Massive Relief Now to New Orleans!
Joint Statement on the Hurricane Katrina Disaster
by Socialist Action and Labor Standard


The following statement, drafted Sept. 1, 2005, is an initial response to the disaster in New Orleans and adjacent areas. Further updates can be expected shortly.

The catastrophe in New Orleans has had profound reverberations across the country and internationally. In the world’s richest nation the government stood by for days, virtually paralyzed, while tens of thousands of people were abandoned, starving, without drinking water or the minimum of medical necessities, in toxic floodwater. Louisiana’s governor and New Orleans’s mayor ordered police to protect private property and shoot “looters” instead of rescuing people in desperate need.

Everything evil and barbaric in capitalism is being exposed to additional millions as this terrible crisis unfolds, from the long-term environmental degradation and disrepair that has been accumulating for decades to the immediate failure to mobilize the full power of the government to meet human needs first of all.

Make no mistake, the poor and oppressed of this country, working people in general, and all others who care about fundamental human values will be greatly influenced by what happens around this disaster in the weeks and months ahead. Many see, or will see, that this catastrophe was magnified by capitalism’s subordination of human needs to profit and plunder.

What must be done?

First and foremost, we demand that the federal government—the only force capable of intervening with the resources necessary to avert a further compounding of the horror that is occurring—stop the foot-dragging and take immediate action to bring massive aid and relief to the tens of thousands suffering in New Orleans and elsewhere as the result of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

We demand that the federal government spend billions and trillions, if necessary, for New Orleans and all other affected areas now!

The real needs of human beings must be met immediately!

The government has no hesitation about spending trillions of dollars on mass murder (war) and the attempt to subjugate Iraq, where it is spending an estimated $4 billion per day.

We demand billions per day to New Orleans, not to the Iraq war!

What is needed is a massive relief effort on the scale of the so-called Marshall Plan that was organized to help war-ravaged Europe after World War II.

We demand the massive mobilization of the nation’s resources, not to pursue imperialist war aims, but to serve the immediate and long-term needs of working people, mostly Black and poor, in New Orleans and adjacent areas.

We demand the immediate shipment of food, medical supplies, and water by any means necessary, and the provision of safe, hygienic shelter, to save the lives of those who are in danger. This must be followed by the massive, temporary evacuation of everyone in need and the simultaneous allocation of everything required to restore New Orleans and all other affected areas to full and safe operation, especially the rebuilding of levees and the enactment of flood-control measures sufficient to withstand Category 5 hurricanes in the future.

We demand jobs at union wages for all who have lost them and for all who are needed to work on the reconstruction, repair, and rebuilding of the homes and basic infrastructure that have been destroyed. This must be undertaken at federal government expense, and it must include immediate measures to reverse the decades of environmental destruction that stand as a backdrop and a magnifying factor of the present catastrophe.

We call on trade union sisters and brothers and their organizations to aid this effort and reach out in solidarity with working people in distress as never before. We applaud those trade unions, such as the fire fighters, air traffic controllers, food and commercial workers, service employees, California Nurses Association, and others, which have already taken such action.

We demand that massive U.S. military forces be immediately sent to help with the rescue effort and the reconstruction of destroyed areas—NOT to shoot down the desperate victims of capitalism’s racism and oppression. NO to the “zero tolerance” advocated by the national government (Bush) as well as state and local officials. They worry about “protecting private property” when the lives of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are in immediate danger.

Return all Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama National Guard forces, with their equipment, from Iraq to their home states immediately! They know their home areas best and can provide aid to those who need it more effectively than can National Guard troops being sent from other states.

As opposed to “zero tolerance,” we demand zero racism! Provide aid to all people who need it, regardless of race or the amount of money they have. The racist aspect of the official response to this catastrophe was most clearly expressed in the online news website of AOL.com, which featured two photos, one of a Black youth with a loaf of bread with the caption “looter,” the other, a photo of a white couple with a loaf of bread captioned “struggling to survive.” These were widely reproduced and/or condemned, from WBAI to ABC NEWS.

These are just a few of the demands that we put forward as of Sept. 1. More demands of a similar nature will undoubtedly have to be raised as this crisis unfolds.

Socialist Action and Labor Standard will soon be publishing an emergency pamphlet on New Orleans and the Hurricane Katrina disaster as an essential tool for people seeking serious analysis. An article on this crisis by Labor Standard editors Michael Livingston and Christine Frank will be featured in the September issue of Socialist Action newspaper.

These are dire times, when tens of thousands of human beings are being made to pay the price of capitalism’s horrific default. Tens of thousands stand exposed to the system’s fundamental failure to immediately prioritize human needs. The dead have yet to be counted, but the numbers will surely be qualitatively larger than the hundreds reported to date.

New Orleans today is a taste of what capitalism has in store for this country and the world as it ignores the coming horror that is inherent in the capitalist-induced global warming of the entire planet. Then, as now, the first to pay the price will be the poor and oppressed, while those who have the money will flee the initial results of a catastrophe that could dwarf what is now faced in New Orleans.

The consequences of this disaster cannot be underestimated in any arena, from the economy to the consciousness of millions to the immediate plight of those still needing help.

Oil prices have already begun to soar, allegedly because of the hurricane-related shutdown of Gulf oil production, but more likely because of price gouging by the oil monopolies. Fully half of the nation’s export grain passes through this now nearly destroyed city, a fact that may well trigger additional tragedies elsewhere.

Below we reprint a letter from David Jones, of Labor Standard. His letter captures the depth and magnitude of this crisis. Socialist Action and Labor Standard are working together to jointly educate as many as we can reach with our socialist program, perspectives, and realistic solutions.

In this regard our Midwest socialist educational conference, September 30-October 2 in Minneapolis, is well suited to pursue this discussion. We will feature a major panel on the environment and capitalism that will shed further light on the depth of the present disaster and what it portends for the future.

Letter by David Jones

It is almost impossible to overstate the magnitude of this disaster, both in human terms for the North American continent, and as a historic example of the criminal incompetency of the capitalist system. In the richest country in the world a major metropolis is going to be abandoned for weeks or even, as some are saying, for months!

In terms of loss of human life in the U.S. this is perhaps second only to the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. The analogy that has sprung to the minds of some observers quoted in the press, including the governor of Mississippi, is “Hiroshima.” The psychological and political underpinnings of that connection go very deep, to say the least.

There will be economic consequences, besides what is happening in human terms—death, disease, displacement, unemployment, not to mention the opportunistic escalation of gasoline and diesel prices. New Orleans is one of the major ports of the United States, where rail, trucking, and maritime intersect. Half of U.S. grain exports leave from the Port of New Orleans. The impact of this dysfunction will ripple out probably beyond immediate comprehension.

This disaster that capitalism has wrought has extremely ominous implications for the future. Clearly the magnitude of this “natural” disaster is exponentially magnified by a series of specific environmental and ecological circumstances created and driven by the profit system. The evaluation, debate, and assigning of responsibility for this disaster will increase in tone and tempo as the ideological damage control operation gets into high gear.

In terms of the labor movement, this highly industrialized area has many unions, and most international unions are beginning to indicate some efforts to render financial assistance to their beleaguered members, including the United Transportation Union. Other, more far-reaching issues will soon arise—jobs, income, health care, etc.