Monday, December 6, 2010

Government Death (Er Deficit) Panels, Sell Out Unions and The War Against Workers

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Why was the 11 to 7 vote by the deficit panel considered such a victory, even though it fell short of the 14 vote super majority required to enact its onerous recommendations?  The vote showed that even liberals, like Dick Durbin, could be turned, and that ruling class support is mounting. Even Andy Stern, former boss of the SEIU, said he supported the general thrust of the measure, though he voted against it, implying that Big Labor plans to sell out the rest of us to Big Business. Of those voting against the plan, three were Republicans who opposed it only because it didn’t also abolish Obama’s health care plan. In short, with the support of labor and congressional liberals, it’s only a matter of time before European style austerity measures hit Americans, too.

The Deficit Reduction Plan is supposed to cut $4 trillion from the budget by 2020, by attacking social security, imposing a regressive sales tax, cutting Medicaid and federal jobs, while giving away huge tax breaks to the rich and to corporations. The fact that social security has no connection to the deficit, and that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to be fully funded, while the rich will get tax cuts, should make it abundantly clear that “deficit reduction” is not the real goal.

The deficit crisis, like so many other crises, is a fabrication to justify further transfers of wealth from the masses to the richest 1%, allowing the Stinky Rich to Become Even Stinkier. Durbin’s explanation for his support was the same as everyone else’s: “We all have to acknowledge the deficit crisis in this nation.” Yet the federal government is not like the rest of us, who do have to “live within our means.” They can continue to print money, as they always have during times of economic crisis. During the Great Depression, the federal government amassed a huge deficit to fund public works that put millions of Americans to work repairing infrastructure that was later used profitably by business and leisurely by the public. The comparisons with European countries like Greece and Ireland are also bogus, as those countries, being members of the EU, cannot print their own money.

The notion that tax breaks for corporations and the richest 1% are necessary for job creation is an equally absurd notion. They have had these same tax breaks since the beginning of the recession, and did little to create jobs. Banks used TARP and other bailout money to pay huge bonuses to their executives and to gobble up weaker institutions, but created few jobs and didn’t even increase lending. In contrast, the tax rate on the richest Americans was raised from 24%, in 1929, to 64%, in 1932, right in the middle of the Great Depression, when unemployment was nearing its highest point. Government spending also increased dramatically in 1932, when FDR started to implement New Deal public works projects.

The main difference between then and now is that then there was a vibrant and militant labor movement, as well as strong socialist, communist and anarchist movements, all able to organize direct actions that terrified bosses and politicians. In 1931, there was a bloody coal miners strike in Harlan County, Kentucky, in which several miners were killed. There were coal strikes, farm strikes and auto worker strikes in 1932. In 1934, during the heart of the depression, there was a bloody textile strike involving over 400,000 workers on the Eastern seaboard, the largest strike in U.S. history. There was also a general strike in San Francisco in 1934, involving workers across many industries, effectively shutting down the city for four days. There were also violent strikes in Minneapolis (teamsters) and Toledo (auto workers), along with numerous sit down strikes and farmers’ strikes throughout the 1930s.

These strikes paved the way for the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1934, which legitimized unions, but also created rules by which they had to abide, promoting the bureaucratization and timidity of union leadership. Even with the rules of NLRA favoring the bosses, they fought it tooth and nail, finally winning passage of the Taft Hartley Act, in 1947, which weakened NLRA by blocking unions from engaging in secondary boycotts, solidarity actions with other unions, and general strikes. Today, only 12% of the workforce is unionized, and even those who are unionized are hamstrung by hugely bureaucratic collaborationist union leaders who spend more time and money on buying politicians than on organizing their members. They tend to avoid strikes and other militant actions, even when desired by the rank and file, out of fear that this will lose them the chance to have a seat at the table with the bosses.

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