The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

United States:
The Twenty-Five-Year Slide in the Workers' Standard of Living

Apr 11, 1999

Even the official statistics show that workers' real wages and benefits are lower than they were in the mid-1970s, by about 10%. The decline for more poorly paid workers has been even steeper, with the real value of the minimum wage down more than 16% in that same period. This is part of a general decline, which also includes working conditions, as well as social conditions outside the workplace. Yet, productivity has increased substantially in the last 25 years, and we are currently in the midst of what bourgeois economists describe as a "strong" economic expansion. One would expect that the workers' standard of living should be moving ahead, not going backwards.

A typical explanation by bourgeois economists for the lower standard of living can be found in the 1999 Economic Report of the President, which the executive branch submits to Congress with its annual budget. Clinton's economic advisors say that this drop is due to the functioning of an increasingly "competitive market-driven economy."

Of course, what they mean by "the competitive market-driven economy" is nothing but the law of the jungle that governs and regulates capitalist society. It is the struggle for higher profits that takes place at all levels of this society. The capitalists carry out a war among themselves over who will dominate, who will be top dog. At the same time, all the capitalists carry out a war against the working class.

It is from the working class that they all derive their profits and wealth. How much the capitalists are able to extract from the workers depends on the relationship of forces between the two classes, how much force the capitalists are able to muster against the workers, and how much force the workers are able to mobilize to defend their own interests.

Where the state stands in this battle is a crucial factor. The capitalists don't just passively wait on some "law of the market place" to increase their profits at the expense of the workers. The capitalists call on the aid of the state. During these last decades, every administration, whether headed by Democrats or Republicans, has brought the capitalists substantial and decisive support in forcing down the workers' standard of living.

The Social Safety Net before the Government Enlarged Those Holes

Up until the mid-1970s, that is, well into the recession that began in late 1973, the workers' standard of living had been rising, although, of course, not anywhere near as quickly as profits. This was the price that the capitalists paid in order to maintain social peace.

The black movement and the various movements that it spawned were still very fresh in peoples' memories. There was a restiveness and rebelliousness in many sections of the working class, a product of the influx of black workers who came out of or were influenced by that movement, and of the younger generation of Viet Nam vets. There were wildcat strikes over working conditions, speed-up and firings. And oppositions flared up in various unions, coal, steel, teamsters, auto. As late as 1976, that is after two recessions, in six years, union contracts still sported a few gains. In auto, for example, workers who in the previous contract had just gained a full pension after 30 years of work, regardless of age, now won vision care and nine extra days off a year with no loss in pay (so- called paid personal holidays), which union leaders were trumpeting as the first step in the winning of the four-day week. Most important contracts had various cost-of-living protections and even productivity wage increases built in so that workers had some protection from the rising inflation rate.

At the same time, there were a series of social programs that acted as shock absorbers to the ravages of unemployment and chronic joblessness.

These included first of all, income maintenance programs. There was Social Security disability pay; the number who were drawing it had zoomed from 455,000 in 1960 to 2.5 million in 1975. For impoverished families, the majority of whom were headed by single mothers, there was AFDC, which served three million families. Single men could also get welfare as a stop-gap protection against long-term unemployment. Food stamps, enacted in 1965, reached 16 million recipients. Even striking workers could get food stamps; in some states, they could draw unemployment benefits.

At the same time, those of the unemployed who remained in the labor market and continued to search for work could obtain unemployment benefits. In 1970, Congress had passed two extensions to the basic 26-week unemployment coverage: 13 more weeks and then an additional 26 weeks. These extensions were triggered when unemployment reached specified levels in the individual states. Thus workers could receive up to 65 weeks in unemployment benefits. And workers could receive two years of unemployment benefits under TRA, if the union made a convincing case that the job losses were due to imports. As a result, two out of three unemployed workers received benefits during the prolonged 1973-74 recession. To fund the increased coverage of unemployment insurance, Congress had increased the insurance tax on employers from 0.5% to 0.7%.

These things taken altogether meant that workers had certain protections during the 1973-75 recession. It was certainly a factor helping to explain why, despite the sharp rise in the rate of unemployment, blue collar wages did not fall. The section of the working class which was less protected, however, most especially those workers in the service sector, did see their wages lose out to double-digit inflation.

The First Attacks – Some of Them Repulsed

For the bourgeoisie, the 1974-75 recession ushered in a new period of uncertainty. Not only were profits down, but no one knew if the recession would lead to a deeper, more generalized downturn. To prop up and secure higher profits during this crisis, the bourgeoisie went on a general attack against the working class. And they relied on their state apparatus to play a key role in this attack.

In 1975, the largest municipality in the country, New York, went bankrupt with huge debts owed to the banks and bondholders. This debt had been accumulating over the years as the city government bankrolled myriad forms of corporate subsidies, including enormous tax breaks and subsidized utility rates to "encourage" the big companies to remain in the city and build office towers. Once the recession hit and the financial markets tanked, the accounting tricks previous city administrations had used no longer hid the mounting deficit. The city could not pay its bills. The federal government, headed by Republican President Gerald Ford, refused to back a bailout (the New York Daily News's famous headline read "Ford to NY - Drop Dead"). The state government, headed by Democratic Governor Hugh Carey, stepped in and put New York City into a kind of receivership. Carey appointed a committee headed by representatives of the big banks which then took direct charge of the city's finances. They demanded that the big municipal unions shoulder the major part of the sacrifices. There were mass layoffs, almost unheard of for municipal workers, along with major wage and benefit concessions. Taxpayers were hit with big tax increases, as well as a severe cutback in city services.

Of course, at first these sacrifices were presented as emergency measures, with the implication that once the recovery was secured, the workers would be repaid for the sacrifices which they had made. This illusion was soon to be disspelled.

The period's first major confrontation between capital and labor came in the coal mines during the winter of 1977- 1978. During contract negotiations, the coal companies, which were owned by oil, steel and electric power companies, demanded reductions in real wages and benefits from the UMWA (United Mine Workers), threatening that if the miners did not agree to their terms, they would have no choice but to close the mines. The miners rebuffed the coal operators and went on strike.

The miners went into this confrontation armed by over a decade of mobilization and struggle. A large movement in the 1960s had forced the government to grant benefits for black lung disease. A fight inside the union had forced out the old corrupt union leadership. Miners had also carried out fights that enabled them to unionize non-union mines in the East and Midwest. And less than a year before, the miners had carried out a three-month wildcat strike over safety issues. When the strike over the contract began, the miners immediately went onto the attack. They not only closed down union mines, they sent out roving pickets who closed down non-union mines. They staged raucous demonstrations at state capitals.

The government intervened very early against the miners. Members of the Carter administration began to put out stories about how the strike would soon force electric power to be cut back, leading to as many as three million layoffs! This became the justification which Carter took for openly threatening that the government would either seize the mines, in order to declare the strike illegal, or else invoke the Taft-Hartley law and order an 80-day cooling-off period.

It was under these threats that mine operators made their first contract offer, which was accepted by the leaders of the mine workers union. But the miners strongly opposed it. Almost a thousand miners made the trip to the union's Washington headquarters and invaded the union council meeting which was supposed to consider the offer. That offer was never submitted to the miners. When a second offer was submitted to them, they turned that down by a 2-to-1 margin.

At that point, the Carter administration invoked Taft-Hartley. Included was a court injunction barring miners from stopping anyone from going to work. But the miners would not be cowed, and pretty soon a federal judge ruled in exasperation that since the miners were not obeying the injunction anyway, he was revoking it. After 110 days, the miners finally ratified the third contract offer, in which most of the company demands had been revoked. And even then, this ratification carried by only the relatively narrow margin of 54 to 46%. Many miners were quoted as saying that they could have done better if they had held out longer.

The workers inflicted an important defeat not only on the coal companies, but on the government, a defeat that millions of other workers watched, since it was often at the top of the television news. In the months that followed, Carter's anti-inflation czar, Alfred Kahn, and the chairman of Carter's Council of Economic Advisors, Charles Schultze, warned that the coal contract should not be taken as a precedent, and that corporations might have to accept many more strikes, to lower wages. According to Kahn, lower wages were a necessity if inflation was to be tamed. In fact, it was the accumulation of private and public debt that was behind the inflation. Cutting labor costs was merely the way to secure higher profits for the corporations.

The Government Leads the Offensive against the Workers

The government broadened its offensive against the working class. The Carter administration took aim at the two extensions on unemployment insurance. First of all, the extensions were costly. The swelling unemployment had led many individual states to use up their insurance fund; they began to run a deficit. Of course, they did not mention that the program was seriously underfunded, even despite the tax hike, since employers were taxed on only the first $6,000 per year of their workers' earnings, a ceiling that had been raised only minimally since the program was started in the 1930s.

But for the capitalists, there was an even bigger problem with the extensions in the unemployment insurance: they allowed workers a bit more time to search for work and to turn down low-paying jobs. This buffer had led several prominent bourgeois economists to bemoan the fact that capital's ability to depress wages and enhance profits by the traditional means of intensifying economic insecurity, especially by taking advantage of high unemployment levels, had been weakened.

In 1978 the Carter administration carried out several "reforms" of unemployment insurance. First, it let the 26-week extension lapse completely, so that workers in high unemployment states were entitled to only one 13-week extension after the standard 26 weeks. Second, the reforms changed the way unemployment was counted; as a result, a much higher level of unemployment was required to trigger the 13-week extension. Third, the Carter administration made a rule change, so that workers collecting on their 13-week extension could no longer turn down a job which paid less than the one from which they had been laid off. Fourth, the Carter administration made unemployment benefits taxable if a worker who collected them had earned more than $20,000 in the year.

Generally, it is Reagan, the Republican, who is blamed for the major cutbacks in social programs. But it was under Carter, the Democrat, that an important part of this process actually began.

A Law Is Passed to Make the Workers Give Up What They Had Won

The Carter administration played the leading role in the Chrysler concessions, which very quickly shifted labor into reverse gear. In 1979, Chrysler, the smallest of the Big 3 car companies, was losing money and taking on debt, as much as 1.5 billion dollars. There was talk that Chrysler might go bankrupt, and the banks said that they would refuse to extend further loans without some kind of guarantees.

The Carter administration stepped in. In August 1979, just when the new auto contracts were being negotiated, Carter's secretary of the treasury, G. William Miller, announced that the U.S. would provide 750 million dollars in loan guarantees. However, he stipulated that sacrifices would have to be made by the Chrysler workers.

At first, all this talk seemed like the usual posturing that takes place during contract negotiations. Doug Fraser, president of the UAW, balked at the government demands. The UAW had never given up open concessions before. But faced with a chorus of government demands and bank threats to call Chrysler's loans, the UAW began to agree to give back a series of things it had won earlier. The first concession was the smallest, amounting to 203 million dollars in wage and benefit cuts; this came in the Chrysler contract, which deviated from the pattern set at Ford and GM. When that contract was presented to the workers and ratified in October, it was a signal that the biggest unions would not follow the miners' lead. The threats of dire consequences increased; most politicians proclaimed that the government shouldn't give loan guarantees, but it did, only on the condition that workers give still more concessions. A parade of federal, state and local officials threatened that hundreds of thousands of jobs, not only at Chrysler, but all the other places that depended on Chrysler's business, would be lost. The UAW agreed to renegotiate the contract it had just signed.

A final agreement was worked out by Congress in the House and Senate banking committees. The Loan Guarantee Board was set up to administer the plan. An actual federal law spelled out the sacrifices that Chrysler workers were to make: 462 million dollars in wages and benefits from union employees and 125 million dollars from nonunion staff. The new contract was ratified three months after the first, in January 1980. Twelve months later, the Loan Guarantee Board came back and demanded a third round of concessions: 673 million dollars, including a $1.15-an-hour cut in wages. These new concessions were ratified in January 1981. The rapid collapse of what had seemed to be the most powerful union in the country proved that the unions could be brought to give back gains registered in their contract. Workers could be made to agree to lower their own standard of living.

Other smaller unions, like the URW (United Rubber Workers), had previously agreed to concession packages. But this collapse of the UAW before the government and corporations proved to be the wedge that opened and generalized the concession drive. The UAW's agreement to concessions at Chrysler brought pressure to bear on other unions to do the same.

In railroads, trucking and even local and state governments, the bosses could not wait for labor contracts to expire. They lined up to demand contract re-openers, and similar concessions to those given at Chrysler. The workers gave up COLA and other wage increases; at a time of high inflation, this resulted in a real decrease in the workers' standard of living. Benefit cuts became standard. Blue collar workers began to join white collar workers in seeing their real wages fall, and even rapidly.

The Democratic president, working together with a Democratic controlled Congress, had imposed concessions on Chrysler workers which opened the way to a vast drive for concessions by all the corporations. They also presided over a new economic downturn, with more high inflation and unemployment. In protest, the union apparatuses sat out the 1980 elections, and many workers voted against the Democrats, that is, for Reagan.

Reagan Slices the Safety Net

Reagan assumed office in 1981, during the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Unemployment and inflation reached levels that were even worse than in 1973-74. To immunize business, Reagan slashed their taxes, as well as the taxes for wealthy individuals, under the guise that this would encourage them to begin to invest, get the economy going again and provide jobs. At the same time, military spending was boosted substantially, an open subsidy to the biggest companies.

As a result of these giveaways, the deficit widened. This deficit was used as the justification when Reagan demanded huge cuts in social services. One of the engineers of these cuts, Reagan's director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, later wrote in his memoirs that this deficit was merely a Trojan horse to demand major cuts in social programs. It certainly provided a fig leaf to the Democratic Party majority in Congress which loyally signed on for all these cuts.

The cuts hit a broad spectrum of government programs. Training programs, like CETA (the Comprehensive Education and Training Act), which had enrolled 400,000 people in job training, were eliminated. The disability rolls were slashed. Changes were made in the food stamp program - such as delaying various inflation indexing adjustments and reducing maximum benefits. Besides that, food stamps were no longer available for workers on strike. At the same time, welfare was "reformed." That is, the responsibility for welfare was transferred to the states, and federal grants to the states to run the programs were then reduced. This forced states to reduce benefits, or more typically, limit eligibility. As for unemployment, all of Carter's "reforms" took full effect and were extended further. As a result, 1.5 million workers were dropped from the unemployment roles between 1982 and 1984. The percentage of unemployed workers covered by unemployment insurance which had already dropped to 44% in 1980, dropped again to 29% by 1984. As for those still collecting benefits, Reagan made those payments fully subject to taxation.

The millions of unemployed workers thrown into the streets, the deepening poverty among the poor – both brought ever more pressure on the employed.

Patco: The Key Test of Force

Not long into the Reagan administration the government undertook a new test of strength against organized labor, among a more privileged sector: the air traffic controllers. Controllers were much more highly paid, and they believed that their skills made them irreplaceable. It was assumed that without them, the air traffic system would come to a halt.

For many years prior to the strike, the government had allowed working conditions among the controllers, especially having to do with huge amounts of forced overtime, to deteriorate. The air traffic controllers' union, PATCO, had become so frustrated with the Carter administration, which had stonewalled the controllers' demands, that it threw its support behind Reagan, who, as a presidential candidate in 1980, spoke at their convention, making many promises.

When it came time for Reagan's FAA to negotiate a new contract with PATCO, however, election rhetoric was forgotten. The FAA demanded a straight concession contract. In August 1981, PATCO threatened to strike and bring the country's air traffic system to a standstill. The FAA told the controllers to go right ahead. The government had prepared for this event: a year before, under Carter, the FAA had set up a "Management Contingency Strike Force." When the 12,000 controllers walked out, the FAA implemented the task force's plan to run air traffic without the controllers. Four hours after the strike broke out, Reagan announced, on television, that a strike against the government was illegal and the strikers had 48 hours to return to work or they would be fired. When the controllers predictably did not give in to Reagan's threat, he announced that they were all fired. The FAA then brought in military personnel to run the system, along with management personnel. Gradually, the air traffic system handled more and more traffic. At the same time, there were plenty of applicants for the open positions, and the training process was accelerated. The air traffic controllers were being replaced. No one was indispensable.

The Unions Flex their Muscles ... for a While.

The AFL-CIO responded to these attacks with some big rallies and parades. In early September, the AFL-CIO sponsored its first Labor Day Parade in New York City in decades, with over 100,000 workers marching in New York, joining the 100,000 which traditionally marched in Detroit. Two weeks later, the AFL-CIO sponsored "Solidarity Day," a demonstration in Washington, D.C. Probably a half million people marched there, representing all unions. Marching at the head of all these demonstrations were the striking air traffic controllers.

The rallies served as a denunciation of Reagan, the Republicans and the budget cuts, but the unions also took some distance from the Democrats. After all, workers attending an earlier union rally at Washington's RFK Stadium had booed Democratic speakers like Hubert Humphrey off the stage. No Democratic politicians were invited to speak at Solidarity Day. Nor were they invited to march with the unions. Some individual Democratic Party politicians watched the demonstrations from the sidelines or sent messages of greetings, but they weren't welcomed guests.

These big labor rallies gave the impression that the unions might be preparing some kind of response to all the attacks. But there were no further mobilizations, no follow up to Solidarity Day. Instead the union officials put all the blame for the attacks on Reagan and the Republicans, and patched up their relations with the Democrats. "Solidarity Day II" turned out to be Election Day 1982, for which the AFL-CIO carried out a union campaign to get out the vote to defeat the Republicans – by voting for the Democrats, of course. The AFL-CIO also backed its call up with money, a one million dollar contribution to the Democrats.

The air traffic controllers were left in the lurch. What this said to the workers more generally was that if you try to fight the concessions, you will lose. Workers today still say, when someone proposes a strike, "Remember PATCO."

A Wave of Defeats

With the PATCO defeat coming on the heals of the concessions imposed on Chrysler workers, the government had taken the lead in imposing a fundamental shift in forces, a huge U-turn. Before this reversal, workers had generally anticipated new contracts, because they usually brought gains. But now, workers began to dread new contract negotiations because they knew the company was coming for them, that they were about to give back money, benefits, and/or jobs.

After Chrysler and PATCO, the bosses were left with a stronger hand. Individual companies took on individual unions. Bargaining became much more fragmented; employers were more able to play off plant against plant; and they were more capable of resisting pressure from one national union to conform to the pattern of a national contact obtained by another union. Wage agreements for both blue and white collar workers became more "individualized," as Audrey Freeman, an economist with the Conference Board, a business group, called it.

What this brought was shown soon enough. Toward the end of 1982, production was beginning a partial recovery from its deep slump and company profits were bouncing up again; the rate of unemployment, however, was falling much more slowly. The workers remained under pressure to accept concessions which funneled billions and billions of dollars from workers to employers.

Of course, all companies tried to cash in on the concession bonanza. And the companies no longer even made a pretense that they were in danger of failing. In auto, first Ford, then GM forced an early negotiated contract, both of which gained major concessions (two billion to Ford; three billion to GM). Ford argued that when Chrysler got concessions, it gained an unfair advantage; GM argued that when Ford got concessions, IT gained an unfair advantage over GM. It was the final blow. Concessions could be demanded, and given up, even to companies which couldn't pretend to be in difficulties.

The concessions spread like wildfire: to trucking, airlines, rubber, railroad, steel, governments. The steel companies re-negotiated their contracts three times within six months, each time extracting new givebacks.

There seemed to be no stopping this push. The concessions came not only at the national level, but also in individual plants. They involved benefits as well as wages and widespread changes in work rules designed to allow managements to squeeze out more productivity.

At first, the workers had given up concessions with the understanding that once companies recovered, the workers would be repaid. This never materialized.

When companies returned to profitability, they paid out fat dividends to shareholders and fat bonuses to their executives, but not only didn't they return something to the workers, they continued to demand new concessions. Workers expressed open dissatisfaction. At Chrysler in 1983, auto workers voted down a company-wide contract offer for the first time in UAW history. The sentiment against the contract was so high that the UAW could not hide it. But there was no real organized opposition, and workers finally ratified an agreement little different than the first.

In some cases, the unions were forced to call some strikes, just to answer the workers' anger, for example at AT&T, General Dynamics and General Tire and Rubber.

But the strikes they carried out were independent of each other. There was no unity. The strikes did nothing to stem concessions. The bosses upped the ante. In several key strikes the companies threatened the very existence of the unions themselves. A strike at Phelps-Dodge, led by the USWA and several small unions, was not able to prevent the companies from breaking the union. The companies brought in scabs to operate the mines. Attacks by state police turned protest demonstrations into running battles with the police. At one point, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbit ordered in the National Guard, complete with tanks and helicopters, to occupy small miners' towns. The copper companies fired the workers and pushed through a decertification vote of the unions. During long and tough strikes at Iowa Beef Processing and Caterpillar threats to break the union were withdrawn at the last minute, but only in exchange for further big concessions from the workers.

As these strikes failed, union officials began to push the message that strikes no longer worked and were outdated. The number of strikes fell steadily from a high of 424 in 1974 to 51 in 1989.

During those same years, as workers' resistance weakened, real wages of blue collar workers fell by almost 10%, while white collar workers saw their wages fall slightly more slowly.

Government Intervention in the 1990s

The number of strikes continued to fall in the 1990s to a low of 34 in 1998. The strikes that did take place were for the most part longer and harder. The stakes became more grim, as the three rounds of battles at Caterpillar and the three year-old Detroit newspaper strike show.

The government has not hesitated to step in, when it deemed it necessary, to impose the workings of the "free market" on the unions and the working class. At UPS in 1997, there was a somewhat successful strike, for which the leadership of the Teamsters Union had carefully prepared far ahead of time. When workers walked out, they were organized. And in fighting for decent jobs for everyone, they made an appeal that struck a sympathetic chord in the working class. The Teamsters won their demands, modest as they were. In contrast to what had gone before, however, even this seemed like a big victory, and was perceived as such by other workers.

However, immediately after the union won the strike, the receiver appointed by the Clinton administration intervened and had the president of the union, Ron Carey, removed on charges of corruption. Other union officials did not challenge this. There was no effective response, no follow-up to the Teamsters UPS strike. A year after the strike, UPS management felt strong enough to renege on contact provisions it had signed up the year before.

At the same time, with the all-encompassing 1996 welfare reform passed by the Republican Congress and signed by the Democrat Clinton, the government has continued to remove even more of the few social protections which still cushioned the workers. By replacing AFDC with a temporary welfare program with work requirements, the government has assured corporations of a steady flow of hundreds of thousands of poor women into the low-wage end of the labor market, competing with those who are already there. The government set up workfare programs through which private employers receive substantial tax credits and often subsidies paid for by welfare "grant diversions." Often, these workers are not covered by state and federal labor laws; they are not entitled to the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, or to OSHA protections, as well as a host of state labor laws. In other words, they constitute a virtually indentured labor force, a reservoir of exceedingly vulnerable labor for employers. Cities and states themselves more and more use this reserve force to do work previously done by much higher paid government workers.

The threat of competition with vulnerable and cheap welfare workers is likely to worsen conditions for people who do have jobs, by depressing wages and displacing workers.

In this way, the government continues to cut its outlays for social programs and its own public services, freeing up more money for the capitalists, while providing fresh low-wage workers at the same time.

Inevitable? Nothing's Inevitable except the Class Struggle!

The capitalist class has increased its wealth stupendously. One year after another, corporations announce that their profits have set another new record. The corporations' millionaire stockholders are turned into billionaires; billionaires become multi-billionaires. And the executives make out like bandits.

The capitalists pretend that higher profits spell more investment, a growth in production, more jobs. In fact, investment and production have stagnated. The increases in employment we have seen have came in low-paid service jobs, as well as in part-time and temporary jobs. From year to year, the number of better-paying manufacturing jobs decreases. Last year alone, the seventh year of this current expansion, 234,000 more manufacturing jobs were lost.

No, this "market-driven economy" has not pulled society along behind it. What it has done is inflate the financial markets. There has been an explosive growth of speculative markets of all sorts, from real estate, to commodities, to all the various markets in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Out of the profits produced in such great quantities in this "market-driven economy" have come ... more and more profits, and more and more of these are speculative ones.

"Market-driven economy" – what a self-serving and misleading choice of terms! We are supposed to believe that this whole increase in profit and wealth is inevitable, part of the natural order of thing, nothing to be done about it.It's not true.

It's the unfavorable relationship of forces in the class struggle which is impoverishing the working class today. These vast amounts of profit made in the last decades were made because the capitalist class was able, with the help of whichever party was in control of the government, to beat down the working class.

It's not the workers' business to sacrifice so the bosses can accumulate still more wealth. Whatever is the situation of the bosses, the workers have to look to defend themselves. Period. Just to stop the backwards march in their standard of living, the workers are going to have to fight. The isolated fights which the unions have led, the corporatist divisions they have sewn in the working class have not given the workers the means to do so. So the workers must learn to bring as many forces as possible into their fights. Their strength lies in their numbers and their position as the class which makes society run. They have to use that position to take back from the bourgeoisie's accumulated profit what they need to guarantee a decent standard of living for themselves and for the whole population.

Even when the capitalists can well afford to pay their workers more, they will not do so willingly, of their own accord, out of good will toward humanity. The bosses will give more only when the workers force them to do it. If the workers don't resist, the bosses will go on impoverishing the laboring population. Today, poverty is spreading and deepening. Living conditions in some areas of the United States have been pushed down so far that they begin to resemble those of the underdeveloped countries. Widening impoverishment in the richest and growing-still-richer country in the world – this is the end result of what Clinton's economic advisers call a "market-driven economy," that is, capitalism. It is an irrational and disgusting economic system.

And, yet, all the elements exist which could allow a society to be built, in which not only could everyone's needs be easily met, but they could be relieved of the pressures of unemployment, poverty and misery. Socialism could exist in this country, in fact on the whole planet. Certainly, the wealth is there. And so are the resources, technology and the workforce, which could be easily augmented by all those millions of people who today are forced to eke out an existence on the fringes of society, whose lives are plagued by unemployment, temporary, minimum-wage jobs or prison.

But of course, in order to do away with this waste, to begin to unlock our vast human potential, capitalist society would have to be overthrown and replaced by a society run by the working class, according to its own interests and needs. We will continue regressing if the working class doesn't take on this task for itself.