Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Elections, Ebola and Capitalist Crisis.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

There is an epidemic in the US and it’s not Ebola, it’s austerity as a result of the capitalist crisis.  If there is a problem with Ebola other than that people Like Bill O’Reilly can actually report on it, it might be that there’s been such savage cuts in health departments throughout the country at all levels.  While the Ebola issue gets all the attention, one can only imagine the deaths, increased misery and sickness that has occurred due to the cuts and reduction in social spending overall. According to Business Week, these agencies employ 60,000 fewer people now than they did in 2008, a drop of about 20%. (Making It Up As We Go BW 10-20-14)

The market induced crash and the “drive for austerity in Congress” reduced tax revenue says BW. While a couple trillion dollars was made available to the bankers, public services had to go. In 2007, the two federal programs that assist officials with public emergencies like the Ebola outbreak gave the states and cities $1.3bn.   That was reduce to $800 million this year so it’s quite evident that the US does not have the necessary tools in place for national health emergencies.

But public health is not a major concern in general in the US.  Medicine is a business here and if you can’t pay then you can’t play, There are public hospitals but the demand is far greater than the supply. Either way, the taxpayer picks up the tab in the end. We have a barbaric situation here where for profit corporations, insurance companies, are an integral part of the health care system.

The private sector cannot be relied upon to provide social services of any kind. There was a measles outbreak in Seattle recently and volunteers had to be found to deliver vaccines because the public health system didn’t have enough staff.  The US ruling class would not be so foolish as to allow volunteers to deliver their missiles or be in charge of their drone warfare, important tools in the safeguarding of US corporate profits abroad.

As far as epidemics or disease control, the main concern for the US ruling class is biological warfare.  The absurdly named War on Terror has been a very useful operation for diverting attention from the war on workers at home.  Thousands and thousands of Americans die each year from lack of health care. A Harvard study back in 2009 claimed that 45,000 Americans die each year from lack of health care. A 2012 report by Families USA found that more than 130,000 Americans died between 2005 and 2010 because of their lack of health insurance.

The fear of losing one’s job, losing one’s health care or one’s home; the general climate of insecurity that exists in US society, has lead to widespread anxiety among huge swathes of the population. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published in August found that 76% of adults were not confident that their children will have a better life than they do and 71% of adults think the country is on the wrong track. The poll also found that 60% “believe the US is in a state of decline.*

Afscme, this writer’s former union, is already urging its members to vote today.  Lee Saunders, the union’s president writes in its publication, Afscme Works, “If we don’t work as hard as we can for candidates that share our values, if we stay home on Election day, we play right in to their hands.”  “We have a tremendous opportunity to chart a new and better course for members and all working families.” Saunders adds.  Laura Reyes, Afscme’s Secretary Treasurer writes in the same vain warning the membership that, “This is a critical election year for Afscme and particularly for Afscme women”   Olivia Sandbothe in the same issue has the same message, “…the election this November is critical.”

They were more open about supporting the Democratic Party years ago but years of setbacks, cuts, layoffs, wage and benefit reductions under Democrat and Republican alike has made this position a bit tenuous. So they talk about the process not being about Party politics but politicians that “Share our values”.

The labor hierarchy is primarily the representative of the Democratic Party in the trade union movement.  They have funneled billions of their members’ hard earned dues money to this Wall Street Party over the years and have provided hundreds of thousands of volunteers and resources; foot soldiers for electoral campaigns.  They argue for their members and workers as a whole to vote for this party that workers have abandoned in droves and for good reason. “If there was ever a hold-our-nose election, this certainly would be it.”, says Fred Yang, a Democratic Pollster and one of the conductors of the WSJ/NBC poll.

We have heard this time and time again.  Millions of workers do not believe for one minute that Lee Saunder’s claim that this Election Day is an “..opportunity to chart a new course…..” holds any water. At best, the decline will be slowed a bit.  Workers don’t believe these union officials when, like Sanbothe of Afscme, they claim that, “…we have a chance to vote them out and elect solid pro-worker candidates to replace them.”.  The “them” she is referring to is Republicans but under Republican and Democratic administrations alike we have lost ground.  Democrats are on board with cutting public sector pensions and are not opposed to austerity, just a nicer friendlier version. 

The union officials’ message is taken no more seriously than the rhetoric from the politicians of the two Wall Street parties who claim to love the US worker (the middle class as they call us).  The polls give an accurate, if not an underestimated assessment of the mood and frustration that exists in US society. Laura Colvin, a fast food worker in Arkansas tells the Wall Street Journal, “I was doing better five years ago than I’m doing now.” Her hourly wage has risen only $1 in five years as all other items such as utility costs have risen.

Evan Coley, a 22-year old blue-collar worker “doesn’t think they (politicians) are working for the middle class.  They’re trying to help themselves more than anyone else.” When workers say Middle Class here in the US, they mean working class. I doubt this was the case prior to the rise of the CIO and the Post War Boom.

There is a real crisis and an epidemic in US society and it is not Ebola, an impending Iranian invasion, Muslim or Latino hordes overwhelming our public services, taking our jobs or blowing up our buildings; it is the offensive of capital.

I want to end with a   comment about local elections. There are many liberals running for office who all claim to be for the worker.  They will defend public services, our schools, our jobs they say as they appeal for our votes. At the same time their orientation is to business as the driving force, our savior.  But business has some demands of its own and we all know what they are, cheap taxes, low wages, etc.

A school board member said at a meeting in my town last week that we “don’t have the money”.  Yet he claims to represent the interests of working folk and our children.  There is plenty of money in society, we simply have to go after it. When the power in Sacramento and at the federal level demands austerity, he, like all of them will carry out these dictates of big business.  Either the 1% pay for their crisis or we do.

I do not believe that we can make the capitalist system of production a “fair” system through the ballot box, we cannot vote it in to extinction; it is inherently exploitive, producing far more losers than winners.  Inequality and poverty are built in to it.  US capitalism is in crisis, it is losing its once dominant position on the global stage and in the struggle to maintain its domination increasingly through violent methods, it has to place its own working class on rations.

Only a united, direct action mass movement of workers and youth can counter this offensive of capital and building this movement can produce small victories on the way. Rather than cooperating in the attacks on workers by implementing, (some say grudgingly although the effect is what matters) the policies handed down to local bodies by the state and federal powers, a local candidate should as a matter of election, promise they will not participate in cuts; that they will help to mobilize people and organize direct action to stop the cuts.

If a candidate is removed from office by authority of state or federal power for violating some bureaucratic rule designed to undermine the influence of working people in politics, this would be seen as a badge of honor to most workers, fighting back, risking a political career rather than cooperating with the austerity agenda; it would inspire workers and the middle class to action.

By pointing to where the money is, by demanding the rich pay for their own crisis, by using the influence a political office gives, then a candidate could play a small role in bringing the anger that lies beneath the surface of US society in to the open helping it take organizational form. Being firmly rooted in this movement, candidates independent of the two Wall Street Parties, and in opposition to them, could challenge the dictatorship capital has over the electoral process.
 Poll Finds Widespread Economic Anxiety. WSJ 8-6-14

No comments: