For 30 years, American workers have been under assault. For decades, there were very few fight backs, and even fewer successes. Between 1973 and 2007, private sector unionization decreased by over 75 per cent and wealth inequality increased by 40 per cent. Strike levels fell to record lows. Politically, things shifted ever further to the right as the Democrats and Republicans fell over each other to carry out the wishes of the capitalists.
The labor leaders offered nothing but the failed policy of “partnership with the bosses” on the shop floor and at the polls. Despite the heroic traditions of the past, this all led many to believe that Americans “have it too good” or have somehow become “bourgeoisified.” Class struggle and revolution may happen in Venezuela or Egypt, but not in the USA.
But the “mole of history” has been burrowing underground this entire time. A pay cut here, a home foreclosure there; rising health costs here, a factory shuttered and off-shored there. Little by little, the economic basis for the American Dream has been whittled away, and with it, the illusions that capitalism is the “best of all possible worlds.”
We have always had supreme confidence in the U.S. working class. We understood that workers were learning from their experience and would inevitably enter the path of struggle at a certain stage. After all, a pendulum can only swing so far to the right before swinging back to the left. And the further it goes in one direction, the more dramatically it will swing the opposite way once the tide turns. It is still early in the process, and we should not exaggerate, but the colossal potential for the future is there for all to see.
Look no further than the Occupy movement, which has spread to virtually every city in the country. It has lasted for weeks on end and shows no sign of abating anytime soon. The aims of the protesters may be varied and lack political cohesion, but they are united in this: they are dissatisfied with the status quo and are willing to do something other than just complain about it. This is an unprecedented phenomenon and is pregnant with revolutionary implications for the future.
Although many of the protesters are on the streets precisely because their vote for Obama did not lead to real change, the Democrats are working hard to co-opt the movement. However, it won’t be so straightforward. What approach the movement will take to the 2012 elections is as of yet unclear, but adds a new element to an already complex equation. The other tactic to stem the movement, police repression, has only spurred the movement on further. In Oakland, CA, police violence led to the calling of a citywide general strike and mass protests that shut down the city’s giant port facilities.
The off-year elections also give a glimpse into the shifting mood. In “backwards” Mississippi, voters rejected an open assault on a woman’s right to choose or even to use birth control. In “racist” Arizona, the author of SB1070, the draconian anti-immigrant bill, was booted out of office by voters. And in “apathetic” Ohio, millions of workers flooded the polls to reject the governor’s vicious anti-union legislation. These were all the result of massive grassroots organizing campaigns on these issues. To be sure, the Democrats and Republicans remain in power; given the lack of any real alternative, that is to be expected. But the mood for class-independent politics and a labor party is growing.
The mood against the rich is also growing. While the rest of us suffer unemployment and cuts, Wall Street profits have soared, by an astounding 720% between 2007 and 2009. CEOs are paid more than 300 times the pay of average workers, up from 40 times the pay three decades ago. As for the youth, they have no future under capitalism. A Pew Research poll recently found that households headed by people age 35 and younger were worth an average of just $3,662 in 2009, 47 times less than the median net worth of households headed by people 65 and older. And with unemployment and debt rampant, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for this “lost generation.”
No wonder there is a growing backlash against this situation. A recent ABC/Washington Post poll showed 75% of Americans support raising taxes on millionaires to reduce the federal deficit. There is widespread opposition to cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs. And for the first time since the 1930s, a majority of Americans are in favor of redistribution of income and wealth. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, a super majority of 66 percent of Americans said the nation’s wealth should be more evenly distributed. Who says socialist ideas aren’t “mainstream”?
The Republicans and Democrats are at each other’s throats over who has a better plan to revive the economy and create jobs. But if job creation is so easy, why haven’t they done it yet? The truth is, they have no idea how to create jobs while still ensuring the megaprofits of their corporate masters. You cannot square the circle. The capitalists are in the business of making profits, not creating jobs. Therefore, the only solution they have is squeeze the workers even further. But this has its limits.
The tide is turning. With trillions in cuts coming down the pipeline, there will be no alternative for the workers but to get organized and fight back in the streets, the workplace, and at the polls by building a labor party based on the unions. Armed with a socialist program, such a party could rapidly reverse this situation, and would transform U.S. politics and society forever.