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Corporate America Fleeced Us Again!

29 Mar

The coronavirus bill is an orgy of corporate welfare that rivals the 2008 bailout.
BY Moe Tkacik

Boeing’s CEO of Commercial Airplanes Stanley Deal speaks at the annual Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C., on March 5. Boeing, its business floundering after a a series of debacles, was quick to ask for a coronavirus bailout–before the pandemic affected it at all. It’s an audacious power grab by the same bunch of monstrous grifters who’ve spent the past 20 years reverse mortgaging the American economy to finance Third World dictator lifestyles.

The fundamental spirit of the CARES Act, the diabolical plutocrat bailout the Senate just passed, is summed up by the fact that it was inspired by the 60 billion dollar demand of a company whose business had not yet even been impacted by coronavirus.
You read that right. When Boeing made its humble plea for $60 billion in coronavirus relief funds on Saint Patrick’s Day 2020, leading the pack of corporate supplicants, all its assembly lines unrelated to its notorious self-hijacking 737 Max jets, whose production halted in January, were still operating at normal capacity. They were still open in spite of the fact that Seattle public schools had been closed for six days at that point, in spite of the fact that every restaurant and bar in the state had been closed the weekend earlier, and in spite of the fact that the disease was quickly spreading among the factory workers, one of whom, a 27-year veteran of the company, would die within days.
And they were still running in spite of the fact that demand for Boeing planes, thanks to the 737 crashes, is at an all-time low, with the company in January, a month in which its archrival Airbus sold 274 planes, reporting its first month in history without a single order. Which is to say, I can think of a lot of reasons Boeing might need a bailout. In December a space capsule the company designed to transport astronauts to the International Space Station failed to launch into orbit during a test mission because its timer was eleven hours off, a potentially half billion dollar mistake that may cost the company billions more in lost NASA business to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. In January, the company revealed that its attempts to load a software fix onto the 737s was repeatedly crashing the planes’ computers. Not long after that, the company finally admitted that the three-year-delay on its KC-46 aerial refueling tanker was going to be, at minimum, another three years. And then of course there’s the $70 billion the company has squandered over the past decade on stock buybacks and dividend checks.
What all of these problems have in common is that none of them has shit to do with coronavirus. And neither does the $500 billion corporate bailout the Senate appended to an otherwise vitally important relief package. It’s an audacious power grab by the same bunch of monstrous grifters who’ve spent the past 20 years reverse mortgaging the American economy to finance Third World dictator lifestyles. It’s just like the secret multitrillion dollar scramble to throw money at insolvent banks in 2008, only a hundred times more craven, and even though the American public is also considerably less naive than we were when we assumed programs with words like “home affordable relief” might actually, you know, offer some relief to homeowners hit with extortionate mortgage payments, it doesn’t matter. We don’t matter. We don’t matter because we don’t have lobbyists.

 

 

 

 

The airlines have faced an avalanche of criticism for their bailout ask for good reason: They took the spoils of a decade spent gouging passengers with fees for baggage and chips and wifi and ticket changes and four extra inches of legroom, and spent 96% of them on stock buybacks. But the strings attached to the airlines’ bailout are quite possibly the sole redeeming lines in the slush fund section of the bill. Thanks no doubt in large part to lobbying by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA under the leadership of Sara Nelson, the airline bailout is structured to avoid layoffs, including those of contract employees, who are targeted in a special $3 billion loan program. In exchange for cash, airlines must keep their staff and pay full salaries through September 30.
And in their defense, the airlines can at least claim to have been legitimately done in by the coronavirus. Can the same really be said for the cargo carriers? Just last week, an air cargo travel consultant told Wired the cargo carriers were charging twice the typical per-kilogram fee to transport cargo from China to Chicago—and yet there they are in Section 4003, earmarked for a dedicated loan guarantee program totaling $4 billion.
And what about the provision lowering capital reserves for small banks, who say loosened reserve ratios will free up capital for emergency lending to small businesses (because that’s what they always say) but will invariably end up plowing the funds into real estate speculation (because that’s what they always do, and, also, the CARES Act just made real estate speculation $170 billion more profitable.)
You might have heard about the special provisions for abstinence-only education and for-profit colleges and the Kennedy Center. But in the end it’s probably the general free money programs that haven’t been earmarked yet that threaten to inflict the gravest injustices upon our already grievously unbalanced economy. There are the myriad special crisis era lending programs the Fed has resurrected to halt the stock market selloff, as well as Mnuchin’s $350 billion slush fund to the special Small Business Administration program, which forgives the loans of companies that retain or re-hire employees. Under the CARES Act, any individual Marriott or Hilton or Cheesecake Factory qualifies as a “small business” if it employs fewer than 500 people; the applications otherwise involve “very few borrower requirements,” according to an overview of the legislation prepared by law firm Steptoe & Johnson. But the federal government has demonstrated time and again, most recently with its pathetic student loan forgiveness programs and before that during the foreclosure crisis, that it has no real appetite or aptitude for processing large amounts of loan paperwork on behalf of hundreds of thousands of new applicants, and literally no one thinks the woefully neglected Small Business Administration is remotely up to the task. And so we can only assume the loans will go to he who hires the best lobbyists. Do not be surprised over the coming weeks when genuine small businesses begin getting swallowed by such ersatz small businesses, flush with private equity dry powder and lobbyist-secured government cheddar.
And don’t be surprised when in a few years someone reveals, as TARP watchdog Neil Barofsky did of then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithnner’s comments about using the fiction of foreclosure relief programs as a ploy to “foam the runway” for the banks, that another corporate welfare orgy was the plan all along.

 

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Jane McAlevey: We Desperately Need a Mass Strike Against the Billionaire Class!

21 Mar

An interview about politics and power. BY MINDY ISSER 

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The Democratic presidential primary is becoming a pitched battle between the interests of workers and billionaires—the type of fight that Jane McAlevey knows well. The author of A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy, McAlevey has focused her career as a labor organizer, writer and educator on how to build power—and how to win. In light of the current class struggle shaping up inside (and outside) the primary, her thoughts on how to make strategic interventions are a breath of fresh air.

McAlevey’s book argues that workers must once again wield their most powerful tool: the strike. She believes the strike can empower workers not just in the workplace, but could tip the balance of political power back into the hands of the working class.

In These Times spoke with McAlevey in February (before the coronavirus outbreak became a global pandemic) about how the union movement can energize a fight around the 2020 election, prepare itself regardless of the outcome, and seize new opportunities to build power.

Q: How do you think unions should interact with the next administration, in three possible scenarios: Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie?

JM: If it’s Trump, it’s war. Any union left having a residual concern about what it means to strike if Trump becomes the president again needs to be taken out to the woodshed. He’s already taken us back to the 1960s in terms of the progress we’ve made. There’s going to be nothing left of the country if unions don’t unleash the biggest firepower in the history of the universe against a second Trump administration.

If it’s Biden, unions would have to fight like hell to get anything. Not that Biden is an ideological enemy out to kill unions—that’s the good news—but from all the evidence we have from his years as VP, there’s no evidence he would champion union causes. Labor unions under the Obama administration were simply not a priority—specifically, there was no understanding of how important it was to organize the working class. We can assume Biden would make decent appointments to the NLRB, and we can hope they wouldn’t happen at the very end of his term, but that’s the most we would get without a fight. The multiracial working class cannot afford a Democratic administration that doesn’t make it a central priority to relieve the misery among workers, and to expand the union base that can make that happen.

If it’s Sanders, it’s actually much more tricky for the progressive movement. The error in judgment that we make historically, which is what we did with Obama, is to be hands-off. There’s no room for hands-off. Franklin D. Roosevelt won, and more than a million workers went on strike. What I learned from 1199 New England, an SEIU healthcare union, is that the minute the election’s over—if and when our candidate wins—the very first thing we have to do is pick an intentional fight, to teach them that they work for us. I have never lost that lesson.

 

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For example, Sanders just made a commitment to Unite Here that he would not pass a Medicare for All plan that went backward on any of their pre-existing negotiated benefits. But let’s say he walks in and says, “I’m just going to try to do everything all at once.” The truth is, decisions and priorities will need to be made because that’s the nature of policymaking. So the question is, where do you draw the line? Even with a totally terrific elected official, I envision strong disagreements about where compromises get made. I believe the movement should not back down and have the kid gloves or hands-off approach, just because they’re excited about him.

Q: During the 2016 presidential election, voter turnout was at a 20-year low—about 55%. A big reason is that working people feel like voting doesn’t matter, that nothing in their lives will improve. How do you think we can best fight futility and really frame the choice for voters around the 2020 election?

JM: What’s working in Bernie Sanders’ favor right now is the same thing that worked, frankly, in Obama’s favor, which is that Sanders is really different, something the Democratic Party continues to not understand. People ask why Obama voters went to Trump, but it’s really not that complicated: People are desperate. And anyone who seems different from the mainstream bullshit served out by the Democratic National Committee for the last 30 years in this country is someone who workers are going to take a shot at.

If the party doesn’t screw Sanders and screw the country by locking him out at a brokered convention, we won’t be facing the same futility problem. Sanders has credibility. Trust makes people participate and engage—that’s as true in a union election and a strike vote and a march on the boss as it is with the biggest march on the boss ever: getting Trump out of office. If it’s Sanders, which is who it should be if we stand a chance to win, then people will actually participate. The futility challenge is going to be extraordinary if we have a candidate who is not Bernie Sanders.

One major point I’m trying to get across in the new book is that, no matter who wins the presidency, I don’t think there’s any way out of the mess we’re in without a return to mass strikes. What has really separated Sanders from Elizabeth Warren is his consistent articulation that it’s going to take a giant movement in the streets to move any serious agenda. Warren is obsessed with policy; Bernie is obsessed with the movement he wants to build.

Whether or not it’s a President Sanders in this country, let alone a President Trump, it’s going to require an enormous ability for workers to stand up for themselves and strike. The return of the strike weapon is going to be the single most effective thing we can do, period. It rebuilds social solidarity in really radical ways, and we need it to combat the attack on culture and society launched by Silicon Valley. Working-class people are actually challenging the billionaire class by the level and rate of their contributions to the Sanders campaign. For a lot of people, they almost view voting for Sanders as the first act of their mass strike against the billionaire class, but I think it’s going to have to be significantly increased no matter what.

The most important challenge of our work as organizers in any field is reconstructing the human solidarity that’s being dulled down by the elite. A good union campaign does it like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and a good political campaign can do it, too. When workers come together collectively to do something and they win, it builds extraordinary solidarity, whether it’s to vote against a shitty president or take control from their boss. Every person has to wake up in the morning and write at the top of their daily to do list, how am I building human solidarity today, every day? That’s our work.

 

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Q: Were unions smart to withhold endorsements in the Democratic primary, or did they waste an opportunity? And how did their rank-and-file engagement in the decision compare with 2016?

JM: I would argue that the position holders in the national unions didn’t just wake up and think, “Hey, let’s not be so stupid and endorse Hillary Clinton, or her equivalent, in 2020,” but it was because there was a very serious rank-and-file pushback against the politics of 2016. Many local leaders and workers expressed through their locals how frustrated they were by that top-down decision-making process.

I want to give credit to rank-and-file workers for putting the heat on the position holders in their unions to stave off ill-advised early endorsements. I think no endorsements at the national level is better than early endorsements for a bad candidate. On the other hand, what would impress the hell out of me is if a bunch of unions had woken up today and decided to support Bernie Sanders, and to put the wind in his sails—to have the national unions say, “We’re going to go for it, and actually ride a wave behind the most pro-union candidate in my lifetime, and take a gamble. And the reason why we should take a gamble is because the planet is burning the fuck down.” All organizers know how to create a sense of urgency, but for position holders in the labor movement to currently be standing outside of the political process is a mistake. It’s a travesty, frankly, that most national unions are missing the boat in a profound way.

Internal democracy was marginally better this time, and especially better in the education unions. Thanks to the education workers who have gone on strike and challenged their national position holders, rank-and-file voices are not left out of the decision. Since 2016, rank-and-file members of both the national education unions have pushed for motions at their national conventions that demanded more rank-and-file participation in the political endorsement process. I wish that, in every single union in this country, the rank-and-file were taking control of the endorsement process.

Q: Besides engaging in presidential elections, are there any new avenues opening up for workers to seize power in 2020 and 2021?

JM: If you look at the logistics sector, we’ve got Walmart and Amazon, where just-in-time production is supreme. Walking off the job would drive Jeff Bezos and the Walton family into the ground. I believe good organizing can help people learn how to do this work—there are so many choke points and all of them have basically been ignored by the trade union movement.

Right now, the sort facilities cannot yet use robots for many of the fast delivery services, because consumers are ordering things that are different sizes that aren’t yet containerized—people order an iron and a pack of pens and a roll of toilet paper. What really did damage to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was containerization, because suddenly a robot machine could lift a container that was filled with lots of different things. Right now, we’re in this sweet spot where the “we deliver your shit the next day” is not containerized. People in the logistics sector could just turn the engine off the Amazon Prime truck, or every driver gets a flat tire on their first turn because Americans learn to do what Latin Americans did, which is take a board, put a bunch of nails in it and let someone run over it. During their strike in 2006, teachers and their supporters in Oaxaca did this. Low-tech tools can stop this shit.

Warehouses, sorting facilities and drivers are the three choke points that—if all of those workers figured out how to build solidarity in key markets—could actually stop Bezos in a real way. Workers in the sorting facilities and in the warehouses in the logistics sector need to become a very important part of the work we’re all doing, along with the education and healthcare sectors. We need the whole community to understand the strategic front is the workplace, and that capitalists don’t care about you unless you stop them from making money.

It is a huge undertaking, but this is where prioritization and strategy come in. I think our movement doesn’t do nearly enough of that because it’s hard to make choices. The one thing I really believe is that, no matter who is in office, anything shy of a continued and really massive increase in the number of workers walking off the job is not enough.

That’s why I keep harping on the need for a serious increase in the use of super-majority strikes in key strategic industries in key strategic labor markets, no matter who walks into the White House, given how pushed back on our heels the working class is in this country.

 

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Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia. She is a frequent contributor to Working In These Times.

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Disaster capitalism: This is the glaring culprit behind Italy’s Covid-19 catastrophe!

19 Mar

 

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein worries that the Coron-avirus pandemic will provide another opportunity for neo-liberal elites to impose more of their right wing agenda on a citizenry scared and confused by this mysterious and dangerous disease. Klein of course is expanding on her award winning Shock Doctrine Naomi The Shock Doctrine. Klein showed how corporate elites worldwide have repeatedly and brutally used “the public’s disorientation following a collective shock — wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters — to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”

Klein is surely correct to be concerned. President Trump proposed temporary cuts in the payroll tax as afiscal stimulus. This act would in effect partially defund Social Security, forcing Democrats to choose between a tax increase or reductions in or means testing the program. Turning Social Security into a means tested program would undermine its popularity and probably destroy it, a long time goal of conservative epublicans and neolibereal Democrats. Fortunately enough politicians smelled the rat and this idea does not seem to have gone far. If elites do not always get what they want, it is also the case that crisis does provide opportunities for progressive activism. Social Security itself was born out of the economic and political turmoil of the thirties. In the context of the Covid19 epidemic Medicare for All has become more widely discussed than at any point in its development. Articulating the positive contribution to everyone’s health and fending off some of its more devious opponents is especially important now.

America’s patchwork, profit oriented healthcare has already played a destructive role in the unfolding of this crisis. One of the most important factors in limiting the spread of the disease is knowledge of who is being infected and where they are infected. When patients can’t come to the doctor they can’t be treated; they are more likely to spread the disease; and the physician is deprived of valuable information about the spread of the disease, information that improves possible interventions.

Although we do not yet know the full story of the CDC’s botched rollout of the Covid19 test kits, the Washington Post, never a fan of Senator Sanders or single payer, reported:”Unlike the United States… the single-payer countries have been especially nimble at making free, or low-cost, virus screening widely available for patients with coughs and fevers.” The benefits go beyond speed. Where public programs are well respected and well funded, that respect can also be reflected in the quality of the men and women who staff them. Jorgen Kurtzhals, the head of the University of Copenhagen medical school, told the Post that the strength of Denmark’s single-payer system is that it has “a lot of really highly educated and well-trained staff, and given some quite un-detailed instructions, they can actually develop plans for an extremely rapid response.”

No one claims that any of the single payer systems is perfect. Most importantly a system that is humane, egalitarian, and efficient cannot work as well if it is underfunded. Common Dreams notes: “Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), following years of austerity imposed by Conservative governments, is facing staff and supply shortages as hospitals are being overwhelmed with patients. Canada, like the U.K., is struggling with a shortage of ventilators.”

 

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In Italy Giacomo Gabbuti and Lorenzo Zamponi report: “The problem isn’t that this system is public and universal, but that it should be more so. Sadly, over time we have allowed the various Italian equivalents of Donald Trump and Joe Biden to make it a bit more like the American system.”(Jacobin)

This is part of the political dilemma single payer advocates face. Their systems are widely popular. Italy’s health system is so well regarded that even parties of the right and far right would not dare call for its elimination. But conservatives understand that if fiscal constraints—real or imagined–necessitate cuts in funding, the system will not perform as well. Its inadequacies can then be cited in defense of privatization and eventual dismantling of the entire system.

Italians have the fifth longest longevity in the world (the United States is a distant 35th) and their public healthcare makes a great contribution to that end. If one is looking for a culprit to blame for continuing deficiencies, start by looking at the Eurozone’s fiscal iron cage—to borrow former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis’s perfect phrase– limiting what democracies can spend on behalf of their people.

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