A Workers’ Action Program to Confront the Economic Crisis

[by Andy Pollack]

The liberals propose to tweak the Wall Street Bailout on behalf of the amorphous “taxpayers” living on a mythical “Main Street.” Revolutionary socialists, in contrast, start from the needs of flesh-and-blood workers, and rely on their class power to challenge ruling class attacks.

For that reason our Action Program for this crisis begins with a call to the real, existing organizations of the working class: the trade unions and allied organizations.

We call on the leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations, and of independent unions, to call an Emergency Congress of Labor at which representatives of the working class can draw up a set of demands and vote on a strategy to win them. Such a Congress should make sure there is representation from the most embattled segments of the class, such as immigrant workers, oppressed nationalities and women, retirees, the disabled, etc. We therefore encourage that the Congress be open to representatives of immigrant workers’ centers, the NAACP, NOW, and similar organizations.

At this Congress, Socialist Action would ally with class-struggle militants to push for adoption of the following demands:

Not a cent to bail out the bankers! Nationalize the entire banking system under the control of capitalism’s victims, not its agents! Open the capitalists’ books so we can determine what has been stolen, hidden or squandered at our expense! Make the banks, corporations and the ruling class pay the full price of the crisis!

No to mortgage foreclosures! Reduce present mortgage payments in proportion to the capitalist-caused decline in value!

As the crisis affects not only the financial sector, but spills over into, and is itself in turn caused or reinforced by, simultaneous crises in manufacturing, soaring inflation, and a global climate crisis, we demand worker’s control of the monopoly corporations in manufacturing and mining, energy, and transportation. We call for the election of committees of workers to run these industries – workers who represent the millions whose pensions have been eliminated or are on the line and whose jobs and healthcare have been disappeared.

Jobs for all at top union wages! Reduce the workweek to 30 hours with no cut in pay to provide jobs for all!

Restore and guarantee all pensions! For a real Social Security system that pays pensions at union wage levels! Eliminate the private health insurers and providers, and merge Medicare and Medicaid into a free, universal, and public health system that covers all needed services without charge!

Bring all the troops home now from Iraq, Afghanistan, and every other country where they’re stationed, and spend the trillions for war instead on rebuilding the nation’s inner cities, schools and hospitals. One hundred percent tax on the war industries!

Finally, the bipartisan support for bailing out the ruling class shows once again that workers need our own political organ: Break with the twin parties of capital! For a Labor Party based on a fighting union movement and all the oppressed and exploited!

* * *

As one of its first tasks in mobilizing support for the demands adopted at it, the Congress should organize committees in every workplace in which workers’ jobs, pensions and health benefits are threatened by the crisis, and in every neighborhood threatened by foreclosures and evictions – as well as in the Gulf Coast and urban areas destroyed by “natural” disasters and decades of discrimination. These committees can draw up more concrete demands to supplement the above, some examples of which follow.

Workers desperately searching for information on the fates of their mortgages, pension funds, 401ks, health benefits, life insurance policies, retirement annuities, education debt – indeed their very paychecks – will respond eagerly to an opportunity to meet collectively to share information and to demand the right to see the books of all companies holding direct stakes in the funds affecting the above, as well as the institutions holding the financial instruments based on them.

Parallel committees can be formed in neighborhoods facing high rates of foreclosure and eviction to demand access to the banks, real estate companies, and other institutions causing their misery. These committees could also organize physical resistance through mass mobilization against evictions.

We demand an immediate halt to all foreclosures, cancellation of all interest on mortgages to banks and mortgage lenders, and renegotiation of all mortgage terms, including the principal and debt built up due to usurious interest rates, such negotiations to be led by workers’ and homeowners’ neighborhood committees. We demand that what workers owe be recalculated downward in proportion to the decline in the value of their homes caused by the puncturing of the housing bubble built on financial speculation.

Replace the Federal Reserve with a workers’ and consumers’ council to oversee the merged and nationalized banks. Rehire the tens of thousands of bank workers being laid off, who must organize their own committees, which can meet with workers’ and neighborhood committees and expose to them the secret records of their banks.

Abolish immediately the market for mortgage-based securities, credit-swaps, and other derivatives. The workers’ committees will know how to use the funds seized from these markets to ensure the safety of the deposits of all individual workers as well as to use their surpluses to fund production and services.

These workplace and neighborhood committees can unite to pool their information, especially as they are often victimized by the same banks even though working in different industries. Meeting together, they can discuss the demands adopted at the Congress, and concretize them further based on their collective sense of their needs.

If bankers whose debts don’t get “deleveraged” refuse loans to businesses which then shut down production, workers can demand the nationalization of any company shutting down or cutting jobs or benefits as a result.

We call for the nationalized banks to be merged into one public institution under the supervision of workers’ committees, which could then decide how that public bank’s funds can be used to rebuild society, based on the needs expressed in the plan of the Congress of labor and supplemented by demands of local workplace and neighborhood committees.

The agribusiness and energy monopolies must be nationalized as a first step to dealing with inflation.

When threatened with plant closure in 2006, UAW Local 879 in St. Paul drew up a plan to convert from making cars to green production of environmentally friendly products such as wind-generating turbines and hybrid vehicles. The same process must now be reproduced in every workplace threatened with closure due to the crisis, and on a nationwide scale.

The transportation industry, including auto, bus and rail manufacturers, as well as railroad and subway lines, must be nationalized to begin reorganizing the economy in a way that can reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to save the planet. Paulson claims there is a financial emergency justifying his dictatorial takeovers. Workers must declare instead a Climate Emergency which justifies our inspection and control over the financial, food, energy and transportation industries!

To combat inflation, we call for a sliding scale of wages that fully matches the Consumer Price Index (including food and energy, left out of the official CPI). Such a scale should be applied also to retirees. It must be monitored by workers’ and consumers’ committees, which could inspect and if need be take over companies claiming they can’t survive under the new wage schedule.

In addition to the 6-hour day and 30-hour week, reflecting the gains in our productivity, we demand reduction of the retirement age to 55. We demand unemployment insurance at union wages and benefits.

In Trotsky’s 1934 Action Program for France, which contained demands similar to those above, he already called for special demands for the specially oppressed: “Equal wages for equal work. Abolition of the superexploitation imposed on women, young people, aliens and colonials. Maternity protection with supplementary leaves of absence. Repeal of all special legislation applying to foreign and colonial workers.” Those demands if anything are more urgent today, especially as a way of fighting the violent racism that the ruling class will organize to divert us from our common exploitation today!

For a confiscatory tax on the rich! Even manic deregulator John McCain recently proposed that none of the executives involved in the taken-over firms get salaries more than the President, which is $400,000. We say instead, institute a 100% tax on all income over $400,000 throughout the economy! And jail time for anyone shifting their bank accounts offshore to evade this.

* * *

To liberal whining about greed and corruption on Wall Street, and calls for bourgeois politicians to have a greater hand in overseeing and regulating bankers’ bailouts, we counterpose the expropriation by the organized working class of the banks and billionaires, and the end of the system which makes greed, swindling, and corruption inevitable.

Labor historian Steven Fraser, author of a recent book on how Americans have viewed Wall Street historically, predicted that the current crisis could lead to a revival of the spirit of the late 19th Century, when mass labor and radical movements “expressed a deep yearning to abolish the prevailing industrial order. They believed that out of all this could come a new way of life, a cooperative commonwealth.”

Similarly, as Bill Onasch noted in Labor Advocate Online, “nationalizing the financial system has long had a proud place in American working class heritage. The 1912 Socialist Party platform that Gene Debs ran on called for ‘The collective ownership and democratic management of the banking and currency system.’”

In the course of agitating and organizing around the above demands, revolutionaries need to step up our education about the nature of the system which has brought on this crisis, and how the steps we take to combat it today can lead to a brand new social system, to the “cooperative commonwealth” envisioned by Fraser’s 19th Century radicals.

We encourage our readers to write us with their own suggestions for demands to meet this crisis, or refinements of the above demands as they apply to your workplace or neighborhood. We want to hear from you about discussions going on among your coworkers and neighbors about the crisis, especially about organizing efforts against it!

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