But what can we expect from Democrats?
Last November, Americans sent a clear statement that they wanted no more of the Bush administration’s policies of endless war, corporate domination, and ongoing corruption. In over a dozen Democratic victories, the winning candidate rallied voters against the “free trade” agreements that have driven down wages, dismantled environmental protections, and resulted in mass layoffs and the weakening of the labor movement.
In six states and in many other districts, proposals to raise the minimum wage made their way onto the ballots. They passed overwhelmingly everywhere, even in so-called “red states.” In a “last ditch” attempt to win votes, the Republicans pointed to the fact that the economy is “doing well.” Maybe the economy is doing well for the record profits of oil companies, but the rest of us are facing stagnant or falling living standards. The minimum wage increases are good, but they are not enough – we need living wages for all workers.
In three states, there were questions on the ballot to severely limit spending on social programs – all of those questions were defeated. The answer is clear: working Americans, all across the country, are sick of Wal-Mart wages, McJobs, layoffs and budget cuts.
The war in Iraq was another key issue in the Republican downfall. Ballot questions across the country called for the troops to come home now. Nearly every one of them won overwhelmingly.
What to Expect
The Democrats are being seated in Congress with some high hopes. Millions are excited to see the decline of the right-wing Republican domination in the halls of power.
Many Democrats coming into Congress rode the wave of anger at the war and the widening wealth gap between the super-rich and the rest of us, despite their party’s complicity on both issues.
Undoubtedly, some of the most reactionary features of the Bush Administration will be curbed by the blow that voters dealt to the Republicans. However, corporate America still fundamentally controls the “millionaires’ club” of politicians.
Progressive movements, ordinary working people and youth may find a new sense of confidence with the neo-conservatives and the Christian Right losing their previous ironclad grip on Washington. Still, there could be a honeymoon period with a “wait and see” attitude of “let’s give the new Congress a chance.”
Some mainstream Democrats like Virginia Senator Jim Webb and North Carolina Congressman Heath Shuler campaigned posing as champions of working people and opponents of “free trade.” However, under Democratic president Bill Clinton, the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed along with the dismantling of welfare.
With control of Congress, they will be put to the test. Heath Shuler was a failed NFL quarterback, and he and his like-minded corporate Democrats will certainly fail in bringing a decent economic future to young people because the establishment politicians of both parties are controlled by the same corporations that are driving down wages, benefits, and living standards.
The Democrats didn’t stand up to Bush’s policies when they were in opposition in the legislature. The overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress backed the Patriot Act’s attacks on civil liberties, the tax cuts for the super-wealthy, and the hundreds of billions in funding for the Iraq War. Aside from some small crumbs like new “ethics” rules, a small increase in the minimum wage, a small rollback of the obscene subsidies to the oil companies, and stem cell research, we shouldn’t expect anything fundamentally different while they are in a majority in both houses of Congress.
Mass social movements, not moneybag politicians, change society, from the smallest reform to thorough going social change. To win real victories, the labor movement and the anti-war movement need strategies of ongoing struggle, community organizing and mass direct action.
A programme and strategy for a fight-back
Local conferences should be organized to campaign against the Iraq war, budget cuts and attacks on immigrants, women and people of color. Conferences should aim to include unions and union activists, community organizations, anti-racist campaigners, anti-war groups, Greens and socialists. They could then form coalitions around a basic anti-corporate program:
- Money for jobs and education not war. Bring the troops home from Iraq now.
- The hundreds of billions being spent on war should be used to provide social services, decent jobs with union wages, and to clean up the environment.
- No to budget cuts. Living wages of $12.50/hour as a minimum wage.
- Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
- Tax the rich and big business
- Stop racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination.
- To win these demands, conferences should organize:
- Solidarity actions to support all workers engaged in struggles to better their living situation.
- Response networks to defend against anti-immigrant, racist or sexist attacks.
- Demonstrations and actions to win the demands of the coalition with an approach that will energize new people to get involved in activism.
- Campaigns for local antiwar, working class candidates, independent of the two corporate parties as a step towards the formation of a party for working people
This article appears in the January/February 2006 issue of ‘Justice’, paper of Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US)