Home About CDSA New Ground Events Debs Dinner Links Join DSA Audio Email us

 
Your contribution is appreciated
but, because of our advocacy work,
not tax deductible.

New Ground 39

March - April, 1995

Contents

  • It Is But Equity: Economic Reform and Welfare by Kurt Anderson
  • Sidebar: Poverty Graphics
  • Sidebar: Public Opinion
  • A Modest Proposal: To Break the Cycle of Dependency for the Very Rich By Ron Baiman
  • What's Left on Campus by Bill Dixon
  • Where Does the Left Go From Here by Bruce Bentley
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
  • Letters

  • It Is But Equity:

    Economic Reform and Welfare

    by Kurt Anderson

    "it is but equity... that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged."

    --Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

     

    Few political subjects today can be so misinterpreted and, at the same time, elicit such definite emotional and intellectual reactions as welfare and reform of the welfare system. And no wonder. This complex system of safety-net programs consumes, depending on your definition, up to 20% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[1] and, depending on your definition, encompasses everything from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to school lunch programs to Stafford Loans to the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to Section 8 housing vouchers to Social Security payments to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Understanding the system requires navigating thousands of tedious regulations, budget and procedures at a multitude of levels of government. This complexity lends itself to oversimplification by political demagogues who want to see the entire system dismantled and not just reformed.

    Although confused about the purpose of welfare, Americans do know one thing. They are scared and suspicious about the direction in which they see America moving. They see their wages declining. They see that poverty is devouring more and more of the population, even creeping its way into the once impenetrable middle class. They wonder why the welfare system has not "defeated" poverty and eliminated downward mobility as had been promised by the overblown rhetoric of Lyndon Johnson's "war" on poverty.

    These are all valid fears and questions which should be addressed. But even before discussing the role of the welfare system and what is to be done with it, policy should center on the structural deficiencies in our economy and employment system:

     

    These factors point to the creation of a two class system in which the tensions between richer and poorer tear at society's fabric. The employers who reap the benefits of depressed and declining wages and greedy for more, while those who are losing ground cast a suspicious eye upon those who want a piece of the pie for themselves.

    There are clearly deep rooted deficiencies in our economy which make the welfare state necessary in the first place. We must demand that these deficiencies be addressed before removing any safety nets.

     

    Money That Falls Up

    A brief look at the massive redistribution of income in the 1980s and the 1990s speaks directly to the point of splitting America into a two tier society. The richest 1% of our society now owns 37% of the wealth which is more than the entire bottom 90% combined. [2] 60 to 70 percent of the entire increase in wealth went to the top 1% of families. This massive upward redistribution of wealth was offset by the loss in real wages in for the 70 million families who made up the lower four-fifths of the population. All told, the average incomes for the top 20% of all families increased From $314,536 to $675,879 while the bottom four fifths' income declined by approximately 7%. Currently the gap between rich and poor is wider now than at any time since the 1920s. [3]

    With the rich getting richer on exorbitant salaries and tax breaks, those in the lower and working classes are having a tougher time avoiding poverty and pulling themselves out of it. A study released by the Census Bureau in mid-1994 revealed that 18% of the nation's 81 million full-time workers earned less than $13,091 (the "low earnings" threshold for a family of four) for the year 1992. Even the Commerce Department points out that this "low earnings" threshold is actually 8 percent lower than the official poverty level. The study concluded that the increase in low earners reduced the size of the middle class. [4]

    This coincides with recent figures on growing poverty in the U.S. In early October of 1994, the U.S. Census Department released a report of poverty and income treds in the U.S. It reported that the number of Americans living in poverty climbed past 39 million, the most since 1961. The proportion of Americans officially living in poverty now totals 15.1%, using a standard that understates reality. This report even led Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to state the obvious: "We have the most unequal distribution of income of any industrialized nation." Other findings of the poverty report [5] included:

     

    One of the most important statistics mentioned in the report was the role that non-cash benefits (such as food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and public housing) play in reducing poverty levels. If these items were counted as income, the official poverty rate would decline to 12.1%. These programs do help some people to stay out of poverty. They cannot remove poverty from America; that was never their intention.

     

    Gross Underestimates: How the Federal Poverty Rate Is Calculated

    As stark as these figures are, they grossly underestimate both the nature and number of Americans living in poverty. The means by which they are calculated has failed to reflect changes in the American economy.

    The gauge which the U.S. government still uses to measure poverty rates was developed in the 1960s at the outset of the War on Poverty by Mollie Orshansky for the Social Security Administration. Orshansky used studies of food budgets which estimated the least amount of money required to purchase a diet that would meet minimal nutritional requirements. Studies in the 1960s also indicated that the average family spent one third of its budget on food. Adding apples plus oranges to equal walnuts, Orshansky set the poverty line at three times the cost of the minimal food budget for a household, taking into account family size and age of family members. [6]

    The problem with this gauge was that it was never changed in the ensuing years. It was assumed that a family in 1990 would still spend one third of its total budget on food. As Schwarz and Volgy point out:

    "Over the years, though, changes in the consumption patterns of the average American family and the relatively rapid rise in the cost of other necessities such as housing and medical care, reduced the proportion of the budget that the typical family spent on food and increased the proportion it spent on other needs. By the early 1980s, for example, food had fallen to about one fifth of the cost of the average family budget... although it remained at about one third according to the poverty measure. With the passage of time, then, the official poverty line became even more separated from its original mooring, which, through the budge of the average American family, had tied it to minimally acceptable living standards. This, in turn, had decisive implications for official reports about the total number of Americans who were impoverished (reducing the number significantly) and the kinds of Americans living in poverty..." [7]

     

    Using this rationale, Schwarz and Volgy calculate what the poverty line really should be and the result is 67% greater than the Census Bureau's number: $22,300 vs. $13,360.

    It is clear that our very concepts and definitions of poverty must be re-examined before we slash any of the programs which help many of these families stay above water.

     

    The Sad State of Work in the U.S.: "Output Up - at Expense of Jobs"

    On March 9, 1994, the Chicago Sun -Times ran an article which nicely summarized the arrogance of employers in the face of employee hardship. Entitled "Output Up - at Expense of Jobs", the article states that the productivity of American workers was improving at the fastest rate in eight years while the costs of their labor was falling at the steepest rate in 10 years. The patronizing rhetoric of the "experts" was obvious:

    "Analysts acknowledged that improvement was coming at the expense of jobs, but contended it will mean greater employment... 'There's unmistakable pain for workers who are not getting employed now"... said economist Strephen S. Roach... "But as companies become more competitive, they will be the big job creators in the U.S. economy.'"

     

    Although 1994 was supposed to be one of the "upswing" years after a recession, by mid-year layoffs were running 18% ahead of last year's pace. "Industries with the highest number of layoffs in 1993: aerospace- 98,273; computers- 94,831; retail- 82,514; communications- 50,021; transportation- 33,529; health care- 26,453; food service- 13,470", for a grand total of 615,186 layoffs. [8] Now that's a booming economy!

    The bad news didn't end there. 7 million Americans, or 6% of the work force, occupied 15 million jobs. Most of them were married and almost as many were women as men. [9] The number of workers older than 45 who were involuntarily jobless increase 60% from 1989 to 1993 to 1.8 million. [10]

    While the employment rate declined, the length of time many workers remained unemployed increased. The unemployment compensation system was not designed for this situation. It assumed relatively short spells of unemployment. After the previous four recessions, 44% of the unemployed returned to their previous jobs, but at the end of the last recession, only 15% returned back to their previous jobs. In 1993, more than 66% of the unemployed in Illinois were unemployed for 15 weeks or more. Ironically, that was more than the 1982 figures when the jobless rate was 4 full points higher and the prospects of a job were dismal. [11]

     

    Some Social Democratic Solutions

    There are a number of simple solutions which could alleviate some of the most dramatic problems. More importantly, many Americans would find these palatable not just for the poor or working poor but for everybody who works.

    1. We must redefine what the official poverty line is. Only then can we have any serious discussion of exactly what we are up against. Until that time, any reforms of the welfare system will miss much of the population that genuinely need help.
    2. Affordable, quality day care is a must. We need only look at exactly what happens to former AFDC recipients when subsidized day care runs out:

    Subsidized day care is an issue that the Left could promote for AFDC and non-AFDC recipients and do so successfully.

    3. We must push for a large hike in the minimum wage and demand that it be enough to raise workers above a redefined poverty line (let's say $8.00 an hour for starters). This opposite of a "trickle down" economy has a resounding populist appeal and would do much to stimulate increased demand. A good minimum wage would also raise other wages and continue to stimulate demand and job growth. Plus, it would also pay to work a new "minimum wage" job and those dependent on welfare would have the impetus to leave. The Left could certainly give Mr. Clinton some backbone on this initiative. As published in a report by the Center for the Study of Policy Attitudes in Washington, 75% of Americans polled believe that the minimum wage should be raised substantially and be adjusted for inflation. [13]
    4. A single-payer health care system would end employer control of the most important employee benefit: health care. Employers' hiring practices would no longer be guided by health care costs and money saved in health could, theoretically, be plowed into new equipment and higher wages.
    5. We need a massive reform of our tax code. This is not an issue that has been high on the Left's priorities lately but it could have an enormous amount of support in the lower and middle classes. The Right has stolen this issue from us and we need to win it back. Taxation can be seen as a very socialist idea because it redistributes income. The key questions are "In which direction? Up or down?" Since the tax reform in 1977, the answer has been decidedly up.
    How many people would be on welfare if the tax structure was made at least as progressive as it was in the 1950s? At the time corporations accounted for 39% of all tax collections, today it is 18%. If corporations contributed today what they contributed in the 1950s, the U.S. Treasury would have an extra $250 billion a year which would be enough to eliminate the federal deficit. In the 1950s, a family of four would enjoy an exemption of 15%. In 1993, that would have translated into a personal exemption of $5,386 for a family of four. In 1993, the exemption was only $2,350. Meanwhile the average tax bill paid by the million and up group plunged from $925,655 to $682,973 - a 32% tax cut. [14] Not very fair.
    6. What can the Left do about the "poor" service sector jobs which are being created. They don't pay much and the benefits are often sub-standard. The answer is simple: labor law reform. By unionizing all service sector jobs and by raising the minimum wage substantially, these jobs would become valuable.

    These leading occupations in Illinois are ranked by average annual openings due to growth by the year 2005: [15]

    Registered nurses 2,294
    General office clerks 2,274
    Janitors, cleaners and maids 1,897
    Retail salesperson 1,890
    Cashiers 1,820
    Helpers, laborers, material movers, handlers 1,660

     

    You get the picture. If we are going to have an explosion of service sector jobs then let's make absolutely sure that these jobs are unionized! But, before that can happen, there will have to be substantial reform of labor law and the union organizing process. The U.S. needs, at the very least, a Canadian style card recognition process whereby only 51% of the workforce needs to sign union recognition cards in order to select the union as the recognized bargaining agent. This alleviates the need for costly and destructive union elections which often do no more than aggravate already bad situations.

    U.S. unions should push for German style worker's councils where, depending on the size of the company, workers (usually their unions) get as many seats on a company's board of directors as management does. This law, as pushed by the German Social Democrats in the 1950s, has given German workers an additional voice in the circumstances of their employment.

    Americans are becoming increasingly more interested in having a say in teir work environment and these changes would do much to speak to these concerns.

     

    Conclusion

    The need for welfare, by and large, arises because our society has failed to create and maintain decent jobs. Welfare should be reformed but not until our economy is reformed; labor law is reformed; the tax system is reformed; and other social democratic changes are initiated. Reform of the welfare system cannot happen in a vacuum, apart from these other issues.

    Now is not the time for the Left to retreat in the face of the victories of the Right. Rather it is a time to confront and go on the offensive. Welfare reform is a perfect opportunity to point out and attack the problems inherent in our economy. There is wide backing from most Americans for these changes and for a viable alternative to welfare. We have the facts. Now we need to get the word out.

     

    Notes

    1. Theodore Marmor, Jerry Mashaw, and Philip Harvey- America's Misunderstood Welfare State: Persistent Myths, Enduring Realities (Basic Books, 1992). See the table on page 61. "Social Expenditures as a Percent of GDP". 20.8% is the statistic from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation for the U.S. in 1991. It includes a great deal more than what most people would consider "welfare".
    2. Bernard Sanders- "Whither American Democracy", Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 16, 1994.
    3. Robert Heilbronner- "An Economy in Deep Trouble", Dissent, Fall, 1992.
    4. "Low Pay Keeps 20% of Workers Poor", IBEW Local 336 News & Views, Volume 8, Number 3.
    5. "39 Million in Poverty in U.S.: Most Since 1961", Chicago Tribune, Friday, October 7, 1994.
    6. John E. Schwarz and Thomas J. Volgy- The Forgotten Americans: Why Thirty Million Working Poor in the Land of Opportunity (W.W. Norton, 1992), Page 34.
    7. Ibid. Page 35
    8. "Worried Workers: New Climate in U.S.", Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1994
    9. "U.S. Trend: More Women Taking Two Jobs", Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1994.
    10. "Restructuring, Recession Hurt Older Workers", Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1994.
    11. "Been Out of Work So Long...", Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1994.
    12. Chicago Tribune, September 23, 1994.
    13. Left Business Observer #67.
    14. Bartlett and Steele- "Tax System Rigged in Favor of Rich", USA Today, June 8, 1994.
    15. "Employment Outlook for '95", Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1995.

    Sidebar: Poverty Graphics

     

    Money Income of Families: % Distribution of Aggregate Income Received by Quintile in Constant (1992) Dollars

    Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, Current Edition

    In 1980, each quintile (fifth) represented about 12.1 million families. In 1992, each quintile represented about 13.6 million families. The upper limit for each quintile in 1980 and in 1992 was:

     Quintile  1980  1992
     Lowest  $ 17,535  $ 16,960
     Second  $ 29,645  $ 30,000
     Third  $ 41,988  $ 44,200
     Fourth  $ 58,871 $ 64,300

    The lower limit for the top 5% was $92,158 and $106,509 in 1980 and 1992 respectively.


     

     Money Income of Black Families

    % of families within specified income categories in constant (1992) dollars from 1970 to 1992. Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, Current Edition. In 1970 there were 4.9 million Black families. In 1992, there were 7.9 million Black families.


     

    Money Income of Families, All Races

    % of families within specified income categories in constant (1992) dollars from 1970 to 1992. Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, Current Edition. 1970, there were 52.2 million families; in 1992, there were 68.1 million families. The U.S. Census Bureau warns that data starting in 1987 is "not directly comparable with prior years" due to "revised processing procedures", but they none-the-less lump it all together in one table as we have done with the charts above. Using the family as a basic economic unit can be somewhat misleading as it does not account for family size or multiple bread-winners. You should also note that these statistics refer to pre-tax income and exclude certain kinds of income, including non-cash benefits and things like capital gains. The consequence of this bias in the data is difficult to figure, but most likely it leaves the middle incomes over represented.


     

    Median Money Income of Families and the Number of Breadwinners in the Family in 1992

    Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, Current Edition


     

    Poverty Rates: 1960 to 1992

    Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, Current Edition



    Side Bar: Public Opinion

    The Left must start their own propaganda on the public's opinion of welfare to counter the Right's. While this might seem to be a diversion from the task at hand, Conservatives have been much more effective than they might have been because they have been able to convince legislatures and editors that the public is on their side. It ain't necessarily so. As a recent report published by the Center for the Study of Policy Attitudes in Washington indicates:


    A Modest Proposal:

    To Break the Cycle of Dependency for the Very Rich

    By Ron Baiman

    Why are our erstwhile right wing opponents spending so much time and energy trying to reduce "unearned" income for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society? The attack on welfare programs is not going to have a big impact on government spending as these programs represent only a modest portion of the federal budge and a somewhat larger share of state and local budgets. In fact, if the right wing were serious about their supposed priority of reducing dependency and fostering the work ethic, government would have to spend a lot more money. They would have to make paid employment a viable option for the poor by offering free day care and health care, by significantly raising the minimum wage, and by increasing public sector employment to increase job availability.

    This is why welfare has remained a system of handing out paltry and ever diminishing checks for so long. No one thinks welfare is a great system, but a serious effort to really help the indigent would require a lot more money. In our market based capitalist economy, this means taking away money from people through taxation after the final arbiter of justice, "the free market", has already allocated it - a point stressed by Pat Devine in Democracy and Economic Planning. From a more macroeconomic perspective, David Schweickart in Against Capitalism, notes that under capitalism a rational choice between private and public spending is impossible because of the system's overwhelming bias toward private investment financing.

    Another unfortunate point ignored by the right is that U.S. capitalism requires a high level of unemployment to maintain "price stability" by constraining wage growth - Marx's "reserve army" argument as articulated by Federal Reserve Bank and mainstream economists. In fact, capitalism has a built in tendency toward stagnation and high unemployment. This has been offset only during exceptional periods of war in the U.S., and with activist labor market intervention and Keynesian social-democratic public sector spending, or extensive capital market intervention and long-term planning, most successfully in the Post-World War II period (until recently) in the Scandinavian and Japanese economies. This relates to Keynes' radical rejection of "free market" theory which was necessary to save capitalism from itself during the Great Depression - essentially a rediscovery of Marx's "realization crisis" tendency of capitalism, which had been further developed by the Polish Marxist economist Michael Kalecki during the same period. Massive public efforts to create jobs would be especially necessary in the local pockets of extremely high unemployment where many of the poor live.

    We all know, however, that reducing dependency is not the real goal nor is it going to be the real outcome of the attack on welfare. The real political impetus has more to do with targeting a weak and vulnerable class (and implicitly race) of scapegoats for the real problems of the middle class. These problems include increasing employment and income insecurity, increases in the cost of health care, education, and pensions, and a prolonged regressive shift of tax burden away from corporations and the rich to the middle class. Welfare moms and immigrants have become targets for right wingers seeking a convenient way to stir up resentment thus avoiding real issues and serious solutions. They are being used just as Blacks, Jews and other racial and ethnic minorities have been used, historically.

    The politics of scapegoating leave no room for appeals to reason and compassion. Evidence showing that the supposed "welfare reforms" will only increase pervasive homelessness, despair, and poverty for poor children and their parents doesn't seem to work. Rational demonstrations that the increased long-term costs for police, prisons, anti-drug enforcement, and child abuse prevention caused by current "reforms" will probably far off-set any minor short-term savings in welfare costs fall on deaf ears. These proposals are not about facts and reason; they are based on political victimization - on "blaming the victims" pure and simple.

    Instead of scapegoating the poor and vulnerable, we need to break the intergenerational cycle of psychologically and socially destructive dependency of the very rich. The generations of rich (Rockafellers, DuPonts, Heinz, Morgans, etc.) clearly suffer from rampant drug addiction (mostly from alcohol) and more breakdown, as is evident from the merry-go-round of affairs, abortions, sexual abuse, and business power plays depicted in "Dynasty", "The Lives of the Rich and Famous", and the O. J. Simpson trial. We need to end "welfare for the rich" as we know it. This includes what Reich has called "corporate welfare", but it's much more than that. The moral degeneration displayed by the very rich is a clear threat to the social fabric of our society, particularly as it is watched so closely by so many. Reforming the rich could have a real impact on our social mores and the rich obviously need help. It would also be very affordable, indeed lucrative, for the public treasury.

    A fundamental feature of capitalism is that most of the social surplus goes to a tiny minority of households who get more than 3/4 of their income from property entitlement for which they don't have to lift a finger. According to a 1990 Federal Reserve study, in 1986 (the last year for which data are available, presumably for the obvious ruling class reasons), the top 0.5% of households by income held almost half of all corporate stock (48.4%) in the U.S., averaging $1,465,000 worth per household; the top 1% held 61.8% of stock, and the top 10% held 91.7% of stock. The top 1% of households also owned a little over a third of the real estate, and the distribution of capital held by non-publicly traded businesses was almost as concentrated as the distribution of corporate stock.

    Furthermore, in 1988, the upper 1% of household income earners made almost 3/4 of their income, on average, from property based entitlement: 26% from profits and dividends, 12.2% from interest, 34.3% from capital gains, 1% from other non-labor income including rents and royalties, and only 26% from labor income (and much of this consisting of top executive salaries which implicitly represent shares of profits as well). These figures are cited in Bowles and Edward's excellent introductory radical economics text, Understanding Capitalism (Harper Collins, 1993, p. 102 and 105).

    If we consider that the wealthiest 10% of the U.S. population own 2/3rds of the country's property and get 1/3rd of the national income, we're talking real money here - not the crumbs that cutting welfare will generate! Private ownership of the means of production is the major cause of inequality under capitalism, something liberals generally fail to acknowledge. The conservatives' constant litany that taxing the rich won't generate much income is patently false. The rich are monopolizing the lion's share of surplus wealth in the country and this trend has been drastically increasing as inequality in the U.S. has steadily grown since the mid-70s to the current worst levels on record (since World War II) and the worst among the major advanced industrial countries.

    The very rich need our help now. As a society we can no longer deny their plight. An initial proposal might be to redirect all property-based income back to the treasury to be used for public child care, health care, job creation for the poor, middle income tax breaks, college tuition grants, public housing, etc. The rich in return could be issued $300 a month "transition to independence" checks but only for a limited time period and only for those who are legally married and in recovery from alcoholism. As a society we cannot afford further dependent and self-destructive behavior. This might sound like socialism but it's really just "tough love" for those who need it most.


    What's Left on Campus

    by Bill Dixon

    Not since the Gulf War has a national mobilization of the Left gained a foothold on U.S. campuses. The campus Left slumbered through the PC hype, the 1992 election, and the health care and NAFTA debacles. There's no immediate sign of that changing, not just yet.

    Still, the November Revolution has obviously got some students thinking, talking and moving.

    Late last January I helped represent the DSA Youth Section at a meeting of progressive student organizations in DC. Galvanized by the new Republican majority and the draconian prospects of their "Contract", young progressives working within the Beltway met to chart strategy for countering the Right on U.S. campuses. The results, while disappointing, showed some encouraging signs.

    This latest meeting of the "Working Group on the Campus Right" was organized by the University Conversion Project. The University Conversion Project is a national effort devoted to agitating against Rightist academic hegemony and documenting the continuing largesse for military research. Also central to this coalition is the national leadership of the Naderite Public Interest Groups and staff from the campus wing of the National Organization for Women. The Student Environmental Action Coalition (the largest progressive student organization in the U.S.) as well as the United States Student Association (which represents hundreds of student governments across the U.S.) also participate. Joining DSA as newcomers to the effort were the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the New Party, U.S. Students Against 187, and the DC Student Coalition Against Racism. Two dozen student leaders can seem like 23 too many chefs in a kitchen, but some progress was made.

    Specifically, March 29th will be a day of action against the "Contract with America". The salient points of the "call to action" include:

    If that sounds more like a laundry list than a strategy, you might be on to something. This politics of this national effort is militantly ecumenical, reflecting its roots in staff-driven organizations which are without strong voluntary leaderships at the campus level. Talking politics can be dangerous; building a mailing list is risk-free and looks good on paper when reporting to your boss. Yet this effor has also become the most significant effort for a democratic Left mobilization on campuses.

    To sign on, contact Ginny Coughlin at DSA's national office at 212.727.8610.


    Where Does the Left Go From Here?

    A Chicago DSA - Chicago CoC Joint Forum

    By Bruce Bentley

    On January 27th approximately 45 people attended the Chicago DSA and Chicago CoC organized public form at the ACTWU hall on Ashland Ave. Each organization had two representatives on the panel to present their particular elections '94 post-mortem perspectives. Chicago DSA was represented by Co-Chair, Kurt Anderson and Political Education Officer, Bob Roman. CoC was represented by Carl Davidson, who is a member of CoC's National Coordinating Committee and Ronelle Mustin, an activist from the 22nd ward. The event was chaired by Sandi Patrinos, chair of Chicago CoC.

    Kurt Anderson began the discussion by providing a detailed statistic survey of the political and economic landscape in the U.S. such as: only 39% of eligible electorate actually voted and of that percent only 20 voted Republican-hence this was hardly a mandate for change; the globalization of capital; the decline of unionization; 60 - 70% of the increase in wealth has gone to the top 1%. Consequently this maldistribution of wealth has led to the bifurcation of the middle class into a two tier system. Hence the Republican tactics were to coax on the fears of "angry white men" and blame the powerless poor in order to divide the middle class.

    Anderson noted that the Left's response should be: (1) vocally propounds its ideas on alternative economic programs such as the need for increased wages, income and minimum wage; (2) increased electoral activity particularly on the local level where the climate is ripe for class politics. Moreover, the Left needs to learn to play the dirty game of "politics;" and (3) continue efforts for a third party.

    Since Anderson surveyed the statistical political and economic terrain, Carl Davidson wanted to focus on "voting patterns." There were essentially two winners. Naturally the Republicans, but so were the most left in Congress such as the Progressive and Black Caucuses. The latter were re-elected while the neo-liberal and conservative Democrats were voted out. More importantly this election was the de facto defeat of the elitist Democratic Leadership Council who do not care about the poor or Labor.

    To win elections, Davidson emphasized that there are two necessary coinciding factors. First, a passive majority, which naturally materialized as Anderson noted above. Secondly, a militant minority, which came to fruition for the Right wing with the Christian Coalition. Meanwhile the Democratic Party made the outlandish two fold strategic error of virulently attacking the Christian Coalition and hence arousing this militant minority. Furthermore the Democratic Party did not attempt to galvanize its own majority consisting of the poor, women and Labor. On the contrary, the Democratic Party erroneously went for the "bubba votes"- angry white men.

    Davidson pointed out that this voting pattern is not new, but has been occurring since the 1960's when the Democratic Party began support for civil rights. Political analyst Kevin Phillips also makes this point. Hence Davidson emphasized that in this historical period the Left's strategy must be electoral politics not revolution. Consequently the Left must galvanize the "majority" - the working class and poor and not play the shifting voters game - the bubba vote. Moreover the democratic left needs get active in the New Party which has won 20 of 30 local elections. Thus a short-term strategy of working with the Democratic Party and in the long-term work with the New Party. Lastly Davidson stressed the need for the left to pursue the future power source of the Information Age via Third Wave technology.

    Ronelle Mustin excoriated the U.S. two party political system that actually consists of a one party State which represents Big Business. Consequently the Left is not broad enough and needs to include African-Americans and Latinos. Mr. Mustin argued for the Left to utilize the tactic of recruitment via dialogue with our very neighbors in our communities upon issue of racism and working class job loss due to privatization.

    Bob Roman succinctly viewed the elections '94 as the corruption of the political system by Elitists (i.e. PAC's, Lobbyists and Finance Capital). This analysis is likewise seen by Kevin Phillips. Roman recommended Phillips' book Arrogant Capital and Harold Meyerson's elections critique in Democratic Left. There are three problems for the Left. First, the values of the U.S. political culture are the antithesis of the Left's culture. Hence our participation is ambivalent and limited. Secondly, the Left's organized base is empty. Roman argued that the Left needs to make a lot of "noise" particularly in the next two months in which reactionary Republican legislation can sneak through the Congress. The Chicago Left responded to the assault of Reaganomics in 1981 by the formation of the Illinois Coalition Against Reaganomics. Finally Roman noted that there may be an opportunity for the left because of finance capital's bond speculation could crack and possibly collapse as seen recently in Mexico. The ruling class is divided in Mexico over reform which is similar to the U.S. in the 1960's over the issues of race and civil rights. Finally Roman emphasized that the Left should focus on building alternative institutions (i.e. political organizations, co-ops, etc.) to promote our values.

    This public forum was the first joint project of Chicago DSA and Chicago CoC. Overall it was a good start. CDSA and CoC will be meeting soon to plan their next joint event/project.


    Other DSA News

    Leighton Whitaker has volunteered to make a stab at reviving the North Lake Front Branch or organizing an all new Northside Branch, depending on the interest members show. If you're interested in helping out, give him a call at (708) 475-8719, or leave a message at the DSA office: (312) 384-0327.

    Congressman Jim McDermott will be re-introducing the Single-Payer health care plan he sponsored last year. While the bill stands something less than a snow ball's chance in hell, considering the current Congress, it's still worthwhile keeping the issue in front of Congress. The Campaign for Better Health Care (of which Chicago DSA is a member) and SPAN (Single Payer Across the Nation) will be meeting with last year's co-sponsors, asking them to co-sponsor the bill again.

    The New Party's aldermanic candidate, Michael Chandler, won his race in the 24th Ward, unseating the incumbent alderman, Jesse Miller. Michael Chandler swept the field with over 55% of the vote in a contest that included 11 candidates. Aldermen Helen Schiller and Joe Moore also won their campaigns. Unfortunately, Clem Balanoff only succeeded in making it into the runoff with about 23% of the vote in the 10th Ward.

    In Decatur, the labor movement has had to put up with an unsympathetic, if not downright hostile, city government. This has been a real problem for the locked out Staley workers. They just took a step toward correcting the situation. Two labor candidates successfully made it through the city primary and will be on the April 4th ballot: David Watts, the President of UPIU Local 7837 which represents the locked out Staley workers, and Mike Carrigan, a business agent with IBEW Local 146. The turn out was one of the highest on record for a Decatur Municipal primary election: 30% vs. a more typical 12%.


    Letters

     

    Editor:

    It seems to me that the main reason the "right" is defeating the "left" is the quality and amount of communication from the leadership on both sides to the public. (The defeat of the Fairness Doctine was a killer.) (Nonetheless ....)

    It also seems to me that the leadership on the left consists mostly of "leftbrain," highly verbal, well-educated people whose communications simply do not reach the mass of the people. If we want to influence people, we must speak their language. We must communicate in a way that will catch and rivet their attention. It would be great to reach young people too.

    So what do people listen to? watch? buy to read for themselves? ? ?

    Soap operas. Comic books. The National Enquirer (etc.)

    I put it to you that the best (relatively inexpensive) way to reach the masses in the U.S. is through a comic book or cheap magazine with emotional stories to get across left political points. (You know how people ate up Reagan's anecdotes.) Tell true stories about workers screwed by employers; consumers poisoned or injured by businesses; poor girls escaping abuse at home by getting pregnant and going on AFDC; etc., etc., etc. Tell how people working together have overcome some particular problem; how only the government has the power to keep business honest (etc.). Use a lot of pictures and cartoons because many people (like me) think better in pictures than in words. Keep the stories personal because that's what people identify with.

    Sincerely,

    Amalie Callahan

    Rock Island, IL


     Add yourself to the Chicago DSA mailing list (snail mail and email).

     Back to top.