Keynote Speaker at AFL-CIO National Convention: Barack Obama
‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ might well be the subtitle. (Warning: longish. Er…very longish. I almost broke it into two posts, but I needed to wrap it up, so…here goes.)
Given that there were two different iterations of the 2013 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, various writers have been weighing in on their takes of the events, participants, and possible goals. More on that later, but on August 25, Shamus Cooke published a piece at Workers Compass, ‘The AFL-CIO’s New Strategy: Inspiration or Hype?’ concerning Obama being the keynote speaker at the September convention in LA, plus Trumka’s desires to create locally and more broadly based coalition partnerships and solidarity with the AFL-CIO, recalling the days when union halls were the centers of community life. He mentioned offering union membership to Sierra Club members (?), the NAACP, fast food and part-time workers, daycare workers and more. Sounds great, yes?
Cooke grants that Trumka’s ideas could ignite a social movement for jobs, Medicare for all, affordable education, great pension plans, etc., but references this USA Today interview with Trumka. When asked if Obama’s Presidency has been good for organized labor:
“I think his Presidency’s good for the country. Has he done everything that we’ve liked to see done? No. Have we agreed with everything he’s done? No. Do I think he has a good heart and the interests of workers in this country at heart? I do.”
(As an aside, I loathe people answering questions they’ve posed; it puts my bullshit detector on high alert.)
If you consider, as Cooke does, that Trumka is either delusional or lying, and that any movement that might be spawned will stall once it’s time to Get Out the Vote for Democrats in 2014, it sucks the air right outta the ‘Inspirational’ category, doesn’t it?
I recently posted my thoughts on why it was so hideous that Barack Obama will be the keynote speaker at the 2103 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I did listen to some of the live-stream of the speakers yesterday while I worked on this piece; the White House had kindly emailed me the link. Given that I shut it down in irritation before our Commander-in-Thief spoke, I had to go to printed quotes at the Guardian. (my bolds).
The president’s speech ranged across gay equality, women’s rights and immigration reform, but focused on what he called the continuing “shadow of poverty” – the aspect of King’s dream that was furthest from being realised. “For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal,” he said. “They were there seeking jobs as well as justice. Not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity.”
In the last half-century, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white employment with “Latino unemployment close behind“, Obama told the crowd. “The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown.“
Obama talked of giving “a fair shot” to black janitors, white steelworkers, immigrant dishwashers and Native American veterans. “To win that battle, to answer that call – this remains our great unfinished business,” he said
Much as King did half a century ago, Obama finished with a rousing crescendo, saying ordinary people trying to improve their lives were following the footsteps of civil rights activists and, he said repeatedly, “marching”.
“And that’s the lesson of our past,” he concluded. “That’s the promise of tomorrow.”
Why, how awesome of you to notice those facts, Mr. President. Such hardships for blacks and Latinos! Gosh; do you think you might be able to do AnyFuckingThing to help stem those tides as per your lofty: promise of tomorrow? Like ending the wars you’re prosecuting in seven nations at once, or stop gutting the social safety net with your Corporate Dem pals in Congress and on Wall Street? Put your hands up and back away from the job-killing, life-sucking TTP and TAFTA? Shut down the drug war and empty the prisons of non-violent drug ‘offenders’? What would you think of using your Big Bully Pulpit to creative a massive jobs work program? Maybe stop creating any ethnic Veterans? Fully fund education for those black janitors, and stop the fuck privatizing schools, and trashing unions? Or by ‘tomorrow’ are you meaning that all that stuff can ‘happen’ on someone else’s watch? Let them put on their marchin’ shoes?
Oh, that passive voice pissed me off, Mr. President. Not one JOT of accountability from you and your uber-capitalist rent-seeking pals.
And ya know what? Trumka just provided you with another fig leaf to cover your perfidy, as did the organizers of yesterday’s March, and that’s a cryin’ shame. Does Trumka still sit on your corporate leadership ‘jobs council’? Heh. You weren’t just a-woofin’ when you told us that your favorite transformational President was Ronald Reagan; he got you to believe in Trickle-Down economics, didn’t he? Assuming you give a fig about what you’re so adroitly to rain down on the peasants, who now include more of the ‘formerly middle-class’, as more and more slide into poverty, foreclosure, and bankruptcy if they can achieve even that. College tuition debts don’t qualify, oh, no. Have you already decided which little bone to toss to the AFL-CIO when ya go crow about being ‘a friend to working people and unions’? Or will they just be so tickled you’re there that they won’t even notice if you just do some more passive-voiced ‘I feel your pain’ nonsense? Worked a treat for Clinton-the-Triangulator, eh, while he passed Three Strikes and Welfare ‘Reform’, creating a whole new branch of underclass, but he sure did fill those private prison beds.
Let’s see. Obomba as keynote speaker at two (loosely speaking) social movement events; hmmm. It echoes a similar ‘Can you spare us some of your gravy spills from the Corporate Trough you fill so readily?’ stuff that went into the last 350.org Stop the Keystone Pipeline protest at the White House. Hell, they even tweaked your campaign logo for the event! How nice to read that Rockefeller money is behind your ‘scruffy little outfit’, but it makes a lot of sense to those of us who’ve wondered why you supported carbon taxing, green capitalism, and never pushed a message to ‘keep it in the ground’, and advocating using a hell of a lot less energy, i.e.: not being such rampant and eager consumers.
Just to be clear, social movements are about confronting power; unions are supposed to be oppositional; adversaries to the power structure, not schmooze up to its insiders and purveyors . That dynamic was keenly felt by Martin Luther King, as well as the Occupy Democracy Movement. No alliances with either party of the corporate duopoly!
Many leaders of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom believed that it would be blacks who led us to a worker’s world for equality, justice, and a fully participatory government. The two pieces of important Civil Rights legislation were designed to tamp down the movement that had the power to threaten the power structure, were workers of all colors and their affinity groups to unite in an expanded version of Social Gospel inter-connectedness, and sense the ultimate possibilities of their combined power: Justice, freedom, and jobs for all, as per King’s dreams and demands, and an end to the Three Evils King named: poverty (sometimes he used ‘extreme materialism’ as its root cause), war, and racism: a Power to the 99% brand of Socialism.
It’s tempting to end this now, but I did want to include a few links with brief explanations.
When the original civil rights leaders began to plan for the War on Poverty, many endorsed the ‘Freedom Budget for All Americans’, which Paul LeBlanc and Michael Yates narrate here. They also describe the de-radicalization of the first March as it was watered down, or had too much cream added to it, according to Malcolm X, by “the same white element that put Kennedy into power—labor, the Catholics, the Jews, and liberal Protestants—the same clique that put Kennedy in power.”
Under the auspices of a Socialist Party conference, held for two days after the March and drawing 400 activists, Randolph, Rustin, and their co-thinkers projected a campaign that would link the struggles for civil rights and economic justice.[snip]
According to the AFL-CIO News, those supporting the plan included “people in the civil rights, trade union, social welfare, education, and religious organizations.”
Are you listening to the echoes from the past, Richard Trumka? Yes, the plan failed, as the authors relate, but they are issuing a call for ‘a broad discussion among the forces whose strength and commitment would be required to bring about the necessary change’, without which freedom will never be achieved. Tates and LeBlanc have published their updated version of the Freedom Budget, with five basic principles, and these twelve objectives:
1. Full employment
2. Adequate income for all who are employed
3. A guaranteed minimum adequacy level of income for those who cannot or should not work
4. Adequate and safe housing for all
5. Health care for all
6. Educational opportunity for all
7. Secure and expanded transportation infrastructure
8. Secure and expanded social security
9. Food security for all
10. A sustainable environment
11. Cultural freedom and enrichment for all (arts, parks, sports, recreation)
12. Reduction in the inequality of income and wealth, to ensure realization of objectives
Paul Jay’s interview with Glen Ford covers a number of the problems that still beset any social movements, as the more prosperous and powerful tend to focus on their own upward mobility.
If you’re interested, Paul Jay also spoke with Gary Younge (writes for the Guardian), Cornell West and Ajamu Baraka on the same subject.
You might also be interested in Pham Binh’s piece from 2008, Critical Reading: The Democrats: A Critical History, (or: where progressive social movements…go to die.)
And an excerpt from John Stauber’s no-holds-barred ‘Paid to Lose: The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats’:
The self-labeled Progressive Movement that has arisen over the past decade is primarily one big propaganda campaign serving the political interests of the Democratic Party’s richest one-percent who created it. The funders and owners of the Progressive Movement get richer and richer off Wall Street and the corporate system. But they happen to be Democrats, cultural and social liberals who can’t stomach Republican policies, and so after bruising electoral defeats a decade ago they decided to buy a movement, one just like the Republicans, a copy.
The Progressive Movement that exists today is their success story. The Democratic elite created a mirror image of the type of astroturf front groups and think tanks long ago invented, funded and promoted by the Reaganites and the Koch brothers. The liberal elite own the Progressive Movement. Organizing for Action, the “non-partisan” slush fund to train the new leaders of the Progressive Movement is just the latest big money ploy to consolidate their control and keep the feed flowing into the trough.
The professional Progressive Movement that we see reflected in the pages of The Nation magazine, in the online marketing and campaigning of MoveOn and in the speeches of Van Jones, is primarily a political public relations creation of America’s richest corporate elite, the so-called 1%, who happen to bleed Blue because they have some degree of social and environmental consciousness, and don’t bleed Red. But they are just as committed as the right to the overall corporate status quo, the maintenance of the American Empire, and the monopoly of the rich over the political process that serves their economic interests.
RICH DEMOCRATS TO PROGRESSIVES: WE LOVE YOU, MAN!
It’s long, store it, save it for another day and future reference, but Stauber digs deep into the various funding sources, alliances of groups, ‘career advancements’, smarmy deals, etc., all of which came out of the 2000 Gore ‘hanging chad debate’, and the No More Ralph Naders conviction from the elite Dems. Fascinating, if vexing, stuff.
For later reference, David Dayen’s newish piece ‘Productivity Rose 7.5% Post-Great Recession, Workers Saw None of It’ (my bold) can be read here.
Don’t give up the fight, even though the deck seems so stacked against us…for now. We must prevail, because Truth is Coming, and we need to exercise our power, not disdain it.
(cross-posted at Cafe-Babylon.net)