But a minority of the population is intensely immersed in partisan politics, doing whatever they can to promote the politicians of their choice. Corporations, Wall Street, the rich in general, and small business owners are deeply immersed in political elections, because they have a keen understanding of who will defend their interests. Usually only workers in unions tend to take more than a casual interest in politics.
Unions typically throw themselves into the electoral competition. They do everything: donate money, organize phone banks, and send their members out to canvass neighborhoods and distribute political literature. And they almost always support candidates from the Democratic Party, given the virulent pro-business ideology of the Republican Party.
But while Democrats have generously paid lip service to the concerns of labor, they, too, are pro-business, accepting huge sums of money from Wall Street and corporate America. In fact, Democrats often receive even larger contributions from big business than the Republicans. Consequently, once elected, they soon forget the enticing slogans (“jobs,” clean energy,” “universal health care,” “peace,” etc.) they used to lure working people to vote for them, and they get down to the serious business of quietly helping big business.
However, the governor’s race in California has proven to be an exception to this dull ritual. Democrat Jerry Brown, who is currently attorney general of the state and was governor decades ago, in a rare candid moment, told working people exactly what he plans to do.
He wants to cut the pensions of public employees. He boasts that when he was governor back in the 70s and 80s, he vetoed pay raises for state employees twice. He insists that he will tell labor leaders that they will have to “put everything on the table,” meaning that he will demand state workers make concessions on possibly everything. In other words, he is fully prepared to “do some things that organized labor doesn’t like.” (http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-09-04/news/23988848_1_jerry-brown-california-working-families-budget-impasse
And still he has the endorsement of labor unions, including the California Labor Federation. One can only wonder if the labor movement might harbor suicidal tendencies, given that unions are endorsing a candidate who sounds remarkably anti-labor. But the unions insist that their decision is entirely rational, arguing that Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown’s Republican opponent, is even worse.
Meanwhile, the California Democratic Party recently unveiled its tax reform program. Democrats want to raise income taxes on everyone in the state except the wealthiest 1 percent of the population, despite the fact that this small, rich minority has enjoyed a huge spike in their income during recent decades and despite the chronic California budget deficit. (http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-08-04/news/22201131_1_sales-tax-income-taxes-tax-increase
There can be little wonder why workers take such minimal interest in politics, given the choice between the two major parties during election season. Working people have clearly concluded that there is little in it for them. And when union officials support Democratic Party candidates, rather than sparking an interest in politics among their membership, they often end up alienating the rank and file from their own unions.
This alienation between workers and their unions then becomes even further exacerbated. Once a union forges an alliance with the Democratic Party, their internal politics are transformed. They claim to fight for the needs of their members, but only within a very restricted framework that is acceptable to the Democratic Party.
For example, union officials avoid striking, because the Democratic Party opposes strikes for the reason that their corporate contributors are virulently opposed to them. Although the AFL-CIO has argued that wars are one of several key reasons for the burgeoning federal deficit, it has refused to embrace the demand to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan now – even though the majority of Americans support this alternative – because they are worried about embarrassing the Democrats, who are currently committed to keeping troops in both countries. Although the AFL-CIO is on record opposing cuts to Social Security benefits, some AFL-CIO officials are refusing to embrace this demand publicly, again for fear of placing the Democrats in a bad light, since Obama has indicated that he is going to support such cuts. And the AFL-CIO will mute their demand for the creation of millions of jobs because Obama has recently made his position crystal clear: “I’ve never believed that government’s role is to create jobs or prosperity,” he said. “I believe it’s the private sector that must be the main engine of our recovery.” The fact that the private sector is not creating enough jobs to keep up with demand, let alone reduce the unemployment rate, evidently does not bother him.
In other words, because of their alliance to the Democratic Party, when union officials wage a struggle on behalf of their members, both hands are tied behind their backs and their feet are shackled.
In this way, working people not only become alienated from mainstream politics but from their own unions. Yet because we are now embroiled in the worst recession since the Great Depression, the needs of working people have sharply intensified, resulting in an even greater disconnect between what they need and what their unions are officially fighting for. Given these tendencies, there can be little surprise that union membership has been on a steady decline since its high in the 1950s.
Consequently, the union movement is rapidly approaching a historic crossroads. It can remain tied to the Democratic Party while trying to obfuscate to its membership the fundamental anti-working class program of the Democratic Party, including the Obama administration’s pro-charter school campaign that is nothing short of union-busting. This option will lead to organized labor’s growing irrelevancy and declining membership.
Or the union movement can break with the Democratic Party, raise demands that respond fully to the needs of its members, and then mobilize the rank and file in huge mass demonstrations in the streets so that working people begin to rely entirely on themselves, not on the Democratic Party, to win their demands. Here they will be adopting the tactics of the 1930s that proved so successful. When the demands are formulated on the basis of what the rank and file truly need and when huge demonstrations are organized, working people will recognize that their unions are putting up a real fight, they will become inspired, and they will want to join in.
Of course, in the final analysis, this alternative points in the direction of creating a labor party – a party that will fight exclusively in the interests of working people rather than first giving Wall Street and the corporations everything they want while letting workers fight among themselves for the leftover crumbs. And as a step in the direction of a labor party, unions could right now start running their own independent candidates in elections rather than supporting Democrats who then kick labor in the face.
Already the seeds of a labor party are being sewn. A class struggle leadership within the union movement is beginning to emerge in relation to the mass demonstration being called by the AFL-CIO and the NAACP in Washington, D.C. on October 2nd. Some union leaders are refusing to whittle down their demands but are responding positively to the Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign (www.wercampaign.org), a nationwide grassroots independent organization of working people, and its call to raise demands on October 2nd that fully reflect the true needs of working people. These demands include a government program to create 15 million jobs at Wall Street’s expense; a moratorium on home foreclosures; taxing the rich to fully fund public education and social services; calling for hands off Social Security; withdrawing all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan now; passing the Employee Free Choice Act; granting immediate legalization to undocumented workers; and creating a government-run health care system for all.
Also, U.S. Labor Against War, a coalition that has nearly two hundred union affiliates, is refusing to dilute its demand that all troops should be withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan now. And the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), in opposition to Democratic Party policy, has condemned the Guest Worker programs and has called for full rights for all undocumented workers.
October 2nd is consequently unfolding as a battlefield over demands. The choice is stark: Either submit to the desires of corporations and the Democratic Party and dilute the demands or stand firmly on the side of working people and demand all that is needed in order to raise our standard of living and ensure us job security. All out for October 2nd!
About the Authors:
Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The capitalist press proudly announces in their anti-labor column by fascist mouthpieces Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle, 9/13/10, that scabs were hired and people fired who protested the unpaid "furlough" days by taking an extra sick day on a Monday following an unpaid Friday. You will note that the labor unions in California, all bought and paid for by the capitalist, anti-labor Democratic Party, have yet to go on a statewide strike against these "furloughs" which are the cause of most of the lack of services at the Department of Motor Vehicles every single day, not the extra sick day. They also cause lack of services throughout the state's various systems. See http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/09/13/BA4T1FBVVV.DTL
As to the state budget impasse, which will be alleviated next year by voting YES on 25 and NO on 26 on November 2, 2010, there is more from:
California budget impasse leads to funding crisis in health care, education
By Dan Conway, 13 September 2010, World Socialist Website at: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/sep2010/cali-s13.shtml
The state has already suspended billions of dollars in payments for critical social programs, many of which already suffered cuts as a result of previous budget agreements. They will be further cut once the current budget is passed.
The state is not legally allowed to fund certain programs if a budget is not in place. However, the government also wishes to insure that payments are made to municipal bond holders without interruption during the impasse. The bond payments average $500 million per month.
Two weeks ago, the state legislature, at the behest of treasurer Democrat Bill Lockyer, approved a bill permitting the state to delay payments to schools and counties totaling $2.9 billion.
The YMCA of Tulare County, in the state’s Central Valley area, for example, recently announced that it will be closing its state run preschools on Friday, September 17. The organization cited the fact that it is currently receiving no funding from the state, forcing it to lay off 40 teachers and leave 219 children without child care. The preschools have lost $900,000 from the state over the past three months. According to Tim Foster, Chief Executive Officer for Golden State YMCA, the schools won’t be able to remain open even if the state passed a budget in the coming week.
Tulare County, which is dominated by the local agriculture and dairy industries, has one of the highest rates of poverty in the state.
As a result of the loss of state funding, the Tulare Community Health Clinic nearly closed its doors before receiving loans from Woodland Hills, California based Health Net, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies. The loans, although offered at zero interest, will undoubtedly be repaid through administrative cuts and rationing of care.
Other child care providers who rely on state funding have also been forced to either close their doors or accept reduced rates as the state normally subsidizes part of the cost of care on a per child basis.
Hundreds of California medical centers have already lost funds as a result of the budget impasse. These include free and community health clinics, chronic dialysis and surgery clinics, air ambulance transportation, breast cancer detection programs as well as home and day care for the elderly and disabled.
One such facility, the George G. Glenner Alzheimer Center in San Diego, lost nearly $180,000 in state funding two years ago and is poised to lose similar or greater amounts during the latest budget impasse.
In response to the crisis facing small, rural health clincs and services in particular, the California Health Facilities Financing authority made $9 million in interest-free loans available to rural hospitals and clinics. Individual loans can reach a maximum of $750,000 and must be fully repaid within 45 days after the budget is passed.
The implications for health care for these rural residents are particularly dire considering that the current budget delay emptied out a $2 billion contingency fund to pay the state’s Medicaid bills, leading to the loss of funding for clinics, clinical laboratories, home health agencies and other providers that provide care for low income residents.
Education has also suffered as a result of the impasse. The three state public university systems—the University of California, California State and California Community College systems—have also not received expected payments from Sacramento. More than 100,000 qualified students were waitlisted at the Cal State and University of California systems this September as a result of the current budget impasse and past cuts. This represents the first time in the history of these institutions that students were sent away who met established criteria.
In another move unprecedented in the history of higher public education in the state, the University of California Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Management announced that it would end all state funding despite being part of a public university. As a result, tuition increases are expected to offset the loss of state funds. Annual tuition would rise from the current $41,000 per year to over $50,000.
Secondary education has also suffered. Nearly half of all of the school districts in the state will shorten their instructional calendars from 180 days per year to either 175 or 176, depending on the school district. This means that from the time they begin first grade until the time they finish high school, many children will lose a total of two and a half to three months worth of instructional time. Students will also receive less attention from teachers who, because of layoffs and other cutbacks, are forced to teach much larger class sizes.
Local libraries have also cut operating hours and staff and state parks have done the same.
In-home support services for the elderly and disabled are also experiencing severe cuts and may be eliminated entirely once the current budget is passed.
The current budget impasse is an expression of the tactical disagreement among the two political parties and the governor as to how to best make the state’s poor and working class pay for the financial crisis. The two main gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman, have signaled their fulsome support for austerity.
On September 3, Brown pledged that, if elected governor, he would cut pensions for public employees and “do things that labor doesn’t like.” Brown further asserted, “If you’re looking for frugality, I’m your man.” In so doing, Brown will enjoy the full support of the state’s labor unions, which have already devoted huge sums toward portraying him as a friend of labor.
Meg Whitman has pledged to “remove waste” in state government, and has promised that one of her first acts, if elected, will be to lay off at least 20,000 state workers. This would come on top of the current governor’s pledge that no budget will be passed that does not include significant reductions to state worker pensions and benefits.
As part of the ongoing budget negotiations, Schwarzenegger has already secured agreement with several state unions to increase workers’ minimum retirement age by five years and increase employee pension contributions by 10 percent. The decision was made without any input from workers. The governor is also hoping that any budget passed will include reform to the state’s CalPERS retirement, fund which hundreds of thousands of state workers rely on for their pensions.
While state workers face dwindling retirement funds, it is likely that they will also receive no reprieve from ongoing mandatory unpaid furloughs that, at three days every month, equal a nearly 15 percent pay cut.
Clearly, neither the Democrats nor Republicans have anything to offer the workingclass. If you want a workingclass agenda that taxes the rich, those who make over $200,000 a year, with the progressive income tax to pay for all our needs; that abolishes prison-punishment systems and the death penalty and promotes free top quality education for all from preschool (age 3) through university, that supports legalizing marijuana (prop 19) and all other drugs to get rid of the prison-industrial complex based on the phony "drug wars," that supports lowering the retirement age and increasing all pensions and Social Security payments; that supports top quality socialized medicine for all from cradle to grave; that supports more public libraries and much more, YOU HAVE TO VOTE EITHER PEACE & FREEDOM PARTY OR GREEN PARTY. Staying home is the same as voting for the Democrat-Republicans. You cannot vote for evil people and expect anything good to happen. Here is the information on Peace & Freedom Party: http://www.peaceandfreedom.org/home/
and the Green Party: http://www.cagreens.org/