What Can Be Done About Unemployment?

A Socialist Labor Party Statement
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What Can Be Done About Unemployment?

To listen to the pronouncements of political officials and the reports of the media, one would think that the wave of unemployment sweeping the country was a mysterious plague with an unknown cause. But the causes of unemployment are not nearly as obscure as the official explanations would have us believe. A few direct questions put the issue squarely in focus:

Are over seven million American workers and more than a quarter of this nation's manufacturing capacity standing idle because there is no need anywhere for what they could produce?

Are tens of thousands of auto workers out of work because Americans have too many new cars to drive or because the transportation needs of the nation have been met?

Has the housing industry shut down because working people no longer need decent places to live?

Have layoffs spread through the garment and textile industries because every American is now well clothed?

The answers aren't hard to find.

Working people are joining the unemployment lines for mainly one reason -- once again they have produced goods which no one can buy, though the crying need for those goods is evident everywhere.

For decades, American capitalism has been, and remains, an economic system in which the enormous wealth produced by the labor of its people constitutes a problem. Not because it can't be used, but because it can't be sold at a profit. And if the private owners of the tools of social production can't make a profit, they close up shop, no matter how pressing the needs of the nation may be.

By what right do the owners of industry choke off production when their profit margins grow too slim? Only by virtue of the private ownership that gives them autocratic control over the nation's economy, an autocratic control which is subjecting the majority of people in this country to a crushing burden.

Every lay-off notice gives the lie to the long-standing claim that unemployment is the fault of the jobless worker. Every call to "sacrifice" is an attempt to shift the blame for the crisis away from the system responsible. The growth of unemployment is caused by the profit drive of a small class that guides every aspect of our economy according to its private

interests, interests which clash directly with the urgent needs of the majority of the American people.

Many workers look to the government for solutions to the growing problem. But since government economists consider a 5 percent jobless rate to be "full employment," it's hardly surprising that they can't come up with a cure. In fact, the government seeks no solution. It admits that unemployment is a permanent feature of American capitalism. The average rate of unemployment for the last 25 years in the United States has been between 4 and 5 percent, one of the highest rates in the world. It is only when it goes beyond the government's "acceptable levels" that public officials even pretend concern.

Lacking any real solution to unemployment, the government offers a bureaucratic system of unemployment insurance instead. But with payments averaging about $65 a week throughout the nation, the only thing such a system ensures is poverty. As the jobless rolls mount and the weeks pass, the meager cushions offered to the unemployed evaporate, but capitalist economic crisis has no 26- or 39-week limit, and millions are left sinking deeper into poverty.

Some suggest that the government could solve the problem if only it would pour its billions into creating government jobs. But in the last four decades the government has done just that, until today all levels of government employ 14 million people. And still unemployment spreads.

The panaceas offered to solve the problem of unemployment have failed. Workers have no stake in new versions of these bankrupt measures, whether they come out of the Democratic or Republican side of the ruling class's mouth. The efforts at reform only confirm the permanent existence and insolubility of problems like unemployment as long as capitalism lasts. The small class which governs America made it clear long ago that any policies it adopts to save its profit system will be at the expense of workers.

To be sure, workers are fighting back with the weapons they have at hand, and in line with their political and economic insight at the moment. Strikes, protests and other visible signs of their determination are everywhere. Instinctively the American workers understand that the hardships they are facing are not inevitable, and instead are the product of an economic system stacked against their interests.

But their resistance to worsening conditions continues to be restricted by persisting political illusions and basic weaknesses in their present state of organization. They have not yet begun to organize their real strength.

Piecemeal solutions and temporary measures won't do. Not only do they leave the cause of our problems intact, they fail to meet our most pressing basic needs. Our solution must be as broad and far-reaching as the problems we face.

The working-class solution to the economic crisis must rest on scrapping the entire economic system. Not sometime in the distant future, but now, when our needs must be met. We must build a movement that will extend democracy to control of the economy; that will replace the profit motive with planned production for use; that will eliminate the class monopoly on the means of life.

American workers must rely on their own strength; no one else will save them. We must form new organizations which, unlike the present labor bureaucracies which plead the case of the employers, will base themselves squarely on working-class interests. We must build a labor movement that cuts across the divisions of crafts and contracts, and joins all workers in industrywide units. Labor's unity must be based on the common problems of all workers- employed or unemployed, skilled or unskilled. Its goal must be nothing short of a total challenge to the rule of capital and the construction of a new society.

At the same time we must form a political party based on our class interests. No faction or variation of the capitalist parties will represent workers' interests. For too long workers have relied on capitalist politicians to be their spokesmen.

A political party that expresses our collective class interests, and new industrial unions, both aimed at a socialist goal- these are weapons that have only begun to be built.

The job of educating and organizing is immense. But any postponement of the task is a postponement of the only solution we have -- a reconstruction of capitalist society along socialist lines. There are no other ways out and no one but the American workers to do the job.