Both bosses’ candidates, Obama and McCain, build false consciousness among many U.S. workers. McCain jabbers about Joe the Plumber, a non-union, right-wing plumber who has illusions about owning a plumbing business. Obama babbles on about how the “middle class” is hurting. But the working class, the overwhelming majority, did not benefit from the “boom” years of the ’90s and is now hurting even more from the current capitalist economic tsunami.
For millions of workers, capitalism in the U.S. and worldwide in the last three decades has meant lower wages, union-busting, racist and fascist ethnic cleansing from the Balkans to Iraq to Rwanda to the U.S. (with 2.4 million in jail, mainly black and Latin males). Endless wars, racist-fascist terror and mass unemployment are the main aspects of global capitalism. In fact, the director of the UN’s International Labor Organization estimates that the current capitalist crisis will increase unemployment by 20 million worldwide.
According to the AFL-CIO (and it ought to know), over 45 million U.S. workers earn $10.20 an hour or less. One of four earns $9.60/hour, the official poverty rate for a family of three. And 15 million workers earn the minimum wage, $6.70/hour. Among black workers, one of three earns the poverty wage or less.
Throughout the entire history of the profit system, the only time “full employment” has ever existed is during world war — and then only in the more advanced capitalist countries which are the main antagonists of such wars.
Many compare the present crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930s when one-third of the working class in the leading capitalist nations was jobless. It was only when a military draft was enacted and during World War II when countries’ industries became completely devoted to war production that anything approaching “full employment” materialized.
Of course, that presumes that tens of millions in WWII uniforms could be labeled “employed” (at least 14 million in the U.S.). Meanwhile, the main warring capitalists in Germany, Japan, the U.S. and Britain geared total production for the weapons of war. It was only then that capitalism could claim the unemployment problem had been “solved.” The German and Japanese fascists used millions of slave laborers for their war production. The war wiped out 100 million people permanently, including tens of millions of workers. A similar capitalist “solution” to the current crisis is not far-fetched.
The only country without any unemployment before WWII was the Soviet Union which had no private profit system; the source of unemployment, racism and war. It lost 25 million people in the war while its Red Army defeated the bulk of the Axis fascist armies.
Capitalism is based on the accumulation of maximum profits. The only source of profit is the value created by workers in the course of production. However, workers’ wages do not equal the full value they create. If that were true, there would be no profit for the boss. So the bosses try to keep workers’ wages at the lowest level possible, turning as much of the value workers create into profits for the bosses.
But each individual capitalist is competing against all his/her rivals for the maximum share of the market, and produces as much as they think they can sell. However, nothing is planned. So overproduction results, exceeding what the market can buy. Those capitalists who can produce at the lowest possible cost push aside many of their rivals. The latter, seeking to reduce costs to stay in business, feel compelled to achieve that by cutting labor costs, leading to either wage-cuts or mass layoffs, or both. Thus, unemployment is intrinsic to capitalism.
Racism is one of the main weapons capitalists use to reduce their costs. Historically, they relegate various sections of the working class to “second-class” status — the lowest wages, the hardest jobs, the last hired and first fired, and the worst-off in other aspects of life: housing, healthcare, education, etc. In the U.S., this super-exploitation has fallen on black workers, going back to slavery, and in the last two centuries also on Latino and Asian workers. (This does not include the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans who suffer the highest rate of joblessness, 90%.)
The capitalist class reaps super-profits from this racism, partly from the difference in family income between white workers and that of black, Latino and Asian, and partly because the bosses use the lower wages of super-exploited workers to drag town the wages of the entire working class. In the U.S., this difference amounted to $250 billion annually a decade ago, and is probably much higher when figuring in capitalist competition using racism on a world scale, not just within each capitalist country.
Since China has become a full-blown capitalist country, the imperialists have used its huge cheap labor to shift production away from relatively higher-paying areas. Others — India, Latin America, Vietnam and the former Soviet-bloc countries in Eastern Europe — have been used to “outsource” jobs. This “globalization,” in turn, has also been used to lower workers’ wages in the imperialist countries, and even to subcontract key industrial jobs in auto, steel, aerospace, etc., to low-paying non-union areas all across the southern U.S. and California. Racism against immigrant and black workers has been crucial in this process. The pro-capitalist policies of the union leadership have helped the bosses carry out this massive attack.
This competition for profits, and for resources such as oil, gas and minerals needed for modern capitalist production, as well as to equip modern armies, is what leads to military confrontation: war. And not limited to wars between two countries, but to world war. This “solution” to inter-imperialist competition plus the mass unemployment produced by the general competition among bosses in one country and between corporations internationally is part and parcel of capitalism. This is what produces the cycles of “boom” and “bust,” of recessions and depressions. This is the history of capitalism.
Obama and McCain constantly prattle about concern for “the middle class.” They rarely, if ever, use the term “working class.” But classes are defined by their relation to the means of production. U.S. workers who might earn $50,000 a year and manage to hang on to their houses and cars are labeled “middle class” and are even portrayed as “future owners of small businesses.”
But auto or aerospace workers (or plumbers) can be laid off tomorrow, victims of the bosses’ drive to cut costs to maintain profits, and their homes and cars go up in smoke. Currently millions of U.S. workers are losing their houses because of the capitalists’ scams to make paper profits from subprime mortgages, because profit rates from these swindles exceed those that can be reaped from industrial production.
Workers and youth who think a President Obama will “create good jobs” will soon be disillusioned. These jobs will either be civilian ones, the “National Service-type,” with low wages and no benefits or contain the military “option” to carry on U.S. rulers’ oil wars worldwide.
We must be involved with these working-class youth in their mass organizations and win them to see that, under capitalism, their desire for “decent jobs, healthcare, education and housing” is a mirage. We must be part of their daily fights in order to transform them into intensified class struggle between the two classes and use this opportunity to build the Progressive Labor Party. Our goal must be communist revolution to abolish capitalism, its system of wage slavery and racist super-exploitation.
While capitalist crises in and of themselves will not topple the system, they do open the door to building a movement and Party that can lead to the destruction of that system. This is the working class’s only way out of the insufferable horrors of the profit system.