The Spark

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

Editorial:
Profits hit a record high, wages hit a record low

Mar 21, 2005

In 2004, over one trillion dollars went into the pockets of the corporations in profit. That was almost 10% of all the goods and services produced in this country. According to the economists who record such things, this was the largest portion of the gross domestic product to be skimmed off in profit in 76 years. And this record was matched by another one: the portion of that same gross domestic product that went to wages and benefits was the lowest seen since 1929.

The capitalist class is engaging in wholesale robbery, and the workers are the ones being robbed.

Our wages are stretched to the breaking point. Some of us are forced to refinance our mortgage just to catch up on our monthly bills – putting even our homes at risk. Only 21% of workers today can count on having a regular pension when they retire, down from 38% 25 years ago. Only 56% of people employed by private industry have medical coverage, down from 69% 25 years ago. And for retirees, it's much worse. Only 36% of big companies offered medical coverage to retirees in 2004, down from 66% of those companies in 1998.

Why are things getting so much worse – and so quickly? Because the voraciousness of the capitalists for ever more profit has no limits.

We feel it in our bones at work, when each new month brings another demand for more work. Speed-up – we all know what it is, because we all face it, whether in factory or office, on the road or in a freight depot, in a mine or in a construction site.

We know it when we look at our children and ask, where will the jobs be when they come up? As bad as our jobs are, theirs will be worse, and pay less. They won't have medical coverage. They won't have pensions. And the hope that their education will let them get a better job is already proving to be only an illusion. Who's losing their jobs today faster than anyone else? All those people who went into computers.

It's an outrage when we see this mass of profit being stolen – only to listen to the head honcho at a company like General Motors tell us they can't afford to keep giving us medical coverage; or when we hear about a Kmart executive awarded 105 million dollars in bonuses for closing down more stores, laying off still more workers, and putting nothing back into the 401(k) pension plans Kmart workers lost in the bankruptcy. It's an outrage when five different members of the Walton family that owns Walmart are worth 97 billion dollars, while wages for most Walmart workers keep them living in poverty.

Yes, it's all an outrage – and there's no point complaining about it, because the capitalists don't take complaints. They're too busy figuring out how to squeeze us even harder to get still more profit from our labor. What makes them retreat is not reason, not complaints, not polite requests. What makes them retreat is force.

And force is what the working class has – but only when it mobilizes to use its numbers and its key position in the economy.

In 1974, the workers counted on their own forces: there were 424 major strikes in this country. In 2004, there were only 17. That tells the whole story. That explains why the capitalists feel so arrogant today that they can cancel contracts in the middle, go bankrupt while grabbing hold of billions of dollars from their companies, and pretend to be broke, even while they are wallowing in money. They haven't had to face the organized anger of the working class in years.

What would it take for the workers to mobilize their forces again? There is no magic formula, and when workers do fight, it might not always go well, especially at first.

But what is required is simple. Someone has to decide to fight, someone has to push the issue with their fellow workers. Someone has to take the first step forward. And those who start have to encourage the others.