Saturday, September 22, 2012

Don't believe the hype: Expand public sector pensions to all workers.

Source: CNN Money
by Richard Mellor

The Wall Street Journal, the major journal of the US capitalist class, is a bit perturbed that the ongoing assault on public sector workers' pensions isn't producing the necessary results. The cuts, we are told, are necessary so that the country can "dig out from under the economic downturn."  In fact, they have,  "fallen well short" of the amount necessary to significantly reduce deficits that will encourage the coupon clipper's to invest in the economy. 

The problem is that despite the propaganda, workers, pensions didn't cause the economic crisis, the internal contradictions of capitalism did.  The attacks on public services and workers, our pensions, wages and benefits, are intended to hide the fact that capitalism is a system of never ending and worsening crisis.  The crash is being used as an excuse to reduce the unionization rate in the US and eliminate gains made over the last 60 years.  They have been very successful in this endeavor in the private sector with the help of organized Labor's officialdom. As we have explained many times on this blog, they intend to put US workers and the middle class on rations and return us to the days before the great movements that built the CIO and broke the back of the Apartheid system in the US South.

"Economic forces are reshaping traditional rivalries...." says the Journal, "...convincing lawmakers and Labor leaders that past public pension plans are unsustainable." But they are not unsustainable. It is simply a matter of how we allocate the resources of society and the wealth we create. Private ownership of the energy, health care, transportation and other crucial industries and production for profit and not social needs is unsustainable but they have no problem with that. There is plenty of money in society that could ensure everyone a decent retirement; it is a matter of allocation.

The fear of social unrest has meant that most of the already implemented cuts will affect future hires, our young people.  The Union hierarchy basically accepts this propaganda from big business and its media about sustainability and go along with it as potential Union members can't vote in contracts.  So far only $100 billion of the $900 billion gap between what states owe in benefits and what they have has been raised. 

The main thing though is that this economic crisis is a wonderful opportunity for the strategists of capital and their political representatives in the Democratic and Republican parties to accomplish what under "normal" times would take much longer.  By most estimates, real savings will only be realized in 30 years or so after the better plans have expired and the new ones kick in reducing pension cost by about 25% over that period.  So younger people today will be working more hours and certainly more years, perhaps in to their seventies and eighties; seventies will certainly be the norm as people will be unable to receive a pension until then---a pension that will barely pay the rent anyway.

California's Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, the former left demagogue who used to have his own show on the left/liberal KPFA here in the Bay Area, has proudly introduced pension "reform" that he says is the "biggest rollback to public pension benefits in the history of California pensions.".  You would think a party that some claim is the party of Labor here would expel a guy that savages workers in this way but the 1% see Obama and the Democrats as their best bet, Romney and some of the nuts in the Republican Party are too unstable for the more sober bourgeois who want to return to a good profit-making climate.

Leaving aside the horrific destruction and slaughter they cause, the cost to the taxpayer of these predatory wars abroad is staggering. By some estimates over the next decade or so we could be looking at 6 or 7 trillion dollars.  This figure will no doubt rise as more regional wars and military expenditures occur as the struggle for markets continues. The US has troops and bases throughout the world and wants to build more increasing tensions from Australia to the China and the Central Asian Republics. Global capitalism cannot create peace in any part of the world

If we choose to accept that a decent living and retirement, health care and education, in short, a secure and productive existence is not possible in a capitalist economy then we should just offer to halve our incomes and living standards and get it over with.  But there is clearly no reason whatsoever for not reducing the workweek, having full employment, pensions that people can live on etc. The only obstacle is that it is "unsustainable" for the Warren Buffets, Bill Gates, Larry Ellisons of this world.  They won't be able to buy their $200 million yachts and skate through life without working.

I have raised many times before the comments of the English historian Christopher Hill and I shall mention them again. In his wonderful book, The Century of Revolution, about the English revolution that reduced the power of the King and the feudal aristocracy opening the historical gateway to the rule of capital, Hill talked of one of the major obstacle to the rising capitalist class and their colleagues in the religious sphere. He said that they could not overcome the "Stop in the mind". What this stop in the mind was was their acceptance of the dominant ideology that existed throughout English society at the time, this was the "Divine Right of Kings", the belief that the king was god's representative on earth, was king by god's will.  If you accept that, how can you remove this force? You can only go so far.  But Cromwell challenged this notion and suggested we cut off his head and see what happens. Voila! a new day is born.

The concept of the king's "Divine Right" never sprang from the head of the exploited, of the peasant. The king thought it up.  It is the same today. The idea that society cannot provide education for all, health care, food, water etc, not on a US scale but globally, is propaganda that has its origins in the class that governs, in capitalism's case it is the capitalists, the owners of the means of producing, distributing, and exchanging the necessities of human society.

So we must reject in our own minds this nonsense about sustainability of pensions and demand an expansion of such pensions for all workers.  The productive forces, not just on a national scale but a global one have attained such a level that every human being on this planet can live a productive and secure existence.  But capitalists do not set this productive process in motion to produce what we need, they set it in to motion if production is profitable for them. If you can't pay for food, you starve.  If developing infrastructure to provide water is not profitable, you die of thirst.  The millions of people that die from hunger and disease throughout the world die not because society doesn't have the ability or resources to feed or care for them, they die because they can't pay for it. And the capitalist's propaganda will tell us it's their own fault.

And returning to the local level and the elections here in the US, not just nationally but in our communities. Every candidate I know of starts from a position of accepting this unsustainable argument, or more concisely, the argument that we are in difficult economic times. No we are not. Every candidate in my community, including the candidates of the Union bureaucracy  make it clear that times are difficult and that they have to be "fiscally responsible." They are the "damage control". candidates.  They can wax eloquent about the need to protect social services and build better schools etc etc. but always make it clear that they are realistic and will be "fiscally responsible". This is to assure the coupon clippers, the owners of capital, that they will not step beyond the bounds of business as usual and the opportunity for profits are assured.. This is why they end up betraying us, it's not simply a personal character flaw, it's a theoretical and political question.

Despite the massive accumulation of wealth at the top that has taken place in US society and the growing inequality, (the inequality gap is greater in the US than China) even the heads of organized Labor at the highest levels accept that the American worker's living standards are too high. They accept that the market is god and that we have to compete with other workers both at home and abroad in order to help the rich get richer. The leadership of the AFL-CIO organized  a successful campaign in Ohio to drive back attempts by the governor to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees but a year on, "Many of the state's public employee Unions supported the pension cuts..." writes the WSJ.  "Many of the state Labor leaders agreed that their members' retirement benefits need to be trimmed." the Journal adds.

This view is the dominant view of the heads of organized Labor who see the Unions they head as employment agencies with themselves as the CEO's. They force concessionary contracts on their members that they don't have to work under. They too buy the propaganda that society would collapse without the private sector.  They mobilize to maintain collective bargaining rights only because it guarantees their role as spokespersons for Labor so they can negotiate concessions. In the case of Wisconsin, the entire Labor officialdom supported the cuts but opposed the two proposals that affected them, bargaining rights and dues checkoff where the employer collects the member's Union dues through the payroll system.

So the first step for any individual or any candidate for political office or for a Union position is to reject completely in our own consciousness the idea that a decent life for all is not possible.  All the prerequisites are there for the opposite.  The reality is that the capitalist mode of production and the political and economic structure that arises from it cannot provide a decent life for the vast majority of the world's inhabitants.  It never has provided security for anything but a minority.

Once we reject the propaganda the obvious next step is trying to figure out how to proceed.  The money is there, the resources are there, we just have to fight a war to get them.  We have the advantage, we outnumber the coupon clippers.  We do the work and can shut down their economic system and we have many times in our history.  They use race, religion and gender to divide and weaken us.  They blame unions and immigrants and the poor for the failure of their system.  We must not fall for this. We have what we have through collective struggle and the heroic sacrifice of workers in the past.  This is what we have to accept and what we should demand form any Union official, political candidate or anyone else that claims to speak for working people.

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