US election offers no choices for workers and the oppressed
By John Leslie and Wayne DeLuca
US workers face high unemployment, an employers’ offensive, austerity, and continued imperialist wars.
The official unemployment rate for September 2012, showed a slight improvement falling to 7.8 percent. This is good news for Obama, who has been claiming that the economic situation is improving under his administration. The US economy only added approximately 114,000 jobs — far fewer than the 150,000 jobs necessary per month just to employ new workers entering the workforce. The growth in employment reflects an increase in the number of part-time jobs. The healthcare sector added jobs, but manufacturing lost 16,000 workers
The number of unemployed is 12.1 million, with 5 million of these counted as long-term unemployed. An additional 8.6 million work part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time work. Another 2.5 million are referred to by the government as “marginally attached” to the workforce. This means that some 23 million workers are still locked out of the US economy.
The “solutions” offered by both capitalist parties are cuts to education, public works and essential social services for the poor and elderly. Public sector unions, particularly the teacher’s unions, are vilified by both ruling class parties as greedy and out of touch with reality. Public education is being slashed and public schools are being privatized at an alarming rate.
Imperialist wars and occupations continue to act as a drag on the economy, while arms manufacturers, energy corporations and banks reap massive profits.
Obama is trying to be a “populist” right now; criticizing bankers and the rich and appealing to the unemployed and workers. However, he has done nothing to create the jobs we need. He’s trying to win Latino votes, but has deported more undocumented workers (400,000 annually) than G.W. Bush. All the while, he’s promising to make “hard choices” and balance the budget, which signals his willingness to attack workers’ living standards. Obama is promising to raise taxes on the richest Americans, but these promises can’t be taken seriously. Significantly, the Democrats held their nominating convention in a nonunion venue for the first time in decades.
Mitt Romney, a product of the richest 1 percent, has remade himself from a GOP centrist into a hard right politician. He has repudiated his former pro-choice, abortion -rights, stance and his health care program enacted in Massachusetts, which is similar to Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Romney’s criticism of Obama’s inaction on unemployment cites the 23 million unemployed and underemployed, who he refers to as our “brothers and sisters” struggling in this economy.
Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan, an extreme right, free-market advocate and darling of the tea party faction of the Republican party, should cure anyone of illusions that Romney has the slightest concern for the victims of this crisis. In a 2011 interview with the right-wing publication, Human Events, Ryan referred to the Democrats’ attacks on the rich and said that the Republicans “should not shy away from class warfare.”
Following the attack on the US embassy in Libya, the Republicans have ratcheted-up Islamophobic rhetoric against Obama’s supposed “weakness” against Iran and lack of support for Israel. In reality, Obama has continued the US imperialist policies of his predecessors, continuing the occupation of Afghanistan, and working to short-circuit the revolutions in the Middle East through interventions in Libya and, now, Syria.
Polls show Obama with a slight edge over Romney nationally and with the numbers very close in several key states. (The antiquated US electoral system means that a candidate could win a majority of the popular vote and still lose in the electoral college by losing in certain high population states.)
Obama’s record in office is one of service to Wall Street. Despite the insane ravings of tea party supporters, not only is he not a socialist but he is really not even a liberal. His record shows the hollowness of his appeal to unions and workers. Elected in 2008 on the vague promise of “hope and change,” Obama has delivered little for working people.
The threat of war against Iran is very real, as US imperialism works to isolate the Islamic Republic because of its alleged nuclear ambitions. Whoever wins in November, workers face the prospect of more austerity and war.
This points out the need for a working-class party and for a working-class fightback rooted in struggles against austerity. Early in 2011, the beginnings of a fightback emerged in Wisconsin as unions and supporters mobilized against Republican Scott Walker’s proposal to gut public employee’s right to collective bargaining. Wisconsin was indicative of what a militant fightback might look like, but the revolt was channeled into electoralism by the trade union bureaucracy and the Democrats.
Occupy Wall Street was another sign of a possible fightback, although it was uneven politically. OWS was an expression of popular anger against the banks and the government. Of course, the Democrats tried their best to co-opt the movement and win it for Obama, but it seems that most occupiers have refused. The Democrats combined co-optation and repression in order to put an end to OWS.
The Longview longshoremen’s (ILWU) strike demonstrated how links between OWS and workers’ organizations had the potential to shift the political landscape. The Obama administration was clearly on the side of the bosses, sending the Coast Guard to protect scab ships from strikers. An alliance of Occupy activists and union members resulted in massive solidarity actions, including the shutdown of the port at Oakland, CA. However, workers were saddled with a concessions contract for which they were not allowed to vote.
At the beginning of the current school year, the Chicago Teachers’ (CTU) strike energized the labor movement. The CTU built massive pickets and mobilized the Chicago labor movement. They built alliances with the community and parents. Democrat mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, (former Obama chief-of staff) took steps to break the strike, even trying to have courts declare the strike illegal. The contract won by the CTU is perhaps not a clear cut “victory,” but the real lessons to be gained are how mass mobilization, labor-community alliances and rank-and-file organizing can help create a new class struggle union leadership.
In all of these struggles, the ties between the trade union bureaucracy and Democrats are exposed as a barrier to a genuine fight back by working people. The Democrats’ anti-worker policies are carried out with the collusion of trade union tops.
Left illusions in Obama as “lesser evil”
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO-fightback), a Maoist group that was the target of FBI raids in 2010, has called for a vote for Obama! So has the Communist Party USA, which has called for a vote for Democrats under the guise of a “defeat the right” rationale. Left activists, Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher,* wrote that Obama’s record of imperialist war making and anti-worker actions don’t matter. According to Davidson and Fletcher, defeating the Republicans is the primary task for the left.
However, none of the reformist groupings and Obama apologists on the left offer a real path forward only continued subservience to a bourgeois party in the name of lesser evilism. The fight for working-class political independence is a central task for working people and the oppressed.
US workers need a party of their own, but how can such a party be built?
First we need to draw the class line clearly and avoid illusions in multi-class “third” party efforts. Campaigns by “progressive” third party and independent candidates are a diversion from the harder road of building a party based in the mass organizations of workers. It is our contention that such a party will emerge not primarily as an electoral party, but from the mass activity of workers and communities in defense of their rights and living standards. This is why a united front fightback against capitalist austerity measures and the employers offensive is crucial.
*Fletcher is a leader of an organization named Freedom Road Socialist Organization. (FRSO-OSCL) There are two US organizations with the name Freedom Road — the aforementioned FRSO-FB and Fletcher’s organization.