U.S. Workers Under Attack

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Month after month, we report a seemingly endless stream of dismal economic figures. And month after month, things just keep getting worse for U.S. workers. What is most important to remember is that behind these numbers are millions of American working families who can hardly stay afloat, let alone get ahead. Behind these numbers are millions of Americans who are beginning to ask themselves a very important question: is the instability of capitalism really the only alternative?

In the first three months of 2009, the U.S. economy shrank by more than 6 percent for the second quarter in a row.  Spending on home building fell by 38 percent, the most since early 1980. Although consumer spending rebounded modestly by 2.2 percent, exports suffered a 30 percent drop, the biggest fall since the beginning of 1969. Auto sales fell 34.4 percent in April, the 18th consecutive month of declines, and the legendary Chrysler company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection. Big Business cut spending on home and commercial construction, inventories, and registered the biggest drop in spending on equipment and software since 1958. Even the government cut its spending for the first time since 2005.

Unemployment lineThe recession, which started back in December of 2007, is the worst since the 1930s. It has already claimed 5.1 million jobs, with hundreds of thousands more being lost each month. Official unemployment is at 8.5 percent and set to go much higher. From the auto industry to steel, thousands of jobs continue to be shed and perfectly good factories are shuttered. Even the most optimistic economists don’t foresee a significant drop in unemployment levels until 2013.

No wonder workers have their heads down. But even when the economy inevitably stabilizes, the crisis will be far from over. We have gotten so used to such massive job losses that even a modest recovery will be viewed with relief. But let’s not forget that even modest positive growth will barely make a dent in the damage already done. As we’ve explained in the past, most of these jobs are simply not coming back, or will be replaced by similar jobs paying half as much and with little to no benefits.

In other words, once we hit bottom, we may bounce along at that level for years to come. As long as capitalism continues to exist, there is absolutely no guarantee that things will get better. As nice as the idea of constant progress sounds on paper, history doesn’t work that way in practice. The capitalist system has very real contradictions which cannot be overcome within its own limits.  What is needed is a new way of organizing society in order to harness the vast potential we have to provide a high quality of life for everyone. We humans created the capitalist system and we too have the power to change it.

A mere five percent of the U.S. population make more than $200,000 per year. The rest of us scrape by with far less. Around the planet, literally billions of people live on less than $2 a day.  Even in the U.S., the richest country on earth, children go hungry, hard working families are thrown out of their homes and thousands of factories are left to rust. Simply put, capitalism is a wasteful, irrational system that puts the wealth and privileges of a tiny minority above the interests of the vast majority.

Take the auto industry for example. People who need cars are unable to buy them, even though thousands of them sit unused on massive lots. At the same time, tens of thousands of skilled auto workers are laid off while perfectly good factories are idled. The legendary wages and conditions of these workers – gained as the result of bitter struggles in the 1930s – are now being cut to the bone.

The trials and tribulations of the auto workers are just the beginning. They are in effect a “test case” for busting one unionized industry after another, to drive down wages to the lowest possible level. After all, auto makers are not really in the business of making cars, they are in the business of making profits. If they can’t make a satisfactory level of profits here in the U.S. under prevailing wages and conditions, they must find ways to decrease costs. The same goes for their government. Hence, auto workers’ wages, safety and pensions are on the chopping block.

And it’s not just factory workers. Workers in the service industries and even in the media are under the gun. Workers at the Boston Globe are being blackmailed into giving up $20 million in concessions or face the shut down of the company and the loss of their jobs.

Mobilizing the membership, the broader labor movement and the communities that depend on these jobs to demand true nationalization of industries in crisis – under workers’ democratic control – is the only way forward. Unfortunately, the labor leadership has hardly moved a finger to stop the onslaught of cuts, let alone to demand nationalization. No wonder strikes are at a decades-long low. In the class struggle as on the playground, weakness invites aggression.

Good generals know how to keep their forces intact during a retreat, and know how to transform a defensive situation into an offensive one. The example of factory occupations and “bossnappings” around the world should be studied by U.S. workers. The bold approach taken by the Republic Windows & Doors workers in Chicago shows that when we adopt militant tactics such as mass pickets and workplace occupations, and build broad labor and community support, we can win important victories.

ObamaFor his part, Obama continues to make cosmetic changes. For example, by closing the most outrageous tax loopholes, which allow corporations to keep their profits in offshore accounts, he aims to curb the most blatant excesses of the system in order to save the system as a whole. Nonetheless, illusions in Obama continue to run high. Millions are hoping against hope that he can get them out of the crisis. But as the initial shock of the crisis begins to wear off, tremendous explosions of the class struggle will be on the order of the day. The continued efforts of immigrant workers to reach out to their allies in the labor movement and to fight for their rights is just one example of the vast fighting potential of the working class.

The late stand-up comedian George Carlin once said that they call it the “American Dream” because you have to be asleep to believe it. Americans are waking up after a very long sleep. They are still a bit groggy and getting their bearings. But once they come to the realization that the last few decades have been the exception, rather than the rule of life under capitalism, the sparks will really start to fly. Join us in preparing for the inevitable resurgence of the Labor movement. Join us in fighting for the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and socialism within the movement, the only ideas that can lead us out of the blind alley of capitalism.

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