It began with the so-called controversy over the implementation of "Obamacare", which is a Fascist attempt at Progressive Politics [link] and ends with the 2013 USA Federal Shutdown, against the People, with a rump for the Military contractors and freedom for private enterprise [link]. This sequence of events is orchestrated by a private interest which is opposed to labor unions and Human Rights, and, in fact, "Obamacare" has destroyed Labor Union-based healthcare contracts, and the 2013 Shutdown is destroying Labor Union employees in the Federal government!
For more about the perspectives of Labor Unions and the 2013 Shutdown, read the following:
"UNITED STATES: IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE SHUTDOWN CRISIS"
2013-11-01 from ILC International Newsletter No. 149 (518 Old Series):
Three questions to Alan Benjamin, national organizer of Socialist Organizer -
During a forum organized by the CCI (International Communist Current of the Parti ouvrier indépendant, or POI), French section of the Fourth International, Alan Benjamin addressed a series of questions from militants and workers concerning the United States in the aftermath of the temporary end to the government shutdown. "On October 1st, 800,000 civil servants of the federal government were laid off [this is what is called a 'shutdown'] after the refusal of the Republicans to vote the budget, causing the closing of a whole series of 'non-essential' State services. Numerous healthcare centres and social assistance services were closed. This is yet another demonstration of the profound political crisis that the country is undergoing. After two weeks of shutdown, despite the insistence of the Republican right-wing Tea Party, the decision was taken by the Republican leaders to make a deal with Obama, because the Congress was going to have to raise the U.S. debt ceiling on October 18th, so that the country could continue to be able to pay for the servicing of their debt. All of the banks, the international markets and the 'Special G-8' meeting said, "That's enough'". Benjamin went back and reviewed the roots of this crisis.
QUESTION: The United States is currently undergoing a very profound political crisis. Recently, we have seen Obama's inability to decide on direct intervention in Syria. We have seen the same on the issue of the shutdown. What are the causes?
BENJAMIN: I would first like to emphasize that in the United States itself, the main factor in this crisis is the deep aspiration and movement within the working class to defend its gains, and it is this resistance that has had repercussions all the way up to the recent national AFL-CIO convention. This resistance was expressed most clearly in the Chicago teachers' strike in September 2012. At the height of Obama's re-electon campaign, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka urged the unions to put aside their specific issues and demands to support Obama against the Republicans, to do nothing that might upset Obama's re-election. The teachers said no, we've got our demands, which are the demands of the whole working class, as this is about defending workers' jobs, working conditions, and public services.
The Chicago unified school district wanted to fire teachers, reduce salaries, dismantle the union's collective-bargaining agreement, and close 54 public schools. An attempt was made by the national leadership of the AFT to work out a deal with the City and school district behind the backs of the teachers, to prevent the Chicago teachers' union from negotiating as a union in its own name. But the teachers and their union said no, we have our union, we are going to negotiate ourselves. Assemblies were held every day.
There were other attempts at keeping the strike from happening. The Democratic Party majority in the state congress of Illinois voted a law stating that more than 80% of the teaching corps (and not just those teachers in attendance at a strike-voting general assembly) needed to vote for the strike, in order for the strike to be possible. 98% voted to go out on strike.
The teachers were not just opposing any old mayor; this mayor is Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and right-hand man. They were also opposing the policy of privatizing public education that Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, are pursuing, going even farther than Bush. The teachers went on strike massively, and they organized common actions with the parents and the students.
The strike lasted ten days, and the government decided to give in, because the situation was threatening to spread to other sectors. The teachers scored a victory. Obviously, the attacks continued after the 2012 elections. But the mobilization against the closing of schools has continued, and it has set an example of what can be done to drive back the privatization juggernaut.
QUESTION: This is the context in which the AFL-CIO Convention took place. How was this situation reflected at the convention?
BENJAMIN: The AFL-CIO Convention was held on September 7-11. Working class resistance, despite all the efforts taken by the federation's top leadership to keep it from seeping into the gathering, found its way onto the convention floor. The leadership of the AFL-CIO had met with Obama beforehand, and had given him assurances: the healthcare question -- that is the issue of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or "Obamacare" -- would not be discussed, nor would the question of U.S. intervention in Syria (the delegates were meeting at the very moment Obama had declared that U.S. intervention would begin on September 9), and nor would there be any questioning of Obama's and the U.S. Senate's proposed immigration bill -- in other words, there would be no discussion of many of the fundamental questions facing the U.S. labor movement.
Working people have been told that what marked the "success" of Obama's first term was the adoption of the ACA -- i.e., his reform of the healthcare system. For his second term, it was to be the reform of U.S. immigration policy. There are currently an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. According to the proposed reform adopted by the Senate, with Obama's full approval, a "path to citizenship" is to be offered to those undocumented workers able to reach the finish line after a 13-year obstacle course full of near-insurmountable hurdles; estimates are that only between 2 million and 3 million people, at most, would actually obtain their citizenship papers under this proposal.
But in exchange for this "path to citizenship" -- and here is where the unacceptable trade-off kicks in -- more than $46 billion more are to be spent on closing and militarizing the borders. Every new undocumented immigrant, henceforth, will be immediately sent back to where they came from. Any employer hiring undocumented workers will pay a severe fine or be closed down. Employment agencies will be put under military control. Guest workers with second-class status and virtually no rights will continue to be brought in to meet the bosses' employment needs. And there is more.
And the leadership of the AFL-CIO accepted this anti-worker plan. But, among the rank-and-file in the unions, more and more voices have been raised to say, "We don't accept this plan. We are one single working class. We must hold to the decisions taken at our 1999 AFL-CIO convention: "amnesty/legalization for all undocumented immigrants, equal rights for all, no employer sanctions, no guest worker programs!"
The question of immigration reform was not settled at the convention because of a series of bureaucratic maneuvers by the top leadership, but the battle has begun. Even delegates who voted for the leadership's purposely vague resolution presented arguments from the floor opposing the proposed Senate immigration bill, which the AFL-CIO leadership has supported.
But by far the biggest expression of resistance at the convention took place in relation to the issue of Obama's healthcare plan -- a plan that literally decimates the trade union's collectively bargained healthcare plans. Trumka had made it clear that there was to be no discussion of this question; there was not even a resolution on the subject from the convention's resolutions committee regarding healthcare. But the delegates, including many union presidents, refused to be silenced on this vital question, asserting that this was their convention.
At first, many workers and union members had not clearly understood what the effects of the ACA would be. The ACA means that each and every citizen must pay buy their own private healthcare insurance, or otherwise pay a hefty fine. In fact, in the name of helping the poorest, a supplementary tax is to be added to the best-reimbursed insurance plans (e.g., for glasses and dental care, etc.), often referred to as the "Cadillac plans" -- most of them union plans.
With the ACA, all the unions' health insurance plans can be placed by the employers on a virtual marketplace in the form of "exchanges" -- which would devalue the union plans enormously and force union members to pay thousands and thousands of dollars in higher premiums and copays for surgery or medical prescriptions. In fact, it is the negation of all the unions' collectively bargained healthcare plans. The ACA is a declaration of war against the trade unions which, for years, have negotiated very small wage increases for the sake of keeping and, if possible, improving their healthcare coverage. This question has been at the center of the whole of the class struggle throughout this latest period. Thus there was a revolt at the convention. Some of the delegates even declared, Trumka, you have betrayed us. You lied to us. You are responsible for this situation.
It is important to remember that at the last AFL-CIO Convention in 1999, a resolution was adopted in support of a system that is called "Single Payer" -- i.e., a universal healthcare system that removes the private insurance companies from the healthcare equation.
In light of the floor revolt at this recent convention, the National Executive Council of the the AFL-CIO was immediately convened at the end of the session and met till 3 o'clock a.m., together with the resolutions committee, to come up with a resolution to be submitted to the delegates. The next day, the leadership reaffirmed in this new resolution that the overall goal of the AFL-CIO remains a "Single Payer" healthcare system, all the while ensuring Obama of its support to the ACA - but pegging such support to eight essential conditions, including amending the plan to remove any taxes on the unions' insurance plans and insisting that the unions' Taft-Hartley plans not be placed on the exchanges. Obama immediately answered: "Out of the question" to all eight conditions.
Today, there are 44 AFL-CIO state federations that have taken a position in support of "Single Payer. Many have joined up with the Labor Campaign for Single Payer to educate and mobilize the labor movement in support of this plan. In my opinion, it is on this question of healthcare that the fight for the independence of the trade union movement will advance the furthest and open the question of labor's having to break with Obama and the Democrats to ensure the preservation of workers' rights and gains.
There is another important question that came up at the convention, though its most egregious manifestation was resolved, at least for now, prior to the convention itself.
At its National Executive Council meeting on August 8-10, Trumka proposed to essentially open the union federation to civil society -- not only to collaborate with the community organizations and NGOs but to actually make it possible for NGOs to become dues-paying members of the union, with representatives at all levels of the union leadership. This proposal was made in the name of "building a broader coalition" -- given that "the old traditional system" isn't working anymore and that it is necessary to "find new allies," open the trade union movement, and find new ways of fighting back.
Among the organizations targeted and invited into this new construct were the environmentalist Sierra Club (whose financing comes in part from big multinationals), the National Council of La Raza, a conservative Latino organization tied to the Democratic Party, the NAACP and five other such cross-class organizations. Many were being offered seats on the top AFL-CIO leadership body. There was an internal fray within the National Executive Council, and the issue was resolved, at least for now, before the convention.
The final resolution that was adopted rejected the proposal from Trumka. After significant discussion and amendments, the adopted resolution stated that it was necessary to maintain and deepen the "collaboration" and partnering with all the community organizations in a united front against the cuts and other corporate attacks -- but not to bring in the NGOs and community organizations as dues-paying members with representatives on the union federation's leadership bodies.
QUESTION: And on the issue of military intervention in Syria, how did things go?
Among those who were invited to address the convention proceedings there was a Black pastor, the Rev. James Lawson, a veteran of the Freedom Ride of the 1960s who had taken part in Martin Luther King's marches. He spoke out against the war. He said that Martin Luther King had taught us that the biggest warmonger in the world was our own government. Today, he continued, "We are being asked to go to Syria. Who is going to die in Syria but the people like me, who are Black, and people like you who are here, the workers?"
He was applauded with roaring cheers and a standing ovation. That reaction from the delegates was tantamount to a vote; it showed that the ranks of the trade union movement are opposed to the threat of war and U.S. interventionist policies.