Miami and the Class Conflict in America  
by Seth Sandronsky
December 2, 2003

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The recent police attacks on folks protesting the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) meetings in Miami is a continuation of the U.S. class struggle.  This stage in the conflict reflects changes underway in the market economy, and resistance to it.

One part of the story is that the official brutality in Miami has been honed on non-white Americans. Think of how and why they have been the regular targets of SWAT teams and zero-tolerance policing.

Against this backdrop, the trend known as free trade has worsened living and working conditions for American workers. Weak unions and longer working days are two cases in point.

In brief, relations have become more unequal between the two major classes in American society, employers and employees. Within the nation’s working class, this social change has been apparent along the color line.

One need look no further than the official jobless data to get at the heart of the matter. Currently, the unemployment rate for blacks is double that of whites.

Third-quarter economic growth in the U.S., the highest since 1984, does not alter this racial disparity.

Against that backdrop, the free-trade regime has sped up the shift of the economic surplus created by American workers away from them to the nation’s high-income class.

Joblessness has been a weapon in this conflict. Employers have been squeezing more productivity out of fewer workers.

American workers are the planet’s most productive, according to the International Labor Organization. Their use of advanced technology is one reason why.

In the meantime, America’s national minorities have been and are “the last hired and first fired.” What is called free trade is a continuation, not initiation, of this trend.

On a related note, during the past 32 years America’s prisoner population, overwhelmingly black and brown, has increased 10-fold, from just under 200,000 to 2.1 million. These incarcerated folks for whom there is no economic need are sand in the gears of free trade, itself a term of concealment.

Free trade implies that employers and employees are legally free to enter into agreements. On the surface, this agreement appears to be one of cooperation.

Yet the reality is one of coercion. Sellers (employees) stand in submission to buyers (employers).

In the labor market, appearances are actually their opposites. Free trade is merely a spin on this social relation of inequality.

Such inequality is the rule within and between nations that play by the current investment and trade rules. In other words, most of the world.

The standard wisdom cites the cheap commodities workers produce under the competition of free trade as a proof of progress. However, it is not only the inanimate commodities that are cheapened.

Under free trade, employers are forced to de-value employees’ sole commodity, their energy (labor-power). The force driving this trend is the growing unsold surplus (computers, grain, steel, etc.) created by workers which, in turn, compels employers to set their market prices lower, or face bankruptcy.

This so-called “race to the bottom” is driving the souring investment and trade relations between the rich nations, and between them and the developing nations. Global overproduction relative to people’s buying power is a symptom of the failure of free trade to solve the problems that it has caused, with the FTAA stalemate in Miami a recent example.

Some protesters and trade delegates there articulated this critique of free trade. Yet they were largely drowned out by corporate journalism focusing on the authorities’ need to preserve law and order in the streets.

Malcontents, called “anarchists” by some embedded reporters and militarized police, could not be allowed to disrupt the free-trade talks. It was a moral imperative of sorts, and high political theater.

There is, however, nothing remotely theatrical about the racialized devaluation of workers in America for the past three decades. During this time, the guardians of social order have claimed the moral high ground of protecting the public from those who the market has cast off, the superfluous sector of the American working class snagged partly in the war on drugs that has caged largely nonwhites.

This trend of racial profiling and sentencing has justified the building up of the law enforcement apparatus at the local, state and federal levels, with new jails and prisons, to quell the threat to American society. Some of the current opponents to free trade are now feeling the tender mercies of this apparatus.

It is being used against them, the current threats to order. Government power, aimed before mainly at folks with dark skin, is now expanding its reach.

In the cross-hairs are some whites who since the WTO protests in Seattle four years ago have opposed the expansion of free trade, and therefore risk being maimed. Miami reminds us that official violence is to market forces what water is to fish.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: ssandron@hotmail.com

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