By BOB TWEEDY
On Tuesday, Dec. 22, outgoing President Donald Trump attempted to outflank the Democratic Party, saying that the proposed $900 billion stimulus package, with $600 stimulus checks, was a “disgrace.” His response suggested that he might not sign the bill.
In a videoed speech, Trump called for a $2000 COVID relief stimulus check. In addition, he said, “I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package, and maybe that administration will be me.”
Does Trump really care about working people? No. After all, it was his Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who proposed the sum of $600 stimulus checks. Trump was fully briefed on negotiations on the package and had more than seven months to comment. But in the weeks following the elections he remained silent. Then in typical Trumpian fashion, he threw a curveball into the process. Stock markets immediately dipped with the prospect of Trump’s not signing a stimulus bill.
Responding on Twitter, leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi was quick to take up Trump’s demand for $2000 stimulus checks. She said, “At last, the President has agreed to $2000—Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”
But Pelosi’s words were largely an opportunistic move, as the same Democrats had already accepted a much lower amount without a fight. The priorities of both parties are also clear, since the majority of the $900 billion goes to corporations and the wealthy. Earmarked in the bill is funding for coup operations in Venezuela, worded as “promoting democracy.” There are also other eclectic things pertaining to the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation and Smokey the Bear imposters, plus big tax breaks ($110 billion over 10 years) to satisfy the urging of well-connected corporate lobbyists.
Despite the hopeful roll out of a vaccine, COVID is spiking again and unemployment remains high, with over 9 million out of work. Emergency unemployment bonuses are due to expire at the end of the year, with most workers getting their last weekly $300 check on the day after Christmas. The bill, if Trump signs it, would extend the meager unemployment payments for less than three more months. The bill does little to stave off a housing crisis, in which 35% of Americans are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. The package would extend a moratorium on evictions for only one more month.
Workers who desperately need real relief after nine months of economic crisis are watching as politicians flagrantly prioritize the interests of the wealthy elite over the needs of the working poor. War spending is the most explicit example. Both Republicans and Democrats easily reached across the aisle to pass a separate $741 billion military spending bill to fund U.S. wars and occupations.
The pandemic has made the wealthy richer. The 647 richest Americans, like Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, have increased their wealth by nearly $1 trillion since the start of the pandemic. This increase in wealth has not trickled down to workers at Amazon. Essential workers are scraping by with low wages and inadequate health care. In Bessemer, Alabama workers at an Amazon hub are preparing for a union vote. This vote could turn the tide for union efforts at Amazon that have been widely rebuked by the anti-union apparatus Bezos has built into his company’s structure.
While the summer saw millions take to the streets against police brutality, there has been no similar mass response to the COVID crisis. Currently, in each state and town, unions, community groups, and the unemployed are fighting separately to find solutions. In rare cases we have seen a push for a united-front type of movement that combines struggles. If the working class is going to win real and lasting relief, we will have to bring together the massive movements of union workers, unemployed, anti-racist and police brutality activists, tenants’ rights organizations, immigrant rights groups, women’s organizations, the LGBTQIA+ movement, and more.
Bold working-class leadership is needed. Organized labor leaders like Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, could play a leading role by calling for a national convention to draft a plan to fight for real COVID relief. A successful plan coming out of this type of convention would not rely on the Democrats to resolve our issues. Such a convention could mandate the coordination of the over 14 million workers in organized labor and the throngs of unemployed and unorganized workers to mobilize in Washington, D.C., and demand an economic relief bill that reflects the real needs of the working class.
The key to winning our demands is in a continuous and relentless mobilization of rank-and-file workers and their allies. Historically, the success of these movements has depended on the intervention of socialist activists in the ranks of organized labor, pushing their unions to transform themselves and become more democratic and militant. A fightback of this scope could open up possibilities like the construction of an independent workers’ or labor party to wage a deeper struggle against capitalist austerity.
Illustration by General Strike Graphics.