Thursday, March 14, 2013

CCSF rally against the cuts. Tim Paulson, Labor Council leader speaks

by Richard Mellor

I went to a rally in San Francisco tonight that was called to protest the cuts in education and the cuts at City College of San Francisco in particular.  I don’t know too much about the details of this particular assault but I did hear one speaker say that $53 million in CCSF funding was cut by the state government in Sacramento.

I didn’t stay too long as it was very much the same old stuff. There were lots of young people there and that was positive.  But I have been to so many of these rallies that it gets a bit depressing after a while.  I was at the protest against the Iraq war in London in 2003 and some reports said there were over two million people there which is amazing in a country with a population of 53 million. Not only that, they weren’t the “usual suspects” leftists, anti-capitalists, anarchists and members of one left group or another. They were ordinary working folk and middle class people.

As exciting as it was, that demo didn’t stop the slaughter of the Iraqi people.  And it becomes crystal clear that simply demonstrating will not stop wars or the austerity measures being introduced in the aftermath of the present capitalist crisis that arose in 2007. Let’s face it, the Greeks have had who knows how many general strikes and it has not driven the capitalist assault back.  Not only have the Greeks protested, the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Irish have all had mass demonstrations against the austerity measure forced on them by what they call over there the Troika, the European Central Bank, the IMF and the European Commission. These are all isolated actions, which is why the 1% don’t fear them like they would Europe wide stoppages and disruption of business as usual.

I’m sorry for this but I am digressing.

What bothered me tonight is what always bothers me at these events.  A lot of well-intentioned, (particularly the youth) speakers get up and assail the attacks.  Some of them though are seasoned leftists types who belong to one or another of the umpteen left groups that exist in this area who are very familiar with these events and speaking at them.  On the platform also was Tim Paulson, the head of the San Francisco Labor Council, the county arm of the AFL-CIO. This body has affiliated to it 150 local unions and 100,000 workers.  It exists in a city that had a general strike in 1934 and San Francisco, many of the Labor glitterati will tell you, is a “Union town.”

The head of the SF Labor Council spoke for a few minutes and commented mostly on various electoral measures that would produce some funds for education.  He made a few other empty comments about how good it was to be here etc.

So what were the electoral gains?  The two he mentioned were Prop 30, which increases the sales tax and adds a permanent tax on the wealthy to offset education cuts. This has, as many have said, “stopped the bleeding” and after sending out 20,000 reduction In force notices to teachers last year, school districts in California only sent out about 2,400 such letters this year so far according to the Huffington Post.   We certainly wouldn’t oppose that but we have to look at it in perspective; according to a White House report, 300,000 jobs in education have been lost since 2008.

Paulson, who is on the executive board of the California Democratic Party also mentioned Measure A. Measure A is a $79 annual property tax, that voters were blackmailed in to supporting that will last for eight years.

In other words, Paulson said nothing that would inspire anyone.  But that’s his intention.  Maybe the rich will pay more taxes, maybe they won’t.  But the rest of these electoral measures places further burden on workers and the middle class.  They don’t make the rich pay for their crisis; they make us pay. We have to pay more for the education of our youth.  You can’t expect much more from Paulson as he is but an agent of the Democratic Party, in the workers’ movement; a party of Wall Street funded by the likes of Goldman Sachs.

Many of the young people are impressed that a major Labor leader comes and speaks at a rally about education and in opposition to the cuts. But Paulson isn’t opposed to cuts. He wants slightly less severe cuts.  Like students and the youth, workers rights, wages and benefits are being savaged under the guise of “shared sacrifice”.  Workers are working longer hours and the pace of work is intensifying. In auto, new hires, mainly younger people are expected to work for half the pay of older workers. We reported here about the Chrysler worker who was suspended and since terminated for protesting on his own time about a new shift schedule that eliminates overtime after 8 hours. In fact, 10-hour days are becoming the norm, a schedule that hurts older workers in particular. Then there’s there grocery workers whose pensions are under attack and who are earning $21 an hour after 41 years service.  What sort of future does this mean for young people?  The Union hierarchy has all supported these developments.

When SEIU local 1021 members rejected a concessionary contract in 2009  their leaders claimed they were “confused”.  (similar story here) Tim Paulson agreed and joined with the SEIU leadership in forcing a concessionary contract down the members’ throats. He told the media that he was “hopeful that if it’s approved, the mayor will rescind the layoffs”.  In other words, concessions or layoffs, these are the alternatives presented to workers, never an offensive strategy, never make the rich and the 1% pay. Never shut down the economy, stop the wheels from turning and Labor can do that, organized and Unorganized together. If they workers reject this strategy, the likes of Paulson and other Labor officials at the highest levels combine to wear them down, force the bosses’ concessions on their members

The same is true of education. 

But here’s what irks me the most. At gatherings like these there are numerous socialist and leftist groups. More importantly, some of them share the platform with supporters of austerity measures like Tim Paulson. Some of them did tonight. Some of them even have positions in the Union movement or, in some cases, the Labor councils.

But that a Labor leader that refuses to mobilize or at least have a strategy to mobilize the potential power of his/her members and instead actually functions to suppress any movement from below that attempts to launch a real fight back against the employers’ and their austerity agenda, can speak on the same platform as socialists and activists and no one points this out or alludes to the contradiction in any way is shameful. A young speaker before him in his innocence alluded to how militant this man was. The young people in the audience are not aware of the potential power of organized Labor even in our weakened state.  They are not aware that the rank and file member that pays the dues would have no clue who this person is for good reason and that his role has been to suppress any attempt by his the rank and file of the Labor movement to fight back.

They are not aware that the average member hates the Labor hierarchy for the right reasons, that they take money in the form of dues payments yet cooperate with the bosses’ austerity agenda.

Could you imagine being on a platform with someone you know is a racist, him speaking on the need for unity and you not mentioning it?  Or with a vicious misogynist speaking on women’s rights and you saying nothing, refusing to alert the audience to the truth. It’s one thing if such an individual publicly admitted their mistakes and had changed course’ we all make mistakes.
--> When Tim Paulson said to the thousand or so young people that attended the rally that the San Francisco Labor Council “stands behind” you; every socialist, every seasoned activist and trade Unionist present knows this is meaningless; it's not true, so do those who shared the platform with him and they said nothing; they allowed him to con the youth, give them false hopes.

We do not have to call these people names.  But to say nothing is criminal.  It helps to delay the movement. It is to let down the working class.

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