While the corporate media focus public attention on the imminent opening of the Democratic and Republican Party conventions and the electoral contest, another battle matters much more to tens of millions of people still out of work: the failure of Congress to pass a third stimulus bill.
The provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was passed in March, expired July 31. Despite its drawbacks for undocumented and gig workers, CARES provided incomes for tens of millions of unemployed workers and kept the economy afloat. Now the economy is sinking.
At the same time, Trump has cut the federal supplement to jobless benefits by executive order from $600 to $300, with, at best, another $100 from the state, and reduced the number of people eligible.
To eat and house themselves and their families, workers will have to gamble on jobs where they risk exposure to COVID-19. This is unacceptable.
House Democrats passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act) in mid-May. It extends the CARES unemployment benefits through January (March for gig workers), and this time includes benefits for undocumented workers. Money is also provided so states can hire workers to maintain infrastructure. It continues the moratorium on evictions for another 12 months. Its total cost is more than $3.4 trillion.
The Senate Republicans’ Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) bill offers far less, slashing federal jobless supplements while offering a $450 “bonus” to workers who find new jobs — essentially bribing them to risk their health. Its total cost would be about $1.1 trillion.
While any concession to the reactionary Senate and Trump is a crime against the working class, it’s apparent no compromise will be reached until summer recess ends on Sept. 8, at the very earliest.
In the meantime, millions face no jobs, loss of shelter, utility shutoffs, food “insecurity” — hunger — lack of health insurance and health care during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, school reopenings, no money for school supplies and much more.
Systemic horrors such as poverty, mass incarceration, deportations, caging of im/migrants, racist police violence, anti-LGBTQ2S+ and sexist oppression, Islamophobia and ableism persist, including in cities and states under Democratic Party leadership.
The mass suffering occurring under Trump, and the callous eagerness to slash relief by the Republican-majority Senate, may result in Republicans being booted out in November. But the best that workers, especially the most oppressed, can expect is some mitigation of the crisis and the loss of center stage by a pro-fascist president.
While both the Democrats and Republicans serve the same imperialist ruling class, it’s a mistake to say “there’s no difference between the two parties.” But the working class, the class that through their labor creates all value in society, deserves more than partial relief from oppression and exploitation.
‘To each according to their needs’
In “Critique of the Gotha Program,” written in 1875, Karl Marx raised the famous slogan “from each according to [their] ability, to each according to [their] needs.” He explained that this could be achieved, after a period of transition from capitalism, in the final stage of communism “after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.”
Back in 1875, the productive forces were far less developed than today. Factories were powered by steam, electrification was decades away, and the assembly line was yet to be invented — let alone the “high-tech revolution” and other technological advances.
But even in 1875 Marx — still dismissed by cynics as utopian — could see the potential for shared abundance.
Now labor’s productivity has advanced to levels once unimaginable. There are “workerless” factories and “driverless” vehicles. One can order nearly all basic necessities with a mouse and a keyboard or a cellphone.
Human society has the material capacity to eradicate human want. Yet no matter who gets elected, suffering persists.
What gets in the way of securing the necessities of life for every human being?
It’s capitalism. It’s a system with a built-in contradiction: While production is social, ownership of the means of production is individual. Obscene income inequality gives a small clique of multi-billionaires more wealth than much of humanity, who live by selling their labor power and are increasingly pauperized.
Elections don’t change this
Many are desperate to kick Trump/Pence out. That’s understandable. But whatever happens in November, we need to stay in the class struggle. We have to fight for a planned economy organized for human needs, not profit — to make real the vision of 1875.