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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009, 4:01 pm

Pop Quiz: What Does the Left Have to Offer?

BY Les Leopold

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A job seeker examines an employment bulletin board in New York City. In late June, President Obama said he expects the U.S. unemployment rate to top 10 percent this year.   (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

I may be missing something, but the left seems awfully quiet on the financial crisis and the renewed rip-offs that are quickly emerging on Wall Street.

What a change this is from the 1930s, when the socialist tradition was packed with ideas that gained incredible traction during the Depression. Back then, the left in its various forms offered up everything from unionization to the TVA, from social security to wage and hour laws, from public housing to tough controls on banking.

Now what do we have to offer?

I’ve heard some abstract comments about workers’ control. Of banks? It seems the “workers” at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan already have more than enough control as they sit down to divide up their outlandish profits, brought to them on a platter by the American tax payer.

Why isn’t anyone calling for the nationalization of banks?  For the first time in 70 years, you can talk about natioalization with the average American who really doesn’t like pouring a trillion dollars into Wall Street and getting nothing in return.

We already “own” CitiGroup, AIG, Bank of America, Fannie and Freddie. What would it look like if we ran them as pubic utilities for the public good rather than pouring money into them so that they can become attractive again to private investors?
 
And what about the caps on ridiculous salaries on Wall Street? Andrew J. Hall is about to walk off with $100 million from CitiGroup. You couldn’t ask for a better poster-child for hard wage caps on financial speculators. Hall is earning his money from oil trades and will be paid by a bank that is totally in hock to the U.S. government (i.e., American taxpayers). What a set-up for national outrage stirred up by the left. 

Yet the voices of protest are faint and mobilizations are non-existent.
 
Or how about record profits on Wall Street by Goldman Sachs, with JP Morgan Chase not far behind? This is one of the most egregious acts of arrogance since Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.” 

There are nearly 30 million unemployed or underemployed right now. Yet we are very quiet as banks turn our incredible subsidies ($19 trillion by some count) into profits. They’d have to be complete idiots to not turn a profit when they are loaded with guarantees, free money from the Fed, changed accounting assets to increase the value of toxic assets and AIG payments that came directly from us.

The response from the left is …..?
 
And then there are the unemployed. The best numbers on this come not from the left but from Leo Hindery, a multi-millionaire who happens to think the economy is a wreck and that unemployment is the key problem. He’s working with Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers to develop a plan for working class jobs.

You would think the left would be leading this charge with all kinds of innovative programs to employ young people and the unemployed—new CCCs, new WPAs, new somethings….What’s our program?
 
Like I said, I may be missing something. In fact, I’m sure I am. I’m hoping I can find out more by provoking this discussion. We need an emboldened left to lay out strong plans.

This is the best teaching moment we have had in several generations. Let ‘er rip.

Les Leopold is the co-founder and director of two nonprofit educational organizations: The Labor Institute and the Public Health Institute. He is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (2209) and The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi (2008), both published by Chelsea Green.

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