De-escalation: the degree of hurry depends on the neighborhoods

26 May, 2020

Villa Azul, Buenos Aires.

States seem to be imbued with reckless haste as they concoct new “cuts” and “reforms” affecting us directly. The petty bourgeoisie is becoming increasingly angry, violent and delusional. And the workers’ strikes are taking on a “de-escalation” character.

The states

Trump at a refinery in North Dakota

In the US, Trump and the Senate are clinging to petty legal excuses to cut off aid to workers and force a full reopening as soon as possible. But the epidemic continues at a triumphant pace, and as seen in the US slaughterhouses, it keeps targeting the workers. It doesn’t matter: the figures exist to be hidden or to be adulterated.

In Europe, things are not very different. From the already reckless policy of “tourist corridors” based on bilateral agreements between countries that Italy rejected for fear of losing an even bigger piece of the cake of inter-European business, we have moved on to directly reopening borders throughout the EU. In less than 24 hours and without any data to back it up, the French government has gone from cancelling holidays in Spain to making them look like the best that could ever happen. Spain is also doing its part. The figures do not allow for a rapid de-escalation? They may well be revised! There is no way the data can be made to fit? No problem. The important thing is that the figures are improving and improving so much that suddenly there are almost 2000 fewer deaths. That the amount of pension payments has fallen for the first time in history has nothing to do with it. We will find experts who will testify that they died from things unrelated to business.

States are in a hurry to de-escalate. The sooner the economies emerge from the standstill imposed by confinement, the more likely it is that national capitals will succeed relatively well in the cruel competition that has already begun, within the EU with increasingly harsh tones and rampant imbalances, with or against China and the US. All this in a global framework in which the spectre of a new financial crisis is increasingly present.

Where are the goals of the states going? The new roadmap of the bourgeoisie is becoming clearer and already forms a daily rumble that has left the think-tanks establish themselves in the press and proclaim the following treatment: structural increase of tax collection, with emphasis on indirect taxes (which fall proportionally more on the lowest incomes), attack on pensions and the “green deal”.

The petty bourgeoisie

Vox car demonstration in Madrid.

The petty bourgeoisie is furious and encourages the bourgeoisie and the state to deconfine as soon as possible. Their businesses “suffer” and reality is twisted to put their class in the center of the universe: in Argentina pot and pan demonstrations are back, in Spain challenging “social distancing” has become every afternoon’s act of “rebellion”. In Brazil, where the number of deaths is growing at 800 a day and there are now more than 23.000, the city council of Rio – the cradle of the petty bourgeois revolt that drove Bolsonaro – is beginning the process of deconfinement in a big way, with the opening of churches and services.

The insane denial of the epidemic, which partly reflects the unequal impact of contagion on different social classes, contributes to the crisis of the state political apparatus. Let’s not even talk about Brazil. In Spain, the Sánchez government inflates Vox and overstates the protests by using public TV, hoping that others’ atrocities will hide those of the government and squeeze the ranks of its voters around the PSOE-Podemos bloc. On the other hand, it imposes an official mourning of 10 days to highlight the massacre the numbers of which it trims to accelerate the de-escalation. The PP, meanwhile, is increasingly overwhelmed, an example of what can come to the “systemic parties” of the right wing in this phase of the petty bourgeoisie revolt.

The workers

Strike at Gazprom in Yakutia, Russia, this week.

Readers of our @huelga Telegram channel are staying up to date, as the working class is anything but a “passive actor” in the emerging social framework. The ” covid strikes” have given way to the “de-escalation strikes” and these are taking on more and more momentum. The class is mobilizing from Mexico to Indonesia through half of Africa. In Europe, strikes are rampant in Italy, France, Belgium… Only in Germany, Spain and Portugal do workers seem to be on hold, even though the Covid is serving to expose the shameful working conditions in whole industries from Germany to Spain.

It is true that the states have applied themselves more than anyone else to propaganda, silencing struggles, emptying of meaning any story by using sentimentalism and nationalism; and that not a few, from Portugal to India, have directly prohibited strikes. In the end, the unions in Spain are not the only ones who openly apply themselves to co-organize wage freezes and reductions, and it is not in their interest to make visible a real reference of struggles against them.

The “reconstruction” of the results of capital for the petty bourgeoisie and the workers

Evolution of salaries in Spain in 2018. The collapse of average wages reduces the total wage bill while improving the earnings of the corporate petty bourgeoisie.

The official studies on income redistribution from 2008 until the Covid pandemic have now been published. As we have been pointing out and it has become evident with the “impossibility” for the Sánchez government to modify the core of policies such as “Rajoy’s labor reform” in Spain, the form that the redistribution of income from labor to capital has taken in these ten years has been that of a concentration of workers’ salaries around a rising minimum wage. In the context of cheap layoffs and under the permanent threat of subcontracting in temporary and precariously employed companies, each rise in the minimum wage reduced the number of workers receiving average wages. They either accepted decreases or were replaced by younger workers with worse conditions earning the minimum. The result, as the Bank of Spain acknowledges, has been a tendency to bring skilled workers ever closer to the minimum wage, which rose in parallel, but never enough to compensate overall for what was lost in wages by the workforce as a whole.

Before the start of the 2008 crisis, the average monthly full-time wages were very stable across generations at similar ages. The only differences that seemed to be observed were a slight increase in the case of the remuneration of the youngest low-skilled, and a slight fall in the middle-aged and high-education group. Since the outbreak of the crisis, wage moderation has affected all groups, but with varying intensity, so that the decline in average wages for high-skilled workers has become more significant. In contrast, for workers with low skills, the decline in wages is less pronounced.

Demonstration of the “forconi” – those who bear pitchforks – in Sicily, one of the first movements of the angry European petty bourgeoisie.

The surplus extracted from this permanent erosion has been the fuel that has nourished the recovery of capital and the bait that has mobilized the petty bourgeoisie towards forms of “popular revolt” since 2012. The petty bourgeoisie wanted to secure a share for the corporate middle class and small capitals in industrial or territorial terms. Let’s not forget: 2012 was the year of the beginning of the independence campaign in Catalonia, Scotland and Sardinia, the year of the rise of Salvini in Italy that was to be crowned a few months later, the year in which Syriza surpassed PASOK in Greece for the first time… Which then, and especially since 2019 when the spectre of a new crisis took more and more hold, In each country, it took the form of “left wing revolt”, “right wing” or both, of state nationalism or separatism, of “native revolt” or “tractor procession”… it only reflected the different stratification in each country of a very heterogeneous class, sensitive to the swings of the crisis and the differences in the administration of the state.

In this process also appears the new social democracy of Costa in Portugal, Sánchez in SpainSanders in the USA, who perfectly understand the macroeconomic move: “social justice” is to raise the minimum wage, to relocate production when it is possible and above all… to avoid changing the labor framework except to accelerate even more the process of wage concentration around the minimums and the overall reduction of the participation of labor income in the national income.

Ursula Von der Leyen presents the “green deal” in Brussels.

What’s next? More of the same and a few extras. The first of these, a freezing or direct lowering of collective bargaining wages, which does not negate the above but rather reinforces it as an incentive to capital. In second place, a greater weight of indirect taxes -that is, a frontal attack on the purchasing power of the workers, for whom the consumption of basic goods represents a much greater percentage of the income than for the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie. And probably, in the medium term, a move similar to that of wages with pensions, increasingly grouped around a minimum probably higher than the current one. And the main extra, another transfer directly linked to the restriction of purchasing power and the increase of taxes: the “green deal“.

And it will all come wrapped up in a political atmosphere increasingly strained by an angry petty bourgeoisie, manufacturing dichotomies that will leave the workers out of the “story” even if we risk our lives in it, as we see in Chile. We need our own political expressions, independent of the delusions and the thousand masks of the petty bourgeoisie and its class hatred. We can only build these expressions by pushing forward the strikes and struggles that we already see today, and first of all those that demand the most basic thing: that the rush of capital -whether it be small, big or state capital- to put accumulation back on track does not take us any further.


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