Sunday, April 1, 2012

An alternative strategy and tactics to austerity and further inequality

Source: Mother Jones Magazine

In a previous blog I wrote on the austerity measures the corporations and their corrupt profit system are demanding my local (San Leandro) city council impose on workers and the community.  A comment in response to my blog suggested I was "long on complaints, but short on solutions". I will attempt here to explain what I believe is an alternative to carrying out these corporate motivated attacks on public services and the workers that provide them. 

Most politicians in the U.S. are members of one or the other of the two corporate parties, the Republicans or Democrats. There are no doubt some honest people involved here, who mean it when they say they intend to defend public education and city services etc.  Some of them genuine and some are simply opportunists.  But either way, they don't generally run a campaign promising to cut services, wages or living standards although you will always find in their material if you look hard enough, a promise to ensure fiscal stability and such.  This means being responsible to the corporate profit-driven interests that actually dictate policy behind the scenes.

During times of economic turmoil like the present, the "fiscal responsibility" clause kicks in with a vengeance and the very politicians who claimed to fight for us, end up being the agents of the 1% and architects of their policies.  In the case of these municipalities, they are being starved of money by the state and federal governments at the behest of the corporations. With the Great Recession that began in 2007 and not yet passed, there is not enough coming in to maintain basic social services or the wages and benefits of public workers or all workers and our communities; so we have to tighten our belts.  We are more often than not told that there has to be "shared sacrifice" in order to convince us all is equal in this world.

We have to “Make the pension system sustainable.”  as our mayor, a former attorney and small business owner said, and that “We will either find savings or make necessary spending cuts”.  In other words, workers and the middle class must for this crisis.  The thought of increasing the wages, benefits and pensions of the workers that provide the social services never enters their heads not to mention expanding them to include all workers and the young workers of the future. There is a rush to implement the policies from above in this endless race to the bottom in order to make US capitalism more competitive in the world's marketplace.

Prior to the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement the assault on public services and public sector workers, especially pensions, was ferocious. We are "living beyond our means" was the line and the overly generous benefits and pensions of these workers are unsustainable. Society simply cannot afford it the politicians in the two Wall Street parties claim as they allocated some $16 trillion to bail out the bankers and their system. In times of crisis the very politicians who claimed to represent our interests in better times reveal whose interests really come first.

The OWS movement, despite its weaknesses, has changed this dynamic and put the 1% on the defensive.  Most importantly, it has shown that mass action and defiance of the 1%'s laws can be accomplished with numbers.  Thirty to forty thousand working people and their families occupied downtown Oakland and 10,000 or more shut down three shifts on the docks that hurt the 1% in their pocket book. The police were powerless to do anything as men, women, people with strollers and people in wheelchairs came together in defiance of the law.  The OWS movement should be praised for organizing this.

The first mistake that a candidate for an office like a city council or school board makes is to not make it clear that even if elected, they cannot without a mass movement prevent the assault on our living standards that took a heroic struggle and generations to win.  The second is not to fight for what we need as opposed to what is acceptable to the corporations and the two political parties that represent them. Neither an individual nor an entire council can drive back what amounts to a global capitalist offensive.  I ran for Oakland City Council in 1996 and by the council's own admission, what determines policy in a city like Oakland to a huge extent is Pacific Rim trade. I made it clear in my campaign that even if elected I would not be able to overcome these forces but I could use this office to help build a movement that could.

A candidate, or a council like San Leandro which claims to represent workers, the poor, the middle class, instead of scrambling to implement the cuts demanded by the 1% can go on the offensive. The first thing that has to occur is a clear unequivocal statement by the council that it will not implement the cuts. “Can’t Pay, Won't Pay” should be the slogan that San Leandro council could raise and stand by no matter what. On this position city councilors and the mayor must take a stand and be prepared to defy the law and if necessary got to jail. 

Such a stand has to be spread to other councils throughout the state and country as well as the trade unions, and community groups, student organizations and the unemployed. A real movement nationally must be built based on a slogan like Can't Pay Wont’ Pay. We reject that we have to cut services or wages or pensions.  

So what can overcome attacks on our living standards is a generalized movement of workers and the poor armed with a platform that meets our needs, health care, for all, housing, education, transportation, increased leisure time, wages and pensions we can live a decent life on. Contesting elections in this way is a way of helping to build such a movement as well as a counter to the ideological war of the 1% which claims society cannot provide a secure and decent life for all. I saw an appeal to come to a meeting to discuss "how best to implement the cuts" one time. Why would I go to that?  A meeting to improve my standard of living rather than savage it would have more appeal but that is a threatening prospect for someone who accepts in their own mind the arguments of capital that there is no money.

A grass roots campaign of this nature, organizing meetings in communities, leafleting places where workers' shop or congregate and urging them to get involved and be part of the process and backing up such a candidate/council with direct action, preventing business as usual, is what will drive back this corporate war against workers.   The main thing is that the tactics go beyond e-mailing a Senator and instead making it clear that the consequences of making us pay will be the disruption of economic activity. As the movement grows and consciously reaches out to the rest of the working class both at home and internationally this is what will produce results. Out of this process an independent political party of working people can be built. It is movements like this that brought us this far. Politicians in the two capitalist parties have merely enacted legislation, codifying what had already been taken in the streets.

This is an alternative strategy to carrying out the demand of the 1% that their crisis be shifted on to the backs of workers, the poor and the middle class. If my local Councilors were willing to change course and take such an approach, either the city council or the school board, I am sure I am not the only one that would participate in such a campaign.  But it is important to recognize that like a contract agreed to between Labor and capital, as soon as the ink is dry the bosses are trying to violate it and undermine a process forced on them over the time at great sacrifice on the part of workers and our families.

Here’s an example then of steps that can be taken as an alternative to the cuts the San Leandro council or any council is being forced to implement on behalf of the corporations. It would appeal to those of us that are hurting the most and show them that someone is actually fighting for their interests not the corporations. Also, as a movement develops, tactics and strategy is enriched by the collective input of the participants.

A clear public slogan/statement: Can’t Pay Won’t Pay

Increase taxes on the wealthy to increase state revenue by $14 billion. The highest-earning one percent of Californians has an average income of $1.8 million per year (sources: Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy; California Budget Project). If these high rollers paid on average $50,000 more in income tax, the state would take in an additional $7.6 billion. The next highest-earning 4 percent of Californians earn an average of $310,000 / year. Increasing their taxes by $10,000 would bring in another $6.1 billion.

Amend Proposition 13 to increase taxes on corporate property but not on homeowners. This would raise more than $5 billion / year.

Impose a tax on oil extraction to bring in $1.5 billion / year more. (Every other oil-producing state has an oil extraction tax).

Close the tax loopholes that allow more than half of California corporations to pay no tax at all.

Demand an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
San Leandro council to organize a conference to build statewide and national movement based on this approach. 

San Leandro mayor and councillors state clearly they are prepared to stand firm on this issue and if necessary go to jail. 

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