Mobilize Now to Pressure Congress to Extend Unemployment Compensation!
On April 7, the Senate voted 59–38 to restore emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed. While the bill is grossly inadequate—among other problems it extends coverage only until June—it nevertheless is essential that it be adopted by the House of Representatives as well. After all, it does provide retroactive coverage for the workers who were abruptly terminated from continuation of the benefit on December 28 and it does give proponents of comprehensive coverage needed time to broaden and strengthen the movement to win comprehensive coverage for an indefinite period of time.
The reason we are in this jam now is because the bipartisan Murray-Ryan budget committee spearheaded adoption by Congress of a deal that excluded continuation of benefits for 1.3 million workers and their families. Since then, the figure has increased to three million and within a relatively short period of time, it will climb to five million. So there is a lot at stake here for vast numbers of our brothers and sisters. An injury to one is an injury to all!
House Speaker John Boehner promised that if Congress went along with the budget measure as proposed, the House would give consideration to taking up an extension of unemployment compensation for the long-term jobless as a separate measure. But as anticipated, he and his colleagues are now setting conditions for the House’s support, including authorizing construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and adding other provisions for more private sector jobs. Other Republicans have numerous amendments to propose to the Senate’s bill, which would tie up the whole process in knots. Some Congressional legislators oppose any extension on the ground that the economy is no longer in recession so emergency aid is no longer needed.
All this at a time when some 27 million workers are unemployed or under-employed and struggling to survive.
Labor and its allies continue to pay a very steep price for depending on Democratic Party politicians to protect our interests. Even though a large majority of the U.S. public supports continued aid to the long-term unemployed (a January 14 Quinnipiac University poll puts the figure at 58%), Congress still has not provided that aid. Both of the two corporate parties bear responsibility for this crisis. They are playing the proverbial fiddle while Rome continues to burn.
This experience demonstrates once again the imperative need for labor and its allies to intervene independently in the electoral arena and run candidates that will fight for a program that will promote and advance the economic security, retirement security, health, and welfare of the working class majority, rather than the interests of the 1%. We in the Labor Fightback Network believe that the working class needs its own political voice. Subordination to the Democrats or the Republicans is destructive to the class interests of workers and the labor movement, and robs our movement of progressive ideas and the ability to speak them. The organizational form of independent labor political action will need to be established through a process of education and struggle over time. Establishing labor/community coalitions that run independent candidates—together with mobilizing around the burning issues of the day—would help accelerate this process.
And on the issue under discussion here, labor must take the lead if we are to prevail. To be sure, the Democrats in the Senate unanimously voted a few days ago to restore unemployment compensation for the long-term jobless. The chief bottleneck at the moment is the House Republican leadership which may not even permit a vote. If left to their own devices, these politicians will find one excuse or another to compromise away workers’ rights, including the right to receive unemployment benefits, or abrogate our rights altogether. Of course, if the politicians see massive numbers of people in the streets protesting and raising hell, we could get a more positive result.
To read additional comments on the key issues facing the labor movement—and to share your own comments—please visit the Labor Fightback Blog.
An Open Letter to Our Brother and Sister Trade Unionists
With the lockout of federal workers finally ended and with social programs being restored, attention is now being focused on what will happen next. The divide between the major political parties continues to linger and the prospect is for more government dysfunction and paralysis, albeit with bipartisan agreement that “entitlements” must be cut.
The undersigned trade unionists and community activists strongly endorse the position taken by the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations opposing all cuts to safety net programs — especially Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. We not only call for the preservation of these programs but also for their expansion and improvement.
We reject the claim that Social Security and Medicare — our earned benefits — will run out of money within a decade or two unless major cuts to these programs are enacted now. Today the big banks and corporations are sitting on top of trillions of dollars in reserves — thanks in large part to the trillions of taxpayers’ money used to bail them out. We call for taxing those reserves and at the same time eliminating the cap on the tax paid by the very rich to fund Social Security; enacting measures to increase the taxation on the wealthiest 1%; ending corporate welfare; and closing tax loopholes. These are but a few of the many options available to raise whatever revenue may be needed to deal with the fiscal crisis, so it is crystal clear that there is absolutely no justification for cutting earned benefits received by low and middle income families. We fought for those benefits and they belong to us! The politicians have no right to take any part of them from us!
Yet that is what is on their agenda for the coming months. While the major parties may have been at each others’ throats during the past several weeks, their leaders are agreed now on one thing: stick it to the 99% and make them pay though the nose to curb the debt and deficit. And number one on their hit list is Medicare.
To be sure, Democratic Party leaders insist that they will not agree to cuts unless the Republicans agree to tax increases, which the Republicans vow they will not do. But we can’t take it for granted that the major parties won’t come up with some kind of understanding on this question. After all, in 2011 the parties did join in making cuts to safety net programs — despite major differences between them — by enacting the sequestration (which was implemented after the Supercommittee could not agree on fashioning a “grand bargain”). The Wall Street Journal has now proposed a “compromise,” whereby agreement could be reached and an impasse avoided. The paper’s October18, 2013 lead editorial states:
“The way out is to negotiate a revenue neutral reform that lowers a rate in return for closing loopholes, which will lead to faster growth that will in turn produce more revenue. Democrats can get their new revenue, but only by growing the economy. That worked for Bill Clinton in his second term after he agreed to cut the capital gains tax in 1997. By “lower[ing] a rate” the Journal is talking about cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%, something the president has said he supports. In the Journal’s view, this will pave the way for cuts in “entitlements.”
Let’s not depend upon the politicians and their schemes to safeguard our safety net programs. Let’s depend upon our own organized power and our readiness to oppose all cuts, regardless of who is pushing for them and under what guise.
Where does President Obama stand on cutting earned benefits?
- Obama’s recent record on Social Security and Medicare cuts includes his 2014 budget where he cuts $630 billion. He calls for squeezing Medicare by raising some fees and premiums as well as making cuts to providers.
- In an October 24, 2012 AP interview, the president was quoted as saying that if Republicans are willing, “I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises” that could even rankle his own party.
- He restated his support for cutting Social Security and Medicare in a press conference October 8, 2013, reassuring congressional Republicans of his willingness to agree to these cuts if the Republicans vote to increase the government’s debt limit.
So the die is cast. And Democratic Party congressional leaders can be expected to fall in line to present a united front in making cuts — especially when it comes to Medicare — with Republicans pressuring from the right for the most far-reaching cuts possible.
The question now is what is to be done? We are convinced that without massive mobilizations of the labor movement and our community allies, including an occupation of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. if necessary, a bipartisan congressional coalition could work its will under the mantra of “shared sacrifices,” and tens of millions of people could find the benefits they need to sustain themselves and their families substantially diminished. We must not permit that to happen!
To put it more succinctly, what is needed is a national mobilization to defend Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the other safety net programs, and in the process to demand that the government create a jobs program that will put millions back to work with quality and comprehensive health care.
There is no time to delay organizing a broad, united and massive fightback movement, keeping in mind that an agreement is supposed to be submitted by the bipartisan budget committee by December 13, which could very well call for cuts to earned benefits. We urge trade unionists and community activists to take this issue to your respective organizations. Pass resolutions demanding “NO CUTS!” and calling for protest demonstrations both on a local and national scale (see sample resolution below).
Please fill out the form below so that we can help publicize the extent of opposition to proposed cuts to the safety net, and our determination to do whatever is needed to protect our cherished earned benefits.
Whereas the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations have taken a strong position opposing all cuts to safety net programs — especially Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid; and
Whereas these programs must not only be preserved but also expanded and improved; and
Whereas since the U.S. government has no problem coming up with trillions of dollars to bail out Wall Street, seemingly unlimited funds to pay for foreign invasions, and providing tax breaks and subsidies to corporations, it is crystal clear that more than enough money is available to sustain and expand vitally needed safety net programs; and
Whereas programs like Medicare and Social Security are earned benefits that we paid for and which belong to us, and no politician has the right to undermine or cut them; now therefore be it
Resolved that [name of union or community organization] opposes all cuts to safety net programs; and be it further
Resolved that we urge the labor movement, together with our community partners, to unite and mobilize locally and nationally including, if necessary, occupying Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. if that’s what it takes to prevent Congress from legislating cuts to these programs; and be it finally
Resolved that a copy of this resolution be sent to [list organizations and individuals your organization deems appropriate].
Form Authorizing Listing of Organization’s Name as Signer of Open Letter and/or Reporting Adoption by Organization of Resolution Opposing Cuts to Safety Net Programs
Petition to Stop the Criminalization of the Right to Protest:
Drop Charges Against Saladin Muhammad and Moral Mondays Labor Rights Arrestees!
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