From the new May-June 2014 issue of News & Letters:
Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2014-2014
(Part I was posted yesterday.)
A. Women under attack
The U.S. is in such political disarray that the Democratic President and Senate fell in line with devastating cuts to food stamps and are unable to enact their modest goals of increasing the minimum wage and maintaining extended unemployment insurance. The disarray is seen as well in the deadly racism of “stand your ground” gunmen and the torrid pace of attacks on access to abortion and even birth control. Be it cuts in food stamps, or even Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, women are impacted most severely. Of those who receive food stamps, 34.3% are women, and 44.5% are children under 18.
While stand your ground laws make it legal to gun down unarmed Black youth for being in the “wrong” place or playing music too loud, they have been ruled out for battered women like African American Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot into the ceiling to keep her abusive husband at bay. Although she injured no one, she is facing a 60-year prison term.
Society’s degeneracy is sickeningly visible in what spews from the mouths of those in government like Republican New Hampshire State Rep. Kyle Tasker, who posted on Facebook a cartoon making fun of women who experience domestic violence, like Marissa Alexander. Accompanying a graphic cartoon, he wrote: “50,000 battered women and I still eat mine plain.” It is seen in how another Republican, Virginia State Sen. Steve Martin, referred to pregnant women, not as human beings with civil rights, but as a fetus’ “host.”
What got the media’s attention was House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) remarks on poverty. He quoted racist social “scientist” Charles Murray, and claimed that there’s a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work….” But while Ryan talks of men, what he wants is to gut what little welfare for women and children is left. He harkens back to the 1990s “reform,” which threw thousands of women off welfare but left them in poverty. “If we succeeded” in this, he said, “we can help resuscitate this culture and get people back to work.” But there is no work for those now unemployed. A recent study found that, in any given month, a mere 11% of the people who had been unemployed for over 26 weeks would find full-time work within one year.
ABORTION, BIRTH CONTROL UNDER ATTACK
Meanwhile, the attack on women’s right to an abortion as well as to birth control is so vicious that it no longer disguises the hatred of women that fuels it. The Hobby Lobby suit being considered by the Supreme Court (see “Birth control and being human“, this issue of N&L) would not only allow companies to withhold insurance coverage for contraception based on their religious beliefs, it would keep insurance from paying for counseling about birth control. If Hobby Lobby prevails, any employer can dictate what discussion a doctor can have with a patient if that visit is paid for by her employer’s insurance.
Abortion rights continue to be rapidly undermined. Twenty-three states have invasive mandatory ultrasound laws that force women to have–and pay for–an unnecessary and often painful medical procedure; Alabama is considering a law that would criminalise abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. A new level of cruelty is in a proposed Alabama law that would force a woman carrying a fetus with a lethal condition to listen to a script about available perinatal hospice services, sign a form confirming that she prefers an abortion, and then wait 48 hours before having the abortion that she had already decided on in the first place.
The cruelty extends to girls whose abusive parents are now free to attend their pregnant daughter’s court proceedings if she opts to circumvent parental consent laws and ask a judge for permission for an abortion. That totally negates the aim of exceptions to parental consent laws, whose purpose was to enable girls with abusive parents to obtain an abortion without informing them. There seems to be no end to the torture–and the UN has recognized, finally, that denial of legal abortion amounts to torture. (For more on women worldwide see: “Women fight for freedom against growing retrogression,” March-April 2014 News & Letters.)
Fraudulent laws claiming to protect women’s health have helped force the closure of one in ten clinics between 2010 and 2013, and the new Texas law will close 20 more.
What has emerged in the face of the brutal hostility to women’s right to control their own bodies is a militant movement of women and men who guide women past screaming mobs of anti-abortion fanatics at clinics offering abortion. These clinic escorts get up early and stand for hours in sub-zero temperatures or blazing heat. New York escort Shaker SuzanneF explains why she’s part of this movement:
“Our government and our society have abandoned people who want reproductive healthcare. They’ve labeled them as abject; they’ve isolated them; they’ve decided they don’t deserve safety….
“To me, escorting is about breaking that isolation. Every time I take the subway to the clinic, I am telling patients that they are worth standing up for. Every time I stand out in the cold, I am doing it because I want clients to know there is nothing shameful about their decision. Every time I stay despite being insulted and harassed, I do it because I want clients to know that the community stands with them. When I’m getting pushed by protesters as I walk clients to the door, I’m doing it because I want clients to remember that they aren’t the bad ones, that they didn’t do anything to deserve this treatment….
“I escort because people who want reproductive healthcare are worth standing up for. And until we as a society realize this fundamental fact and do a better job of protecting access, I’ll keep escorting.”
CAPITALISM KEEPS THE POOR POOR
Capitalism’s degeneracy is seen in its attacks on the most vulnerable. Thus the U.S. Labor Department allows the exploitation of developmentally disabled workers by making it legal to pay them a wage even lower than the minimum, which is nowhere near a living wage and hasn’t been raised since 2009. Children are particularly vulnerable and those who lose their eligibility for food stamps will also be thrown off free school lunch programs. Twenty-four state governments showed their inhumanity by refusing the Medicaid expansion available through the Affordable Care Act. This means that people who do not meet the state’s requirements for Medicaid but cannot afford insurance, even though some qualify for federal subsidies, will probably be uninsured–that’s 4.5 million people–when insurance for anyone with a serious illness is a matter of life and death. Now 3.7 million Americans with mental illness and substance abuse have been denied insurance coverage.
A new study from Harvard University and the City University of New York predicts that 8 million people will remain uninsured, and suffer up to 17,000 premature and avoidable deaths. The study authors state: “We predict that many low-income women will forego recommended breast and cervical cancer screening; diabetics will forego medications and all low-income adults will face a greater likelihood of depression, catastrophic medical expenses and death.” But a Republican Party that has spent years dehumanizing the poor, women, youth and people of color, is content to let the bodies pile up, and Democratic alternatives often amount to slightly smaller cutbacks.
B. Many dimensions of revolt
The massive turnout at several Moral Monday protests in North Carolina this year–including over 80,000 at one–with similar protests cropping up in other Southern states, is only one indication that the fightback will continue to grow. In Georgia, 39 people were arrested in March at Moral Monday actions demanding Medicaid expansion for that state, declaring that without it up to 10 Georgians will die every day due to lack of healthcare.
In December fast food workers in 100 cities held strikes and protests demanding $15 an hour. This March and April, more actions were held by fast food workers, Walmart workers, and others demanding living wages and an end to wage theft. In March, a McDonald’s franchisee and a Domino’s franchisee, both in New York, had to cough up $1 million to settle charges of illegally underpaying workers. These highly exploited workers are mainly Black, Latino, and/or women.
At the same time, capitalists continue to fight any attempt by workers to organize. Labor unions are hardly a factor for most U.S. workers, with only one in 15 private sector workers belonging to unions–just at the time when economic inequality has reached a new high, and yet opposition to inequality is being channeled into partisan politics rather than the need for workers to control their own workplaces and lives.
More and more, the structure of the U.S. economy is based on a labor force with a huge low-wage component–so huge that about 40% of employed adults make less than the 1968 minimum wage, adjusted for inflation. The low-wage system is inseparable from high long-term unemployment and the superexploitation of millions of undocumented workers. But undocumented workers are fighting back, from car washes to restaurants to garment factories. And farmers from Georgia to California are crying for immigration reform because they cannot force citizens to accept the harsh conditions and low pay of farm labor.
IMMIGRANT LABOR FIGHTS BACK
On April 5 the human side of immigration policies shone through as undocumented immigrants and supporters held actions in 80 cities, denouncing the 2 million deportations carried out by the Obama administration. Culminating a two-day march from Chicago to Broadview, Ill., protesters formed a human chain to blockade the Broadview Detention Center, chanting, “Not one more!” (See article, p. 11.)
Undocumented immigrants have held a series of creative actions since the May Day 2006 boycott/strike Day without Immigrants, through the Coming Out of the Shadows actions in which youth publicly proclaimed themselves “undocumented and unafraid,” through the Dreamers sit-ins and the No Papers No Fear bus ride, to today’s Not One More Deportation events. What they need is not the halfway support of politicians but the full solidarity of the working-class recognizing that an injury to one is an injury to all.
So long as any segment of the population cannot make a living wage, it weakens the ability of the whole working class to resist the capitalists’ cutbacks in wages as well as social benefits. This includes people with disabilities, who are struggling to change the “sheltered workshop” mentality.
Attacks on Medicaid funding make it almost impossible for the poor and people with disabilities to get healthcare and the help they need to meet their most basic needs. This is on top of how the state sees people with disabilities as units to be managed. As one activist exclaimed,
“Penalties, assessments, inspections, certifications, caps, limits, maximums and minimums, authorizations, coordination, oversight, appeals, intakes, approvals, denials, requests, flagging, verifications, and on and on and on. It just never f’ing ends. If you are a person who doesn’t have to deal with this as a part of your status as a human being, you’re privileged.”
When it comes to people with mental illness, especially those who are poor or of color, the default caregivers are the police and prisons. The Treatment Advocacy Center and National Sheriffs’ Association found that people with serious mental illness are ten times more likely to be in prison or jail than in state psychiatric hospitals, and they estimate that half the people killed by police are mentally ill. Nearly half of prison and jail inmates have some mental illness. The Cook County Jail is “the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois,” according to the Sheriff.
So trigger-happy is the Albuquerque, N.M., police department, that hundreds of outraged people took over streets in protest for nine hours on March 31. Unsurprisingly, they were attacked by the cops. Of the 37 people shot by Albuquerque cops since 2010, 24 were killed, and nearly 75% were mentally ill. As usual, the killer cops were never punished.
The prison system itself, holding captive another superexploited population, also helps keep workers under the thumb of capitalist exploitation. Yet even here the resistance is ceaseless, with a new stage opened up by the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, which followed the 2010 strike at 10 Georgia state prisons. This year, prisoners went on hunger strike at a federal prison in Honolulu, and hunger strikes broke out at immigrant detention centers in Conroe, Texas, and Tacoma, Wash. As we go to press, Alabama prisoners are planning a labor strike against the state prison system’s “slave empire,” following up another strike at two prisons in January.
9. See “The Truth about Buffer Zones and the Harassers Who Hate Them,” March 13, 2014, by Shaker SuzanneF shakesville.com