Week In Review April 14

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Apr 142017

by Bill Onasch

An Age Old Question of Solidarity

The number crunchers quietly working for Uncle Trump are preparing a big tax cut for the Middle Class. But we should be wary of geeks bearing gifts.

Social Security is the most important of the few substantial reforms won during the vaunted Depression era New Deal. It wasn’t only the stock market that crashed in 1929—so did many banks, wiping out the life savings of millions. Social Security, passed in 1935, first implemented in 1940, was an effort to prevent such calamities in the future.

A payroll tax on both workers and employers created a Trust backed by the full faith and credit of the Federal government. For the first time, retirement income was guaranteed. Public sector workers could stay in similar plans with comparable, or better benefits—but many of these funds in recent years have been misappropriated by politicians for other uses, creating scandalous crises, such as in Illinois.

Soon after the first SS benefit checks were issued the USA entered the Second World War. During the government imposed wage freeze the bosses offered a new gimmick to attract and retain workers during a great labor shortage–“Fringe Benefits” that included employer provided health insurance, paid vacations and pensions.

After the war the labor movement made a historic strategic blunder. Instead of fighting to improve Social Security, and for legislation guaranteeing health care and vacations for all workers—as was done by unions and working class parties in most industrialized countries–they focused on winning better fringes for their dues paying members. It seemed to work great for an envied minority of the working class—rechristened Middle Class–for decades. UAW members at the Big Three automakers could retire with generous pensions and health insurance after thirty years of service.

Those days are long gone. Some major unionized corporations are too. Currently Multi-employer Pension plans covering over a half-million workers have applied for Treasury Department approval to cut promised benefits.

Defined benefit pensions are an endangered species being replaced by 401(k) schemes skimming fat fees off the top. During the stock market tumble of the Great Recession many of these accounts were decimated.

Social Security has become more important than ever. For nearly half of all retirees it is their only source of income—a group that includes me. Social Security remains the most efficient of all government services. But it has already been whittled away over the years through various “reforms” such as raising the retirement age, inadequate cost of living adjustments, along with “voluntary” deductions for Medicare Part B premiums.

Still, the ruling class would like to get control over much more of the trillions of our SS assets. During Bush II’s administration various scams were floated about putting our retirement funds at work in the stock market. After the 2007 financial crisis these swindles fell out of favor.

Anxious to cover his backside while sounding pernicious false alarms, Obama made several overtures for a bipartisan Grand Bargain to further gut Social Security as well as Medicare and Medicaid. But the GOP was not prepared to cooperate on anything whatever.

Trump has often pledged not to go after Social Security or Medicare. Since I saw his lips move that had me worried. Now we are hearing about schemes being seriously discussed in the Administration that some call a Trojan Horse attack on these programs us old folks depend on.

The complicated scam would require eliminating the present entitlement status of Social Security, which has kept our nest egg more or less independent of the overall budget, reclassifying it a “discretionary” item. Currently, the government can borrow SS surplus funds but must repay with interest as needed. It has worked reasonably well. There has never been a missed payment of benefits—even when most of the government gets shut down during budget disputes.

The spread sheet schemers want to end the 12.4 percent payroll tax shared evenly by bosses and workers—a big income boost for both that they could crow about. Obama did a trial run a few years ago with a one year temporary payroll tax “holiday.”

The lost payroll income for the downgraded discretionary Social Security would presumably be offset by a share of a still to be fully fleshed out new Value Added Tax. Like sales tax, VAT would largely be paid by workers—even those unemployed and retired. Much of this revenue would dry up when consumption declines during economic downturns.

It is likely that, following the model of tiered union contracts where the worst take-backs are inflicted on future workers, some middle age generations would be vested in traditional Social Security benefits. Their kids and grandchildren would be dependent on the generosity of Presidents and Congress.

Conventional wisdom long warned that Social Security tinkering was a political “third rail,” fatal to all foolish enough to touch it. It’s still a hot button issue. But the lies of those like Obama’s Blue Ribbon bipartisan commission, that included ex-union official Andy Stern, about the inevitable demographic collapse of Social Security have done a lot of damage. Most Millenials doubt that there will be anything left for them. And in a period of stagnant wages, a 6.2 percent one time raise in take home pay is tempting to all generations of workers.

It is hard to judge whether this particular proposition, still in early planning stage, will lead to imminent danger. The 45th President has demonstrated a short attention span and a propensity for unexplained, rapid 180 changes of positions. But we can’t count on his flip-flops. Nor can we rely on the Democrat losers, who have wanted to join hands with the GOP in gutting Social Security, to lead the “resistance.” While it may not yet be time to mobilize for this particular battle we should follow the advice of the famous Russian military scholar and Field Marshal Suvorov—Train Hard to Fight Easy.

It is time to teach the new generations—and refresh the old—that Social Security is not a question of bookkeeping or demographics but a gut level example of solidarity of all generations in our class. It requires continuing education that can’t be outsourced to our class adversaries. In the process we will update our program for making Social Security work for us.

L’insurgent extrême gauche

In the last WIR, we linked to an AFP story that credited the Anticapitalist Party candidate Philippe Poutou, a Ford worker, with being the most effective speaker in the French presidential debates. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal nervously reported on the surge in the polls for another candidate they describe as Far-Left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the electoral coalition Unsubmissive France. Mélenchon is a 65-year old veteran politician who split with the center-road Socialist Party to help form the Left Party. WSJ says,

“At a rally in Marseille on Sunday, Mr. Mélenchon told a crowd of about 70,000 that his rising popularity means he might advance beyond the April 23 first-round vote to the decisive runoff on May 7….In a runoff against Ms. Le Pen, [the extreme right candidate] Mr. Mélenchon would win with 57% of the vote, the Kantar Sofres-Onepoint survey projected.”

Not being fluent in French it’s difficult for me to parse the differences between Poutou and Mélenchon but you don’t need to be a Francophone to understand they are both far to the left of America’s most prominent socialist—Bernie Sanders. The popularity of their campaigns signifies a resurgence of class consciousness and class struggle in France that first became apparent in mass strikes and demonstrations against the neoliberal agenda of the soon to be replaced Socialist government. Regardless of the outcome of the elections we can learn some valuable lessons relevant to reviving the workers movement on this side of the Atlantic.

Back to the Streets

Climate will be the focus for the early round of actions beginning next Saturday, April 22 with the Earth Day March for Science, including the Peoples Climate Marches April 29, and concluding with May Day strikes and demonstrations for immigrant and worker justice on—May 1. An extra WIR or two may get squeezed in to this busy calendar.

I just received a copy of a new position paper from the Labor Network for Sustainability, Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker Alternative to the Trump Agenda, and will offer comments soon.

That’s all for this week.

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Week In Review April 10

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Apr 102017

  by Bill Onasch

First Casualty Multiplied

Hiram W Johnson, a long-serving Republican Senator from California, is generally credited as being the first to use the phrase “Truth is the First Casualty of War” in 1917—directed toward the duplicity of Woodrow Wilson. President Wilson, after winning reelection by bragging “he kept us out of war,” a few months later took America in to what he promised would be a War to End All Wars—and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his effort. As we noted in the last WIR, his lies and reputation are still revered by today’s bipartisan Establishment.

It is unlikely the current liar in the White House will be treated so gently even by official historians. The mainstream media removed their kid gloves even before he took office. Still, that doesn’t mean they deliver the whole truth and nothing but about war.

Just a few days ago, Trump astounded friend and foe alike by announcing he was prepared to accept an agreement to end the bloodshed in Syria that would leave the regime of Bashar al-Assad in power. Past multilateral negotiations had failed mainly because of U.S. insistence that Assad must go.

But Thursday evening, Trump made a brief address to “My Fellow Americans” motivating a missiles strike he had launched against Syria. He claimed it was in retaliation for a gas attack ordered by Assad against his own people resulting in about eighty deaths. Trump described it–“It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

The deaths were real. Whether they were intentionally inflicted—and if so on whose orders—are contentious. Trump’s touching sensitivity about all children of God was not offered for the 300 civilian residents of Mosul, Iraq—mainly children and their parents—who perished in American bombing of their shelter.

A Syrian air base alleged to have been involved in the gas attack was pulverized by dozens of Tomahawk Cruise Missiles (1.5 million a piece plus fuel and labor) launched from Navy Destroyers on the eve of a Summit with the President of China. Advance warning was given to Russian personnel on the base who presumably relayed it to their Syrian hosts. Still there were at least 13 fatalities.

The First Casualty principle makes convincing culpability in the gas attack difficult to establish. We shouldn’t forget the outright lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction used by Bush II and Blair to launch the disastrous and illegal Iraq war. You don’t have to be a supporter of Assad to recognize how foolish it would have been for him to so quickly blow off the diplomatic victory Trump had just given him by launching a gratuitous gas attack on a small village.

In the past, the America First Trump rejected a world cop role for the USA. But with stinging defeats for his domestic agenda, bitter infighting within his administration, and alarming drops in opinion polls, he could not resist the temptation to try to rally patriots around the flag as so many of his predecessors did with mixed results. Among those saluting the Liar-in-Chief was the candidate who finished first in the popular vote last November.

Nothing good comes from the attack on Syria. Regime change in Syria needs to be accomplished by Syrian workers and peasants—not more foreign bombs and troops.

Whether Trump’s illegal Thursday attack was a one-off stunt or an embrace of the Bush Doctrine, expanded by Obama, remains to be seen. Either way our response should be clear.

Hands Off Syria!

Bring All the Troops, Pilots and Sailors Home Now!

[The above section of the WIR also appears with my permission on Socialist Action.]

The Short Lived Trump Bump

The 45th President is all about jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s his purported motive for attacking labor, environmental, and financial regulations long called job-killing by bosses and bankers. The stock market went wild, and so-called consumer confidence surged, the day after it became apparent that his second place finish in votes by people was good enough to place first in the Electoral College.

But that party is over and those sobering up after celebration will need more than fizzing tablets to avoid hangover. The BLS March Jobs Report showed a net increase of only 98,000 jobs. That was about half of what had been anticipated and less than the average number of first-time job seekers entering the labor market.

Along with the Federal hiring freeze imposed by the Jobs President, the loss of 30,000 jobs in the retail sector was particularly disappointing. A somewhat gloomy New York Times article quotes a less than optimistic economist,

‘We’ve given up on waiting for hard data to improve,’ said Rob Martin, an economist at Barclays. ‘It’s been five months since confidence increased. If consumption were going to improve, it would have already.’”

A category that remained unchanged is 5.6 million part-time workers who want full-time jobs. The average work week also remained stuck at 34.3 hours and overtime dropped a tick. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 4 cents to $21.90.

Granted, one month does not a trend make. But if the Trump budget were to be passed just its steep cuts in transportation funding would lead to substantial job loss—not only in operating trains and buses but in vital infrastructure repair and needed up grades. A single derailment near Penn Station in New York City last week caused chaos for millions of commuters in the New York-New Jersey region.

Trump may have created a speed bump with the down side just beginning.

In Brief…

* They’re Not Just Crying In ArgentinaLabor Notes has posted a comprehensive article by Martin Samartin on the scene in Buenos Aires that begins, “For five weeks teachers in Argentina have been on strike almost continuously, using the days they do go to school to explain to students and parents the reasons for their conflict with the national government. Today, they’re joined by the rest of the country’s workers, in the first general strike under President Mauricio Macri. Strikers are protesting a wave of pro-corporate reforms including subsidy cuts that have led to massive increases in utility bills, exacerbating the country’s growing poverty rate.”

* Returning to SenderFortune reports, “As AT&T struggles with several difficult union contract negotiations, the carrier hammered out a deal with 20,000 workers in five states. Part of the agreement includes a commitment by AT&T to hire 3,000 people locally for jobs that have been previously outsourced, mostly overseas.”

* Not Pie In the SkyPhilly.com reports, “Baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, sky caps, and other passenger service workers employed by airline contractors at Philadelphia International Airport have voted overwhelmingly to join Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. The vote, which was held Tuesday night, was 406-58 in favor of joining the nation’s largest property-service workers union. It took four years and numerous protests for the SEIU and the workers, who currently number 1,400 and work for subcontractors hired by various airlines, to get the secret-ballot National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election.”

* A Ford Mechanic You Can TrustAn AFP dispatch begins, “France’s latest celebrated underdog is Philippe Poutou, a Ford factory worker and head of an anti-capitalist party who became one of the stars of the second presidential debate. The far-left candidate started on Tuesday night by refusing to take part in a group photo and became ruder as the night went on, emerging in the process as a voice of voter anger in a campaign dominated by scandals.”

* Richer and Poorer In Sickness and Health—This Guardian article began with perhaps not breaking news, “You can’t buy time – except, it seems, in America. Increasing inequality means wealthy Americans can now expect to live up to 15 years longer than their poor counterparts, reports in the British medical journal the Lancet have found. Researchers said these disparities appear to be worsened by the American health system itself, which relies on for-profit insurance companies, and is the most expensive in the world. Their conclusion? Treat healthcare as a human right.”

That’s all for this week.

If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Powered By Blogger Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Privacy Policy. We don’t share any information about our readers with anyone else—period.

The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.