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The Bosses Have the Public Sector in Their Sights.

by Richard Mellor Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 at 7:09 AM

Years of collaboration and concessions by the heads of organized Labor have paved the way for the aggressive attacks and confidence the employers are displaying now. These concessionary policies have been a catastrophe for workers leading to much unnecessary suffering.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Richard Mellor

AFSCME Local 444, retired

What happened in Detroit doesn’t stay in Detroit. The market don’t discriminate

The successful offensive waged by the auto bosses against UAW members was an important victory for them. Pension agreements were discarded, thousands of jobs were eliminated and benefits slashed. Most importantly, that section of the US working class that was once the benchmark for so many of us was tamed, albeit temporarily. Wages were cut in half with some hourly pay falling from to . The bosses accomplished this destruction of the once mighty UAW in auto with the direct cooperation of the Union’s top leadership and the heads of organized Labor as a whole.

Flush with confidence, the employers, with the assistance of their two political parties (In actuality one party with two wings to it), can now focus on slashing public services along with jobs, wages and benefits of public sector workers. They have wanted to do this more aggressively for a while and the present economic crisis has offered them the opportunity. Public sector workplaces tend to be more humane. Pay can be higher and workers have more job security than the private sector; it’s harder to fire workers in the public sector. The big prize is the pension. Public sector pensions are high on the employers’ agenda of benefits that have to go; a public sector pension ensures too much security, it can actually be enough to live on and allow workers to retire earlier than their private sector colleagues. Because the leadership of the Unions has not addressed this discrepancy by fighting to raise all workers to the higher level, efforts by the employers to blame public sector workers for the slashing of state social spending are not unsuccessful, especially as defined benefit plans, eliminated by most private employers, have to be covered by the tax or rate payer.

Another factor is the rate of Unionization in the public sector. The BLS reports that 36.8 percent of public sector workers were union members in 2008, up from 35.9 percent in 2007. In the private sector, 7.6 percent of workers were members of unions. The bosses would like to bring the public percentage down. The employers are intent on driving us back to conditions that existed before the great Labor surge that brought the rise of the CIO in the thirties.

Urban centers are being savaged as the capitalist class shifts the cost of their crisis onto the back of workers and the middle class. Cities like Dallas, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia are all laying off workers and cutting services. Democratic governor of New York, David Paterson is proposing cuts in funding, “for schools, hospitals, nursing homes and college financial aid.” Writes the Wall Street Journal. * State workers throughout the country are taking savage wage cuts in the form of forced furloughs. Earlier this month, the largest state employees Union in Rhode Island followed the concessionary trend set by Union officials throughout the country and agreed to pay cuts to save their jobs. The workers will lose 12 days pay over the next year and a half.

States have cut 100,000 good public sector jobs in the last year and the private sector some six million in the same period. But public sector workers take heed-----there’s much more to come. We thought we could ignore what was happening in Flint or Detroit, Kokomo or Toledo, but now it’s our turn. “We have yet to see the public sector adapt in the way the private sector has.” Says Donald Klepper-Smith, an economic advisor to Connecticut governor Jodi Rell and analyst with DataCore Corporation, a global software company. The cuts so far “have been superficial” he adds.

There have been favorable reports on the economy in the press here and there. But to the bankers and speculators, improvement is the Dow getting above 10,000. The end of a recession for them is two consecutive quarters of positive growth. But on the ground, the truth is clear. They intend to savage the public sector like never before, “We are looking at a multi-year problem hitting every single state.” Says Robert B. Ward of the Rockefeller Institute. “The depth of decline right now is really unprecedented in modern time,” he adds. ** Democratic state governors, the so-called friends of the people, are crying crocodile tears as they carry out the policies of the bankers, destroying years of social progress. “I expect I’m going to come under harsh criticism…” whines New York’s Paterson. He repeats the mantra of his masters that the Labor leaders will repeat after him, “ All of us are going to have to sacrifice in order to save our state.” No working person actually believes this; the obstacle is not knowing what to do about it.

Potential Power of Organized Labor

Despite the low level of organization, organized Labor still has tremendous potential power. Some two million workers are affiliated to organized Labor in California. The NEA, the largest Union in the country with three million members nationwide is a main target of the employers and their two political parties. The two teacher’s Unions, the AFT and the NEA have a combined membership of 3.6 million and are a potentially dangerous obstacle to the privatization of education. The CTA, the California NEA affiliate has some 300,000 members.

But like the Union leaders in the private sector, the public sector leaders at the highest levels accept that there is no money despite witnessing the trillion dollar bailouts of the banks. On the job and in the political arena they support the Team Concept, the view that workers and employers have the same interests which makes it impossible to build solidarity and a generalized offensive against the boss. These policies have led to defeat after defeat, a race to the bottom. But the heads of organized Labor will not abandon these disastrous policies as mobilizing their members is a much more frightening alternative; it would end the friendly relationships they have built with the employers and the Democratic Party. It would bring them in to conflict with their world-view, that the market is the answer to all things; that capitalism works. Mobilizing workers in their view can only lead to chaos.

In the case of the teachers, instead of mobilizing their three and a half million members to go on the offensive not to just defend education but expand it, leaders of the teacher's Unions offer only concessionary policies like all the others. The Wall Street Journal reports yesterday that the local teachers Union in New Haven Connecticut voted to accept changes that have historically been on Unions’ “will not do” list. These include “tough performance evaluations” and less job security for “bad teachers”. ***

Arne Duncan, Obama’s school privatization Czar is jubilant. “This shows a willingness to go in to areas that used to be seen as untouchable,” he says. The deal was arranged with the help of Randi Weingarten, the head of the AFT. The NEA is not in the AFL-CIO like the AFT but if its policies in California are anything to go by, the NEA leadership will also open the concessionary door, absent a major upsurge from within the ranks.

President of the California teachers Association, David Sanchez had this to say about the recent one-day strike by UPTE and support from the students at UC on September 24:

“Today’s protest marking the start of the academic year shows that UC staff and students will not treat this year and the latest cuts as simply ‘business as usual.’ We applaud your efforts to fight for affordable, quality education and we stand with you in solidarity.”

Applauding and solidarity in words is fine but what will drive the employers offensive back is bringing the power of 300,000 members to the table; unity in action, and I don’t mean wearing pink clothes at work on a Friday to protest pink slips (layoffs) as has been done in the past; the employers must chuckle to themselves over their brandy’s. There should be mass furloughs throughout the country by public and private sector workers (strikes). The Union officials spent 0 million of their members’ hard earned money getting the very people who are attacking us in to office, this money would be better served building a mass independent movement that can prevent business as usual through direct action, strikes, slowdowns, stopping profit taking. This is what the bankers and their politicians will listen to.

Today’s Wall Street Journal also had a piece on the insider trading scam and the arrest of the billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, pictured on the paper’s front page with former treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, the initiator of the TARP bailout. They still can’t tell the taxpayer where that money went. It went to their friends.

In order to drive back this offensive of capital, and direct the resources of society toward public need and not in to the pockets of Henry Paulson and other Goldman Sachs employees, past and present, a generalized movement must be built that can bring the power of workers, students, youth and all the oppressed sections of society to bear on the system itself and those that profit from it.

Out of such a movement a mass independent political force can be built that can break the monopoly that big business has over US political life through the Democratic and Republican parties. This would be a big step forward, but if the present crisis has shown us anything at all it is that the capitalist class has shown how bankrupt it is. The so-called, free market offers nothing but misery for the vast majority of the world’s population. Working men and women, the youth, it is us that enable society to function. We are better managers than the bankers, better organizers than Goldman Sachs executives, they know how to steal and plunder the wealth of society; we create it. We are capable of organizing and managing the wealth we create, and we certainly should collectively own it.

Replacing this madness with a democratic socialist society based on human need not exploitation and profit is not a utopian dream; it is a necessity. Capitalism can survive this crisis, but it will be different and even more savage than before. The pressing issue is that humanity and life as we know it on this planet cannot survive capitalism.

* Wall Street Journal 10-19-09

** Ibid

*** WSJ 10-18-09

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