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"Obama's Assault on Working People Only Possible
Because of the Support by the Trade Union
Officialdom to Obama and the Democrats"

(Presentation by Alan Benjamin, Editor of The Organizer newspaper, to the Open World Conference in Algeria November 28, 2010)

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

In the November 2, 2010, mid-term elections in the United States, 29 million people who had voted for Barack Obama in November 2008 stayed home. This abstention represented nearly one out of every two people (29 million out of 63 million) who had voted for Obama two years earlier. It expressed the growing rejection of Obama's corporate policies by his own base, but also the lack of an independent political alternative for working people.

I don't have the time here to review Obama's record during these first two years in office. It includes such things as:
– a US$4 trillion bailout for the banks and financial institutions, but virtually no job creation for working people, leaving 27 million jobless or heavily unemployed;

– a health-care reform that benefits the private insurance companies at the expense of union health-care plans, Medicare and the middle classes;

– the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, with an ever-increasing military budget; and

– the refusal to implement a promised labor law reform that would allow workers to organize a union of their choice — a right that exists only on paper in the United States.

The list goes on.
It's not that the Democrats were too timid about challenging the right wing and the corporate elite, in my view. It's precisely that, in response to the spiraling economic and financial crisis of global capitalism, the Democrats carried out to a "T" — that is, without wavering — the dictates of Wall Street and the corporations. And this should come as no surprise as the Democrats are one of the two parties of the bosses.

This brings me to my main point: Obama could not have carried out this assault on working people were it not for the support by the trade union officialdom to Obama and the Democrats:
– From the beginning of the new administration, the AFL-CIO leadership put forward the call for Obama to "Bail out Wall Street AND Main Street" (that is, working people) — instead of what should have been labor's demand: "Bail out Main Street, NOT Wall Street!"

This legitimized Obama's bailout of the banks to the tune of $4 trillion at the expense of working people.

– The Gettlefinger leadership of the United Auto Workers union caved into the pressures of Obama and the corporations, accepting the destruction of their members' jobs, pensions and collective-bargaining agreement in the name of rescuing the Big 3 auto corporations.

– The union officialdom was silent when Obama said that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) — the promised bill that would allow unions to organize freely — was considered "off the table."

– The union officialdom turned its back on the vote of the AFL-CIO convention in September 2009 in support of a single-payer health-care system, and buckled to the pressure of Obama and the Democrats who said that the single-payer and the "public option" — an incremental change in the direction of a single-payer system — were "off the table."

The AFL-CIO leadership belatedly did respond to the huge pressure from within the ranks of labor to organize a mass demonstration in Washington, D.C. for jobs, peace and justice — but they organized this rally on the eve of the mid-term election (and not 12 or 16 months earlier) and with a focus that transformed what should have been a fighting and militant march and rally for jobs — with a specific demand to create 20 million jobs, now! — into what was mainly a pep rally for the Democrats.

The fact that close to 200,000 people turned out in Washington, D.C. on October 2nd for the One Nation Working Together coalition rally was extremely significant. It showed the potential power of the labor movement to act in its own name, collectively. It also showed the deep anger from below.

But today the leadership of One Nation Working Together is saying that this coalition's primary aim is to get Obama re-elected in 2012. Such an orientation will inevitably subordinate what could be a promising new movement to the choices and compromises that Obama and Democrat feel are necessary — with some external pressure, to be sure, but not the kind of independent working class mass action that would be needed to impose a massive jobs-creation program or a massive redirecting of military spending to fund the public sector and meet human needs.

Sisters and Brothers:

In the coming days Obama's bipartisan federal deficit reduction committee will announce publicly its recommendation to the Congress. The Committee is calling for US$4 trillion in cuts in social spending, changes in the retirement age to "rescue" Social Security, the gutting of Medicare for the elderly, and much more. For the past 30 years, the U.S. working class has been under growing attack by the bosses and the government. But these new proposals from Obama's bipartisan committee are something qualitatively different: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka summarized it as follows: "The [Obama] committee's message to working families is DROP DEAD."

In the view of the Editorial Board of The Organizer newspaper, which I represent here today, it will be necessary to open the widest discussion in the U.S. labor movement about what can and should be done to get the labor movement to build an independent fightback, in coordination with its community allies, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1930s — because it's going to take this kind of working class mobilization to push back this new war on U.S. workers.

It is going to take promoting independent labor politics to help working people overcome all the obstacles in their path. It is going to take getting the labor movement to break its ties of subordination to the Democratic Party — and to fight solely in defense of the interests of its members and of all working people — for the bosses' bipartisan assault to be stopped and reversed.
At the same time, supporters of the International Liaison Committee (ILC) in the United States are opening a vital discussion in the pages of Unity & Independence, a supplement to The Organizer newspaper, on the need for labor to break with Democrats and build its own Labor Party. This task — which is linked to labor promoting independent mass action in the streets and in the workplaces — is posed today, with great urgency.

These are complementary campaigns that many of us in the United States are helping to promote in the aftermath of the November 2nd elections.
Deepening the collaboration with the international workers' movement through a more coordinated ILC structure will be key to the success of these efforts in the United States.

Thank you for your attention.