“American labor has been in continuing conflict with capitalism since the mid-19th century when the Industrial Revolution changed forever the relationship between worker and employer.” — Jack Henning, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, August 1994.
The plans of a labor government to improve the condition of workers would be met by a huge outcry from big business and its mass media: “You can’t do that – because it will lower our profits.” “If we can’t make a profit, then we will have to lay-off workers or close down.” In effect, labor will face a strike of capital. Big business will sabotage every attempt for fundamental change. It will move its money overseas, it will speculate against the US currency, it will sabotage production. All these actions will have one intention – to stop the labor government implementing its policies, and thus compromise it in the eyes of the working class.
The labor government will very quickly be faced with the problem of how to carry out its program at a time of deep crisis of capitalism. The present economic crisis of capitalism stretches around the globe. In Japan, Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, the cry is the same – lay off workers, cut wages, compete with the lowest wage economy. In this economic reality, an incoming labor government will not be able to fund the economic policies necessary to transform conditions of workers, and allow big business to make a profit. But if big business is not allowed to make a profit, then it won’t invest, it won’t leave its capital in the US, and the economy will collapse.
It is in this context that the question of socialist policies and socialism has to be raised. There will be many in the movement, especially among the union leaders, who will consider it a distraction to discuss the ideas of socialism. Unfortunately it is these same leaders who signed concessionary contracts in the 1980s, without considering how this would weaken the unions in the future. This is mainly due to the deep traditions of pragmatism in the US, which leads people to address the immediate problems at hand, without feeling a need to look at the broader picture, and without considering what obstacles might come up along the road. However, the question of socialism, even at this stage of the movement for a labor party, is an issue of central importance if the conditions of working people are to be improved.
The ideas of socialism have been attacked by big business and the mass media uninterruptedly since they were first developed. This is to be expected, since socialists believe that the interests of the majority of the population, the working class, should have preference over the interests of the tiny minority of the capitalist class who presently control power in society.
The ideas of socialism have nothing to do with the former regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which were not socialist. These were planned economies run by a bureaucracy who developed for themselves the lifestyles of millionaires, and destroyed the workers’ democracy which began to develop after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Even so, because of the planned economy, production in the Soviet Union grew six and a half times between 1918 and 1965. Eventually, this bureaucratic control strangled the economy and led to the recent move to restore capitalism.
A Socialist Alternative
The basis of socialist ideas is that profit is the unpaid labor of the working class. All the products of society are produced by the labor of workers. Workers produce the wealth. However, ownership of the factories and workplaces in the US is in the hands of big business. The capitalist laws in the US say that because they own the factories, then they can set the rules at the workplace and take the profits. Workers are forced to work for a set wage. However, during each workday, workers produce more value than contained in the wages that are paid them by the bosses. This unpaid labor by workers is called profit, and is expropriated by the capitalist class. This leaves workers producing goods of more value than they receive in wages. Workers are unable to buy back all the goods they produce. Since workers buy over two thirds of all goods in the economy, this inevitably leads to economic recessions and slumps.
The solution of a big business is to act to defend their profits. This means cutting wages, so they get a greater share of the wealth coming out of the factories. But this further cuts into workers’ buying power, and leads to a further fall in production lay-offs and depressions. This is the logic of capitalism since its first appearance in the mid-1860s. This failure of the capitalists to systematically reinvest their profits into new factories and new production leads to a deepening economic crisis and throws society into crisis.
It was Karl Marx who first understood this and put forward an alternative. That alternative, socialism, said that since workers produce the wealth, then the workers can run the economy without the capitalist class. He explained that the capitalist class does not contribute anything to production. Far from profit being the motor of the economy, as is repeated every day, the role of the capitalist is destructive, since if he cannot make a profit, he will lay off workers, close plants and destroy good productive factories. This leaves productive workers on the streets unemployed, more metal on the scrap market and the nation a little poorer.
By the working class coming to power and creating a democratic plan of production, the economy can be taken out of the blind and destructive forces of the market and profit, and directed in a way that best meets the needs of the majority. In essence, this is democracy being introduced into the economy. Thus, economic decisions would be made by the majority, for the majority, rather than by the minority in the interests of the minority.
By following socialist policies, a Labor government would have the resources available to it to implement its program, and transform the lives of working people across the nation.
The first task would be to create jobs and to end poverty and unemployment. With socialist policies and a democratic plan of production, a huge program of investment into productive jobs could begin. The 14 million unemployed and under-employed workers could be found jobs on the basis of a massive public works program to rebuild the cities, and provide decent housing and education in the poor rural areas. Those working on these projects could be paid decent living wages and be paid full benefits.
The slums could be replaced by decent integrated housing available to all workers, beginning with those with most need. Roads, schools, hospitals and community centers could be built. In this way conditions in the inner cities would be transformed. As part of this would be a comprehensive program of training to provide all workers with the necessary skills. Jobs would be provided to those living in the neighborhoods, on a first-come-first-serve basis with employment decided by representatives of the unions and the community to put an end to racist hiring practices.
At the same time a national review would take place of the productive resources available to the incoming Labor government. Its policies would then start to reallocate economic resources to provide for the needs of workers in all areas of their lives. The first priority would be to provide food, housing, decent clothing, subsidized heating fuel, furniture, medical help and other important needs. At the same time resources would be put into making education, retraining, culture, music, sports and other important cultural activity available to everyone. Also, by sharing out work, the workweek could be reduced to 30 hours a week and less.
Make Big Business Pay
All of this could be financed out of the profits, rent and interest that goes to the richest 1%, and the huge boost such a program would give to the economy. An enormous amount of new wealth would be created by these programs. This would allow decent wages to be paid to all workers. Through bringing the banks and insurance companies into public ownership, and out of the profit-making business, then financing would be available for those projects that need them, rather than the banks being the personal speculating tool of the top 1%. The fraud that was committed by these individuals in the Savings and Loan scandal, would have been enough to transform the lives of tens of millions of workers.
Women’s rights would be truly defended. A free national childcare plan would relieve an enormous stress from families. At present, much of the labor of workers ending up in million-dollar salaries, multiple mansions, expensive yachts, foreign bank accounts and expensive executive privileges. By stopping this gravy train for the rich, all workplaces, community centers and education centers could have child care facilities available free of use.
Enormous resources would be opened up by socialist policies. From 1973 to 1992, the US economy began to slow down due to the crisis of the capitalist system on a world scale. If the 4% a year growth rate that had been achieved between 1960 and 1973 had continued in the years after that, $12.1 trillion extra Gross National Product would have been created. That $12.1 trillion is five times all the budget deficits in the last 15 years! $12.1 trillion is enough to pay 28 million workers a salary of $25,000 a year for each of those 17 years. This is just the amount of money that was wasted by the slowdown in the economy over the last 17 years. It is a fraction of what could be achieved by expanding the productive possibilities in the economy with socialist policies.
Socialist policies would be tailored to creating long-term stability – good long-lasting products, decent housing, etc. There would be no gains to be made from short-term profit, shoddy materials and defective products, which are so profitable under capitalism. Housing would be built to last, and its value would be available to workers for longer. This would easily cover the cost of constructing it.
Racism is a weapon used by big business to divide the working class. The working class would have no need for it and would discard it. Since decent living standards could be won by all, then there would be no privileged elite to defend. Policing would be taken out of the hands of representatives of big business. Labor-community committees would take responsibility for all aspects of public safety and policing. These bodies would be elected and accountable to the population they serve.
Cancel the National Debt
The $5 trillion national debt, which is a threat to the economic livelihood of every worker under capitalism, would be canceled. The National Debt represents Treasury Bonds sold to rich investors, who receive high rates of interest, and whose repayment is guaranteed by the government. Meanwhile we are paying the interest of over $200 billion on this debt through our taxes. However, 95% of these Treasury Bonds are owned by the richest 1% of Americans. A Labor government could cancel this national debt, with no repayment to the rich investors. Those ordinary workers who happened to own Treasury Bonds would of course be reimbursed, or their investment protected.
Big business would cry “thief” at many of these socialist policies. However, a Labor government could simply refresh the memory of workers about who suffered in previous depressions, bank collapses, and the junk bond buy-outs in the 1980s. In the bank crash of 1932, when thousands and thousands of workers stood freezing in line outside banks to try to recover a part of their life savings circled the banks, the rich investors had pulled their money out in advance. In this unnatural disaster, it was the tens of millions of workers and small farmers whose lives were shattered and hopes dashed. A Labor government should point to the super-profits made by the rich in the 1980s, and how the top 1% had been well compensated. However, a Labor government, unlike big business in the 1930s, would guarantee a job for every person in the country who was able to work.
Of course, as a newly elected labor government began to implement its socialist policies, it would immediately face a massive resistance from big business. In this situation, the labor government would need to rally workers and youth to its support. Through mass demonstrations, by introducing workers’ democratic control at all levels of society, including the armed forces, then the newly-elected leaders of the working class in Congress and the presidency would not become isolated, but would rest on the huge power and strength of a mobilized and conscious working class – the vast majority of the population. In that way, big business, and the forces it would try to mobilize, would become isolated and defeated. By introducing exchange controls, and taking into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy, any attempt by the rich to send their capital overseas would be stopped.
Expansion of Democracy
A Labor government committed to implementing socialist policies would expand democratic rights into all areas of life. This would include the rights of students, parents and school workers to participate in running the schools and colleges. It would also extend workers democratic control of the workplaces. It would also take the newspapers, TV and radio stations, etc. out of the hands of the tiny minority who presently control them. All areas of media would be open to all groups in society that can prove they have support in society. With today’s and tomorrow’s technology, the population could easily gain access to all, the information they need to participate in decision-making at all levels of society.
The coming to power of a Labor government committed to socialist policies could transform the lives of every worker, youth and senior citizen. Insecurity, fear, hunger and discrimination based on sex, race or sexual orientation would be ended. The scars inflicted on this generation by the system would not so quickly heal. But future generations would be spared the anguish of the present generation. With democratic accountability, and through the participation of every person in running society, a new nation could be built. This would be possible by adopting socialist policies and building socialism.
However, a labor government that came to power and decided to work within the framework of capitalism would find its hands tied. Big business would attack it everyday, exposing its failures. Without having control of the economic levers of power – the ownership by the rich of the top 500 corporations which dominate the economy – then the Labor government would be unable to implement its policies. In fact, it would have to implement new cuts in an attempt to convince big business to invest their profits.
Such a labor government would disappoint its best supporters, and betray the expectation of workers across the country. In that situation a huge debate would develop in the ranks of the labor party, with the ideas of socialism gaining increased support.
Ideas of Socialism Rooted in the Experience of Workers
The ideas of socialism are not foreign to the working class in the US or other countries. They are the only ideas that consistently meet their real needs. At times of increased crisis and struggle, they have continually reemerged. From their first appearance in the middle of the 1800s, to their growing support in the early 20th century, and to their reemergence in the 1930s, they have appeared in different forms and been represented by different organizations.
More recently, big business whipped up McCarthyism in the early 1950s in an attempt to exterminate the traditions of the 1930s, and the support for the ideas of socialism. However, as the black revolt of the 1950s and 1960s continued to grow and strengthen, new traditions of militancy reemerged. The black revolt was an inspiring struggle by the most oppressed section of US society. They led to new organizations and leaders to emerge who challenged the idea of working with the Democratic Party and who began to challenge capitalism.
Martin Luther King
In the last years of his life, Martin Luther King began to move more clearly to seeing the struggle in terms of a struggle of classes. In 1966 he said, “The movement to date has done much for the middle class but little for the black underclass. We are dealing with class issues. Something is wrong with capitalism … maybe America must move towards democratic socialism.” In August 1967, he said “the movement must change itself from a reform movement to a revolutionary movement. We must see the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are tied together and you cannot get rid of one without getting rid of the other.” He also spoke of the need to unite blacks and labor, and he increasingly have his resources to union organizing drives. When he was shot in Memphis he was there helping garbage collection workers who were on strike. He was also in the process of organizing the Poor People’s March on Washington.
In 1965, Malcolm X, after his break with the Black Muslims said, “the system in this country cannot produce freedom for an African-American. You cannot have capitalism without racism.” Bobby Seale, leader of the Black Panther Party said in 1968., “We do not fight racism with racism. We fight racism with solidarity. We do not fight capitalism with black capitalism, we fight capitalism with socialism… The very nature of the capitalist system is to exploit and enslave people, all people. So we have to progress to a level of socialism to solve these problems.” Unfortunately, as these black leaders were moving in the direction of class solidarity and socialism, and becoming more of a threat to big business, the labor leaders failed to support them, and were explaining to their members that their livelihood was best served by staying within the framework of capitalism. This left these militant black leaders more isolated and open to the ferocious repression that came down upon their heads, and the assassination of many of their leaders.
In the 1970s the movement ebbed. During the 1980s conditions for the majority of black workers deteriorated further. Conditions in the inner cities became a nightmare. Black youth saw no jobs and no future. Murder became the number one cause of death for black youth. But, out of the despair of the 1980s, and awakened by the uprising in LA, gang truces have spread across the country. An important layer of youth have turned away from killing other black youth to look for the causes of their problems. They have turned to unity against the oppressive and racist police system, and also are increasingly identifying capitalism as the cause of their problems. Conditions are preparing a new generation to pick up the baton from where it was left by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers of the 1960s.
At a national Gang Peace Summit in 1993 members from 67 different gangs committed themselves to end police brutality, and forge economic, community and spiritual empowerment. One leader defended these steps forward: “We’ve been accused of trying to build a black army. If trying to raise the consciousness of our brothers and sisters is building a black army, then that’s what we’re doing.” One of the youngest leaders said “We are a new movement. We are a revolution. We will transform this society.”
The conditions of crisis in California have seen the California Labor Federation take the lead in giving labor a new direction. Not only did its 1994 convention endorse the idea of a massive program of public works and single payer health insurance, but it also endorsed the idea of a labor party. Executive Treasurer Jack Henning opened the convention with a speech which condemned capitalism and quoted Karl Marx. He explained that “Global unionism is the answer to global capitalism.” He went on to say, “We were meant for a higher destiny, we were never meant to be the lieutenants of capitalism.”
All the way through the history of the labor movement, there has been a debate between those who want to move towards socialism and those who want to stay within capitalism. In essence it has been a struggle for workers and youth and the organizations of labor, to break away from the ideas and influence of big business and its media and political parties.
Experience of Labor Governments
The experience has been that whenever workers parties have been elected and have decided to stay within the framework of capitalism, then they have failed to transform the lives of workers. This has been the experience of the NDP (Canada’s labor party) which came to power in three provinces in the last couple of years. In Ontario, the NDP was elected on a program of reforms. As soon as the NDP came to power, the rich blackmailed the government by threatening to move industry out of the province. The financial markets conspired against the government.
Bob Rae, the leader of the NDP government should have responded by immediately explaining the situation to the people and mobilizing the population around the slogan “Who Rules Ontario – the votes or big business?” On this basis a movement could have been built which would have had enormous support to bring the banks and major industries into public ownership. This would have allowed the government to implement its program of reforms. Instead, he backed down, and began to retreat from his program of reforms. Within a year, he was attacking workers and students in a vain attempt to placate big business to support his policies.
A similar experience happened with the 1974-79 Labor government in Britain and the Socialist government that was elected to power in France in 1981. Because of their retreat in the face of demands of big business, they then disappointed the workers who voted them in, and were subsequently voted out of office.
In the coming period, many in the labor movement who oppose a labor party will attempt to point to these experiences in France, Canada and other countries to argue that it is pointless to build a labor party. However, just the existence of these workers’ parties has forces big business to make concessions such as universal healthcare, guaranteed vacation time longer than in the US, etc. The real lesson is that a labor party, once elected, needs to implement socialist policies and transform society in order to finally create a society where a decent life is guaranteed to all workers regardless of age, sex or race.
In the coming struggle to build a labor party, it is essential that a socialist program is developed that will inspire support from all layers of workers, and that can solve our problems.
A Socialist Program
- A Guaranteed real, full-time job for all; a $12.50 minimum wage and a $500 per week minimum income.
- A 30-hour workweek with no loss of pay.
- No cuts in any public services; full funding for all community needs.
- Mass pickets and workplace occupations to stop union busting, plant closures, layoffs and win decent contracts.
- Organize the unorganized.
- Free higher education for all high school graduates.
- Free socialized medicine.
- End pollution and environmental destruction by big business.
- End all forms of racism, sexism, discrimination and division within the working class. Equal pay for equal work.
- End attacks on Immigrants.
- End police brutality and harassment through labor and community committees to control all aspects of public safety.
- All union and public officials to be paid the same as the average worker.
- Public ownership of the top 500 corporations and a socialist plan of production under democratic management and control of the workers themselves.
- For a society based on the needs of the majority, not the profits of the minority.
- For a democratic socialist world to end hunger, war and environmental destruction.By adopting such a program it will allow a Labor Party to inspire millions of workers that it will deal with the problems they face. It will also prepare workers and youth for the policies that need to be implemented in order to finally end the conditions of insecurity, fear and poverty that are plaguing growing layers of workers in the 1990s.
In coming to power, the working class could reach out to workers across the globe. Workers in the US would end the big-business policies of using foreign policy to suppress and hold down movements of workers in other countries, to ensure higher profits for the US multinational corporations. The technology of the US could help transform these countries if power was in the hands of the workers and small farmers.
A socialist US would be a beacon to workers around the world. It would lead to the largest movement of workers ever, as the chief protector of dictators and generals. US big business would have been removed from power. Dictatorships would fall, and revolutionary movements would erupt around the globe. With economic support cut off from these dictators, they would soon fall. In fact, US workers would look to help all the genuine workers movements around the world to organize their own movements and to come to power.
Instead of the world being a market for exploitation by a handful of huge multinational corporations, under socialism it would be organized to unite the resources and skills of workers. A new world could be built without wars and without starvation and famine. The largest US export to many countries would no longer be military equipment and ammunition, but equipment and skilled manpower to help them build up their economies and transform their lives. A democratic socialist workers government would be able to construct an economy which would maintain the long-term health of the planet.
With a democratic plan of production, and an end to the artificial distortion of national economies in the underdeveloped world because of their plunder for cheap raw materials and foodstuffs by the big corporations, then industry could start to develop around the world. This would transform these national economies. They would then lead to the end of the division of the world into a few rich advanced countries, and the remainder of the world living in abject poverty, not by driving down the wages of workers in the more advanced industrial countries, but by raising up the wages of workers around the world to the highest levels.
With power taken out of the hands of big business the ruling classes around the world the present wave of civil wars, ethnic cleansing and wars would tend to die down. Since there would no longer be a small minority who would gain by exploiting a larger national minority, then democratic decisions could be made about how different communities and nations wish to live. The principle of self-determination would be established as a democratic right for all peoples. With democratic socialist policies, a socialist federation of the world would allow the harmonious development of all the peoples of the world.
Workers Unity Against NAFTA
In 1994, workers and peasants in Mexico, Canada and the United states were joined together under the yoke of NAFTA. US big business saw this treaty as a means to increase its power and privilege. However, every president who originally signed the agreement is no longer in office. The biggest uprising in over 80 years has occurred in Mexico, the peso has collapsed and Mexico has been thrown into crisis. The Tory government has been humiliated by being reduced to only 2 seats in parliament in Canada. In the US, George Bush was defeated and there is growing support for a labor party.
Already the working classes of these countries and internationally have begun to unite to defend their interests. The 1990s will be a decade of unprecedented struggles. Us workers can now strike a blow for workers in all three countries by organizing and building a labor party. The creation of a labor party would be noticed by every workers around the globe. Inside the belly of the beast they would see the emergence of a new ally – the US working class.