By Alex Krehbiel
Marx wrote that there are two major classes, capitalists and workers. The capitalists own businesses and the workers work for them. There are other groups. Small individual and family businesses, professionals who work for themselves like many doctors and lawyers, skilled trades workers are examples. Another group are those who have been pushed out of the working class or were never able to get established in it because there aren’t enough permanent jobs for everyone in this phase of capitalism’s development. When industry closed manufacturing plants in the US in the late 1970’s, 1980’s and later, millions of workers lost their jobs, and many never found a comparable job.
My generation – their children, didn’t have the option of getting those kinds of jobs because they were mostly gone overseas to exploit poorly paid workers there. That situation combined with increasing mechanization in the US, and more jobs were lost. Some in my generation went to college to get education for jobs in the information economy, but graduated to find not hiring signs. These young people, with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and no job, were outraged. Many of them organized the Occupy Wall Street movement which correctly pointed the finger at Wall Street and capitalism as the cause of high and chronic unemployment.
Private businesses haven’t provided the number jobs needed to put the unemployed to work. We need the government to step in to create these jobs, and productive jobs that will help make life better for people, not the unproductive parasitic jobs that Wall Street has created.
Look at a construction worker and a Wall Street financial derivatives trader. The construction worker produces things that people can use – a house, a hospital, a building where people work, roads and bridges. Everyone recognizes the contribution construction workers make to society. Unfortunately, the construction worker is not fully rewarded for his contributions. The construction worker may or may not live well, depending on how high or low his wage is, how many hours he works, the prices he must pay to live, if he has a union, and other factors.
The derivatives trader, on the other hand, produces nothing. Many get rich by betting against the success or failure of somebody else. A derivative trader will sell someone junk bonds or debt obligations that the trader thinks will tank, and when they do, the trader walks off with someone else’s money. Somebody else’s loss is the derivative traders gain. Under capitalism, this is not only legal, but rewarded. If the construction worker asks for a pay increase or joins a union to create a better life, they and their union are attacked as greedy and selfish. Truth is turned upside down.
Prisoners want jobs when we get out of prison. There are 2.3 million people behind bars in the US. Even after we have served our time, we are discriminated against. Itís very hard for former prisoners to get a job, we can’t vote, and many other doors are closed to us that are open to others. The kinds of jobs we want and the training we need are for productive jobs. We aren’t going to become Wall Street derivatives traders. What is ironic is that many prisoners, who are mostly poor and working-class and often people of color, have gone to prison for petty crimes, while Wall Street hustlers have ripped off millions of dollars from others and rarely see the inside of a courtroom.
Alex Krehbiel is an inmate in a California prison and a member of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.