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Will Unions Fight Fiscal Cliff Cuts to Medicare and Social Security?

by Shamus Cooke Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 at 4:15 AM
portland@workerscompass.org

With pro-Obama election posters still visible in most union halls across the country, the President has already taken steps towards selling out not only labor unions (again) but all working people. But this isn’t the “ordinary” sellout that working people have come to expect from Democrats — this is an attack of historic proportions.

The pretext for this betrayal of the working people-friendly profile he promoted while on the campaign trail is the politically manufactured “fiscal cliff” crisis of triggered spending cuts and tax increases slated for January 1st. But the fiscal cliff itself was created by the Obama administration — with Republican participation — to create an atmosphere of “urgency” that would force politicians to act. The U.S. debt is easily financed by investors who continue to pour their money into buying U.S. Treasury bills — so if not for Obama’s fiscal cliff, no debt crisis would exist.

The goal of the fiscal cliff is to scare the public into accepting that a debt crisis exists that requires historic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other popular social programs.

Politicians ignore the fact that Social Security is self funded, and therefore doesn’t contribute to the national debt. Politicians also ignore the fact that the U.S. debt is largely the result of bank bailouts, decades of steadily lower taxes on the rich and corporations, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, combined with an insane military budget that subsidizes weapons manufacturers.

So how do Democrats and Republicans plan to address the fiscal cliff?

The pro-Democrat Huffington Post writes:

… President Barack Obama is proposing a grand bargain that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion[!] over 10 years, relying on a 3-to-1 mix of spending cuts [to popular social programs] and revenue increases.

A 3-to-1 ratio is presented as a “compromise” or a “balanced” approach. Of course, it is entirely possible to have no cuts to social programs by raising revenue by taxing the rich and corporations who’ve accumulated literally trillions of dollars.

The Huffington Post continues:

… lawmakers [Democrats and Republicans] will likely target Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other social programs that help those with the fewest advocates in Washington, including people on food stamps, veterans, retiring federal workers, home health care workers and the elderly[!!].

The article also states that Obama “could be open” to raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67, and cutting Social Security in relation to inflation, by lowering the yearly cost of living adjustment for beneficiaries.

What has Labor’s response been to this madness? The President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, sent an interesting letter that congratulated union members on “their victory” (electing Obama), while saying only a few paragraphs later:

So it’s up to us to fight like hell for the working people in our communities. We need to work to make sure the rich pay their fair share, there are no cuts to our benefits, and programs that safeguard our country’s future — like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — are safe for generations to come.

Well done! Even though Trumka fails to educate his members about the Democrats role in the grand bargain.

The next day the AFL-CIO announced that they had already begun a campaign to fight against these cuts (the Service Employees International Union has a similar campaign freshly launched):

Retirees, activists and members of progressive and faith communities will host close to 100 events targeting members of Congress during the upcoming Lame Duck session. Events will take place outside members’ offices, health clinics, Social Security offices, construction sites and other community locations.

This is a good start. But MUCH bigger mobilizations are needed, and FAST. Unions spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get “their” candidate elected, and now if labor would like to remain relevant in the eyes of the broader community, they’ll need to pony up and pour resources into fighting Obama’s grand bargain.

If labor helps lead a fightback against these cuts — as was done in Wisconsin and Chicago — there is potential to make new alliances with community groups and re-gain the broader communities’ support. This would also likely lead to more people wanting to join unions, since workers are attracted to strong, capable organizations that are prepared to defend their interests.

Countless polls have concluded that the vast majority of working people in the U.S. support taxing the rich (even Republican-voting workers) and they do not want to see cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If the AFL-CIO and Change to Win coalitions lead a real fight with massive demonstrations that demand No Cuts and Tax the Rich, they could quickly change the public debate, and push back the two-party grand bargaining in Washington DC.

Organizing only small actions with limited resources guarantees defeat.
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