Saturday, August 4, 2012

Municipal elections: Are there any candidates that oppose cuts and that will actively campaign against them?

 No privatization of public assets

Elections for local bodies, school boards and city councils are coming up throughout the nation including the small town where I live on the east side of the San Francisco Bay.  Candidates for these offices are claiming that they are the ones that can turn things around.  Much of the electioneering is about personal qualities. Candidates sell themselves as the right choice as they will make the "tough decisions" or that they have our "best interests" at heart.  In most of these local elections the candidates belong to one of the two Wall Street parties, Democrat or Republican.The "tough decisions" promise does not mean refusing to implement cuts, it is an assurance to the monied interests that they will carry them out; that they accept "reality" and will be fiscally responsible.

Practically all candidates in these cases appeal to the business community and are in one way or another tied to it or want to solidify their present ties.  Attracting business is their mantra.  In my local example, all of them as far as I can see support attacks on public sector workers, services  and our pensions which are being used as an excuse for the decline in social services and present economic malaise the country is in.  This would include one of them that claims his Union background proves his allegiance to the working class but he too has supported attacks on pensions and social services.  This candidate is actually the candidate of the Labor hierarchy that also supports austerity measures, just less severe ones.

In his State of the City address this March our mayor, supported by the entire city council, announced a projection of seven years with no salary increases including COLA raises for city workers. So as inflation increases, this will cut further in to wages and living standards, not to mention consumption which will be bad for local community businesses.  There is also no “planned restoration of programs” already cut the mayor said.  This is what the mayor considers the “right track for economic recovery” and indeed it is from an investors point of view.  As for pension reform which is all the rage right now "Some use the term when they actually seek the elimination of pensions for public employees. I said last year and I say again, I do not support that. Instead, I prefer the phrase “pension sustainability.” the mayor announced.  Acting as the agents of big business, pension sustainability means what is acceptable to  big business, and what is acceptable to them is that workers and the middle class pay for their economic crisis.

With their present approach, none of these candidates here or anywhere in the country will be able to halt the ongoing assault on workers, our families and our communities no matter how honest, decent or well intentioned they may be; this is about politics and economics, not personal character.  They will all, as some of them already have, carry out and implement the dictates of  big business coming from the state and federal level and cry crocodile tears as they do it; they will boast about mitigating the pain and the need to share it.  The drive to put US workers on rations and take us back to the conditions of the 1930's----- before the great explosions, general strikes, factory occupations of that period------cannot be stopped simply by electing an individual in to office; the forces against us are too powerful and well organized.

When I ran for a seat on the Oakland City Council in 1996 I read an overview of the budget and city economy published by the Oakland City Council staff.  It said the following: "The competition between localities  for business has become intense.  We must continue to market Oakland's many advantages as a place to do business....." (1) Well this really puts the monied interests, the owners of capital in the driver's seat.  It amounts to big business Wall Street, or the 1% whatever we want to call them, holding communities hostage as we compete with each other for funds.  And what "advantages" must a community provide for monied interests for them to part with capital for their community as opposed to their neighbors?  Here's a few: reduced public services, no Unions or completely compliant ones (they're practically there already); low wages, cheap taxes and removal of impediments to profit and capital accumulation which include weakening or eliminating workplace safety provisions, environmental regulations and the like. It turns communities against each other in the struggle for funds and makes the building of a generalized movement against the attacks harder. 

Things are no different today except globalization and competition has intensified. The documents I read when a candidate for Oakland City Council also made it clear that the economies of our communities are heavily dependent on Pacific Rim trade and beyond the control of a single municipality so that "...many of our largest sources of income are under the control of federal and state governments...".  We cannot stop the continued decline in living standards and social services by competing with our neighbors for who will create the most favorable scenario for profit making. No local community exists in isolation.

So why run for local bodies? I ran for Oakland (CA) City Council in 1996 as a candidate of the Working People's Campaign.  A key element of my platform back then was for jobs and a $10 an hour minimum wage.  I received the support of a few Union locals including my own and had a small handful of Oakland neighbors and co-workers became involved. The most important issue we stressed was that even if elected, I could not make significant changes let alone win jobs and a $10 an hour minimum wage.  The campaign stressed that a position on a local council like this can be used to organize and mobilize community power as part of a strategy to build a nationwide movement.

This is how we can win these things .  But only grass root mobilization combined with direct action, can turn this tide. A local council or board dominated by members with this approach could really begin to replace the present damage control strategy with an offensive of our own and change the balance of class forces.  There is no shortage of money in US society; the problem is inequality and the amassing of billions of dollars by a select few. Society has the ability to produce enough for everyone to live well and end such  inequality; we need to change the priorities around what is being produced, how to allocate what's being produced, and who makes these decisions, a few thousand bankers and their associates that sit on the boards of major corporations or the millions of people whose daily activity creates the wealth in society.

During the attacks on education and public schools over the past few years, school board officials that ran for office on a platform of "defending education" called meetings to "figure out how to implement the cuts".  They complained that they were poorly attended.  But why would someone feel empowered attending a meeting to figure out how to cut our own throats?   They wouldn't obviously which is the intention.  Raising property taxes on homeowners and community mom and pops which are another means of putting a band aid on cuts in public services and extremely divisive won't save eduction and are an obstacle to building a movement for change.

Rather than acting as agents of big business on municipal bodies, any candidate that seeks the support of workers and youth should publicly pledge that they will refuse to vote for or support any cuts in wages, social services or jobs.  They should work for and be firmly rooted in a community campaign, a direct action, fight to win campaign that rejects the 1%'s "realism" which is austerity (for us) and instead fights for what people need not what is acceptable to the corporations. We have the power to make the rich pay rather than divide up the dwindling crumbs from their table among ourselves.

At some point we have to fight back.  Fight austerity: no cuts -- to services, to jobs, to wages.

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