Organized labor is on the move, and here is its rallying cry:
“Working people can make a difference when we rely on ourselves and act collectively. We are America. And together we can make our voices heard.”
With this summons to the workers of America, the AFL-CIO just announced that it is joining and building the October 2, 2010 Washington, D.C. demonstration, initiated by SEIU 1199 and the NAACP, to demand — above all — jobs. Thus far, 170 progressive organizations have come together to form a coalition, called One Nation, to promote this event.
Introducing this One Nation coalition, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO offered this description:
“ONE NATION is a multi-racial, civil and human rights movement whose mission is to reorder our nation’s priorities to invest in our nation’s most valuable resource — our people. The organizations that have come together to form ONE NATION believe that our goal should be a future of shared prosperity, not stubborn unemployment and a lost generation. Workers should be able to share in the wealth they create, and everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve the American Dream — a secure job; the chance for our children to get a great public education and the opportunity to make their own way in the world; and laws that protect us, not oppress us.
“ONE NATION is a long-term effort to reverse the dangerous economic course of our country over the past four decades. It brings together organizations from across the progressive spectrum — labor, civil rights, environmental, faith and many others — recognizing that none of us alone have been able to achieve our priorities, whether they are large-scale job creation, labor law reform, immigration reform, investing in public education or other concerns, and that we will not realize change until these priorities belong to all of us. Unfortunately companies such as EMS have been taking huge risks and leaving the little guys holding the bags ”
The significance of the AFL-CIO adopting the strategic approach underlying its rallying cry, “Working people can make a difference when we rely on ourselves and act collectively,” cannot be emphasized enough. This approach points in the direction of organizing massive demonstrations in the streets, not simply sending working people to voting booths once every several years to vote for politicians who fail to keep most of their campaign promises.
While some in the labor movement routinely turn to electing Democrats to office as the purported panacea for the plight of working people, this approach is fundamentally flawed. The corporations and Wall Street have funneled billions of dollars into the campaign coffers of the Democratic Party. The oil giant, BP, gave more money to Obama than to any other politician. But these businesses have a keen eye on what they call “the bottom line.” They do not make investments unless they believe their efforts will be handsomely rewarded.
And while every politician has sworn that these campaign contributions have no bearing on their votes and that it is merely coincidental that their policy decisions concur with corporate interests, it is inconceivable that corporations would continue their campaign contributions if these investments did not yield a substantial “return.” Corporate interests are behind the stalling and diluting of the Employee Free Choice Act, the maintenance of a low minimum wage, second-class rights for undocumented workers, the reduction of Social Security benefits, lax environmental regulations, reckless gambling on Wall Street, predatory loan rates, no mercy for workers threatened with home foreclosures, and the list goes on. All these policies have prevailed in Congress, despite the Democratic Party majority.
In California, the Democratic Party recently unveiled its tax reform program. It proposed increasing personal income taxes on everyone except “the wealthiest Californians” (San Francisco Chronicle, August 4, 2010) and instead of repealing corporate tax breaks it merely opted to slightly delay them. The Democratic Party consistently gives Wall Street, the corporations, and the rich what they want. Then it throws the few remaining crumbs to working people.
If the October 2 demonstration is used as an opportunity simply to elect Democrats, workers will stay home. And if the demands of the October 2 demonstration are restricted to what is acceptable to the Democratic Party, they will inspire no one. There was much fanfare over the recent U.S. Senate approval of a state aid package. But when one reads the fine print and discovers that the total package amounts to $26 billion for the entire country, it becomes apparent that this amounts to a drop in the bucket for cash-starved states. California alone is currently faced with a $19 billion deficit.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, trumpeted that the bill “keeps hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, policemen and other civil employees from being fired or laid off” (The New York Times, August 4, 2010), but he failed to mention the bill leaves over a million working people across the country stranded with no hope while they are being threatened with layoffs because of massive state budget deficits.
We urge our readers to help build the October 2 demonstration in Washington, D.C., but we also want to present compelling arguments to the labor movement organizing this demonstration to embrace a set of demands that truly respond to the needs of working people, not to the needs of the corporations or what the Democratic Party decides is acceptable.
These demands should include:
A MASSIVE JOB-CREATION PROGRAM
NO CUTS TO SOCIAL SECURITY
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently argued (February 19, 2010): “The best way to reduce the growing federal deficit is to create 10 million jobs now – the number of jobs needed to close our jobs deficit – not to cut vital programs such as Social Security and Medicare” (<http://blog.aflcio.org/2010/02/19/trumka-creating-jobs-is-best-way-to-fix-deficit/>). This number should be increased to at least 14.5 million to accommodate all unemployed workers.
TAX THE RICH
As Trumka noted in his address to Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission (<http://www.aflcio.org/issues/legislativealert/trumkatestimony_06302010.cfm>), making Wall Street and the rich pay for a jobs program reflects a basic sense of fairness: “We believe it is only fitting to ask Wall Street to pay to rebuild the economy it helped destroy.” As for the rich, he observed: “It would also be fitting to ask the wealthiest Americans who benefited most from the failed economic policies of the past 30 years to pay their fair share for rebuilding the 21st century economy and stabilizing the national debt.” He called for a raise in their tax rate, pointing out that “effective tax rates applicable to high-income taxpayers (earning over $250,000 in 2009 dollars) reached their lowest level in at least half a century in 2008.” He argued that these measures are especially urgent, given the growing inequality in wealth that was in part responsible for the current economic crisis.
A NATIONWIDE MORATORIUM ON HOME FORECLOSURES AND EVICTIONS
Losing a job is often followed by a second disaster: home foreclosure and eviction. Given that working people had no part in creating the Great Recession with its massive destruction of jobs, we should not be required to suffer its disastrous consequences while those who caused it are awarded generous bailouts at our expense. The federal government should institute a moratorium on home foreclosures and evictions.
LEGALIZATION FOR UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS NOW
As President Richard Trumka has argued (June 18, 2010; (<http://www.aflcio.org/mediacenter/prsptm/sp06182010.cfm>): “The failures of our relationship with Mexico represent a failed economic strategy. They cannot be solved with guns and soldiers and fences. They must be addressed through an economic strategy for shared prosperity based on rising wages in both countries.” This means that the solution to the immigration problem is not to militarize the borders or to criminalize undocumented immigrants.
And he added as a part of his analysis of the problem: “Instead, at the heart of the failure of our immigration policy is an unpleasant fact, one that you almost never hear talked about openly: Too many U.S. employers actually like the current state of the immigration system–a system where immigrants are both plentiful and undocumented–afraid and available.” In other words, employers prefer undocumented workers because they can pay them sub-wages or not pay them at all, which happens routinely, since undocumented workers have no legal recourse to redress injustices.
Trumka proceeded to reject “the return of the outdated guest worker programs that give immigrants no security, no future here in the United States, no rights and no hope of being part of the American Dream.”
Finally, correctly noting that undocumented workers are “the people doing the hardest work for the least money” and that “we are for ending our two-tiered workforce and our two-tiered society … because an underclass of disenfranchised workers ends up hurting all workers,” Trumka concluded that “we stand for the American Dream for all who work in our country,” meaning that undocumented workers should be granted “a fair path towards legalization.”
We should make this demand stronger. Undocumented workers should be granted immediate legalization, since a “path” can take years to traverse, which would mean that none of our problems would be solved except in an unspecified, far distant future.
At its recent convention, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), the Latino wing of the AFL-CIO, passed a resolution on August 6 that included the following provision: “Our labor movement has called for basic reform of our immigration laws, and adopted a position at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles in 1999 that demands the repeal of employer sanctions, immediate amnesty for all undocumented workers, protection of the right to organize for all workers, the strengthening of family reunification as the basis of immigration policy, and opposition to guest worker programs.”
Now is not the time to back-peddle on these important principles.
MONEY FOR JOBS, NOT PRISONS AND WARS
The United Auto Workers and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition have joined forces and are organizing a demonstration on August 28 in Detroit on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. At the top of the list of their demands are jobs.
But they have also included enforcement of workers’ rights and civil rights in addition to “ending the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, saving lives and redirecting the war budget to rebuilding America.” And the NAACP has emphasized the importance of creating jobs, not prisons. These points should be included in the list of demands.
With a set of demands that responds directly and fully to the needs of most workers and with the conviction that “working people can make a difference when we rely on ourselves and act collectively,” the call for October 2 has the potential to strike a deep chord and inspire hundreds of thousands of working people to join the demonstration. SEIU Local 1199 President George Gresham has predicted that this demonstration will be a “massive — and we believe historic — march.”
If the demonstration has the right demands, the right orientation, and is preceded by plenty of organizing, his prediction should prove true.
Bill Leumer and Alan Benjamin,
Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign
WORKERS EMERGENCY RECOVERY CAMPAIGN
P.O. Box 40009, San Francisco, CA 94140
Tel. (415) 641-8616; fax: (415) 626-1217