The real choice is building the working class struggle

The mid-term elections: Republicans and Democrats bow down to big business

(CV #45, November 2010)

The following article is based on a presentation by Mark Williams at the Detroit Workers’ Voice Discussion Group, October 3, 2010. Since then, the elections have taken place, and resulted in the Republicans taking over the House of Representatives, while the Democrats retained control of the Senate. But the real result of the elections was seen a week later in the report of the Obama-appointed bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform which recommended cuts in Social Security and various social programs. The elections, and this report,  show that both Democrats and Republicans have no idea what to do with the economic crisis, but stomp harder and harder on the masses.

The two big parties are so heartless because they represent the capitalist class, which has no higher goal than to accumulate more and more money.  Punishing one of these parties by working for the other leaves their anti-working class agenda in place. Nothing fundamental will change until the workers organize themselves as a class force with a vision of its own.

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The mid-term elections are approaching during a period when the working people are being hammered by the Great Recession. The Republicans and Democrats are busy attacking each other as responsible for the hardships faced by the masses. But it’s not the masses’ troubles that concern either party. They are each bound hand and foot to the big corporations and their capitalist free-enterprise system that crashed the economy with the collapse of the big banks and other financial swindlers. The rhetoric from each party is hot air meant to hide the fact that their only real difference is over how best to save the profits of the wealthy.

    The working class has every reason to hate the Republicans, who just want to let the capitalists run wild, free to attack the workers at every turn. The Republicans have trotted out the Tea Party movement to pretend they are a party of ordinary folks. The rise of the Tea Party means the most fanatical anti-worker elements are gaining clout in the party, some of whom are calling for ending Social Security, Medicare and minimum-wage laws, and even sending welfare recipients to prison.

    Don’t think that that makes the Democrats your friends, however. The Obama administration at every turn makes sure that nothing they do undermines capitalist profiteering. In fact many people who believed that Obama would stand with the masses are now sorely disappointed. If anyone is to blame for Republican election victories, it is the Democrats themselves. Some workers will vote, figuring anything is better than the Republicans. Others will not vote for either party. But whether one votes or not, the workers and progressive activists must use the election as a time to see the true nature of the capitalist parties and to expose them as frauds. It’s time to use our disgust with the capitalist-controlled parties to start building a working class trend. We need to build our own fighting organizations that stand up to the capitalists.

The Republicans’ pledge to America’s capitalists

The Republican national leadership recently summed up their stand in their document A Pledge to America. It’s full of flowery Tea Party rhetoric of allegedly speaking up for the little guy who’s oppressed by big government. For instance, it rails against “an arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites”. Of course it’s true that elites use the government against the masses. But who are the elites in this country? What is the tiny section of the population that controls Washington, DC, as well as state and local governments? It’s the capitalists, dominated by a handful of billionaire tycoons, who own the politicians. The capitalists throw their weight behind whichever party they think will serve them best, and the corporate bosses commonly invest in both parties, to ensure that no matter who wins, they win. The government represents a “dollar democracy”, a country club for the rich where the workers and poor are denied entrance. But when the Republicans attack government elites, they avoid mentioning that these elites, Republican and Democratic alike, are doing the bidding of the capitalists.

Indeed, the Republican document should be called a pledge to America’s capitalists. In it, every problem will be solved if only the capitalists are free to do whatever they want. You want jobs? If only the capitalists are free from government interference there will allegedly be jobs galore. They rail that “Excessive federal regulation is a de facto tax on employers and consumers that stifles job creation…” Evidently, the Republicans hope that no one remembers the actual track record of deregulation, which has been a bipartisan policy for the last few decades. What did energy deregulation bring? We were told that energy costs would plummet if only public utilities regulated by state governments were replaced by a new system where unregulated private energy companies could invade state after state across the country. What was the result? Unheard of cost increases, massive blackouts, and bankrupting the state treasury caused by the unregulated companies intentionally withholding energy production. It brought us the rise of Enron, run by Bush’s buddy, Ken Lay, as the new model for capitalism which soon collapsed when its unregulated financial schemes fell to pieces. What a great jobs creator unregulated capitalism is! And it was decades of deregulation of Wall St. that helped foster the Great Recession and the death of millions of jobs with it.

The Pledge wails about “de facto taxes” on employers caused by regulation. In other words, regulations that protect workers, or consumers, or the environment may cost the capitalists something and reduce their profits. So let’s do away with that and both employers and consumers will benefit. Never mind the death of 29 coal miners in a West Virginia mine explosion in April caused by the Massey coal company’s repeated violations of safety regulations. The subsidiary of Massey running that mine had been cited for 1,100 safety infractions over the last few years, including lack of ventilation for methane and coal dust, which is the most likely cause of the explosion. But the regulatory agencies allowed operations to continue, despite the deadly threat they posed and the long history of Massey failing to correct safety violations.

Never mind that lack of regulations for off-shore drilling and the “free-enterprise” drive for profits led to the BP’s environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the death of 11 workers, and ruining the economy along the Gulf Coast. Sure, after their deregulation ideas led to another disaster, the Republicans joined in bad-mouthing BP and agreed they should pay for undoing the damage, which largely can’t be undone. But they still rail against regulation, thus ensuring the next disaster. Their document declares “we will require congressional approval of any new federal regulation that has an annual cost to our economy of $100 million or more.” This amount is a drop of water in the ocean of profits raked in each year by the corporations. But it’s more than the Republicans can stand. The Republican establishment felt obliged to criticize BP. But the essence of their policy was blurted out by Rand Paul, a Republican and Tea Party candidate for the US Senate from Kentucky. He chided Obama, who treated BP with kid gloves, for bullying BP. Obama’s response to BP, said Paul, was “un-American in his criticism of business” because “sometimes accidents happen.” Thus, Paul reveals the true Republican attitude that whatever horrors spring from the free market, these are just acceptable accidents.

The other main economic theme raised by the Republicans is to cut taxes. Of course workers would like to see the tax burden on them reduced. But what the Pledge touts is continuing the Bush tax cuts which resulted in giant reductions in taxes for the rich. This supposedly will lead to more business investment, and hence more jobs. But massive job cuts, deindustrialization, attacks on wages, and companies fleeing to low-wage countries continued to grow as the rich got tax breaks. Just because the capitalists had more money didn’t mean they were giving up their inherent drive to profit through squeezing the workers in every way possible. This is simply the tired-old “trickle-down” economics that hides that the profits of the corporations are made by exploiting the workers, not lifting them up.

Republican pledge to do nothing for health care

  As in everything, the Republican stand on health care is that the present profit-driven system is fine. There’s no mention of how the 40-50 million uninsured will get insurance. There’s not a word on drug company profiteering which empties the pockets of the working people or makes the forego needed medicines.

  The Pledge promises to repeal the Obama plan, despite the fact that it would add millions of new customers to the private insurers that the Republicans love. Indeed, Obama’s plan is similar to onetime presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plan instituted when he was governor of Massachusetts. Both plans use government funds to subsidize purchases of private insurance. But now the Republicans are running away from Romney-style plans and denouncing Obama for using government funds to insure a wider section of the population. The Republicans now call Obama’s version of a Republican plan a “government takeover” of health care in the Pledge and “socialism” on the campaign trail. It would be nice if private insurance were really replaced with a national health insurance plan that covered everyone. It would be nicer-style if the whole profit-mad medical industry was replaced by socialist medical care. But sadly, Obama protects the health care capitalists.

  What the Pledge promotes as improving access to health care is a joke. They promise you can buy insurance outside your state by deregulating state laws on insurance. This is the same formula that was advanced for energy deregulation. In practice this will mean that some cheap insurance plans that offer little coverage will be more widely available. (Incidentally, Bill Clinton recently states he favors this policy just for this reason.) The same big insurance giants who dominate now will still be free to jack up their prices and cut their benefits and become even more unaffordable.

  The Republicans also promote Health Saving Accounts which aren’t really insurance at all, but essentially just an account to pay out-of-pocket expenses required because your insurance has such high deductibles. The fact that you have to pay out-of-pocket is meant to discourage getting medical care.

  Finally, there’s good old tort reform, which hinders patients from suing medical providers. This won’t do anything to provide insurance or lower costs, but will hinder compensation for patients who got shoddy treatment.

Building up the war machine and police-state

  For all the Republicans’ talk of smaller government, when it comes to building up the war machine or adding to the domestic police-state, the sky’s the limit. The US military machine is a $1 trillion monster. On the pretext that Iran is about to launch missiles at the US, they now want a giant new missile system.

  Here in the US, the Republicans are for beefing up the police state. They are especially interested in persecuting poor Mexican workers who cross the border looking for work. So they want border patrols beefed up. And they emphasize they support various racist anti-immigrant laws passed by states and cities. Thus, they implicitly back racial-profiling laws like the Arizona law that allows police to pick up anyone who looks like they might be in the country illegally.

Obama’s version of free-market economics

 Given the stand of the Republicans, it might seem that the Democrats deserve support. But they too are fans of free-market economics. So whatever their differences with the Republicans, they sacrifice their promises to the masses so as to safeguard the profits of the corporations. Yes, they toss the masses a few crumbs to give them hope relief is on the way. But real relief never arrives.

  Let’s compare the Obama administration’s attitude toward the Wall St. financial sharks and his attitude toward the working masses suffering under the economic collapse. The wild speculation by the big banks and other financial swindlers caused the crisis. Obama responded to them with unlimited aid. Beyond the well-known $700 billion set aside in direct handouts to Wall St., the government has given trillions more in subsidies and guarantees and offered aid to cover future losses by bankers and investors that could reach $23 trillion should there be another major economic crisis. Thanks to Obama’s lavish aid, the bankers are rebounding and CEOs are again dividing up billions in salaries and bonuses among themselves. The profits of the banks are soaring again. In fact, Wall St. profiteering is so high they are even paying back part of the aid given them. But there’s no reason to cheer. No serious regulations to control speculation have been established. So the financiers are operating with the same wild speculation that leads to new speculative bubbles and more economic collapses.

  Obama’s auto bailout is another example of rescuing the capitalists. Recall that the Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the bailout, based on their view that the free market should be allowed to destroy workers’ jobs, and even some fellow capitalists, without the government interfering. In contrast, Obama interfered, but not on behalf of the workers, but the auto capitalists. GM and Chrysler got over $50 billion in aid. But far from saving jobs, Obama approved of the auto companies’ plans to eliminate another 21,000 jobs. And as a condition of getting aid, Obama insisted that remaining workers get hammered with huge wage and benefit cuts. At the time, Obama admitted his plan wouldn’t save jobs, saying that even with his bailout, “More jobs will be lost. More plants will close.” But he promised that the next generation would benefit because America will still make things. How inspiring! Present workers should be crushed to ensure America’s capitalists will profit in the future. And the next generation of workers can look forward to wages and benefits near the poverty line, if any jobs remain.

  The lavish rescues of the capitalists are accompanied by a few crumbs for the masses. Obama’s “economic stimulus” package offers a bit of help here and there for the downtrodden, but there’s a giant gap between what the workers and poor need, and what Obama is doing. Public services and schools continue to face major cuts. Capitalist job cuts continue at such a pace that no one thinks unemployment rates will significantly drop for years. The mortgage relief program has had little effect in stopping people from losing their homes. Poverty rates are growing. In other words, while Wall St. is rescued, the capitalists continue to run roughshod over the workers and the condition of the workers and poor grows worse.

Free-market environmental policy

Obama claims to be a champion of environmental protection. But his free-market views undermine this. He won’t contemplate serious planning and regulation. Instead, he advocates that global warming will be solved by issuing pollution permits to the capitalists that they can trade with one another, like stocks are bought and sold on the stock market. This system has been tried many times around the world and is a proven failure.

Health care sacrificed for  insurance industry profits

The big triumph for Obama has been his health care bill. It’s  supposed to deal with the health care crisis. About 50 million people lack health insurance. Those with insurance are on shaky ground as the private insurance companies jack up prices at astounding rates while forcing the insured to pay more out-of-pocket expenses, and as employers dump employee heath plans or force the cost onto their employees. And the more private insurers can deny covering medical treatment, the more profits they make.

The private insurers are entirely unnecessary, and a system of government insurance that automatically covers everyone would eliminate these bloodsuckers, such as extending a better form of the present Medicare program to cover the entire population. About seven years ago, Obama himself spoke in favor of that type of system. But that was then. Now he wouldn’t dream of eliminating these parasites. Instead his plan is to make the uninsured buy insurance from the private insurers, providing them with millions of new customers.

 But how are people who can’t afford insurance to pay for it? Supposedly government subsidies will help them. But with the private insurance companies still in charge, costs will overwhelm budget allocations. Then, subsidies will be cut and insurance policies will cover less and less with higher deductions and copays. Indeed the whole system may collapse. This is the reality behind Obama’s free-market solution to health care. His plan is so pathetic, that the extension of insurance won’t even begin until 2013. At that time many more people may have insurance, which is better than nothing. But there are projections that 24 million people will still lack insurance by 2019. The millions of illegal immigrants, our semi-slave workforce that deserves coverage, will also be denied coverage.

  As the first provisions of the health care bill start to go into effect, the idea that health care problems will be solved by bolstering the private insurers is already being discredited. For instance, the bill prohibits insurance policies for children from denying insurance because of pre-existing conditions. In response, some insurers are saying they will simply no longer offer insurance for children.

    The Obama plan was supposed to eliminate insurers’ caps on the money they provide to cover medical expenses. Many big business retailers, like McDonald’s or Home Depot, are among companies that provide so-called “mini-med” plans with severe caps. These plans usually cap medical expenses at a few thousand dollars a year, hardly enough to cover serious illnesses and injuries. The insurance companies that provide such plans say they can’t comply with the new cap law. Their objections are a stark example that the insurance industry’s profit-drive and providing medical coverage are incompatible.

But the Obama plan ignores this and considers profiteering off people’s health sacred. Thus, it turns out Obama’s health plan allows the issuing of waivers so insurers can keep their present caps. Recently, companies providing insurance to corporate giants like McDonald’s, Denny’s and Jack-in-the-Box were among those recently issued waivers so they won’t have to raise their coverage for at least four years. So the door has been opened to issue waivers to all similar insurance companies. As if that’s not bad enough, the Department of Health and Human Resources is promising “mini-med” insurers the government will also ease the Obama plan’s requirements that that they spend a bit more of their income on covering medical costs rather than overhead and profiteering. So the cheapskate corporations win, the greedy insurers win, and the low-wage workers lose. It turns out that Obama’s “change we can believe in” is largely preserving the status quo!

These and other problems will also tend to discredit the idea of government involvement in health care, playing into the hands of the right-wing defenders of the status quo. It will undermine efforts at organizing for a truly helpful government intervention, like single-payer national health insurance.

Obama’s anti-immigrant policy

 While the Republicans attack Obama for not cracking down hard enough on illegal immigrants, quite the opposite is true. Yes, the Obama administration disagrees with the blatantly racist Arizona law. But they are unleashing raids on workplaces and are rounding up more immigrant workers than Bush. They are beefing up border patrols to capture immigrants. Officially, Obama stands for combining these police measures with a plan to provide a path to legalization for illegal immigrants inside the US. But nothing is being done to push this forward. Moreover, in reality this policy is similar to that proposed by McCain and backed by Bush, where the legalization process would be so full of obstacles and take so many years to complete, that applying for legalization would be too risky or impossible. So a huge number of immigrants would still be forced to live in the shadows, deprived of basic rights and forced to accept horrible wages and working conditions. The only sure thing Obama has offered immigrant workers is that he will ban them from his health care plan!

Imperialism, Obama-style

 The Republicans are ardent imperialists who want a giant military machine to enforce US economic and political domination in the world. They poke at Obama as being weak on so-called “national defense”. But it’s quite hard for them. That’s because in reality, Obama is scarcely different than Bush on these matters. He has escalated the war in Afghanistan and spread it into Pakistan. The US occupation of Iraq continues, with 50,000 soldiers plus legions of US-financed forces from private mercenary firms still there and threats of troop escalation if forces the US doesn’t like in Iraq get too strong. Of course, US troops aren’t in these countries to provide freedom, but are defending pro-US reactionaries from rival anti-US reactionaries. For the masses, these wars mean death and destruction, not liberation.

  The Bush administration gained notoriety for its use of torture. Recall Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and waterboarding. But the Obama administration is not taking a back seat to anyone in this regard. Obama is extending the use of “extraordinary rendition” where they round up people they call terrorists, without providing evidence, and take them to secret bases around the world where the CIA and local tyrannical governments torture them. It is using the excuse of protecting state secrets to prevent investigations of torture, current or by the Bush administration. And it’s using the same excuse to prevent investigation of government spying and harassment of progressive activists in the US.

  Recently, Obama showed how far he will go to prevent anyone from protesting his imperialist policies. On Sept. 24, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists in six cities, confiscating computers and documents. Grand jury investigations are likely to follow. The FBI is supposedly collaring those who support terrorist groups overseas. In that case, they should have targeted the White House, Congress and the Pentagon. In fact, these raids are witch hunts designed to intimidate activists here from opposing US foreign policy and developing solidarity with the victims of US imperialism overseas.

The workers and the elections

What then should the workers’ attitude be toward the mid-term elections? The union leaderships, as usual, are trying to whip up enthusiasm for workers to mobilize in support of the Democrats. They plan to contribute about $150 million dollars from workers’ dues to back Democratic candidates. This is not surprising, as our present unions are in the hands of sellouts who collaborate with management. The union leaders admit that  rank and file support for Obama is waning and it’s harder to get workers to campaign for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. Even the union leaders themselves sometimes express disappointment with the administration. They, and the Democrats themselves, jointly admit things aren’t going as well as promised. So they are both reduced to arguing that things would be even worse if the Republicans take over. The union leadership pretends there is no alternative. That’s because they are terrified of the idea of mobilizing the workers for a real struggle against the capitalists and their political parties. With this outlook, the union leaders are bound to back the Democrats no matter how many times they stab the workers in the back.

    The unions and various reformist supporters of the Democrats also raise that if only the Republicans stopped blocking Democratic proposals, they would do great things for the masses. It’s true that to get Republican support, Obama and the congressional Democrats make many concessions to please the Republicans. But these sellouts to the right-wing are the inevitable by-product of Obama’s own convictions. In his election campaign he talked about how important it was to cooperate with the Republicans, as if that was compatible with serving the masses. Moreover, the Obama administration wasn’t forced to devise pro-capitalist policies; those are Obama’s own beliefs. That’s why, for instance, he recruited representatives of Wall St. to oversee his economic policy and why he carries on Bush’s imperialist overseas military adventures and torture.

The workers should use the elections as an impetus to build up their own struggles and fighting organizations. This requires using the elections to tell the truth not only about the Republicans but about the so-called “friends of the workers and oppressed”, the Democrats. Workers and activists should condemn the union leaderships and the reformist leaders in the various mass movements who want to tone down our demands and actions to what the Democrats find acceptable.

    If there’s to be a real fight for relief from the capitalist economic crisis, for health care, for the environment, for immigrant rights, against the imperialist war machine, against racist, anti-women and anti-gay bigotry and other ills springing from our capitalist system, it must be carried out by the working masses, the unemployed, and other oppressed, themselves.

The working class needs to advance its own demands. Instead of the economic relief designed to enrich the capitalists while the masses have to beg for whatever is left over, it must be based on the needs of the workers and poor. Government-run jobs programs, an overhaul of unemployment insurance so that its committed to providing decent income without constant threats to end at any moment, moratoriums on home evictions, and programs creating good housing for those who need it are examples. We need big funding hikes for public schools and extra support for students in poor districts, instead of privatizing education with charter schools and scapegoating teachers as Bush and Obama have done. The gigantic resources that have gone to the financiers and other capitalists should go to the needy, not the greedy.

We should demand national health insurance, not subsidizing the private insurance industry. And further steps to improve health care will demand taking stern measures against the rest of the private medical system, like the big drug companies with their outrageous prices and influence over medical practices.

    The environmental problems like global warming must be dealt with not by letting the polluters buy and sell pollution permits to one another, but by regulations that directly cut these emissions of greenhouse gases. Direct bans are needed on other threats to the environment. And a system of overall planning is needed to build an alternative energy system and ensure the livelihoods of workers including the livelihoods of those  who would be displaced if pollution-causing companies are replaced.

    The war machine should be fought tooth and nail. It is a tool of imperialist conquest, a means by which “our” capitalists can bully the masses and defeat rival reactionary regimes and rival terrorists around the world. Its abolition will only come with a revolution that overthrows capitalism here. Nevertheless, today we must demand an end to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and each measure in support of militarism. Moreover, the war machine costs a trillion dollars.

    But our demands on these and other matters will not count unless we build up mass actions and organizations to carry them out. New organizations based on the rank and file workers, not the class-collaborationist union leaders, should be built to fight the employers on workplace matters. Workers should be mobilized into the other mass movements in society. The problems faced by the masses can only be solved by the class struggle moving forward. Building class organizations will be a difficult and protracted process. But the present crises and the bankruptcy of the capitalist parties in dealing with them are creating conditions for the workers looking for alternatives. Let’s use the mid-term elections as a way to build our struggles against the evils coming from capitalism and the political parties that serve the capitalists. []

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Last changed on December 24, 2010.