Campaign for Socialism -- Capitalism is the Issue

The People
December 1996
Vol. 106 No. 9

Campaign for Socialism -- CAPITALISM IS THE ISSUE

The following is the text of a presentation delivered by SLP National Secretary Robert Bills at an "SLP Campaign for Socialism" discussion meeting held at the New College Law School in San Francisco on Oct. 27:

Good afternoon, and welcome to the last in a series of "1996 Campaign for Socialism" discussion meetings sponsored by Section San Francisco Bay Area.

These meetings, of course, are held to acquaint you with the SLP's point of view on important questions affecting workers raised during the campaign. To get things started today, I have prepared a few introductory remarks that may help to give direction to the informal portion of the program -- remarks meant to stimulate rather than to anticipate or answer questions in advance.

This morning's issue of the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS carried what it called an "Economics Sweepstakes Quiz of 1996." Among other things, the article cited the results of a few polls on the economic claims of the Republican and Democratic parties -- results that seemed contradictory in themselves and made it "clear there's a lot of confusion." To this the article added:

"Nowhere has the mass media, politicians, the experts and our education system failed us more than in the area of economic education. It is amazing how many intelligent people get nervous at the sound of the word 'economics.' What's more, the so-called experts have confused us so much that we don't even trust our common sense. As a result we fail to participate in the process."

The MERCURY NEWS made no effort to unscramble the confusion. It merely posed a few trivial questions. But stripped of its purpose to give purpose to itself, the article stated a truth. The American working class is thoroughly confused about basic economic questions, the confusion stems largely from the misinformation supplied to it by the so-called experts, and most workers don't even trust their own common sense on basic economic questions.

More than 40 years ago, the Socialist Labor Party tried to warn the American working class that unless they organized themselves into an economic organization to take control of the economy and a political party to express their own interests they would soon be faced with a situation in which their ability to make a living and support themselves would be destroyed.

One of several statements on the economy the SLP printed and distributed in the 1950s began this way:

"The American workers had better wake up to the implications of automation -- push-button factories -- and wake up soon, or they will find themselves ousted permanently from their jobs, and reduced to beggars living on handouts of the state."

The statement added that, "This is no exaggeration. It is a cold-sober appraisal of the prospects confronting American labor under capitalist society as a result of the technological revolution that is sweeping through factory, mine, mill and office."

There were others who understood the implications of automation, of course, but for the most part the mass media, politicians and other spokespersons for the capitalist system claimed that automation would eventually create more jobs than it destroyed.

As it turned out, the pace of automation in the United States was slowed by the reluctance of American capitalists to make the large capital investments that would have been necessary to carry it through. The 1970s and 1980s were decades in which they tried to make up for lost ground. That was the era of the "Rust Bowl," when thousands of industrial plants were found to be outmoded compared to those of Germany and Japan, and of the "givebacks" or "takebacks" on wages, when the AFL-CIO openly and unabashedly cooperated with American capitalists scrambling to accumulate the capital needed to replace the country's antiquated industrial base.

Since the invention of modern computers, of course, the pace of what some call "modernization" has accelerated. If it appears today that the SLP was premature in its 1950s forecast, it was not wrong about the eventuality. If anything, it may have understated the case for the reason that the borders of what was once called the "industrial world" have expanded beyond the frontiers of North America, Western Europe and Japan to embrace a much larger portion of the globe.

Last January, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT published a cover story that it called, "Is the American Worker Getting Shafted? The Assault on the Middle Class."

There is a temptation here to stop long enough to deal with this identification of American workers as a "middle class" because it is an example of the confusion that the news business and others create about the meaning and implications of classes in society. We can return to that in our discussion.

The main thing here, however, is the numbers that the article contained. You have heard many of them before, or ones similar to them. With variations, they have been printed and broadcast by the entire media. You may not remember precisely what they are, but they are similar to those Bob Dole has in mind when he says that American workers are uneasy about the future. For his part, Bill Clinton insists that the numbers, or some of them, are misleading, that the economy is "picking up," and that American workers have less to worry about than his Republican opponent would have them believe.

The numbers printed by U.S. NEWS, and some of the dialogue that went with them, can hardly be taken as reassuring by American workers.

They included figures to show that the purchasing power of wages has declined steadily since 1970, despite dramatic increases in the productivity of American labor and enormous increases in corporate profits.

They showed that U.S. corporations have increased their capital investments in high-tech, labor-displacing equipment threefold since 1985, from $100 billion to more than $300 billion in 1995.

There were numbers to show that the vast majority of corporate wealth is concentrated in the hands of 10 percent of the population -- that 10 or 11 percent control 89 percent of all stock in so-called "public companies."

Also included was a list of large corporations that have announced massive layoffs since 1993 -- 15,000 each by Delta Airlines and Lockheed Martin, 16,800 by Nynex, 17,000 by GTE Sylvania, 20,000 by Digital Equipment, 28,000 by Boeing, 50,000 by Sears Roebuck, 55,000 by AT&T and 63,000 by IBM -- 239,600 by those nine companies alone.

The same article went on to attribute all of this to what it called "the competitive squeeze" and "the pressures of international trade," then added the following, which I quote:

"Today, virtually every sector of the American economy is in a vise of commercial rivalries around the globe. The result is a huge wave of downsizings and unremitting job insecurity that persist more than four years into the expansion. Last year [1995], U.S. corporations announced nearly a half-million layoffs. Deregulation and technological changes have heated up domestic competition in many industries. In banking, this has spurred a wave of mergers. The recent combination of Chemical Bank and Chase Manhattan, for example, is expected to lead to the elimination of 12,000 out of 75,000 jobs. Some 70,000 positions have been cut from the banking industry over the past five years, but a study by Deloitte & Touche predicts that 450,000 more banking employees will lose their jobs in the next decade."

The article also noted that 140,000 telephone jobs have been lost since 1993, and those on top of the 40,000 already mentioned.

U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, of course, is not the only source of information of this kind. The mass media is filled with it, and very few dispute it. Only yesterday, for example, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported that the Clinton administration had reluctantly agreed to adjust its former claims on the numbers of workers who have lost jobs between 1993 and 1995.

Until now, the administration and the Clinton reelection campaign have tried to take credit for what was supposed a reassuring improvement in the job picture since 1992. Last year, the Department of Labor claimed layoffs during the 1993P 1995 period totaled 8.4 million, compared to 9.2 million during the preceding three years. Now it concedes that the 8.4 million figure was wrong and that the actual figure for the 1993P1995 period was 9.4 million -- that is, even more than before the Clinton administration took office.

Common sense, to use the MERCURY NEWS' phrase, should tell workers that the cause of declining wages, spreading economic insecurity and unemployment has nothing to do with who lives in the White House or sits in Congress.

Common sense should tell workers that politicians don't decide when factories will close down or how many workers to lay off.

Common sense should tell workers that in a capitalist economy those decisions are made by those who own the factories, mills, mines and other means of wealth production.

Common sense should tell workers that capitalists make those decisions in their own interests, not in the interests of the working class.

From these and other facts the Socialist Labor Party draws certain conclusions.

First: Increased productivity, declining wages, massive elimination of jobs, spreading economic insecurity and the congestion of wealth proves that the capitalist system of private ownership and profit production is based on the exploitation of the working class.

Second: As long as this foundation of society remains this trend will continue regardless of the claims and promises of politicians.

Third: That the only solution to such fundamental problems stemming from the very nature of the system under which we live must also be a fundamental one.

The Socialist Labor Party stands today by the position in took in the 1950s. As long as the working class of the country tolerates the private ownership and control of the economy, workers will be used and disposed of to suit the profit whims of the tiny capitalist class.