Dec 17, 2007
The balance sheet for the year 2007 is grim – at least for the working people of this country.
By the end of this year, nearly two million households will be expected to have lost their homes. Some, of course, lost them for the usual reasons in a society organized around the chase for profit: big medical bills ate up family income; unemployment shrank family income; divorce or separation or death meant that the surviving partners didn’t have enough income to keep up the payments.
But powering onto the scene this year, a new danger pushed all those “ordinary” reasons aside. People are losing their homes in a mortgage scam run by the very biggest financial institutions in the country: Citigroup and its associated Citi National Bank, Merrill Lynch & Company, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, among others.
These schemers, through massive speculation, created a housing bubble. Now that it’s collapsing, credit markets are collapsing and so is employment in the construction industry. So is employment in the auto industry. So is employment in retail and government services, as well as those basic industries that supply heavy goods production.
The wealthy people who own capital are freezing up their own capital markets today. Not trusting each other nor their own system, they are hoarding their money – creating a disaster for almost the whole of society.
A disaster for nearly everyone – except for that very tiny minority at the top of the economic ladder. The wealthiest one% of the population enjoyed as much income last year as the bottom 56%. This is the greatest share of income taken by the very wealthy since 1928 and 1929, just before the speculative crash that plunged society into the depths of the Great Depression.
Bush, trying to justify his policies, says that the growing concentration of wealth is not new, that the gap has been growing for more than 25 years. That’s true – one of the few true things Bush ever uttered.
But if the gap has been growing for a long time, this does not make it natural nor normal.
That many people sacrifice more and more for the benefit of the few is not normal – and it reflects this abnormally long time when the working class has not struggled. The last widespread struggles of the working class played out at the end of the 1970s. Here or there, there have been workers who carried out fights since then, sometimes even tough ones, sometimes ones that succeeded. But overall, the working class has let itself be driven backwards for 25 or even 30 years.
One of the worst retreats was the 2007 contract pushed through by the auto companies, with the support of the union leadership. This somewhat protected section of the working class let wages for the next generation of workers be cut in half. They agreed that there be no regular medical coverage and no real pension for the next generation. They agreed to tear up the guarantee of lifetime medical coverage for those already retired, and for themselves when they retire.
It’s obvious that these concessions are not the end of the line – neither for auto workers themselves, nor for workers in all those other industries that set their wages in relationship to what auto pays.
There were workers in auto who organized trying to stop this backward slide – enough to be heard more loudly than at any time over the last half century in auto, but not enough to stop it. Not yet.
So what can the working class anticipate, coming into 2008? Just this: Nothing will improve until the working class begins to battle for improvements.
Workers made these kinds of fights in the past. Were they more intelligent than this generation? No. More oppressed? No. More angry? No. Maybe just more impatient.
So, here’s one vow for the new year – let it be the one when working people not only express their impatience, but act on it.