La Voz Editorial – October 2018

by La Voz Editorial Team

As we write this editorial, there are important unfolding developments regarding the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh who is facing, at the time we go to press, three accusations of sexual harassment and rape by three separate women. Trump is also escalating the war against immigrants, and trying to keep his base through the agitation of a nationalist economic protectionism and escalating trade wars. The Democratic Party is telling us that the way to fix our problems, as a class, is to vote for them in November, even though they are the ones who got us here. We reject this and propose instead to put all our hopes and energy in supporting working class struggles, and building power from below. We are amazed at the continued mobilizations and strike actions of teachers across the country, and also at the continued resistance of other working class sectors, like  immigrant communities. We need to put our efforts into making those struggles successful, and from those struggles, articulate an alternative political force, a third, working class, party that could run this country in a completely different fashion.

Women’s Rights Under Attack

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh would be a double insult to women. First, because after these allegations, it would mean that the voices of the three women (and seemingly more to come) who courageously came forward to speak up would not matter. Second, because it is known that Kavanaugh is anti-abortion, if he is nominated there would be a clear right-wing  majority on the court that could overturn historic gains like the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion in this country.

But Kavanaugh is not the only threat: right wing and “pro-life” groups are emboldened and mobilizing against abortion clinics, and women continue to endure the effects of the economic crisis and increased precarity, on top of violence and harassment. More and more women are speaking up against the latter, but we need to make sure their voices are heard, and that sanctions are implemented to combat and defeat the behaviors they are fighting back against. Women’s rights are working class rights, women’s power is working class power.

We must mobilize against the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh in the streets and we need to organize in our unions and workplaces to create the unity of working-class struggles.

The Real Aims of the Trade Wars

While Trump is negotiating an updated NAFTA deal with Mexico, he is escalating trade wars with China. But what is really at stake for workers in each one of these two trade negotiations? In fact, these trade wars are not aiming at completely reshaping the world trade order, existing neoliberalism, or even implementing a real “U.S. made only” economic protectionism. Trump is not really challenging the international division of labor, he is using more brutal methods (trade wars and unilateral tariffs) to negotiate better conditions for U.S. corporations. 

The trade war escalation with China is a symptom of  increased economic competition between the U.S. corporate class and the rising Chinese bourgeoisie. Trump and Xi Jinping have been escalating tariffs impositions.[1] In this trade war, it is not possible for China to simply reciprocate, matching increasing new tariffs, because it imports significantly fewer  U.S. products ($130 billion a year) that the U.S. imports from it ($505 billion a year). What is the real goal of the U.S. here? To impose better conditions for U.S. companies operating in China: regulations against intellectual theft, ending state subsidies for Chinese state-owned industries, no labor regulations enforcements etc.

The “new NAFTA”, still in negotiations, has great implications for U.S. trade. As economist Michael Roberts points out, “the US trades more with Canada and Mexico ($1.1tn) than it does with China, Japan, Germany and the UK combined.”[2] NAFTA 2.0, actually only changes  auto tariffs, and would still maintain the essence of neoliberal policies and free flow of capital, which keep workers expendable on the two sides of the border. Trade wars might upset the short term manufacturing and productive sectors, which could result in layoffs, plant relocations and pay cuts, until deals at the top are reached. Their goal however is to benefit shareholders and investors of American companies, not workers here or abroad.

In fact, while Trump carries on with those policies, and he boasts a 4% plus growth rate, we are seeing cash flow pouring into U.S. corporations. Most of this money is going to end up in dividends paid to shareholders and stock market operations. The scandal is that all of this  business growth and the enrichment of the capitalist class is not translating into better jobs and wages, even less so into better benefits and expanded social rights. As Roberts points out “real weekly earnings are still below levels reached this time last year, while after-tax profits are up 16%.”[3] This is the real meaning of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.  It means let’s make the rich richer and workers more exploited and poorer.

Midterm Elections: Grounding Ourselves in  Struggles to Build a Real Alternative

The brightest news however continues to come from the teachers. In the state of Washington, seven different school districts went on strike for better pay and working conditions, winning some key demands, and in California, two teachers locals, OEA in Oakland and UTLA in Los Angeles, are discussing going on strike. This would be an historical event, for UTLA represents the second largest school district in the country, and it will prompt the possibility to organize solidarity actions everywhere, to help the teachers win, and also to build the confidence of other sectors to fight back.

We believe all our energy needs to be put into fighting on the ground to build power from below in our class. We do not think voting for Democratic Party candidates is going to be the defining action that changes the key features of our living and working conditions.

We believe that in the middle of this historical crisis of capitalism and the bipartisan system, working people and oppressed communities need to start building our  own third party. This party would have a socialist program that advances workers’ needs,  and would express a clear understanding of the nature of the state and its institutions (prisons, police, judicial system, congress, military, etc.). Then we can stop the wars against working people and start implementing a real and full, economic and political, workers’ democracy.

To this end we are ready to have these conversations with all social activists and organizers, as well as radical and socialist forces, like the DSA, and all workers, that either do not vote, and may be apathetic, or still have hopes in the Democratic or Republican Parties. To them we say: there is nothing else to hope for from these two corporate and corrupt machines. We need to build our own alternative, on our own terms.


Marxists on Free Trade vs Protectionism

We would like to reproduce here some excerpts of two excellent notes by Marxist economist Michael Roberts who clarifies the debates around free trade or protectionism from a Marxist and workers perspective.

W[1] [2] hat is the Marxist view? Should we support tariffs and other protectionist measures introduced by weaker capitalist nations to ‘stand up’ to Trump’s measures …   Alternatively should we support Trump’s measures as a way of saving US manufacturing jobs …  and perhaps helping other countries to boost their domestic industries ?

Free trade has been no great capitalist success. Capitalism does not tend to equilibrium in the process of accumulation … Capitalism does not grow globally in a smooth and balanced way, but in what Marxists have called ‘uneven and combined development’.  Those firms and countries with better technological advances will gain at the expense of those who are behind the curve and there will be no equalisation.

Free trade works for national capitalist states when the profitability of capital is rising (as it was from the 1980s to 2000) and everybody can gain from a larger cake (if in differing proportions).  Then globalisation appears very attractive.  The strongest capitalist economy (technologically and thus competitively in price per unit terms) will be the strongest advocate of ‘free trade’, as Britain was from 1850-1870; and the US was from 1945-2000.  Then globalisation was the mantra of the US and its international agencies, the World Bank, the OECD and the IMF. But if profitability starts to fall consistently, then ‘free trade’ loses its glamour, especially for the weaker capitalist economies as the profit cake stops getting large.

Marx and Engels recognised that ‘free trade’ could drive capital accumulation globally and so expand economies, as has happened in the last 170 years.  But they also saw (as is the dual nature of capitalist accumulation) the other side: rising inequality, a permanently floating ‘reserve army’ of unemployed and increased exploitation of labour in the weaker economies.  And so they recognised that rising industrial capitalist nations could probably only succeed through protecting their industries with tariffs and controls and even state support (China is an extreme example of that).

Engels re-considered the case for free trade in 1888 when writing a new preface on a pamphlet on free trade that Marx had wrote in 1847.  Engels concluded that “the question of Free Trade or Protection moves entirely within the bounds of the present system of capitalist production, and has, therefore, no direct interest for us socialists who want to do away with that system. Whether you try the Protectionist or the Free Trade will make no difference in the end.”

But is free trade or protectionism better for labour and the working class?  It depends.  Perhaps the answer is best summed up by Robert Tressell in famous book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, written in 1910 in the UK: “We’ve had Free Trade for the last fifty years and today most people are living in a condition of more or less abject poverty, and thousands are literally starving. When we had Protection things were worse still. Other countries have Protection and yet many of their people are glad to come here and work for starvation wages. The only difference between Free Trade and Protection is that under certain circumstances one might be a little worse that the other, but as remedies for poverty, neither of them are of  any real use whatever, for the simple reason that they do not deal with the real causes of poverty”.

American workers can expect nothing from Trump’s trade tantrums – indeed it can make things worse.”

Source: Michael Roberts, “Free trade or protectionism? – the Keynesian dilemma”, July 11th 2018, and “Trump’s trade tantrums – free trade or protectionism?” March 19th 2018, posted in

[1] First Trump announced tariffs on $200 billion in  Chinese goods, and in response China levied tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods, including a 10% tariff on liquefied natural gas. And this is not over. Now Trump is threatening tariffs on an additional $267 billion worth of  Chinese imports.



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