The politics of Reaganism, however, are a symbol and symptom of an increasingly aggressive stance by U.S. capital—not its cause. On the other hand, economic changes in the past several years have begun the “restructuring” of U.S. industry and of the working class itself, to the profound disadvantage of the traditional labor movement. Older industries and their unions have been thrown into decline. A larger proportion of jobs are low wage, disproportionately filled by women and oppressed minorities, while the proportion of the industrial and blue-collar working class within the population as a whole has decreased. At the same time a large sector of affluent professionals and managers has been created. This newly prosperous layer greatly swells Reagan’s political base, and has helped create the tone for the policies of deliberate social neglect in mainstream politics as well as the calculated viciousness of the right wing.
On the other hand, business does not feel it can afford expensive reforms, whether at the level of collective bargaining or social spending, which characterized previous periods of prosperity. Even more to the point, capital does not feel a threat from below that would force it to deliver such reforms. Rather, its strategy is to impose the full costs of making U.S. capital competitive and profitable on organized and unorganized workers, on the Black community and on women. The fruits of this strategy are visible everywhere, in a thousand daily atrocities. In the Black inner cities, infant mortality rates are at Third World levels—a predictable result of the slashing of pre-natal nutrition programs. “De-industrialization” has ruined whole regions. The percentage of unionized workers has fallen to 18%.
From the late 1960s to the mid-’70s, a mass-based women’s movement created a new atmosphere in which reproductive freedom, childcare and a decent job began to be seen as rights. It is only natural, within the context of a capitalist system which from its inception has been built on foundations of male supremacy as well as class exploitation, that the imposition of austerity and right-wing political solutions entails a counter- assault to wipe out women’s recent gains.
Nonetheless, the struggles that produced the limited victories for women were the result of real-life conditions which still exist—the large-scale entry of women into the work force by both necessity and choice, the percentage of families now headed by women, etc. The model of the male wage-earner-centered family held up by the right wing is increasingly a myth. Against whatever odds, therefore, women’s struggles for basic rights will continue. The recent call by NOW for demonstrations in support of abortion rights, the cutting edge of the right-wing attacks on all women’s rights, is undoubtedly an expression of this reality.
Participation in these struggles must be central to the revival of a labor movement, as well as a left, worthy of the name. Special attention must be focused in the present phase of the capitalist crisis on escalating militarism. Far from being a transient phase or a particularly grotesque feature of one right-wing Administration, dramatic and continuing increases in military spending are deliberately built in as part of the effort to “reflate” a slump-prone economy. The fact that these increases boost a ruinous deficit, itself a threat to the economic confidence of the ruling class, has created political contradictions which are still being fought out.
At the same time, politically the escalation of “defense” spending is part of the effort to construct a consensus for policing the Third World, under the cover of stopping “Soviet expansionism.” Such a consensus is necessary in order to make millions of American workers feel they have a stake in policies which are, in fact, destroying their jobs, their communities and their lives.
In this situation, the task of constructing a socialist alternative in the U.S. begins with the building of resistance, in large battles and small ones, in the unions and the broader social movements, to the economic and social assaults of capital. The participation of socialist activists in these daily struggles is far more important than the elaboration of complex schemes of “structural reform” for which there is no means of implementation.
Excerpted from, Solidarity Founding Statement, 1986. as valid today a then.