Last week, on Wednesday January 20th, with much pomp and circumstance, Joe Biden was elected as the 46th president of the United States. Amidst a spectacle of flags representing the now 400000+ Americans dead from coronavirus that looked much more like the “American carnage” that Donald Trump raved about during his inaugural speech 4 years ago, Biden delivered an inaugural speech that reached for grandeur about American exceptionalism but couldn’t get past platitudes about unity and healing.
Yes, that may be a president’s job to unify (especially after 4 years of the Trump horror show that culminated in the failed putsch on Jan. 6), but as many have pointed out – unity from an incoming president usually just means a conscious decision to not hold actors in the previous administration accountable for anything they’ve done. And, as is the case with most ‘bipartisan’ politics (the twin sibling of unity politics), that also usually means a swift break from campaign promises that would disrupt the status quo or create new hurdles for capital.
That wasn’t exactly the case with Biden, though. Immediately after the inauguration was over, Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain released a memo on the orders Biden would immediately sign, including:
- Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization
- A federal mask-wearing requirement (a low bar, but a good one to set!)
- Reinstating DACA and setting public benchmarks for a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants
- A relatively far-reaching executive order on federal regulations and immediate next steps with regard to the climate crisis, and revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a hopefully final nail in the coffin for a project that has been a decade-long campaign for the climate justice movement.
However, it’s not all good news. Even though Keystone’s permit was revoked, Biden did not also shut down DAPL and Line 3, which was the Day One request of a broad set of indigenous leaders and the climate movement at large. Additionally, Biden and his key spokespeople have not delivered on two of the most immediate economic relief promises that were made in the lead up to his taking power: namely, that of more stimulus money in the form of direct cash payments, and canceling some student loan debt. Instead, Biden has said —- and also only paused student loan payments + interest accrual until September. And the full list of promises yet to be delivered on is quite long.
Some of the first moves out of the gate from the new have been extremely (and predictably) bad, too. As many suspected, there will be some sort of ‘domestic terror’ response to the events of January 6th, which will certainly create blowback for the left. More broadly, Biden is now putting forth a message that ‘we cannot change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next few months’, which is objectively not true – the political will simply doesn’t exist to make it happen. And, the most egregious example of this is a short-sighted executive order on school re-openings, which makes it clear that Biden and his advisers want to see schools re-opened as soon as possible. This is happening at the same time that the Chicago Teachers Union is being forced to defy their local school district’s reopening plan and continue remote work, even if that means lockouts and being forced to then go on strike
If CTU ends up going on strike, it will be one more to add to a growing list of workers that are using strikes with increasing frequency, and are pointing the way forward for what is the most important task for the left is right now. In New York City, Teamsters workers at Hunts Point Produce (which supplies 60 percent of the produce for the city), struck for a week because management wouldn’t move on a 1 dollar raise. And it worked! That strike also provided an important example of what left electeds can and should be using their platform for – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez skipped inaugural ceremonies to serve pizza and leverage media visibility, and the “DSA For The Many” slate of elected socialist officials in the NY state legislature all came to support as well. Now, eyes turn to to Chicago’s teachers to see what will happen in the coming days (and other strike solidarity work that is less visible but no less important continues on strong, like in Minnesota’s St. Paul Park where TC DSA is mobilizing to support Teamsters Local 120 workers striking for workplace safety and unfair labor practices at a Marathon oil refinery).
This work one of the clearest examples of the ongoing organization-building, class-forming strategies that we can move into action on no matter what the flurry of administrative orders looks like. Biden has inserted promising language about supporting unions into some of his recently signed orders, and the labor movement is already on the move to push hard on passing the PRO Act, but the only way that we’ll see really concrete and permanent gains is if we spend the time building relationships and showing up in solidarity with organized labor. And that will also help us pivot quickly when necessary to support those trying to join the ranks of organized labor and dealing with really fucking terrible bosses, like the fired workers at Instacart or the Amazon workers in Alabama dealing with an extremely aggressive union-busting campaign.
Unity, for us as socialists, is much more about unifying a working class that can fight for the fruits of our labor than it is about allowing the mouthpieces of capital, racism, and xenophobia to get away with their actions with no accountability. And we’ll need that unity in the days to come, because there are already cracks in the façade of Biden’s Democratic trifecta that could lead to a breakdown in any legislative openings for the policy promises he’s making.