Decline of the USA, Rise of the Struggles?

Decline of the USA, Rise of the Struggles?

The USA, as the world’s leading capitalist nation, is economically, politically and morally bankrupt.

Resistance is picking up steam at home: in 2018 and 2019 there were more strikes, and more large ones, than at any time in more than two decades. In 2020, there were only seven strikes with 1,000 or more participants, but the country witnessed the largest wave of protests in its history. [1] Rising unemployment and poor health care during the pandemic exacerbated the general level of immiseration. The people (15 to 26 million, according to polls) who took to the streets against racism, the system of policing, incarceration and poverty in the wake of the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd were protesting against a backdrop of decades of socioeconomic decline. People of all colours marched hand-in-hand, occupied squares, organized food, set up ‘autonomous zones’ and police-free neighborhoods, engaged in passionate discussions....

Waves of crisis and the effects: The defeats of the (global) working class emanated from the US and affected the US working class the most

Those born since the 1980s don’t reach the levels of prosperity of their parent generation. Median household incomes have grown 5.37 percent in the last 30 years, and the average wealth of a US billionaire has grown 1,130 percent while his tax burden has fallen 79 percent! During Trump's presidency alone, the wealth of US billionaires increased from $2.9 trillion to $3.9 trillion. [2] In terms of social inequality (Gini coefficient), the US is on par with Mexico, Kenya and Djibouti.

On the 20th of January 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States. His campaign promise of ‘tax cuts’ was aimed at those who had managed to clim up the social ladder and had no interest in tax-funded redistributive programs. His predecessor Carter had allowed a wave of layoffs in the steel industry in 1977 [3] and facilitated the Volcker Shock in 1979 - a sharp increase in the interest rate to cut even more jobs. Real wages fell for the first time since World War II. Reagan landed a landslide victory against Carter with his campaign slogan "let's make America great again”.

The mass layoffs in the traditional core regions of US industry were preceded by relocations to the southern states. [4] At the same time, northern industrial cities were bled dry financially through public-private partnerships - instead of investing in manufacturing plants money was channeled into real estate projects. [5] In the 1960s, unemployed and public sector workers were able to decouple their incomes from general social productivity levels and substantially increase them in struggles. These struggles were extremely strong, especially in New York. In the 1970s, the government responded with austerity policies, which reversed the movements' successes. Housing became a matter for ‘private investors’: in the mid-70s, the federal government and representatives of the entrepreneurial elite took over the city. [6] Here began the rise of ‘real estate tycoon’ Donald Trump. The massive proliferation of drugs, disguised as a ‘war on drugs’, incapacitated the (black) proletariat. Under Reagan, the incarceration rate began to rise steeply.

The working class was defeated in its strongholds, but it was still (formally) organized - union membership actually rose slightly from the mid-1970s to 1981. With the state attack on the air traffic controllers' strike in 1981, Reagan reversed this trend as well.

From 1979 to 1983, 2.4 million industrial jobs were lost, and wages fell by five percent. [7] The number of strikes and, more importantly, strikers fell dramatically. From 1981 until the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994, union density dropped from 21 to 14 percent.

Under Reagan's successors, Bush (1989-1993) and Clinton (1993-2001), jobs in the steel industry halved to about 100,000. Clinton, in particular, relied on coastal tech companies [8], on surveillance, incarceration and expansion military spending - arms factories were now located in the South, where wages were more than half as low than in the North. Since then, not a single significant strike has taken place in the Southern states.

In 2001, Bush II won the presidential election, partly due to working class votes he attracted with his proposal for import tariffs on steel.

After the crash of the ‘new economy’ around the year 2000, economic growth was generated only by the real estate industry, fueled by cheap credits and mortgages. In 2008, it was again in the US growth sector where the global crisis broke out, and the credit chains did not hold. Many lost their jobs and homes.

Obama's "yes we can" slogan was stolen from the 2006 "si-se-puede" mobilizations, during which hundreds of thousands of migrant workers flooded the streets of major cities demanding better conditions, regularisation of their stay etc. [9]

Obama's governance (2009-2017) was different. His Affordable Care Act guaranteed corporate profits: health insurers lowered prices so more people could afford insurance; but then those who still didn't buy it had to pay penalties. Obama thus drove more people to the insurance companies, and the number of uninsured fell by half. But the (health) system itself didn’t change much - the health and social care benefits remain poor, people still have to pay for a lot of services and medication is expensive, hospital bills are intransparent etc.. [10]

The foundation of US economic growth after the global crisis were the fracking and tech booms. Tech companies pushed surveillance technologies and made billions from it. As industrial regions declined, drug deaths skyrocketed. Low-paying warehouse and service jobs sprang up in the urban centres. [11] Logistics and fast-food chains saw large mobilizations of young workers. (An exception and example of the ‘old class composition’ was the 2015 oil workers strike against outsourcing). During the Obama years, an increase in the minimum wage to $15 was passed in some states, but not implemented until much later - in states or areas where the cost of living is well above the national average and where even $20 an hour is not really enough to get by. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009!

Trump's economic policy record

Donald Trump himself has not been successful as a business man, but his television appearances ("You're fired!") made him nationally known. His staunchest supporters are small business owners. On the campaign trail, he echoed Reagan's slogan. He appealed to the feelings of people for whom minority rights are not as important as their own powerlessness in a global labor market which they became part of thanks to the ‘progressive neoliberalism’ of Clinton and Obama. Trump promised good-paying jobs in traditional industries that make usable things locally - not the bullshit jobs of the ‘cosmopolitan’, the establishment or ‘global citizens’. As a worker in Appalachia or Ohio, your understanding of "Make America Great Again" is that your little town will be reincorporated into the American economy because you produce something locally that is needed - longing for the ‘old class composition’. But the defeat of the US working class has meant that consumer items for working class households like clothing, computers, kitchen appliances... can no longer be produced in the US at affordable prices. Not only because wages have fallen too far to buy US products, but also because the production knowledge is no longer available.

"Rain ponchos! In 2020! In America!" [12]

At the beginning of the ‘Corona crisis’, the local productive forces were not even sufficient for providing the population with protective clothing and masks; there were far too few test kits, plastic visors, beds, respirators... In April 2020, New York desperately called on its medical personnel to use rain ponchos against viral infections - as a substitute for missing protective clothing. [13] The infrastructure is also broken, as could be seen currently in the Texas power grid disaster, which was privatized in 1999. It collapsed in mid-February 2021 due to cold and snow. Dozens died; the lucky ones who still had power got bills for several thousand dollars! Things are no better in the ‘high tech’ sector: over 300 people died in 2018/19 because of technical flaws with the new Boeing, in 2021 Boeing had to deal with parts falling off their planes. In 2019/20 we saw the self-inflicted ‘biggest digital attack of the century’ on critical US infrastructure....

Trump has turned NAFTA into the USMCA, the latter providing for more domestic production; he has imposed import tariffs on steel and at least stopped the trend of declining steel jobs. He has allowed fewer migrant workers into the country and extended the wall with Mexico - in reality, however, only by six to twelve kilometers - here the figures ‘fluctuate’ (the construction measures actually involved only reinforcements). In any case, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent by February 2020 - it hadn't been this low in 50 years. The Labor Force Participation Rate was at a seven-year high of 63 percent in January 2020. Broken down by ethnicity and gender, it decreased significantly for white men and increased slightly for blacks and Hispanic women. Year-over-year, however, wages rose faster than inflation: by 1.5 percent in health care, 3.3 percent in manufacturing, 4.1 percent in retail trade, and five percent in mining. [14] Average wages in manufacturing rose by two dollars during the second Obama administration and by three dollars during Trump.

Median household incomes had fallen under Obama from $59,500 in 2008 to under 56,000 in 2015. By 2019, they had risen to nearly $69,000. Trump reduced drastic prison sentences that largely affected black people. His First Step Act was intended to reduce escalating prison costs - that it freed disproportionately more blacks was collateral damage. Trump also lowered the penalty for not having health insurance to zero dollars. That was part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a tax-cutting program for entrepreneurs. Since then, the number of uninsured has risen again. But despite the contradictions and the ‘only relative’ character of the improvements, these measures won him votes. At a closer look though some ‘successes’ turn into the opposite: There is an extreme disparity of median household incomes - on the East Coast it's $90,000, in the Southern states - among Trump voters, so to speak - it's half that. In Los Angeles, there are areas with a median wage of $200,000 and those with $25,000. And Trump has steadfastly refused to raise the national minimum wage - wage increases go back to workers’ mobilizations (‘Fight-for-15’).

Good-paying factory jobs had been cut in the 2001 and 2008-09 crises; they recovered slowly under Obama, and rose faster under Trump, but did not reach anywhere close to the (already low) levels of 2007, let alone those of the late 1990s. [15] Under Obama, relative industrial employment had fallen 0.2 percent in eight years; under Trump, 0.5 percent in four years. The annual wage of just over $30,000 for a warehouse job paid in 2019 did not exceed the wage level of a factory worker in the 1990s. Temporary workers earned only $28,000; temporary agencies employ far more blacks and Hispanics than average. [16] Fifty-three million workers had a median wage of $10.22 an hour, about $18,000 a year.

Trump gutted a new overtime rule, leaving more than a billion dollars worth of overtime unpaid.

Trump announced 13,000 Foxconn jobs at a major Wisconsin factory - and created 281. Meanwhile a historic General Motors plant in Ohio closed in 2019. As for fracking, Trump fiddled the numbers of real and potential employment. Most jobs in the industry were created under Obama. A recent study concludes that fracking brings “growth without [proletarian] prosperity”. [17] The trade war has been estimated to have cost about 300,000 manufacturing jobs. The US exports mostly (petro-)chemical products, machinery, electronics, automotive (parts), and food. China is the third most important trading partner. Apart from workers, it were farmers who export soy and meat who were hit hardest. Trump subsidized them to the tune of $23 billion in 2018 and 2019 to compensate for their export losses. In doing so, he was extremely selective: A constituency that had voted for Clinton in 2016 got $17 per capita; one that had voted for him got $158 per capita; constituencies that had switched from Democrats to Republicans got as much as $163. [18] In 2020, one-third of farm income came from government coffers. Such measures explain why people in the Farm Belt voted for Trump in the fall of 2020.

The world's most expensive and worst health care system

After the Ebola experience in West Africa, Obama decided in 2014 to revamp the entire chain of command and management concerning pandemic emergencies. In 2018, Trump fired them all. The ‘Corona policy’ of the administration has led to two dramatic developments: an extreme redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top and the collapse of an already dysfunctional health care system - for the poor and, consequently, large parts of the black population the pandemic is the most deadly.

After the historic stock market crash in early 2020 the US Senate passed the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) very quickly in March 2020. It passed by a 96 to zero vote. Now, for the first time in its 107-year history, the Federal Reserve could buy corporate bonds - propping up stock prices and entrepreneurs' profits. [19] The financial aid for wage workers that the CARES Act provided had been used up by July. Therefore, a tenant eviction delay and other (smaller) aid programs were enacted in September and extended in December. Sales of 13 major retail groups skyrocketed by $16.9 billion during the Corona pandemic, and stock prices rose 33 percent. But during the same period these companies raised wages by only an average of $1.11 per hour, a ten percent increase. [20]

Unemployment surged, hitting those workers hardest who earned less than $15 an hour, meaning mostly blacks and women. [21] At the end of December 2020, 18.4 million people were still receiving unemployment benefits, 16 million more than a year earlier. Overall, about 22 million jobs were lost at the height of the crisis; by February 2021, about half of these jobs had been recovered. As in 2001 and 2008-09, this crisis is leading to sustained job losses and dramatic poverty. [22] A quarter of the US population depended on food assistance schemes in 2020. The USA is the only industrialized country without statutory maternity leave, vacation entitlement or sick pay.

That's why Covid-19 hit even harder in the US compared to western Europe. In 2020, nearly 400,000 people died in the US because of Corona (200,000 dead by September, 300,000 by mid-November; on January 19, 2021, the death toll exceeded 400,000; on February 23, it reached half a million). More than a quarter of them died in nursing homes, 3,000 were caregivers, there is a ‘pandemic explosion’ in prisons. You are more than two and a half times more likely to die from Covid-19 if you live in a poor neighborhood. There are also lower vaccination rates there. [23] The Lancet medical journal reported in February 2021 that 40 percent of US Corona deaths could have been prevented. [24]

In 1980, life expectancy in the US was still average for high-income countries. By 1995, it was 2.2 years below the G7 average. In 2018, the gap was 3.4 years. The opioid epidemic caused life expectancy to fall by one to two years for the first time in a hundred years. This drop will be even sharper as a result of the Corona pandemic, this time possibly by three years.

History and current position around Militias

At every stage of US history, there have been armed militias - first to defend conquered lands; then to organize the exploitation of slaves; later (after the Civil War of 1861-1865) to fight labor organizing; in the 1950s and 1960s against the civil rights movement. Militias acted on behalf of landowners, big farmers, contractors, and the state; they equipped cops, unemployed, racists, etc. for their purposes.

From 1965 (Civil Rights Act) onwards and then during the period of the '68 protests, the militias were pushed back. On the one hand, the state secret program COINTELPRO was more effective, and in the southern states there was the Ku Klux Klan; on the other hand, they received noticeable opposition, for example from the Black Panthers. The militias experienced a resurgence during the farm crisis of the 1980s. Veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, anti-communists and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, skillfully exploited the desperate situation in the Midwestern countryside. Government and banks had encouraged farmers to expand their businesses in the 1970s, borrowing at ever-increasing rates to do so ("get big or get out," said the Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon; Trump's Secretary of Agriculture, by the way, repeated that). But President Carter's wheat embargo against the Soviet Union - after it occupied Afghanistan in 1979 - caused farmers' exports to plummet, the Volcker shock drove up interest rates, the second oil crisis caused operating costs to rise, land prices to fall - farmers could no longer pay their loans. President Reagan even wanted to eliminate the remaining subsidies - his administration saw the crisis as a ‘market shakeout’ [elimination of unprofitable enterprises] to spur centralization processes in agriculture so that the remaining US farmers could compete on the world market. From 1980 to 1990, the number of farms decreased by one-fifth.

A small portion of farmers was recruited by the Patriot Movement, where right-wing war veterans taught them to shoot and kill. The enemy was now the US government, which waged a war of expropriation against the small family farmers in favor of the big corporations - though Reagan had to tone down his deregulation plans after protests from the majority of moderate farmers so as not to lose the 1984 elections. Afterwards, some leading figures of the right-wing militias were arrested.

Despite these arrests, more and more right-wing militias emerged, for example, during the industrial decline in Michigan. In the early 1990s, two disastrous FBI actions against right-wing sect leaders, resulting in dozens of child deaths, led to another growth spurt for the militias ("Ruby Ridge" and "Waco Massacre"). The momentum culminated in the 1995 attack on a federal government administration building in Oklahoma City that left 168 dead. A wave of arrests began thereafter, and many militia members were forced to disassociate themselves or were actually deterred. From 1996 to 2000, the number of militias dropped from 800 to 150. [25]

The global crisis and Obama's election led to a revival. Some of the militias we know today formed after 2008, such as the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers. Their numbers increased tenfold over the next four years. With Trump in power, the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer formed and, following Trump’s advice, adopted ‘Antifa’ as their prime enemy.

The common enemy was now the sum of all the previous ones: Communists (in reality, often not even Social Democrats, but liberals), the establishment apparatus in Washington, and the movements in the streets: women, students, blacks, leftists... Trump became a focal figure for right-wing militias, evangelicals, and rentier capital (oil, real estate, casinos, security): "lumpen billionaires: post-industrial robber barons from the hinterlands”. [26]

In 2017, fascists and right-wing militias (for which there was now the collective term ‘alt-right’) marched through Charlottesville. A right-wing extremist drove his car into the counter-demonstration of Antifa, killing a woman. Trump publicly stated that there were "very decent people" in the ranks of the right-wing radicals. The Ku Klux Klan chief thanked him for that.

‘Corona’ and the rebellion in the summer of 2020 brought the sharpest escalation yet. One response to a curfew in Michigan (which had the third most Corona deaths) was for gunmen to enter the statehouse in Lansing - Trump had tweeted "Liberate Michigan!" to them beforehand. Later, members of the right-wing Wolverine Watchmen prepared to kidnap Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Only when the attempt failed were they arrested.

Against the superior BLM movement, right-wing militias defended ‘white supremacy’ and the Trump regime. In late August, a white antifascist shot and killed a Patriot Prayer during street fighting in Portland. Five days later, Trump had the anti-fascist executed by federal police officers with 37 shots. "That's the way it has to be," he commented in an interview. [27] In the TV duel with Joe Biden in late September 2020, Trump addressed the Proud Boys directly: "Stand back, stand by." The militias should keep themselves ready should he lose the election.

Biden's victory in prime states depended on a few thousand votes. The margin in Michigan was by far the largest, 2.6 percent and 147,000 votes. In Arizona, it was only 0.3 percent or 11,000 votes; in Georgia, the same 0.3 percent or 14,000 votes, and so on. [28] This was the pretext for mobilizing the "Stop the Steal" campaign. The militias recruited new people, mobilized for target practice and to marches into the cities. Even before that, the number of right-wing demos had increased; then, with the sharp decline in BLM protests from July onward, more right-wing demos took place - though with much fewer participants. [29] The right-wing wasn’t able to mobilize big numbers, but they had much better connections to the state apparatus and into the government - as we then saw on January 6, 2021

The "storm" on January 6

On that day, Joe Biden was to be confirmed as the new president by Congress at the Capitol. Trump gave a speech in front of 40,000 supporters at the White House and called for a march on the Capitol. About 10,000 people heeded this, conspiracy theorists, racists, right-wing militias and organized fascists identified after the fact as known. 800 of them entered the Capitol without much resistance - and took lots of selfies there. The politicians had to flee or hide.

One policeman and four Trump supporters died during the action, one policeman and one Trumpist later committed suicide. Police arrested people only after the fact. (By comparison, at a large Black Lives Matter demonstration in Washington DC on June 1, 2020, where no barricades were stormed and no police officers were attacked with deadly force, cops locked up nearly 300 people).

An evaluation of 193 arrested Capitol strikers found that ten percent were organized into militias. The rest are (upper) middle class - (small) business owners, higher-level employees, etc. Two-thirds are over 34 years old, one-third over 45. [30] All very similar to Pegida and the "Corona deniers" in Europe. What the desperate farmers were in the 1980s, the staunch small business owners are today, who, unlike "big business," perceive themselves as morally superior, cling to the "American Dream," and are disillusioned with "politics." [31]

As of mid-February 2021, there have been 250 indictments, arrests in 42 states, with Texas leading the way with 24 arrests, 25 women. Twenty arrested are former military, three active duty, some former Marines. Four were on police duty at the time of the "storm," others were firefighters. Many had major money worries (personal bankruptcies, threatened evictions, tax debts). One in five had to fear losing their homes.

Half of Trump voters thought the "storm" was good, two-thirds still believed in election fraud in mid-January (50 million). In the Republican Party, right-wingers and QAnon supporters are displacing conservatives; the traditional Republican Party virtually no longer exists. In January, 140,000 resigned from the party (it still has 33 million members; the Democrats have 47 million).

"Stop the Steal" demonstrations dropped 90 percent in the week after the "storm." By the end of January 2021, only two were held nationwide. Arrests continue: in Washington DC and in California, the FBI picked up two heavily armed right-wingers, one a member of the Three Percenters. Six Oath Keepers were arrested in Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. Other six arrested Oath Keepers were still serving the previous day as bodyguards for Roger Stone, a convicted Trump confidant whom he pardoned in late December. Through Stone ran Trump's contacts with the militias. In early March, the first direct Trump confidant involved in the "storm" was arrested, Frederico Klein, whom Trump had brought onto his team as an analyst in 2016.

Racist attacks continue. But the organized right is in a similar phase as "after Oklahoma." They are no longer needed as an asset for now, only as someone with whom to strengthen the state when "democracy" goes against them. Nevertheless, small businessmen will continue to pursue their reactionary projects and conspiracy theories if the class struggle does not force the new government to make economic improvements.

Upswing in class struggle before Corona

Trump has politicized US society. Just the day after he was sworn in, on January 21, 2017, 200,000 people - mostly women ("Women's March") - took to the streets in Washington DC, and 3.5 to 4.5 million across the country. It was the largest protest since the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.

In 2018, students took to the streets against the gun lobby; teachers organized major strikes that brought substantial improvements. Three-quarters of the teachers are women. The strikes began in Republican strongholds and spread rapidly. They were supported by students, parents, and neighbors. After teachers in West Virginia won five percent pay raises, they took off in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and Colorado in April. In the end, there were at least wage increases.

In mid-2019, teachers in California, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee went on strike. In Los Angeles and Oakland, they won six to 11 percent higher wages, a reduction in school class sizes and more staff. Other privatization plans were put on hold. In Chicago, teachers forced the city to invest $1.5 billion in public schools and hire 750 full-time staff.

Above all, the basis of the teacher and hospital strikes - industries that traditionally employ more women and relatively more non-whites - is dealing with the complex of issues of Black Lives Matter. The strikes were about improvements for immigrants and the poor, among other issues. In LA, a "defense fund" was installed for immigrant students. In Chicago, students in "precarious circumstances" receive support for housing, clothing, free public transportation… [32]

Such successes have not been universal; in Georgia, for example, striking school bus drivers have been fired.

In 2018, nearly 500,000 workers were involved in strikes of 1000 or more people. In 2019, there were 25 such strikes involving nearly 430,000 people. In 2018/19, an average of 20,000 workers participated in large work stoppages lasting at least one shift-the highest two-year average since records began in 1947. [33] Even the auto industry was stirring after many years of stalemate. Nearly 50,000 General Motors workers went on strike in late 2019. The results were mixed: there were wage increases, including for contract workers, but no better health insurance. And of several planned factory closures, only one was reversed.

During these years, workers in the large tech companies also began to organize [34] - a very long-awaited process that we will discuss in more detail in the next issues.

Notable struggles remained in the retail sector and at telecommunications equipment supplier AT&T, one of the largest corporations in the world. [35]

The most important limitation so far, however, remained that the strikes did not cross industry or union boundaries. That's where the George Floyd Rebellion made a leap in breadth and targets.

The mobilization in the summer of 2020…

The slogan "Black Lives Matter" dates back to 2013. At that time, a right-wing militiaman was acquitted for shooting a black man. In mobilizing against this verdict, three women from NGOs coined the slogan "Black Lives Matter" on social media. [36] By 2019, there were already 40 official BLM chapters worldwide - the number of groups referring to BLM in the United States is likely much higher. The BLM Foundation has received over ten billion dollars in donations since May 2020. But this official organizational structure, very present in the media, has little to do with real mobilizations, where hundreds of thousands or even millions of people take to the streets on specific occasions and the whole system comes under criticism - as in Ferguson in 2014, for example.

On March 13, 2020, cops in Louisville shot and killed Breonna Taylor, an African American woman. BLM on the ground was busy at the time with food deliveries for the poor and organizer training under Corona conditions; now all forces went into mobilizing against police violence. Even before the outbreak of the "George Floyd Rebellion," the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department had to announce major reforms, and the police chief reported his resignation on May 21. After Floyd's murder on May 25, things took off all over the country. On June 6, there were demonstrations in 550 U.S. cities. There were mobilizations in places with populations of less than 10,000 where there had never been a leftist demonstration. Some of the most militant protests, in cities like Portland and Seattle, were majority white.

In many cities, the protests have a history. In Minneapolis in 2015, a neighborhood had been occupied after the police killing of Jamar Clark, among others. After three weeks of occupation, several right-wing radicals showed up, harassed people and eventually wounded several with gunfire. The occupation had to be abandoned. In the 2020 mobilization, livestreams referred to this incident five years earlier and concluded that a more drastic response was now needed - so the cop station and much else was set on fire.

In Seattle, there had been a series of solidarity marches in 2014-2017 after cop killings, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands. Time and again, police barricades at the time prevented the marches from getting onto the main city highway. On May 30, 2020, such massive protests broke out in the city center that police temporarily withdrew. Looting and graffiti actions took place. In the midst of this, several hundred people took to the city highway - at this point, what had been an unattainable goal a few years earlier now seemed a sideshow, and the highway was blocked numerous times.

A solidarity demonstration for activists struggling further south in Portland went directly to the construction site of a juvenile detention center. Molotov cocktails were used to burn down the site and stop construction.

Even around Seattle in places with a few thousand residents, a few hundred people marched, and in many of these places, a few continue to meet regularly at the main intersection and hold BLM signs into passing traffic. [37]

In Chicago, militant mass demonstrations occurred repeatedly beginning on May 30. In August, after police shootings, the situation came to a head (the victim survived). A 36-hour riot began, with looting in a neighborhood of the wealthy. Even activists from BLM Chicago, i.e., the "good protesters" who stand for de-escalation and pacification nationwide, supported the captured "looters"; a BLM spokeswoman said looting should be understood as compensation. [38]

By late October, Philadelphia was the hotspot: demos, clashes with cops, looting, curfews. The social composition of the protests was changing, fewer people were coming out (plus the weather was getting worse). But the looting was better organized by now. Despite less protection from the masses, people were able to compensate for lack of income by blowing up ATMs (in the May and June days this was standard, less well organized, but under the protection of the masses). But for the first time, a curfew could not be broken. [39]

In Kenosha, the police station was set on fire after the shooting of Jacob Blake. In Rochester, a week-long riot broke out in early September when it came out that cops had beaten Daniel Prude, a black man, so badly in March that he died.

... was predominantly peaceful

While in the riot in Los Angeles in 1992 partly indiscriminate whites were beaten half to death, there was not something like that in Ferguson in 2014 and not now. In 1992, 38 people were murdered in Los Angeles alone (53 died in total), the 2020 movement is attributed - across the country! - only half as many. And of those, most of the deaths are due to incidents unrelated to the protests, but occurring in the vicinity of a demonstration. A material basis for "Abolish the Police" is that fewer people die in self-organized mobilizations than in "normal society." A recent study concluded that from 2014 to 2019, about 15 to 20 percent fewer people were murdered by cops in areas where BLM protests took place - that's 300 lives. [40] Looking at cop killings alone in recent years, at 1000 per year (1127 in 2020), the police-free zones in Minneapolis, Seattle, Atlanta [41]... brought significant improvement.

Organizing for the next run-up?

In the wake of the 2008-09 global crisis, mass protests (Occupy Wallstreet) and new leftist organizations developed. And with Trump as president, even (left) liberals started thinking about the working class. Best known are Jacobin Mag, the Democratic Socialists of America and the Bernie Sanders sympathizer scene. There's even a German-language Jacobin offshoot since 2019. They push organizing campaigns and point to "union successes" in logistics, hospitals, schools, prisons, hotels, fast food, and more recently in the tech industry [42]. But the most mass-based and important movement in decades has not yet been able to elevate leftist discussion. (Left) liberals want a more social capitalism that does not leave the working class so starkly desperate that they turn to republican irrationalism. Jacobin and DSA "socialists" want to renew social democracy or bring it to the U.S. "The left needs to face the fact that despite the huge popularity of its ideas and the dynamic example of BLM we remain clueless and disorganized as a national force," commented Mike Davis in early 2021. [43]

In the U.S., the force of the movement has led BLM to reorganize. In the BLM Foundation, people with a connection to the grassroots are breaking away from the leaders and turning to social struggles. In Seattle, for example, BLM split into "young radicals" and "old reformists"; the young are now doing anti-jail work... But in Europe, it's mostly the anti-racist, ahistorical narrative that's catching on. For example, in Germany 2020, a "Panthifa" formed to build a "unified black community." [44] BLM Berlin wanted to separate whites and blacks at a demo…[45]

But the new and great thing about the movement was, among other things, that hardly anyone cared which "ethnicity" you belonged to! (And in case anyone wants to sort by ethnicity, "whites" were disproportionately involved in the mobilizations! [46]) The demos and occupations also did not call for government support programs.

As one (black) comrade from Los Angeles wrote to us on October 25, 2020, "This is a battle for the soul of white Americans, and it is serious. I think this aspect of the movement is some white people, workers, showing that they are willing to go through what black workers and activists have gone through. This is crucial for future struggles. White workers are showing the rest of the country that they will not accept a reimposition of a white-supremacist frame anymore. This is officially under open assault now, by regular white folks."

The struggle against racism is not over, the universal thought of the movement is: "If the blacks are well, we are all well!" The demands for better health care, better working conditions, abolition of the murderous police, the repressive apparatus, gun violence, against poverty, environmental protection... are practical steps in this struggle. On the other hand, efforts to reform the state have led to nowhere. Cops continue to murder and are acquitted - the cops who stabbed Daniel Prude, for example, because they were "acting strictly according to protocol" - which is even more scandalous.

"Defund the Police" (cut and redistribute police budgets) could only be passed in a few cities. [47] The movement for a minimum wage increase has yet to organize nationwide days of protest. [48] In Florida, a referendum passed in favor of an increase in November 2020, and there were demos in 15 cities in mid-February 2021.

But since the summer of 2020, many (young) people have been active in self-organized contexts. Currently they are fighting intensively for affordable housing or for free housing. There were some tenant unions before that, now you hear about struggles for housing from every big city. Barricades are often built to prevent eviction. That worked in Portland. [49] In Philadelphia, homes for poor families were occupied-then the city government had to legalize. [50] In Seattle, too, occupations continue after the eviction of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

With the onset of winter in Texas, leftist groups immediately mobilized support: warm shelters, food, repairs…[51]

At the workplace

During the first weeks with Corona, there were protests on labor for protective equipment, safety precautions, and some strikes for the shutdown of production. Elsewhere, workers organized safety committees to keep track of contagions because bosses kept quiet about it. In solidarity with the "George Floyd Movement," protests increased: the refusal of bus drivers in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, and Washington to provide police transportation; the nine-minute strikes at ports, factories, schools, etc. [52]

In June, there was a day of action in Seattle called the "General Strike and March for Black Lives." "General strike" was an exaggeration, it was a large march of perhaps 60,000 people, many union bureaucrats, workers participated only individually. Around the same time, teachers unionists succeeded in getting the police union expelled from the Seattle AFL-CIO.

Several strikes and mobilizations were underway in late 2020 and early 2021:

- "fuck-the-algorithm" protests, for example. Specifically, they oppose a calculation that excludes nurses from receiving a Corona vaccination because they are not over 60, despite their high risk of infection.

- 1400 fresh produce market workers won wage increases in a strike in New York City.

- At a Minnesota refinery, the fight against outsourcing resumed. The corporation wants to cut costs despite receiving $411 million from the CARES Act. Workers were locked out.

- At a German auto supplier in Ohio, workers went on strike for higher wages.

Hopes that business leaders would raise wages for "systemically important workers" ("essential" or "key workers") were dashed. In the health and education sectors, local bosses are trying to intensify work: fewer nurses and teachers to care for more patients and students. Workers are resisting; it's hard-fought.

Historic union formation at Amazon in the southern states?

Even in "future" industries, where the entrepreneurs have long been able to play out their superior power, workers are now forming unions. In the U.S., this is not a purely formal act, but for many workers an experience of thoroughly violent conflict with the entrepreneur. In California, ride-share workers are organizing ("Rideshare Drivers United"). In Silicon Valley, Amazon employees are taking their first steps, and Google employees have just formed a union. Already we hear that some tech companies are relocating, for example Oracle and Tesla to Texas (which, of course, also beckons with cheaper space and subsidies).

Amazon workers at the new warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will know after a month of voting at the end of March whether their request to form a union will find a majority. It would be the first unionized workforce at the corporation in the U.S., and in the union-hostile southern states at that. The camp was strategically placed: 70 percent in the county there are African American, and the county is desperately poor and was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2011. Eighty-five percent of the workforce is African American, many of them politicized by Black Lives Matter. In recent months, Amazon made a huge effort to prevent the mobilization: Lies, defamation, five threatening text messages a day, readjusting traffic lights in front of the plant so drivers can't talk to protesting workers; workers who quit on their own get $2,000 "bonuses."

The 5800 workers earn $15.30 an hour, more than double the minimum wage. But warehouse workers understand that they can't escape these jobs anytime soon, so they need to improve conditions.

Michael Goldfield, who researched class struggle in the South in the 1930s and '40s, says of the conflict in Bessemer, "the unionization and transformation of the South is key to transforming the country. This is the part of the country that historically has held everything back, from the early colonial times to the founding of the republic. "The unionization and transformation of the South is key to transforming the country. This is the part of the country that historically has held everything back … [It] really provides the key to opening all sorts of things up." [53]

But the union that seeks to organize the warehouse is the RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union), under the auspices of the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers). In the U.S., they are considered "business unions," unions that make common cause with business owners. In Bessemer, the workers just vote, and the RWDSU takes care of the rest. "Workers' organization" would be something else! The union tries to prevent direct contact with other workers. The organized colleagues at Amazon Chicago had to experience this as well. The comrade with whom we did an interview in Wildcat 103 says that the RWDSU prevents them from getting in touch with their colleagues in Bessemer and exchanging experiences. [54]

What class struggle?

Across all currents, leftists see the building of structures of "mutual aid" as the first step on the way to a different society - quasi islands that grow together. Such structures are always needed in struggles, but they are never a strategy! Faster than you think you take over (social) state tasks and get stuck in there - instead of the movement becoming broader and more offensive. The analyses of "precarity" and the "era of riots" remain too superficial. The actions become more militant, but the movement rather smaller. At the same time, the right questions are definitely asked: How can (scene) barriers be overcome? Who produces the things that are looted in the uprising? [55] Even: How do you win a strike? [56] They look for people who are also in conflict and with whom they can ally. But in the movement dynamics, they skip over the important question, "What is class today?" The connection between the capitalist structure of exploitation and the force that collectively makes society and can make a social revolution must be worked out anew in the confrontation with the movements and strikes. Only then will the left no longer be "clueless and disorganized."

No peace with Biden

The "diverse" Biden/Harris administration pretends to be pro-union and supports the trials in Bessemer. They no longer want to separate refugee children from their families, have rejoined the climate agreement, want voting reform that eliminates exclusionary mechanisms. They want the tech monopolies tamed. Biden's $1.9 trillion package (American Rescue Plan Act, ARPA) is supposed to create economic growth. Many predict falling poverty, see social democratic dawn - money from the aid package will secure families a monthly income of several thousand dollars. That would be decent.

But with their economic policy of "go big," they are following Modern Monetary Theory, that is, incurring debt and handing out money without counter-financing through tax revenues. As long as no inflation develops, everything is fine, so the theory goes. But this is not even social democratic modernization, but a "late-imperial fever dream," [57] a concession to the right, which does not tolerate tax increases. In mid-March 2021, Biden announced he would raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent - but in 2017 Trump had cut it from 35 percent!

The money isn't going where it needs to, either. In the campaign, Biden had promised $2,000 checks for most Americans and a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour plus unemployment benefits of $400 a week. That has now turned into $1400 plus a $300 unemployment benefit subsidy - the minimum wage increase fails. Tens of millions of low-wage workers now get no raise.

Biden/Harris get their economists from BlackRock, the world's largest investment firm, which increases the wealth of the rich. In addition to old acquaintances from the Obama era, they have brought in new crass people: the defense secretary sits on the supervisory board of an arms company that supplies weapons to Saudi Arabia. Biden himself had Syria bombed just one month after taking office. He opposes "Medicare for all" and "Defund the Police."

Many criticize the new administration as "Obama III" - but actually it looks worse because the new administration does not address the causes of social inequality at all; it is only about "racial inequality." By taming the tech monopolies, they want to revive competition and innovation. ARPA support payments are scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2021.

In terms of class politics, we can expect a combination of union regulation (Bessemer, Protecting the Right to Organize Act) and modernization of social control.

In mid-March 2021, Biden told refugees from Central America, "Don't come!" At the same time, he is escalating the geopolitical confrontation - three weeks after the U.S. bombed Syria, he agrees that Putin is a murderer. Through the foreign minister, he called for an "immediate halt" to construction on the North Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. In alliance with Japan and South Korea, the U.S. government is imposing more sanctions on China.

"There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party. And it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat." (Gore Vidal)

Footnotes:

[1] Larry Buchanan, Quoctrung Bui, Jugal K. Patel: Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History, July 3, 2020, www.nytimes.com

[2] Chuck Collins, Omar Ocampo, Sophia Paslaski: Billionaire Bonanza 2020, 4/23/2020, www.ips-dc.org

[3] Salena Zito: The day that destroyed the working class and sowed the seeds of Trump, New York Post, 9/16/2017.

[4] Mike Davis: Phoenix in a Nosedive, on the Political Economy of the United States in the 1980s, 1986, pp. 61-64.

[5] Tracy Neumann: Remaking the Rust Belt, the Postindustrial Transformation of North America, 2016, pp. 14-43.

[6] Donna Demac, Philip Mattera: Developing and Underdeveloping New York, The "budget crisis" and the enforcement of austerity, Zerowork. (Thekla 10), 1988

[7] Joseph McCartin: Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America, 2011, p. 345.

[8] Mike Davis: Losing West Virginia, Socialist Review, Dec. 1, 2004.

[9] George Caffentzis: The "Si se puede" uprising: a class analysis, Wildcat 77, Summer 2006

[10] * Heike Buchter: The Sick System, Time, 10/14/2020.
* A detailed history was published by Laurie Garrett in 2001: The End of Health, pp. 259-371.
* ORF aired a compact documentary in January 2021: Emergency - America's Sick Health Care System.

[11] The diminishing opportunities for social advancement since the 1980s are discussed as "neo-feudalism." See the somewhat unwieldy, but interspersed with many informative sources and references, book by Joel Kotkin: The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, a Warning to the Global Middle Class, 2020

[12] Marc Andreessen's widely read cry for help, which appeals to the reconstruction of a productive industry-he asks, among other things: "Is the problem capitalism?": It's time to build, 2020/4/18, www.a16z.com

[13] * Dan Wang: Why America Can Make Semiconductors But Not Swabs, 5/8/2020, www.bloombergquint.com
* For the larger context, Edna Bonacich, Jake B. Wilson: Getting the Goods, 2008, pp. 3-41

[14] Knut Pankin: A System with Pre-Existing Conditions, Why the U.S. is Having a Hard Time with the Corona economic crisis, FES paper, June 2020.

[15] At its peak in 1980, there were 20 million industrial jobs; in 2000, there were In 2007, the number was 14 million; in the global crisis, it dropped to less than 12. it dropped to below 12. Until before Corona, it did not get above 13 million. The sharp drop started after China joined the WTO on December 11, 2001.

[16] A 2018/19 survey in Illinois found that 83 percent of the temporary labor assignments are done by nonwhite workers - in a a state where nonwhite workers make up only 35 percent of the make up. Seventy-five percent of the assignments were done by blacks and Hispanics. Dave DeSario, Jannelle White: Race To The Bottom: The Demographics of Blue-Collar Temporary Staffing, December 2020, www.tempworkerjustice.org

[17] Sean O'Leary: The Natural Gas Fracking Boom and Appalachia's Lost Economic Decade, Feb. 10, 2021, www.ohiorivervalleyinstitute.org, pp. 16-18

[18] Philip Bump: Trump's farmer bailout gave $21 billion to red counties and $2.1 billion to blue ones, Washington Post, 20.10.2020.

[19] Robert Brenner: Escalating Plunder, New Left Review 123, May/June 2020.

[20] Molly Kinder, Laura Stateler, Julia Du: Windfall profits and deadly risks: How the biggest retail companies are compensating essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, November 2020, www.brookings.edu

[21] Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Claire Bushey, Bethan Staton, Anna Gross: Lockdown Heroes: Will they ever get a Raise? July 7, 2020, www.ft.com

[22] David Rosen: Thumb in the Dike: Homelessness and Deepening Inequality, 3/18/2021, www.counterpunch.org

[23] Les Leopold: Covid-19's Class War, the greatest predictor of coronavirus deaths appears to be income, 7/28/2020, www.prospect.org
See also Financial Times, February 20, 2021: "For instance, the zip code containing Streeterville, a neighbourhood that is home to a Gucci boutique and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, has one of the highest vaccination rates in the city. The area is more than 70 per cent white, with a median household income of almost $107,000. Just 40 per 100,000 residents have died of Covid-19, while about 24 per cent of them have received a first dose of the vaccine. Sixteen miles south, the zip code containing Roseland is more than 90 per cent black with a median household income of $41,000. Covid-19 has killed 279 people out of every 100,000; just 6 per cent of residents have received a first dose of the vaccine." Christine Zhang, Claire Bushey: Racial inequality plagues US vaccine rollout. (By the way, a nice example of how "ethnicity" is erroneously made strong in the title – the correct would be "poverty" or "social inequality.")

[24] Steffie Woolhandler et al: Public Policy and Health in the Trump Era, FEB. 10, 2021, www.thelancet.com

[25] * Carolyn Gallaher: On the Fault Line, Race, Class, and the Patriot Movement, 2003, pp. 69-96
* Caleb Corell: Blood on the Plow, Extremist Group Activity during the 1980ies Farm Crisis in Kansas, 2019

[26] Mike Davis: Trench Warfare, New Left Review 126, Nov/Dec. 2020, S. 18

[27] * Insurrectionist Idris Robinson later compared the anti-fascist later compared him to John Brown, the famous white fighter against slavery in the 19th century: Letter to Michael Reinoehl, Oct. 23, 2020, www.illwilleditions.com
* Anonymous: Did Donald Trump Order The Execution of Portland Activist Michael Reinoehl? Feb. 12, 2021, www.itsgoingdown.org (Trump's op-ed: https://t.co/WfIP9b37sA)

[28] Mike Davis: Trench Warfare, op. cit.

[29] ACLED Paper (Roudabeh Kishi, Hampton Stall, Sam Jones): The Future of. "Stop the Steal," Post-Election Trajectories for Right-Wing Mobilization in the US, December 2020

[30] Robert A. Pape, Keven Ruby: The Capitol Rioters Aren't Like Other Extremists, The Altantic, Feb. 2, 2021.

[31] Thomas Watters: Dressing the Emperor, the Dangerous Farce of the Petite Bourgeoisie, 28.1.2021, www.spectrejournal.com

[32] David McNally: The Return of the Mass Strikes - Teachers, Students, Feminists, and the new Wave of Popular Upheavals, 6/6/2020, www.spectrejournal.com

[33] * US Bureau of Labor Statistics - Work Stoppages: https://www.bls.gov/wsp
* Heidi Shierholz, Margaret Poydock: Continued surge in strike activity signals worker dissatisfaction with wage growth, Feb. 11, 2020, www.epi.org

[34] Spencer Cox: Bursting the Bubble: The Emerging Tech Worker Movement at Amazon, in: Wilson/Reese: The Cost of Free Shipping, 2020, pp. 225-237.

[35] In early 2019 and early 2020, there were also two major strike waves in Mexico on the border with the U.S. two major waves of strikes, see Wildcat 104 and 105.

[36] One of the three women meticulously describes with many anecdotes the emergence: Alicia Garza: The Purpose of Power, How We Come Together When We Fall Apart, 2020, pp. 73-88.The book is a search for the power to end misery-within the confines of Intersectionalism and community organizing.

[37] The accounts of Minneapolis, Seattle, and the small towns were emailed to us by a comrade.

[38] Jarrod Shanahan, Zhandarka Kurti: The Shifting Ground: A Conversation on the George Floyd Rebellion, 9/20/2020, www.illwilleditions.com

[39] About to explode: Notes on the #WalterWallaceJr Rebellion in Philadelphia, 12.11.2020, www.itsgoingdown.org

[40] Travis Campbell: Black Lives Matter's Effect on Police Lethal Use-of-Force, 1/15/2021, www.ssm.com

[41] * At the Wendys: Armed Struggle at the End of the World, 9/11/2020, www.illwilleditions.com (Although the author does not get beyond the approach of community organizing, he provides interesting insights into a month-long occupy action in Atlanta from June 12 to July 14, 2020. We have translated the text into German and will send it upon request).
* Jordan Martinez: The CHAZ Trap, Nov. 25, 2020, www.regeneration.org (on the Course in Seattle)

[42] Aaron Petcoff, Ben Tarnoff: Tech Workers at Every Level Can Organize to Build Power, Feb. 6, 2021, www.jacobinmag.com

[43] Mike Davis: Hopes for 2021?, 6.1.2021, www.newleftreview.org/sidecar

[44] Ina Sembdner: "Don't Do White Education Work," interview in the Junge Welt, 8/19/2020

[45] An interesting critique of anti-racism is provided by Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed Jr: The Trouble with Disparity, 10.9.2020, www.nonsite.org

[46] This is confirmed by sociological surveys, arrest evaluations and telephone data evaluations in insurgency areas.

[47] Fola Akinnibi, Sarah Holder, Christopher Cannon: Cities Say They Want to Defund the Police. Their Budgets Say Otherwise, Jan. 12, 2021, www.bloomberg.com

[48] Even if $15 is still too low, the union-affiliated union-affiliated Economic Policy Institute calculates that an increase would benefit more than ten percent of the U.S. population would benefit. David Cooper: Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2014 would lift pay for nearly 40 million workers, Feb. 5, 2019, www.epi.org

[49] David Rovics: To the Barricades: The Red House and the Future of Eviction Defense, Dec. 10, 2020, www.counterpunch.org

[50] Squatting, Rebellion, Movement: An Interview with Philadelphia Housing Action, Jan. 30, 2021, www.itsgoingdown.org

[51] Autonomous Mutual Aid Groups Mobilize in Texas as Death Toll Rises, 2/17/2021, www.itsgoingdown.org

[52] Read in detail at Paydayreport.com: Pittsburgh resident Mike Elk runs the site, including a strike tracker, as a crowdfunding project - but the more than 1000 strikes counted since March 2020 are but 99 percent are one-time, very brief, symbolic actions. In addition to all the individually counted nine-minute strikes, he cites such such things as canceled football practices, slower production due to absenteeism absenteeism, a strike by researchers at a biological institute, etc.

[53] The Alabama Amazon Union Drive Could Be the Most Important Labor Fight in the South in Decades, 2/19/2020, www.jacobinmag.com

[54] Building Collective Power: Struggles Against Racism and Overwork at Amazon Chicago, 23.2.2021, www.transnational-strike.info

[55] Shemon: Missed Insurrections, 16.2.2021, www.illwill.com

[56] Labor Notes: How to Strike and Win, November 2019, www.labornotes.org

[57] Doug Henwood: Modern Monetary Theory Isn’t Helping, 21.2.2019, www.jacobinmag.com

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AngryWorkersWorld
May 11 2021 08:47

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  • Across all currents, leftists see the building of structures of "mutual aid" as the first step on the way to a different society - quasi islands that grow together. Such structures are always needed in struggles, but they are never a strategy!

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AngryWorkersWorld
May 11 2021 08:48

For an overview on other articles in this issue of Wildcat magazine - and some thoughts on collective work, please read:

https://www.angryworkers.org/2021/05/04/introduction-to-wildcat-magazine...