Next month millions of Americans are faced with the farce of choosing a President drawn from the two big business parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in reality constitute the Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum of US politics. That is why the majority of those eligible to vote, as in 1992, will stay at home.
For millions of workers and youth, the American Dream has fallen apart. Between 1983 and 1989, the bottom 40 per cent of American families saw their net wealth tumble by $256 billion as their incomes declined and their debts grew. This new generation has experienced conditions not seen since the Great Depression. More than two million of the best paying jobs have been destroyed by down-sizing, out-sourcing and temporary contracts. The only new jobs being created by corporate America are those on poverty wages. As a result, the actual buying power of worker's wages, after taking into account taxes and inflation, has declined from $10.81 an hour in 1973 to $9.00 an hour in 1993.
In contrast, over the same period, the richest of the rich - the top half of one per cent of all families - increased their total wealth from $3.54 trillion to $4.99 trillion. That's an increase of $1.45 trillion! How much is $1.45 trillion? It's the same as providing 3.6 million workers with a $40,000 a year job for 10 years. In fact the richest 400 Americans saw their wealth increase by 382 percent between 1982 and 1994. Today the super-rich average $878 million dollars each in wealth. According to the AFL-CIO News, in 1980 the average chief executive's pay was 41 times the average worker's pay. By 1993 the average executive's pay was 149 times higher that the average worker's pay.
As the new American Labor Party stated: "A tiny handfulof Americans are getting filthy rich while the rest of us stagnate." The razzamataz and Hollywood-style public relations image of both the Republican and Democratic Conventions fail to hide the fact that they both represent the interests of corporate America. Each convention received around $12 million from sponsorships and cash in-kind contributions from big business, equal to the amount provided from federal funds. Millions of American are already sick of the glitz, hypocrisy and the waste of millions of dollars squandered on the campaigns for the White House by Clinton and Dole. The nauseating spectacle of their wives and children paraded before the media in the vain effort to project American family values, and win votes, has turned many voters off.
Dole had already spent his pre-nomination limitof $37 million during the primaries, a bit more than Clinton, but both will pick up around $61.8 million from the Federal Election Commission. Even Ross Perot, the so-called independent billionaire, who set up his own Reform Party, also accepted $29.2 million towards his election expenses - which is down on the $60million he forked out in 1992. According to Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, summing up the corrupt nature of US politics, money is the "mother's milk" of politics. Dole and the Republicans are trailing badly.
Despite their victories inthe House of Representatives and Senate in 1994, the rightwing "Contract With America" has alarmed many people. So much so, that Dole was obliged to quit the Senate and distance himself from Newt Gingrich and the Republican-dominated Congress. His desperate strategy has been to offer sweeping cuts in income and capital gains taxes, previously criticised by Dole himself.
Despite the fact that the US trade unions meekly follow the Democrats, much as the British trade unions backed the Liberal Party in the last century, the Clinton administration has been no friend of the working class. He signed NAFTA in an attempt to undermine wages and conditions in the US, as well as increase the exploitation of US, Mexican and Canadian workers. There are now three million additional people living without health insurance today compared with 1992. He has cut the budgets of Medicare, Medicaid, education and other welfare programs,even further than Reagan and Bush. He has cut the federal deficit by cutting welfare as do the Republicans, only a little less abrasively.
Clinton's recent signing of welfare legislation, putting an end to the 61-year guarantee of federal cash for the poor, is the latest example of how he intends to proceed. Introduced at the end of August, it prevents anyone from receiving benefit for more than two years at a time, with a five year lifetime limit. In California, prenatal care for 70,000 women will be stopped immediately; also affected is spending on unemployment, retirement, food stamps, public housing, disabilities, non-emergency health and higher education. The new law also removes the right of immigrants to welfare payments and food stamps.
According to the Financial Times: "It is the first real break with Mr. Roosevelt零 New Deal. Endorsing it was politics. The aim was to re-establish Mr Clinton as a New Democrat. Middle America does not like welfare." (30/8/96)
Clinging to the Democrat's coat tails, the American unions have pumped in $30 million to support Clinton for President, arguing that the alternative--Republican control of both White House and Congress--is worse. They will be sadly disillusioned in the event of a Clinton win in November, given a new economic recession in the next few years and the inevitable attacks on working people by a new Clinton Administration. The looming crises in the funding of federal pensions and in Medicare and Medicaid, and the cuts that will ensue, will be tackled once he is re-elected. As the Financial Times continued: "His prospectus will not--as he claims--recreate the American dream. That is impossible. The effortless economic growth of the post-war decades which guaranteed the country's children a higher standard of living than their parents has gone forever."
The only alternative for American workers is the building of the American Labor Party that was founded last June in Cleveland, Ohio.The Labour Convention decided as a priority to develop its structures and build its membership before embarking on the electoral plane. A Convention in two years time will consider the question again, and debate standing candidates at a local and state level. If this is agreed, it could become the starting point for a shot at the Presidential elections in the year 2000. A Labor candidate, under deteriorating economic conditions, could become the focal point for all the disillusionment in the present two party system. By that time, given the opposition to the Clinton Administration that would arise from the attacks on the working class in the coming period, a party of labor could really make its mark.
The US Labor party could, under these conditions, experience a great fillip, and see its support grow rapidly in the trade unions and in the working class generally. It would mark the first serious intervention of independent Labour in US politics since the early 1920s. It would be a qualitative turning point for organized labor. Even the initial response for Pat Buchanan in the Republican primaries,with his anti-big business stance, is symptomatic of the underlying shifts that are taking place in American politics and the disconten with the two party system.
The same was true of Perot's campaign in1992, where as an independent candidate he stood on an anti-establishment ticket, and was able to pick up 19 per cent of the vote. Recent polls have shown more than 60 per cent support for the formation of a third party. A radical Labor Party could easily tap into the colossal discontent that exists in American society, and transform the whole situation.
Ironically, the British Labour Party leadership are looking to Clinton for inspiration. Ever since 1992, the right wing "modernisers" have sought to ape the US Democrats and carry through a Clintonization of the party. That is why Blair has distanced himself from the trade unions, thrown out Clause Four, and adopted neo-Tory policies on a whole range of questions. Seeking to emulate the manner and approach of the Democrats, a host o fLabour advisers were dispatched to the Democratic Convention in Chicago. People like Prescott, Gordon Brown and Chris Smith, from Labour's front bench, were there taking notes. In the words of Prescott, "You can't Clintonize British politics, but you can learn from them."
Learn what? What has this party got to offer working people in Britain?
For "New Democrat" substitute "New Labour". States the Financial Times: "Partly it is a question of picking up sophisticated US campaign techniques--Mr. Brown plays a pivotal role in the day-to-day planning of Labour's election strategy. But there are closer parallels. Mr. Brown has long seen the New Democrats as a source of ideas for Labour's modernization. Mr Prescott's instincts lie with the liberal wing of Mr Clinton's party. But the British guests have not missed the fact that Democrats are resting their hopes of re-election on the most conservative electoral prospectus in its recent history. The themes are fiscal conservatism, a determined embrace for family values, and a tough approach to crime." (29/8/96)
Blair's attraction to Clinton shows how far to the right the Labour leadership has gone in recent years. They sent representatives to the Democratic Convention but refused to send official representatives to the founding Convention of the US Labor Party. The likely victory for Clinton in November is not based upon the support and inspiration of working people, far from it. The mass of workers will abstain. A layer will vote for Clinton given the extreme rightwing position of the Republicans. But in practice, as was seen by the welfare bill signed by Clinton, there is little to choose from these big business parties. Their differences are really minor. It is simply a question of method and style. They want to same thing: to make the American working class shoulder the crisis of corporate America.
The next slump will bring this home with a vengeance. Blair's pandering to so-called Middle England and his right wing policies, far from securing victory, can serve to alienate Labour's natural supporters. No amount of razzamataz will inspire working people to support Labour. On the contrary, such an approach can turn people away. Only real socialist policies that can answer the problems of working people can inspire and motivate them to vote and support the party. British Labour has nothing to learn from Clinton or the US Democrats.