Friday, March 11, 2011

Class War-ren Buffet

The Labour movement in the United States responded to the attacks on public sector workers union rights in Wisconsin with a limp defeatist campaign entitled Stop the War on least Warren Buffet, America's folksy Billionaire, got it's Class War!

"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, t

he rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett,

quoted in the New York Times, November 2006

“I believe we are in the midst of an irrepressible labor conflict that has pitted the haves versus the have-nots,”
said University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, history professor Andrew Kersten at the conference. “As Warren Buffett has said recently, ‘There is a class war, alright, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s waging it, and we’re winning.’ It’s not merely the money or the political power they crave, they seek to transform the way we think and act on a daily basis.”

Warren Buffett created a stir in the billionaires' club when he told a New York Times reporter that America is in the midst of class warfare and that the rich are winning. Buffett made this comment as deregulation in the banking industry, tax cuts for the rich and runaway spending on Middle Eastern wars were setting the world up for a global recession. The predictable economic collapse which was made inevitable by tax cuts, wars and deregulation is now being deepened by political leaders who insist that the way out of this disaster is -- and please try to resist sticking a sharp stick in your eye when you read this -- by tax cuts for the wealthy, further deregulation and doubling down in our war in Afghanistan.

All in all there is a class warfare currently going on, under the covers,
which even the great Warren Buffet has admitted to in an interview in 2005 with CNN's Lou Dobbs, wherein they said: "DOBBS: ... In 1983, Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman, he had a very simple idea: raise taxes. That's what you're saying here. BUFFETT: Sure. But I wouldn't raise the 12-point and a fraction payroll tax, I would raise the taxable base to above $90,000. DOBBS: That's a progressive idea. In other words, the rich people would pay more? BUFFETT: Yeah. The rich people are doing so well in this country. I mean, we never had it so good. DOBBS: What a radical idea. BUFFETT: It's class warfare, my class is winning, but they shouldn't be..."

Money Talks.

But, oh no, we can't raise marginal tax rates a lousy 4.6 percent on incomes above $250,000. Perish the thought. Never mind that the past 30 years have seen the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans increase their share of the national wealth from 7 percent to approximately 23 percent. Nor that, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, corporate CEOs who made 24 times more than a typical worker in 1965 now earn about 275 times more than the guys in the shop. Assuming the shop hasn't closed down and moved to Thailand, that is.

But heaven forbid we bring back Clinton-era tax rates. Instead, let's stimulate the economy by putting a few hundred thousand federal employees on the street. That'll work.

"There's class warfare, all right," Warren Buffett, the multibillionaire investor told the New York Times in 2006, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, a brand-new Republican governor largely financed by the infamous Koch brothers, the Scrooge McDuck type of billionaire, has identified even more sinister enemies of the common man: schoolteachers, nurses and the guys who drive snowplows.

Gov. Scott Walker, an Eagle Scout and career politician, came into office spouting the usual Tea Party humbug: lower taxes, fiscal restraint. Then he pulled a bait and switch worthy of the cheesiest kind of used car dealer. First, he persuaded the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass $140 million in corporate tax cuts. Then he announced a $137 million budget deficit that could only be closed by making public employees pay a substantially higher share -- as much as 12 percent of their salaries -- for their healthcare and pensions.

As events in Egypt showed, you never know what will set off mass protest.

Here at home, over-reaching by a novice Republican governor of Wisconsin has finally triggered the protest marches that have been eerily missing during the more than three years of an economic crisis that has savaged the middle and bottom and rewarded the top.

It's not as if we lack a politics of class. As mega-investor Warren Buffett famously said, there is plenty of class warfare in America, but the billionaire class is winning.

This economic crisis, after all, was brought on by excesses on Wall Street. Yet with the rest of the economy still mired in high unemployment and fiscal crises of public services, Wall Street was first to be bailed out, the first to return to exorbitant profitability, and the last to be held accountable.

Month after month, progressives have been asking each other, where are the mass protests?

You might expect popular indignation to be focused on the banks. Instead, the economic unease of ordinary people has been substantially captured by the Tea Party right and directed against government, while Beltway politicians of both parties are outdoing one another to vie for the role of more austere deficit hawk, which will hardly win back popular support for the public sector.

Then the newly energized Republicans made a couple of big mistakes. One was trying to cut too deep, on the heels of a massive tax cut for the rich. But the other miscalculation was to declare war on the one bastion of organized economic representation of regular people -- the labor movement.

With new legislative majorities in 18 states, several freshman Republican governors are hoping to withdraw collective bargaining rights from public employees and to otherwise demonize nurses, teachers, fire-fighters, cops, sanitation workers and others who have managed to hang on to decent pensions and health coverage.

This looked to be a cakewalk. Public workers, seemingly, are an easy target. After all, they still have jobs and benefits. Instead of demanding to know why our own pension and health coverage is so lousy, the rest of us are supposed to resent middle income workers in the public sector for having health and pension benefits better than ours. It is a carefully cultivated politics of division and resentment.

But this time, Republicans overreached, and the long smoldering economic unease has finally sparked mass demonstrations. Rather than following the script and resenting public employees as a privileged "other," the citizens of Madison increasingly view teachers, nurses, cops, firefighters, and other public workers as their violated neighbors.

One recent poll showed that two-thirds of Wisconsin citizens polled (none from public employee families) felt that Walker had gone too far. Even citizens who wanted public workers to pay more of the costs of their benefits concluded that his scheme was excessive. Another poll, sponsored by an Illinois Manufacturers Association, found a similar result.

Now, mass protest has broken out in other states where Republican governors are attacking unions, tens of thousands of other citizens are joining their union brothers and sisters, and even the mainstream press is taking sympathetic notice. In a fine piece in Saturday's Times, Michael Cooper and Kit Seelye asked: "Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?"

Maybe it is. And not just of collective bargaining rights.

At long last, resentment against the economic crisis is beginning to find its natural home, where it always belonged -- against financial elites, their privileges and Republican allies. It is dawning on ordinary voters that something is wrong when hedge fund billionaires and investment bankers are making more than ever, while public workers (average Wisconsin pay: $48,000) are being made the scapegoats.

Workers of the World Unite...

The analysis of Karl Marx, believed archaic and irrelevant only a few short years ago, have again become highly relevant. Our social and economic conditions, for all the bluster and noise of the 20th century, are fundamentally unchanged from where they were in the 1800s.

The 20th century was a time of optimism. The American dream was validated. The radicalism of the previous century was forgotten after World War 2. Radicals like Karl Marx were proven to be wrong. Since 2008 however, the jury has reconvened. And in that jury box we come cannot help but be impressed. Consider, for an example, these two quotes from the Communist Manifesto, written 1848:

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarians, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.


Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes.

If Marx were alive today, if he were witness to the struggles through Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and America he would not be surprised. He saw it coming. He saw it coming because he understood the nature of capitalism.

While we may not want to run out and join our local band of communists, we may want to reconsider many of the observations that were relevant in the 19th century not only from Marx, but from others. Strangely enough, for all the progress we have made over the past century, we seem to be back, more or less, where we started from.

We now live in a time of ruthless, predatory capitalism.It takes no prisoners and when it does, it tortures them. Since the 1980s workers have faced stark choices. Threats to move manufacturing abroad have actually been promises. Unions have become crippled and powerless.

The two pillars of working class strength, strong unions and public spending, have been reduced to ineffective shadows of their former selves. The social democratic response is limited to asking for more, for a larger piece of the pie. That is because the fundamental ideology of social democratic movements and parties are reformist. The aim is to reform capitalism; to redistribute wealth. In the past this objective has been met in some places more so than in others. And if we learn anything from history, we know that you don't 'ask' the billionaire class for anything. You demand and you are prepared to back your demands, or stay home.

Today, unions are powerless because the bosses have become radical and right wing to the extreme. The only principles they adhere to beyond cold pragmaticism are cold and calculating neo liberal policies, policies that boldly proclaim, it's every man for himself. Sink or swim. They would rather ship jobs away or close shop than negotiate. Social democratic political parties merely parrot the wishes and policies of the private sector. If social democrats want to strengthen the safety net, a powerful assault from the right, from bond rating agencies and even the IMF will efficiently put them down.

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