In the recent midterm elections, the
Republicans made a dramatic comeback after their electoral routing just
two years ago. They gained several governorships, seats in the Senate,
and took full control of the US House of Representatives. How was this
basic reason is quite simple: there are no jobs. Americans are
dissatisfied that Obama and the Democrats have not offered any real
solution to the economic calamity hitting many workers, youth and the
middle class. Two years after Obama’s election, unemployment remains
high with no end in sight, despite a return to profitability and mega
bonuses for Wall Street. Little wonder voters were not happy with the
On top of this, millions of dollars were spent by outside groups to
influence the elections. It is a well-known fact that Big Business
invests heavily in both main parties – it knows which side its bread is
buttered. In 2008, more money flowed to the Democrats, as they
understood that after 8 years of Bush and Cheney, Americans were
desperate for change, and they wanted to be in on the new bonanza. This
time around, more money was sent to the Republicans, as corporate
America sensed the dissatisfaction with the status quo. Once again, the
mood was “throw the bums out!” All this just two years after Obama’s
message of “change we can believe in” seemed to promise a new era of
prosperity and hope.
Unfortunately, the labor movement leaders did not offer any
alternative to voting for the parties of the rich. Instead, they called
on workers to vote “against” the Tea Party Republicans, or for “worker
friendly” or “union-endorsed” candidates. These were all just code words
for “vote Democrat.” But understanding how disillusioned workers are
with the jobs situation and the Democrats’ impotence on that front, they
could not call directly for a vote for that party. This is an important
change in approach, as it shows that the union leaders fear losing
control of the rank and file.
There was one independent labor candidate, Brett Bursey, in South
Carolina, who ran for the state House of Representatives and received
3.1% of the vote. Bursey was the first candidate run by the newly
re-launched South Carolina Labor Party. He would have almost certainly
received a larger vote if the SC Labor Party had run more candidates and
appealed for support from the national labor movement. But it seems
clear that they were getting pressure from the top labor leaders not to
run a more aggressive campaign, as they are intimately tied with the
Democrats in Washington, DC. Hopefully, the SCLP will run him and others
in the future, and will see this election as a first step and an
example for the rest of the country.
In addition, Hugh Giordano, a Philadelphia area labor organizer who
ran on the Green Party ticket, lost to the Democrat but came in second,
ahead of the Republican, with over 20% of the vote. Philadelphia has a
larger and stronger labor movement than South Carolina, which in part
explains his higher vote total.
As we explained in past articles, most workers will not vote for a
candidate unless he or she has serious resources behind him or her and
has at least some realistic chance at winning. Both of these candidates
had little money and were mostly ignored by the capitalist media, which
gives little coverage to small left parties. And as we have seen, the
labor leaders were bending over backwards to get out the vote for the
Democrats. Nevertheless, there was an important increase in votes for
various left “protest” parties in this election.
In 2006, in California, the Peace and Freedom Party received 3,849
votes and the Green Party received 33,545 votes for the Governor’s
race. In this election, the Peace and Freedom Party received more than
65,000 votes, while the Greens received 91,029 votes. In Ohio, in 2006,
there was no independent left candidate for the US Senate seat. This
election, Socialist Party candidate Dan Labotz received more than 25,000
votes. In NY, the parties running independently and to the left of the
two main corporate parties received nearly 120,000 votes for Governor.
In 2006, these parties received only 55,000 votes. These are modest but
significant results, as they show that tens of thousands more Americans
have already abandoned their support for the Democratic Party, and are
looking for an electoral alternative. It is still a very small result,
but has big implications for the future.
The Present Context
Elections are a snapshot of society at a given moment, and these
elections took place in a very specific context. The world capitalist
system is in its worse crisis since the end of World War II. The US
capitalist system in particular is in a state of prolonged decay.
Capitalism has a tendency to produce more goods than it can sell at a
profit, due to its exploitation of the working class. In other words,
with the wages they receive for their labor, workers are unable to buy
back all the goods they produce, because a large portion of the wealth
they create goes directly or indirectly to the capitalists in the form
of profits. This means that the system periodically clogs up, as it has
produced “too many” cars, homes, hospitals, etc. Not “too many” when it
comes to meeting human needs, but too many to sell on the market at a
When capitalism moves into crisis, it must destroy “excess”
production and productive capacity before it can return to
profitability. But this can only be done at the expense of the working
class, by driving down wages and benefits, creating massive
unemployment, and shutting down perfectly good factories. The downturn
in the economy also means a reduction in tax revenues for the
government, and this tends to force the government to increase taxes and
borrowing, along with cuts in expenditures, starting with social
expenditures. In other words, the working class is made to pay for the crisis.
Although the post-World War II boom ended in the 1970s, the
capitalist class tried to deal with the crisis through a huge expansion
of credit. That is why in the 1990s and 2000s, everyone had multiple
credit cards and many people had 2nd or 3rd mortgages and
home lines of credit. However, Marx explained that although the
extension of credit can allow capitalism to continue to artificially
expand for a time, it will eventually increase the severity of the
crisis when the bill is due. We saw this with the economic meltdown of
World capitalism is now going through what the capitalist economists call “de-leveraging.” Socialist Appeal
explained this even before the 2008 election. We explained that Obama
and the Democrats, who base themselves on the defense and continuation
of sick American capitalism, would not be able to solve the economic
crisis and would make the workers pay for it.
Many workers and youth had sincere illusions in Obama. These
illusions were inflated by the media, which is owned and controlled by
Big Business. However, these illusions were also supported by the
leadership of the labor movement. The AFL-CIO and major unions like SEIU
and the NEA led the workers to believe that if the Democrats won
Congress and the White House, the economy would be back to health in no
time, there would be jobs for all, universal healthcare, and changes in
labor laws to help union organizing. In confirmation of what Socialist Appeal predicted,
not one of these promises was delivered. We must speak the truth: the
policy of the labor leaders has ended in complete failure.
By this year’s mid-term elections, many workers and youth were
already disgusted with the Democrats, and seeing no real alternative,
did not vote at all. The Republicans, sensing victory and tapping into
public outrage, were able to turn out more of their supporters. Millions
of Americans are desperate for change – any change. Many of those who
voted Democrat in 2008 to protest against Bush, now voted Republican to
protest the party in power. In a two party system, the “other guy” is
the main beneficiary of voter discontent. But the workers lose out
The Tea Party
The so-called “Tea Party” movement was organized to channel the anger
and frustration that certain sections of the middle class have over the
economic crisis. The aim was to absorb this vocal layer of society into
the Republican Party, while at the same time pushing the Republicans as
a whole even further to the right. But as we have explained before, the
Tea Party is not a genuine grass roots movement. It is largely funded
by the Koch brothers, some of the wealthiest men in the country, and by
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, owner of Fox News and numerous TV
stations and newspapers. Its leaders also include former Republican
majority leader Dick Armey, a mainstream politician.
Most of the Tea Party activists are older, white, middle class
people. Their message is: “we want our country back.” This slogan means
that they want America to be like it was in the post-war boom years. The problem is that the post-war economic boom was an aberration; it was not the norm for capitalism. The
post-war boom was made possible by the enormous destruction of the
Second World War, in which some 60 million people were killed worldwide.
In the war’s aftermath, American Big Business ruled the roost, as its
rivals on the world stage had been bombed to bits. After World War Two,
the US was the world’s largest creditor and imperialist super power; now
it is the world’s largest debtor and its global might is waning. The
simple reality is that American capitalism cannot return to this period,
and to think that it can is truly Utopian.
The basic program of the Tea Party and the Republican Party is to cut
government spending and taxes. But this will solve nothing. It will not
lead to the massive job creation the unemployed hope for and will mean
vicious attacks on the working class. To begin with, tax cuts will not
spur private sector investment. With the capacity utilization rate of
industry below 80%, any temporary upswing will not lead the capitalists
to build new factories. They will just increase production in their
present factories and squeeze even more out of existing workers before
hiring on new ones.
What we can expect from Obama and the Republicans
Cuts in government spending, unpaid furloughs, layoffs, and salary
cuts of government employees will lead to a decrease in demand and
consumer spending. Further increases in unemployment will mean even
further cuts in the wages of those still working, as workers are forced
to compete with one another over scarce jobs. It will unleash a vicious
downward cycle. The Republican Congress will become unpopular just as
quickly as the Democratic Congress before it. Sooner, rather than later,
the public will turn against them also. And in the not-too-distant
future, a critical mass of workers will come to realize that there is no
solution possible through either Big Business party.
Even if the Democrats had won, their program was basically the same.
Given the reality of the economic situation, they would have also had to
make “hard choices” and cut vital government programs and services.
Obama’s bi-partisan debt reduction panel, which will report on December
1, 2010 at the latest, is expected to urge cuts in Social Security,
Medicare and Medicaid. Therefore, we can expect that although Obama will
fight with the Republicans as Bill Clinton did, eventually they will
reach a “compromise,” and it will be the workers who will be made to pay
The difference is between someone who wants to chop your leg off
above the knee and someone who wants to cut it off below the knee. Socialist Appeal says: “Don’t chop off the leg at all!”
Missed Opportunity and How to Fight Back Now
We have already explained that the labor movement should have stood
independent candidates in this election. These candidates could have
explained the cause of the crisis and fought for socialist solutions.
This would have tapped into the existing discontent, and even if these
candidates did not win, it would have begun to build up a movement for
the future. Unfortunately, that opportunity was missed yet again this
last electoral cycle.
After the elections, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka correctly
stated that the “anger is directed at everyone in Washington. Our
election night survey showed that, quite frankly, voters don’t make a
distinction between Democrats and Republicans on having a plan to
strengthen the economy.” He added that the result “wasn’t a mandate for
the policies most Republicans campaigned on… The election wasn’t an
endorsement of tax cuts for the wealthy – or for undermining Social
Security or the minimum wage.”
In fact, it is quite the opposite. An AFL-CIO poll conducted on
election night in 100 swing districts found that while voters are
dissatisfied with the direction the country is going, in most cases it
is not because Obama has done too much, even among Republican
voters. 77 percent of all voters and 63 percent of Republicans favor job
creation by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure of roads, bridges,
schools and energy systems. 65 percent of all voters and 47 of
Republicans are in favor of federal unemployment insurance benefits
being extended for those who have lost their jobs and are unable to find
new ones. In other words, workers want jobs. And only a minority of
those polled want to raise the retirement age, privatize Social
Security, or eliminate the Department of Education.
But strong words and polling results are not enough. The labor leadership needs to organize a fight back against the coming austerity program. The labor movement has tremendous potential power, but only if it is mobilized.
First of all, labor must confront the lies of the two Big Business parties. When
they say we have to raise the retirement age because people now live
longer, we should point out that the productivity of the American worker
increased 94% from 1973 to 2007 and has increased even more since then.
That means we should actually lower the retirement age! When they say
there is no money for jobs, education, health care, and social programs,
we should explain that there is more than enough money. Just look at
the military and spy agency budgets and the fact that the 400 wealthiest
Americans have each gained $3,300 million in inflation-adjusted dollars
from 1982 to 2008!
With the colossal resources of organized labor, the unions could
launch a national newspaper, radio and even television stations, to give
a workers’ perspective on current events and the economy, and break
Americans from the lies and cheap shots of the corporate media.
Secondly, the labor leadership needs to mobilize its networks of shop
stewards and labor activists, in some cases rebuild these networks, and
organize rallies, protests and job actions to prevent any cut backs
against workers in the private or public sector. Although modest in
size, the October 2nd mobilization for jobs in Washington was
the first of its kind since Reagan was in office. It was the first
flexing of American labor’s potential muscle in decades. These kinds of
demonstrations of labor’s strength must be continued and intensified at
the national, regional, and local level.
In addition, labor must work hard to connect with and mobilize allies
like students who are facing tuition increases and cuts in education.
They must link up with the unemployed, who, if they are not united with
those who do have jobs, will be used to divide the workers and drive
down wages. This should also be linked with a strategy to organize new
members into the unions, as the struggle at Jimmy John’s in Minneapolis has shown.
Finally, the labor leaders must break entirely with the Democrats and Republicans andbuild a nation-wide labor party, so that workers everywhere can vote for their own candidates in future elections.
The labor movement has tremendous resources at its disposal to make
this a reality. In the 2010 electoral cycle, the AFL-CIO provided the
Democrats with 200,000 volunteers, handed out 19.4 million leaflets,
made millions of phone calls, and knocked on 8.5 million doors. Just
imagine if all of that effort had instead gone toward running
independent labor candidates and building a labor party, instead of
waging a desperate rear-guard action to back candidates who represent
the interests of another class!
The members and supporters of the Workers International League are
fighting for these policies in our unions, schools and workplaces. As a
part of this effort, we have launched the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor,
and invite those who agree with its aims to join the campaign and help
make such a party a reality. This may be a long, tough fight, but the
only alternative is not to resist. One thing is for sure; if there is no
resistance, there will be much more suffering ahead, because the sick
American capitalist system demands it.
The 2010 midterm elections are yet another contradictory turning
point in the transformation of consciousness of the US working class.
Despite the obstacles before us, we can look confidently to the future.
After all, history is on our side, the numbers are on our side, and we
can be sure that once the American workers get a concrete idea in their
heads (such as the need for a labor party), they will move mountains to
make it happen. Join Socialist Appeal and the WIL in the struggle for a better world!