A few weeks ago, in a supposed attempt to put a dent in the federal deficit, Obama announced that he would be freezing wages for federal employees—over 2 million workers. Obama said, "The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice…And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government." This is just pure nonsense. Freezing wages for working class people in bad economic times will at best only contribute to a sluggish recovery, and at worst contribute to a double-dip into a recession. Furthermore, why do ordinary Americans—most federal employees are not analysts making 6 figures—have to share the sacrifice alone? What about the rich? Maybe they will just share their sacrifice in taxes….
Try again. Yesterday, the Senate pretty much sured up the passage a controversial tax bill, as it cleared a procedural hurdle with overwhelming support. The upside is that the bill extends unemployment benefits for 13 months. The downside is, well, everything else. Worst of all, it will extend Bush-era tax cuts, including the ones for the rich—going against one of his biggest campaign promises not to do so. This part of the bill was forcefully pushed by Republicans but Obama easily caved in, per usual these days. Yes, you heard me right. The bankers on Wall St. and the other super rich get “socialism for the rich” through bailouts, and they also get rewarded with tax breaks.
Firstly, this is, and should be, a huge insult to every working person in the United States. It shows that bankers and corporations matter most, and they will be rewarded no matter how much they ruin our economy and people’s lives in the process. Secondly, the fact that unemployment benefits were held hostage and tagged onto a bill that will hurt working people should also be an insult. Thirdly, it will add to the federal deficit by taking away billions of dollars in federal revenue. Confused? Weren’t they trying to reduce that? Fourthly, it shows that the elites really don’t care about the deficit. It is merely used as an excuse to attack social spending on programs and services that benefit working people, and at the same time ensure that the rich get richer. Now it makes sense, no?
As I argued in a previous post, on the whole the Democrats are not able to put forth truly progressive economic policy because they are beholden to moneyed interests. However, this seems to be the beginning of austerity programs that are not only regressive, but represent an escalation of the thirty years or so attack that has been taking place against working America. Sadly, they will only get worse under the coming Republican controlled House and weakened Democratic Senate. And, yes, this should be cause for great concern.
I could continue to explain the ills of the measures, but I think they speak for themselves. The real question is what to do. I think these recent events change the game plan a bit. More than ever I am convinced that there is very little hope of getting any progressive measure passed in the next two years on a national level, and the chances of regressive measures has increased. Therefore, I believe we must focus more than ever on building grassroots opposition to any and all policies and forces that siege oppressed communities. We need to start now if we are to have any influence in the years to come.
I think for the labor movement this means a few things. It means that it is time for it to take its place as a leading actor and advocate for working and oppressed people everywhere. In a great article in the New Labor Forum, Stephen Lerner of SEIU says:
This is the time to offer a moral voice for those devastated by the economic crisis, and to have the courage and passion to liberate ourselves from the straitjacket of limited expectations. Unions, and their members, must join with communities long mired in poverty—and the tens of millions of people being forced out of the middle class—to imagine and articulate a vision of a better world, and to help lead the battle to win it. We have the opportunity to work with a growing group of potential allies to develop a plan and strategy to achieve that vision—but, to do so, we have to question and challenge long held assumptions and ideas.
One of those “long held assumptions” is that what is good for free market capitalism is good for us. We need to ditch that in the gutter. So, yes, we are in a tough political climate, but we should use such hectic times to provide a true voice of hope and vision; and a vehicle to exercise collective will to reach it. Let’s get started. It’s getting cold.