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

Andrea Kirby:
The Economic Impact on Workers

May 6, 2024

The following article is excerpted from a speech given at Spark’s public meeting by a former candidate of the Working Class Party, Andrea Kirby, in Detroit on April 14, 2024.

Grocery prices are high; they have risen 25 percent in four years. Gas prices are high, slowly creeping up every week. Energy prices are high, and companies are asking to increase rates yet again. Drinking water in this country is often unsafe, and in other parts of the world, it is downright poisonous. Medical and pharmacy costs are high and out of reach for so many working-class people. A study by Kaiser Health News and National Public Radio (NPR) found that 41 percent of adults, roughly 100 million people, are suffering under the weight of medical debt. And about 66 million people are holding off on medical care.

We are told to “go out and get a job and support yourself,” but that has turned into “go out and get a few jobs to barely support yourself.” Asking for a job with decent pay and a healthy, safe work environment is not an outrageous expectation, but that is not what we have. We have a broken-down system where the wages of the working class continue to go down, and the rich get richer. A system where ‘we the people’ suffer the after-effects of the decisions made by only a few. A system that pushes for constant speedup, pushing to get more and more from each of us while laying off workers. A system that continues to allow for the exploitation of child labor. And a system that continues to look at women as inferior, unable to make decisions regarding their own bodies. A system where the working class does all the labor and generates all the wealth but has no control over it. A system that does not fit the needs of the working class.

Lawmakers want us to think that things aren’t that bad. They tell us prices are stable or down. They tell us that workers’ wages are going up. I don’t know who they are talking to or what new formula they created to support their lies, but we all know that is not the reality. The reality is that when we go to the grocery store, we get sticker shock and come out with fewer items. The reality is that our money is not going as far as it did years ago. The reality is that they are persecuting California fast food workers for securing a $20 per hour minimum wage. Restaurant owners are threatening hundreds of layoffs: they are planning to move to more kiosk-type set-ups, and, of course, they are raising prices.

Money Flows for War

This is one of the richest countries in the world, and money is always being diverted from social programs. But it flows freely when it comes to the advancement of war. War in Ukraine, war in Gaza, and war in other undisclosed locations in the world. A war that is funded by our taxpayer dollars. Money that is contributing to volatile situations all over the world, where other working class people are dying.

The 2023 U.S. military budget broke records at a whopping 858 billion dollars. That is, 80 billion more than in 2022 and 118 billion more than in 2021.

The 2023 military budget was 300 billion dollars more than the combined budgets for the ten largest cabinet agencies—including departments such as Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and State Transportation. These budgets directly affect everything from schools to health care to housing and roads.

This 858-billion-dollar budget doesn’t even include all the spending justified in the name of “national security,” including the U.S. nuclear arsenal and Homeland Security.

For many Americans, the war in Ukraine and the genocide in Gaza are a distant image, one they can’t be touched by. Yet another lie they want us to believe. With so much money invested in continuing these wars, how long will it be before they begin to openly send U.S. troops into a possible World War III situation?

Workers Have Collective Power

So, how do we change things? How does the working class get the things needed, like having a job with decent pay in a healthy, safe environment? How does the working class use the wealth it creates to serve the needs of the working class? We know that we can’t do it individually. Individually, we don’t have any power. We have to be organized together.

The only organizations we have today that bring workers together are the unions. And unions are not enough. First of all, they are not at every workplace. Most workers are not in a union. Even if there is a union, the union leaders today carry out a very limited fight or even hold back a fight, like they did in the auto and Blue Cross strikes. But even if the unions today were run by different leaders, unions still have their limits. They are intertwined in a bureaucratic system of contracts that allow fights at only one workplace, one company, or one group of workers at a time instead of using the collective power of the working class. This way of fighting allows the bosses to drive down wages. The autoworkers used to be among the highest-paid industrial workers. But even autoworkers’ wages were held down because so many other workers had lower wages. The bosses always use divisions to keep wages low.

Democrats and Republicans both state they have the answer. Each election cycle, both parties make promises that they know they can’t keep or won’t keep. They will blame each other for every issue they are not able to advance. At the same time, they use up the American people’s lives to advance their own agendas. Both parties get donations from some of the world’s wealthiest people to ensure that things continue to fall in their favor. The working class is once again forced into choosing from two evils, having no confidence in either.