On Nov. 3, 2004, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney convened a news conference at the labor federation’s headquarters to comment on George W. Bush’s narrow presidential win the night before.
Sweeney was bleary-eyed, exhausted, and clearly disappointed, yet he threw down a ringing challenge. “Yesterday’s election was breathtakingly close,” he said. “There is clearly no conservative mandate for our nation.” The labor movement, he added, “will fight like hell” to block Bush’s right-wing agenda.
Amidst formidable struggles for labor, multiracial and all people’s unity, “No mandate! No surrender!” became the battle cry of 2005 as the mass organizations of the people mobilized on every front to block the Bush-Cheney agenda.
First battle: Social Security
The year began with Bush proclaiming in his State of the Union address that privatization of Social Security was his highest domestic priority. “Personal retirement accounts” are a “better deal” for younger workers, he intoned.
The Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) retorted that “private accounts” would be “risky, subject to fickle financial market performance and not guaranteed to last a lifetime or keep pace with inflation.”
At every stop on his road trips, Bush was greeted with chanting protesters holding “Save Our Security” placards. In early November, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, finally admitted defeat. “I can’t even get consensus among Republicans,” he glumly said. “The next bite of the apple” on Social Security will not come until 2009 after the next presidential election, he added.
It was a sweeping repudiation of Bush’s “free market” dog-eat-dog corporate ideology and sent a message that the federal government’s job is to insure the income security of the people, not the profits of Wall Street.
Bush Iraq war lies exposed
There were other signs that Bush was already a “lame duck.” The war in Iraq was not going well. The toll of dead and wounded soldiers was rising and the toll of Iraqi dead was even higher. The White House “outing” of CIA officer Valerie Plame would not go away. Her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been sent to Niger by the White House to check out claims that Iraq was purchasing uranium for a nuclear weapons program. Wilson warned the administration that the documents were “crude forgeries.” Yet a few weeks later, Bush cited those forgeries in his State of the Union to buttress his claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, his main justification for a pre-emptive war. Wilson exposed Bush’s lie in a New York Times op-ed.
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for his role in “outing” Plame put Bush’s war lies back in the headlines. Fitzgerald may indict Bush’s closest political adviser, Karl Rove, and Cheney himself is a candidate for indictment over this illegal act of revenge.
The ugly face of torture
Freedom of Information lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights produced a steady stream of CIA, FBI and Pentagon e-mails, memos and other incriminating documents implicating Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in torture and abuse of thousands of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other “black sites” around the world. This story too would not go away and has undercut Bush’s claims that the war in Iraq is a crusade for democracy and freedom.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was forced to step down and is now facing trial for money laundering in doling out corporate cash to ramrod through the Texas Legislature his racist redistricting plan aimed at sending five more Republican to the House. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) may be indicted, as well, for insider trading in stocks of his family’s Hospital Corporation of America. Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) was forced to step down and may go to prison for accepting bribes from military contractors. GOP lawmakers who took gifts from Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff fear they will be linked with his indictment on charges of swindling Indian tribes of $60 million or more. Bush had promised to restore “honesty and integrity.” Instead, he turned Washington into an open sewer.
Rebellion against a deadly war
Meanwhile, the peace movement was gaining momentum, spearheaded by Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan launched her vigil at Bush’s ranch demanding that he meet with her and answer a simple question: “What noble cause did my son Casey die for?”
Her fight came as the Pentagon faced a crisis — its inability to recruit troops in the face of the endless slaughter in Iraq. A new movement erupted against military recruiters in the nation’s high schools and on college campuses. For the first time in AFL-CIO history, the labor federation passed a resolution during an ongoing war calling for U.S. troops to come home.
Sheehan, other Gold Star families, United for Peace and Justice as well as some active duty Iraqi war veterans led 300,000 people past the White House Sept. 24 chanting, “Bring the troops home now!”
Courageous House members, led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), founded the Out of Iraq Caucus. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that prohibits the Pentagon from spending any funds in Iraq except for those necessary to end the occupation. Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) a conservative decorated war veteran, rocked the Bush administration by offering a bill for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within six months. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed Murtha’s withdrawal bill.
Katrina’s far-reaching impact
Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast Aug. 29. Bush was on vacation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, was out to lunch.
Two hundred miles of the Gulf Coast was destroyed. New Orleans residents were abandoned on their housetops. This reporter joined Sam Webb, national chairman of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), in visiting the hurricane zone.
Robert Mitchell, an African American worker, was toiling with a crew to clean up the French Quarter. “I heard my mayor begging for help,” he told us. “Yet three days after this Category Five hurricane hit, where was the help? There was no help.” He continued, “The head of FEMA knew this storm was coming but he was on vacation. The hurricane could not be avoided. But the death and misery afterward could have been avoided.”
Webb surveyed the empty, devastated city and said the tragedy brings home “the irresponsibility and criminality of the Bush administration. To make people’s lives livable it will take the full commitment of the federal government and a people’s watchdog committee.”
Webb’s trip to New Orleans underlined another landmark event in 2005. Fourth of July weekend, the CPUSA gathered at the Palmer House in Chicago for the party’s 28th Convention. Hundreds of delegates came from mass struggles across the nation embracing the “No Mandate, No Surrender” battle cry to defeat the ultra-right. There was a renewed stress on the necessity of socialism as the solution for the nation’s crisis of war, racism, poverty and corporate rule. The convention recessed on the second day to march in the picket line of striking workers at the nearby Congress Hotel.
Hurricane Katrina tore up the last shred of credibility from Bush’s “war on terrorism” dating from Sept. 11, 2001. Four years later, after the expenditure of hundreds of billions on an illegal war and “homeland security,” the nation was less safe.
The Bush administration used Katrina as a cover to dole out no-bid contracts for Fluor, Halliburton and Shaw Group to “rebuild.” Bush calls the Gulf Coast an “Opportunity Zone” for his corporate cronies. Gas prices surged while oil corporations wallowed in billions of ill-gotten profits.
A budget reconciliation bill with $50 billion in cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and other vital programs was railroaded through the House on a 217-215 vote, claiming the cuts are necessary to free up money to rebuild the Gulf Coast. They also ramrodded through a $95 billion tax cut for the rich. Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, told the PWW. “These mean-spirited cuts hit our nation’s most vulnerable people, including thousands of hurricane evacuees. They are unacceptable.”
The courage of Rosa Parks
In the waning weeks of 2005, Rosa Parks passed away. More than 40,000 mourners filed past her casket in the rotunda of the Capitol. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) pointed out that Bush dishonored Park’s memory by appointing Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, a man who has expressed opposition to “one person, one vote,” Roe v. Wade, the rights of immigrants, voting rights and the right of gays and lesbians to marry. All these issues will reach storm force in January when the Senate Judiciary Committee opens confirmation hearings on Alito.
A pall over the economy
In recent weeks, General Motors and Ford announced catastrophic job terminations and GM was reported in danger of bankruptcy. Surging energy costs cast a pall over the economy. Poverty rates have soared and millions more are without health insurance. Hunger once again stalks the land. These too are a legacy of George W. Bush’s “profits not people” regime.
This year, the people waged a heroic struggle to slow the right-wing juggernaut. A split in the AFL-CIO with five unions walking out of the labor federation gravely endangered the unity needed to win that fight. As the year ended, the labor movement was taking steps to insure a unified front against the Republican right heading into a key election year.
Next year, all 435 House seats and one-third of the Senate will be up for grabs. The off-year elections in 2005 could be a harbinger. Despite last-minute campaigning by Bush, the GOP’s candidate for governor went down to defeat in Virginia. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lost on four reactionary ballot questions he backed in a special election. Earlier, Los Angeles made history when a diverse coalition elected Antonio Villaraigosa the first Mexican American mayor of that city in 133 years.
If the all-people’s front turns out millions of new voters against the ultra-right next November, if we force election officials to count every vote, then the right-wing stranglehold on our country can be broken.
Tim Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is national political correspondent for the People’s Weekly World.