However the budget battle in St. Paul ends, one thing is already agreed by both parties: working people should bear the heaviest burden for the economic crisis while corporations continue to enjoy fabulous profits.
Republicans are demanding a vicious all-cuts budget, refusing to even consider tax increases on the rich. But Governor Dayton's proposal also slashes nearly $2 billion – half the projected deficit – from essential programs sustaining working people, children, and the elderly.
Any tax increase on the super-rich would be welcome, but the DFL’s proposal to raise $1.8 billion mainly with a temporary 3% income tax rise on the richest 5% of Minnesotans is totally inadequate and would still leave tax rates on the rich and big business at historically low levels.
In the end, the budget battle is reduced to a competition between two corporate-controlled parties over votes and the spoils of power. Our best hope to stop – or at least mitigate – the cuts is for our movements to remain fully independent of both parties, and instead unite around a mass action strategy in opposition to all cuts.
What’s at Stake?
Dayton proposes to cut almost a billion from Health and Human Services including MinnesotaCARE. $130 million more will be cut from Metro Transit, $55 million from Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, $36 million from the University of Minnesota, and $27 million from Minneapolis Public Schools, among other devastating attacks. And this is just the DFL’s starting point. In the end, a bi-partisan compromise will mean far deeper cuts.
Cutting these programs isn’t about efficiency; all the so-called “fat” was slashed away in past rounds of bi-partisan budget cuts. Instead those that use public health programs, study in a public university, or ride the bus will need to come up with billions more out of pocket, adding additional woe to already strapped working families.
Is it Strategic to Accept “Some Cuts”?
Unfortunately, the leaders of most unions and community groups accept the inevitability of cuts, urging support for Dayton’s proposal as the best we can hope for. This supposedly “strategic approach” has meant each “interest group” holding its own tiny protests and lobbies. Accepting “some cuts” reduces us to competing over dwindling crumbs and plays into the classic divide-and-rule strategy of big business.
Illustrating the problem, Patti Cullen, President of Care Providers of Minnesota, responded to Dayton’s proposed cuts to elderly care programs by lamenting: “There are more seniors that are going to be served than school-aged kids... Aren't we a valuable investment? Aren't seniors just as important as kids?"
Seniors vs. kids. Bus riders vs. bus drivers. Students vs. university workers. Rural vs. urban. Unless working people across Minnesota can unite to organize mutual solidarity against all cuts, while demanding that the rich, big business, and bankers pay for the crisis they created, we will remain the playthings of corporate politicians from both parties.
Who’s to Blame? Who Should Pay?
Our government budget deficits are the result of 30 years of shifting wealth from working people to the super-rich and big business. Since 1977, the share of national income taken home by the richest 1% of Americans doubled from 9% to over 20% today. The richest 0.1% – just 150,000 households – tripled their share of income, now earning as much as the poorest 120 million Americans combined. In the 1950s the highest income earners paid a tax rate of 91%, while today it is just 36%. Meanwhile the largest corporations use loop-holes and off-shore accounts to avoid almost all taxes!
Working-class people did not create this economic crisis, and we shouldn’t have to pay for it. At fault were the risky investments of bankers and the “free-market” policies of corporate politicians. They should pay the consequences. We could easily solve the budget deficit by taxing large corporations like US Bank, Wells Fargo, Target, Cargill, and General Mills that have lobbied for tax loopholes and corporate-friendly policies.
Not only is taxing the super-rich necessary, it’s wildly popular. A CBS/60 Minutes poll in January found 61% want to raise taxes on the wealthy as the primary way to cut the deficit. Yet somehow raising the richest Minnesotans' income tax by a measly 3% is a far left position when you enter that corporate echo-chamber called the Capitol.
Are the Democrats our Allies?
While Dayton and Democratic Party leaders give lip-service to our interests, in practice they, alongside the Republicans, put the interests of their corporate sponsors before working people. To secure our votes the DFL positions itself as the “lesser evil,” especially when they are a minority. But when the Democratic Party is in power they pursue an essentially big business policy.
In Massachusetts, where Democrats control all branches of government, they just passed a bill that would make Scott Walker proud, banning unions from negotiating health care benefits. In Illinois Democrats passed a bill stripping teachers of seniority and tenure, while all but banning strikes in Chicago. In Washington State the Democrats proposed an all-cuts budget. In Oregon the Democratic governor favors 20% across-the-board cuts. In California and New York, Democrats are also proposing historic budget cuts.
From the federal to local level, virtually everywhere the Democrats are in power they are pursuing vicious budget cuts, attacking unions, and giving more tax breaks than tax increases to the rich and corporations.
Toward a New, Winning Strategy
Most union and social movement leaders cling to the Democrats, echoing their policies and handing over ever larger campaign contributions, desperate to compete with corporate campaign coffers. The logic of this lesser evil strategy means accepting that cuts are inevitable, which in turn leads to competition over crumbs.
But a debate over this failed lesser-evil strategy is opening up. The International Association of Fire Fighters announced it was suspending all contributions to Democrats in federal races. “We’re tired that our friends have not been willing to stand up and fight back on our behalf with the same ferocity, the same commitment that our enemies have in trying to destroy our members’ rights,” explained Harold A. Schaitberger, the fire fighters' president.
No sustainable mass united movement against the cuts is possible under a “some cuts” lesser-evil strategy. To achieve victory, the movement must take seriously the classic slogan – “An injury to one is an injury to all!” And that means organizing solidarity against all budget cuts – no matter which party is doing the cutting!
The fire fighters have already recognized that unconditional support for the DFL will not be an adequate defense for working people. Similarly, the San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution calling on the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to organize coordinated mass demonstrations demanding:
“that the federal government bail out the cash-strapped states through one or more of the following: a national mass public works program to put 27 million people back to work now; taxing Wall Street and raising taxes on the rich and on corporations; a major and systematic reduction in the Pentagon budget, with funds redirected to create jobs and meet human needs; and/or the repossession of improperly used federal bailout funds that are sitting idly in the Wall Street coffers.”
This call for coordinated mass protests and direct action, uniting the broadest possible numbers behind a bold pro-worker agenda, must be taken up everywhere. This is the lesson from the experience of Wisconsin, where continuous mass protests and the occupation of the Capitol derailed – at least temporarily – Governor Walker’s union-busting bill.
We need to create broad anti-cuts coalitions to involve all individuals and organizations ready to join the struggle on a simple “no cuts” program. The unions need to take a lead role due to their power and the numbers they can mobilize.
Finally, we cannot leave politics to the two corporate parties. Mass protests can have an impact, but unless workers are organized to contest the two corporate parties’ control of government, big business domination will continue. Anti-cuts coalitions should discuss running independent anti-cuts candidates in 2011 and 2012 challenging both corporate parties.
We need to run independent candidates from our movements who will not water down our demands, not bow down to corporate interests, nor get sucked into the Democratic Party machine. Ultimately, we need to build a new independent political party that refuses donations from corporations and bases itself on the mass mobilization of workers, women, people of color, and youth. With the deep structural crisis of capitalism and both corporate parties following the corporate agenda of cuts, we need to build a powerful political alternative to big business with socialist policies that can defend our living standards and public services in the coming years.
- Stop all layoffs and cuts to health care, education and public transportation. Organize mass protests, occupations, direct actions, and coordinated strikes.
- Tax big corporations and the super-rich! Workers and youth shouldn’t have to pay for an economic crisis that the banks created.
- Build broad anti-cuts coalitions and run independent anti-cuts candidates to challenge the two corporate parties.
- Demand public ownership of the banks and end the wars; use the money to fund human needs.