2012-06-08 "Editorial: For Independent Political Representation" from "Socialist Organizer" newspaper
More than one year ago, huge mass mobilizations and a three-week occupation of the state Capitol — led by the unions and the youth — shook the state of Wisconsin and the entire nation. Shortly after, a powerful referendum struggle against union-busting swept Ohio. This movement then continued with the seven-month struggle of the Longshore workers in Longview, Wash.
Then came the emergence of the Occupy movement nationwide — highlighted by two Occupy-led West Coast port shutdowns on November 2 and December 12, 2011, in solidarity with the Longview workers — and the massive protest actions against the cuts in public education and social services in California and other states across the country. Wisconsin and Ohio, in particular, revealed the huge anger from below against the heightened corporate attacks against working people. In all these struggles, workers, students, and community activists took to the streets and posed the urgent need for an independent, coordinated working-class fightback — organized by the unions and their community allies — against all cuts and concessions.
But despite the huge victory in Ohio and the partial victory in Longview, the labor movement — particularly the government workers’ unions — is continuing to take it on the chin, hammered by a relentless corporate offensive implemented by President Obama and the Democrats.
Organizing a fightback that can stop and reverse the bosses’ attacks on our jobs, rights, and communities will require that the trade union movement assert its independence in relation to the Democrats. This is THE central political question facing working people in this country today.
The labor movement should not be supporting Obama and the Democrats, even under the guise of stopping the right-wing Republican candidates. The past three years have made it abundantly clear that the Democrats and Republicans are simply two wings of the same corporate party.
There are countless examples to illustrate this point [see the March-April issue of The Organizer for a full report]. Here is just one more example.
Obama’s JOBS Act Is About Deregulation, Not Job Creation -
On April 5, 2012, President Obama signed his highly trumpeted JOBS Act into law. The Act — the brainchild of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a 27- member group appointed by the president that includes 19 top corporate CEOs — is expected to create 2 million jobs, at best, over the next three years. This won’t even provide enough jobs for the youth entering the job market over this period. And they will be non-union, precarious jobs, without benefits. [For more on Obama's so-called jobs program, see accompanying article on the "Detroit Recovery" in this issue.]
The Huffington Post (April 5) acknowledged as much: “[T]he JOBS Act is unlikely to deliver much in the way of job growth, according to economists and consumer advocates, who warn that the bill opens the door to a new wave of conflicts of interest and possible financial fraud on Wall Street. … In practice, it will be a great boon for venture capitalists, large tech companies and Wall Street banks.”
But this is not the worst part. The labor movement gave its seal of approval to the president’s council, thus demobilizing the entire fight for the 15 million to 20 million new jobs that the AFL-CIO had been demanding before being co-opted into this corporate anti-jobs committee.
Indeed. When he formed his 27-seat jobs council in February 2011, Obama awarded two of the slots to labor unions. One of these was filled by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who joined forces with the heads of GE, Intel, Citigroup, Xerox, Boeing and American Express, among others, to “find a solution” to the most pressing issue facing working people in this country — that is, the lack of jobs.
In January 2012, the council published its report. One week later, Obama stumped for its proposals during his State of the Union address. “Most new jobs are created in start- ups and small businesses,” Obama said. “So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow.”
“Tear down regulations” is always music to Wall Street’s ears. The jobs council also recommended lowering the corporate tax rate and easing federal regulations across the board. The Democratic president, once again, had done Wall Street’s bidding, despite the fact that such recommendations would clearly lead to more corporate and banking fraud, and more attacks on union and workers’ rights.
True enough, the unions were angry over the direction taken by the jobs council. What else did they expect from the major corporate CEOs? Trumka issued a few critical statements along the way and even boycotted the January meeting where Obama presented his council’s recommendations. But this did nothing to alter the president’s policy recommendations. Not a comma was changed. Big Business, with a Democratic president comfortably stuffed in its pocket, was more than happy to give a few seats at their table to the labor movement. But that’s about it.
After the JOBS Act was passed by Congress, Trumka issued an even angrier statement, “This is a vote against investors in the real economy and for Wall Street speculators,” he said. “When the next bubble bursts, Americans will know who to blame.”
But by this time the movement that had been growing nationwide to demand jobs had been taken off the streets by the labor officialdom. The rousing calls by union officials for 15 million jobs or more were silenced so as not to embarrass the president. The call by Trumka for labor to affirm its political independence in relation to the bosses and the politicians was not to be heard again.
The corporate age-old strategy of co-optation — fully accepted by Trumka and the AFL-CIO leadership — had worked. No surprise: Labor forfeited its independence, and it got screwed.
Huge Attacks Against Big Three “Entitlements” Coming Down the Pike -
Throughout the year 2011, Wall Street and the banksters pushed hard for a Grand Bargain between Democrats and Republicans to do something that is unprecedented — that is, “reform” the major “entitlement” programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Wall Street speculators did not hide their deep desire to get their fingers on trillions of dollars that have hitherto slipped their grasp in order to place these funds in the various financial markets and make the kind of megabucks they had grown accustomed to.
Many unionists and activists had expected that all hell would break loose in 2011 around this issue of drastic cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The debate over reforming “entitlements” dominated the political debate most of the year. Those controlling the commanding heights of the economy — whose views were presented daily in the financial press — made it crystal clear that they need these “reforms” badly. Obama pulled out all the stops and made all the concessions asked of him to reach the Grand Bargain with House Majority Leader John Boehner and the Republicans, but the crisis inside the Republican Party — resulting from the Tea Party wing’s intransigence against accepting any new taxes, however limited — made it such that the ruling class had no choice but to postpone implementation of this plan till after the 2012 presidential election.
But this is just a short postponement. No sooner will this election be over than all the issues put on the back burner will resurface with a vengeance. There will be no honeymoon, whoever is elected. Obama and Wall Street, in fact, are already paving the way to move on this issue quickly following the November election.
When he addressed the Associated Press on April 3, Obama reiterated his support for the effort to cut “entitlements,” stating, “I’ve got some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress who are prepared to make significant changes to entitlements that go against their political interests, and who said they were willing to do it.”
Wall Street has also re-launched its campaign to go after the “entitlements” with the publication on April 24 in the Wall Street Journal of an article titled, “Stress Rises on Social Security — Report Says Program Will Exhaust Reserves Three Years Earlier Than Expected.” The article, based on a gigantic hoax, warned that Social Security and Medicare would go bust in the foreseeable future unless drastic cuts in benefits are adopted.
Everything points to heightened attacks on working people in the period immediately following the elections.
Need for National Labor-Community Conference for Independent Political Action -
More than ever it is necessary for the unions to break with the Democrats and build their own political party — a Labor Party, based on the unions and involving all the communities of the oppressed.
The major task in the period ahead is to help workers, youth, Blacks, Latinos — the entire working-class majority — take some necessary steps forward to build their own independent political representation.
The struggles in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Longview, among others, all underscore the deep aspiration of the working-class majority to defend and advance their class interests in opposition to the capitalists, who, through the two political parties they control (Democratic and Republican parties), are fighting tooth and nail to promote their interests as a class.
There can be no solutions to the crisis facing working people that are no rooted in the fundamental understanding of class struggle, of capitalist society structured around two fundamental social classes with diametrically opposed interests. All middle-class and “populist” solutions such as those offered by the leading forces in Occupy — which pose the struggle in terms of the fight against a plutocracy (the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent) — or by groups such as MoveOn.org — who speak of a fight between “progressives” and “conservatives” — are an obstacle to defending and advancing the interests of working people.
There is a mounting contradiction that needs to be addressed and resolved — sooner than later: The U.S. working class is being asked by the top leadership of the labor movement to vote for Obama, a candidate almost everyone knows will continue to implement the bosses’ ruthless and deadly agenda against all the exploited and oppressed people — both at home and abroad.
The arguments to justify this call to support Obama are well known: The coming election isn’t so much about Obama and his policies; what’s at stake here is the need to stop the rabid right wing (Romney, egged on by Santorum, Gingrich and their ilk) in their tracks.
True, no one wants to see any of these Neanderthal right-wingers in the White House or in Congress, but isn’t it precisely the continued subordination by the labor movement and the organizations of the oppressed to the Democratic Party that continues to lead us into impasses such as this one today, where workers are being asked to choose which of two poisons it should take in November?
Isn’t it time that we reject the poison pills and move on a truly independent course?
Isn’t it necessary in this election year to open the broadest discussion in the workers’ movement about what steps are needed to move forward to defend the interests of working people and to preserve the independence of the labor movement?
Isn’t it necessary to convene as soon as possible a broadly endorsed National Labor- Community Conference where we can discuss all these difficult questions and begin to chart some steps forward to build our own independent political action?
The Editorial Board of The Organizer newspaper believes the time has come to organize such a conference and will make every effort to promote the necessary steps in the weeks and months to come to make this objective a reality.