Workers not buying lies about budget
Priority should be jobs, not cutting deficit
Published May 27, 2011 11:12 AM
The United States hit its debt ceiling May 16 without much notice, since plans
for “deficit reduction” were already filling the airwaves and
producing thousands of articles. It will take until the middle of August before
restrictions on spending start curtailing the operations of the U.S.
Between March 1962 and January 2010, Congress raised the debt limit 78 times
(Congressional Research Service). Raising it is generally no big deal, but now
the right wing in Congress is trying to extract major cuts in social services
as a condition for letting the government continue to function.
A recent Gallup poll (May 5-8) indicates that the major concerns of working
people in the U.S. are the state of the economy and jobs, with the deficit a
very distant third.
While profits, especially for the big banks, and production of goods and
services in the U.S. economy have rebounded since 2009 to pre-recession levels,
for workers the Great Recession is not over.
Last year 1.5 million people declared bankruptcy, banks foreclosed on a million
homes and sent out nearly 3 million foreclosure notices, 43 million people got
food stamps and more than 20 million people were either unemployed or
underemployed, according to the Department of Labor. And these figures are
definitely on the low side.
Unemployment rates are politically highly charged and often manipulated to make
the situation of working people seem better. Nevertheless, official long-term
unemployment is nearly as severe now as it was in the 1930s. Some 2 million
people have reached the maximum of 99 weeks they are eligible to collect
unemployment insurance — though in some states like Florida, the maximum
is shorter — and 5.8 million people have been out of work for more than
27 weeks. (Department of Labor, Bureau of Economic Research, April report)
Unemployment for youth, Black people and Latinos/as is much higher. Even the
BER says the figure for youth is 25 percent; for African Americans overall it
is 16 percent and for Latinos/as nearly 12 percent.
Given the huge number of unemployed and the competition for work, there has
been a steep and lasting drop in wages for people who take jobs that
don’t require the skills or education of their last job. (Wall Street
Journal, Jan. 11) Even in fields demanding more than a bachelor’s degree,
like the 1.3 million higher education faculty, the average faculty
member’s purchasing power increased by only $70 from the academic year
2008-2009 to 2009-2010. In states where furloughs were enforced, salaries fell.
Hawaii saw a 6.7 percent decline and Wisconsin a 2.5 percent decline. (National
Last July an economic policy project at Yale released an “economic
insecurity index” that defines economically insecure households as those
whose available income fell by at least 25 percent, adjusted for inflation,
from one year to the next. Jacob Hacker, the head of the project, said:
“There is a clear long-term upward trend in the economic insecurity of
American families. And while economic insecurity is substantially higher for
less affluent and educated Americans than for other groups, it has risen across
virtually all parts of American society.” (Daily Finance, July 22, 2010)
Hacker’s project is also investigating to see if economic insecurity has
contributed to the rise in suicides in the U.S. over the past few years.
Workers’ response to crisis
The push for “deficit reduction” due to the “fiscal
crisis” is part of the political and ideological attack against public
service workers. The major push back against this attack occurred in Wisconsin,
where tens of thousands of workers came out against Gov. Scott Walker’s
attacks on the bargaining rights of public service unions, as well as on the
unions’ very existence.
The AFL-CIO leadership has responded to the Democratic Party’s refusal to
actively defend working people and oppose this push for austerity, layoffs, tax
cuts for the rich, and bailouts for the banks and big companies by threatening
to withhold its support and contributions to Democratic candidates in the 2012
elections. It is likely that this threat will fade under their old habit of
getting out the vote for the “lesser of two evils.”
Still, at the present moment the labor movement is taking some unusual stands
and participating in movements alongside elements far to their left.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka went to Milwaukee on May Day to show unity
with the struggle of immigrant workers and the struggle against union busting
in Wisconsin. Speaking before 100,000 workers, he said that Gov. Scott Walker
had “declared war on Wisconsin workers and, like you did before, you
joined in a peaceful protest to say ‘No! No!’
“And again your voices have been heard across this nation, inspiring an
uprising of America’s working people, standing together and saying
‘No’ to divide-and-conquer politics, ‘No’ to tearing
working families down, rather than building us up, ‘No’ to
corporate-backed politicians trying to turn us into a low-wage, no-rights
workforce as payback to their CEO friends.
“This day — May Day — is our day to stand together shoulder
to shoulder for immigrant and worker rights. Thank you for being here and
showing Wisconsin and the world that we are one.”
The demands of May 1 in Milwaukee included immediate legalization of all
immigrants; no Arizona racist copycat legislation in Wisconsin; keep in-state
tuition for immigrant students; and no union busting in Wisconsin or anywhere
in the U.S. (Workers World, May 5)
Two significant recent demonstrations in New York involved marches on Wall
Street, the financial capital of the U.S. and the symbolic and real home for
all the speculators, fat-cat investment bankers and hedge fund managers whose
real estate swindles started the financial crisis.
The first march on March 24 was initiated by a broad progressive coalition
called New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, which included unions, student groups
mainly from City University of New York campuses, immigrant groups, progressive
and community organizations, and left-wing political parties.
It protested budget cuts that would cause some schools to close and tuitions to
rise, and would cut social services drastically and bring thousands of layoffs
to public sector workers. Its demands included: “Today’s the day
the rich must pay!” and “Money for jobs and education, not for wars
Oliver Gray, associate director of AFSCME District Council 37, said at the
rally that public workers will not allow Gov. Andrew Cuomo to blame them for
the deficit. “How are we to blame,” he asked, “when the
governor wants to cut the taxes of the richest people in New York and gives
back to Wall Street investors $15 billion a year in stock transfer
A later rally on May 12 was called by a broader coalition of trade unions, with
the United Federation of Teachers AFT Local 2 being the most active, but
student groups, housing groups, welfare rights, social services like ACT-UP,
anti-war groups and groups focused on immigrant issues all took part. Its press
release demanded, “Make big banks and millionaires pay!” and called
on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to end taxpayer-financed giveaways to Wall Street
and support more taxes on millionaires to mitigate his proposed budget
From Milwaukee to New York, the demands were similar and showed a growing
resistance to the banks’ assaults on the working class, especially its
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