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
Feb 14, 2022
The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of February 6, 2022.
Today, most of us carry credit cards. You almost have to. But for some people, they’ve become a trap, pulling them into a deep hole.
How did they get there?
Sometimes it starts with something as simple as deciding that all your kids are going to get the Christmas gifts they want for once—and ouch, you didn’t know those basketball shoes cost so much, and the January bill came too soon! Sometimes it’s because, carrying a small amount of debt, you run into a sudden problem. You lose your job, or you go into the hospital and insurance doesn’t cover it all. Out comes that card. Sometimes it’s because, decades ago, you took out loans to go to school, believing all the hype that school would get you a great job and you could pay it all back, many times over. But the well-paying job didn’t materialize, and you still had the debt. You turned to credit cards to keep yourself afloat.
However it started, some people found themselves with a debt they couldn’t pay off—so they paid only part of it, then paid only the tiny minimum the credit card company pushed.
They were hooked. A big chunk of their payment went to pay interest, interest on which they began to pay more interest. They ran up more debt, maxed out cards, signed up for more cards.
Offers certainly kept coming in the mail. Did they ever wonder why? Your credit card account is an open book. When you pay interest year after year, every company wants a piece of you.
Decades ago, in small towns with only one employer, often there was only a “company store,” but it was always ready to extend credit. Of course! When you “owe your soul to the company store,” you don’t want to risk losing your job.
Today, there is a chunk of the working class that is “maxed out,” that is, they “owe their soul” to the credit card companies.
Visa and Master Card are fronts for the biggest banks, the titans of Wall Street. Those banks—Chase, CitiBank, Capital One, Bank of America and Wells Fargo—make up the very center of the very top of the capitalist class.
Year after year, those banks set new profit records. Year after year, their credit card divisions are their most profitable sector.
The laws—federal and state—as well as court decisions were changed to let them set the interest rates they want. Today, some of those rates are as high as 35 or 36%.
When you have a savings account with Chase or Capital One, you get less than 1% interest. But the bank that pays you less than 1% interest to hold and use your money, can get 35% interest when they loan out that money through credit cards.
The old loan sharks would have been ashamed to organize such a rip-off!
But these are the big banks, the center of capitalism today. They have no shame—just as there is no limit to what they will try to take out of the hide of working people.
U.S. credit card debt—which today totals over 800 billion dollars—is the proof that wages are too low and prices are too high. The capitalist chase for more profit is destroying the society we live in.
There is no individual solution for that. Credit extended to you with money the capitalists ripped off from someone else is no solution, just like going on to get more education is no solution.
Yes, we should be able to go to school our whole lives. We should be able to have a decent standard of living—including those basketball shoes! But when we try to get it individually, one by one, on the capitalists’ terms, according to their rules, we end up “owing our souls” to them.
Capitalist society has no solutions to the problems it causes: problems like unemployment, low wages, expensive medical care. Its only answers are individual ones, like credit card debt, putting us in a hole, tying us to our class enemy.
We can use our own intelligence as workers to see this scam for what it is. That is the first step toward resting on the strength of our own class. To act collectively to deal with our problems, we have to face up to reality.