Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Class Struggle Now

The corporate media either avoid the concept of “class” or make it virtually meaningless. The New York Times restricts “working class” to workers who lack a college education and typically perform manual work, while “middle class” designates more educated workers performing “white collar” jobs. The “middle class” is then situated between the “working class” and the rich.

This division only obscures the deep convergence in the life experiences and interests of these workers. Those who lack higher education can make more money than those with college degrees, if they have a strong union. Many teachers with college degrees are barely scraping by. All workers share fundamental interests: the desire for job security, a comfortable wage, full health care benefits, a secure pension, job safety, and to be treated with dignity at work. It makes much more sense to merge these groups into a single working-class category.

Not surprisingly, a term like “capitalist class” is missing in most mainstream publications. Because the corporate media has slashed the definition of the working class, the term “socialist” has been rendered almost meaningless. But people who own large businesses and employ workers have their own set of common interests and are highly organized. They want to be able to layoff or fire workers easily. They want regulations on corporations reduced in order to compete effectively. They are usually anti-union because they would like to suppress wages, again for competitive reasons. The antagonistic class interests between workers and capitalists then give rise to an ongoing struggle in pursuit of their respective interests.

 In the 1930s the working class rose up and through massive demonstrations and strikes succeeded in pressuring politicians to impose restraints on their employers. By winning the right to unionize, workers were able to expand unionization until 35 percent of the workforce was covered. This was a major cause of the rising standard of living of the working class during the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
However, during the 1970s the corporations launched their counter offensive. They started playing hardball with union organizing and gradually succeeded in reducing the unionized workforce to its current rate of 10.5 percent. The standard of living of the working class has experienced a steady decline.

1.  Between 2003 and 2013 the net worth of the median household dropped 36 percent.
2.  Between 1999 and 2014 income of the median household dropped by over $4000 a year.
3.  In 2013 labor compensation as a share of the economy dropped to its lowest point since 1948.
4.  Involuntary part-time work has grown 40% since 2000.
5.  The number of hours people in a household work has gone way up as women have entered the labor market to help the family make ends meet. In 1960 slightly more than 40 percent of women between 25 and 54 were in the workforce. In 2018 the number was slightly less than 80 percent. The need for both adults in the family to work has placed significant strain on the household.
6.  Traditional pensions, which are a relatively secure retirement plan, have dropped. In the past they covered almost half of the workforce. Now they cover less than one-fifth. Instead, more workers have 401k retirement plans, which usually provide less money for retirees and, because they are tied to the stock market, are not guaranteed. Hence, it is now predicted that half of California retirees will face “significant economic hardship” when they retire.
7.  Inequalities in wealth have been constantly expanding. In the 1940s and 50s, 73 percent of newly created wealth went to the bottom 90% of the population. Now virtually all new wealth goes to the wealthiest 10% of the population.

While the corporate media has supplied plenty of statistics in terms of median household income and household net worth, they fail to connect the decline of the working class with class struggle. It takes someone like the billionaire Warren Buffett to bring this concept into public discourse: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

For Sanders, socialism is little more than a New Deal program. But somehow this qualifies as socialism. Instead of labeling Bernie Sanders a socialist, it would be much more accurate to define him as a “progressive capitalist,” where “progressive” means wanting to introduce reforms that will help the working class within the bounds of capitalism. While Sanders might have played the role of a catalyst in the DSA growth, he is not the cause. Instead, the looming environmental catastrophe which capitalist politicians refuse to abate, students graduating deeply in debt, the high cost of housing in major US cities, steadily rising health care costs, and the longstanding decline in the standard of living of the working class have led the youth to question the merits of capitalism.

Without a clear class perspective, socialists can also be led to believe that working within the Democratic Party will secure important gains for the working class. Although the Democratic Party is sometimes called a “friend of labor” and unions have given Democrats generous contributions in an attempt to buy favors, it is a capitalist party both in form and content. It programmatically embraces capitalism.

The Democratic Party can brag that it is the lesser evil when compared with the Republican Party. But the results of the working class relying on the Democratic Party have been disastrous: The standard of living of the working class has been in a steady decline whether the Democrats or the Republicans hold the reins of government. And this should come as no surprise. After all, the objective role of the Democratic Party is to politically disarm the working class and keep it disorganized. As Marx and Engels insisted: “The emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself.” Working within the Democratic Party and electing candidates who are content with reforming capitalism will only create barriers to building socialism.

Reforms to capitalism can be achieved incrementally, but they are always tenuous. They exist only until the capitalist class decides to mount a counter offensive. However, the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with socialism require a complete break and a seismic overturn. The working class must see its interests as directly opposed to those of the capitalist class. It must overthrow the capitalist class, take control of the state, and then proceed to construct a new society that operates in the interests of the vast majority.


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