November 20, 2023
It is rare that anyone bothers to visit the White House website, no matter who controls the presidency. From its inception 30 years ago the White House website has been part public relations, part campaign rhetoric, and mostly a platform to make promises and claims that rarely, or never, ever see the light of day. It is also used to cater to particular constituencies, especially those who are willingly gullible, like much of the timid and politically paralyzed leadership of our shrinking labor movement.
The White House website on November 16th offered two announcements aimed in part at labor; FACT SHEET: President Biden Takes Historic Step to Advance Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally | The White House and Memorandum on Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally | The White House These White House releases then triggered copycat postings by the office of the State Department, Department of Labor, and United States Trade Representative.
Some of the apparent hoped-for “news” associated with these press releases was the claim that this constitutes the first-time-ever “Presidential Memorandum”, this one to declare the Biden regime’s unyielding support for workers. Nobody has any idea what the significance of a presidential “Memorandum” might be, although any adult observer is instantly inclined to think of the adage, “old wine in new bottles.” The audience for this affair was microscopic in any event, with press reporting of the event virtually nonexistent. With the White House staff issuing half a dozen similar releases on one thing or another daily, it won’t be long until this affair is buried, for good.
The releases offer claim after claim of pro-worker actions either underway or promised, none of which actually commit to challenging the lawbreaking or exploitation of a single named corporation. This 30+ year trade union observer here in Washington, DC, can testify that these sorts of claims and promises are not new. Every single one of them was issued a thousand times already by both Democrat or Republican regimes as the “free trade” delirium saturated the U.S. Congress and Senate non-stop since the 1980’s.
The result has been the destruction of more than 10 million of the very best U.S. jobs, a large section of them unionized. The resulting trillions of dollars in corporate profits are also the product of this dirty job. Not one among the entire litany of promises and claims offered today saved so much as one job in the past, or protected more than mere handfuls of workers anywhere in the world. Worse still, the economic free trade disaster visited on working people in this country by the two-party corporate order has directly contributed to the rise of previously unheard-of figures such as Donald Trump – and far worse.
BIDEN DRIFT GENERATES WILD CLAIMS
As is the trend characterizing the politically weak and increasingly chaotic Biden-Harris administration, the White House press release writers feel compelled to make assorted preposterous assertions and claims. The 2024 election draws nearer with the President still mired in a stalled and drifting agenda with only his enormous commitment to unlimited wars and out-of-control military spending clearly evident. All evidence points to massive voter dissatisfaction with Biden’s economic agenda, to the extent anyone can identify what that agenda really is. Working people do know however that corporations and employers still exercise an increasing authoritarian control of virtually all aspects of working life. With less than 10% of the workforce belonging to trade unions – and a shocking section of those unions essentially moribund – the U.S. working class continue to see their living standards hammered from all sides. The unorganized masses suffer in silence as the mass immiseration of the population proceeds unchecked.
To somehow try to wish away this situation the White House brain trust and campaign operatives have decided to simply invent their own reality, defying the facts in the process. In the second paragraph of the press release regarding the issuance of the contrived Memorandum, the claim is repeated that, “President Biden is the most pro-worker President in history…” Only an historical ignoramus – or a child – could believe this laughable claim, with both Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt accomplishing more for workers in any one week than Biden has cobbled together in nearly 3 years.
The delusional statement continues with, “Together, he (Biden) and Vice President Harris have committed to ensuring high labor standards, bringing workers’ voices to the decision-making table, and enforcing rules against unfair labor practices – not just here at home, but around the world.”
True, or not? Ask any of the tens and tens of thousands of workers fired by their employer every year in the U.S. for trying to join a union and see if they are impressed with Biden’s program. Consider the complete inaction of the Biden regime to investigate or prosecute the massive anti-union criminality of hundreds of large and small corporations in every imaginable sector of the economy. Ask the rail workers who still languish with lagging wages and almost no time off, thanks to the interference of Biden. Ask any of the tens of thousands who have already voted to join a union, but their employer refuses to negotiate a first contract. There are no penalties for those bosses.
STRIKES WORK, BIDEN DOESN’T
To counter and refute the rhetorical machine in the White House press office only one incontrovertible fact is needed; among the four recent national strikes or strike situations in railroad, among actors and writers, at UPS and in the auto industry, by far the worst contract settlement was found in the rail industry where Biden’s substantial interference essentially broke the justified strike momentum. Seeing this result, it was no wonder that the leaders of the unions in the subsequent battles all either brushed aside or minimized Biden’s involvement or even association with their strikes. The Biden die was cast when late last year he decided to break the rail workers strike – as opposed to leading it.
So long as Biden tries to rely on slick public relations to cover for his lack of an authentic pro-worker agenda the prospects for Biden look dismal. Biden persistently believes that his incoherent barrel of “Bidenomics” will bring him mass political support, when in fact all signs point instead to the mass popularity of unions and even recent strikes as the way forward. Working people want action on our nation’s huge and growing problems, not more subsidies for corporations, more war, and more recycled hollow rhetoric.
The White House seems incapable of confronting or even recognizing the root of the current economic problems; unchecked monopoly control, wanton corporate lawlessness, manufactured inflation and job losses, and union-smashing on a mass scale. Public relations, press relations, delusional assertions, and incoherent speeches are a farcical response to the corporate grip on the lives of working people. But the long Biden resume’ would indicate that he possesses no capacity to consider any other course of action than his current failing path.
Most in the Democratic establishment appear to be similarly situated with a mindset only capable of imagining the most routine, bureaucratic, and legalistic responses to the ultra-right danger. With any challenge to corporate crime and dictatorship off the table from the start, in dread of being accused of being “anti-business”, the Democrats abandon the most sought-after political goal wanted by working people from the start.
RIGHT DANGER REAL AND GROWING
With a year to go until the November 2024 elections, all signs still point to a collision of the Biden-Harris campaign with a Trumpist Republican revival. The Democrat strategy of primarily confronting Trump with numerous prosecutions and legal ordeals seems only to be solidifying his base. There have been absolutely no attempts made to build any significant membership base of opposition to Trump and his increasingly fascist agenda. The far-right organizations and their followers comprise a million-member army of highly armed supporters, and despite the January 6, 2021 events the prosecution of these dangerous forces seems inconsequential. The trade union “leaders” seem oblivious to this looming showdown with the far-right, and nothing more is to be expected when the vast majority are subordinated to the inertia of the Democratic Party and Biden.
Perhaps most alarming of all, the initial friendly reception of rioters by the Capitol Police during the January 6th events remains un-investigated, as is any serious attempt apparently to cleanse the police and military forces of what are significant pro-Trump and fascist elements. Likewise there have been no serious investigations or prosecutions of any of the big-money financiers of Trump and the armed political gangs who threaten action should Trump be stopped somehow in 2024. Huge media conglomerates make billion-dollar contributions to Trump and the political right with programming indistinguishable from campaign ads, with impunity.
Biden’s incoherent domestic leadership has presented the country and the working class with a looming showdown where few preparations have been made. Many of the trade unions are virtually asleep, doing little to rally their members in opposition to the right danger other than advising an across-the-board vote for every Democrat on the ballot. The entire Democratic Party apparatus apparently believes that by ruling Trump from the ballot with legal prosecutions and devices that the danger will pass. This course of action is doomed to fail. Legal hocus pocus and silly media programs will not carry the day if or when the organized and armed right machinery begins to move.
DIRE NEED FOR REAL LABOR EDUCATION
In our labor movement today, the caliber of leadership and their experience base have been declining for decades, with an increasing attachment to and subservience to the Democratic Party the result. With much of the trade unions largely in a perpetual state of demobilization, and with political education so minimal as to be insignificant, it is no wonder that large sections of even the organized working class fall prey to rightist appeals. Few unions offer political or educational classes for their membership at large. Useful political literature is non-existent. Trade union publications are infrequent and dull. Any explanation of the class system and the class struggle is virtually banned. Union members – and all of the unorganized – are left to discover and decide their political compass while wading in the sewer of the rightist media almost without exception. The labor “leadership” by and large offers nothing as an antidote to this crisis. The tiny but sometimes influential left forces found here and there in some of the unions too frequently confuse election time support for Democrats with a real course of political education. Continued neglect of this basic trade union political work will have dire consequences.
REMINDER TO INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNIONISTS
While the current situation with the Biden White House – issuing meaningless claims of their intended course of action on the domestic labor front here in the U.S. – all international readers would do well to familiarize themselves with the just-issued White House documents. Contained within them are numerous references to U.S. political, diplomatic, and even clandestine actions all aimed ultimately at undermining the class struggle-oriented trade union forces abroad, if not attacking them openly.
U.S. trade union imperialism is alive and well, and all beyond our borders must be reminded that this interference and disruption in the labor movements world-wide remains a major project of the U.S. regime. Always in alliance with big corporations, and frequently allied with military, intelligence, and police forces sponsored by the U.S., the aim of their interference in the trade union affairs of those outside the U.S. borders is to control, corrupt, conservatize, or liquidate the otherwise legitimate and militant trade union forces. Literature on this shameful practice is perhaps not in abundance, but a recent article by a young labor writer opens the subject and is available to international readers; See Jeff Schuhrke, Reckoning With the AFL-CIO’s Imperialist History (jacobin.com) and the much earlier classic by George Morris, CIA and American Labor: The Subversion of the AFL-CIO’s Foreign Policy : George Morris : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive U.S. foreign policy has never supported labor rights abroad beyond window dressing, or perhaps in situations where it can contribute to open counter-revolutionary situations. Nothing has changed in the Biden regime as the current open announcements attest.
All developments point to a coming showdown, as rightist elements jockey for their shot at power in 2024. Both political parties are in disarray, and rightist elements would appear to be far wealthier and far better organized at this point. White House nonsense such as the current campaign to deify Joe Biden as a labor saint are counterproductive, even dangerous. Real action to confront the corporations, and the right are needed, not meaningless press releases. Far more serious work must be done inside of the unions with the rank-and-file base if disaster is to be averted.
-Chris Townsend is a 44-year union member and leader. He is the retired Political Action Director for the United Electrical Workers Union (UE) and was the Organizing and Field Director for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org