An Open Letter to Our Brother and Sister Trade Unionists

Emergency Labor Network

Note: unions and community organizations that agree with this Open Letter  are urged to fill out the form on the Labor Fightback Network’s web page.

With the lockout of federal workers finally ended and with social programs being restored, attention is now being focused on what will happen next. The divide between the major political parties continues to linger and the prospect is for more government dysfunction and paralysis, albeit with bipartisan agreement that “entitlements” must be cut.

The undersigned trade unionists and community activists strongly endorse the position taken by the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations opposing all cuts to safety net programs — especially Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. We not only call for the preservation of these programs but also for their expansion and improvement.

We reject the claim that Social Security and Medicare — our earned benefits — will run out of money within a decade or two unless major cuts to these programs are enacted now. Today the big banks and corporations are sitting on top of trillions of dollars in reserves — thanks in large part to the trillions of taxpayers’ money used to bail them out. We call for taxing those reserves and at the same time eliminating the cap on the tax paid by the very rich to fund Social Security; enacting measures to increase the taxation on the wealthiest 1%; ending corporate welfare; and closing tax loopholes. These are but a few of the many options available to raise whatever revenue may be needed to deal with the fiscal crisis, so it is crystal clear that there is absolutely no justification for cutting earned benefits received by low and middle income families. We fought for those benefits and they belong to us! The politicians have no right to take any part of them from us!

Yet that is what is on their agenda for the coming months. While the major parties may have been at each others’ throats during the past several weeks, their leaders are agreed now on one thing: stick it to the 99% and make them pay though the nose to curb the debt and deficit. And number one on their hit list is Medicare.

To be sure, Democratic Party leaders insist that they will not agree to cuts unless the Republicans agree to tax increases, which the Republicans vow they will not do. But we can’t take it for granted that the major parties won’t come up with some kind of understanding on this question. After all, in 2011 the parties did join in making cuts to safety net programs — despite major differences between them — by enacting the sequestration (which was implemented after the Supercommittee could not agree on fashioning a “grand bargain”). The Wall Street Journal has now proposed a “compromise,” whereby agreement could be reached and an impasse avoided. The paper’s October18, 2013 lead editorial states:

“The way out is to negotiate a revenue neutral reform that lowers a rate in return for closing loopholes, which will lead to faster growth that will in turn produce more revenue. Democrats can get their new revenue, but only by growing the economy. That worked for Bill Clinton in his second term after he agreed to cut the capital gains tax in 1997. By “lower[ing] a rate” the Journal is talking about cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%, something the president has said he supports. In the Journal’s view, this will pave the way for cuts in “entitlements.”

Let’s not depend upon the politicians and their schemes to safeguard our safety net programs. Let’s depend upon our own organized power and our readiness to oppose all cuts, regardless of who is pushing for them and under what guise.

Where does President Obama stand on cutting earned benefits?

  • Obama’s recent record on Social Security and Medicare cuts includes his 2014 budget where he cuts $630 billion. He calls for squeezing Medicare by raising some fees and premiums as well as making cuts to providers.
  • In an October 24, 2012 AP interview, the president was quoted as saying that if Republicans are willing, “I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises” that could even rankle his own party.
  • He restated his support for cutting Social Security and Medicare in a press conference October 8, 2013, reassuring congressional Republicans of his willingness to agree to these cuts if the Republicans vote to increase the government’s debt limit.

So the die is cast. And Democratic Party congressional leaders can be expected to fall in line to present a united front in making cuts — especially when it comes to Medicare — with Republicans pressuring from the right for the most far-reaching cuts possible.

The question now is what is to be done? We are convinced that without massive mobilizations of the labor movement and our community allies, including an occupation of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. if necessary, a bipartisan congressional coalition could work its will under the mantra of “shared sacrifices,” and tens of millions of people could find the benefits they need to sustain themselves and their families substantially diminished. We must not permit that to happen!

To put it more succinctly, what is needed is a national mobilization to defend Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the other safety net programs, and in the process to demand that the government create a jobs program that will put millions back to work with quality and comprehensive health care.

There is no time to delay organizing a broad, united and massive fightback movement, keeping in mind that an agreement is supposed to be submitted by the bipartisan budget committee by December 13, which could very well call for cuts to earned benefits. We urge trade unionists and community activists to take this issue to your respective organizations. Pass resolutions demanding “NO CUTS!” and calling for protest demonstrations both on a local and national scale.

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