Jan 9, 2017
On January 16 workers around the country will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The holiday symbolizes the tremendous fight made by an earlier generation – a fight that brought gains for all working people around the country.
More and more, however, those gains are being reversed, and in many ways the conditions faced by the black population are worse today than those the black movement stood up against. If certain things changed for a period, the gains are now mostly enjoyed by a more sizable black middle class, not by the black working class and the poor.
Segregation laws may no longer be present, but segregation in fact still widely persists. Black people still suffer from a lack of access to jobs, which increasingly have been moved out of the inner cities where large portions of the black working class reside. Education and training needed for those jobs has also been drastically slashed in black communities. Social programs won by the movements of the sixties and earlier periods providing at least a weak approximation of a safety net for people without a job have also been slashed.
American capitalism’s answer to the lack of decent jobs and quality education for the black population has become mass imprisonment. Democrat and Republican politicians together passed crime bills establishing more lengthy prison sentences for crimes committed by the poor. Black people are disproportionally pulled over for minor traffic violations or arrested for shoplifting or minor drug offenses and wind up spending the rest of their lives in prison.
These laws created what’s been called a “playground-to-prison pipeline,” providing cheap prison labor to big corporations and huge profits for companies contracting to build and provide services to the prison system. As a result, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world, which is highest in the black community.
There may not be much of a Ku Klux Klan today, without the same kind of public lynchings, but the cops do many of the same things in their place. They kill more black people today than occurred during most of the period of the Klan.
American capitalism depends on racism. It maintains a black working class available to work at lower wages. This situation, in turn, harms the entire working class, whether or not the white working class realizes it. When the black population can be forced to live and work under worse conditions, so can white workers.
There is no other answer to the situation than the one carried out by the original black movement. The gains that were won came through fights led first by leaders of the pacifist civil rights movement, later by others with a more militant stance, but particularly by the urban rebellions that took place all across the country.
But to win real, permanent change that benefits the black working class and the working class in general, the fight this time cannot stop halfway, as the black movement and others it inspired did, leaving in place a class system, with racism at its very base. A new fight by the black population could pull behind it other parts of the working class, which need to see their interests lie in a common struggle. It will have to go all the way to socialist revolution.