In bed with business

Ed Maltby 7 February 2008

A lot is at stake in the US presidential elections. However, virtually nothing is at stake between the two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination. How could there be? They’re being funded by the same interests, and once in office their policies will be shaped by the same big businesses.

The politics of both Obama and Clinton are the politics of the US ruling class, the politics of the rich. They are no more a product of an independent working-class political project than are their Republican rivals, and it shows.

Look at the defining issues around which the US presidential elections are going to be fought. Healthcare: 47 million Americans don’t have medical insurance. The environment: the US continues to be one of the world’s biggest polluters, and it’s increasingly clear that drastic emissions cuts are required immediately to avoid catastrophic climate change. The war on terror: the Lancet estimated around half a million casualties in 2006; the figure is surely much higher now. Work: the US unemployment rate now stands at 5%, the highest in two years, as companies begin shedding jobs in the face of the economic crisis, itself a product of predatory lending carried out in working-class districts.

It’s clear that the central issue is one of a conflict between big business and ordinary people; between the rich elite which controls industry and those who work in industry; between those who pay wages and those who earn them. Business stands for the privatisation of public services, the continuation of the war, the shackling of trade unions and the deregulation of the financial sector. Its interests are inimical to those of the working class.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out on which side of the struggle Obama and Clinton (an ex-executive of both Walmart and construction company Lafarge) stand. Whichever way people vote, the rich are sure to win. The deciding factor in US primaries is a candidate’s ability to quickly amass the massive funding required to finance a huge electoral machine: to pay activists, buy airtime and advertising, and so on. That money comes principally from the rich and big business: where else? In order even to make it to the starting blocks, candidates have to prove themselves as dependable allies and representatives of big business, as reliable investments.

It’s laughable to think that anyone demanding socialisation of medicine, greater power and freedom for trade unions, or meaningful carbon reductions would receive a penny from the ruling class.

The massively profitable control that private insurers and Health Management Organisations (HMOs) enjoy over healthcare in America is the result of a stitch-up between enormous medical and pharmaceutical concerns and their bought representatives in Washington. This is common knowledge. Private medical concerns have given Obama $1.3 million so far, and he has received $0.4 million from private insurers. Clinton has received $1.7 million from health professionals and $0.5 million from insurers.

These figures are but a fraction of the money that the winner of the nomination will receive, and a still tinier portion of what these two industries spend overall in donations to Washington politicians.

To avoid boring the reader through repetition, I won’t list all of the similarly-sized contributions to either candidate from the investment banks, law firms, media conglomerates, the ‘education industry’, manufacture, lobby firms or the food industry. The political network of advisers and campaigners surrounding either candidate are basically identical – both draw heavily on old stalwarts from the Bill Clinton administration and private consultants’ firms. Of particular interest is Hillary Clinton’s most senior adviser, Mark Penn, a corporate PR man whose clients have included Shell, the Argentine junta and Union Carbide, whose negligence caused thousands of deaths in Bhopal in India.

The only political movement which could provide meaningful change on any of the vital questions facing America and the world would be one which disentangled itself from the web of big-business patronage which lies behind both the Clinton and Obama campaigns; a political challenge built upon the independent voice of the working class and the poor, supporting and supported by their own struggles against their exploiters.

We cannot rely upon the good will of members of the ultra-rich elite to change things. Only the working class is driven towards progressive struggle; only the working class will fight poverty, greed and war; it needs its own voice in US politics.

Ed Maltby