The anti-budget cut movement and struggle for public education in California over the last year has inspired worldwide resistance, and has brought in a lot of new people who have never organized or been political before. The March 4th movement provided an outlet for people to get involved and educate themselves about the budget cuts; it also created a base to build off for the next cycle of struggle. Since March 4th conferences have gone down and a new date for mass action has been picked: October 7th… but will October 7th be qualitatively different than March 4th? Will more sectors of society be brought in? Will struggle deepen and become more militant? As the economic crisis deepens and affects more and more people internationally, there is a real need for a militant perspective examining why the budget cuts are happening, who is causing them, and who is suffering from them.
So far the education sector has largely lead resistance to the cuts, on college campuses specifically, but these cuts go far beyond the universities. It is not just education that is being destroyed; social services, such as free and/or affordable healthcare are being cut; there are massive foreclosures and a lack of affordable or public housing; unemployment remains high. Anyone can see that these cuts aren’t just affecting students, but the working-class as a whole. While all these cuts are happening in the public sector the top corporations and banks were immediately bailed out by the Federal Government as soon as their financial instruments evaporated in the bubble pop. If it wasn’t clear to you before that this system was based off of exploitation and a class divide between the rich and the poor, massive bailouts to the capitalists and bankers while we are left to struggle for the basic necessities of life should make it clear.
These budget cuts are also occurring during a time period of massive state violence to communities of color and queer people; the passage of the anti-immigration bill SB 1070 is causing and supporting more profiling of immigrant populations and ICE raids; the Oscar Grant movement has exposed the police’s continual assault against Black women and men that stems from the days of slavery; and there is consistent harassment and murder of queer and gender oppressed people. Is a budget cut struggle solely confined to defending education enough to really fight the cuts and the crisis? Is it enough for the people most affected by it to be brought in? No. We need a larger analysis that identifies the true enemy, the capitalist system, which relies on other systems of oppression (patriarchy, racism, & homophobia) to target and discipline people of color, women, and queer folks to keep divisions within the class that makes uniting and resisting harder.
We cannot allow the system to continue to divide us; a way to fight these divisions is to unite all these separate movements (Oscar Grant, Immigrant & Queer struggles), because they are organically connected through our shared enemy, the capitalist system. We don’t need a budget cut movement confined to defending education. We need abudget cut movement that defends the people while resisting all forms of state violence.
This movement would address the indirect violence of the system that comes in the form of denying the basic necessities of life for its people: food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare.
Without these things the people are pushed into the streets, where they rely on the informal economy to survive. When people are pushed into the streets to survive they face the direct violence of the state at the hands and guns of the racist, sexist police and ICE agents. In order to have such a holistic movement, which fights for the liberation of the working-class we have to understand how the different sections of the class are impacted differently by the budget cuts, which means we need an analysis of how the budget cuts are racist and sexist.
I have been involved in the budget cut struggle for a few years now, and have heard activists continually bring up how the fight for public education against budget cuts is important to the liberation of people, specifically women and people of color. But can we have liberating education under the oppressive system of capitalism? Education within capitalism is designed to discipline our youth, condition them in capitalist social relations of worker vs. boss to prepare them to go out into the world and sell their labor for a wage. For the people who are privileged enough to get into higher education (and it is a privilege nowadays) they have an opportunity to gain more skills, get a degree, and add more value to their labor so that when they ultimately graduate and go out into the labor market they can get paid more as a skilled workers. But we see that as jobs are scarce and unemployment is high there is a surplus of workers. Public education becomes obsolete to the capitalist, because he doesn’t need more skilled workers. Capital will cut education and other social services first, because these sectors do not immediately generate profit.
A clear example of the racist nature of these cuts is the consistent closure of schools in working-class communities of color while the prison industry continues to thrive. The connection is clear: this racist system does not value educating our black and brown youth it only cares about incarcerating them in private prisons for profit, and to repress resistance. The prison system is housing more black and brown bodies then the education system is. Military spending is another example. The US government is currently involved in 2 imperialist wars at a time when it supposedly has no money for education and jobs. Military recruitment is at an all time high; working-class youth will continually enlist in the military if they have no other solutions to their economic conditions. A local example is the city of Oakland. When bail out money was given to Oakland where do you think it went? You would think education, because the drop-out rate is so high; or maybe jobs because unemployment is at 16% or even higher at this point.
90% of it went to the Oakland Police Department, who continue to murder and brutalize our communities. The racial dimensions of these cuts are very clear. When higher education is no longer an option for working-class youth of color, and job opportunities are dismal, where do they go? Prisons or the military. The system is tracking them on these paths through its refusal to fund education and other youth programs, while continually funding the prison system and war machine.
These budget cuts are also sexist, and the intersections of race and gender place women of color at the bottom of this division of labor. We are exploited as wage workers and due to patriarchy are paid less than men for the same work. On top of that we are still expected to conform to heteronormative, bourgeois values: find a husband, marry him, pump out babies, do all the unpaid reproductive labor of taking care of the house, the husband, the children, make sure they are fed and sustained so the husband can go to work, and that the child can go to school and get a work ethic. This combination of exploitative wage-labor and unpaid reproductive labor makes us super-exploited as a caste. It also means that when the government fails to provide education, affordable housing and jobs for its people then it falls on the backs of working-class women to ‘make ends meets’. When schools shut down and daycare and afterschool programs are defunded it is the woman’s responsibility to figure out who’s going to take care of her children while she is at work. When general assistance and welfare is cut it is the woman’s responsibility to figure out how to get food and pay the rent. When health services are cut and free clinics close down women have to figure out how to take care of their children when they’re sick. That is why we see these disgustingly high rates of black and brown youth dying from curable diseases, because of the lack of affordable and free healthcare in this country. When the system does not provide the necessities of life to sustain its people it is expected of us, as women, to figure out how to do it, which is almost impossible but we have been ‘making ends meet’ for 100s of years now.
These examples combined with the fact that we live in a violent, patriarchal system that devalues women as a whole are the reasons why we as working-class women and women of color are the most oppressed layers of the working-class, and therefore have the most to gain from revolutionary class struggle. Our organic militancy has been generally neglected by the left, part of a historical failure to take up feminism as an integral part of the struggle for liberation from all oppression. Developing women as militant leaders in struggle has not been prioritized. But this doesn’t mean that women haven’t played leadership roles in social movements and revolutionary struggles. We cannot ignore the significance of women advancing struggle in more militant directions.
On February 23rd 1917 in Russia it was International Women’s Day. It was agreed upon by the different political organizations that no strikes or protests would take place. In Petrograd the women textile workers, the most exploited and oppressed workers, showed up to work and learned that the boss was implementing a pay cut. They immediately violated the ‘no protest’ call by the revolutionary forces and went on strike. It had a ripple effect and within 3 days a general strike happened that shut down Petrograd, and gave birth to the February revolution, one of the most important events the history of class struggle. Twenty nine years later, 1946 in Oakland, CA, women retail workers started the last general strike in US history by walking out to protest the bosses’ union-busting. They were able to pull in other sectors of the class to go on sympathy strikes in solidarity and effectively shut Oakland down. Women all around the world have played the most militant roles in confronting the State and taking the struggle into the streets. We see this in Latin America where Zapatista women in Mexico have driven the military out of their villages, in Palestine where women have lead marches and confronted the Israeli army, one of the most powerful armies in the world.
All of this is due to our oppressed position in society and demonstrates our deep revolutionary potential. It is time that the left stops ignoring this potential and really starts prioritizing developing women into militant leaders in struggle. Advance the Struggle sees the revolutionary development of women, especially working-class women of color, as key in really advancing the struggle. Revolutionary class struggle needs to bring in all sectors of the class, and the most oppressive layers of that class need to be leading and providing it with political direction. Those layers are women and women of color!
As we move forward in the budget cut struggle we must do two things. First, we must analyze the system as a totality and build bases to bring the working-class in to start fighting back. We cannot solely rely on bureaucratic union structures, which do more to protect the bosses and the bourgeois state then the workers, and which only represent 9-10% of the proletariat. A way to start the process of making the struggle against budget cuts a mass struggle is to connect all these isolated movements so we can fight all forms of state violence and exploitation. Secondly, in order to connect these struggles and fight back strong as a class we must understand issues of race, gender and sexuality, which divide us as a class, so we can unite together to fight all class oppression. Women and women of color will play a leading role in this. In the words of Selma James, “Power to the sisters and therefore the class!”