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From: The Socialist issue 689, 12 October 2011: Cameron’s big ‘them and us’ society

Search site for keywords: US - Cuts - Jobs - Socialist - Working class - Socialist Alternative - Banks - Occupations - Obama - CWI

We are fighting back!

US: Occupy Wall Street - Demanding jobs not cuts

Wall Street, USA

Wall Street, USA   (Click to enlarge)

Bryan Koulouris of Socialist Alternative, CWI supporters in the US, spoke to the Socialist, about the Occupy Wall Street movement which has been spreading across hundreds of towns and cities in the US.

See for updates.

These demonstrations, after the police repression of Wall Street a couple of weeks ago, have sprung up throughout the country.

The most significant thing about the demos isn't just the amount of people turning up - it's the widespread sympathy for them in US society.

This is reflected in the major unions supporting and participating in the demonstrations and in the fact that the cops or the state do not feel like they can just repress the demonstrations in city after city, over and over again.

I think it's a start of things to come in US society. With a severe amount of austerity coming in the next six months there's likely to be an outbreak of working class struggle on a wider scale even than what we saw in the massive opening up of the fightback in Wisconsin.

We see the movement growing. That won't be an even process - it'll be different in different areas. Also in the next few months it gets cold in the US and you can't occupy forever.

In November the congressional 'super committee' that came out of the Democratic-Republican debt deal is going to propose a lot of cuts.

Already Socialist Alternative is building a 'Jobs Not Cuts' campaign. We've initiated a call for a week of action from 16 to 23 November that can be one of the concrete next steps when it gets too cold to continue the occupations.

A number of trade unions have endorsed it as well as a number of prominent left writers like Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges.

Anger comes to the surface

So this movement is the coming to the surface of massive pools of anger. This has been accumulating not just since the crisis and the bank bailouts but from before then.

The Bush years were years of low-wage jobs, falling living standards, of a huge amount of anger at the political establishment, etc, and it's only become even more pronounced since the economic crisis.

The poverty rate is at the highest level in decades. One in six people in the US is impoverished - and an incredibly low official bar disguises a much worse situation.

At the same time the budget cuts have, to a large extent, taken away what social safety net the working class had.

Public [state] schools are being shut down throughout the country. Health care services are under attack.

Combined with this you have what was a big factor in the movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain and Greece - a massive amount of youth unemployment.

Together with that in the US is student debt of tens of thousands of dollars and that is not just an aberration but a regular thing that young people in their early 20s have. That's combined with no prospects of decent work or, in some cases, of work at all.

US society isn't as isolated now from world events as it was in the past. People have been inspired by what happened in Egypt and Tunisia.

A lot of young people, not the wide majority, but a lot, followed what happened in Spain and Greece and were inspired by that as well.

But some think that the victories came out of simply occupying a public space rather than seeing the mobilisation of the working class, as happened in Egypt, as necessary to defeat the austerity measures.

But it's interesting that even before concrete demands have been formulated by the movement the trade union movement has largely signed on in support.

But it would be more effective in terms of an active support to take up concrete demands against budget cuts and for a jobs programme.

That's what Socialist Alternative is putting forward and we are getting a big echo, especially among the more working class folks.

Clearly proposing that would be an effective way forward, not only to build support, but also to prepare the movement for when there are divisions between those who want to funnel the movement into the dead end of supporting the Democratic Party and those who want to continue to put forward a principled position against budget cuts and for a jobs programme no matter what the Democrats are doing in the next election.

We have found it extremely easy to raise a socialist programme. Some of the organisers are hostile to politics but in reality they often have politics of their own but don't want to have a political discussion.

But there is a widespread thirst for ideas. Everywhere we set up a stall they are flooded with people.

There are almost too many people who want to talk to us about joining Socialist Alternative!

We've made speeches in the general assemblies about concrete steps forward for the movement. We have put forward the idea about outreach to the trade unions and have played an instrumental role actually in getting some of those union endorsements that have made such big news.

As yet there is no worked out alternative put forward by the movement but there are some very clever slogans against the cuts that resonate, in particular pointing out the 1% versus the 99%.

But these occupations provide a lot of opportunities for building the socialist movement.

There's a general feeling in society about how much money has been thrown at the war and the banks. It's over a trillion dollars to the big banks and over a trillion dollars to the war.

Now we need to move beyond the simplified explanation that you need to tax the corporations and end the war but that is a widespread accepted sentiment on the demos that this means there's no need for these cuts.

Obama has made some comments that show some sympathy with people's frustrations with Wall Street. But there wasn't any kind of euphoria that Obama has made this statement.

It's part of an overall populist turn on taxes, on jobs. But he can't actually implement these things because of the political crisis - it's election cycle populism.

And when he had the opportunity he did nothing for working people. They had two years when the Democrats could have implemented the policies that we were promised such as trade union rights, in terms of health care, social programmes, in terms of taxes on the rich.

What happened? The wars continued and the banks got bailed out but there were no new positive labour laws.

One of our main slogans, which gets a great response is: "Wall Street has two parties, we need one of our own!"

We say:

  • Spread the occupations across the US and into schools and communities. For systematic, mass campaigning to mobilise workers, young people and labour unions into struggle.
  • Organise weekend mass demonstrations that call for: no cuts to social services; a massive jobs creation programme; major tax hikes on the super-rich and big business; end the wars; slash the military budget; and defend trade union and democratic rights.
  • Build up to the 16-23 November national week of action to combat the Congressional Super Committee plan for $1.5 trillion in cuts to social services. We demand jobs not cuts!
  • Prepare to run independent anti-corporate, working class candidates in 2012 to challenge the policies of the two parties of Wall Street as a first step towards forming a new party of the 99%, a mass workers' party.
  • End the dictatorship of Wall Street! Bring the big banks that dominate the US economy into public ownership and run them under the democratic management of elected representatives of their workers and the public.
  • Compensation to be paid on the basis of proven need to small investors, not millionaires.
  • Build the movement to replace the rotten system of capitalism with democratic socialism and create a new society based on planning to meet human need.