It’s not what they say---it’s what they do that matters
Richard Mellor | 12.24.2008
The battle in the legislature between Democrats and Republicans over how severe the attacks on workers will be is standard faire from the good cop bad cop duo. But it doesn't have to be this way.
AFSCME Local 444, retired
We are supposed to be in a new phase, a new period in which workers can prosper and fairness will reign throughout the United States. Health care is forthcoming. Jobs, housing and education will be provided by the new Democratic administration. And how do we know this? Because they said so when they were running for office.
Naturally, President elect Obama’s reminder that “…the turmoil on Wall Street means a new round of belt-tightening for families and businesses on Main Street..” has been shoved deep in to the recesses of the mind as workers are all too familiar with whose belt gets tightened when the politicians of the rich make these statements. In its place steps hope, hope, and more hope. Like religion, hope is that imaginary solution to an unjust world and a popular substitute for real politics in a country where politics is dominated by the cult of personality.
Obama added in the same speech made in Chicago on November 24th that “Those who benefitted disproportionally will "pay a little more.". This is the same sort of rhetoric we’re used to. Ford Motor Co’s Allan Mulally’s announcement that he will work for $1 salary this year is a similar theme. It shows the level of contempt they have for working people that they can announce this to the US working class from any forum except Saturday Night Live. Mulally earned $28 million in 2006 for four months on the job. He got a $7.5 million hiring bonus and another $11 million to compensate him for benefits he lost from his previous job at Boeing. He also received 4 million in Ford stock options last year but at least 3 million of those are not available until the company is turned around---knowing this, we can see why a taxpayer bailout is so important and who it is actually benefiting.
The taxpayer has had to step in to save capitalism from complete collapse. Almost $8 trillion has been promised for the task. We didn’t do this voluntarily; the very people that caused the problem did it on our behalf. “I've sought leaders who could offer both sound judgment and fresh thinking, both a depth of experience and a wealth of bold new ideas - and most of all, who share my fundamental belief that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers; that in this country, we rise and fall as one nation, as one people.” So says Obama. But we’ve never risen or fallen as one people. We are not one people. And Wall Street has thrived as main street has suffered, that is how the market economy works. In the past thirty years the top 1 percent has increased its share of the national income pie from 8.9% in 1976 to over 21.8% in 2005. The average income of the top 5% of families in 1979 was11.4 times greater than the bottom 20%, by 2005, this had risen to 20.9% and the gap will be widening in the period ahead.
The great minds now chosen to save us have been around a long time. What they are concerned about now is saving their system from collapse and, more importantly, making sure the anger and hatred of the rich that lies beneath the surface of US society doesn’t break out in to action in the streets and workplaces of America. They want to ensure the resistance remains within the framework of their rules that guarantee no real change takes place.
It is quite likely that in the immediate period there will be some concessions from the next administration given the amount of our money that they are pumping in to the economy in the forms of stimulus and direct bail-outs. Certain sectors of the working class will get some relief as money is spent on social spending, or invested in alternative energy. There will be money to be made there for some. Barak Obama has also raised expectations for millions and they will not simply go away---not all of them anyway. He has some four million people in his data base and had an army of three million volunteers according to reports. The next administration will have to produce something as not all drawn to politics in this election cycle will slip in to despair and cynicism at the betrayal, some will look for alternatives.
But decisions are driven by events and by the laws of economics. If anything confirms that it is the events of the past year. What might be the most right wing, free market administration in modern US history has taken in to government control huge sectors of the economy and approved government expenditure reminiscent of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The honeymoon will be short lived. We only have to look at what is going on in the California legislature to see the future. Democrats, Republicans and the governor are locked in battle over the state budget. Every day the California papers warn us of catastrophe as the state is about to run out of money. The budget deficit, at $15 billion is expected to rise to $25 billion by next year. We even pass bills that allow us to borrow money to pay debts; it’s a moneylender’s paradise, for it is written in the California constitution that moneylenders shall be paid. It is not written that Californians shall be guaranteed decent health care or society shall guarantee workers a job that can pay the rent and provide a decent existence. There is something somewhere about the pursuit of happiness.
The Democrats, the so-called party of the people, formerly the party of the slave owners (they’re people too in “one nation”) have considerable clout in the California legislature and surely must be fighting for working folk. During the recent election cycle we heard day in day out how important we were. How down home ordinary folk were the backbone of the country. They attacked greed and the investors and speculators who were destroying our way of life. Surely we are in for more education, more housing, more jobs, more health care, not less.
Not so. There may be a battle going on in the state legislature between Democrats and Republicans but it is a struggle over how much workers and the middle class will pay for a crisis not of our making. Taxes are being raised. Workers are being asked to take unpaid furloughs. Education, jobs, health care, all these necessities are on the chopping block. After all, we’re all one nation, one people which means that we all have to sacrifice together. Didn’t the auto bosses agree to work for a $1 salary this year?
On the fundamentals both Democrats and Republicans agree; the US workers and small business will pay for this crisis. In order to cover for this and hopefully reduce resistance, the “unity” card is being played to the hilt every day by Obama. We are one nation. We are all Americans. There is no class distinction, just a few people who “benefitted disproportionally”. That’s an understatement.
One of the major factors as to why the anger and outrage at the robbery and corruption has not manifested itself in strikes, protests, occupations etc. is that there is a complete absence in society of any major social force putting forward an alternative. We are offered only the solutions that benefit the capitalist class brought to us through their two parties that have a monopoly in the political arena. Those who benefitted disproportionally from this thuggery still have their loot; there is no attempt to get it off them. At the very least, we want our money back. The idea that society can be organized along different lines, that the resources of society, the wealth that we create, can be collectively owned and distributed exists, but in a very limited way.
Every ruling class explains that the system it governs is the end of history, that there is no other way of organizing society. The US government’s hatred of Cuba has nothing to do with the lack of personal freedoms. It has to do with the existence of an economic formation that undermines to any extent the idea that the private sector, that the market, is the most efficient and only way to manage society. Cuba has a life expectancy equal to that of the US and an infant mortality rate that is better. Its health care system has been the gem of the former colonial world; a tiny little Island slightly smaller than Pennsylvania.
They fear the present economic crisis for the same reason, it undermines the view that the market has the answer to all things.
The heads of organized Labor could change this situation but are wedded to the market and do what they can to prop it up. They spent $400 million of their member’s money in the recent election electing candidates that will savage us in the period ahead. The ones who have their seats thanks to contributions of money and time from the ranks of organized Labor are bickering in state legislatures about how many jobs they’ll eliminate or how deep the cuts in social services will be. And the experts wonder why people don’t vote.
In California, the pathetic response from SEIU 1000 which represents California state workers is a classic example of the disastrous policies of the Labor leadership that have led to never ending declines in worker’s living standards. The leaders of this potentially powerful body have filed an unfair Labor practices complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board. The Union representing state engineers has sued in court in order to stop the cuts. That’s an inspiring strategy. Is it any wonder Union members involvement in their Unions is next to nil? These policies that rely on all the forces and institutions of our enemies rather than the collective power of workers have led to defeat after defeat and the inactivity we see today.
There have been pockets of resistance developing from homeowners who have refused to leave their homes to other groups resisting evictions and foreclosures. The recent factory occupation in Chicago was a positive development and should have been followed by mass occupations at the Big Three in response to the factory closures and future cuts and job losses that will occur as a result of the bail out conditions. The school occupation in NYC was another step forward. Internationally there has been the dynamic struggle against the state in Greece which has gotten support from throughout Europe.
The struggle for jobs, housing, education and health care, as well as a $15 an hour minimum wage. These are demands that begin to meet our needs and we must use direct action methods to win them. We cannot rely on the Labor leadership or their friends in the Democratic Party to act in our interests. We must reject the idea that society does not have the resources to provide a decent life for all; it does. The swindler Maddoff stole $50 billion, greater than the GDP of a small country like Syria or Kenya. It is Capitalism that cannot provide a decent life for the vast majority of the world’s people.
They have gone on a strike of capital and we have to break that strike like they break strikes of Labor power.
It cannot be ruled out that some major concessions could be won from the capitalist class if the working class threw its weight in to the struggle and out of which developed a mass workers political party. But any gains would be temporary, as the enemy will move to take them back using all weapons at its disposal, racism, nationalism, religious sectarianism and the power of the state to crush resistance.
The present crisis has shown that the capitalist class cannot rule anything but a profit addicted society wracked with famine war and insecurity. The only solution to this situation is the taking in to public ownership of the US and world economy under worker’s control and management and the introduction of a rational, planned system of production that produces what we need rather than what increases the wealth of a tiny global minority.
The US has a great socialist tradition, a tradition that the rulers of society have done their very best to eradicate. One of the greatest US fighters for socialism was Eugene Debs. It is worthwhile remembering his words:
They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.
Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Eugene V Debs