Millions of workers in the United States and around the world are being pushed to the brink by the staggering impact of rising prices for essential goods and services. “We can’t go on living like this” is the feeling gripping an ever-increasing number of people.
US inflation jumped 8.6% year-on-year in May, beating economists’ estimates. This is the fastest rise in consumer prices since 1981, more than 40 years ago.
Gasoline prices rose the most, rising 48.7% from a year ago, up 7.8% in just one month. A gallon of gasoline cost a record average of $5.01 on Sunday. In many of the country’s most populous metropolitan areas, the price is significantly higher, averaging nearly $6.50 in Los Angeles, nearly $6.00 in the Chicago area, and around $5.60 in Phoenix. , Arizona.
A substantial portion of workers’ paychecks are gobbled up just to pay to get to work. In the United States, it’s not uncommon for workers to drive 50 miles or more round trip, refueling several times a week. A day’s work on a $15 an hour wage won’t even cover filling a gas tank in many trucks and larger vehicles, the cost of which can easily exceed $100.
Beyond fuel, soaring costs for many goods and services are making life increasingly impossible. Families are spending $460 more per month on essentials, according to a recent report from Moody’s Analytics.
Food prices rose 10.1% in May. Prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs increased by 14.2%; dairy products 11.8%; and fruits and vegetables 8.2 percent. A gallon of milk now costs an average of $4.33 and the price of a dozen eggs hit $2.86, up more than $1 from a year ago, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
Even if rising food prices mean more people will choose which meal to skip today, Democrats and Republicans plan to send millions of children into even greater hunger. Congress deliberately failed to renew an expansion of COVID-related free school lunch programs in its latest spending bill, which means about 10 million children will no longer receive free lunches after the end of the month.
Meanwhile, the housing affordability crisis is getting worse. Average rents are up 15.2% from a year ago, according to real estate firm Redfin. The median monthly asking rent for apartments hit a record high of $2,002 in May, the firm said.
Home ownership, once out of reach for many, is now totally out of reach for much of the population for the foreseeable future. The median home listing price hit $447,000 in May, a 17.6% increase from 2021, as average home loan rates hit their highest levels in more than a decade .
With prices rising, workers are earning less in real terms than a year ago, falling further and further behind. Real wages fell 3% between May 2021 and May 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.
Pro-business unions bear central responsibility for this brutal regression, having pushed workers into contracts that lock in increases of just 2-4%, well below inflation, while often raising health care costs at home. patient care. Average wage increases for unionized workers (3.5%) were actually lower than those for nonunionized workers (4.9%) over the past year, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.
Inflation has become the focal point of workers’ anger. However, rising prices and falling wages are part of a whole series of social grievances that are accumulating in the working class. There are the degrading conditions of sweatshops, overwork, understaffing, six- or seven-day work weeks, the ongoing pandemic, and deadly working conditions. Then there are the manifestations of capitalist collapse more broadly, such as the recent shortages of everything from baby formula to tampons. All of these issues and many more, directly and indirectly, are driving workers to struggle.
Significant worker battles have already emerged this year, from the ongoing six-week strike by CNH farm and heavy equipment workers, to earlier walkouts by Chevron oil workers in California, nurses’ strikes in California and New Jersey, teachers in Minneapolis and Sacramento, as well as opposition among Arconic aluminum workers, Kroger grocery store workers and many others.
New sections of workers are expected to come into battle in the weeks and months to come. More than 12,000 nurses in Minneapolis and St. Paul are currently working without contracts, and contracts are set to expire for 20,000 West Coast port workers, 50,000 construction workers in Southern California and tens of thousands of teachers in Los Angeles and New York. Three thousand car transport truck drivers, who have already voted overwhelmingly in favor of the strike, will learn on Thursday the details of the concession contract accepted by the Teamsters.
The development of the class struggle is an international process that extends far beyond the borders of the United States. Rising fuel prices sparked a truckers’ strike in South Korea last week. In the UK, 50,000 railway workers are expected to go on strike later this month, in the biggest series of strikes since the late 1980s. And in Sri Lanka, runaway inflation and commodity shortages sparked massive anti-government protests and a series of one-day general strikes this year.
In all cases, however, workers come into conflict with the unions that claim to represent them. At the same time, the corporate and political establishment, particularly the Biden administration, is increasingly relying on union bureaucracies to enforce “labor discipline,” i.e. removing or the isolation of strikes and other forms of labor opposition.
The ruling class is well aware of the explosive implications of its policy. “If people can’t feed their children and families, then politics collapses,” David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Program, told CNN last month.
The White House has crudely sought to deflect anger at inflation and channel it behind its war effort against Russia, calling rising gas prices “Putin’s price hike”.
The surge in inflation, however, began long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is the result of the massive money-printing operation by the Federal Reserve and other central banks, which was used to bail out the wealthy. The impact of these monetary policies is now exploding across the economy as a whole.
As for the war, the facts show that the US government instigated and provoked Putin’s reactionary invasion of Ukraine. Since the outbreak of war, the United States and its NATO allies have recklessly escalated the war, dumping weapons on Ukraine and blocking a negotiated settlement.
The financial aristocracy has no progressive reforms or proposals to expand the social safety net on offer. Imperialist war abroad and class war at home is what is planned.
By raising interest rates, the main objective of the Federal Reserve and other central banks is not to curb inflation as such, but rather to trigger a recession, raise unemployment and attempt to roll back workers’ demands for higher wages.
Putting this bluntly, a financial analyst at FWDBONDS told Reuters last month: “Job gains across the country are slowing, but few workers are actually losing their jobs. It’s not yet a soft landing or a hard landing for the economy. No sign of corporate layoffs means the labor market is not easing as much as Fed officials had hoped.
A movement in the working class against this whole rotten configuration is emerging. Workers are increasingly rebelling against claims by corporations, the capitalist state and unions that there is no money to provide workers with a decent standard of living. This rebellion found its initial expression through the rejection of a series of business-friendly contracts over the past year and a half, from Volvo Trucks to Kroger and Detroit Diesel more recently.
But this nascent movement must find the organizational form and political program commensurate with the challenges facing workers. In a growing number of workplaces, workers began to organize independently of pro-business unions, launching rank-and-file committees with the help of the WSWS and socialist equality parties to fight for their basic needs. This network of committees should be greatly expanded and developed, within the framework of the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC) launched last year.
At the same time, the desperate economic situation facing workers requires a program of struggle. Wages must be dramatically increased, cost-of-living adjustments implemented to protect against inflation, fully paid pensions and health care restored, and worker control over line speeds and safety at the imposed work.
Achieving these measures and many others will require a direct attack on the ill-gotten wealth and privileges of billionaires and the financial aristocracy so that social needs, not private profit, determine how the resources of the society are organized.