The Spark

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

99%?
Not Exactly

Oct 17, 2011

“We Are the 99%” – it’s the slogan that has popped up all across the country as part of the “Occupy” protests, so clearly it’s being pushed by someone.

It’s certainly true – while the big majority have been hurt in this crisis, the top layer has actually done very well. It’s outrageous that the top one% of the population owns 35% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 80% holds only fifteen%!

A lot of the “Occupy” protesters have picked up this slogan as an expression of anger toward that one% who have benefitted from the Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for the rich.

But while the slogan taps that anger, it hides important class differences in the population. It hides first of all the fact that within this 99%, not everyone is suffering the same way.

It’s true that some lawyers and even some stockbrokers may have been out of work for a while, or middle-class college students may not find the jobs they expect when they graduate (and may even be deep in debt when they do).

But the problems facing this layer of the population dim by comparison to the problems all parts of the working class have faced: the large number out of work for over a year and have run out of unemployment checks; those who were forced onto welfare because they ran out of money, only to have welfare pulled out from under them; those whose wages have been cut in half; those who have lost their homes to a mortgage scam that was consciously directed at them; those whose children are pushed into ever more crowed and dilapidated schools; those who literally starve a little every day.

Everyone in this so-called “99%” may have their own reasons to protest. But – as the saying goes – some have more reasons than others.

In fact, there’s an even more basic problem with this “99%” formulation. Especially in an imperialist country like the United States, a significant number of those in the upper tiers of the “99%” make their money from allying themselves with the capitalist class and doing its dirty work. They are the corporate executives and top managers, the Federal Reserve directors and economists, the newspaper publishers and editors who push the corporate propaganda, the university “professors” who justify capitalism, the politicians who hand over the keys to the treasury to the one% – and the big name doctors, lawyers and drug company researchers. The nineteen% just below that top one% own over fifty% of the nation’s wealth themselves! Clearly they do not have the same interests as working people.

We ignore these class differences at our own peril. To put everone together into the same “99%” disarms those who would fight, in much the same way that the unions forging partnerships with the bosses disarm the workers.

Lumping everyone together in the “99%” clouds the questions of which class, which social force, can have real power in that fight, the potential power to strip away the bankers’ hold over the society. That class is gathered together – in large and small workplaces, factories, offices, hospitals. Its force comes from the fact that it produces the goods and services that the whole society needs. That class – the working class – makes the economy run. The workers’ position in the economy gives the working class the possibility of shutting it down.

It’s important for people to protest and make their voices heard. And many people can protest the evils of this capitalist society together. But what a difference it would make to see workers occupy the workplaces: the places where profit is made for that one%.

A fight made by the working class, with its own forces and for its own interests, can change things massively. In their fight for jobs and a decent wage – the essential basis of any fight – they can attack the problem not only for themselves, they can pull behind them some other PARTS of the 99% to join in making that fight.