The grim state of the U.S. economy in early 2009 was brought into sharp relief by economic data released at the end of April. Industrial production in the first quarter of this year dropped by an annual rate of 20 percent, while manufacturing capacity utilization (the operating rate of manufacturing plant and equipment) sank to 65.8 percent in March, the lowest level since the Federal Reserve Board series was introduced in 1948 (industrial capacity utilization as a whole is currently at 69.3 percent, its lowest point since that measurement began in 1967).
Volume 61, Issue 02 (June)
As a rule, crime and social protest rise in periods of economic crisis in capitalist society. During times of economic and social instability, the well-to-do become increasingly fearful of the general population, more disposed to adopt harsh measures to safeguard their positions at the apex of the social pyramid. The slowdown in the economic growth rate of U.S. capitalism beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s—converging with the emergence of radical social protest around the same period—was accompanied by a rapid rise in public safety spending as a share of civilian government expenditures. So significant was this shift that we can speak of a crowding out of welfare state spending (health, education, social services) by penal state spending (law enforcement, courts, and prisons) in the United States during the last third of a century.
The current financial crisis marks a series of turning points in the history of the North American auto industry.1 First, the iconic “Big Three” have been downsized to “The Detroit Three.” Once the global symbol of U.S. productivism and consumerism, they now teeter on the brink of bankruptcy and, in the process, profound questions are being raised about the decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs more generally. Second, the auto unions, themselves once emblematic of what workers could achieve within capitalism, have been reduced to lobbying to save “their” companies, and a decades-long trend in private-sector labor negotiations has now confirmed collective bargaining as having shifted from demands by workers to demands on workers. This highlights the broader crisis of labor: if labor cannot find a way to renew itself it could fade into irrelevancy. And third, the environment—which the industry so rapaciously disregarded and the unions so short-sightedly ignored—seems to have forced itself onto the agenda. In coming to grips with both the threats and opportunities provided by this historic moment, the following points are crucial.
When Paraguay elected Fernando Lugo, its first non-Colorado Party president in more than sixty years, the mood was elated. In the streets of Asuncion that night in April 2008, “Grandmothers, wrapped in the Paraguayan flag, danced with children in the streets, and cried at the top of their lungs that this [was] the moment they’d been waiting for their whole lives.”1 While Lugo’s election was a clear victory for the social movements that united to elect him, movement leaders knew that this was just the beginning. As Worker Party and Indigenous Farmer organizer Tomás Zayas told me the previous year: “Lugo will not solve our problems. If Lugo is elected, it will be a door, an opening, through which we can add to our movement and demands.”
One of the main accomplishments of the Israeli government’s bombing and invasion of the Gaza Strip last winter was to inspire new vitality within leftist and peace groups in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for justice and liberation. This wave of activity has continued after the supposed ceasefire, with demonstrations and direct actions from New York to Los Angeles, Paris, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv. Most noteworthy has been a coming out of sorts of an increasingly large and vocal segment of the Jewish world that is not only opposed to the Israeli government’s wars and military occupations, but critical of Zionism itself.
In this compelling and useful book, David Bacon lays to rest the anti-immigration arguments of the xenophobes and racists who bombard us every day in the press, on television, and on radio talk shows with the vicious assertion that immigrants, mainly those from Latin America, are the cause of all our economic and social problems.