Sharon Smith Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Sharon Smith

Letter from the US

American graffiti

(May 1995)

From Socialist Review, No. 186, May 1995, p. 17.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘Over the last two months more workers have begun to turn anger into action. Newt Gingrich is confronted by angry crowds practically every time he makes a public appearance’

Unbridled greed is back in vogue for the US ruling class. Chief executive pay ‘is soaring again’, rejoiced the Wall Street journal last month, when it reported that executive salaries advanced by 11.4 percent last year – the biggest annual surge since 1988. US business executives now earn salaries which average 120 times more than the workers they employ, but they show no signs of developing a guilty conscience. Some Republicans have even asked the public to show more sensitivity towards the plight of the rich – putting forward a right wing version of political correctness. ‘I wish you wouldn’t say “rich”. I wish you’d start saying “people who are higher income rather than lower income”,’ requested Texas representative Bill Archer, (financially overcompensated, perhaps?).

But the Republicans gave the wealthy yet another reason to cheer last month, when the House of Representatives passed a tax cut Plan so enormous that the Wall Street journal advised its wealthy readers to ‘start salivating’ in anticipation. House Speaker Newt Gingrich called it the ‘crown jewel’ of the Republicans’ Contract with America. All told, the richest 1 percent of taxpayers will get 20 percent of the tax savings, while the richest tenth, will get 47 percent. Those too poor to pay taxes will get nothing.

But the biggest tax break has scarcely been mentioned in the public debate – a cut in the capital gains tax, which is paid mainly by the wealthy on income from real estate and investments.

The Republicans and their corporate backers understand quite clearly that the Republicans’ Contract is an attempt to dramatically shift the balance of class relations in the US. They aim to wipe out the social safety net for poor and working class people, targeting virtually every gain won by working class people since the Great Depression. Newt Gingrich argued recently, ‘The Contract with America is only a beginning. It is the preliminary skirmish to the big battles to come.’

Even as Republicans commemorated the end of their first 100 days as a majority in Congress, some began to unveil a wish list for the future. Republican William Goodling, who heads the House Labour Committee, announced that he plans to hold hearings on eliminating workers’ right to overtime pay and other labour laws won through workers’ struggles in the 1930s.

Goodling asked his fellow Republicans, ‘Is the 40 hour week something we really want to be tied to today?’

But the wealthy may be celebrating prematurely. The same overconfidence which allows them to flaunt their wealth so boldly today prevents them from seeing the consequences of doing so. And they don’t need to look very far to see the rage seething among working class people, which is just beginning to bubble to the surface. In March a Washington Post opinion poll showed that nearly six in ten people surveyed agree that ‘the Republicans will go too far in helping the rich and cutting needed government services that benefit average Americans as well as the poor.’

Only 16 percent of Americans hold a favourable opinion of Newt Gingrich – a figure nearly identical to the 17 percent of eligible voters who voted for a Republican in last November’s election. And public hostility towards Newt Gingrich has risen so sharply that one New York Times pollster compared it to the public’s response to a mass murderer. But Clinton refuses to follow requests by some party strategists to rhetorically ‘bash the rich’.

Over the last two months more workers have begun to turn anger into action. These days Newt Gingrich is confronted by angry crowds practically every time he makes a public appearance. In March 500 poor parents and children burst into a posh Washington ballroom full of government officials who were waiting to hear a luncheon address by Gingrich. The demonstrators waved empty lunch trays to protest against the Republican plan to take away school lunches for poor children. As the audience watched in horror, the protesters sat down at the head table to await the guest of honour. But Gingrich cancelled the speech so that he wouldn’t have to confront the angry crowd.

Within days Gingrich was faced with another angry group of workers. This time a group of 400 union workers occupied his office in Marietta, Georgia, to demand a higher minimum wage. While there the workers plastered the walls of Gingrich’s office with pro-worker graffiti and stickers with slogans such as, ‘Jobs with justice’. To make their point perfectly clear, the demonstrators punched out two cops as they vacated the building. A week later a group of workers from justice for janitors occupied Gingrich’s Washington office.

Some recent struggles have involved much larger numbers. In New York City, for example, where Republicans are trying to push through the harshest budget cuts anywhere, thousands of workers and students have taken to the streets in protest.

On 1 March 20,000 health care workers marched against planned cuts to public hospitals. And on 23 March 20,000 students organised a demonstration against education cuts, chanting, ‘Education is a right – fight, fight, fight!’ When police in riot gear attacked the protest, hundreds of students broke through police barricades and were injured. That same day 14,000 high school students from 62 different schools staged coordinated walkouts against the cuts. And on 9 April 100,000 pro-choice activists rallied in Washington DC against both attacks on abortion and the Republicans’ Contract.

Actions such as these speak volumes about the anger building within a wide layer of society. Stewart Acuff, who led the occupation of Gingrich’s Georgia office, told reporters:

‘Today you saw how angry working people are. You’ll see how angry working people are in the future... A lot of people died so we could have a union, and we’ll be damned in Atlanta if we’ll let the rich take it away from us.’ And he warned the Republicans, ‘We ain’t waiting two years for another election. If you’re determined to rip our guts out, you’re going to have a fight on your hands.’

Sharon Smith Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4 November 2019