The Fight to Save and Expand Social Security: A Family and Community Project

February 17, 2005

Report to the National Committee, Communist Party USA January 29, 2005 Joelle Fishman


The inauguration is over, but the battle for hearts and minds, for the future of our country, is raging. As Linda Chavez Thompson put it so eloquently during the Martin Luther King celebration in Los Angeles: Things can turn around much sooner than anyone can imagine if we fight smart, and if we fight hard and if we fight creatively, and if we fight tough.

We should not underestimate what can be won even in this dangerous climate. The reasons are:
1. There is no mandate
2. There is deep concern about Iraq and the economy among the public
3. There are divisions within the ruling class
4. There is fear among even some Republicans that Bushs program is over the top
5. Those who voted for Bush against their own interests do not support him on every issue
6. The mighty election movement of 2004 provides the foundation for the fight-back

Our assessment of the Bush team as extreme right-wing conservative authoritarian remains correct. They are prepared to say or do anything to achieve their goals of profit, power and control.

It is also true that there are objective factors that stand in their way, and it is our job to understand and tactically expand on those.

As our November National Committee meeting determined, the main task is to build the broadest possible all-peoples front / center-left unity / with labor, African American, Latino, women at the core, and with youth; To broaden and enlarge the movement and create winning majorities on an issue by issue basis, with the number one issues being to save social security and end the war and occupation of Iraq; And to build the size and visibility of the left including Communist participation in the coalition. Judith will address the Iraq war with extended remarks during the discussion.

The Inaugural Speech

George W. Bushs inaugural speech refrain was Americas ideal of freedom. It sounds lofty, but what is the substance? Americas ideal of freedom: intensification of the war on Iraq? Americas ideal of freedom: dismantling Social Security, a product of the great mass movements of the 1930s?

It was FDR, signer of the Social Security Act, who rallied the nation around the Four Freedoms. Social Security and unemployment insurance were part of that a social contract between the government and the working people for some kind of economic security.

Bush and the section of capital around him are out to destroy that social contract. They are breaking the bank on military spending and permanent tax giveaways to the super rich with the expectation that nothing will be left to meet the needs of senior citizens, children and the disabled.

Roosevelt laid out the framework of that social contract in his remarks to the Congress on January 6, 1941.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples: We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care. We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it….

Within this context he placed the four freedoms:

The first is freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

The Bush administration wants to destroy not only Social Security, but the whole framework that was built during the Roosevelt years in response to mass struggle, and replace it with the ownership society.

Bushs cynical talk of spreading freedom throughout the world smacks of pre-emptive military action and regime change. The world was shocked at these threats to sovereign states including, in our hemisphere, socialist Cuba and Venezuela. Nor do these policies reflect the majority thinking in our country.

In polls following inauguration, 53 percent said the war on Iraq was not worth it, 46 percent favored withdrawing some or all troops, and 65 percent said they preferred diplomacy or multi-national military action in foreign policy. Only 19 percent thought military action in Iraq decreased the threat of terrorism against the United States.

Despite the Republican majority in Congress, Bushs war policy is meeting more and more challenge as public opposition to the war grows and deaths of troops increases.

While Condolezza Rice was confirmed for Secretary of State, 13 members of the Senate voted no and condemned her role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It was the largest number of no votes for any secretary of state in over a century. A growing number are opposing Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, for sanctioning torture of prisoners, and his anti-choice stance. We should express our opposition to his nomination and urge others to do likewise, as well as to oppose other Bush nominees who are tainted by his criminal policies.

Adding to the anti-war expressions, Sen. Kennedy has called for the removal of troops and for UN aid to the Iraqi government, saying ‘The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.’ Rep. Jan Schakowsky has announced that she will oppose the Bush Administrations budget request for an additional $80 billion to continue the war in Iraq. Fifteen members of the House filed a Resolution for withdrawal of Armed Forces from Iraq.

The New Congress

The 109th Congress includes seven new Senators and 41 new House members. The Republican majority in the Senate is 55-45. The Republican majority in the House is 233-202.

The fact that the Ohio electoral vote was challenged in the first joint session of the 109th Congress, was a victory for the voting rights movement. This culminated weeks of investigations, rallies, marches, a lawsuit by the Green Party and Rainbow PUSH, and hearings by the House Judiciary Committee Democrats in protest against hundreds of uncounted votes, largely in African American and Democratic precincts.

The courageous stand by Rep. John Conyers, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Sen. Barbara Boxer forced both houses to debate the racism and bias of the electoral system and placed on the table the issue of election law reform to guarantee that everyone can vote and that every vote is counted.

The 43 member Congressional Black Caucus will certainly be an important force in this session with their priorities to preserve affirmative action, achieve universal health care, and keep social security as a safety net for older Americans.

The fight to stop any privatization schemes or cutbacks to social security is emerging as the first giant battle before Congress. Bill Frist has designated Strengthening and Protecting Social Security as Senate Bill 1. The broad front which delivered 57 million votes in November, of which we are a part, is now called upon to take up this basic struggle.

The Bush claim that Social Security is in crisis is a big lie. The Social Security program is not in crisis. Privatizing it would lower future benefit levels sending more older Americans, survivors and disabled into poverty.

This is no ordinary battle. If Bush is delivered a defeat on Social Security, it could provide the momentum toward more victories for labor and peoples needs. It would be a turning point toward shifting the political balance away from the extreme right-wing.

Art Perlo and Will Parry opened up discussion on Social Security at the National Board. It was agreed that we should carry out this fight as we did in the 2004 elections, participating in the broad movement, building and deepening the coalitions, with every collective and every member of our Party fully engaged. Our demands are no privatization, no cuts in benefits now or in the future, and scrap the cap to improve benefits.

On Wednesday, Bush will make privatization of Social Security the centerpiece of his State of the Union address, to be followed up by a barnstorm tour of the country to convince the public of the big lie that there is a crisis and that private accounts is the solution.

Bush is targeting Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas and Florida, four of nine states with centrist Democratic Senators who, along with 12 centrist Republicans are resisting support and could be the deciding factor.

Bush is also faced with convincing some House Republicans who are worried about re-election. And he is under criticism by Gary Bauers and other religious fundamentalists who endorsed him for the Marriage Amendment, but do not necessarily agree with private accounts for Social Security.

Well before inauguration day, Bush declared he wants action on privatization of Social Security within five months. Workers at the Social Security Administration were required to spread the message that there is a crisis. This blatant misuse of public funds was only discontinued when Social Security workers came forward and testified and protested.

But the Bush administration continues to press for this massive fraud and theft. Republican polls show a majority of voters 55 or older believe the big lie that major changes to Social Security are necessary, but they do not like the proposals for restructuring. The truth that there is no crisis must be made known and explained everywhere.

The reality of Bushs ownership society program is that Wall St. would enjoy the profits, and the people would be stranded with vital needs not met. The result would be a giant transfer of wealth from the working people to the coupon clippers, a 2 trillion dollar loss for the federal budget, and a dramatic escalation of poverty.

The Bush strategy includes using Social Security to create divisions within the broad democratic peoples movement. This is a fight aimed at dividing the working class and people along age and class and racial lines.

Cynically, African Americans are told that individual accounts would be better for them because they have a shorter life span, and they dont get the full value from their Social Security payments. This lie, developed by the Heritage Foundation, does not add up. The failure of any proposals for health care and other measures to end the disparity in life span exposes the racism of this approach.

Latinos, who often have worked in low-wage jobs, and who depend on Social Security for income most heavily, also benefit from the progressive features of the existing Social Security system which would be lost with private accounts.

Women are told that individual accounts would be better for them because more women live in poverty and Social Security benefits are inadequate. In fact, the only risk to existing benefits is from private accounts which would provide lower benefits and no real security.

Young people are told that individual accounts are better for them because they can make more money on the stock market, and social security wont be there for them anyway. They are not told that their benefits would be a fraction of what they could have received if the current system is left in place.

In an LA Times poll last week, 53% disapproved of allowing young workers to invest their Social Security taxes in private accounts. An AARP poll showed that once the costs and trade-offs are made clear, support for privatization went down dramatically.

The Bush forces have formed phony organizations to promote the big lie that Social Security is in crisis and needs reform. Corporate interests are reviving the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of Social Security to promote privatization with an advertising budget of millions. The Wall Street-backed Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, housed at the offices of the National Association of Manufacturers, is raising $100 million for advertising to support privatization a small investment on the billions they would rake in.

Other similar groups being formed include Progress for America, the Republican Jewish Coalition which is targeting Florida, New York and Ohio, and Women for Social Security Choice.

There is a wealth of material being published that exposes the big lie in depth, not the least of which is the Peoples Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo. The AFL-CIO has flyers on Workers of Color and Social Security, Young People and Social Security and Women and Social Security, and a great slogan Dont Give an Inch.

A Fight that Can be Won

A majority in both houses is needed to defeat the Bush bill. In the Senate that would mean all the Democrats plus 6 Republicans voting together. In the House it would mean all the Democrats and 15 Republicans voting together, or some other configuration. With at least 41 votes in the Senate, a filibuster could be sustained.

It has been reported that at least 30 Republicans in the House are inclined to vote against the Bush program on Social Security, but there more than likely will be some Democratic defections.

There is a big danger that centrist Republicans and Democrats like Lieberman will craft a compromise that will involve benefit cuts and/or raising the retirement age. This is unacceptable and in those states and Congressional Districts, no compromise should be the focus of organizing.

In her remarks on Martin Luther King Day, Linda Chavez Thompson stressed holding elected officials accountable. We need to link this to every single election this year and next year local, state and federal. Every candidate we support for every office should take a stand and join us in this struggle.

The major organizations which led the effort to defeat Bush are now focusing on the fight to save social security, including the AFL-CIO, Alliance for Retired Americans, Working America, individual unions, MoveOn, NAACP, NOW, Campaign for Americas Future, Rock the Vote, USAction, and ACT. Disability rights organizations and disabled veterans are also mobilizing.

A host of senior organizations and coalitions that are concerned with Social Security are also organizing against the Bush restructuring. AARP, with 35 million members, has launched a $5 million advertising campaign against privatization. The 170-organization New Century Alliance for Social Security, and the National Council to Save Social Security and Medicaid are also mobilizing.

The AFL-CIO has a full program outlined to Save Social Security, similar to the Labor 2004 election mobilization, aimed at involving all union activists and members. They have already collected 500,000 signatures on a petition, and held rallies in Boston and San Francisco targeting investment firms. The National Labor Caucus of State Legislators is encouraging resolutions at the state level. Visits to members of Congress during Presidents Day recess February 21-25 may be organized.

The Alliance for Retired Americans is forming Social Security Coalitions in the states where it is organized [including Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.] The door is open to participation from everyone.

The Cleveland, Ohio AFL-CIO has organized a large coalition including members of Congress, retirees, churches, and other organizations. It is a model that can be repeated elsewhere.

Even in these times we shouldnt assume that the pivotal role of the labor movement is fully understood in the broader community. That understanding is one of the important contributions that we make. The most effective way to promote that understanding is to build unity; working together teaches those lessons faster and better than talking about it.

the fight for Social Security is a family and community project. It connects to the future for children. It connects to the ability to win equality. It connects to the fight for healthcare and Medicare. It connects to the fight against privatization of public education. It connects to local struggles for social programs. If Social Security is undermined, every program can be undermined. It connects to the fight for equality. Social programs are the only way to address racism.

The Party

Our Party was intimately involved with the original establishment of Social Security and organizing the mass movement which brought it into being in our country. We have a special responsibility in this fight. We also have special contributions to make, especially building multi-racial, multi-generational unity.

Will Parrys report projects the elements of an all-out campaign to mobilize every Party collective and the entire Party membership as was done in the 2004 elections.

We want to join with the broad coalitions that are forming in states and cities around the country, and help extend and deepen them. We want to build broader unity, bring to life and solidify as much as possible the all-peoples front coalition with labor, African American, Latino, women and youth at the core.

We want to contribute to a militant grass-roots approach, and build our Party clubs at the neighborhood level in this struggle utilizing house parties and other actions connected to local issues.

Where coalitions are forming around the country we should be part of them and help build them larger. Where there are none, we should strategize how to help initiate action with others. Actions can include Congressional Town Hall Meetings, Resolutions by local municipalities and state legislatures, delegations to members of Congress, postcards /letters /petition campaigns, rally, house meetings, etc.

The National Board assigned the Organizing Department, with the chairs of the Labor and Political Action commissions, to coordinate the Social Security campaign. Materials in preparation include: A pamphlet and a flyer; a Club educational; a sample resolution for unions, city councils, community groups; a postcard and petition for use among neighbors, co-workers.

The centerpiece of our material will be the Peoples Weekly World / Nuestro Mundo. The centerfold, op ed pieces and other coverage has been great. PA and Dynamic are also important in this effort. Our national website will feature the fight to save Social Security including downloadable materials and links to the many organizations in the midst of this fightback.

In every state we should find out where each member of the Congressional Delegation stands on the issue of Social Security. Those who are supporting Bushs plan should be targeted for demonstrations, those who are uncertain should be targeted for delegation visits, and those who are resisting Bushs restructuring of Social Security should be given public support.

We should concentrate our resources strategically. Is there a certain Congressional District where we can made a difference? Is there a club in that area? Is there circulation of the Peoples Weekly World? What kind of help is needed? Who are the labor leaders and allies to reach out to? How does this fight connect with local issues and struggles?

Rosalio reports that the Mexican American Equality Commission has already begun to strategize on mobilizing the fight-back among Latinos, and the doors are wide open. I believe that the YCL is also making plans.

In the 2004 election, we worked very hard to build for the future new members of the Communist Party and Young Communist League, clubs in new areas, new readers of our press, new allies for the struggles ahead. We did a fabulous job in the Mid-West Project. The social security fight-back will be the follow-up. By continuing to build Party clubs at the grass roots, we can bring a militant, class struggle spirit to the coalition, helping to overcome divisions and resist compromises.

What better way to prepare for our convention than to come fresh from the battles at hand, having won new victories or learned new lessons. This campaign to Save Social Security gives voice to the anger and horror at the Bush administration, and hopefully makes strides to change the political balance of forces. The struggles around Social Security and Iraq, as well as the many battles at the state and local level, should be the battlegrounds that we come from as we begin our convention.


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