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Today’s social crisis is product of capitalist rule

By Roy Landersen
April 20, 2020
Perdue workers in Kathleen, Georgia, walked off job March 23 to protest job conditions, bosses scorn for them. “The line is too fast,” one worker said. “There’s chicken all over the floor.”
Perdue workers in Kathleen, Georgia, walked off job March 23 to protest job conditions, bosses scorn for them. “The line is too fast,” one worker said. “There’s chicken all over the floor.”

The lockdowns imposed by governments from North America to western Europe, Uganda to Argentina, and around the world — one of the rulers’ key steps to try and defend their capitalist system in a time of deep economic and social crisis — have thrown millions out of work. Most workers today have little money set aside, and the widespread joblessness means threatened disaster. 

The rulers’ moves have deepened an already serious crisis for dairy and other farmers. A full-scale depression like most workers have never seen could well loom on the horizon. 

The International Labor Organization estimated April 7 that the equivalent of almost 200 million full-time jobs have been lost worldwide so far. 

That is why the Socialist Workers Party calls for working people to fight for a massive government-funded program of public works to create jobs at union-scale wages to build what society needs urgently — hospitals, day care centers, schools and to replace the crumbling infrastructure. This is central to defending the working class today. It’s vital, not only for the tens of millions thrown out of work, but for the entire working class and its allies, who are being atomized and pulverized by the unfolding capitalist crisis. 

The SWP urges workers to mobilize to demand urgent government relief for all workers, small shopkeepers, and other self-employed, as well as those who toil on the land, who need it. 

Workers still on the job organizing to fight the bosses’ attacks on wages and working conditions are the foundation on which all progress out of this crisis will be built. 

Miles of cars wait to get to Pittsburgh community food bank March 30. Tini Mason, 44, just out of job as a cook, said it was a “mind-blowing experience I will never forget.”
Miles of cars wait to get to Pittsburgh community food bank March 30. Tini Mason, 44, just out of job as a cook, said it was a “mind-blowing experience I will never forget.”

From steel mills to Walmart, to cross-country railroads and trucking, workers lucky enough to labor in industries the bosses consider “essential” to capitalism are facing speedup, more dangerous conditions and other attacks by employers driven by their thirst for profits. These come on top of the “normal” exploitation and oppression of labor that bosses use to squeeze as much as possible out of workers. Today, more than ever, it’s clear that working people are the only ones who can produce what society needs.

The bosses don’t care what is produced, only that it returns a profit they can appropriate. That’s why they demand just-in-time delivery of parts and raw materials, so their capital isn’t tied up in warehouses producing no profit. This is why there was such a shortage of hospital beds, ventilators, masks and other medical necessities crucial for when the coronavirus outbreak hit.

Since 2003 bosses have shuttered at least 16 hospitals in New York City alone, where every square foot of real estate has a price tag. When St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center was closed and torn down in 2012, developers built terraced apartments and condos in a building with a private garden, underground parking, an 80-foot-long swimming pool and a golf driving simulator. 

Disdain for the working class

The situation was made worse by successive federal governments’ decisions to cut health facilities. For years Veteran Affairs has left a growing number of positions in its medical facilities unfilled — over 43,000 today. 

Capitalist rulers everywhere failed to act when mass testing, selective quarantining, ameliorative treatment and a crash program to develop a vaccine could have contained the virus before it became a worldwide pandemic.  

They have total disdain for working people, who they consider to be “deplorables” that need to be controlled or they can become dangerous. The rulers’ moves to impose lockdowns on millions of working families flow from this. So do their orders to shut down Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a lifeline for those fighting to stay free from this affliction. 

The capitalist rulers’ panic-mongering news media seeks to get working people to fear fellow workers as potential “sources” for getting the virus. The bosses and their media enablers hope to get workers to turn on each other. 

They want to try to break down our solidarity, and to prevent us from uniting to resist being saddled with the burden of their crisis. 

Billionaire Microsoft owner Bill Gates and others of his ilk are proposing at least a 10-week shutdown. And the rulers are seeking stronger methods to enforce atomization of working people. While working from home is OK for wealthy and better-off professional layers, workers see their wallets emptying and no way out. 

Government officials are jacking up fines for being outside, or threatening jail time. In South Africa, street peddlers desperate to make a living are being beaten by club-wielding cops and threatened with guns. In Rhode Island, Florida and elsewhere, National Guard troops are posted on a growing number of state borders to keep “outsiders” out.

In Kentucky, a Louisville judge ordered ankle bracelets to be fitted to anyone deemed not complying with Gov. Andy Beshear’s order for everyone to stay home. 

The rulers’ shutdowns have resulted in an unprecedented closure of production and commerce, with at least a quarter of the U.S. economy idled in the first week of April. U.S. daily output fell almost a third from the first week of last month. 

The Labor Department reported that over 700,000 jobs were lost in March. Bosses and governments ordered restaurants, bars, retail outlets, auto plants, construction sites, state government social services, and so-called nonurgent health care facilities to close. In some states this included banning a woman’s right to have an abortion. 

In the first week of April, nearly a million retail workers were told to stay home indefinitely without pay. Some 60,000 stores have been shuttered in recent weeks and most shopping malls are empty. 

Many of these “temporary” closures are likely to become permanent, as struggling small business owners see their nest eggs disappear. Three-quarters of the U.S. population say they’ve suffered losses of income. Working people will face foreclosure on homes, cars and farms as they fall behind paying debts to the landlords and banks. 

Capitalism’s immorality

Nowhere is the moral bankruptcy of capitalism made more bare than over the life-and-death issue of which gravely ill patients will get access to life-saving ventilators, the numbers of which are limited because of government inaction. From hospital bosses in New York City to “medical ethics experts,” the immoral answer is “giving priority to younger patients and those with fewer existing conditions.” 

This class immorality was answered by Roger Severino, director of the federal health department’s civil rights office. “Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism,” he said in a news release March 28. “Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills and older persons should not be put at the end of the line for health care during emergencies.” Nor should it matter whether they have immigration documents or not. 

The only decisive answer to the class warfare of the bosses against workers, farmers and all those exploited and oppressed by capital is to build a movement of millions to wrest political power out of their hands and replace it with a workers and farmers government. Today’s struggles can point in that direction.