OPINION: Democrats: It’s time to remember who you are

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By JASON STARR
President, UAW Local 249
Kansas City, Mo.

Those who read my column regularly know I have been unsparing in my criticisms of the Republican Party and their unrelenting attacks on the working class. When I call out the Republican party, I am not attacking our members – and others – who vote Republican. I am calling out and going after the politicians themselves and the anti-working-class policies that they pursue at the demand of their rich corporate masters.

I do wish our Republican-voting members could see through the shroud of corporate propaganda that manipulates so many of our members into thinking that Republicans care anything at all about us, but I can also understand the frustration and disappointment with the Democratic Party, because I am angry too. 

The working class, working people like us and the working poor, are treated with benign neglect from too many Democrats in the face of open hostility from most Republican politicians.

On the Republican side of the coin, we get phony “right-to-work” and party line opposition to the PRO Act, raising the minimum wage, Medicaid expansion and the right to vote. On the Democratic side we often get lip service, but little definitive action that speaks to the interests and economic fears of working people. 

DISENFRANCHISED AND MANIPULATED
It is the supreme irony of our time that many members of the working class have become so disenfranchised by the failures of the Democratic Party that they have allowed themselves to be manipulated by the emotionally charged rhetoric of the Republican Party. The truth is the only legislative goals of the Republican Party are the destruction of our social safety net programs and tax cuts for the rich, not the interests of working people or the anxieties of the working class.

President Biden started his term well by removing anti-worker officials at the National Labor Relations Board and passage of his American Rescue Plan that aided millions of American families so the country’s economy could get rolling again. But it simply is not enough. The passage of the PRO Act, voting rights and the desperately needed infrastructure plan are now stalled in the Senate because Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are blocking action on the filibuster.

This pattern of Republican obstinacy and Democratic passivity has been going on for decades now. Legislation to address the economic and social crises facing millions of working-class Americans has been blocked at every turn and this is becoming a very real threat to our democracy.

Many of the millions of people who voted for Donald Trump in the last two elections were convinced – wrongly – that democracy no longer had answers for them. What they needed was an authoritarian leader who could break through the logjam of unsolved problems, and at long last, get something done.

SAME PROBLEMS HERE AS IN WASHINGTON
The problems that we see on the national level are reflected here in Missouri and Kansas, as well.

The Missouri Legislature adjourned without funding Medicaid expansion that was approved by Missouri voters, thereby blowing a billion-dollar hole in the state budget. Now a special session has been called to fix the problem, but a solution is being blocked by a handful of hard-right Republicans who want to use birth control for poor women to block legislation that will save lives in our state. 

In the face of this, Missouri Democrats — many of whom look to the UAW for support — have been timid and even silent. Many are counting on a lawsuit now in the state court system to solve the problem for them.

Jobs with Justice called for a July 1 protest outside Gov. Parson’s Jeff City mansion to demand funding of Medicaid expansion. Local 249 organized volunteers to attend. Unfortunately, Democratic politicians have taken a hands-off approach to the protest when they should be leading it.

TIME FOR BOLD MEASURES
I get it that there is truly little Democrats can do in the state legislature. They face Republican supermajorities in both houses. Every statewide office — except for State Auditor Nicole Galloway — is held by Republicans, as well. 

However, this is not a time for excuses and silence. This is a time that calls for bold measures, both inside the halls of Congress and in the streets.

Democrats have a model in their history of fighting for the working class and poor that lifted the entire nation into a generation of shared prosperity. It is time for Democrats to remember who they are and take on the corporate economic attacks on our democracy.

In the depths of the Great Depression, Republicans and their corporate bosses were in the driver’s seat. The KKK and supporters of uniformed Nazis — the predecessors of the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, and other far-right extremists — were in Congress and on the streets stopping union organizing and terrorizing Black citizens.

Then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke through. He restored the financial stability of our banking system, stopped evictions, passed the National Labor Relations Act, and put people back to work. The American people were so grateful they re-elected him three times. Democrats held power in Washington and most state capitols for decades. However, over time Democrats moved away from policy making that focused on social and economic justice for average American families, they embraced corporate interests, and working families have paid a heavy price.

NOTHING WILL CHANGE IF WE STAND ON THE SIDELINES
We cannot put all the blame on Democratic Party. Our Labor unions have cozied up to the very politicians that have failed us and have not held them accountable. Organized Labor has been short-sighted in recent decades and has transitioned into service unionism that no longer works to mobilize their members to fight for social and economic justice. This has resulted in members who view their union as a service they pay for versus an institution that requires their participation and activism to build the strength necessary to secure our way of life.

I am convinced this is a factor in the corruption crisis that shook — and is still shaking — our own beloved UAW. If our members do not believe you can fight back and win, then it easy to understand why most sit back and become complacent.

The fact is nothing will change if working people continue to stand on the sidelines. It will take a mass movement like the union movement of the 1930s to turn our unions and the Democratic Party into organizations capable of winning real change. That will require the active participation of working people to put pressure on their leaders and politicians of all stripes to change.

In the end, there is no substitute for activism. If we want to solve problems we face, it is clear that the working class will have to lead the way.

(Jason Starr is president of UAW Local 249 in Pleasant Valley, Mo., which represents workers at Ford’s Claycomo assembly plant in Kansas City, Mo.)

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