workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

An Outbreak of Bi-Partisanship

Though you’d never know it from the pundits, we are suffering from a surfeit of bipartisan collaboration. Right after the 2014 elections we saw a budget deal staving off a federal government shutdown (it never actually shuts down in these stand-offs, of course; the bombs keep falling, the cages they call prisons are not opened, police brutality continues unabated) for another year. The backroom deal between the White House, Senate Democrats and Republicans allowed banks to return to the reckless speculation that brought on the financial crisis we are told is now over. (It’s over for the corporations and banks, which are rolling in profits, and they’re the ones who really count.)

It’s a gambler’s dream. If the bets pay off, the banks get to keep the winnings. If they fail, the taxpayers (that is, those of us who must work for a living) pick up the tab.

The deal also included more tax breaks for the rich, and a little-noticed provision allowing pension plans to slash benefits for already retired workers if the plan seems likely to run short of cash over the next 20 years. This is, of course, a real problem. For decades, employers failed to adequately fund pension plans, relying on rosy projections to paper over the gap with phony income. When the inevitable shortfall came, they slashed benefits to future retirees or turned to the federal pension guarantee fund for a bail-out (always on the backs of retirees).

Now employers can simply “adjust” pension benefits on their own, if the pension trustees agree; if they don’t agree, the bosses can go straight to the feds for permission.

Los Angeles Times economic columnist Michael Hiltzik was among the few to comment on “the backroom, last-minute congressional deal allowing benefits of millions of retired workers to be shredded.” United Parcel Service stands to save nearly $2 billion by ditching its obligations to a multi-employer pension fund it pulled out of in 2007. Workers, meanwhile, could see two-thirds of their promised pensions vanish into thin air – or more precisely, into the profit side of the bosses’ balance sheets.

And the bipartisanship continues.

Democrats and Republicans came together to restore the U.S. government’s “right” to access our phone and email records anytime it chooses. (In a “reform,” the government won’t keep the records in its own database, but instead will get them from the companies whenever it wants to look them over.)

“Free trade” deals proliferate, with support from both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan drones continue to slaughter civilians (and sometimes people the government actually meant to kill) in the most bipartisan way imaginable. Obama has set new records for deporting our fellow workers; the Republicans promise to do even more if they get the White House.

We were promised gridlock – but it’s just one more broken promise from the polytricksters…

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