PSL, May 8, 2010
BP reaps huge profits from its global plunder
On April 20, an oil rig operated by oil giant British Petroleum
exploded, killing 11 workers. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, BP
announced that there was no leak from the destroyed rig. The U.S. Coast Guard
validated this claim. BP contended that, in any case, a possible leak would be
small, easily contained and not likely to reach land.
Drilling an oil well, c.
Anglo-Persian Oil Co.
subsequent days, evidence of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico emerged,
forcing BP and the U.S. government to acknowledge the catastrophe, while
minimizing it as much as possible.
It is impossible
to predict the level of environmental destruction and the devastation of
workers’ lives along the Gulf Coast. In fact, even the amount of oil that has
already been leaked—and the leak continues unabated—is difficult to establish,
given that the main sources of estimates of the volume of the oil leak are BP
and the U.S. government, hardly objective sources of information.
estimate of a flow of 5,000 barrels a day is almost certainly an underestimate,
part of BP’s public relations damage control campaign. An internal memo from
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considered a possibility
that the rate of leakage could "become unchecked, resulting in a release volume
an order of magnitude [10 times] higher than previously thought." This would
mean 50,000 barrels a day. Even BP executives told members of a congressional
committee that, in their estimate of a worst-case scenario, up to 2.5 million
gallons a day could spill.
As of this
writing, no significant gain has been made in containing the hundreds of
thousands of gallons of oil that have already polluted the Gulf of Mexico. What
is known beyond a doubt is that the leakage continues at an alarming rate.
By May 4, the surface slick had covered
an area of approximately 4,000 square miles, indicating a catastrophic
environmental disaster, possibly of unprecedented proportions. Satellite images
taken on May 5, showed the oil slick to have reached the Mississippi Delta and
the Chandeleur Islands off the coast of Louisiana. It is only a matter of time
before the oil slick will reach the shore of the mainland. Even before reaching
shore, the oil slick has already impacted thousands of workers along the Gulf
Coast, causing job losses for people relying on tourism and fishing for their
Far from being
an unavoidable accident, the Gulf of Mexico disaster is the result of a
reckless drive by BP and its competitors to maximize their profits at the
expense of the environment and the people whose lives will be wrecked by its
destruction. BP received permission by the U.S. government to conduct extremely
hazardous oil drilling a mile deep into the ocean floor. What is more, to
protect its bottom line, BP actively lobbied the U.S. government to avoid
having to provide real contingency plans in case of an accident, such as the one
that happened. It is this ceaseless pursuit of profit that has made it possible
for BP to make $5.6 billion in profit in the first quarter of 2010 alone. BP’s
profits for the year 2010 are expected to total a staggering $23 billion.
BP worked hard
to thwart the possibility of the passage of a new rule to make deep-sea
drilling safer. On Sept. 14, 2009, BP sent a letter to the U.S. government,
stating: "While BP is supportive of companies having a system in place to
reduce risks, accidents, injuries and spills, we are not supportive of the
extensive prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule." BP’s safety plans
for the well site states that in case of an accident, "due to the distance to
shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no
significant adverse impacts are expected."
A history of
Far from being a "good corporate citizen," BP is a
corporation that has made its huge profits through a history of crimes around
the globe. Originally named the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the company was
founded in 1908, as the first company plundering the oil reserves of the Middle
East. Anglo-Persian was renamed Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935 and was
subsequently renamed the British Petroleum Company in 1954.
The British government owned a majority share of the
company and what little revenue was handed to the Iranian government was paid
back to British and other European creditors. In 1947, for example, AIOC
reported after-tax profits of £40 million, while giving Iran a mere £7 million.
subjected Iranian workers to deplorable working conditions, paying Iranians
considerably less than foreigners. The following passage is how the director of
Iran’s Petroleum Institute described those conditions:
Wages were 50 cents a day. There was no vacation pay, no
sick leave, no disability compensation. The workers lived in a shanty town
called Kaghazabad, or Paper city, without running water or electricity … In
winter the earth flooded and became a flat, perspiring lake. The mud in town
was knee-deep, and … when the rains subsided, clouds of nipping, small-winged
flies rose from the stagnant water to fill the nostrils. … Summer was worse. …
The heat was torrid … sticky and unrelenting—while the wind and sandstorms shipped
off the desert hot as a blower. The dwellings of Kaghazabad, cobbled from
rusted oil drums hammered flat, turned into sweltering ovens. … In every
crevice hung the foul, sulfurous stench of burning oil … in Kaghazad there was
nothing—not a tea shop, not a bath, not a single tree. The tiled reflecting
pool and shaded central square that were part of every Iranian town … were
missing here. The unpaved alleyways were emporiums for rats.
centuries of Iran being a semi-colonized state under the British and Russian
empires, most Iranians lived in abject poverty. Even part of the oil revenues
stolen from the country could have resulted in a substantial gain in the living
standards of Iranians. But, even in the face of an intense mass struggle for
oil nationalization, Anglo-Iranian refused to agree to any significant
concessions. It insisted on pocketing virtually all the revenues from Iran’s
oil. In 1951, after the nationalization of oil by nationalist leader, Prime
Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, Anglo-Iranian still refused to agree to a 50/50
profit-sharing arrangement. In other words, paying for half of the stolen oil
was more than Anglo-Iranian was willing to concede.
The 1953 coup in Iran was, in large
part, in response to the nationalization of oil, which had effectively deprived
Anglo-Iranian of its profits from Iranian oil. After the coup, carried out by
the CIA, the Shah, a U.S. puppet, denationalized the oil. Anglo-Iranian
continued to make profits from Iran’s oil, albeit having to relinquish its monopoly.
The fact that the United States had carried out the coup necessitated that
Anglo-Iranian share Iran’s oil wealth with U.S. oil giants.
BP also had its hands in Iraq, as one
of the key concession holders of that country’s oil. The nationalization of
Iraq’s oil in 1972, which was the continuation of a process of the 1958
revolution in Iraq, was a blow to BP and other oil giants. The genocidal
sanctions on Iraq, which cost more than a million lives, and eventually the
invasion and occupation of Iraq, which continues to this day, have been carried
out by imperialist powers to restore the immense profit-making opportunities of
oil giants, including BP. BP has just gained virtual control of the
Rumaila oil field in Iraq, possibly the second
largest oil field in the world.
corporations always cover up their crimes by blaming them on accidents, mishaps
and individual errors. The capitalist government, at the service of these same
corporations, does its best to conceal the magnitude of the devastation and
shield the offending corporations from significant financial losses. Just after
the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, this is abundantly clear.
Despite the media coverage of the spill, Exxon Corp. never completely cleaned
up the devastated areas. The disaster was largely blamed on one drunken
captain, as opposed to Exxon’s consistent safety violations and its refusal to
prepare and fund cleanup equipment to contain leaks caused by possible
It took nearly
20 years for the 30,000 native people of Alaska, whose lives have been
devastated by the Exxon Valdez disaster, to get any compensation. And even
then, the Supreme Court reduced the amount that Exxon had to pay by 90 percent,
from $5 billion to only $500 million. "What more can a corporation do?" said
Chief Justice John Roberts, justifying the decision.
administration has claimed that it will make BP pay for this disaster. But in
the absence of a mass movement, BP will pay only minimally. The people,
particularly those directly impacted by this disaster, cannot afford to wait
for 20 years of litigation and then finally get paid a pittance for the
life-altering consequences of this disaster. And, with a giant oil company on
one side and poor and working people on the other, it is clear whose side the
government will be on in any litigation.
The only just
solution to this disaster is to seize the assets of BP, a criminal corporation
that will do anything to maximize its profits, and pay the victims of the
disaster directly. BP’s assets could be used to pay for lost pay of the
workers, rebuild the economies of affected areas, completely and extensively
clean the Gulf of Mexico and the affected shorelines and restore the health and
vibrancy of wildlife in the sea and on the shores. This is the only way the
damage can truly be repaired and justice served. But as history has shown time
and again, it is only through struggle that justice can be achieved.