Barry Sheppard: What would a SYRIZA-like party in the USA advocate?

By Barry Sheppard

October 14, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- There is a statue in revolutionary Havana of Don Quixote, the literary creation of 17th century Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who fought for his principles, even if he was crazy. I know I’m a bit crazy.

With less than a month to go before the US presidential elections, the farce we have been living through for more than a year becomes even more grotesque. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on advertisements for US President Barack Obama or Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney. Money has never been so awash in an election before.

The racial divide is stark. Romney has the white racist vote sewed up. He is likely to win a majority of white voters, especially white men. African Americans will vote overwhelmingly, well over 90%, for Obama. Polls predict he will get two-thirds of the Latino vote.

Both candidates incessantly talk about creating jobs, and defending the middle class. Neither wants to mention the working class. And yet, by middle class they mean workers with relatively better wages and working conditions – who are losing both.

It was trade unions that won those better wages and conditions in past struggles. Now union power has shrunk, with less than 7% of workers in the private sector in unions and with public workers under incessant attack.

Neither capitalist party mentions unions except to disparage them.

Neither candidate has a program to defend workers from the ravages of the depression we are living through, just rhetoric and hot air.

What program?

In this bleak landscape, I have asked myself the question: “What if we had something like SYRIZA, the left coalition in Greece? It would put forward an emergency program to counter the crisis. What might such a program look like in the US?”

Perhaps if we sketch out such an emergency program, it would help throw light on the current direction of the US ruling class by presenting a stark contrast.

I have some ideas, not complete or fully worked out, that such an emergency economic program could address. It could call to nationalise the banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions. While guaranteeing deposits, a government could use the assets of these institutions to halt foreclosures of working people's homes.

Where possible, it could restore homes to families who have already been foreclosed and guarantee new homes to the rest. Mortgages could be renegotiated to drastically cut loans and interest rates to no more than 10% of income.

One consequence of nationalising insurance companies would be the immediate implementation of national health insurance for all.

The program could include launching an immediate public works program to rebuild infrastructure that is crumbling, such as bridges and roads. It could tear down all the decaying abandoned factories, boarded up homes and other facilities that blight vast sections of US cities and towns.

Tens of millions of people could be put to work in such projects, with affirmative action to hire Blacks and other oppressed peoples currently suffering twice the national unemployment rate.

The minimum wage could be raised to a living wage, and applied to all workers without the present exemptions for agribusiness and other capitalist enterprises.

It could include a guarantee that everyone would have a job at a decent wage. When capitalist industries lay workers off, the government could hire them for socially useful projects.

Social security payments could be raised from its present poverty levels into a real pension program for all.

A steeply graduated income tax, on all income, could be established. All tax-dodging loopholes, including stashing funds in foreign banks, could be removed. Income taxes target those who earn income from what they own, rather than those who earn by working.

Big oil and gas companies could be nationalised. An energy policy could be implemented that confronts the looming danger of global warming, a topic absent from both campaigns. Workers could receive energy subsidies for transport and heating.

The prison-industrial complex could be abolished. There could be an end to the war on African Americans and Latinos, mislabelled as the “war on drugs”. About 25% of all those in jail in the world are in the US. Seventy per cent of these are non-white.

Drug addiction could be treated as a health problem, not a criminal one. The huge numbers of prisoners convicted of non-violent drug crimes could be released with a guarantee of a job.

US wars could be ended. The US could withdraw immediately from all the nearly 1000 military bases throughout the world and make further drastic cuts to the military. Trillions would be saved.

US nuclear weapons could be abolished.

Punitive sanctions against Cuba, Iran and other countries could be ended and diplomatic relations established with them.

Citizenship could be granted to the 12 million workers in the country without papers.

All the many laws restricting trade union rights could be abolished. The union bureaucrats sitting atop most unions have proven they cannot lead workers in struggle. The Chicago teachers, who won a recent militant strike, have shown the way forward by promoting class struggle and not class collaboration. They showed you can use union power to champion the causes of the oppressed in society as a whole, and mobilise union power through rank and file democracy and control.

Of course, such a sketch could be rounded out and improved. I would point out that such an emergency program would not transcend capitalism in and of itself. Neither does SYRIZA's program for Greece.

And, it is obviously pie in the sky in the present United States, as there is no mass working-class party that could present it.

But it does help illustrate that the Democrats and Republicans are moving in the opposite direction on every single point. And it points to the need to build such a party.

[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party: The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books.]

From GLW issue 941