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USA: Shutdown for the racist border wall 

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Since December 22, 800,000 US government employees have not received their pay cheques. Just over half have had to continue working without wages, effectively performing forced labor. The others are on enforced leave. This budget freeze is already in its sixth week, a historic record. As a result, millions of Americans who depend on the federal social safety net, are also experiencing increasing misery.

The shutdown is the result of a standoff between the House of Representatives and the US Administration. It pits Trump against Nancy Pelosi, Democrat majority leader of the House of Representatives and Chuck Shumer, Democrat minority leader in the Senate.

A government shutdown is not in itself unusual. A sixteen-day one occurred in October 2013, under Barack Obama. The Trump administration has already seen a shorter one in January last year. Such conflicts are part and parcel of the political gymnastics that the US constitution allows for, thanks to its “separation of powers”. It usually happens when the House of Representatives, which has to approve the administration's annual budget, is in the hands of one party and the presidency is in the hands of its opponents.

Since the Democrats regained control of the House in November, they have sought to obstruct Trump’s "prestige project", the $5 billion Mexican border wall, and set out to substitute their own spending priorities for it. Usually, after huffing and puffing on all sides, a compromise allowing new government borrowing, is struck, as occurred over "Obamacare", whose abolition was another Trump election flagship policy.

The severity and length of this crisis indicates the deep polarisation of US society. On the one hand, Trump needs to pander to the hostility of his social base towards migrants, whom he blames for the social ills and economic decline of “old" industrial areas. On the other, the Democrats have to talk radical in order to reflect the anger of the various communities and sections of the working class coming under the hammer of Trump and state level Republicans.

The 800,000 now going without wages are a quarter of all federal employees. They include those running the already devastated social services sector. Even guards in federal prisons are working without pay. However, border guards and FBI agents are specifically excluded from the shutdown.

As well as federal employees, thousands of subcontractors working for the public sector, as well as many self-employed people in the civil service, are affected so that, in total, millions of wage earners have had their wages cut. Small businesses that serve federal workers are also hard hit. Though Trump has introduced an emergency bill that promises back pay for direct federal employees, many of the other workers suffering “collateral damage” will not be reimbursed after the "shutdown" ends. In effect they will suffer a major pay cut for 2019.

Meanwhile, the effects on the lives of these workers has begun to hit the media, with reports of their difficulties in meeting utility bills, paying mortgages and rents, some even being being forced to sell their cars, or anything else they can raise money from.

Some higher skilled professions, such as air traffic controllers, have filed a lawsuit demanding that their wages be refunded. But apart from these professional groups, there has, as yet, been hardly any direct resistance from the employees against the shutdown. The American Federation of Federal Employees has engaged in no nationwide defensive actions beyond pickets and small protests. Instead, they left to watch the Pelosi-Trump poker game, at the expense of the employees. But the ongoing wave of strikes by teachers in California, following those in the Midwest, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Oklahoma, shows what can be done where a militant rank and file organise and gain solidarity from other sectors of labor.
Trump’s racist hunt against immigrants.

The shut down hinges on Trump’s main campaign promise to “build that wall”. It is the symbolic appeal to his social base, those middle class and working class people that he fooled into thinking their very real economic and social problems were the result of Latin American and Muslim immigrants and US trade rivals like China or Germany. The wall, he claims, is necessary to stop an “invasion” by drug dealers, child traffickers, terrorists and carriers of disease. You name it; immigrants are to blame for it.

The Democrats are right to oppose Trump's racist prestige project, and likewise any "compromise" which envisages a cheaper steel fence instead of a wall. But this does not mean that the Democrats reject racist immigration policy per se. Democrats in both houses voted for the financing of the so-called "ICE" (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) deportation camps, in which children are imprisoned, as they did the record level (over 3 million) deportations to Central America during Obama's term of office. Even the self-proclaimed socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, though she is on record as wanting to abolish ICE, voted funds for it.

As a “bribe” for the $5 billion wall, Trump has offered to regularise the temporary stop on deporting the “Dreamers”. This was the Obama project, under which several hundred thousand younger migrants were guaranteed citizenship, linked to their “success” in school. This was a typical Democrat half-hearted measure. If the required education targets were not met, then the right of residence was withdrawn and deportation followed. Clearly, the Democrats are no real defenders of the rights of immigrants, nor of the black, brown, first nation and other minority citizens of this country built by immigration.

The real issue is a trial of strength with Trump’s White House by the Democrats. They see a golden opportunity to block Trump’s legislative programme and even create conditions for an impeachment procedure. The administration is already beleaguered enough through forced and unforced resignations of top officials. Only the main agents of finance capital, Finance Minister Mnuchin, Trade Minister Ross and Education Minister De Vos have kept their jobs. Meanwhile, the investigations into Russia's activities and Trump’s businesses have filled many filing cabinets.

What to do?
The immigration issue is central at the memonet not just because Trump has made it so but because of a global crisis caused by capitalism and imperialism. Thousands of migrants have marched to the Mexico-Texan border. They are being detained by the border police, tear gassed and threatened with internment. Tens of thousands, many of them children, are already in US deportation camps.

The Democrats' congressional manoeuvres do not address this problem. Nor have the US trade unions done anything serious to mobilise the workers' movement to stand up for their class brothers and sisters. If they did so, this would be a major step forward to fight the racism of Trump and his white supremacist followers.

It can now be seen how Trump’s racism hits both federal employees and those millions who depend on federal services whose funding the president would like to slash. This shows that solidarity is urgently needed between all sections of the working class and would be migrants. A lead should be given by the US left, such as the Democratic Socialists, now 54,000 strong, as well as far left groups like Socialist Alternative and the International Socialists. So, too, should those like Bernie Sanders who were elected on the Democrat ticket but call themselves socialists.

Trump has threatened to declare a state of emergency to get his funds without congressional approval. This would provoke a major constitutional crisis for the US, which probably explains his characteristic bluster followed by hesitation. Already there are signs that Republicans are divided over the length of the shutdown. However, when the enemies of the working class are divided it is a good time to hit them hard. All the issues and fronts of struggle would benefit from this.

With the teachers in struggle across the nation, with the millions of public employees in states and communities champing at the bit over falling wages and slashed state budgets, with recently revived black and women’s movements, the US working class should show its strength and demand an end to the shutdown and the cancellation of the wall. The left should also raise the call for open borders and at the same time massive development aid with no strings to the poverty stricken and exploited countries of Central America.

But, for such policies, US workers and young activists need to shed their illusions in the Democrats, including those of the younger “left" or “socialist” variety. Instead of the alternative party of Wall Street, they need to fight to build a new party of labor, a workers' and socialist party, to fight for our class and for all those suffering oppression and exclusion.