Whether you live in Philadelphia, Seattle, Detroit, Mexico City, or Baghdad, most working people would agree that quality jobs, health care, education, housing and infrastructure isn’t too much to ask for. Instead, capitalism gives us war, racism, economic turmoil, and unemployment. And it’s not as though the money isn’t there – over $2 billion is spent each week just on the occupation of Iraq – it’s a matter of priorities. Just imagine how many badly-needed schools, bridges and hospitals could be built, providing quality jobs for millions of people in the process.
The fact is, the economic situation facing most workers is pretty grim, and yet on Wall Street, the “irrational exuberance” of the investors is totally divorced from reality. The market continues to hit new records while the housing sector continues its meltdown, spreading to the rest of the economy. Pending home sales have now fallen to the lowest level since records began. Home builders like Lennar Corp. have posted record losses and imports of building materials fell by 20 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier. Furniture imports fell 17 percent, clothing by 10 percent, and footwear was down 8 percent.
Consumer confidence, which accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, fell sharply in September to its lowest level in two years. Just 25.7 percent of those surveyed in a Conference Board consumer sentiment poll say that jobs are “plentiful”. The U.S. dollar is in a free-fall against major currencies and is now at par with the Canadian dollar. Relentless cuts in jobs and benefits are the norm, while inflation eats away at what meager wage gains there are. Unemployment is rising although the official figure does not include the millions who are no longer even looking for work. And this is during a so-called economic “boom” – once the economy technically enters a recession, things will be even worse.
For millions of workers struggling just to make ends meet, this is truly “as good as it gets” in a system based not on the well-being of the whole of society, but on the profits of a tiny minority. But everything changes, and in the coming period, things will continue to change far more quickly than most people can imagine.
Over the last few years, sharp, sudden changes and one unprecedented event after another have shaken the consciousness of working people. After decades of relative “class peace” in this country, we are starting to see symptoms of the pent up contradictions bursting to the surface.
Racism – that divisive poison without which capitalism would not be able to exist – is one again in the public eye. Although the scourge of racism is always present, the case of the “Jena Six” and the discovery of a noose at Columbia University in New York have once again placed the issue front and center. Most important has been the response to these incidents: mass mobilizations of ordinary people against racism and intimidation. Working people and the youth instinctively understand that class unity is the only way forward.
The magnificent movement of immigrant workers, a reflection in part of the revolutionary wave sweeping Latin America, and a reaction against decades of exploitation and discrimination is another important example of the effectiveness of mass organization and mobilization. In the labor movement also we can see the first signs of a revival of rank and file militancy, after decades of retreats and defeats, often without a fight. The policy of “partnership with the bosses” is daily being exposed as a bankrupt dead end, and an embryonic class struggle current in the trade unions is slowly emerging.
In the aftermath of Katrina, we predicted there would be far-reaching economic, social, and political effects. As we wrote at the time: “Hegel explained that in history, necessity often expresses itself in the form of an accident. Katrina’s destructive violence was just such an accident. This seemingly ‘routine’ storm, just one of many other hurricanes that have affected the Caribbean and Gulf Coast in recent years, has unleashed forces that will continue to play out for years after its winds die down. Conditions determine consciousness, and under conditions such as these, consciousness can change in a heartbeat. And this is only the beginning. Katrina could well mark the beginning of a profound crisis of confidence in the U.S. government, and of the capitalist system as a whole.”
Just two years later, with the Gulf Coast still in shambles, we can see the beginnings of this, with the formation of the Reconstruction Party, started largely by black workers and focused mainly in the Gulf Coast region, but reaching out to the entire country and to all workers and youth who want to break with the Republicans and Democrats, and who want jobs, health care, education, housing, infrastructure, etc. for all. The party is running Malcolm Suber, an ex-auto and textile worker, for New Orleans City Council on a platform calling for “Genuine Democracy for the Majority, Housing, Healthcare, Jobs & Living Wage, Education, and Full & Just Reconstruction.”
This is a potentially significant development in U.S. politics. After decades of being on the defensive and without any political representation, the creation of a mass party that represents the interests working people will be a highly contradictory yet dynamic process. In the absence of a traditional mass party of labor, a formation such as the Reconstruction Party could rapidly gain momentum, especially if the call is taken up nationally in what promises to be a highly politicized election year. With a year to go before the vote, there will be many opportunities to explain the need for a mass party of, by, and for working people.
Discontent with Bush’s policies is overwhelming – even the leading Republican candidates are running on an “Anyone but Bush” platform. As for the Democrats, their continuous sellouts and betrayals on everything from the Iraq War to health care have quickly disillusioned many who formerly thought they were at the very least a “lesser evil”.
History is marching forward. We must follow these events closely, and above all, energetically build the forces of revolutionary Marxism in order to intervene in the movement on a scale that can have a real effect on the outcome of the momentous struggles to come. Join us in the struggle for a better world!