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Shutdown: Government makes war on workers

From the Editors  |  Issue: February | March 2019

And the truth of this shutdown is that it’s actually not about a wall, it is not about the border, and it is certainly not about the well-being of everyday Americans. The truth is, this shutdown is about the erosion of American democracy and the subversion of our most basic governmental norms. – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in her first U.S. House speech on January 16.

As we go to press, the government shutdown is at least temporarily halted. In no small part, this resulted from protests across the country demanding that the shutdown end. Non-federal workers joined in. There was talk of a general strike.

More than 800,000 federal workers went without a paycheck. Many were forced to work without pay. Many went without needed medication. Some risked becoming homeless. Contract workers get no back pay. Millions of people who urgently need food assistance and medical care worried if they would lose their benefits. Why?

From the beginning, Trump tied the shutdown to the government’s ongoing attack on immigrants. But the shutdown is an ominous escalation of an ongoing narrative. The separating of immigrant families, the caging of children, the Muslim ban, the fear-mongering about MS13, the supposed need for “border security”—all of it has been designed to dehumanize a section of our people and divide us. That division, that stripping people of their human rights, is setting the stage for all of us to lose our rights. Trump was so determined to carry out this divide and conquer strategy that he was willing to shut the government down over it. Trump’s message to federal employees: the women and children seeking a better life who are jailed at the border have no rights, and neither do you.

The dehumanizing of immigrants began before Trump, but it escalated with Trump, and he has made it the centerpiece of an effort to replace democracy with a corporate dictatorship. For millions of people across this country, the shutdown is a rude awakening. It is transmitting a sharp, clear message from the billionaire ruling class of the United States to the working class, especially those who are more and more relying on scanty government programs for their survival. That message screams: “We care nothing about you, whether you’re an immigrant worker or a federal employee. We will do whatever we must do to preserve our profits and power in a changing world. If we have to suspend the constitution or impose a police state, so be it.” Democracy is being eliminated to contain dissent.

As we go to press, it’s not known what will be the outcome. We must strenuously reject any “compromise” which undermines democratic rights, including the rights of immigrants. We cannot allow the corporate leaders of the Democratic Party to buckle and fund a wall—even a partial wall. We cannot give Trump permission to continue dehumanizing immigrants. If we are to prevent our country from becoming a full-blown dictatorship, we must see the immigrant workers as what they are: part of our people, united with the rest of us in a fight to build a new society that serves the people, not the billionaires.

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