No Profiteering Off of Tragedy! The Gulf Coast Disaster and the Economy

The economic reality faced by the refugees of this disaster is absolutely horrific. People are scrambling to get a hold of basic resources. No workable plan has been put forward for permanent housing for the refugees.

FEMA has promised checks and debit cards of $2,000 to be issued to victims of the tragedy; however, reports from the Gulf Coast indicate that only a very small percentage of people have actually received the checks. Also, $2,000 is not adequate compensation for people that have lost their homes and livelihood due to this disaster.

Even for those outside of the Gulf Coast, the economic situation has gotten more difficult. Gas prices have risen dramatically. In some areas of Georgia, prices skyrocketed to over $5.00 per gallon. This is after a year in which the oil companies enjoyed record profits. We can’t let the corporations profit off of this disaster. There should be an immediate ceiling placed on gas prices so that big business coughs up the money for a tragedy that they helped to cause.

Over the past 20 years, many industrial jobs with union benefits have been shipped out of the country. Corporations seek low wages so that they can make bigger profits. Now, millions of U.S. workers are employed in the low-wage service sector. Big business is trying to make pensions and health benefits a thing of the past. Tax cuts for the rich and state budget cuts in necessary social programs have made our situation worse.

Many of the billionaires in the establishment are also worried about the economic repercussions of Katrina. Rising oil prices mean decreased consumer and investor confidence. With workers forced to spend more on gas, we have even less to spend on other products.

U.S. consumption plays a huge role in the world economy. However, the level at which U.S. consumers are buying goods is untenable. A huge part of the population is in debt in one way or another. Millions are working on paying off mortgages in a housing market that is grossly overvalued. Millions more are faced with massive credit card debt or student loans (not to mention the rising cost of education). When the already shaky position of consumer spending is combined with the effects of the rising cost of gas and the enormous disruption caused to the critical trade along the Mississippi River, the aftershocks of Katrina could tip the U.S. economy into recession.

Halliburton Plundering

Now, as if the situation wasn’t bad enough, the corporations are cynically making money off of the biggest “natural” disaster and refugee crisis in U.S. history.

Despite the extreme hardships faced by the working class and poor of the Gulf Coast, some corporations are excited about the big bucks that they’ll make in “rebuilding” New Orleans. A September 6 NY Times article stated, “Halliburton, which has contracts in Iraq, has a contract with the Navy that has already kept it busy after Hurricane Katrina.” So, this corporation that Vice President Dick Cheney used to lead is set to profit once again off of death and destruction.

The article went on to state, “rising oil and natural gas prices in the last two years have strengthened the finances of Houston’s largest energy companies, but have done little to improve employment prospects in the city…Since the 1980s, about 130,000 jobs in the oil industry have been lost as oil and natural gas exploration migrated farther away from Houston, largely to countries in West Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.”

All the elites are really concerned about with regards to the “rebuilding” process are the interests of capitalism. They will build a city where New Orleans once existed because the area is a strategic port for the world market. However, the city envisioned by the elites has little to do with the culture and people of what we knew as New Orleans.

In a Wall Street Journal article on September 8, many of Louisiana’s white rich ruling elite were interviewed. James Reiss, who comes from a long line of millionaires and billionaires, made his views clear: “The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. ‘Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically,’ he says. ‘I’m not just speaking for myself here. The way we’ve been living is not going to happen again, or we’re out.'”

In other words, they don’t want poor black people in New Orleans. They want a city for the Halliburtons and Bechtels, a city with few employment opportunities, and a city that will become a stronghold for the right wing of the Republican Party.

The labor movement and the antiwar movement must propose a different vision for New Orleans. The refugees shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves, sent to live on the streets or in ghettos in the surrounding areas.

The areas that are not prone to perpetual flooding should be rebuilt. They should be rebuilt through the employment of the current refugees. Job training should be given, particularly in construction and environmental cleanup. The unions should organize the refugees so that a livable wage can be paid to all those employed in the rebuilding effort.

Bush has pledged billions of dollars for relief and rebuilding, but this money isn’t going to get where it is needed most. The port will be rebuilt and big handouts will be given to Halliburton and Bechtel. Oil refineries will be given handouts as well.

However, billions of dollars are needed in aid for the construction of affordable, decent public housing throughout the Gulf Coast. Billions are needed for emergency and permanent healthcare programs to be made available to all. And, of course, billions are needed for immediate relief and supplies for all refugees.

We don’t need investment in the war in Iraq or in further stuffing the pockets of the rich elites of New Orleans or Houston. We need investment in lives and investment in the future for humanity. This tragedy shows that the capitalists and their government don’t care about ordinary people. We need a society based on human need, not corporate greed.

September 27, 2005