The Democrats: a Party Led by Millionaires
The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) has issued its report that says: “For the first time, most members of Congress are millionaires.” While this really only verifies what most people have suspected for a long time, it does put to rest the unfounded notion that the Republicans represent the “fat cats” while the Democrats are the party of “ordinary people.”
The CRP report found that the average net worth of congressional Democrats is higher — $1.04 million to the Republican median of $1 million. In addition, large numbers of our legislators are actually multi-millionaires, as exemplified by the ultraright-wing Darrel Issa (Republican from California), whose net worth could be as much as $598 million.
The leaders of the Republican Party have made no effort to disguise their hostility to the working-class majority in America. However, since the labor movement continues to support the Democratic Party, an important question is whether this party can claim, with any justification, the support we give them in election after election.
Our answer is an emphatic NO! And we need look no further than the Democratic Party’s record over the past several months to prove that they are a corporate party whose loyalty lies with the 1%, not with the 99%.
Extending Benefits for the Long-Term Unemployed
In a cruel and callous attack on the long-term jobless, both Houses of Congress voted to allow benefits for them to expire on December 28, 2013. This unconscionable action was taken in a bipartisan vote marking the adoption of the budget deal.
But what about the Senate, which is under the control of the Democrats? All 54 Democratic senators plus independent Bernie Sanders voted for the budget deal!
In the House of Representatives, the “yes” vote was 332–94 for a budget that excluded emergency extension of unemployment benefits, with the Democratic members being a pillar of support. 163 of them voted for the deal, only 32 voting against it.
The extension of benefits could easily have been included in the budget if the Democrats had insisted on it. Here’s why: When the Republicans shut down the government last October, their reason was opposition to the Affordable Care Act. But when the public overwhelmingly demanded resumption of government services, the Republicans caved in. This time around, both of the major parties, with few dissenters, agreed that a budget deal had to be reached in order to ensure that there would not be another shutdown.
So if the Democrats had demanded inclusion of continued benefits for the long-term unemployed, the Republicans could not possibly have said, “No, that cannot be part of the budget deal” and threatened another shutdown. They knew that if they adhered to such a position they would have been repudiated by virtually the whole population. So it was the Democrats who had the leverage but they chose not to exercise it. Why?
It is because their priority was reaching a deal with the Republicans and they decided in the spirit of “bipartisan” unity to accede to the Republicans without a fight on this issue of dropping benefits for the long-term unemployed. And if that meant ignoring the dire straits of these workers, so be it.
As to the Democrats’ assurances that the extension of jobless benefits will be taken care of later on, this belated concern for the welfare of the workers involved is hollow in the extreme, as subsequent events are proving. And even if an extension of benefits is later voted, these Democratic politicians have already put the 1.3 million long-term unemployed and their families through the wringer, resulting in missed benefits, economic hardship and unimaginable stress.
So are the Democratic politicians, who are well-heeled themselves financially but oblivious to workers in need, entitled to labor’s continuing support?
On November 1, 2013, our country’s food stamp program (referred to as “SNAP,” which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) took a big hit when its funding was cut by $5 billion, or roughly 7% per recipient. This occurred when part of the 2009 economic stimulus program, which included a 13% increase for SNAP, expired.
Of course, Congress could have renewed this funding for SNAP at that time, even as an interim measure, but it chose not to do so.
The Federal food stamp program is now faced with even more devastating cuts. Both the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and the Senate with its Democratic majority have passed bills calling for further cuts to food stamps effective early in 2014. With the current skimpy level of funding clearly inadequate, the proposed changes will only make matters worse for the 47 million Americans who depend on food stamps for subsistence. Today, one out of every four children in the United States lives in poverty and 72% of SNAP recipients live in households with children.
To be sure, the House bill is far worse than the Senate’s. It would impose the biggest cuts for food stamps for the poor in a generation: $39 billion over the next ten years. The version passed by the Senate set the figure at $4.1 billion.
But even the less devastating Senate bill would harm more than 500,000 households. These struggling families would lose $90 in food stamp benefits each month. All but one of the Senate Democrats voted for this punitive bill.
So now members of the two major political parties are supposed to be negotiating in order to reach an agreement on the differences between the two bills. It is certain that any compromise will feature cuts. The only question is how deep and how devastating. Will the “compromise” result in cuts to SNAP of a “mere” $8 billion?
So we return to the central question: Does a political party which uses rhetoric such as a “war on poverty,” but which cuts basic programs to help the poor, warrant the support of labor and its allies? Actions speak louder than words.
The Boeing Struggle
When a company like Boeing in the state of Washington, whose annual profits are in the billions of dollars, demands massive concessions from its workers in the mid-term of its collective bargaining agreement — including destruction of the workers’ pension program and a significant increase in deductions in workers’ paychecks for health care — one would expect the leaders of a political party that purports to represent the interests of workers to denounce both the company’s greed and its brass-knuckle tactics. However, the exact reverse has taken place. Leading state Democratic politicians, like Senator Patty Murray and Governor Jay Inslee, urged the Boeing workers to vote “yes” to this punitive company contract offer.
This intensive intervention by local Democratic politicians who pose as “friends of labor” resulted in a defeat for the workers and a victory for the corporation. Once again, when workers and their unions support the Democratic Party, we are backing a party whose interests lie with the corporations and not with the working class, not with the poor, and not with the unemployed.
Back to the Future
The recent Democratic Party betrayals outlined above are not the exception to the rule — they are the rule. Historically, the post–World War II Democratic Party in power (or out of power) has done little to help workers, their families, and their unions.
Going back to the early 1970s and moving forward to the present, we see a consistent pattern: In Congresses where Democrats held a majority of seats, none of the key issues for labor have been adopted: common situs picketing — no; labor law reform — no; repeal of section 14-B of Taft- Hartley — no; card check — no. Instead, here is the record: Whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican, the following issues are among those pursued: cuts in food stamps; the gutting of welfare rights; and “free trade” agreements like NAFTA, the USA-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These agreements have been devastating to workers and their unions as millions of jobs are shipped overseas.
The deregulation of the economy, especially in the area of banking and transportation, actually began under President Jimmy Carter. It was then pursued like gospel by presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. The results of these policies have caused the banking crisis, the mortgage crisis, and the current recession. The victims are workers and their families, while the victors are the usual suspects: investment bankers, corporations, and the wealthy. This latter cast of characters has not hesitated to reward those who do their bidding. For example, in 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama received more corporate money than did the GOP nominee, John McCain.
Finally, it is in the area of education where the betrayal by the Democratic Party is especially evident. Like his GOP predecessor George W. Bush (“No Child Left Behind”), Barack Obama has fashioned the “Race to the Top,” which promotes market alternatives to public schools, embraces high-stakes testing, sanctions or closes “low scoring” schools, and unfairly demonizes teachers. In cities like Newark (Cory Booker, now a U.S. Senator) and Chicago (Rahm Emanuel, formerly Obama’s Chief of Staff), Democratic mayors have attacked teachers’ unions with a vengeance, closed schools, and become cheerleaders for the corporatization of public education. These Democratic politicians are not unaware that privatization is the enemy of community involvement and grassroots democracy.
Where Can We Go from Here?
What can workers and their unions do in light of these consistent and almost predictable betrayals by the Democratic Party? Here are several points to keep in mind.
The Record is Clear. We should not be surprised at the continued indifference by Democratic politicians to labor (after these politicians get elected or re-elected with labor’s indispensable help). It has happened too consistently for us to be surprised. Furthermore, since most Democratic politicians get corporate special interest support, we should not be shocked when these office-holders do the bidding of the rich and powerful. What labor and our allies must do is build our own independent political movement.
Start At The Local Level. Labor needs to build a grassroots political movement based on unions, the working class, and progressive community organizations. It must start at the local level with labor and community activists getting together to build a movement that will oppose both major parties and that will put forth a program that will address the critical needs of workers and their families, whether unionized or not. Local “labor/community representation committees” will tailor the local campaigns to issues that meet the needs of residents in cities and towns across the country. They should run independent candidates for political office so that the question no longer is which of the corporate candidates is the lesser evil.
Outreach. Later, activists from localities and states should meet to discuss the issues raised and the strategies used in the local campaigns. The next logical step might be a statewide or even a national campaign to establish an independent workers’ party based on the unions and progressive community groups. However, this step should not be taken until the new movement has a strong local base in cities and counties across the country.
We have seen that both major political parties are beholden to corporate special interests and have a consistent record of betraying workers, our families, and our unions. If labor and its allies simply despair or continue to back the Democrats, then nothing will change and the living and working conditions of workers and our families will continue to deteriorate. However, if labor works to build a local grassroots movement for independent political action, then we have a chance to take back our communities, our neighborhoods, and indeed our country. The time is now.