Sen. Bernie Sanders will reintroduce the PRO Act into the Senate this session. | David Becker/AP
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will reintroduce the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act. He should use it to really throw the book at corporate crooks.
Sanders will be able to push it through his panel, via a one-vote majority there. If all 49 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents hang together to outvote the chamber’s corporate puppets, also known as Republicans, there’ll actually be a debate on it in the Senate.
Unfortunately, the Senate filibuster rule or the Republican-run and equally ideologically polarized House Education and the Workforce (not “Labor”) Committee will then kill the bill.
So let’s take a leaf out of the Republican playbook and make the PRO Act even tougher on corporate crooks and their aiders and abetters, like union-busters, than it is. You’ve heard of “messaging” bills? Make the PRO Act a real message to that criminal class and to the rest of the country: Abuse, exploit, and break the law against your workers and you’ll pay a huge price.
As you know, the PRO Act, as written by Sanders and then-House E&L Chair Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., plus labor’s legislative representatives, would make gaining union recognition easier and ban many obstacles—such as captive audience meetings which feature illegal intimidation, lies, and threats bosses now use to thwart organizing drives.
Bosses who don’t bargain after workers vote union would face mandatory arbitration. Card-check recognition would be explicitly in federal law. Delay tactics bosses use to postpone elections would go. Joint employers would be jointly responsible for obeying or breaking labor law. Illegally fired workers would be reinstated as soon as they win a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge’s order in their favor, rather than being forced to wait through interminable delays, first at the board and then in the courts.
The PRO Act would empower the NLRB to easily seek court injunctions against flagrant labor law-breakers, such as Starbucks and Walmart. And instead of forking over only net back pay to harmed workers, Sanders proposed firms would face civil fines of $50,000 for a first offense and $100,000 for subsequent ones.
But the new version of the PRO Act we envision is a messaging bill, remember? So let’s really clobber criminal companies and their honchos where it hurts. Here are the additions we’d make:
High fines, maybe on a sliding scale varying by corporate size. The basic idea is “hit ‘em in the wallet, hard.” One way: Add a “0” to the end of those fines above, making them $500,000 for a first offense and $1 million for each following offense. And each instance of labor law-breaking would cover one worker, not dozens. The numbers add up.
Let’s see, the first 101 workers Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz illegally fired for trying to unionize would cost him $500,000 for worker #1 and $1 million each for numbers 2-101. Even Schultz couldn’t just shrug off $100,500,000 in fines. Nor could his board of directors. And if they, and his union-busters, aided, abetted, or condoned the lawbreaking, they’d be fined, too.
Further, if individual Chapter 7 bankrupts can’t avoid paying “debts for certain criminal restitution orders,” according to the legal website Findlaw, outlaw that escape hatch for firms.
Commit the crime, do the time. Corporate pooh-bahs shrug off fines, which are civil penalties. But crime is crime, even—maybe especially—among executive suits in executive suites. Make labor law-breaking, formally called unfair labor practices, a criminal offense.
South Korea does. In December 2019, Samsung Electronics Board Chairman Lee Sang-hoon was sentenced to 18 months in jail “for sabotaging labor union activities” by illegal spying and illegally stalling bargaining. Six other Samsung senior honchos joined their boss in doing perp walks in handcuffs. Nineteen more received suspended sentences in Seoul District Court. A higher court later tossed his sentence, but the others stood.
“We humbly accept that how the company perceived labor unions didn’t meet citizen’s eye-level and society’s expectations,” Samsung said. “We will establish a forward-looking and healthy labor union culture that is based on the spirit of respect for our employees.” A higher court overturned Lee’s conviction, but the other verdicts stood.
Extend criminal penalties. The Protect The Right To Organize Act made more offenses–such as captive audience meetings—labor law-breaking. We’d go even further and make more people, besides line managers, CEOs, company directors, and other top executives, guilty of labor law-breaking. Extend criminal penalties to, to use the Nixonian phrase, currently “unindicted co-conspirators,” also known as union-busters. They’re as guilty as their clients.
No more letting firms off the hook when a contract is reached. This one’s prompted by the story we just posted about the settlement of the 175-day strike which Ingredion forced on its 120 workers, members of Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 100-G. Ingredion also brought in scabs to run the plant.
Undoubtedly as part of bargaining, the local withdrew its complaints of labor law-breaking—bad-faith bargaining, illegal spying, direct dealing with workers, and Ingredion’s refusal to recognize the union as their representative. With the settlement and the union’s withdrawal of its complaints, the NLRB closed the cases. It’s a common practice.
Why? Why should a labor law-breaker get away with what is in essence a plea bargain? Prosecutors use plea bargains to save the costs of criminal trials and obtain convictions. But where the crook is known, the crime is known and the impact on workers is enormous, there should be little plea-bargaining, and preferably none at all.
Ban hiring scabs. In 1938, the Supreme Court legalized letting firms hire “permanent replacements” for economic strikers. Letting firms do so undercuts the clout of workers’ most-powerful weapon of last resort, boss-forced strikes. And firms have no incentives to settle. Indeed, they frequently contract with scabs beforehand, anticipating pushing their workers out.
There’s no constitutional justification that we can see for letting firms hire scabs. End it.
Put all this in the PRO Act and you might get corporate chieftains and their lackeys to really think twice before combating their workers through illegal spying, threats, firing, and worse.
Just imagine everyone from an anti-union Starbucks manager on up to Starbucks CEO Schultz, plus his union-buster, getting hauled off to the hoosegow. Or the whole Walton family trundled off to Leavenworth after forking over $288 million for accumulated labor law-breaking against their workers over the years, as documented by Cornell Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner.
The PRO Act may be a “messaging” bill in this Congress, but what a delicious prospect with additions like these. Let’s use it to really send a message to the criminal corporate class.
After the Democratic Party brought in legislation to block a national rail strike this month, 2023 may be the year the US left moves beyond the two-party system
From social democratic dreams of coexistence with capitalism, to misunderstandings over the nature of imperialism, ZOLTAN ZIGEDY hopes the left’s confusion can be eased in 2023.
AT this time of year, many people are coming up with their wish lists or sets of resolutions for the year ahead. My wish list follows.
First, I wish that the idea of socialism would again become popular, but I would rejoice if it would at least be discussed seriously in the US.
Now I don’t mean the weak-tea version of socialism associated with the Democratic Socialists of America or with Senator Bernie Sanders.
That kind of socialism is really a cold war relic — a brew of schoolhouse participatory democracy and a minimalist welfare state stirred into a consenting capitalism.
But capitalism doesn’t mix well with social democracy, except when capitalism anticipates an existential threat from real socialism, like the popularity of communism.
The political marginalisation of European social democracy after a diminished communist spectre following the Soviet collapse of 1991 proves that point.
Real socialism — to be crystal clear — cannot amicably coexist with capitalism. There can be no lasting peace treaty between capitalism and socialism, despite the best efforts of many socialists and communists (there have been few if any of the rich and powerful who sincerely advocated coexistence with socialism in the centuries since socialism was first envisioned).
For real socialism to take root, the power of the state must be wrested from the capitalists. History shows no sustainable road to socialism through power-sharing with the capitalist class.
That is not to say that there cannot be a transitional period in which capitalists and socialists struggle for dominance over the state, but that period will not be stable.
That is not to discount the importance of parliamentary struggle in fighting to establish a socialist-oriented state. That is not to preclude a socialist programme that engages with national specifics, class alliances and shifting tactics.
But socialism must be the professed and uncompromising goal of those who claim to be socialists and winning state power must be accepted as a necessary step to achieving any real socialism, where socialism is both the absence of labour exploitation and the ending of the dominance of the capitalist class. Any “socialism” that doesn’t respect these truths is engaged in self-deception.
But what, you may ask, is People’s China? Clearly there is labour exploitation in the People’s Republic of China, where powerful private capitalist companies exist alongside state enterprises.
And it is just as clear that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains a tight grip on state power. For over 40 years, the balance of forces between these two realities has shifted frequently, with the CCP leadership, nonetheless, claiming firm control and a commitment to socialism.
Whether genuine Marxists in the CCP can ride this tiger is yet to be decided. Partisans of socialism must follow this development with a critical eye, but an open mind.
Advocates for socialism — real socialism — are not so naive as to believe that socialism is around the corner or that socialism is likely to solve the immediate problems of the working class.
It is useful, however, to be reminded that when Lenin left Zurich to return to Russia just months before the 1917 revolution, he spoke to young revolutionaries, explaining that he likely would not see socialism, but they surely would. He was spectacularly wrong.
But even a heavy dose of pessimistic realism does not explain the absence of the word “socialism” in the political narratives of progressives, the self-styled left, and even self-proclaimed Marxists living in the US and Europe.
Moreover, in conversation, eyes roll or go glassy when the idea surfaces. Everyone is an anti-capitalist; everyone is against some form of hyphenated capitalism — disaster-capitalism, neoliberal-capitalism, financial-capitalism, etc etc. But no-one is for socialism!
You can see this dismissal in the current debates over inflation raging through the left. All disputants recount the effects of inflation on poor and working people.
All recognise the negative consequences of official policy — raising interest rates — on all. All fumble for alternative solutions, most of which have a past history of failure.
None will pronounce this as a contradiction — an intrinsic failure — of the capitalist system. All are too busy trying to repair capitalism to even hint that there might be a better alternative. Will there ever be a better time than today to inject socialism into the conversation?
We suffer from the leftover fears of communism and socialism in the wake of the cold war. We are suffocated by the limited options allowed by our corrupted two-party system. And we are overwhelmed with cynicism and a poverty of vision.
Surely a frank, honest discussion of socialism is in order.
My second wish would be for left clarity and unity on the war in Ukraine. To a great extent, the left’s poor understanding of the relationship between capitalism, imperialism and war has spawned wide divisions in an already fractious left.
On one hand, liberals and social democrats discount the history of conflict in Ukraine and mechanically apply a simplistic concept of national self-determination to what is, in fact, a civil war.
They see Russian intervention as simply a violation of Ukraine’s right to decide its own future. Using their logic, it is as if the US civil war was construed as a war over the South’s right to self-determination and not a war over slavery.
Or in a 20th century instance, it would be as if the war in Vietnam were viewed as a fight for the rights of the people in an artificial South Vietnam to choose their own destiny.
Both the idea of the South’s right of secession (states’ rights) and the “freedom” of South Vietnam were abusive of any legitimate right to self-determination. Neither took the measure of the desire of the masses; both served the interests of privileged elites or foreign powers.
Leading historian of the Korean war Bruce Cumings reminds us that civil wars are complex conflicts with complex histories and little is gained by pondering who started the war in assigning blame.
Obsession with determining the immediate “aggressor” in the Korean war clouds the understanding of the deeper causes, colliding interests and political stakes at play to this day.
Without a historical context, without understanding the conflict and clash of vital interests within the borders of Ukraine, a defence of US meddling in Ukraine constructed on the facade of self-determination is wrongheaded and dangerous.
There can be no self-determination when the US and its allies undermined an elected government in 2014. That intervention effectively put an end to any pretence of Ukrainian self-determination.
On the other hand, many self-styled anti-imperialists view the Russian invasion as a war of liberation, with Russia removing Kiev’s oppressive government, thwarting US and Nato aggression, or defending the interests of the people of eastern Ukraine.
They both overestimate the selflessness of the motives of the now capitalist, former Soviet Russian republic and underestimate the dangers unleashed by an invasion that opens the door widely to a further reaching, more intense war.
They also fail to see that in its essence the conflict in Ukraine has been a civil conflict since the demise of the Soviet Union. Without the ideology of socialism, that conflict has been driven by a scramble for wealth and power with ensuing corruption, manipulation and crude nationalism.
Foreign powers — East and West — have manipulated this scramble, forcing it to a proxy showdown. Any escalation — whether it is a coup, an invasion, or the continuing arming of belligerents — would further risk pressing the war beyond the borders or at a greater tempo and should therefore be rejected.
Behind some defenders of the Russian invasion is the neo-Kautskyian theory of multipolarity. This view sees US imperialism, and not simply the system of imperialism, as the force disruptive of a peaceful, stable and orderly world order.
It is possible, even likely — according to the theory — for capitalist countries to conduct international affairs benignly if only a predatory US were tamed.
They go beyond denouncing US imperialism as the main global enemy to imagining a viable, co-operative capitalist order without US dominance. Like Kautsky, multipolarity projects an era of “balance” between imperialist powers and the softening of rivalries.
Lenin rejected this view. Like Kautsky’s theory of super- or ultra-imperialism, multipolarity reflects an inadequate understanding of class dynamics — the unlimited drive for competitive advantage by the capitalist state — and a failure to recognise that socialism is the only answer to imperialism’s destructive anarchy.
The carnage of imperialism’s last hundred years since the Kautsky/Lenin debate surely underscores these truths.
Along with the revival of Kautskyism, neo-Malthusianism threatens to confound the thinking of the left in addressing the critical environmental crisis.
No-growth as a facile answer to the abuse of our environment is as misguided today as it was in Marx’s time. The critical question is how the global economy grows and not how much it grows.
My wish is that the left does not ignore the class issues — nationally and internationally — in developing a programme to address this vital matter.
A no-growth solution that freezes in place the internal and global inequalities, or exacerbates them, cannot be accepted. A programme that does not address the connection between imperialism, militarism, and war in despoiling the planet is inadequate.
As the lights go out on the nine-and-a-half-billion-dollar midterm electoral extravaganza, leaving a bad taste and a strong sense of emptiness and disappointment, we can only wish that the US left will take a critical look at the two-party system with the idea of uniting to create some independent presence in electoral politics.
May 2023 be a year of deeper discussion beyond chirping on the shallow platforms crafted for triviality and abasement by the ruling class.
Yes, a strike of railroad workers could bring the national economy to a halt, including stopping the flow of millions of dollars a day in profits to the railroad companies. But let’s keep in mind that it’s big business —not workers—that has crashed the nation’s economy at least three times in recent memory. There was the dot com bubble, driven by venture capitalists in 2002. In the Great Recession of 2008, it was the subprime loan industry. And this year monopoly price gouging—especially in the oil industry—is inflicting inflation pain on the nation. In none of these cases did Congress act against the culprits.
It’s never been clearer who the ruling class of this country is than when Congress and the president respect big business’s rights but are quick to sacrifice those of workers.
The fact that a strike by railroad unions—collective action by more than 100,000 workers—will impact the economy, including bosses’ profits, is exactly their leverage. Isn’t that what a strike is all about? Being denied the right to strike is like being put in a boxing ring and the referee saying you have to keep our hands at your sides and you’re not allowed to punch, but your opponent has no restrictions.
This isn’t the first time that the railroad industry has used government power against the workers. Railroads are the oldest U.S. monopoly, going back over a century-and-a-half, and they are still crucial to the economy. There is a long history of attempts of the workers to organize and of government interventions.
Prior to legislation in the 1920s and ‘30s, the usual forms of government intervention were injunctions and armed repression by state militias, the National Guard, federal troops, and private goons protected by all of the above. A lot of this is recounted in the book Labor’s Untold Story, which details the smashed railroad strikes of 1877 and 1894.
In 1946, and again in 1950, President Harry Truman issued executive orders and signed emergency legislation overriding the guaranteed right to negotiation (after a lengthy cooling-off period) contained in the Railway Labor Act.
Most of the important rail strikes in this country’s history occurred during economic downturns, when labor was at a disadvantage anyway. What’s different about 2022 is that there is a tight labor market, for once creating a favorable negotiating environment for workers. That makes “even-handed” government intervention all the more pernicious and intrinsically anti-labor. No wonder the railroad corporations immediately embraced Biden’s call for anti-strike legislation, while most union leaders did not.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to discount concerns about the political ramifications of the economic disruption that would result from a rail strike in today’s political scene where fascism is a real threat.
Fascism is now embodied in the Republican Party, which represents the most extreme and dangerous elements of finance capital, powered by racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. The capitalist forces in this array include oil and coal, arms and prison industries, and the biggest transnational monopolies. Through their financial networks of banks, venture capitalists, hedge funds, and tech monopolies, they control and profit from big segments of the economy—including the railroad industry, the nation’s most profitable industry with a 50% profit margin.
The fascist danger is always on the agenda with regard to electoral issues: it’s hard to contemplate doing anything that would strengthen the MAGA forces in the political field. But for forces in the anti-MAGA coalition to side with the big corporations on such an important workers rights issue is itself going to create divisions in the anti-fascist forces.
The problem is that Biden’s position to deny workers’ right to strike actually makes the fascist danger greater. Why? Because it increases working-class disenchantment and cynicism, particularly—but not only—among the youth.
Progressive pro-worker legislators, who constitute a strong and growing—but far from majority—influence, are between a rock and a hard place on this.
No substitute for a negotiated contract
Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to add seven days sick leave to the imposed contract was a useful initiative that workers’ rights supporters could rally around. But it is not a substitute for a negotiated contract ratified by the affected workers. Sanders’ proposal passed the House as a separate bill but it failed in the Senate while the anti-strike legislation passed.
There’s a need for cleareyed, unambiguous partisanship. After all, political alliances are based on issues, and on this one the working class has a fundamental issue with cancelling the right to strike.
We’ve got to defend the working class. However, to defend the class is more than attacking corporate Dems: We’ve got to continually raise the issue of building the movement. Had there been more pressure on the ground, Biden and Pelosi would never have dared to impose this settlement, as seen by Pelosi’s about face after Sanders’ and others’ pushback.
Still on the table is the fundamental principle that interfering with the right to strike—whether it’s by the troops, courts, or legislation—can never be an option.
As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.
Carl Wood is a retired union leader and a member of the Labor Commission of the Communist Party.
Activists participate in a rally urging the expansion of Social Security benefits in front of the White House on July 13, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Originally published in Common Dreams
“With Republicans threatening to cut benefits—and worse, eliminate the program entirely—Dems need to make clear they’re fighting to protect and expand benefits.”
As progressive lawmakers renewed calls for protecting Social Security from GOP attacks, Data for Progress on Monday pointed to polling that shows about 80% of U.S. voters across partisan divides support boosting benefits.
“While Democrats have a plan to protect and enhance Social Security, Republicans have shared their plans to privatize, cut, and even end this program!”
As a recent Social Security Administration report explains, “The Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program makes monthly income available to insured workers and their families at retirement, death, or disability.”
The program traces back to the Social Security Act, signed into law on August 14, 1935 by then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Marking the 87th anniversary Sunday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) warned that the program is “under attack from Republicans,” despite its popularity among voters.
Data for Progress highlighted Monday that 86% of voters surveyed in June said they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the U.S. government will reduce Social Security benefits for those who currently receive them.
In July, the progressive think tank found that 70% of all voters—including 76% of Independents, 71% of Republicans, and 64% of Democrats—said they had heard “nothing at all” about GOP proposals to “sunset” the program.
Data for Progress also found last month that 81% of all likely voters—including 88% of Democrats, 79% of Independents, and 75% of Republicans—support legislation to raise Social Security benefits to match the cost of living.
“Moreover, voters strongly support the pay-fors introduced in new legislation that would increase the solvency of Social Security and pay for new, expanded benefits,” the group noted in a blog post. “We find that 76% of voters support imposing a payroll tax on Americans making more than $400,000 annually, including 88% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 65% of Republicans.”
The July polling further showed that 79% of all voters—including 89% of Democrats, 72% of Independents, and 72% of Republicans—believe Congress “should vote to expand Social Security benefits now, even though Democratic proposals only expand benefits for five years and would raise taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000 per year.”
As Democrats worry about losing control of Congress this November, the think tank pointed out that polls from this year suggest candidates would do better in elections if voters knew they want to expand Social Security.
Carly Berke, the strategic partnerships coordinator at Data for Progress and co-author of the new blog post, tweeted that amid GOP attacks on Social Security, Democrats “need to make clear they’re fighting to protect and expand benefits.”
U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the CPC’s chair, and other members of Congress made that message clear in a Monday afternoon event hosted by . Jayapal urged those benefiting from the program to share their stories and pressure lawmakers to pass Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, legislation introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.).
“Social Security has provided our nation with the most comprehensive retirement, disability, and survivors benefits for 87 years,” Larson said in a statement. “Democrats are fighting to expand and protect it, yet my Republican colleagues have plans to cut benefits and even end the program as a whole.”
“Congress has not acted in 50 years to enhance benefits,” he noted. “The American people have made clear they want to protect the program they pay into with each and every paycheck so they can retire with dignity. With the Covid-19 pandemic still impacting our country and Republicans revealing their plans to end benefits, there is a fierce urgency to protect and enhance Social Security now.”
Advocating for his bill, Larson said that “alongside commemorating 87 years of this program, Congress must pass Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust to make much-needed benefit improvements and ensure this program can serve our nation for years to come. Congress must vote!”
Some progressive lawmakers—including Jayapal—also support the Social Security Expansion Act, legislation introduced in June by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“A lot has changed in 87 years, but Americans’ reliance on Social Security has not,” DeFazio said Monday. “My bill, the Social Security Expansion Act (SSEA) would enhance monthly benefits and keep the program solvent through 2096.”
Since Bernie Sanders’s defeat in 2020 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US left has been largely disorganized. The time is ripe for Bernie and the Squad to create a new mass organization to confront today’s crises.
It’s hard for leftists in the United States to find much to celebrate these days. After the excitement of Bernie Sanders’s victories in the early 2020 Democratic primaries, our hopes were dashed when the center consolidated around Joe Biden and handed him the nomination. The wave of inspiring uprisings against police brutality later that summer was followed by disappointment too, as demands for serious reforms to attack racial and economic injustice were co-opted or sidelined. The Left, as some have put it, finds itself in purgatory.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s administration has turned out to be what his most astute critics predicted: a presidency that, despite some early bright spots, has failed to meaningfully tackle economic inequality, the climate crisis, or much of anything else. Biden’s approval ratings are now at record lows as inflation batters the economy. (It’s unclear whether a last-minutecompromisedeal with West Virginia senator Joe Manchin on climate, health care, and taxes will salvage the administration’s popularity.) On top of that, the Supreme Court is rolling back abortion rights and threatening our democracy, and Biden and Democratic Party leaders are dragging their feet on any sort of response. The increasingly reactionary GOP now seems set for victory in the midterms.
There are some positive signs: Left-wing ideas are more mainstream than they have been in decades, in part thanks to Sanders’s presidential campaigns. Along with other insurgent politicians like “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, Sanders has put policies like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and free public college into the mainstream. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has nearly one hundred thousand dues-paying members, four members in Congress, and dozens of elected officials at the state and local levels. The labor movement is stirring again, with this year’s successful Amazon warehouse unionization effort in Staten Island, the ongoing wave of Starbucks organizing, and the election of a strike-ready leadership to the 1.3-million-strong International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Still, the Left hasn’t been able to coordinate effective political interventions at the federal level, let alone exercise power. With leftists still a tiny minority in Congress, progressive priorities like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal are off the agenda, and even less ambitious reforms are consistently stymied by conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin. And despite growing their legislative presence, socialists and their allies have failed to expand beyond deep-blue districts.
In a phrase, Sanders’s “political revolution” simply never came.
There are many theories as to why Sanders didn’t win. Part of the explanation, though, must involve the lack of working-class organization (including unions) and left institutions. The defeat and disorganization of the Left and labor since the 1970s has deprived the working class of the struggles and organizations that undergird them — what Friedrich Engels called “schools of class war.” Having never felt the power of collective struggle, many voters were understandably skeptical that Sanders’s campaign would deliver. And with most Democratic voters taking their cues from the corporate media and party elites, Sanders simply didn’t have a strong enough media counterweight.
Today, the absence of mass working-class organization continues to haunt the US left. With the Right putting fundamental liberties like reproductive freedom on the chopping block and the Democrats asleep at the wheel, the time is ripe to build a mass organization that can make desperately needed political interventions. And we think that Sanders and the Squad need to take the lead in building such an organization.
Movements Need Organizations
The Left’s recent defeats — compounded by COVID-19, which has made in-person organizing much more difficult — have fostered demoralization and demobilization. But much of the post-2020 malaise can also be attributed to the inability of activists — let alone millions of ordinary people — to keep participating in a movement that has the power to change the world, especially at the national level, where the stakes are highest. While activists have supported impressive campaigns and righteous protests, millions of former Bernie supporters understandably feel helpless amid political and ecological crises.
Still, there are inspiring examples for the Left to build on. In Richmond, California, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) has beaten landlords and Chevron to win city council majorities on and off for over a decade. The Vermont Progressive Party continues to be a significant force in state politics, even holding the office of lieutenant governor from 2017 to 2021. In New York City and Chicago, DSA-backed elected officials have formed socialist caucuses.
These efforts are exciting because they elevate the political process above individual candidates and fleeting election campaigns, fuse legislative fights with permanent membership organizations, and create clear and oppositional political identities distinct from the Democratic Party. As labor activist and RPA leader Mike Parker wrote earlier this year, building broader political organization is the “main task when it comes to political action,” not a “side issue.” Organization is how we make Bernie’s “Not me, us” more than a slogan.
Without organization, it’s hard to build, let alone sustain, the type of mobilization needed for Bernie’s political revolution. Massive protests wane without clear demands, let alone a compelling strategy of how to win them. Thousands of progressives either don’t know how to start building campaigns or lack the resources to do so. Movements around important issues get co-opted by corporate Democrats’ reelection campaigns, grant-seeking nonprofits, and prominent social media personalities who aren’t democratically accountable to any base. Ongoing organization is also essential to train onetime protesters into skilled, politically sophisticated, and lifelong movement cadre.
In electoral politics, progressive candidates face enormous pressure to avoid criticizing establishment Democrats. Once elected, lone progressives have few resources to push against the business-friendly common sense at every level of government: corporate candidates can rely on well-funded lobbyists to help write legislation, educate the public, and even mobilize supporters; anti-corporate candidates must do this all on their own. Without a broader organization at their back, it’s no wonder that the progressive politicians we support are not able to be constantly fighting on all fronts at once.
Only mass organization can bring together the resources and the people of the Sanders movement on a permanent basis. The idea of such a party-like organization has been popular on the Left since the end of Sanders’s 2016 campaign, popularized in a 2016 Jacobinarticle by Seth Ackerman and expandedonrecently by manyothers.
If the Left had a mass party–like organization in 2020, the end of Sanders’s second presidential race wouldn’t have meant losing the feeling that, together, we could change the world. While supporters of Sanders and the Squad can donate to individual election campaigns when asked, there is no way to permanently join and help build the movement these elected officials appear to lead. Many of us called for Sanders to convert his 2020 campaign infrastructure into a permanent organization after the campaign, to no avail.
Such a party-like organization could have helped progressives in Congress and their many supporters win more of the progressive items in negotiations over Build Back Better since 2021. As Ben Beckett argued in Jacobin last fall, Sanders and the Squad could have built a powerful movement to pressure Manchin and Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema by mobilizing with activists, including DSA members, battle-hardened teacher unionists — who led historic mass strikes in West Virginia and Arizona in 2018 — and other progressives. Such a movement might also have pushed the Biden administration to use its bully pulpit or the power of executive action to enact sweeping change (like canceling student debt). The movement to defend abortion rights desperately needs this kind of mobilization today.
In a similar vein, Neal Meyer writes that “mass mobilizations require mass organization. We have to put the days of lone-wolf politicians acting on their own . . . behind us.” A Sanders-led party-like organization with permanent local chapters across the country could have coordinated this movement with progressive electoral challenges in West Virginia and Arizona and pressure campaigns against Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi in California and Chuck Schumer in New York. A mass organization could in turn bolster Sanders and the Squad to fight for a better deal in Congress, as well as support local and state-level candidates nationwide — including in purple or red districts where the Left does not yet have a foothold.
Ultimately, we need something like the organization described here to help convince millions of working people who are disconnected from politics that a better world is possible through collective action, and to sustain mass activity once it’s in motion. That’s how we can build the base that will elect Sanders-style progressives and democratic socialists by the hundreds across the country and grow a movement that can exert bottom-up pressure through mass disruption.
Build Back Bernie
It is premature to write a precise blueprint for what this party-like organization should look like. But there are a few principles that should guide us.
First, socialists and progressives should call on Bernie and the Squad to participate in building and leading this new organization. For better or worse, only these national political figures have the resources and legitimacy to bring together millions of supporters and many disparate threads of progressive activism into a single organization. Their leadership would make the project much more likely to succeed, and sooner.
Second, such an organization should be democratic and membership-based. Local and national leaders should be elected by the members, and members should be able to influence the policy platforms of elected officials like Sanders through conventions and internal debates. As Mike Parker and Martha Gruelle write in a different context, democracy is power: only democratic organizations can give their members a sense of ownership over strategies and campaigns, grow the sophistication and size of their activist base, refine their approach based on real-world experience, and deal with competing ideas without alienating the minority of activists who don’t get their way.
Third, the group should support progressive election campaigns, but also year-round organizing outside the halls of official politics. The history of progressive movements shows that mass disruption, outside of the normal political process, is critical to securing legislative wins. No anti-corporate political project will be successful if the Left isn’t also helping build fighting unions and social movements.
Fourth, a progressive party-like organization should be working-class-funded, primarily through membership dues. That means rejecting all corporate and billionaire donations, large unreported donations from anonymous sources, and donations from PACs, foundations, or other groups that launder capitalist cash. Campaign-finance statutes complicate efforts to coordinate election spending, but David Duhalde and Seth Ackerman have both explained how such a nonparty political organization could navigate the law.
Finally, this organization should be effectively nonpartisan, meaning it will support candidates running as Democrats and as independents, depending on what makes sense in a given local context. Sanders himself has run as an independent for Congress, but caucuses with the Democrats, and made his biggest impact by running in the Democratic presidential primaries. This flexibility will be needed both to build an independent political brand that resonates with voters sick of both corporate parties and to keep together leftists and progressives who might currently disagree about the long-term future of the Democratic Party. In the near term, though, the organization can appeal to voters who are still loyal to the Democrats or who are worried about the “spoiler effect” in districts where that is a concern.
Along with mobilizing to defend abortion and other rights, activists and groups that believe in this organizational vision should plan local and national convenings to discuss how to make it a reality. We’re members of DSA and believe DSA has an important role to play in backing this effort. But we also believe that a Sanders-led party-like organization must have a broader ideological base than DSA, since today’s fights are for near-term reforms, not for overthrowing capitalism. As with our election campaigns, unions, and protests, our mass political organizations should be open to the millions of people who want to defend democracy and support Sanders’s agenda but aren’t ready to join an explicitly anti-capitalist organization.
Other membership organizations and nonprofits like the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, local or state-level political formations like the RPA and the Vermont Progressive Party, grassroots groups fighting for economic and social justice, and progressive unions like National Nurses United, which hosted the People’s Summit after Sanders’s first run in 2016, should also sign on to this project.
A New Political Moment
Sanders has attempted to start a mass membership organization before: Our Revolution, which sprung up in the wake of his 2016 presidential run. For all its accomplishments, though, Our Revolution isn’t suited to play the role of a mass party–like organization right now.
First, though at least some chapters had democratic mechanisms, members were not empowered to democratically determine the national organization’s strategy. Second, Sanders himself was not involved in the organization, which likely hindered the group’s appeal and political effectiveness. Third, as Duhalde noted in 2020, most of Our Revolution’s staff left the organization to work for Sanders’s 2020 campaign, and some of its key early leaders are no longer involved.
That points to another problem with Our Revolution: it was formed at a particular moment (post-2016), with many activists no doubt expecting another Sanders presidential run, and with a particular strategy of attempting to reform the Democratic Party from within. But that political moment is over: Sanders lost the 2020 primary, progressives have largely found themselves marginalized by the Democratic establishment, and we need everyone who was activated by the Bernie campaign and more — including Sanders himself and the Squad — to come together to devise a new strategy. We should reconsider Our Revolution’s strategy of running for internal Democratic Party positions, for instance, and think about establishing a political identity more independent of the Democrats.
The new left has much to be proud of since 2016, but the organizations and tactics that got us this far aren’t enough going forward. If we want to fight for democracy and justice, and build the power to make more ambitious changes in the future, we need to get serious about our strategy. Isolated protests, strikes, and election campaigns have brought many of us into politics. But we need these to add up to more than the sum of their parts so we can wage the struggle that establishment Democrats can’t or won’t.
We know the creation of the kind of group we’re calling for is a long shot. But we’ve seen the ability of Sanders and the Squad to inspire millions, and we believe they have the power to start building the effective, broad left organization that this moment demands.
Jeremy Gong is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America in California’s East Bay.
The popularity of socialism has skyrocketed since Bernie Sanders’ historic campaigns for president gave voice to the outrage, desolation, and pain caused by the dramatic and unrelieved rise in U.S. inequality over the past half century. This trend now spans three generations. It has been accompanied, with few exceptions, by rising political dysfunction, volatility, and corruption as corporate interests virtually consume allegedly democratic institutions: the departments of state, defense, health, commerce, treasury, the Supreme Court, and more. These institutions cannot be trusted to protect the public interest, say majorities of the American people. The process has profoundly undermined, indeed baked in, the declining confidence of working-class families in their government, which is the face of “democracy.” Even worse, the long train of lost or winless wars and the damage to our soldiers sent abroad to bear the burdens of failed imperial adventures has damaged the basic unity of this nation.
However, Bernie’s popularity has spawned wide discussion and disputations on what is meant by “socialism” and how it would differently approach the many challenges in U.S. society, a society irrevocably linked to the fate of the world. What is a socialist program in an “advanced economy”? What is the social foundation of a socialist-oriented political party’s agenda, and its capacity to govern, especially in adverse, crisis-driven conditions?
Bernie and others of his generation have witnessed and can date the births of this looming catastrophe in our lifetimes.
The Vietnam legacy
First, the tragic conduct and legacy of the Vietnam War — a war that signaled the ultimate doom of “domination” and imperial policies, but especially defenses of colonialism under the cover of anti-communism. The U.S.-led war was morally, politically, and militarily defeated, by both popular Vietnamese forces and the resistance of the American people as the character of the war became exposed. In the meantime, U.S. corps launched the long era of job outsourcing to low-wage countries and extraction of cheap resources around the world under the protection of a dominant military power. The damage done to national unity by this imperial policy, alongside the assassinations of the Kennedys and Dr. King appears now to be irrevocable. If they were not directly or materially linked — a still unresolved question — they were, for me, glued together.
Colonialism has two forms: direct (the more traditional form) and indirect. Vietnam is an example of both: it was a French colony before World War II and later became technically independent, but its government was funded and protected militarily by a foreign power.
It is a sad reflection that the U.S., along with former imperial and colonial powers, remain unmoved by the repeated failures of “domination”-based policies. Domination, contrasted with “peaceful coexistence” approaches, is still favored by ruling interests in both U.S. political parties. Examples abound: In Latin America, the bloody suppressions of movements with Bernie Sanders–style politics, the nightmare of proxy wars in the Middle East and Africa, assassinations, coups, Iraq, Syria, Yemen. The interventions must number over 100.
It is impossible to gauge the moral, political, and now economic harm done to our people by permitting worldwide exploitation by, chiefly, global corporate and other wealth interests in the name of “defense” of our country. Nonetheless, we witnessed this strikingly, again, as Biden abandoned the fight for the (heavily Sanders and Civil Rights influenced) economic program that got him elected in favor of a worldwide economic war against China and Russia, a warfare that has weaponized global currencies and banking systems, that shows no end in sight — no doubt one of the enticements if you are a defense contractor — and has sharply aggravated global inflation and risks of depression. Russia’s intervention into the already ongoing civil war in the Donbas region of Ukraine provided a perfect cover for this pivot, or so some think. The Pope concludes that Russia “was provoked” — meaning the “color revolutions” and hostile NATO moves against Russia in the preceding decade. The origin of the post-Soviet “neoliberal” posture towards Russia was the Clinton administration, under whose administration NATO expanded by three countries. The prophetic stand-up artist George Carlin once ridiculed this posture when he quipped, “You know, it would be great to make every country in the world have a Democratic and Republican party.” Seven additional countries joined NATO under George W.’s administration.
The fruits of corruption
The fruits of the corruptions of the vicious and repressive Nixon administration are visible everywhere. Nixon’s victory in ’68 felt like assassins coming to power. The astounding reorganization of the Republican Party, their seizure of the former Dixiecrat South and the fascist churches, and their farsighted campaign to destroy the New Deal, Civil Rights, women’s rights, and labor rights have come to pass. The junta Republicans have installed extreme-right Supreme Court justices, a real coup d’état of which Trump’s January 6 is but a shadow.
Reginald Jones, legendary CEO of “Generous” Electric — when it was “the most profitable corporation in the world” and he dominated the top business roundtables and think tanks — predicted the economic foundation of the right-wing assaults in a report on the “governability of democracies” to the 1975 Trilateral Commission. That report reached the desk of Jim Matles, founder and Secretary Treasurer of the UE, who revealed its significance in his final address before a UE convention. The document pronounced that a staggering accumulation of capital would be required “to reproduce the system,” along with serious “political reform.” Translation: Wipe out the New Deal and the Great Society, releasing public capital to private markets. Simultaneously, GE helped propel its former employee, Ronald Reagan, into the national arena. The Democrats tacked further away from Roosevelt and social democracy every decade after Johnson.
Crossroads for socialism
The socialist alternative popularized by Bernie Sanders now stands in a new light. As does Joe Biden’s liberalism (or neoliberalism, if you prefer). Sanders’ program is a good, widely supported social democratic program of reform, endorsed in part by the elected president but swept from his agenda by imperial prerogatives. Biden gave a hat tip to the Sanders program but tacked to an economic and proxy war against Russia and Chinese socialism in a whoosh! — like Superman doing his costume changes in telephone booths. In truth Biden’s commitment to the Sanders program was always just skin deep.
We are thus reminded of some principles that seem to be established, criticized, and then re-established over the entire history of the socialist and communist movements. Both movements profess comparable political and economic programs, and they are permanently tied to each other in many ways, despite being at tactical odds much of the time. Bernie’s agenda is somewhat to the left (think toward Marx) on “social democratic” socialism in that it supports a broad expansion of public goods, greater social equality, and greater public control and influence over “the commanding heights” of the economy, including taxation of wealth. His “socialism” nonetheless remains a largely market, capitalist-oriented economy, but better regulated in the public interest. At critical times (before and during the world wars and colonial wars) “social democratic socialists” have joined nationalist movements — and have been recruited into their own nation’s imperial ambitions on the promise of big rewards.
The truth is that socialism makes no sense as a “nationalist” ideology. If attempted it would be a fraud, a pawn in the hands of a special interest. Hitler demonstrated that for all succeeding time. An important premise of socialism reflecting universal, working-class values is that the workers of different countries have more interests, and problems, in common with each other than they do with their employers.
(Interestingly, if the nation is a victim instead of a benefactor of an imperial or colonial relationship, the nationalism becomes heroic, e.g., Nathan Hale, but otherwise tragic and reactionary, e.g., Robert E. Lee.) Bernie’s socialism is to the left of much of the European social democratic tradition, and closer to the Latin American popular socialist rebellions. He has been a consistent critic of military-dominated budgets and solutions.
The “social democratic socialism” trend also typically renounces revolution, believing that capitalism’s defects will, or should, be overcome “naturally.” Bernie does not renounce the revolutionary path. On the other hand, he has never challenged the rights of bourgeois forces — no matter how reactionary — to political franchise. An actual revolutionary period, beyond rhetoric and phrases, will test that stance. As it did for Lincoln and the Union confronted with the revolutionary nature of the struggle to abolish slavery in the defiant South, where its infamous economy and traditions were long established.
Which brings us to the task of identifying the essential economic and political questions upon which the paths to socialism — and there may be many — depend, with particular interest in the U.S. where naked imperial impulses and global capital domination are impossible to ignore.
Of great assistance in this effort are the writings of French economist and socialist Thomas Piketty. There was a time when one would have to reach all the way back to Karl Marx to make some straightforward observations about capitalism unwrapped from cold war ideological nonsense. No more. Professor Piketty and his colleagues have reestablished both analytically and computationally (with large data) that capitalism itself is the source of antagonistic social tendencies. Further, they have spawned numerous data collection programs across the world that continue to enrich, refine, and sustain their formulation of the laws of capital accumulation. The exposure of true patterns and measures of inequality has placed the issue of inequality on global agendas as never before.
I am a great admirer of Thomas Piketty. His research on inequality has arguably had the biggest ideological impact on economic analysis of any economist since Paul Samuelson, or maybe John Maynard Keynes. And in a positive direction. Since the publication of Capital in the 21st Century, every gathering of the American Economic Association has had between five and ten panels on inequality. In recent years, he has produced numerous insightful blogs on the European Union, as well as a book on ideology, Capital and Ideology.
His work since his masterpiece, however, demonstrates that Piketty is indeed not a Marxist. The data series on income, for example, are not easily transformed into a Marxist concept of class — as a relation to production — and Piketty does not appear to have tried. Mike Roberts, on the other hand — a gifted macroeconomist and Marxist — has shown that this is both possible and illuminating. For example, a salesperson and a mechanic may make comparable incomes. But their work, and their relationship to production, are not the same. Their roles and relationships to a firm will reflect as many contrasts as comparisons in consciousness, arising from the different roles. Thus, a political poll that tracks “class” based solely on income will miss much.
Lately Piketty has been blogging more on politics. His “social democracy socialism” is straightforward, and he is very progressive and astute in evaluating economic reforms. But in several respects, it retreads previous social history and is not so new.
It differs little, for example, from Karl Kautsky, the German socialist, and renegade from Communism. Kautsky fell victim to patriotic German socialism in WWI. To my knowledge, Piketty never mentions imperialism. Like many previous social democrats, he rejects the revolutionary path to socialism.
Mostly, I suspect these sentiments are closely linked to patriotic or nationalistic influences contending with “class” points of view — that together fuel hopes of “benefits” from one’s own country’s imperial ambitions. The Buy America campaigns in various industries, for example, have captured more than a few union endorsements as ransom to slow the erosion of U.S. manufacturing jobs under union agreements. But they seldom, if ever, turned into the “Employ America” reality. More often they were and are accompanied with the “accept concessions” campaigns in exchange for vaporous pledges, and the undertow of diverse U.S. diplomatic, so-called “foreign aid” and military foreign investment/defense department campaigns, and disasters, like Afghanistan. The point being: the question of an “imperialist” agenda is an existential issue in the advance toward socialism, especially in nations with a long and dominant imperial history. For the U.S., this likely means a hard landing, the opposite of Piketty’s speculation.
Further, the racial and ethnic sharp edges that imbue the military cultures of imperialism carry an immense social and cultural price tag, a time bomb, that is not easy to see in advance, in the soft sells of the “Buy America” campaigns, or the hard sell of military direct and indirect interventions that have numbered in the hundreds since the Second World War. That bad karma returns home. Piketty, like Kautsky, seriously understates the significant corrupting power of corporate imperial interests on political power.
Piketty rejects the socialism of every country I can think of that actually calls itself socialist, all of whom came into existence via revolutions and revolutionary movements.
In contrast, Piketty’s own very thoughtful and profound, evidence-based reform recommendations, which include an “incremental” but aggressive expansion of the “welfare state” into the realms of wealth, are exactly the reforms that ruling classes have repeatedly drowned in blood. Indeed, they are exactly the reforms that revolutions need in order to implement socialism.
For an example in a different era, consider the goal of an incremental end to the British Empire’s taxes on Boston tea founded on pleas to a colonial regime. Foolish. I submit that Piketty’s reforms unrealistically presume a comparable measure of respect for democracy on the part of the billionaires and trillionaires, a “respect” that would permit them to accede to the voters voting away most of their private wealth — without resort to violence or destruction of (to them) “illegitimate” democracy. Absent such capture of wealth, Piketty’s own math and analysis show that capitalist wealth will continue to concentrate and accumulate, along with the vast political corruption of the public interest such concentration incentivizes.
I do not disagree in principle that there can be peaceful paths to socialism — which does not actually wipe out capitalism, because only relative and advancing abundance can truly accomplish that. But the revolutionary path does permit the establishment of a different ruling-class coalition in which bourgeois interests are not dominant. Most likely, however, only increasing the strength of both a) existing socialism and b) internationalist-minded forces in imperial nations can effect a global balance of forces where progressive and peaceful transitions are possible, within an overall framework of peaceful coexistence and increasing cooperation over dominion in policy.
The history of the long 20th-century imperialist wars, global commercial and structural integration, and massive immigrations and intermarriages between races and nationalities across the world set the stage for global and international multilateral governance. Globalization is not inherently imperialistic, even though imperialism — capitalism expanding beyond national borders — gave birth to it.
Missing in most of the social-democratic socialisms is outright internationalism, cooperation, and honest relations with the countries that practice socialism (and call it that too), with the Chinese system proving to be highly resilient and adaptive as well as massive. Missing is the organization of the revolutionary detachment. Reforms will inevitably fail when a social system becomes unable to reform itself and collapses, either in stages or catastrophically. What happens at the base, in towns and counties, and workplaces, especially key and frontline first responder services, in dysfunctional circumstances, will ultimately determine the outcome.
Survival will largely depend on those forces that rise to political leadership. Electoral races for offices are not prohibitively expensive. The legendary Wyndham Mortimer, a founder of the UAW, once noted that 25 skilled organizers should be able to capture the working-class vote in any local contest. A good place for the Communist Party to flourish and serve.
The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the positions of the CPUSA.
Images: Poor People’s march, 6-18-22, photo courtesy Dylan Manshack; North Vietnam soldier, Wikipedia (public domain); Bernie Sanders, Wikipedia (public domain); Car mechanic, Chris Yarzab (CC BY 2.0); Buy American poster, New York State AFL-CIO (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC “Winners and Losers” radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC “Winners and Losers” radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Activists participate in a rally urging the expansion of Social Security benefits in front of the White House on July 13, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
83% of likely voters support Democratic proposals to expand Social Security benefits while just 7% support GOP plans to end the program in five years, giving the majority party a golden opportunity to maintain control of the House and Senate.
Voters in the United States overwhelmingly support Democratic proposals to expand Social Security for all recipients to cover higher costs of living and oppose Republican proposals to completely end the federal program—established during the New Deal era to improve economic security for retirees, people with disabilities, and widows and widowers—before the end of the decade.
That’s according to a new survey conducted from June 17-21 and published Monday by Data for Progress, which found that a whopping 83% of likely voters support expanding Social Security benefits to keep up with rising costs, including 86% of Democrats, 84% of Republicans, and 79% of independents.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of likely voters are very concerned about Congress cutting monthly cash transfers for the program’s 66 million current beneficiaries, and more than half (53%) are very concerned about lawmakers privatizing Social Security.
Privatization of the program remains unpopular across the political spectrum, with 68% of likely voters—including 75% of Democrats, 70% of Republicans, and 59% of independents—opposed to Wall Street-backed schemes that would facilitate the movement of Social Security benefits from a guaranteed government fund into the volatile stock market.
The findings of the poll should be of interest to President Joe Biden, who is hemorrhaging support among Democratic voters and has come under fire in recent weeks for nominating Andrew Biggs—an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow with a history of backing Social Security privatization—to serve on the independent and bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board.
Social Security Works, a progressive advocacy group, has highlighted Biggs’ role in the George W. Bush administration’s failed attempt to privatize the program in 2005.
While Biden pledged on the campaign trail to support an expansion of Social Security, he has previously backed slashing the program’s benefits. Biden was vice president when former President Barack Obama proposed a “grand bargain” with congressional Republicans that would have included cuts to Social Security.
Last month, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led the introduction of the Social Security Expansion Act, which would lift the cap on income that is subject to the Social Security payroll tax and boost the program’s annual benefits by $2,400.
According to Data for Progress, 76% of likely voters—including 83% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, and 73% of independents—support imposing, for the first time, payroll taxes on individuals with annual incomes above $400,000 per year to fund an expansion of Social Security benefits. Currently, only those making $147,000 or less are subject to the Social Security payroll tax.
Meanwhile, a little-noticed budget document published last month by the Republican Study Committee (RSC)—a group to which nearly 75% of House Republicans belong—reiterates right-wing myths that the program is headed toward insolvency and calls for raising the retirement age by three months per year through 2040. As a result, people born after 1978 would not be eligible to receive full Social Security benefits until the age of 70.
The RSC’s bid to postpone Social Security eligibility, outlined in their so-called Blueprint to Save America, is not even the most extreme GOP proposal on offer, considering what Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), has put forward.
Scott’s widely panned 12-point “Plan to Rescue America” proposes hiking taxes on the poorest 40% of U.S. households and sunsetting “all federal legislation” after five years—a move that would eliminate Social Security, Medicare, civil rights laws, and other measures unless Congress actively votes to reauthorize them.
Just 7% of likely voters support ending Social Security in five years, according to Data for Progress, which may help explain why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to endorse Scott’s policy agenda in March.
Nevertheless, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), ranking member of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, said last month during a debate with committee chair Sanders that “entitlement reform is a must,” indicating that the GOP is once again laying the groundwork to gut Social Security, Medicare, and more if it regains control of Congress in November’s pivotal midterm elections.
Likely voters, when informed that congressional Democrats are proposing to expand Social Security benefits while their Republican counterparts are proposing to swiftly terminate the program, told pollsters that they would be most likely to support a Democratic candidate over a Republican one by a margin of 55 to 31.
This suggests that campaigning on Social Security expansion could help Democrats maintain or even bolster their slim majorities in the House and Senate.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a rally in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2021. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
“The function of a rational healthcare system is to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way, not make billionaires like Jeff Bezos even richer,” said the Vermont senator.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday joined the chorus of progressive voices demanding that the U.S. government reject Amazon’s purchase of One Medical, a subscription-based health services provider headquartered in San Francisco.
“The function of a rational healthcare system is to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way, not make billionaires like Jeff Bezos even richer,” the Vermont Independent wrote on social media, referring to Amazon’s ultrawealthy founder and executive chairman. “At a time of growing concentration of ownership, the Justice Department must deny Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical.”
Sanders was echoing anti-monopoly advocates and privacy defenders who have sounded the alarm over Amazon’s “dangerous” $3.9 billion buyout of One Medical—a private equity-backed company that charges its 767,000 members roughly $200 in annual concierge fees to access a network of 188 primary care clinics.
“Allowing Amazon to control the healthcare data for another 700,000+ individuals is terrifying,” Krista Brown, a senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project, said Thursday in a statement. “Acquiring One Medical will entrench Amazon’s growing presence in the healthcare industry.”
The corporate behemoth bought the online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 for $750 million, launched Amazon Pharmacy in 2020, and expanded its Amazon Care telehealth program nationwide earlier this year, among other recent deals.
“Amazon just set its healthcare efforts to warp speed,” Axios health tech reporter Erin Brodwin tweeted Thursday. “Where among Amazon’s sprawling health efforts does One Medical fit, exactly, and how will it weave the buy into its existing primary care bets?”
One Medical “already has its tentacles in Medicare” through its 2021 acquisition of Iora Health, Brodwin noted, “and now Amazon’s got a clear foothold there.”
The Leverreported Friday that Amazon “could use its new platform to advance the cause of Medicare privatization at a much more aggressive pace. The consequences wouldn’t just mean more taxpayer dollars funneled to the mega-corporation, but also Medicare recipients facing a healthcare system with ever more resources being allocated to profit instead of care.”
As the outlet noted:
President Joe Biden’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded a Medicare privatization scheme launched under former President Donald Trump. That program, which is currently referred to as ACO REACH, involuntarily assigns Medicare patients to private health plans operated by for-profit companies, like One Medical subsidiary Iora Health.
Medicare provides set payments to provide care for these patients, much like insurance. This arrangement incentivizes Iora and other privatization entities to limit the amount of care that seniors receive.
Continued expansion of Medicare privatization seems integral to One Medical’s business model.
The company’s most recent quarterly report shows that more than half of its revenue comes from Medicare. This includes Medicare Advantage plans operated by private health insurers, traditional Medicare fee-for-service payments, and the ACO REACH program.
Amazon’s purchase of One Medical “will be a blow to the fight for universal healthcare,” journalist Aaron T. Rose tweeted Thursday. “Imagine all the money Amazon will pour into lobbying to stop Medicare for All now that they have a dog in the fight.”
In addition, Brown warned, the deal—which would mark Amazon’s third-biggest acquisition after Whole Foods ($13.7 billion) and MGM Studios ($8.5 billion)—”will also pose serious risks to patients whose sensitive data will be captured by a firm whose own Chief Information Security Office once described access to customer data as ‘a free for all.'”
“Amazon has no business being a major player in the healthcare space,” she added, “and regulators should block this $4 billion deal to ensure it does not become one.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Amazon’s move to buy One Medical.
“This proposed transaction raises questions about potential anticompetitive effects related to the pharmacy services business Amazon already owns and about preferencing vendors who offer other services through Amazon,” Klobuchar wrote Thursday in a letter to the agency.
“I also ask that the FTC consider the role of data, including as a potential barrier to entry, given that this proposed deal could result in the accumulation of highly sensitive personal health data in the hands of an already data-intensive company,” she added.
This story has been updated with information about Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s letter to the FTC.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to striking Kellogg’s workers in downtown Battle Creek, Michigan, on December 17, 2021. (Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images)
“We cannot allow big oil companies and other large, profitable corporations to continue to use the war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the specter of inflation to make obscene profits by price gouging Americans.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday unveiled the Ending Corporate Greed Act, which aims to end corporate price gouging in the midst of multiple global crises by imposing a 95% tax on the windfall profits of major companies.
The bill—spearheaded by Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.)—is inspired by previous windfall profits tax plans implemented during World Wars I and II as well as the Korean War. During WWII, Sanders’ office noted, “the tax rate reached as high as 95%, which ensured that companies could not profiteer off the war.”
“The American people are sick and tired of the unprecedented corporate greed that exists all over this country. They are sick and tired of being ripped off by corporations making record-breaking profits while working families are forced to pay outrageously high prices for gas, rent, food, and prescription drugs,” Sanders said in a statement.
The Senate Budget Committee chair argued that “we cannot allow Big Oil companies and other large, profitable corporations to continue to use the war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the specter of inflation to make obscene profits by price gouging Americans at the gas pump, the grocery store, or any other sector of our economy.”
“During these troubling times, the working class cannot bear the brunt of this economic crisis, while corporate CEOs, wealthy shareholders, and the billionaire class make out like bandits,” he added. “The time has come for Congress to work for working families and demand that large, profitable corporations make a little bit less money and pay their fair share of taxes.”
In addition to the existing federal tax rate—which congressional Republicans cut from 35% to 21% under former President Donald Trump—Sanders’ bill would establish a 95% tax on a company’s profits that exceed its average profit level for 2015-19, adjusted for inflation.
The new tax would only apply only to companies with $500 million or more in annual revenue and would be limited to 75% of income per year. Sanders’ office estimates that the temporary emergency measure, which would only apply in 2022-24, “coud raise an estimated $400 billion in one year from 30 of the largest corporate profiteers alone.”
A summary from the senator’s office details how the proposal would likely impact major corporations in various industries: automobile manufacturing, banking, Big Pharma, Big Tech, food and retail, fossil fuels, and housing.
“My constituents are hurting, and they are rightly asking what Congress can do about surging prices for food, energy, and other necessities,” Bowman said Friday. “What we cannot do is ask working Americans to shoulder any more of this burden.”
“Corporate price gouging is playing a big role in the inflation we are experiencing right now, putting families in a financial squeeze in the middle of an ongoing pandemic,” he emphasized. “These are the same corporations that are eroding our democracy, eviscerating workers’ rights, and fueling the climate crisis—and it is time to make them pay.”
According to Bowman, “The Ending Corporate Greed Act will take away any incentive for large companies to exploit our current crisis for profit, and it will protect workers, families, and small businesses in New York and across the country.”
Big Oil, in particular, is “raking in record profits, while Americans are facing price hikes at the pump,” Markey pointed out, declaring that “something is fundamentally broken when the biggest corporations in the country are leveraging a pandemic and a war to pad their profit margins as average Americans suffer.”
Recent polling found that 82% of U.S. voters believe inflation is fueled by corporations “jacking up prices.” Another survey showed that 80% of voters—including 73% of Republicans—support a windfall profits tax on fossil fuel giants and 87% of them want Congress and President Joe Biden to “crack down on price gouging and excessive price increases by oil companies that result in higher gas prices at the pump.”
Some advocacy groups supporting Sanders’ proposal directed attention at the industry on Friday. As Friends of the Earth’s Lukas Ross put it: “Big Oil is teaching a master class in war profiteering and disaster capitalism. Near record stock buybacks are reprehensible while war rages and consumers suffer. It’s time for a windfall profits tax.”
Sunrise Movement advocacy director Lauren Maunus agreed while calling out “fossil corporations” for “capitalizing on this crisis to loot working people at the gas pump.”
“It’s despicable that corporations can hold us hostage during a pandemic and a deadly conflict to make record profits and line the pockets of their executives at our expense,” she said. “If our politicians are serious about helping everyday people and making corporations pay their fair share, they must pass the Ending Corporate Greed Act.”
Other backers of the bill include tax scholar Reuven Avi-Yonah, economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, and experts and campaigners at the American Economic Liberties Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, Economic Policy Institute, Groundwork Action, Patriotic Millionaires, and Roosevelt Institute.
Sanders’ proposal comes as “the White House is studying a range of potential responses to rising gas prices” and engaging in “wide-ranging internal talks about potential ideas for bringing relief to consumers,” according toThe Washington Post.
As Jeff Stein reported Friday at the Post:
‘The ideas they have discussed include a major release of the nation’s oil reserves, loans and other incentives to energy producers to encourage production, and a federal gas tax holiday, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Biden aides have also discussed ideas that they are less likely to advance. These ideas include rebate checks for motorists and using decommissioned buses in major cities to promote public transit and reduce gas demand, the people said.’
“Additionally, White House officials have had preliminary conversations about a potential ‘windfall tax’ on the profits of large oil and gas producers,” Stein noted, “although it is unclear if they will embrace such a measure. “
Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
Up until now Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been one of the few in the Senate who has refused to accept the idea that the war in Ukraine is reason to accept the increased prices foisted on Americans by the big oil companies.
“We can no longer allow big oil companies and the billionaire class to use the murderous Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing pandemic as an excuse to price gouge Americans and rake in record profits,” the senator declared this week.
Progressives in both the House and Senate are now joining him in a new push for a big oil profits windfall tax. The bill is seen as a definite way in which what amounts to war profiteering by the companies can be stopped. It would put a cap on gas prices and put money back into the pockets of consumers.
U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the bill this week, calling for a 50-percent tax on oil barons’ excess profits.
A unique feature of the bill is that funds raised from the tax would actually go back to consumers who have already been thoroughly ripped off by the oil companies. Working-class families would receive annual paybacks of up to $360.00. Revenues from the tax would go to working class families with annual payments up to $360/yr.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.