A, a single mother of two children, 36 years old, has worked most of her adult life in various jobs. She gets laid off and has trouble paying her rent with her small welfare grant of $424. The landlord takes her to court. When she asks her caseworker for rental assistance to help pay the rent, her caseworker denies her, but places her in "transitional housing". There she lives like 100 other AFDC families in a tiny 16' by 20' room. The room makes her think of a cell block. The rules prohibit all visitors, the shelter operator also runs a health facility next door to the shelter. A gets a job there making $7.15 per hour working 20-25 hours. A starts organizing the other residents to complain about conditions in the shelter. She tells her caseworker about her earnings from employment, and is told she will be cut off welfare. Soon after, she is fired from the job by the shelter operator because she missed one training session. A organizes more residents and goes to local authorities to complain about the $85 per day per room the shelter operator is getting from the welfare department.
One day, the shelter gets A's monthly welfare check and takes all but $32. A gets riled up and throws a mattress out her window. Soon A is evicted by the shelter for "creating a disturbance".
"Welfare reform", it seems these words are on the he lips of every politician, TV newscaster, magazine writer, and social scientist around. According to all these pundits, the welfare system is "not working". It must be "reformed". Welfare recipients must be "put to work". Welfare mothers must "stop having babies". Kids who grow up on welfare are at best "irresponsible" and at worst "vicious criminals". All the bosses agree that welfare programs must be cut, cut and cut some more. What is the welfare system? Where did it come from? How do the capitalist rulers use welfare to keep the working class divided? How does the movement for "welfare reform" reflect the growth of fascism? What rule do racism & sexism play in them? What is the history of working class struggle for jobs and against poverty and unemployment in the U.S.? Why will communism make welfare unnecessary? This pamphlet will address these and other questions from a communist point of view.
We will show that the welfare system can never work for the working class. We will show that the welfare system can never work for the working class. We will also show that welfare recipients are unemployed (and, in some cases employed) workers. We will expose the big lies told by the bosses in order to turn employed workers against welfare recipients. We will outline the basis for multi-racial unity of masses of men & women employed and unemployed workers in the fight for jobs and 6 hours work for 8 hours pay. And we will demonstrate that only a communist revolution can smash capitalist slave labor welfare and replace it with an egalitarian society run on the principle "from each according to need". Our party, the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) will unite millions of employed and unemployed to end the degradation, dehumanization, hopelessness and death that poverty capitalist brings to millions here and hundreds of millions worldwide.
WHAT IS WELFARE AND WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
In the U.S., there are three major welfare programs- Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), General Assistance (GA), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs provide cash grants to people who can prove their eligibility.
AFDC is the program most people thing of when the world "welfare" is used. About 5 million adults and 9 millions children receive AFDC. Money for the AFDC grants comes 1/2 from the federal government and 1/2 from the states. In order to be eligible a family must have one parent who is deceased, disabled, or continuously absent. Some states also allow eligibility when there is an unemployed father. About 40% of recipients are white.
GA (called Home Relief or General Relief in some states) is funded by states and cities. Unlike AFDC, GA is designed for single adults and couples without children. Benefits are low. For example in New Jersey (which pays more than many states), grants are $140 per month for employable and $210 per month for unemployable adults.
SSI is a federal program for aged, blind, and disabled people who do not qualify for Social Security. About two-thirds of the recipients are white most of the money comes from the federal government, but the states also contribute.
SHORT HISTORY OF WELFARE SYSTEM AND ITS ROOTS
Welfare recipients have historically been and are today unemployed workers. To fully understand this, it is necessary to examine capitalism's need for unemployment. That is beyond the scope of this pamphlet (see PLP pamphlet FIGHT FOR JOBS AND COMMUNISM). But a brief look at the history of the welfare system is in order.
Like racism and mass unemployment, the "relief" system first appeared in human society during the dawn of capitalism. In England, a national relief system was set up in 1536. The relief laws followed the massive displacement of peasants by the enclosure movement of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. English rulers feared organized rebellion and armed insurrection by angry and starving peasants.
Once the relief system was established, it was used by the early industrial capitalists to hold down wages. One of their most effective methods was the "workhouse" Dickens a place where starvation and terror prevailed. A 1767 investigation by the House of Commons found that just 7% of infants born or received into workhouses lived past two years of age. The purpose of the workhouse was clear:
The workhouse was designed to spur mean to contrive
ways of supporting themselves by their own industry, to
offer themselves to any employer on any terms
(Regulating the Poor, p.34).
To assure that this took place, English rulers used the
principle of "less eligibility":
The first and most essential of all conditions... is,
that his (the relief recipient's) situation on the
whole shall not be made really or apparently so
eligible (i.e. desirable) as the situation of the
independent laborer of the lowest class (regulating
the Poor, p.35).
This meant that relief grants were always set below the
lowest paid wage worker (today's minimum wage), which in turn was below the average wage. This "three-tiered system" has been used successfully as a club over the head of both employed and unemployed workers in England, the U.S. and elsewhere.
In the U.S., the national welfare system was set up as a result of violent struggle by millions of unemployed workers during the depression of the 1930s (see Communist-led Fight Back in this pamphlet) The Social Security Act of 1935 set up what would later become AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) as well as Social Security. Some GA (General Assistance) programs were set up then also. FDR and company were able to save capitalism from worker's revolution, despite tremendous courage displayed by scores who gave their lives.
After throwing crumbs to buy off revolt, U.S. bosses soon learned how to use the welfare system to insure the supply of cheap labor. This was done mostly in low wage industries like agriculture. Several southern states, and a few northern ones, continued mass termination's of AFDC recipients during the harvest season up until the late 1960s. The AFDC program has also subsidized bosses in low wage industries like hotel and garment by providing them with workers whose medical insurance was paid by the government. Current "welfare reform" programs continue to provide low-wage labor. In the first quarter of 1993, the average wage for job placements of AFDC recipients enrolled in the New Jersey "Family Development Program" was $6.26/ per hour. 54% of the employers carried no medical insurance.
The "less eligibility" principle still holds true today. A recent study by Katherine Edin, a Rutgers sociologist, found that the combined average annual AFDC and food stamp grants for a family of three was $7,920. This is less than the $10,000 per year that a 40 hour a week minimum wage job would earn. As Edwin said: "you can't live off welfare benefits".
Not surprisingly, 64% of AFDC recipients leave the welfare rolls within two years, and most of those to work. But many return to welfare because the jobs they get are low-paying and have no medical benefits (see Pavetti study for Urban Institute, quoted in NY Times). Welfare recipients thus provide a continuous supply of labor for part time, temporary, and minimum wage jobs.
BOSSES USE BIG LIE "UNDERCLASS" THEORY TO DIVIDE WORKERS
For at least 30 years, ideologist who serve U.S. bosses
have been trying to convince the working class and others that welfare recipients are part of an "underclass" U.S. working class family life. According to these racist apologists for capitalism, this separation has taken place either because of genetic inferiority or because cycle upon cycle of "dependency", "illegitimacy" and other "social irresponsibility" has created a culture which perpetuates instability. These hacks say that "underclass" life style has led to widespread social ills, drug abuse, and predisposition of crime.
Starting with the 1965 Moynihan Report written by the Howard professor Daniel Moynihan which described welfare as producing black families with a "tangle of pathology", there has been an increasing drumbeat of racist, sexist, and anti-recipient ideology. In 1969 Shockley and Jensen claimed blacks as a whole were inferior in intelligence to whites as a whole. And "culture of poverty", theorists said poor people enjoyed living in the slums and has become conditioned to anti-social and criminal behavior.
This campaign intensified in the late 1970s and 1980s with the election of openly anti-recipient politicians like Ronald Reagan and Ed Koch.
These politicians constantly attacked recipients as "living high on the hog". They claimed that homelessness was not the product of unemployment, but rather because some had "created" their own lack of housing. At the same time, the bosses' university professors (like Harvard Prof. James Q. Wilson) were repackaging old discredited theories linking crime to genes. A report which later led to the federal Violence Initiative was funded by government agencies starting in 1988. This fascist plan targets young urban black males as the source of crime.
The "underclass" theory is now quite mainstream, from the NY Times to Bill Clinton to Rush Limbaugh. It remained for Charles Murray and now dead Harvard professor Richard Hernstein (fortunately, some of them croak early) to provide the "missing link" of IQ score in their book The Bell Curve. Their formula is simple: POOR (Black and Hispanic) PEOPLE= WELFARE = LOW IQ = CRIME. Not surprisingly, Murray called for the abolition of welfare in 1984, before it became ? .
All these theories echo the Nazi concept of "untermenschen" (inferior peoples). They represent the big lie strategy of U.S. capitalists desperate to blame groups of workers for the economic crisis of their system. U.S. bosses have targeted immigrants, welfare recipients, and young black and Hispanic males. Their successful attack n these groups will then be used as a battering ram to smash what is left of the "American Dream".
The "underclass" theory is built on racist and sexist lies about welfare recipients. 40% of AFDC recipients and 2/3 of SSI recipients are white. The average family size on AFDC has decreased to an adult and 1.9 children. Most people who are on AFDC leave within two years, many of those to work. AFDC is 1% of the federal budget (For a fuller expose of how myths about welfare recipients are used to spread racism and sexism, see InCAR Arrow, Spring 1992, Vol. 14 #7, P.3). In addition to everything else, the petty harassment and low grants make most recipients yearn for the day when they can kiss the "system good-bye. Lack of education unaffordable child care, abusive companions, and substance abuse, all products of capitalism, help keep recipients in the trap of moving from one low wage job to another (just as the bosses want). And just as recipients are used to hold down wages, welfare cuts help guarantee the continuing erosion of real wages, and other benefits won through hard and bloody struggle.
FASCISM IN WELFARE: CUTS IN GRANTS= CUTS IN WAGES
In a recent book by Wall Street Journal editorialist David Frum (called appropriately Dead Right), editorialist Thomas E. McClanhan says that cutting welfare is not enough. Any campaign to restore "virtue and moral character" must make war on "middle class entitlements" and "the welfare state. Frum's book proposes that workers should only be protected from natural disasters and catastrophic illness. Anything else, like unemployment, retirement, college tuition, etc. and workers are "on their own".
This book and others like it (The Bell Curve) provide the ideological cover for deepening U.S. fascism. The process of increasing attacks on workers wages, however, has been going on since at least the early 1970s. The lever for these attacks has been continued cuts in social programs. And plan to cut welfare further will force "millions more workers into the job market, (and) could further depress wages" (NY Times Magazine 12/18/94, p.56)
Why are the bosses going all out to destroy what's left of AFDC.
1. Their need to set basic grants way below the minimum
wage, driven by
2. Their continuing need for cheaper & cheaper labor, at or
below the minimum wage.
3. Their need to intensify racism & sexism.
4. Their need to cut the Federal budget deficit
Welfare cuts reflect the growth of fascism. Both the Demarcate & Republican parties support the headlong drive toward huge cuts. Despite the differences there is fundamental unity of liberal & conservative ideas about welfare programs. this unity is based on the pro-capitalism is the driving force behind the need to cut, cut and cut some more. Fascism, unlike bourgeois democracy, maintains power for the capitalists primarily through terror. The bosses can no longer afford to dress up their dictatorship with reforms.
Workers get poorer
In the 1950s, unemployment averaged 4.5%; in the 1980s it was 7.2%. About 30 million workers work either temporary or part time --25% of all workers. The official unemployment rate for black and Latin workers is twice that of whites. Workers with earnings below the poverty line were 18% in 1990, compared with 12.3% in 1974. The real figure for 1990 is even higher since the poverty line was not adjusted to reflect cost of living changes for items other than food (Cloward and Piven). By 1992, more than half of black children under 6 lived in poor families (Mishel Bernstein).
The 1980s saw an epidemic of wage cuts, wage freezes, two-tier wage systems, and take-backs in medical and other hard won benefits for workers. One after another, plants employing working earning $13-18 per hour closed. New jobs paid $5-8 per hour. Two thirds of new jobs created in the 1980s paid poverty level wages. As a result average rear wages were $31 per week less than 1982 (Mishel & Bernstein
Bosses cut welfare
At the same time, welfare grants were rarely raised. The steady erosion of buying power of low-wage workers and welfare recipients during the 1970s and 1980s has turned into a torrent of cuts in the 1990s. Every program, from SSI, to AFDC is under severe attack. SSI grants are paid by the federal government with the states chipping in small amounts. Federal benefits for one is low $466 per month The federal government increases SSI payments only once a year, to meet the rise in the cost of living. Most states have either slashed or not raised their contributions, resulting in a loss of real income for these recipients.
The attacks on GA have been the sharpest. Michigan totally eliminated the GA program for "employable" adults 18% of employable recipients were black Illinois and Ohio eliminated benefits to "employables" for six months per year. In July 1992, NJ passed a law cutting off all employable recipients after 6 months. This would have ended benefits in January 1993. Thousands would have been become homeless because shelter and rent payments would have ended. Due to a massive campaign by PLP others (see below) the GA cuts were stopped.
However, hundreds of GA and AFDC recipients lost their apartments during 1993 because of a 12 month limit on rental assistance. Now the NJ legislature has started a pilot project to fingerprint all GA recipients, supposedly to prevent welfare fraud, A massive "anti-fraud company has launched in most amour N.J. newspaper. This is just one more step toward the criminalization of all welfare recipients. Work camps are not far behind.
Federal law requires all states to have a "Standard of Need" (S of N). This is supposedly the minimum a family of a particular size can live on. But States don't have to pay AFDC benefits equal to the S of N. NJ, for example, openly admits that its level of benefits is only 40% of its S of N! Nationally, the average grant for three is now about 63% of the average S of N (Center for Social Welfare Law and Policy).
The Clinton welfare program
The biggest attack on the AFDC program in years came from Democrat Bill Clinton, who pledged to "end welfare as we know it." Coming from a President who threatened that North Korea would "cease to exist" if it developed nuclear weapons, this spelled trouble for welfare recipients. Clinton and his backers in the ruling class are as serious about "reforming" welfare as they were about ramming NAFTA through Congress. To do this, Clinton developed a 32 member Task Force on "Welfare Reform, Family Support, and Independence" (here called CTF, for Clinton Task Force).
The only non-negotiable" part of the CTF's plan was the 2 year limit on benefits. What happens after 2 years is still up in the air. One proposal is slave labor "workfare" for all recipients; another is government-funded minimum wage jobs.
While Clinton started the anti-recipient onslaught, the Republicans have now picked up Clinton's ball and are running with it. Newt and Co. have reached a new low in Fascist doublespeech with the "Personal Responsibility Act" which they are trying to push through Congress. This law would set up slave labor workfare jobs after two years. Recipients would work for their checks for as little as 79 cents per hour. The law would forever exclude from AFDC all children of unmarried mothers who are under 18, all newborns of anyone who received at anytime AFDC during the pregnancy, and all children whose paternity has not been established (unless conceived as a result of rape or incest, or unless the mother proves she is in physical danger). Finally, the Repubi-Nazis would cut off virtually all resident immigrants from AFDC and 59 other programs within one year of the date the law is passed.
The newborn "cap" law will nationalize the New Jersey "experiment", which has been in effect since August 1, 1993. The N.J. "cap" law denies AFDC benefits to recipients who give birth. The law was proposed by Wayne Bryant, a black Democratic assemblyman from Camden. It was used by the media to stir up a nationwide anti-recipient campaign. Early in 1992, the Democratic Florio administration pushed the "cap" law through the legislature. The "cap law campaign used all the time-tested racist and sexist code words ("family responsibility", "welfare dependence", and "middle-class values").
The main danger for communists and those who want to fight the cuts are Clinton and the liberals. They started the anti-welfare attacks, and they are now trying to appear like "good guys" as compared with "bad guys" Newt, et. al. Already the liberal-led media is attacking the Republicans in order to fool some workers into supporting the "lesser evil" Democrats. Workers cannot unite with any of these servants of the rich, all whom want to maintain capitalism and cut welfare to drive wages down further.
After mass demonstrations in Chicago, Illinois passed a bill authorizing $90 million for relief. When the Home Relief Bureaus in NY refused to accept applications on 1/8/32, large crowds demanded food in front of their offices. On 1/17, the Bureaus changed their policy (Folsom, 1991).
Through these kinds of actions by the communist-led working class, the government was finally forced to pass laws creating benefits like Social Security and unemployment compensation. Later, workers won unions and the 8 hour day through sit down strikes and other militant actions. However, the communist party, despite leading millions never had a strategy for workers' revolution. Just as these benefits were won through hard struggle, the bosses still hold power & will take them away. This is why we must organize now to fight these attacks, the system that is the root cause of our continued oppression, and set up a communist society where welfare will be unnecessary.
The struggle against welfare cuts in New Jersey
PLP and InCAR led the recent struggle against cuts GA and for jobs. From July 1992 on, we distributed 10,000 flyers, got 2500 signatures on a petition for jobs against the cuts, and against police brutality, got the names of over 200 interested people, and signed up about 50 people to join InCAR. We rallied on the street, went door to door, went to shelters, spoke with small groups, leafleted and petitioned at unemployment and welfare offices, and contacted church. We pointed out the racist nature of the cuts showing that in Newark alone thousands of people, mostly black would lose not only grants, but rent payments, shelter payments & medical coverage. After a 1992 summer project, we estimated that it was possible to mobilize many people around action to reverse the cuts. We already had the experience of cuts in Michigan, Illinois, etc. We had plenty of useful information from our Detroit comrades to show how racist and devastating the cuts there had really been. And the bosses in N.J. were not expecting any real resistance.
We organized day and night for public hearings on the welfare cuts. A march was planned from Newark City Hall, where the hearings were held, to the State office building. We decided to hold this march during a break in the hearings around lunch time, to reach the maximum number of people in the streets. The hearings were packed with over 300 people. Many workers have fiery speeches. When we saw our chance, one comrade's short speech resulted in almost 50 people coming outside to march to the State building and picket, then march back to the hearings for the rest of the afternoon.
A number of speakers at the hearings called for a rally in Trenton, the capital. PLP organized almost 2 busloads of people to join about 100 others in Trenton at a politician-led rally. The politicians and their friends quickly lost control. PLP called for a sit-in, then led a charge of about 20 people into the Statehouse. The state cops pushed us back. But one comrade got a hold of the main microphone and called for revolutions to destroy the system that breeds drugs and poverty. The cops then allowed us to sit in with about 40-50 people. The Governor was forced to meet with our representatives. On January 13, 1993 most of the money that was cut was restored.
Despite all our strengths, we had serious weaknesses:
1. We put too much emphasis on the reform victory and not enough on building the party.
2. Not enough friends of PLP were involved.
3. NO effort was made to raise the campaign in mass organizations.
4. We did not develop a cadre of new people for a party-led jobs. committee.
We are correcting these errors. new PLP video and this pamphlet point out how only communism will resolve the problems of the welfare system. Party members have joined a statewide mass organization, STEPS (Solutions to End Poverty Soon) and have been active in the Newark chapter. As a result of our work in STEPS, a core of PLP members and friends is giving leadership to the class struggle. There is a growing understanding of the need for party-led organization and action in the fight against racist and sexist welfare cuts, for jobs and for the 6 hour day for 8 hours pay.
6 for 8 is a particularly good way to unite recipients, advocates, and employed workers. 6 for 8 forces the bosses to hire 33% more workers by creating 4 six hour shifts. 6 for 8 will put a big dent in the racist unemployment that hits recipients particularly hard. and we can use 6 for 8 to attack the whole concept of "competition" between workers which the bosses' welfare system is designed to foster and exploit.
ONLY COMMUNISM WILL SMASH SLAVE LABOR WELFARE AND END UNEMPLOYMENT
The fight to unite employed and unemployed in the struggle
'for jobs and shorter hours opens the door to communist revolution. Only communism can end the treadmill of families being unable to live with welfare and being unable to live on low wage employment. Even if all welfare cuts were stopped and grants were raised (as happened during the 1960s), the capitalists would continue to use unemployed workers as a club over the heads of the employed. As the capitalists turn to fascism, they turn the welfare system into a method of forcing unemployed workers to work under slave labor conditions for as little as 79 cents per hour.
It is only under capitalism that a few bosses get richer while the vast majority of the rest of us, employed and unemployed, get poorer. It is only under capitalism that the fraud of racism and sexism must be used to keep our class divided. And it is only under capitalism that the bosses need a method to pacify some of the most oppressed, and potentially revolutionary, workers in order to keep us all down.
Communism would eliminate class differences by abolishing the wage system which is the source of these differences. Communism would erase racism and sexism because the working class is one class internationally and needs only unity- not division. And communism will make the welfare system unnecessary because communism requires the active commitment and participation of all workers in the building of a worker-run society.
In an egalitarian society operating under the principle of "from each according to commitment, to each according to need", the need for welfare would disappear. Everyone would be employed and struggled with to make a valuable contribution to society by working up to his or her full potential. Those who would be unable to make a full contribution because of physical disability, mental illness, or undeveloped potential would be provided for according to need. A collective approach to work and struggle would help break down and eventually eliminate many or all of the capitalist created pathologies and addictions which inhibit people from developing their full potential.
We would share scarcity, as well as abundance. Homelessness and hunger would be abolished because everyone's basic needs would be provided for. No longer would many of us be "one paycheck away" from having our families living in the streets. No longer would many of us have to endure the humiliation of being on welfare or unemployment benefits. No longer could small-time capitalists make a profit off of unemployed workers' homelessness.
In every struggle against every new cut proposed by the bosses we must put forward this vision of the future. The growth of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) will ensure that this vision becomes reality. The bosses have their plans; we have ours. In every school PTA; in every union; in every community organization; in every classroom; the fight to unite employed and unemployed against the welfare cuts must become a vehicle to bring forward a communist solution to the dehumanization and degradation of the welfare system.
One day the whole idea of "rich" and "poor" will have become a long-forgotten nightmare. one day, none of us will have to sell our labor in order to live. And one day, our class, the international working class, will know homelessness and hunger no more. Our party, PLP, has a historic responsibility: the liberation of all workers the world over. Our party's growth will insure a shining communist future for ourselves and our children. Join us!
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