The August 1st collapse of the I-35W Bridge is a tragedy on a grand scale for the state of Minnesota. Our hearts go out to the victims of this horrible disaster and their families.

The question now is: how did this happen? Why was there such a colossal failure in the heart of the richest nation on the planet?

The news media is already discussing the minutia and details of corrosion and steel beams. The real discussion, however, should be about how warped the values are in this system that puts the need for profit before anything else.

The United States is the richest country in the world. Yet it is facing a massive crisis due to the systematic under-funding repairs on its infrastructure. In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation a D grade in terms of upkeep and maintenance of our infrastructure. The country spends only about two-thirds as much as it should to keep bridges, highways, dams and levees in safe operating condition (Christian Science Monitor, 8/3/07).

The Federal Highway Administration states that nearly one quarter of the nation’s bridges are categorized as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” Most of these bridges are decades old and carry more weight and traffic then they were designed to bear (CNN, 8/3/07).

The I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River was one of these deficient bridges. Hurricane Katrina exposed the crisis in infrastructure two years ago, when it was revealed that the levees which should have protected New Orleans from flooding were in a horrible state of disrepair. Then, as now, lives could have been saved by simply putting resources into keeping these vital pieces of infrastructure repaired.

The decay of our nation’s infrastructure is no accident. Since the end of the post WWII economic boom, big business and the ruling elite in the US have launched a neo-liberal offensive on the living standards of workers. We have faced massive cuts in social services of all kinds from both Democratic and Republican politicians. These politicians are far more interested in tax cuts, pork barrel projects and corporate welfare than maintaining the services and structures we rely on every day. The Minnesota legislature and Governor Tim Pawlenty have consistently stalled and blocked transportation funding, yet they approved nearly $400 million in public funds to build a new Twins baseball stadium.

The destruction of infrastructure here is due to negligence. In many places around the world, capitalism destroys bridges, schools and hospitals as a conscious policy of state-sponsored terrorism.

We say:

  • Bridges Not Bombs: A report from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would cost $188 billion to bring America’s bridges up to a safe fully repaired state (CNN 8/3/07). Compare that with the $500 billion that has been spent on the Iraq war. The money used to blow up bridges in Baghdad and Falujah should be spent to repair and maintain them in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
  • Free Medical Care and Compensation for the Victims: Those that were injured in the collapse have suffered enough. They should not have to pay for any health costs related to the crash, and the government should provide full compensation for the vehicles that were destroyed, without any red tape or bureaucratic delays. It is a brutal crime that the United States still has a for-profit healthcare system, and it would be an even worse crime if the victims of this disaster were forced to pay a single penny for any injuries.
  • Reconstruction with Union Jobs: Repairing the I-35W Bridge and any other infrastructure projects should be done on the basis of full wages and benefits. A massive reconstruction program could create millions of jobs, but we must demand that these jobs pay a living wage, offer all benefits and are unionized. While the politicians may claim this is too expensive, it could easily be paid for by an increase in taxes on the rich and a massive cut in military spending.
  • Full Funding for Cheap Efficient Public Transportation: The I-35W Bridge was used by over 100,000 cars a day. The collapse occurred in the middle of rush hour, when traffic was bumper to bumper. The loss of this bridge is going to affect the commutes and increase traffic for thousands of workers. We should not have to sit in traffic for hours to get to our jobs, and need to fight for cheap, reliable mass transit so that workers do not have to rely on highways to get to our jobs.
  • Human Need, Not Corporate Greed: The logic of capitalism, with its constant quest for more and more profits is running this state, country and the world into the ground. We need a system that will work for the millions, not the millionaires. In a democratic socialist society, decisions that affect all of us would be made in a rational, planned way, which would take into account the needs of the majority. In such a society, we could democratically plan where our resources are used, instead of having them squandered to line the pockets of a few individuals.

Capitalism is truly “structurally deficient.” The more this rotten system continues, the more the rich will get richer while the rest of us see our living standards and the basic structures we rely on crumble. Disasters like this one will continue to happen as long as we allow society to be ruled by a handful of corporate elites who are concerned only with profit. We need to replace it with a government of the workers, for the workers, who can put the interests of the majority first.

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