Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Warren and Sanders: Let's not forget Obama's broken promises.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I realize that for a lot of young people and the 88% or so of American workers not in unions that you probably don’t think too much about organized labor. If you do, you probably have the view, not unwarranted, that unions only fight for their own members (the leadership is actually much worse than that, they don’t even fight for their members) and that labor leaders at the highest levels are nothing but fat cats. None of these opinions would be too far off.

But organized labor is not just leaders; it includes 12 or 14 million American workers.  These are the people that pay the dues (membership fees) and they are in every important industry in the US. Communication, transportation, auto production, the service sector like the hotels in Vegas, these are all unionized. Also, the public sector is heavily unionized.  Without the public sector the unionization rate would be around 7% in the US, probably less.  This is why the bosses, fresh on the heels of a crushing of the influence of the UAW in the auto industry, are now after the public sector workers and our unions.

But despite all this, organized labor is still a potentially powerful force; in fact, it is the major non-capitalist social formation.

We are entering yet another election cycle and as usual, the working class has no choice.   What we have is a choice between the candidates of the 1% in the Democratic Party and the candidates of the 1% in the Republican Party. We have a choice between candidates that represent the interests of Wall Street-----candidate A and candidate B. How could this not be so, both the Democratic and Republican parties are financed by the 1%.

The mood among workers and sections of the middle class in US society, certainly the mood that is sort of suppressed, that has no outlet or has resolved in to a feeling of hopelessness------that there’s nothing we can do-----is one of anger and hatred of the super rich and the bankers and other parasites that were the cause of the Great Recession.

The so-called socialist candidate, Bernie Sanders, and the left Democrat Elizabeth Warren, recognize this anger, are concerned about it and the threat it can be to social stability. They recognize that unless the most aggressive aspects of the assault on living standards are curbed amid massive shifts in wealth toward a small majority, social unrest will inevitably follow.  Warren and Sanders are among the more astute of the 1%’s political representatives. Their daily calls for fairness, against greed and massive wealth accumulation is a response to their recognition of the mood that exists out there; it is driven from below. Both Warren and Sanders have supported US foreign policy including the US financed assault on the people of Gaza by the racist Zionist regime.

A genuine independent party representing the interests of workers and the middle class would have taken off a long time ago were the trade union leadership not joined at the hip with bosses through the Team Concept, eagerly offering concessions on the job in order to help a specific employer gain market share from their rivals and through their support of the Democratic Party. For many years, polls have shown that the American masses are thirsty for something different in the political arena.  The voter turnout in the US is dismally low and this is not, as some liberals argue, because Americans don’t care or are apathetic.  It is because they have drawn the correct conclusion that on the fundamental issues, food, housing, jobs, education wages, there is not much difference. If I’m going to be poor no matter who gets in, I’ll vote for Jesus.

Latest polls continue to show that as the graph here shows:
Source WSJ
Gerald Seib points this out in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. He points to the populist rhetoric coming from both the left, people like Warren and Sanders, and the right. “We have come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank,”, Republican Rand Paul says. Bernie Sanders, the self-named socialist who is actually a Democrat and who will most likely be calling for a vote for Hilary come election time agrees, “When we talk about power, we talk about Wall Street. In my view, it is time to break up the largest financial institutions in this country.”, he says.

Rick Santorium, a right wing Republican also jumps on the bandwagon, “Working families don’t need another president tied to big government or big money,” he says. On announcing his campaign another enemy of working people, Mike Huckabee, states that his campaign will be, “funded and fueled not by billionaires but by working people.”

Well who would have dreamed working folk have so many friends in Washington.

We have seen all this before. We have heard all the rhetoric before. I remember seeing young people on the streets where I live campaigning for Obama in his first term.  He managed to build a bank of some 6 million e mails, he was the anti-war president, the “yes we can” president. But we learn pretty quickly that you don’t become the head of the Harvard Law Review if you are not trusted by the unelected rulers of this country and you certainly don’t become president.

Bernie Sanders is very popular among the youth and is drawing large crowds. His comments about greed and the bankers and the inequality in society are all over the Internet. But what he advocates we do about this situation is not as his answer is to vote for the Democrat. These “populists” are well aware of what is happening in society and the general anger at it. We can be sure that it is highly unlikely Sanders will be selected by the politicians in the Democratic Party to be that party’s presidential hopeful.  The most likely scenario, and in my opinion Sanders knows this, is that Hilary Clinton will be the choice and Sanders will support her. He has the luxury of calling himself a socialist independent and acting like a Democrat.

So in yet another electoral cycle, the anger and desire for an alternative out there will be sucked in to the Democratic Party where it will fade away.  The young people new to politics will be demoralized and feel betrayed. Nothing new. 

“Let’s stipulate up front that a serious third party isn’t likely to emerge, at least not in this cycle. A viable third party requires money and an outsize personality (think Ross Perot), and it isn’t clear those elements exist right now.”.

Well the money does exist and the structure does in the form of organized labor. My former union alone has about 4000 locals, or it did when I was active in it.  The AFL-CIO has about 1000 Labor Councils, the county arm of the national AFL-CIO to which all AFL-CIO unions are generally affiliated. The labor officialdom has donated hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of their members’ hard earned money to the Democratic Party over the years and will continue to do so. There is nothing that they fear more than an independent party of working people. There refusal to use the resources at their disposal to provide an alternative political option to working people and to mobilize the potential power of organized labor to drive back the capitalist offensive has mean untold hardship for working people.

At some point of course there will be a breakthrough. We see movements against various aspects of the assault on workers living standards throughout the nation from the moratorium on foreclosure movement that arose after the Great Recession, the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina turned out the largest demonstration in that state’s history in decades, some 100,000 in the streets of Raleigh. There are numerous environmental campaigns against fracking and other disastrous practices and we have seen the protests and strikes for a higher minimum wage that have forced even one Republican, Rick Santorium, to call for a “modest” increase. By the time the $15 cap is reached in 2020 mind you there will not be too much difference in purchasing power and disposable income. Rents in major urban centers like San Francisco are exorbitantly high.

 There is no shortage of resistance, it is simply fragmented and most of these campaigns are isolated from each other. But this will change.

We live in a volatile period and the US 1% is over confident after years of success driving back gains workers have won over a century or more. Their confidence is buoyed by the partnership they have with the leaders of organized labor who act to suppress any movement from within their ranks that threatens their position and the relationship they have built with the bosses based on labor peace. But this dam will also be breached.

Meanwhile, as 2016’ election approaches working people have no real choice.

1 comment:

Stephen Perkins said...

Obama has done a lot to dampen the spirits of the Millenials. They had a lot of hope that he would transform their situation for the better. Of course he didn't, as Richard points out. This contributes to the cynicism that you can affect social change by getting involved in politics. Yet many people recognize the need to create a better society and are involved in the various movements.

Yes there is a significant decrease in the standard of living for many people. This has forced many families to go back to having extended families living together, a feature of life before the post-war upswing. People are also exploring different options for and alternatives to medical care, whether it be embracing a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise, to the extent that is possible or receiving treatment in either neighboring countries or countries that they are from. My father-in-law just recently was diagnosed as requiring a cardiac catheterization, a procedure to alleviate two blocked arteries. In Mexico where he lives the procedure will cost $15,000. In the U.S. we are still figuring out the out of pocket costs. He has Medicare, Social Security and a pension, but where he will have the surgery will be dictated by where the procedure will be least expensive. And I have seen many people appeal to others to fund medical treatment by raising money on the internet through crowdsourcing on sites like GoFundMe.

As for the election, I will once again vote for Jill Stein, who will campaign on a Green New Deal, a program which I can support. However, I have no illusions she will be campaigning on a fair playing field or make many inroads. While having had some success nationwide, particularly in places like Richmond, California, the Greens are a predominantly white and aging political party who are having difficulty expanding their base of support. There has been some talk that Jill Stein may approach Kshama Sawant to be her running mate. In NYS Green Party member ran for Governor on a ticket with Brian Jones, a member of the ISO, so this would not be unprecedented.

One final point I would like to make is the need to educate many of the new activists on the finer points of direct action. Of course many of us know the successes that different organizations and movements had in the 30's and 60's. However, this was also true during the 80's under the Koch and Reagan administrations when ACT UP was able to put the issue of AIDS on the map and force the government to allocate resources for research, which ultimately saved many lives. The history of this organization is quite interesting and if I remember correctly also substantiates why it is important when working as part of a united front not to require people to be socialists. A possible source for discussions would be Brave New Films. There may also be another source which produces documentaries on related issues which unfortunately escapes me at this moment.