Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Anti-Wall Street Protesters’ Co-Dependent Love Affair With Wall Street

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Hundreds of San Franciscans joined the growing “occupy” movement on Thursday, marching through downtown to support the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations going on in New York. The Bay Citizen interviewed several of them. They all expressed anger at the greed of Wall Street bankers, yet none seemed to have any problem with Wall Street itself or the socioeconomic relations responsible for its profitability and Americans’ growing poverty.

Charlene Woodcock, retired book editor, expressed concern that the wealthy were robbing the middle class (but said nothing about the effects on the poor and working class, who have been screwed even more than the middle class by the recession). Her goal for the movement was to create a state bank, which of course would leave Wall Street intact, as well as all the other large banks and corporations, so they can continue to rob us. 
Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Chris Tully, unemployed, expressed the common demand that banks should be made to pay because they’re the ones that benefited from the bailouts. Pay what: higher taxes, reparations, punitive damages? Even if Congress could make this happen (which it is unlikely to even attempt), the bankers would continue to amass great quantities of wealth by redlining, blacklisting, speculating, taking advantage of laws written in their favor and breaking other laws that don’t serve their interests. The majority of their employees would continue to make very low wages compared to their executives. People will continue to lose their homes and jobs. Wild fluctuations in the markets and continuing cycles of boom and bust would continue. Unemployment and low wages would persist for millions, as would hunger, homelessness, and poverty.

Larry Yee, service technician, said he was there in support of “our brothers and sisters asking for fair jobs and making sure the banks don’t just walk away after the disaster they caused in the financial market.” However, even before the crisis, unemployment for African Americans was close to 9%. This does not take into account all the people who have worked most of their lives at jobs that pay poverty wages, or those working 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet. And it certainly doesn’t take into account the fact that the bosses make their profits and wealth by paying us far less than the value of the goods we produce for them or that they increase this wealth by investing on Wall Street, something that most of us cannot afford to do. These facts ought to suggest to people that the problem is not a recent or temporary blip on the screen caused by poorly regulated speculators, but a chronic and normal consequence of capitalism.

One might also ask what is meant by a “fair” job—one that allows the boss to make 5,000 times what his employees earn and one in which the employees have no control over the conditions of their jobs?

Before we start demanding jobs, whether “fair” ones or not, perhaps people ought to first ask what they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives. A job is but one means to this end, and should not be seen as the end itself. For example, the best solution to poor individual or public health is not a low-paying, back breaking job with nominal health coverage, but universal coverage for all residents, regardless of their employment and immigration status. Likewise, a job at a nuclear power, coal, or petroleum plant, or in the military, even if it offered wonderful wages, would still not be a “fair” or “good” job because of the devastation it brings to the environment, communities and human lives.

Evelyn Sanchez, community organizer, said she was happy to see so many people who were “sick and tired of the agenda of our politicians and that's doing what’s best for corporations and the financial sector. It’s about time they pay attention to the needs of the people.” Yet the agenda of the politicians has always been about what’s best for corporations and the financial sector. I do not remember a golden age when the state provided housing, food and healthcare to those in need or when it forced banks to forgive loans to homeowners who were down on their luck. Even if they started now, it would be charity, a pittance, just the bare bones necessary to keep people sufficiently healthy and nourished to do the jobs that need doing. It is absurd to think of the corporations and bosses as equivalent to the “people.” The state cannot serve their interests and our interests equally. Our low wages, long hours, and oftentimes dangerous working conditions are the preconditions for their profits, the maximization of which is the primary interest of the ruling elite and the primary function of government.

While higher taxes on the wealthy and a transaction tax for Wall Street might bring in more tax revenue for public education and other social programs, it won’t stop hedge fund managers from financing for-profit charter schools that sap local revenues, provide lousy educational services, union-bust and pay low wages to employees. The problem is not that Wall Street is too greedy or corrupt. The problem is that 1% of society owns and controls the vast majority of the wealth and the entire means of producing more of it, while the rest of us are forced to work for them, under their conditions, no matter how austere, just to make sure we have some regular income to feed ourselves and our children.

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