News and reports
April 27, 2001 | Pages 14 and 15
Gas shutoffs delayed in Chicago
CHICAGO--One hundred people came out on a frosty April 16 morning to stop Peoples Gas from shutting off heat for 14,000 poor customers. Protesters, furious with the bloated gas bills that Chicagoans were sent for heating this winter, were prepared to sit down and blockade company gates to stop trucks from leaving.
Rev. Jesse Jackson called on Peoples Gas CEO Richard Terry to accept a deal in which the company, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois each paid one-third of the overdue bills. If the company refused, protesters planned to keep the gates shut.
But after a few hours, the normally cold-hearted Peoples Gas announced for the second time in April that it wouldn't shut off customers. The next day, the company agreed to Jackson's plan and called off the shutoffs.
The protests brought a victory for Peoples Gas customers. Now we need to show our support for union workers at Peoples Gas, who are in a tough battle for a fair contract and are threatening to strike. They plan to picket Peoples Gas corporate headquarters April 26 if contract negotiations aren't resolved.
WASHINGTON--Four hundred people again packed the pews of Union Temple Baptist Church to show their opposition to the privatization of D.C. General Hospital. Opponents say the privatization scheme will make health care less accessible for poor residents and hit hospital workers hard.
While the D.C. City Council voted unanimously against the plan, Mayor Anthony Williams and the federal government's Control Board have the authority to ram the deal through. Details of the privatization deal with Doctors Community Healthcare Corp. (DCHC) have finally come out.
D.C. General will be pared down to an emergency room, with most services shifted to Greater Southeast Community Hospital. The cuts leave D.C. General vulnerable to being shut down for good--which is what hungry real estate developers, after the hospital's riverfront property, want.
In return, DCHC would be paid get more than $100 million in the first year. That's well over twice what D.C. General gets to operate.
Details of the privatization deal have given new energy to those defending the hospital. Unions, ministers and other activists are planning a march in mid-May to save D.C. General.
NEW YORK--On March 29, parents voted down an attempt to put the for-profit Edison Schools in charge of five public schools. But public education supporters have a fight on their hands--because Edison and its pals in the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani are looking for ways to get what they couldn't from a democratic vote.
Edison wanted to take over five "failing" public schools and run them as charter schools--with a fat subsidy from the New York City Board of Education (BOE). Opponents of the deal say that the company would have gotten more money per student than the board currently spends at the schools.
Parents saw through the scam. "Like all companies, they're scavengers, and they feed off people," Elton Wegman, the parent of a seventh-grader at one of the schools, told Socialist Worker. In fact, Edison's top executives make a pretty penny running schools--with CEO Chris Whittle holding stock options worth more than $22 million.
And there's no evidence that the company produces better schools. In fact, an American Federation of Teachers study of 40 Edison schools in eight states found that most children performed as well or worse than students in comparable public schools.
The months that parents and activists spent mobilizing against Edison with protests and petitions paid off in the March 29 vote. But the fight isn't over.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they keep coming and coming if they fail here," Wegman said. "But it's not just about that. It's about keeping the city accountable for managing the schools that are failing. The BOE's job isn't to give up control. This school isn't theirs to give up. It's ours."
MADISON, Wis.--More than 500 people rallied April 2 to oppose the homophobic Rev. Fred Phelps and his 10 hate-spewing followers. Hiding behind barricades and a line of 20 cops, Phelps hurled insults at Madison community, with its openly gay elected politicians and a recent school board decision to hire a counselor for gay students. Counter-protesters followed Phelps as he picketed the University of Wisconsin-Madison student union, local gay bars and the school district building.
NEW YORK--Some 5,000 marched from Times Square to lower Manhattan April 7 to demand justice and the right of return for 4 million Palestinian refugees. The spirited march specifically targeted U.S. support for Israel--and its reign of terror against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
At Union Square, demonstrators heard speeches from a range of speakers, including scholar and activist Edward Said, who called on people to tell the truth about the Middle East conflict. "When men, women and children go out into the streets to fight for what has been stolen from them--for water and education and land--the media calls this violence," Said said. "They say, 'Palestinians must end the violence.' But this is not violence. It is resistance. And our resistance must not end."
The huge march followed a conference held a week earlier at the Columbia University Law School which drew more than 300 supporters of Palestinian rights. A diverse group of speakers took the podium to talk about building the solidarity movement.
SAN FRANCISCO--Seventy-five people came out in April to express their anger to Public Utilities Commissioner Jeffery Brown about proposed 40 percent hikes in electricity rates. Person after person voiced their disgust with the massive profits being made by energy giants like Enron and Dynergy.
That very day, Enron had reported a fourfold increase in profits. Meanwhile, residents say that their utility bills have tripled--even before the latest proposed increase. "The state spends $58 million a day to buy electricity on behalf of PG&E," said community activist Don Paul. "That money could be spent for badly needed improvements in public housing."
In the face of rising anger, Brown was forced to admit, "Public power has a respectable place in the discussion. But when activists talked about an initiative on the ballot that would create a local municipal utility district to take over from PG&E in San Francisco, Brown insisted that it was important to "go slow."