Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Poverty is not accidental. Workers have no voice.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

So I saw Ed Miliband on Channel 9 news in an interview about his involvement with International Rescue. Miliband is the former right wing leader in the UK labor party and now the CEO of International Rescue. He talked of the situation in Syria and Aleppo as going beyond the limits of human savagery with regard to Russian/Syrian air strikes. No one doubts the savagery aspect of this conflict as imperialist powers compete for influence in this part of the Middle East, but has Miliband not heard of Falluja? What about the pouring of dioxin on the Vietnamese by Kissinger and co? And Israel's last venture in to Gaza that ended the life of 550 children by all accounts. There are too many examples of brutality in the competition for markets between the world’s capitalist powers. Two world wars come to mind.

The problem is that the media is not "our" media. The capitalist class doesn’t only own the means of manufacturing the needs of society (and things we don’t need), they also manufacture ideas so that the dominant ideology in society is the ideology of the class that rules. This ruling ideology is then spread throughout society via the capitalist mass media, the universities and education system and the pulpit as the major acceptable religions are also on board. It is filtered down to the working class through the middle and upper middle class layers and the leaders of the trade unions. In the recent election, the only economic and political ideas debated on national television were between two representatives of global capitalism. All others were barred.

Here in the US, the working class has no political voice, no party of our own and the heads of organized labor, if they are not silent which is most of the time, simply echo the view of the capitalist class with minor deviations like pleas for them to be less aggressive and nicer. We heard very little from Bernie Sanders in the campaign apart from questions. He made public what people are thinking, tapped in to the a certain anger that exists in society, which is why he got an echo at all. “Why are people homeless when we have empty houses”  “Why are there people earning millions when there are others who can’t pay the rent” this sort of thing.  Sanders never referred to the power of the working class to change things, never attempted, to build an independent mass movement or even suggested this was necessary. As a candidate in one of the main capitalist parties it is impossible for someone like Sanders to offer any real alternative.

It’s the same internationally. We know there is brutality and extreme violence in Syria. The US mass media will point this out more prominently than the Russian equivalent because the US capitalist class is in a struggle with Russian capitalism for the right to loot this region and contain its Russian competitor and its Iranian ally. We know there is mass murder in Yemen but this is not covered to the same extent by the US and western media as it is committed by the brutal Saudi regime with US arms and logistical support that wants to curb Iranian influence in the region. It’s Saudi proxy is doing US imperialism’s dirty work.

See: we have a lot of allies here
What is missing is worker to worker communications. Most working people, certainly here in the US, would never consider such a thing. Things would be slightly different in countries where the working class has had its own political parties as despite setbacks, class-consciousness is stronger in general.  There are links being built between workers organizations in different countries and there are international trade union bodies that represent hundreds of millions of workers.  Organized workers could have our own mass media, our own televisions stations including globally. In this way, politics, economics and global events can be discussed from the point of view of what’s best for workers internationally.  Housing, jobs, our security, health issues, all things that affect all people can be discussed especially how our activity can be directed in a way that does not harm the natural world of which we are a part. The environmental crisis is a global one. Only recently it has been found that more radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster is reaching US shores.

The mass media, that which they bring in to our homes, is the mother of fake media. This doesn't mean that there's no truth to any of it, it's just that it has a very clear purpose. It is designed to mold public opinion in favor of those whose interests are served by it. That's why Miliband never mentioned Yemen or Laos where the US dropped 2.5 million tons of ordinance including 280 million cluster bombs that drove people to live like rabbits underground. He supports US imperialism in this struggle not Russian. For workers, we must support neither. But when you control the media it does have its advantages. If media manipulation didn’t work they wouldn’t spend trillions of dollars doing it. 

One of the biggest fake stories is that capitalist production is the only way society can be organized and there's nothing we can do to change that.

I know co-workers, public sector employees that voted for Trump. But their heads will be on Trump’s chopping bloc fairly soon. How dumb is that, one might ask? But we are in the belly of the beast here in the US and class-consciousness is extremely low. The mass media very skillfully manipulates, lies, distorts reality. But in the last analysis ideas have material base and we will see this clash of propaganda and reality in the forefront in the near future.

It would be easy to think that Trump is extremely popular but that is simply not the case. While I do not believe we can change society at the ballot box, we must defend the right to vote and elections are an important gauge of the mood in society. Not only did Trump not win the popular vote but there were millions that opted out, many have simply decided there’s nothing that they can do. I listened to interviews this morning with a couple of southern California small business types connected to agriculture.  They voted for Trump. Their reason they gave was that both the Republican and Democratic parties favor big agricultural concerns over the little guy. They hope as an anti-establishment candidate Trump will change that.

I heard other workers who said the same thing; that said they voted for Obama last time as a candidate for change and things pretty much stayed the same with regards to the clique in Washington. Now they’re placing their hope in Trump. I know it seems absurd especially to foreigners. But the choices are extremely limited and Hillary Clinton and the Clintons in general are seen as part of the problem, the established clique that governs in Washington and Trump is seen as outside it. That he’s a major member of the ruling class, albeit, a bizarre and particularly crude member of this club, doesn’t register.

Here are a couple of comments from some working class women who I have been in touch with. I know one of them personally.

“I stopped to fill the gas tank and met a young woman who's obviously sleeping outside tonight in 'code blue' temperatures. She's got a big blanket on her bike, and is wearing a thick coat, but I called the outreach team anyway. He mumbled we have 4000 homeless and 120 beds and he is the only one on the 'team' tonight so no one's going to help her.  She doesn't look like a "resistant" type, more a fresh-faced 20-something alone in the world. Her bike's baggage is minimal and neatly balanced. Her hair shines. She returned a smile and I feel out of sorts now, in a house with empty beds. Why the fuck won't we address this problem? Instead, we expanded it worldwide.  I guess I just confirmed my own local issue. Last week I stumbled on an entire town that's closing housing, medical and support facilities once built for thousands needing disability services, and the county wants turn it over to a trust who can sell it to private developers. I resolve to learn more and do more in 2017.”

The bold is my added emphasis but let those figures sink in a minute.

Her friend responded in the same conversation:
“What I mean is that we could all, as a people, as a nation do more. I'm not talking about the government doing it all either. When it hits close to home, like for me right now, it becomes something you can't not see. I have a daughter who has heart disease and I've been taking care of her medical, dental and medication for the past two years because she is uninsured and her social security has been denied twice, I have a son who has been to prison for drugs, paid his debt to society but cannot find a place to live; I have a grandson who needs psychiatric care, but cannot get the help he needs because he is uninsured; a granddaughter and her little girl who were in an abusive situation needing shelter and have come to me, but I don't have the room or means to care for them. I am trying to do all I can to help my own family. I don't know the answer to all of this, but I feel sure I am not the only one experiencing it.”

Indeed, this woman is not the “only one experiencing” what she describes. The cause of it is very simple for me, it is the way society is organized; it is a social problem. Her experience is the tip of the iceberg. Look at it this way. The money is there to provide social services that would take the burden off the shoulders of the individual in situations like these. Even her son, who got in to drugs, much of this in society is lack of opportunity, alienation, the break up of family and community unity because everyone works two jobs, maybe three, and the most damaging of all, the ideology that we are responsible for our own condition, that we are in control of our own destiny. This is the dominant ideology in society. It comes out of the schools, the church, the media etc. But if we believe this, that we are where we are because of our individual choices, then we blame ourselves when we fall in to difficult times. Or what the mass media calls personal failure.

But as Marx pointed out, we have free will but we do not choose the circumstances under which these choices are made.

None of this need occur. Not only do we have the money, we have the human resources. There is money and human labor power so that society, how we organize ourselves collectively, could provide these things as well as reduce the time we spend working so that if we choose to take up more of them ourselves would have the resources and time to do so. But capitalism is not a human friendly social system, just the opposite.

I do believe there is an answer. I believe that this social system, capitalism, has to go and has to be replaced by a democratic socialist society and economy. That is the only answer and the one that can avoid the catastrophic consequences if capitalism remains. We are not encouraged to think this way, of "systems". But feudalism was eliminated. It was a different system. So was slavery. I realize this is not an easy task but it is the only answer. And I know this cannot happen without millions of people recognizing it has to happen. But for us as individuals, what makes life bearable if you like is that we recognize we have to change the system, learn lessons of past efforts to do so and work with what material and time we have towards that end. A mass movement will arise at some point and there are huge social explosions taking place including in the US but their media will not make an issue of this or even suggest these isolated social uprisings come together in one united direct action campaign of resistance, just the opposite.

I heard on NPR this morning a report of Obama Executive order banning future oil and gas exploration in the US Artic region. Canada’s Trudeau has done the same “Pending periodic review”. One environmental activist that was interviewed was very excited that Obama took this decision to “Permanently protect the arctic”. But it is not permanently protected. Neither Obama, Trudeau, Trump or anyone else can “permanently” protect the Arctic or the environment in general because they are bound by the laws of capitalism. In fact, the only permanent aspect of capitalism’s policies is further environmental destruction.

To change the course of history is no small task. But if there is one thing permanent about history it is change.  It is not wrong to fight for immediate reforms and a mass movement could well win some reforms that could alleviate some of capitalism's most destructive features but only temporarily.

It is crucial that the struggle to change the events around us is conducted with the understanding that it is not an effort to reform the system, to make capitalism an egalitarian system of production, something it cannot be. It is important that the struggle for reform is fought as part of the effort to build a mass movement that can overthrow capitalism and that our war against this beast has to spread beyond national borders. 

All workers are our natural allies.  Capitalism socialized production under the direction of private owners of that production.  What a global federation of democratic socialist states can do is socialize ownership. Wealth is the collective product of humans at work. How that wealth is produced, how it is allocated and returned to society in the form of social needs must be a collective decision.

The alternative to this is the destruction of human life on this planet.

Note: If you’re reading this and consider yourself a socialist or anti-capitalist of some sorts perhaps you might be interested in joining a conference call where we can share ideas and develop what we have called in the past, a “think tank” for working people. The elite, bankers, hedge fund owners and other have hundreds of them. We need our own.

If you’re interested contact us and let’s see:

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