Unfortunately, both the Democrats and Republicans have made it clear that any increase in public spending will pale in comparison to cuts in social programs that benefit workers. The New York Times reports:
“[Obama's] budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, will call for greater deficit reduction [cuts] over the coming decade… the budget will reflect his midterm shift from a focus on stimulus spending and tax cuts in his first two years to budget-cutting as the economy [corporate profits] picks up steam.” (February 12, 2011).
Cuts to social programs are inevitable because the Democrats have already extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich, while also promising to lower the corporate tax rate. This is the essence of the problem.
A workers’ path to economic recovery would be the exact opposite of the above polices that the Chamber of Commerce is successfully implementing. Drastically increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations is but the first, necessary step to increase public funding for a real jobs program.
This crucial solution is not being proposed by the big labor federations because the union leaderships have a suicidal attachment to the Democratic Party, whose favored constituency is, as always, the rich, who would rather not have their taxes raised.
Sadly, the leaders of both labor federations have done nothing of substance to show their members a worker-centered path out of the recession. They have passively attached themselves to the blatantly pro-corporate agenda pursued in Congress and the White House, while also doing nothing to fight back against the ongoing attack against public sector unions, the backbone of the American labor movement.
What we are witnessing is an attempt by the corporate class to fundamentally shift the power dynamics in American society, completely away from workers towards corporations. The project that began in earnest under Reagan has picked up steam with Obama. Bob Herbert’s editorial in The New York Times describes this dynamic well:
“While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.” (February 11, 2011).
There are only two ways out of this recession, the path sought by corporations and the one that will benefit working people. The two roads cannot be traveled on simultaneously. Nor can working people expect leaders of national labor unions or national liberal organizations to pick the correct path, let alone make one concrete step in any progressive direction.
The movement must start at the local level, from the bottom up. Local unions and labor councils should pass resolutions demanding that the rich and corporations be taxed for local and national jobs programs. Regional coalitions of community and labor groups can be formed to put on public forums, create educational material, and organize massive demonstrations. The first real step forward will happen after we learn to detach ourselves from the above corporate mindset, relying on ourselves and acting collectively.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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