When discussing this economic crisis, we’re not just talking about GDP figures, housing bubbles, credit markets, and the Dow. We’re talking about people’s lives, about families and whole communities being devastated by home foreclosures, layoffs, cuts to wages and benefits, and budget cuts. We’re talking about a decline of living standards on a scale most of us have never seen.
Now that the free market model has been widely discredited, there are increasing calls for heavy regulation. While any regulation that actually helps working people deal with the pain of this recession is a good thing, regulations alone won’t even begin to solve the underlying problems. We must address both the immediate issues and the fundamental problems of this system with a full program to defend the interests of working people.
Make Corporate Criminals Pay for Their Corruption
This crisis has exposed the systematic and massive greed, corruption, fraud, and outrageous executive compensation on Wall St and in the boardrooms of Corporate America. When a cashier leaves a register $20 short, they can be fired, but when an executive mismanages a bank and loses unimaginable sums, they are entitled to millions in “golden parachute” severance packages. The crooks in the finance industry should be investigated for criminal activity. Instead of receiving golden parachutes, they should be behind steel bars.
Stop Foreclosures! For a National Housing Plan
One of the real crimes is allowing millions of working- and middle-class people to lose their homes. The government should declare an emergency moratorium on home foreclosures (with a ceiling to exclude luxury houses for the wealthy) and renegotiate the debts of homeowners victimized by loan sharks. Home buyers who cannot meet their mortgage repayments should have the right to rent the property at an affordable social rent.
Such measures need to be part of a nationally-coordinated housing plan run democratically to ensure affordable housing for all, including rent control, housing subsidies, and a massive expansion of quality affordable housing.
No Budget Cuts! Tax the Rich and Big Business
When their system goes into a crisis, the ruling elite always look to take it out on working people. Municipal and state governments will inevitably turn to budget cuts to make up for enormous shortfalls. New York State, for example, is facing an estimated $47 billion deficit over the next 3˝ years.
In the wealthiest nation in the world, there is no need for cuts. Instead, wealthy individuals and Big Business should be heavily taxed, the disastrous occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan should be ended immediately, and the enormous military budget redirected to pay for necessary social services.
These services should include quality education through college so students don’t have to rely on the crisis-ridden loan industry just to go to school. It should also include guaranteed pensions so workers don’t have to risk their retirement in the stock market casino.
Jobs Programs, Not Layoffs
The total jobs lost in 2008 alone has now exceeded 1 million, and the recession has only just begun. Millions more are already unemployed, underemployed, or underpaid. We need a massive public works program to create millions of living-wage jobs with full benefits. These programs would not only provide jobs but also address the broader needs of society by building renewable energy infrastructure, high-quality public transportation, a new healthcare system, schools, hospitals, and community centers.
Layoffs don’t just hurt the worker who lost his or her job, but whole families and communities. The decline of the auto industry has devastated many cities in the Midwest, while more layoffs and wage cuts are around the corner.
Failing companies like the “Big Three” auto companies should be nationalized to prevent layoffs or cuts to wages or benefits, and these industries should be reorganized to meet social needs, not corporate profits. For example, the auto companies could be restructured to build the busses and trains needed for a massive development of public transit or the wind turbines and other infrastructure needed for a clean energy revolution.
Nationalize the Banks & Financial Institutions
The justification for all these bank bailouts has been that they are “too big to fail.” But if they are so important, why should they be run for profit by a tiny group of elite financial gamblers? Why not have democratic management of the banks, run in the public interest?
The Bush Administration has partially nationalized the failing banks but has left management in private hands. They want taxpayers to absorb bank losses only until they are profitable again, at which time they’ll be reprivatized.
Instead, socialists fight for public ownership based on democratic control and management by elected committees of the workers and communities, who would run them in the common interests of the vast majority. Taking democratic control of the banks would be a key step towards democratic socialist planning.
For a Democratic Socialist Plan for Society as a Whole.
Allowing our society to be run by the chaotic, profit-driven world of capitalism is no way to organize society. We need a rational, democratic economic plan designed to meet people’s needs.
To implement this plan, the banks and other financial institutions, the auto, energy, construction, and telecommunications industries, along with all other major corporations, should be put under democratic public ownership. Compensation should be paid, on the basis of proven need, to the former owners of companies brought into public ownership. The enormous wealth of these corporations could then be used to build a socialist society where a high quality of life could be guaranteed for all.
Organize and Fight Back!
We can’t rely on the Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. to put forward a program that will really address the immediate needs of working people and the fundamental problems of the profit system. Instead, the burden of a deepening recession will be placed overwhelmingly on the backs of ordinary working people. There will be more homes lost, jobs lost, rising unemployment, budget cuts, and attacks on wages and benefits.
We have no choice but to organize and fight back. The traditional defense organizations of workers — the trade unions — have a tremendous opportunity to build working-class resistance. They should urgently call conferences in every major city to bring together the labor movement and antiwar and community activists to organize a fightback.
Mass demonstrations should be called to oppose foreclosures, cuts in social services, layoffs, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to highlight the hypocrisy of the corporate bailouts, and to raise demands for living-wage jobs with benefits, for quality healthcare, and for expanded social services.
The leadership of the union movement, however, is based on a business union model. They’ve bought the idea that whatever is good for the company is good for the workers. Their high salaries and connections with the corporate elite make them unwilling to take a genuine stand against these attacks on working people. The economic crisis is laying the basis for rank-and-file members to demand action, but it may take some time for this to fully develop. Part of our fight begins within the unions to organize pressure on the leadership from below.
At the same time, community activists should organize local campaigns to address the immediate issues they face, like foreclosures or cuts to community programs. These campaigns could be linked together to build larger protests and call upon the unions to join the campaigns and take up the issues.
On this basis, we could build a broader mass movement to defend the living standards of working people. This movement should not limit itself to the workplace and the streets but organize its own political voice as well. We should run our own independent candidates in local and regional elections who will fight for the interests of working people.
Alongside a mass workers’ movement, a mass workers’ party should be built. A new party would not only vocalize the basic demands of the movement, but could provide a forum for democratic discussion and debate in which socialists could play a key role in pointing the way forward for the fundamental transformation of our society.