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Vol. 81/No. 47      December 18, 2017

(front page)

Hiring upturn can lead to advance in workers’ unity

A new milestone” has been reached in a nine-year capitalist economic expansion, proclaimed the Wall Street Journal Nov. 29. But the last nine years haven’t felt like that for the toiling majority, as working-class living standards have been slashed, millions driven out of the workforce and more workers have been hit by a spreading social crisis.

Workers could use an expansion in hiring. And there are indications an uptick is underway in capitalist production and trade. What the government calls gross domestic product is growing at the fastest rate in three years. One gauge of this is the rise of the Baltic Dry shipping index, considered a leading indicator of economic growth. It was up to 1,578 points Nov. 30 from an all-time low in February 2016. But it still remains a long way short of its 2008 peak of 11,793.

While the bosses have no way to escape the long-term decline of capitalist profits rates, any growth of manufacturing is good for the working class. It means more jobs and the toilers gain confidence to fight for more.

Declining unemployment figures over the last few years mask how the capitalist crisis has deepened divisions in the working class. The labor force participation rate — measuring the number of workers actively working or looking for work — has changed little from last year’s 40-year low, reflecting the growing numbers who’ve given up. In addition, the proportion of workers employed as temps, with lower pay and worse conditions, hit a record high in October.

Workers pushed out of the active working class see little prospect of escaping the carnage around them. Opioid addiction has hit record levels.

Without a more substantial rise in economic growth that begins to draw back those who’ve been written out of the workforce, it is harder for us to tackle the divisions the bosses foster among working people.

Another problem workers face is the pressure of debt. Capitalist lenders profit by foisting an ever-greater debt burden on working people, then pressing us to pay it back with interest. Total U.S. household debt has risen more than 16 percent since 2013, to just under $13 trillion. But this figure disguises the vastly different impact of this debt on different classes, and the onerous consequences for workers.

Workers who default on auto loans find that years after their car is repossessed they’re still paying off the loan with their wages garnished by the courts. Some 107 million people in the U.S. are currently carrying auto loan debt, owing over $1.1 trillion — both record highs. And outstanding student loans now top $1.4 trillion.

The $13 trillion household debt today is greater than the GDP of every country on earth, except for the U.S.

Health costs continue to rise while medical care is harder to get. Workers over 65 are becoming the fastest growing group of new-hires as they find it impossible to live on Social Security or shrinking pensions. Rents and mortgages keep going up, and so do defaults and homelessness.

Whatever immediate gains the bosses register for themselves as their economy expands, they cannot reverse the decline in industrial profit rates capitalists have faced since the late 1960s. That would take inflicting massive defeats against the working class, and we will have our chance at taking political power before that could happen.

But production and trade is growing today. And it makes a difference for the working class.

More jobs = more confidence to fight
Where workers have stood their ground and fought the bosses in recent years, their struggles are largely isolated. Union officials have done nothing to organize workers to rely on our own forces and mobilize union power to resist the employers’ attacks. They tell us to rely on the Democrats, or Republicans, or some “independent” capitalist politician, instead.

But the longevity of the crisis and the multifront assaults of the bosses make many more workers today hungry for discussion on how we can find ways around these obstacles and organize to resist what the employers and their political parties impose on us. As unemployment rose starting in 2008, bosses and their politicians tried to pit employed against unemployed, native-born against immigrants, to further divide and weaken the working class.

When unemployment declines enough that workers in areas where job losses are widespread begin to see neighbors and friends back at work, when the bosses’ production needs lead to a new wave of immigration, then the working class will be in a position for a new rise in organizing and use of union power to fight for our class interests.
Related articles:
Build working-class unity, confidence
On the Picket Line
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