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Class War, Everywhere

Michael J. Borucke

It has been said that discussing class consciousness is detrimental to our society. Sure, there are rich and there are poor, but that’s life, that’s capitalism. The gifted and ambitious naturally accumulate wealth while the slow and lazy (the masses) naturally starve. Talking about class only raises antagonisms that keep society from working at an optimal level; they keep maximum profits from the upper classes, and they only get the working classes killed or fired. Maybe it’s better if Americans continue to believe this nation has but one big middle class or that America is the closest possible approximation to such a society.

But American society has always been based on class. Our benevolent founding fathers were of a certain class, and they used men of a lower class to protect their property from the British upper classes. To protect their property again (this time from the lower class they just employed against British aggression) the upper class crafted a constitution, which cleverly spoke of freedom and property in the same breath. The terms have become so synonymous in a political sense that two hundred years later it’s hard to see that freedom is more a fundamental human right than property. Well, isn’t it?

Today, the cherished right of property still exists right alongside class lines. We just aren’t supposed to talk about them. Go ahead, talk about racism or sexism; the civil rights and women’s liberation movements took care of those problems a few decades past (i.e., they don’t exist today), but don’t talk about class. That problem hasn’t been solved yet.

Pick up a newspaper, turn on the television; the attack upon the lower class is ubiquitous even if the word class is not mentioned. The Bush administration in particular has done so much on behalf of the upper classes that their efforts should not go without mention.

Bush’s decision to cut off funding for international family-planning centers that provide abortions was one of the early instances of class warfare. According to a spokesman from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the cutoff of funds known as the “Mexico City Policy” increased the number of deaths and disabilities when it was instituted under Reagan (the policy was rescinded under Clinton). This seems correlative; when women aren’t able to afford healthy abortions, they are forced to seek unhealthy and therefore more dangerous operations. It is obvious that this policy will work to the detriment of women in the lower classes while it will not affect the ability of women in the upper class, who will simply pay for the healthy abortion.

In a preemptive strike against labor that would have made Reagan proud, Bush issued an executive order last weekend that would prohibit the mechanics union of Northwest Airlines from going out on strike. The union has been in negotiations with management since 1996 over increased wages, but the increase offered by the airlines is several dollars per hour short of what the union is demanding. With the deadline approaching (the deadline has passed as of the writing of this article), Bush announced that a Presidential Emergency Board would be created to intervene in the dispute. This act delays a potential strike by at least 60 days and could end the dispute by forcing a settlement.

In addition, Bush announced that he will not allow walkouts by unions at any other airlines. Needless to say, taking even the threat of a strike away from the unions severely diminishes the bargaining power of the unions and the working classes they represent. Bush said his took action to help the economy and the “hard-working people of America.” Apparently, while the “hard-working people of America” include those who travel by air, they don’t include those who make air travel possible.

Labor again felt the wrath of the government last week when the regulations regarding workplace safety were eliminated by both houses of Congress. Repetitive motion causes hundreds of thousands of injuries on the job annually. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the regulations would save businesses $9 billion a year in lost workdays, and would cost $4.5 billion to implement -- a net profit of a few billion for business. Yet business lobbyists and pro-business congressmen still voted to do away with the regulations Clinton had written into law months before.

This brings us to Bush’s tax plan. The proposed tax cut -- both Bush’s original version and the House-altered version -- will give a disproportionate amount of money to the upper class. In other words, it’s a regressive tax. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the after-tax income of the top one percent will increase by 6.2 percent with Bush’s version; 3.8 percent with the House’s version. Meanwhile, the middle fifth will see their income increase by 1.9 percent with Bush’s plan; 1.2 percent with the House version. As one might expect, the lowest fifth will see their incomes increase even less -- by 0.6 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. All this tax plan does is to continue to widen the now record wealth gap between classes.

Though the tax plan will no doubt have a significant effect on the lower classes, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) poses an extremely serious threat to the well-being of a majority of Americans. According to proponents, the FTAA will do to the hemisphere what NAFTA has done to the North American continent. Essentially, that will be to open the lands and markets (labor and product) of all North American and South American countries save Cuba, and create one trans-continental market.

But NAFTA’s effects show a very definite class bias. In the seven years since its enactment, millions of American workers have been laid off because U.S. corporations have moved to Mexico. Millions more in Mexico have been exploited by low wages, long hours and hazardous environments caused by over-crowding of the border regions where maquiladoras have been established. Meanwhile, few will argue that the new mobility and resources gained by corporations from NAFTA have benefited the upper class.

In April, after the FTAA is finalized in Quebec City, Bush will attempt to fast-track the agreement through Congress. In the very manner in which NAFTA was signed, fast-track means there will be limited debate and no amendments made to a document that will have a large impact on the majority of Americans.

The upper class is well aware of class war, so I am not writing this for them. The lower classes who continually suffer the effects of class war, who have to listen to the experts talk about the righteousness of supply and demand and of their misery, who have to watch their representatives working hard for corporations -- they will probably not read this. I write this for those who walk from home to school back to home every day who believe everything is all right with the world. It is not. Class war is real and inevitable. People need to get educated about the world because when those who suffer finally realize the cause of their suffering, they will not stop to explain themselves to anyone.