Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Democrats join Republicans, attack public sector pensions.

Source: Wall Street Journal
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Einstein defined insanity as Insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”.  For a minute I thought that describes the labor hierarchy to a T. But it doesn’t. They do the same thing over and over again for the same results. 
They appeal to the bosses, their courts and their Democratic Party to stop attacking their members’ wages and benefits or else they’ll, they’ll, er send them 100,000 e mails. If that doesn’t work, they’ll lobby Congress or as a last resort might file a lawsuit.

Naturally, the employers are not culled by such militant rhetoric. They have learned over decades that the heads of organized labor are no threat to them, they are an ally, they will not mobilize the potential power of organized labor for fear it will inspire millions of workers to rise up and fight back against austerity and the capitalist offensive, in fact they suppress resistannce.  The bosses’ do not fear them.

Pennsylvania governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, has thrown in the towel, (not that he ever threw it out) and is calling for retirement cuts “for new state hires and current workers”, the Wall Street Journal reports today.  A spokesperson for the governor tells the Journal that “The governor absolutely wants to make sure state workers have a secure retirement, but this was a compromise budget and he’s dealing with an overwhelmingly Republican-led Legislature,”

Now that’s why the average US worker hates politicians, even those that still bother to vote. The governor is for us……but.  Watch out for those buts.  The only possible outcome for workers and union members in these cases is downhill quickly or downhill slowly. Presented with these two options, union members take the later and slide in to a deeper hole and further demoralization.

Since the end of the Great Recession, 25 out of 34 states that have had Democratic governors have slashed retirement benefits for public sector workers. The union hierarchy admits that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils option, hoping that the good old days of the Post World War 11 boom will return and that the bosses will be a little less aggressive. Tom Wolf says his goal is to spend more on education and he has to get the money somewhere, plus, state and local governments are spending 4% of their annual budgets to fund retirement systems up from 2.3% in 2002.

Wolf’s divide and rule strategy should be rejected of course. After all, public sector workers send our children to public schools as well. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul and a very successful way to divide the opposition.   And isn’t that better than the Republicans who end define benefit plans altogether sending workers in to 401k’s?

Democrats argue that they have no choice but to “revamp” pension benefits given the deficits and underfunding of pensions which grew due to “…deep investment losses in the wake of the financial crisis…”.  And whose fault was that crisis?

The “experts” atop the AFL-CIO that the members are unfortunately saddled with, have countered the offensive with some militant threats of their own, “If it’s a Democrat undermining our members, they’ll feel the heat as much as if they were a Republican,” says Steven Kreisberg, the national director of research and collective bargaining at this writer's former union, Afscme. I’ll bet Steve has the right education, degree and connections that helped him get such a prestigious position in a major union; there’s no way he’d be a common backhoe operator like me. It’s a shame he’s worthless. What “heat” is he talking about? The 100,000 e mails in the WSJ article? Perhaps that Afscme might spend a few hundred thousand dollars of its members’ hard earned dues money electing a different Democrat. That’ll work won’t it?

Well, I guess I’m right about that, “Public-sector unions have countered by filing lawsuits to block cuts, saying the pension plans have legal protections, and spending big to support alternate political candidates.” the WSJ article adds.  This is not a new strategy, it is has a record of proven failure and they will not support “alternate political candidates”, they will support alternate Democratic candidates. But, and I stress this, it does not meet Einstein’s definition of insanity because the strategists atop organized labor like Mr. Kreisberg don’t for one minute think “different results” will be the result. Him and others like him know that the result will be, at best, a slightly slower decline.

The union hierarchy is hanging on to their jobs as best they can. It’s a good deal, pretty much a position for life with great benefits and they don’t have to work under the concessionary contract they force on their members. They are so popular here in the Bay Area that in 2009, a UFCW regional council leadership chose the CEO of the corporation as its person of the year, I guess a shop steward or long time dues payer wasn't available. They are very progressive these guys, they used the gender neutral “person”, not so progressive though when it comes to the wages and benefits of their own members; they force concessions on any and all genders, not in equal doses I figure.

But all is not lost.  We have reason to be optimistic but there are conditions. First, there’s an abundance of money in society. There is the obvious and that’s the trillions spent on fighting US capitalism’s predatory wars abroad. Maintaining the more than 200 bases around the world and the huge domestic and international spy network that puts the crude methods of the old Stalinist KGB to shame. There is the billions spent propping up dictators and ruthless regimes like the Saudi’s, the $2 billion a year we paid Egypt’s Mubarak and billions more to the Zionists.

In addition, yesterday the WSJ reported that James R Moffett, the 77-year old chairman of Freeport McMoRan, the giant US mining company that once had the war criminal Henry Kissinger on its board, was forced out. Their precious market has not been good to raw material prices and the company has lost a lot of money under Mr. Moffett’s watch lately. Despite a bad record of late Moffett will receive a $79.4 million pay package to help him enjoy his retirement and that could reach greater heights if the company’s share price goes up.  “Jim Bob” as Moffett is called by his mates will also get an additional $1.5 million a year as a “consultant”.  And we can’t afford a $15 an hour minimum wage for workers?  Moffett’s cash is paid for in the blood of West Papua’s indigenous tribes as Freeport McMoRan funded the Indonesian governments slaughter of those that resisted McMoRan’s  environmental destruction at the Grasberg Mine.More about that another time.

The point is that public sector workers like this writer do get better pensions. But we are in a minority, a dying breed. The bosses play the divide and rule card and blame us for destroying the economy, for forcing public service cuts and reductions. The labor hierarchy has no answer to this and instead whines about how these policies hurt their members and how we deserve this etc. The other 80% of the working class not unionized or outside the public sector have no sympathy for this argument. What they would have sympathy for is a major organizing campaign for public spending on social infrastructure and union jobs and for defined benefit pensions to be expanded to all workers.

Showing where the money is no problem. The problem the labor hierarchy has with this strategy, going on the offensive, is that it would raise expectations of their own members and inspire millions of workers nationally.  Mobilizing for an offensive against the 1% for what we need to live a decent life can only lead to chaos from the labor hierarchy’s point of view which is the worship of capitalism and the market. They have the same worldview as the bosses and their strategy is designed to help them.

This offensive will not cease of its own accord. US capitalism cannot afford “guns and butter” as we have stated on this blog before.  While the leadership of organized labor is responsible for the delay of a broad working class offensive of our own, the rank and file union member is responsible for not openly confronting these failed policies of the leadership, building fighting rank and file opposition caucuses in the locals and in our workplaces where our power lies, in other words, offering an alternative leadership with an alternative strategy.  Abandoning the Team Concept and rejecting austerity has to be a starting point.

There are thousands of members of left groups or anti-capitalist groups also members of organized labor. Many of them are actually in leadership positions but refuse to openly campaign against the catastrophic policies of the present leadership and more often than not conceal their politics in order avoid a direct confrontation with the hierarchy. But it is impossible to offer oneself as an alternative to the status quo without coming in to conflict with the present leadership that supports it. Not building a base among the rank and file around fighting polices and direct action tactics, leaves many genuine, activists and leftists in particular, susceptible to the power we have to confront.

When the crunch comes as it inevitably will and sides have to be taken, they too end up in a compromise that is made without the active participation and consent of the dues paying member. They end up like those they claim they want to replace making the same excuses.

We should raise our expectations; keep our goals lofty. We reject that there is no money in society. We demand what we need not what is acceptable or “realistic” to Democratic Party politicians or their agents atop organized labor. We demand and will fight for, housing, education, jobs, and end to racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination that divides us. We will fight to protect the natural world that capitalism is making uninhabitable. We stand for more leisure time and more time to participate in the organization of work and society in general. We do not expect the 1% or their political parties to provide this; we will build our own movement and political party and take it.

We will overcome the obstacle in our own consciousness influenced by the 1%’s propaganda and provide our children with a future here on this planet in cooperation with all humanity and in harmony with nature, not at war with it.

No comments: