Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Critical Challenges Facing the Labor Movement

Jobs * Social Security * Labor Rights
Medicare and Medicaid * Peace and Justice


After the November 6 Election: Critical Challenges Facing the Labor Movement

The November 6 election was a devastating defeat for the far right, but was it a victory for the working class?

Clearly, the Republican Party leadership is the avowed enemy of labor. Romney attacked unions throughout his campaign. He opposed every public program designed to promote the health and welfare of the American people. He advocated privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare. He urged turning Medicaid entirely over to the states. He supported union-busting Scott Walker in his bid to remain governor of Wisconsin and he hailed enactment of a "right-to-work" law in Indiana. He blasted the teachers  union in Chicago and elsewhere. He called for trillions in tax breaks for the millionaires and billionaires, while cutting workers' benefits to fund it. He endorsed government's dictating to women on questions involving their reproductive rights. He denounced undocumented workers and called for their "self-deportation." He argued for additional billions for the military and a more belligerent foreign policy, escalating the threats against Iran. And the positions he espoused were all part of the far right's creed.

But is the Democratic Party the answer to Romney and the far right?

Labor has been in the forefront of the fight to preserve Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs. Yet President Obama has already made clear his desire to join with Republicans in cutting these programs, declaring in an October 24, 2012 AP interview that he is "prepared to make a whole range of compromises," even though this will rankle his own party. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are already on board.

The AFL-CIO has issued a strong and uncompromising statement opposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare so the scene is set for a major confrontation with the Obama administration and its Congressional supporters on this issue.

None of this should come as a surprise. Political parties represent classes and both the Democrats and Republicans are corporate parties. The Democrats get 72% of their funding from big business -- the Republicans get an even higher percent -- and who pays the piper calls the tune.

What the Past Four Years Have Wrought

For the past four years (and well before then), the labor movement has been under savage assault on every conceivable front. At a time of economic crisis -- and with severe austerity measures directed against the working class and the poor being unleashed -- it is no exaggeration to say that labor is fighting for its very survival. 

We see this on the collective bargaining front, where major employers like Caterpillar and Verizon demanded and received significant concessions from their unions, despite the companies making record profits.

We see it in Wisconsin's and other states' assault on public employees' bargaining rights, and Indiana's vote adopting "right-to-work" legislation.

We see it in the escalating bipartisan campaign to undermine and cut Social Security and Medicare, along with measures to destroy retirement security.

We see it with the foreclosure of millions of homeowners and the imminent foreclosure of millions more.

We see it with enactment of a deeply flawed health-care program, which, despite containing some positive features, will drive up costs and fail to guarantee quality health care coverage for all.

We see it with the record number of deportations.

We see it with the declining standard of living for the working class while corporate profits and stock prices have soared.

We see it with the "Free Trade" agreements with Colombia, Vietnam and Panama -- vehemently opposed by labor -- that Bush couldn't get approved but Obama pushed through with bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, labor's priority issues have been ignored. These include a jobs program that would put tens of millions of workers back to work; Medicare for all; reform of the labor laws and restoration of the right to strike; the Employee Free Choice Act; repeal of repressive anti-labor legislation; and retirement security -- not robbing Social Security while cutting into federal workers' pension funds to pay for payroll tax cuts.

One of the greatest scandals of the 2012 presidential campaign was the refusal of the Obama administration to press measures to bring relief to the tens of millions of impoverished Americans, whose numbers grow rapidly by the day.

On foreign policy, Obama promoted the corporate, anti-worker agenda: an expansionist policy designed to find new areas of the world to exploit, indiscriminate use of drones, continued occupation of Afghanistan for more than two years, threats and preparations for war against Iran while tightening sanctions, support for right-wing and repressive governments around the world that repress unions and protect U.S. corporate interests (e.g., Colombia, Bahrain), and maintaining the astronomical Pentagon budget.

Considering all of the above, can it really be claimed that winning four more years for this administration was a victory for the working class?

What Lies Ahead?

Labor's subservience to the Democratic Party has cost the working class heavily, so we in the Emergency Labor Network welcome AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's call for a break with that state of affairs and for building an independent labor movement.  For us, this includes giving consideration to establishing a new political party -- a workers' party led by the organized labor movement and its community partners, with a program that truly reflects the needs and interests of the great majority.

Regardless of which of the corporate parties controls the government and dominates its branches, the November 6 election solved none of the big issues confronting the American people. The hunger and homelessness; the home foreclosures; the corporate foreign policy; the assaults on the environment; the attacks on labor and on Social Security and Medicare, the need to expand Medicaid in all states; and the Bush tax cuts. All of these issues and more will still be with us after November 6.

As for the AFL-CIO and its taking a strong stand against cuts to Social Security or Medicare, this is all to the good. But it is just the starting point and it will not mean much in the absence of an all-out campaign that goes beyond traditional lobbying. It is high time that in accordance with our best traditions, labor mounts street demonstrations of the most massive kind, akin to Solidarity Day I and II actions in the nation's capital. Imagine the potential in reaching out to the more than one hundred million people on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to join in such an outpouring, along with labor's community allies.

We have demands to raise: Hands Off Our Cherished Safety Net Programs! Expand Medicaid Coverage in Every State! Put America Back to Work by Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure and Implementing a 21st Century WPA Program! Money for Jobs, Health Care, Housing and Education -- Not for Wars and Occupations! Bring All the Troops Home From Afghanistan Now! No War on Iran! Amnesty for all Undocumented Immigrants!  For a Safe, Clean and Healthy Environment! Freedom and Justice for All!

We must not let Obama's victory on November 6th delude us into thinking our fight is over.  Indeed, with both the president and the Congress -- in varying degree only -- determined to follow Corporate America's lead in imposing severe austerity measures on our already severely wounded working class, we dare not let down our guard; dare not fight for anything less than real political change &and fight for it even harder than before November 6.

No less than the very lives and fortunes of working people, the unemployed and underemployed, and of all rank-and-file Americans are at stake. And only a united movement of the working class, joined by hundreds of thousands of its community supporters, can win the tough battles that lie ahead. But such a movement can win them!  So let us waste no time in organizing it!

-- Issued by the Emergency Labor Network (ELN)

For more information write or P.O. Box 21004, Cleveland, OH 44121 or call 216-736-4715 or visit our website at Donations gratefully accepted. Please make checks payable to the ELN and mail to the above P.O. Box.

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