|Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons|
The Edu Debtors Union (EDU) is calling on student debtors to deliberately default on their loans en masse. Why? To get better repayment terms. According to their website, “mass defaults may be the only tactic that will force lenders to renegotiate.”
Student debt has now surpassed credit card debt, with U.S. students owing billions of dollars in loans and interest. The average undergraduate owes more than $25,000 by the time they’ve graduated, a figure that can grow dramatically when interest and late fees are added, particularly with the depressed job market making it difficult or impossible to earn enough to keep up with debt payments.
A Renegotiated Bad Deal is Still A Bad Deal
The problem is that even if the EDU’s strategy is successful and graduates win lower interest rates or lower monthly payments, they will still owe an average of $25,000 each just in principal. A temporary debt payment strike will do nothing to lower the skyrocketing costs of higher education, which have been increasing at double the rate of inflation (or 6 times the rate of inflation in California). The banks will still make huge profits from student loans and public education will continue to be starved of revenue by tax-dodging millionaires and billionaires.
One might justifiably wonder why the debt strikers feel so much loyalty to the banks that they want to repay them. Instead of better loan terms why not a permanent default and debt cancelation? If the banks are really so terrible (consider all the grievances the Occupy movement has against them, from student loans to foreclosures to their role in the financial meltdown), then why pay them back at all? Why not put them out of business?
The answers to these questions are obvious. The EDU accepts and even embraces the existing socioeconomic reality and its members hope to benefit from it someday. That is why they hocked their lives to the banks to get their college educations in the first place. They certainly don’t want to destroy their credit ratings by permanently defaulting and being forever branded as untrustworthy borrowers. But they also recognize that their chance of achieving the same middle class security and comfort of their parents is becoming more and more tenuous, even with a college education. And this they cannot stand.
Refusing To Work In Order To Work?
The EDU bases its strategy on the tactic of work stoppages by labor unions, saying that “workers strike so that they may return to work, and the same can be true of student debtors. We can strike in order to pay our debts successfully.”
This is just plain silly.
Workers do not strike in order to return to work. This presumes they weren’t working in the first place, which is only the case when they’ve been locked out. However, whether they have been locked out or have deliberately stopped working, their goal is not simply to be able to work, but to be able to earn a decent living, with dignity, safety and security. Furthermore, they do not necessarily stop working during a labor struggle. Sometimes they stay on the job, but refuse to work, as in the sit-down strike, or they stay on the job and continue to work, but entirely by the books, as in the case of working to rule.
However, the EDU does get the basic sentiment right. Most unions function primarily as intermediaries between the workers and the bosses and do everything in their power to maintain harmony between the two, especially keeping the workers on the job, so that the bosses can continue to make lots of money. The unions, like the EDU, accept the existing social relations in which bosses get rich by paying workers as little as possible. In fact, bosses are seen as allies because they provide jobs, which are necessarily seen as good, because they provide paychecks. Income is necessarily seen as good, because it allows us to buy lots of stuff, like college for our kids, so they, in turn, can get good jobs and buy lots of stuff.
|Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons|
Losing Sight of the Forest for the Trees
Of course everyone should have material security and access to the good things in life, not just college educated spawn of the middle class and the 1%. The problem is that it will not happen by asking for a less harsh debt repayment plan and then accepting a subservient role as a wage worker. This won’t work for the college debtors and it certainly won’t work for those without a college degree.
The very nature of wage slavery is that one is always just a pink slip away from being out on the street, a relationship that compels most to bend over backward to please their bosses so that this doesn’t happen. It compels many to accept dangerous and demeaning work or to demand jobs simply because they provide an income, even when that income keeps them living in poverty or pollutes their air, rivers and wells.
The obsession with jobs and getting an education to get a “good” job is convoluted. What is the real goal here, getting a job, any job, regardless of its value to society, working conditions and pay? Or is it to ensure that we all have a good quality of life?
Material security for all and access to the good things in life are impossible under the current system. So long as there are bosses and employees, the bosses will continue to make their fortunes by paying workers less than the value of their labor. As long as this relationship persists, there will always be a class of people who have the majority of the wealth and power in society and another class, including teachers, social workers, nurses and other college educated people, who are dependent on them for jobs and their material wellbeing.