You Can’t Bail Out Wall Street AND Main Street at the Same Time!


[Note: The following talk was presented by Alan Benjamin to the May 9 Teach-In in San Francisco to "Bail Out Working People -- NOT the Banks!" Benjamin is a member of the Executive Committee of the San Francisco Labor Council and is a co-chair of the Council's Economic Crisis Committee. This talk was presented on behalf of the Teach-In Organizing Committee in the opening segment of the program.]

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In mid-January, the Economics Crisis Committee of the San Francisco Labor Council (SFLC) issued a report that underscored one central point: You can’t bail out Wall Street and Main Street at the same time “because Wall Street is about profiting from speculation — and the bailout is about funding the speculation.”

We said that you cannot meet the needs of working people and all the oppressed — especially in this period where the economy is heading from an epic recession to a Depression — in partnership with Wall Street and the bosses. This fundamental principle — which is at the origin of the trade union movement — led us to organize this teach-in under the banner of “Bail Out Working People — NOT Wall Street.” You cannot become partners with Wall Street and the corporations because the interests of workers and those of the bosses are separate and opposed.

This three letter word “NOT” is perhaps the most important word for us to keep in mind if we are to build a fighting movement — with the unions as the anchor, as Brother Sal Rosselli explained just a few moments ago, of a powerful labor-community alliance that can turn things around in the interest of the working-class majority.

Last October, when the Bush administration asked Congress to approve the first Wall Street bailout — known as TARP 1 or the Paulson Plan — the anger of millions of people forced Congress to reject the Paulson bailout. Letters poured in to members of Congress 100-to-1 urging a vote “NO” on the bailout. You must not throw billions of dollars at the very same fat cats whose speculative orgy has led our economy to the abyss, people insisted.

It took a Wall Street provocation, a 770-point drop in the Dow Jones, and the intervention of all-too-many politicians who should have known better to force a new vote, one week later, to reverse this vote and give Wall Street its first mega-bailout from our taxpayer money. We were told then, just as we are told today, that we must first “stabilize the banking system” before we can do much of anything else. This rationale for rescuing the super-rich has produced $4 trillion in bailouts to Wall Street to date — and we are told by the financial press that as much as $8 trillion more may be needed in further bailout funds by the end of 2010.

Sure, some funds have gone to Main Street — to the real, non-fictitious economy and to budget stimulus. But this amount is woefully insufficient. State and city budget deficits are still huge. The situation is worsening, with no end in sight.

Our Labor Council’s Economic Crisis Committee urged the government to enact a real jobs-creation program. But the various Obama stimulus plans have resulted, and will result, in relatively little job creation at a time when unemployment continues to soar. These are not job-creation plans.

If the government did not give $1 trillion in PPIF funds to the banks, for example, it could put 20 million people back to work for one year at a living wage of $50,000 to rebuild schools, bridges, hospitals, public services — not to mention New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. And I use the 20-million figure here because by year’s end this could be the real number of people whose jobs have been lost since the most recent recession began. Wouldn’t this be a far more effective stimulus program to get our economy out of this recession?

When our union leaders accept this snake oil, this fraudulent notion that we can bail out Wall Street AND Main Street at the same time, this leads to paralysis — at a time when we should be mobilizing in defense of our own interests. Or worse, it leads our unions to go along with and accept the unacceptable.

Take the crisis in the auto industry, which concentrates all the bailout problems facing working people today. Wall Street banker Steve Rattner, who headed up the Obama task force to bail out GM and Chrysler, put a gun at the head of the autoworkers’ union and said, “Put up your union’s retirement and VEBA healthcare fund as equity to shore up the failing corporations. You have no choice but to join the employers in a ‘restructuring partnership’ venture if you want to save your jobs and prevent something worse!”

But this corporate restructuring, formulated on Wall Street and implemented by the Obama administration, is all about destroying jobs — tens of thousands of union jobs. It is about destroying entire communities and the autoworkers’ union itself.

The unions are being asked to take direct responsibility, side by side with the Wall Street overseers and the bosses, for laying off workers, forcing speed-up, and putting the retirement and healthcare funds at great risk. They are being asked to pit retirees, who are worried about their pensions and healthcare benefits, against the workers now working under what one retiree called “slave labor contracts.”

Unfortunately, the autoworkers’ leadership accepted the unacceptable — and with no perspective of how to fight back and with no support from any other labor quarters, the union members at Chrysler voted to accept this rotten bailout deal. Only a small percentage voted against the deal — and they were right to vote “No.”

No. It’s not the role of a union to bail out the corporations and to do their dirty work. That’s why in our program booklet you can read a piece by our Economic Crisis Committee in which we insist that a fight can and must be waged by the entire labor movement — today, before we have another PATCO, or worse. The labor movement can and must mobilize its members nationally to demand NOT ONE SINGLE LAYOFF IN AUTO (AND ALL SECTORS)! PUT ALL LAID-OFF WORKERS BACK TO WORK! NATIONALIZE THE BIG 3 and retool the industry, with electric cars, rapid mass-transit systems, solar and wind equipment, and more. We can retool and “green” our industry and economy — not just in words but in deeds. [See more detailed presentation in the teach-in program booklet, reprinted below.]

And this insistence on the central importance of helping workers in Detroit to organize the fightback is one reason our Teach-In Organizing Committee is proposing to organize on June 13 a march and rally here in San Francisco — from the Federal Reserve Building to the new Federal Building — as part of a nationwide protest against the business and bankers’ summit in Detroit from June 14 to 16. [See in your packets the message to the teach-in from the Bring the Troops Home Movement, based in New York.]

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