We Got the Power!

By Bonnie Weinstein

According to an August 12, 2009 New York Times article by Jack Healy entitled, “Labor Costs Fall as Productivity Increases,”

“Businesses in the United States squeezed more out of their workers this spring, as productivity surged by the most in six years, the government reported on Tuesday.

“Overall output slid in the second quarter as businesses scaled back production and curtailed their growth plans to cut their budgets and survive the recession. But the number of hours worked fell even farther, meaning that workers effectively did more with less.

“Productivity rose at an annual rate of 6.4 percent at non-farm businesses from the first quarter, the Labor Department reported, the largest increase since the third quarter of 2003. Overall output fell 1.7 percent, and hours worked fell by 7.6 percent.

“As workers became more efficient, the cost of labor for each unit of output fell 5.8 percent. After several quarters of heavy losses, many businesses were able to turn profits this spring by slashing their labor costs and capital investments.

“The report also showed that wages are stagnating and people’s purchasing power is falling… The recession has left millions out of work and struggling to pay their bills, but it has also made workers in the United States more productive. Worker productivity increased 1.8 percent over the last year, even amid a tumultuous business climate marked by uncertainty about whether employers would be cutting jobs or shutting down altogether.”

The article’s indifference to the plight of the workers involved is startling. The article accurately points out how the harder workers are pushed on the job—through speed-up, and accepting forced pay-cuts under the threat that jobs might be shut down altogether (and this is not an empty threat as the auto workers can testify)—the more money the boss makes. The stress it places on workers is of no consequence at all because the bottom line for business is profit.

This is a quintessential description of capitalism and how it works to exploit, divide and control workers for its own benefit no matter what harm it may bring to those workers.

Without a doubt, this trend will continue. Business will try to strip those profits off the backs of workers. Business has no choice. It must make a profit and it must come from the backs of workers—whether they are in the U.S. or in slave-shops around the world, borders be damned (for capitalists, that is.)

The exploitation of workers will get worse as markets shrink due to the natural ills of capitalism—war, overproduction, squandering of resources and plunder of the natural environment.

The flesh on the backs of workers is capitalism’s only cash crop in this crisis.

That’s the primal, predatory nature of capitalism and that’s what places workers on the opposite side of the class line from capital. That’s what makes the self-interest of workers as a class diametrically opposed to the self-interests of the capitalists as a class. This is “economics 101.”

It makes no difference whether individual capitalists are “good” or “bad” because the fundamental need to make a profit, like breathing, overrides everything else. This is what makes the system of capitalist exploitation inexorably counterposed to the basic interests of humanity and the Earth itself.

Socialists have known for years that a transformation from a capitalist society, based upon the private ownership of the means of production and the private accumulation of profits by the owners of those means of production, must be replaced by a socialist society based upon production planned to fulfill human needs and wants instead.

Capitalism is a system that enslaves workers by giving them just enough to live on and to have children who will also become workers while keeping the profits workers create—well over and above what they are paid—to themselves.

Capitalists have proven they will use any means necessary to secure, preserve and expand their profit-taking power—from slavery to war, torture and occupation—whatever will help them to maintain and increase that power.

Socialists also know that a changeover from the tyranny of capitalism to socialism is a life or death necessity if we are to survive.

Ultimately, the continuation of life is the responsibility of working people because they are the only force strong enough to defeat capitalism. The realization of this profound strength and responsibility working people have in common is the key to securing the future of life on Earth.

And the only way to ensure this is for working people to organize and act in unity and solidarity with each other as a class—with the single-minded goal of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with socialism. Only such a united force will be powerful enough to make such a fundamental change possible.

What it will take to achieve unity and solidarity of workers across the globe must be defined in today’s world.

Where we’ve come from and where we are

This is not the 1940s and ’50s post-war period of fantastic growth of U.S. capitalism that put it on the top of the capitalist world heap—especially military industrialization—at a time when at least a third of all workers were organized into trade unions and were earning wages sufficient for home ownership with full benefits and retirement packages, i.e., the proverbial “American Dream.”

Of course, it was not all roses—especially if you were Black or working in un-unionized work places such as agriculture—but these were years of both capitalist economic growth and working class unity through the self-organization of massive and combative labor organizations. Their struggles and victories set the precedent of increasing wages and benefits for most working people.

The sit-ins and massive picket lines that were the legacy of industrial unionism in the 1930s set the example that lead, in the 1960s, to the formation of independent Black organizations fighting against segregation; for mass feminist organizations demanding reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work; for the burgeoning LGBT rights movement; even the massive, independent, anti-Vietnam War movement used the tried-and-true methods that led workers to victories such as mass, peaceful protest and the formation of independent, democratically-run organizations that acted as a united front in support of those movements. These tactics were used because they worked.

The existence of a massive U.S. Vietnam Antiwar War movement stood in tandem with the actions of the Vietnamese people who were fighting for their own self-determination against U.S. military tyranny. These two great forces finally brought an end to the war.

A false sense of security

Workers are worse off today; that is, they have less buying power today than they did in the 1970s if you take into account both the rise in prices and the stagnation of wages. What made it seem like workers were riding high for a long time was the massive extension of credit—money at a high price—made available to workers young and old. And there were things to buy—from cell phones to laptops—stuff that school kids carry around in their backpacks today.

Having gadgets such as TVs, video games or cell phones, does not make you rich, is not a sign of affluence, and doesn’t bring security and peace of mind. Because you can afford a TV or a cell phone doesn’t mean you can afford a place to live. All one need do is to look at the pile of stuff the sheriff sets out on the streets during an eviction to see that all that stuff amounts to nothing without a home to put it in.

All these gadgets—like the credit used to purchase them—are a facade hiding the reality that tens-of-millions of working people are a job away from homelessness right now, today, as they twitter away. And we can’t underestimate the impact this realization is beginning to have on people.

The crash in the economy has working people in a state of shock and awe—paralyzed like deer caught in headlights. They have been instantly thrust into fight or flight mode in danger of losing everything including their jobs at a moment’s notice with no relief in sight. People, including friends and family members, are being thrust into poverty and joblessness all around them—losing their cars and their homes. Certainly many of those family members can no longer function as a safety net as families typically do—many have already doubled-up with other family members.

And while the government bails out the wealthiest bankers and pours trillions more into the war coffers, working people are left on their own to either sink or swim against the tide of economic collapse. Worse yet, there have been few fightbacks.

That we must accept this economic catastrophe as a fait accompli seems to be the general consensus among working people. They are behaving as people who have already been defeated or who have given up before the fight because they see no realistic, alternative solutions.

However, reliance on the wealth belonging to the commanders of capital to “trickle down” to workers has not been a realistic solution to the economic crisis anymore than the bank bailouts stopped home foreclosures. And throwing trillions at war has done nothing to bring peace. The solutions offered by capitalism have already failed miserably. They are anything but realistic.

Who got the power?

That’s the irony, because it’s working people that do have potential to solve this crisis—and the ability to carry it out.

The accumulation of debt, the need for continuous access to credit to get by, combined with the lack of job security among workers, automatically gives the boss the upper hand. It pits workers against each other. “If someone is going to get fired it better not be me” is a natural response under these circumstances. And that’s just about where most workers who have jobs now are. They’re walking on eggshells. They are not readying themselves for defensive action that depends upon working class unity and solidarity. To do that you must believe that there’s a chance to win. Instead they are stepping back into their own corner and battening down the hatches.

This constant state of fear batters the intellect and makes workers feel powerless and helpless and, of course, that helps the bosses. The inability to provide your family with the things they need—especially a home—wreaks havoc on a person’s self-esteem and causes him or her to look inward and blame themselves or blame those around them. And, more importantly, blinds them to the possibilities for change that are in their hands as a class.

The giant daily media bombardment pounds this feeling of helplessness into working people from every conceivable angle. This is augmented by governmental and police control, drastically restricting the organization and expression of a unified voice for working people. The capitalists put every obstacle possible in the way of workers’ solidarity, from anti-labor laws to immigration laws—even to new restrictions on the right to protest and organize like restrictions on the formation of unions—not to speak of the prohibitive costs of running for public office.

Workers are the majority

Capitalists do all they can to make workers feel alone and helpless. But nothing could be further from the truth. Workers hold tremendous power because they are the social class that does the work. Without working people, nothing would get done.

The commanders of capital are a tiny percentage—less than 0.01 percent of the population—it would be impossible for them to get any work done without the workers to do their bidding. Workers are as essential as raw materials, energy and tools—it would be impossible for capitalists to get their hands on these resources without them. Capitalists don’t go down into the coalmines and extract the stuff themselves, any more than they fight on the battlefields of their own wars.

In fact, they couldn’t even make war without workers to build the bombs and serve as the cannon fodder. So how is it that the capitalists seem so almighty powerful? How is it that they have control over all the wealth that working people produce when workers far outnumber them?

That’s because there’s no democracy involved in determining who has control over the wealth workers create. There’s no democracy on the job regarding how much workers should get paid or what kind of working conditions they should work under or what quality of merchandise or services to offer.

Unless workers take it upon themselves to fight for better pay or working conditions they will have to settle for what they get and hope they can continue to hold on to it, and exist on it. It’s also true that having no say in the compensation one gets for the labor they expend or the quality of products they produce or the conditions under which they produce them alienates workers from their work.

Workers have the most powerful arsenal

Workers’ most powerful weapon is a peaceful one—and that is, simply, to withhold their labor until their demands (better pay and/or conditions for all workers on the job) are met.

The boss, on the contrary, in efforts to defeat the workers, must depend upon threats, intimidation, pitting one worker against the other, firings, threats to go out of business, calling out the National Guard or the police, even death-threats and outright murder and assassination.

Potentially, it’s workers that hold the real power. All workers have to do is democratically decide—en masse—to withhold their labor until they have ownership and control over the workplaces they already operate, and over the profits they create and, finally, to empower themselves to decide, democratically, how best to use what they create to best benefit everyone.

Capitalism is not necessary. Private ownership of the means of production by a tiny minority of greedy despots—and the wars they wage to maintain their power—is not necessary. The capitalist system is counter to the human instinct of taking care of each other.

A transition to socialism

Where capitalism divides and conquers, workers must make bridges of common concerns.

The first priority for workers is to organize, on a massive scale, to end the wars that bring so much death and destruction to their fellow workers, and at such a fantastic price.

Workers pay for the wars, the capitalists don’t. That money and those resources could be put to much better use. The trillions spent on war could go a long way to wiping out economic injustice the world over thereby eliminating the basic reasons for war in the first place.

Workers must organize a massive movement to ensure that everyone has a job. This demand must be paired with the most logical way to create enough jobs to go around. And that is to cut the workweek down according to how many people need jobs, without reducing the amount of weekly pay.

To ensure that all workers are compensated and treated fairly, they should receive equal pay for equal work and equal rights for all, everywhere across all borders. This includes the right of workers to find work wherever it’s available regardless of borders between countries or states. Workers have just as much right to cross borders as corporations and multi-millionaire tax evaders do.

Workers must have the right to freely form their own independent organizations to implement changes that will benefit them. Again, workers have this right because they do the work and are the majority.

However, until workers can institute real majority rule, they must organize to win concessions such as an end to the wars, for the right to organize in their own defense on the job without interference by either the boss or the government, for free healthcare, education, housing, food, safe and clean worksites, and a healthy and clean environment.

These are things that all people have the right to expect as members of society. And, until we can get rid of this unfair capitalist system that stands squarely in the way of human justice and freedom, we must insist that the rich pay the taxes to afford these basic necessities. All these things can be paid for out of the huge profits the capitalists already have and continue to amass and squander selfishly on themselves.

The tables of capitalist power can be turned if workers organize every job site and every community into an independent, democratic, organization based on fighting for the basic human rights of the working class—and that can stand up and defend these rights as one unified force that acts together in defense of human rights.

This is the first step toward workers seizing their own destiny and creating a world by, for and of, all the people. It’s the only realistic solution to ending the violent and unjust world that capitalism has created.

The key is to realize that capitalism only has the power to plunder and destroy the world. That’s its nature. Only workers have the power to change the world for the better.