The Iowa Democratic Party debates: A war for the ‘middle class’

By Dante Strobino

The Democratic Party candidates for president, amidst all their benign rhetoric about “better futures,” “hope” and “sacrifice,” are attempting to straddle an impossible gulf— between the workers and the bosses of this country. All the candidates are talking out of both sides of their mouths to appeal to both class camps while intentionally repeating lies meant to confuse the U.S. working class into the worst of all deliriums—that we are all “middle class” people with common interests.

The candidates have spent the last few months attempting to convince all Iowans of these same class lies in order to win their support during the Jan. 3 caucus. The latest nationally televised debate took place in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 13.

The moderator opened the debate with a question about the economy. Not a single candidate among those present—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Joe Biden—mentioned the acute housing crisis affecting millions of people who have already lost their homes or are on the brink of foreclosure due to the banks’ predatory policies. None thought it relevant to mention the Bush regime’s Dec. 6 announcement of its latest inept policy regarding this crisis.

Nor was it mentioned that the U.S. senators currently running—Obama, Dodd, Clinton and Biden—all strategically were not in Washington to vote for a major bill that will affect working people world wide: the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (H.R. 3688), a move to deepen the horrors caused by NAFTA. These four, along with Republican candidate John McCain, were the only senators who did not cast a vote.

In the Nov. 15 debate at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Clinton and Obama admitted they would have voted for the bill, although they both told something different to a gathering of trade unionists. In fact, Clinton has voted yes to all free trade deals since she has been in the senate.

According to Jobs with Justice: “The new labor protections in the Peru FTA are merely cosmetic. Instead of requiring compliance with the very detailed International Labor Organization Conventions, this new agreement refers to the much more vague, two page, 1988 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The detailed ILO Conventions are what really spell out what a ban on child and forced labor means in practice.

“In addition, the Peru FTA allows secret trade dispute resolution panels to interpret and apply these minimal rights in the Declaration differently than they have been interpreted and applied by the ILO itself. Even Tom Donahue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Congress, has noted, ‘the labor provisions (in the Peru FTA) cannot be read to require compliance with ILO Conventions.’

“Just like trade agreements before it, this FTA’s investment chapter will put U.S. environmental, food safety and other public interest protections in jeopardy of direct challenge by foreign investors in secret international tribunals.” (jwjpdx.org)

Not one of these candidates had the backbone to stand up and vote no to this bill. Meanwhile, all of them spew carefully worded rhetoric to appease both the bosses and the workers—an impossible task—about NAFTA and other trade deals. They do this by demonizing China, Mexico and other oppressed nations for “using slave labor” and “manipulating currency,” when in reality it is the U.S. corporations that are setting up “special economic zones” where these practices occur. They completely let the U.S. corporations and bosses off the hook.

When later asked about the energy and environmental crisis, not one candidate mentioned everyday, real effects these crises have on the working class. Lagoons of hog waste sitting in poor and Black rural neighborhoods created by the pork industry, arsenic poisoning the drinking wells due to the coal mining industry’s practice of mountaintop removal—you will never hear about this in these debates.

Nor did they mention any campaigns similar to the heating oil programs of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez which, as last year, are giving heavily discounted natural gas to the working poor in many U.S. cities who cannot afford the heating bills.

No candidate mentioned the uneven effects of global warming, as seen across the world in rising water levels, tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts and floods. Instead Clinton called for “new kind of American patriotism” to help with the energy and environmental crisis.

Of all the candidates, John Edwards speaks most directly to interests of the working class. He constantly speaks out against corporate interests in Washington, and has taken the most time of all candidates to visit with trade unionists.

Some might recall work he did with UNITE-HERE or standing on a picket line at the Smithfield hog slaughtering facility in his home state of North Carolina, which ironically, of all the candidates’ home states, has the lowest unionization rate. But does Edwards really care about workers? During his term as senator he never once visited the Smithfield facility, nor made any public statement to defend the union campaign that has been going on there since 1994 and has drawn international attention.

Another labor situation in North Carolina that has gained international attention, including a powerful report from the UN’s International Labor Organization, is the Jim-Crow legacy General Statute 95-98 that prohibits collective bargaining. Edwards has never even batted an eye at this obvious violation of workers’ basic human rights. Are we to expect him now to have a whole new lease on life with his repeated concerns for “middle class” families?

Who is the “middle class” anyway? In equally rich and disgusting double-speak, Hillary Clinton claimed during the UNLV debate that she won’t fix the problems of Social Security on “the backs of middle-class families and senior citizens”—while referring to a trillion-dollar tax break that would only affect those earning over $97,000 a year. That is one mighty middle class.

Obama responded, stating that “only 6 percent of Americans make more than 97 thousands dollars a year. Six percent is not the middle class, it is the upper class.”

Dodd also talks about the “middle class” and insinuates that this would include “37 million of our fellow citizens who are living in poverty.”

At the end of the day, none of the candidates have clean, honest records of supporting working-class organizations or trade unions, nor do they have a clean record on “free trade” deals that devastate workers internationally. Neither have any of the candidates done much to protect working people across the globe from the horrors of environmental destruction.

None has a good record or position regarding immigration. None wishes to support the self-determination of working people in oppressed countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine

So whose side are they on, really?

We, workers and oppressed of the world, cannot just wait and vote for these talking heads of the bourgeoisie to solve our problems. We must come together, build unity and organize ourselves for a better future!

Strobino has been a union organizer with UE in Iowa throughout the last few months of debates and caucus preparations. He was also a union organizer in North Carolina.

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