The Cabinet that Made a Fortune On Workers’ Backs
By Florence Oppen
People That “Made a Fortune”
Setting aside Trump’s playing around with “alternative truths” and things of the kind used to distract workers, something is objectively and empirically very clear: Trump has constituted the wealthiest cabinet ever to run the United States. His cabinet’s worth is estimated around $4.5 billion (at the top are Ross Wilbur and Betsy DeVoss) a sum which “is 60% higher than the aggregate wealth of Barack Obama’s (…) Cabinet, which Forbes estimates to be $2.75 billion” This is without taking into account Trump’s own personal wealth: $3.7 billion.
This government is in fact a pure expression of the American corporate power, which is not afraid to hide its obscene wealth anymore. Obama was the austerity president: austerity for workers and encouraged public restraint for bosses while profits were being recovered on the backs of working people. Trump is the braggy billionaires’ president, where, in his view, workers are supposed to admire and love those who got richer in the aftermath of a traumatic crisis while they got poorer.
“I want people that made a fortune!” Trump stated during his campaign. The billionaire campaigned on the very “simple” idea that making money means being “successful”, capable, smart, etc. Yet, beneath the apparently simple formula of Trump lies hidden the universal mechanism of exploitation of millions of workers. In fact, our society is based on the concealment of the origin of value: money does not come from great minds, actions or decisions. It comes from profits created by the appropriation of a significant portion of the labor of millions of workers, what Marx called surplus-value.
Money is not something already there & up for grabs- for the “smart” and “successful” ones to get. It is created by the cycle of investment of capital, of production, and the consumption where our labor as workers plays the key role of generating the profit. Thus the “secret” to make money, as it becomes clear with Trump’s own case… is to have a large initial amount of capital to invest in that cycle.
For us workers, who do not belong to the “owning” class, our destiny in this system is to work for wagers to make ends meet. Yet at the same time, if we do not work, they do not get rich. So the problem is that as long as the corporate powers rule, even if we work harder than ever, we never make enough to have a decent life. To celebrate the millionaires and billionaires as national heroes, as Trump pretends, is to celebrate the wheel of capitalist production and exploitation that keeps us chained to our current social condition – it is to toast to our own enslavement.
The Truth Behind Trump’s Fortune
Trump, of course, is not going to tell us how he “made” his fortune. He is not going to tell us that in 1974 he inherited $40 million from his father’s business. And of course he is not going to reveal to us that the secret to make money is to “invest” this initial capital in the stock market and live off its profits, and that in our capitalist economy, “if someone were to invest $40 million in a S&P 500 index in August 1974, reinvest all dividends, not cash out and have to pay capital gains, and pay nothing in investment fees, he’d wind up with about $3.4 billion come August 2015.” Oh, surprise! There you have how Trump’s fortune grew from $40 million to $3.7 billion. There is not so much hard work behind his “success”, or rather no work at all, to be fair. There were though several failed investments and a lot of labor violations and suspected tax evasions as many newspaper have reported.
In fact, Trump is not very different than the average boastful, incompetent and despotic boss we all endure. If we look at his own companies, we will get a taste of how he is planning to run this country and treat workers. Trump has a long record of tax evasion, union busting, tyrannical managing practices and corruption. In October 2016, the newspapers revealed that two of Trump’s now-defunct businesses (Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and Trump Mortgage LLC) had been sanctioned 24 times since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage to its workers. Trump argued that he withheld payment from his contractor’s when he wasn’t pleased with their work: “Let’s say that they do a job that’s not good, or a job that they didn’t finish, or a job that was way late. I’ll deduct from their contract, absolutely…That’s what the country should be doing.” In order words, for Trump labor law means peanuts.
This is of course just one of many cases, but what transpires is that Trump as a boss has a record of authoritarian practices. When he was criticized by the president of United Steelworkers Local 1999 on the handling of the Carrier case- when he falsely publicized that he saved the 1,100 jobs at risk of outsourcing while in fact he only kept 800- the President responded with an attack: “Chuck Jones … has done a terrible job representing workers.” We now see this childish tendency is getting reinforced as chief of the the U.S. administration. The firing of the Attorney General Sally Yates during his first 10 days in office is just another example of that fundamentally anti-democratic essence at the core of the owners of capital. “Do as I say or you are fired!” Maybe we should give Trump a taste of his own medicine and show him out!
Now Your Boss Runs Your Country
Having billionaires (DeVoss, Trump, & Wilbur) and CEOs (Tillerson, and almost Puzder) being the direct political managers of our country is the equivalent of having your awful workplace boss being elected President and now controlling the totality of your social and political life, and not just being the dictator of your working conditions and pay. It would be absurd if workers would choose that, but 60 million workers did just that. And it just shows how the rule of exploitation and political oppression of working people is so deeply entrenched in the U.S. today.
This has been possible because the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the AFL-CIO leadership have contributed to the erasure of class consciousness by asserting the aberrant idea that workers and bosses- that is, those who need to sell their labor power to survive, and those who live off the labor of the vast majority of society, are on the same boat, & that they can be part of the same “team” without fundamentally resetting the rules of the game.
Traditionally, corporate power has known better than to throw their wealth and “success” in the face of working people. Power knows that by doing so, it could be perceived as insult to injury and spark a fire. Historically, regardless of which one of the two corporate parties is in office, the U.S. government has in the last instance maintained a system that benefits the economic interests of U.S. multinationals. But for that to work out, the President and Congress must publicly pretend to play a “mediator” role, keeping both the bosses and the unions “in check” – even though we know the key economic policies are decided in meetings behind closed doors with those who own the country. Therefore, any democratic bourgeois government aspires to appear as “fair” and as an “expert” arbiter in the structural conflict between capital and labor to the eyes of working people.
CEOs and billionaires are not supposed to be running the country overtly, with $100 bills falling out their pockets. The role of bourgeois democratic institutions is to conceal their class nature and economic exploitation, so workers can, to some extend, negotiate the terms of exploitation, but they can never “choose” not the be exploited on the first place. They key goal in this configuration is for the money-making machine to work at full capacity for the bosses. But this configuration has slightly changed with Trump.
“I want people that made a fortune!” means in fact “I glorify your exploiters! Those who steal the product of your labor!” But this is heard today by some workers as a rallying cry of the disenfranchised “who made it” through their own labor in the current economy. It is also interpreted as a rebellion against “the establishment,” i.e. the political elite of Washington parliamentarians, political managers, think-tankers, experts, etc. Yet, we know that as soon as Trump begins to implement his policies it will become crystal clear to workers that he is no different than the establishment they rightly reject. They both advocate for the interests of the ruling class of corporate America.
We Don’t Want Billionaires, We Want A Workers Government
Working people in America do not need successful billionaires to better run this country as a big neoliberal corporation. We need a real workers’ government that will set a living wage and housing for all, that will make union affiliation a right and not a privilege, that will nationalize all corporations who fire workers while they still make profits and that damage the environment and put them under workers control, that will nationalize bailed-out banks who are now making revenue unless they return all the public funding they got from our taxes and create a public banking system, that will jail all corporations and billionaires found guilty of tax evasion and expropriate their fortune, and set high taxes to corporations to finance a fully funded quality public education and healthcare for all, and a government that will invest in a plan of public works to renovate our infrastructure and create millions of public jobs.
Working people in America do not need an alt-right, white supremacist, sexist and homophobic government that perpetuates century-old oppressions, increases the discrimination and divisions between workers and thus their competition for resources, and encourages savage raids, deportations and racist police murders that terrorize our communities. We need a workers government that is clearly committed to Women’s, Black, Brown, and LGBTQI liberation, and that will eliminate the material base of all forms of oppression: unpaid domestic labor mostly done by women, prison labor which recreates a new form of slavery, that will enact reparations to the Black community and one that will erase differences in legal status that allow the over-exploitation of undocumented immigrants by giving citizenship and equal rights to all workers in the U.S.
Working people in America do not need to exploit, invade, bomb and oppress other peoples in order to live better. That is a lie. On the contrary, only with uniting with the rest of the working class sectors all over the world, in Mexico, China, El Salvador, Syria, Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and many others, under a common project of bringing workers to power to organize an economy planned for the workers and by the workers, will the fundamental needs of the U.S. working class and the oppressed communities be met. This is why international solidarity, and not narrow minded chauvinism, is important today more than ever.
In order to start fighting for a completely different and new “America”, working people need to revisit the great episodes of working class history, from the 1917 Russian Revolution to the powerful 1934 general strikes of the Teamsters in Minneapolis, the longshoremen in San Francisco, and the textile workers in Toledo, and the 1944-46 wartime strikes, where workers showed their power in action and won key materials gains. In the latter case, they won Social Security, welfare programs, a plan of public jobs, the right to protected collected bargaining, free childcare programs, pensions and health benefits. In the 1917 Russian Revolution, they went even further and managed to take power through democratic worker councils, eliminate exploitation, and established a planned socialist economy. Time has come to start building for that kind of power, to develop independent class politics. and to build real strikes that shut down this country in order to build the material base of our collective liberation. Let’s organize a strike on May 1st and build for a general strike to put down this government!
 “The USA Today report cited one case involving a 1990 project at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, during which New Jersey regulators found that Trump had failed to pay at least 253 subcontractors in full or on time.”