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by Richard Mellor
Saturday, Jun. 13, 2009 at 5:14 PM
It is the responsibility of all activists to learn from the past and help our movement change course.
AFSCME Local 444, retired
Here in the US when they want to discredit their opponents in election campaigns, big business politicians accuse them of waging class warfare. This is a very serious accusation as we are one nation, under god. We are indivisible. So to accuse someone of class war is to accuse them of being unpatriotic and just plain un-American. It’s like violating the Divine Right of Kings.
The politicians wage class war all the time of course, and the present economic crisis has heightened class tensions as the capitalist class unloads a crisis of their system on to the backs of working people. In California it is being felt severely as millions lose their homes and jobs. California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger is threatening to layoff thousands of state workers and cities and counties are doing the same. Education, health care for the poor or disabled and other crucial services are threatened with the axe.
The global recession is forcing this upon us we are told; we have to tighten our belts. There is nothing we can do it seems. Democrat and Republican alike are united in their call for sacrifice. “California residents are going to feel a reduction in services---there’s just no way around that.” Says Noreen Evans, a Democratic state assembly member, budget chair and advocate for California’s wine industry Darrell Stenberg and Karen Bass, two prominent California Democrats “recognize that all of those programs are going to be cut.” “It’s a matter of degrees, ” says Stenberg adding, “I will not eliminate services for the most vulnerable Californians”. But he does admit that he is not “frivolous” or “irresponsible about what’s at stake here in California.” *
These two statements are for very different ears. What he is not “frivolous” about and what is at stake is an unfriendly business environment, a climate that is not favorable to profit making. As a representative of the capitalist class he is well aware that such unfavorable conditions could lead to an outward flow of capital as businesses move to friendlier climes. More importantly, the potential for social upheaval increases as they destroy the standard of living of workers and the middle class. To alleviate this threat the attacks must be tempered; “it’s a matter of degrees”. We must sacrifice now for a better future, to not do so invites catastrophe. The weakest among us will be hit hard; the very poor and the disabled---children and the sick as well a veterans and those who are least organized. Different sections of the working class will be set against each other as we all scramble to stay afloat in an overcrowded boat; this is the strategy that will best avert a united opposition to a generalized attack on us all.
This is the voice of the Democratic Party in California. This is the party of Obama, of Kennedy, Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. These are the so-called champions of the US working class, the defenders of working folk. Pelosi and her husband have had a hard time of it recently as no doubt all the millionaires in Congress have. Her and her husband Paul lost up to $ 1 million of their AIG investments. Paul is a real estate investor too and has lost money there so they say, up to another million. But they have the winery in Napa among their six properties and that is worth between and million. They made somewhere between 0,000 and ,000,000 selling grapes last year apparently. What is never mentioned is the income they have earned from the tenants that paid the rent; this figure is buried somewhere in their net worth. The Pelosi’s have between .3 million and 9.4 million in assets according to a report filed last month.
There is no revolt within the Democratic Party at these attempts to force workers and the middle class to pay for the banker’s crisis. Obama has not condemned Schwarzenegger, like Bass and Steinberg he supports him.
The Democrats and Republicans have no fundamental differences on the important issue; that the working class will shoulder the costs of the crisis; will have to rescue them from their precious market.
It is simply a matter of degrees, they are bickering over how to make the working class pay, nothing else.
In this, they have the assistance of the heads of organized Labor who support their “matter of degree” strategy. This is the same strategy they apply in contract disputes when workers strike to defend what has been won over years of struggle.
“We want to make changes with a scalpel, not a chain saw.”
These precious words do not come from the lips of a more compassionate CEO, the head of Chrysler or Wal-Mart perhaps. UFCW official, Ron Lind, announced this to the world during the grocery strike here in California some years ago. As his members fought on picket lines for five months, lost their homes, abandoned their children’s college plans and, in some cases, committed suicide having lost all due to their heroic defense of their Union and their rights; Ron Lind was assuring the bosses through their media that cuts were acceptable, just not quite so severe. Just a few weeks ago, the heads of SEIU and the San Francisco Central Labor Council publicly accused their members of being “confused” when they voted against a contract that contained some million in concessions.
We can see how linked the strategists of the Labor movement are to the Democratic Party; it is from this section of the capitalist class that they get their ideas.
There have been numerous rallies and demonstrations by teachers, nurses, and other public sector workers against the attacks on them and social services in general. The responses so far have been isolated from each other and lack any clear strategy for winning let alone a program of demands.
The top Union officialdom will not act without massive pressure from below. The employers will not act without it either. They are not afraid of rallies and protests where the main theme is to wear pink in order to show our anger at teachers being laid off.
All activists have to in one way or another fight against the concessionary stand of the Labor leadership and their allies in the Democratic Party. We must act and act in away that is different from what has been done for years with miserable results. The teacher’s Union alone has some 330,000 members in California; the California State Labor Federation has, in conjunction with the CTW coalition (Stern and Co) some 2 million workers affiliated to it. Organized and unorganized, we have the power.
Demanding what we need and not what the employers, the Democrats and Labor officials say is acceptable is where we must start. No concessions, more jobs at Union rates, a minimum wage, shorter workweek etc. Housing, education, transportation, these issues belong to all of us.
Fighting for what we want and need and using direct action tactics to win it is what works. Stopping production, challenging their anti-Union anti-worker laws is what works and what got us this far in the first place.
It is not difficult to argue that there is plenty of money. The first half of the 0 billion in TARP money they approved, 0 billion, disappeared, but that didn’t stop them giving more of our tax money to these crooks. They say this crisis was mostly due to a “lack of oversight”. Not true. The finance sector spent billions of dollars bribing politicians (they call it lobbying) in their two political parties to ensure there was no interference in their economic activity. They spent .5 billion in the last decade lobbying in Washington and made .2 billion in campaign contributions.
Paul Craig Roberts writing in counterpunch comments that. “If the Pentagon is correct, then by next year the US government will have squandered trillion dollars on two wars, the only purpose of which is to enrich the munitions manufacturers and the "security" bureaucracy.”
We don’t need to be voting for measures to decrease our disposable income in order to pay for their crisis.
Like the alcoholic that must overcome his denial and accept that his addiction exists if he wants to eliminate it, we must overcome the ideology of the capitalist class that claims the wealth does not exist in society to provide people with a decent and secure life. The money is there; the problem is that they have it; they have ownership and control its allocation.
Influential members of the Democratic Party themselves make it clear that we can only expect a slower death with them at the helm of our political lifeboat. The heads of organized Labor have poured billions of dollars of worker’s hard earned dues money in to that black hole we call the Democratic Party over the years, some 0 million in the last election cycle.
A movement built around a program that demands what we need, not what they say they can afford. A movement that rejects the absurd notion that workers and employers have the same interests (the Team Concept as applied by the Union leadership) and uses direct action tactics to enforce its will is what can transform the balance of forces and attract all sections of the working class to its banner.
Out of such a movement and in conjunction with the communities in which we live and work, independent candidates, can run for office and a mass worker’s party can be built that will offer a political alternative to the domination of political life by the two parties of capital.
A movement such as this will develop. Hatred of the big business politicians is rampant. California voters rejected all their measures in May aimed at making us pay more to fill the budget gap, but they voted yes ((by a huge 80%) on the one measure that denies politicians pay raises when budgets are not balanced.
This is significant but voting is not enough. It is the responsibility of all those within organized Labor and without to act; to abandon what has not worked and help spur the development of such a movement armed with what will.
*SF Chronicle, 6-12-09
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