Jan 6, 2003
Will the new year be as bad or even worse than the old one? That depends on us.
The workers at United Airlines today face an ultimatum: accept severe wage cuts and a decrease in your pension benefits amounting to almost 38% – or the company will ask the bankruptcy court to completely abrogate the whole union contract.
United – which claims not to have enough money to pay its bills and declared bankruptcy to prove it – is not the only company making outrageous demands. And other companies are not in the bankruptcy courts. Nor did they lose a plane to September 11. But that doesn't stop them from demanding sacrifices or still referring to September 11.
Almost every worker's family is seeing their standard of living come under attack. Hundreds of thousands of workers, when they get their first January paycheck, are going to discover that their checks got quite a bit lighter – deductions for their part of the medical insurance premium jumped up. In some cases, the whole cost of the insurance was dumped in their laps with very little advance warning.
More and more workers are facing some kind of unemployment. Some of us will be bounced in and out of the plant for a week or two at a time; some will have our overtime cut way back; some will end up out in the street, permanently. And unemployment is already at an eight-and-a half-year high.
Each person who loses a job knows that if the unemployment goes on too long, they face the risk of losing their home – and homelessness is already at its highest level since the so-called "Great Depression" of 1929-41.
At the same time, every level of government has been singing the same sad song: They don't have enough money to pay their bills, so we have to sacrifice. They say education expenditures need to be cut; public services in general should "tighten the belt" – meaning more potholes, less bus service, more garbage in the streets, less help to people who are really destitute. And so on, so on, so on.
And there, right in front of us, staring us in the face, is the threat of a new war – one which will make us pay dearly. Not only does this war mean that a new generation of young people is about to be ground up as cannon fodder or turned into the walking casualties of a war in which they find themselves killing civilians – women, children and even babies. This war will also bring new repression on the home field – and an enormous increase in demands for sacrifice. The high tech weapons to be used – not against Saddam Hussein, but against the people of Iraq, people just like ourselves – will be paid for by reductions in every public service, every social program, every field of education on which our lives depend.
This may be Bush's view of what our lives should be, it may satisfy the greed of the wealthy few who sit on the top of this society – but there is no reason, none at all, for us to accept it.
There is more than enough money in this society to satisfy the basic needs of everyone – but the people who today control it must be forced to give it up. Not a single company that makes a profit should be allowed to lay-off a worker or cut a wage. And if a company can't make a profit without laying off its workers or cutting wages, then let it be taken over and run in the interests of everyone, not in the interests of high-paid executives and wealthy stockholders.
Not a cent of tax money should be spent on wars, nor on subsidies for big business. This would immediately free up hundreds of billions of dollars to improve our education system, provide housing to those who need it, keep our big cities clean and safe. Medical care should not be doled out by companies whose main concern is to make a profit. Hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical laboratories all should be run in the interest of the whole society. Utilities should be organized to serve our needs, not the interests of speculators.
What stands in the way of this is a very tiny layer of society – perhaps no more than ten% all told, who today benefit, because the majority of society is exploited.
In other words, what really stands in the way is that the majority of people do not impose their needs on those at the top. But we could. That depends on our determination and on our readiness to wage a fight.