The American nightmare

AS ECONOMIC decline hits the whole of society, the American Dream is turning sour and the consensus is for radical rightwing solutions. The much publicised recovery in the US is little more than a blip. While the median family income in the US doubled between 1947 and 1973, it has been effectively stagnant for the last 20 years.

The top fifth of Americans have expanded their share of the total household income by 50% after tax. The bottom 10% have seen their paltry share decline by 10%.

The failure of Clintonomics was inevitable, as was the resultant swing in votes to the Republicans. Clinton was voted in on a programme of reforms - not for the working class, but to cut welfare and the US’s huge $220 billion federal budget deficit.

But the Republican’s ten point programme, ‘Contract with America’, is representational of the demand for more radical solutions.

As well as congressional reform its main target is the ‘underclass’ which has become, not only in popular discontent, but in pseudo-scientific theory, the root of all evil. Charles Murray, leading US sociologist and co-author of The Bell Curve (see Weekly Worker reviews, November 17 1994), blames the break-up of the family (and primarily single mothers) for giving birth to this “New Rabble”, responsible for crime and poverty.

Underclass theories are not new and Murray’s are no more sophisticated than previous attempts. But in a society lacking even basic working class consciousness, the mass falls easily behind the search for a scapegoat.

A huge black and immigrant population (mainly from Latin America and Asia) is often the main target for white workers. It bears the brunt of the blame for un-employment, high taxes and crime.

It was the workers themselves who allowed the South and much of the West to remain non-unionised and to provide a reserve of cheap labour into which capital moved, closing down many of the more unionised plants in the North and East.

With the helping hand of Reagan this devastated an already weak organised workforce. Now only 16% in the private sector belong to a union. National bargaining agreements were torn up under Reagan and wage cuts were accepted by the unions in return for preserving jobs. And we all know the story as far as that scam is concerned. Now much of the working class is employed in the low-paid non-unionised service industry - ‘MacJobs’, as they are known.

The working class has dug its own grave by backing US imperialism at the cost of its own independent politics. The rightwing consensus now being led by the Republicans calls not for a slimming down of welfare, but its virtual eradication so that more money can be spent on the military, the police and prisons to remove the ‘underclass’ problem by force. Proposition 187 may show the shape of things to come as immigrants are further attacked, all the better to exploit them and drive down wages.

Held captive by bourgeois ideology, workers in the US cannot see that they are attacking their own rights. ‘We’ve got to end the hand-out mentality in this country’ is a popular sentiment. As the spiral of economic decline intensifies, the American dream could turn into a real nightmare for the working class.

Many black workers have turned to black nationalism. The LA riots in 1992, hailed by much of the left as the dawning of a new militancy, may have been an explosive expression of anger, but they were not a bid for working class power.

The immigrant population is still dominated by anti-Yankeeism. The white working class which lines up with the US state is seen as part of the enemy.

Only working class unity across the North Americas and the class fighting for its own interests can end this nightmare. Unfortunately this still seems a long way off.

Helen Ellis