Painters, Drywall Finishers say: Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!

From Bridge City Militant No. 3. Available in Spanish here.

Painters, Drywall Finishers say:

Break with the Democrats!
For a Class-­Struggle Workers Party!

In a historic decision, the 17 August meeting of Painters and Drywall Finishers, IUPAT Local 10, voted unanimously to reject the Democratic and Republican parties or “any Party of the Bosses,” and to “call on the labor movement to break from the Democratic Party, and build a class-struggle workers party.” The resolution was introduced by CSWP members, the result of years of patient political education and struggle. Union members spoke passionately from the floor about the need to organize and rely on our own power as workers.

Momentum for the resolution grew as members came up against the same bleak reality that people across the country are confronting: as the resolution states, “the 2016 presidential election offers us the ‘choice’ between a raving, bigoted clown and a career representative of Wall Street” (we leave it to readers to decide which is which). The news has been buzzing from member to member, from local to local across the country. Workers are fed up that “the bosses have two parties to represent their class while the millions of working people have none.” Two days later, as if to emphasize our point, Democratic VP nominee Tim “right-to-work” Kaine jetted into Portland for an exclusive, $27,000-per-ticket country club fund-raiser hosted by prominent Republican businessmen.

So, Local 10 took a very bold and important stand for working class political independence. What now? Class-struggle militants hope to promote Local 10’s example to encourage initiatives, here and across the country, for labor to do what the resolution says: to build a class-struggle workers party.

Throughout the history of this country, the unions have been in political chains, tied to one or another party representing the interests of capital, limited to the hopeless task of pressuring these political representatives of the bosses and seeking the “lesser evil” among them. So when the workers begin to move to break those chains, as we in CSWP hope the decision of Local 10 portends, it opens a whole series of political questions that have never been widely discussed in the U.S. labor movement. What should a workers party look like? What would it do? What do we mean by “class struggle”?

No to the Greens and other Bern-outs

One of the factors contributing to the support for our resolution in Local 10, and its growing resonance nationally, is the disillusionment felt by many partisans of Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution.” Millions across the country are realizing that this “revolution” was phony from the start. Many so-called “radicals” and “socialists” showed their true colors by encouraging support for the Vermont senator who is a de facto Democrat. Not us. We told the truth, in issue No. 1 of Bridge City Militant, that “Sanders supporters are certainly chumps for Wall Street’s preferred party: ‘energizing’ the ‘base’ – the workers, poor people, oppressed racial minorities, and women – to vote for the ‘lesser evil’ party of their oppressors. It’s a con game.” Let’s not get conned again.

Now that the inevitable has happened, many Bernie supporters are deserting the Democrats for the Green Party ticket of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka. But the Green Party is a capitalist party just as much as the Democrats and Republicans. And the class line is fundamental. While some supposed “radicals” call to “break with the two-party system” or promote some vague “party of the 99%” (which would include most bosses and their hired thugs, the police!), it’s not the number of parties that matters, but which class they represent. Accept no alternatives: we need a party for the workers.

The Green Party platform is a mishmash of liberal wishful thinking, evidently developed under the influence of healing crystals and homeopathic vapors. Fundamentally, it enshrines the right of capitalist private property. When you start by accepting the basis of the capitalist system, all the various reform proposals in the Green platform, some of which are supportable in the abstract, are just empty talk.

But the Green platform isn’t just misguided good ideas, either. It proposes a future of imperialist war for the U.S., so long as these wars are sanctioned by the United Nations. The UN? The den of thieves that currently provides the fig-leaf for the imperialist occupation of Haiti, and was born in the genocidal U.S.-led war against Korea? The Green Party is for “peace,” of course. Cut the U.S. military budget in half, it says: that would be $350 billion per year! On those conditions, many a mass-murdering Pentagon general could find a comfortable home in the Green Party. Class-conscious workers, on the other hand, oppose “our own” government in its wars, by seeking to mobilize workers power here and across national boundaries.

Just because the bosses have no need for the Green Party doesn’t make it any less a capitalist party or an ally of the working people. It’s a home for homeless Democrats. But the working class, the vast majority of U.S. society and the class whose labor makes all the wealth of the world, doesn’t need a political homeless camp. We need our own political instrument, one that mobilizes and coordinates the power that we have as a class.

What Should a Workers Party Do?

A class struggle workers party would lead the fight on the picket lines and in the streets: to shut down the cities in protest against the epidemic of racist police murder. Build on examples like the Oakland, CA ILWU Local 10 May Day 2015 against racist police attacks.

To rip up the anti-union laws like Taft-Hartley and roll the unions on into the unorganized industries, by building massive picket lines that scabs won’t dare to cross. To tear down the concentration camps holding thousands of our immigrant sisters and brothers, stop the ICE raids and demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

How many anti-war movements have we been through? Free our sisters and brothers around the world from the nightmare of imperialist war: strike against war, “hot cargo” shut down war shipments. This struggle cannot stop and won’t succeed until the working class is in its rightful place as the rulers of this country. That’s what we in CSWP mean by class-struggle.

Clearly, our perspective is currently a tiny minority in the labor movement. No doubt most workers today still hold illusions in the bosses’ “democracy,” and hope to reform it to make it fairer to the people on the bottom of society. The current leaders of the unions have built their careers on betraying the workers and serving us up as voter-victims for the bosses’ parties. The struggle for a real workers party will be a fight against the sellouts running the unions today.

Nowadays “politics” and “parties” are often thought of as meaning the cynical game of vote-getting and office-hunting, all within the bounds of what is acceptable to the bosses’ dollar democracy. Most countries in Europe and many other parts of the world, from Brazil to India, have long experiences with “workers,” “labor,” “socialist” or “communist” parties that are important partners in the administration of the bosses’ governments. In this country, there have been a series of half-baked attempts at a “labor party” built on a program designed to be harmless to the the Democrats and the bureaucrats. In Oregon and some other states, we have a “Working Families Party,” which is not a party at all, but a cynical fraud committed against the union membership by the labor tops. Its presidential candidate is … Hillary Clinton. What a joke!

But as Karl Marx remarked over a century and a half ago, “every class struggle is a political struggle.” In this epoch of decaying capitalism, every struggle to defend the most basic interests of the working people runs up against the limits of private property. What’s needed is a workers party that is ready and willing to take that struggle to its necessary conclusion.

The ice is starting to break. Many people can see the writing on the wall. We in the CSWP want to bring the message to working people across the country that we need to fight for political independence. And while the first steps may be partial, we won’t stop advocating for the only kind of workers party that can actually fight for the interests of the working class and oppressed all along the line: a party with a program of class struggle, fighting for a workers government. This fight will require a hard core of class struggle militants in the workers organizations dedicated to this program. The CSWP seeks to build that hard core. Join us! ■


Bernie Sanders? No! We Need a Class-Struggle Workers Party

This article was first published in Bridge City Militant No. 1, Fall 2015.

The first votes won’t be cast for many months, but the presidential election season is already upon us, and pressure is building on the unions to choose their candidates. Among labor activists and the left, attention is focused on the figure of Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont. Sanders, who sometimes claims to be an “independent” and a “democratic socialist” is running to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for president in 2016. Labor Notes, the voice of “progressive” union bureaucrats who sometimes pose as “troublemakers,” hyped Sanders in a 17 July 2015 article by Dan DiMaggio:

“Sanders’ platform includes a $15-an-hour minimum wage, guaranteed vacations and sick leave, lifting the payroll tax cap on Social Security, and single-payer health care. He’s a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the latest corporate-friendly trade deal. He rails against income inequality and how the ‘billionaire class’ dominates politics.”

Cheap talk. Class-struggle militants are not “feeling the Bern.” We are anti-Bernie, anti-Hillary, anti-Democrat, anti-Republican, anti-Green. Yes, we’re pretty much against everything that passes for “politics” these days, because it’s all about who will be the CEO of bloody, racist U.S. capitalism, and Bernie is no exception. We will oppose any endorsements or other forms of support by our unions for Sanders or any of the current candidates.

Many critics have pointed out that Bernie Sanders, the nominal “independent” who votes with the Democratic Party caucus in the Senate, has already made it clear that he will support whoever gets the Democratic Party nomination: presumably, Hillary Clinton’s lavishly-financed establishment campiagn. Sanders supporters are certainly chumps for Wall Street’s preferred party: “energizing” the “base” – the workers, poor people, oppressed racial minorities, and women – to vote for the “lesser evil” party of their oppressors. It’s a con game.

But what if he wins the nomination? He is surging in the (mostly meaningless) early polls. Or what if Bernie, under the ardent “pressure” of his fans, does the opposite of what he has repeatedly promised to do, and goes “independent”?

We would still not support him. In the Senate, he sometimes opposes U.S. military policy in words – but votes for war budgets. He voted for the genocidal sanctions against Iraq, that killed millions of innocent civilians and paved the way for the war he “opposed.” He opposed the Orwellian PATRIOT Act – in words – and voted for the USA Freedom Act, which continued massive government spying. His “radical” economic proposals amount to tinkering with the tax code and the anti-labor laws. Even if the millionaires’ Congress goes along with his talk of a $15/hour minimum wage (keep dreaming!) this would be a poverty wage. The rest is standard Democratic Party primary populist bluster about the “middle class.”

American workers should take note: not so long ago, last winter, a very radical-talking capitalist party – SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left – won the national elections in Greece. They were full of tough talk against the bloodthirsty banks that were condemning Greek workers to double-digit unemployment and starvation wages. The mouthpieces of high finance shrieked with terror. And then, SYRIZA imposed worse “austerity” measures on the Greek workers and poor than preceding right-wing governments had ever dared to.

A President Bernie Sanders – a milquetoast moderate compared to the Greek “radicals” – would likewise do what Wall Street will need of him. Wall Street can live with higher taxes: Warren Bufffet and Bill Gates agree. But it can’t live without endless war abroad and racist police-state repression “at home” to guarantee its property and its exploitation of labor. Bernie is not Wall Street’s candidate, but the decisive issue for us is that he seeks to rule on behalf of Wall Street, as a “socialist” who supports private property and demonstrably is willing to make whatever compromise this support requires.

This fundamental problem – the problem of class, as in which class should rule – is obvious when we seriously consider the most burning issue in American politics, the “color line.” And it should be clear that supporting Bernie Sanders, critically or not, will do nothing to end the oppression of black people in this country.

Black Lives Matter activists grabbed the spotlight by crashing Sanders appearances at the Democratic Party “Net Roots Nation” conference in Phoenix, Arizona, and again at a rally in Seattle to celebrate the anniversary of Social Security. The response from Sanders fans ranged from incredulous shock to ugly racist heckling. Oh how dare they! Don’t they realize that Sanders is the lesser-lesser evil? Is the fact that black women and men are being hunted and killed like animals on the streets by the police really a reason to interrupt the circus of Democratic politics-as-usual?

So Sanders appointed a new campaign spokesperson, the black activist Symone Sanders (no relation to the senator), and published a platform for “racial justice” on On MSNBC’s August 11 Chris Hayes show, BLM founder Alicia Garza claimed “that interruption really forced Bernie Sanders to have a strong platform on race and racial justice.”

So what is his platform? A laundry list of police training and policy reforms that are already in place in many major cities like New York, Oakland and Baltimore, and do absolutely nothing to stop the legal lynching of black people! Systematic state violence against black people is not just a policy, it is a fundamental feature of American capitalism. More training, different arming, or more black and latino cops and police chiefs, among other pseudo-reforms, have done nothing and will do nothing. Demilitarize the police? Eric Garner was strangled by hand on a busy New York City street in broad daylight, and the “justice system” let his killers walk without charges. On the mass incarceration of blacks, Sanders the “socialist” isn’t against prisons, just private prisons, and isn’t against drug laws, just mandatory minimum sentences. A lot of hot air and precious little substance: that’s a “victory” for the dead-end politics of pressuring the Democratic Party.

Sanders supporters and labor “radicals” in general tend to look back sentimentally to the era of president Franklin Roosevelt, and the segregationist imperialist war chief’s “New Deal.” But the massive labor upsurge that created the modern American labor movement was not created by any legislation, and the key victories of 1934 – Longshore on the West Coast, Teamsters in Minneapolis, and auto workers in Toledo – were victorious because they were willing to struggle independently from and against the labor laws and the Democratic and Republican governments that administered them. The decades-long decline of the labor movement that class-struggle militants seek to reverse is fundamentally the result of the labor leadership’s support for and loyalty to the bosses’ parties and their government.

To revive the labor movement we must break with all the capitalist parties, including the slightly-lesser-evil ones. The greater evil by far is the continued subordination of the unions to their class enemy through the instrument of the Democratic Party.

CSWP stands for class struggle, not illusions in capitalist election games. The unions can only rely on our own forces, the irresistible power of millions of workers, to fight poverty wages, to smash racist oppression, to champion the rights of women, sexual/gender minorities and immigrants. To coordinate this fight we propose a different kind of party, a workers party with a program of class struggle. ■

“Right to Work” = Slave Labor Laws

Reprinted from Bridge City Militant No. 2

Bust the Union-Busters – We’ve Got the Power, Use It or Lose It!

“Right to Work” = Slave Labor Laws

Madison, Wisconsin, February 2011: over 100,000 unionists surround the state capitol to block Right to Work. A general strike was discussed, but local AFL-CIO tops called off protests in favor of electoral support for Democrats. Result: Wisconsin is a right-to-slave state. Labor’s got to play hardball to win! (Photo: Yuri Keegstra)
Madison, Wisconsin, February 2011: over 100,000 unionists surround the state capitol to block Right to Work. A general strike was discussed, but local AFL-CIO tops called off protests in favor of electoral support for Democrats. Result: Wisconsin is a right-to-slave state. Labor’s got to play hardball to win! (Photo: Yuri Keegstra)

A major attack is coming down on our unions. Last year, the Supreme Court took a case from a small group of right-wing ideologues, Friedrichs et al., against the California Teachers Association. The case seeks to crush the unions financially by overturning the “agency shop” rule. If the unelected life-term hangmen on the Supreme Court hand down a verdict for the business lobbies against the teachers union, it will give a green light to governments and bosses across the country to go on a union-busting, contract-shredding campaign against a weakened union movement. A decision is expected this spring.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, the anti-union “Freedom” foundation has brain-trusted and bankrolled a lawsuit that seeks to eliminate the agency shop for home care workers in SEIU Local 503. (“Freedom” for who? They are against our right to strike. Someone should remind them that the North won the Civil War.) And every election season in Oregon and Washington, as in states across the country, we see ballot initiatives that would implement these and other anti-union measures, going under the deceptive banner of “right to work.” In 2015, the initiatives were put on hold when the Oregon Supreme Court gave them a title that doesn’t jive with the slick marketing plans of the union-busting lawyers. But they’ll be back again next year.

2016 could be the year of a decisive struggle here and nationwide over union rights and union power. Union militants need to prepare our ranks for battle now. If the unions lose, we could be headed back to the bad old days before the mass struggles in the 1930s that founded the industrial unions in this country. Poverty wages, no job security, no health care (don’t count on ObamaCare – see “Obamacare Screws Workers, Windfall for Insurance Companies”), no retirement (they’re going after our Social Security, too), and unions reduced to ineffective guilds representing only the most privileged crafts.

But we can win. In every opinion poll, the big majority of workers say they would join a union if they had the chance. While the economic crash of 2008 never really ended for the working class, especially for black and Latino workers, the “recovery” is starting to make workers feel more confident about standing up for long-delayed raises and other improvements after decades of belt-tightening. Minimum-wage, non-union workers in fast food and retail are courageously rising up, even though the union leaders do little to actually organize them or defend their jobs. And although the established unions are much weaker than they ought to be, they still represent millions of workers in strategic industries that can shut this country down. We need to use that power before we lose it.

The union leaders know that this attack is coming. “Right to work” would put a big dent in dues collections. But as in everything else, these “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class” won’t lead the fight back. By relying on their Democratic Party “allies” and on desperate attempts to play the media spin game in the capitalist press (they call this “education”), while opposing any militant labor action, they are giving up before the fight even begins. We can’t let this happen.

It’s true that the Democrats are happy to take millions in campaign contributions from union political action committees, and the “Right to Work” hard-liners are mostly Republicans. But the Democrats won’t fight the union-busters. On the contrary, they are a capitalist union busting party just as much as the Republicans, and if the “Right to Work” holy warriors win their lawsuits or referendums, Democrats from City Hall to the White House will enforce the new laws against the workers. Who called out the Coast Guard against the locked out ILWU on the Columbia river last year? Democratic President Obama, endorsed by the ILWU leaders. Who is gearing up for another showdown with the Chicago teachers union? Obama’s right hand man, Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose cops are famous for assassinating black kids and running a CIA-style torture center at Homan Square. Who will be de-funding and attacking public workers in Oregon, from Laborers to teachers to SEIU, if Friedrichs wins? Labor’s phony “friend,” Democrat governor Kate Brown.

San Francisco newspaper Bloody Thursday ILWU
The capitalists will always try to chain the workers with anti-union laws. If we play by their rules, we’re bound to lose, but militant workers action can win. July 1934: the National Guard is deployed in San Francisco against an “illegal” general strike. Three strikers are gunned down, but the strike gives birth to the powerful International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Union leaders say that our ties to the Democrats give us “influence,” but it’s really the other way around. Look at what happened in Wisconsin in 2011. The Republican governor, Scott Walker, tried to ram through a “Right to Work” law. Tens of thousands of union supporters surrounded the state capitol in Madison, physically blocking the meetings from going forward. The local Central Labor Council even talked about a general strike, which was possible and needed to kill the anti-union law. But at the last minute, the “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class” opted for an electoral approach, a petition to recall Scott Walker, presumably in favor of a Democratic successor. The workers were demobilized, and they lost. Now Wisconsin and neighboring Michigan, the birthplace of the mighty United Auto Workers, are “right to work” states. In Michigan, the union leaders’ usual “smart” tactics of lobbying and begging failed completely, and “right to work” was imposed without a fight.

The policies of the union tops fail because they are based on class collaboration with one wing of the party of capitalist property, the Democrats. But what we’re facing is a bipartisan, one-sided class war as Wall Street seeks to squeeze ever-higher profits from our labor and eliminate “unnecessary” expenses like education, health care and basic health, safety and environmental protections. To fight “right to work” we need to prepare to wage the class war. It’s a struggle that labor can win because it’s a struggle of millions of working people, without whose labor “not a single wheel would turn,” against a tiny class of parasites who produce nothing but misery and oppression for the vast majority of humanity.

“Right to Work” seeks to end the “agency shop.” The agency shop itself is a rotten compromise that was imposed on the unions in exchange for anti-labor laws that outlawed the closed union shop. Under the agency shop, workers at an organized company or state agency don’t have to join the union, but they do have to pay a portion of the union dues, often called “fair share fees” or “agency fees,” and everyone gets the benefits and wages that the union negotiates from the employer. The big majority of workers do sign up for the union, because they understand that it stands for their rights and welfare. But this arrangement still weakens the union, and encourages the natural tendency of the union bureaucrats to run the union like an “independent,” “neutral” welfare agency rather than the fighting self-defense organization of the workers.

The other arrangement that leaves the unions vulnerable to the “right to work” attack is that most unions have allowed the bosses – private companies or government agencies – to collect their dues through paycheck deductions. We never should have allowed the class enemy to get their hands on the finances of our organizations. Dues should be collected directly by the union. This is not just an elementary self-defense measure, it’s a boost for union democracy and a check on out-of-touch bureaucracy in our unions.

Above all, every union needs to begin preparing to fight the coming union-busting onslaught in the streets and in the workplaces. We need to form committees in every local and every workplace to prepare to tie up metro Portland like the workers in Wisconsin shut down Madison in 2011 – but Wisconsin shows that we can’t let the fight be diverted into the dead end of electoral support for the Democrats or any capitalist party. We need a class struggle workers party: not just a vote-getting apparatus but a party to organize and lead the fight for the oppressed and exploited, using the powerful weapons that our class has.

To defend the unions where we have them, and to encourage workers at non-union shops to go union, we must fight for the union shop no matter what the bosses’ laws or the bosses’ courts say. Workers fought and died to have a collective organization against the bosses, because as individuals we are “free” just the way the “Freedom Foundation” would have it: free to work under the bosses whim, or free to quit and starve. We shouldn’t allow freeloaders and suckers who’ve been duped by anti-union propaganda to undermine our power.

At the 2015 Oregon AFL-CIO convention, class-struggle militants brought this perspective to the floor in the form of a resolution to fight Right to Work. As expected, it was shot down by the union leaders, who are planning to lose this crucial battle. The labor bureaucrats who sit on top of Oregon unions are so loyal to their Democratic Party masters that they even endorsed a poverty wage ballot initiative designed to undercut efforts to get a $15 minimum wage initiative on the ballot, then, in an act of disgusting hypocrisy, they “endorsed” the $15 initiative too. Thanks a lot. If workers want a big raise we can’t rely on the rigged electoral game or the sellout union leaders. We are going to have to fight for it the class-struggle way, by unionizing low wage workers and shutting down businesses that don’t pay our minimum wage demand with solid strike action.

The perspective we outlined at the AFL-CIO convention garnered strong support from rank and file delegates, ranging from teachers to laborers and postal workers. The leaders of organized labor have learned nothing and are preparing to sell out big time, with disastrous consequences for the working class. They need to be replaced by a class-struggle leadership. Every step we take to prepare for a real fight against “right to work” union busting is a step to rebuild workers power and organize the unorganized. CSWP supporters will continue our efforts to defend our unions, and we urge fellow union members to join us. ■

Obamacare Screws Workers, Windfall for Insurance Companies

Wages, Hours, Jobs Cut – Union Health Plans Terminated

Obamacare Screws Workers,
Windfall for Insurance Companies

APPW Local 153 on strike at Kapstone paper mill in Longview, WA, August 27, over the company’s imposition of contract canceling health insurance to avoid Obamacare “Cadillac plan” tax. (Photo: Brooks Johnson/The Daily News)
APPW Local 153 on strike at Kapstone paper mill in Longview, WA, August 27, over the company’s imposition of contract canceling health insurance to avoid Obamacare “Cadillac plan” tax. (Photo: Brooks Johnson/The Daily News)

By Class Struggle Workers – Portland

PORTLAND, OR – The Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as “Obamacare,” survived a key legal challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, June 25. The court came down 6-3 against a suit by David King, a Virginia limousine chauffeur for a cartel of conservative ideologues who claimed that it was illegal for the federal government to offer tax credits as a subsidy to offset the cost of purchasing private health insurance, if the insurance was purchased through the federal government-administered marketplace. The ruling, along with the same day’s historic verdict allowing gay marriage nationwide, elated Democratic partisans, who have been all atwitter about the President’s legacy as he enters his “victory lap.” But Chelsea Manning, the transgendered Army veteran serving a 35-year sentence for courageously revealing U.S. imperialism’s war crimes, cautioned that the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling didn’t mean equality for all.

If the court had gone the other way on the ACA, it would have made it even harder for millions of Americans to afford any kind of health insurance. That only goes to show that in bourgeois politics, “it could always be worse” for working people. If reactionary troglodytes oppose the ACA because god told them to oppose any sort of social welfare programs, especially those enacted by a Black president, it does not follow that class-conscious workers should support it. This law gives billions to the insurance industry out of the pockets working and poor people in the U.S. Class-conscious workers oppose the ACA and fight for a universal, socialized health care system while implacably defending every health care benefit that workers have won as a concession from the employers. And this can only be achieved as part of a broader class struggle against all factions of the capitalist ruling class, particularly the Democratic party.

Obamacare is a far cry from universal health coverage. The “insurance” it does provide for millions of working and poor people is often illusory. While it has ensured a steady stream of revenue for private health insurance companies, it has had its intended effect of adding to the pressure on unions to give up their hard-won health insurance programs. And that’s only one of the negative aspects for workers. So let’s go down the list. First up, who is excluded from the ACA? For starters, more than 15 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom work in dangerous jobs like construction, agriculture and food industry, are denied coverage, even though many of them pay Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes from which they will never see any benefit. Class-conscious workers demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Second, while private health insurance plans may cover elective abortions, this portion of the insurance cannot be subsidized by the federal government under the ACA. Medicaid coverage is available in states which have accepted “expanded” funding for individuals earning up to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level. But Medicaid is barred from covering abortion since the Hyde Amendment was passed by Congress and signed by the Democrat president Carter in 1977. Combined with the increasing restrictions on abortion in the U.S. as legal traps and terrorist attacks shutter clinics across the country, this means that millions of poor and working class women effectively have no safe, legal option for ending an unwanted pregnancy. Far from a step towards the free abortion on demand that we fight for, the ACA reinforces the legal obstacles to affordable abortion that Democrats and Republicans have put in place since Roe vs. Wade.

What of the insurance that is offered? The sick reality behind the statistics of increasing enrollment and decreasing number of uninsured since the passage of the ACA is that for working people, the insurance is an illusion, a scam that will not prevent them from being cast into devastating debt because of illness, accidents or chronic disease. The “bronze” health plans have the lowest monthly premiums. These vary by state, and are expected to increase. Currently they are around $150 per month. Already, that’s a significant “invisible” pay cut for a low-wage worker struggling to pay rent and other essential expenses. Yet these bronze plans can have deductibles of over $2,000 for an individual or $5,000 for a family, and annual maximum out-of-pocket costs of $6,000/$12,000 family. Can you afford that? Many working people can’t.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that median single-person, non-elderly households above the poverty level (in other words, those ineligible for standard Medicare or Medicaid) have liquid assets of $2503, and net assets of just $1,369! Households on the poorer end of this spectrum, earning up to twice the Federal Poverty Level, have liquid assets of just $766. Low- to moderate-wage workers on the “bargain” bronze health plan cannot afford to get medical care! And only the more expensive “silver” and higher plans are eligible for federal subsidies to cover out-of-pocket costs. The health-care reform lobbying group Physicians for a National Health Program accurately characterized low-end “affordable” plans as “a mirage, a simulacrum of insurance rather than actual insurance.”

What we have here is literally “insurance” for the insurance companies: a guaranteed customer base that must purchase “coverage” of dubious value, or pay a hefty tax penalty. Yet in the event of a serious illness, they can only expect to see a payout long after they have been squeezed dry by medical bills. Key to this cash cow for insurance companies is the “precarious” workforce of part-time workers whose employers are not required to offer company health plans since they work less than 30 hours per week on average at any one job. The New York Times (4 July) reports that private insurance plans are demanding increases of 20 to 40 percent for 2016. And through its “risk corridor” program, the ACA guarantees federal subsidies to insurance companies if they fail to reap sufficient profits during the transition to the ACA!

Employer-sponsored plans are generally marginally better when they are offered (required for most wage workers averaging over 30 hours per week), yet most still leave poor and middle-income workers in a catastrophic financial state before “insurance” kicks in. Again, there is the monthly premium, a significant effective pay cut. Three-quarters of company-sponsored plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, have a single-member deductible of over $1,500, and the average annual out-of-pocket limit is $3,000-$3,500 dollars. So for singles, the maximum deductible – the amount a patient must pay up front before insurance covers anything – is greater than the average total financial assets of the median household above the poverty line!

On top of this, there are the several hundred thousand mainly low-waged, part-time workers who have had their hours cut to less than 30 a week so that the employers don’t have to offer them health care (see Ben Casselman, “Yes, Some Companies Are Cutting Hours in Response to ‘Obamacare’,” FiveThirtyEight, 13 January). Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW) in New York already exposed this vicious anti-worker plan when it was being debated in Congress and at the time of its passage. See “On the Healthcare Crisis” (September 2009) and “Healthcare “Reform” Law: Bonanza for Wall Street, an Attack on Working People” (March 2010), reprinted in Class Struggle Education Workers Newsletter No. 2 (October-November 2010) and The Internationalist No. 32 (January-February 2011).

This bleak situation was not created by the ACA. By every reasonable measure, the U.S. has long had one of the worst and most expensive health care systems among wealthy imperialist countries. Health care bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy for individuals in this country, and have been for decades. ACA has reinforced this perverse system while liberal Democrats like economist Paul Krugman crow about Obama’s historic “reform.” What’s new to the ACA is a huge incentive for companies to push to dismantle health care coverage that unions have established through years of protracted struggle. In 2018, an excise tax of 40% will kick in on benefits valued at over $10,200 per year for individuals or $27,500 for families, the so-called “Cadillac” plans. Unions are doubly vulnerable in fighting this attack on workers benefits, because it comes from the Democratic Party that they loyally support.

The corporate analysis firm Jones Day offered clear advice to companies on this:

“Significantly, the ACA does not require employers to provide coverage for spouses and does not penalize employers for excluding spouses from coverage, so employers will need to evaluate the potential savings from excluding spouses from eligibility for health coverage…. While unions may resist efforts to curtail employee benefits in the near term, employers should consider the leverage that avoiding the Cadillac tax provides at the bargaining table…. Employers should take advantage of the leverage that the ACA provides, whether that means negotiating union waivers to allow employers significant flexibility to change and modify their plans, negotiating lower levels of coverage to balance out the added costs of expanded coverage, or negotiating to end coverage under employer-sponsored plans altogether.”

– “What’s the Deal? The Affordable Care Act in Labor Contract Negotiations,” October 2013

In recent contract negotiations, union workers have seen employers following this playbook, demanding lower coverage and ending employer-sponsored plans.

While some of the most well-entrenched unions, such as the New York City United Federation of Teachers, have been able to resist ACA-related cuts to their health care plans, in recent contract negotiations, unions across the country have succumbed to the employers’ blackmail. Even some allegedly “progressive” unions have gone to the bargaining table offering to slash members’ health care benefits right from the beginning of negotiations. This was the case in ILWU Local 5 covering workers at Powell’s Book Store in Portland, which Class Struggle Workers – Portland fought against. And across the board, increasing premiums and stagnating wages are forcing union members to make painful decisions about canceling optional enrollment for spouses and domestic partners.

Recently, 800 members of Local 153 of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW) at the Kapstone paper mill in Longview, WA were forced to go out on strike after rejecting a concessionary “final offer” from the company. The most prominent concession that the bosses demanded was to cancel the workers’ health insurance in order to avoid the ACA tax  and replace it with a cheap “high deductible” plan. The strike was called off on September 3 when the company brought in scabs, but the fight continues. Meanwhile, 2,200 metal workers across the country have been locked out since early August by Allegheny Technologies, among them United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7150 at a titanium plant in Albany, OR, for refusing the company’s “offer” that slashed health insurance benefits. There, too, management is using scabs.

Similar fights over essential health coverage are posed from coast to coast. Obamacare is one more weapon in the arsenal of the bosses’ offensive against the unions. AFL-CIO leaders have criticized the tax on union-negotiated health plans, yet they keep on rounding up votes for the Democrats. This sorry spectacle underscores that whether the issue is union-busting “right to work” laws or attacks on health care and retirement benefits, the key for labor to defeat these attacks is adopting a class-struggle program for powerful working-class action across traditional trade-union divisions, independent of and against all the parties of capital, Republicans and Democrats.

There’s no need for any of this deadly mess that’s called the health care “system” in the U.S. – except the need for profit. U.S. reported corporate profits are at over $8 trillion per year. Even ignoring the fact that a socialized health care system would be freed from the disastrous anarchy, inefficiency and bureaucracy required by private ownership, the present U.S. health care system, the most expensive in the world, consumes around $3 trillion per year. Present corporate profits could fund it twice over with trillions to spare. But this isn’t a question of accounting, tax rates, or one that any “reform” of the present system could achieve.

Union signs call to “stop the war on workers.” But that one-sided class war is the domestic face of the imperialist war U.S. rulers are waging around the world, and it won’t stop until it is defeated by mobilizing workers’ power, here and abroad. We can’t accomplish that so long as workers are bound hand-and-foot to one of the bosses’ parties. As the union tops once again throw their support behind the Democratic Party in the upcoming U.S. elections, worker militants must draw the lessons of their leaders’ support for the administration that designed the ACA bonanza for the insurance companies that is destroying health care for working people.

The key lesson is the need for a class-struggle workers party. It all comes down to a question of power, and Obamacare is one more reason why the workers must rise up and smash the power of the tiny minority of exploiters, rip the productive forces that we have built up out of the hands of these vultures, and establish a workers government to organize a planned economy, producing to fulfill human needs rather than the dictates of profit. Otherwise, the ACA debacle is a harbinger of worse to come – much worse. ■

This article first appeared in The Internationalist No. 41 (September-October 2015)