the disaster that these conditions had prepared struck the U.S. mainland, what was the answer of the U.S. government and the capitalists who control it? It was more of the same—removal of environmental regulations, removal of provisions that defend workers, stealing the land of poor home owners to make way for real estate tycoons, more tax relief for the corporations, and more cutting of social spending.

At the same time, more fat “reconstruction contacts” were handed out to pirates like the Halliburton and Bechtel corporations, which have fattened on the spoils of Iraq and plunged that country into deeper and deeper ruin at the expense of the U.S. taxpayers. The administration has made increasing use of bullying private armies of the corporations, like the Black Water security firm (now assigned to police New Orleans), which have made themselves hated in Iraq.

The toll inflicted on Americans both here and abroad to shore up the interests of the wealthy shows that the war in Iraq and social degradation in the U.S. are part of the same social crisis caused by capitalism. The falling approval ratings for Bush’s policies (which plunged drastically after the Katrina disaster) indicate broadening discontent, yet the Democrats
offer nothing substantial to change the situation. It may not be too long before working people start looking for real ways to solve the fundamental problems of U.S. society.

A significant step would be the building of an independent labor party, which would champion all struggles against injustice. — The Editors

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