Thursday, July 12, 2012

San Bernardino: US society crumbling as the 1% gorge themselves

“Labor Costs Push San Bernardino Near Bankruptcy” reads a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal.  So another US municipality in California is about to become a community with even fewer social services and on the edge of collapse. Communities throughout the US are in a similar situation as the worlds most powerful economy and military power can no longer provide even the basic necessities for its citizens as it struggles to maintain its global prominence in the race for profits.

Seventy percent of homeowners in San Bernardino owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.  After years of being told that our homes are a sure guarantee of security in later years or as a the piggy bank from which funds can be drawn for that medical emergency (the greatest source of bankruptcies here in the US), college costs or security in old age; millions of Americans are now in a similar position----those that haven’t had their homes taken from them by the banks that is.

Further to the north, Stockton faces the same fate and holds the crown as the largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy.  The cause of all this we are expected to believe is public expenditures, social spending whether on services or the price of Labor power (wages) to bring us those services.  We have pointed out many times on this blog that after their successful offensive against what was the benchmark for US workers with regard to wages, benefits and security, the UAW and auto workers, the capitalist class through their two political parties need to bring the public sector Unions to heel and eliminate all the gains made over the last 60 years. 

Without public sector workers, the US workforce is under 7% organized.  Our wages and benefits have generally been somewhat better and our workplaces somewhat more humane and secure protected to an extent from the savagery of the market. This situation does not set a good example as far as the 1% are concerned.  Public sector pensions, more often defined benefit systems, have to be brought under control.  We can’t have people receiving pensions they can actually live on. Why would they work?  Never ending insecurity is the aim.

The world economy is in trouble; US capitalism no longer holds complete global dominance except in military power and that is under threat as nations like China gain influence; US capitalism is being challenged on all sides.

American workers have to face the fact that we have seen the best US capitalism has to offer; things will not get better in general. At its peak in the post Second World War era when it dominated the world economy unrivaled, US capitalism was unable even then to provide the majority of its population with health care, education housing etc. 

Labor costs and what we allocate to social services is our wealth returned to us in the form of maintenance of human life.  To the Obama’s and Romney’s of this world and the class that governs society, that owns the forces of production, distribution and exchange, human society is no different than any other business, it must return a profit for those that own and control how it functions. If people don’t have money to pay for food, they will starve. We have to reject that human social society should be run like a business. It is not workers’ pensions that are the cause of the crisis and the attacks on our social existence.  It is not the cost of the Labor power that provides these vital services, limited as they are.  Crisis is built in to the capitalist mode of production. The economist and philosopher Karl Marx described this aspect of capitalist production 165 years ago:

“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

And here we are.

Labor costs are 80% of San Bernardino’s budget says the mayor’s son who appears to be an unpaid spokesperson for the city. So what, such costs are simply an allocation of capital to social services. And as we are told that basic social services are too extravagant, that we have to return to “living within our means” and embrace “shared sacrifice” as the political representatives of capital like to remind us, it is revealed today that it was Leon Black who paid $120 million for Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream”. 

And what does Black, who has a $750 million art collection and said by Forbes to be worth $3.4 billion, do?  He was a coupon clipper with the firm Drexel Burnham Lambert that makes money out of destroying peoples lives and is now CEO of another firm that represents these wasters.  In other words, he’s a gambler and speculator. And keep that figure in mind that Joseph Stiglitz gives us: 6 members of the Walton family have more wealth than 90 million Americans. The first obstacle we have to overcome is our own belief that we can’t provide a good life for all. We don’t need to take cuts and we can expand social services, work shorter hours, have more leisure, provide housing, health care education and jobs for all and participate in the running of society.  We must build a movement to drive back the capitalist offensive and provide us with what we need not what they say is "realistic". We can make gains if we fight but must not forget that all victories will only be temporary. Society can provide these things----it’s capitalism that can’t.

In San Bernardino, the Union leadership responds as it usually does, offering concessions from the get go.  There is no “offensive” strategy in the arsenal of the Labor hierarchy and their advisors in academia who see no alternative to capitalism.  Damage control is the only tactic and this always leads to divisiveness as one section of the working class is set against another as we compete for the crumbs from the1%’s table.  The more the Union officials acquiesce, the more the bosses want.  It will not stop until we stop it.

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