The International Monetary Fund forecast April 14 the unfolding global depression conditions facing working people today will be the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The contraction already dwarfs that of the global financial crisis 12 years ago.
The downward arc of capitalism over decades caused by a declining rate of profit has now burst forth, triggered by far-reaching shutdown measures imposed by capitalist governments worldwide.
Bosses and their governments are demanding “we” must all sacrifice for the greater good, but what they are doing and preparing to do to rescue their crisis-ridden capitalist system directly targets working people and our jobs, wages, working conditions and political rights.
Increasingly workers are looking for ways to organize to defend ourselves.
The owners of ArcelorMittal, far and away the world’s largest steel company, have already slashed workers’ jobs and wages by as much as 45% in South Africa.
In the U.S., ArcelorMittal bosses plan to lay off all employees with less than two years seniority at the Indiana Harbor steel mill in East Chicago, a direct violation of the union contract there. They claim this is needed to protect corporate profits as the business has lost almost half its orders because of the shutdown of the U.S. auto industry.
U.S. coal bosses are pushing the government to let them stop paying special taxes that finance the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. This fund — which already faces underfunding from the government’s refusal to increase it — supports some 25,000 retired miners who suffer from the debilitating effects of black lung. The fund is key to miners getting medical care because the bosses have carefully engineered contrived bankruptcies to get out of responsibility for health care and pensions for the miners they exploited.
“They’re crooks,” Harold Sturgill, an underground West Virginia coal miner for 35 years who suffers from black lung, told the Washington Post, referring to the coal bosses. “They’re going to try to use this virus thing to stop paying benefits.”
This is “kind of scary. Miners rely on that funding,” Teresa Blackwell, director of the Tug River black lung clinic, told the Militant April 13. “We see miners who go without medicines to feed their families.”
“The burden should be laid on the coal operators,” 72-year-old former West Virginia miner David Bounds, who also has black lung, told the Post. “They come in our state, they mine our coal, they fill their pockets up, they declare bankruptcy. They leave with all the cash and all the money, and there’s no money to pay the miners.”
Joblessness hits depression levels
Tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs in the past few weeks in the U.S. And that’s the government’s official figures, which don’t count contract workers, temps or workers without papers. It leaves out all those who haven’t been able to file claims, as government websites and phone lines are swamped and repeatedly crash.
At least a third of all economic output in the U.S. has been shut down by government-imposed measures. Family farmers, small business people and other exploited layers have been devastated as the worldwide crisis of capitalism deepens.
The unprecedented surge of official jobless claims — nearly 17 million in three weeks — understates the unemployment level.
With a majority of small businesses closed, only 1% have been successful filing applications for emergency government loans so far. Many say they’ll have to close permanently. About 30 million small firms employ almost 60 million workers, some 47.5% of the total U.S. workforce.
Farmers across the country are being forced to destroy precious perishable produce, while millions go short of food. From South Florida to Arizona, bean, cabbage and other vegetable fields are being plowed under, while in Idaho and elsewhere huge quantities of onions are being buried.
Bosses in Mississippi poultry plants, whose production and packaging lines are set up to supply restaurants rather than stores, are destroying eggs by the millions, rather than raise chickens they can’t profit from. Milk processing bosses are telling dairy farmers to dump truckloads of raw milk, even to cull their herds.
Meanwhile, slaughterhouse shutdowns are increasing as packinghouse bosses, who have cut working conditions to the bone, claim they can’t produce meat profitably under the sanitary conditions required. Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor, is shutting one of its largest plants in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which eliminates 5% of U.S. production.
The country’s rail bosses came together to demand, and got, the Federal Railroad Administration to give them a waiver from having to do track and rolling equipment maintenance — a direct threat to the safety of rail workers and those who live along the nation’s rail tracks (see article on front page).
Another deepening crisis everywhere is in government services won by past working-class struggles that the bosses don’t want to bear the burden for today. Moves are underway to slash the U.S. Postal Service and its workers as well as many public transit systems.
Shutter mass transit, postal service
Even before the current collapse in passenger numbers, transit fares cover less and less of the costs of operation. The capitalist rulers have reorganized mass transit to increasingly rely on funds from sales taxes, payroll taxes, parking fees and fines, highway tolls, or lottery revenues — all different means of putting the burden on working people.
Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have joined to back Postal Service bosses, who have skipped out of paying nearly $50 billion in mandated retiree health benefits since 2018. They propose instead that these workers be required to enroll in Medicare.
Plans have also been floated to lift the requirement that the Postal Service deliver anywhere within the U.S. This is aimed at eliminating deliveries to already poorly serviced rural areas.
As the press reports, government figures in Washington and statehouses across the country are discussing “exit plans” for their deep-going lockdown on jobs and production. This won’t be anything like just turning the lights back on.
Bosses and industrywide associations are meeting behind the scenes to plan for a frenzy of cutthroat competition on a world scale to fight for markets, raw materials, new supply lines and profits.
That means more class struggle.
To carry out this assault on working people, the propertied rulers are using the virus as a pretext to step up spying and attack vital constitutional rights.
Some 68 national governments have declared states of emergency and at least 72 have imposed restrictions on the fundamental right to assemble.
From Hungary to Thailand, heads of government have assumed powers to rule by decree indefinitely. Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, told security forces to “shoot them dead,” referring to anyone violating his oppressive lockdown orders.
In Algeria, Iraq, Bangladesh, Uganda and other countries, regimes have tried to suppress workers’ protests and anti-government actions in the name of fighting the virus.
“National security” spokespeople in the U.S. are demanding an extension of surveillance powers granted to the FBI and other state Red Squad agencies to hack records and wiretap phones of businesses and organizations. These were originally passed with bipartisan support in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Working people need to organize to fight all these attacks by the bosses and their governments at every level — attacks already in motion and others that will come. This starts today with fighting for jobs and getting together on the shop floor to defend our wages and working conditions. And extending solidarity to all those fighting back.