Labor Must Draw a Hard, and Unmovable, Line in the Sand:
Absolutely No Cuts to the Social Safety Net!
By ALAN BENJAMIN
“Listen to top Democrats and Republicans talk on camera, and it sounds like they could not be further apart on a year-end tax-and-spending deal — a down payment on a $4 trillion grand bargain. But behind the scenes, top officials who have been involved in the talks for many months say the contours of a deal — including the size of tax hikes and spending cuts it will most likely contain — are starting to take shape.”
This is the assessment of Politico.com analysts Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen of the behind-the-scenes efforts by top Democratic and Republican leaders to work out a Grand Bargain deal by year’s end. According to these writers, the deal that is slowly coming together will look something like this:
“Cut through the fog, and here’s what to expect: Taxes will go up just shy of $1.2 trillion — the middle ground of what President Barack Obama wants and what Republicans say they could stomach. Entitlement programs, mainly Medicare, will be cut by no less than $400 billion — and perhaps a lot more, to get Republicans to swallow those tax hikes. There will be at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and ‘war savings’.” (Politico.com, November 29)
Politico.com is not the only news source with this assessment. In a December 4 article in theHuffington Post titled, “Fiscal Cliff Talks: Progress Quietly Begins As Both Sides Make Opening Bids,” writers Michael McAuliff and Jennifer Bendery note that while both sides are pandering to their constituents in the media, efforts have been under way for some time to reach an agreement.
The authors quote a GOP aide as follows: “Everybody in Washington knows there’s certain choreographed steps that you have to go through when you have to get a deal, and part of that is the public admonitions of the other side. But we don’t want to take us off the cliff. We do want a deal.”
While the Democrats and Republicans would appear to be miles apart on the issues of taxation and cuts to the social safety net, “in private, both sides sounded decidedly more optimistic,” the authors note.
Of course, no one can predict what will happen at this point. The most likely scenario, however, is that a deal between the twin parties of Big Business — a deal that will include cuts to one or more of the Big Three safety-net programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) — will be worked out, either by the end of the year or within the first 90 days of the new year.
The AFL-CIO and the Grand Bargain
On November 8, the AFL-CIO organized informational lobbying actions in more than 100 cities — events that gathered anywhere from 15 to 150 people — to demand a halt to the attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The AFL-CIO leaflet for the actions stated in part:
“Some legislators want to cut our Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare and cut Medicaid, forcing families into bankruptcy when a loved one needs long-term care. Why? All to pay for outrageous tax breaks for the richest 2% of Americans. That’s not what we voted for on November 6. Take a stand and tell our representatives to put working families first.”
No sooner were the top labor officials invited to the White House to discuss the debt-reduction proposals with Obama, however, than the back-tracking began.
On November 13, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and other top union officials went to the White House to meet with Obama. Following the meeting, Trumka told reporters that, “It was a very, very positive meeting. . . . The president, like we are, [is] committed to preserving the tax breaks for the middle class and making sure that rich people pay their fair share.”
Trumka continued, “Are we going to collectively stand up and make sure that workers get a fair share in all of this? Absolutely we are. Do we believe that the president is committed to that same thing? Absolutely we do.”
The Wall Street Journal (November 14) reported on the Obama’s meeting with the labor officials as follows:
“Mr. Obama, in a meeting Tuesday with union leaders and other liberal activists, also pledged to hang tough in seeking tax increases on wealthy Americans. In one sign of conciliation, he made no specific commitment to leave unscathed domestic programs such as Medicare, leaving the door open to spending cuts many fellow Democrats oppose.”
Another such sign that major attacks on the social safety-net programs are on the table came from another person at the November 13 meeting with Obama. Market Watch quoted Max Richtman, president and chief executive of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, who said that, “Whatever savings come out of those programs would not come out of beneficiaries or citizens; it would be focused more on providers.” (November 14)
Cutting out — or defunding — the providers in the social safe-net programs is just one of the many means to gut these programs.
Obama made no commitment to the labor officials that he would preserve unscathed the domestic programs that labor has traditionally considered sacrosanct — and yet Trumka, Mary Kay Henry and the other officials had the gall to tell working people that the meeting with Obama was “very, very positive” and that Obama “is committed to [the] same things” as the labor movement.
No one in the labor movement should accept such double-talk!
Labor Must Draw an Unmovable Line in the Sand: No Cuts!
For working people to stop this assault on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, it is vital that the unions break their ties of subordination to the Democratic Party and act as an independent labor movement. This is the central political obstacle facing the working class.
What is urgently needed are huge mass demonstrations in the streets — involving the entire labor movement, the organizations of the oppressed communities, and the more than 100 million people on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — to demand that Congress reject any Grand Bargain deal and any cuts to the social safety net. It is possible to make them retreat!
But as long as the top trade union officials continue to tell us that Obama and the Democratic Party leadership are on the same page as we are on this life-and-death matter for millions of working people, it will be impossible to organize a serious fightback that can push back the steamroller. Whatever actions are organized will be nothing more than events “to make the record” or, at best, to push for a bit less sacrifice for workers and a bit more sacrifice for the bosses.
How many times have we seen the top labor officialdom take a hard stand around an important issue for working people only to see their “line in the sand” erased under the slightest pressure from the Democratic Party and its operatives?
This happened in October 2008, when Obama and then House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the AFL-CIO to support the Wall Street bailout package proposed by George W. Bush. It happened again when these same top Democrats told the labor movement that both Single Payer healthcare and the Public Option were off the table and it was necessary to lobby for Obamacare, a real boon for the private healthcare insurance companies.
In both these cases — and these are just two among many such cases — the labor officialdom organized lobbying events much like they did this past November 8, only later to abandon their stance as the Democrats retreated under pressure from Obama and Pelosi.
This has to stop!
Reject Their Phony Arguments!
If the Democrats and Republicans reach an agreement — which, again, is quite likely — we can expect Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and other top Democrats to argue that the proposed cuts to the safety-net programs are really not that bad, that they are modest and acceptable, that they are even necessary to save the programs from greater cuts or even dismantlement.
We can expect to be told that Obama has no real choice and must make “tough choices,” because he must reach a deal to save the economy from crippling harm, and the only way he can do so is by agreeing to “entitlement” cuts.
We can expect to be told that a refusal to accept the compromise will only mean hurting working people and thus damaging any chance of getting Democrats re-elected in 2014.
We can expect to be told a lot more nonsense. All these phony arguments must be rejected.
Nothing in the deficit resulted from increased costs in Social Security, Medicare or Medicare – as the business press has proclaimed night and day. All these affirmations are nothing but lies aimed at fueling a campaign to dismantle all the rights and gains earned by working people through bitter struggles.
The astronomic growth of the debt is due to the crisis of over-production of the capitalist system. Insofar as capitalists are only interested in making profits, and given the declining purchasing power of the working-class majority, the capitalists — and the governments in their service — had to create new artificial markets to continue to make profits. This is especially true in the United States, the belly of the capitalist beast.
This resulted in the massive growth of the arms economy and the speculative economy (derivatives, hedge funds and the like) — particularly since 1971, when then-President Nixon took the U.S. dollar off the gold standard.
Just over the past decade, for example, the federal deficit has escalated from $5 trillion to $14.3 trillion as a result of increased war spending ($2.5 trillion), the Bush-era tax cuts ($3.4 trillion), the Bush-Obama bailout of Wall Street and the banks ($3 trillion), and interest of the debt.
Over the past four years alone, in the name of “shared sacrifice,” the U.S. government has transferred more than $13 trillion in funds to Wall Street and the top 1 percent, one of the biggest swindles in the history of our country. (Source:Wall Street financial analyst and author Michael Hudson, “Fiscal Cliff An Artificial Crisis,” TheRealNews.com)
It is time for labor to draw a hard, and unmovable, line in the sand and demand that Congress reject the Grand Bargain and any attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and any attacks on social programs that would result from the automatic-trigger cuts.
It is time for labor to say:
* No Cuts, No Concessions!
* Hands Off Our Cherished Safety Net Programs!
* Expand Medicaid Coverage in Every State!
* Expand Medicare to All!
* No to Shared Sacrifice!
* Tax the Rich!
* Slash the Military Budget!
* Repossess the 2 Trillion of Wall Street Bailout Funds Still Sitting in the Banks Collecting Interest!
* Put America Back to Work by Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure and Implementing a 21st Century WPA Program! Money for Jobs, Health Care, Housing and Education — Not for Wars and Occupations!
* Slash Pentagon Spending!”
It is time to tell the Democrats that labor has its own agenda and that it will not back off from pushing for its agenda in defense of working people and all the oppressed in the streets and in every other arena.
The mood in this country is ripe for taking such a stand. A powerful fightback sentiment has burst forward from below, beginning with the Wisconsin Uprising all the way to the successful Chicago teachers’ strike. The ranks and mid-level leaders are ready to move and are pushing on the gates. It is up to these union activists and officials — and to their community partners, especially among retirees’ organizations — to light a fire under the top labor officialdom to demand that they do the right thing and not budge one single inch from their current stance demanding “Hands Off Our Safety Net Programs!”
There is no time to lose.
Ni Un Paso Atrás!
(Not One Step Backward!)
Alan Benjamin is the editor of The Organizer newspaper