Trumka Takes on the 'Neoliberalism' that Broke U.S. Economy
by Seth D Michaels, Fri Dec 18, 2009 at 06:11:14 AM EST
In Tuesday's live Web chat, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka talked about what we need to do to fix our economy in both the short term and the long term--and touched on a vital, too-infrequently discussed issue: the need to end the stranglehold neoliberal economic thinking has on our politics.
Spurred by Milton Friedman and other economists, the neoliberal agenda is based on the radical principle that it's markets, not people, that matter most. By nature, the neoliberal principle is hostile to collective bargaining, public regulation and all manner of ways to leverage community power to balance out the power of wealth. Trumka sums up Friedman's poisonous political philosophy:
He believed that anything that got in the way of the free market was something that was bad and should be eliminated. Any regulation on business is bad, so get rid of it; any tax on business is bad and distorts the marketplace, get rid of it. A union is bad and distorts the marketplace, so you have to get rid of it.
For the last 30 years, that's the system that we've had here. It brought us to this crisis.
Trumka says the labor movement needs to get back at the forefront of economic policy, including monetary, fiscal and industrial policy. Unions need to lay out a clear new economic agenda that will work better and stand as an alternative to the markets-first, people-later neoliberal agenda.
That means building an economy in which the financial sector works on behalf of the real economy--not the other way around. It means listening to the needs of working families, not pundits and corporate shills who claim that good jobs with living wages and benefits are "bad for the economy." It means we don't let big bankers reap profits from destructive speculation and pass the risks and the consequences on to us. It means that wages, not debt, drives the economy.
One of the top priorities for the AFL-CIO, Trumka says, is to educate union members--and candidates for office--about economic policy. Working people must be players in economic policy, so that we can create an economy that benefits everybody, not just those at the very top.
This is a cross-post from Firedoglake.