Notes on Tactics for the Social Security Fight

BY:Will Parry| February 17, 2005

Notes on Tactics for the Social Security Fight

1. The Bush forces have lined up a potent coalition under the misleading name of ‘Alliance for Worker Retirement Security.’ It includes the NAM, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and other major corporate and financial entities. This ‘Alliance has been working closely with White House staff and key Republican Congress members on strategy. They are prepared to pour many millions into the campaign. Bush himself has indicated his philosophical and political commitment to privatization repeatedly, as for example in his immediate post-election declaration that he intends to spend ‘political capital’ on the issue. Also note the mid-December White House economic conference where privatization was featured and his demagogic arguments set forth for dutiful media regurgitation. Also his intention to
take the issue to local community meetings around the country, always carefully staged, to reinforce the message that the system is in crisis and that private accounts are the sovereign remedy. Much of the population has been softened up for this propaganda assault by two decades of pounding by the Cato Institute and other right wing think tanks with the two-fold message: The system is going bust and private investments are the answer.

2. The defenders of Social Security are also organizing. The AFL-CIO has been instrumental in pulling together a ‘New Century Alliance for Social Security’ including the NAACP, NOW, the Alliance for Retired Americans and a number of other organizations I haven’t seen listed. We in Washington State have found it easy to pull together a similar array of forces in an anti-privatization coalition, and it should also be possible in many other parts of the country. The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, representing everybody from the Alzheimer’s Association to the Older Women’s League, etc., etc. has written Bush formally opposing privatization. Stung by the irate response to their sellout on Rx drugs, the AARP has mounted a$5 million ad campaign in 50 major newspapers against privatization. This is a campaign independent of allied forces. But at the state level at least in Washington State -AARP leaders are working cooperatively with other elements of the coalition. A danger sign: John Rother, AARP lobbyist, is quoted as predicting that indexing of benefits by prices instead of (as now) by wages is coming. If the quote is accurate, AAARP is giving up major political ground before the fight really begins. Indexing pegged to prices inevitably means slashing benefits it’s the Greenspan/Mankiw position. We should watch carefully for the AARP stand on this!

3. We should have confidence this assault can be blocked with an all-out fighting campaign. There is little public support for privatization, ever among the younger generation, the most heavily influenced by the years of propaganda. Surveys show that what support there is, melts away when the trade-offs (benefit cuts, etc.) are spelled out. Only a minorit) say they
would participate in private accounts if they were available. This is substantiated by the experience with IRAs and 401(k)s – only a minority of eligible workers take part.

The GOP in Congress is not monolithic on this. All House members face election in 2006. While most are in safe districts, there are enough in marginal districts to make a difference. For them, following Bush on this can be a jump off a cliff.

On the other hand, a significant number of Ds will waver and will need to be toughened up by their constituents.

I would say the tactic is: Delegations to firm up friendly reps and senators; demonstrations to expose those who would betray their constituents’ interests. All who speak out against privatization should be publicly commended by individuals and by organizations.

4. On the tone of our campaign: We should be animated by a strong sense of outrage and indignation. Privatization is a multi-billion dollar theft of workers’ money to line the pockets of Wall Street. It’s sheer robbery, and we should say so. Op ed pieces by economists and other experts can be reasoned and persuasive but the rank and file doesn’t need to engage in policy-speak. Letters to unfriendly congress members and to the media should be angry in tone. We have a right and duty to be mad about this Among other points to emphasize: Four years worth of ongoing scandals among the banks, corporations, insurance companies, etc. – the lords of Wall Street! Incidentally, Sen. Frist manages a campaign fund that lost $460,000 in the stock market ~ that should be publicized everywhere!

5. We cannot wait for the details of the Bush proposal. We know its essential outlines now. They are moving, and we must move as well. Letters to the media… public meetings, large and small…carry John Sweeney’s sense of urgency on this issueinto labor’s rank and tile to generate resolutions, delegations, etc.

I’m sending along two examples of a popular approach, one from the national
AFL-CIO, which I think is excellent, and one from our local Alliance for
Retired Americans newsletter.
We can win this one!


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