Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] How will we get the change we need?
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======== HOW WILL WE GET THE CHANGE WE NEED? =================================
What happens now depends just as much on organization and struggle from below
as what happens in Washington.
February 24, 2009 | Issue 691
THE POLITICAL mood in the U.S. wavered between hope and fear as President
Barack Obama prepared for his February 24 speech to Congress.
Tens of millions of people are hopeful that help is on the way, thanks to the
passage of Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill that extends unemployment
benefits, provides a modest tax break for working families and ramps up
spending on infrastructure projects to create desperately needed jobs.
At the same time, however, there's growing apprehension about the further
downward spiral of the economy.
As concerns mount over the teetering banking system, the number of people
trying to claim unemployment benefits remains at sky-high levels. And while
Obama was able to force the Republican opposition in Congress to accept a
larger stimulus package than it wanted, the White House made big concessions
at the outset by focusing more than one-third of the legislation on tax cuts.
The final version of the bill reduced some of the most urgently needed
spending provisions, such as aid to budget-strapped state governments.
Perhaps Obama is content to call the stimulus plan a victory and will move on
to other proposals for more government spending. He was absolutely correct to
say, as Congress considered the legislation:
>At this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this
>recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources
>to jolt our economy back into life. It is only government that can break the
>vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money, which
>leads to even more layoffs.
But to have that effect, government spending will have to be much greater.
"I've gone through the [Congressional Budget Office] numbers a bit more
carefully; they're projecting a $2.9 trillion shortfall over the next three
years," economist and /New York Times/ columnist Paul Krugman wrote on his
blog. "There's just no way $780 billion, much of it used unproductively, will
do the job."
The Republicans are screaming that the stimulus package will lead to higher
government budget deficits--never mind the fact that George W. Bush turned a
government budget surplus into a deficit with his $1.3 trillion tax cut for
the rich and a $1 trillion war in Iraq. Obama rightly pointed out their
>My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we
>also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great
>Depression, doing a little or nothing at all will result in even greater
>deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income and even
>greater loss of confidence.
Obama could have seized this opportunity to bury his opponents for their
retrograde economic and political policies, and champion the need for bigger
and bolder government spending to preserve social services and create jobs.
Instead, however, Obama has thrown his enemies a lifeline in the form of the
"Summit on Fiscal Responsibility"--a phrase long used as political cover by
conservatives in both parties who want to cut social spending programs,
especially Social Security and Medicare.
Apologists for Obama claim that the summit is really a clever political
maneuver--a way to get political cover for repealing Bush's tax cuts for the
rich in the name of reducing the budget deficit. But the "fiscal
responsibility" crowd is out to corral Obama into accepting a bipartisan
commission to draft a plan to "contain" spending on entitlements--for
example, raising the retirement age for Social Security and limiting Medicare
coverage. As Monique Morrissey of the Economic Policy Institute pointed out:
>The commission idea is being pushed by Pete Peterson, the billionaire
>investment banker and former Nixon cabinet member behind the movie
>/I.O.U.S.A/. Though it is premature to assume that the administration has
>agreed to give an independent (read: unelected and unaccountable) commission
>such power over our most important government programs, the buzz has caused
>understandable dismay among advocates gearing up for a universal health care
>offensive who now face the prospect of again playing defense on Social
>Comprehensive health care reform would get at the root of the problem: our
>highly inefficient quasi-market-based system. The U.S. spends twice as much
>as a share of GDP as other industrialized countries with less favorable
>outcomes, including longevity.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
COMPREHENSIVE REFORM is exactly what's needed--not just to establish health
care for all, but to create jobs with living wages, build decent schools for
kids, and pay for it all by taxing the astronomical wealth of the financiers
and CEOs who have caused an economic catastrophe.
But despite Obama's decisive election victory, the debate over how to achieve
these changes is only just beginning.
Part of the problem is that the very word "reform" was hijacked by
free-market fundamentalists who assured us that less government is always
better. Think of Bill Clinton's welfare "reform" that eliminated a federally
guaranteed minimum income to the most vulnerable in society. Obama himself
was able to get elected by promising "change" without offering many details.
The question now is who will drive the U.S. political agenda. The discredited
but still powerful CEOs and Wall Street titans want to use Obama as a shock
absorber--someone who will grant some mild concessions to working people,
while leaving capital's wealth and prerogatives intact. For example, Obama
hasn't altered the terms of the Bush administration's loans to the auto
industry, which requires unionized autoworkers to accept even more
concessions on pay and benefits.
Bankers are also catching a break, Obama's CEO pay cap notwithstanding.
Although the nation's biggest banks are insolvent, the Obama administration
keeps spending hundreds of billions to prop them up, rather than
nationalizing them outright and ordering them to resume spending.
Likewise, the Pentagon and Corporate America is counting on Obama to salvage
a long-term occupation in Iraq and "win" the war in Afghanistan, with the aim
of preserving U.S. imperial power.
But at the same time, tens of millions of working people see Obama as a
vehicle to achieve real change--and expect improvements in their lives as the
result of his policies.
Many people accept the idea that the Iraq war is all but over, and they are
reluctant to see a wider U.S. involvement in Afghanistan that will surely
lead to greater civilian casualties and the deaths of more U.S. troops. The
antiwar sentiment that fueled candidate Obama's campaign will inevitably come
into conflict with the "realism" of President Obama's foreign policy.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
WHAT HAPPENS next, therefore, depends on organization and struggle.
Organized labor, for example, is taking Obama at his word when he promises to
sign the Employee Free Choice Act that would make it easier for workers to
join a union. Corporate America, however, is fighting back with a vast
anti-union campaign to try to block the measure.
Similarly, advocates of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type program are
intervening in the debate over Obama's proposed health-care reform, which
would preserve the parasitical role of private insurance companies.
But achieving real change will require much more than mounting a series of
single-issue campaigns. The scale of the economic crisis is so great that a
sweeping, radical transformation is needed--and that means the left must put
forward its own vision of social justice and equality, based on the interests
of working people.
What's needed, in other words, is a class-struggle left--mass movements
rooted in workplaces and communities that can fight on many fronts, from
organizing unions and fighting budget cuts to demanding taxes on the wealthy
to meet social needs.
The potential for such organizing can be seen in the struggles of recent
weeks--the solidarity movement for the occupation of the Republic Windows &
Doors factory in Chicago in December, the national protests against the
anti-gay Proposition 8 referendum in California, the protests against
Israel's horrific war on the people Gaza.
While it's impossible to predict where or when the next struggle will take
place, it's clear that the time to organize is now.
Building a class struggle left also means reviving the socialist tradition in
the U.S. And this is an opportune time given the enormous ideological crisis
facing the defenders of the capitalist system. As the world sinks into the
worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a debate on alternatives
has already broken out.
So while we mobilize against the attempts of capital to make us pay for their
crisis, we also have to put forward a vision of the kind of world we're
fighting for--a democratic society run by working people, based on human need
rather than profit.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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