USA: The Storm Clouds Gather

The US government's propaganda war against "terrorism" is also attempting to deflect attention from the dramatic economic slowdown affecting the United States and the dire consequences it is having on American workers. Rob Sewell takes a look at the developing situation.

According to the latest figures American industry has been in the grip of recession for longer than any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In October more workers lost their jobs (415,000) than any month since May 1980, and trade union data suggests 638,000 jobs have gone since the attacks of September 11. "The huge jump in this month's unemployment rate makes it clear we are at a watershed," says John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.

Savings rates for families are at an historic low, and many were deep in debt well before the economic downturn. Figures reveal that the average outstanding consumer debt per worker is $5,000. But averages tends to hide the real picture. With growing debts and job losses, more and more workers are becoming homeless due to mortgage foreclosures. In Chicago the number of homeless has increased by 30 percent, while in the suburbs it has grown by 100 percent.

Those unemployed are struggling to make ends meet as jobs dry up. The savage welfare counter-reforms introduced by Clinton in 1996 - masked by the boom - have now started to bite, with many denied adequate welfare cover or no cover at all. In the richest country on the planet, only 39 percent of America's unemployed receive any welfare benefits. This is being added to every day as the unemployment lines become ever longer. The callous message of the government is clear: "Go find yourself a job, or go hungry." As always, it is those at the bottom who suffer most. At the same time, America's rich have never been richer in an uncanny resemblance to the class polarisation of the "Roaring Twenties", and the prelude to the Great Depression.

To make matters worse, given America's federal structure of government, the level of benefit differs from one state to another. In Massachusetts, unemployment benefits were $477 a week last year, while in the southern states of Alabama and Mississippi they were $190.

The unemployed, faced with dramatic cuts in income whilst on benefit, simply cannot afford to continue "luxury" expenditure, such as health care payments. With little room to borrow your way out of trouble, the winter looks bleak for millions of Americans.

"It's not enough to survive," says Edgardo Viray. "I pay $300 a month rent and $256 a month repayments on the car. With daily expenses, it just isn't enough. I've got to find another job with a good salary. But it's hard, especially now, because the companies aren't taking people. I don't know what I will do."

Many of the job losses are amongst the low paid and part-timers, especially in catering. "I believe we will face another round of layoffs in January. This is shaping up a lot worse than the last recession," says Henry Tamarin of the Hotel and Restaurant Union.


While the President's dear wife, dressed in the finest clothes and wearing the most expensive jewellery and perfume, appears on TV protesting about the plight of Afghan women, America's poorest women are being ground into the dirt by her husband and his rich paymasters.

Perhaps the "First Lady" at home in the White House or on her millionaire Texan ranch is unaware that the average age of a homeless person in the USA today is nine years old because of the number of homeless single mothers.

"What about the children terrorised by poverty and hunger?" asks John Donahue, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a body that Mrs Bush has no doubt never heard of. These constitute the "undeserving poor" of the Bush administration, slandered and marginalized by Republican and Democratic politicians alike.

It is always the weakest that suffer the most in a slump. "One of the things that kept the economy hot was that women were forced to take low-paid jobs - minimum wages that don't pay the rent in any city in this country. And those are the first to lose their jobs. People who have jumped through the welfare-to-work hoops are ending up in shelters," continues John Donahue.

The brutal speed of the job losses is causing resentment amongst the unions. Leslie Mayo, who represents the flight attendants at American Airlines where 1,400 have lost their jobs, says at least 1,000 had little or no severance pay. "They weren't protected and we have filed a grievance," she says.

Kurt Hanson, an official of Speea, the Seattle-based aerospace union, is asking workers to donate cash to help the 30,000 who are losing their jobs over Christmas. The majority are due to leave the week before the holidays. The union suggested job-sharing, but this was rejected by the company. "The mood is pretty angry," he says. "A lot of people think September 11 is a cover for what management would have done anyway. But they have made a lot of business decisions, which suggests they don't need an excuse. Boeing has demonstrated it doesn't really care about people. Typically they wouldn't have laid people off in substantial numbers between Thanksgiving and Christmas which is what they are now doing."

Clearly, this is no isolated incident. The ruling class is attempting to unburden the crisis onto the shoulders of the working class. The boom has disappeared. The American bosses are preparing to put in the boot. While they are waging imperialist war abroad, they are starting to engage in class war at home. Just as they are ruthless in pursuing their interests abroad, they will attempt to crush the resistance of the workers inside the US.

The American working class will not take these attacks lying down. They have a rich militant history. It is no accident that the heroes of September 11, the fire fighters of New York, fought with riot police when they were told to scale back their operations in digging out their fellow dead. Even clutching the American flag, the American working class will show its revolutionary mettle in the storming period that is opening up in the United States.