By Jon Roe
Blame for the current economic crisis has been leveled at both the financial institutions who lent money to underqualified borrowers and people who accepted and sought those loans in the first place. Communist Party of Canada leader Miguel Figueroa believes that the crisis is in no way the fault of the working class.
“We didn’t cause this crisis and we don’t think it’s important for the working class and ordinary people in this country to pay for this crisis,” he said on the phone from Saskatoon.
“You have to remember that the banks and financial institutions have been going out of their way to, on one hand, encourage continued and even increased consumption . . . and then, at the same time, to increase credit limits,” he continued. “My credit card company phones me up almost once a month urging me to increase my credit limit.”
Figueroa was in Calgary on March 19 at the Central Library downtown to speak about the impact, consequences and nature of the economic crisis. He said it was a crisis of the neoliberal policies of free trade, privatization and the undermining of labour and environmental standards.
“It’s a worship of the market and the retreat of the state [and] the role of state intervention in the economy,” said Figueroa. “[These policies have] aggravated and deepened the crisis, but the crisis itself is in many respects a classical crisis of the cyclical pattern of capitalism, the boom and bust character of capitalism.”
He explained that while the real wages of working people have declined in the last two decades, neoliberal policies have been very successful at centralizing capital in the hands of the largest corporations and banks.
“Most people who have lines of credit are not using that to buy a cottage in the country or luxury goods,” he said. “Many people are using their credit cards to put food on the table. I don’t think it’s fair to say we’re all to blame for this circumstance.”
Figueroa advocated for substantive employment insurance reform, which he said had been systematically eroded for two decades. They would like to see insurance for the full duration of unemployment, the removal of the two-week waiting period and an increased rate of coverage.
He also recommended an increase of the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour to ensure people stay above the official level of poverty.
“Where wealth is produced, by the bucket loads– let’s take the question of energy, the oil and gas industry, our party is for the nationalization of oil and gas in this country– use those resources, not to go into the coffers of private corporations [but] to go into general revenue so that they can be used to do precisely those measures,” Figueroa said. “We think the solution is very clearly to put people before corporate greed.”
Figueroa finds the case of ailing insurance giant AIG interesting. The American company was bailed out by $180 billion of taxpayer money and is currently the subject of Congressional hearings after handing out $165 million in executive bonuses.
“The answer given by [Federal reserve chairman] Ben Bernanke in the hearings to the question of why this was done was very simple,” said Figueroa. “He said, ‘Well, AIG is just too important, too central to the American economy to allow it to fail.’ But that begs the question, if these monopolies . . . are so central to the welfare of the society, of the entire country, is it appropriate that they should be privately controlled and administered for a very select few who are the primary beneficiaries of that? Or should it in fact be socially owned?”
He added that the answer is not to tinker with a broken system, but systematic and fundamental change.
“We think that answer’s socialism.”