On April 7, the Senate voted 59–38 to restore emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed. While the bill is grossly inadequate—among other problems it extends coverage only until June—it nevertheless is essential that it be adopted by the House of Representatives as well. After all, it does provide retroactive coverage for the workers who were abruptly terminated from continuation of the benefit on December 28 and it does give proponents of comprehensive coverage needed time to broaden and strengthen the movement to win comprehensive coverage for an indefinite period of time.
The reason we are in this jam now is because the bipartisan Murray-Ryan budget committee spearheaded adoption by Congress of a deal that excluded continuation of benefits for 1.3 million workers and their families. Since then, the figure has increased to three million and within a relatively short period of time, it will climb to five million. So there is a lot at stake here for vast numbers of our brothers and sisters. An injury to one is an injury to all!
House Speaker John Boehner promised that if Congress went along with the budget measure as proposed, the House would give consideration to taking up an extension of unemployment compensation for the long-term jobless as a separate measure. But as anticipated, he and his colleagues are now setting conditions for the House’s support, including authorizing construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and adding other provisions for more private sector jobs. Other Republicans have numerous amendments to propose to the Senate’s bill, which would tie up the whole process in knots. Some Congressional legislators oppose any extension on the ground that the economy is no longer in recession so emergency aid is no longer needed.
All this at a time when some 27 million workers are unemployed or under-employed and struggling to survive.
Labor and its allies continue to pay a very steep price for depending on Democratic Party politicians to protect our interests. Even though a large majority of the U.S. public supports continued aid to the long-term unemployed (a January 14 Quinnipiac University poll puts the figure at 58%), Congress still has not provided that aid. Both of the two corporate parties bear responsibility for this crisis. They are playing the proverbial fiddle while Rome continues to burn.
This experience demonstrates once again the imperative need for labor and its allies to intervene independently in the electoral arena and run candidates that will fight for a program that will promote and advance the economic security, retirement security, health, and welfare of the working class majority, rather than the interests of the 1%. We in the Labor Fightback Network believe that the working class needs its own political voice. Subordination to the Democrats or the Republicans is destructive to the class interests of workers and the labor movement, and robs our movement of progressive ideas and the ability to speak them. The organizational form of independent labor political action will need to be established through a process of education and struggle over time. Establishing labor/community coalitions that run independent candidates—together with mobilizing around the burning issues of the day—would help accelerate this process.
And on the issue under discussion here, labor must take the lead if we are to prevail. To be sure, the Democrats in the Senate unanimously voted a few days ago to restore unemployment compensation for the long-term jobless. The chief bottleneck at the moment is the House Republican leadership which may not even permit a vote. If left to their own devices, these politicians will find one excuse or another to compromise away workers’ rights, including the right to receive unemployment benefits, or abrogate our rights altogether. Of course, if the politicians see massive numbers of people in the streets protesting and raising hell, we could get a more positive result.