Socialist Alternative

You’re Not Crazy; The Economy Still Sucks

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You’re wheeling your grocery cart through the aisles, picking up what you need for another week of feeding yourself and your family. You’re clutching a Post-It note with your list on it, crossing things off as you go and mentally adding up the prices as you walk. While you do, it feels like you’re playing a game of what’s cheap this week, and what is suddenly very expensive. Two pounds of ground beef is $8.50… that can’t be right, can it? You hurriedly strike it from your list and replace it with a cheaper protein – maybe chicken, or maybe even just beans.

The weekly routine of going to the grocery store, where average prices are still up 20% compared to three years ago, has become a psychological roulette wheel. Some weeks you come away feeling like things aren’t so bad, and then other weeks you feel acutely the limitations of your wallet and the encroaching hold of debt.

While legions of pundits have been crowing from the rooftops that inflation is over and that the economy is actually doing great, the cold hard reality is that 40% of Americans reported last year that they’re struggling to make ends meet – up from 34% in 2022, and 26% in 2021. To see that this pain is very acutely felt at the grocery store, just look at Aldi, one of the most popular bargain grocery companies: it just launched a five-year expansion plan that will add 800 locations in the US, as more shoppers turn to their stores to cut down on spending.

But it’s not just groceries. The strain comes from all angles – rent that is constantly going up, healthcare that’s getting more expensive, the skyrocketing costs of dining out and live entertainment and other simple pleasures that make our lives enjoyable. The bottom line is that you’re not crazy; the economy still sucks for an average person or family. 

Why Does Everything Still Cost So Much?

The truth is that the rising cost of almost everything isn’t due to any one thing – not even inflation – but a combination of crises that overlap and intensify each other.

For example: the cost of chicken is expected to rise dramatically this year, because of a serious outbreak of H5N1, or avian flu, which has been going on since 2022. Avian flu is getting worse, along with other diseases that affect livestock, for two main reasons. One, climate change’s warming temperatures, which cause better conditions for viruses and bacteria to thrive, and two, capitalist profiteering, which demand that hundreds of thousands of chickens be crammed together in the smallest space possible in order to meet demand and beat the competition, which gives the ideal conditions for avian flu to spread.

Then, factor in the war in Ukraine, a major producer of grain needed to feed livestock, and the growing threat of war expanding to larger parts of the world from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and you see how the general instability in the world right now causes a domino effect. And at the end of the line of dominos is the international working class, which bears the brunt of all of the crises – from being the soldiers and casualties in war, to the workers who come into contact with diseases like avian flu at the farms and factories, to the families who have to abandon their homes and flee from climate-fuelled floods and fires, to you, standing at the grocery store.

If that feels overwhelming, it’s because it definitely is. So how can we as working people protect ourselves from the downward spiral? 

Defending Ourselves Against The Crisis

There isn’t an individual answer to the constant onslaught of increasing prices. You can find a cheaper apartment and move in with roommates, go to a cheaper grocery store and limit what you buy, and cut down on fun experiences like going out with friends – but eventually, you run out of thrifty moves, especially if you have children or dependents to feed. The question is not how to limit our lives to fit our wallets, but what we need to organize and fight for to relieve the constant pressure on our bank accounts.

In the United States, this overwhelmingly means we need to organize a powerful movement to win policies that guarantee workers a decent life, affordable health care, and liveable rents. Worthwhile programs like food stamps and unemployment are underfunded and virtually inaccessible for all but the most impoverished workers, Social Security isn’t enough for anyone to retire on, and Americans pay more for healthcare than almost any other nation and get less for it. Winning a massive expansion of the social safety net, paid for by taxing the wealthiest people in society, would prevent working families from going from “broke” to “bankrupt”, and put us all in a better position to fight for even more gains.

This is a key task for a growing labor movement. Taking on these campaigns is not only of strategic importance to bring working people in droves towards unions, but these large-scale demands would be near impossible to win without labor’s power to organize in key industries and shut down workplaces. But if you’re one working-class person looking at prices in the grocery aisle, what’s your next move?

If you’re a union worker, it’s critical to get involved in your union and talk to your coworkers about beginning to fight for a contract that can support the needs of workers, like higher wages and health insurance. If you don’t have a union, there may be a campaign to unionize your workplace already going on – or you may even be able to start one with coworkers if conditions are good for such a campaign. Our individual actions need to point to what’s collectively necessary: building a strong labor movement that can put its thumb on the scale against the interests of our bosses, and in our favor.

We also need to use our position as workers in control of the economy to fight for our interests in the political arena. There are many activist and socialist organizations, including Socialist Alternative, that you can join and participate in to strengthen the movement. Ultimately, we need to fight for a workers’ party that can fight back against the two capitalist parties, the Republicans and Democrats, and act as a center of gravity in our communities to organize for better lives at all levels of society.

If we do, we can finally pull ourselves out of the clearance bins and into better lives.

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