This Economic Crisis is an Emergency for the Working Class

February 22, 2002

Report to the National Committee

Capitalism may well be facing its worst crisis since the Crash of 1929. I say that fully aware that, as a friend of mine once put it, you Communists have accurately predicted ten out of the last 2 real economic crises.

Regardless, this crisis is real and all the rosy predictions of the Bush Administration can’t undue basic laws of capitalist development. Time doesn’t allow an in-depth presentation on the economy, but there are some good indicators. While the BLS reported 89,000 manufacturing jobs lost to the economy in January, more than 212,000 job cuts were announced that same month. 40,000 of those job cut announcements are in auto, one of the most basic industries. New rounds of cuts in steel seem likely. Overall, manufacturing, the most intensive value and wealth producing sector of the economy, still continues to be hardest hit. Capital spending in manufacturing also remains in decline.

Worldwide, the AFL-CIO estimates that 30 million workers will soon loose their jobs. Industrial capacity is being slashed worldwide. This might explain the mood inside the World Economic Forum this past weekend here in New York. Outside the demonstrations were great and lively. Inside global gloom and doom was thick. As the New York Times coverage suggested, perhaps the delegates from Asia, South America, Africa and Europe have a greater grasp of economic reality in the capitalist world.

Just a few other negative economic indicators Enron, Tyco, Grand Crossings, K-Mart. You get the idea. Good indicators of a deepening crisis.

Increased military and ‘homeland security’ spending are having a mild ‘Keynesian’ effect on the economy. But, military spending is inflationary spending that produces goods and services not circulated in the consumer economy. Sustained military spending can aggravate monetary and debt imbalances. Further, military spending creates very few jobs per dollar spent.

Lets make no mistake Bush’s military spending is a grave attack on the working class at home as well. War and peace has always been a class issue and it is in the case of Bush’s phony war on terrorism too. Bush is wrapping attacks on labor, civil and democratic rights in the flag of his phony war. Yet it’s clear that there will be no money to rebuild this country, to solve the steel crisis, to solve the housing, healthcare and social security crisis if Bush is allowed to continue with his corporate and imperialist priorities.

The Bush budget plan is the sharp edge of that attack. It is disaster for the working class and oppressed people. The ultra right in Congress are determined to balance war spending and corporate profiteering on the backs of workers. Look at the major proposed cuts: severe and unbelievable cuts in job training, cuts in Medicare and cuts in jobs-creating highway and infrastructure spending. This is on top of one of the biggest transfers of wealth in history called the Bush tax cuts. Incredibly, Bush plans to short Medicare by $300 billion in the next ten years leading inevitably to cuts in benefits and certainly dooming a prescription drug benefit.

Of course the working class is not standing still. The demonstrations this past weekend at the World Economic Forum with the participation of the AFL-CIO are good indicators. We have other exciting examples like the school workers in Ashtabula, the LTV steelworkers, and the autoworkers in New Jersey.

One of our workshops will focus on economic struggles. We hope to get a better picture of where the clubs and districts are in these struggles. How is the crisis affecting your community or workplace? What are the special effects of this crisis on racially and nationally oppressed communities? How are we responding? What initiatives can the party take to help build a fight against the immediate life and death threats of unemployment, health care, housing, and hunger.

Art will also present some thinking on a party economic program that we hope will be useful not only as a guide to action, but as a Communist, class struggle framework for our initiatives and action.

The fact that so much of this crisis is hitting basic manufacturing workers is of special importance to us. We have a policy of industrial concentration because of our understanding of the key role played by mass production workers within the working class and within the capitalist system.

In this crisis we are not so well placed as we have been in the past. We have fewer mass production workers and therefore may not be as tuned in to the severity of the crisis. But we all know that things are bad and getting worse for millions. We know that African American, Mexican American and other oppressed workers, who are sizable and key sections of the mass production industries, are especially hard hit. So in light of our science, and in light of our positioning, we have to be extra attentive to the critical struggles facing mass production workers.

I think we need to find focus and theme for our work. Without being narrow or parochial we need to strive for nationwide themes of struggle that compliment and blend with local struggles. The emergency crisis facing the unemployed is just such a theme. There are over 8 million officially unemployed. The only reason the unemployment rate is going down is because millions (and I do mean millions) have given up looking for work. The AFL-CIO says two million people will run out of unemployed benefits this year. And 60% of those losing their jobs are not getting any benefits at all.

This is a cutting edge issue that we Communists have quite a history with. I think we need to prioritize getting national unemployment reform that federalizes and standardizes benefits: reform that includes benefits for the duration of unemployment, that includes first time job seekers, that expands coverage to all the unemployed and that includes family health care coverage.

I fully realize that there is no magic bullet and no single issue around which all else revolves. Yet such mass movements in our history have helped tie together and focus social, political and economic struggles of the day.

Regardless we do have to leave this meeting with militant resolve. Deeply rooted in every fiber of our history and our ideology is action on the emergency needs of our people, indeed it is deeply rooted in our class. That was the response of the rescue workers to 9.11. We have to challenge ourselves, our clubs and our districts to just such an emergency response to this crisis of millions.


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