Archive article from The Socialist Issue 383
Can George Bush's second-term offensive be defeated?
SINCE WINNING re-election three months ago, George W Bush has made it very clear that he intends to go on the offensive in his second term. He claims a mandate for continuing the "war on terror" - in reality a series of imperialist adventures - while attacking the remaining gains made by American working people in the 20th century, first and foremost Social Security (pensions).
Tom Crean, Socialist Alternative, USA
The mandate is a lie, but how far will Bush be able to push this agenda? More to the point, what can be done to stop and reverse the attacks on working and poor people here and around the world?
The first point to make is that, the January elections notwithstanding, the Iraqi occupation remains a disaster with no end in sight. American soldiers will continue to die, the situation will deteriorate further, domestic support for the war will continue to fall, and the whole sorry mess will be a millstone around the neck of this administration.
Domestically, the Bush agenda can certainly be described as bold. As Bush's recent budget proposal shows, the plan to privatise Social Security is only a part, albeit a key part, of the drive to curtail or destroy all social programmes that assist poor and working people in this country.
Tax cuts for the rich
Bush's budget targets dozens of programmes including Medicaid, childcare assistance, food stamps, and veterans' benefits. Bush also wants to make permanent the tax cuts for the rich passed during his first term and to go further towards replacing income taxes with a regressive flat tax or sales tax.
It is hard to imagine that the massive growth of inequality in the past 20 years could go even further. But in this period of economic stagnation and decay, the main way capitalists seek to keep their system profitable and viable is through large-scale theft from the rest of the population.
It would be wrong, however, to think Bush will have an easy time achieving his domestic agenda. Social Security privatisation will face far more resistance than any other domestic policy he has pushed to date.
A significant part of the ruling class has grave reservations about having to borrow the projected $2 trillion required to set up individual retirement accounts at a time of soaring federal budget deficits. In fact, if the economy begins to slide into a new recession in the next year - a distinct possibility - the whole privatisation proposal could unravel.
The Democratic Party, which happily went along with the Patriot Act (massively extending the powers of the state to spy on citizens and attack democratic rights), the build-up to war against Iraq, and many of whom accepted the Bush tax cuts, also look set to oppose Bush's Social Security proposals fairly vigorously. This is partly because of the concerns already cited and partly because they are looking for a way back in the 2006 elections.
But while the Democrats will step up the rhetoric a notch - assisted by their new chairman, Howard Dean - they still agree with significant parts of the Bush agenda and they are quite capable of making rotten compromises, even on Social Security.
They are in fact being quite cagey about their plan for financing Social Security in the long run but the party leadership seems to be leaning towards a mix of increasing Social Security taxes on workers and reducing benefits!
Once again it is clear that absolutely no faith should be placed in American politics' other corporate-dominated party.
In the next period, we will see the re-igniting of a mass movement against Bush. Already, we see increasing resistance from veterans and military families to the war, and numerous actions by high school and college students against the presence of military recruiters on campuses.
On 19 March, anti-war protests will take place around the country. In the next period, the AFL-CIO (trade union federation) and the AARP (pensioners' organisation) will undoubtedly organise huge protests against Social Security privatisation. And when Bush nominates abortion opponents to the Supreme Court, this will lead to huge protests by women.
The current situation brings home the point that elections are far from being the only vehicle for defeating attacks from the right. If the situation in Iraq continues to degenerate, the economy begins to sink again, and Bush is defeated on key parts of his domestic agenda, the Bush regime could implode like the Johnson and Nixon presidencies did during the Vietnam War.
Of course, waiting around for Bush to defeat himself is not an option. Mass struggle is key. But the force that has the social power to stop Bush's agenda is the American working class. Mobilising the working class requires reinvigorating the labour movement.
It is guaranteed that the Democratic Party will do everything possible to stop or neuter a real mobilisation of working people. This is why the labour movement, as well as the anti-war and women's movements, need to break from the stranglehold of the Democrats and lay the basis for our own political party.
Such a party should not stop at opposing the attacks of the ruling class but put forward a bold programme for real change including a national guaranteed income for all workers regardless of age, and free universal health care.
As socialists, we struggle alongside others to establish such a party, while pointing out that all reforms made under capitalism, like Social Security, are vulnerable to attack by the capitalists at a later stage. This is why we need to get rid of the whole capitalist system once and for all.
Stop the administration's attacks on social security
AS PRESIDENT Bush travels the country trying to convince Americans that Social Security is in crisis and needs to be reformed, workers of all ages and political stripes are wondering how the president's proposals will affect their retirement. They're right to be concerned.
Marie Medeiros, Socialist Alternative, USA
While Bush talks about "reform", his real aim is to privatise and ultimately gut Social Security - a system that has provided guaranteed income for senior citizens for 70 years since it was won through workers' struggles in the 1930s. His Social Security plan would generate a windfall for the financial industry while boosting the national debt and forcing future generations of retirees into poverty.
Private accounts no solution
BUSH'S PLAN would shift many people from the Social Security system to the insecurity of the private market, without solving any of the system's underlying problems.
While Bush promises workers at his stage-managed town hall meetings that their money will grow in private accounts, it could just as easily shrink. If the market crashes before a worker retires, he or she could be left with little or no pension. Since Social Security benefits would be reduced for every dollar placed in a private account, the market would have to perform well just for workers to break even.
Far from eliminating Social Security's projected deficit, the accounts will actually cost the government up to $2 trillion over the next two decades as younger workers begin to divert some of their money away from Social Security.
Ultimately, the administration plans to make up the lost revenue by linking benefit increases to prices instead of wages. The move could cut Social Security benefits for younger workers by as much as 40% - even if they don't choose to invest in private accounts.
Wall Street firms, however, will be reaping plenty of benefits. They stand to make close to $1 trillion in fees from managing the accounts over the next 75 years, according to a study by economists at the University of Chicago.
Defined benefit v defined contribution
BUSH'S PLAN is part of a broader drive by employers to make workers bear more of the costs of retirement. In the decades after 1945, labor unions won strong contracts with "defined benefit" pension plans, in which workers were guaranteed a specific monthly payment from their employer after they retired.
But in recent years, as unions became weaker, large numbers of employers switched to "defined contribution" plans, also known as 401(k) plans. Under a 401(k), the worker and the employer both make monthly contributions to a savings account that is invested in the stock market; when the worker retires, he or she gets only whatever money remains in the account.
It's this model, where employers pay less but workers have no guaranteed income for retirement, that Bush wants to follow with Social Security.
WHILE SOCIAL Security faces a long-term fiscal problem as the 'baby boom' generation retires, there are many ways to address this without privatisation or benefit cuts. Currently, workers only pay Social Security tax on income of up to $90,000 per year.
Raising the cap so higher-income workers pay their fair share would cut Social Security's projected shortfall in half, according to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Removing the cap would bring in even more revenue.
Rolling back Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy and withdrawing the troops from Iraq would also bring in money to shore up Social Security and other social programmes.
Finally, large corporations should increase the amount they pay in Social Security taxes until the system is solvent. It's the least they can do for workers who give most of their lives to a company.
We must not only maintain Social Security benefits for tomorrow's workers, but we must increase them. With healthcare costs soaring, the average Social Security income of about $300 a week is not enough to provide for seniors' basic needs. A guaranteed cheque of at least $500 per week adjusted for inflation, along with universal health care, is the only way to ensure retirement security for future generations.
This improvement means fighting for a socialist economy based upon the nationalisation of the major corporations and financial institutions.
The AARP has been subjected to a smear campaign by a right-wing group, USA Next. USA Next plans to attack the AARP's stand on Social Security and has hired the same consultants who ran an advertising campaign attacking the Vietnam War record of Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry.
FOR YEARS, conservatives and sections of the financial industry have dreamed of bringing Social Security money into the private market.
After winning re-election, Bush announced that Social Security was facing a crisis and that changes must be made immediately or the system would go bankrupt.
His solution: encourage workers to divert part of their payroll taxes into private accounts to be invested in the stock market.
Instead of going back into the larger pot of Social Security money, the accounts would belong to individual workers who would then bear the risk of their investment. Social Security benefits would be cut to cover the costs.
Victory for free speech and peace movement
ON 23 February, the Kennedy High School (Bloomington, Minnesota) chapter of Youth Against War and Racism distributed counter-military recruitment information from a table during lunch periods and held a teach-in after school.
Matt Johnson, Kennedy High School, Youth Against War and Racism
These events were successful despite the attempts to ban our actions by the Kennedy administration and the Bloomington Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent.
The superintendent ultimately backed down because they were flooded by phone calls from people involved in the anti-war movement from around the country, and because they saw that our student group was organised and determined.
We were informed that, despite prior approval and precedent, we would not be allowed to have a table at lunch when the military recruiters were present. The local American Legion had contacted the school superintendent and threatened to withdraw their significant funding from the school if we were permitted to table.
We organised an emergency meeting that evening on hearing the news, and planned our next moves. 14 active members showed up and decided that we would table and ignore the administration's decree. If they demanded we take down our table we would refuse, regardless of the consequences.
Free speech rights
We drafted a flyer and petition to hand out to students asking them to support our free speech rights. We sent an appeal to anti-war groups across America asking them to call the superintendent and principal to demand they allow us our free speech rights. Finally, we announced a press conference at 2.30pm on Wednesday 23 February.
The next day several students met with the principal who informed us that the decision to bar us from tabling came from the superintendent. Any student attempting to set up a table would be summarily suspended for three days. We would be allowed to speak with the superintendent but not until 11am, conveniently timed to coincide with the lunch periods we planned to table at.
When the first lunch period began, three students began to assemble the tables, sell buttons, hand-out informational leaflets, and play guitar. Even in the short time before the administrators arrived to shutdown the table, we got a very positive response from students.
The principal and vice-principal demanded that we remove our table, which we refused to do. Once the administrators themselves began taking our materials, we decided that they would not allow us to table successfully, and accepted their offer of meeting with the superintendent. They informed us that the assistant superintendent had cancelled our teach-in that was planned for that afternoon.
Change of heart
This meeting produced the startling revelation that the only reason we were unable to table, was that the flyers we planned to distribute did not have contact information on them! (The principal had previously insisted that we could not table under any circumstances.) This change of heart could be due only to the fact that both the principal and superintendent had been swamped with phone calls and a press conference was scheduled that afternoon.
The agreement reached at this meeting was that Youth Against War and Racism would be allowed to table in future provided the flyers contained contact information, and the teach-in scheduled for later in the day would be allowed to happen (the assistant superintendent denied ever making any statement to the contrary.)
Unfortunately, by the time we returned to school, the lunch periods were almost over. Several months previously we had also erected a table during lunch periods when recruiters were present, and been very successful. We had received 120 signatures to our petition to ban recruiters from Kennedy, and distributed hundreds of leaflets. The recruiters, on the other hand, were largely ignored by the students and spent the day looking lonely and bored.
This had obviously left an impression on them, because now, in stark contrast to the usual six to ten recruiters, only one recruiter from the Navy showed up. We were disappointed to miss such an opportunity but we had scored a decisive victory over the recruiters and the administration and won assurances that we would be allowed to table when the military recruiters return.
The teach-in was highly successful. Youth Against War and Racism organiser, Brandon Madsen, described the events of the day and triumphantly declared the restoration of our civil liberties.
Speakers from Veterans For Peace, Sabry Wazwaz of the Anti-War Committee, and Ty Moore of Socialist Alternative performed admirably and gave impassioned arguments against the war in Iraq. Between 30-40 students attended, as did several parents and approximately five members of the local press (we got a story about us in the main Minneapolis newspaper, the Star Tribune).
It remains to be seen if the administration will honour its promises but for now we have come out on top. With the press, all the solidarity phone calls, and the anti-war groups showing up at our school door, our principal inadvertently revealed: "Its been overwhelming." Even Michael Moore put an article about us on his website.
Stand up to the war machine
IT IS essential that we stand up and take action against military recruiters. The entire US war machine relies on the willingness of young people to join the military and carry out the imperialist policies ordered by corrupt politicians.
If we build a mass movement of young people against the war that exposes the lies of Bush and the military recruiters, the military will be unable to guarantee a stable supply of youth to use as cannon fodder.
And just like in the Vietnam War, the spread of mass dissent within the US armed forces will be the key to bringing down US imperialism in Iraq and ending this brutal occupation.
Brandon Madsen - Kennedy High School, Youth Against War and Racism and Socialist Alternative
Youth against war and racism
YOUTH AGAINST War and Racism, is a USA based city-wide network for students to come together and fight to end the occupation of Iraq, to cut the bloated military budget and fund education, to end military recruitment in schools, and to oppose the government's racist attacks on civil liberties.
Youth Against War and Racism website: www.yawr.org
Also see Youth Against racism in Europe
protests force resignation Women's Day campaign attacked in Israel