The social crisis is already here

The latest report on US unemployment brought no good news: only in September, 100,000 jobs were destroyed. These are in addition to the 84,000 jobs lost in August, when unemployment climbed to 6.1%; since the beginning of this year, more than 600,000 jobs have disappeared. This index is one of the highest since the 2001 recession; it comes in addition to the price increase of basic products, fuel and the enormous indebtedness of working-class families.

The first social consequences of the crisis are reflected in unprecedented pictures like the “tent cities,” that have grown alongside big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is one of the most somber snapshots: thousands of people living in their cars or tents with their families. Many of the inhabitants of these precarious “cities” are working-class families (most of them are black and Latino, the most affected by “garbage” mortgages). Many left their homes, fleeing from evictions and debts. Fuel to heat houses has already increased 30% since 2007, and some months before winter in the US, the government is threatening to reduce heating assistance for low-income households, as part of the cuts in social programs (largely underfunded, because of tax cuts for the wealthy).

In April, the government had already announced that 28 million people would need food stamps to be able to bring food to their tables: the biggest increase since the 1960’s.

The most serious thing is the fact that the bursting of the real estate bubble, begun in 2007, is deepening bad living conditions for a big part of workers and poor people (it is estimated that only 25% of workers have wages that cover their needs including health insurance). Before the crisis erupted, in the wealthiest country on earth, 51.7 million were already living in poverty, 35 million suffered hunger during 2006, and 50 million had no medical insurance (there is no public nor union health).

In August alone, more than 300,000 homes got an eviction notice: 1 out of every 416 properties in the US (CNBC, September 12). Although an assistance package for small debtors was approved in May, this was hardly enough to refinance the debts of one sector, but millions of foreclosures are continuing.

With this background, the biggest bailout in history was orchestrated: billions of dollars to bail out the firms that got rich during recent decades. Despite the defeat of the first vote in Congress, both the Democratic candidate Barack Obama and the Republican John McCain, as well as the leaders of both parties, have shown their desire to support the big firms and the Bush administration, the most unpopular in the history of the country. Despite its hypocritical campaign speeches, the Democratic Party has proven once again that it is no alternative for the millions that are hoping for “the change” that Obama is hawking so much.

Voices of protest are heard

Discontent with the economic situation grew with the rejection of the Paulson & Co. bailout plan. Everyone knows who will pay the bill. Bush was clear: “These measures will require that we use a significant amount of taxpayer dollars,” referring to the $700 billion they are trying to pass in Congress. According to opinion polls, more than 70% rejects the measure because they see that they will be the ones who lose their jobs, who owe money: the workers and the impoverished middle sectors will pay for the crisis.

Although so far the main obstacles have come from the opposition inside Congress, the rejection has made itself felt, even though passively, till now. Protests have been carried out, mobilizations in front of banks and public offices, and in the very heart of Wall Street, against the “Bailout”. The main slogans aim against the Republican administration and rescuing the firms with tax dollars.

As in the election race, in spite of the hypocrisies that get broadcast on television, neither of the parties is an alternative. With few differences, Democrats and Republicans have shown their loyalty to Wall Street and the big firms, not to workers or the people. The only way to alleviate this crisis is to force the ones who provoked it, to pay: it is necessary to suspend all foreclosures, distribute the hours of work among all available workers to fight against unemployment, put into operation a public works plan under workers’ control, to repair the infrastructure of the country and create millions of jobs financed by taxes on the big fortunes. Not one dollar for the banks!

These and all the measures necessary to confront the crisis can only be imposed through the mobilization of workers and the impoverished sectors, independent of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Translation by Yosef M.


About author

Celeste Murillo

Celeste Murillo

Celeste is a leader of the Socialist Workers' Party (PTS) and the women's group Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses) in Argentina. She is a host of the radio program El Círculo Rojo where she focusses on culture and gender.