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Obama’s broken promises

It seems like only yesterday that America faced the question of whether Barack Obama would be the country’s first black president. In the months running up to the November 2008 election, his campaign unleashed a seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm from millions desperate for “hope” and “change”. Four years on, those hopes have been dashed.

For many, Obama’s victory marked a turning point for the United States, to leave behind the Dubya era, with its endless “War on Terror”, its restrictions on civil liberties, its bankers’ bailouts and tax breaks for the super-rich, its jobless recovery and its attacks on workers’ rights to unionise. Millions of the poorest, particularly African-Americans, looked to Obama to deliver them from a decades-long decline in wages and welfare rights, as mass unemployment and soup kitchens spread across the richest country in the world.

However rather than the light of the end of the tunnel, Obama proved to be more of the same. His rational style and skilful rhetoric could not hide policies that rewarded the Democrats’ millionaire backers rather than the poor and youth who turned out in their millions to vote the Democrats in.

First the Democrats cited their perennial excuse that they needed time to clean up the Republicans’ mess, despite controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. But by serving Wall Street and big business before their working class supporters they created their own defeat in 2010, with a Republican landslide taking the House of Representatives. The Democrats’ second tried and tested excuse was then wheeled out: that Obama’s hands were now tied, that compromises were necessary, and that their promises would have to wait until after his re-election.

Obama’s shameful record

When car companies needed a bailout they were given a pro-capitalist restructuring policy with the President’s blessing, paid for by cuts to autoworkers’ jobs and wages. But the Employee Free-Choice Act was dropped, despite its being the trade unions’ key demand in exchange for supporting Obama in 2008.

The already bled-dry working and middle-class taxpayers were made to re-capitalise ailing banks, buying their worthless assets and paying for the “stimulus” package. This did not put the millions of unemployed back to work, but only boosted the stock markets and bankers’ profits.

Obama has kept Guantanamo and extended the CIA-led programme of drone strikes, killing hundreds of innocent women and children in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, in direct violation of their national sovereignty.

But Obama’s administration has made remarkable efforts to deport immigrants from Latin America, with 400,000 “undocumented” people rounded up and kicked out since 2010. This betrayal of people promised sanctuary both to live and work, and the Latino constituency that voted for Obama, is one of the most disgraceful of all.

The one achievement the President’s die-hard supporters point to is his success in passing health-care reform. Yet even this does more for health corporations than it does for workers, with millions remaining without health coverage even after the new bill is put into effect. Now the subsidies necessary to make sure millions of people do not have to pay a fine for not having health insurance will come out of the state Medicare system instead of taxing the rich, robbing one section of workers to pay another.

As always, on every issue the Democrats’ excuse to their supporters is that “the Republicans are even worse”!

Obama does not deserve workers’ votes

Obama’s greatest strength is the divisions in the Republican camp, which gave the Republican candidacy to the unpopular millionaire Mitt Romney. Unsurprisingly, there is no repeat of the 2008 “movement”, which saw tens of thousands of young, Black and union activists working for an Obama break, just election year business-as-usual as its costs pass the billion-dollar mark.

Though the Democrats try to pass themselves off as more progressive than the Republicans, both are big business parties, despite trade union support for the Democrats. The working class should not fall for this to vote for Obama as the “lesser evil.” What’s the point of playing the lesser-evil card when the lesser evil takes office and conducts policy that is indistinguishable overall from the “greater evil”?

Activists are told to “wait” for the Democrats to deliver. Then when they deliver inadequate policies – or actually attack workers – they are told, “don’t rock the boat or the Republicans will get in”. This hamstrings any serious fight against war, racism and neoliberal policies. Any “gains” won this way are minimal, far less than could be gained by mobilising workers or the oppressed in a real struggle. These gains either fit in with capitalism, like Obama’s healthcare that requires workers to enrol for expensive plans or be fined, or see a few of the sharpest aspects of an attack knocked off, while the overall decline in living standards continues.

American workers can’t keep watching their position decline forever; many are already on the breadline. They need organisations that will mount mass campaigns, protests and strikes to defeat the policies that enrich the one per cent, whether from Obama or Romney. This is especially true as the US debt crisis comes to a head, and both parties threaten to attack key welfare gains like Social Security.

Rather than voting Obama to block the Republicans and hoping he’ll be different this time around, workers, youth, and the socially oppressed should abstain from the polls and organise themselves to be ready for the inevitable class battles looming on the horizon.

To end the Democrat-Republican cycle of government that just leaves everyone worse off, the trade unions and anti-cuts movements in the US need to launch an independent working class party, with a strategy not only to block the worst effects of the capitalist system, but get rid of it completely, through a revolutionary struggle for a Socialist United States of America.

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