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Commentary :: DNC : Education : Environment : Gender : GLBT/Queer : Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Media : Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare : Technology : War and Militarism
The Mortgage Crisis in the USA
19 Jun 2008
Commentators complain of "partisanship" in Washington. Society's problems are said to result from infighting between parties. We should celebrate, then, because Democrats and Republicans have agreed on a plan to end the mortgage crisis. What solution do they offer? Handouts to Big Business, and "fiscal discipline" for the rest.
The Senate plans to extend an existing tax break for homebuilders. The details are technical, the language obscure, but the intent is clear. Giant construction companies will get government relief.

Meanwhile, what sort of relief can homeowners facing bankruptcy expect? Government payouts? Perhaps new laws requiring mortgage companies to restructure loans? No, Congress will allocate funds for "credit counseling". While Big Business is rescued once again, beleaguered homeowners earn a sermon on financial responsibility.

According to the Senate's worldview, construction companies are victims of a sluggish economy, wracked by market forces beyond their control. But working families are irresponsible, deserving of a lecture. The matter would funny, farcical, if the stakes were not so high.

What can we, the citizenry, do? Democrats claim that if they win the White House, everything will change. But eight years of Bill Clinton did little for small homeowners. Rather, Clinton "ended welfare as we knew it", playing on (largely racist) stereotypes of welfare freeloaders to gut relief programs for working and other poor families.

Nevertheless, diehard Democrats will invoke the New Deal to point the way forward. Didn't the very programs whose loss under Clinton we lament, originally result from voting for Roosevelt, a Democratic? Well, yes and no. FDR did introduce programs that no Republican would have. (In fact, he introduced programs more beneficial to working folks than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are likely to.) What, then, was so special about him? Was he a saint, a gentle soul in a profession peopled by cads? Hardly. To understand the New Deal, one must consider the historical context. It was implemented at the height of the American labor movement's power, when union membership was high, and the rank and file, militant. Workers were prone to buck their bosses with strikes, boycotts, even industrial sabotage. Oftentimes, they even bucked the dictates of a union leadership who told them to fall in line.

In summary, during the heyday of the CIO (before it was absorbed back into the AFL), many U.S. industrialists feared the American working class was moving towards revolution. This was the context in which the policies of The New Deal were passed. Voting alone would never have accomplished so much. Management hates to make concessions, but if workers raise Cain long and hard enough, the bosses can be made to see reason.

Modern workers face a dilemma. Our employers are reclaiming all that was won during a century and a half of struggle. The Democrats won't save us. And the Green Party can't, because U.S. election laws are hopelessly rigged against third parties. Even if they weren't, experience shows that where Greens are elected, they simply become a (slightly) left version of the Democrats. Germany is a case in point.

Make no mistake, by whatever name--globalization, recession or depression--and by various means, from banks squeezing homeowners, to employers slashing wages and benefits, to governments rolling back social services, the working class is under attack. We have more to fear from our corporate masters, than from "extremists" of any race or religion. But again, what to do?

History shows that our class only gains ground when we fight back. But how? Today our unions are controlled by empty suits who speak of forming "partnerships" with our employers. The mass of our neighbors cannot imagine expressing dissent outside the voting booth. We may feel boxed in, yet struggle we must, however we can. We should make the case among our fellows for seizing control of our organizations, the unions. Wherever possible, we should form new unions dominated by the rank and file. And we may need to think outside of traditional forms. Unions surely still have a role, but we should also utilize worker centers, community associations that resist landlords and monitor police, and perhaps other forms of joint action not yet practiced. Wherever the rich and powerful put their heels on our necks, we must stand together and fight back. Always and everywhere, we must point out the irreconcilable conflict of interests between ourselves and the obscenely rich.

The task is huge, yet the future belongs to us. From the mortgage crisis to global warming to war without end, the politicians and CEO's have had their day, and failed miserably. We, the common workers, must resist, and ultimately seize control.

Excerpted from Issue #8 of The Capital Terminus, Anarchist theory, news, and analysis, June 2008.
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