This was originally published in New Ground 100, May — June, 2005.
by Bob Roman
The fight to preserve Social Security gathers momentum, helped in large part by the apparent terminal ineptness of the Bush Administration. After months of campaigning for private accounts as a substitute the present Social Security system, Bush finally broke down and proposed a plan: how about benefit cuts with private accounts on the side? This has not helped his position.
One shouldn’t give Bush all the credit. Americans United to Protect Social Security has been active in all 50 states building grassroots opposition to the attack on Social Security. This has paid off in the ability to react quickly to events. When hearings were scheduled on the issue, a National Day of Action was declared on April 26. In Chicago, Illinois United to Protect Social Security (IUPSS) brought about 100 people together outside the Social Security building on west Madison in Chicago. The event gathered considerable press and, typical of these events, spontaneous participation by passers-by. In Washington, DC, a national rally was held on the 28th. The rally brought over 3,000 people together to hear Illinois’ William McNary, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, and Kim Gandy of NOW speak. The rally even had its own feeder march: a brigade of 120 members of Congress who marched together from their Capitol offices.
In Illinois, IUPSS has engaged in other coordinated national actions and has kept up an ongoing campaign of targeted grassroots organizing. The AFL-CIO declared a National Day of Action Against Social Security Privatization on March 31, aiming at brokerage houses participating in industry trade associations advocating privatization, particularly Charles Schwab. The Illinois AFL-CIO, the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans and IUPSS organized a noon hour picket outside the Charles Schwab offices on south Wacker Drive in Chicago. Hundreds of people participated, and a thoroughly stonewalled attempt at delivering a letter to the office resulted in a great bit of drama for the journalists.
On April 2nd, IUPSS took the fight to the Republican leader in the House, Dennis Hastert, with a demonstration outside his district office in Batavia. This brought together several hundred people from all over Illinois, including the local chapter of “Billionaires for Bush”.
Chicago DSA endorsed and promoted both these events.
All Along the Food Chain
Organizing continues apace with Congressional District committees being formed to target Republicans Dennis Hastert in the far western suburbs, Jerry Weller in the southern suburbs, and Tim Johnson in east central Illinois (Champaign – Urbana). IUPSS is planning to have at least one big event each month to keep the issue before the local press.
The Alliance for Retired Americans has produced a 12 minute video rebutting the conservative attack on Social Security. And it is planning to bring its petition gathering semi truck tour to the Midwest in early July (a flat bed semi with bales of collected petitions as a visual aide for rallies and media). The AFL-CIO is conducting a series of “buy-in” training sessions that both educates union activists and creates a network on the issue that can be activated.
Scoundrels Worth Watching
One shouldn’t think the other side is idle. The national strategy thus far has been to keep the hot potato in the Republican lap by discouraging any “Democratic” plans or proposals. The Congressional Democrats have been amazingly disciplined on this issue, but the proponents of dismantling Social Security have been generating some pressure of their own. Finally one Democrat, Robert Wexler of Florida, has nervously succumbed to the noise and proposed his own legislation, “The Social Security Forever Act of 2005”. As of press time, his proposal had not been translated into specific legislation, but as sketched in a speech the proposal amounts to simply removing the cap on income taxed for Social Security. That this is an entirely reasonable adjustment to the financing of Social Security is beside the point, which is that the proposal is premature.
At the same time, a few dozen bills have been introduced in Congress affecting Social Security in one way or another. Some are global attacks on the system. But quite a few are efforts at tinkering with it, both well meant or subversive, for example proposals to exclude particular classes of public employees from the system or to diversify the holdings of the Social Security “Trust Fund” to include bank certificates of deposit. These are all worth tracking as a long standing conservative tactic is to nibble institutions to death, especially if frontal attacks seem futile.