The Spark

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

U.S.:
The Social and Political Situation, 2014

Apr 1, 2014

The following analysis of the political and social situation in the United States, which was written at the beginning of March 2014, was adopted by the militants of the Spark organization in a meeting of the whole organization in April.

The Weakest Recovery and a Golden Age for Profit

Bourgeois economists say that the United States has been in an economic recovery since June of 2009, almost five years ago. But measured in terms of industrial production or even the GDP, it is by far the weakest of all the post-World War II recoveries.

But profits certainly have recovered. The New York Times called the period from January 2010 through December 2013, “the Golden Age for profits.”

By the end of the third quarter of 2013, profits had reached a record 10.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP) – the highest at least since this record keeping began in 1947 – and a near-record 11.7% of the national income. And net income of the six biggest banks was at its second highest level in 2013, second only to 2006 when bank income was pumped up by the sub-prime bubble. If those six banks had not deducted nearly 19 billion dollars from their income to deal with settlements and legal costs connected to criminal behavior during the sub-prime deal, their 2013 profits also would have hit an all-time record.

Corporations used their record profits to enrich the wealthy, passing out almost 900 billion dollars in dividends last year, about a hundred billion more than what they paid out in the go-go years before this current Great Recession hit. The 30 companies that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Index, all by themselves, bought back 211 billion dollars worth of their stock in 2013, handing a great big gift to those who sold and driving up the price of the stock of those who held on to it. That’s nearly three times the amount of money these 30 companies spent on research and development. Moreover, corporations are sitting on money – almost three trillion dollars in cash – hoarding it or using it to speculate. Their unspent cash has more than doubled since 2008.

The stock markets also recovered, reflecting the profit binge. With the Dow Jones ending 2013 at 16577, and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index at 1848, both indicators had increased by more than 250% since their low point, March of 2009.

The recovery, such as it is, has been dominated by speculation, first of all in commodities. The investment bank, Goldman Sachs, managed to store nearly one quarter of the world’s available aluminum supplies in Detroit area warehouses, holding back aluminum deliveries, driving up prices, increasing its profits. Goldman and another bank pushed over 60% of the world’s supply of zinc into warehouses around New Orleans. JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley carried out similar maneuvers in the markets for oil, wheat, cotton and coffee, holding back access to those materials, driving up their prices, much like JP Morgan Chase did, when it bought up power stations in California, then held electricity off the grid.

The mark of speculation in raw materials is the see-sawing of prices as money floods into and out of particular markets. Foodstuffs are not immune to this speculation – which simply aggravates the crisis of hunger not only in underdeveloped countries, but in this country as well.

That speculation – which has fed off the liquidity that the Federal Reserve has pumped into the financial markets via so-called Quantitative Easing – has spilled right over into the housing market. Housing prices in some markets have begun a rapid increase comparable to the early climb in prices those markets went through in the period before the 2005-2009 collapse.

But the price increases do not reflect short supplies or a tightening of the housing market. Exactly the opposite. The actual physical number of home sales is still relatively low, with the sales of existing homes running at a level about 10-15% lower than they were in 2002, before the last bubble picked up steam. And as much as 30% of the increase in existing sales has been driven by speculators, including some of the biggest banks, grabbing up foreclosed properties. Meanwhile, according to the Census Bureau, the number of vacant homes being held off the market is larger than it was in 2009, when the financial system collapsed.

According to Mike Whitney in Counterpunch, “What’s left is a transparently false market propped up with excessive financial speculation, calculated inventory suppression, artificially low rates and criminal malfeasance.” In other words, another bubble waiting to pop.

The real situation in housing, a dismal one, is reflected in the starts of new housing, both individual and multiple units, which are running today at about half of what they were in 2002.

Recovery in Production, Not in Employment

Industrial production, supposedly, is one of the “bright spots” in this recovery. And it’s true, overall production is now back up to where it was before the collapse.

But that has not led to much hiring, nor to wage increases. Total production at the end of 2013 was almost as high as it had been in 2008 – which was its previous peak – but manufacturing at the end of 2013 employed one million six hundred thousand FEWER production and non-supervisory workers than five years before. Jobs are not “disappearing” overseas. They are being lost to the rush for greater productivity in the plants right here “at home.”

The bosses simply threaten to move jobs overseas – and sometimes threaten only to move it within this country – in order to extract greater production out of a smaller work force. They push workers to work their way out of their own job.

The auto industry illustrates the situation. Almost 16.6 million light vehicles were produced in 2013 in North American assembly plants, 11.1 million in the U.S., compared to 2009 when the North American figure was 8.6 million, and U.S. production was only 4.7 million vehicles. But this vast increase in production did not lead to hiring. Almost all hiring has been to replace “legacy” workers with second-tier workers – or it concerns engineers or other salaried positions.

Twenty-seven North American assembly plants were closed during the recession and first years of the “recovery.” Despite the enormous increase in production, none has been reopened, none replaced, although currently VW is talking about the possibility of opening a new plant in Mexico or Tennessee. When Sergio Marchionne, Fiat-Chrysler’s head honcho, was asked if Chrysler would reopen a plant, since all of Chrysler’s plants seemed to be running at or over full capacity, he answered, “We will never build bricks and mortar again. I think we need to use what we’ve got and take it to the wall, run more shifts, run overtime.”

That is exactly what they did, they took it to the wall. They pushed faster speed on every line and imposed the so-called alternative work schedules. As of the end of 2013, 25 of the remaining 80 assembly plants have either three shifts or three crews working on a two-shift schedule. The three American companies are running half their plants on such schedules.

Furthermore, the contracts of 2007 with the three American companies have cut wages nearly in half for new hires and eliminated or reduced many benefits. (This had already happened at the parts plants that the three companies spun off into “independent” companies.) That second tier – and the informal third and fourth tiers – incited the companies to get rid of the older, better-paid workers, replacing them with new hires. Today, about 21% of all “Big Three” workers are second-tier (nearly 40% at Chrysler). More than six years after two-tier was introduced, not one second-tier worker has moved up into the first tier, even though the contract was sold with the promise that eventually they would be able to move up. And the wages of older workers have been frozen during that same time.

The three American auto companies went through – in Ford’s case, practically went through – a “quick-rinse” fake bankruptcy in 2009, claiming that they could not be competitive globally and not even in their own domestic market. Four years later, bankruptcy all but forgotten, they made a total operating profit of 19 billion dollars in the U.S. Not only could they “compete” in their own domestic market, they exported over a million cars from the U.S., half to countries other than Canada or Mexico.

(Incidentally, the transplants also exported about a million cars from the U.S. last year.)

In the past, housing and autos were the two locomotives of expansion in each new recovery, pulling the rest of the economy along after them. But there is no real recovery in housing this time, and the lack of real job expansion in auto means that THAT engine is barely puffing along.

This “recovery” is essentially a recovery in profits and the financial markets, not in employment, and certainly not in wages. What the capitalist class has done is to enrich itself by driving down the standard of living of the working class and other ordinary layers of the population with joblessness, wage cuts, attacks on social programs and public services.

The Employed: The Smallest Share of the Population in Decades

In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama congratulated his administration on the fact that the official unemployment rate was at its lowest level in five years. The official rate may have gone down, but there are still over 29 million people without jobs.

It’s true that more jobs have been created than lost over the last three and a half years. There were 7.8 million more jobs in March than there were in July of 2010 when employment was at its lowest point, but that’s still almost a million less than the 8.7 million jobs that were lost in the recession and the first 14 months of the “recovery.” Moreover, since the working-age adult population has grown by nearly eight million people since the recession began at the end of 2007, nearly 17 million jobs would have been needed just to bring us back to the level of employment in 2007. And 2007 was certainly not a high point.

In fact, to get back to the situation as it was in 2001, when 67.3% of the adult population was working, over 29 million jobs should have been created. Today only about 63% of the adult population is in the workforce, the smallest share in decades.

The jobs that were created by this recovery are not the same as the jobs lost in the Great Recession. Reuters reported that three out of four people hired in the first half of 2013 were hired into part-time positions.

Furthermore, most of the full-time jobs that were created were low-paid. A study of U.S. hiring done by the Royal Bank of Scotland found that 97% of the jobs created came in the service sector, and half of those jobs were in the low-wage parts of the service sector.

Effectively, there has been a kind of hollowing out of the wage scale – with a few more people earning a much greater amount of money, and a lot of people earning very little money. The so-called “middle” income – jobs paying roughly between $16 and $25 an hour – is a smaller and smaller share of the work force.

Today, one third of working families, 49 million people, survive on income that does not even keep them above the government’s poverty line. Together with those who are considered by the Census Bureau as “near poor,” they account for 146 million people, or 48 per cent of the U.S. population.

This country has not seen a job market as precarious as today’s since the Great Depression. More than one third of all workers today are “contingent” workers, that is, temporary, or agency hires, or contract or day labor hired off the street – and almost always very low paid.

Much of working class youth is locked out of the job market altogether, not able to get even a minimum-wage job.

Detroit at the Center of the Attack

This pretended “recovery” not only is not a recovery for the working class, it is a product of the violent attacks, coming one after another, on the workers and the poor.

Last year, like the ones preceding it, workers in the public sector, together with teachers and other workers in the public school system, were the ones targeted. Even with the recovery, the public sector continued to cut jobs: 264,200 federal, counting the Post Office; 150,000 state; 350,000 localities; and 250,000 in public education – all told, over a million jobs were cut by government in one year’s time.

Detroit has been at the center of this attack. The Emergency Financial Manager appointed by Michigan’s governor rapidly took the city to bankruptcy court. But even before filing, he had imposed a 10% wage cut on most Detroit workers, and continued to lay them off. Counting these last job cuts, the city has lost half of its work force in the last three years.

It’s obvious that such job cuts could only have disastrous consequences on public services and on the population they are supposed to provide for. And they did. Streets left without lighting, water mains erupting into gushers, trash not removed from neighborhoods, emergency services never arriving and the public transit system barely running.

Of course, certain neighborhoods of the city are well taken care of: those that have been developed and rebuilt with city funds or other largesse, those that are now “in demand” by a well-off petty-bourgeoisie and real estate promoters.

What’s happening in Detroit is a little like what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. The authorities took advantage of the hurricane’s path through New Orleans to push out an important part of the poor black population, definitively closing most public housing and tearing down other housing inhabited by the poor, including houses owned by their occupants. The political apparatus in New Orleans effectively scammed many inhabitants, preventing them from reclaiming their land if “developers” wanted it. Authorities also closed the one remaining public hospital, and transferred the biggest share of the public school system into a charter school system.

Detroit, which was the working class capital of the country for decades and a center of black resistance, is in the process of becoming, over the next few decades, much more white and petty-bourgeois – just as New Orleans has been doing since Katrina. The ordinary layers of the population of both cities have been and continue to be pushed out – to the benefit of real estate developers and the wealthy people the developers want to attract.

Pensions Being Disappeared

Cities, counties and states sought to tear up the engagement they once made to provide pensions and medical coverage to their workers when they retire. Even workers already retired are discovering that they can lose their pensions and medical coverage.

The Emergency Financial Manager in Detroit has proposed to eliminate pensions for those still working for the city, and he threatened, as a bargaining ploy, to cut current pensions of already retired city workers by 34% or perhaps 26% and to cut police and fire retirees (who get no Social Security) by 10% or perhaps 4%, as well as to reduce payments for their medical insurance down to 20% or 30% of current obligations. By the end of April, he appeared to have backed off these cuts, only to institute them under another form, that is, by eliminating cost of living and by setting up a limited fund to pay for medical coverage.

The attack on pensions is being carried out in almost all major cities, but the bankruptcy in Detroit allows the authorities to carry out bigger reductions there, and to do it more rapidly.

The day that the judge ruled that pensions could be reduced in Detroit’s bankruptcy, the New York Times declared: “The ruling in Detroit lifts the shield protecting pensions. This case will have a real echo in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and many other American cities.”

The very next day, the Illinois legislature voted to reduce current pensions. It may already have been planned, and the timing may have been coincidental, but it was significant. In California, the political apparatus has tried to cut pensions by hiding behind the population. In two cities, mayors organized referendums that asked the population to vote to eliminate the legal provisions protecting pensions for municipal workers. And the California legislature is considering a similar referendum aimed at the pensions of all public employees, as well as teachers in California.

No one should believe that it’s only the Republicans targeting pensions. Most of these attacks were carried out by Democrats.

Public Schools Put Up for Private Profit

The other focus of attack this year, once again, were the public schools and their teachers, especially in the working class and poor neighborhoods.

Under the pretext that the schools do not provide a good education – and it’s true, they don’t, in great measure because they are terribly deprived of financial resources and personnel – the Bush administration launched a tortured program, “No Child Left Behind.” Its primary aim was to allow cities and/or states to close schools and replace them with private schools, the so-called “charter schools.” Obama gave the program a new name, “Race to the Top,” reinforced its testing provisions, and opened the door for removing experienced teachers with tenure.

Some cities, such as Chicago, used these programs as the means to close schools in poor, primarily black neighborhoods, pushing children out of areas that developers want to develop for the well-off petty-bourgeoisie in the future. Other cities, such as Washington D.C., New Orleans and Detroit, used the programs as the way to hand over large numbers of schools to the “charter” companies, many of which were organized by former Wall Street bankers. There may have been a few charter schools, particularly at the beginning, which provided a better education, but for the most part, charters have been little more than a means for some up-and-coming entrepreneur with Wall Street backing to rake off money quickly.

The latest scam involved in this attack on public education is the push to set up schools based on computer programs, with few or even no live certified teachers in the schools. And the push for testing, more testing and still more testing has proved a bonanza to the companies that now design the tests and provide the materials. But it has “dummied down” what is taught in classes – “teach to the test.”

Much of the justification for these attacks has been tied to propaganda aimed at convincing the population that teachers are at the crux of the problem – they are paid too well, and produce poor results.

All of this has produced a great deal of money for Wall Street and the other sharks, but has done nothing but drain money away from actual education in the public school system.

Like other moves to privatize public services, the push for the attack on the public schools has been funded by a few self-important billionaires, like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, and by the extreme right-wing organization, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), which has also been behind a range of other reactionary legislative actions by the states, such as the attack on women’s right to abortion, the restriction of the vote, and the “stand-your-ground” laws.

“Reform”: Another Word for Attack

This was the year that Obama’s “signature” program, health care reform, was implemented.

This reform never found much enthusiasm in the population, except from committed Democrats, from some trade union officials and from certain leftists who tried to present it as a step toward providing access to medical care for the whole population, a step toward a kind of single-payer system, run much like Medicare.

If the reform had opened the door to a single-payer system, it could have been an advantage for the population. But in fact, Obama’s reform doesn’t do that, not at all. Not only does the reform not eliminate the complexity and hold of profit over the medical care system, it reinforces all those private interests that already grab profit from the system: thousands of private insurance companies, private medical facilities, private drug companies, private clinics, laboratories, medical equipment manufacturers, etc.

The essential point of the reform is that every person is now obligated to have medical insurance – either provided by an employer or by the government through Medicare or Medicaid or purchased by the person him or herself – under the threat of a fine that grows larger year by year. Significantly, the mandate for employers to provide such insurance has now been delayed twice, pushed back to 2016. But the mandate for the population is now in full force.

The mandate does not expand medical care, it simply creates a larger market for the insurance companies.

To buy insurance does not guarantee that someone will have access to medical care. It’s obvious: people will pay, yet still go without medical care. The cheapest contract for a family of four people will cost around $500 a month. On top of that, it will carry a deductible of about $5,000 a year. Until the deductible is met, the insurance company will pay for very little medical care. Even the supposedly “covered” services like annual check-ups can require you to pay a “facility fee” – which can equal what the doctor would have billed you. After the deductible, the insurance company will pay only about 60% of the costs. If your operation costs $100,000 – ordinary these days – you could owe $12,800, and much more if you went to a doctor “out of network.” After paying for insurance coverage, many people still won’t use it. They won’t have the money needed to use it.

In principle, the lowest paid workers will either qualify for Medicaid, which however, is progressively being dismantled and privatized, or for a subsidy to help pay part of the cost of their insurance. But the subsidy doesn’t cover the full cost, so people who could not afford insurance before are now being forced to put out money for it that they don’t have.

This reform is above all a gift to the insurance companies, big hospitals and other medical providers – offering them a new and constant stream of additional income at a time when fewer people can afford to buy insurance and fewer bosses offer it. And it also provides a means for employers who want to use it to slough off part of what they pay for insurance by directing their employees into one of the medical insurance sites. Or they increase the number of part-timers so they pay nothing for insurance. Some have already begun to do this.

This “reform” was also one of the biggest gifts that Obama could have given the Republicans. The roll-out of “Obamacare” allowed them to criticize something tied to the Democrats, diverting attention from the total contempt the Republicans exhibit for the population.

“Immigration reform” continues to languish in Congress this year, while the two parties try to figure out how to give the big bourgeoisie what it wants, without shooting themselves in the foot. The leaders of both parties agree that the immigration system must be overhauled in such a way as to make it easier for big companies to hire immigrants without papers. But the ranks of elected Democrats and Republicans are looking over their shoulders at their own political base, each worrying about the coming elections this fall. In the meantime, deportations continue. Almost two million have been deported by the Obama administration.

Facing a House of Representatives solidly controlled by the Republicans, Obama recently spoke movingly about the need to raise the minimum wage (“America needs a raise!”), the need to extend unemployment benefits, the need to devote more money to the crumbling infrastructure, and the necessity of protecting young black men from the attacks by racists with guns, and of protecting women’s access to abortion and birth control. But we shouldn’t forget that when Obama had a Democratic Congress, he did not use it to implement such proposals, other than a few of them for the very short term in the “stimulus” deal.

The proposal to eliminate the unemployment benefits extension was part of his 2014 budget. Obamacare contains the provision allowing states to offer medical plans that do not cover abortion. And while he said that if he had had a son, that son could have been Trayvon Martin, the fact is, his administration did absolutely nothing to intervene in that openly racist murder, just like Democratic administrations for years pretended that they could not intervene in Southern states against lynchings. Once again, actions speak louder than a bourgeois politician’s words.

Growing Reaction

Over the last decades, there has been an increase of reactionary attitudes and of an extreme right-wing in this country and around the world. The more open and blatant denigration of women and the legislative attack on women’s right to control their own bodies; the calls for a “militarization of the border,” which means in reality the justification of violence against immigrants; the deportation of immigrants by the Obama administration, at a much worse rate than that of the Bush Administration; the reveling in racist sneers, not only on Fox News, but also on the “ordinary” talk radio stations; the two murder trials in Florida and policies aimed at incarcerating young black men – all of these attest to the growth of reaction.

The two murder trials in Florida this past year show to what extent there still is a deep latent racism in layers of the supposedly well-intentioned white population. In both cases, a predominantly white jury could not agree to convict the murderer for the murder he committed. It was enough that an armed white man who killed an unarmed black teenager claimed “self-defense.” The trials were different, obviously, but the one constant was this: the fear of young black men that lurks in the minds of too many whites and Hispanics was given clear expression.

Those two trials, once again, tell young black men that there is a target on their backs. They are not safe to walk the streets in supposedly civilized white society, a society so barbaric it continues to condemn a large proportion of young black males to inferior education or no education, to lack of any training, and to a near-total barrier to employment and a high probability of imprisonment.

The Tea Party may hide behind its pretense of being a “grass roots” expression of opposition to taxes, to big government and to Obama, but this amorphous collection of groupings reflects the growth of extremely reactionary attitudes in parts of the population, along with the conscious use of those “grass roots” by some of the wealthiest people in the country.

The growth of the extreme right, such as it has been up to now – and in the future, it can be much more violent and much more organized than what we see today – that growth is a testament to the rottenness and barbarism in which capitalism has enmeshed the population.

Union Policies in Favor of the Bosses

In the face of this situation, the unions have continued to put the interests of the bourgeoisie in front of the workers’ interest.

In the few times they did organize a fight, they did so in a way that did not have the potential to move the working class forward.

Take the example of what happened at Boeing. It announced to its workers in Seattle that if they did not accept a wage freeze for ten years and a reduced second-tier wage for new hires, as well as a reduction in pensions, it would move production to another part of the country. The threat was certainly an extortion attempt played out following an initial rejection of the contract by Boeing workers. But issued by one of the most important companies in the country, in the midst of very high profits, it also was an announcement that the bosses have every intention to demand even greater sacrifices in the coming year.

The dual roles played by different levels of the union apparatus were significant. It’s obvious there was anger in the workforce, and a readiness to demonstrate when the union called the workers to demonstrate. But the International, facing Boeing’s threat after the first “no” vote, pushed workers to accept most of the sacrifices – in order to “save jobs.” And while local leaders attempted to organize a second “no” vote, they seemed to focus mainly on the pension issue, which certainly seemed to rally the older workers. But the result, to the extent we can gauge from a distance, was a split in the work force – older workers voting against the contract, younger workers for – which not only didn’t stop the contract, but carried at least the potential for weakening the workforce by exacerbating the divisions. Did it do that? We can’t say, not being there.

But it’s obvious that there will be more such attacks. And it’s equally obvious that there is no answer to these kinds of attacks unless workers say “no,” AND unless they are prepared to fight to back up that “no,” AND unless they attempt to mobilize all the other workers facing the same problems, trying to widen the fight.

Or take the example of the union organizing campaign the UAW carried out at Volkswagen. The UAW attributed its loss in the vote to the campaign of reactionary forces against the union.

Perhaps. But the fact remains the UAW gave VW workers little reason to vote for it. It was open about wanting a cooperative relationship with VW. And it made clear it would not oppose VW on conditions in the workplace – which was one of the big issues. The UAW’s policy apparently carried little attraction for VW workers.

In any case, the loss of the vote may mean a big defeat for the union apparatus and for its policy of co-operation. But for the workers it’s not necessarily a defeat. That depends on what the workers take out of the vote loss. Will the Southern workers accept the view pushed by the UAW leadership that pretends that a union cannot organize a Southern plant unless it finds an employer willing to open its doors to the union? Will the Northern workers fall for the UAW’s claim that until it can organize some of the Southern plants, it will not be able to improve the situation in the Northern plants?

Well, yes, the vote is a defeat for that kind of policy. But such a policy can only lead to defeat, anyway. And we don’t share that view of the situation.

The fact is, the election loss at VW could just as easily open a door for the workers. That depends again on how they understand what led to the loss, and on whether they understand that the Northern workers have the possibility to pull the Southern workers with them if they organize to fight for a better situation. Or maybe it will be the Southern workers who, when they decide to fight, will be the ones to pull UAW workers with them!

But the union apparatus won’t present that perspective. That’s up to us and any other people who base themselves on the possibility that workers will fight to defend their own interests, immediate and long term.

Anger and Demoralization in the Working Class

The working class in the industrialized countries, and most especially in this country, has not found a sustained way to respond to the blows it faces. In this country, it doesn’t even recognize in itself a class today that has potential strength or power.

Generally, the sentiment of the workers, as far as we can judge, continues to be one of frustration and anger, but, at the same time, one of real malaise and even long-term demoralization. Not only do the ordinary layers of the population seem to feel there is nothing they can do, often they don’t even see a way to express their anger.

What weighs so heavily on workers is the disproportion between what needs to be done and the fact that so few people are responding. It’s a kind of vicious circle: this group doesn’t fight because that group doesn’t fight.

Obviously, there are occasional demonstrations and local protests around different problems. And the unions organize small demonstrations – usually not much more than the apparatus and some leftists or students – against the refusal of employers like WalMart to recognize the unions, or against fast food companies around the low wages, or against the Republicans over the minimum wage issue.

But no important organization today has proposed a real fight. None has even tried to mobilize a big demonstration allowing the workers to express what they feel and to take account of how many people feel like they do. Would people have responded to a wider call by the unions to demonstrate? No one can say, because the unions didn’t make such a call.

The unions have organized somewhat larger demonstrations when their right to get dues is threatened or when the advantages tied to having certain union positions are eliminated. But even there, not much effort was made to pull people out, except in Wisconsin in 2011. And the workers’ apparent readiness to fight was dissipated when the union apparatus made it clear it was willing to sacrifice workers’ wages and benefits in a trade to keep the union’s officially recognized status. They obviously didn’t keep their favored status, nor, if we can gauge by the large majority of the workers who opted out of the union when they got the chance, did they keep the workers’ allegiance.

The demonstration that attracted the most participants this year was the one in Washington – and a similar earlier one in Detroit – to commemorate the 1963 March for Civil Rights. But those demonstrations were called essentially by black churches and other black organizations, with some participation by the unions. And the objectives of the demonstrations went very little beyond paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrating Obama’s election. That’s not to say that the demonstrators ignored current problems – many linked their participation in the demonstration to the murder of Trayvon Martin or the lack of jobs for young people. The signs that many of them made showed that. But those were not the professed aims of the demonstration.

As for strikes, the most accurate way to describe them is to say they continued at an abysmally low level. Once again, as it has been for decades now, the number is so low as to be almost nil.

So, it’s not a surprise to see that the workers feel trapped, unable to respond to the attacks.

We don’t know how long such a situation can last. Years ago, we didn’t expect that we would still be in such a situation today. But here we are.

Nonetheless, we know that at some point the working class and other ordinary layers of the population, embittered by the crisis, will begin to move. We have to prepare for that possibility now. When social classes do begin to mobilize, when workers start to fight, it will be absolutely necessary that there be organized militants who defend a policy for the working class, resting not only on the immediate but especially on the long term interests of the working class, that is, on the proletariat’s possibility to take power out of the hands of the bourgeoisie and to set up a proletarian power, one that can work in the interests of the whole laboring population.

It’s as true today as it has always been that the only political forces that can play a real role when social classes begin to move are the ones that are organized AND know what they want. For the working class it is vital that there be enough organized militants who know and are advocating a true working class policy, one which proposes goals around which workers can fight not only for their immediate needs, but which can also open up the perspective of a working class fight for a socialist society.