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Vol. 77/No. 8      March 4, 2013

(lead article, commentary)
‘State of Union’: Obama offers
no plan to alleviate unemployment
Decline of strikes lowers pressure on rulers to concede government jobs program.

President Barack Obama’s Feb. 12 State of the Union speech, a follow up to his Jan. 21 second Inaugural Address, proposed nothing to address workers’ concerns about joblessness and other grinding effects of the worldwide crisis of capitalism.

Among the most striking things in face of persistently high unemployment is the lack of any consideration on the part of the Obama administration, or any other politician, of a government-funded public works program to put millions back to work, or any other measures to alleviate the burdens workers face.

In sharp contrast, presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt in the second half of the 1930s and Harry Truman after the end of World War II projected significant jobs programs as part of their New Deal and Fair Deal platforms.

The difference is not one of ideology or political perspectives. The difference lies in the level of class struggle and the rulers’ response to it.

After an uptick in hiring in the mid-1930s, workers’ battles to organize unions and fight for measures to alleviate depression conditions put pressure on Roosevelt to make concessions, from jobs to the right to organize.

Millions of workers returning home after the Second World War, demanding jobs, higher wages and access to education, forced Truman to add 10 million workers to Social Security and increase benefits, raise the minimum wage 100 percent and pass the GI Bill.

The fact is there are no fiscal, monetary or other government policy measures that could reverse the slowdown in production, trade and employment that is at the heart of the economic and financial crises. The propertied rulers have no solutions, plans or ideas. They react pragmatically by going after the working class and hope their economic problems will somehow go away.

There have been few labor battles or other working-class social struggles that could unsettle the owners of capital today. Factors that place limits on such fights at this moment include high joblessness, which exacerbates competition among workers, and the lack of a fighting perspective on the part of the union leaderships.

Under these conditions, the propertied rulers and their politicians don’t feel political pressure to direct part of their profits to fund a real government jobs program, or any other step to mitigate the effects of the crisis on workers’ lives. All the evidence is that, despite their economic problems, the rulers are confidently in attack-mode.

Coated with a liberal gloss and repeated references to speaking up for the “middle class,” Obama focused on domestic issues, outlining a series of tweaks and nostrums, many strikingly limited in scope.

He bragged that “after shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.” He pointed to some companies that have relocated production to the U.S. from abroad, including Intel, Apple and Ford.

But the reason these bosses decided to move back is successes their class has had in making workers in the U.S. work longer, harder and faster for less pay.

Obama laid out empty “initiatives,” from mapping the human brain to making batteries more powerful. He called for additional steps for climate control and more emphasis on education in STEM courses—science, technology, engineering and math.

He also proposed an effort to get Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. This government-set minimum for most workers is raised every so often, under both Democrats and Republicans, reflecting increased class struggle, inflation and other factors.

While such a change would be welcome, the likely failure to pass it anytime soon can be blamed on a Republican-majority Congress.

Budget deficits and Medicare cuts

Obama said the biggest challenge is reducing the U.S. government budget deficit, which the bosses and bankers fear will weaken the bonds, currency and trading power of U.S. capital. He pointed to the necessity for bipartisan agreement on “reforms” to Medicare, aimed at cutting money out of it and lessening coverage.

“Our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital,” he said. “They should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.”

“Quality of care” is a euphemism meaning the government won’t pay for doctor visits or stays in the hospital if you “go too often” or keep getting sick.

Obama addressed the foreign policy of U.S. imperialism. He touted continued withdrawal from Afghanistan, reducing the size of the military and keeping U.S. troops out of new wars.

But he also pointed to flash points of challenge to U.S. control of markets and resources worldwide, from Africa to Asia and what is called the Arab Spring in the Middle East, where he said things are getting “messy.” He pushed the building of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade alliance aimed at isolating China, a complement to the growing “pivot” of U.S. military might to the region, where tensions and conflicts are growing.

But the unfolding political developments around the world, like capitalism itself, are increasingly unpredictable and out of the rulers’ control. They remain fraught with potential for the U.S. to be drawn, however unwilling, into unending colonial-like wars, which always bring “unintended consequences.”  
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