This was a political/legislative report to the March 10, 2013 National Committee Meeting of the Communist Party
The class and democratic struggles remain sharp as we enter the second term of Barack Obama's presidency. Grass roots organizing and mobilizing that bring people together around their common needs and interests is the key to move the country forward in a progressive direction. The President's Inaugural and State of the Union messages offered hope by placing onto the national agenda raising the minimum wage, pay equity for women, immigration reform, ending the wars. job creation for infrastructure repair and alternative energy sources.
But the framework of "balanced cuts" to solve the deficit, instead of an infusion of spending for jobcreating community needs, plays into the hands of the proponents of an anti-people agenda. Pete Peterson's "Fix the Debt" CEO crowd is spending millions to tear down President Obama and create the political atmosphere that allows unconscionable cuts in basic human needs. The ideological struggle to uphold the role of government for the common good continues.
The Congressional Calendar of Constant Crisis orchestrated by the Republican leadership, including the so-called fiscal cliff, sequester, continuing resolution and debt ceiling are part of the overall austerity agenda. They are the means to an end to further swell the coffers of the richest few by robbing more and more of the wealth that workers create. They are holding the country hostage to keep their tax breaks and raid Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren made it plain when she questioned why the sequester cut $85 billion from helping Americans in need, yet big banks got $83 billion in subsidies? The contradictions between the difficulties most families face to make ends meet, and the soaring profits on Wall Street, are giving way to a rising tide of protest in the streets and through social media by labor, youth, women, seniors and in the African American, Latino and immigrant communities.
For example: This week - 2,000 rallied in Philadelphia to stop school closings with 19 arrested in civil disobedience, the Immokalee workers began their march across Florida for A New Day, and climate justice actions were held on 24 campuses. Last week - 40 actions in 25 states were held to Pull the Pork from the Pentagon budget, and 90 cities rallied with the Keeping Families Together immigrant rights bus tour.
Last week the sequester went into effect. Polls show that the Republican leadership in Congress is blamed for the sequester, but President Obama's ratings are also way down. In the end, Congressional Republicans refused to concede any tax increases on wealth, even though a Pew Research poll on January 21 showed 56% of Republican voters favored some taxes on the rich along with cuts in spending.
The impact of the sequester will not be felt all at once, but it is very serious. A couple of local examples are the removal of all air traffic controllers at three airports in Connecticut, and withdrawal of some of the money for rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy. The White House website has links to the impact in each state. The sequester is expected to cost 750,000 to 2 million jobs at a time when official unemployment is at 7.7%, and among Black and Latino youth unemployment is well over 50% in some areas. 600,000 women and children could lose WIC, 125,000 families could lose their HUD vouchers, 70,000 children could lose Head Start, 100,000 college students could lose financial aid — to mention a few.
Without a strong enough outcry, there is a danger that these cuts will become the "new normal." To inspire a larger fightback, the program has to go beyond the defensive and rally for large-scale investment in job-creating infrastructure and community needs. Organizing for Action is coordinating protests of the cuts this coming week. March 18 is a national day of action in local communities. The YCL has issued a petition for jobs for youth and jobs for all.
3. State Legislatures
The austerity drive is not limited to the federal government. The depressed economy continues to pressure state and local budgets, while the Koch brothers and other corporate interests of the extreme right-wing continue battering state legislatures for right to work and other anti-worker and anti-labor privatization bills.
Of special concern is the on-going attempt to suppress voting rights. Voter suppression bills are being considered by at least ten state legislatures (AZ, AR, MO, MT, NE, ND, OH, VA, W WA, WI). Justice Scalia's outrageous and alarming comment that pre-clearance requirements in the Voting Rights Act are "racial entitlements" exposes the critical nature of this fight for fundamental democratic rights. Democratizing election laws, including the fight for a national election law, is a basic ingredient to insure the ability of the increasingly more diverse and progressive electorate to elect workers, youth and people of color to public office. This is an immediate fight coming up onto the 2014 elections and the effort to change control of the House of Representatives and increase democratic minded forces in the U.S. Senate.
Across the country immigrants are standing up for their rights. Eight state legislatures are considering bills for in-state college tuition and drivers licenses (AZ, CO, CT, FL, IA, KY, NC, OH). The movement is being driven by immigrant youth, the Dreamers. Local marches for immigration reform will be held on April 9 and 10. On April 10 a large rally and lobbying will be held in Washington DC for an end to deportations and comprehensive immigration reform with legalization and a path to citizenship. Rallies with labor are being planned for May Day. The labor movement has placed this at the top of the agenda. Our Party has established an Immigrant Rights Taskforce and will be issuing an updated version of the Myths and Realities handout that was first published by the People's World in 2008. As long as there are some workers being pushed down into an underground economy, all workers are pushed down.
4. Our program
The challenge remains to shift priorities away from a job-killing austerity agenda of divestment in community needs, to an agenda of large-scale investment that creates jobs and provides a future for youth and for everyone. Immigration reform, climate change, gun regulation, public education and addressing growing racial and economic inequality all relate to the need for good jobs.
Our long standing program to fund these measures by taxing the rich and corporations and cutting the military budget is now in the mainstream. In addition to ending the wars, transitioning from military production jobs to jobs producing alternative energy sources is part of the national discussion, uniting the labor, peace and environmental movements.
We and our program are welcomed when we reach out to those who are standing up for their needs and dreams including the labor movement's new community organizing, the immigrant youth Dreamers, neighborhood agencies hit by the cuts. The People's World is highly appreciated and respected for its contribution to the battle of ideas when we share it.
The concept we have developed of building a broad alliance to defeat the extreme right-wing carries a lot of respect when we put it into practice where we live and work. The connection to the longer term goal of socialism is something people are looking for, as shown by the successful African American History Month events in many areas and a host of other recent experiences.
There are many challenges. We have a lot of opportunities to make our contribution in this moment.
5. Avenues of fightback
There are so many big battles being fought out at every level that it is impossible to be everywhere and remain effective. Conditions and circumstances in a particular community determine what issue and organization is key to moving everything forward. In the last two weeks four strong bills have been introduced in Congress that need a groundswell of grassroots support and can be integrated into organizing around local issues with local coalitions and candidates.
- Rep. John Conyers introduced the Cancel the Sequester Act (HR 900) a week and a half ago. Rep. Alan Grayson sent out an appeal for a quarter million individual signers, and I believe they are almost there.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill this week to strengthen Social Security by making the wealthiest Americans pay the same payroll tax that everyone else already pays. It is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The companion bill in the House was introduced by Rep Peter DeFazio. This is very important to intervene in discussions between Republicans and the White House where cuts in cost of living increases, called the chained CPI are under consideration and must be rejected.
- Sens. Tom Harkin and Bernie introduced a bill this week to strengthen Social Security by making the wealthiest Americans pay the same payroll tax that everyone else already pays. It is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The companion bill in the House was introduced by Rep Peter DeFazio. This is very important to intervene in discussions between Republicans and the White House where cuts in cost of living increases, called the chained CPI are under consideration and must be rejected.
- Sens. Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders introduced a bill on March 2 to tax Wall Street speculators (S 410). A companion bill in the House was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (HR 880). "Both the economic crisis and the deficit crisis are a direct result of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street," said Sanders. "This bill will reduce gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the job-creating productive economy, and significantly reduce the deficit," with an estimated $352 billion over 10 years.
- The Congressional Progressive Caucus is filing "The Back to Work Budget" this week as an alternative to Paul Ryan's austerity budget. It repeals the sequester, creates infrastructure, education and public works jobs, closes tax loopholes and moves military spending back to 2006 levels.Organizational endorsers are welcome.
These measures, even taken together, are not a complete solution, but they are core demands around which it should be possible to organize and take the struggle to the next level.
Finally, I would like to appreciate the work of all the members of the Political Action Commission!