IN THIS DOSSIER ON THE U.S. WORKING CLASS AND THE 2020 ELECTIONS
(Editorial and three articles reprinted from the February 2020 issue of The Organizer Newspaper)
(1) Editorial: Democratic Party Crisis Deepens by the Day, New Openings for Independent Working Class Politics
(2) The U.S. Labor Movement and the 2020 Elections — by The Editors
(3) “It’s About the Economy, Stupid!”: Trump and the “Success” of the U.S. Economy — by The Editors
(4) 2019: A Year of Mounting Resistance to Bipartisan War at Home and Abroad — by The Editors
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(1) Democratic Party Crisis Deepens by the Day, New Openings for Independent Working Class Politics
As these lines are written, the 2020 Democratic Party primaries have begun in an overall political situation characterized by the New York Times on January 27 as one where, “day after day, there is one more ripple in a flood of chaos streaming out of Washington.”
One of the ripples in this “flood of chaos” — an electoral expression of the outrage by workers and youth over their deteriorating working and living conditions — is the sudden surge of Bernie Sanders. The Democratic Party leadership is beside itself. Top party officials have gone public with the alarm: Everything must be done to stop Sanders. The mainstream media and liberal pundits are unhinged. Sanders is being targeted as a “divisive extremist who will destroy the Democratic Party.” The Business Roundtable warns that Sanders “will wreak havoc with the economy.” Media reports speak of a “civil war” inside the Democratic Party.
Sanders has been given plenty of leeway by the Democratic Party leadership to raise pressing issues such as free college education, canceling the student debt, single-payer healthcare, and taxing the rich — as this helps to legitimize the Democratic Party at a time when its traditional voting base has either continued to stay home on election day, or bolted, in the case of white working-class men in the Rust Belt, to the Republican Party. His New Deal-type program has struck a responsive chord among working people and youth who have not experienced the much-touted economic “recovery.”
Being allowed onto the roster of Democratic Party presidential candidates, however, has come with a steep political price-tag: Sanders has had to pledge time and again that he will campaign actively for whatever candidate the Democratic Party nominates at its July 2020 national convention — including Wall Street favorites Joe Biden and multi-billionaire Mike Bloomberg. When Hillary Clinton, Wall Street’s candidate in 2016, recently chastised Sanders for not doing enough to get behind her presidential bid, he replied that he had done “everything humanly possible” to support her.
Sanders also has had to pledge his support for U.S. imperialist policies worldwide, beginning with his unwavering support to the State of Israel and its “right to security” — something he has done more than willingly. His reply to Trump’s phony “Palestinian Peace Plan” highlighted the need to return to a “two-state solution” and “international law,” both of which have provided the cover to deny the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and their right to return to their homeland. The so-called “two-State solution” is precisely what paved the way for the Trump-Netanyahu plan to expel the Palestinian people from their lands and extinguish the Palestinian national movement. In response to Trump’s unilateral assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Sanders called on Congress to reassert its authority over going to war with Iran — which only legitimizes a war endorsed by Congress, such as occurred in Iraq in 2003.
For the Democratic Party leadership, it was never a question of allowing Sanders to come into the convention with a majority, or even a plurality of delegates. His role was to sheep-dog stray voters back into the Democratic Party. It is no longer out of the question, however, for Sanders to enter the Democratic National Convention with the most votes; such is the anger from below and such is the political crisis in the summits of the capitalist class.
If Sanders were to come into the July 2020 Democratic Party convention as the front-runner, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) leadership could orchestrate a “brokered” convention. DNC insiders already are discussing such a fall-back plan.
What would this look like? Sanders would need 50 percent-plus-one of the vote to get the nomination on the first round. That, however, is extremely unlikely. So if Sanders is still ahead after the first round, the super-delegates, mainly top Democratic Party officials appointed by the DNC, would be given voting rights in a second round, which would enable the DNC to “broker” — that is, select —the nominee of its choice. There could, of course, be variations to this scenario; this is all uncharted territory.
This is why the ruling class has Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, waiting in the wings in the event the anti-Sanders campaign does not succeed in reversing the “Bernie surge.” Bloomberg is rising rapidly in the national polls as a result of his $350 million adversting campaign. More and more political analysts are saying that Bloomberg would be the probable nominee if there were a brokered convention. He is being touted as the “only candidate who can go head-to-head against Trump.”
Such is the disarray — in fact, crisis — in the Democratic Party that Krystal Ball, a political analyst and host of “Rising,” noted that, “If Bernie enters the convention with the most delegates but not a majority, a brokered convention that denies Sanders the nomination will destroy the Democratic Party.”
This is not inconceivable. The U.S. political system — whose institutions and structures sit atop the powder kegs of a capitalst system in its death agony — is in turmoil, and anything can happen.
The Fight for Independent Working Class Politics
Today, with a resurgent, fighting spirit on the shop floors and in the workplaces across the country, workers are demanding to be heard [see article in this issue on the mounting resistance to the bipartisan war on the working class]. They are fighting to take back their unions to fend off the capitalists’ assault on their rights and working conditions.
In the political arena, however, the unions remain tied at the hip to the Democratic Party. This is the number one obstacle to building working-class power and advancing the interests of the working class and all oppressed people.
Helping to break labor’s ties of subordination to the bosses’ parties has been the central concern of The Organizer newspaper since we began publishing in February 1991. The immense human and material resources of the labor movement, we have affirmed time and again, must be placed at the service of building a labor-based party rooted in the struggle of the unions and all oppressed communities. Seeking to “reform” the Democratic Party is a dead-end.
More than 700 leading labor and community activists have endorsed a Statement — at the initiative of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) — that calls for running independent labor-community candidates beginning in 2020 at the local and state level, as a step in the effort to build a new independent mass labor-based political party. The Organizer is an active builder of LCIP, promoting an ongoing discussion on independent politics in the Unity and Independence supplement to our newspaper.
The LCIP Statement of Purpose lays out the campaign’s two-pronged objectives:
“Our first objective is to promote running independent labor-community candidates beginning in 2020 at a local and state level around a platform that embraces workers’ and communities’ pressing demands. …
“Our second objective is to promote widely in the trade union movement a committee that advocates for a Labor-based Political Party. A resolution adopted by the October 2017 national convention of the AFL-CIO affirmed that, ‘whether the candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street have been protected and advanced, while the interests of labor and working people have generally been set back.’ A second convention resolution concluded that, ‘the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils politics.”
The independent candidates and coalitions, moreover, cannot be limited to electoral politics; they must be fighting for the issues contained in the platforms, projecting these struggles into the electoral arena. This will help to cement the alliance between labor and the oppressed communities.
Important concrete steps are being taken to promote this orientation.
On December 7, 2019, unionists and activists came together in Cleveland, Ohio, at the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” regional conference. They came from across the state of Ohio and were joined by guest speakers from California and Maryland. The conference was sponsored by the Labor Education and Arts Project (LEAP), in cooperation with the Labor Fightback Network (LFN) and LCIP.
The call for the conference put forward the need to lay the foundations of a labor-based party rooted in the unions and the Black and Latino communities. It stated, in part:
“With inequality skyrocketing, healthcare and student debt mounting, climate change roiling the planet, civil and human rights under assault, and wages and benefits evaporating, a majority in the United States (57%) are now calling for a major new political party (source: Gallup Headlines, July 19, 2019). …
“Labor’s recurring support for the Democratic Party has gotten us no appreciable gains. It’s time for a change! It’s time for an effective alternative. … We invite union members and community activists across the country to join us in building the foundations of a labor-based political party that serves the interests of the working class and all oppressed people.”
Discussions are currently under way in several states to establish democratically run coalitions that run independent working class candidates for local office this coming November.
At this writing, the LFN, the Ujima People’s Progress Party, and LCIP are discussing convening a national conference for independent working class politics following the Democratic National Convention. The Organizer’s Editorial Board would strongly support such an initiative. Everything indicates that there will be big openings for moving the discussion — and action — around independent working-class politics many steps forward following the DNC in mid-July.
Such a national conference, of course, would need to incorporate the fight for independent Black working-class political action. Nnamdi Lumumba, convener of the Ujima People’s Progress Party, expressed well the articulation of the struggle for independent Black working-class politics and the struggle for a Labor-based party in his presentation to the “Break the Grip” conference in Cleveland. He stated:
“We need to organize people around their own class interests and their own interests as nationally oppressed people. Helping to break the active or even passive support to the two capitalist, imperialist and white supremacist parties has been a fundamental goal of our efforts as the Ujima People’s Progress Party, as we seek to build a Black workers-led electoral party.
“While we support a national labor party that recognizes both the shared and independent struggles of oppressed and exploited workers on the job and in their communities, we affirm that nationally oppressed people have to center the discussion and self-organization around their own specific oppression. … Having said that, we need to create a mass-based working-class party that says capitalism does not serve you, imperialism does not serve you, and racism does not serve you.”
In our view, convening such a conference also could help spur efforts in the coming weeks and months to begin running independent labor-community candidates at the local level in November. The conference organizing effort, in that sense, could serve as a national coordinating campaign to support local efforts in a few key states.
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(2) The U.S. Labor Movement and the 2020 Elections
Workers in the United States over the past 150 years have created their own class organizations — that is, trade unions — to advance their interests as a class and as champions of the working-class majority. While the unions have been weakened heavily by the policies of the trade union misleaders, they nonetheless represent the only class instruments available for struggle.
Today, with a resurgent, fighting spirit on the shop floors and in the workplaces across the country, workers are demanding to be heard. They are fighting to take back their unions to fend off the capitalists’ assault on their rights and working conditions.
In the political arena, however, the unions remain tied at the hip to the Democratic Party. This is the number one obstacle to building working-class power and advancing the interests of the working class and all oppressed people. Two recent examples illustrate this point: (1) the struggle to win single-payer healthcare and (2) the struggle to stop the corporate “free trade” agenda.
Trumka and Medicare for All
On the first point: To the great consternation of the thousands of labor activists in the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced on the eve of the first presidential debate that singe-payer — aka Medicare for All — is an issue that divides the Democratic Party candidates, and therefore the AFL-CIO would not be advocating for single-payer during the election campaign. Trumka also argued that many unions with good healthcare plans are not willing to give up their plans for single-payer.
The Labor Campaign for Single Payer rallied its members and supporters to sign an Open Letter to Trumka reminding him that support for single-payer is the position of the AFL-CIO, adopted at two national conventions. The Labor Campaign insisted that the AFL-CIO should assert its independent position, rather than tail-end politicians who do not support labor’s program for healthcare.
Mark Dudzic, national coordinator of the Labor Campaign, also addressed Trumka’s last point on the “good union healthcare plans.” He stated,
“I would challenge any candidate who claims to want to preserve ‘good union plans’ to come up with a single example of a union-negotiated health plan that can match the comprehensive benefits; seamless coverage; ability to choose providers; and lack of copays, deductibles, out-of-pockets and other ‘cost sharing’ outlined in both the current House and Senate versions of Medicare for All legislation.” (Everybody In!, Winter 2019)
The Labor Campaign held a national strategy conference in Portland, Oregon, in October that gathered more than 350 union officers and members from across the country. Throughout the conference, participants expressed their anger at Trumka’s about-face while pledging to continue and deepen the fight for single-payer.
Trumka and NAFTA 2.0
On the second point, the fight against corporate “free trade” agreements: During the 2016 campaign, Trump surged in the polls and won the election, with majority support in the nation’s industrial heartland, by lambasting NAFTA as the “worst trade deal in the country’s history.” Once in office, he threatened his Mexican counterpart with increased tariffs if Mexico didn’t accept his revised NAFTA agreement.
The final revamped version is 90% of the original NAFTA agreement, with some additional language, mostly unenforceable, on labor rights. It’s an agreement aimed at promoting the interests of U.S. transnational corporations — just like its initial version. The January 29 issue of the Wall Street Journal called the deal a “not-so-new NAFTA” and went on to explain that, “USMCA, like NAFTA, guarantees duty-free trade and economic integration.” These are the code words that provided the cover for the economic and social devastation caused by NAFTA over the past 25 years.
The national AFL-CIO leadership acted again, as it did with single-payer, as a surrogate to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. Pelosi, having been compelled to file impeachment articles against Trump, stated that it was necessary to show that she and the Democrats could co-legislate with the Republicans on issues they held in common, such as trade; they were not obstructionists.
Rather than affirm labor’s opposition to corporate “free trade,” the AFL-CIO leadership gave Pelosi what she requested. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka traveled to Mexico, met with Mexican President López Obrador and Secretary of Labor María Luisa Alcalde, wrested some minor concessions on labor-rights language, and returned home with the changes requested by Pelosi. This, then, gave Pelosi the green light to approve the signing of the agreement.
An environmental activist in the group 350.org expressed online her disgust with Pelosi for “handing Trump the election in November on a silver platter” with her call to support Trump’s trade deal. Seeing Trump sign the NAFTA 2.0 agreement, flanked by union members in hard hats was indeed, repulsive. Here is a president who does not hide his intention to destroy trade unionism in the United States praising himself as a champion of working people. This sad spectacle was enabled, shamefully, by Pelosi and Trumka. — Editors
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(3) “It’s About the Economy, Stupid!”: Trump and the “Success” of the U.S. Economy
Back in 1992, during the Bill Clinton and George H. Bush presidential election, the slogan “It’s about the economy, stupid” was used to put forth the proposition that all elections are about the economy. Trump has appropriated this slogan. In his State of the Union speech on February 4, Trump hailed the “success” of the economy under his watch, pointing to the 3.6% unemployment rate (the lowest since the 1960s) and a record-breaking stock market. He figures he can ride out the impeachment fire-storm and coast to victory in November on the basis of the economy alone. “That’s all people really care about,” he repeats from time to time.
Not so fast.
According to Professor Michael Klein of Tufts University, “While the unemployment rate is currently near a 50-year low of 3.6%, that statistic doesn’t tell the full story and can mask a deterioration in the labor market” (Conversations, April 2019). Klein notes that more than 6 million working-age adults, discouraged, have stopped looking for work and therefore are not included in the unemployment statistics. This represents 3 percent of the workforce. The highest concentration of this category of workers is in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Then there’s the issue of under-employment, with 61 million people technically employed but barely scraping by in mostly part-time (temp) jobs. Long gone are full-time jobs with pensions and benefits. It’s now mostly part-time (temp) jobs. It has reached the point where 80% of workers are living paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings. In the “economic boom” state of California, 54% of private-sector workers have no savings for retirement. Labor economist Jack Rasmus argues that the real unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent.
The full story shows that there are tens of millions of millennials and youth indentured with $1.6 trillion in student debt who can’t get homes or families even started.
The full story shows that the net worth of the median U.S. household has dropped 36 percent over the past 20 years, involuntary part-time work has grown 40 percent during the same period, and traditional pensions (which used to cover half the workforce) now cover only one-fifth of the workforce.
The full story shows that from 1973 to today, productivity went up 74 percent, but hourly compensation only went up 9.2 percent. It shows that in 2019, three individuals had a combined wealth of $248.5 billion, the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50 percent of U.S. households, or 160 million people. Meanwhile, the bottom 38 percent of American households have “O” net worth.
What about the booming stock market?
According to CNBC on January 23, liberal billionaire George Soros took aim at Trump, warning that, “the U.S. economy could be headed for calamity as a result of the president’s efforts to juice American business and stock prices ahead of the 2020 election.”
“The stock market, already celebrating Trump’s military success, is breaking out to reach new heights,” Soros told guests at an informal dinner in Davos. “But an overheated economy can’t be kept boiling for too long.”
What Soros said is on the mark. Like Obama before him, Trump has been able to stave off a recession artificially with increased public and private indebtedness (Americans’ outstanding consumer debt has surpassed $4 trillion for the first time, while the national debt has jumped to $23 trillion), deregulation of financial markets (which has spurred mega-speculation), massive increases in military expenditures ($735 billion in 2019), and other fiscal and monetary instruments.
All these measures have postponed the day of reckoning, only to make the coming recession, or crash, all the more devastating. Now the economy is overheated and boiling over. Some economists are predicting that a crash could take place as early as 2020. — Editors
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(4) 2019: A Year of Mounting Resistance to Bipartisan War at Home and Abroad
The year 2019 witnessed a mounting resistance by U.S. workers and youth to the class war unleashed against them by the two wings of the bosses’ party — the Democrats and Republicans. Though the focus of the wrath has been on Trump and his policies, the Democrats have not been let off the hook, as they’ve been complicit all along with this assault on workers’ and democratic gains and rights, that is, by U.S. imperialism’s permanent war agenda at home and abroad.
In the direct arena of class struggle, a resurgent labor movement has kept up and expanded its strike wave from 2018. At this writing, 8,000 hospital workers in the Swedish Medical Center chain in Seattle, represented by SEIU 1199NW, have walked off the job in a three-day strike following nine months of fruitless negotiations. They are opposing the cost-cutting measures imposed by management that adversely impact both workers and their patients.
Educators in the “Red [Republican] States” of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona — reconnecting with the fightback spirit of the Chicago Teachers Union of 2012 — kicked it off, reclaiming the strike as an instrument in their fight for better jobs and working conditions, but also for improved public education for their students. Across the country, even in the smallest and most remote towns, “Red for Ed” rallies brought together hundreds of thousands of educators and parents to oppose the privatization of education pushed by both ruling-class parties.
Following the Red States’ example, educators in the “Blue [Democratic] States” also reclaimed the strike and their unions. It began with the United Teachers of Los Angeles and continued in Oakland, Denver, Baltimore, and back to Chicago — to name only some of the main cities. In every case the striking educators faced-off against Democratic Party mayors and legislatures responsible for dismantling public schools through charter schools and vouchers. In most cases they won significant improvements in their contracts, with provisions aimed at enhancing “the common good” — including language opposing charter schools and calling for housing for educators and support for homeless students.
The educators’ strike wave, in turn, encouraged other workers, with their unions, to engage in the fightback. Locomotive workers struck for two months and beat back an attempt to impose a two-tier wage system. Communication workers across the Southeast waged the biggest strike in a decade in this region, winning wage increases and fending off concessionary demands on healthcare and pensions. General Motors workers stood firm in the longest national strike in the United States in decades and made some modest gains. Mental health workers at Kaiser organized one-day strikes and got the funding for positions that were slated to be eliminated. All in all, the number of strikes and strikers in 2019 reached 30-year highs.
The inherent power of the working class also was evidenced when Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, issued a rousing call to labor leaders to prepare a general strike against Trump’s budget shutdown. The strike call was not tested. The bugle call was sufficient to compel Trump to retreat.
At a time when the mainstream media were predicting the decline and collapse of the labor movement following the Supreme Court’s anti-union ruling in the Janus vs. AFSCME decision (which made the entire public sector “right to work”), a significant sector of the labor movement has stood up to to say, “We Are Not Going Away, We Are Fighting Back!”
The resistance also has been expressed in countless other arenas. The fight against the bipartisan U.S. imperialist wars in the Middle East is one such arena. On January 4 and 25, 2020, tens of thousands of people marched in the streets in more than 90 U.S. cities to protest the U.S. war in Iran.
In an interview conducted on January 26 with The Organizer newspaper, Ajamu Baraka, national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace, explained the leadership role played by BAP in the recent antiwar protests nationwide. He went on to describe the permanent war agenda that has targeted Black people, in particular, stating, in part:
“The imperialist being waged against Black working class people — and against the working class in general — in the United States requires containment of any and all forces opposed to their agenda. This is what’s behind the increased State repression against working class Black and Brown people, in particular.
“We see the antiwar issue as an issue of national oppression, just as we see it, of course, as a class issue. We say to our friends and colleagues, and to our people: Not one drop of blood from the working class and the poor to defend the interests of the capitalist oligarchy!” [See full interview in this issue.]
The resistance has been expressed, as well, in the fight in defense of women’s rights, especially abortion rights (largest women’s marches in U.S. history over the past three years); the fight against police killings of Black youth and the school-to-prison pipeline; the fight for immigrant rights (against the deportations and separation of families, policies expanded under Obama); the fight in defense of democratic rights on every level (voting rights, LGBTQ rights); the fight against the destruction of the environment … and more.
On every front, working people and the oppressed have said, “Enough Is Enough!” — Editors