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People’s needs before capitalist profits

Defend education, cancel the debt to the banks

Published Jun 17, 2010 8:31 PM

Playing by the rules and priorities of the capitalist profit system means surrender in one area of life after another when the workers, communities, students and youth are under attack. Whether it is the fight for jobs, the environment, housing, health care, or a decent retirement, the framework established by capitalism leaves no way but to give in to the rich.

Breaking out of the framework imposed by capitalism is the key to survival for millions.

Education is an urgent example of the need to push past the barriers put up by bankers, corporations and their political enforcers in both capitalist parties. Capitalism says that profits and interest due to the banks are sacrosanct. It is time to declare that the right to an education is sacrosanct. When it comes to a conflict between education and payment to the banks, it is time to cancel the debt, including student debt.

Public education is under attack from all directions. K-12 schools have already been cut back across the country and even greater cuts are threatened. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced that between 100,000 and 300,000 teachers are faced with job loss in the next school year.

The reason given is that cities, states and the federal government have suffered a decline in revenue due to the economic crisis. Budget cuts must be made. It is a matter of arithmetic. You cannot spend what you don’t have.

But that is capitalist arithmetic. If you cannot spend what you don’t have, then how can the federal government write a $750 billion check to the biggest banks in the U.S., buy up their bad debts, and guarantee their loans to the tune of $10 trillion while handing the Pentagon more than $700 billion each year?

Apparently you can spend what you “don’t have” when it is going to the super-rich. In fact, schools are being closed, teachers are being fired and class sizes in the public schools are going up. Meanwhile, hundreds of billions of dollars that these state and city governments owe to banks and bondholders in interest payments are going to be paid out on time. And many of these banks are the ones that got the bailouts in the first place.

So there is money. It is just a matter of who is going to get it.

In Detroit, 80 percent of the budget is spent on paying interest to the banks, yet the city is planning to shut down 45 schools. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been trying to shut down 19 schools and open up a raft of charter schools in their place. But New York City pays billions to the banks every year in interest. Bloomberg just forced city teachers to give up raises by threatening to lay off 4,400 workers if the concession was not made.

Big business is moving into the funding of charter schools. The K-12 system is becoming a major investment target for capital. Billions are being poured into charter school investments while the public education system is being starved. The Race to the Top fund of $4.3 billion established by the Obama administration is meant to strengthen the charter school movement.

College students are in debt before they even start out in life because of the high cost of a college education. Education, which is free in socialist Cuba, is now a source of capitalist profit in the U.S.

Students in California carried out widespread occupations and demonstrations throughout the public university system in March to oppose a 32 percent increase in tuition. California was not the only state to put the debt to the banks and the bondholders before the needs of students. Tuition hikes are scheduled in many states, from New York to Colorado to a second round in California.

Thus, there is no middle ground between the interests of the banks and capitalist investors on the one hand, and the interests of the masses of students and their families at all levels.

Low-wage, low-skill economy shrinks education

In addition to the profit motive, the shrinking of the education system is also based upon the fact that the bosses have created a low-wage, low-skill economy. They no longer have a great need to generate a vast base of skilled and semi-skilled workers. To the bankers, the cost of educating large sections of the population, especially African-American, Latino/a, Asian, Native and poor white youth, is unnecessary overhead. They would rather have the money in their vaults. After all, the growing job openings are in low-skill categories.

That is the nature of advanced capitalism itself. The book “Low-Wage Capitalism” says the following about the “education scam”:

“All the apologists for the system have been touting education as the way for workers to raise themselves up. But the entire trend of capitalist development moves in the direction of deskilling workers and lowering wages. The bosses want to reduce skills in order to reduce the need for training, to render workers virtually disposable by making them interchangeable, and thus to increase the competition among individual workers.

“ ... [T]he application of technology has as its goal simplifying the labor process. Thus, under capitalism the relative need for higher education and higher skills in the workforce goes down, not up, with the advance of technology.”

This was written in 2008, before the full development of the economic crisis. The massive unemployment today among youth age 16 to 24, which is officially around 25 percent, confirms this trend. People with college degrees are trying to get jobs as clerks, salespeople, waiters — any job, regardless of how far below their skill level it is — just to survive.

To the bankers and the bosses, education is a drain on their profits and is only needed on a much reduced scale to keep the system of exploitation going. The ruling class is perfectly content to see an educational system that will cull a layer of talented survivors from among the working class students and an upper crust of academic elite from among the more privileged children of the upper middle class and the rich. Meanwhile, they will let the rest of the educational system flounder, underfunded and impoverished.

The capitalists would rather see public funds used to boost their profit margins than for the education of the younger generation of the workers and the oppressed. Thus the struggle for education is a struggle against the capitalist profit system.

The students and youth, parents and communities, cannot be bound by the limitations of the profit system. They must demand the cancellation of the debts to the banks so that public money can be used in education and many other areas. They must demand that the rights of capital be suspended in favor of the right to education.

The writer is author of the book “Low-Wage Capitalism,” a Marxist analysis of globalization and its effects on the U.S. working class. He has also written numerous articles and spoken on the present economic crisis. For further information, visit lowwagecapitalism.com.