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The first 100 days: a legislative agenda

Bill Fletcher Jr imagines a 'people's agenda' to kick-start the change we need

January 20, 2009
9 min read

Let’s imagine that, after several months of drafting, the final touches are being placed on what has come to be known as The First 100 Days: A Working People’s Agenda for the First 100 Days of the Incoming Democratic Administration. Let’s also imagine that the drafting committee of trade unions and other progressive working-class organisations collected hundreds of ideas and developed an extensive list of recommendations for an even more comprehensive agenda; but the committee’s delicate task was to identify several key areas where the new Democratic administration must take bold emergency steps within its first 100 days to rescue the country from the already devastating recession and two disastrous wars.

The federal emergency response

The new administration’s first initiatives must be both domestic and global in scope. At the same time, it must be understood that the efforts within the first 100 days cannot represent the totality of its programme. This will require a combination of movement-building and constructing a broader social consensus in favour of significant structural change.

With that in mind, let us itemise the agenda:

1. Immediate withdrawal of US troops, bases and mercenaries from Iraq and Afghanistan

This should involve the following:

– Asking the United Nations and Arab League for assistance in creating a multinational, transitional team to bring the various forces on the ground together, along with regional powers, to negotiate a long-term resolution of the conflict and the stabilisation of Iraq.

– The elimination of any obligation on the Iraqi government to fulfill agreements imposed upon Iraq during the reign of Paul Bremer.

– Bilateral discussions with Iran regarding future policies and relations with the US.

– Multi-party discussions between the US, Pakistan and the various political forces in Afghanistan regarding a permanent settlement.

– A renouncement of any US intentions to have permanent bases in Iraq or Afghanistan; a withdrawal of US bases from Saudi Arabia; a renouncement of US intentions to secure control over oil and/or natural gas reserves in the region.

– Immediate talks toward establishing a US/European Union/Russian/Arab League/Israeli/Palestinian joint committee on the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Deployment of a special envoy to lay the foundations for this project.

2. Economic triage

The ongoing economic meltdown calls for both immediate relief and long-term management. In the short-term, however, several steps need to be taken, including, but not limited to:

– A moratorium on foreclosures and evictions while providing immediate assistance to those affected by these actions to renegotiate the terms of their debt.

– An extension of unemployment and food stamp benefits. Greater numbers of the working poor have come to depend on food stamps in order to survive, and the current apportionment insufficiently reflects today’s cost of living. According to the Bread for the World group, most food stamp households spend 80 per cent of their benefits by the 14th of each month. The food stamp system must be retooled to meet the full nutritional needs of its recipients.

– Immediate public service job creation. As part of a longer-term initiative, the federal government must begin emergency public sector reconstruction work, focusing on bridges, tunnels and levees. We need a programme along the lines already proposed by Barack Obama, who suggested the dedication of $210 billion to create construction and environmental jobs: $60 billion would be directed to a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to rebuild public projects such as highways, bridges, airports; and $150 billion would be earmarked for the creation of five million ‘green-collar’ jobs to develop more environmentally friendly energy sources. This would be funded through cuts in military spending.

– Federal intervention is necessary to halt the collapse of student loan programmes. A hidden crisis, which is part of the larger credit crunch, has been the declining number of banks that offer affordable student loans. A federal intervention, therefore, is needed to make sufficient funds available.

– Elimination of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, which, along with the Iraq and Afghan wars, have been bleeding the economy. Steps must be taken to reclaim the money that has been disproportionately funnelled to corporations and the wealthy. Though longer-term tax reform will be necessary, the first step is to stop the haemorrhaging.

3. A Marshall Plan for US cities and depressed regions

The Hurricane Katrina disaster and the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse exposed significant problems with our political leadership, economic choices and the basic infrastructure of the US (not to mention race, gender and class politics when it came to Katrina). The following initiatives should be announced:

– A national commitment to launch a domestic version of the Marshall Plan. This programme would involve a renewal of the US physical and social infrastructures. A successful modern-day Marshall Plan would also build upon the work of groups such as the National Jobs for All Coalition, which has proposed a 21st-century Public Investment Act. The proposal features: a Public Works Authority that, while working with state and local authorities to create permanent jobs, would provide long-term funding for high priority public works and infrastructure projects, ensuring that these projects employ the unemployed and underemployed; a Public Investment Fund that would fund a Public Service Employment Programme designed to close job gaps, while continuing to encourage job creation; and a National Employment Accounting Office that would evaluate progress and assess ongoing needs for job creation and public investment. At least 25 per cent of such jobs should be staffed by people of colour, with at least another 25 per cent staffed by women.

– Regional planning authorities should be established in depressed regions to explore economic development strategies such as industrial cooperatives, public-private partnerships, and governmental incentives to encourage the creation of new industries.

– Emergency measures to provide more low-income housing. This would include legislation for a federal affordable housing trust fund and a housing assistance tax act, which would, among other provisions, provide tax credits to first-time homebuyers.

4. Immediate signing of the Kyoto Protocol

The US is way behind the rest of the world on the environment. Our over-dependence on fossil fuels has straitjacketed the global economy (making the greater international community highly dependent on oil), which has contributed to the rising global temperature. The environmental crisis, however, is not limited to global warming. The endangerment of various species paints a disturbing picture of an unravelling ecology. Most urgently, the new administration must:

– Sign the Kyoto Protocol, while making a commitment to launch international negotiations towards a new and stronger pact.

– Push through a renewable energy and job creation act to promote renewable energy, green-collar jobs, and tax benefits to middle-class families.

– Establish a ‘Green Commission’ that brings together labour, business, environmental groups, community-based organisations and government representatives to recommend technological, economic and developmental changes geared toward building a sustainable economy.

5. Pass and sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)

As a step toward jettisoning the one-sided class war against workers, the new administration must:

– Reaffirm the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)’s mandate that it is within US public policy to promote collective bargaining. It must draft legislation that proscribes any employer involvement in their workers’ choice of bargaining representatives.

6. A universal health care initiative

Universal, single-payer health care cannot take flight within the first 100 days. The groundwork, however, must be laid immediately. The new administration must:

– Establish a commission to draft legislation for universal, single-payer coverage.

– Plan for a one year drafting period, followed by national town meetings and hearings.

– Aim for passage before the midterm elections.

7. Immigration reform

Immediate steps must be taken to lay out an immigration reform programme that is coupled with changes in US foreign policy. This reform programme must include:

– Amnesty (in the form of permanent residency status) for undocumented workers who have no criminal record.

– A revised application process that gives priority to refugees from areas of political conflict where the US has been historically involved.

– Elimination of guest worker programmes. Investigation of already existing programmes’ impact on domestic and foreign-born workers.

– Unionisation rights for all workers within US borders, irrespective of their immigration status.

8. Forge global partnerships

Changing US foreign policy is an uphill, long-term process. Nevertheless, certain immediate measures are imperative. In addition to withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, the new administration must:

– Create a 21st-century partnership programme to develop foreign aid and trade programmes designed to promote more self-reliance among nation states, while responding to the civilian needs in those areas.

– Promote trade relations based on fairness rather than on corporate interests. Explore a renegotiation of NAFTA.

– Implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with steps toward de-nuclearisation.

– Employ special envoys for peace and development who will work with regional representatives to address matters such as political conflict, economic underdevelopment and environmental devastation.

Conclusion: a qualifying thought

This agenda will be moot without strong backing from social forces that are prepared to press for its implementation.

Any demobilisation of those who successfully brought the Democratic candidate to victory will buoy the political right’s leverage to assert its own agenda.

Right-wing forces will push for a continuation of the Bush administration’s anti-progressive policies.

Thus, if we are not prepared consistently to place enough pressure on our new ‘friend’ in the White House, we should expect a repeat of the Bill Clinton years, in which there was (technically) a high degree of access to the president and top cabinet officials, but the progressive social movements were afforded very little in the way of actual power.

The choice is ours, and we have precious little time to decide how we want to proceed.

These are highlights of an agenda first published in the autumn issue of the US journal New Labor Forum.

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