Feb 3, 2014
The following is the text of a presentation at a SPARK public meeting in Detroit in January.
For the past 40 years, we have lived through an ongoing economic crisis. There has been one recession after another. But the recovery at the end of each recession has never returned things to where they were at the start of that recession. So the next recession takes us down even lower.
The standard of living for working people has steadily declined for the past 40 years, but this decline has accelerated in the past decade.
Certainly, there is no need to tell working people that our lives are facing an economic crisis. We live in this crisis and feel this crisis every day.
There are not enough jobs for everyone. We ourselves might be looking for work. Or if we have a job, then we have family members, friends, neighbors who can't find a job. I work at Ford and have for many years, and I couldn't begin to tell you how many people ask me weekly and even daily if I know a way to get a job at Ford for themselves or for their family members. Long-term unemployment has become the norm in this economy, not the exception.
And there are many, many people who are working but have only a part-time job because they can't find full-time work. About one-third of the whole workforce today is working part-time or temporary jobs.
But even for people who have a full-time steady job, it is getting more and more difficult to make ends meet. The reason is very simple – prices go up and our pay doesn't. Staying at the same pay for years, if you think about it, is really a wage cut.
And for many workers, especially younger workers, things are even worse because for many jobs, wages have gone down. There are 2nd tier wages and 3rd tier wages and 4th tier wages, where young workers are making half or less than what their parents made for doing the same job. The minimum wage today is less than half of what it was in 1969, relative to the cost-of-living.
There is a crisis in the basics of our lives. Having a job where you can support yourself and raise a family and have a decent life for them – that is out of reach for many.
Costs for health care are outrageous, even as the so-called Affordable Health Care Act goes into effect. Plans for a comfortable retirement are disappearing as pensions are being reduced or eliminated.
Things in our cities and towns and neighborhoods are falling apart. We continue to pay high taxes, but the things we pay taxes for are being reduced or taken away. Public schools are deteriorating. A college education is becoming financially out-of-reach. The streetlights are out and the garbage doesn't get picked up. The buses don't run on time; the potholes in the road don't get fixed. Parks and recreation centers and libraries are closing.
This increasing poverty of the population, along with the destruction of opportunities for young people – meaning no jobs, few after-school activities or social opportunities of any kind, leaving them in the street with little hope – all this has led to the increase of crime, so that people don't feel safe in their streets, or even their homes.
It could seem as if the wealth of the whole society is disappearing. But that is not the case. It is not nearly the case. There are parts of the society where the wealth is increasing – in fact, increasing rapidly. Corporate profits are going up and up, an increase of 17% just in the past year; Wall Street is hitting new highs. The millionaires are becoming billionaires.
But the money we hear about is nothing compared to the wealth that we don't see – the money that is controlled by and held by the banks. The banks that were given several trillion dollars by the government. A few days ago, I read in the newspaper that Chase Bank has paid fines of more than 20 billion dollars for various financial “irregularities.” And what did Chase Bank say about giving up 20 billion dollars? “It's not a problem, it's no big deal." And for Chase, it isn’t a big deal – 20 billion dollars is a drop in the bucket for the big banks.
The rich of this country have accumulated wealth that is unheard of in human history. So no, the wealth of the society has not decreased. It is just that more and more of the wealth is going into the pockets of the few wealthy, and less and less is going to the rest of us who need to work for a living.
This growing accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few people is in stark contrast to the growing impoverishment of the rest of the population. And it is all due to how the capitalists operate their economy.
Corporations constantly push workers to work faster and produce more. Three workers today produce what five workers produced a few years ago. Increasing productivity could be a wonderful thing. It could mean that people work six hours or four hours a day, with no loss in pay. You know, people used to work 14 and 16-hour days. But as productivity increased, and where the working class fought to have lower hours of work, the workday was eventually cut down to eight hours a day for many workers. That happened over a hundred years ago. But today this increased productivity is not used to benefit those who do the work. Today workers on so-called “alternative work schedules” are again working 10 and 12 hours days. If three workers do the work of five, the bosses lay off the other two workers, adding to the growing unemployment. This higher productivity today is used only to increase the profits of the corporate bosses. And those extra profits from increased productivity are not invested to build more factories and produce more consumer goods, which would mean more jobs and cheaper prices. The bosses instead take those profits and speculate in the stock market, or in real estate or in different currencies.
The bosses protect their profits and increase their profits by cutting our wages and benefits. They increase prices, which is more money in their pockets and less in ours.
It is these jobs cuts and wage cuts by the corporate bosses which have worsened the economic crisis and guarantee that we will soon face another recession, or even worse.
At the same time, other decisions are made which have worsened the crisis for working people. The politicians at every level of the government make decisions every day to benefit the wealthy at our expense. Government decisions are made to give money to the banks and cut taxes for the corporations.
In order to pay for the money given to the banks and corporations, the government cuts out jobs, which, in turn, leads to cuts in services. The workers who drive the buses, clear the roads of snow, repair the streetlights, clean the parks, teach the children – these jobs are cut, and we all suffer.
Government-regulated utilities eliminate workers, and so people have to live in the dark and cold for a week after a storm. All this money the government saves by cutting services and eliminating jobs is re-directed into the hands of the wealthy. A health care program is set up to profit the insurance companies and drug companies and hospitals, and not the ordinary people who need health care.
All of the problems of the crisis that the majority of the population is suffering are a direct result of decisions made to increase the profits of the few. The corporate bosses and the politicians who serve them have no answers to the crisis; they are not going to fix the crisis, because their policies have caused the crisis.
But there are answers to the crisis. There are ways to fix the problems that we face. There are very simple, common sense, straightforward answers to the problem of an economy that isn't functioning well. These are the answers that the working class would have.
First of all, everyone who wants a job should have a job.
No company that is making a profit should be allowed to lay off a single worker. Not one layoff!
Now, that would not solve the problem of all the jobs that have already been lost. So the next answer would be to put people back to work by sharing the work that is needed to be done. If three people are now doing the work that five people used to do, then bring back those two people. Increased productivity could be used to reduce the hours we all work without any loss of pay. Share out the work so that everyone who wants a job can have one. Put people back to work who provide the services. And by putting more people to work, more people would have money to buy things – and more people buying things would mean more jobs created to produce those products; this would get the economy going.
The next answer would be to deal with the problem of low wages. Wages should be high enough so that every worker and every family can have a decent standard of living. I'm not talking about making everyone rich, but we should be paid enough to live comfortably. Why not? Our labor produced all this wealth. And again, increasing wages would be a boon for the economy because when people have more money to spend, they buy things, which leads to an increase in jobs.
Workers need protection for our wages, too, so that we don't lose them to inflation. But there is a simple answer that, too. Any time prices go up, our wages should go up. I'm not talking about the cost-of-living pay that used to be in some union contracts and never covered the true amount of higher prices. I'm talking a pay adjustment that would immediately increase wages by the full amount that prices increased.
Putting people back to work and restoring wages would solve almost all of the problems we face today.
Of course, putting more people to work and increasing wages would cut into the profits of the corporations. The corporations would cry that they can't afford to do this. OK, well let them prove it. Let the workers who work in these corporations have a look at the real financial books of the companies. Let us see where the money is. Of course, we don't believe that the bosses would ever willingly show us the real financial books that would show their true profits and where the money went, year after year. But, in the future, when workers are making a real fight against the bosses, this is something we have to keep in mind – let us look at the books and where the real money is.
And there answers to the other problems of the crisis that we are facing in our cities and our neighborhoods. Our tax money should be used to pay for the things we need – like schools that educate our children, clean, lighted streets, roads without potholes; parks and libraries re-opened. If the politicians say there is not enough money for those things, then the answer is that the politicians should stop giving money away to the wealthy. Make the rich pay the taxes that they can afford to pay. Make the corporations give back all the tax breaks they have been handed over the years. Get back all the money from the banks that the government gave them during the bank bailout. If they stopped giving money away to the wealthy, governments would have plenty of money to pay people to fix the roads and schools. They could put more teachers and public workers back to work and pay them a decent wage to provide the public services that we need.
All of these things are possible. Jobs at decent wages for everyone who wants to work. This is not some kind of fantasy world or utopia. The wealth that exists in this society makes these things very possible.
What is needed to make these things happen is that the wealth of this society, the profits produced in this society have to be distributed differently, so that the people who actually do the work can benefit from what we produce.
All of the profits and wealth of the society are produced by working people, the people who build the cars, make the roads, grow the food, work in the offices and hospitals, teach the children. We have every right to say how this wealth and these profits are distributed. The wealth we produce should be and can be used to benefit everyone, not just a privileged few.
The working class will have to make a fight to do this. When we look around today, we don't see many people making a fight. But I know that this fight will come. Working people in this country have always fought; those who came before us fought very militantly. The working class movement in the 30s and 40s and beyond; the black movement in the 60s and 70s. People fought, and they got something. But then they stopped the fight. Whatever gains they achieved were taken back. The basic issues of jobs and wages were never addressed in any complete way. And the same problems are in front of us today, worse than ever. When the next fight starts, we need to keep in mind those things that we have to fight for. We have to know to continue the fight until we are in control. There is no point to fight if we sit back afterwards and let the ruling class take back those things we once won.