Occupy Movement, Labor on Collision Course with Obama

super committeeWith organized labor increasing support for the Occupy movement – SEIU Local 1021, the Alameda County Labor Council and other unions greatly contributed to the success of the November 2 Oakland General Strike – many see the battle for the 99% as energizing traditional Democratic constituencies for the November 2012 elections. But if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction reaches a bipartisan deal in the next three weeks that cuts Medicare and Social Security, the opposite is more likely to be true.

Progressives have not focused on the Deficit Reduction Committee, as its meetings have coincided with the growth of Occupy’s historic grassroots movement for economic justice. And some are addressing the President’s refusal to commit to a Wall Street transaction tax, which is the subject of an “Occupy the Treasury” event today. But the Committee is being pressured to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from health care and entitlement programs, and from other domestic needs, as part of an Obama-backed “grand bargain” to raise taxes on the wealthy. Should such an agreement be reached, those who worry that Occupy lacks specific demands will have their fears allayed: Occupy activists will have a clear target in President Obama and other Democrats backing such a deal.

As Republicans promote even more tax breaks for the wealthiest 1%, Democrats would appear to have a great opportunity to seize the spirit of the Occupy movement and become the party of economic populism for the 2012 elections. President Obama now talks the language of economic unfairness. But if he and fellow Democrats agree to a deficit reduction deal that cuts Medicare, Social Security, and other programs serving the 99%, expect an electoral calamity for Democrats in 2012.

Occupy and the Democratic Party

Unlike the Tea Party, Occupy is neither funded nor controlled by key figures in a national political party. But as labor unions with close Democratic Party ties increasingly get involved in the movement, they may soon be forced to choose which side they are on.

randy shawPresident Obama and national Democratic leaders better hope they do not put labor unions in a position of having to make this choice. Because while labor leaders have stood by Obama despite his weak record on their priorities, Occupy has galvanized union members in a way that alters this calculus.

SEIU, for example, is not going to be able to conduct an effective electoral mobilization drive in 2012 if its members see Obama and the Democrats as having sacrificed Medicare, Social Security and vital domestic programs. And even if union leaders throw millions into Obama’s campaign, this will now be framed as a betrayal of the values of the Occupy movement rather than as a smart investment in labor’s future.

Obama put himself in this box by proposing the “grand bargain” to Speaker Boehner, and then agreeing to create the Deficit Committee. And for all his talk about raising taxes on the wealthy, he is not promoting using the money generated to provide additional relief to the bottom 50%.

randy shaw

Some believe that Obama’s real strategy is to put Republicans on the defensive for backing the interests of the 1%, and that the President knows the Deficit Reduction committee will not reach agreement. These folks probably also believed that Obama picked Larry Summers and Tim Geithner to head his economic team because these insiders would be more effective in cracking down on Wall Street – when the opposite proved true.

David Dayen of Firedoglake has provided outstanding coverage of the Deficit Reduction committee, whose work must end in three weeks. Obama supporters better hope that no agreement is reached, as the alternative puts the President and the Democratic Party in the crosshairs of a growing and increasingly powerful progressive movement.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.


  1. Jay Levenberg,Esq. says

    Well, if a community organizer from Chicago with little other experience is elected President, how do you expect him to deal with the corporate titans of America? You need someone in there that understands what is going on and can ask the right questions and get the right answers. Obama, is not that person. Worse, just recently, his good friend Corzine (the former Governor of NJ) just headed up a firm that went bankrupt on Wall Street after Mr. Corzine prevailed upon the President not to inquire into his firm’s shenanigans. There is a relationship between the tea party and the Wall St. protesters. The person that can understand that thread should be in charge. Whether there is a candidate running for President that does understand it is questionable but to expect this President, with his background, to have any understanding of the situation is just unreasonable.

  2. says

    Randy’s report is nuanced and correct. Top echelons of organized labor may be in Obama’s corner and spend millions for him, but many rank and file will be alienated. That scenario is already starting to play out here. SEIU Local 1000 (CA state employees union) top dogs have voted to endorse Obama’s re-election now, needlessly early, even as he’s delivered less to working folks than all other Democratic (and some Republican) presidents in living memory.

    In my opinion Obama’s re-election strategy is clear: let the Congressional Republicans be extremist and in our face, as they have been. Then tag the Republican prez candidate as being of the same ilk. Never mind how close to equally selling out the 99% Obama himself is ready to go later – after being safely reelected. The Congressional Republicans are obliging him (because, as commenter Dusty notes, their sponsors would just as soon keep a DINO prez – which will allow them to scapegoat Dems for results of de-facto right-wing policies).

    In this strategy, Obama’s main worry is a Dem primary challenger. For right now his main tactic is to run out the clock on that one. Just keep the various traditional Dem interest groups not too unhappy and guessing – by deferring the more obvious sellouts (e.g. on Keystone pipeline) until it’s too late for a challenger to get going. So far, Obama’s getting away with this tactic. So far, unlike what occurred in 1968 in the case of a far more achieving and effective incumbent Dem prez, so far other Democratic politicians continue to duck their responsibility to offer their party a more competent leadership than we’ve got so far from the least-competent least-performing Democratic president in living memory.

    As Randy points out – any further pre-election concessions to the Republicans will anyhow likely result in all Obama-supporting Dem pols getting shellacked.

  3. dusty says

    The corporate and financial ruling interests don’t care a whit if Obama gets re-elected or not or if a Republican takes over because they are running the game either way. Actually having Obama as the head of state is good for their interests because it projects an image of democracy, i.e. we have a Black American as President, while the politics and policies are anything but democratic. How in a democracy can a super majority of 60 votes out of 100 be the rule for passage in the Senate? No, the facade that we see is not the democracy that we get. What we get is an authoritarian government working for the interests of a very small minority, the 1%, who enjoy their life of wealth, power, and amusement — will we stand up and fight like others have fought in Libya, Egypt, and across other countries in the middle east or will we lie down as did the good Germans and Italians under the onslaught from the fascist movements there who used corporate and right wing populist strength to grab state power. If we don’t fight back then we will rightfully be judged as harshly as we judged the silent Germans and Italians who stood back as their countries were ruled and ruined by the right.

  4. dusty says

    Why we are being sold out in a few words. The President has listened to the financial wizards of wall street and the captains of industry and they have convinced him that the world will be governed by the financial oligarchy, including the US. Furthermore, in their analysis the US will no longer be the mass production location because labor is cheaper elsewhere and cheap labor means higher profits for the investors and financial structure. So, the workers in our country are superfluous in the eyes of the ruling class of our nation and we workers must be struck down and kept in our place — disorganized and disillusioned without a structure to fight back and that means destroy the unions, threaten demonstrators with the weapons developed to be used in the war on terror including stun weapons, laser weapons, surveillance technology and the list goes on. We must only hope that our counterattack with the Occupy everywhere movement is not too little and too late though that is a good possibility. In many cities, most probably, the police have been willing to attack their fellow citizens on behalf of the ruling ideology of capitalism rules and capitalists are the rulers. That is why we are faced with “democratic” fascism, corporate rule, and our constitution and citizens rights are being circumscribed to the benefit of authoritarianism. The President went to Occidental and Harvard which are not the schools of the working class unless you are a bright working class person that they want to co-opt into management and become a tool of their authoritarian structure.

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