Not the party of the 99 percent

November 8, 2011

Bay Area health care workers and veteran activists Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky explain why they won't be supporting Democrats on Election Day.

WE WOKE up recently to find our pictures on newspaper advertisements for mayoral candidates in San Francisco.

We were shocked and chagrined to see our faces being used to promote politicians from the Democratic Party. We found this odd given that neither of us have ever voted, let alone campaigned, for the Democratic Party. We did not get "clean for Gene" in 1968; did not support the peanut farmer from Georgia or the man from Hope, Arkansas. We did not follow the rainbow in the 1980s, and in 2008, we had little hope for real change coming from a Democratic president.

So how did we end up in campaign ads for Democratic Party politicians? It seems our co-workers in our union assumed that we, like trade union activists across the country, would naturally support the Democrats.

Yes, our co-workers knew we were vociferous critics of the Democratic Party. But lots of labor leaders regularly issue stinging rebukes to the Democrats in power--then, come election time, all those criticisms and misgivings are quickly forgotten as labor spends million of dollars to turn out the vote for these same Democrats.

President Barack Obama with former President Bill Clinton
President Barack Obama with former President Bill Clinton (Samantha Appleton)

Recall AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's comments last May, "It doesn't matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside--the outcome is the same either way." Even Andy Stern, the former SEIU International president and devoted supporter of the Democrats, has blasted the party, suggesting it has a split personality and needed therapy to figure out who it was really for, "the electrician or the elite."

Sometimes, it's hard to figure out whether labor leaders are expressing real frustration or simply trying to rally their base of union members who are turned off and angry at Democrats in office. But despite the bluster and threats, in the end, labor always comes back to the Democrats. After all, the argument goes, what is the alternative for labor? Voting for the shrill Republicans with their anti-labor and conservative agenda?

The Republicans are certainly not an alternative. But neither are the Democrats a pro-worker party. Why do we say this?

When we grew up in the 1970s, the Democratic Party was the party of war--the party waging a brutal, horrific, destructive war in Indochina, intervening in countries throughout Asia and Latin America, propping up authoritarian governments and orchestrating proxy wars across the globe. Today, 40 years later, the Democrats are still the party of war and occupation, continuing old occupations and starting new wars around the world, launching Predator drone strikes, spending trillions of dollars on weaponry and helping keep the U.S. the biggest peddler of arms and armaments in the world.

When we grew up, the Democrats were the party of Jim Crow segregation in the South and institutionalized racism in the North. Today, the Democrats have presided over the greatest loss of wealth by Black America since the end of Reconstruction in the 19th century--an estimated $194 billion--and have not lifted a finger about it.

The Democrats have presided over the further dismantling of the welfare state, and as a result, one-third of Black and Hispanic children live in poverty under Obama's administration. Under Obama, more than a million workers without papers and their families have been deported, and workplace raids have soared.

When we grew up, the Democratic Party enforced the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Today, the Democratic Party enforces discrimination against LGBT people. It was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who signed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act into law, and the Obama administration has defended the law in federal court, reinforcing hatred and bigotry, and keeping loving couples and families apart.

When we grew up, a Democratic Party-controlled Congress passed the Hyde Amendment restricting women's reproductive rights and limiting access to abortion. In 2010, the Obama administration's health care law included further restrictions on reproductive rights.

THE LIST goes on. But it is not simply that the Democratic Party has bad policies--it does. It is the reason why the Democratic Party has bad policies that keeps us from supporting politicians of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party can never be a "friend of labor" because the Democrats are the party of the employing class. Or in the parlance of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, the Democrats are a party of the 1 percent. The Democratic Party, from the conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats to the liberal wing, will vote and act in the interest of the 1 percent.

The Democrats are wedded to the 1 percent in a myriad of ways. Most Democrats are as dependent on corporate political action committee contributions as are the Republicans. But more fundamentally, the Democratic Party is conjoined to the 1 percent by its support for an economic, social and political system that elevates corporate profit over human need.

What's wrong with the profit system? Lots. We both work in health care; one of us a paramedic, and the other a medical sign language interpreter. We, in the 99 percent, wonder what could be more important than good health care--but under the profit system, all health care goods and services, from aspirin to crutches to heart surgery, are sold for a profit.

Health care workers like ourselves aren't hired because someone needs our skills. Rather, we get hired because our labor makes a profit for the 1 percent.

The same applies to almost all the other essentials the 99 percent needs to live and to enjoy life--housing, education, food and water. Tens of millions of the 99 percent are unemployed. Tens of millions more are underemployed. The 99 percent needs goods and services, like repairing our crumbling infrastructure, green jobs, improved mass transit and affordable housing. Yet the 1 percent who own or control the financial institutions, the mines, the office buildings and manufacturing plants will only produce those things if they can make a profit while doing so.

This is the underlying reason behind our current jobless recovery. There is no provision that those among the 99 percent who are willing and able to work will be hired by the 1 percent.

Prioritizing profits over human beings is also why the 99 percent regularly experiences artificial famines. Hunger and malnutrition exist side by side with crops and foodstuffs being destroyed or plowed under to drive up the profit rate. Meanwhile, 35,000 children die every day from malnutrition-related causes.

The profit system breeds competition as the 1 percent attempt to maximize their profits. One way profits are maximized is to minimize costs. This means a relentless pressure to lower wages, reduce benefits and worsen working conditions of the 99 percent. Restructuring, outsourcing and downsizing are all about using fewer workers at lower wages for more work. The same is true of the explosion of part-time and temporary work. This is why wages have been falling for the past 20 years.

The competition for profits by the 1 percent means a race to the bottom for the 99 percent. Because the Democrats accept the primacy of profits, they will never produce a serious legislative proposal to end unemployment, let alone create good-paying jobs with secure retirement.

Similarly, health and safety regulations are bad for the profits of the 1 percent. But lack of health and safety regulations is dangerous for the 99 percent.

Ditto for consumer and patient rights and environmental protections. Those protect the 99 percent at the expense of the 1 percent. And both parties, the Republican and the Democratic, are nowhere to be found when it comes to labor rights. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and enforcement of labor laws may have been gutted by the Republicans, but Democrats maintain the NLRB on a starvation diet.

Labor rights, consumer protections, health and safety regulations, and environmental regulations are squeezed even more by trade agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement. But trade agreements benefit the 1 percent in countries the world over. Consequently, trade agreements always get the backing of the Democratic Party.

Those of us who work in the public sector do not escape the pernicious and rapacious effects of profits and competition. The 1 percent do not want a secure or comprehensive social safety net. The more minimal the public sector, the more economic insecurity it breeds among the 99 percent. The more insecure we are, the more easily we can be coerced into accepting employment on terms that benefit the 1 percent.

And the 1 percent do not want to be taxed to support a public sector. The 1 percent do not care if class sizes in public schools increase; their children do not attend public schools. The 1 percent do not care if Medicare or Medicaid are dismantled; they have unlimited access to the best health care money can buy.

There will be no Democratic Party proposal for a significant change in the tax structure on the wealthy to fund public services, much less a proposal for a significant redistribution of wealth!

The 1 percent then use their wealth to buy political influence and reinforce their power. The 1 percent gamble on politics. They invest in two political parties. They would prefer we vote for the more conservative party, the Republicans--but they always make sure they have another option in case we don't. That is the role the Democratic Party plays for the 1 percent.

But whichever party wins, corporations win and Wall Street will provide the next Secretary of the Treasury.

MANY OF our co-workers may not disagree with a lot of what we say about the "mainstream" Democratic Party establishment. But they will point out that the three politicians on the ad in which our picture was featured are on the left of the Democratic Party, and are nothing like the Dianne Feinsteins, Nancy Pelosis or Jerry Browns.

Certainly, the politicians in the ad would be regarded as very left in most of the United States. But in the end, they remain locked inside a party that has always, is now and will always be a party that sides with the 1 percent on questions of war, inequality, unemployment, discrimination, the environment and labor rights.

And the left wing of the Democratic Party will, on Election Day, tell you to vote for the Jerry Browns, the Nancy Pelosis and the Dianne Feinsteins of the world. Jesse Jackson supporters become voters for Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

And the change we are always promised never materializes. It is ironic how often Democratic Party candidates campaign on a promise of change. Carter promises he was "a leader for change." Walter Mondale's campaign said, "America needs a change." Bill Clinton's theme song was "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." And Barack Obama built a whole campaign on hope and change.

There will not and cannot be real change from a party that promotes the agenda of the 1 percent and that places profits over human beings.

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