Across the country, more working people are losing our jobs and our homes. Each week, the ranks of those running out of our unemployment benefits grow. In every state, public schools and programs that serve poor and working people are being cut. Health care is in crisis and congress is debating another bailout for the insurance companies. Oppressed nationality – Black, Chicano, Latino, Asians and Native Americans – are hit the hardest by the economic crisis.
Some in government, the media and a few economists say the economic crisis is over and that “we have turned a corner.” This is a joke that’s not funny. More money flowing into the stock market does not change the fact that life is getting worse for the people of the United States. Bailouts for the banks let the bankers maintain the standard of living they are accustomed to – the best mansions, vacations, cars and luxuries money can buy. The rest of us get what is left, which is less than we had before.
There are talking heads who say we all should be glad that things are not getting worse as fast as they were before. Try using this happy talk to pay the grocer, landlord, or gas station and you will end up hungry, homeless, and sitting by the side of the road. The fact that the pace of home foreclosures is slowing and that growth in the ranks of the unemployed are not growing quite so fast is not reason to rejoice – it is reason to be angry and to do something about it. It’s time to fight back
What we need is a powerful movement of working and oppressed people that puts our demands for jobs, income, housing, education and justice front and center. The sad fact of the matter is that we cannot have faith that either of the two political parties of big business will address our needs. For example, 48 of the 50 states are experiencing budget crises, where programs that serve poor and working people are on the chopping block. In each of the states the Democratic Party has proved to be a party of cuts to the programs that serve us. At the federal level there are plans to send 30,000 more combat troops to Afghanistan. Each soldier will cost over $1 million a year, money that is not available for needs here at home. Is the Republican Party worse? Sure, in general it is. But opponents are opponents and the point here is that working people need to take things into our own hands.
Since the economic crisis began there have been bright spots of resistance to the attacks on our standard of living. At the onset of the crisis, the Republic Windows and Doors workers of Chicago lit a light that illuminated the way forward. They occupied their factory until they got justice.
In recent months, the successful strikes at SK Hand Tools in Chicago, the GEO strike in Urbana, Illinois and the SEPTA transit workers strike in Philadelphia demonstrated that it is possible to make some gains in hard times. The militant fight of homeowners like Rosemary Williams and Leslie Parks in Minnesota show that is possible to build real battles against foreclosures and evictions. And students and workers at the University of California campuses showed that it is possible to build huge mass struggles against the attacks on public education.
In October, more than 150 trade unionists, community leaders, immigrant rights, housing and student activists came together in Chicago and created the Network for Economic Justice. This shows there is both a need and a desire for more coordination and organization among those who are standing up to the effects of the economic crisis.
In the period ahead it is vital that every effort is made to build the struggle to defend our standard of living. Where militant local struggles break out and can serve as an example to the working class as a whole, support should be built regionally and nationally. A single spark can start a prairie fire. The lessons of these battles should be spread far and wide.
Because the African American, Chicano, Latino and other oppressed nationality communities are being hit the hardest by the economic crisis, serious attention needs to be paid to building the fight against racial discrimination and for the defense of programs and institutions that serve the communities.
The same goes for the struggle of undocumented workers, who face mass firings as a result of forced ‘verification’ programs along with raids and deportations. The demand for full equality and legalization needs to be advanced as attacks on immigrant workers are resisted. The determination of the California workers at American Apparel and Overhill Farms to fight mass firings deserves the support of workers everywhere.
Now is the time to go all out in building the struggles of working and oppressed people. The rich and powerful who rule the United States have a plan. They want to shift the burden of the crisis onto the backs of working people. Bailouts for banks, job cuts and attacks on the social safety net make this crystal clear. There is a way out. We can build our fights, and as we do so, can educate and organize to put an end to a system – capitalism- that puts profits before people.