In a cynical political gambit that is liable to backfire, President Trump has attempted to put the whole Democratic Party on the defensive. On Saturday, Aug. 8, amid deadlocked inter-party negotiations for unemployment benefits, Trump signed an executive order and four memoranda that restart enhanced payouts at $400, maintain the federal moratorium on evictions, defer student loan debt, and waive payroll taxes for workers with an annual income of less than $100,000. The move was in large part a transparent attempt to discredit the Democratic Party during the countdown to the elections while forcing workers to accept a reduction of unemployment benefits during the current economic crisis.

The Democrats have attempted to be relatively bold in their proposals, knowing full well that they will not get passed. Their HEROES act includes continuing the $600 enhanced unemployment to the end of the year, housing payment assistance, and $75 billion in funding for testing. Even if passed, this bill would surely suffer the same fate as the majority of previous stimulus packages that ultimately landed in the pockets of capital.

Due to their position as a bourgeois party unwilling and unable to bring workers on strike and into the streets to win their demands, the Democrats have been forced into a position of either attacking Trump, which would threaten the immediate wellbeing of tens of millions of unemployed workers, or agreeing with his plan, which would make him seem like a unifying force in bourgeois politics. Since the Dems’ whole strategy for the upcoming elections has been to paint Trump as a rogue actor who thrives on division, they appear to be coming down on the former approach.

Leading Democrats like Nancy Pelosi are moving forward to challenge the legality of the executive orders. Trump in the meantime has said that he is quite open to withdrawing his orders in favor of a deal with Congress. But as negotiations in Congress drag on, the Democrats are walking a tightrope. Continued inaction that serves to delay, disrupt, or confuse relief payments could paint their party as one that puts internecine politics above the wellbeing of working people.

The actual convergence of interests between the two parties of capital’s visions in crafting social policy is exemplified by the recent Democratic election platform, which does not include Medicare for All, expanding federal programs and immediate amnesty to undocumented immigrants, or defunding the police. The fact that the arch-reactionary Donald Trump was able to outflank them by presenting himself as a populist and pragmatic politician was fundamentally a product of the fact that both Trump and the liberal Democrats (including the so-called “progressives”) represent two sides of the same coin. Both speak of “reforms” while remaining loyal to the interests of the capitalist class.

House of cards

Trump’s executive order and memorandums might appear at first to be a handout to labor, but really they leave out huge portions of the working class and set up an even more explosive series of crises in the near future. In the very first place, undocumented workers have not been eligible for federal unemployment benefits this whole time. Secondly, Trump’s orders do not cover small business owners, which will especially affect Black and Latinx-owned stores that have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic.

Trump’s attempt to force states to pay a quarter of the benefits threatens to bankrupt already razor thin accounts, which will precipitate further attacks on the public sector. Even Republican state governors like Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas say the state portion of funding will take from other sections of the budget and is, in Hutchinson’s words, “not ideal.”

Similarly, the eviction moratorium, student debt deferment, and payroll tax cuts do not actually save workers and students money. All these actions do is push repayment to the end of the year. And not collecting the payroll taxes would in the meantime starve funding from Social Security and Medicare, potentially hurting elderly and disabled people who depend on these programs. 

Bipartisan assault on the Postal Service 

Connected with the partisan squabbling over how to best stave off the immediate economic and health crises is the artificial disaster being forced on the United States Postal Service. The question of mail-in ballots has come to the forefront of recent discussions on the upcoming election. Liberals are quick to point to Trump’s recent appointment of Louis DeJoy, a multi-millionaire Republican donor, as the reason for chronic understaffing in the USPS. Of course, DeJoy and Trump are opportunistically choking the Postal Service’s capacity in order to claim that it is not up to the task for mail-in voting, but this is not the whole story.

The Postal Service has been the victim of some of the most severe austerity measures in recent years. Despite the introduction of two-tier hiring and other setbacks, USPS remains one of the few jobs with a decent starting wage and union benefits left in the country. These gains were won through a massive series of wildcat strikes in 1970 that brought 152,000 workers out on strike in 671 locations.

Under Obama, then Postmaster General Megan Brennan said that management saved $17 billion a year on operating costs “by consolidating processing plants and delivery units; modifying retail hours at more than 13,000 Post Offices; reducing the total workforce size by more than 150,000 through attrition; negotiating collective bargaining contracts to control costs and increase workforce flexibility; and through reductions in administrative overhead.” These changes in process, as well as forcing the USPS to work at a heavy discount for large corporations like Amazon, are the long-term basis of any presumed inefficiency.

Neither capitalist party is proposing to renationalize the USPS and add fully funding and expanding its operations as part of either their stimulus packages or election plans.

Workers movement only solution to crisis

Working people have nothing to gain from subordinating themselves to the zigzags of capitalist legislative politics. Instead, we need to continue in the streets with the same energy and militancy shown by the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle against police terror.

A massive influx of workers joining both the fight for social and economic justice could expand the fighting capacity of the protest movement, which has shaken the foundations of this country. Every class-conscious union member has a unique opportunity today to talk with their co-workers both in the shop and with those who are unemployed about what it’s going to take to build a massive movement to win real relief and fight back against austerity.

Rank-and-file workers can play a leading role in building unity through action in the labor movement. If union members begin to take bold steps in leading the fights around racism, health care, wages, and climate justice, the ranks of their unions will swell with new members inspired by their bold examples. Workers don’t need to passively settle for crumbs and concessions through endless negotiations. They have the ability to win based on their own dynamism and creative strengths. 

Illustration by General Strike Graphics