It was an impassioned performance by a cynical politician who offers little but corporate tax incentives and continued austerity. Barack Obama peppered his State of the Union address with up-tempo buzzwords about illusory “progress,” but the president’s substantive message was that he is determined to complete the austerity bargain he struck with the Republicans in 2011. Thus, it is a sign of “progress” that “we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances” – meaning, he will collaborate with the GOP in cutting almost $2 trillion more.
The big cuts will come from those programs that enjoy overwhelming support among Americans. He claims to be with them in spirit while opposing them in practice. “Those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.” His reasoning is identical to the Republicans, who say these programs must be bled, or die.
Obama created the model to gut entitlements through his Simpson/Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission, appointed well before the GOP took control of the House. Now he pretends that the cuts have been forced upon him, but that he will acquiesce in the spirit of compromise. “On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.”
He constructs a phony trade-off for children, the poor and the elderly. “Why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair?” he asks, rhetorically. The cuts must come, but in return Obama will revise the tax code “that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America.”
This is the double-whammy. Austerity in people’s programs is traded for tax breaks for corporations that will, in totally discredited theory, bring back the jobs they had outsourced overseas.But don’t complain, says Obama. “None of us will get 100 percent of what we want.” And most of us will get the shaft.
Obama’s jobs program is almost entirely a corporate tax incentive scheme, to bribe corporations to send home the jobs they sent offshore, where they have also hidden tens of trillions from taxation – a subject not deemed worthy of mention in a national discussion of shared sacrifice and patriotic obligations.
The military-industrial complex will make “America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing,”says the president. Fifteen manufacturing “hubs” will be built around businesses that “partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.” You can bet there are huge corporate subsidies involved, through negative taxation.
Obama will repair America’s infrastructure through a “Fix-It-First” program that nobody has ever heard of before, and has no price tag – which means it doesn’t exist in anything more than rhetorical form. And his “Partnership to Rebuild America” proposal to upgrade private infrastructure – oil and gas pipelines, ports and the power grid – almost certainly involves corporate subsidies, or else why wouldn’t the private sector be repairing its own properties, already?
Those business incentives just keep on coming. All one need to qualify is say the word “jobs” – but don’t you dare say “public works.” The Corporate-Subsidizer-In-Chief says: “Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods.” Obama says he will “partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.” How will that get done? By offering “new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.” Obama can do a passable Al Green, but when it comes to public policy in 2013, he sings only one song: tax schemes for business.And he stole that tune from the GOP.
Obama’s Black boosters will no doubt point to the president’s concern for the “hardest hit” to conclude that he is now open to targeted aid to the those communities that have been most devastated. Not so. He is simply open to aiding corporations under any and all circumstances. His administration failed to spend almost all of $7.6 billion set aside by Congress for a Hardest Hit Fund, to aid communities hurt worst by the housing collapse. Hard-hit people don’t get special attention from this administration; well-off corporations do.
During his 2008 campaign, Obama vowed to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011. He must have thought no one was listening, because he didn’t mention the subject for the next four years. Now, in 2013, he promises to fight for a $9.00 minimum – 50 cents an hour less. And he didn’t even apologize to the nation, Tuesday night, for reneging during his first term.
“Race to the Top,” Obama’s signature program to privatize education through withholding of funds to states that fail to establish an alternative charter system and transform teachers into temporary workers, is set for a great corporate leap forward. States that craft their curriculum to suit corporate priorities will get additional funding; those that do not, will be punished. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.” Obama is an education gangster, hired muscle for the corporate class.
It is fitting that Obama, who has made it possible for all of us to experience the First Black U.S. Presidency, will enhance the experience of choosing between corporate Democrats and corporate Republicans: “I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it.”
We discovered during the presidential debates that there was very little that separated the two contenders. The Republican and Democratic experts should have no problem finding a mutual electoral comfort zone.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Obama’s Historic Assault on Social Security (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Let the Wealthy Pay for Their Crisis
With the November elections right around the corner, the millions of unemployed and under-employed have little reason to care. Aside from some sparse rhetoric, neither Democrats nor Republicans have offered a solution to job creation. Most politicians seem purposefully myopic about the jobs crisis, as if a healthy dose of denial might get them through the electoral season unscathed.
In reality, the jobs crisis continues unaddressed, and threatens to get worse after the election. The post-election “fiscal cliff” of social cuts — “triggered” by Obama’s debt commission —will pull the economy below the current treading-water phase, drowning millions more workers in America in unemployment and hopelessness. In addition, two million more long-term unemployed — those lucky enough to still receive benefits — face the very likely possibility of having their benefits ended due to the trigger cuts.
But this is all part of the plan. The current jobs crisis is not accidental; there are public policies that could be implemented — such as a federal jobs program — that would stop unemployment in its tracks. Both parties agree that this cannot be done for the same reason: high unemployment is desirable since it acts as a sledgehammer against wages, lowering them with the intent of boosting profitability for corporations. Creating this nationwide “new normal” takes time.
Until corporations have an ideal environment to make super profits — aside from the short-term money printing of the Federal Reserve — unemployment will remain purposefully high. The Feds massive money-printing program — called Quantitative Easing (QE) — is a desperate move that risks super inflation, yet is deemed necessary until politicians implement the economic new normal for workers in America.
This policy is referred to as an “adjustment” period by some economists. Corporations and their puppet politicians have used the recession to start implementing the new normal of lower wages, reduced benefits, and fewer social programs on a city, state, and federal basis. In order to complete this national adjustment, expectations for working people must be drastically lowered, so that they’ll be less likely to be angry and fight against this onslaught.
This was Bill Clinton’s intention when he told the Democratic National Convention, “The old economy isn’t coming back.” Most people in America have yet to realize this, but the economic policies of the Democrats and Republicans reflect a conscious plan to push wages down and shred the safety net to fit the “new economy” standards sought by corporate America.
Because corporations only hire workers in order to make profit, businesses today are sitting on trillions of cash, waiting for a sunnier day to invest in labor. The lower the wages of workers in America, the brighter the skies for corporations’ bottom line. It is this basic economic interest driving the jobs crisis, as politicians only offer solutions that “encourage businesses to invest” rather than creating immediate solutions for working people.
But millions of people are waiting for sunnier days too. A large number are seeking to wait out the recession by returning to school and are now graduating; a record 30 percent have bachelor degrees, a number that is expected to rise. The increasing number of graduates will drive up unemployment, while those lucky enough to find jobs aren’t finding one capable of paying off their massive student loans. The trillion-dollar student loan business is yet another example of wealth transference from bottom to top: students borrow money from the wealthy, and pay them back with interest, sometimes exorbitant interest.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are 12.5 million people who are officially unemployed but an additional9.5 million who are “unofficially” unemployed — those who are not actively looking for work, “discouraged workers,” part-time workers who want full-time work, etc. The number is almost certainly higher. These workers are not counted in the “official” unemployment numbers, and this unofficial number is getting worse. In August 2012, 368,000 more workers joined this illustrious group by dropping out of the labor force, i.e., they gave up looking for a job and thus are no longer counted as unemployed, in this way giving Obama “positive news” since the unemployment numbers actually improved!
These workers are often referred to as “unemployable,” meaning that they are usually over fifty years of age or under 30 and are tarnished with a lack of job experience or an excess of it. Corporations can now have an abundance of workers to choose from, and are being extra picky on whom they hire, if anybody.
The new “private sector” jobs that Obama constantly brags about are much lower paying than the jobs they are replacing. According to a study performed by the National Employment Law Project, 58 percent of all new post-recession jobs come with wages below $14.00 an hour, i.e. a not a living wage.
For those millions unable to find jobs, their future lies in either dependence on family or the state, or a risky life in the informal economy, which implies the possibility of imprisonment.
The reason that many labor and community groups have not fully explained the above facts — nor protested against them — is because they are “embarrassing” to the Democrats. Labor unions have gone into pre-election hibernation, ignoring reality as they push their members to campaign for the president who is overseeing this economic “new normal.”
The still-sputtering economy is expected to grind to a halt post-election, with average working people again footing the bill. But millions of Americans are experiencing the politics of the 1%, and drawing conclusions; ever since the recession government policy has been aimed at benefiting the wealthy and corporations, while working people have only experienced layoffs, lower wages and benefits, and slashed public services. To stop this dynamic of austerity working people must unite and protest in massive numbers, like the working people of Europe.
In Portland, Oregon, such a demonstration is being planned, pre-election, by a coalition of community groups to “stop the cuts,” for debt relief, and against the above national policy of austerity for working people. By highlighting the bi-partisan nature of the attack against working people, the community organizers in Portland hope to educate the community to take action, so that working people are prioritized. Let the wealthy pay for their crisis.
Why the Teachers Must Prevail
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the pesky little ankle-nipper charged in the first years of the Obama administration with dissing the left (“f…ing retards”), empowering Blue Dog Democrats and killing the public option in the Affordable Care Act, is Barack Obama writ obnoxious. It is of the utmost importance that teachers in Chicago win their strike against his administration.
Theirs is the first battle in what will be a protracted war, during the second Obama administration, to save public institutions, public education especially, from the anti-worker, pro-corporate, privatizing predations of Democratic presidents.
To be sure, it is Republicans who prattle on about Ronald Reagan and advocate the retrograde policies associated with his name. But while they are relentless in praising that villainous old actor, they are terrible at implementing the Reaganite agenda. This is understandable: when they are in the White House, their efforts inspire Democrats to fight back — not so much from conviction but because it plays well with the base and therefore pays off at election time.
Democratic presidents, on the other hand, are good at implementing the Reaganite agenda, whether their hearts are in it or not. No one, so far, has been better at it than Bill Clinton. This is because, as we saw again in Charlotte, he is adept at winning Democratic hearts and minds, and therefore at neutralizing potential opposition and even bringing it along.
This is how that old horn dog was able to win more for the Gipper than either Bush. He did more even than Reagan himself to end the New Deal and Great Society “as we know it,” and to give Wall Street free rein.
Obama might have bested him had he not been stymied by Republican obduracy. Now that obduracy is coming back to haunt the GOP. By pandering to God-fearing, ignorant and stupid white men – and the women who stand by them — they have made themselves scary enough to assure a second Obama term.
Barring unforeseeable developments, therefore, it will be Obama, not Romney, who will be wielding the Reaganite cudgel in the next four years; and therefore Obama, the lesser but more effective evil, whom we will have to fight.
Obama is poised to leave the Clintons standing in the dust. Hizzoner Da Mare is showing the way. Workers be damned, and let the Grand Bargains begin!
* * *
Even before the Occupy movements of last fall, public workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere were beginning to fight back. In Wisconsin, their efforts were unsuccessful, thanks in part to the indifference or connivance of the national Democratic Party and the Obama administration.
It isn’t just that Obama was AWOL throughout the winter and spring of 2011, when workers and their allies occupied the state Capitol in Madison, mobilizing tens of thousands of supporters. When it came down just to a recall election a year later, the hope and change President couldn’t even be bothered to campaign for Tom Barrett, the anodyne Democratic rival to the execrable, Koch-funded, Republican governor Scott Walker. All he could muster was a tweet at the final hour.
With the election less than two months away, Team Obama must realize that it will cost the President to betray the Chicago Teachers’ Union similarly. But count on him to give it his best shot – the Obama-Emanuel tie is tight, and Emanuel’s anti-union, pro-corporate “reforms” are in line with Arne Duncan’s, Obama’s Secretary of Education.
Expect him therefore to remain aloof for as long as he can. After all, who will stop him? Not organized labor. They’ve pledged their troth unconditionally to Democratic presidents so many times that they’ve forgotten how to do anything else, even when the object of their servility poses an “existential threat.”
For a long time, it seemed that the problem with Obama, and the Democratic Party, was their almost pathological “reasonableness,” their preference for compromising over winning. But the real situation was becoming clear even before Emanuel became the face of militant Obamaism.
The problem is not just that Obama is inept at governance or that caution sometimes gets the better of him. It is that he is on the wrong side.
Romney is scarier by orders of magnitude and more onerous by far. But, like Clinton, Obama can deliver, especially nowadays when liberals are hell bent on cutting the man slack. This is why he is, arguably, more dangerous even than his Republican rival. Romney is unabashed class warrior for the one-percent; Obama is a more complicated figure. But by their deeds, ye shall know them.
What Emanuel and Duncan and Obama want is what George Bush wanted: to despoil public education. Of course, this is not what they say. But it is hardly concern for kids, much less poor kids or for their families, that drives Bush-Obama efforts at reforming public education to ruin or that makes “market solutions” and privatization the order of the day. Only hapless Republicans and market theologians (to the extent there is a difference) could believe that.
The Obamaites want to privatize public education, to the extent they can, for the same reason they want to privatize so much else: because there is a lot of money – local, state and federal – involved, and the corporate interests Obama and his basketball buddies work for want to get their hands on it.
Obama and Duncan, and maybe even Emanuel, the “f-ing retard,” are too smart to be taken in by the meretricious charms of corporate bean counting. They surely understand how detrimental teaching to tests can be, and how it serves no one other than corporate managers, or those who have internalized their values, to undermine educators’ morale by imposing impossible working conditions and assaulting workers’ dignity.
It is telling that Obama sent his own kids to the Chicago Lab School and then to Sidwell Friends. Expensive private schools have always been about reproducing social elites – and, in recent years, coopting a few others for diversity’s sake — but Obama’s children, reared in the White House, have nothing to gain on that account.
The Obamas, like the Duncans and Emanuels of the world, just want their own children to get decent educations. No doubt, they’d like that for working peoples’ children too, other things being equal. But other things are not equal; the oligarchy has a different plan in mind.
They want a work force that is trained, not educated; workers ready to do what capitalist firms nowadays require — on the off-chance that capitalists find it more profitable, in certain circumstances, to exploit domestic labor instead of workers abroad.
Not long ago, the children of rich and poor alike were formed in the same schools, taught by dedicated teachers who, though underpaid, were treated with dignity and respect. Not long ago, public higher education was cheap enough to be broadly accessible and good enough to rival or out perform even the richest private universities.
This is all inimical to the Reaganite agenda but, even now, public education, at all levels, is holding up tolerably well, notwithstanding chronic underfunding and increasingly vitriolic opposition from the minions of the one percent. If Emanuel prevails, it will be harder, much harder, to hold the line.
This is a real danger. Emanuel has the austerity mongers in the Obama administration, and Obama himself, at his back. In an election year, he has the support of most Democrats. And, of course, he has the implicit support of Mitt Romney, who at least has the decency to be more forthrightly anti-union and anti-(small-d) democratic than his rival.
Emanuel also has the “liberal” media doing its best to keep the Reaganite tide from receding.
Now that the New York Times has priced itself so much higher than it is worth and made itself, or at least its print edition, scarce, NPR has become perhaps the main source for conventional wisdom and pro-regime propaganda.
As the Chicago strike began, it was almost comical to listen to them struggle to find voices willing to berate the teachers for the inconvenience they are causing parents and students. Evidently, Chicagoans, so far anyway, are behind the teachers because they realize that, in combatting Obama-style Reaganism – in taking on Rahm Emanuel — they are fighting for them.
They are absolutely right. The Chicago teachers’ strike is the successor of last year’s demonstrations in Wisconsin and other states in the grip of reactionary Republican governors; it is the successor of the Occupy movements. Its outcome matters more than the November election. Chicago teachers must prevail!
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).
- Angry Chicago teachers take on Obama (rt.com)
- What the Chicago Teacher Strike Reveals about Obama and “Progressivist” Media (dissidentvoice.org)
Black America’s median household wealth, compared to that of whites, has sharply declined under Barack Obama. That’s a change. Just not a good one.
This is a consequence of the foreclosure epidemic which began in 2007 and 2008 and has always been concentrated in black and poor neighborhoods. But the Obama administration has allowed the foreclosure wave to continue without any letup during its first three and a half years, rejecting demands for foreclosure moratoriums or other measures which would make it easier for large numbers of families to remain in their homes. Where the ratio of white to black household wealth four years ago was around 11 to one, today it is greater than 20 to 1.
African Americans still make up 12 or 13% of the nation’s population, remain more than 40% of its locked down and locked up, No change there at all…
Latinos, who make up another 13%, are about 30% of the nation’s prisoners and rising, a slight change, but distinctly for the worse. So seven of every ten US prisoners are from the one quarter of the nation that is black or brown, and that percentage is rising.
The fifty-year war on drugs continues. No change for the better at all there.
Like every president since Nixon, Barack Obama has thwarted states that wanted to decriminalize small amounts of drugs, refuses to treat drug use as a medical problem rather than a police one. Like its predecessors, the Obama administration has expanded the frontiers of the drug war into places like Mexico and Colombia, where the US demand for illegal drugs has given birth to vast industries which may be among the largest and most lucrative, and certainly the most deadly, in those countries.
“Too big to fail” banksters and other financial criminals are still above the law. No change here either.
Not a single person responsible for crashing the economy in 2007 has seen the inside of a prison. It’s just not going to happen. Wall Street insiders give as much, and often more to Democrats than they do to Republicans. So the Obama administration has protected banks and lenders and their co-conspirators from prosecution, and shoveled more than ten trillion more at banksters, including those based outside the US, than the Bush-Cheney gang ever did.
It’s worth remembering that when Bush could not pass his own bailout bill six weeks before the 2008 election, he called Barack Obama into town to spend the week on the phone with Congressional Democrats getting them to switch their votes. So the only change here has been the party in charge.
Although governments will create trillions of new dollars to give to banksters and borrow it back from them at interest in the name of “fixing the economy”, it still won’t create millions of jobs for the unemployed. No change:
In the 1930s, the federal government addressed the Depression by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs out of thin air. They built roads and subways, parks, recreational facilities, dams and bridges. They did theater and historical research like tracking down and interviewing the last living survivors of slavery. It was called the WPA, or Works Progress Administration, under the administration of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The White House could do the same today, creating millions of new jobs, repairing and rebuilding infrastructure, building high speed rail, refitting millions of homes for energy efficiency. But Barack Obama disdains the heritage of his own Democratic party. He sounds more like Hoover than FDR today when he says that it’s the exclusive role of the private sector to create jobs.
It’s still almost impossible to organize a union and fight for your own rights on the job anywhere in the US. No change:
There are laws against firing workers who try, but employers are unafraid to break those laws, while working people are very much afraid to lose their jobs. Candidate Obama did promise to put on his comfortable shoes and walk a picket line. Maybe he just lied. President Obama has frozen the wages and pensions of government workers, and endorsed the traditionally Republican idea that public employee and private pensions and health plans cause economic distress to employes and the economy.
The bipartisan corporate-funded drive to “reform” education by breaking teachers unions, turning teachers into Wal-Mart style temps, hi-stakes testing, dissolving public schools and replacing them by privately owned charter schools, exempt from public accountability continues apace. No change there at all.
Bush’s Secretary of Education called teachers unions “terrorist organizations.” Obama’s Secretary of Education declared that Katrina was the best thing that could have happened to public education in New Orleans.
If anything, the Obama administration’s Race To The Top program pushed the envelope further than Republicans would have been able to without sustained resistance. It required states to compete for available federal education funds based upon how many teachers they can fire, how many public schools they can close, how many so-called “merit pay” schemes and similar atrocities they can inflict. Just as only a vicious warmonger like Nixon could have made the first presidential trip to China, only a black Democrat could have successfully pushed the education policy envelope this far in the anti-democratic directions of charters and educational privatization. If anything, Obama’s heinous education policies provide an even further rightward step-off point for Republicans like Mitt Romney. It didn’t have to be that way.
US troops are in more than 140 countries worldwide, and the US, with under 5% of the world’s people, spends more on the military than the other 95% of humanity combined. Not much change there.
On the other hand, in the first weeks of his administration, President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize. So the pan-European elite, which feared and despised George Bush, loves Obama. That’s a kind of change they call a distinction without a difference.
The Afghan war drags on, apparently indefinitely. A hundred thousand US-paid mercenaries remain in Iraq, and the war there too is far from over. On the other hand, Barack Obama has been able to use cruise missiles and drones to kill black and brown civilians including children in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, among other places. US military forces took part in the invasion and overthrow of the African nation of Libya, and the White House has openly rather than covertly sent unknown numbers of US special forces into nobody knows how many countries of Central Africa. A Bush administration doing this would have been greeted with nationwide street demonstrations. But a black Democrat gets a near automatic pass. Is this what the real “race card” looks like?
A US president is still orders torture, murder, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and lets corporations that commit crimes abetting those of government employees completely off the hook. But there has been a change here.
When the Bush-Cheney gang did all this stuff, they did it as scofflaws. The Obama Administration has rammed through legislation in Congress and asked for court decisions to cloak most of the previously illegal torture, murder, kidnapping, warrantless spying and similar crimes with thin veneers of legality. This is the all-important difference between having an MBA as president as opposed to a professor of constitutional law.
Black politics, at one time heavily influenced by what Martin Luther King called opposition to the triple evils of racism, militarism, and economic injustice, has shrunken and shriveled under the influence of a new class of corporate funded black political leaders like Corey Booker and Barack Obama. Deep, real and significant change here.
Black politics ain’t about fighting for decent housing or jobs any more. It’s not about diverting resources from the war machine to uplifting the downtrodden. It’s not about funding education or working for the end of the prison state. It’s certainly not about defying unjust laws in the pursuit of just ends, as the Freedom Movement once routinely did.
People forget that King was murdered in Memphis in the middle of a sanitation workers strike in which the National Guard had been called out to patrol the city, and students had stayed home from high school for days to participate in illegal mass actions.
21st century black politics is about electing black politicians, no more and no less. That, and observing Black History Month.
This is far from an exhaustive list, of course.
We could have mentioned the fact that big oil, big agribusiness, big insurance, and big pharma all continue to get whatever they ask for. We might have pointed out that local and state fiscal crises are constantly being provoked, to which the solutions are always “public private partnerships” a standard euphemism for privatizations of public assets like roads, waterworks, generation facilities and public services like payroll, parking and fleet management. We could have pointed out that medical costs are still factors in a majority of personal bankruptcies, and the FCC has essentially abandoned any pretense of regulating the cable and broadcast industries, preferring to simply lease out or auction off the electromagnetic spectrum and leave it all to the “free market”.
Some things have changed over the last four years, and some haven’t. One thing that seems never to change, as long as our choices are restricted to the two corporate parties, is that while you can squint hard enough to make distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, there are few important differences.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works in Marietta GA, and is a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
It is ironic that the hard core supporters of Israel among the neoconservatives are hoping for a Republican victory in the fall even though the party that has passionate Israel firsters most deeply embedded continues to be the Democrats. To be sure, Eric Cantor, Republican majority leader in the House and the only Jewish congressman from the GOP, has done some heavy lifting for Benjamin Netanyahu, including advising the Israeli Prime Minister that congress would protect him in any conflict with President Barack Obama. Republican from Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is descended from Sephardic Jews, has also burnished her pro-Israel credentials as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee while other Republicans from the Bible belt reflexively praise Israel as, one assumes, a tenet of their faith.
But the breadth and depth of outspoken advocates of Israel in the Democratic Party goes far beyond anything the Republicans can muster. Thirteen Jewish Senators are all Democrats as are 26 of the 27 Jewish members of the House. The Democratic National Committee is headed by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz while Steny Hoyer, who is not Jewish, is Minority Whip in the House of Representatives and an outspoken passionate supporter of Israel. Other frequent sponsors of resolutions favoring Israel and condemning Iran and the Palestinians include Howard Berman, Steve Israel, Steve Rothman, Jan Schakowsky, Brad Sherman, Benjamin Cardin, Carl Levin, Frank Lautenberg, Charles Schumer and Joe Lieberman. The late Tom Lantos, often referred to as Israel’s congressman, was also a Democrat. Many of Israel’s friends have characteristically sought and attained powerful positions on committees that deal with foreign and defense policies to enable them to directly influence legislation favorable to Israel.
One would think that more pro-Israel muscle wouldn’t be needed in congress, but yet another prominent Israeli firster is now being groomed for bigger things. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley is being promoted by the Democratic Party leadership to make a run for a Senate seat from the State of Nevada currently held by Republican Dean Heller. Berkley’s support of anything and everything Israel does is notable even by congressional standards. She is co-chair of the Israel Allies Caucus (part of the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation) and has been described by the Jewish media as “one of the most hawkish pro-Israel voices in the US House.” She has co-sponsored six resolutions relating to Israel including one “recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza” and has been blistering in her condemnation of the several Gaza relief flotillas, which she evidently sees as boatloads of terrorists.
Berkley is also not shy about supporting other special interests. She is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee (an oxymoron if there ever was one) because she allegedly used her influence to block the closure of a kidney transplant facility in Las Vegas, where her doctor husband works. Given that lack of separation between her personal interest and her responsibility as a congresswoman one might have thought that she should have recused herself from the issue, though the scandal is unfortunately probably insufficient to derail her senatorial bid.
Unlike in some other recent congressional races in Illinois and New Jersey where Israel was a focal point, Berkley will no doubt campaign on local issues in Nevada because raising the ethnic card could prove risky. Heller is a Mormon in a state that has many of his co-religionists. But it should be assumed that if Berkley is elected to the Senate her advocacy of Israel and its policies will be a hallmark of her time in office, just as it has been during her time in the House of Representatives.
Philip Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest and a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues.
- Congressional Crusade for Israel (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israel Lobby Always Believes More Is Better (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The Israel Lobby Never Sleeps (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama assures Orthodox Jewish delegation of his “fidelity” to Israel (alethonews.wordpress.com)
As labor leaders across the U.S. shift resources away from defending workers and into Obama’s re-election campaign, millions of organized and non-organized workers remain unemployed and hopeless. Contrary to the “optimistic” government jobs numbers, the jobs crisis grinds onward. Some labor leaders will argue that getting Obama elected is the first step towards addressing the jobs crisis, but they know better.
The recent so-called JOBS Act that passed with strong Democrat and Republican support will create zero jobs — the law’s intent is to lower regulations for banks and corporations, in an attempt to boost their profits. The JOBS wording was used for popularity’s sake, requiring heavy doses of deceit.
A similar-minded jobs project was put forth by Obama earlier in the year, when he appointed “experts” to his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. But the Council was front loaded with CEO’s and bankers, with only two labor reps, who allowed themselves to be used to obscure the real intent of the project. Richard Trumka, President of the labor federation AFL-CIO, was one of the token labor leaders on the council, who only later partially redeemed himself by denouncing the Council’s job-creating recommendations (predictably, one of the key “job creating” ideas was to lower corporate tax rates).
Millions of union and non-union workers have seen their lives worsen under Obama while he promotes the above stunts that are intended to serve the wealthy and fool everybody else.
These millions of workers will now be subjugated to pro-Obama door knockers and phone callers from labor unions who will ignore the above facts while trying to put a pro-worker face on the pro-corporate president. Workers will not be so easily fooled, their paychecks — or lack thereof — speak stronger truths than can any pro-Obama campaigner.
The key irony is that the more forward-looking labor unions have already realized that they need the support of non-unionized workers if their movement is to survive. To this extent both union federations — AFL-CIO and Change to Win — have put tremendous resources towards community outreach and organizing. But such efforts can be wasted when unions pursue policies that working people not only disagree with, but denounce.
Non-unionized workers will only actively support labor unions when they are inspired to do so; if the non-union community trusts labor to fight for their interests, they will fight alongside unions in the streets. However, when unions have to skew the facts to encourage votes for Obama, they lose crucial trust with the broader community.
Trust was also lost when working people witnessed many unions publicly supporting Obama’s health care plan, which forces millions of non-union workers to buy shoddy corporate health insurance they cannot afford. Labor’s kid glove handling of Obama’s anti-public education policy is also high on the list of examples where unions weakened their community status by attaching themselves to the Democrats’ pro-corporate polices.
Shockingly, the largest teachers’ union, National Education Association, has endorsed Obama’s campaign even though the NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, summarized teachers’ experience with the Obama Administration by saying, “Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced” — an environment directly encouraged by Obama’s deceitfully named “Race to the Top” education program.
Obama has yet to promise unions or working people anything in the upcoming election. Whoever wins the Presidency will immediately continue serving the corporations with varying degrees of public enthusiasm — the only real difference between the two parties.
Labor leaders are not stupid. They recognize these facts, but have absolutely no idea what to do about it. So they do what they’ve done for decades; align themselves with the Democrats in the hopes that they will be rewarded for their servitude. But the crumbs of gratitude stopped trickling down years ago, and what little remains on the workers plate is now being targeted by both Democratic and Republican politicians who insist on ever more concessions.
The Democrats’ policies signify a clean break from labor unions, an alliance that was always at the indirect expense of the rest of the working class. As long as unions were treated fairly, many labor leaders turned a blind eye to policies that affected non-union workers, creating a suicidal distance between the organized and non-organized.
Now it’s labor unions that are on the menu; Democratic governors on a state by state basis have wrenched major concessions from public sector unions, substantially weakening them and reducing their numbers. This, combined with mass unemployment and Race to the Top, amounts to a concerted anti-union agenda.
Labor leaders solution to this crisis is to raise money and volunteers…to elect Democrats.
Labor’s real power will thus remain unused. The inherent power of unions lies in their numbers, organization, and ability to collectively assert themselves in the workplace and streets. This is how labor became strong; the mass strikes and street demonstrations that built the labor movement created an organizational power that neither Democrats nor Republicans dared touch. President Eisenhower and Nixon, for example, refused to confront unions for fear of the repercussions. Unions were not given this power by compassionate Democrats in past generations; power was forcibly taken from the Democrats.
This truth is kept concealed from the current generation of union members, many of whom are miseducated into believing that their power is limited to electing Democrats. No other belief is as dangerous for the labor movement, which would immediately benefit from de-funding the Democrats and using the money to educate and organize their members to fight in the workplaces and streets for the many pro-worker demands, like a massive federal jobs program, that will otherwise remain “off the table” in Congress.
Shamus Cooke is a social worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org)
- Open Letter to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Labor Politics and the Captive Electorate of 2012 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama Set to Use Military Intervention Against Longshoremen (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Dear Mr. Trumka,
You have come to your leadership position of our country’s labor federation of unions with 13 million members the hard way. Starting by working in the coal mines, then becoming a lawyer, heading the United Mine Workers, then becoming the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO before assuming your present position in 2009, who can pull rank on you in the formal labor movement?
Yet, the AFL-CIO’s public leadership in three major areas has been far less effective than one would expect. I am referring to your less than assertive response to President Obama: 1) turning his back on raising the federal minimum wage; 2) failing to advance his card check promise to you in 2008; and 3) dropping the ball on backing long-overdue safety and health responsibilities of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
I say this with the awareness of your group’s public stands in favor of these three crucial matters to working families. But as you well know, there is a very marked difference between being on-the-record, as the AFL-CIO is, and being on-the-daily ramparts pushing these issues, as your organization is not.
Even just making a statement, however, took a back seat in your March 13, 2012 endorsement of Barack Obama for a second term as president. In what ways has Mr. Obama “moved aggressively,” as you declared, “to protect workers rights, pay, health and safety on the job?”
He has neither championed nor pressed Congress, when the Democrats were in control in 2009-2010, to give you card check which you have long-said was needed to reverse the serious decline and expand the ranks of organized labor by millions of workers (you told me this in 2004).
Second, Mr. Obama appointed an excellent head of OSHA and then betrayed OSHA – an agency that has estimated 58,000 workplace-related American deaths a year from disease and trauma! That is over 1000 people a week, every week, on the average.
Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor and the head of OSHA, cannot get White House approval for issuing long-overdue standards or strengthening weak and outdated standards such as the woefully inadequate silica rule, to save American lives not threatened by terrorists, but by corporate negligence or worse. Why have you not exposed this reality in public? Has Mr. Obama, whom you have socialized with at White House viewings of the Super Bowl, ever invited you to come across Lafayette Square to discuss this serious ongoing, preventable tragedy?
Had he taken worker concerns seriously, he might have asked you why the AFL-CIO for many years, has retained at its large national headquarters so few full-time advocates on occupational health and safety? And you in turn might have asked him why his politicos are blocking Dr. Michaels and why he is content in having only $550 million for OSHA’s annual budget while the U.S. spent $675 million in 2011 paying corporate contractors to guard the overbuilt U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Are these the Obama “values” you extolled in your endorsement statement?
More dismaying is your touting Mr. Obama for aggressively protecting workers’ pay. By pushing for more NAFTA type “pull-down” trade agreements through Congress, and not moving to revise NAFTA as he promised in his 2008 presidential campaigns, he is undermining both workers’ pay and jobs. By totally abandoning his pledge made to over 30 million workers in 2008 that he would press for a $9.50/hour federal minimum wage by 2011, he left them defenseless with more debt and fewer necessities of life.
The AFL-CIO wants at the least to catch up to 1968 with an inflation-adjusted $10/hour minimum wage law. Where is the visible muscular campaign for such legislation? Keeping up with inflation for the federal minimum wage is historically supported by 70 percent of the people. That includes many Republicans and even Rick Santorum and, until his latest flip-flop, Mitt Romney. A $10 minimum wage, after years of windfall price increases and executive compensation windfalls at labor’s expense, would annually pump tens of billions of dollars into greater consumer demand by low-income families in this recessionary economy.
What is the AFL-CIO waiting for? Hundreds of non-profit organizations will follow your lead. Talk is not enough. Resources and muscular lobbying are required along with far more relevant and tough public advertisements than your members are seeing and paying for on TV these days. Enough, already, of the general feel-good mood spots on TV.
As someone who in earlier days had been a dig-in-your-heels labor negotiator in fights with management, what did you receive for millions of American workers in your early, blanket endorsement of Mr. Obama? No wonder he can get away with giving the trade union movement and unorganized workers the back of his hand. You have unnecessarily allowed him to believe that you have nowhere to go. This is another way of saying that the Republicans, by being worse than the bad Democrats, are holding the American labor movement hostage to the corporatist Democratic Party.
The AFL-CIO is in a deep, defensive rut when in these tough times it should be in an aroused, innovative state of high alert and aggressive action. Workers in the 1930s’ Depression were in worse shape than workers today, yet organized labor was more militant.
People inside and outside the AFL-CIO know the problems. They are: complacent bureaucratic rigidity, fractious relations between member unions over how supine they need to be to Obama and the Democrats (with their costly wars), the lack of union democracy and competitive elections both within member unions and at the AFL-CIO plus, except for a few unions like the California Nurses Association, a distinct lack of sustained fervor and money for organizing drives.
You know all this only too well. Yet, as a 14th Century Chinese philosopher once said, “to know and not to do is not to know.” Unless you shake the AFL-CIO up and reorder its priorities against the corporate state, expect another four years of an Obamabush Administration.
- Obama Set to Use Military Intervention Against Longshoremen (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Not All Labor Leaders Happy With AFL-CIO’s Obama Endorsement (thetrialbyfire.org)
- Labor Politics and the Captive Electorate of 2012 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
I was standing outside the U.S. Supreme Court holding a sign that said: “Single Payer Now, Strike Down the Obama Mandate.” It was the second day of argument on the Affordable Care Act. As I watched the crowds it was evident this was an organized partisan event.
As the Washington Post reports, the mandate was a Republican idea that originated with conservatives: “The tale begins in the late 1980s, when conservative economists such as Mark Pauly, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business, were searching for ways to counter liberal calls for government-sponsored universal health coverage. Pauly then proposed a mandate requiring everyone to obtain this minimum coverage, thus guarding against free-riders…Health policy analysts at the conservative Heritage Foundation, led by Stuart Butler, picked up the idea and began developing it for lawmakers in Congress. The Heritage Foundation worked with then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) to pass Massachusetts’ 2006 health reform law, which required all Bay State citizens to purchase coverage.”
Someone from the Heritage Foundation came up to us, wanting to take a photo of our sign. I asked him – does the Heritage Foundation oppose the mandate? He said “yes.” I told him that the idea came out of the Heritage Foundation. He looked confused, mumbled an unclear answer “not since 2006” and walked away.
Of course, Democrats opposed this Republican idea. They saw it for what it is: a massive giveaway to the insurance industry that will lead to their entrenchment and continued domination of heath care. The idea was used by Republicans to oppose the Clinton health plan. Of course, the Clinton’s opposed it. But, by the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton supported the mandate (by then the insurance industry was a big financial backer of hers), but candidate Barack Obama opposed it. One of his campaign advertisements said: “What’s she not telling you about her health-care plan? It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can’t afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don’t.”
So, while I was out there watching groups like the National Organization for Women, who supports single payer favoring this pro-insurance law, as part of a coalition of Democratic Party aligned groups, I thought, what if President McCain had passed this law. My conclusion, we’d have the same people out here protesting, they’d just reverse sides. This was really not about healthcare, it was about Obama vs. the Republicans in this 2012 election year.
The people protesting followed their leader’s orders, said the chants they were told to say, and held the signs they were given to hold, but they were confused. When we talked to people on both sides the partisan confusion was evident.
My colleague, Margaret Flowers, asked two women carrying an Americans for Prosperity sign (a group opposed to Obama’s law) whether they were on Medicare. They said “yes.” “Do you like it?” Again, “yes.” “Do you know Medicare is a government program?” A confused look. “Do you know the Republicans want to end Medicare, make it into private insurance?” “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You probably support Obama”; and they started to walk away. “No, we oppose ObamaCare,” the women stopped and listened again, “We think everyone should have Medicare. Don’t you think it would be a good idea if every American could have the Medicare you have and like?” “Hmm, yes” then, more confusion in their faces.
Then, talking to the Democrats showed equal partisan confusion. I explained: “We oppose the Obama mandate because we want to end insurance control of health care. We support single payer, Medicare for all?” Response: “So do I.” I asked: “Single payer ends insurance, and Obama’s law entrenches insurance more deeply in control of health care, aren’t those opposites?” Response, obviously not understanding what ‘opposite’ means: “It’s a step in the right direction.” I ask: “How can it be a step in the right direction when it is going in the opposite direction?” No longer able to say it is the right direction, spouts another talking point: “This is the best we can get, we can build on this.” Me, trying to figure out what the Democrat thinks there is to build on, asks: “But, if we want to end insurance domination, how do we build on a law that is based on insurance?” Unable to explain it, the Democrat answers: “We can’t get what we want.” I say: “Of course, not, if people like you and organizations like yours who support single payer, spend their time advocating for the insurance industry, we can’t get what we want. But, if people who support single payer work for it we could.” Answer: “But, we have to re-elect President Obama.”
Partisan confusion reigned.
And, sadly partisan confusion dominates our airwaves as well. Of course, the right wing radio continues to attack Obama and confusingly calls a market-based, insurance-dominated health law socialism. But, sadly the “liberal” media sends out equal partisan confusion. We were able to go into Radio Row, where all the liberal radio outlets were interviewing “experts” on health care. The talking points, like in the conversation, were repeated and repeated. When one radio host wanted to interview me, really debate me since he was a Democratic apologist, I sat down. An organizer in the room asked the host to speak with her. She came back and told me I had to leave. This was private property and only people allowed to be here were allowed to be here. I explained I was invited by a station to be interviewed. She explained: “I tell them who to interview. The stations have slots and we fill them.” I asked: “Do you mean only people who support Obama can be interviewed.” She explained “The Republicans do it to.”
Despite all this supermajorities of Americans have consistently supported single payer, whether inaccurately called socialism or correctly described as “Medicare for all” 60% or more support it. Why? For the same reason that the great salesman President Obama and his superb marketing team have been unable to sell forced purchase of health insurance: Every family, business whether large or small; and every doctor or other health care provider have suffered insurance abuse. Two thirds of those who go bankrupt from a health problem have health insurance. The American experience is that health insurance is expensive, provides inadequate coverage and tries to avoid paying for health care. We all know this. So, no matter what the politicians say – Americans do not trust the health insurance industry.
But, one thing the two parties in Washington agree on – they will protect health insurance at all costs. After-all, they are a great source of campaign contributions – as the two politicians responsible for forcing Americans to buy insurance, President Obama and Mitt Romney, well know.
Kevin Zeese is executive director of Voters for Peace.
- Left Takes ObamaCare To Court – Supreme Court (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Real Health Care Advocates Should Support Repeal of the Insurance Mandate (alethonews.wordpress.com)
SubterraneanDispatches | March 14, 2012
Back in 2010, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), lashed out at President Obama who she said was part of the “blame the teacher crowd” of education reform.
“I never thought I’d see a Democratic president, whom we helped elect, and his education secretary applaud the mass firing of 89 teachers and staff,” she said – referring to the firing of all teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island earlier that year.
Last month, the AFT executive council unanimously voted to endorse Obama for reelection.
“While we have not agreed with every decision President Obama has made, he shares our deep commitment to rebuilding the middle class and ensuring everyone has an opportunity to achieve the American dream,” Weingarten said. Never mind those 89 teachers or the thousands more whose “opportunity to achieve the American dream” is under the gun of Obama’s school “reform” agenda.
Last year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka criticized Obama for aligning with the right and cutting social programs.
“If they [Obama administration] don’t have a jobs program, I think we’d better use our money doing other things,” the leader of the nation’s largest union federation said, threatening to withhold labor’s support for Obama. Less than two months later, Trumka told reporters that the AFL-CIO would most likely endorse the reelection campaign, saying, “President Obama has been a friend for us.”
On Tuesday the AFL-CIO’s executive board unanimously voted to endorse Obama.
“Although the labor movement has sometimes differed with the president and often pushed his administration to do more – and do it faster – we have never doubted his commitment to a strong future for working families,” Trumka said in a statement announcing the endorsement.
None of this should surprise anyone who is familiar with labor’s captivity in the machinery of the Democratic Party. What appears to be schizophrenic in the real world is normal behavior in the world of organized labor and electoral politics.
But this election comes after a year of unprecedented attacks on workers.
Both Republicans and Democrats have been ratcheting up the war against unions, a fact that is making it increasingly difficult for union leaders to justify their support for Obama to their rank-and-file members.
“Notwithstanding all our disappointment with the Obama presidency, it’s clear that the clowns on the Republican side would be devastating to working people,” a Communication Workers of America (CWA) official told In These Times last month. “But we’re anticipating a tougher challenge motivating people because there is a lot of disappointment and letdown,” he admitted.
That’s probably because workers are hard-pressed to imagine what could be more “devastating to working people” than what they’ve seen in the last year alone. Workers have faced the erosion of collective bargaining rights, the first state in the Midwest passing “Right to Work” legislation, an FAA reauthorization bill signed by Obama that makes it more difficult for airline workers to organize, plans for massive layoffs of postal workers nationwide, and ramped-up attacks on public education.
And that’s by no means an exhaustive list of the recent blows suffered by the labor movement.
In addition to the AFT and AFL-CIO, major unions that have declared their endorsement for Obama’s reelection include SEIU, AFSCME, Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA), United Food and Commercial Workers, CWA, the Machinists, United Farm Workers, United Steel Workers, and the National Education Association. The list is sure to grow as the election season moves forward.
“We’ve been treading water as a labor movement,” says Chris Townsend, Political Action Director of United Electrical Workers (UE). “At best, supporting Democrats is a strategy to buy time. And union leaders won’t admit to their members that they are stuck,” he adds, echoing a point he made in a recent interview on Al-Jazeera’s Inside Story.
Townsend is one of the few union officials in the labor movement who forcefully criticizes labor’s allegiance to the Democratic Party. He points out that the more unions continue the bankrupt strategy of supporting a party that is often ambivalent or hostile to the movement, the harder it will be for them to beat back the right-wing agenda to destroy unions altogether.
How many more times is labor going to go back to the members and tell them to vote for some Democrat that has left us hanging? It’s no wonder that many union members and workers are not buying the Obama-Biden rhetoric this time. Instead of tackling the corporations and the Republicans head-on, the White House stands by in silence while organized labor is subjected to a life and death struggle in Wisconsin and Ohio. If union members get stuck voting for Obama because Romney is so much worse, we should just tell the truth. We are trapped in a profoundly corrupt and rigged political system. By going back again and again and hanging the union seal of approval on candidates who are not supportive of our cause, we merely hasten our own demise.
On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported that labor leaders are talking about “shifting” their tactics by spending less on politics and more on movement-building. The Times reports that the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents some 190,000 transit workers in the U.S. and Canada, “has shifted ‘the culture of [the] union from…political activity to broader coalition building,’”
Meanwhile, an election battle is brewing within AFSCME, a union that represents 1.6 million public sector workers and which spent more money during the 2010 elections than any other group. One of the candidates vying to replace the outgoing President Gerald McEntee says he wants to put an end to the “checkbook unionism” that has so closely tied the union to the Democratic Party.
But the political landscape since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision has seen unlimited spending on politics in the form of “Super PACs.” And it’s not just corporations that are taking advantage of the new terrain. At the end of January the ALF-CIO’s “Workers’ Voice” Super PAC had raised up to $4 million.
Of course, union leaders will not be able to mobilize their membership the way they did in 2008. Four years ago, the AFL-CIO sent 250,000 volunteers knocking on doors for Obama and other Democratic candidates. Much of that base of members and allies is deeply disenchanted with the Obama administration. And for good reason.
Before he dropped labor’s biggest priority in 2009 by abandoning the Employee Free Choice Act, Obama was busy stacking his administration with Wall Street insiders. More recent corporate additions include the anti-union General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt who chairs the president’s “Jobs Council.”
Over the past few years teachers from California to Chicago to New York have essentially been held at gunpoint by austerity-driven governors and mayors whose cuts and test-based reforms are supported by Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan.
In the private sector, American Airlines is using Chapter 11 bankruptcy to tear up union contracts, “restructure” pensions and cut up to 13,000 jobs. And for his reelection, Obama has received nearly $29,000 from AT&T, a company that is looking to layoff hundreds of workers in the Southeast.
Last year, Democrats in Indiana fled the state and successfully stopped a bill that would have made Indiana the first “Right to Work” state in the union-heavy rust belt. But this year, the Democrats chose to stand down, giving the green light to employers to bleed members and money from the unions.
But it seems Democrats can rely on Obama’s celebrity and eloquence to win back the hearts of labor leaders. Introducing Obama at the recent United Auto Workers conference, UAW leader Bob King praised Obama as “the champion of all workers.” Yes, the champion of all workers.
If King feels he owes Obama a bit of gratitude, it’s because the president extracted huge concessions from his members in exchange for “saving the industry.” So King’s job is safe, even if hundreds of thousands of workers suffered massive layoffs and cuts to wages and benefits. Years of outsourcing, two-tier wage structures and other concessions have led to job loss and stagnant wages throughout the industry. Now the UAW has joined Obama in celebrating the return of some outsourced jobs thanks to these “competitive wages.”
In an apparent mission to turn the U.S. into a source of cheap labor, policymakers in both political parties have for decades demonstrated their commitment to permanently lower working-class living standards. And recently Obama has been less shy about his role in this effort, touting his own policies for helping to make the U.S. more competitive with low-wage countries. Indeed, the cover story in the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine, documenting journalist Mac McClelland’s time working in an online retail warehouse, leaves readers wondering how far the U.S. working class is from experiencing the same grueling conditions that have made Apple factories in China so famous.
Manufacturing isn’t the only target, though. The logic of Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RTTT) program – offering education funding to states in exchange for teacher evaluations based on student test scores and opening more charters – has permeated school districts across the country, with devastating effects for students, teachers and their unions. In many cities, as “underperforming” teachers are fired and “underperforming” schools face closures and “turnarounds,” low-income students of color are being impacted the most.
But even if RTTT is aimed at privatizing public education and undermining teacher unionism, AFT President Weingarten is more likely to be heard giving her qualified praise for the program. That’s not the only reason AFT’s exuberant endorsement of Obama is unsurprising. After all, in addition to running the second-largest education union in the country, Weingarten is an active member of the Democratic National Committee. The fact is that countless other paid Democratic Party functionaries cycle through the upper echelons of the labor movement. But they are a lot less powerful than the corporate forces in the party, which begs the question: who is working for whom?
No wonder, then, that labor has at times had trouble relating to the Occupy movement. Reasonable concerns about cooptation aside, the movement includes ultra-left elements who claim to represent the “89 percent” – that is, excluding what they call the “privileged” minority of workers who are union members.
Such anti-union rhetoric used to be the exclusive domain of conservatives aimed at antagonizing union and non-union workers. But with labor leaders so visibly entrenched in the Democratic Party, maybe it isn’t so astonishing that leftist activists who fail to differentiate between union leadership and the rank-and-file are prone to such ideas.
Clearly, more rank-and-file involvement is needed to both challenge union officials and undercut misconceptions on the left about the labor movement.
Ultimately, real union power is not displayed by workers canvassing for Democrats. It’s exercised by workers on the job, like the 70 UE factory workers who again occupied their workplace last month and won their demands to keep the plant open while they find a new buyer, or perhaps run the factory themselves. Or the nearly 500 Seattle port truck drivers who went on strike for two weeks in February in protest against abuse and deregulation that has prevented them from organizing with the Teamsters. Or the teachers in New York City and Chicago who, along with Occupy protesters, have led fiery demonstrations against budget cuts and school closures.
Sometimes there are tactical reasons for unions to engage in electoral politics, but trade unionism is not about electing Democrats. Workers join unions to enforce decent pay and working conditions on the job. Organizing in an active union also raises the consciousness of workers around working-class issues beyond an individual workplace, like national healthcare policy and globalization. And like other social justice movements, labor cannot attribute much of its success to voting within the corporate confines of the two-party system.
Real power for workers and the oppressed exists in the streets and in the workplace, in the form of militant grassroots struggle.
Every national election points to the urgency for radicals to free the muscle of the union movement from the grip of the Democratic Party – to tighten the grip of the working class around the machinery of profit.
- Obama Set to Use Military Intervention Against Longshoremen (alethonews.wordpress.com)