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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 19. Where education is a luxury option

Htun Lin

Contra Costa County in California is multi-ethnic and culturally diverse overall, yet separated into communities stretching from predominantly white conservative Concord to white affluent Walnut Creek to poor working-class ethnic minority Richmond. But the one thing all these disparate communities share is the loss of health care and schools from disappearing city budgets due to our nationwide epidemic of state fiscal crises.

Hospital and school closures follow plant closures. In Richmond, the city's budget office announced that all school libraries and sports and music programs would be eliminated because of the city's mounting debt. The Bush gang's American dream of a booming economy is turning out to be our nightmare of a jobless recovery. Productivity increases while health care and other social resources workers need such as schools, libraries, and day care, decrease or disappear.

Economists express consternation at this seemingly contradictory and "disturbing" trend. But we workers are not surprised. Why should anyone be surprised that the capitalists' gain is workers' pain?

Workers produce everything that is created under capitalism. Not just all the contents in the house, the goods and furnishings that are stolen from us, but the house itself, the governmental institutions we use like schools, hospitals and public utilities and infrastructure. Neither government nor private companies "provide" workers with these public goods. It's the other way around. Workers provide all these goods, public or private, by producing them with the sweat of our labor. When they tax our income, they are taxing us for something we produce. We have already been "taxed" before the government steps in. The first real tax is when the capitalist extracts our surplus labor each work day, with each and every product we make.

Felix Martin, News & Letters Labor Editor for many years, once wrote that it takes less than the first hour of his work day to produce all the value needed to pay for the worker's livelihood - to pay for his food, shelter and other expenses - to keep the worker sustained, as Marx wrote, "so that he can return to work another day." After the first hour, after producing enough to pay for the worker's sustenance, what the capitalist likes to call "variable cost" of labor, the rest is surplus labor.

Part of this surplus goes to the state coffers as income tax to pay for public institutions. The rest goes into the capitalist's pocket as profit, what Marx called surplus value.


It has turned out not so strange after all that they choose to use the strange term "variable cost" to describe our living expenses. The more they "vary" that cost of labor down, as close as possible to zero - either, for example, by speeding us up, laying us off, or taking away our health care - the higher are their profits. There is an inversely proportional relationship between our poverty and their wealth. All surplus value comes from living labor - living and breathing human workers. Machines don't create capitalist value. People do.

In an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of school budgets and programs, many parents who can afford to, like parents in affluent Walnut Creek, have reached into their own pockets to pay for what has already been paid for, but will otherwise disappear if we don't pay again. It's quickly becoming education's version of "co-pay" burdens put on workers' backs for health care. But poor minority working-class Richmond is in no position to use private funds to save their public schools.


Some school officials have even resorted to allowing commercial advertisers on school property in order to pay for sports programs. It's a kind of hostile takeover of public sector assets by the private sector. One school principal said, "We have to think outside the box. The days of state-guaranteed educational resources are over."

The Contra Costa Times reported that high school students demonstrated "violently" following the devastating news of the disappearance of their libraries and school programs. Many of the students' signs read, "You cut our budget, we cut classes." It was reported that many students then took their anger out by stomping on parked cars and looted a nearby store.

The Richmond Police Chief stated that he sent his officers with video cameras to "identify the looters and to pursue criminal prosecution against those students who committed these crimes." He said, "We simply cannot permit this kind of behavior to continue."

But who will investigate and identify the looters who took off with our public schools? Who will pursue the thieves who have stolen not only all the goods and furnishings in our house, but have destroyed our house by deliberately and methodically dismantling our public schools and hospitals and other publicly owned institutions and state resources? Who will look for the criminals who have stolen from our community's past and our future?

Acknowledgements : Many thanks to Peter Hudis, News & Letters Committee, Chicago, and Chris Ford, London Corresponding Committee, News and Letters, for permission to reprint Htun Lin's article. Chris Ford is also on the editorial board of, The Hobgoblin: A Journal of Marxist Humanism , see

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