Posted on Monday, March 9th, 2009 at 1:24 pm
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
The economic experts have finally declared that we are in a recession. I believe a more honest term would be a depression. Each country is undergoing various financial issues and once strong economies are grappling with high levels of unemployment. Workers from the US to Japan are facing the future with an uncertainty that has not been known since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
In the Communist Manifesto Marx theorized:
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”
Class has been issue that we have repeatedly failed to discuss critically. To delve into the ways in which our economies are stratified means realizing that they are built upon the exploitation of the working poor. We must further acknowledge the degree to which we have been complicit in our own enslavement. Instead of protesting when unions were viciously attacked we bowed our heads and allowed the rise of business unionism. The elites attacked unions first because they realized that this is where workers learned solidarity and a true understanding of how the economy works. A single person cannot wage war against a conglomerate but a group of workers have the ability to assert power.
We have turned poverty into an individualized phenomenon even though it is systemically created. To be poor is to be accused of an individual failing. Conversely, wealth is seen solely as the result of hard work.
To maintain the lie of meritocracy we continually assert that those who are currently ranked within the top 5 % have worked harder than those that are deemed working or under class. The value of labour has been so linked with prestige that the physicality involved with most jobs is discounted. When a construction worker is outside in the hot sun or the freezing cold, the labour that that they are performing is absolutely essential to our infrastructure and yet it is the CEO that is rewarded with millions of dollars after leading a company into ever increasing debt. We do not pay based in merit. We pay based in prestige.
The imbalance is further perpetuated when one must now take a meagre income to pay for the essentials of life. The commodification of basic human rights – health care, shelter, food, and clothing – has served to further enrich those that created a system of imbalance. What is a landlord but a predator? Those who to seek to profit from that which we cannot do without do not contribute to our advancement as a people, rather they exploit need to gain prestige and wealth.
Class warfare is waged daily and yet it is rarely recognized as such. It is often those members of society that are the most vulnerable, that are subject to social scorn despite the fact that their failure to succeed is necessary for some to live in class privilege. Without a large proletarian class to exploit, the ruling bourgeoisie would not be able to amass the wealth that it has.
As the economies globally continue to worsen, for the first time in a generation people are experiencing extended unemployment and this has caused a strain on the few social services that are available. Food banks are having difficulty keeping their larders full as people apply for unemployment for the first time. Soup kitchens are now populated with people that used to be classified as middle class and reporters now do specials on what it is like to survive for a month on food stamps. Hunger and homelessness are one of the first results of unemployment.
The commodification of food combined with imbalance in wealth means that families can no longer take food for granted as a readily available resource. In Obama’s plans for an economic stimulus he plans for a 13% increase for families that receive food stamps, however the cost of food has already gone up 6% since this time last year.
Not since World II has spam had such a steady string of profits. Their employees are often offered overtime shifts to provide this low cost “canned meat” to the public. Kraft dinner is also reaping the benefits of the economic downturn, as people look for food that can be stretched cheaply to feed their families. Nutrition takes a back seat to making sure that each person has the appropriate caloric intake to sustain them throughout the day. In a country that is already obese an increase in poverty will only force people onto high carbohydrate, chemically overloaded food in an effort to cope with the demands of assuring sustenance.
Even in this time of economic strife the nature of capitalism means that companies will continue to exploit workers, retrench benefits and price gouge in an effort to maintain or increase profit. McDonalds is raising prices in poor neighbourhoods where it believes that customers will most likely absorb the increase and continue to purchase their food. The key in this plan that bears attention is that this is aimed at poor neighbourhoods.
Children whose parents cannot afford to pay for their lunch are being fed cheese sandwiches and police are throwing out the possessions of the homeless at will. For capitalism to succeed it is necessary to pay the workers enough to cover their basic expenses with enough left over for a few luxuries and yet the irrational nature of a system that seeks profit at all costs continually impoverishes and assaults those whom it is dependent upon. The weakest members of society quickly become prey for large corporations and the ruling elite. In the process, we loose our ability to care about the survival of the common person.
As westerners, we consider ourselves to be amongst the most privileged of the planet and yet the standard of living is deteriorating daily. Banks are now offering micro loans in New York City; a plan that has been largely aimed at improving the lives of women in the developing world. At this moment in history, many recognize that a fundamental change is needed if we are to maintain our standard of living and yet all solutions proffered involve rehabilitating a system that has proven to not only be unsustainable but damaging.
People are often encouraged to aim their angst at the poor rather than focusing on the ways in which the system works to impoverish all. Irresponsibility is attacked. Yet I would be remiss if I did not question; where is our rage at the companies that do not pay a living wage or provide proper health care benefits? Not being able to stretch a meagre income to a subsistence level is hardly the responsibility of the individual; it is solely the fault of the commodification of the essential needs in life.
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