Congressional Republicans have been ranting and raving over the "contract" they've taken out on America and the need for a "Balanced Budget" amendment to the Constitution. Now they've won leading "liberal" Democrats to their side - all of whom have enjoyed the support of organized labor. They include Paul Simon of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Joseph Biden from Delaware.
What's really behind the propaganda blitz for a "balanced budget"? For the United States during the post-World War II period, the first large bout of inflation and deficit spending came during the Vietnam War. Presidents Johnson and Nixon wanted to avoid financing that war through increased taxes, fearful that such action could provoke wider working-class opposition to the war. So the government either borrowed or printed new money. Johnson's idea that we could have "guns and butter" concurrently bit the dust.
Jimmy Carter accelerated the attack on working people. Alfred Kahn, who Carter named to head the Civilian Aviation Administration, helped push deregulation of the U.S. airline industry - which ultimately led to the collapse of Pan Am and Eastern Airlines. The joint Democratic- Republican deregulation program for trucking, communications, utilities, and a host of other industries has since led to massive cutbacks and 20 percent to 30 percent wage cuts for workers in these industries. Companies such as Federal Express have donated millions to the Democratic Party in gratitude for the deregulated nonunion environment handed to them.
The Reagan-Bush years saw a massive increase in the U.S. budget deficit. According to the National Council of Senior Citizens, some 75 percent of the present total national debt was amassed during the Reagan and Bush administrations.
During that same period, there were big cuts in unemployment benefits, housing, and education as part of the anti-people/anti-labor budgets sent to Congress by the White House - and all were supported by a majority Democratic Congress. Meanwhile, Big Business and the capitalists were given major tax cuts. So-called "trickle-down" economics led to decline in the standard of living for millions of working people.
It's no accident that the real income of U.S. workers has declined every year in the last 20 years. This decline is accelerating. Industries now deregulated once provided some of the best wages in the country; their deregulation lowered the overall wages of all working people. One of the biggest budget busters was the $600 billion-plus savings and loan scandal. This was caused directly by the Democrats and Republicans who deregulated the banking industry and then took millions in political contributions from these speculators and thieves. The present trillion dollar budget contains $250 billion in interest payments to the banks and other big lenders. This, of course, didn't stop Clinton's multi-millionaire Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to propose last month that banks be allowed to buy insurance and stock companies and that regulation of these new commercial giants be limited.
The attacks on working people continue. Rather than going after the 3 percent of the U.S. population who have nearly 50 percent of the income and own more than 53 percent of the stocks, bonds, and real estate, the politicians now say that there must be major cuts in social programs, health and safety regulations, housing, and education. Clinton and the Democrats are aligned with the Republicans in this assault. They joined forces to push NAFTA and GATT. Clinton's plan to "reinvent" government has led to the loss of 250,000 federal jobs. Funding for public housing has been slashed, and newly privatized funding in the form of cash "vouchers" don't provide even enough for a slum rental. Clinton has kowtowed to the Republicans over and over, from firing Joycelyn Elders to agreeing to a "review" of affirmative action.
Now comes the "Balanced Budget" amendment, which would mean a profound disintegration of basic economic conditions for working people. The amendment would force hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts by the year 2002 in social security, education, health, and welfare programs.
A taste of what's in store can be found in recent Congressional action. Emergency funding for fuel for the poor during the winter has been slashed, along with a multitude of other basic support programs such as school lunches. Yet, not a single Democratic senator has employed the filibuster to stop these moves - a common tactic used by Republicans in the last Congress. This reveals the true nature of the Democrats; they choose to go along with the Republican attacks rather than lay the blame where it really belongs - with the capitalists themselves.
What is critically needed is a mobilization of working people to counter the expanding assault spelled out in the "contract." The AFL- CIO leadership's strategy of reliance on the Democratic Party has been exposed as totally bankrupt, as was admitted at the most recent AFL- CIO Executive Council (see article on page 1).
Understanding that the strategy is useless, though, is not enough. Working people must organize now to build a Labor Party that can pose a genuinely independent alternative to the twin parties of capitalism.
The importance of a founding convention for a Labor Party, as proposed by Labor Party Advocates, cannot be overstated. Such a gathering must take place this year if we are to prepare for the 1996 elections. We cannot afford to wait another four years to mount a challenge to the anti-labor, racist, anti-women policies of the Democrats and Republicans.
A Labor Party with a working-class program, one that unites unionists, unorganized workers, the unemployed, and the oppressed minorities, can truly represent working people. A Labor Party can take on the Democrats and Republicans and begin to win back what we need to survive.
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