Tens of millions of workers have fought to survive over the last 3 1/2 years of the anti-worker extremism of the Bush administration. They suffered under rich tax cuts, budget cuts, stripped safety and health protections, gutted wage protections and union organizing rights, severe repression of civil liberties, attacks on civil rights, dangerous environmental policies, and an endless illegal war that has seen hundreds of thousands of working families torn apart.
They will go to the polls on November 2 and pull the lever to replace Bush. Election analysts predict a turnout of about 60 percent, the highest since the mid-1960s. This means that as many as 115 million to 120 million people may be at the polls this November. Such a high rate doesnâ€™t bode well for the Republican Party, which since 1994 has depended on very low turnouts and cynical, dirty politics to turn voters off and convince them to stay home in order to win elections. Bush henchman Karl Rove cut his political teeth on this style in the Nixon years.
This year something is different. Workers are tired of being stripped of their rights and they want to use their democratic power to point the country in a new direction. To them George W. Bush represents the most backward forces and the worst trends driving down the living standards of working families in the US.
Bushâ€™s class politics were made clear as the country sank into recession in late 2001 and his main strategy for turning things around was to urge people to get out and buy more stuff. Remember that? He then immediately handed over hundreds of billions in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, promoting the failed trickle down theory of economics and claiming it as a patriotic duty.
Instead of seeing the benefits trickle down, workers got trickled on.
Since the 1980s and the “Reagan Revolution” workers have seen their wages fall flat, while their productivity has risen tremendously. If workers are more efficient and produce more shouldnâ€™t they get more of an economic benefit? Why then have their wages remained relatively stagnant? Why have more of them seen their health care benefits withdrawn? Why have the higher paying manufacturing jobs disappeared to be replaced by low-paying retail and service industry jobs? Why have their unions, which are the only organizations that exist to protect workers rights, pay and benefits, been harassed and fought by Republican-led corporate lawyersâ€™ organizations such as the National Right to Work Committee?
In the last three years, according to the Labor Research Association, “The 2001 recession and jobless recovery have accelerated the shift to low-wage work.” About one in five US workers have been laid off at least once since the beginning of Bushâ€™s administration. Also, “while 71 percent of these workers have found new jobs, half of them are earning less than they were before they were laid off.” Some estimates show that workers returning from layoff since Bush became president are earning an average of $9,000 less annually. Along with pay cuts, workers see corporations moving plant facilities and outsourcing jobs overseas. Bush regards this trend as beneficial to working people. The net effect throughout the economy is that workers are less willing to demand more from their employers.
The Bush administration has created a climate in which workers are confronted on all sides. While working they see their living standards reduced to nothing to make larger profit margins and bigger executive salaries. When they lose their work through outsourcing or layoffs, they find that Bush administration cuts to unemployment benefits, health care coverage and retraining programs leave them in the lurch. This is Bush’s version of a “job-friendly economy.”
This is not a compassionate administration. It is a cruel presidency that finds compassion only for the already wealthy and powerful.
Bushâ€™s refusal to even regard the bread and butter issues as worthy of discussion disgusts the vast majority of working people. Bushâ€™s anti-worker policy goals have helped to forge the greatest sense of unity and purpose among working people in decades. In just about every state with a sizeable union presence, workers are hitting the streets to talk other workers about what Bushâ€™s policies have meant and why we need to move in a new direction.
10,000 union members in key swing states talked to several hundred thousand people on the night of Bushâ€™s speech to his partyâ€™s well-staged national convention alone. Efforts such as this will continue up until November 2. Unions are also working to safeguard the vote against fraud. The AFL-CIOâ€™s campaign “My Vote, My Right” will educate voters on how to protect themselves from election fraud perpetrated by the right and organize “advocate teams” to investigate and expose problems well in advance of election day. Community organizations such as the NAACP, Americans Coming Together, People for the American Way and numerous local committees are also committed to these types of activities.
Will we need to keep fighting for a better life for working families after Bush is defeated? You bet. If the current mood of workers is any indication of the willingness of workers to take that fight to the bosses and to the far right, we can expect great things in the year ahead.
–Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs