by Ellen Isaacs
There is one thing the now 30 day old government shutdown shows for sure – neither Donald Trump nor his opponents have any concern for poor U.S. workers, the biggest victims of this power game between the main wing of the ruling class and the usurpers of the on the right. 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (CNBC 1/9), and now 800,000 federal employees and hundreds of thousands of contractors, who are 40% of government personnel, are without one, whether or not they are being forced to work. To understand the devastation, we must know that 21.2% of U.S. families have no savings, including over 32% of Latin and 37% of black families. 40% of all families have less than $400 in available cash for emergencies, according to the Federal Reserve. What more proof need there be that workers cannot afford to live under this capitalist system?
Native Americans living on federally funded land have been hardest hit. Snow covered roads are not being cleared, ambulances cannot run and medical care is devastated by a 60% unpaid healthcare workforce. Some of the other concrete effects of the shutdown, which disproportionately affects black and Latin workers, are:
*food stamps, used by 38 million people, were given out early for February and will no longer be available;
*federal cash welfare for $34 million is gone and being temporarily replaced by states; USDA loans and federal rent subsidies for low income rural dwellers will end by 2/1;
*food inspections have markedly decreased;
*approvals for opioid drug antagonists cannot be had.
If workers have not already died from these measures, they soon will, and it is certain that widespread effects of the stress and deprivation will continue long after the shutdown ends.
Why Make a Crisis out of Immigration?
Trump pretends that there is an “immigration crisis,” but illegal border crossings have dropped from 851,000 in 2006 to approximately 62,000 in 2016, and both immigrants with legal status and undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate and have lower unemployment than the native born (NYT 1/11/19). Most illegally imported drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry. Given the falling fertility rates of native-born Americans, the U.S. would need to admit more than a million immigrants a year until 2050, more than double the current number, just to maintain current levels of production (NYT 1/15/19).
What the maintenance of legal barriers to immigration does accomplish is to keep this large body of workers in a state of constant fear, drastically limiting their ability to demand higher wages or organize. By branding immigrant workers as dangerous and criminal, racist and nationalistic divisions are also sown between them and other poor workers, including blacks and legal immigrants or their descendants.
Why is This Happening Now?
There may be no better explanation than that Trump is a bumbling politician, devoid of any stable advisors representing the usual ruling class forces. He sees himself as beholden to his most racist and reactionary base to fulfill a campaign promise to “build the wall” and earn his racist and nationalist stripes. However, there should be no illusions that the Democrats or liberals who oppose him have any interest in treating immigrants with humanity. Since a century ago, Presidents Wilson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, both Bush’s and Obama have set up draconian barriers to immigration and deported huge numbers, about 3 million by Obama alone, and all of them have divided families without mercy.
The Democrats today, representing the main finance wing of the ruling class, are anxious to weaken Trump, who is destroying years of policies that strengthened international military, political and financial alliances. They are horrified by his general undisciplined behavior and that he is withdrawing from Syria and Afghanistan, threatening to withdraw from NATO and risking precipitous armed conflicts by taunting Iran, North Korea and China, before large numbers of workers are ready to fight and support war. They also oppose his total destruction of environmental regulations, overt white supremacy, and destruction of “free trade,” all damaging to the reputation and sway of America’s large corporations and their relations with international cronies. The Democrat’s majority in the House gives them the clout to carry on with this game of chicken and perhaps bring impeachment closer or, at least, shake loose some Republican allies of Trump.
Ultimately, workers must rise up collectively to defend themselves from both parties. Mass sickouts among airport workers are already happening and may spread. Although federal workers are legally banned from striking, job actions are needed to defend their very ability to survive as all the bosses ignore their needs. The government would not be able to fire all federal employees, like Nixon did the air traffic controllers in 1981 when they struck. Once again it is clear that capitalism cares naught for workers’ lives and that, if organized and united, workers could change this whole game, demonstrate their power to themselves and the politicians, and save themselves from want and hardship.