The recession last year in the United States, combined with a "jobless recovery" in which unemployment has continued to rise, has not only deeply affected millions of working people in the United States. As the articles in this issue of the Militant report, the capitalist crisis has deepened in Latin America, tightening its squeeze on the wages, living and working conditions, and access to basic services across the continent. The articles also point out the widespread struggles of workers and peasants--allies of working people in the United States who face the same enemy: U.S. imperialism.
As the air continues to whistle out of a financial bubble on Wall Street, no one knows how far down the stock markets might go. With a string of huge corporate bankruptcies, financial scandals, and signs of continued economic weakness, the "irrational exuberance" of the wealthy investors is a distant memory, the vaunted Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s shine is dulling in some business quarters, and fear replaces greed among top monied layers in the United States.
The deflating bubble is one sign of the fundamental economic crisis of world capitalism. Despite the much ballyhooed "productivity miracle," the 1990s boom was built on the backs of working people, through speedups, wage cuts, and other measures. Although they made some gains, the employers were unable to fundamentally reverse their long-term profit slide, meaning the stock-market’s upward glide looked more attractive than investing in capacity-expanding plants and equipment. Within this speculative bubble there has lurked the threat of a banking collapse and other financial shocks that would trigger a sharp fall in industrial production.
The shaky economic situation generates other pressing questions working people will need to address. Today, the threat of new military adventures by Washington remains real. The Bush administration has been criticized by big-business newspapers for not doing enough about the economy. But the White House does have a plan for dealing with the growing economic problems of U.S. imperialism: it is seeking to launch a new war against Iraq and taking steps such as setting up the Pentagon’s Northern Command at home in order to confront the struggles of workers and farmers. Protectionist measures and massive export subsidies to grain and other agricultural monopolies are other weapons of Washington’s wars. These will be used not only against semicolonial countries, but to target Washington’s imperialist rivals as well.
In Cuba and the Coming American Revolution, Jack Barnes explains that vanguard militants can find ways to present some very basic, immediate demands "to defend the conditions and solidarity of the working class and other toilers in face of rising joblessness, deepening indebtedness, and the ever-present danger of ruinous bursts of inflation or financial panic. These are what worker-bolsheviks can offer our class as a proletarian alternative to being whipsawed between choices presented by the Democrats and Republicans as a matter of ‘take it or leave it.’" The program outlined in the book is one being advanced by Socialist Workers candidates around the country today, as well.
Workers should demand a massive program of government-funded public works to ensure jobs for all at union-scale. Such a program is needed to build housing, schools, hospitals and clinics, day-care centers, public transportation, libraries, gyms, parks, and other social infrastructure the capitalists are allowing to crumble rather than fund out of their profits.
Labor must demand a shorter workweek with no cut in pay, binding on all employers as federal law and to increase the minimum wage. "Given the competition for jobs under capitalism, wage levels are set from the bottom up, not from the top down," Barnes points out.
Labor must demand, once again as federal legislation, that all wages be covered by full and automatic cost-of-living protection. The capitalists’ efforts to pull themselves out of a downturn in sales and profits can spark sudden and unexpected inflationary explosions that devastate the living standards and any small savings of working people.
Labor must reach out for allies among working farmers, joining with them to demand a halt to all foreclosures. The working class and labor movement in the United States must demand that Washington and other imperialist government and financial institutions immediately cancel the foreign debt that has been imposed on the semicolonial countries.
Workers and farmers in the United States should demand that Washington lift all tariffs and other obstacles to trade and travel erected by the U.S. rulers. This includes the elimination of all "anti-dumping," "fair labor," "environmental protection," and other trade weapons wielded with often devastating consequences by the U.S. government under the banner of "free trade."
By demanding cancellation of the Third World debt," Barnes says, "and opposing all measures used by the propertied classes to magnify the unequal terms of trade intrinsic to the world capitalist market, working people in the United States can strengthen our unity with the toilers of these countries in the international battle against our common enemy, the imperialist ruling families who exploit us all to maintain their wealth and power. We can deepen the effort to transform our unions into revolutionary organizations of the working class that will inscribe these internationalist demands on our battle flag."
Bush seeks way to deploy military domestically
Stock market slide portends deeper crisis