Sean O'Torrain and Richard Mellor
Labor's Militant Voice
The Wall Street Journal had a very interesting and important article in its July 19th issue. The article had the title, "Why no outrage?"; the sub heading read, "Through history, outrageous financial behavior has been met with outrage. But today Wall Street's damaging recklessness has been met with near silence, from a too tolerant populace."
The first sentence in this article is the famous quote from populist leader Mary Elizabeth Lease who urged the Kansas farmers to "Raise less corn and more hell."
This article goes on to condemn Wall Street and ponders why there is no explosion of rage against the bankers and speculators that inhabit it. It says; "The American people are famously slow to anger, but they are outdoing themselves in long suffering today." The article comes up with one possible reason. "Maybe Wall Street, its old self, owns both political parties and their candidates."
By comparison, back in the populist era the author writes; "The winners and losers conducted a spirited debate about the character of the dollar and the nature of the monetary system. "We want the abolition of the national banks, and we want the power to make loans direct from the government," Mary Lease -- "Mary Yellin" to her fans -- said. "We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out.... We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary, and we will not pay our debts to the loan-shark companies until the government pays its debts to us.""
The author of the article compares the anger and struggle in the populist era with the present and writes; "One might infer from the lack of popular anger that the credit crisis was God's fault rather than the doing of the bankers and the rating agencies and the government's snoozing watchdogs." He goes on; "One might suppose that such a recurrent chain of blunders would gall a politically potent segment of the population. That it has evidently failed to do so in 2008 may be the only important unreported fact of this otherwise compulsively documented election season."
While the author is wondering why there is not a backlash against the system he also shows he is worried about the possibilities ahead. He writes; "The most immediate risk today is that wall-Street, sweating to fill out this years bonus pool, runs itself and the rest of the American financial system over a cliff."
We know that the main reason there is no explosion of anger is the role played by the Labor leaders who are busy spending perhaps $300 million of their members' dues money trying to get a Wall Street candidate in to the White House. They will certainly not inform the US working class that the present crisis is not the result of "a recurrent chain of blunders" as the author of the aforementioned article claims, but a natural by product of the so-called free market. It is an inherent part of the system we live in.
In California, foreclosures have hit a 20-year high. There were 63,061 foreclosures in the second quarter of 2008 according to the San Francisco Chronicle (7-23-08) an increase of 315% over the same period in 2007. The paper adds that there are another 100,000 homeowners that are "on the brink".
In the aftermath of the great depression of 1929, landlords threw millions of workers out of their homes. Workers fought back with the help of various organizations. The Communist Party organized the National Unemployment Councils and played a major role in defending workers from the landlords and the police. The method of struggle was direct action. When the police came to evict people from their homes and remove their furniture and belongings, thousands of people turned up and in many cases outnumbered them and took the items back inside. Rent strikes and home occupations were another tactic as well as sit ins which were similar to the factory occupations that took place throughout the country at the time. Thousands of families received eviction notices, almost 200,000 in New York City alone in the first 6 months of 1932. But where direct action tactics were used they brought results, the Unemployment Councils managed to get almost 80,000 people back in to their homes. Had the Labor leaders taken a similar stand with the same tactics, the successes would have been even more dramatic. The New York Times of February 1st 1932 reported that "a crowd numbering 1000 stormed the police" to prevent the eviction of three Bronx families. The Anti-Poll Tax Federations in Britain that were set up by socialists to combat Thatcher's hated tax also used these tactics. These grass root organizations played a major role in bringing Thatcher's reign to an end.
The activist movement in the US has not turned towards the foreclosure crisis with the aim of helping people defend their homes through mass collective direct action. There are thousands of people that consider themselves socialists or anti-capitalists of one type or another; this could be a significant force in organizing a real offensive against evictions and foreclosures. Such a step would begin to show people that there is something they can do, that they can have victories and this in turn would release the anger that is building up beneath the surface.