Here in the US there are only two political parties of note, both parties of the 1% and Wall Street. They are presently waging a war on workers, the poor and middle class; they need us to pay for the failure of their precious market and crisis of a system of production that has passed its prime. Jerry Brown, the former left demagogue now Democratic governor of California and the Democratic legislators in the state have agreed to a new proposal for gutting public workers' pensions. This is what the bankers need to curb public spending along with the elimination of social services and the selling off of public assets.
As they always do, the bosses' use the old divide and rule tactic, restricting pension benefits for "new public employees", increasing the retirement age as well as shifting more of the costs of the benefits on to the workers. Placing the blame for the economic crisis on workers' pensions, wages, and other work related issues has gotten some echo within wider society due to the failure of the heads of organized Labor to organize an offensive of our own to make the rich pay, end the trillion dollar wars and extend and increase public sector benefits and more secure workplace conditions to all workers.
The Democrats are boasting that this savaging of workers' living standards will save "tens of billions" billions of dollars. Ana Matosantos, the Director of Finance in the state says that she expects that the increase in retirement age alone will save $36 billion over the next 30 years. Keep in mind that this is in a state of 30 million people in a country where one human being is worth twice that.
The 1%, fresh from a successful war against auto-workers who were once the benchmark for a somewhat decent life and retirement in the US need to win this one against public workers and the services we provide. Public sector workers are about 35% Unionized compared to less than 7% in the private sector. These attacks are part of the 1%'s war on workers organizations.
Union officials are making their usual protestations in response to the CA Democrats' attacks threatening legal action although they also support concessions. In fact, they would willingly sacrifice future generations which they are already doing to appease Wall Street, if they could just be in on the deal. In response to the proposal, Union officials are upset that they were not "part of the process" according to the San Francisco Chronicle. These changes will mean that a younger generation of workers will receive smaller pensions, up to 30% smaller. This is the future capitalism has for them.
This is a repeat of the Wisconsin affair where top Labor officials completely supported all the concessions the Republican governor was imposing but objected to the two issues that affected them, a seat at the table so they could negotiate cuts, and dues check off where the employer collects the members' dues as part of the payroll system. The Democratic legislators object to this as Union members' hard earned dues money is a source of funds at election time.
All workers should recognize that not only are public sector workers benefits and wages not the cause of the economic crisis, a defeat for this significantly Unionized sector will have repercussions for workers everywhere. What Unions should be fighting for is an expansion of pensions to include millions of workers who are forced to work well in the their late seventies because they cannot support themselves in retirement. The money is there but we have to fight for it. This fight is made more difficult as not only are Democrats and Republicans destroying the living standards that took 150 years to attain; they are supported in their efforts by the leaders, officials and strategists that head our Unions.
Dave Low, representing a coalition of public employees and retirees made the usual empty statements about how draconian the measures are telling the media that Unions "may fight them in the courts and at the ballot box" according to the SF Chronicle. And has that worked? Of course not but the Union heads continue with policies that have failed for decades. And who at the ballot box will fight for workers? The Labor leaders have absolutely no credibility with the average dues paying member and workers in general. What will we accomplish at the ballot box, the election of another Democrat another politician from the billionaires' party? And money wins in the courts. While there are times we use the courts, if the courts were friends of workers there wouldn't be almost two million of us in prison, 30 or 40 million of us without work, millions kicked out of their homes by the bankers and our right to form unions and assembly would have not needed mass movements to win.
I was also reading that there might be a strike at the Port of Oakland as management there is asking for major concessions like wages freezes and attacks on pensions. Labor officials are arguing that the port is now making money and that the concessions they made after the 1%'s economic crisis, layoffs and forced days off were enough. "We've had to agree to layoffs and furloughs because of the bad state of the economy." says Al Loera, President of SEIU's 1021's port chapter. But this is always the case when the bosses want concessions, the "bad state of the economy". Union officials, having no independent world view of their own repeat these arguments of the bosses and their paid academics and appeal at the 1%'s courts or beg their politicians to please be a little less aggressive, be fair. But in the upswing of the 1990's when Labor was tight and low wage employers were forced to pay above minimum, the Union tops still refused to go on the offensive---in a good economy.
Wages going down, retirement age going up. Jobs being lost and social services from education to transportation being savaged. Is this the best their precious market has to offer? Public sector pensions tend to be better than in the private sector and what young workers are being promised is a 30% reduction in them for them. This is the future for capitalism, for the unorganized and lower paid, things will be even worse.
Instead of capitulation, Labor officials should be demanding increased social spending, more jobs, increased leisure time through the introduction of a 30 hour workweek which could also create jobs. There must be an organized offensive to end these trillion dollar wars fought on behalf of US corporations; this is why the politicians in the two Wall Street parties are waging a war on workers and the middle class.
And here we are at election time and the Team Concept, the Union officials' collaboration with the employers on the job is being played out in the political arena as the heads of organized Labor refuse to offer an independent political alternative and cooperate with them in politics through support for their Democratic Party. "If you don't vote for Obama you're voting for Romney" someone told me yesterday. This is always said to justify the "lesser of two evils" policy. Here in California I have other alternatives and I realize people who have no illusions in the Democrats will hold their nose and vote for Obama to reduce the pain, but this is no solution, it will not stop the bloodletting and the destruction of our living standards, not to mention a foreign policy that breeds hatred for us, kills millions of innocent people and destroy the environment.
Politics is not so much about sticking a piece of paper in a ballot box, it's about what we do every day as I have said before; a part of our activity as movements arise and grow in response to the capitalist offensive we must run independent candidates out of that movement and with a program against austerity, and for jobs, health care, education, mass transit and and end to endless costly wars. We must confront this offensive of capital with an offensive of our own.
We have to head in this direction where and when we can but there is no denying that the role played by the heads of organized Labor is criminal. Their continued support for our enemies means that so much suffering and misery is endured that would be unnecessary were they to offer a way out. That will come, but in the meantime the road is a rough one.