Across the US, the economic crisis caused by the wealthy elite is leading to deep cuts in the standard of living for many workers. This includes workers in the public sector. California, the most populous of the 50 states, is at the center of the state and local fiscal calamity. If California was a separate country, it would be the 35th most populous country and have the 10th largest economy in the world. California alone has more people than all of Canada!
California has already made a number of budget cutbacks and tax increases, but there is still a $24 billion budget gap. The state’s comptroller said that this is the worst budget crisis since the Great Depression. California may start paying workers with “IOUs” for only the second time since the 1930s. Unfortunately, workers will not be able to buy food, gas, pay rent or make a mortgage payment with an IOU.
If workers pay bills on credit, it is they who will pay the exorbitant interest, not the state government. Governor Schwarzenegger, “the Terminator,” would like to terminate $16 billion in spending for programs such as health and welfare, which are desperately needed as unemployment and poverty are on the increase. The “Governator” is now threatening to order 200,000 state workers to take a third furlough day off per month without pay. The state is going to cut aid to county and local governments, causing them to layoff employees, cut services and raise taxes on working people.
The largest union among state workers is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In addition, the Teachers, Nurses, AFSCME and Firefighters represent public sector workers who are employed by the counties, cities and towns throughout the state.
The labor leaders have told workers that the Democrats will take care of the unionized workforce. Well, the Democrats control the state legislature and are carrying out a policy of austerity, of cuts, even if they have a few differences on the actual details with Schwarzenegger. They propose to raise taxes on working people and the middle class and enact fewer cuts as their “solution” to the crisis. The Democrats also control the government in Washington, but they have made it clear that they will not “bail out” California. They will bail out millionaires and billionaires of private companies, but not working people! This is no solution!
The policy of the labor leaders has been to accept the idea that the workers must “pay their share” for the crisis by accepting givebacks. The state workers took a more than 9% annual wage cut for 18 months, as an unpaid furlough, due to the fact that California closed many of its state offices two Fridays every month. The idea is that if everyone tightens their belt, the crisis will be over soon and we can return to the good old days.
However, in addition to causing hardship for workers and their families, layoffs, job cuts, furloughs and other givebacks do not solve the problem and actually make it worse, as fewer people have money to spend. This only causes further deterioration in the broader economy and results in reduced revenues for the state. How do we get out of this vicious cycle?
The first thing the labor leadership needs to do is to mobilize the membership. All of the state and local unions should join together in this fight. Every workplace in the state must elect shop stewards or other delegates who will help to coordinate a fight back. There must be constant communication between the leaders and the rank and file. Communication must travel in both directions, as the leaders must listen to the membership.
The leadership must start an offensive to explain the origins of this crisis and how to get out of it. The revenues to the state and local governments are dropping due to the crisis of capitalism. The crisis is the result of a system that cares only about profits, not the well-being of the majority. Capitalism is producing too many goods than can be sold for a profit, so they are cutting production and some are forced out of business. Throughout history, capitalism only solves these regular crises of over-production by cutting the standard of living of the working class and middle class, leading to much misery. The labor leaders must reject this. We must state clearly: We will not pay for the millionaires’ crisis! Make the rich pay!
As a way to prop up the financial system, the Federal Government (and the Federal Reserve) bought stocks and bonds, many of which were virtually worthless, from companies such as AIG. Therefore, the Federal Government should have no problem using its checkbook to buy state and municipal bonds which would be used to fund much-needed services and useful public works projects. There must be a broad-based mobilization, which can be initiated by California’s powerful public sector labor unions, to get the federal government to buy large amount of state and local bonds and increase other direct federal aid. This would help California as well as other states and cities around the country. Would the federal government allow California and other states to cease functioning? Remember, the only way state and local governments can function is if the workers come to work and do their jobs. It is here that the workers have power! The union leadership must prepare the way for a series of actions, which could include coordinated and unified strike action for all public sector workers. Such a movement in California could start a nationwide movement.
Also, the union leadership must make it clear that it opposes all cutbacks and all tax increases on the working class and middle class. Let the Democrats and Republicans get additional money from their rich backers in Beverly Hills and Pacific Heights. The unions must link up with the private sector union members, the unemployed and the community in general to fight for more jobs and more services, not less. The money is there, but it will not be used in our interests without a fight!
Many workers want to fight back, but they see no alternative. Recently, Labor Notes reported that more than 70% of L.A. teachers approved a walk-out to combat threatened layoffs and larger class sizes, however after a court injunction, they decided to have informational pickets instead.
The only way to win this struggle is by mobilizing the full power of the labor movement. The courts are not more powerful than a mobilized and united labor movement. We must understand that all those who want to change this situation must band together in the unions to fight for a change in policy. No to concessions, layoffs, and give backs!
The WIL is eager to work with any and all workers who want to change direction. This may be difficult to achieve, but the alternative is even more pain and suffering. It is true that givebacks, layoffs and other cuts may continue for a while without a massive response, workers can only take so much. Eventually, members will flood the union meetings, demanding a change. Labor activists, though few in number now, will be able to play an important role at that time, provided we have laid the ground work for this alternative program now. If you would like to fight for this change in the unions, contact us!