Us and Them

“These are hard times for our city,” says the billionaire mayor of New York in a voice that could double as a paint scraper in any hardware store east of the Mississippi. He’s not alone in telling other people that these are hard times. The government in Athens, Greece tells those people that these are hard times. In London, that coalition of the posh and the twits tells those people that these are hard times. In Spain, Ireland, Portugal, France, Latvia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio…
Everywhere, governments big and small, are telling other people that these are hard times. As if we didn’t know.
How hard a time is it? Not so hard, apparently, that Wall Street, where fear and greed struggle over what to do with other people’s money, couldn’t turn a $60 billion profit in 2009 or a $20 billion profit in 2010. No, not that hard. It’s not that hard for them, those who use other people’s money, those who buy and sell futures, options, contracts—those disembodied representations of other people’s labor—to say it’s hard for others. That’s business. That’s the free market at work.
The governments produce their “hard time” budgets. And the governed prepare for battle with the government over the “painful choices,” the “stark realities,” the blahblahblah. Dutifully, union leaders, social welfare organizations, community spokespeople, politicians denounce the “negative impact” of the budgets. Dutifully, forces are mobilized against the budget cuts, for the restoration of funds to education, public health, public transit… as if health, transportation, education were even barely adequate before the cuts; as if even during the best of times “our” city was a place where the health, welfare, and education of us were the priorities of “our” mayor and this city’s bankers, real estate powers, corporate executives; as if that were ever the concern of their bondholders.
That was, is, and never will be their concern. Their concern is only that these governments of, by, and for the bondholders shall be secure and secured in case of what they now like to call a “credit event.”
We, to be a real we living in our city have to organize ourselves beyond wishing and hoping that the budget cuts will be reversed; that the economy is going to get better; that they don’t have more budgets with sharper cuts planned. The cuts won’t; the economy isn’t; and they do, in spades.
The unions, social welfare organizations and politicians are incapable of creating our class-wide organization. To move beyond wishing and hoping, our self organization has to overcome and overwhelm the limits, the divisions, the separations of workers and poor by categories of “organized,” “unorganized,” “immigrant,” “native,” “legal,” “illegal. No one’s illegal. Nobody’s organized until everybody’s organized.
Then we can move to retake this city as our city. And we’ll certainly create our own budget that, step one, CANCELS ALL PUBLIC DEBT, and step two, makes the bondholders an offer they can’t refuse: WE GIVE THEM $24 IN TRINKETS AND THEY GET THE HELL OUT OF NEW YORK!