OAKLAND, Calif. — Joel Britton, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Congress in the 13th District here, campaigned Feb. 29 in West Oakland, where trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent linked to increased cancer risk, has been found in the groundwater under McClymonds High School.
Several other contaminated sites discovered earlier within blocks of the school, which has been closed temporarily, are in the process of being cleaned up.
“I’m not satisfied with the answers we’ve been given,” former firefighter Bruce Johnson told Britton outside his home near the school. Johnson described a town hall meeting he had attended, saying it was just “politicians and agencies, skirting around the issues, where you couldn’t tell who was responsible and accountable.”
Authorities say that the chemical has not been found in the school’s drinking water. But residents are concerned about the fact that contamination has been in the neighborhood for years and they didn’t know.
“The first thing is the immediate protection of the community, demanding that contaminated soil be removed,” said Britton, a former oil refinery worker familiar with these types of contaminants. “Industries releasing dangerous chemicals unreported into the environment are inherent to the capitalist system. What is profitable for the business owners is their priority.”
Protection of workers and communities in the vicinity of industries can never be left to the capitalist bosses, Britton said. “Workers and our unions need to fight for control of all aspects of production, including the safe handling of dangerous chemicals.”
“What they were doing with the town hall meeting was just having people let off steam,” Johnson said. “It’s like with the homeless. More and more tents every day. They just put a band aid on it and go on.”
“The only way this will change is if workers begin to rely on our own strength, make our unions stronger and break from reliance and support for the capitalist rulers, their state and their parties — Republican and Democratic — and build a labor party,” Britton said. “We need a movement of millions that can fight to take the power out of the hands of the capitalists.”
The growing coronavirus outbreak is another example of the disasters created by the profit system, Britton said. “Here in the Bay Area where we need more hospitals, they have closed one in San Pablo and threaten to close others because they aren’t profitable, they say.”
Britton showed Johnson a copy of a Militant article on the Cuban Revolution. Workers and farmers took power out of the hands of the capitalist class there in 1959, he said. The revolution put an end to health care as a commodity that is bought and sold, and instead organized to make it a basic human right. To find out more, Johnson subscribed to the Militant and got a copy of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power.