My friend is a longtime Democrat in the Republican-controlled Mississippi Legislature, a veteran of many battles with the arch-conservatives who rule this state, and he’s got a few scars to show it. As we enjoyed tailgating on the fabled University of Mississippi Grove one football game day, I lamented how today’s national Democratic Party has abandoned its working class roots.
Blue-collar workers are forever lost to the party, he told a wide-eyed me. “They’re never coming back,” he said. The seductive power of Republican demagoguery has won them over forever.
So what then is the modern-day Democratic Party, I asked.
“Suburban women,” he said. “That’s our target.” He was serious. The party of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal, the Great Society was now the party of
“suburban women”—in other words, well-to-do, well-educated and predominantly
white suburbanites. Nothing against suburbanites, but that's all?
“Then you’ve lost me,” I told him. And indeed, on May 10 of this year, before an audience of one (me) in my home office in Oxford, Mississippi, I declared my independence from the Democratic Party, a hollow shell of its former self that today is as beholden to its corporate and wealthy donors as the Republicans.
At no time was this point driven home more clearly than when President Joe Biden, the self-proclaimed “most labor-friendly president in American history”, recently signed legislation forbidding railroad workers from going on strike to secure paid sick leave and a more human work schedule.
“I don’t think (Biden) is a friend of labor,” a railroad signalman told the World Socialist Web Site after Biden’s betrayal. “I think he’s in it for the money. I think the whole thing is very corrupt.”
“The political parties have been corrupted and no longer represent the people,” another railroad worker wrote the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee.
Years of futile wrangling between workers and the leaders of one of the most profitable industries in the nation finally raised the specter of a strike and forced Biden to intervene. What the president did, however, was try to force down the throats of workers an industry-backed plan that would have raised wages but done nothing to address the core issues of sick leave and the inhumane work scheduling on the nation’s rail lines.
Biden boasted of the 24 percent pay increase that was in his plan. However, that pay increase was spread across five years and comes after a three-year hiatus since the last pay increase. Add inflation, and just how much of a pay increase is it?
Why didn’t Biden tell the railroad industry, “Give the workers the same paid sick days that most other American workers have”? He didn’t because in the end he stands with big business, not the working class.
Railroad workers not only had to contend with an intransigent industry and hypocritical politicians but also the top brass of their major railroad unions, who also opposed a potentially crippling strike just as the Christmas season is getting started. Across the wide spectrum of the labor movement, from railroad worker unions to the United Auto Workers, the rank-and-file is finding itself increasingly alienated from its entrenched, utterly compromised leadership.
Voting with both Democrats and Republicans in supporting Biden’s ban on a strike was the so-called “left wing” in Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal. In the Senate, Bernie Sanders proposed a separate bill that would have given workers seven days sick leave, but it failed, of course.
Underlying these betrayals of the railroad workers is the overall abandonment of the working class that my legislator friend talked about on the Ole Miss Grove. Bill and Hillary Clinton spearheaded that abandonment 30 years ago, and Barack Obama helped solidify it. Joe Biden’s entire political history is a long sad story of shifts and compromises and turnabouts.
“The terrible truth is that they (Democrats) prefer horse trading over the issues of importance to their donor class than they do meeting the needs of the people,” columnist Margaret Kimberly wrote in the Black Agenda Report last month. “They don’t want to transform the country on behalf of the people. They are always on the side of their donor class. … It is clear that the people must look to themselves and not at Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, or former president Obama, to guard their interests.”
Of course, you might have a shot at getting their attention if you're wealthy and live in the suburbs.
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