by Juan Diaz, La Voz de los trabajadores/Workers Voice
Hope & Illusions
Now that Obama has won a second term, we must ask ourselves (once again): is Obama a symbol of hope? For the working class and it’s oppressed (Blacks, immigrants, Latin@s, women,etc.), the answer is no because Obama has continued to cut social programs & deported record numbers of people- all while spending trillions on war and bailouts.
Obama has managed to continue and increase the policies of austerity on working people and assisted in the a partial recuperation of profits for some sectors. He accomplished all this without the majority of people knowing he did so. In other words, he has somehow managed to maintain the impression that he was the “lesser evil”, that he was “giving concessions”, that he wanted to do more- but that “his hands were tied by the Republican Party”.
Therefore, we see Obama not as a symbol of hope, but as an illusion, a mirage, intended to fool the working class into supporting him without delivering any results good for them. And for these reasons, in regards to the ruling class, Obama is a symbol of hope because he has proven himself effective in carrying out their agenda of austerity.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Obama has started off his second term by continuing with the same strategy of the past fours year: making the workers pay for the crisis while making them believe he cares about them. That is to say, Obama has returned to the driver seat with more of the same and we must continue the job of breaking the illusions the working class has on the Democratic Party (DP).
The analysis of the election results and the reasons why Obama won
What were the factors that contributed to Obama’s win? First, many analysts agree that historical demographic trends favor the Democrats and hurt the Republicans. Namely, the growth of the Latino population and black population & decline of the Anglo/white population. Under pressure from the Tea Party, Romney and the Republicans had to go far to the right in their positions. Campaign statements that he made like that he “likes to fire people” or is “not concerned about the poor” were predominant on many working people’s minds. In addition, several Republican senatorial candidates made statements on rape and abortion that shocked many women, which ended up benefiting the DP. All these factors and more contributed to Obama being seen as the lesser evil of the two candidates.
Second, the economic situation was a double-edged sword. Obama’s campaign and propaganda was successful in conveying the feeling that there was a slight improvement in the country’s state and that the Republicans (” the ones responsible for the crisis”) would be a worse thing for the country. For one, in 2012, the country didn’t go deeper into another economic recession#, although the situation in Europe was and is still worse. Furthermore, in the US., there official unemployment figure has been steadily hovering around 8%# (if we are talking about “real unemployment, its been around 14-16%#). On the other hand, there were also no signs of there being an actual economic recovery and the socio-economic problems of the the vast population only seem to be worsening.
Third, the Democratic Party managed to repress and co-opt the Occupy movement and any potential working class initiative with a base. And this was done with a conscious and concerted plan. Throughout the winter of 2011, city mayors and State officials did everything to raid all the Occupy encampments they could and imprison any people who resisted. This meant that by May 2012 when the electoral campaign was at its peak, there was no mass independent movement that was ready to organize and fight. In addition, where repression was not enough- because Occupy had some base and independent political leadership (like in California, Chicago or New York)- they did everything to co-opt this movement (like the Millionaire’s Tax compromise deal in California#).
In the end, all these elements contributed to Obama winning overwhelmingly amongst Blacks (most data says around 90%), comfortably in Latinos (70%) and he was supported by a white sector (over 40%), mostly in women and youth.
Obama’s second term agenda within the U.S. and worldwide.
Based on this characterization, Obama will try to continue and deepen the foreign policy of the first period. Specifically, Obama will continue with his method of trying to stop the Arab Spring revolutionary processes; specifically, he first supports the dictators, like he did with Mubarak and Gaddafi and the others, then he tries supporting the moderate oppositions. He does this to deviate the revolutionary processes, not to assure democracy.
Furthermore, he is not proposing to end these wars abroad because he´s a pacifist, on the contrary, he´s only doing that due to the economic crisis and because he wants to maintain economical and political control with puppet regimes, with no need for troops. In addition, he continues to use war and drones as a weapon whenever necessary.
Internally, it is likely that Obama will continue to go to his more consistent policy of a “buffered austerity” plan, with continued attacks on education and public health (we are already seeing this in 2013). Also, we’ll for sure see continued attacks on wages and working conditions, aided by the complicity of most of the union leadership’s bureaucracy. His recent campaign work in avoiding the “fiscal cliff” has allowed Obama appear as if he’s making a concession to the masses, and this is likewise on Medicare and in funding education, both of which he has made plans to privatize at the expense of quality and accessibility.
It’s also important to note that the elections deepened the crisis of the Republican Party, with it now being divided amongst the Tea Party wing and the more moderate sectors. This may make it easier for Obama and his DP to push for their agenda. And though he failed to reverse the general international balance of power, he had some partial successes in Egypt and Libya.
Less confidence in Obama & the perspectives for a response of the workers
What will be the social & class response to the offensive of the ruling class, especially now that there is still a high disillusionment on Obama resolving the crisis? Can we expect more “Wisconsins” (i.e. the 2010 capitol occupation) and more struggles, or concessionary agreements by labor such as the one with General Motors in Obama’s first term?
First, it’s important to point out of the weak state that the labor movement is. Specifically, the unionization rates have fallen to a 97-year low of 11.3 percent and that the level of strikes/work-stoppages of 19# for 2012 is low when compared to previous decades of class struggle. Though there was a slight uptick in the amount of idled 148,000 workers, as compared to the 113,000 in 2011.
Second, there are three main obstacles that working-class & oppressed people’s struggles must overcome to stand a fighting chance, namely 1) illusions in Obama’s government, 2) the lack of a working-class movement that is independent of the DP & 3) the role of the traitorous labor leadership who are the ones pushing for concessionary labor contracts.
Nonetheless, the working class struggles that happened before, during & after Obama’s 2012 election campaign point towards possible sectors of resistance in the class struggle. And although there aren’t any national movements or strikes going on at this moment- because of cooptation, illusions and also defeats- workers have lots of reasons to start to organize and fight: to fight for their wages, job conditions, against unemployment, against budget cuts in education and healthcare, for an immigration bill that guarantees rights for all immigrants, not to only a part of them, and many other reasons.
The struggles we see today vary from work-actions and strikes from public education teachers ,staff & students, to fast food and other service workers. There are also possible fightbacks to the ruling class offensive on unions amongst port workers, nurses and hospital workers and other sectors.
Furthermore, we should keep an eye out for possible resistance among oppressed sectors like immigrants (where we saw some organizing mounting last year) and against the racist discrimination that Blacks and Brown people face through policies like stop and frisk, the shootings of Black youth by police and others (like Alan Blueford and Trayvon Martin), and possible organizing mounting amongst women, environmentalists, LGBT folks, and others.
Some of the sectors that point towards more resistance in the coming period include:
- The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike in Fall 2012 was one of the largest in terms of workers participating in a strike/work-stoppage. They are continuing their battle against school closures and standardized testing through mobilizations. This is inspiring similar fightbacks in the K-12th sectors in Philadelphia and Seattle. In Seattle, a standardized test boycott led by teachers in Seattle is has been support from their communities and other school districts since it’s start in January 2013.
- The contract struggle of the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) in the Northwest US (Washington,Oregon) against the grain corporate monopolies whose development we should keep our eyes on.
- California Nurses Association (CNA) and National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), two combative unions that organize nurses and hospital works, announced earlier in 2013 that they will be merging and are looking to continue their fight to win over unionization rights for thousands of workers in Kaiser hospitals away from the “business union” model of SEIU. Hospital workers in others areas have been consistently mounting strikes and fight-backs.
- Fast Food workers and service workers fighting back the poverty-wages and work conditions they face: These include the Wal-Mart warehouse workers work actions of the past year, the beginning of organizing going on amongst Wal-Mart store workers, Fast Food workers doing work stoppages in New York (include a successful strike amongst Hot and Crusty workers).
Mobilizations or movements of the oppressed brewing include:
- In 2012, the Dreamers – young undocumented activists fighting for immigrants’ rights – did occupations of Obama’s campaign offices and other demonstrations calling for immigration reforms (i.e. stopping deportations of immigrants, for a pathway for legalization, etc.). With Obama’s lackluster immigration proposal in January 2013, we can expect these Dreamers and other immigrant rights groups to mount pressure on Obama and the Democrats.
- Students, community members and workers in higher education have continued to mobilize to stop the cuts to classes, departments and the increased shutting off of working class students and students of color to higher education in various localities around the country. These include: City College of San Francisco (CCSF) accreditation fight. We should keep an eye out for similar fight-backs to continue in California, New York and other states.
- Movements against racist police policies: anti- “Stop and Frisk” (a policy which gives authorities the right to pull over any person in front of buildings that they think are suspicious) mobilizations in 2012 mobilized thousands of blacks and browns, which are the ones this racist policy discriminates against and dehumanizes.
- Movements against police brutality: Police killings against Blacks and Browns have been gathering more and more folks, thanks to the public outcry of the killings of Black men that date back to Oscar Grant in 2009, Trayvon Martin in 2012, and Alan Blueford in 2012.
For an Independent and Fighting Working Class Movement!
With the elections long over in people’s minds, now is the moment for us to increase our actions. Obama’s administration is preparing to push its next austerity package & there is a strong possibility that workers and the oppressed will lose faith in the politicians of the ruling class but this won’t happen automatically. Therefore, our main strategy for the next period is to overcome the three aforementioned obstacles that face us: 1) illusions in Obama’s government, 2) the lack of a working-class movement that is independent of the DP & 3) the role of the traitorous labor leadership who are the ones pushing for concessionary labor contracts. Our tactics must be flexible in overcoming these obstacles & we will need clear demands and slogans to mobilize our class.
No more Austerity Plans and Budget Cuts!
In local struggles, especially in California and other DP run states (i.e. New York, Chicago, etc.), the movement must raise the demands that the austerity needs to stop and for the building on an independent working and oppressed peoples movement. This can be effective in DP-led state governments and in cases where new taxes are being levied on the working class (like in California, where there is now a Democratic Party supermajority in California’s legislature).
We want Real Change, not “Crumbs”
However, we must keep in mind that many of todays movements are divided or in crisis due to their illusions in Obama and his continued strategy of “double-edged sword” policies. This is wherein he puts forward reforms and/or changes policies and gives one thing to one sector at the expense of another. This also helps add to the effect as if he’s changing things, but in essence he keeps things the same. For example, his recent immigration reform proposal gives a path to legalization to some who qualify and for those who he wants to buy out (i.e. like Dreamers) but it will make it harder for recent immigrants (thanks to the more militarized border, among other factors). He has put forward similar double-edged proposals on gun control, Social Security, the minimum wage and other pertinent issues.
Let the 1% Pay the Bill
But workers must continue to contest the concept of “shared sacrifice” that Obama and his allies have been relying on and has been successful. Movements cannot let folks settle for the status quo of cuts and austerity that divides us and prevents broad unity. Likewise, movements must counter the discourse of the liberal and bourgeois media, specifically its attacks on unions, workers, immigrants, people of color, LGBT, and other oppressed sectors. Movements must continue to expose the contradictions of what Obama and the DP says it will do and what it does in reality.
For Independent Movements and Fighting Unions!
Likewise, movements must champion the resistance of the workers from their traitorous labor leadership and to push for fighting, democratic and class independent unions. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are correct in that we must continue our struggle in Obama’s second term, but our goal is to defeat, not “push” Obama and the DP to get what we want. For the immediate, it is urgent that to push for independent working-class movements wherever possible & that they work on competing with the DP in contesting the influence of workers and the oppressed. To this end, we must take advantage of every fight and/or strike to make this possible. Only this will be able to “push” Obama.
For an Independent Workers’ Party! Join La Voz!
But the job of the worker’s movement only starts there. Ultimately, in overcoming these obstacles, workers will need to order to lay the foundation for an class independent party of the workers and oppressed that will put the working class in power and will be able to truly eradicate poverty, racism, sexism, & others oppressions, and to create a truly equal and just economic and social system. La Voz/Worker’s Voice will be part of this struggle, join us!