Labor at the Crossroads

Dale Parsons

The capitulation on the part of Obama and the Democrats to the far-Right agenda of the Republicans in the latest battle over raising the deficit ceiling raises the issue of whether capitalism is undermining its own conditions of existence. — Editors.

The capitulation on the part of Obama and the Democrats to the far-Right agenda of the Republicans in the latest battle over The battle lines in what Marx at one time had called “the silent civil war,” the class war of capital vs. labor, have never been clearer. The just passed “Budget Control Act of 2011” attests to that fact. The so-called “emergency debt bill” or debt ceiling agreement is retrogressive, anti-labor, anti-poor, anti-Black and minority, anti-women, anti-old, anti-young, anti-education, anti-immigrant, anti anything whatsoever to do with the vast majority of people in this country.

Putting aside the fact that this debt ceiling agreement is a naked betrayal of humanity, in that it will eventually eliminate most of the funding needed for most of our social programs, it defies simple “capitalist” economic sense. How can the debt be paid if there are little or no cuts in military spending, the Bush tax cuts on the top 2% of income earners (which helped cause the problem in the first place) are still in place, jobs are eliminated and the wages of those still working are cut? Do Obama and the Republicans think revenue can be made up by effectively increasing the tax burden on those still working without reducing unemployment (approximately 25 million unemployed, underemployed or out of the work force altogether) through stimulus packages and job bills?

Why do the Republicans seemingly want to destroy the economy to arrive at this debt agreement when it is obvious they aren’t really interested in paying off the debt, approximately 75% of which was the result of the last three Republican presidents, beginning with Reagan? The answer, as we see it, is that they are determined to use this budget crisis as a vehicle to further redistribute value from labor to capital. Put another way, they want to further, and radically, redistribute income from workers and the poor to the rich and the owners of capital. Rather than eliminating the deficits, they want to redistribute income to those who already have too much of it by eliminating the possibility of tax increases while at the same time gutting social programs.

What most pundits, including on the left, fail to see, however, is that the aim of capitalism, its movement, isn’t simply to line the pockets of the rich, although that is its result. Capitalism’s aim is the self-expansion of capital. The self-expansionist drive of capital becomes even more compulsive when it meets severe recessionary crisis, such as the one we endured from 2008 onward. The organic composition of capital, even more than the individual agents of capitalism, turns out to be the real “beneficiary” of this series of budgetary maneuvers.

One large area of government spending left out of the debt ceiling debate is military spending. In fact, the Pentagon is getting about $50 billion more than it expected. That military development takes priority over economic development is extremely ominous and threatens to reverse the several millennia long struggle to overcome military adventurism by kings, totalitarian rulers, etc.

Already, the United States has the worst level of poverty of any fully developed nation. One half of all our children and the majority of Black children will at some point have to purchase food with food stamps, the highest percentage on record (see  report).

The war against labor is nearly total. Officials are still haggling over the causes of the Massey Mine Disaster on April 5, 2010. Yet Massy Energy’s CEO at the time, Don Blankenship, retired with a $20 million dollar severance package. The Chilean miners still haven’t received the safety regulations that were promised them. Whether one takes up labor struggles in this, the richest country on earth, or the poorest countries in the so-called “Global South,” formerly known as the “Third World,” the demand by capital is the same—more cuts in wages, longer hours, fewer benefits and more abuse.

We have all witnessed the valiant efforts by labor in Wisconsin’s battle with Governor Scott Walker. “Using a supposedly minor ‘budget repair bill’ as his vehicle, Walker proposed to scrap most collective bargaining rights for state, county and municipal employees and teachers, to radically restructure state government to concentrate power in the governor’s office and to use that power to limit access to healthcare for working families and seniors while bartering off public assets in no-bid deals with favored corporations.” “His anti-labor agenda has been blocked by the largest and most consistent pro-union demonstrations the United States has seen since the 1930s, along with legislative maneuvers and court orders. His personal approval ratings have flat-lined, and runs the risk of losing control of the state Senate to Democrats who are determined to block his initiatives” (see the article). The folks in Wisconsin have shown us how to begin the fight to preserve our labor rights. In Wisconsin, nine state senators —six Republicans and three Democrats—face recall elections.

Wisconsinites are not out of the woods yet; GOP Governor Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law eventually survived a court challenge and took effect. This is one more reflection of how state and federal governments have passed legislation in favor of business over the unions for the past 35 years. The state and federal Supreme Courts are basically the “supreme courts” of the state and U.S. chambers of commerce. As an extreme example of this, the U.S. Supreme Court actually ruled that the women bringing a discrimination law suit against Wal-mart, didn’t constitute a class (see “Women vs. Wal-Mart: Supreme Court Hears Argument in Sexual Discrimination Suit”). An entire article could be written about this. Governor Walker also passed a bogus “Voter ID Bill” making it harder for the poor, elderly and others to vote. Walker also wants to close DMV’s in poor districts, exacerbaing the problem. Because of lax election laws, Wisconsin Republicans can run “fake” Democrats in the Democratic primaries. The Koch brothers are also doing everything they can to influence matters.

All this helps illuminate why we as U.S. Marxist-Humanists are adamant in eliminating the “state” as quickly as feasible during the establishment of a new society base on “freely associated labor” The state represents the ruling class, never the workers. The state is where the ruling class can institute its controlling mechanisms e.g. racism, anti-immigration, “court system “congress,” etc. to suppress the self-development of the people toward self-rule.

When all is said and done, the people of Wisconsin still have a chance to regain their collective bargaining rights. The people of Ohio aren’t as fortunate; “Unlike in Wisconsin, Ohio voters cannot recall state lawmakers, so opponents are pushing for repeal through a referendum”. If the folks in Wisconsin succeed in their battle, perhaps the folks in Ohio can get their laws changed.

One recent article demonstrates the increasingly authoritarian attitude to labor; “Corporate America, advises one of the nation’s most prestigious management consulting companies, needs to wake up and stop rewarding employee loyalty and performance.  You work hard. You do good work. You loyally stick with your employer through good times and bad. Do you have a right to a paycheck that rises over time? Analysts from one of America’s top management consulting firms, Booz & Co., have an answer that the Harvard Business School last week sent reverberating through Corporate America’s upper echelons. That blunt answer: No. The notion that good workers doing valuable work deserve to see their paychecks rise over time, pronounce  Booz & Co. analysts Harry Hawkes, Albert Kent, and Vikas Bhalla, no longer rates as ‘tenable.’ America’s corporations, the three advise, need to start attacking the ‘exorbitant’ paychecks now going to their most prized, ‘steady and reliable’ veteran workers” (see the article).

The debt ceiling debates aren’t over with. The next phase takes the debate to a so-called “super” committee of 12 Congressional Representatives and Senators. As in the past when such committees were formed, we can expect to see a conservative grouping with a couple of “moderate” Democrats. As in the past, we can expect further capitulations from the Democrats. Why is this? In the end, the Democrats, who, of course, include Obama, are “corporatists” as well or to put it plainly, capitalists. Since the U.S. wants to maintain single world mastery, there will be no serious cuts in military spending (certainly not the 50% level of cuts mandated if no budget agreement is reached) and none of the Republicans on the committee will dream of raising taxes. So by the end of the year we can expect massive cuts in Medicare as a result. That is of course what the Republicans wanted all along with the Ryan Plan.

Marx asserted that labor’s agitation saved capitalism by preventing the capitalists from destroying the workers and their progeny during the early phase of capitalism, when the capitalists were essentially working the workers and their children to death. See Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England of 1844 for the details. The labor struggles of the time saved capitalism by promoting the development of new labor-savings devices, which ended up raising profits, at the same time as promoting reduced working hours and improved working conditions. Will the labor battle in Wisconsin, the struggles of undocumented workers, and the anti-austerity protests in Greece, Spain, England and other European countries help destroy the stranglehold of the Milton Friedman Chicago School of Economics type of austerity measures of the Republicans, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund? Will they inspire the capitalists to “reset the game” and bring about a return of stimulus and jobs bills and give capitalism a temporary “reprieve”? Or is all of this out of reach today, given the depth of the present crisis of capitalism? And if such a movement did come about, why would we want to stop at merely reforming capitalism?

– Dale Parsons works in construction in the Denver area.


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