Independent Labor Candidates the Way Forward for U.S. Workers

Editorial for Socialist Appeal Issue 54

At long last, the year-long debate over health care reform has concluded and a bill has been passed. But what does the Obama plan really mean? Will all Americans now have access to health care with “Medicaid for all” coverage? Have the HMO insurers that squeeze their mega profits from the sickness and death of ordinary workers been driven out of business? Have the medical and pharmaceutical giants been nationalized under public control? Far from it. Even the weak “public option,”  a government run insurance company to compete with the private insurers, was “off the table” virtually from the beginning.

It was another classic “bait and switch” by the Democrats. They raised the hopes of millions of Americans who have no coverage at all or who pay through the nose for what amounts to “medical disaster insurance,” only to penalize those without coverage and grant colossal subsidies to the already super-profitable private insurers. Millions will remain without access to health care, there will still be a tax introduced on the so-called “Cadillac” plans of many union workers, and one of the most important industries in the country will continue to be run for private profit, not the needs of society.

Unfortunately, the labor leaders helped the Democrats pull this off. After declaring its support for single payer at their recent national convention, the AFL-CIO leadership progressively watered down what was “acceptable” and ended up endorsing this “lesser” evil bill with the excuse that “at least it’s something.” They organized call-in campaigns encouraging legislators to support the deeply flawed plan, instead of mass mobilizations on the streets — the only “language” Big Business politicians understand. But pressuring the Democrats, even with mass rallies, is hardly enough.  The Democrats’ actions throughout the economic crisis make it clear whose side they’re really on.

If you live in the “parallel universe” of Wall Street, you just might believe the hype about the economic recovery. In 2009, the CEO of a Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index company was paid an average of $9.25 million in total compensation. The bankers bailed out with public money have awarded themselves more than $145 billion in total compensation, including $20 billion in bonuses. Since the crisis, the number of billionaires has risen from 793 to 1,011, and their total wealth from $2.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion. The capitalists use crises to further concentrate wealth into the hands of a few.

But down here on planet earth, workers understand that the recovery of the stock markets has been made possible by squeezing more than ever out of the working class. A “jobs gap” of over 10 million means that millions will remain unemployed for the foreseeable future — possibly for the rest of their lives. Foreclosure filings rose 16 percent in the first quarter of 2010 from a year earlier and bank seizures hit a new record. The inequality of wealth in the U.S. is now at an all-time high. The top 1% of the population now controls a record 70% of all financial assets.

Citigroup, which received a nice chunk of public bailout funds, reported first quarter profits of $4.4 billion. Goldman Sachs, Obama’s biggest campaign contributor, and whose former officers sit in powerful positions in his administration, just made the biggest profits in their 140-year history. That’s well worth a “slap on the wrist” in the form of a fraud investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Medical insurers and pharmaceuticals led the health care sector’s earnings to an all-time high of $92 billion, a rise of $23 billion, or 33%. Never mind the crisis and lack of health care access for millions!

In  2009, the earnings of the Fortune 500 rose an incredible 335%, to $391 billion, the second biggest rise in the list’s 56-year history. All tahis while cutting 821,000 jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, across the whole of U.S. industry, unit labor costs, the labor cost of creating a good or service, fell by 4.6%, the sharpest drop since World War Two. This confirms what we have said before: rising profits are not the result of growing sales, in fact sales volume has continued to fall or stagnate in many parts of the economy, but because fewer workers are doing more work for less pay. And not only that. It is estimated that the total handouts to these same corporations amounts to $46,662 for every man, woman and child in this country. Just think of how many teachers, nurses, construction workers, firefighters, schools, bridges, hospitals and more that could have paid for instead? This is the real “secret” of the new boom on Wall Street.

This is indeed a recovery — for the rich! There is plenty of money to bail out Wall Street, and we spend 53% of the taxes we pay on the military, and yet the education system is in crisis and roads are literally falling apart.

Well over a year since Obama came to power, virtually nothing has been done for the labor movement. No Employee Free Choice Act, no universal health care, no universal living wage, no equal rights for immigrant workers, no repealing of anti-labor laws like Taft-Hartley. The mines are as unsafe as ever and workers continue to die for the profits of the shareholders.

No wonder people are angry. No wonder just 22 percent of Americans trust Washington, while over half of them think the government negatively affects their lives, a number that has been rising steadily since Clinton and GW Bush were in office. American workers instinctively understand that this government does not represent their interests. But within the limits of the two party system, they see no alternative.

This is where the “Tea Party” comes in. We are made to believe that this represents a genuine grass roots movement rejecting Obama’s alleged “socialism.” The media wants to fill the gap of anger against the existing state of affairs with a conservative, right wing content. But for the most part, this is being safely contained within the limits of the Republican Party.

The last thing they want is for that growing anger and frustration to be given a left expression, which would rapidly come into conflict with the interests defended by the Democratic Party, and get out of its control. By not flexing their organizational muscles and mobilizing the membership in a genuine grass roots movement against the crisis, the labor leaders leave the space open to the tea baggers and continued illusions in the Democrats. This all highlights yet again what Socialist Appeal has explained since our founding issue: we need a mass party of labor to fight for and represent the interests of working class majority of this country. As representatives of the bosses the Democrats simply cannot and will not do this.

For many, the idea of a mass labor party seems too abstract or unattainable. They agree with the need for such a party, but want something they can sink their teeth into now. Some are trying to run more left-leaning Democrats in the primaries, in the hopes of fighting from within its structure. Unfortunately, they will run into a brick wall. All those Democratic Party activists who want real change should ditch their allegiance to the second head of the big business political hydra and start building an independent, mass alternative. Already, some workers are moving in this direction.

In Pennsylvania and North Carolina, unions including the United Steel Workers and SEIU, fed up with the right-wing policies of many Democrats, have threatened to run as independent labor candidates against the Democratic incumbents. This is the way forward! By breaking with the Democrats and relying instead on our own forces and resources we can lay the basis for a mass party of labor sooner than we know it. Why should we continue to spend our hard-earned union dues to put the bosses’ representatives into office? Union Locals and Central Labor Councils, should take up this question concretely, passing resolutions that cut off all funding to the Democrats, and in favor of running independent labor candidates and for the building a mass labor party.

Strikes are at all-time lows and workers have their heads down now, but that won’t last forever. Tremendous battles between the workers and the profit-driven corporations and their political parties are on the horizon. Out of this turmoil will emerge new layers of fresh, militant members and new leadership, which will reinvigorate the labor movement. The question of a labor party will increasingly become an urgent necessity if we are to fight back against the relentless grinding down of our standard of living.

With the midterm elections looming, we have no time to waste. Independent labor candidates running on a program of jobs, health care and education for all would get a massive echo. The “liberal” media and the “democratic” Democrats will fight such campaigns tooth and nail. There is a lot at stake. The corporations have two parties: workers need independent candidates and a mass party of our own! Join the WIL to fight for this perspective.

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