In November, the American people delivered the power of the purse to a Democratic majority outstanding in both its racial, national, and gender diversity and its commitment to progressive change. In retaliation, Trump and the Republican Party have shut down the federal government in an attempt to override the clear will of the people and coerce that Democratic majority into building a wall-shaped monument to racism, cruelty, and paranoia.
Like so many of its policies, the shutdown demonstrates this regime’s enthusiastic embrace of the most vicious, racist, and undemocratic tendencies of capitalism itself.
Now, over half a million federal workers remain on furlough. Sixty thousand have been called back to work without pay—or, more exactly, with nothing but the promise of back pay at the end of a shutdown that still has no clear end in sight. In addition to essential staff at agencies like TSA and Indian Health Services, 36,000 IRS workers have recently been forced back to work, in a transparent attempt to insulate the Trump regime from the political fallout of delayed tax returns.
From slavery and convict leasing to prison labor and wage theft, capitalism has always depended on forced and unpaid labor, with racially and nationally oppressed people (African-Americans in particular) paying the heaviest price. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Trump shutdown disproportionately harms African-American workers, who are more likely than members of other groups to work in the public sector.
This impact of this crisis extends far beyond federal workers. Federal rent assistance payments are stopped because of the shutdown, leaving millions facing eviction in the dead of winter. Grants that support tribal clinics and the community health programs for Native people have also expired. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), which provides food to 43.6 million people, is now funded through an emergency reserve that will dry up in mid- February, as will federal funding for the WIC program.
In this sense, the shutdown is a massive austerity program, imposed without the consent of the people’s elected representatives—not unlike the appointment of “emergency managers” to shred union contracts and dismantle public services in struggling cities.
On Thursday, the Senate will vote on two separate bills, each of which would end the shutdown. One, supported by Democrats, is a stopgap measure to re-open the government through February 8 with no funding for a border wall. The other, which Republicans favor, hands Trump $5.7 billion and also places strict limits on child refugees seeking asylum in the United States. Neither is likely to get enough votes to clear the Senate.
This crisis throws the task ahead into sharp relief. A president who takes a country hostage in order to fund a monument to racism and national chauvinism is not fit to occupy the White House. The party that empowers and enables him, as part of a strategy to eliminate any impediment to the power of big corporations, must be stripped of its role in the political life of this country—its dark money donors forced into the light, its media monopolies broken, its strategy of voter suppression definitively rejected.
It should also remind us of the unity we need to inflict a decisive defeat on the neo-Confederate wing of the ruling class. More than anything, Trump’s shutdown proves the hollowness and cynicism of right in its attempts to pander to the U.S. working class with anti-immigrant propaganda. As Trump’s shutdown proves, an injury to one, is an injury to all—an attack on immigrants, on workers, on African-Americans, on the poor, and on democracy as a whole.
As our CPUSA labor commission says, “Labor has the power in its hands to end this shutdown! Government workers have been finding ways to fight for their rights. National reports have cited large numbers calling off; as they’ve had to look for other employment, growing numbers have resigned.”
Some are talking about walkouts and strikes. The unions will decide what’s best. They can count on our every support.