The striking General Motors workers are locked in an epochal struggle against the global corporate drive to reduce the entirety of the world’s working class to a state of abject desperation, leaving the great mass of people – from Detroit to Bangladesh – with no options but to accept whatever wages and conditions of labor the bosses offer.
This is the essential, global imperative of today’s late stage capitalism, and the tie that binds the money-men that control both U.S. governing parties, their counterparts in Europe, and billionaires the world over.
Just a handful
Most commonly dubbed “austerity,” it is a calculated and multifaceted strategy to save latestage capitalism through a relentless “Race to the Bottom,” globally buttressed by U.S. imperial power, from which no one is to be spared except the relatively small slice of population that most directly serves the scientific, technical and security interests of the Lords of Capital – a political alliance of the .1 percent and the upper 10 percent.
The 50,000 GM workers demand “No More Tiers !” – an end to the two-tier system of wages that separates older and newer hires – and permanent status for the “perma-temps,” supposedly temporary workers who in fact labor for years doing the same work as regular employees but with less pay, few benefits and no rights.
The only power
Labor solidarity is the overarching, determining factor, the only power that working people possess. Therefore, for the past half-century or so, the political task of corporate operatives in boardrooms, government and media has been to methodically dismantle the safety net of social supports – public health and occupational safety, adequate income, free and effective education, affordable housing, collective bargaining rights and fundamental civil liberties – erected during the New Deal and Great Society eras.
Collectively, these “social democratic” reforms raised the standards of living of workers in the rich nations and gave them the practical life options to bargain with employers, as individuals and as a class. Through this arrangement, the Lords of Capital reluctantly shared some portion of the fruits of imperial plunder with at least some (Whiter) sections of the domestic working classes in the home countries.
Finance capital exerted its supremacy on the strength of U.S. capital’s penetration of the planet, backed by the most formidable and aggressive military in history. Although rates of profit fell, signaling a late stage of capitalism, the ensuing crises had the effect of hastening consolidation of capital, spurring quickening monopolization of the imperial economies.
The beneficiaries of this crisis – the finance capitalists that had prospered by devouring their weaker fellows – mounted a grabback of public goods and social supports that came to be called neoliberalism, marked by “austerity.” Both corporate parties turned dramatically rightward.
Capital had found a solution to falling profits with the promise of super-exploitation of labor in what used to be called the Third World, now cleansed of the trade barriers of European colonialism. A whole planet of people could be set against each other – under the discipline of American military and financial power – in competition for employment at rates and conditions with no lower limits but human endurance, itself.
GM corporate management, led by $22-million-a-year president Mary Barra, cut off the strikers’ medical benefits, dramatically demonstrating why even U.S. corporations like GM that bear huge costs for their workers’ private health insurance oppose Medicare for All – even though this puts their companies at a disadvantage against competitors in most of the rest of the industrial world where health care is state-financed.
Health care weapon
In the corporate-organized Race to the Bottom, withdrawal of health care is a weapon to discipline workers and their families, as is the whole “austerity” regime.
But thanks to the obfuscations of Democrats and Republicans and the conniving corporate media, Americans are led to believe that the endless austerity regime is about reducing government deficits – a patent absurdity, given that the biggest deficits of the 21st Century have been amassed by GOP austerity hawks George W. Bush and Donald Trump. The Orange Menace this year submitted the first trillion-dollar deficit in history while slashing every “people’s program” below the bone.
Barack Obama attempted to forge a Grand Austerity Bargain with Republicans, offering to cut more in social spending than the GOP had asked for and appointing his own right-wing Democrat-led Deficit Commission to rationalize the carnage. Only the racism of the White Man’s Party – which could not bring itself to collaborate with the First Black President even when he served their common corporate master – skewered the deal.
However, huge cuts were enacted, savaging what was left of the social safety net even as the masses of Americans struggled to recover from the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression.
Obama’s reboot of austerity had the desired effect. So desperate were American workers, they accepted a whole new generation of “gig” contract, part-time, “contingent,” low-wage, no-benefits jobs, sometimes taking on two or three of them just to get by. A study by economists at Harvard and Princeton found that fully 95 percent of the jobs created in the Obama era were hardly worthy of the term “jobs” at all.
Austerity – a corporate policy of neoliberal capitalist parties – is designed to induce mass desperation so that workers are forced to accept whatever the bosses offer. However, the term has been deliberately and systematically misused to connote responsible deficit reduction rather than a weapon of class warfare that marks a new and horrific stage of global capitalist plunder.
Just call it the Race to the Bottom, a plain-spoken term that people can understand – and join together to resist in solidarity.