This year the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Black History Month and Barack Obama’s presidential run are combining to create a lethal brew for U.S. workers. Every year on King’s birthday we hear how racial harmony is just around the corner if we workers can only be true to his pacifist legacy. Black History Month, while highlighting great contributions made by black writers, scientists and artists (although notably excluding working-class heroes), also builds the illusion that capitalism provides unlimited opportunities for black workers.
These events combined push the lie that racism is declining in the U.S. However, the media blitz can’t hide the fact that racism is alive and well in the U.S. and worldwide.
Now Barack Obama’s bid is pushing two big lies: (1) simply voting for a politician or law can reform capitalism; and (2) the working class, especially black workers, will be better off with a black President.
Yet the reality is that even in the Democratic primaries themselves “race” and racism have emerged front and center, with Clinton and Obama trading barbs about it and appealing to black and white constituencies. And anti-immigrant racism plays a major role in the Republican primaries as well.
The bosses use racism to divide the working class and extract even more profit from our labor. By nearly every measure — employment, incarceration rates, healthcare, education, poverty levels, wages, the Katrina horror, racist police murders and frame-ups like the Jena Six and anti-immigrant raids — black and Latino workers are victims of a brutal racist system. According to 2006 U.S. Census statistics, the poverty rate for blacks was 24.3% compared to 3.5% for whites. (The federal poverty rate is set at a level –– $20,650 for a family of four –– that is horrendously low. This means that tens of thousands of families are living in poverty conditions, even if they aren’t counted as such by the government.) The U.S. prison population (the highest in the world) contains 2.4 million people, 70% black and Latino, with millions more on probation, parole or awaiting trial, much of it due to racism.
The fact is, capitalism cannot exist without racism. The concepts of “race” and racism were developed as an ideology just as capitalist economies began to dominate world markets. Then, as now, it was used both to divide and weaken the working class, and to justify paying lower wages to black and Latino workers.
Under capitalism, workers must compete for jobs. On average, according to the Census Bureau, black workers are paid about 70¢ in wages for every dollar paid to white workers. (For Latino workers it’s about 60¢.) Bosses use this differential to threaten white workers not to ask for higher pay or be replaced by lower-paid black and Latino workers. White workers are thus forced to accept lower wages based on the racist exploitation of black and Latin labor. This historical analysis has led PLP to consistently make the fight against racism central to the struggle against capitalist oppression. As Karl Marx said, “The labor in white skin can never be free so long as the labor in black skin is branded.”
The Danger of Elections
Along with the usual lies about how capitalism can be reformed to eliminate racism, the presence of the first legitimate black contender for president, Barack Obama, makes this a particularly dangerous year for workers. Since his break-out speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Obama has become another face of the liberal wing of the ruling class, along with Hillary Clinton (see editorial page 2). This Rockefeller-led faction pushes a “friendlier” capitalism, where the war in Iraq would be fought with more allies, Guantanamo Bay would be reformed or closed, and “civil liberties” would be protected (“liberties” which are revoked whenever the ruling class feels threatened). Even if these changes are made, however, it will not lead to a system that satisfies the needs of workers. In reality, the liberals are attempting to use these ideas to build even greater patriotic loyalty to their imperialist aims worldwide.
Obama neatly fits another part of the liberals’ strategy. He talks about “change” and “hope” and other wonderful-sounding ideas. And as the higher (though limited) voter turnouts in Iowa and New Hampshire demonstrate, his ideas (along with the other candidates’) are inspiring many more people to get involved in capitalist politics. Yet Obama has clear ties to the ruling class and has proven that he will place the goals of the U.S. imperialists over the needs of the working class (see box below for his links to the bosses):
• He voted billions more for the war in Iraq and has threatened military action against Iran;
• He supports expanding the murderous war in Afghanistan;
• He voted for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, to make it even more dangerous for super-exploited Mexican workers trying to enter the U.S.
(CHALLENGE has leveled these criticisms at Hillary Clinton, who is just as much an enemy of the working class as Obama. (See editorial page 2) Workers will not benefit from an Obama presidency any more than from Clinton or McCain or any of the others.
In fact, workers have never won real social, political and economic changes through voting. The so-called “examples” of voting bringing reforms ignores the intensive militant, violent struggles that preceded the vote. The anti-slavery Thirteenth Amendment passed only after years of fight-back by abolitionists, more than 400 slave revolts and a Civil War in which 600,000 soldiers, mostly workers, died.
The 40-hour work-week and labor reform followed a decade of sit-down strikes, often pitting armed workers, led by communist organizers, against the army, cops, National Guard and other bosses’ agents. Even the Voting Rights Act resulted from years of bloody struggle against the KKK and Jim Crow racism. History clearly shows that the bosses only make concessions to the working class when forced to do so by mass, militant action.
But the bosses use their state power to reverse these reforms. And current economic conditions show this is especially true during times of intense inter-imperialist rivalry. As U.S. rulers struggle to solidify control of Iraqi oil and contain their imperialist rivals in Europe and Asia, workers increasingly feel the squeeze. For more and more workers, the 40-hour work-week is a distant memory. The Labor Department recently reported that in 2007 inflation was 4.1% while real wages dropped 0.9%, making necessities such as food, energy and healthcare more expensive. Due to racist discrimination, all this disproportionately affects black and Latino workers.
Capitalism is a system with laws that cannot be changed by electing a black or woman president or through reforms. These laws dictate that racism will always be used to extract super-profits from the labor of workers and that any reforms the working class does win will eventually be taken back. Only revolutionary communist change will emancipate the working class from capitalist wage slavery which is the basis of racism. Only with communism will all aspects of society meet the needs of the working class, while the profit-driven bosses are destroyed. Progressive Labor Party constantly and consistently works toward this goal.