The 1% and the Simmering Discontent

congresssa79Editorial for Socialist Appeal 79 – For the first time in history, a majority of members of Congress are bona fide millionaires. If anyone still has any illusions that the Democrats are somehow a party that fights in the interests of the workers, think again. Democratic members of the congressional delegation are actually even richer, on average, than their Republican counterparts.

And if doing the bidding of the 1% while in office isn’t reward enough, there is a highly lucrative “revolving door” between government “service” and the private sector. Many former elected officials eventually find their way into the lobbying industry, and many lobbyists are now themselves running for office. Speakers’ honorariums, seats on boards of directors, and more await those who scratch corporate America’s back while in office—and vice versa.

In 2012, a staggering $6.7 billion was spent on lobbying. The vast majority of these so-called “government relations professionals” are directly connected to and financed by big business. This translates to $12.5 million for every congressperson—some nine times the average congress member’s operating expenses budget of $1.3 million. It’s even more than the amount spent in the entire 2012 election cycle to get these people and the president elected in the first place.

Big business is certainly getting what it paid for, as profits continue to soar, and cuts and austerity rain down on the working majority. No wonder a recent Gallup poll found that lobbying “ranked as the least trustworthy and honest profession in the country.” Incredibly, even members of Congress rated higher, despite having a mere 9% approval rating in November.

So while a tiny handful of Americans live high on the hog, the rest of us are sinking deeper into a swamp of low wages, unemployment, homelessness, and constant precarity. The youth in particular are hit hard by the capitalist crisis. 15% of workers aged 16 to 24 are unemployed, not counting those not working because they are in school or are no longer counted as “actively seeking employment.” 37 million Americans are carrying student debt—a total of over $1 trillion—an average of nearly $25,000 per person. In 2010, student debt surpassed credit card debt, and in 2011 it surpassed auto loans. According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, student debt is growing by $3,000 every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

Some young people have been able to temporarily stave off the worst of the crisis by living with their parents, relying on them for financial help, tuition, rent, groceries, gas money, health insurance, and other necessities. They are in effect living off the fat accumulated in American society during the postwar upswing, a time when their parents and grandparents benefitted from the relatively high wages, pensions, and other gains achieved through mass labor struggles in the decades before and after World War II. But that individual safety net is no lasting solution and is being used up quickly. Millions of other young people are out on their own in the bitter cold of the capitalist crisis.

studentdebtcartoon1Contrary to what many people say, it’s not that young people are merely “lazy” and don’t want to work. In 2012, over 500,000 young people applied for just 80,000 positions with AmeriCorps. A crippling $1 billion in federal youth jobs programs have been cut each year since 2002—austerity beginning long before the crisis hit fully in 2008. Even low-paying fast food, retail, and service jobs can be hard to come by in many communities.

And it is not only young people who are feeling the pain. Even highly skilled and traditionally well-paid workers are under attack. 31,000 machinists organized by the IAM at Boeing have just had a rotten contract rammed down their throats. Even though the company threatened to “offshore” production from the Seattle area to the South, where low wages and so-called “right to work” anti-union laws prevail, the members rejected the deal by a 2-to-1 vote in November.

Nonetheless, virtually the same contract was forced through just after the holidays with the collusion of the union’s craven international leadership. Under the new agreement, pensions are being eliminated for new hires and frozen for existing employees; scheduled wage increases will not keep up with inflation; out-of-pocket health care costs will skyrocket; and contract signing “bonuses” will be eaten up by taxes. In addition, the 8-year extension means that the workers’ hands will be legally tied for nearly a decade, while the company works to dismantle the union in all but name.

Boeing is the last company that can claim economic hardship. This is a company that recently received the biggest state tax break to a corporation in US history: $8.7 billion through the year 2040. In addition, over the last decade, Boeing received $1.8 billion in federal income tax rebates on its $35 billion in US profits. In 2012, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney was compensated to the tune of $21.1 million.

All this while over a quarter of Americans working in the private sector make $10 or less an hour. According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, two-thirds of America’s low-wage workers are employed by corporations with more than 100 employees, 92% of which were profitable in 2012, and 63% of which are even more profitable now than they were before the recession.

The absurdity of this situation and this system is patently obvious to millions, and yet no clear lead out of the dead end of capitalism is being given. No wonder there is a pervasive malaise in society. Mass shootings, road rage murders, rising suicide, spousal, and child abuse rates, and killing someone for texting in a movie theater are not the product of a healthy society.

There is a quiet but growing heroin epidemic in states like Vermont. Nationally, drug overdoses have tripled since 1990—more people now die from an OD than are killed in motor vehicle crashes. The birthrate in the US has dropped to its lowest level since 1920, as growing numbers of young people “don’t want to bring a child into this world.”

Human consciousness reflects the objective conditions that surround us. A diseased society cannot but have an effect on our individual and collective psychology.

But as the old adage says, “the darkest hour is before the dawn.” The consciousness of American workers and young people is changing and we are beginning to fight back. After decades of blaming individuals for their problems and looking for individual solutions to the misery of life of capitalism, the realization that we need collective action to confront a collective problem is beginning to take root. With no real and lasting solution possible under capitalism, the long-simmering discontent will in time transform into a raging boil.

Young people are mobilizing and fighting to raise the minimum wage and to organize fast food and WalMart workers. Disgusted with the class-collaboration policies of their leaders and tired of being sold out time and again without a fight, rank-and-file opposition currents are beginning to form in unions around the country.

The Chicago teachers have given a hint of what is possible. From the IAM workers recently betrayed by their leaders at Boeing, to the APWU postal workers and the Los Angeles teachers’ union, the current labor leadership is being put on notice: the old approach and the old leaders will not do.

Without a strategy of class independence and militancy, more defeats are inevitable. But if the opposite approach is taken, hard-fought victories can inspire workers nationwide and jumpstart the long-overdue revival of organized labor.

But collective action at the workplace is not enough. As our regular readers know, Socialist Appeal has since its launch been an advocate of a mass party of labor based on the unions, armed with a socialist program. The idea that the unions must break with the Democrats and form a party to fight for the working class is overwhelmingly popular with rank-and-file workers and young people we speak too. However, this enthusiasm is usually accompanied by the comment: “but the unions will never break with the Democrats.” We say: “Never say never!” Six years into the “school of the Democrats,” increasing numbers of workers have had enough.

In the important industrial hub of Lorain County, Ohio, the local unions broke with the Democrats in the off-year elections in November and won 24 city council seats on the Independent Labor Party ballot line.

As David May explains in this issue, after being blatantly stabbed in the back by the Democrats a few too many times, organized labor organized politically. Most of them were multi-generational members of the Democratic Party. But as Democratic committeeman and local labor leader put it, “If we can’t get a party that we’ve always supported hands down to support us, we’re going to look elsewhere. My loyalties are with labor first.”

In addition, the Chicago teachers’ union recently announced plans to launch its own political formation. It remains to be seen what form this will take, but we are confident that this idea will gather steam in the years ahead. Many more unions will break from the Democrats and run independent labor candidates. The process will not be linear. But out of the rise and fall of many such efforts, and in conjunction with a generalized upsurge in workers’ struggles, a truly mass party of labor with broad support in the unions will emerge on a national scale.

Throughout this process and within the future labor party, the Marxists will energetically advocate and fight for a socialist program. A labor party that serves only to manage the crisis on behalf of the capitalists would be forced to carry out policies similar to the Democrats and Republicans. Only a complete break with capitalism can guarantee the jobs, health care, housing, education, and stability the working class majority so desperately needs.

Parallel with these developments, we can see a rising interest in left reformism. From the city council elections in Seattle and Minneapolis, to a Rolling Stone article calling on so-called millennials to fight for full employment, corporate regulation, universal Social Security, an end to Wall Street’s monopoly over banking, and social control over the use of resources and land, there is a growing rejection of the pro-corporate status quo.

On the one hand, this is a positive development, a healthy reaction against the political atmosphere of the last few decades. But on the other, we must be clear: while the Marxists support and will fight for each and every reform that improves the quality of life of the majority, the capitalist system itself cannot be reformed out of existence. There can be no lasting solution within the limits of a system based on profits made through the merciless exploitation of one human by another; or rather, of billions of people being squeezed to death by a small handful.

imt-international marxist tendencyIt is natural that those first moving into political activity will first seek the path of least resistance: to make this or that adjustment to the existing system. But no matter how sincere these illusions may be, experience will show that this is simply not possible. Far from reforms—even cosmetic ones to take the edge off—the ruling class is planning vicious counter-reforms, cuts, and even more austerity.

To wrench gains for the working class from the bosses and their political parties will require colossal effort and sacrifice. Above all, the new generation of youth must make the ending of capitalism its historic goal. It will not be easy and will not happen overnight—but it can and must be done if humanity is to survive the depredations and degradations of this brutal and soulless system.

This is why it is so important to study Marxist theory and the history and experience of the worldwide class struggle for socialism. We can fight against the bosses and we can win. This is why we invite you to join the thousands of IMT members around the planet in the struggle for a better world.

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