This year opened with the Bush administration’s campaign to turn over trillions of dollars in the Social Security fund to Wall Street brokers. It also opened with a movement to save Social Security, based on organized labor but gathering a multitude of other groups.
In Ohio a growing and broad-based movement is coming together with new independent political formations like Take Back Ohio, and with national groups building in the state, such as MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Working America, former Kerry campaign committees, and others.
Out of this is emerging a loosely knit independent political movement based on organized labor but extending well beyond it. This movement is working with public officials not only on Social Security, but also on voter rights, health care, public services, schools and other issues. While working with the most progressive Democrats, the new organizational forms are not within the Democratic Party.
The “save Social Security” issue has been the centerpiece for building a mass base around which many others are coming together, and will continue to be so long as Bush keeps privatizing Social Security at the top of his agenda. However, experience is indicating that we are negligent in ignoring the jobs issue, that reaching into the ranks of active workers and the millions of unemployed requires adding the issue of jobs alongside the fight to save Social Security.
Small towns in rural Ohio, middle-sized towns that used to be centers for both farmers and industries where the sons and daughters of farmers worked, and the state’s large cities all show closed businesses and factories, boarded-up buildings, public services and schools in crises, working poor grasping at whatever poverty-level jobs are available, and destitute families trying to stay alive on dwindling welfare benefits.
Even among retired workers, many of whom are being forced out of the active workforce with early retirement, there is growing resentment over the lack of good jobs. The need for a jobs campaign is staring us in the face, but is there a realistic basis for building a campaign on this issue?
I believe a basis exists in two areas: the export of capital and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
The focus of organized labor, led by the industrial unions, is on global trade agreements and outsourcing of jobs as the source of job loss, with demands that trade agreements include protections for labor and environmental standards. In some cases, opposition to all global trade agreements is expressed.
While we should support and encourage the demand for labor and environmental standards in all trade agreements, this demand falls short of any real approach to saving jobs and creating new jobs. It’s necessary to expose the basic nature of the existing trade agreements, like NAFTA, and the proposed CAFTA. They are written and enforced by agencies controlled by U.S. transnational corporations, such as the World Bank and World Trade Organization, which design the agreements to extract maximum profits from the superexploitation of workers in countries with minimal living standards and weak labor organizations.
The Bush oil family sits on top of the world corporate structure, forcing the implementation of these policies with the might of the U.S. military. Any real alternative to the massive outsourcing of jobs and the deindustrialization of our country has to see the ouster of the Bush Republican neoconservatives from political power, but that is not enough. Those seeking to oust Bush, starting with labor, need to start developing a program of at least minimum control over export of capital.
What does this mean? Capital has always been accumulated by appropriating surplus value from the exploitation of workers. But most workers today are angrily aware that trillions of dollars (capital) have accumulated in their pension funds, both public and private, including Social Security, and that both corporations and the Bush right-wing neoconservatives are stealing it.
The export of capital needs to be explained as investing the workers’ money in the global market with the loss of millions of their jobs and manufacturing in this country. The Bush oil family needs to be identified as the main culprit that needs to be removed from office.
A second jobs issue is the massive neglect of our country’s infrastructure, with some sectors in crisis. The American Society of Civil Engineers called for investing trillions of dollars to address this. We need to revisit the Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure Act introduced by Ohio Congressmen Dennis Kucinich (D) and Steve LaTourette (R), and see if a revitalized, updated bill would get support first of all from organized labor. Are the building trades, the first and main benefactors from such a bill, ready to support it? Will the industrial unions, especially steel, do the same?
Is the movement ready to put jobs on the agenda? The export of capital and the need to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure are two possible openings. There may be others. It’s worth thinking about. Jobs are at the top of the list for millions of families.
Wally Kaufman is a retired painter and secretary of the Cleveland AFL-CIO Retiree Council.