by Jim Williams
Governor Edgar and his new Republican majorities in the State
Legislature have banded together in a paroxysm of new legislation
to dismantle the welfare system in Illinois. Legislation signed
by Edgar on March 6, will abolish the Aid to Families of Dependent
Children (AFDC) by 1999. The abolition of AFDC, a federally-mandated
program originally passed as part of the Social Security Act in
1935, will require approval by the Clinton Administration.
Other provisions, which take effect immediately, deny single
mothers additional cash payments for children born while the mother
is on welfare, deny benefits to mothers under age 18 unless they
live with their parents and obtain a high-school education. In
addition, parents of children over 13 must get a job within 24
months or lose all their benefits, while requiring that mothers
must identify the fathers of their children or their benefits
will be cut.
These draconian measures from Springfield only mirror the national
debates which is now taking place in Congress. Each week brings
new proposals for even more cuts and restrictions. Democrats and
Republicans compete in a scramble to out-cut each other. The Democratic
leadership, for example, has criticized Republican cuts as "not
requiring enough work" from welfare recipients.
Why such a furor? AFDC is only a tiny part of the Federal Budget,
amounting to only 2 percent. The average welfare check for a family
of three comes to only $366 a month, hardly enough to encourage
riotous living. Compared to other programs such as, dare we say
it, the military budget, AFDC is hardly a drop in the bucket.
But cutting the safety net from under the poor is a crusade for
the new Republican Right with their cries for social revanche.
Taking away the safety net for the nonworking poor is frequently
coupled with demands to do away with the minimum wage. Indeed,
doing away with the minimum wage cannot be accomplished as long
as poor people have a safety net to hang on to. Marxist critics
such as Cloward and Piven have long argued that this is the case.
The real targets of the anti-welfare crusade are just as likely
the working poor, those deserving poor laboring away in low-paid,
scab-ridden shops and factories whose labor is directly in competition
with impoverished workers overseas. If only they could be made
to work for even less! How better to re- establish "competitiveness!"
A Professor at the Social of Social Service Administration
at the University of Chicago says the welfare debate deflects
from the real problem: ending poverty. "Ending poverty means
getting serious about assuring a good supply of jobs, education,
day care and heath care," says Dr. Evelyn Z. Brodkin. "Evading
those tough tasks while reducing welfare will only make poverty
Decades ago, Gene Debs said you could judge a society by how
it treats its children, its elderly and its prisoners. How well
would we fare by this Debsian yardstick today?
by Bob Roman
Regardless of your opinion of Newt Gingrich as a professor,
it's clear that he that he is a master of politics. The disciplined
performance of the Republican House of Representatives was so
swift and so spectacular that it hardly matters, politically,
how much of it passes the Senate or makes it past the President.
The consequences of 1995's first quarter will be with us for decades.
The Left hardly knew what hit it. While vigorous protest against
the "Contract with America" began early in the year,
it was generally disconnected and disorganized. Worse, it was
generally overwhelmed and outshone by the conservative fireworks
in the Congress and state legislatures. Chicago was no different
from any other part of the country, except we had a memory of
1981 when Reagan's splash and dash was effectively countered by
the Illinois Coalition Against Reagan Economics (ICARE).
As Marx observed, we make our own history, but not just as
we please. In this Hegelian go-round, several factors are quite
different. First, there was the speed and the size of the conservative
tsunami. This left any number of organizations either doing business
as usual or scrambling alone to salvage something out of the ruin.
Second, a number of important players were no longer on the stage.
One of the key individuals was Milt Cohen, the former Co-Chair
of Chicago DSA who died over a year ago. Milt's presence in 1981
meant the involvement of the Illinois Public Action Council (IPAC)
which at that time could provide ICARE with both the connections
and the credible resource base needed for an effective opposition.
The situation is gradually changing. A coalition of coalitions
of sorts is developing around a proposed March for Jobs and Justice
on Saturday, June 17. This could be a really big event, bringing
tens of thousands of people out to show their opposition to the
current conservative offensive. Another major effort is being
organized around protecting Social Security and Medicare / Medicaid
from cuts. This campaign is being conducted by the Illinois Save
Our Security Coalition which intends to confront legislators rather
directly on the issue. Your participation in these campaigns is
vital. The coming year will determine if we will turn the tide
or be found dusting off our passports.
by Soren Ambrose
After years of struggle, excitement and upheaval, Nicaraguans
now face a world in which opportunity seems to have passed them
by. Life after the revolution and civil war is even more economically
desperate and politically confusing than they could have imagined.
At the Broadway United Methodist Church on March 25, the former
national police chief of the FSLN (Sandinista) regime and current
member of the National Assembly, Doris Tijerino, explained today's
harsh realities in a talk entitled "Economic Denmocracy Versus
the New World Order".
Nicaragua's 15 years of struggle has spanned both the Cold
War and the New World Order, and it has prompted both military
and the economic therapy from the North. In the 1990s, the agents
of doom for countries like Nicaragua are not U.S. sponsored "freedom
fighters" but the international bureaucrats who make their
home at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
These faceless technocrats do a far more effective job of keeping
countries like Nicaragua in their place and if a new direction
doesn't emerge very soon, most traces of the revolution's gains
will be erased. Nicaragua will look very much as it did before
any shot were fired.
With te end of the Cold War and the advent of a more truly
global economy, as codified in the new GATT/WTO arrangement for
example, revolutions of the left seem much less likely. With whom
would the revolution trade? Even Castro is now reduced to hawking
tourism packages. The name of the victorious U.S. backed coalition
in Nicaragua's 1990 election, UNO, evokes the bitter reality of
this new world: one trade regime, one superpower, one economic
As the title of Tijerino's talk implies, this single track
world doesn't have much room for meaningful democracy. UNO itself
has certainly proved no match for the World Bank and the IMF.
It may have come to power in a nominally democratic process, but
the austere economic policies it immediately adopted-- reduced
government spending on health and education, massive layoffs,
harsh credit restrictions, privatization of state enterprises,
tariff reductions, tax increases, and drastic changes in the country's
labor laws-- were dreamed up in Washington, the home of both Nicaragua's
old nemesis, the U.S. government and its new ones, the international
financial institutions. These policies, similar to ones imposed
on at least 90 other poor countries by the IMF and the World Bank,
are known collectively as a "structural adjustment program"
(SAP). "SAP" has become one of the most recognized terms
around the world, that is around the "Third World",
as the international bureaucrats, the only remaining sources of
capital when commercial banks won't lend anymore, move into devastated
economies and demand that they open up to foreign "investment"
Nicaragua is a predominantly rural society; the people depend
on the land. The Sandinista revolution succeeded in raising most
of the peasants out of the status of abject sharecroppers by confiscating
the extensive land holdings of ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza and
his cohorts, and redistributing the land to the people. For Tijerino,
this was the Sandinistas' greatest accomplishment. It was all
the greater for having been done while fight a war against U.S.
backed counter-revolutionaries. But she pointed to one flaw in
the redistribution: the land deeds. Not only did it take four
years to process all of them, but the deeds included a provision
that the land could not be sold. In the days of the Sandinista
regime this was resented because peasants felt they didn't really
own something if they couldn't sell it.
The worst consequence of this deeding provision was harder
to foresee. Under the SAP, interest rates were raised and credit
was severely restricted. Farmers everywhere rely on credit to
get fertilizer, seeds, and equipment before they can harvest and
repay loans and realize their income. The "no sell"
provision prevents peasants from offering as collateral their
most valuable asset, their land. In a tight money economy, this
has meant the virtual end of any credit for Nicaraguan small holders
and has forced most into a subsistence farming mode.
If structural adjustment doesn't work, why do these expert
economists keep recommending it? Well, it doesn't work for
Nicaragua or for other indebted countries. But it works just
fine for some: foreign capital and the small group of elites in
each country entrusted with implementing the policies and staffing
the transnational corporate subsidiaries' offices.
Mexico provides the most accessible example: the current President,
Zedillo, and the previous one, Salinas, were both educated in
classical economics at Harvard. Salinas comes from a very wealthy
oil family, old friends to the Bushes. Salinas emerged from his
term as President as, reportedly, one of the riches people in
the world, and he managed to increase the number of Mexican billionaires
from 2 to 24 during his time in office. Privatization is the key
to this enrichment; state enterprises are sold at bargain prices
to friends of government officials. Foreign "investors"
are enriched by the high interest rates demanded by SAPs and by
the cheap labor available in countries with chronically impoverished
and under employed workers (remember NAFTA?). Multiply this example
around the globe. The "Third World" offers hundreds
of vastly different cultures, but one model is all you need to
know to be an economic multiculturalist.
Nicaragua's statistics tell the story of structural adjustment
quite eloquently. Tijerino announced that the unemployment rate
has now gone over 60%; unemployment rates in the first half of
1994 were 59% higher than during the same period in 1993. Fully
75% of the population now lives in poverty. GDP per capita in
1993 fell to 71% of the 1985-1989 average. Credit to the agricultural
sector has been slashed by 62%. Industrial production since 1990
has declined 14%. Nicaragua has received over $3 billion in aid
since Chamorro took office in 1990; over one third of it has been
used to pay foreign debt service, and most of the rest has financed
the rapidly climbing trade deficit. At last report, Nicaragua
could claim the highest per capita debt burden in the world. In
1994 the debt totaled nearly $11 billion.
With statistics like these and with continuing "aid"
and advice from the World Bank and the IMF, the problem with the
deeds will probably be cleared up soon. Then the banks can take
possession of the land to redistribute it back to the old elite.
Tijerino reports that here in the U.S., Senator Jesse Helms is
trying to apply an old rule that no aid dollars can go to any
nation that has confiscated assets of American citizens. Somoza's
family and friends are now Americans; Helms just has to get the
law applied to the time when they were not. The Somoza family
has even filed a lawsuit over its land claims. We may soon have
our old Nicaragua back.
What should be done? CRIES, a consortium of research centers
based in Managua, has called for a reversal of policies. Nicaragua
should, it says, try to reduce and re-negotiate its foreign debt,
implement selective tariff protection, channel domestic savings
to productive sectors, institute a program to stimulate production
by small and medium sized producers, and expand public health
and education services.
What can be done? Tijerino was asked if the elections coming
up in 1996 offered some hope. She replied that the situation has
become very complex. Like the many conservative commentators who
look back to the cold War almost with fondness, Tijerino said
that back in 1979 it was pretty easy. There was Samosa and there
were the Sandinistas. Now there are 28 different political parties
in a country of about 4 million people. To win outright, one party
must receive 45% of the votes. If none does, a second round of
voting takes place in which the parties form coalitions. When
that happens, as it almost surely will, it becomes hard to predict
who will side with whom, and any party platform one may find appealing
is likely to be quite diminished. As it stands now, the one party
with the most support is on the extreme right. Frightening as
that is, Tijerino doesn't seem to think they have a good chance
to claim the presidency.
But with the global economy the way it is, the results may
not be all that significant, Tijerino pointed out. If any government
that comes to power is restricted to policies of "structural
adjustment", all the brave ideology even the FSLN could muster
will make little difference. The "Third World" is, unfortunately,
replete with governments which disown their campaign promises
as soon as they assess their economic situation (usually with
the help from someone from Washington). Chamorro's government
may have had little interest in resisting the recommended SAPs,
but even Daniel Ortega would have difficulty standing up to the
What is urgently needed is for people around the world to learn
about the effects of SAPs and the erosion of any meaningful democracy
that occurs when the IMF and the World Bank are called in. Although
these institutions have some staffers who do mean to alleviate
poverty and foster responsible development, they are either completely
overwhelmed by the preponderance of technocrats who see only numbers
and dollar signs or they find themselves constructing policies
that fit within the fundamentally flawed framework of neo-liberal,
Voting rights in these institutions are allocated by the size
of each country's contribution. This makes the U.S. the most influential
voice in both bodies, followed by Japan, Germany, France and Britain.
Both institutions are based in Washington and the World Bank president
has always been an American. These factors give U.S. citizens
a degree of leverage no others have. It's not much since the Bank
and the Fund are officially accountable to no one. But
it is where we must start if the economic paradigm that is ordering
this increasingly unjust world (including our own country) is
to be challenged.
Doris Tijerino's talk was sponsored by the Chicago 50 Years
Is Enough Coalition and three other groups: the Nicaragua Solidarity
Committee, Women for Economic Justice and Casa Nicaragua. Fred
Morris, the pastor of the Broadway United Methodist Church, served
ably as Tijerino's translator.
UofC Youth Section Chair Daraka Larimore was elected the Youth
Section's representative to DSA's National Political Committee
at the Youth Section Winter Conference last March. The Winter
Conference also decided to hold the Summer Conference at the University
of Chicago in August. The University of Chicago Youth Section
chapter has also taken the lead on campus by organizing a UofC
Coalition Against the Contract. The Coalition's first event was
a rally on Thursday, April 13th, which drew over 175 participants.