Downtown Brooklyn without traffic lights was not a pretty sight. People in many major cities were forced to live by candlelight with no subway system, fans, or air conditioning in the hazy summer heat. The largest blackout in the history of North America rocked eight states in the Northeast and Midwest, plus two provinces in Canada.

The power grid shut down not because of any freak of nature but because of out-of-date equipment that wasn’t being maintained properly. It costs money to maintain power systems, and energy company CEOs and big stockholders would rather keep that money for themselves. The blackout clearly shows that the energy companies care about profits, not customers.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, former energy secretary under Clinton, stated: “We are a major superpower with a third-world electrical grid.” The New York Times said: “The problem of preventing such power failures has been that, for the most part, no one has an incentive to invest billions of dollars in new wires, new towers, and new transformers” (8/15/02).

Enron was also a power providing company. Remember how willing they were to swindle the public to make a buck? Before Enron, the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation bosses were so corrupt that they were forced to pay $4.3 billion back to their consumers. The con men at the big energy corporations are looking to line their own pockets, not to pay their workers well or provide quality service to their customers.

Other businesses took advantage of the blackout by jacking up the prices for candles, flashlights, and batteries. However, working people stuck together to overcome the crisis. Ordinary people directed traffic, gave stranded strangers rides home, and lent necessary items to their neighbors. In a small way, the blackout showed how ordinary working people can run society.

Working people make things work for everyone; corporations make profits at our expense. Energy is an essential public service, not a luxury. Big business should be taxed to pay for a major upgrade in the energy system. The energy companies should be taken under public ownership with democratic control by the industry’s workers for the benefit of consumers.

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