As the smoke clears on the implementation of the across-the-board cuts in vitally needed domestic programs, it must be acknowledged that the labor movement and our allies, together with the overwhelming majority of the population, have suffered yet another devastating blow, this one administered by politicians of both major parties, as well as by the president himself. It is estimated that as a result of the cuts, over 700,000 workers will lose their jobs by the end of this year.
The cuts, known as sequestration, were authorized by the Budget Control Act of 2011, enacted by large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans and signed into law by the president, who was the first to advocate sequestration. Nothing that has happened since and nothing that has been said since can change that basic truth.
The Obama administration admits its miscalculation. They thought that by linking cuts in social programs to cuts in military spending, the Republicans would come around and agree to revenue increases. But it did not work out that way. The military hawks in the Republican Party were outnumbered by the Tea Party–backed fiscal hawks, and the Party refused to budge or rescind sequestration. No surprise there.
Yes, the Republicans bear significant responsibility for what has occurred. They are the outspoken champions of the wealthy, Wall Street banks, and the big corporations. And the Republican Party is clearly controlled these days by the most extreme right wing forces, which has resulted in the Party’s approval ratings sinking to 29 percentile.
But as we go forward and face the danger of more massive cuts to the social safety net, it is essential that a broad, powerful, inclusive mass movement be built that is independent of the Democratic Party, which has proved itself once again to be no friend of labor, the unorganized, the unemployed, low and middle-income workers, communities of color, and other progressive sectors of our society.
Look at the recent record. On January 29, 2010, President Obama addressed the House Republican retreat and said that “the major drive of our long-term liabilities, everybody here knows, is Medicare and Medicaid and … health care spending. Nothing comes close.” In the summer of 2011, while attempting to negotiate a “Grand Bargain” with Speaker Boehner, the president offered to support raising the eligibility age for Medicare and also to change the cost of living formula for Social Security, which would drive down monthly payments to seniors. The three leading Democrats in the House of Representatives — Nancy Pelosi, Stenny Hoyer and James Clyburn — all weighed in on the need to cut earned income benefits (“entitlements”). In August of 2011 the Democrats and Republicans collaborated in enacting the Budget Control Act, which included the sequestration feature. This bill provided for establishing a “Super Committee” of 12 — six Democrats and six Republicans — and charged them with coming up with a plan to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. All six Democrats on that committee made clear they were for cutting “entitlements” so long as there were corresponding increases in revenue.
The failure of the Super Committee to reach agreement led to the sequestration, which is what we have arrived at now. And every member of Congress who voted for the Budget Control Act that led to this juncture ought to be held accountable.
The next major challenge faced by advocates of NO CUTS, NO COMPROMISES, NO CONCESSIONS when it comes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the other social programs — many of which have now taken a major hit — is March 27, 2013, by which date Congress must act on a continuing resolution to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year. The same arguments, charges and counter charges that have filled the airwaves these past weeks by politicians from both major parties will be heard again.
There are differences between the Democrats and Republicans on the question of coping with the deficit and the debt — no doubt about that — but what happens if the Republicans cave in and agree to added revenue? Then, President Obama has repeatedly said, he will support major cuts in “entitlements,” even if it means taking on the liberal wing of his party.
Our labor movement now faces a fateful choice: either rewrite history and place all the blame on the Republicans for the cuts taking place, while calling for continued support for the president and the Democratic Party to protect our cherished benefits; or take an independent path and spearhead building a broad, massive movement capable of mobilizing millions, including occupying the nation’s Capitol if that becomes necessary, to defeat those hellbent on placing the burden of the economic crisis and austerity on the backs of the working class and the great majority, including beneficiaries of safety net programs that tens of millions depend on for their survival.
It is in this context that we urge the trade union movement to endorse the conference scheduled for Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on May 10–12, 2013. Any union endorsing this conference is free to send as many representatives as it wishes.
The conference is co-sponsored by two labor organizations: the South Central Federation of Labor, Wisconsin and the South Carolina AFL-CIO. Its stated purpose is “to explore how we in labor can most effectively mount an independent fightback action campaign based on such united front demands as putting America back to work; preserving and expanding safety net programs based on No Cuts, No Concessions, No Shared Sacrifice; Medicare for All; retirement security; and redirecting war spending to fund human needs.” Click here for the “Open Letter to Concerned Trade Unionists” announcing the Rutgers conference.
This is a watershed moment in the life of the labor movement and the nation. Let’s rise to the challenge, recognizing that if we do not, we face the prospect of further damaging setbacks down the road. We have the numbers and the power to avert such defeats, but only if we mobilize to do so.