This special, double issue of New Labor Forum is dedicated to examining some of the key questions that will, or at least ought to be, at the heart of next yearís presidential election. That election promises to be a fateful one. Perhaps. The Congressional turn-about in 2006 already indicated a sea change in public opinion. Democratic Party triumphs in both the House and Senate signaled profound dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and the Bush Administration, and not only over the war in Iraq. Republican losses registered as well popular resentment over the disastrous consequences of free trade agreements, the grotesque greed of the petroleum-military-industrial complex, the lack of health insurance for millions of Americans, the corruption of public office by corporate greed, and the subversion of the constitution by an executive branch by whatever means necessary.
Since last fallís elections, the situation of the Bush Administration has only deteriorated further in every respect. It is barely holding on, hoping only to last out its term without complete defeat in Iraq and without any more of its key functionaries having to resign or ending up in jail. Politics is an unpredictable business. But it seems highly unlikely that any Republican candidate can win the presidency in 2008. However, for the labor movement and for working people more generally, that prospect opens up at least as many questions as it answers.
It is important to remember that the Democratic victory in 2006 was much more a repudiation of the Republican Party than it was an endorsement of the Democrats. This is hardly surprising. The Democratic Party offered no coherent, inspiring alternative. Moreover, for two decades, the Party has been dominated by a corporate-financial elite, represented in the Democratic Leadership Council, committed to the neoliberal, free market economics that supplanted the New Deal order. That faith and that policy are adhered to by the controlling circles of both major parties. If the electorate shows signs of serious disaffection from this persuasion, that does not necessarily mean the highest councils of the Democratic Party are listening.
Are we approaching the end of a forty year era of counterrevolution? That is the question that may get answered in the election of 2008. Arguably, the dilemmas faced by the country (and for that matter the wider world) cannot be addressed or finessed any longer within the confines of neoliberalism. That is to say, we may be about to witness one of those turning point moments in political life where even the most elementary reforms demand a more fundamental break with the prevailing political order of things: that is, with America’s “second Gilded Age” and its gross inequalities in income and wealth, its celebration of a callous free market individualism, and the business community’s political domination over our public life.
This special issue of the journal tries to identify those tipping point dilemmas and suggest meaty alternative solutions outside the neoliberal framework as food for thought and debate. Here’s our list of those pivotal issues which may make 2008 a year to remember: Economic Equity. Universal Health Insurance. Regulated Globalization. Renewable Energy Development. Immigration without Exploitation. Unionization of American working people.
None of these can be accomplished without jettisoning the prevailing free market orthodoxy; and all of them, taken together, comprise a general crisis for the old order. The decline in the standard of living for broad segments of the population over the last quarter century is a function of a finance driven de-industrialization, de-unionization, and the universalizing of sweated labor. The shameful absence of health insurance for so many is irrefutable evidence of the woeful inadequacy of private sector solutions, and the overwhelming influence of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The off-shoring of American jobs and the accelerated underdevelopment and impoverishment of vast stretches of the Global South is a tragic testament to the failure of corporate-led international economic policy to provide for the general welfare. Global warming is a direct consequence of the extraordinary political and economic throw weight of the oil industry, and the planet-wide disasters that will trail in its wake can’t be prevented without a fundamental transformation, under public auspices, of the energy infrastructure of the country. The domestic economy rests to a substantial degree on the super-exploitation of immigrant labor, a reservoir of “illegal” and powerless people, threatened by the xenophobic anxieties of citizen workers, and constantly replenished by the deleterious consequences of the neoliberal foreign economic imperatives of the World Bank, the IMF, and private international finance.
Overturning the corporate domination of our political economy depends at least as much on political strategy and mobilization as it does on bold, new policy alternatives. So we offer as well an article examining labor’s political prospects and opportunities as it prepares to make its weight felt in the presidential sweepstakes. And naturally the fate of the movement during the next year and well beyond that depends on its solving its urgent need to organize, both at home and abroad, and so we include here essays addressed to that question.
“But what about Iraq and the imperial adventurism it embodies?” every reader will no doubt ask. No other single issue is more responsible for driving the Republicans to their downfall. No other single issue cries out more forcefully for a rupture with past U.S. foreign policy, a policy that in its general approach to dealing with the rest of the world has enjoyed bipartisan support. A new political order will neither win the moral high ground nor the allegiance of millions of disillusioned voters unless it stops all temporizing on this matter. Moreover, reversing course in Iraq, and, more ambitiously, dismantling much of the military-industrial apparatus that supports U.S. muscle-flexing abroad promises a great bonus in freed-up federal budget monies, sophisticated technologies, and investment capital to be used for peaceful, socially useful economic development. That is a central and welcome part of the great challenge and opportunity presented by the referendum of 2008, and an issue we will continue to examine.