The Spark

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

Growing U.S. Right Wing:
Product of Crisis and the Democrats’ Policy

Apr 15, 2010

On January 19, almost one year after Barack Obama was inaugurated and the Democrats assumed control of both houses of Congress, Scott Brown, a Republican unknown, won a special election in Massachusetts to replace the recently deceased Teddy Kennedy. Of course, Massachusetts was only one election. But the Democratic defeat took place in a state Obama had won by a whopping 62% to 36% in 2008. Turn-out was down most in the areas that had voted strongly Democrat in 2008. Support for the Republican was strongest in the towns where unemployment was the highest. And, what’s worse from the Democrats’ perspective, a poll conducted for the AFL-CIO showed that 49% of union members went for the Republican, while only 46% voted for the Democrat. After the Massachusetts vote, Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO political action director, called the Massachusetts vote a “working class revolt,” and added, “clearly, we’re taking a serious look at it because, frankly, we know that 2010 elections are going to be very difficult.”

In the weeks that followed, a reinvigorated extreme right seemed to jump to the front of the political scene, claiming credit for Brown’s victory, grabbing hold of the increasingly virulent language of Fox News. Under the name of the Tea Party Movement, it had already been mobilizing demonstrations last fall against taxes, against the growing budget deficit – with a few swipes taken against the big banks – and finally against the Democrats’ push for health care reform. In rural areas, different versions of the so-called “Militia” movement pushed a “survivalist” paramilitary agenda, combined with anti-immigrant propaganda and actions. An organization of sheriffs, the so-called “Oathkeepers,” called on local law officials not to carry out actions of the federal government it deemed “unconstitutional” and to organize local militias to back them up. And so-called “sovereign citizens,” that is, racist whites who declare themselves to be superior to blacks and immigrants, also declare themselves not subject to federal taxes. Finally, Sarah Palin was once again in the media – actually part of it, with her new Fox News spot.

The scene could not be more different than the one that had greeted the Democrats in January of 2009, when Obama went into the White House with his campaign slogan, “change,” still reverberating, and when the Democrats took a solid control of Congress with a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The extreme right had supposedly been shut out, intimidated by the size of the Democrats’ margin.

Massachusetts put a kind of exclamation point to Obama’s first year, a declaration that the large hopes engendered last year by the Democratic electoral sweep had been torn up.

As is often usual, the party in control of government finds itself punished for the situation of the economy. By almost every important measure, the economic situation in which the working class and other layers of the laboring population are mired is worse today than at any time since the “Great Depression,” and certainly worse than it was a year ago, when Obama took office.

Of course, as Obama’s supporters point out, he didn’t create the crisis. Nor, for that matter, did George Bush. The capitalists, in the search for ever bigger profits, did.

BUT the principal activity of the Obama administration, just like that of the Bush administration earlier, was aimed at building up and reinforcing the profits of those same capitalists, at the expense of broad layers of the population, and especially the working class.

On all the fundamental questions, the U.S. government in 2009 continued to defend the class interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie almost seamlessly, as it moved from the Republican administration to the Democratic one.

The Democrats, having won an election on promises of “change,” used their control to push policies that helped spark the reaction against them.

Carrying on “Bush’s Wars”

Regardless of promises to bring home one brigade a month, promises Obama seemed to make during the election campaign, he continues to follow the same slow calendar set by Bush for withdrawing troops from Iraq. In fact, the first major withdrawal of troops, from the cities onto U.S. bases, still has not been completed. Nor has Obama changed the Bush administration plan for leaving a sizeable U.S. occupation force in Iraq – now estimated at between 45 and 55,000 – after all “combat” troops are withdrawn, supposedly in August 2010.

Moreover, as the dates for the official withdrawal come closer, Obama has increased the use of troops hired by private contractors, that is, mercenaries paid indirectly by the Pentagon. Months ago, the New York Times recorded that the numbers directed by private contractors had already surpassed the number of official U.S. troops in Iraq.

Within the year, Obama will have doubled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Although the big media blurred this issue, Obama had already clearly stated during the campaign that he intended to step up the Afghan war. (In fact, Bush had already started this build-up before he left – just quietly.) While Obama pretends, ambiguously, that U.S. troops will be there only for the short term, his top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, warned Congress that there will be no reduction in troop numbers in Afghanistan for at least the next four years.

Not only is the war expanding inside Afghanistan, it is also expanding from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and even sporadically into Yemen. There U.S. Special Forces acting behind the scenes have several times been reinforced by cruise missile attacks on areas hostile to the U.S.- backed Yemeni regime. None of this started with Obama, but he is making Bush’s wars his wars.

Carrying on Bush’s “Terrorism” Witch-hunt

The Obama administration also follows directly in the footsteps of its predecessor, regularly waving the threat of international terrorism to marshal support for U.S. wars. In the process, it is carrying out a real witch hunt in the United States.

Obama may have announced the closure of Guantanamo – it had, after all, become a real international embarrassment. But the U.S. is still holding hundreds of Muslim prisoners it has incarcerated for years without any charges placed against them, and it clearly intends to keep holding them when and if Guantanamo is actually closed.

The Obama administration may have gladdened liberal hearts when he released the legal memos from Bush era lawyers, used to justify the use of torture by U.S. forces, complete with graphic details of various methods. But the administration’s subsequent refusal to discipline the lawyers who wrote the torture memos is simply emblematic of this consistent U.S. policy, no matter who occupied the White House, Democrat or Republican.

Finally, uncounted numbers of young and not so young Muslim men in this country have been picked up, their families threatened, while they have in many cases been left to rot in jail, then coerced into taking a plea deal on “lesser charges” or on immigration violations, under the threat of a trial carrying the death penalty or the threat of being “rendered” to a country where they could expect even worse treatment. Obama has not stopped this witch hunt, nor over-turned the victimization of thousands of young men whose “crime” was to be too imprudent in expressing opposition to the U.S. wars.

Behind all of this are the extraordinary powers that Bush pushed through in the wake of 2001, powers that Obama acted to keep intact, when they came up for renewal in 2009.

Adding to Bush’s Gifts to the Big Banks

The bailout of the banks, started by Bush, continued under Obama, even more massively. In the last four months of the Bush term, his administration handed 350 billion dollars over to the big banks through the TARP. In Obama’s first three months, most of the rest of the TARP was distributed.

But the TARP, which both Bush and Obama campaigned to get passed through Congress, is the least of government gifts to the banks. Since September of 2008, when the banking crisis burst out into the open, more than 30 different programs have been instituted by either the Treasury or the Federal Reserve, most of them without Congressional approval. The Bush administration initiated some of those programs – but the Obama administration used them and added more to their number.

According to a list published by Mother Jones in December 2009, the total obligations taken on by the government through these programs had by then reached 14.4 trillion dollars, about half funded by the Fed, half by the Treasury. Some of the 14.4 trillion came in outright gifts, some in loans, some in “funds made available,” some in purchases by the Fed or Treasury of worthless paper. Some parts of the 14.4 trillion have been repaid – with other government funds – so the banks were freed to pay out enormous bonuses again.

Of course, 14.4 trillion is only a figure, an abstraction, a statement, in fact, of the government’s intention to give the store away to the big banks, should they ask.

Clearly the banks have no problem asking, since the top posts of the Obama administration are filled with people coming directly from the biggest banks and corporations, starting with his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and Larry Summers, his chief economic adviser, followed by ten top officials at the treasury, plus the heads of both the SEC’s Division of Enforcement and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Five of these officials came directly from Goldman Sachs, three from Citigroup.

Even if Obama’s 789 billion dollar stimulus plan had all been directed toward relieving the situation of the population – which is far from the truth, since most of it went directly or indirectly to puffing up the bottom line of various companies – it pales by comparison to what was eagerly handed over to the big banks, which themselves caused the problems.

Reinforcing Bush’s Demand for Auto Worker Concessions

Obama completed Bush’s bail-out of GM and Chrysler, which was the cover for government-driven demands that auto workers give up large concessions: reductions in retiree medical care; cut backs and freezing of current workers’ wages; and cutting new hires’ wages and benefits in half – demands that were imposed on all three of the U.S. auto companies. Obama’s auto task force, using bankruptcy as a club, wrung additional concessions from GM and Chrysler workers, including the consolidation and shrinking of the skilled trades, the freezing of the already reduced new-hire wages, and a six-year no-strike agreement, with a provision that wages and benefits would be set by an arbitrator using the wages paid by their most efficient domestic competitors, that is, the Toyota, Honda and Nissan plants that produce in the United States. Thus encouraged, Toyota and Honda, jumping into the race to the bottom, quickly moved to reduce wages at some of their plants.

The demands for concessions from auto workers were a message the Obama administration sent to all workers that they should expect a new round of concessions. And some of the first employers to extend the concessions drive came from state and city governments, which had already been cutting, claiming growing budget deficits. From New York City to California, from Puerto Rico to Michigan, governments have used various pretexts to either directly cut employee wages and benefits or demand those cuts – often threatening layoffs to extort concessions, only to cut jobs anyway after they got the concessions.

Picking up on Bush’s Immigration “Reform”

Obama has continued the attack on immigrants carried out during the Bush years. Just like Bush did, Obama holds out the promise of “regularizing” the papers of undocumented immigrants – “next year” perhaps – while expelling tens of thousands of those immigrants this year, under various pretexts. In Obama’s first year, 387,000 “unauthorized migrants” were expelled, a record high. In addition, over 300,000 so-called “criminal aliens” were expelled – a 6% increase over Bush’s last year. In the first month and a half of this year, another 57,000 “criminal aliens” were deported, an increase of 40% from 2009. So-called “criminal aliens” means not only anyone who has actually committed a felony – which are only a very tiny proportion of those expelled – but also anyone who has violated civil immigration laws or who has been picked up for a long list of misdemeanors that have been categorized as “felonies” within the framework of the immigration system.

Obama denounced as “inhumane” the workplace raids carried out under Bush – only to

have his Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) give employers a list of workers whose papers aren’t in order, whom they were required to fire. Obviously, in this situation, ICE is able to pick up workers in an organized way – just with fewer dramatic headlines. But “humane”?!!?

In April, explaining why his administration was continuing the repressive policies of his predecessor, Obama explained: “If the American people don’t feel like you can secure the borders, then it’s hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here.” In other words, blame “the American people” for all the reactionary attitudes fomented by reactionary politicians, both Republican and Democrat.

Continuing the Attack on Teachers and the Public Schools

Obama increased Bush’s push to turn public schools into privately run institutions – some run by profit-making educational companies, some by religious institutions, some by big industrial companies interested in using them for their own narrow training purposes, some by universities interested in using them as laboratories for education research or new teacher training.

Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” gave local school districts the pretext to get rid of higher seniority, that is, higher-paid teachers, replacing them with a lower-wage, disposable work force. But Obama’s “Race to the Top” extends these attacks: in the midst of an economic crisis already draining the schools of money, the Obama Education Department openly declared it would deny federal “Race to the Top” funds to local school systems unless they abrogate teachers’ seniority protections and tie teachers’ income to student test results. It was a cynically blatant move to reduce the amount of money spent on teachers and therefore schools.

It’s obvious that children can only suffer from such proposals. Nonetheless, all of this is wrapped up in the cynical packaging of concern for the children – just as were Bush’s “educational reforms.” The true concern of all such reforms is to reduce public funds expended on the public schools, thus freeing up a larger part of state and city budgets for the big corporations that are already sucking the lifeblood out of states and cities around the country.

Adding Profits to Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Hospitals

Pretending to extend health insurance to those who have none today, the Democrats’ health care reform in fact directly attacks those people as part of a complicated scam to provide still bigger bucks to the insurance and medical industries.

This “reform” will require people without insurance to buy it – and buy it from private insurance companies – insurance which is overpriced, which will provide very little coverage, and which will require additional high payments for actual medical care.

The subsidies for low-income people cover only part of the cost of the insurance premiums, and none of the cost of co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles. People who cannot afford insurance today will find it unaffordable tomorrow, even with the subsidies. But if they don’t buy it, they will be assessed a sizeable and growing fine every year.

Some people will get on Medicaid – at the very moment that states and this very reform are cutting funds for Medicaid. Currently, the already very low payments means that over half of all doctors refuse to accept a patient on Medicaid.

People who today have insurance will lose in one way or another. The relatively decent insurance plans that some workers get through their jobs will be taxed. People on Medicare will discover their coverage squeezed. People on Medicaid will discover their already incomplete coverage reduced further. People who depend on public hospitals will discover them closed.

One major aim of the “reform,” in fact, is to reduce government expenditures for what it now pays on medical care. According to the CBO, the reform would save the government over 400 billion dollars from cuts to Medicare, over 100 billion from cuts to Medicaid, and about 40 billion from cuts to public and other “safety-net” hospitals.

The other major aim of the “reform” is to push more clients into the arms of the private insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the hospital and other medical provider industries – and to do it without any control over their costs. Drug companies and hospital companies were given a very precise commitment by Obama that there would be no attempt to regulate their prices for the next ten years. Insurance companies were given an assurance no public program would be set up to compete with them.

In fact, even in this, his “signature” domestic program, Obama continued down the path laid out by the Bush administration with the Medicare reform of 2003. Bush’s “reform” had begun the attack on the only major somewhat “socialized” medical program that exists, Medicare, shifting parts of it over to the private sector, making it more expensive and more profitable. Obama continues to undercut the public medical programs – Medicare, Medicaid and public hospitals – in the service of big industry.

A Catastrophic Situation

In their first year in control of government, the Democrats pushed through policies that, in one way or another, attacked the working class for the benefit of the biggest financial interests in the country. And this in the midst of a situation that worsened from month to month.

The situation truly has become catastrophic. At the beginning of 2010, when the Massachusetts election took place, nearly 15 million people were jobless – officially – with nearly nine million more working part time involuntarily, but needing full time work. A wider study done by Northeastern University found that 30.2 million people were either unemployed or underemployed at the end of 2009. The depth of the job loss today is greater than at any time since the crash at the end of World War II. And it is long term. Almost nine million people have been unemployed for at least a half year, many much longer. And a recent Pew survey found that 54% of households had at least one person out of work sometime last year.

Job loss is very disproportionately concentrated among workers with the lowest incomes. People with a household income up to $12,500 a year have an unemployment rate of 30%. And unemployment is disproportionately concentrated among blue collar workers. The Northeastern study found that for every job opening in construction at the end of 2009, there were 24 unemployed construction workers, and for every job opening in durable goods manufacturing, there were 17 unemployed manufacturing workers, 12 in regular manufacturing. And the push for ever greater productivity translates into more job cuts, even when production picks up somewhat.

Any number of indicators reflect the consequences of this long duration of unemployment. In 2008, for the first time in five years, and again in 2009, the army was able to meet its recruitment goals. With unemployment among young adults particularly severe, that should have come as no surprise. And with immigrant workers thrown out of construction work, where many had been concentrated, it should also have been no surprise to see big agribusiness flooded with people from the cities ready to do field labor. In fact, for the first time in years, the fields were attracting noticeable numbers of non-immigrants. Finally, the prisons are filled to overflowing – today nearly one percent of the adult population rots in prison, the highest rate of incarceration in the world. When all the people in prison, in jail, on probation are added together, 7.3 million adults are caught in the vise of the “justice system” – 3.2% of the adult population, by far the highest rate in the world, six times as high as Britain’s or China’s, 12 times that of Japan.

For the first time since the Great Depression, companies openly cut wages, in addition to the usual hidden wage cuts associated with inflation. Many of those open wage cuts came in the form of unpaid “furlough” days. Many more came in the form of two-tier wage or benefit rates – like those in auto that cut wages nearly in half – cuts that are not felt directly by the current work force. But half of the 250 biggest employers admitted in a recent survey they had already cut wages or benefits of current workers or intended to.

The aim of employers to institute much lower wages for the next generation of workers is behind widespread attempts by companies, states, cities and boards of education to drive out or lure out older seniority workers. We are just now beginning to see the result: the attempt by 55 or 60-year-old workers to get back in the work force after being lured out on early retirement by a lump-sum payment, only to discover after a year or two that they do not have the income they need to support themselves. In fact, older workers under pressure from declining Social Security are trying to go back into the work force. The number of 70-year-olds taking orders at a McDonald’s is one of the starkest reminders of the human destruction embodied in this crisis.

The housing crisis continues to worsen. Nearly one-quarter of all American homeowners with a mortgage are “underwater” – that is, they owe more than their home is worth. In Nevada, that proportion is over half, with the states of Arizona, Florida, California and Michigan not far behind. According to Realty-Trac, the on-line recorder of foreclosure activity, 2.8 million households were in the foreclosure process in 2009, more than double the number in 2007. Across the country, one in nine houses or apartments is left vacant today – from foreclosure or from the lack of buyers as people leave their houses for one reason or another, while 3.5 million people were probably homeless at some time during the year. In fact, this homeless estimate, which comes from surveys done in 2007, before the worst of the crisis hit, must clearly understate the problem today.

In industrial cities like Detroit it’s not an exaggeration to say that the overall situation is catastrophic. When applications for emergency aid were given out there last October, over 100,000 people lined up during three days time – for a chance to get one of the 3,400 grants to be handed out.

A Festering Right Wing Movement

In this ever worsening situation, exacerbated by the policies of both Democrats and Republicans, almost the only organized forces of any size to speak out have been extreme right-wing organizations. Most of the movement that has recently re-appeared comes from the traditional layers that support right-wing reactionary causes – agitating against abortion, “moral decay” and federalism, for example. But with angry denunciations and a populist rhetoric, the extreme right has been able to touch the anger simmering in wider parts of the population, including some parts of the working class.

It’s significant that the right-wing – and not only or even essentially the Republican Party – was able to turn out several sizeable demonstrations against Obama and also against his health care reform, while Obama, calling vaguely for support, did not bring out anything comparable. Certainly, Obama could have turned out more – simply from the Democratic Party and union apparatuses, if no one else. But any attempt to call on people supporting health care reform might have opened the door to discussing what was in the “reform.”

The Democrats nearly year-long push for health care “reform” offered a big opening to the right wing. There was a certain amount of hostility to the bill – and not only among the typical right-wing patriotic nuts who claim the American medical system is the best in the world or among people who have been misled into believing that expenditures on social programs have created the budget deficit. Many retired workers who depend on Medicare were very uneasy – with good reason, as it turns out – fearing that the bill would contain an attack on their coverage. Many workers who today continue to have medical coverage through their job were angry when they heard that their benefits might be subject to a 40% tax. And then there was simply suspicion from people who couldn’t tell what was in that gigantic mess being prodded through Congress. Very few workers seemed convinced the “reform” would do much to address the problems of medical care – even though most say, including to pollsters, that they believe everyone should be covered. But the single most common response we heard all during this long, drawn-out process was: Why is Obama doing this now? Why isn’t the government focusing on jobs?

The right was able to tap into this unease and suspicion – above all, because the unions, many of which were critical of the bill, never made any effort to go to the meetings where the bill was being discussed last fall, nor to organize their own meetings to take on the issue. They could well have explained the multitude of problems with the bill – of which they were well aware. But they didn’t. They didn’t want to criticize Obama and the Democrats openly. Nor did the unions propose an alternative – the proposal a number of them have been pushing for years now, that is, a single-payer system under which the government collects the insurance payments centrally, disbursing payments to medical providers, eliminating that gross overhang of insurance company profits and administrative costs. To push for their own program might have embarrassed Obama as he was pushing through a reform in the interests of big insurance, big pharmacy and big hospital companies.

And so the right wing was the one to benefit by opposing this reform. And it used that opening to divert popular anger into a whole range of reactionary causes: denouncing immigrants, playing on racist attitudes, attacking doctors who perform abortions, etc. And, of course, sowing confusing – calling the bail-out to the banks “socialism,” for example! Or pretending that the enormous budget deficits being rolled up are the consequence of wasteful social programs.

The Republicans, sensing an electoral opening, put up a solid front against the bill, thus hoping to resurrect its Christian fundamentalist base that had been laid low by the 2008 elections. Republicans stoked fears about “death panels” and “government takeovers of Medicare” and “big government” in general, prancing around as the “party of No”!!!

The Democrats, not to be outdone, played their own reactionary cards with this bill, prohibiting the use of government funds to pay for abortions or to cover medical care for undocumented immigrants. Obama, simply to reinforce this disgusting bow to reactionary prejudices, issued an executive order insisting public money wouldn’t be paid for abortions. And he went out of his way several times to explain that immigrants would not get coverage for their medical problems.

If we can gauge by the polls recently done concerning the “Tea Party,” its supporters come more from the middle classes than the working class, they have a slightly higher income than average, they are slightly more likely to have a college degree, and less likely to have been laid off, even though they are fearful of losing their jobs. In other words, they are the traditional lower middle class ranks that usually make up right wing movements, steeped in individualistic ideology.

But that’s not the whole story behind this growth of the right wing. The Democratic Party has played a big role in pushing a certain number of angry workers toward this radical right-wing protest. We are confronted by an almost classic situation today: what passes for the left in this country without a left – that is, the Democrats – take charge of imposing the cuts and sacrifices on the working class and other parts of the population, while the right puts on a populist mask and appeals to the growing anger in the population – only to turn that anger against the working class and against capitalist society’s victims.

The growth of the right carries the potential of a real danger to the working class. The militias – most of them small bands of men parading around the woods with their guns – are certainly not storm troopers. But, this growth of the right-wing has been accompanied by a growth of violence directed against society’s victims – and first of all, against the immigrants. In the Southwest, especially, immigrants find themselves in the cross hairs – sometimes literally in the cross hairs of right wing forces, including those organized by small town sheriffs impatient with the slow movement of the federal government to deport immigrants. But similar attacks have come from local law enforcement officials in the suburbs around Chicago, for example, where a large number of immigrants now reside.

Women, and the medical personnel serving them, have also borne the brunt of violence, attacked by rabid, self-appointed moralists who intend to “carry out God’s work” to prevent the death of – in their words – “the unborn.” In fact, for decades, women have been the main targets of this home-grown American religious fundamentalism.

With the growth of this right wing, the black population has every reason to be worried since American history is filled with movements of angry right-wing racist hoodlums targeting black people. And that history lesson is reinforced by the open racism in the rhetoric of many of today’s right-wing spokespersons. The fact that the criticism of Obama takes an openly racist turn, and that it is expressed in a language dripping with the threats of violence against his person can only make the black population itself feel threatened. On this level, allegiance in the black community toward Obama might well grow, even while a sizeable and growing number of black workers are fed up with his policies.

The unions, the only organizations of the working class, find themselves railed against by this right wing for any number of crimes: unfortunately, not the crimes of their leaderships in fastening concessions and support for the Democrats on their members, but for the occasional attempt they might make to defend their members’ standard of living.

In the Face of the Right-Wing Danger an Absence of Working Class Organization

The working class faces this growth of an angry right-wing populist movement disarmed by the fact it has no important organization really giving expression to its anger, none calling on the working class to mobilize to defend itself and fight for its own interests.

Certainly not the official leadership of the unions, who have worked during this past period to defend Obama and the Democratic governors and mayors, and to help “their” employers extort more concessions from the workers.

Certainly not the black organizations: the main goal of most them has also been to support Obama, even while Obama blatantly ignores the problems raised by racism in the society. When he does address the problems of the extra impoverishment in the black population, he reinforces the worse racist prejudices, exhorting black people to change their behavior and their habits, as though their own behavior is the cause of their poverty.

And there is no doubt that the main organizations of immigrants or women continue to line up behind Obama – as though there were no other choice – even in the midst of the attacks his administration carries out.

Even the left – as minuscule as it is – in part has ranged itself behind Obama or the more traditionally liberal wing of the Democratic Party like John Conyers: directly, as with the CP; or indirectly or implicitly, as with Against the Current and Labor Notes, which echo Obama’s call for “green investments” – which is nothing but an excuse to give tax breaks to business – parading “green investment” as the solution to unemployment in the auto industry. Parts of this left work toward goals like pulling off this latest edition of the U.S. Social Forum – which submerges the real social catastrophe produced by capitalism in a hodge-podge of fashionable issues, submerging the separate interests of the working class in those of other layers of society.

As for the unions – the only organizations of the working class in this country where the working class has long had no political voice – it’s obvious that union membership is dwindling, falling again last year by three-quarters of a million. In fact, the decline among workers for private employers was greater than that, and only slightly compensated for by a small increase in public sector unionization. For the first time in U.S. history, more union members worked for the federal, state and local governments and schools boards than for private industry. This reflects nothing more than the fact that very few workers in private industry are unionized today. Even in the public sector, the gains in membership came in ephemeral segments of the population like graduate teaching assistants at universities or in deals cut with states and cities for the right to collect dues from very marginal parts of the workforce – for example, women who get paid by the states of Michigan, Illinois and California to provide day care for a handful of children in their own homes.

It’s less obvious, but at least noticeable, that there have been a few signs of revolt in some unions against the imposition of further concessions – the one at Ford perhaps being the most important, but certainly not the only one. Teachers in California and elsewhere have obviously been trying to resist some of the attacks. Detroit city workers and state of Michigan workers up until now have seemed ready to refuse to reopen a contract for no reason other than to give up more concessions. Admittedly, this is not a lot. But it’s in organizing its opposition to the attacks that the working class can begin to flex its muscles, and that militants inside the working class can gain the influence needed to lead wider fights.

A growth of militancy and struggles inside the working class could rapidly change the atmosphere in the country, which today seems to have shifted so far to the right.

But the basic problem today is and remains the lack of a revolutionary workers party or even of a revolutionary workers organization widely enough implanted in the working class to be somewhat known. The working class desperately lacks its own political voice.

It seems likely the situation will develop along the polarization we saw this past year. And that makes it all the more critical to focus on building that revolutionary workers’ organization. At the same time, the situation itself can open the door to its rapid construction – but only if those who are active set that and keep it as their essential and primary goal.