Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 13, 2011

Eat Your Peas
After the 2008 election many progressives were convinced the Obama White House would usher in change on the scale of the largely mythical New Deal they worship. Instead, we have seen an administration zapping the working class in ways Republicans never dared. Now this has reached the point of boldly attacking one of the few surviving useful New Deal reforms–Social Security, along with those LBJ War on Poverty leftovers of Medicare and Medicaid.

Speaking at a bully-pulpit Monday press conference daring the Republicans to join him in taking on our precious few social benefits, the President said it was “time to eat our peas.” It was the condescending tone often used to spur children to ignore a bad taste in order to ingest something good for them.

As a matter of fact, I happen to like peas and gladly eat them–when I can afford to do so. But the dish offered by “labor’s friend” in the White House is not a nourishing green vegetable. It is a slow-acting poison that will condemn present and future retirees to a miserable subsistence after a lifetime of work.

All polls have shown that, despite whatever confusion they may have about the debt crisis in general, a solid majority of the American people oppose cuts in Social Security and Medicare. That’s why this attack comes camouflaged as a necessary component of saving the country from defaulting on its debt.

On Tuesday, the President told CBS News that he couldn’t guarantee August Social Security payments would be made if there was no agreement on raising the debt ceiling while cutting future expenditures.

Leaving aside the largely phony character of debt crisis itself the fact is that Social Security has nothing to do with the debt. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) was absolutely correct when he said,

“Social Security has never contributed a dime to the nation’s 14.3 trln debt…not one penny to our federal budget deficit this year or any year in our nation’s history.”

Becerra issued a challenge to the Washington Post Fact Checker column to try to refute his statement. After much rigmarole, the Fact Checker grudgingly acknowledged,

“Becerra is sincere in his convictions and his statement is true, so far as it goes. Yes, Social Security in the past has not contributed to the nation’s debt. But it’s basically a meaningless fact and actually distracts from the long-term fiscal problem posed by the retirement of the baby boom generation and the shrinking of the nation’s labor pool.”

In other words, the meaningless truth about Social Security detracts from the Big Lie promoted by Fact Checker & Co that slashing Social Security has to be part of fiscal reform.

Social Security does need to be strengthened, indeed improved. This can be easily done by removing the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll tax and, as necessary, adjusting the employer share of that tax. But the President and the Washington Post prefer to reduce senior benefits and force more workers to toil until they drop dead, rather than make the wealthy and corporations disgorge their full share.

While AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka, and SEIU president Mary Kay Henry and others have issued press releases reaffirming labor’s opposition to changes in these essential social benefits little has been done in the face of imminent danger. One exception is National Nurses United. NNU Co-President Deborah Burger commenting on the plan to raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 said,

“Nurses are extremely worried and angry about the president’s plan to increase the Medicare eligibility age, for our patients who are just barely managing to get by financially until they qualify for healthcare coverage at age 65, and for nurses as well.”

The NNU is one of the sponsors for national call-in days Thursday and Friday (7/14-15) to tell Senators in no uncertain terms to keep hands off Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. You can join in by using this toll-free number: 1-866-251-4044.

I also got a call a few days ago from South Carolina AFL-CIO president Donna Dewitt. I’ve known Donna for years through the Labor Party and, unfortunately, she is not a typical state fed president. She was really fired up about this fresh attack from our “friends” and was calling labor folks she knows around the country to gauge interest in fight back action.

Donna has played a prominent role in the formation of what is now called the Emergency Labor Network. The ELN has issued an Open Letter to the Labor Movement that includes a proposal,

“Get the wheels rolling on organizing an emergency march on Washington D.C., with the goal being to mobilize such large numbers in the capital as to preclude enactment of the cuts being demanded by the corporations, the millionaires and billionaires, and the politicians willing to do their bidding.”

This is a worthy goal I fully support. It would be a logical progression from the successful We Are One localized events last April that gave us a glimpse of the latent mobilizing power that remains in our unions.

But since those actions, and the winding down of the exemplary fights in Madison and other state capitals, there have been only some vanguard efforts such as the March on Wall Street initiated by the NNU. There has been little to indicate a willingness of top mainstream union officials to take to the streets in what would be a head-on confrontation with the Obama administration.

In fact, we have seen just the opposite. The National Education Association, America’s largest union, whose members have come under brutal attack by the administration’s Race to the Top, have already endorsed Obama’s reelection.

In an emergency situation calls to Senators may help. Modest demonstrations are better than total inaction. Whether this shocking gambit by labor’s “friend” succeeds this time around remains to be seen. But even if congressional frigid feet exempt Social Security and Medicare from the still unconscionable other cuts in government services no one can any longer plausibly deny or ignore the mortal danger to them lurking in the White House.

Our central weakness is this: there is no significant working class political opposition in this country. Fighting back today means endless defensive skirmishes around one threat to what we have won in the past after another. If Social Security is not the deal breaker that leads to shouting basta! I don’t know what could be.

The labor movement will not survive without a party of our own, a party that can bring our potential might in the workplace and streets in to a contest with the bosses for political power. Let’s eat those peas and revive the Labor Party movement while we still have organized labor.

In the Spirit of Buddy Bell
It’s been a while since our last Week In Review, and that one had been delayed. I won’t again take your time enumerating the various personal and writing deadline demands on my time that skewered my usual schedule. I’ll just say I’m reminded once more of the answer Buddy Bell gave a reporter’s question of what lesson he had learned from managing the Kansas City Royals–never say things can’t get worse.

These recent challenges have nudged me to take an action I’ve long contemplated. The Daily Labor News Digest is no more. The chronic low readership doesn’t justify putting together dozens of links before 9AM every day. I will post a few headline stories each weekday on the home page and current environmental stories on the Alliance for Class & Climate Justice page. Other changes of features and format on the KC Labor site are in the planning stage. The Week In Review will continue as normal.

One of the deadlines I had to meet was a request by my friends at Socialist Action to review an excellent new book by Joe Burns, Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America. You can read it by clicking here.

I also devoted some time to what turned out to be a two-part presentation to the KC Labor Forum, Climate Change Has Begun–What Can We Do About It?

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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