Federal workers protest austerity, say no to ‘sequestration’

Washington, D.C. — Some 1,500 federal employees protested near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., demanding that Congress stop the federal budget cuts that would severely curtail their ability to serve the public. The spirited rally took place  Feb. 12 an hour before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

With chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, sequestration’s got to go” and signs that read “Cut Wall Street not Main Street!” the workers rallied in the park across from the building housing the U.S. Congress. They were members of the American Federation of Government Employees and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Workers wore union colors and carried large union banners.

“Sequestration” means the across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to go into effect on March 1 unless Congress and the administration make some kind of “deal.”  The threat to the workers is that both of the capitalist parties will agree to slashing programs that workers and poor people need. Even programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are not really part of the regular budget, face a threat. Both in Europe and the United States these kinds of programs are under merciless attack.

The “sequestration” reductions in allocations to federal agencies are supposed to reduce the federal deficit by $85 billion. Workers in the agencies would be forced to take unpaid leave and furlough days, with some employees working only three or four days a week.

Union members say pay cuts will amount to $100 to $200 a paycheck. Services will also be cut. All this comes on top of the pay freeze and hiring freeze already hitting public employees.

Union presidents and rank-and-file members from AFGE and AFSCME climbed to the platform to tell their co-workers and the world how these cuts would hurt working people. A Feb. 13 Washington Post article quotes AFGE member and Social Security Administration worker Pam Baca as saying the cut in hours worked would turn “into a backlog that is growing,” and will slow down claim processing.

The Post article continues, “Without food inspectors, production of meat, poultry and egg products would have to shut down. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that would affect about 6,290 facilities nationally, resulting in more than $10 billion in production losses and $400 million in lost wages for industry workers.”

Union leaders are seeking the support of the Democrats in this struggle. But both Democrats and Republicans agreed  in 2012 to this “sequestration” arrangement. This law cuts government programs indiscriminately across the board, including the military budget and many public services, if the government needs to raise its debt ceiling.

Many people expected the impending arbitrary cuts to force a “grand bargain” between the Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration. This may still happen before March 1. The threat is that while closing a few tax loopholes billionaires have exploited or even raising taxes a tiny amount on the rich, the cuts would decimate essential programs for the poor and even threaten programs like Social Security and Medicare that are fully funded.