Out of the Crisis: Building a new era of justice and peace

 
March 28, 2009

Out of the Crisis: Building a new era
of justice & peace

by Sam Webb, National Chair
Communist Party, USA

(Based on a speech delivered March
21, 2009, New York City.)

Video
version of the speech

Audio
version of the speech

PDF version

An excerpt for the speech published in the People’s Weekly World

Introduction

Welcome to everyone in Winston Unity Center and to everybody on line.

We are living in very turbulent times. The world is in transition. An
old era an era of neoliberalism, financialization and rightwing
extremism is fading away and a new era is being born.

But no one is quite sure what the new era will look like. It resists
easy prediction. It is safe to say that the future of both our country
and the world is still to be written.

As bad as things have been over the last three decades, few thought
they could get much worse. But they have. Depression economics has
entered our vocabulary not simply as a historical event, but as a lived
experience for millions.

Only a short time ago most economists said the economic cycle had been
tamed. In 2004, in a speech titled The Great Moderation, Federal
Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke said we live in an era in which
macroeconomic instability has been eliminated.

Fast forward five years and the Great Moderation has turned into the
Great Crisis. That which few thought would ever happen again has
happened again, and without much warning.

The social fabric is rupturing. The terrain on which billions of people
earn a living and raise their families feels foreign, even
unrecognizable. Havent you heard more than one person say, Is this
the country I grew up in?

Much the same is happening across the planet as billions try to adapt
and give meaning to gut-wrenching shocks.

And yet while old certainties and markers are melting away and while no
one really knows what tomorrow will bring, hundreds of millions of
people havent given up on the future. As ominous as this moment feels,
it is also a time when the parameters of the possible have expanded
geometrically.

I hear warnings about a future of rightwing authoritarian regimes and
even fascism. No one should rule out such scenarios, but in my view the
arc of history is bending more towards justice and peace, towards
respect for each other and the earth.

A future worthy of humankind is possible. Is there any reason to think
that millions in motion cant transform this country and world into the
just, green, sustainable and peaceful Promised Land that Martin
Luther King dreamed of? It would be a profound mistake to underestimate
the progressive and socialist potential of this era. The American
people have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity within their reach.

It will take, of course, new ideas and energy, practical activity, and
arms that reach across the divides of race, gender, sexual preference,
income, border, oceans, religions and generations.

And, above all, it will take united action. Broad objective forces and
challenges will shape our future, but human actions and choices will
decide humankinds fate.

Had the elections turned out differently, I might be less hopeful and
enthusiastic. But because of the outcome, a friend of labor and its
allies sits in the White House and enjoys high approval ratings. Larger
Democratic majorities control Congress. A feeling of renewal and hope
is in the air. And after a short holiday pause, the labor and peoples
movement that was so instrumental to the elections outcome is getting
in gear albeit not yet at full throttle, but more about this later.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is on the defensive, its grassroots
constituency is dispirited, and its governing philosophy is discredited.

But more about this later too.

Current economic crisis

Of the challenges facing the American people and our new president,
none looms larger than the slumping economy. I dont propose in this
report to go into the economic processes that brought the country and
world to their knees.

Suffice it to say that the present economic crisis has its roots in the
interweaving and interaction of a short-term cyclical crisis,
especially in housing and the longer-term triad of financialization,
neoliberalism and globalization.

Moreover, both are the offspring of a crisis of overproduction (too
many commodities and too little purchasing power) and overaccumulation
(too much surplus value and too few ways to absorb it profitably) that
are at the core of capitalisms dynamics and contradictions.

Or to put the matter another (more abstract) way, this is a crisis of
capitalism in which its production relations became a parasitic fetter
on the development of its productive forces so much so that when
financial markets collapsed in the center of world imperialism, the
world was thrown into an unprecedented system-wide economic crisis.

The Marxist practice of reducing every crisis to overproduction and
overaccumulation is correct, but if left there makes it difficult to
understand this crisis. To gain such an understanding it is necessary
to fold into our explanation financialization as well as neoliberalism
and capitalist globalization. This triad largely determined the
specific dynamics and specific path of the economy over the past three
decades and the specific scope and specific character of the current
crisis.

With this in the background, what is the current status, dynamics, and
growth pattern of the U.S. and global economy?

Unemployment is growing to staggering levels. Nearly 700,000 workers
lost their jobs in January. To make matters worse, this trend is
accelerating with no end in sight. Since December 2007, 4 million
workers have been pink-slipped.

One of 10 homeowners is in foreclosure; many more are under water with
the probability of foreclosure in their future. President Obamas
measures are helpful to be sure, but dont go far enough to address the
full scope of the crisis.

The financial system is on life support. Nearly every major financial
institution that anchors it is insolvent. So far roughly $9 trillion
has been thrown into the financial system in various ways. And yet
credit lines are still blocked and the system is still filled with
toxic assets.

Moreover, the same banks and institutions that are receiving government
largesse are attempting to foist the cost of the crisis onto taxpayers.
If as is claimed, these banks are too big to fail, then they are too
big to be left in private hands.

Business investment is going rapidly south, manufacturing is in a free
fall, retail chains are going belly up and construction sites are empty.

Consumer spending has fallen steeply and will continue its slide, as
the economy worsens and debt obligations take a bigger bite from
paychecks.

Deflationary pressures are growing as well. Now, falling prices might
seem to be a good thing, except that deflation leads consumers to
postpone spending, businesses to hold back on investment in new plant
and equipment, and borrowers to cut back on borrowing. During the Great
Depression, deflation became a powerful contractionary pressure,
deepening the crisis and slowing the recovery.

States and municipalities are cutting back on jobs and services. And
theyre doing it at exactly the wrong time.

Corporate profits, not surprisingly, are down, although not every
corporate player is a loser. In fact, some sections of capital,
including big mortgage-lending companies, hedge funds, and even auto
corporations, are exploiting the crisis to extract more surplus value
from the working people, capture market share from their competitors,
and centralize class power, especially in banking.

While the crisis is wide in scope, its impact is uneven both
geographically (Michigan and California, for example) and
demographically. While nearly every section of the working class feels
its impact, Black, Latino, Asian and Native American workers and people
experience the consequences especially intensely. African American
unemployment, for example, stands officially at 16.4%.

Poverty, which was rising during the Bush years, is getting worse,
although the stimulus will help. It too invades the communities of the
racially oppressed disproportionately.

Not since the Great Depression has the economy been in such bad shape.
Downward pressures are powerful and I want to underline this
mutually reinforcing. That is, spending cuts cause other spending cuts
which in turn cause still other spending cuts, turning into a vicious
circle.

Forecasts that economic activity will resume at the end of this year or
early next year have less and less currency. No one quite knows where
this is all headed or when a recovery will occur. But it is safe to say
that more and more economists predict the downturn will be L-shaped
that is, deep and prolonged.

What adds to the depth, duration and difficulty of resolution of this
crisis is its worldwide and synchronized character. No buyer or
investor of last resort in the world community has the resources or
capacity to reverse the current downward slide. In the 1990s, the U.S.
economy did exactly that.

But that option is no longer available. It was thought that China could
be a growth engine to pull up the global economy, but that hope has
disappeared as Chinas export markets crumple and layoffs mount. Every
state and region in the world is experiencing economic pain.

Some states such as Iceland and Latvia are on life support; others are
a heartbeat away. Asia, Europe, and Russia find themselves in economic
quicksand. Developing countries dependent on export-led growth are
reeling from sudden drops in export demand, throwing into question the
wisdom of an export-led developmental model.

In many emerging market countries, prices for primary commodities are
falling rapidly.

Structural imbalances in commodity, currency, and capital flows are
growing.

Dollar reserves of developing countries are dwindling as investors
migrate to safe investment havens in the U.S.

According to official figures that dont include millions of workers in
the informal economy, 55 million new unemployed workers joined the army
of 230 million in recent months.

No country, ours included, can hope to make a full recovery without
global coordination and cooperation. In an integrated global economy,
we either swim together or sink together.

New Model

Just as the era of finance-led globalization and rightwing ascendency
stretching from 1979-2008 reconfigured the economic patterns of growth
and capital accumulation not to mention the role of the state the
current crisis and its eventual resolution will do much the same.

What their contours and content will be is unknowable at this time.
What we do know is that protracted struggle involving diverse class and
social forces and striking for its shifting alliances and coalitions
will determine the outcome.

Implied in the above is a challenge to the notion that capitalism is a
self-correcting system and that ruptures and breaks are not in its
resume.

This notion has its roots in the so-called golden age of U.S.
capitalism from 1945-1973, during which economic growth rates,
investment levels and living standards steadily increased for broad
sections of the American people.

But there are two problems. First, capitalism is a global system and to
judge its performance by that of one state or a group of states is
methodologically flawed. It has to be judged on a global level and take
into account the experience of economies on the semi-periphery and
periphery of world development as well as economies in the core.

Second, an era of stable and continuous growth is unlikely to occur in
the foreseeable future. Indeed, the conditions for U.S. capitalisms
golden age no longer exist. They were specific to a historical moment
not universal and timeless features of U.S capitalism.

To remind everyone, we emerged from the Great Depression and World War
II a creditor nation. The economy was at near-full employment and
strength. Because of war rationing, consumer demand was pent up. New
industries auto, aviation, communications and others were taking
off. Public infrastructure expansion was massive. Raw materials and oil
were cheap and easily available. Political and economic competitors
from other centers of capitalism were nearly nonexistent. The dollar
was supreme and new international arrangements (Bretton Woods) gave
stability and coherence to the world capitalist economy and system of
states.

None of those conditions exist today; indeed just the opposite is the
case. The economy is not poised either in the short or medium term to
take off as it did in 1945; long-term stagnation is more likely.

All things being equal, the traditional Marxist method marks the
different stages of capitalist development as follows: competitive
capitalism, monopoly capitalism and state monopoly capitalism.

I have no quarrel with this. But depending on what questions you want
to answer, there may be other ways to mark phases of capitalist
development that are more concrete and thus more useful conceptually
and politically.

In this report, for example, I mark phases of development in a temporal
(time) sense according to the beginning and end of a model of
governance and capital accumulation at the government and corporate
level. Which probably causes you to say to yourself what is he
talking about? Let me try to illustrate my point.

In the course of the Great Depression and World War II, the New Deal
model, or New Deal-Keynesian model of political governance and capital
accumulation took root, resting on an enlarged role of the state,
integrated production units employing thousands of workers on a single
site, a measure of class compromise, the welfare state, and
macro-economic policies favoring broad prosperity. It remained in place
until the late 1970s. At that time it ran up against economic and
political contradictions that it couldnt resolve and gave way over
time (although not entirely; government obligations and social rights
were never completely eliminated even during the Bush years) to a new
model in the course of a bitter political struggle.  

This model usually called neoliberalism or the neoliberal model
rested on flexible production networks on a global scale, union
busting, deregulation, low-wage labor and inflation, the hollowing out
of the welfare state, massive income inequality, and the rise to
dominance of finance all clothed in a right-wing political skin. Last
year the combination of Obamas victory and the financial collapse
signaled the long-awaited death knell of this model of governance and
accumulation of capital.

No new model has yet taken its place, thus leaving a vacuum. The model
that eventually fills the vacuum and one will will be the result of
the political contest between two contending political and social
bloc/coalitions of a very complicated political struggle.

A new New Deal

Because of the election of Barack Obama, the American people in their
great majority have a leg up, but there is still a long way to go. To
his credit, the new president is off to a quick start. In less than
three months in office he has:

  • Issued an order to close Guantanamo prison and end torture a
    practice that stains our image, violates our Constitution and endangers
    our troops in the field.
  • Signed the Lilly Ledbetter bill that gives much greater scope to
    workers discrimination claims as well as a bill that would extend
    health care to millions of children.
  • Released funds to clinics that serve womens health care needs in
    developing countries.
  • Expressed support for higher fuel efficiency standards for motor
    vehicles something the United Autoworkers Union (UAW) also supports.
  • Opened up a greatly needed dialogue with the Muslim and Arab
    world, including overtures to Syria and Iran.
  • Dispatched George Mitchell to the Middle East in hopes of
    mediating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a conflict that cannot be
    solved by military means, but only by negotiation between the Israeli
    government and the representatives of the Palestinian people with the
    aim of establishing an independent and viable Palestinian state and the
    right of both states to live peacefully and within secure borders.
  • Ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq no later than
    2011.
  • Rolled out a new framework for diplomacy and conflict resolution,
    notwithstanding an escalation of troops to Afghanistan, which we
    oppose.
  • Reinstated Davis Bacon, which establishes prevailing (union) wage
    at public works sites.
  • Changed the framework for nuclear nonproliferation and
    dismantlement in a very positive way.
  • Reversed many of the Bush administrations rulings that have been
    so harmful to the environment.
  • Taken some steps to reverse the draconian policies toward Cuba.
  • Placed health care at the top of the administrations agenda.
  • Supported new Labor Secretary Hilda Solis recent rulings
    overturning many of the anti-labor directives of the Bush years.

I could go on, but I think it is obvious that the Obama administration
represents a qualitative break with rightwing extremism and free market
fundamentalism.

Not to see this, not to acknowledge this, not to welcome this, no
matter whether you live in or outside U.S. borders, is to act like the
ostrich that sticks its head in the sand and misses what is happening
on the ground.

Immediate challenge

As important as the initiatives are, the immediate challenge of the
White House is to revive and then sustain economic activity. So far,
the Obama administration has correctly ruled out some standard answers
for addressing this economic crisis.

To begin with, no one in the administration thinks the economy on its
own will return to near-full capacity and full employment.

Nor does anyone think the Republican Party prescription to freeze
spending is worth a moments consideration.

Nor can you find anyone in the White House who believes that the debt
overhang can be reduced except in the long term. In fact, the paradox
of debt is that the long-term reduction of indebtedness in all of its
forms compels the administration to increase governmental indebtedness
in the short and medium term.

Nor can you find a taker in the administration or among progressive
Democrats in Congress who subscribes to the notion that fine-tuning
with standard monetary and fiscal tools is enough.

Finally, no one in the Oval office is persuaded that punishing
homebuyers is an anti-crisis measure. The fact is that homeowners and
especially sub-prime borrowers are neither the cause nor share
responsibility for the housing market collapse.

To say so is pure malarkey. The housing bubble originates from the top
tiers of the economic and political system. Household and homeowner
debt is not the result of high living, but rather of stagnant wages
going back to the 1970s and a Wal-Mart low-wage economy. We have to be
careful not to mistake a consequence of this crisis, exploding
household debt, for its causes.

Moreover, as our own blogger Joe Sims has laid bare, this Wall
Street-Washington nurtured crisis is steeped in cynical and virulent
racism.

Lagging demand

Obama understands that the near and medium term problem is lagging
demand for goods and services, or insufficient purchasing power in the
hands of working people high income, low income, and no income.

The president’s stimulus bill goes in this direction. Despite what
Republicans say, it is a good bill that will ease the pain of this
crisis, create jobs, and begin to re-inflate the economy.

The president also understands that the economy has to be restructured
if it has any possibility of rebounding in a sustained way. The
stimulus bill combined elements of stimulus and restructuring, as does
his budget which accents tax shifts and public sector-led investment in
health care, education and energy efficiency.

His plans to institute a new set of regulations on financial markets
and his commitment to green jobs, energy and technology is also meant
to fuse stimulus and restructuring objectives together.

Given the depth and scope of this crisis, in my view, the
administration will inevitably have to consider some more far-reaching
measures.

At the top of my list are:

  • Counter-crisis spending of a bigger size and scope to invigorate
    and sustain a full recovery and meet human needs something the New
    Deal never accomplished.
  • Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in order to
    rebalance the power between labor and capital in the economic and
    political arenas.
  • Renegotiation of trade treaties to include core labor and
    environmental standards as well as opposition to the Colombia, FTAA, S.
    Korea, and other unfair trade agreements. In a world of mobile capital,
    international trade union unity and action is imperative against trade
    agreements that promote (in the name of free trade) a vicious ‘race
    to the bottom’ that pits workers in developing countries against
    workers in developed countries.
  • Equality in conditions of life for racial minorities and women.
  • Turning education, childcare and health care into no profit
    zones.
  • Amnesty, an easy path to citizenship, and full democratic rights
    for undocumented immigrant workers.
  • Rerouting investment capital from unproductive investment
    (military, finance and so forth) to productive investment in a green
    economy and public infrastructure.
  • Changing the direction of our nations foreign policy toward
    cooperation, disarmament and diplomacy.
  • A full-scale assault on global warming.
  • A serious and sustained commitment to assisting the developing
    countries, which are locked in poverty and misery.
  • Global cooperation on a new level and with a new content. The era
    of U.S. imperialism dictating to the world is over; in fact, no state
    has the political, economic, ideological, and moral capital to exercise
    a dominant influence on world developments. Unlike at the end of World
    War II when U.S. imperialism gave stability, coherence and rules to a
    new global capitalist order, no state today has that capacity,
    resources or legitimacy. The world is multi-polar and that isnt going
    to change any time soon, especially as new states emerge China, in
    the first place and new configurations of regional power become new
    global realities. In fact, the unfolding economic crisis could easily
    accelerate the closing of the gap between China on the one hand and the
    U.S. and other traditional centers of capitalist power on the other. In
    any event, new (more egalitarian) forms of global economic cooperation
    and governance are necessary in order to surmount this crisis, not to
    mention other global problems.
  • Democratization of all aspects of economic life, beginning with
    finance, energy and other industries whose future is problematic if
    left in private hands.

The financial system

As I mentioned earlier, the banks and other financial institutions are
insolvent because of their speculative activities. Simple capitalist
justice would say that financial managers, stockowners and bondholders
should eat their losses. Why should taxpayers pick up the tab for their
high-stakes gambling in a financial casino? If American taxpayers
didnt share in the financial successes when the bubble was inflating,
why should they pay for Wall Streets wrong bets when the bubble is
bursting?

Some say that financial institutions are too big to fail. But havent
they failed and failed spectacularly already? Some will say yes to this
question, but go on to insist that if banks to go belly up, the results
will be catastrophic. They will remind us of the panic and credit
freeze that followed the meltdown of Lehman Brothers.

The danger of panic, capital flight, and market turmoil cant be
dismissed out of hand. Financial markets are deeply and broadly,
vertically and horizontally, and intensively and extensively integrated
on a global scale, probably more so than any other market in the global
economy. As a consequence, they are quick to meltdown steeply and
spread, ricochet-like, contagion to other countries, regions, and
worldwide.

Despite this, the radical reform of the financial system and I would
include here the Federal Reserve bank makes good sense in the short
and long term. We need an efficient, flexible, and democratically
controlled financial system that assists in the allocation of money to
productive uses domestically and internationally. What makes working
people angry is that their tax dollars are going to bail out robbers
and they get nothing in return except more debt to pay off in the
future.

To allow this situation to go on can badly hurt the new administration
and its recovery plans.

It appears the president, following the advice of his Treasury
secretary and main economic advisor, favors what I call a
bank/investment house/hedge fund fix to revive our dysfunctional
finance markets. Whether or not it does is still to be seen. In any
event, we shouldnt consider the fight for public ownership closed. The
pressure of economic events and the performance of financial markets
going forward not to mention the public anger could bring this
issue to the surface again.  

Which leads me to say that in general things are very fluid. What is
the conventional wisdom today could easily be overtaken by events
tomorrow.

Era of reforms

Labor and its allies now have a friend, a peoples advocate and the
first African American in the White House. And because of this, he
should be supported and defended against partisan and racist attack,
both open and coded.

In electing Barack Obama, a historic advance in eradicating the color
line and in charting a new direction for the country was achieved. But
how great an advance will be determined by what happens in the years
ahead. If successful, the Obama presidency will make an enormous impact
on class and race relations; it will open up the wellsprings of
democracy.

Obama is a reformer and we could well be entering an era of reforms,
possibly radical reforms. And yet some mockingly say his main mission
is to save capitalism.

Even if that is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, what does it
tell us? I guess it tells us that he is not going to lead a socialist
revolution. But who thought that he was?

To me this is idle chatter that should be dismissed by anyone hoping to
push our country toward greener (intended in a double sense) pastures.
The main questions that people who desire a better life for themselves
and their families are asking is not whether the president wants to
save capitalism, but what is he prepared to do to make our society more
just, humane, democratic and peaceful? What is he prepared to do to
lead the country out of this awful economic mess? What is he ready to
do to stretch the boundaries of democracy in our society? To what
degree will he listen and respond to the movement from below? And what
is his capacity to grow and change under the weight of a world economic
crisis and popular pressure?

Roosevelt, too, had no aspirations to change the foundations of
capitalist society. But he realized that in order to preserve
capitalism it had to be modified and he had to respond to pressure from
below.

Setting aside some obvious differences, Obama shares a similar mindset.
His model of governance isnt socialist, but it favors the interests of
working people and their allies and challenges corporate power, profits
and prerogatives.

But like the New Deal, it isnt encoded into the historical process
rising like the phoenix from the ashes on a particular day and year. It
will be the result of a contested and fluid political process in which
a labor-led peoples movement will grow in unity and gain in
understanding not to mention take advantage of divisions within
ruling circles, resist simplified notions of the Democratic Party and
leave its distinct anti-corporate imprint on the reform process.

Socialism may be an objective necessity, but it isnt yet on the agenda
given the balance of forces and the disposition of millions. While this
is not a socialist moment from an action point of view (what is
obsolete to us isnt necessarily obsolete to the American people) it is
a ripe moment to enter into a dialogue with millions about socialism
and its meaning for our country. Recently, The Nation magazine launched
a conversation titled, Imagining Socialism. Whether we agree or
disagree with the submissions of a range of people published in this
series is beside the point in many ways.

What is important is that the editors of this influential magazine
decided to have such a discussion. It wasnt that long ago that
socialism didnt have much currency among broad sections of the
American people. It was, it was said, a failed model and bankrupt idea.
Obviously, its burial was premature.

Why? Not because of anything the left has done or said. Rather the
answer lies in the crisis conditions buffeting the world economy. It is
not economic determinism to say that force of economic circumstance is
powerful at this moment in shaping and shaking up mass thinking.

Communists welcome the rebirth of this dialogue and will participate in
it. If we have differences with others, lets express them in a
friendly way. In our view, socialism is both an end of one phase of
struggle and the start of a new one. There is no universal path nor
will each country enter on its high road at the same time or in the
same way.

Indeed, the path and timing will vary greatly from country to country
and region to region and go through various phases. We should accent
variety as much as universality. The cloth of socialist experience will
be a beautiful mosaic, not a drab fabric of monotonous gray.

In Latin America, new paths to socialism are developing. We should
support and study them, albeit with an eye to what is new and novel.
The recent victory in El Salvador continues this stunning process.

At the same time, it is imperative that we avoid dogmatic, mechanical,
and ahistorical schemes of socialist development. Life never
corresponds exactly with even our best concepts and theory, let alone
rigid and lifeless schemes.

Seizing power, irreconcilable struggle, no to compromise,
socialism is the only alternative are titillating and intoxicating
slogans, but none of them gets us one flea hop closer to a socialist
society in this country, given the concrete relationship of forces and
level of political consciousness of millions of American people.

Finally, we should make our case for socialism in a way that doesnt
counterpose the current tasks and stage of struggle to longer-term
tasks and the socialist stage. After all, there is no direct path to
socialism. The road is complex and contested, involving advances,
retreats, compromises, and fresh starts.

Reassemble forces

The overriding challenge is to reassemble the forces that joined
together to elect Barack Obama to support his program of change.

So far I dont think the level of mobilization of the diverse coalition
that elected Obama matches what is necessary to win the
administrations program of change, not to mention other more
far-reaching changes.

If we had any doubt about that, the fight over the stimulus bill was,
or should have been, a wakeup call to the millions who voted for
President Obama. Nearly everybody was caught off-guard by the ferocity
of the Republican opposition; too many of us thought the bill would
glide through Congress and land on the presidents desk for signing a
day or two after the inauguration.

How wrong we were; a lesson was learned: Intensified class and
democratic struggle will mark the ground going forward. There will be
no easy victories. No one should think that the president or the
Congress alone has the muscle to enact these changes.

The impending struggles over the federal budget and Employee Free
Choice Act will offer further proof of this fact. But with this
difference: the peoples movement can win, but I would offer this
cautionary note.

The alignment of forces is favorable to be sure, but political
majorities are consequential only to the degree that they are
organized, united, and an active element in the political process.

Now I dont want to give the impression that everyone, including our
members, is sitting on their hands. If I did that, I would be wrong.

Actually, class and democratic struggles have picked up in frequency
and intensity. And this comes as no surprise. Obamas victory gave
people a green light. They embraced seriously the idea that change
comes from the ground up.

Isnt that evident in the workers occupation of the Republic Windows
and Doors plant an action that captured the imagination of workers
across the country?

Isnt it evident in the people fighting foreclosures and evictions in
courts and legislatures, and those who have even resisted eviction by
refusing to leave their homes?

Isnt it evident in a million and a half signatures supporting EFCA,
collected by the AFL-CIO and delivered to Congress last month?

Isnt it evident in the scores of labor organizations endorsing
single-payer HR 676?

Isnt it evident in the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference, sponsored by
the Blue-Green Alliance of the Steelworkers, Sierra Club and other
labor and environmental organizations?

Isnt it evident in the internet mobilization supporting Hilda Solis as
Labor Secretary?

Isnt it evident in the aggressive organizing of the NAACP and ACORN
against foreclosures and evictions?

Isnt it evident in the thousands of New York City workers who
protested the projected cuts in the state budget?

Isnt it evident in the march and civil disobedience in our nations
capital to support energetic measures against global warming?

Isnt it evident in the preparations for the upcoming negotiations,
involving over 200,000 public sector workers?

As good as these actions are, and we have been a part of them, I would
still say that to move the country decisively in a progressive
direction requires the further extension and consolidation of the
all-peoples movement, with labor playing an increasingly leading role.

One of the most underestimated, even unacknowledged, developments in
recent years is labors growing role in the broad political arena.

No other section of the broad movement has so consistently fought
rightwing extremism and corporate power; no other section has
demonstrated the same organizational capacity; no other section has
grown so much ideologically and politically.

This isnt to take away from the experience, understanding and
contributions of other sections of this powerful movement, but only to
bring into bold relief labors growing role in the peoples struggles.

Not since the 1930s has the organized section of the working class been
in the front lines of the progressive movement.

How important is this? Its of extraordinary importance. Politics is
about power who has it, who doesnt. To think that this developing
movement and the administration it supports can win far-reaching
reforms in this period without labor assuming a larger and larger role
is poppycock.

Under any circumstances the ride will be bumpy and victory is not
assured; the opponents of progress to whom I will now turn are
formidable.

The opposition

Rightwing Republicans experienced a crushing defeat, but we shouldnt
write them off; in some ways they consolidated their grip on the
Republican Party.

While they appear bankrupt as to vision, compelling narrative and
program, they can still cause enormous mischief.

So far they have tried to obstruct Obamas legislative agenda. Their
refrain is that Obama is an enormous spender. They try to cut him down
to size; they attempt to exploit the anger and impatience of millions
suffering under the weight of an economic crisis. In a not-so-veiled
display of racism, Republicans also claim Obama is not up to the task
and relentlessly belittle him.

According to their spin, the economic crisis began on Inauguration Day.

None of this comes as a surprise. But again it is a mistake to think
they are a paper tiger.

Sections of the corporate media are also becoming increasingly critical
of the administration, spreading doubts and alarm.

Finance capital, too, will attempt to minimize losses to its balance
sheet, rob the public till where it can, and in the longer term
restructure the economy and the regulatory environment along lines that
favor capital accumulation through financial channels.  

No less unhappy with President Obama and the movement that he inspired
are other powerful sections of big capital (energy, military, health
care, pharmaceutical and others), who will resist going over to a new
and robust growth path based on green industry, jobs and technology, on
military conversion to peacetime production, on rising living standards
and rights for working people, and on racial and gender equality.

Capital, by the way, is seldom fully in anybodys camp; it prefers to
maneuver, to strike deals, to parlay its bets; it seldom ties its horse
completely to any administration or party. It adjusts and adapts to
changing conditions; it exercises its rule indirectly as well as
directly at the national, state, and local level; it takes measure of
the balance of political forces and the changing requirements of
capital accumulation; it may prefer representative government, but it
isnt irrevocably locked into any particular political superstructure.

Finally, there are forces of considerable influence in the Obama
administration and Democratic Party who, while supporting Obama, will
attempt to cut down on the sweep and anti-corporate character of his
legislative and political initiatives.

Thus, the struggle of the working class and its core allies is
two-sided. On the one hand, it has to battle rightwing extremism and
its corporate supporters who are intent on defeating Obama and the
peoples coalition that supports him. And, on the other hand, it has to
struggle within the multi-class coalition that Obama leads to engrave
its distinct that is, class and democratic imprint on the political
direction of the country.

Of course, the outcome of this two-sided struggle will be settled on
the ground in the course of practical actions.

It is fair to say that the economic struggles are at the center of
peoples concerns. This is where the movement that elected President
Obama will grow and gain in strength. It is where we must be as well,
not by ourselves, but in the middle of the main struggles and main
organizations of the working class and people. No one should go it
alone. As our own Frank Lumpkin would say, Always bring a crowd. Or
if you cant do that, then Join a crowd.

As the jobs crisis grows, unemployed committees organized out of the
union hall, community center, churches, and over the internet are
necessary.

Committees against home foreclosures and evictions, state and city
budget cuts and workers concessions in upcoming negotiations are also
needed.

Forming peoples committees to oversee and monitor the stimulus
packages public infrastructure projects is the next phase of the
stimulus bill struggle. Many projects are shovel ready, but it should
not be left to city and state government to decide hiring, wage levels,
benefits, and enforcement.

Moreover, new proposals should be submitted to the proper governmental
authority. Why not build community health care clinics and weatherize
homes in cities and rural communities? It would create jobs, assist
people in need, and save energy.

The rapid response team model of the USWA should be considered in other
unions as well as the equivalent at the neighborhood or city level.

The green-labor alliance should become a project of labor activists and
environmentalists.

Neighborhood groups and unions should join forces to address the crisis
situation in which many families will find themselves because of the
broken safety net that is a legacy of the Bush and Clinton
administrations. We will now see the real inadequacies of the Clinton
administrations welfare reform bill.

The Organizing for America committees should address local issues as
well as lobbying for national legislation.

It is in the course of these and other struggles that the balance of
power will shift and new openings will appear for more far-reaching
reforms of an anti-corporate, even socialist nature.

-end-

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