A willful desire to block the road to the future

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is giving a big speech today on the economy, the American Dream and labor’s independence from political parties. In it, he says:

From the beginning of this country, through our efforts and our ideas, working people have made the American Dream real. And what is that dream? It is the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules you will enjoy economic security and build a better future for your children. It is not that a few of us will be rich, but that all of us will be treated fairly, that we will look after each other, and that we will all have a share in the wealth we create together.

But this just isn’t true. Workers are being punished for playing by the rules, while banksters, mortgage servicers, robosigners, and Wall Street firms are making billions of dollars by breaking the rules with abandon. The great hoax is that our government – from federal regulators to state Attorneys General to the Department of Justice – has politely refused to do anything close to requiring Wall Street follow the law.

Trumka is overly optimistic about the health of the American Dream in America today, but much of the rest of his speech is spot on. I particularly liked this passage:

And not just meanness. Destructiveness. A willful desire to block the road to the future. How else can you explain governors of states with mass unemployment refusing to allow high-speed rail lines to be built in their states? How else can you explain these same governors’ plans to defund higher education, close schools and fire teachers, when we know that without an educated America, we have no future?

Here in Washington, the Republicans in Congress have defunded housing counselors and fuel aid for the poor, and they are blocking worker training and transportation infrastructure.

But the final outrage of these budgets is hidden in the fine print. In state after state and here in Washington, these so called fiscal hawks are actually doing almost nothing to cut the deficit. The federal budget embraced by House Republicans, for example, cuts $4.3 trillion in spending, but gives out $4.2 trillion in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit wealthy individuals and corporations. Florida is gutting aid for jobless workers and using the money saved to cut already-low business taxes. At the end of the day, our governments will be in no better fiscal shape than when we started – they are just being used as a pass-through to enrich the already rich – at a time when inequality stands at historic levels.

Think about the message these budgets send: Sacrifice is for the weak. The powerful and well-connected get tax cuts.

All these incredible events should be understood as part of a single challenge. It is not just a political challenge – it’s a moral challenge. Because these events signal a new and dangerous phase of a concerted effort to change the very nature of America – to turn this into an “I’ve got mine” nation and replace the land of liberty and justice for all with the land of the war of all against all.

It’s not even all against all. Instead what is being orchestrated is a war of the Other 98% versus the Other 98%, with the richest Americans safe and cozy and out of the line of fire.

The press has touted this speech as Trumka laying down a marker for the labor movement’s independence from either political party. To some extent he does this. But what’s much more interesting to me than the hard-to-believe claims of drawing hard lines against Democrats is Trumka’s analysis of the policies which are facilitating an escalating transfer of wealth from working people to the top 2%. That’s why this speech matters and it’s what will continue to be relevant beyond the 2012 election season.

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