FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Local Fights Against Austerity are Growing

by MARK VORPAHL

Between sequestration, with its damaging impact on workers and the economy, and the billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other necessary social programs that President Obama is pushing, it is evident that the economic policies of both major parties are not intended to promote a recovery for working people.

You cannot lift up a nation’s economy while slashing away at its consumers’ pocketbooks. In order to justify their defiance of this elementary law, both Republicans and Democrats start talking the language of “austerity,” that is, the notion that economic policy must be guided by reducing budgetary deficits first and foremost, and that workers exclusively must be made to pay the cost.

Policies associated with austerity include the cutting of public programs, privatizing existing government assets, mass layoffs of public workers and wage freezes for those who remain, union busting in the public sector and the revising of labor laws to further enhance the power of employers at the expense of employees.

Enforcing these policies during a recession prevents a recovery. Economic theory predicts this and history demonstrates it. Why, then, would the politicians promote austerity? Because these policies assure that the 1% will be let off the hook from paying their fair share of taxes that help subsidize the social safety net, and will have vast pools of public capital opened up for their private investment.

Why worry about the overall economy when the real power brokers from the corporations and banks are making out just fine with austerity? The message seems clear: As long as Wall Street is enjoying the “recovery,” no one else gets to. Wall Street has used its vast wealth to lobby politicians for policies that are in its interests. In order for working people to climb out of the recession, they will have to organize in order to create their own power base.

Local Struggles

As already noted, austerity is being enforced on a national scale. Below the radar of news headlines, for the most part, the policies of austerity are spreading on a local level as well with even more devastating immediate impact. Along with this, there has been a growing grassroots opposition to austerity starting locally.

This is most visibly the case in Chicago where Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to sacrifice 54 public schools on the alter of austerity and Obama’s “Race to the Top.” Thirty thousand students from primarily low-income black and Latino neighborhoods will be affected. Rising to confront Mayor Emanuel’s threats has been a grassroots opposition that was built from previous battles linking the Chicago Teachers’ Union’s interests with those of the working class communities at large. This was most evident at a large rally against the school closures on March 27.

In Detroit the movers behind austerity have taken their most politically extreme measures yet, putting the city ahead of the curve for what is likely to develop across the country. Michigan Governor Rick Synder has appointed Kevyn Orr, of Jones Day Law firm, as Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager. Orr has the power to dismiss elected officials, tear up union contracts, privatize public assets and impose new taxes without a vote. He will use this power to enforce austerity. Though Orr has yet to unveil his plans, there have already been numerous protests and rallies, and the actions are likely to increase.

On the West coast at the end of April, hundreds rallied outside the San Jose City Hall to protest proposed cuts to neighborhood services and Mayor Chuck Reed’s threat to declare a fiscal emergency.

On April 11 in Oregon, a public budget hearing in which the Portland City Council intended to sell $21.5 million in cuts attracted over 400 Portland residents, overwhelming city staff. Many citizens spoke to the need to prevent the cuts and instead raise revenue from corporations rather than handing out taxpayer subsidies to them, an idea that received overwhelming support from attendees.

And at an Oakland City Council budget talk, a packed Chamber booed and jeered a presentation on Oakland’s fiscal future, chanting “Enough is enough!” The City Council is projecting a deficit ranging from $19 million to $26 million. Considering that there has already been a 20 percent reduction in the city’s full-time work force and that the city’s three major non-public safety unions are negotiating new contracts, there was no mood to accept the City Council’s austerity story.

In Newark, Illinois, around 1,000 high school students walked out of class last month to protest deep cuts to the district’s budget. Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson claims the district faces a $57 million deficit. Newark’s high school students, correctly, refuse to accept that they must sacrifice their education in order to fill this hole.

Growing Potential

This list over protests in the last two months is not complete. It does display some patterns, however. It shows how education, public workers and the communities they serve are the primary targets of austerity. That means a lot of people are taking hits.

The list also demonstrates how people become empowered when these constituencies work together in solidarity. Austerity promoters prefer to pit communities and/or unions against each other in a scramble to grab what remains of a shrinking budget pie. The events reported above show that a different reaction is possible — one that will strengthen people’s ability to powerfully confront their local governments.

Finally, these developments show it is necessary to go beyond the budget claims of the city government. Budget deficits are the product of allowing big business tax loopholes, obscenely low tax rates, and subsidies paid for by taxpayers. Those expected to bear the burden of cuts are not responsible for this.

In a time of high unemployment it is necessary to stimulate the economy by creating jobs. This stimulus should be paid for by the 1%.

Those uniting against austerity cuts could also demand what they stand for, that is, a budget that puts jobs, education and neighborhoods first rather than corporate profit. To effectively do so the unions and community groups fighting austerity can work together to build their own budget assembly to counter city governments’ “we are broke” excuses and popularize an alternative.

These local struggles and many more are a confirmation that austerity in the U.S. will be met with a fight. Though they are disconnected in terms of their organizing, they are a response to a national problem. This wave of local grassroots organizing shows the potential exists to galvanize a national movement against austerity.

Mark Vorpahl is a union steward, social justice activist and a writer for Workers Action and Occupy.com. He can be reached at Portland@workerscompass.org

Mark Vorpahl is a union steward, social justice activist and a writer for Workers Action and Occupy.com. He can be reached at Portland@workerscompass.org.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail