Against the backdrop of a grinding capitalist economic crisis, Obama sought to present himself as speaking for the interests of workers.
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” Obama said. “Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
“Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores,” Obama said, as if the jobs woke up one morning and decided to go on a vacation, as opposed to reflecting conscious moves by bosses seeking higher rates of profit.
“In 2008, the house of cards collapsed,” Obama continued, blaming irresponsible bankers, lax regulation, and workers who took out mortgages they “couldn’t afford or understand.”
But, he crowed, things are beginning to turn around. He argued for steps to raise taxes on the rich to generate the funds for big, “smart” government to increasingly regulate and “stimulate.”
“No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits,” he swore. He presented a nationalist “blueprint” for “an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.”
“The day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse,” he said. “We got workers and automakers to settle their differences.” The result? “General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker.”
The “differences” were settled on the backs of workers, as the auto bosses pushed back wages, imposed divisive multitier wage scales and jacked up “productivity” at the expense of health and safety.
General Motors Co. closed 14 out of 47 plants, going from 113,000 workers in 2006 to 46,000 in February 2010. New hires, on a deep and permanent second or third tier, get about $14 an hour, half the previous pay, which comes on top of wages frozen since 2003.
At GM’s Lake Orion, Mich., plant new third-tier assemblers start at under $10 an hour.
Obama proposed a series of protectionist trade measures, including tax incentives, subsidies, and other steps to reward bosses who supposedly “insource” jobs into the U.S. as opposed to overseas. Along these same reactionary nationalist lines he pledged to “take on illegal immigration” and boasted about having put “more boots on the border than ever before.”
He pointed to the bosses at Master Lock Co., a company that transferred some 1,300 jobs to China and Mexico in the early 1990s, but have recently relocated three dozen back. Master Lock has ratcheted up the speed of its assembly line, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, churning out “a shiny new combination lock every 2 1/2 seconds.”
Other examples that have been singled out by the White House include General Electric Co. and Caterpillar Inc.
Today, Caterpillar has locked out the workers at their Canadian locomotive plant, demanding they take a 50 percent wage cut. If they don’t, the company says it will move their production to a new plant in Indiana, where nonunion workers make half the wages.
GE has added some jobs in Louisville, Ky., instead of their plant in China, on a lower wage tier paying up to $15 an hour less than older workers. “We have got to the point where making things in America is as viable as making things any place in the world,” James Campbell, president of GE’s appliances division, told the New York Times.
“I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products,” Obama said, calling for aggressive protectionist measures. Obama especially targeted China, whose exports increasingly challenge U.S. products, and where U.S. imperialism is refocusing its military posture.
“Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires,” he added. He failed to mention the more than 1,000 tire workers who are on the street in Findlay, Ohio, locked out by Cooper Tire, which is pressing for deep concessions, five wage tiers, and faster production. According to workers there, the organization and pace of work has resulted in widespread injuries.
Obama also proposed to help lead reductions in Medicare, Social Security and other programs that have helped buffer the hardest-hit workers from the consequences of the capitalist crisis. Like the Republican candidates for president, he says the U.S. debt—obligations to the ruling-class bondholders—needs to be reduced, and these programs must be cut.
Obama concluded his address on the same note he began—praise for U.S. military might with special tribute to special forces assassins who killed Osama bin Laden. “America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” he declared.
At bottom, Obama’s message is that if workers keep sacrificing, the bosses will get stronger, their government will get stronger, their military will get stronger and U.S. imperialism can prosper—at our expense.
Working class has no country
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