The current government shutdown, now in its second week, is being called a “partial” shutdown. While it’s true that much of the federal government remains in operation, the crisis is hardly partial for the 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck.
Just over half have been compelled to work with no pay, forced to come to their jobs while the rest are on mandatory furloughs. Many private businesses with federal contracts are also laying off workers.
The shutdown was imposed when Congress would not authorize the $5 billion Trump was demanding for his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent migrants from entering the country. As a campaign ploy in 2016 to whip up chauvinism, the would-be president had vowed to make Mexico pay for his wall.
Now 800,000 public sector livelihoods and an untold number of jobs in the private sector are being held hostage as the president tries to force U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for his wall.
Federal employment has been a path for millions of workers to gain secure and stable union jobs, particularly boosting economic well-being in communities of color. Black government workers comprise 20 percent of those now being deprived of a paycheck. Black communities in and around Washington, D.C., which depend heavily on federal employment, have been hit especially hard.
Now Trump has signed an executive order freezing federal pay. Unless the new Congress votes to approve an annual pay raise, federal workers will be taking a de facto pay cut when inflation is factored in. Workers are paying the price for a political deadlock they did not create, one generated by the racist, xenophobic hatred emanating from the White House.
Prolonged shutdown to hurt children, women the most
Currently, 75 percent of federal programs are reportedly not impacted because their funding was already allocated. Recipients of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are due to receive their benefits without interruption. However, Social Security offices have been closed, which will impact new applicants. It will be harder for recipients to do things such as updating personal information or replacing a lost Medicare card.
Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program was already allocated for the next 10 years.
However, if the shutdown continues, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which replaced food stamps, could run out of funds by the end of January. Already, 95 percent of the workers who administer SNAP are on furlough. Funds for school lunch programs and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition service could dry up by February.
These programs are an essential lifeline for 1 in 8 people in this country who need food assistance — including 13 million children and 4.4 million seniors.
Farmers, small business people and prospective homeowners may not be able to access federal lending programs. At the Federal Emergency Management Administration, 4,400 office staffers are furloughed. Some national parks are closed.
The funds for enforcing the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and preventing and assisting victims of sexual assault have run out. Likewise with programs that uphold fair housing legislation.
Does the shutdown affect the whole government? Not at all. The Pentagon death machine budget was left untouched. And of course the White House is still spewing out its hate unimpeded.
Racist abuse at border continues
Even without the unpopular wall, migrants and refugees are already suffering unthinkable hardships at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Late Christmas Eve 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo became the second child this month to die in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention after being diagnosed with the flu. The first was Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7 years old, whose death has sparked protests. Both arrived from Guatemala with their parents.
The imprisonment of families with children has been the practice since the separation of children and parents provoked widespread public outcry last May. Many separated families are still not reunited. Now parents are forced to watch their kids suffer and die in detention centers, deprived of adequate food, water and medical care.
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have budgeted plenty of money to set up lackey governments in Central America, whose intense political repression, coupled with dire poverty, is driving refugees to make the dangerous and arduous journey to the U.S. border. Washington supports these governments financially and trains their military officers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation at Fort Benning, Ga., formerly known as the notorious School of the Americas.
Conditions are particularly dire for Indigenous communities, whose primary language is not Spanish and who suffer a high rate of illiteracy. Guatemalan children, for example, often lack access to even basic primary education. As adults they find it difficult, if not impossible, to access social services. Indigenous leaders are arrested and jailed for defending their ancestral lands from profit-hungry capitalist developers.
According to the Guatemala Solidarity Project, “As a result of repression and land theft these communities are facing extreme hunger and lack access to clean water, leading to widespread chronic malnutrition and other negative health consequences. Mental health consequences of genocide, forced displacement, imprisonment of community leaders and other forms of repression have also been significant.”
This is what the families of Jakelin and Felipe were fleeing when they came to the U.S.
Only class solidarity can stop the suffering
Vicious immigrant bashing is now hurting wide sections of the working class in this country, who are suffering from this shutdown over demands for a wall.
Such a wall would also separate Mexico from what was once half of its own territory — think of all the U.S. states and cities now bordering Mexico that have Spanish names — which was stolen by a Yankee military invasion in 1846-48.
While the Democrats in Washington oppose the wall, they are all for policing border crossings to limit the influx of desperate migrants and refugees.
The wild gyrations on Wall Street are indications that capitalism is embroiled in a protracted economic crisis. This is the source of all the attacks on the workers and oppressed, whether inside the Beltway or in a remote village in Guatemala. It should be crystal clear now that anti-immigrant bias hurts and divides all working-class people, regardless of where they were born.
Building class solidarity across borders and oceans is what’s needed to push back the capitalist assault.