|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 173 November 2013
US shutdown ends but new cuts loom
There is a great sense of relief throughout the US, from ordinary working people and from Wall Street, that the government is no longer shut down. Eight hundred thousand federal employees are returning to work, most of them receiving back pay for their furlough.
Despite what is correctly seen as a defeat for the right-wing Republican Tea Party, both Democrats and Republicans are planning massive attacks on popular social programmes like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (pensions). These cuts could further undermine the damaged authority of a dysfunctional political system. Another similar crisis is scheduled to be unleashed early in 2014.
The Republicans, under pressure from the Tea Party, were also blocking the raising of the US’s credit limit, the amount the government can borrow to pay for expenditure already agreed by Congress. Failure to have raised the limit by 17 October would have resulted in a default by the US government – an unprecedented event which could have a catastrophic effect on the US and the global economy.
In a Gallup poll conducted during the shutdown, a record high 60% said that a new party was needed in the US. A record low 26% said the two parties were doing an adequate job. This reflects a deep polarisation in society, and the success of Socialist Alternative’s local electoral campaigns illustrates the tremendous vacuum on the left.
Tea Party politicians, and even some of their big-business backers, had been planning this government shutdown well in advance. They felt that this was their last chance to defeat Obamacare (Barack Obama’s new health care programme). They want to stand firm in favour of ultra-austerity policies and whip up a right-wing base in gerrymandered districts going into a mid-term election year. Instead, they exposed the huge divisions in the Republican Party and the seemingly permanent political crisis of the US ruling class.
The Tea Party was an ‘astroturf’ (fake grassroots) invention of long-time Republican activists, capitalising on the disappointment in Obama and anger at the bank bailouts. They struck a chord in a polarised country, able to mobilise rallies of mainly white, predominantly suburban and rural, older middle-class people. This ideologically-motivated base, disappointed with the relative decline of US power, and often uneasy about a sitting black president, shook up Republican primaries in many places, leading to candidates and congressmen who refuse to reach bipartisan consensus with the rest of the ruling class.
The Tea Party was used to shift the debate to the right and to validate austerity, but it has become discredited. Poll after poll shows how out of step the Tea Party is with the vast majority’s views on all key issues. The Occupy movement changed the discussion about the crisis to put the blame where it belongs, not on government intervention in the economy, but on the ruling class and the inequality that exists.
While Tea Party rhetoric might help Republicans in suburban primaries, it is not a viable strategy for either the GOP or its elite backers. Even the Koch brothers, arch-conservative billionaires, issued a statement distancing themselves from the Tea Party's role in the government shutdown. Same goes for right-wing preacher Pat Robertson.
On the final day before the shutdown, big-business heavy hitters came in to convince not only John Boehner (Republican, Speaker of the House of Representatives) but also the Tea Party politicians to take their gun away from the head of the US economy. Threats to Boehner’s career had been made implicit by the Tea Partiers if he backed down, but now they are trying to contain the battle within the GOP that has gone from a ‘cold war’ to a ‘shooting war’. Fierce battles are coming in mid-term Republican primaries.
Already, significant damage has been done to the prestige of the ruling institutions, both in the eyes of workers in the US and in the view of people internationally.
The Tea Party got most of the blame for the shutdown, but people were also angry with all politicians. It was a widely-known and despised fact that congressmen and women were being paid while 800,000 were without work and social programmes were shut down, resulting in deaths to people needing urgent health care, for instance.
Labour leaders did not call a single mass demonstration against the government shutdown, missing a huge opportunity to build support for the unions and an emergency jobs programme funded by taxes on the super-rich and big corporations. The anger in society had to be reflected somewhere, though. The Tea Party tried to mobilise truckers to shut down the roadways around Washington DC to capitalise on the frustration and direct it at Democrats. This failed miserably.
Liberal TV commentator, Dylan Ratigan, on MSNBC stepped in with a rant that seemed inspired and off-the-cuff. His radical five-minute speech was watched by millions and shared by hundreds of thousands on Facebook. Ratigan said: "Tens of trillions of dollars are being extracted from the United States of America by… a financial system, trading system, taxing system, set up by both parties… This Congress is BOUGHT!… Get the money out of politics!... The banking system is fully corrupt and defrauding us!" While stopping short of calling for a new party for the 99% or democratic socialism, the fact that this radical rant went viral is telling of the mood that is developing.
The budget will now be referred to a congressional committee. Obama and Democratic Party leaders have already made it clear what they are willing to agree to: attacks on the key social programmes of the ‘New Deal’ and ‘Great Society’, enacted because of the mass movements of workers, the oppressed and young people. Obama even went so far as to say that he wants to cut the corporate tax rate.
While there is huge relief, and many people want the politicians to ‘put their differences aside and do their jobs’, there will still be further disappointment in the Democrats if these cuts are carried out.
There are great opportunities for the labour movement and the left to affect this discussion. Recent polls, the radical nature of the MSNBC rant, the previous popularity of the Occupy movement, the determined struggles of low-wage workers – all these things point to massive openings on the left.
Socialist Alternative is taking advantage of this with viable political campaigns for city councils in Seattle and Minneapolis. In the mid-term elections at the national and local level, we need other fighters for working people to step up.
We need teachers’ union candidates fighting against cuts and privatisation in education; we need homeowners facing foreclosure running to demand big banks and cops stop the evictions; we need low-wage workers’ leaders to run against corporate politicians; we need people who organise against sexism, racism and homophobia to break from the two parties of big business.
Wall Street has two parties. We need one of our own! Two hundred candidates of the 99% in 2014 would be a huge step in this direction. Candidates connected to movements on the ground, who refuse to be bought, candidates with a programme to fight for and with working people, youth and the poor.
Bryan Kouloris, Socialist Alternative (CWI supporters in the US)