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Editorial

09 Jul

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A summer without jobs for America’s youth

July 9, 2015 | By |

This summer, only about one in four US teenagers will hold a job, down from one in two fifteen years ago. The decline in employment for teenagers is a major component of the mass joblessness that continues in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Despite six years of what has been officially billed an economic “recovery,” the share of teenagers who are employed has barely budged since the depths of the recession. A study published by Drexel University in May notes that despite a nominal improvement in the official unemployment rate, the prevalence of mass unemployment for teenagers points to “Depression Era-like labor market problems.”

With the 2016 presidential election campaign well underway, neither the media nor the top candidates of the two establishment parties bother to mention that there are no summer jobs for millions of young people and virtually unprecedented levels of youth unemployment. As far as they are concerned, it is a non-issue.

Not too long ago, summer jobs programs, though limited and inadequate, were considered to be an essential responsibility of the government, Now, such programs have all but disappeared.

The elimination of these programs, like other Great Society social reforms, is bound up with the decay of American capitalism, the rightward lurch of both corporate-controlled parties, deindustrialization and the ascendancy of a parasitic financial aristocracy.

The share of youth ages 16-19 working during the summer months has fallen from nearly 52 percent in 2000 to less than 27 percent today, according to the Drexel study. Year-round employment for teenagers has dropped from 45 percent to 27 percent over the same period.

Teen unemployment is particularly concentrated among low-income and minority youth. Less than 20 percent of youth from homes with annual incomes lower than $20,000 had a summer job in 2014, compared to 41 percent from homes with incomes higher than $100,000. Last year, only 19 percent of black teenagers had a summer job, compared to 34 percent of white teenagers.

A number of interrelated processes account for the dramatic fall in teenage employment. Amid persistent joblessness and falling wages, older workers are desperate to take any job they can, including those previously available to teenagers. Employers, demanding ever-greater productivity and flexibility from their workers, are less willing to accommodate young peoples’ school schedules, while growing numbers of young people are working for free in unpaid internships.

But the most significant factor in the decline of summer employment is the collapse in funding for summer jobs programs, particularly at the federal level. In 1999, federal subsidies made up 82 percent of funding for New York City’s summer jobs program. This summer, the federal government’s contribution is zero.

President Obama, despite having campaigned as a champion of young people, has allowed federal funding for jobs programs to decline year after year, particularly since the 2013 imposition of the “sequester” budget cuts.

Conditions today for working class youth in cities like Detroit, Baltimore, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and elsewhere are no better than those that were so brilliantly and movingly described in Depression-era novels such as Richard Wright’s Native Son .

Nearly one in four people under the age of 18 in the United States lives in a family below the federal poverty line. A total of 16.3 million Americans under 18 live in poverty, and one in five children and young people live in households where there is not enough to eat.

This is in a country where the number of billionaires grows by leaps and bounds and the top 1 percent monopolizes ever-larger shares of the national income and wealth.

Education spending, like funding for jobs programs, is being slashed at every level of government. In 2015, states plan to spend $1,805 per student on higher education, 20 percent less than before the recession. Five states have slashed their higher education funding by more than 35 percent since 2008, with Arizona cutting its spending by 47 percent.

The ever-growing cost of higher education is making college inaccessible to millions of low-income students. Student debt has skyrocketed, with the average member of the class of 2015 graduating with more than $35,000 in debt.

Is it any wonder, under conditions of social blight and mass unemployment,that street crime and gang-related violence are on the rise in impoverished urban neighborhoods, as illustrated by the string of shootings that killed eight people over the weekend in Chicago?

Nor is it difficult to grasp the connection between such conditions and the transformation of local police into militarized occupation forces, employing deadly violence to suppress the social anger boiling just below the surface of society.

Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy declared in response to this weekend’s shootings that the police need to make “criminals… feel the repercussions of the justice system.” In Detroit, Police Chief James Craig has referred to the city’s youth as “urban terrorists.” Such statements reflect the complete inability of the present social order to address any social problem.

Today’s youth are the first generation in the US whose living standards have declined, in absolute terms, compared to those of their parents. The health of a society can be measured by the prospects it holds out for young people. By that standard, the conditions facing youth in America—and, indeed, in countries around the world—are an indictment of the capitalist system.

Andre Damon

21 Aug

By

Political lessons of the Quebec student strike

August 21, 2012 | By |

21 August 2012

Only a few short weeks ago the Quebec student strike was shaking Canada’s ruling elite and threatening to precipitate a political eruption of the working class. Now it is petering out, with students having failed to secure their immediate demand for a university tuition fee freeze, let alone their larger objective—recognition of education as a social right.

No one can reproach the students for insufficient militancy or determination. For months they braved an unprecedented campaign of police repression, including tear-gas and pepper-spray barrages and rubber bullets. During the course of the six-month-long strike, more than 3,000 students and supporters were arrested, the vast majority of them for the “crime” of demonstrating without police permission. To the dismay of the provincial Liberal government and the corporate media, students refused to be cowed by the criminalization of their strike with the adoption last May of the flagrantly antidemocratic Bill 78 (Law 12).

What then accounts for the strike’s collapse?

The trade unions and the union- and Parti Quebecois-allied student associations (FECQ and FEUQ), have been all but openly campaigning for the strike’s end for months. No sooner was Bill 78 passed than the unions announced they would comply with all its provisions, including those that legally compel them to ensure that teachers assist the government in breaking the strike.

In tandem with their efforts to break the strike, the unions, with FECQ and FEUQ in their trail, sought to divert students and the broader opposition movement that erupted against Bill 78 behind the Parti Quebecois (PQ). Quebec big business’s alternate party of government, the PQ imposed the greatest social spending cuts in the province’s history when it last held office.

But the unions and their student association allies are not alone culpable. The social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), Quebec Solidaire, and the entire Quebec pseudo-left joined with them in politically suffocating and isolating the strike.

All were adamant that it be confined to a student protest aimed at pressuring the Charest government and the Quebec elite. All opposed fusing the students’ struggle with the growing movement of the Canadian and international working class against the drive of big business and its political representatives to make working people pay for the global capitalist crisis.

For months, CLASSE, the student group that initiated the strike, insisted on separating the issue of the tuition fee hikes from any challenge to the austerity programs of the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments. Following the passage of Bill 78, CLASSE fleetingly spoke of the need for a “social strike,” a broader protest movement. But once the unions made clear their determination to prevent any worker job action, no matter how limited, CLASSE dropped its proposal like a hot potato.

Like any major social struggle, the Quebec student strike is rich in lessons—lessons of vital importance to young people and workers not just in Quebec and Canada, but around the world.

First, the Canadian ruling class, no less than its counterparts in the US, Europe and Japan, has responded to the eruption of the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression by launching a social counterrevolution.

CLASSE insisted that if students protested long and loud enough, the government would negotiate. But far from ceding to popular pressure, the Charest government, egged on by the corporate media and the Canadian ruling class as a whole, responded with escalating state repression.

Social rights—such as the right to an education, job or health care—will be secured only through a political struggle against the capitalist system, its political representatives, police and courts.

Second, only the working class has the social power to break the stranglehold the banks and big business wield over socioeconomic life. This requires the establishment of workers’ governments committed to the socialist reorganization of the economy, so that fulfilling social needs, not enriching a narrow elite, becomes the animating principle. But the mobilization of the working class to assert its fundamental class interests requires the building of new organizations of struggle, independent of and in opposition to the existing trade union apparatuses, which over the course of the past three decades have thoroughly integrated themselves into corporate management and the state.

The student strike has provided a further demonstration of the unions’ perfidious role.

Canada’s ruling elite was shaken by the students’ defiance of Bill 78 and the support it galvanized within the working class. Just four days after Bill 78’s adoption, more than 250,000 people demonstrated in Montreal, and in the days that followed thousands more joined spontaneous antigovernment protests across Quebec.

Recognizing that an attempt to apply the full sanctions of Bill 78 might provoke a situation akin to that which erupted in France in May-June 1968, the ruling class made a tactical shift. While holding the savage sanctions of Bill 78 in reserve, it chose to rely first and foremost on the unions and their political allies to undermine the strike.

This confidence was not misplaced. The Quebec Federation of Labour responded to the eruption of working-class opposition to Bill 78 by writing to the Canadian Labour Congress to demand that no support be given to striking students. A few days later, Quebec’s largest labour federation adopted the slogan, “After the street, to the ballot box”—spearheading a campaign on the part of all the unions to harness the opposition to the right-wing Liberal government behind the PQ.

Third, the student strike has underscored the pivotal importance of the fight to build revolutionary leadership based on a socialist-internationalist perspective, in opposition to the various middle-class pseudo-left organizations that mouth radical phrases while upholding the authority of the unions and the bourgeoisie’s “left” parties of government, promoting nationalism, and insisting on the unassailability of the capitalist order.

Many students turned to CLASSE believing it to be a fighting organization in opposition to the establishment-aligned FECQ and FEUQ. But CLASSE’s nationalist-protest orientation was fundamentally no different. It opposed a turn to the working class, refused to criticize the unions for leaving students alone to confront the state, and adapted to the campaign to corral students behind the PQ. CLASSE spokespersons have repeatedly declared that the Liberals’ defeat at the hands of the PQ would be a gain if not an outright victory for the students.

The politics of CLASSE have been heavily influenced by Quebec Solidaire (QS) and various anarchist groups. While the ruling elite has been working to suppress the student strike by diverting students behind the PQ, QS has been seeking to strike an alliance with this big-business party, first as an electoral ally and now as a junior partner in the event the PQ forms a minority government after the September 4 election.

In opposition to the struggle to mobilize the working class and free it from the political and organizational domination of the unions, the anarchists are the foremost proponents of “direct action”—individual confrontations with the police and symbolic occupations and blockades. Their blanket denunciations of all politics and parties only serve to block the struggle for the working class to separate itself from the parties of the ruling class and articulate a program for reorganizing society in the interests of working people.

The student strike has come up against the same essential political problems as the wave of workers’ struggles that has rocked the world since 2011, from Egypt to Greece, Spain and Wisconsin. The struggles of the working class are being contained and suppressed by the unions, the ostensible “left” parties, and pseudo-radical organizations that act as their apologists and props. The Socialist Equality Party, its youth organization, the International Students for Social Equality, and the World Socialist Web Site are fighting to overcome the crisis of working-class leadership and develop the revolutionary leadership that will politically prepare and lead the working class in fighting for a workers’ government and socialism.

Keith Jones

13 Jul

By

Quebec student strike at the crossroads

July 13, 2012 | By |

13 July 2012

The five-month-long strike by Quebec students against university tuition fee hikes and the students’ courageous defiance of Bill 78—legislation that criminalizes the strike and restricts the right to demonstrate—have shaken the provincial Liberal government and the entire Canadian ruling class. Nonetheless, the fate of the strike hangs in the balance.

The government is using the three-month suspension of the winter term imposed under Bill 78 to prepare for an unprecedented police mobilization when the strike-bound universities and CEGEPs (pre-university and technical colleges) reopen in mid-August.

The trade unions are systematically isolating the strike and working for its defeat. No sooner was Bill 78 adopted than Quebec’s labor federations declared they would obey it, including provisions that legally compel them to do everything in their power to ensure that teachers and other university and CEGEP personnel assist the government in breaking the strike.

The New Democratic Party (NDP), the party of the trade unions in English Canada, has refused to even nominally support the students or to oppose Bill 78 on the spurious grounds these are “provincial matters.”

Quebec’s unions and the student associations most directly under their influence are seeking to divert the strike and the wider opposition movement that erupted against Bill 78 behind the election of the big business Parti Quebecois. “After the streets, to the ballot box,” trumpets the Quebec Federation of Labour (QFL), the province’s largest union body.

Students and workers in Quebec, across Canada and around the world must draw the lessons of the past five months. The students’ demand for education to be recognized as a social right has brought them into headlong conflict not only with Quebec’s Liberal government, but with the entire Canadian ruling class, its courts and police.

This is because the strike has challenged—if, as of yet, only implicitly—the basic strategy of the ruling class in Canada and around the world. Everywhere, big business and its political representatives are determined to make the working class pay for the deepest crisis of world capitalism since the Great Depression through the destruction of public services and massive cuts in jobs and wages.

To prevail in their struggle, students must make their challenge to the ruling class’s austerity agenda explicit. They must broaden their struggle politically and geographically by making it the catalyst for a working class counteroffensive in Quebec and across North America in defence of all jobs and public services, and for the development of an independent political movement of the working class directed at bringing to power workers’ governments.

Only the working class can break the stranglehold of big business over socioeconomic life by radically reorganizing the economy so as to make social need, not private profit, the animating principle.

The perspective of the student associations, including CLASSE, the association that initiated the strike and led the defiance of Bill 78, has manifestly failed.

The student associations insisted that the government could be pressured into dropping the tuition hikes through a single-issue protest campaign that separated the students’ struggle from any broader challenge to the austerity agenda of the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments. But far from ceding to protests, the Quebec Liberal government resorted to unprecedented police repression, culminating in the adoption of Bill 78.

With many students pressing for a broadening of the strike in answer to Bill 78, CLASSE raised the call for a “social strike.” This call, however, represents a continuation of CLASSE’s middle-class protest orientation, not a break with it.

A concept promoted by the Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles and other anarchist groups, the so-called “social strike” is a wider protest, potentially including some form of limited job action by workers. It is, however, the antipode to a political general strike aimed at bringing down the Charest Liberal government and developing the struggle for workers’ governments committed to socialist policies.

For the unions, anything that smacks of a political job action, even if for a day, is anathema. In late may, QFL President Michel Arsenault wrote to the Canadian Labour Congress to warn against the “radicals” promoting a social strike and demand that the unions in English Canada deny the students support. Louis Roy, the president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, Quebec’s second largest union federation, delivered a public dressing down to a CLASSE spokesman after he spoke in favor of a social strike at a forum on which they were co-panelists.

Faced with this opposition, CLASSE ceased all talk of a social strike. Its leaders made no mention of it at the mass demonstrations held in Montreal and Quebec City on June 22, and in the ensuing three weeks said virtually nothing publicly about the strike.

On Thursday this silence ended. CLASSE issued a “manifesto” that shows its leaders have learned nothing from the past five months and are rapidly becoming an appendage to the unions in the strike’s betrayal.

The manifesto acknowledges that the student strike has gone far beyond the issue of tuition fee increases, claiming it has become a “popular struggle” for the democratization of Quebec. It is full of talk about the “people,” while making only the most cursory mention of the working class, which it dismisses as only one among a long list of oppressed and “marginal” groups.

It makes no reference to capitalism, let alone the world capitalist crisis and the working-class resistance it is provoking, from Greece, to Spain to Egypt. Indeed, no developments beyond the borders of Quebec merit mention in the CLASSE manifesto, although Quebec students are well aware of the massive debt loads faced by US students and frequently mention it as a reason for their fight.

Despite the exclusive focus on Quebec, the eight-page manifesto fails to mention the Parti Quebecois and the unions’ drive to liquidate the strike and transform it into a campaign to return the PQ—which carried out the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history—to power.

The concluding sentence makes reference to the social strike, but in a manner that suggests even the prospect of a wider protest is more a hope than an aim. It says not a word as to who will carry it out, when, or toward what end. Clearly CLASSE is yet again ceding to the pressure of the unions, which it continues to promote as genuine workers’ organizations and allies of the students.

The day before they issued their manifesto, several CLASSE leaders met QFL President Arsenault, reputedly to discuss his letter to the CLC demanding that it isolate the striking students. At the meeting’s conclusion, CLASSE communications secretary Ludvig Moquin-Beaudry said the QFL had reiterated its support for the strike, adding “we believe they are in good faith.”

The QFL “supports” the student strike like a rope supports a hanged man. The unions in Quebec as around the world are not workers’ organizations, but rather auxiliaries of big business and the state in suppressing the working class. The mobilization of the working class will not take place through these pro-capitalist organizations, but only through a political and organizational break with them and the development of new organs of working-class struggle.

The Quebec student strike must be relaunched on a socialist perspective. Students will be able to answer the campaign of state repression directed against them and secure their just demand for education to be recognized as a social right only by turning to the broadest layers of the working class, breaking out of the narrow Quebec framework to which their struggle has been confined, and fighting for the development of an independent political movement of the working class armed with a socialist and internationalist program.

Keith Jones

02 Jul

By

The Quebec student strike and the need for a socialist program

July 2, 2012 | By |

2 June 2012

The Quebec student strike, now in its 16th week, has become a symbol and rallying point for opposition to austerity policies being implemented by all levels of government and all establishment parties across North America.

The collapse of the provincial Liberal government’s latest attempt to bully the students into submission through this week’s phony negotiations and the mass opposition that has erupted against the government’s draconian anti-protest law, Bill 78, are to be welcomed.

The pivotal question is: what is the way forward?

The Liberal government, egged on by Canada’s corporate elite, is determined to ram through the tuition fee hikes over mass opposition. To do so, it has run roughshod over basic democratic rights, criminalizing the student strike, placing sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate, and overseeing unprecedented police violence.

The single-issue protest perspective advanced by the student associations, which separates the students’ struggle against tuition fee hikes from a broader challenge to the austerity programs of the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments, has not only failed. It has brought them into headlong conflict with the students they represent.

At the beginning of last month the student associations accepted a sellout agreement—subsequently overwhelmingly repudiated by students—that imposed the government’s tuition fee increase in full and would have made them auxiliaries in the drive to slash university budgets. During this week’s negotiations, they abandoned their call for the repeal of parts of Bill 78—legislation that sets a chilling precedent for restrictions on democratic rights across Canada and beyond—and accepted the Liberal government’s reactionary fiscal parameters.

Ultimately, their differences with the government boiled down to how to package the tuition fee increases. Determined to make its reactionary “user pay” principle the new Quebec norm for public services, the government insisted that that there be tuition fee increases in each year of a seven-year agreement. The student associations, in reply, proposed a two-year tuition-fee moratorium, to be paid through the elimination of a university tuition fee tax-credit, and agreed that in the five ensuing years (i.e. from September 2014 on) there should be annual increases of $254 per year.

On the student groups’ part, this formula is tied to their claim—explicit, in the case of FECQ or FEUQ, or implicit in the case of CLASSE—that the youth have an interest in seeing the Liberals replaced at the next election by the Parti Québecois (PQ). In fact, the PQ is a big-business party, as tried and true an instrument of bourgeois rule as Quebec Premier Jean Charest and his Liberals or Canadian Prime Minister Harper and his Conservatives. Indeed, precisely because of their ties to the union bureaucracy and illusions that the PQ is “closer to the people,” it has frequently served as a better tool for the ruling class in imposing its right-wing agenda.

The fight against the tuition fee increases and to defend education as a social right requires a turn to the working class—the only social force that has the power and whose interests as a class lie in the reorganization of economic life so as to make social needs, not profit, the animating principle.

Students will find their strongest allies among the workers of both French and English Canada, the US, and around the world. The austerity measures being implemented by the Charest Liberal government—social spending cuts, privatization, and regressive tax and user-fee hikes—are part of a worldwide attack on the working class, aimed at destroying all that remains of the social gains won through the mass upheavals of the last century. Public health care and education, pensions, and collective bargaining rights are all under assault.

The federal Conservative and Ontario Liberal governments are implementing their own programs of sweeping austerity measures, including massive social spending cuts, a hike in the retirement age, and the gutting of jobless benefits. In Greece, Spain, and across Europe governments are dismantling public services, slashing the minimum wage, and removing all restraints on job cuts and speed-up. In the US, President Obama boasts about “reviving” the auto industry—that is making it profitable again for investors—by imposing draconian wage and benefit cuts, including dramatically lower wages for new hires.

This global attack is aimed at making the working class pay for the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And as in the 1930s, the capitalist elite is turning to authoritarian methods of rule, to impose its agenda of austerity and war. Over the past year, Canada’s Conservative government has repeatedly used emergency legislation to break anti-concession strikes, including by Air Canada, Canada Post and, this past week, Canadian Pacific railway workers.

A turn to the working class means making the student strike the catalyst for the independent political mobilization of the working class in Quebec and across Canada and North America against all social spending, job, and wage cuts, as part of an expanding struggle of the world working class against capitalism.

It means assisting the workers in breaking free of the political and organizational stranglehold of the pro-capitalist trade unions. These organizations do not speak for or represent the working class. For decades they have suppressed the class struggle, imposing job cuts and contract concessions. When the presidents of Quebec’s three main labor federations joined with Charest in bullying and threatening student leaders into accepting last month’s sellout agreement, they were reprising a role they have played countless times over the past quarter-century.

The NDP, the party of the trade unions in English Canada, has openly worked for the defeat of the students, as part of its efforts to convince the Canadian ruling elite that it can supplant the federal Liberals as its “left” party of government. It has refused to support the student strike or denounce the draconian Bill 78. While declaring itself “neutral” in the battle between the students and the big business Liberal government, it facilitated the passage of the minority Ontario Liberal government’s sweeping austerity budget, abstaining on crucial budget votes.

The student strike has demonstrated that a struggle over any important social need or elementary democratic right brings youth and the working class into a frontal collision with the government, the state, its police and courts, and the entire capitalist social order. The working class faces a political struggle and the necessity of building a mass revolutionary socialist party to prosecute it.

The Socialist Equality Party fights for the formation of independent committees of students and workers to organize systematic defiance of Bill 78, fight for the development of a cross-Canada and international working class counter-offensive against employer concession demands and government austerity measures, and prepare working-class action to bring down the Charest Liberal and Harper Conservative governments.

These actions, vital as they are, can only serve to develop the unity, combativity, and strength of the working class if they are conceived of and organized as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class to fight for workers’ governments and the socialist reorganization of society.

Keith Jones