Waging War on American Workers – by Stephen Lendman
Target one is America’s middle class, endangered after decades of wealth shifts to super-rich elites besides most high-pay, good benefit jobs, offshored to cheap labor markets – a policy Washington’s duopoly endorses. It’s the most serious threat to middle America since attacks began in the 1970s.
On December 23, 1957, The Dan Smoot Report published novelist Taylor Caldwell’s (1900 – 1985) article, titled “Honoria,” the true story of a former great nation and lessons to be learned from its demise.
She explained how men seeking freedom became Pilgrims, endured terrible hardships, yet survived, prospered, and gained power. They established colonies, believed in God, hard work, public education, and transformed villages into towns and cities.
Others joined them, establishing new colonies, then uniting them. A civil war intervened. The republic was divided. A leader was assassinated, but prosperity followed conflict resolution. However, arrogance, corruption, and foreign entanglements followed. At issue – insatiable greed, not defending civilized world freedoms.
Wars resulted. Repressive laws passed, but Honoria had “a strong, industrious middle class, composed of farmers, artisans, (and) shopkeepers.” However, they posed a threat to wealth and power so had to go to let elites rule unchallenged. Targeted by oppression, they “were reduced to despair,” and began “dwindl(ing) away….Morality was dead.”
The monstrous, bureaucratic state “was happy.” People wanted entertainment, not freedom. Leaders waged more wars. Honoria became more corrupt and extremist. Its middle class eroded, died, and barbarians moved in.
Who was to blame? “Honoria, of course,” at the expense of its own citizens. They sacrificed for the common good but were betrayed. Over hundreds of years, Honoria rose and fell. Its real name? “Ancient Rome,” America its modern equivalent.
America, the New Rome
As constitutional freedoms and middle class prosperity erode, America is slowly dying. Like Rome, two empires share a remarkably common history. Both rose and prospered, then overextended, “rushed to the abyss,” and couldn’t turn back. America is on its edge. Its belligerence exceeds Rome’s. Its excesses are unsustainable. Its middle class is dying, its democracy a mere figure of speech.
Today, super-wealth rules a once great nation, malignant with corruption, delusional grandeur notions, and might ideologically triumphing over right. It’s a self-destructive path harming working Americans most, especially the once vibrant middle class, targeted for destruction. Democracy depends on preserving it as a buffer against tyranny. Slowly, however, it’s suffocating and dying, and with it the remnants of freedom.
A New Congress Highlights An Accelerated Ruinous Path
On January 3, the 112th Congress convened, its agenda accelerating America’s ruin.
In 2011, federal and state governments plan major social services cuts and other ways to address deficit and budget problems through less social spending, layoffs, and other draconian measures. At the same time, America’s aristocracy is flourishing, largely at the expense of exploited workers. Their assets flow upward to make super-rich society richer, facilitated by bipartisan political complicity and corruption.
Incoming House Republicans promise budget cuts of $100 billion, largely on the backs of working Americans who can least afford it. Given Obama’s austerity pledge, bipartisan agreement may target entitlements, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as education, transportation, and other discretionary areas to match 2008 levels. However, achieving it requires 20% cuts across the board from the $477 billion Congress allocated in FY 2010, ending September 30.
According to House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, “That’s where you get the savings.” On January 6, he also told Bloomberg News that potential state defaults won’t be saved by bailouts, saying “We are not interested in a bailout.”
In 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, Arkansas was the last state to default at a time Washington rescues weren’t considered. Today, workers will be punished to assure steady debt service payments. In 2009, California state treasurer Bill Lockyer said only a “thermonuclear war” might force default, nothing less.
Less draconian than Republicans, congressional Democrats want FY 2010 spending levels frozen for three years, at least rhetorically. House Republicans, however, control appropriations so expect debt ceiling level confrontations. For one thing, Republicans want spending increases offset by cuts, meaning those affecting working Americans most.
They’ll come at a time that the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) evaluated poverty in the “Great Recession.” Calling official measures outdated, its own analysis shows over 21% of Americans in poverty – based on after-tax market wages and salaries, excluding entitlements, welfare, and other government programs that lower the figure considerably but not for millions not helped. Then add higher cost of living expenses, especially for health, food, gasoline, heating oil, and rent at a time home prices are declining.
With planned FY 2011 budget cuts, greater poverty ahead looms. On January 6, even the Census Bureau raised its numbers, saying 15.7% of the population (not 14.3%) lived in poverty in 2009, or 47.8 million people. Moreover, despite Social Security and Medicare, 16.1% of seniors are impoverished when out-of-pocket medical and other expenses are included. Children are most impacted at 18%, nearly one-fifth of them all. A 2009 EPI report estimated one in four, and for Blacks and Hispanics well over one in three.
In fact, Census Bureau figures way understate reality. Its poverty threshold, for example, is based on an annual $22,050 income for a family of four. Yet urban needs throughout America are much higher. A Chicago family of four needs over $49,000, and in New York over $72,000.
Yet even official data offer insight into America’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression at a time bipartisan consensus plans social spending cuts when large increases are needed. Even so, public outrage is strangely absent. For how long is at issue.
States Plan Major Budget Cuts and Layoffs
Though slightly lower than in 2009 and 2010, the National Conference of State Legislatures forecasts $83 billion in combined state deficits, requiring greater cuts than earlier, absent federal government help or too little. As a result, major public spending cuts, wage freezes, and lower benefits are planned. Moreover, public employee unions are targeted, threatening organized labor overall.
On January 3, New York Times writer Steven Greenhouse headlined, “Strained States Turning to Laws to Curb Labor Unions,” saying:
“Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.”
Though largely weak and ineffective, private ones are also being attacked. For example, lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and at least seven other states plan legislation to bar private sector unions from requiring rank and file members to pay dues or fees, reducing union treasury funds. Ohio’s new Republican governor, like others, wants public school teacher strikes prohibited, and in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker is targeting the right of state employees to form unions and bargain collectively.
The “bottom line” isn’t putting “balance more on the side of taxpayers” as Walker claims. It crushing organized labor entirely, public and private, driving it back to 19th century impotence. According to Stewart Acuff, Utility Workers Union of America chief of staff:
“This is a very serious effort by the radical right wing to cripple the American labor movement and remove it as a serious force in American life. They want unfettered, unrestricted corporate power, and the only thing standing in the way of absolute corporate domination of our society and what’s left of our democracy is the American labor movement.”
Not the way it’s been run for years as a result of corrupted union bosses on the take, siding with business, getting big salaries and fancy perks, and being more concerned about their own welfare than rank and file members. Labor historian Paul Buhle sees organized labor in a state of collapse. In the March/April 2010 Against the Current issue, his article titled, “Labor at War or in the Tank,” explained “the shrinking world of US organized labor,” saying:
“….a paucity of anything like solidarity, let alone a strategy for a repowered, reorganized, 21st-century labor movement” haunts American worker struggles going forward. Moreover, (r)ecent reports suggest” possible bankruptcy for “any number of the international unions as well as the AFL-CIO at large, a situation made only worse by infighting. This is a bleak irony, indeed, following so much enthusiasm” over Obama’s election. All the more reason for new leadership, information and insight to “be brought to rank-and-file working people within the unions and outside.” In addition, add strong political support at a time it’s totally absent with Democrats as anti-labor as Republicans.
On January 6 on the Progressive Radio News Hour, James Petras explained. In 2008, Big Labor contributed over $400 million to Democrat candidates and tens of millions more in 2010. In return, Obama and congressional Democrats waged war on working Americans, endorsing layoffs, wage and benefit cuts, gutted work rules, lost pensions, and promised hope from the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The Democrat-controlled Congress rejected it.
It would have been the first pro-labor reform since the landmark 1935 Wagner Act, letting workers for the first time bargain collectively with management on even terms. Though modest by comparison, it promised progress at a time organized labor is virtually impotent, because union bosses, like Democrats, side more with business than their own rank and file.
Compounded by huge budget cuts, layoffs, and other social sacrifices, American workers face greater poverty, extended hard times, disenfranchisement, and bleaker futures. Moreover, their pensions are under attack. In December 2010, the Brookings Institution’s Douglas J. Elliott headlined, “State and Local Pension Funding Deficits: A Primer,” saying:
By some measures national shortfalls exceed “$3 trillion or more than two years’ worth of state and local tax revenues.” Today’s economic crisis revealed “the severity of the investment risks by very substantially increasing the gap between the value of (pension) assets accumulated (and) the value of pension promises” already made. Major underfunding and eroded investments are core issues of the problem. No easy solutions can resolve them.
Even at today’s overvalued levels, “the stock market would have to almost triple” to close deficits “as measured using risk-free discount rates.” Reforms are also needed, including in “accounting and actuarial rules so that state and local pension plans report liability levels and deficits that are consistent with economic reality,” such as discounting “the uncertainty of the liabilities rather than the expected return on the assets” that don’t materialize in hard times.
A Final Comment
Working Americans, especially middle class ones, are being downsized toward extinction through loss of high pay/good benefit jobs, labor rights, political empowerment, standard of living gains, personal freedoms, and retirement futures.
Replacing private pensions with 401(ks), IRAs and similar schemes failed. Public pensions now face a similar fate, states wanting liability shifted from them to workers, leaving them vulnerable on their own. It’s consistent with destructive neoliberal “reforms,” wanting all public benefits eroded and eliminated. The scheme is venal and underhanded – to create a ruler – serf society, America reduced to third world status super-wealth and growing poverty extremes. Bipartisan political support endorses it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.