In one week, not one but two U.S. cities were rocked by deadly explosions.
On April 15, bombs at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured 170. An area with over one million people was put in a 24-hour lockdown by a combined force of over 9,000 police, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officers.
Workers went without pay or services. Homes were raided without warrants. Media racism was rampant. In the end, one alleged bomber was killed and another, taken into custody, was denied basic Miranda rights to remain silent or have an attorney present.
Just two days later, an explosion at the Adair Grain and West Fertilizer Co. obliterated the small town of West in east central Texas, population 2,800. At least 14 people were killed, over 200 injured and 150 buildings, including schools and a hospital, damaged or destroyed.
This nonunion plant was last inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 15 years ago. In 2006, the EPA leveled a $2,300 fine — mere pin money — for serious safety violations. In 2012, the company reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services that it was storing 540,000 pounds of highly explosive ammonium nitrate — 1,350 times the threshold amount for regulation under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act — yet no inspections were done by the agency responsible, the Department of Homeland Security.
Needless to say, DHS did not raid the home of the plant’s owner, Donald Adair, or even attempt to arrest him, despite the fact that his factory stored chemical fertilizer equivalent to 100 times the amount used in the Oklahoma City bomb attack on April 19, 1995.
Police operations against the suspects in the Boston bombing received 24/7 coverage by every national corporate media outlet. This coverage continues even since the militarized lockdown was lifted. The overriding theme is that increased policing is “here to stay — get used to it.”
Meanwhile, the deaths and destruction in Texas have barely been mentioned — it was “just another accident.”
Was it coincidental that emergency management personnel in the Boston area were using the Marathon to rehearse a complex scenario, including a 24-hour crisis situation like the one that actually unfolded? Were the “shelter-in-place” order, described as “unprecedented,” and the police siege of an entire community part of this plan?
It turns out that Boston is one of four U.S. cities where similar 24-hour crisis situations have been played out through citywide disaster simulations funded by billions of dollars from Homeland Security. Over the last 24 months, two massive, 24-hour worst-case scenario simulations, eerily comparable to the situation in Watertown, Mass., were carried out in Boston under the security consulting Cytel Group’s Urban Shield program. Over the same period, the DHS has reportedly purchased 7,000 fully automated assault weapons; 2,700 armored personnel carriers; and massive rounds of ammunition — enough to conduct full-scale war for 20 plus years.
However, only 40 of the department’s 240,000 people on staff are assigned to inspect the 4,000 factories, like the one in Texas, that store dangerous chemicals. And with 8 million workplaces in the U.S. and just 2,200 workers, OSHA’s annual budget of $5.5 million only covers inspecting each plant once every 129 years. Sequestration has further cut funding for 33 full-time OSHA staff and will reduce 10 regional offices to seven.
No national disaster preparedness plan exists to protect workers’ safety.
On average, over 4,500 workers are killed in industrial accidents and nearly 4 million are injured every year in the United States. The AFL-CIO’s annual Workers Memorial Day on April 28 will raise consciousness on this slaughter. Yet not one capitalist media outlet has suggested that a serious change is needed in the government’s oversight policies to protect workers.
Long-term neglect of worker safety, massive speed-ups and superexploitation of workers are sure to fuel unrest among the working class and oppressed, who also face record levels of unemployment, underemployment and poverty. The capitalists know that the crisis wrought by their system is deepening and that they must prepare for the inevitable.
The government’s crisis management is not geared to protect workers. Rather, it is receiving so much funding in order to shelter corporations from the justifiable outrage of workers and oppressed when they inevitably rise up.