Emerging Labor Responses to the Economic Crisis
On August 2, the Teapublicans achieved their number one short-term objective, forcing Obama and the Democrats to agree to a nearly $1 trillion immediate cut in the federal deficit and debt in exchange for allowing the debt ceiling to be raised. The Teapublicans also achieved their second most desired short term objective: no tax revenue increases as part of the deal. It was all spending cuts. They also got their third priority demand: no defense cuts. What did the Democrats get? Obama and the Democrats got what they obviously thought was their number one demand: an agreement not to use the debt ceiling issue as a hammer for more spending cuts until after the November 2012 election. For that they were willing to cut a deal, raise the debt ceiling so bondholders could continue to get paid on time, and agree to forego cutting defense spending or including tax hikes on the rich and corporations as part of the deal.
Of course, Democrats will soon be disappointed, despite what they think is an “agreement.” By August 5, the Teapublicans were already declaring they intended to do it over again. After all, it worked last spring. It worked again this summer. Why not keep at it? The next blackmail event will likely be the October 1, 2011, the deadline date for next year’s general budget. After that, there’s the December 23, 2011 deadline for deciding on the recommendations due by from a bi-partisan committee of Congress.
The bi-partisan committee will be appointed by leaders of both parties of Congress by the time this article appears in print and it will no doubt be composed of conservative Democrats plus ultra conservative Teapublicans. To ensure the bi-partisan committee’s almost certain conservative recommendations will be adopted, the August 2 debt deal requires that the committee’s recommendations be voted “up or down” by the rest of Congress—with no amendments and no changes.
This bi-partisan committee’s forthcoming proposals will represent a “reopener,” as they say in union negotiating circles. Before the end of the year another $1.2 to $1.5 trillion will have to be cut. That’s part of the August debt ceiling deal as well. That’s a total of between $2.2 and $2.5 trillion. The committee will recommend a minimum of $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and tax hikes as well. If Congress can’t agree (and there’s little evidence it will), then the $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction will automatically go into effect before year end. The August deal specifies that the $1.2 trillion cuts be distributed proportionally between defense and non-defense spending. It makes no reference to tax hikes.
Fictitious Debt Crisis vs. Real Jobs Crisis
According to the
It became clear following the August 2 deal that much of what went on was “managed theater.” Not only did the Teapublicans create a crisis in order to extract trillion dollar spending cuts, but the Obama team played the “sky will fall” card as well.
When the debt ceiling deal passed, business confidence would be restored and the stock market would once again boom. But within 24 hours there was no stock boom. In fact, the market sagged seriously. The reason? Reports showed global and
The Emergency Labor Network
Anticipating these events as far back as January 2011, a number of local union activists began exploring how to take action. About 100 local union activists met in
Representatives came from all over the country, including longshore union officers from both coasts, large contingents of public workers from
Not wanting to substitute themselves for the trade union movement or speak in its name, they agreed that the purpose of the conference was to promote mass actions around progressive demands to take back to central labor councils, their unions, their immigrant organizations, their communities and try to build a national network of labor-community fightback committees, which would organize public actions and demonstrations in their respective communities and unions.
Some of the Emergency Labor Network (ELN) demands included plans to:
1. Launch a national campaign for “No Concessions, No Cuts” and to Defend and Expand Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; to Tax the Rich and Corporations; Single Payer healthcare via Medicare for all; a Federal Public Works Jobs program; End the Wars and Bring Home War Dollars for human needs; Protect and Expand Immigrant Workers’ rights; and Defend and Expand Collective Bargaining rights.
2. Promote and support strike actions around the above demands, such as defending the strike by Longshore Workers’ Local 10 against the Pacific Maritime Association in solidarity with Wisconsin workers and their unions. Support mass actions such as SEIU’s “Fight for a Fair Economy” and the National Nurses United’s “Main Street Contract for America” campaign, as well as other unions and community organizations calling mass actions opposing concessions or attacks on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
3. Refuse to support and actively oppose candidates for office at all levels who vote for cuts and concessions in public services, jobs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
4. Organize the unemployed, repeal repressive labor laws like Taft-Hartley, and help promote and build a
5. Oppose the criminalization of immigrant workers, reform immigration laws, legalize undocumented workers, demand their right to organize, repeal employer sanctions, oppose guest-worker programs, and strengthen family reunification.
6. Support and help build October demonstrations against the wars in cities across the country, bring home the troops now, close foreign bases, and use the money for jobs and education.
7. Demand that unions withdraw financial support for politicians that demand concessions and use the money to build mass mobilization in the streets and workplaces around the above ELN demands, which will include running labor’s own independent candidates for office.
The conference concluded by issuing letters of support to Fedex workers’ organizing efforts, Greek and Haiti workers under attack, and an Open Letter to the U.S. Labor Movement, with model resolutions to submit to union bodies nationwide calling for a National Day of Action in the fall to jumpstart a national organizing campaign around ELN demands.
Other Organizing Efforts
Following the conference,
A national communications website has been set up by the ELN and may be accessed at www.laborfightback.org, where contact information, endorsers, the ELN action program, its open letter to the labor movement, sample resolutions, reports on actions, and articles of interest are available.
The Teamsters Convention: at the Teamsters national convention a number of resolutions were introduced and passed supporting
Trumka and the AFL-CIO: the largest labor federation in the
Since June the AFL-CIO has slowly and cautiously continued to distance itself—in words—from Obama and the Democrats. The recent eruption of the debt ceiling debacle has moved this shift slightly further as, on August 3, the AFL-CIO Executive Council issued a statement charging politicians of both parties with failing to address the profound economic crisis and exacerbating that crisis by producing “an unending series of fake political crises” and adding that, “Unfortunately, far too many Democrats have been either silent or complicit in the Republicans’ scheme…. There is no way to fund what we must do as a nation without bringing our troops home from
Although not as yet announced publicly, the AFL-CIO has also called for a national day of action some time in early October to protest the deficit cutting mania embraced by both parties, demand a real jobs creation program, and demand that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid not be sacrificed. It remains to be seen, however, whether these public demonstrations and protests will become more than just another perennial verbal warning shot across the bow to Democrat politicians or whether the beginning of charting a new, more independent political course for the AFL-CIO.
Will Labor Rise to the Challenge?
As of August 2011 it appears increasingly to many observers that the Democratic Party is intent on destroying its one remaining differentiation from the Teapublicans: its long term stance in defense of Social Security and Medicare. Obama’s first two years in office were characterized by an economic stimulus and recovery program that bailed out the banks, big business, and the wealthiest 10 percent households, but have done virtually nothing for workers, small businesses, and the bottom 90 percent households. That policy failure resulted in the president’s loss of political control of the economy and his own political future. Since November 2010,
In the coming months the senior leadership of the trade union movement will wag their finger at their Democrat friends, threaten, cajole, and plead. But the only way they will move toward independent political action is if their grass-roots membership takes the lead and drags them into the future. Much will depend in the coming months on actions by unions like the nurses and such emerging labor organizations like the ELN. Whether they can reach a threshold before the Teapublicans’ deficit-cutting political steamroller remains to be seen.
Jack Rasmus is the author of Epic Recession: Prelude to Global Depression, (Pluto Press and Palgrave- Macmillan, 2010) and the forthcoming Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few. His blog is jackrasmus.com and his website is www.kyklos productions. com.