Eastman: When Capital Takes Precedence Over Human Lives

The company’s economic power in the region has kept criticisms about pollution, mismanagement and environmental injustices at bay in local media.

The local industrial powerhouse has experienced little organized opposition over environmental injustices, thanks to its economic power and ability to engage in corporate censorship.

Eastman is one of the largest plastic producers in the world, located in a valley region where cancer and respiratory disease is higher than the national average.

If you are a resident of Kingsport, TN, the sound of an explosion more than likely awoke you on the morning of Monday, January 31st. Or if you live in the Tri-Cities, you have almost certainly heard about what took place just off the Long Island of The Holston River. Eastman referred to what occurred that morning as “a steam line failure” to which The Rogersville Review correctly referred to as a “Steam line explosion that sent asbestos into neighboring areas.” It is not exactly shocking, but infuriating nonetheless, that an explosion that caused wastewater to flow into the Holston as well as sent asbestos into the atmosphere has not been questioned by the media about its health effects.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is known to cause serious health hazards to both humans and animals, the most serious of which are tumorous cancers. You might be familiar with the late-night class action settlement commercials about Mesothelioma. In fact, those commercials are the by-product of the United States’ use of asbestos in building materials all throughout the 20th century – and still to this day in some Black neighborhood housing. Today, most countries that the UN considers “developed” have completely outlawed the use of asbestos as a building material, but not here in the United States, because profits are our only motivating force.

There are many reasons why we, at the New Socialist Network, feel the need to cover this. As mentioned earlier, we had to go as far as The Rogersville Review to find a publication that was actually reporting on the facts of what happened in Kingsport and not just printing out what amounts to a press release sent out by Eastman PR teams themselves. If you are used to hearing about how anything that occurs at Eastman is not the fault of the company itself, it is purposeful. No one challenges what Eastman states as fact, because why criticize the company that puts food on the table and a roof over your head?

Though the company provides jobs within the region, that does and should not absolve them of the disastrous health effects their plants have left on our region’s people and especially their workers. Time after time, the news takes what the company states as an objective fact – that they cannot contest and refuse to press any further to get to the truth about the health effects these frequent occurrences cause. It is incredibly difficult to find any source on the health effects because the company and news sources consistently ignore the issue.

** For context as to how a corporation like Eastman can engage in corporate censorship against local media outlets and reporters, we recommend reading Michael Parenti’s Inventing Reality – which outlines the ways in which corporate ad revenues can influence coverage of events.**

The frequency of incidents, such as the steam-line explosion on January 31st, not only calls into question competency on their part to prevent the issue, but it also highlights the refusal of the company to ever acknowledge any health effects that may accompany these incidents. Eastman is working with chemicals that are dangerous to human health, therefore the notion that these incidents are harmless every single time is completely absurd. The Times-News article itself on the recent incident quoted an official who stated, “At one point, almost 20,000 gallons of wastewater per minute were being drained into the river.” Wastewater into the Holston River and asbestos traveling through Kingsport neighborhoods are indubitably NOT harmless.

The documented health issues attributable to Eastman date back decades ago, speculatively we can assume since its inception. In an excerpt from Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia, it is estimated that “In the surrounding area the rate of babies born with abnormalities is more than twice the state average.” In addition to the detrimental effects on the overall population, workers face the brunt of health issues that can be attributed to Eastman. Breathing problems, lung damage, blood disorders, and even paralysis are some of the health issues that Eastman employees have faced. Workers who face these issues must pay their own hospital bills, despite the massive amount of resources and money that Eastman has. This issue highlights the need for unionization by Eastman workers to obtain rightful compensation not only for their wages, but the detrimental health impacts Eastman refuses to pay for.

It is long past due to criticize Eastman for the multiplicity of issues they have created in the Tri-Cities. Decades of incidents like the “steam-line failure” and public health concerns continue to go overlooked by the press and most of the population because the concern lies not on the people but on the profit that Eastman can accumulate.

This is inherently how capitalism functions and part of why it is an immensely unethical system built on the accumulation of profit with no interest in how it affects human lives and the environment.

As eco-socialists, it is important for us to understand capitalism as a system that seeks only to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. There is very little room for any serious discussion of environmental justice in such a system, where profit is put before all else. It is fundamentally unwilling and unable to address concerns about pollution that threatens workers’ health and the environment as a whole amid the fight against climate change.

Today, the choice isn’t just “socialism or barbarism” – it’s socialism or extinction.

Update: As the investigation into the incident progresses, WJHL is now also reporting that the “Jan. 31 Eastman steam line failure led to 3,000-plus pounds of excess volatile organic compound emissions.”

Power and Ideology’s Role in the Rittenhouse Verdict (Nov. 22, 2021)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is com_hw_kyle-rittenhouse_ap_20242831422808.700px.jpg
FILE – In this Aug. 25, 2020, file photo, Kyle Rittenhouse, left, with backwards cap, walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wis., with another armed member of a right wing militia. The 17-year-old gunman who fatally shot two protesters in Wisconsin became a folk hero of the far right. (Adam Rogan/The Journal Times via AP, File)

The Rittenhouse Verdict Was An Exercise in Power and Ideology that Underscores the Need to Advance Socialist Struggle in the U.S.

On Friday last week, a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts related to his murder trial, after the self-proclaimed right wing nationalist traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the summer of 2020 intent on shooting anti-racist protesters.

Rittenhouse made it clear before traveling to the epicenter of the people’s struggle in Kenosha that he intended to use an AR-15 against the “rioters” – a fact struck from the case by Judge Bruce Schroeder, who made every effort to impede the prosecution in favor of Rittenhouse’s defense and to create a farce of a trial in a kangaroo court. Such moves included pretrial rulings that barred prosecutors from presenting evidence of Rittenhouse’s ideological affiliations with the ultra-nationalist Proud Boys, that he attacked a woman months before the shootings or calling the people Rittenhouse shot “victims.”

Setting aside for a moment Schroeder’s clear bias in favor of the defense that drew national attention and his record of handing down draconian verdicts for Black defendants spanning his career and racist remarks during the case, there is a wider context to consider here. And it has nothing to do with self defense.

Rittenhouse, a self-proclaimed nationalist, was not convicted largely due to the simple fact that the capitalist state and its institutions have always taken a weak stance against right-wing violence, which historically has acted in its interests, and a heavy-handed approach to quelling any and all people’s movements against capitalism, racism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. Over the decades, anti-war movements, various radical leftist organizations and anti-racist movements actually built from a legitimate need for self defense against racist terror from within and outside of the state such as Black Panthers, have all been treated as dissidents due to their left wing ideology. Many are still political prisoners rotting away in prisons and subject to torture to this day.

Some of the first restrictions against open carrying were spearheaded by the very types of conservatives who now defend Rittenhouse – enacted specifically to disarm groups like the Black Panthers. Most recently, Black militias that formed during recent years of unrest related to Black Lives Matter protests, dubbed “Black Identity Extremists” by the state, have been targeted by the FBI for surveillance and even punished for social media posts, despite groups like the KKK receiving police protection at events nationwide. And the nationalist militias that Rittenhouse marched with receive little scrutiny from the state, since their political and ideological interests align with that of the police departments whose ranks are infested with nationalists that openly despise the left and are in some cases, supporters of those groups.

For the white supremacist capitalist state and its most loyal actors, Rittenhouse is an agent of order, whereas his victims are considered anarchists, terrorists, and agents of chaos that threaten to tear at the fabric of a social order they want to preserve.

Rittenhouse came to act as an extension of a racist state’s paramilitary police, while  36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, of Kenosha, and 26-year-old Anthony Huber, of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, were engaged in a movement that defiantly combatted and challenged it.

All capitalist states’ armed institutions have been fueled by right wing nationalist ideologues, from their police to their militaries. In the US, the armed wings of the state are made up largely of people that act as willing servants of imperialism, who believe that the occupation of imperialized and colonized peoples is necessary in an effort to maintain domestic and global order, and who accept the price of their legitimized violence called “collateral” – in other words, dead non-white peoples at home and abroad which serve as sacrificial lambs to preserve American “democracy.” The similarities in how the US conservative and alt-right movement paints groups like the Proud Boys is eerily similar to how the liberal bourgeoisie, conservatives and even some social democrats viewed fascist gangs as allies against bolshevism and anarchism in pre-WWII Europe.

Despite so much showing that Rittenhouse represents a small part of a history of right wing violence against people’s movements, much of the progressive left has been tricked into doing what it has done for years in the wake of most injustices – it has reacted. And this time, much of it has opted not to point out the ideological context, but to argue against the basis of the defense and legalities of whether Rittenhouse is considered a criminal or not. None of this really matters given the ideological context of the case, and how capitalism and racism has maintained itself over the decades through force and state sanctioned violence. Over and over again, the US public absurdly finds itself relying on the same legal institutions and juries that maintain that system to right wrongs such as this.

Derek Chauvin, convicted of killing George Floyd earlier this year, was an anomaly among dozens of recent cases where state actors were put on trial (or tried at all) for carrying out extrajudicial murder, and he was arguably only convicted as a result of the pressure created by uprisings like the ones that happened in Kenosha.

Sadly, many victims of police and right wing racist violence, from Trayvon Martin to the communists and anti-racists slain by the KKK in Greensboro, NC, in 1979, have not been vindicated yet. There’s a reason for this, and the reason is simple. The system was designed this way, and the US revolutionary left has not organized itself into a cohesive force able to do much aside from sporadic protests in reaction to its mechanisms.

Instead of arguing with the dedicated ideologues who defend people like Rittenhouse and Chauvin, who defended George Zimmerman, and who always jump to the defense of state violence, it is the duty of communists and socialists to proactively build people’s movements that can grow to take power. These militant movements will be built town by town, in efforts to raise class consciousness whenever possible.

We must use the unrest that takes place in the wake of the Rittenhouse verdict as an opportunity to organize the most advanced workers – as well the most exploited and oppressed strata among them – to create revolutionaries dedicated to a new social order. Not just protesters, not just debaters, but a force built city by city, made up of people willing and able to dismantle the capitalist system that has a symbiotic relationship with white supremacy.