Obama, the debt, and "shared sacrifice"

shared sacrifrice

"Shared sacrifice" has become a key talking point among many top politicians opposing the Republican Party's defense of the super-rich and refusal to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire.

The idea is the national interest demands that everyone has a stake in contributing to resolving the debt crisis. If workers are expected to contribute, then the wealthy too should pay their fair share. Sounds reasonable, right?

Except that there is not a speck of fairness in asking the working class and poor to "share" in paying for a crisis created in the first place by capitalist greed.

Recall that the Great Recession itself was brought on by speculation in sub-prime mortgages that deliberately targeted black, Latino and senior homeowners.

These homeowners lost billions while banks and mortgage companies were made fabulously richer.

In addition, remember that when several banks and finance companies collapsed, those "too-big-to-fail" were bailed out by U.S. taxpayers, many of whom were victims of the fraud in the first place.

Adding to the crisis were two imperialist wars that cost untold billions in wasted money, to say nothing of thousands of U.S., Iraqi and Afghan lives.

And yet now the working-class public is being asked to sacrifice again, even though:

  • Corporate profits are higher than ever;
  • Executive compensation has exceeded pre-recession levels;
  • Big businesses like GE pay no U.S. taxes.

On the other hand:

  • Worker productivity is up while wages are stagnant;
  • 16 percent of the workforce remains unemployed;
  • One in five children live below the poverty line;
  • 2 million homes are in danger of being foreclosed on.

In these circumstances, after the recently concluded debt deal, vague promises of protecting programs serving the poor, along with Social Security and Medicare, offer little comfort. This is particularly so when those promises are accompanied by talk of "entitlement reform."

Potential cuts have been referred to a "super-committee" to be decided by November.

With President Obama saying he is ready to "take knocks" from his own party for putting entitlements on the table, key elements of the social safety net may well be on the chopping block.

The probability of a double dip recession raises this danger.

There are precedents. Only a year ago, the lame duck Democratic-controlled Congress, in order to reach agreement with the GOP, agreed to cut food stamps for hungry families in order to preserve school lunch programs.

Yes, Congress made Peter the father go hungry, so his child Pauline might eat in school.

And now it seems the sharing of sacrifice is being turned on the labor movement and the very process of collective bargaining.

President Obama, while in Iowa this week, acknowledged the importance of collective bargaining, but then called on public workers to make wage and benefit concessions.

"I do say, though, to my friends in the public sector unions, that it is important that you are on the side of reform where reform is needed," he said.

According to the president, unions should say, "We're willing to make some modifications in terms of how our pension systems work so that they're sustainable for the next generation of teachers as long as it's a conversation, as opposed to it simply being imposed and collective bargaining rights being stripped away."

He went on to call for sacrifice and "burden sharing" and suggested reducing state workers benefits while oddly lending legitimacy to the tea party led assault.

The president made his view clear: "If a public sector employee is able to retire at 55 with 80 percent of their wages, and the average public sector employee has got a 401(k) that they've just seen decline by about 20 percent and they have no idea how they're going to retire, and they're feeling burdened by a lot of taxes and they don't feel like the public sector employers are making any adjustments whatsoever to reflect the tough economic realities that are facing folks who are not protected, then there's going to be a natural backlash."

A natural backlash? From whom?

The president surely knows only too well the backlash is a tea party inspired artificial "astroturf" corporate-driven campaign.

That there may be confusion among some workers on the issue in no way implies a natural or spontaneous movement demanding a  lowering wages and benefits.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka put it well recently: "And too many of our political leaders in both parties are stuck, focused on deficits instead of creating jobs, telling us we need to make tough choices and accept shared sacrifice. But working families - young workers, seniors, people of color, poor people, and people with disabilities - have been doing all the sacrificing, while billionaires get tax cuts, and corporations get tax incentives to export good jobs overseas!"

Jessie Jackson also takes note of the problem: "Shared sacrifice" is said to be lowering rates even further on the top end and corporations, while reducing school lunch programs, slashing funding to poor schools, and cutting affordable housing. "

In today's political environment shared sacrifice means that workers and the poor are getting the short end of the stick. It cannot be an excuse to allow the slow but sure erosion of hard fought gains like collective bargaining and the safety net, no matter who tries to do it.

Shared sacrifice cannot mean that policymakers make choices that favor the value of corporate shares, while everyone else is sacrificed.


Photo: dignidadrebelde/Flickr 



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  • The Great Recession was caused not just by "capitalist greed", but also by capitalist crime--and by that I mean crime even according to the capitalist laws on the books in the foremost capitalist nation, USA. It is high time and long overdue that the criminal Wall Street scumbags start going to jail.

    Posted by John Whiskey, 08/25/2011 9:44pm (4 years ago)

  • So, in light of The President's willingness to throw his own base under the proverbial bus, why is it that the CPUSA STILL calls for its supporters to support him? I don't care what color (Blue or Red) the dog is, it is still a dog. Some cultures eat dog. I think it's time for us to consider eating dog here in the US. And let's start with the dogs running things now.

    I know. Not terribly constructive. But that doesn't change the truth of the matter.

    Posted by Ezi, 08/25/2011 1:23pm (4 years ago)

  • No more talk of everyone sacrificing, everyone except the rich and their corporations have done nothing but sacrifice for the last 30 years. Only the rich and the owners of the banks have to be willing to scrifice and participate in this falling society, but they don't and won't so let's stop asking them to and let's make them do it!!! Asking hasn't done a d,,,thing for 30 years. Let's start by a Defeat of all the republicans to give Obama something to work with first and then let's get rid of some blue dogs too if they don't wish to inact legislation against the rich and for jobs, jobs, jobs,,at good union wages. And let's talk about how socialism could be a good direction to head becuase of the specific problems it could resolve. Thanks for the article,

    Posted by ismael, 08/25/2011 1:05pm (4 years ago)

  • Good Article.
    One must understand the Political Caste only needs you to vote as they desire. Anyone with common sense can see both Parties are hugging Corporations, Oil Companies, Military Industrial Complex and above all the Bankers.
    All of us not working for the Federal Government is getting the shaft. You might as well admit it all of us are pawns in the game of high finance played by Corporations and Politicians.
    If you take the time to look at the portfolios of the leading Democrats and Republicans you will see millionaires and Multiple Milionaires . Those Politicians got it via Capitalism.

    Posted by SwampFox2U, 08/25/2011 12:34pm (4 years ago)

  • The fact is, the Democrats, Obama included, indeed Obama even more than other Democrats, once push comes to shove, abandon the workers, the poor, the oppressed, and join with the capitalists to protect their own class interests. Lenin of course knew that the "left-wing liberals", like Kerensky, will betray the proletariat to protect the bourgeoisie. It was, indeed, Kerensky, the Socialist Revolutionary, who instigated the Kornilov revolt in order to put down the Communists. Kornilov himself had other ideas, and Kerensky backed out, leaving only the Bolshevik Red Guards to defend the the revolution against the Kornilovites. Obama is not for the proletariat. Obama stands with capital, and Eric Cantor is his Kornilov. Even the so-called "Obamacare" was written by and for the insurance companies. Watch what Obama does, not what he says. His "fight" against the GOP & Tea Party was for show, to lull the people into thinking he is our defender; but his "retreat" demonstrates his true position. Obama is no friend of the people.

    Posted by Irving, 08/24/2011 1:34pm (4 years ago)

  • The feeling of this article expresses what I had in mind when I first heard about "burden sharing." We cannot negotiate with a corporate class that attacks our rights and lives incessantly. If anything, we should be taking back what it has stolen.

    Posted by Arturo Veloz, 08/23/2011 4:23pm (4 years ago)

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