Life Under the Red, White and Blue

Revolutionary Worker #1132, December 23, 2001, posted at

"Tough times for laid-off, low-income workers."

"Unemployment claims at 10-year high."

Front-page headlines in the
Oct. 30 edition of USA Today

"I was shocked to learn that while our nation was reeling from anthrax threats, and few people were paying attention, the House voted to give gigantic tax rebates to our country's largest corporations... The economic stimulus package passed by the House includes: $1.4 billion for IBM, $844 million for General Motors..."

From the "Letters to the Editor" page,
Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 22

The president and the power structure of the U.S. say that the attacks of September 11 were attacks on "our way of life." They insist that the people of the U.S. all share a common interest--and everyone should come together to stand behind the wars and other actions carried out by the U.S. government and military in the name of defending this "way of life."

But what actually is this "way of life"? And do the majority of people in this country really share a common interest with the power structure in this "way of life"?

Behind all the red-white-and-blue flags and the "united we stand" bumper stickers, there is the reality of a class-divided society--where the "way of life" means very different things for those who concentrate power and wealth in their hands, and for the masses of people. The following are several snapshots of that reality.

Welfare for the Poor Disappears, Another Kind of Welfare Flourishes

At a time when the recession is slamming many people hard, tens of thousands of welfare recipients face a permanent cut-off of their benefits. The "welfare reform" signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996 set a lifetime limit of five years for welfare assistance and mandated the end of benefits when people reach that limit. The rule began to take effect at the start of December. In New York City alone, about 30,000 families are affected.

Odaliz Luz of New York City is one of the people threatened with the cut-off. She works as a receptionist but earns too little to provide for the needs of her family of four kids, including a 13-year-old son who has required repeated operations for a serious medical condition. So she has depended on government assistance to supplement her income. Facing the prospect of that money being taken away, Luz said, "Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do."

In the meantime, another kind of welfare--corporate welfare--is not only alive but being doled out in huge amounts.

The U.S. government has already given over $15 billion in bailouts to airline corporations--whose executives promptly laid off 100,000 workers. The government has not proposed any special help for these workers suddenly thrown into the growing ranks of the jobless.

The government is also considering giving various type of help to the major insurance companies--at the same time, millions of people in this country can't afford health insurance, are losing insurance after being laid off, or are squeezed tighter by sharply rising premiums.

In October, the House approved agricultural subsidies amounting to $170 billion over 10 years. A commentator noted, "If you think this money will bail out the Joads on some dusty farm, guess again. The main beneficiary of federal farm programs is agribusiness."

The House also passed an "economic stimulus package" that consists in large part of tax breaks to the biggest corporations. One of the most outrageous parts of the bill is the repeal of the alternative minimum corporate tax--which requires profitable companies to pay at least some tax, no matter how many loopholes their accountants find. The repeal of this tax will add billions of dollars to corporate bank accounts each year.

Going even further, the House made the repeal of the minimum corporate tax retroactive for 15 years. This means that corporations would get immediate rebates on the minimum tax they paid for the past 15 years. These rebates would total $25 billion. Among the biggest potential beneficiaries: IBM, $1.4 billion; Ford, $1 billion; General Motors and General Electric, over $600 million each; Chevron Texaco, $570 million.

Congress is still discussing the economic stimulus bill, and the final version may have different provisions from the one passed by the House. But it's still a fact that a majority in the House, one of the two main law-making bodies of the U.S., thought it's a good idea to give billions in outright cash gifts to super-rich corporations--while providing little or no help to the rising number of people who are laid off, unemployed, denied government assistance, unable to afford health insurance, etc.

Meanwhile, as some "lucky" capitalist corporations drool obscenely over the prospects of monstrous war profits and/or more cheap oil from around the world, the state gives out billions of dollars in real charity to the "less fortunate" of the ruling class, such as the airlines. And these companies are allowed--and even encouraged--to lay off tens of thousands, cut benefits, and slash wages. This is the current consensus of ruling class politicians--and it is also the "normal" workings of this capitalist system.

Million-Dollar Bonuses and Thousands of Pink Slips

The giant energy conglomerate Enron, with $50 billion in assets, was one of the potential beneficiaries of the minimum corporate tax rebate. The Bush family has close ties with Enron, which was one of the biggest contributors to W's presidential campaign.

At the beginning of December, however, Enron filed for bankruptcy. This is the biggest bankruptcy filing ever. Enron was part of the "boom" of the 1990s, when its stock soared. As Enron collapsed, it became clear that its wealth was built on a house of cards--on rampant speculation and fraud.

A few days before the bankruptcy papers were filed, Enron paid out $55 million in bonuses to executives. A company spokesman said the bonuses were a way to "retain key employees" in order to "protect and maintain the value" of the corporation.

But the cold-hearted company owners did not bother to "protect and maintain" lower-level employees. Thousands of Enron workers have received lay-off notices since the bankruptcy filing. And many have seen their pension plans, which were heavily invested in Enron stock, totally wiped out.

The Missing Homeless of the WTC --and the Growing Crisis of Homelessness and Hunger

The World Trade Center towers were a major hub of capitalist corporations in lower Manhattan. But what is not so widely known is that many homeless sought shelter there. According to the Village Voice, "The towers drew homeless people from across the city. They formed their own culture on the broad, bustling concourse filled with stores. They slept near the E train, in the long hallway that stretched out from the A, in the tunnels of the PATH train."

Many of the homeless who hung out at WTC have not been seen since September 11. An activist who helped the homeless at the WTC told the Voice, "I have a strong feeling that a lot of people did not get out. An investigation needs to take place, because those homeless people could have left behind survivors, too." No one knows for sure, but some fear that more than 50 homeless people might have perished.

The homeless who gathered at the WTC were part of the rising number of homeless in the city and around the country. In the months before September 11, the number of homeless in New York City using the shelter system hit 29,000--an all-time high and an increase of 8,000 over the figure three years ago. And according to a recent survey, 19 of 27 major cities reported increases in people requesting emergency shelter compared to a year ago.

Homelessness is expected to increase as the recession hits harder and job losses mount. An advocate for the homeless says, "Things are already worse than they were in the late '80s, because we're now dealing with more families with children."

Along with increasing homelessness, there is a rise in hunger in the U.S. The survey of 27 cities found that 25 cities saw an increase in requests for emergency food aid. Many city officials said they are reducing the size or frequency of meals or turning people away because the need for emergency food assistance is rising so fast. Another recent study reported that over 23 million people in the U.S. needed to rely on food charities in the past year--a 9 percent increase since 1997.

It's not only the homeless or the poorest sections of society that need food aid. A quarter of the people using food pantries are homeowners, and a similar percentage are employed. Women with children make up a majority of food bank users.


"The big capitalists brag that this is 'the best of all possible worlds.' And it is--for their class! But for the proletarians who work in the factories, hospitals, hotels, and throughout the urban areas, in the suburbs and small towns, and in the fields, and for the oppressed of the world--it is sheer hell! To call this grotesque state of global inequality the best of all possible worlds is an ugly self-exposure. More than that, it's a stinging indictment of this system's total failure and inability to provide any future other than this nightmare for the majority of the world."

From the Draft Programme of the
Revolutionary Communist Party, USA

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