By Dave Lindorff
Now that the street dancing is over, and President-elect Barack Obama is measuring the drapes for the new Oval Office (let’s hope he loses the mounted Saddam Hussein matching pistol set and that he has the direct hard-wired link between the Vice President’s Office and the Pentagon severed), it’s time to start focusing on how to make this new president live up to his mantra of “Change We Can Believe In.”
Well over 65 million people voted Obama in on the belief that he meant what he said with that largely empty slogan. They are going to be hugely disappointed if he doesn’t deliver.
Yet Obama’s first steps as president-to-be are not promising. His first official appointment, naming Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff, was probably the worst possible sign of “No Change.” Emanuel, a fellow member of the Chicago political gang, far from being something new, is a relic of the Clinton administration, where he served as a political strategist, pushing the disastrous “triangulation” strategy that gave us the end of welfare benefits for poor women, the gutting of habeas corpus, deregulation of the banking system, and an economic program that favored bond traders over working people. Worse yet, the naming to such a key post of Emanuel, a rabid Zionist who actually holds dual US and Israeli citizenship and was a member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), will poison Obama’s chances to broker a real, lasting peace deal between Israel and Palestine by aligning him clearly with the Israeli side in every Palestinian’s eyes.
Other appointments aren’t likely to be much better. Obama’s advisers during the campaign, especially on economics and foreign policy, have been not forward-thinking “change”-oriented outsiders, but rather hoary old-timers like Paul Adolph Volcker and Zbigniew Brezinsky (both veterans of the Carter presidency!). Why would we expect his cabinet appointments to be any different? (I recently attended a talk that featured Volcker, who was Federal Reserve Chairman under Carter and Reagan, along with Nobel economists Robert Mundell and Joseph Stiglitz. Volcker sounded almost senile as he rambled on and on in a barely comprehensible mumble about the need for a “global” currency.)
But the point is, no one should have expected anything different from Obama. Let’s face it; If he had run a campaign using Stiglitz as his chief economic policy guy and Ramsey Clark as his foreign policy expert, his candidacy would have gone down in flames. And don’t tell me 'Good, we should have all voted for Ralph Nader.’” The political left in the US is a pathetic joke. Instead of a unified third party on the left, we had that 1-5% sliver of the electorate divided between independent Ralph Nader and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney! How stupid is that? If the left cannot unite when its public standing and support is so pathetically small, how can it expect anyone to back it (I’m being generous here in using the singular to describe such a fractured group of people)?
No, it was correct to elect Obama. Failure to do so (and remember, he only won the popular vote by a slender 6-percent margin, and many of the key states that provided his much larger electoral vote victory were won by margins that thin or thinner including 034 percent in North Carolina), would have meant a President John “Bomb-Bomb” McCain and his loopy VP Sarah Palin.
But as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn and others, myself included, have long said, change in America has not for the most part been made from the top down, or through the electoral process. It has been the result of political struggle in the workplace, on the campus and most importantly in the streets. And that brings us to where we are today.
Progressives should complain loudly at the pathetic nominations that Obama is making to his new administration. The new president-elect should take heat for appointing old Clintonian hacks and for “reaching out” to Republicans in the interest of “bi-partisanship.” But more importantly, we on the left need to work hard to organize, demonstrate, and protest to achieve our goals and to make President Obama and the new solidly Democratic Congress do the right (left) thing.
For me, the two most important issues we need to focus laser-like upon are ending the wars, and obtaining worker rights.
It is time to plan a massive march, to coincide with Inauguration Day, to demand a prompt end to the Iraq War and occupation, and a negotiated solution to the chaotic war in Afghanistan. The protest should also demand an end to the so-called “War” on Terror, beginning with the immediate closing of Guantanamo’s prison, and of all the black sites around the world.
Secondly, the left and the labor movement need to organize a million-worker march on Washington--hell, a two-million worker march--to demand immediate passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, a long-delayed reform of US labor law that would end almost 50 years of bias against workers that has seen employers able to simply flout the law and prevent workers from forming unions. Under the proposed act, which already passed the House in the last session of Congress only to die in the Senate (before having a chance to be killed by the president), workers would no longer have to go through years of delay trying to get a secret-ballot election in the workplace; they would only have to obtain signed cards supporting a union from a majority of employees. It would mandate that employers bargain in good faith with a new union, and would mandate a contract if management stonewalled negotiations. It would also, for the first time, impose penalties for violating workers rights—for example firing union activists and their supporters.
Why is this bill so important? Because without a powerful labor movement, we will never see the Democratic Party, or any third party of the left, become a serious force for progressive change. It is working people, and only working people, organized into powerful unions, who have the potential of pushing the government into making progressive change, but with union representation now down to less than 8 percent of the private workforce, and 13 percent of the entire workforce, counting public employees, what chance is there of such a thing happening?
Polls over the years have consistently shown that, despite all the media propaganda against unions, and the lack of any education about the union movement or the importance of unions in our schools, between 60% and 70% of American workers nonetheless say that they would like to have a union on their job if they could get one. The problem is, with the laws and the Labor Relations Boards stacked against them, they cannot get a union, and indeed, put their jobs and their families at risk by even trying to get one.
Obama and most of the Democrats who won election in this cycle have pledged to pass this act this year. They also owe their victories to the extraordinary effort that what’s left of the labor movement put into getting them elected. Workers and leftists of all stripes need to act now to demand that they make good on that promise and on the debt that they owe.
It is the first essential step in moving a President Obama and a Democratic Congress—as of now still in the grip of the corporatocracy, with little in the way of any countervailing organized pressure from the left—in a progressive direction.