An historic Inauguration as a nation confronts crisis
Joe Biden is joined his wife Jill Biden as they celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle during Inauguration Day ceremonies Wednesday on 20 January 2021, in Washington | AP

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took over the nation’s two top offices today after an historically unpeaceful transition of power. The inauguration today, after a close call with an attempted coup by the nightmare that was Donald Trump, happens as the nation, slammed by four years of Trump, begins to pick up the pieces.

“The will of the people has been heard. The will of the people has been heeded. And for now, the will of the people has prevailed.” President Biden declared in his inaugural address. “The American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us.”

“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency because we have much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal,” the new president said, recognizing that multiple crises have brought the nation to a low point in its history.

Putting forward the need to defeat the devastating effects of racism on the nation he declared: “The dream of justice deferred will be denied no longer.” He vowed that “white supremacy must be confronted and defeated.”

He said that unity would be needed to confront racism. “Speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy.” He then pointed out that the battle was not new and that it has stretched back throughout U.S. history. “The battle is perennial and victory is not assured, he said.

Biden emphasized the importance of telling the truth and said, “We must reject the culture in which facts are manufactured.”

“Here we stand where days ago, a riotous mob tried to override our democracy. It did not happen. It will not happen. It will never happen….  We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural against urban… We can do this if we open our hearts, show a little tolerance and stand in the other person’s shoes.”

The movements that toppled Trump and handed victory to the Biden-Harris ticket are hopeful that they will see progress in the first 100 days of the incoming administration.

Such are the expectations from unions, progressive groups and coalitions as former Obama-era VP Biden and ex-California Sen. Harris take the reins of power. Her ascension to power is by itself historic as the first African American woman and Asian American becomes vice president. It reflects the leading role of African Americans, particularly women, in the toppling of Trump.

The two took an oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as that document itself says “against all enemies foreign and domestic.” The white supremacist domestic enemies came all too close to destroying democracy America altogether just a few weeks ago.

Building the movement needed to protect democracy may be the most immediate and toughest task Biden and Harris face, even before tackling the coronavirus the other crises hanging over the nation.

The Biden-Harris inauguration is unique in two respects. Both drastically limit its live attendance.

The first is the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 400,000 people in the year since the first positive case was officially discovered. That equals the population of Tulsa, Okla.

And the second is the looming threat of radical extremist white nationalism. When Biden and Harris entered the U.S. Capitol this morning, the backdrop for the inauguration, they find defaced walls and smashed interior and  exterior windows. All are reminders of the coup attempt perpetrated two weeks before by rabid rightist, nativist invaders beholden to Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Another reminder: 25,000 armed National Guard members patrolling Washington, D.C., and miles of eight-foot-high steel mesh walls and Jersey barriers designed to halt and stop any traffic.

With one exception, and it goes beyond Trump, there’s been  demand for immediate punishment of the thousands of invaders, who also left the Capitol festooned with Trump banners, and with a noose and gallows on its lawn. And they threatened lawmakers, all in furtherance of their pro-Trump coup.

The exception regarding punishment came from Derrick Johnson, executive director of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights group. “We don’t need a moment to heal,” Johnson said of what many consider hypocritical GOP calls for “unity” after Trump incited the insurrection and other Republicans abetted his reasons.

Need to hold them accountable

“We need to hold people accountable for the atrocities, for the treasonous activities, and to send a clear message this cannot be tolerated,” Johnson told the AFL-CIO’s Martin Luther King commemorative conference. In a written statement, the NAACP was even more detailed about pursuing and punishing the perpetrators.

Another partial exception—because it preceded the invasion—was the CPUSA’s analysis of the 2020 election’s results. The party reiterated the continuing danger of rabid right-wing white nationalism.

“Even with the enormous organizing and turnout to defeat Trump, still the number of votes Trump got shows the tremendous amount of work to be done. The Trump cabal is giving rise to a dangerous fascist-tinged white supremacist movement,” CPUSA said.

“Like the emergence of similar political movements throughout the capitalist world, it is a product of the general crisis of the capitalist system, which is failing not only politically but also economically and environmentally, along with systemic racism, rising inequalities and never-ending wars.”

But because the party issued the statement before Trump incited his right-wingers, it didn’t call for specific actions from Biden and Harris to counter such supremacists. Instead, the party and the nation must “drill down on voting and thought patterns and examine how to raise class consciousness where white working people vote against their own interests” and become vulnerable to demagogues.

Representative demands from other unions and organizations for Biden’s and Harris’s first 100 days were more specific. Some were:

  • National Nurses United has several top demands. Biden is likely to fulfill one now: Ordering the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to produce an emergency standard, effective immediately, forcing firms to protect workers and customers against “community spread” of the coronavirus. The Teamsters demand that, too, plus “beefed-up workplace enforcement” of anti-viral measures.

Nurses constantly carry signs declaring “PPE over profits,” referring to personal protective equipment—such as masks, gloves and ventilators—hospitals, under orders from insurers to cut costs, refuse to issue.

“OSHA has, to this day, failed to protect nurses and other workers,” by mandating such protections, NNU President Zenei Cortez, RN, wrote last year.

  • UnidosUS, a leading organization for Latinos/Latinas, wants Biden to demand Congress pass his $1.9 trillion coronavirus economic relief legislation by the end of January, and include getting the vaccine out in shots into people’s arms within Biden’s first 100 days, if possible.

“In his first 100 days, it is critical that Biden take quick action to 1) defeat COVID-19 and protect public health 2) provide economic relief that places our country on the path to a strong and equitable recovery and 3) work toward racial equity and healing,” its report recommends.

Unmentioned demand for immigration reform

Unmentioned as an immediate demand is comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. That’s longer-range for UnidosUS. Yet Biden staffers said Jan. 19 that such a plan, with an 8-year path, would be among Biden’s first legislative proposals.

  • The first point Public Citizen advocated before the Trumpite invasion—open, transparent government stripped of corrupt corporate clout—addresses related problems that affect everyone, left and right.

Public Citizen demands Biden, Harris and lawmakers “restore public faith in our democratic institutions” by making “comprehensive reforms to our democracy a top priority, including the For the People Act, HR1.” New Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., promised to symbolically number it S1, too, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., reported.

HR1/S1 would, among other things, further promote mail-in voting and election transparency, restore teeth to the Voting Rights Act, curb “dark money” and corporate campaign contributions, “uphold checks and balances,” and make voter registration easy, Public Citizen says.

The House passed HR1 in the last Congress. Outgoing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., killed it—and much else, including the Pro Act, organized labor’s top pro-worker priority.

  • Jennifer Epps-Addison, campaigns director for the Center for Popular Democracy, demands Biden and Housing Secretary-designate Marcia Fudge extend the current ban on evicting renters. The ban expires Jan. 31. Without it, Epps-Addison says 40 million people could be out in the cold, literally, in the middle of a pandemic. She’s posted an online petition on it, too.

“Eviction could be a death sentence for so many working people of color and families struggling to pay the bills during the pandemic. That’s why we’re taking action to create a universal eviction moratorium executive action from President-Elect Biden, demand rent and mortgage payments be cancelled, and center the stories of tenants facing eviction,” Epps-Addison adds.

A top Biden domestic adviser told morning news shows on Jan. 20 Biden would extend the eviction ban.

  • The NAACP wants Biden to establish a czar to coordinate a government-wide effort to expose, explain and propose action to root out white nationalism and racism.

“No matter who’s appointed to the Cabinet, if it’s not clear from the president that racial equity is a top priority, and that there’s someone holding that portfolio responsible…for some measurable results we can look to, then it’s only great words in a political speech,” NAACP’s Johnson told the King confab.

Biden will order federal agencies to conduct a top-to-bottom review of their programs and policies, prospecting for cases of bias and systemic racism, the advisor added on Jan. 20.

Beyond those first 100 days, unions and their allies have other strong demands on Biden, Harris and lawmakers. Passing the Protect The Right To Organize Act leads the list. It would be the most comprehensive, pro-worker labor law reform since the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

Talks ongoing

“Talks are ongoing and the Pro Act will have” that impact on many labor law issues, including union voting recognition, first-contract bargaining and arbitration, high fines for labor law-breaking, bans on captive audience meetings and curbing bosses’ misclassification of workers, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told a Jan. 12 telephone press conference.

If Biden has his way, it’ll include one other provision: Perp walks off to jail for chronic labor law-breaking corporate honchos.

Biden “supports union organizing and collective bargaining rights,” NNU’s Cortez declares.

“Working people across the country have suffered from decades of policies that led to deindustrialization, declining real wages, the transfer of wealth to corporations and the economic elite, deregulation, and an all-out assault on unions.”

  • The New Poor People’s Campaign (NPPC), in a detailed list of 14 “to do” demands posted on its website, and in meetings with top Biden-Harris staffers, duplicated some of the other demands—such as a strong Voting Rights Act and other provisions of HR1/S1.

NPPC also pushed the rent and mortgage payment moratorium, cancellation of student loan debt, and a Biden-led campaign against white nationalism, racism and so-called Christian nationalism.

  • Besides protecting frontline workers, especially truckers, against the virus, the Teamsters’ other top demand, fixing the financial mess afflicting multi-employer pension plans, may be tougher.

The 2008 financial crash wrecked the assets of many multi-employer plans, and IBT’s Central States plan was the largest. In the waning hours of the 2014 congressional session, lawmakers passed a “fix” of sorts. It said the joint labor-management trustees of such plans could, with Treasury OK, cut current pensioners’ payments by huge percentages in order to preserve the plan for future beneficiaries.

Ever since, IBT and other unions have been lobbying for an alternative, the Butch Lewis Act by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to allow long-term low-interest federal loans to such plans as long as they keep current recipients whole. Biden, in his platform, pledges to solve the mess.

  • NPPC also wants Biden to cut military spending almost in half and end U.S. wars abroad, as does the CPUSA. And NPPC wants to shift that military money, plus $1.7 trillion from eliminating the Trump-GOP tax cut for corporations and the rich, to housing, education and other domestic needs. Biden shows no appetite for that military budget cut, but he favors higher spending as part of his $1.9 trillion anti-pandemic economic stimulus proposal.

“We now need to shift our work to pushing the incoming administration to be bigger and better than our own expectations,” Terrence Martin of AFSCME, head of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, said in a statement.

“We need to hold them accountable to ensure their promises of affordable health care, climate change action, and attacking systemic racism are all carried through to fruition. There is still work to do.”

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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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