Thursday, March 22, 2012

Something is changing in the USA

This is an excerpt from installment three of IMT's 2012 World Perspectives resolution.  The entire document is rich in concrete economic analysis of relations between various capitalist states and regions.

From Wisconsin to Wall Street

The economic crisis falls with special force on the USA, and will have its most dramatic effect there. There has been very little hiring in the so-called recovery. In fact, there have been fewer jobs created than are needed just to keep up with population growth, let alone to make up for the over 8 million that were lost at the height of the crisis. During the 3rd quarter of 2011, there were 1,226 extended mass layoff events, involving 184,493 worker firings. And that's considered an improvement on the recent past.

What economic growth there has been has come through an increase in exploitation of the existing workforce. The extraction of both absolute and relative surplus value has increased in the recent period. In other words, fewer workers are working longer and harder for less pay. That leads to GDP growth and more profits. But it does not lead to jobs. The official unemployment rate is 9 percent, but the real figure is likely twice that. Millions are no longer even counted as they are no longer looking for work. There are five unemployed U.S. citizens looking for each job vacancy. That does not include those who have given up the search for employment. 14 percent now rely on food stamps and U.S. poverty is at record levels.

At the same time the Fortune 500 List shows that in 2010, profits for the Fortune 500 grew by 81 percent. These 500 companies and their subsidiaries generated nearly $10.8 trillion in total revenues, up 10.5 percent from 2009. This is out of a total GDP of $14.7 trillion. That means that these 500 companies along generated 73.5 percent of the total U.S. GDP. This is how concentrated wealth is in America. Just the top 10 companies in the Fortune 500 employ over 4 million workers.

All this explains the collapse of support for Obama and the Democrats in the midterm elections. There is growing discontent and it is finding a voice and a practical expression. The mass protests in Wisconsin showed that something is changing in the USA. These were unusual because normally, people just protest for a day and then go home. But inspired by the Egyptian events, the protests grew to massive proportions, with tens of thousands on the streets of Madison, backed by fire-fighters and policemen protesting in solidarity, many of the latter with "cops for labor" inscribed on their backs.

Among the slogans shouted were: "Fight like an Egyptian!" and "From Cairo to Madison, Workers Unite!" In October 2010, he AFL-CIO organised a labour march on Washington DC. This was the first nationwide labour demonstration since 1981. The union leaders wanted to turn it into a pro-Democrat rally but that found no echo among the workers.

Subsequently, the USA was rocked by demonstrations "against corporate greed". These protests, organized by the spontaneously-created Occupy Wall Street movement, are beginning to cause concern in the ranks of the bourgeoisie. The New York Times Sunday Review carried an editorial (8 October, 2011), which is worth quoting at length:

"At this point, protest is the message: income inequality is grinding down that middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass of able, willing but jobless people. On one level, the protesters, most of them young, are giving voice to a generation of lost opportunity. (...)

"The protests, though, are more than a youth uprising. The protesters' own problems are only one illustration of the ways in which the economy is not working for most Americans. They are exactly right when they say that the financial sector, with regulators and elected officials in collusion, inflated and profited from a credit bubble that burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, incomes, savings and home equity. As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery.

"The initial outrage has been compounded by bailouts and by elected officials' hunger for campaign cash from Wall Street, a toxic combination that has reaffirmed the economic and political power of banks and bankers, while ordinary Americans suffer."

It is a myth that the people of the United States are naturally reactionary. Let us recall what the Bible says: "For the first shall be last and the last shall be first." That is pure dialectics! Precisely because the American workers have been politically more backward than the European workers, they can jump over their heads.

CNBC howled that the protesters "let their freak flags fly," and are "aligned with Lenin." Unfortunately, this judgment is a little premature. The protesters—at least most of them—are not yet aligned with Lenin. But they are learning from experience. And a few blows from a policeman's club teach them more about the precise nature of the capitalist state than a reading of State and Revolution.

While the American workers do not have a mass labour party, they also do not carry the weight of a reformist leadership which uses its authority to hold back the workers, as is the case in Europe and elsewhere. They are fresh and lack the reformist and Stalinist prejudices of the European workers. The American workers can therefore develop very quickly once they start to move.

This can already be seen in the Occupy movement. The brutal police repression with which the movement in Oakland was met also shows how frightened the U.S. ruling class is of the revolutionary potential of such a movement. An indication of what can come was seen in the call for the general strike in response to the brutal police repression, an extremely positive step in the right direction, showing an instinctive awareness on the part of the youth of the need to link up with organised Labour. This was the first time for 70 years that the idea of a city-wide general strike was discussed openly by sections of the trade union movement in the United States.

The Occupy movement is in fact just the tip of the iceberg of a much more widespread current of opposition. The defeat of the anti-trade union law through a referendum in Ohio in November 2011 was another indication of this. The vote of 61 percent to reject the legislation represented a major victory for organized labour, which harnessed its significant resources to help achieve the result. This shows the real mood developing among U.S. workers.

It was Marx and Engels who raised the perspective of a labour party to break the workers from the parties of the bourgeoisie. The creation of such a party will be a historic event in the United States. Even if founded on a reformist programme, it will be a magnet that will immediately attract unionized and non-unionized workers, the youth, blacks, Latinos, women, and the unemployed. Under the conditions of social crisis, an American labour party can move sharply to the left, developing rapidly in the direction of centrism.


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