LaborTalk for May 3, 2012

What Are the Spending Cuts Affecting Workers
Which Obama and Republicans Both Approved?

By Harry Kelber

It should disturb working people that President Obama and the Republicans have agreed on a list of spending cuts, amounting to a trillion dollars or more, without revealing precisely where the cuts will take place or how deep they will be.

Obama has publicly agreed that "entitlements" (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) must be cut. In a speech to an Associated Press meeting on April 3, the President boasted: "I've got the most liberal Democrats in Congress who are prepared to make significant changes in entitlements that go against their political interests."

As a way to pay for the reduction in payroll taxes, Congress cut the maximum number of weeks that unemployment compensation would be paid, from 99 to 63 in "average" unemployment states, and 73 in high unemployed states. It also cut $15 billion in pension benefits for government workers.

It is understood that funds for education were slashed, with more than 1 billion taken from Title 1 grants to disadvantaged school districts; $900 million in cuts to special education programs, and $589 million to cut Head Start programs, which serve mostly low-income families. Congress lopped off $21 billion from health care appropriations, including $5 billion from the disease prevention fund.

Can Unions Mobilize to Defeat the Crippling Spending Cuts?

The AFL-CIO must be prepared for a bipartisan attack on its core, long-term programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as on unemployment insurance benefits, food stamps and the many agencies that serve the poor, sick and elderly.

In all likelihood, workers may be asked to pay more for healthcare, and accept cuts in their retirement income, as part of the agreement to reduce the federal debt.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and a few national labor leaders have strongly criticized the massive spending cuts but they have not publicly asked Obama why the unions were not consulted on matters affecting workers' livelihood.

Obama has had a formal relationship with AFL-CIO leaders, but has not taken them into his confidence or comply with their wishes, despite the fact that most of them have vowed to support him for re-election. The question remains: Why didn't the President inform unions about the details in the agreement he made with Republicans? The President must be aware that those massive spending cuts will only worsen the economic crisis and cause hundreds of thousands of additional workers to be laid off, when we already have nearly 10 million people who still can't find a job. So why did he do it?

And what should our unions be doing? Keep on complaining? Or raising all kinds of hell to command the attention of Congress and the White House? Where is labor's "independent voice" that we were promised by Trumka months ago?

LaborTalk will be posted here on May 10, 2012 and on our two web sites: and on

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