Wednesday, February 8, 2017

America The Not So Beautiful

Lack of "family friendly" leave policies in the US drives working women back in to the home.

Women's March Wash. DC Jan. 21st. A new day dawns.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The US is a country of extremes. It is the porn capital of the world where young 18 year-old women and men can bare all on screen or be sent to fight in wars yet can’t buy a bottle of beer at a convenience store.

It is also the richest and most powerful nation in history and its defense budget at $608 billion annually, dwarfs all others. China is a poor second at a little over $215 billion with the Russians lagging at third with a paltry $66 billion.

God Bless America is a familiar phrase in these United States but when we look at quality of life, God’s blessing has been very selective. We have more billionaires than anyone else and more people in prison than anyone else. The incomes of the most blessed, a tiny section of US society, are staggering. The wealth displayed at the Superbowl for the world to see is not America. It was bizarre to see these players kissing this oblong silver object passed along as if it was some oracle from above. Sport should be a cultural event.

Trump makes much ado about the loss of jobs and especially blue-collar post war jobs that were the traditional home for white males although this changed to a degree after the rise of the CIO and the Civil Rights movement that followed. It is to this constituency that Trump has appealed as these jobs have disappeared due primarily to innovation and technology and moving production oversees where human beings come cheaper.

But as Sarah O’Connor points put in today’s Financial Times, “…prime-age male participation has been falling in the US for 60 years without much panic. What tempered this to a degree was the entrance of women in to the workforce. Immediately after WW11 less than one third of US women were in the workforce and by 1999 that had risen to 60%. *As most workers are aware, back in the 1950’s one income covered a mortgage, today that is almost impossible certainly when we throw in childcare and other related expenses.

But women’s labor force participation is declining along with men and was just under 68% by 2012.  This is not the case in most advanced capitalist (OECD) countries as O’Connor points out and the US now has a lower female labor force participation than Japan. Similar factors that have affected male rates affect women’s but there is another major factor and that is the barbaric nature of US capitalism.

In the age of the Internet most people are aware of the disparity in statistics like health care, infant mortality, crime, homelessness working hours, incarceration and basic social services between the US and other OECD countries; even tiny Cuba has a better infant mortality rate than the US. It is this human/family hostile free market haven that is also forcing women out of the workforce reversing the trend that began after WW11. US policy is  “…particularly unsupportive of women who want to stay in work when they have children — with the result that many drop out.”, O’Connor writes.

Despite major gains, women still bear the brunt of housework and basically caring for the family. In the US, pregnancy is almost treated like an illness. Meanwhile it is the expansion of “family friendly” leave policies in other advanced capitalist economies that O’Connor cites as the cause of why US female labour force participation had fallen behind.”

Consider this staggering statistic:

The average length of paid leave available to mothers across the OECD countries has increased from 17 weeks in 1970 to just over a year. In the US, it was zero in 1970 and remains zero to this day. **

The New York Times also covered this issue last month in a very interesting article and describes the situation so many women face no matter what their income bracket:
“…she gave up her $40,000-a-year job as a customer service representative at a real estate firm in the summer of 2015 when her fragile support network collapsed. Her mother, a part-time home health care aide, took care of the children, picking up the older one from elementary school in the afternoon. But after she had a stroke, she was the one who needed to be taken care of, and Ms. Stevenson stepped in to manage her aging mother as well as her young children.”

Over the past few years those of us connected with this blog have pointed out the increasing role women are playing in the struggle against the capitalist offensive. This is an aspect of the class struggle that socialists and anti-capitalists have traditionally failed to take up sufficiently and we have made a conscious effort to correct it.

Over 50% of the world’s manufacturing workers are women and we have seen huge strikes in the garment industry in Bangladesh and other Asian and South East Asian countries. In Bangladesh, women fought physical battles with the police and company thugs. In India recently there was a one-day strike of almost 150 million workers, many, if not most of them, women.  In China, Vietnam and Cambodia, women have played a leading role in the struggle against the capitalist offensive there.

Throughout the world from Argentina to North Dakota, Indonesia and Australia, indigenous people are fighting back against the multi-nationals that are destroying our environment and their communities in particular. Berta Cáceres co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras, an environmental rights campaigner, lost her life in this struggle assassinated after confronting illegal logging and other environmentally damaging activities in Hondurus. Cáceres, singled out Hillary Clinton for her role supporting the coup that led to much of the violence in her country.

With the Women’s March on January 21st in the US witnessed the largest national protest in our history as women and their supporters came out in opposition to the degenerate Predator in Chief Trump and his policies. Some two to four million including 750,000 in LA, 250,000 in Chicago and thousands more throughout the country took part. Many of these women had never done anything overtly political in their lives.

This was an historic moment in US history and will have a profound affect on the consciousness of millions of women, and workers and youth in general. Things will not be the same, this genie will not be put back in the bottle.  US society is in a political and economic crisis. It is heavily indebted, it is losing its global superiority which makes it a very dangerous animal and the two political parties of US capitalism are in turmoil. These development have shown ever more clearly that the so-called “friend” of the people, the Democratic Party, cannot be relied upon to defend the American people against the rise of nationalism and fascism.

After these events, no one can say that the American working and sections of the middle class will not fight. Huge events like the Women’s March on Washington affects mass consciousness and lessons will be learned. Opposition to Trump’s nationalism and isolation will be challenged as the movement seeks to bridge borders and build international solidarity out of which the movement will develop.

That women will play a leading role in the struggles ahead is indisputable. They have done so already.

* BLS Report, PDF: Women in the Labor Force

1 comment:

Richard Mellor said...

Here in California we have one of the better maternal leave policies where after going through some hoops maternity leave unpaid of up to 12 weeks is possible and some partial compensation and or continuation of benefits is also possible. Here are some details.