How to win protection from the disastrous effects of the deep-rooted social crisis of capitalism is a question confronting more working people and our families today. It’s becoming harder and harder to start a family, or hold one together.
Beginning in 2021, price hikes for food, rent, electricity, fuel and other necessities accelerated. Long-term joblessness remains higher than before the pandemic and the burden of rising household debt presses down on workers and farmers.
Uncertainty about the future, spiraling costs of child care and rent and declining real wages have led more young men and women to hold off starting families. These obstacles undermine women’s choices about when and whether to bear children, and place constraints on decisions about how many to have. Some 63% of parents who work full time say the average cost of child care — up to $9,600 a year — is out of reach.
The U.S. birth rate plunged 4% from 2019 to 2020, the sharpest single-year decline in almost 50 years. Elsewhere, in Japan, the rate of deaths to births is soaring — the population is declining by 1,500 people every day. Many capitalist politicians see this as positive, claiming this protects unborn children from a life of want. And many liberals argue birth rates must decline to protect the environment.
The squeeze on working-class living standards in the U.S. intensified with annual price rises hitting 7.5% in January, the highest in 40 years. Household debt grew by $1 trillion last year, the biggest annual increase since 2007, just prior to the 2008 financial crash.
Many capitalists — seeking to defend their profits while avoiding price rises that erode sales — have resorted to alternative maneuvers. They’re shrinking their products, adding hidden “processing” or other fees, or requiring customers to pay for extras — like mud flaps on cars —and charging exorbitantly for them. Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said cutting portions at their theme-park restaurants is “good for some people’s waistlines.”
Average rents rose 14% nationwide and as much as 40% in some cities. With the moratorium on rent rises over, many landlords are squeezing tenants with two-years worth of increases in one.
Without any announcement, electricity prices were jacked up 28.2% last month by Con Edison, which has a power monopoly in New York City. At the same time, the company filed for a further 11.2% rate increase. The day the state government’s utility shut-off moratorium expired Dec. 21, ConEd sent out 128,299 termination notices.
Meat has risen by 12.2% in the last year. These price hikes are not going into the pockets of working farmers, who are squeezed on both ends by rising prices for seeds and fertilizer and lower prices offered by the processing monopolies. Instead, they go into the hands of giant retail and food manufacturing owners. Fertilizer prices have risen as much as 200% in the past year. Exploited working farmers face a choice — spread fertilizer more thinly, risking a lower crop yield; cutback on planting; or go more deeply into debt.
“You’re feeding America and going broke doing it,” Missouri rancher Coy Young told the New York Times. Young described how his wife talked him out of killing himself after the price he anticipated getting at auction for part of his herd plunged from $125,000 to $32,000. The fifth generation rancher says he has to give up ranching.
Price hikes hit worldwide
Working people in the U.S. are not alone confronting ruinous consequences of rising prices. Residents took to the streets in the Kurdish province of Agri in Turkey Feb. 4 to demand the state-owned Petroleum Pipeline Corporation reverse last month’s 25% rise in gas prices.
A convoy of hundreds of truck drivers clogged a main road in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 8 to press the government to lower diesel prices. Similar protests by truckers have taken place in Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Diesel prices in the U.S. rose 34% in the last year to the highest level since 2014, adding to the burdens faced by independent owner-operators. It comes on top of long hours, inadequate rest stops and declining rates paid by job brokers.
“My party urges working people to join union picket lines and protests wherever fellow workers are fighting for better wages and conditions,” Joanne Kuniansky, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Congress in New Jersey, told the Militant Feb. 16.
Kuniansky pointed to the fight to defend automatic cost-of-living adjustments during last year’s strikes by workers at John Deere and Kellogg’s. “Unions must extend the fight for COLA to all contracts, pensions, benefits and government programs like Social Security. Whenever prices rise, our wages should go up to match.
“To protect farmers from ruin the government must guarantee their costs of production. Such demands can be won by working farmers and the labor movement forging an alliance. We need to break from the Democratic, Republican and other capitalist parties and form our own party, a labor party, that fights to replace capitalist rule with a workers and farmers government.
“This is the only road to open the door to human solidarity. To win women’s emancipation and Black liberation,” she said. “For now, our unions and our families are key to defending ourselves in the battle against capitalist exploitation and oppression.”