domingo, 26 de septiembre de 2010

The Federal Deficit and Obama's Response

The federal stimulus program has produced a huge federal deficit. The gigantic sums needed to bail out the banks, instead of working people, have to come from somewhere -- and that somewhere is the hides of the workers themselves.

One of the main rallying slogans of the right-wing Tea Party movement has been the call to fight Obama's huge federal deficit, which they say, will have to be shouldered by taxpayers and passed on as a debt to their children and grandchildren.

As always with these right-wing populists, there is more than a grain of truth to what they are saying -- though in their mouths it is nothing but pure demagogy. It's part of a scare tactic aimed at turning the American people away from any "Big Government" expenditures such as public schools, public hospitals, public transportation, welfare, health care for the poor, Medicare, you name it. Everything, of course, but the biggest Big Government expenditure of them all -- that is, the government's military budget, now annually at over $700 billion.

The Tea Party movement carefully ignores the fact that Bush was one of the presidents who increased the federal debt to levels unknown in the recent past -- mainly because of the skyrocketing military expenses. They also conveniently ignore the fact that the bank bailouts, begun under Bush and the Republicans, were supported overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans, including by Sarah Palin and her Tea Party partners.

The response to this deficit/debt crisis by the U.S. ruling class has been to create a Federal Deficit Reduction Committee. Obama, as part of his trademark pattern of governing "across the aisle" with the Republicans, called upon Republican Senator Alan Simpson from Wyoming, a strong opponent of public services and public enterprises, to co-chair this bipartisan committee.

Not surprisingly, the committee has met and decided that it will be necessary to "reform" the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid systems in the United States to address the "growing financial viability" of these systems.

By "reform," the Obama-appointed committee means increasing the minimum retirement age of Americans and gutting the Medicare and Medicaid programs -- with larger co-payments and fewer payments and benefits.

True, Obama has called for saving Social Security in response to the Republicans and the Tea Party spokespersons. True, Obama says he is against the drive by the Republicans to "privatize" Social Security. But Obama's "reforms" are moving Social Security down the gradual path of privatization. The real fear is that Obama will do what Bush could not do -- that is, weaken Social Security in spite of what the people want.

Obama's call to defend Social Security sounds hollow in the ears of working people, who have seen Alan Simpson in action and who know that Obama is just the soft cop in the corporate game to undo Social Security. Working people are angry and want to see their retirement and their Medicare plans preserved. "Hands Off Our Social Security!" is a demand that has resonated loudly nationwide.

Obama is being attacked from all sides as he goes after Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans and Tea Party activists are attacking him relentlessly, accusing him of being a "socialist" who wants to nationalize every industry in the country and who is sticking to his Big Government agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It seems that no matter how far Obama moves to the right under the pressure from the Republicans and the Tea Party, he will never placate the country's right wing. They want to wring his neck, and they want it badly ... precisely because he was elected with a huge mandate for implement real, progressive change. For the Tea Party proto-fascists, the conditions under which Obama was elected are unacceptable and have to be reversed.

What About Obama's Tax Policies?

In his speech in Columbus, Trumka railed at the Republicans for opposing any taxation policies that would favor working people. He is not wrong. But what about the Democrats?

For months now, the AFL-CIO leadership has pointed out that the best way to reduce the federal deficit is to create a massive public works program to put 15 million people back to work and to get the productive economy back up and running, thereby generating a strong tax base once again. This is absolutely correct. The labor federation has also called upon Obama to increase the taxes on the super-rich by, at the very least, returning to the tax rates of the early 1990s.

But Obama has rejected this course. On the tax front, he is refusing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the super-wealthy, but he is in favor of major corporate tax cuts in the name of spurring the economic recovery. He is also resisting all calls to increase the taxes on those Americans making over $250,000 per year.

Obama refuses to tax the rich, bending to the corporations, to the corporate press and to Tea Party movement, all of whom insist that taxing the rich is un-American and would kill any possible economic recovery. But working people across this country are not rubes; they know that tax cuts for the wealthy and trickle down economic policies haven't worked and will never work.

Is Obama Really Delivering Health Care to Working People?

Many of the "liberal" sectors of the mainstream media such as the New York Times have lauded many of Obama's -- and Nancy Pelosi's -- achievements. At the top of this list, in addition to the fiscal stimulus plan and the Financial Stability Bill, is the Obama health-care reform plan.

Little by little, the harsh realities of this Obama plan are beginning to emerge in the media. [See sidebar article.]

Liberals can point to the fact that many of the poorest sectors of society, mainly Black and Latinos, will now get health care. This is not insignificant. But who is paying the cost of this expansion of health-care coverage to the estimated 12 million low-income people? It's not the private insurance companies. It's not the super-rich, whose tax rates have been lowered drastically over the past 30 years. It's not the Wall Street tycoons. No. It's the working-class majority that is being asked to pay ... so that the pockets of the insurance companies can be lined even further.

The tragic outcome of this new law is that it pits predominantly white working-class Americans against the mainly Black and Latino recipients of the health-care plan, thus dividing the working class and preventing a united fightback for universal health-care rights.

Taking these insurance companies out of the health-care equation would have permitted the financing of a Medicare for All, single-payer health-care system that would not have pitted the "middle class" against the lowest strata in society. It would have created solidarity among working people and provided free health-care on demand. But this would have required breaking with a private industry that is one of the major funders of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

In this sense, it is instructive to look at the results of the July 2010 referendum that was placed on the Missouri ballot by the Tea Party movement. In this referendum 70% of the state's voters, in a vote marked by an unusually high turnout, rejected the Obama health-care plan that would force them to buy health care or else pay a major fine to the government.

Clearly, with an economy still in shambles, with an extremely high Missouri unemployment rate (officially 13%, much higher than the national average -- because of the transfer of much of the state's industrial base to Mexico or China), and with high home foreclosure and eviction rates, the state's voters felt that they should not be forced by the government to pay out of pocket for what would likely be inadequate health-care coverage to begin with. They had a higher priority: sheer survival.

As a result of the failure by the Obama administration to adopt a single-payer system, or even a public option, the working-class majority was easy prey for the right-wing Tea Party movement, which demagogically sought to capitalize on the voters' anger over a government-imposed individual mandate to buy health-care from a private insurance company. Working people simply did not have the money to do this. In addition, the voters understood that they would get insufficient coverage and high premiums, along with higher co-pays, any time they needed to visit a doctor or buy medicine.

The Democratic Party liberals immediately decried the so-called "right-wing turn of the Missouri voters," refusing to acknowledge their own responsibility in creating the situation that pushed the "middle class" voters in the state to reject Obama's plan. By refusing to break with the private health-care insurance companies, by refusing to enact a program that would provide all citizens of the country with free health care on demand (single-payer) -- a program that had the support of the large majority of the population -- Obama, Pelosi and the Democrats had paved the way for their own demise.

And Missouri is just one of 18 states where the Tea Party has placed a similar referendum on the ballot.

What About Obama's Promise to Pass EFCA?

Another failed promise by Obama that has given the Republicans and the Tea Party movement a campaign to mobilize around involves the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

For months, the trade-union leadership campaigned energetically for Obama because of his promise to enact EFCA -- an act that would give the trade unions far greater freedom to organize new members. In the United States, the trade unions have the right to organize a union of their choice only on paper. In reality, because of the way the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been gradually undermined over many decades, it is almost impossible for workers to organize into a union of their choice. Bosses can fire workers in union organizing drives almost at will.

Obama promised to level the playing field so that unions could finally have the right to organize. Union members who mobilized for his election across the country expected that Obama's very first action as president would be to introduce and campaign for EFCA.

This didn't happen. A few months into office, Obama's top economic adviser, Larry Summers, announced that enacting EFCA would be a major obstacle to economic recovery. Soon other Obama administration officials joined the chorus of anti-EFCA right-wingers.

Then came a major blow to EFCA from within the trade union movement. Andy Stern, then president of SEIU, announced that EFCA had to be altered if there was to be any chance of getting it adopted. He said that the main provision in EFCA -- in fact, its very heart and soul -- had to be gutted. Stern was referring to the "card check" provision in EFCA that would allow a majority of workers who sign a card requesting to join a union to thereby have the right to organize and have a first collective-bargaining agreement.

Soon after, the AFL-CIO followed suit, announcing that it would favor passage of an EFCA without card check -- a reversal of its previous positions.

Before long, the mainstream press pronounced that EFCA was dead, and that even a heavily emasculated EFCA as proposed by Andy Stern would not likely see the light of day.

What is surprising in this mid-term election is that few, if any, Democrats running for office even mention passage of EFCA. They know that Obama, as the true spokesperson of corporate America, is not about to deliver EFCA -- so why make promises that are likely to ring false to the electorate?

But this isn't all. The failure to enact EFCA has created a void that the Tea Party activists are seeking to capitalize on. In 12 states nationwide, Tea Party members have placed on the November 2010 state ballots referenda that would ban card-check provisions where they exist and render it even more difficult to organize new members into unions.

The old axiom holds true: Politics abhors a vacuum. In the face of non-action for working people, the moneyed, corporate right will fill the void.

Resistance Widespread Throughout the Labor Movement

The will to resist the corporate onslaught and to preserve the trade unions as fighting and independent instruments against the bosses has been expressed throughout the 20 months of the Obama administration.

It is not the lack of willingness to fight back by labor's ranks that explains the current dismal situation facing working people. The problem is the union leadership's subordination to the Democratic Party. The problem is the officialdom's continued refusal to break with the Democrats and organize the fightback against their pro-corporate policies.

The creation of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health Care only six weeks after the election of Obama was the first expression of this will to utilize the unions as instruments of struggle. More than 150 trade union leaders and activists gathered in St. Louis and launched a campaign that ultimately resulted, after a protracted nine-month struggle, in an historic vote by the AFL-CIO national convention in September 2009 to support single-payer -- though the labor officialdom would later turn their backs on this convention mandate.

Other signs of resistance include the following:

- The return of UNITE HERE to the AFL-CIO and the various militant, grassroots organizing and contract campaigns by the union's hotel workers' division in particular;

- The August 28, 2010, Jobs, Peace and Justice rally of 5,000 people in Detroit, co-sponsored by the UAW and Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH. One of the main demands of the demonstration was the "immediate end to the U.S. wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, to save lifes, and the redirecting of all war funds to meet social needs at home."

- The fightback among teacher unionists across the country in opposition to Obama's "Race To The Top" program (a barely veiled effort to bust teacher unions and to promote the privatization of public education), but particularly in Chicago, where a dissident opposition caucus (CORE) won the local union elections in the nation's third-largest public school district.

- The widespread support for the Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign within important sectors of the labor movement, with the endorsement by various local unions and even state labor federations of the WERC-initiated call for the AFL-CIO to organize a Solidarity Day III mobilization in Washington to advance labor's most pressing demands -- beginning with the demand for a massive public works program to put at least 15 million people back to work. Wide sectors of the labor movement took a stand to affirm that labor must take to the streets in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to insist that Obama must live up to his promises and to his call for progressive change.

- The massive opposition at the California Labor Federation convention in San Diego and at the National LCLAA Convention in Las Vegas, both held in August 2010, to the attempts by the federation leadership to get the delegates to go along with the AFL-CIO-Change to Win Memorandum on Immigration (which dovetails with Obama's positions on immigration). The delegates rejected the Obama plan and insisted on reaffirming the federation's adopted position (since the late 1990s) in opposition to "guest-worker" programs, employer sanctions and border security, and in support of amnesty/legalization and full labor rights for all undocumented workers.

- The development within Stern's SEIU of a powerful rank-and-file movement, led by Sal Rosselli, that insisted that the SEIU ranks should not accept the company unionist orientation of Stern and co. This resistance movement has now become the National Union of Healthcare Workers and has galvanized unionists across the country in a David vs. Goliath fight for the heart and soul of what at one time was one of the most militant and progressive unions in the country.

October 2nd One Nation March in Washington

Most of these union sectors in resistance have strongly supported the call for the October 2 One Nation March in Washington, DC, because they want to press Obama to heed the workers' demands and implement the change that working people voted for in November 2008.

Earlier in the year, the AFL-CIO leadership had rejected the call for a Solidarity Day III action, arguing that it would take away funds and energy from their campaigns to elect Democratic Party candidates in November 2010.

In July 2010, however, SEIU Local 1199 and the NAACP issued a call to mobilize on October 2nd to demand jobs, peace and justice. George Gresham, president of Local 1199, explained that a mass action in Washington was now necessary to urge Obama and the Democrats to deliver on their pledge for change, particularly the need for a massive job-creation program.

Momentum soon developed around this One Nation call, with more than 170 organizations endorsing the One Nation call by mid-August. It was so strong that the AFL-CIO leadership could no longer ignore, nor could it keep a distance from, the call for October 2nd. In mid-August, the AFL-CIO decided to support this effort and to mobilize its members across the entire East Coast corridor for the march.

In August and September, the WERC co-conveners issued many statements explaining the significance of the AFL-CIO's endorsement of the October 2nd action, while also insisting on the need for crystal clear demands that give precise content to the call for jobs, peace and justice.

This question of "Which Demands For October 2nd?" is indeed a central question. As expected, the AFL-CIO and the leadership of the One Nation coalition issued a call for the demonstration with no demands -- just with the general themes of jobs, peace and justice. They did not want any independent, fighting demands that would place the demonstrators in contradiction with Obama and with the Democrats.

NAACP President Ben Jealous went so far as to explain on a national organizing conference call that one of the main objectives of One Nation was to build an ongoing coalition that could ensure the re-election of Obama in 2012.

But herein lies the contradiction that was underscored in the most recent statement from the WERC campaign: The AFL-CIO leadership, because of the failure of Obama to budge even slightly on his pro-corporate agenda, was compelled to call upon union members and their community allies to march and rally in the streets of the nation's capital in their own name.

The rank and file -- as well as union officials and union bodies at all levels -- are going to march in Washington on October 2nd because they are angry and want their pressing demands to be met.

The call for October 2nd is being seized upon by working people to express the need for independent demands to build a fightback in defense of workers' interests -- for independent trade unionism.

In this framework, the main sectors of the U.S. antiwar movement decided to organize a "Peace Table" and an antiwar feeder march and contingent on October 2 in Washington that is focused on the call for an immediate end to the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and for bringing the war dollars home now.

Efforts are also under way to organize independent contingents -- or "tables" -- of youth, immigrant rights activists, single-year health-care advocates, and public housing activists.

Opening the Discussion on Need for a Labor Party

Tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of working people will be gathering on October 2nd with banners and picket signs expressing heartfelt class-struggle demands. This is extremely significant, as it points to the contradiction between the sentiments to affirm the independent demands of the labor movement (and hence the independent of the trade unions) and the efforts by the One Nation leadership to attempt to channel this movement into open support for Obama and the Democrats.

But, at the end of the day on October 2nd, the coalition that will capitalize on the sentiment in the streets will be One Nation.

This makes it imperative in these conditions to counterpose the need for an independent political instrument to fight for the demands advocated in the streets on October 2nd -- that is, the need for a Labor Party.

That is why we fully support the latest WERC statement titled, "After October 2, What Next?" This statement reads, in part:

"We [WERC] are dedicated to encouraging working people and their unions to act independently of the Democratic Party so that we can take the first steps toward creating an independent political voice and instrument of our own -- one that is dedicated entirely to the needs of working people. After all, working people are ... tired of voting for Democrats who implement basically the same corporate agenda as the Republicans.

"Working people are looking for alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans. As the unions begin to embrace the full range of demands that correspond to our needs and confront the government with them, workers and their unions will see that the next logical step will be for the unions to lay the foundation for a party of their own -- a Labor Party."

The WERC campaign has announced that it is organizing a conference in the spring of 2011 "to promote this fightback around labor's independent demands and to discuss how best to advance the struggle for a political party of working people, a Labor Party."

We urge our readers and supporters to contact the WERC organizers at if you are interested in attending this conference and promoting this campaign. You can also visit the WERC website at

El que busca la verdad corre el riesgo de encontrarla.Manuel Vicent (1936-?) Escritor español.

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