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V.  U.S. Attack on Social Welfare Within the United States

What can the organized Left and the social movements demand of the institutions of U.S. imperialism to counter the attacks on social welfare?

Current conditions

The war on poverty in the U.S.—initiated by the Johnson presidency during the Vietnam War era—is over, but the war on the poor is in full swing.  The "safety net" won by the U.S. working class in the 1930s—the social welfare state concept of unemployment, social security and welfare—is being systematically dismantled.  The Reagan administration launched the attack which was then advanced by Clinton and Gore through massive and cruel "welfare reform."  Under George W. Bush, corporate welfare is unabashed at the same time that structural adjustment debt is forced onto Third World countries.

The social safety net has been torn to shreds; living without a home has now become an illegal act.  The class divide between rich and poor in the United States continues to widen.  The State's abandonment of social welfare has led to this growing polarization which concentrates people of color, predominantly women, in the low-wage and no-wage working class.  The evidence further illustrates systematic national oppression, racism, and subjugation of women. 

The Bush administration plans to continue shifting state resources from the poor to the rich, from public education to private prisons, from healthcare to weapons research.  Domestically, the elimination of the social welfare state has to be reconciled with the fact that many people desperately need unemployment benefits and social security—never more so than during the current recession, largely created by the speculative practice of corporations like Enron.  Remembering the progressive safety net policies of long ago, some people still think that government funds should compensate for the blunders of capitalism; they imagine that their government will return to policies that provide programs for those in need.  Yet, Republicans have attacked any social spending as a violation of the "balanced budget" mandate, which means deficit spending for the war but not for the poor.  One of the ways the government is justifying elimination of funding for social programs is by "giving" public money away to the middle class, the wealthy, corporate America, and the military industrial complex.  Two examples are the Bush tax bribe and the post September 11 fast-track military funding to wage war on Afghanistan and other countries deemed as harboring so-called "terrorists."  This deceitful device—creating the political and economic illusion that there is "no money" to spend when  they actually mean no money for  social welfare—is in full play right now. 

George W. Bush came into office with the promise to use the budget surplus for a massive tax cut to benefit all "working Americans who should get something back from their government."  Throughout the summer of 2001 people who earned $40,000 or more in the previous year received a tax rebate of up to $600.  A one-time $300-$600 does not begin to compensate for the expenses of a social wage—in the form of first rate public healthcare, education, transportation, etc.—that a government should provide under the inherently unequal economic distributions of capitalism.  Furthermore, millions of people were not "eligible" for the rebate.  Bush failed to mention that the tax rebate is a bribe to the middle class electoral majority in exchange for their support to settle all poor and working class claims for government programs.  Bush is counting, once again, on the growing racially-coded backlash in the electoral arena. 

Immediately following the retaliatory attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the President's rallying cry was: "All monies to the war front; the U.S. must invade the Middle East and protect national security at all costs!" Democrats and Republicans alike are unabashedly uniting around an aggressive pro-imperialist strategy of invasion in any country deemed a harbor for armed or otherwise militant resistance to U.S. imperialism.  This bipartisan  Great Nation patriotism will lead to an exponential increase in military spending.  The first $40 billion that Bush fast-tracked days after the strikes was just the beginning of cash-ins on the blank check for corporate tax cuts that Bush has been given. 

Bush seized the presidency with the support of a new conservative force in U.S. politics; besides the white racist majority electorate, there is an especially voracious middle class that benefits from the superprofits of imperialism.  They therefore now side with the wealthy on many questions, and—committed to stock market wealth—look for legislation through which their lifestyle can be protected, their losses minimized and their gains secured, through tax breaks, school vouchers, end of inheritance tax.  These forces are completely tied to U.S. imperialist domination of the globe, especially as the U.S. economy falters.  They are all too ready to embrace the attitude "it's us or them," whether concerning national security or national economic interests.  Unfortunately, this class contains significant sectors that are from communities of color, including black, Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander. 

After brief gains in which income gaps between the black and Latino working class and the white majority were partially closed during the 1960s and early 1970s, the disproportionate representation of oppressed nationalities in the lower strata of the working class has grown.  The New Deal and Great Society safety net programs have been shut down with an vengeance, followed by explicit ideological attacks on women and people of color—with reference to "welfare queens," "a culture of dependency" and "political correctness."  The Right and Center-Right are leading an ideological counterattack on prior liberal arguments that society has some responsibility for racism and poverty; some black leaders now talk about the poor "taking responsibility for their poverty." White liberals, confronted with the fact that there is an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of people of color in jail, give their consent to the racist ideological construct that disproportionate imprisonment of those in poverty proves the existence of a "disproportionate tendency towards criminal and violent anti-social activity." 

In an effort to consolidate U.S. imperialist patriotism, not only will young working class soldiers be trained to kill poor youth in Arab and Middle Eastern countries, those who do not literally drop bombs will be asked to forgo civil liberties and even the remaining crumbs that fund the failing social welfare state.  While there are no funds for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependant Children), there are funds for the FBI to expand wire tapping, surveillance and interrogation of anyone they deem suspicious.  These racist ideas are being used to justify the exorbitant amount of money being spent on the prison industrial complex and are directly connected to the inadequate funding for much-needed public programs in low-income communities of color, for example healthcare and education . 

We elaborate the example of the social welfare crisis in education and its relationship to the jailing of youth in California because of our experience in the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), a multiracial antiracist grassroots group of parents, teachers and students, fighting to change public education policy that maintains or creates more inequality in Los Angeles.

Public education was originally institutionalized with the promise that equal access to education was the responsibility of the government.  Yet the inequality of access to federal education funds in separate and unequal public school became a test case of the racism and national oppression embedded in the social welfare system.  In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education established the linkage between racism, funding, and access to education.  Now we face the prospect of publicly-funded "vouchers" for private schools combined with the reversal of monies allotted through affirmative action and the dismantling of the Civil Rights Act's power to withhold federal funds from public schools that clearly practice racial discrimination.  These attacks on social welfare establish very clearly the right-wing racist attack on people of color within the United States.

Increasingly, the little money spent on schools is conditional.  Low-income students of color are required to earn public funds by achieving high scores on culturally-biased and language-biased high stakes standardized tests, which are administered across unequal schools.  Most standardized tests are given only in the English language; these tests continue their historic "tracking" role that Eugenicists in the 1920s intended when they were first invented.  They are administered under grossly-disadvantaged conditions; students of color attending overcrowded schools with little to no resources compete with students from wealthy, majority-white schools which annually have up to three times the amount of money to spend per student.  The ideology of meritocracy ignores these inequalities, denies the historical racism and classism of U.S. policies against immigrants, blacks and all peoples of color and deepens the existing gap of inequality by punishing students for being poor youth of color.

We focus on opposition to standardized tests—and their proponents in the Bush Administration, California's Davis Administration, and the corporate sector—because they lead to narrowing the already-racist, class-biased, sexist and homophobic curriculum taught in schools and further socialize students and teachers to embrace an imperialist ideology.  State governments and local districts, as they eliminate bilingual education programs and deny people of color their rights to their language and culture, are increasingly mandating that teachers in low-income schools of color use cookie-cutter, "back-to-the-basics" curricular programs and that they teach to standardized tests, in order to raise test scores.  An already jingoistic, militaristic, and pro-U.S. war school curriculum and atmosphere—complete with daily pledges of allegiance to the flag—is strengthened, which means that teachers who bring in social justice-oriented and critical thinking-based lessons are criticized for "not teaching to the standards and the tests."  Students, parents and teachers are resisting these conditions, but school districts respond by spending more money on militarizing schools with a heavy police presence that systematically violates the rights of students of color rather than supporting them with better facilities, antiracist education programs developed by parents, teachers and students, and more job creation programs.

The diversion of funds from educating youth to policing youth is not new.  Bush Sr.'s "Weed and Seed" program actually moved funds from the Department of Health and Human Welfare to the Defense Department so that any youth seeking public aid would automatically be entered in a "weed" database of problem children.  What youth now actually learn is the role of the State in systematic repression.  Youth who fight this mandatory indoctrination are moved to juvenile incarceration facilities and tracked as criminals through "gang" databases.  There are no high-wage jobs for youth, no affirmative action to ensure college entrance, yet there are for-profit corporations paying prisoners slave wages to manufacture consumer products like blue jeans.  While schools are starved, the State pays private corporations to construct and manage prisons.  Public monies are spent to remove children from their mothers, to try youth as adults, to lock up young women for 25 years-to-life sentences without parole for their mere association with known or suspected drug dealers.

Meanwhile, as the welfare and education budget decreases and funding for prison-construction rises, corporate welfare expands and military industrial subsidy for U.S. imperialism skyrockets.  In the aftermath of September 11, the role of the State in service of capital has been completely unmasked.  Rather than corporate plans for employee income protection and public unemployment benefits, we see tax cuts to "pump prime" the economy, further tax cuts to bail out businesses, massive and overnight aid to the airlines, to the insurance industry; unthinking demands for sky marshals on every airplane threaten to bankrupt the U.S. government and make it virtually impossible to maintain social security, medicare, public education and urgently needed social programs that have already been cut.  While the President asks everyone to spend money as a patriotic act, one third of all hotel employees in the U.S. have been laid off, airline employees have been terminated, and every sector of the economy is expecting cut backs.  Legitimated by "defense of the American way," the Bush administration has entered a new period of accelerated deficit spending.  Bush's economic stimulus package is intended to eliminate any notion of social welfare and convince the general population to consent to the transfer of all tax revenues to the corporate welfare system.  We must not allow this to happen.  

Dilemmas for the Left

As we addressed in Sections II and III regarding the role of the State in maintaining national oppression, racism, and male supremacy, there is widespread confusion about the responsibility of the State.  Similarly, there is disorientation about the seemingly-progressive concept of "self-help." The demeaning and debilitating impacts of the discourse about the so-called "culture of poverty" and the permanent "underclass" pits oppressed peoples against each other.  Further, many oppressed people blame themselves for their poverty, when they are in fact pushed into poverty by a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist economic system. 

The Left is painfully aware that it is depressing to be poor; working for an unlivable wage, struggling in the illegal job market and depending on welfare does not feel good.  No one debates that despondency and despair are widespread; the growth of "children-bearing-children" and "black-on-black crime" will eat away at the self-esteem of any community. 

Now, simple demands for social services are used to stigmatize black and Latina women and children (despite the white majority among welfare recipients), and many white people, as well as many black and Latino males, consent to this ideology that demonizes and degrades women, particularly in their role as mothers whose invisible labor is not valued and whose independence from the nuclear family structure threatens patriarchy. 

Franz Fanon and other revolutionary antiimperialists have explained despair in the face of degradation as one of the brutal impacts of colonization and racism—the internalization of oppression—and called for a violent, militant counterattack on colonialism in order to raise the mental health and collective consciousness of the oppressed.  Obviously, such a powerful awareness among oppressed people is not in the interest of the State.

The war cause creates the so-called "opportunity" for the low-wage and no-wage population to make personal sacrifices in exchange for a sense of belonging to the Great Nation of the United States.  Who wants the stigma of collecting unemployment when "homeland defense" is at stake? The reconstruction of an ideological defense of guaranteed incomes, social welfare programs, equal access to quality public education, health, housing and transportation requires hard thinking, creative demand development and an innovative antiracist, antiimperialist ideological counterattack by the Left— never more so than under the present conditions.   

Strategic demands around which the strategy center's program demand group is unified

We call upon the U.S. government to commit to govern through public funding of all basic human needs.  We call on the U.S. government to affirm its role of compensating for the cruel and inhumane effects of market forces.  We call upon the U.S. government to acknowledge the systematic institutionalization of racism in social welfare policy and, therefore, prioritize social welfare programs that focus on the low-wage and unemployed working class in which oppressed nationality peoples, and specifically women, are concentrated.  We call upon all components of government to stop corporate welfare and privatization of public services—end public subsidy for private speculation as well as outsourcing jobs previously performed by the public sector.  We call on all sectors of government to establish themselves as high-wage employers and to require high-wage policies of all businesses receiving government contracts and all corporations operating internationally under the banner of U.S. investment.

Focal Campaigns we prioritize

    n U.S. federal government, stop the massive diversion of funds to a war that threatens people the world over and jeopardizes the entire U.S. budget.

    n Jobs or Income Now! U.S. federal government, end poverty and homelessness.  Fund education not incarceration.  Fund a massive program of free Head Start programs and health clinics.  Provide unconditional funds to equalize public schools as well as free higher education.  Create jobs, subsidize housing and guarantee family and individual basic income level.

    n U.S. federal government, enforce the Bus Riders Union civil rights Consent Decree with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which remedies past discrimination and ensures equality in access to public transportation consistent with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by prioritizing funds for the bus system.  Enact an immediate moratorium on all rail construction in Los Angeles until the Consent Decree's bus-priority policy is implemented. 

    n U.S. Congress, increase and expand—rather than reduce or eliminate—gift and inheritance tax, earmarked to fund social welfare programs.

    n U.S. government, nationalize and fund all medical care.  Establish a public health plan in which doctors and hospitals are administered by the government and all residents in the U.S.—regardless of income or immigration status—receive equal and free medical care, including all medications.


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