Monday, December 08, 2008

President Obama: Results and Prospects (EFCA)

Even detractors have observed that Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States is an historic event. No one can reasonably deny this. That an African-American family is going to be living in the White House in a country that was founded upon the enslavement of African-Americans, slavery having been written into the founding document, the so revered Constitution, is a momentous achievement and a testament to the courageous activists who struggled for decades for freedom, democracy and social justice, many of whom gave their lives in the struggle.

As Noam Chomsky observed in a speech he gave in Boston:

“In fact, it’s historic in a broader sense. The two Democratic candidates were an African-American and a woman. Both remarkable achievements. We go back say 40 years, it would have been unthinkable. So something’s happened to the country in 40 years. And what’s happened to the country- which we’re not supposed to mention- is that there was extensive and very constructive activism in the 1960s, which had an aftermath. So the feminist movement, mostly developed in the 70s-–the solidarity movements of the 80’s and on till today. And the activism did civilize the country. The country’s a lot more civilized than it was 40 years ago and the historic achievements illustrate it. That’s also a lesson for what’s next.”

The implicit point being one that I have made many times, even having dedicated a blog post to the topic: that change does not come from some benevolent state power, by some idealist leader who initiates change him/herself, but rather from organized, sustained social activism.

One of the first tests here is EFCA (the Employee Free Choice Act, which would, as labor journalist and lawyer Steve Early wrote in Counterpunch, “amend the 73-year old National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) so that private sector employers have to bargain with their employees when a majority sign union authorization cards. Just as the NLRA did, as a centerpiece of the New Deal, EFCA would encourage collective bargaining to raise workers’ living standards and restore greater balance to labor-management relations. Beginning in the late 1930s, this federal labor policy helped create a vast new post-World War II American middle-class.”

During the campaign Obama made clear his support for EFCA and there has recently been alarm that Obama may be backing away. As Steve Early wrote “when Obama introduced his top economic advisors on Nov. 25 and talked about steps to ‘jolt’ the economy in January, EFCA was not part of the package. More disturbingly, his new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, declined to say whether the White House would support EFCA when he was questioned about it at a Wall Street Journal-sponsored ‘CEO Forum’ earlier in November.”

Steve Bene recently wrote in the Washington Monthly that Rahm Emanuel, speaking “at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council Conference…explained that Barack Obama would pursue an ambitious agenda and planned to ‘throw long and deep.’” When Emanuel was asked by a “member of the business audience…about Obama’s support for” EFCA, “Emanuel responded, ‘Let me take your question and go somewhere else.’”

Yet as Bene points out, through reference to an article on the Huffington Post by Sam Stein:

“An aide to Barack Obama reaffirmed the President-elect's support for the labor movement's chief legislative priority in a one-word statement issued to the Huffington Post on late Tuesday.

Asked if Obama's support for the Employee Free Choice Act remained as strong as his public proclamations suggested on the campaign trail, transition spokesman Dan Pfeiffer responded, succinctly, ‘Yes.’

The reaffirmation may not seem like a political breakthrough on its surface. But in the current political climate, in which the Obama team has steadfastly refused to comment on various legislative priorities, it does signal that the President-elect is not shying away from progressive pledges made during his campaign.”

All hope is not yet lost, although being that EFCA is vehemently opposed by big business -for example, billionaire and cofounder and former CEO of The Home Depot, Bernie Marcus, “during an Oct. 17 conference call about card check (a provision of EFCA), shrieked that “This is the demise of a civilization…This is how a civilization disappears. I’m sitting here as an elder statesman, and I’m watching this happen, and I don’t believe it." - clearly there is going to be strong resistance from the corporate world.

As Lee Sustar reported for the Socialist Worker: “Today, labor hopes that things will be different with Obama, and is putting money and resources into ensuring that they will be.

But getting EFCA passed into law--and the success of union drives in the future--will require a greater mobilization and activism than labor has seen in many years. Everyone who wants to see workers organize to fight for their interests should get involved.”

This leads to another important factor that Chomsky addressed in his speech:

“Obama did organize a large number of people and many enthusiastic people in what’s called in the press, Obama’s Army. But the army is supposed to take instructions, not to implement, introduce, develop programs and call on its own candidate to implement them. That’s critical. If the army keeps to that condition, nothing much will change. If it on the other hand goes away activists did in the sixties, a lot can change. That’s one of the choices that has to be made.”

Let us not only hope for the latter, but actively organize and do all within our power to ensure it, not only with regards to EFCA and labor, but with progressive causes generally (environmental, feminist, LGBT, human rights, immigration, anti-war, health care, economic issues and so on).


The View from Steeltown said...

I believe that an Obama administration will be essentially and substantially different than anything that could have been produced by the McCain/Palin duo. Canadians are extremely grateful to the people of the United States for not voting them in.

Yet the point is very well made in your comments that without a constant and persistent pressure being applied upon him by the working classes, Obama will undoubtedly succumb to the powerful edicts of the rulers of the world. We can't just elect Obama in the ballot box and hope for the best. You demonstrate that point very clearly.

Now that the world has finally and thankfully seen the last of the Republican Party (for a well deserved while at least), it is imperative for leftist and progressive forces in the US to "keep Obama honest" so to speak for the next four years.

But let's not wait another four years to give "change" another mandate.

Let's make it a daily mandate, a persistent movement towards a society in transition away from capitalism.

Let's push for change everyday, everywhere, on the street and in the House... Good post!

JDHURF said...

Good to hear from you again. I had lost your new blog address and couldn't seem to find it anywhere. I am happy to now have both of your blog addresses!

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

capecodkwassa said...

I'm very happy McCain didn't win.

I love the point about how social activists need to organize and get involved over the next few years, because progress comes from US.

Great post, as always, JDHURF.

JDHURF said...

Thank's for the kind words capecodkwassa.