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Capitalist economic decline criminalizes workers

Published Dec 9, 2005 11:59 PM

Early in the morning on Dec. 2, the day after thousands of activists around the country had commemorated civil rights hero Rosa Parks by expressing righteous outrage to the war against the Iraqi people and the war being waged against workers and oppressed communities here, Kenneth Boyd was executed in North Carolina. Boyd became the 1,000th person to die since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. The majority have been poor, and disproportionately people of color.

So far this year there have been 57 executions in the U.S. Since 1999 there have been 501, with 1999 peaking at 98 in a single year. The state of Texas has led the way every year.

The death penalty and the booming growth of the prison-industrial complex symbolize how brutal the United States is to poor workers and people of color. This is being especially illuminated as the pressures of the capitalist market keep driving wages down. The growing competition among the imperialist powers shows no end in sight, and this will lead to more wars for profit for which workers will shoulder the brunt more and more.

The poor are left with few ways to make a living and must fend for themselves. It is especially poignant to highlight how thousands of poor, mostly Black, citizens of New Orleans were left to bear the brunt of Hurricane Katrina. As these residents commandeered vehicles and goods off store shelves, they were threatened with death and imprisonment by Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, as well as local and national authorities.

With just 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The U.S. also has the highest incarceration rate, with 701 incarcerations per 100,000 people. (World Prison Population List) The majority of those incarcerated are people of color, mostly Black. People of color are far more likely to receive jail time and the death sentence than whites who commit the same crimes.

A glance at prison growth in the United States and the economic decline since the late 1970s shows a significant leap in incarcerations. The U.S. prison population jumped from 200,000 in 1970 to 2.1 million in 2002, and continues to grow.

This decades-old trend can be seen most notably in what has become known as the Rust Belt, which stretches from Western New York as far west as Kansas. The flight of well-paying jobs, scant social services, and a failing public school system has left inner-city areas, heavily populated by people of color, nearly unbearable for millions.

Add to the above the realities of an inadequate health system and the dire circumstances of life in the U.S. for poor workers and people of color becomes incandescent. At last count 45 million Americans were without health insurance, and millions more have poor health insurance coverage.

The United Nations released a report earlier this year detailing how the world’s wealthiest nation has a woefully inadequate health care system. Racism and class oppression can glaringly be seen in life expectancy and infant mortality.

Of the 215,000 jobs created in the month of November, 144,000 were in the food service industry. Real income continues to fall as the prices of goods outpace what little growth there is in wages. A new bankruptcy law puts Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which wipes away all debt, out of reach for many in a country where 70 percent of the people owe upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.

Manufacturing jobs that paid decent wages with benefits are disappearing. This decline is partly due to advanced technology, allowing manufacturers to replace live workers with machinery, and to the movement of capital to other countries.

Corporations like the auto manufacturers are closing factories and laying off workers here, looking to exploit workers in other countries where labor laws are weak at best and wages are super low. Recently, both GM and Ford, the first and third largest automakers in the world, respectively, announced layoffs. GM will eliminate 30,000 jobs and close down 12 factories across the U.S. Ford is planning massive layoffs as well. Nearly 100,000 jobs in the auto industry have been lost this year alone.

Auto-parts maker Delphi, in bankruptcy, has demanded its workers take a severe cut in wages, lower cost-of-living increases, and higher insurance premiums. This trend is happening in the airline industry as well, as three major airlines have filed for bankruptcy in order to dump workers’ pensions and health care benefits.

As this crisis continues to deepen, workers, especially those from oppressed nationalities, will be even more criminalized in what amounts to a war in this country as well as abroad. Part of that war against workers and people of color is the use of the death penalty and the criminalization of poverty. A united front must be forged between the anti-imperialist movement and anti-racists to call for an end to imperialist plunder, no more prisons and abolition of the death penalty.