Communist Youth Organization

The Youth Branch of The Workers’ Communist Party of Iran

Chia Barsen: Only fighting for $15/h is NOT a working-class solution

Workers from 200 cities are currently walking out on jobs, in places such as Atlanta, New York, Boston and Los Angeles, joined by workers in Brazil, New Zealand and the UK, and including workers in fast-food chains such as McDonalds. This has become the largest recent protest against corporate greed. The current minimum wage in the US remains at $7.25, less than half of what the workers are demanding.

With over three decades of neoliberal privatizations, the working-class in the US and South America are impelled by financial difficulties and poverty to take matters into their own hands, and no longer rely on false bourgeois party promises for reform. The gap between the rich and the poor in the US has reached gargantuan levels as the working-class is forced, through privatization of social services, to pay for their own social reproduction through their stagnant wages. Capital wants to remove all of its responsibility and costs of the social reproduction of labour and to force the working class to pay for this cost through their wages: such as the cost of housing, health care, and education.  What was once a high taxation (over 70%), is now a tax haven for corporations (26% in the UK). The Keynesian demand management of the economy, which temporarily dampened the economic crisis cycles, came to a crashing end with Thatcher and Regan, and replaced with ubiquitous privatization and globalization: both of which breaks the back of organized labour and drives wages and benefits to the ground.  

In the absence of nationalized institutions, state planning and some social appropriation of common wealth of the liberal era, the contradictions of capital are now in full display in the US. The exchange value system of capitalism can no longer even provide the basic use-values necessary for the working class to survive, let alone generate the demand for the realization of profit in the market. The credit card solution to close the gap between real wages, disposable income and the demand in the economy only proved to deepen the unfolding crisis of capitalism: a major cause of the credit crisis in housing. The only remedial solution for the working-class in the US, in the face of a congress that is vacuous of any working-class organizational form, is to militate in the streets, through strikes and walk-outs: which is happening today in the streets of US. However, the struggle of the working-class in the US for the exaction of higher wages becomes a defeated cause if it is not supported by route towards a systemic change. The bourgeois may be forced to spend more on variable-cost (labour) but it will get back what it has lost through the higher cost of living. For example a worker may get an increase of $5 dollars/hour in wages, but s/he will pay it back through higher cell-phone costs, water bills, electricity bills, or through general inflation. Capitalism wins in the end. Discursive struggles for wages and benefits through walkouts and strikes must turn into worker take-over of sectors where value is produced (industrial sector) and where the profit is realized in the market (the service sector). A conscious working-class, immune to the hegemonic ideology of neoliberalism, which realizes that it is the primary producer of social wealth, and that it is entitled to what it produces, only then is a threat to the fat cats of the capitalist class. Otherwise capitalism will make small adjustments to the cost of production and reclaim its losses in other ways. In this way, only fighting for wages, and not targeting capitalism’s mode of production and appropriation of common wealth, is not a working-class solution at all.

Today’s working-class struggle is an urban struggle. Traditional and literal Marxist readers have for years banked on the industrial proletariat (the value producers in society) to be the revolutionary group to overthrow capitalism. However today, with three decades of neoliberal export of industrial jobs from the West to Asia, where labour is cheap and none unionized, the urban service workers in the West have gained a revolutionary character. Surplus-value production and profit necessitates both production and realization: for example without Primark and Walmart workers, capital would not be able to realize value that was produced by the sweatshop workers of Cambodia and Thailand. Further, urban service workers in the West are at the crux of the class struggle and they have an enormous power to put a halt to capital circulation. For example it will only take a general bus strike to shut down an entire city such as London or Paris. If the city workers such as garbage collectors stopped working for only a few days, the entire city will stop functioning. Truck drivers and taxi drivers can block highways and major roads that would paralyze a city. However, all these actions and demonstrations of power can only be revolutionary praxis if it is supported ideologically via a revolutionary party that aims for structural change and not settle for short term gains. Otherwise, it will be business as usual for capitalism: using state power to make each strike illegal and to use its media and its monopoly on violence to crush the working-class.

Chia Barsen

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