Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism

Reports from the U.S.A.

Author: Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism
Source: New Interventions, Volume 13, no 4, Summer 2011.
Prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive: by Paul Flewers & David Walters in 2017 & 2018
Copyright: New Interventions & Paul Flewers. Used here with permission.

I: After Wisconsin, Which Road Forward: Class Independence or Class Collaboration?

The following article is the text of a leaflet distributed by Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism at demonstrations held on 18 June 2011 against the proposals of the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, to remove the right of state employees to collective bargaining and to impose new terms of employment, involving serious attacks on their pensions, health-care and working conditions.

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Prepare for a General Strike, or Carry Water for the Democrats Through 2012? Our unions’ leaderships are not prepared to fight and win in the current economic crisis. They lack an analysis of the nature of the crisis and are therefore incapable of mapping a road forward. They have buried themselves so far inside the corporate Democratic Party that they can’t see they are feeding the hand that bites us! They believe their own mythology that corporate capitalism can be run in a ‘moral’ manner, and that rational pressure exerted in the traditional manner can resolve the crisis in the interest of the working class. Not only are they mistaken at every step in the road, but their strategy and tactics are leading the working class to defeat and preventing the independent political action needed for the working class to defend and advance our own historic interests. After serving as a tool of class peace for so many decades, these leaders do not know how to respond to the objective fact that the bosses have declared class war on us, and this is a fight to the death!

What the Labour Tops Don’t Want Workers to Know: Labour leaders bemoan the decline of the ‘middle class’, but the real crime is that they went along with academic sociology and the TV culture which for decades has told workers they are not a ‘working class’, defined by their social/economic relationship to the means of production, but rather a ‘middle class’ defined by income level and the culture of consumerism. In the face of the economic decline of the American empire and the realignment of economic power toward a rising China, the ‘middle-class’ expectations of the American labour movement are no longer affordable in a ‘profit first’ driven economy. Our expectations have burst the limits of capitalism! This objective fact leaves the labour tops with nothing to offer workers today!

The international economic crisis has not been resolved. Billions were thrown at banks and none of it trickled down to jobs. Rather the big banks, speculators and corporate élite used it for personal bonuses, to continue speculative trading and to ‘rationalise’ their companies, increasing capital expenditure and cutting employees to assure returns for stockholders. As American workers’ wage packages (wages, cost of living allowances, pensions and healthcare) are slashed in an ‘employer’s market’ here at home, across the world in China workers’ wages are rising under the pressure of a working class which holds, on average, 435 strikes a day. Businesses, The Economist tells us, are seeking to set a price point in their purchase of labour power (the commodity that workers sell) on the international market, before they can bring jobs back to the USA. But even the most optimistic economists predict that lowering American wages would not bring back enough industrial manufacturing, or even service jobs, to put the 12 to 20 per cent unemployed back to work, much less to preserve the much-vaunted ‘middle-class’ lifestyle. The result is a marginalised youth, black and Latino population with no prospects for inclusion in the productive economy, and a prison industrial complex housing two million prisoners who are disproportionately people of colour, and overwhelmingly come from the poorest layers of the working class.

As the crisis heads into what is termed a ‘double-dip’ recession, imperialism has its tentacles spread thin. Three wars, responsible for countless tens of thousands of civilian deaths, are being run by the Democrats, while covert actions and drone strikes cross more borders than Wikileaks can keep up with. The workers of North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and China are attacking their governments and taking massive strike and protest actions. With the collapse in the bailouts of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and the potential downgrading of the USA’s bond rating by Moodys, it is clear the big bosses of the world economy see no way out except by imposing massive austerity measures, which they expect the trade union leaders, the Social Democrats, the Labour Parties and, in the USA, the Democratic Party to administer. And the class traitors at the head of our unions are following right along — witness SEIU Local 1000’s endorsement of Governor Brown’s regressive tax plans in California.

The bosses’ current strategy translates into attacks on all workers. The halving of UAW auto workers’ pay has set a new lower wage standard for American industrial and manufacturing work. The increase in class sizes and tuition for students, the cuts in public services, the gutting of public health and other essential governmental services and the scapegoating of the public worker have become standard measures across the nation. The attack on the last and largest bastion of the American labour movement, the public employee sector, is an all-out class war launched by big capitalists with the intention of imposing an historic defeat on the American working class.

In order for market forces (remember ‘the free hand of the market’?) to drive American workers’ compensation down to the price point where capital can rationally invest here again, the market demands gutting of defined benefit pension plans, driving down public-sector wages, cutting the social wage (government benefits), and shifting the burden of the crisis further onto the backs of the poor, workers and the oppressed. The market requires the destruction of the unions and any organisations that organise the working class, the poor and the oppressed. Today’s union leaderships are not prepared for this onslaught. In fact, these class collaborators act in diametric opposition to the interests of the working class; they are doing everything they can to stop us from organising independently of the bosses’ political parties, from launching solidarity actions, and from striking at all — let along building for the widespread, indefinite general strikes that will ultimately be needed to confront the bosses’ attacks.

A Failed Strategy for Labour: In the period of the expansion of the US Empire during and after the Second World War, the labour tops made peace with the American ruling class. Under the threat of rising working-class rank-and-file militancy in the 1930s (the rise of the CIO; general strikes in Minneapolis and San Francisco), Congress passed the National Labour Relations Act — much lauded as a victory for workers, as it guarantees the right to organise, but the actual purpose of which was to corral the working class into reliance on a state structure rather than our own self-activity. The NLRA was followed quickly by anti-labour laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, which constrains labour by making it illegal to offer solidarity to other workers in the form of strike action. Today we see the result: the MUNI rank and file rejected a sell-out contract, only to have the ‘impartial’ arbitrator impose it over their objection. If workers in the Bay Area can be stripped of the right to collective bargaining without a fight, it exposes the role of the sell-out labour leaders, which is to constrain the working class during the imposition of austerity. We need to shut down the entire Bay Area transportation grid to defend our MUNI drivers, but solidarity strikes are against the Taft-Hartley law and the craven leadership uses that law to keep the rank and file in line.

As long as the pre-eminent position of US imperialism brought home super-profits after the Second World War, infrastructure, education, technology and industry (particularly the military-industrial complex) created a high demand for labour. Rising wages increasingly came with labour peace, enabling the labour bureaucracy to transform itself into a self-perpetuating dues collection agency that acted in its own interests, abandoning class conflict for the ‘rational’ road of arbitration, lawsuits, legislation and buying politicians.

This worked well for about 25 years, but the laws of capitalist economics precluded the fantasies of the labour bureaucracy from enduring. As the economy changed and wages started to stagnate in the early 1970s, the illusion began to evaporate. There never was a ‘middle class’; we had been workers all along, and we could pay for the new consumerist culture of a ‘middle-class American dream’ only by sending the women of the household to work, by taking second jobs, and by incurring debt in the form of student loans, credit cards and second mortgages against our houses. Now all these stop-gaps are running out, and the explosion of the speculative stock market and inflated housing bubble economy is gutting the standard of living of the American working class. Wages have been flat or declining for decades; we work more hours than before; we have less vacation; we are less secure, and all the money has floated to the top 0.01 per cent while we are scrounging to hold on to a declining pay-check. The labour bureaucracy was not prepared for this! They still cling to their failed strategy of class collaboration with the Democrats, reliance on the courts, and lobbying legislators to ‘tax the rich’.

This strategy is not just a mistake. Rather, the union tops are doing their job, as defined for them by the bosses’ legal system. They will do everything possible to keep workers from taking strike action, and from mounting solidarity actions with workers in other unions, counties, districts, states or nations. The labour bosses see the upsurge in rank-and-file militancy as a threat, which they can only contain by corralling it into electoral politics. Thus, the popular sentiment for a general strike in Wisconsin was diffused into a recall campaign, which prevents immediate militant action, and steers workers into placing faith and hope in the Democrats rather than in our own self-organised mass actions. Thus, the AFL-CIO forbids any mention of opposition to foreign wars as they prepare to rally the troops for the 2012 electoral cycle.

How to Prepare for a General Strike: The current crop of union leaders is not going to prepare for a general strike. Instead, they spend most of our dues dollars selling concessionary contracts to the members, while giving the rest to lobbyists and lawyers, leaving our strike funds dry and our membership unorganised, frustrated and demoralised. For the working class to avoid the historic defeat the Koch brothers have planned for us, we must first take back control of our unions! New militant rank-and-file leaders not afraid to confront Taft-Hartley through strike action must rise in the ranks to replace the functionaries and careerists who sap our dues while shedding crocodile tears about their inability to mobilise the membership and bring home the bacon.

Effective strike action and general strikes cannot be organised unless we first either take over our unions, or else build new unions and other workers’ organisations with a new leadership. Our current union misleaders’ attitude is that they are only responsible to act in the interest of the dues-paying membership — not the future members, not the unorganised workers, not the unemployed, and certainly not the workers of the world, oppressed, exploited and brutalised as we are by Wall Street and the military industrial war machine. But our class can only survive and win if we take up the old Knights of Labour slogan: An Injury To One Is An Injury To All! Solidarity is our only power, and the ability to strike in the historic interest of the class is our strongest weapon. When the leaders of today’s unions spurn these tools of the international working class, they act as the agents of the ruling class in our organisations, and must be driven out and replaced. That means we need rank-and-file class-struggle caucuses to promote a new militant leadership, to fight for working-class independence, and to build a fighting workers’/labour party that unites the entire working class and all our allies nationally and internationally to strike as one against the rule of the exploiters and build a movement for workers’ power and workers’ ownership of the means of production. Even though we have experienced a series of multiple defeats, and the prospects look gloomy, we cannot ignore the escalation in the class struggle across North Africa, Europe and Asia, nor the aspirations of the workers and peasants of South America. All of the developments overseas will have repercussions here in the US, ultimately taking the struggle against the bureaucracy from the realm of abstract theorising to the concrete reality of shop-floor and union hall confrontations, and battles to take our unions back!

The drive to build for a general strike must be pursued in conjunction with the democratisation of the unions and/or the formation of new workers’ organisations. As the current leaders continue to mislead the masses, workers’ frustration will rise, and the opportunity to form class-struggle rank-and-file caucuses that can challenge for power will grow. To win, these caucuses must advance strategy, tactics and demands that unite the entire working class, and forge independence, and must prepare for and take united strike actions.

Demands such as no concessions, no take-aways, and ‘pay me my COLA’ are of immediate concern. Demands such as jobs for all and 30 hours’ work for 40 hours pay can unite labour with the unemployed and those on furloughs and reduced hours. Demands for universal healthcare, not hand-outs to the insurance companies, will unite the organised with the under-insured. Demands to nationalise the banks and major industries under workers’ control to provide immediate access to capital for job creation offer a solution to the crisis of market control. Demands to end imperialist interventions abroad can unite our organisations with the workers across the planet who struggle against the same corporate criminals who are crushing us! Demands for labour to declare class independence and form a fighting workers’ party, organised shop by shop, office by office, block by block and school by school, can unite the entire working class in struggle. Ultimately, we need to organise to run our own candidates and to mobilise mass political actions up to and including an indefinite general strike, to resolve the crisis in favour of the working class majority — the 85 per cent of us who do the work! This demand exposes the traitorous role of subsuming the workers into the corporate political machine and shows the road out of the trap of electoralism.

These demands cannot be won by the current leaders, but can be when we take back and rebuild rank-and-file workers’ democracy. The fight to defend the working class from the bosses’ class war requires that labour must clean its own house! Drive out the functionaries, imperialists, corporatists and class collaborators! Then we can remake our unions into a militant organising force in the fight for the historic interest of the working class.

The sections of the Fourth International should always strive not only to renew the top leadership of the trade unions, boldly and resolutely in critical moments advancing new militant leaders in place of routine functionaries and careerists, but also to create in all possible instances independent militant organisations corresponding more closely to the tasks of mass struggle against bourgeois society; and, if necessary, not flinching even in the face of a direct break with the conservative apparatus of the trade unions. If it be criminal to turn one’s back on mass organisations for the sake of fostering sectarian factions, it is no less so passively to tolerate subordination of the revolutionary mass movement to the control of openly reactionary or disguised conservative (‘progressive’) bureaucratic cliques. Trade unions are not ends in themselves; they are but means along the road to proletarian revolution. (Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Programme, 1938)

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II: Why We Must Say No To Shared Sacrifices and More Concessions

The following article consists of excerpts from the keynote presentation by Jack Rasmus to the Emergency Labor Network Conference at Kent State University, Ohio on 24 June 2011. Rasmus is a professor of economics at two universities in Northern California, and is the author of the recent book, Epic Recession: Prelude To Global Depression (Pluto Press and Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010) and Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few (Pluto Press and Palgrave-Macmillan, forthcoming). His blog is http://jackrasmus. com and his website is We thank Mike Calvert for bringing it to our attention. Further to the public expenditure cuts mentioned in this article, the budget cuts demanded by the agreement between Barack Obama’s administration and the Republicans signed into law in early August 2011 amount to $900 billion over the next 10 years, with a further $1.5 trillion to be announced by the end of this year.

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The Obama ‘recovery’ of the past two years has been a recovery in which investors in stock and bond markets have realised historic record returns, in which corporate profits have snapped back to new highs not seen in decades, and in which banker and corporate CEOs have achieved record income gains once again.

The really big gainers, however, are the ‘mega-millionaires and billionaires’, who make up the wealthiest one per cent of households. Their share of all the income generated each year in the US has risen since 1980 from eight per cent to 25 per cent of all income each year. They own $39 trillion in total assets.

In contrast to this historic, lopsided recovery in favour of the wealthy and their corporations, the ‘bottom’ 90 per cent of American households — about 105 million earning less than $110 000 a year (with a median earnings of about $47 000) — are not only not participating in the recovery but are continuing to lose ground economically.

Nearly 10 million have lost their homes, with a predicted total of between 13 and 15 million out of 54 million mortgages forecast to foreclose in the next few years. Seventeen million families are experiencing ‘negative equity’, with their homes worth less than they owe. More than 50 million are without any kind of health insurance coverage. More than 40 million have no full-time permanent job and earn on average 70 per cent of full-time pay as temporary and part-time workers. Forty-seven million Americans live below the official poverty levels.

Tens of millions are living off food stamps. Real weekly earnings for 100 million non-supervisory workers in the US are less in 2011 than in 1982. Most important, the total number of workers with jobs today is less than it was a decade ago. Twenty-four million are still jobless, and for every four workers looking for a job there is only one job being offered.

Lies About ‘Shared Sacrifice’: Despite this outrageous lopsided recovery of the past two years, working families are being asked to ‘share the sacrifices’ of still further wage, benefit and social programme cuts to pay the cost of recovery for the wealthy few and their corporations. Those who didn’t cause the crisis, who are the victims of it, are asked to foot the lion’s share of sacrifices.

All the talk by Obama administration officials about ‘shared sacrifices’ is mostly hype. There’s nothing remotely close to ‘sharing’ in either party’s proposals.

For example, in recent debates over cutting the deficit, President Barack Obama has indicated he will agree to cut $3 in spending for every $1 in tax increases, if Republicans will agree to raising the $1 in taxes. And Vice-President Joe Biden, who has been heading up the administration’s negotiations with Republicans, has reportedly already agreed to a level of $1 trillion in spending cuts. But despite both Obama’s and Biden’s generous pre-offers, Republicans continue to refuse to agree to anything resembling any kind of tax hike.

We are seeing a repeat of the administration’s failed efforts to get an agreement this past spring on cuts in last year’s 2011 budget. Democrats kept upping their offers to cut additional billions in spending, while Republicans conceded nothing, until the Democrats finally agreed to $38 billion of the $39 billion in spending cuts initially demanded by Republicans. Now it appears this same practice of making multiple offers, without counter-offers from the Republicans, is being repeated again by Obama and his administration in current bargaining over 2012 budget cuts.

All the talk about ‘shared sacrifice’ is a sham. They have already decided, both parties, to make us pay for the ‘recovery’ from which only they have so far been benefiting. The strategy is simple: we pay for the bailouts so that they can continue to enjoy their tax cuts.

All this talk about cutting deficits and debt is really a ‘straw man’. It’s really about cutting social security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and just about every other social programme so that they don’t have to raise their taxes and so they can continue their foreign military adventures. For that to continue we need to give up not only our ‘money wages’ and benefits, but now also our ‘social, deferred wages’ as well. That’s what’s new today.

Obama’s and the Democrats’ strategy is to focus on cutting corporate and wealthy households’ tax loopholes. But for every $1 of revenues raised from loophole closing, they are already agreeing to $4 in cuts in social security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and other programmes. Is that ‘shared sacrifice’?

And once the loopholes are closed with great fanfare, both Republicans and Democrats will agree to cut the corporate tax rate from its current 35 per cent to 20 per cent, this writer predicts. The trading of loopholes for top tax rate is a shell game that’s been played for the past 30 years. Close a loophole now to make it look like something’s being done, then lower the tax rate to make up for the loopholes.

Federal Debt Versus Social Security and Medicare: Today the Obama administration and Congress are showing their growing fixation on cutting the federal government deficit and federal debt — at the direct expense of the ‘social wage’, that is, deferred wages earned by workers in the form of social security, retirement, disability and Medicare.

It is a fact that the US federal debt has risen from about $5 trillion in 2000 to now more than $14.3 trillion. That’s an accumulation of deficits over the past decade of about $9 trillion. But these deficits have nothing whatsoever to do with social security and Medicare. So why should working people have to pay for them? No one is really answering that question among the politicians and their corporate campaign sponsors.

An inspection of the causes of the Federal deficits and debt run-up over the past decade shows clearly that the causes of those deficits and debt escalation are Pentagon and war spending; Bush tax cuts benefiting overwhelmingly the wealthiest households, investors and corporations; the recent bailouts of banks and big corporations during the recent financial crisis and recessions; the refusal of the Bush administration and Congress to fund the Prescription drug plan since 2005 — a bill that has been primarily a windfall for the drug companies; the health-care cost escalation and its effect on federal subsidies to the States; and, finally, interest charges on the borrowing for all these six sources causing the deficit-debt run-up.

The annual increase in Pentagon and war spending over the past decade was 8.2 per cent — or $1.5 trillion. Other indirect war spending costs of the last decade will cost the US another $1 trillion, for homeland security at $40 billion a year, off-budget Pentagon projects, veterans affairs costs, energy department costs for military uses, etc.

The Bush tax cuts cost $3.4 trillion, 80 per cent of which accrued to the wealthy and corporations. That’s about $2.7 trillion, adding to that the extra $400 billion in extending the Bush cuts for two more years last December.

Collective stimulus programmes by Bush in 2008 and Obama in 2009-10 add another $1.8 trillion at minimum. Unfunded prescription drugs another $500 billion. Interest on all this about $300 billion. And another $800 billion from escalating health-care costs to the federal government and revenue from lost jobs and income tax payments not collected from the same.

That’s a total of approximately $9 trillion. War, doubling of Pentagon spending over the decade, health-care costs of various origins, Bush tax cuts for the rich and their corporations, recessions, bailouts and chronic poor job creation — all add up to the $9 trillion. Nothing in that list is associated with excess benefit increases for social security and Medicare recipients.

Nonetheless, current deficit-debt debates in Congress focus almost exclusively on the latter. Even the Obama administration is reportedly obsessed with this focus, like all good Teapublicans.

It was recently reported, for example, that Vice-President Biden, who has been negotiating with House Republicans, has already agreed on $1 trillion to $2 trillion in spending cuts with them even though there’s been no agreement on raising taxes on the rich and their corporations. My prediction is that the Democrats will propose over-estimated and unverifiable revenue gains and closing tax loopholes to sell the even greater cuts in the social wage in the form of social security and Medicare.

Some Brief Concluding Comments: It should be clear that the crisis in the economy today, the failure to generate a sustained recovery that is fair for all, and the increasingly apparent and likely double-dip recession on the horizon, is due to failed policies of the Obama administration and the Republican opposition. The solutions are there. The money is there. The country is not broke. It’s just that the wealthy and powerful few — who buy and own most politicians today — are hoarding the money and doing all they can to block a recovery for the rest of us. And most politicians are in their pay and their employ.

This has been — and is — the weakest and most lopsided recovery of any recession in the last 75 years in the US. It appears to grow even weaker by the day. The fight is over ‘who pays’ for a recovery. The corporations, investors and wealthy households are committed to protecting their tax cuts and benefits and income no matter what the cost to the US, its economy, or to us. We’re all expendable to them. For them, the recovery has worked.

They are restored. So it’s back to business as usual. And the ‘bill’ for the crisis is to be paid by the rest of us. By the 100 million working-class and middle-class families. Our jobs, our wages and our benefits are on the chopping block.

Let them win this fight, and it will mean hardship and conflict unimaginable in our lifetimes. It will turn the clock back for workers and unions in this country to pre-1935. There is no alternative, no other choice, but to shout loud and clear, ‘No Phony Shared Sacrifices’ and ‘No More Concessions’.

But it will take more than words, slogans and even proposals and programme. It will take action by all and for all. Or, as we heard our brothers in the ILWU say: ‘An Injury To One Is An Injury To All.’ Let’s do something.



Last updated on 9 January 2018