THE FURLOUGH: Intent and Impact
California State workers have had 18 months of furloughs; the threat of minimum wage in future budget impasses still hangs over our head. The furloughs ended June 30th after 18 months, the courts agreed with the Controller that paying minimum wage could not be accomplished with the current payroll system so, for now, the Governor lost his minimum wage gambit in turn he reinstituted furloughs in August. The message to State workers is contradictory, confusing and changes on a dime. Management says come to work then two days later they say stay home…yeah State workers are feeling like ping pong balls.
All the while the message to the public, from the politicians and media pundits is that the budget crisis is caused by the state workers and our pensions.
From the trenches of Cal-Trans, to the drudgery of DMV offices, to the cubicles in thousands of offices, the facilities and workshops maintained by stationary engineers, the washrooms tenders on the custodial staff, at the benches of the laboratories and in the Bio-Safety rated clean rooms the sentiment toward the Governor is clear: workers see him as a vindictive bastard who hates workers and loves the rich.
State workers find it hard to make financial plans for our families not knowing if our monthly paycheck will be full pay, partial pay or minimum wage. State workers feel like pawns in the fallout of the world economic crisis. All the while the politicians shed crocodile tears for us while they blame their partisan rivals for the budget standoff. But we know their task is to drive down the living standard of the American workers by crushing our unions. The sad thing is workers feel there is nothing we can do about these unending attacks on our wages and benefit packages which have been embraced by both Republican and Democratic politicans alike.
Keeping the workers in line:
Lacking class consciousness workers have not developed a class struggle perspective or a politically independent strong fighting leadership. Feeding on and perpetuating this backwardness the union tops are content to, and indeed are counted on, to deliver the workers for the Democrats at the polls each November regardless of the Democrats ability to deliver. The class collaborationist union leaders limit our resistance to appeals to the bosses’ courts and to ineffectual minor mobilizations. While workers wait for the other shoe to drop our various unions’ leaderships are intent on keeping us sitting passively at our jobs; instead of organizing the rank and file for the massive strikes it will take to defend lively hoods, working conditions and the services we provide.
Objectively only an indeffinate general strike of all state workers coupled with public workers and teachers can defend our wages, benefits and catch up with the buying power lost to inflation over the last decade. To win and defend our standard of living labor must unite to smash the barrier class biased anti-labor laws (such as Taft Hartley which prevents strikes and promotes the concept of being “strike legal” which keeps us chained to our work-stations). These laws shackle our psychology and set the parameters of labors options preventing us from using our only really effective tools- UNIFIED STRIKE ACTION AND CLASS SOLIDARITY!
Today’s labor leaders, like good slaves, have grown accustomed to the chains imposed by Taft Hartly and they cower at the thought of confronting them. But to win against the retrenchment today these laws must be swept away by direct massive action. Only by linking the struggle of the state workers to other public workers, the students and teachers, the unemployed and underemployed is it possible to build a workers movement which can stand down the capitalist crisis. But labor leaders committed to business unionism keep the working class separated into dozens of competing unions whose only joint role is to coral the workers into a dead end submission to the twin parties of Wall Street.
We know all our unions leaders are committed to giving our money and energy to the Democrats and now we see the SEIU is hedging its bets by giving $100,000 to the Republican governors’ conference also. Today workers have no real faith in the Democrats, their only expectation or hope is that the Democrats will wield the cuts against us a little less severely. Theirs (the union tops) is a formula for creating disaffected members who become apathetic, demobilized and resigned to the atomization and alienation we feel as workers without class consciousness. Their role is to assure our organizations (unions) do not seek an independent political role for the workers to exert and gain power based on class struggle methods of organization and action.
The breakdown of government is only a reflection of the generalized collapse of the capitalist system’s ability to provide a “middle class” life-style to working people any longer. The post WWII Donna Reed, Leave it to Beaver mythology of the rising middle class in perpetuity is now a faded dream of what the worker could achieve. The 35 year decline in workers real wages should be an indication that the days of “go along to get along-bosom buddy with the Democrats -business unionism” is not working to even protect our basic standard of living.
Scrape the inside of my pocket…why don’t ya!
While we are told to be happy to even have a job we have to consider what has happened to our income over the years. On top of an inflation to COLA ratio which has diminished our take home pay by 18% over ten years we have lost 15% to the furloughs; or approximately a 25% decline in wages over 10 years. This drive against union wages coincides with the generalized decline in labor share and increase in the capital share of the GDP. As productivity has skyrocketed wages have declined. This is the most simple algebra for profit, which is exacted from workers as a class by layer of MBA’s with scaples, chainsaws and a fist full of stock options. The blood fest initiated by Wall Street must be ended. We can not afford these leaches any longer!
The Bosses Agenda: drive down wages and destroy pensions
The politicians are tasked with administering the economic crisis in such a way that it protects corporate profit at the expense of workers jobs, salaries and benefits. In particular the task is to crush the few remaining unionized sectors of workers. The public workers as the largest remaining unionized sector are targeted here (in CA) and in almost every county, across these United States and internationally. And judging from the weak response of our unions we have to conclude they are close to, if not, dead already. They have become little more than dues collection agencies with no winning perspective of how to fight for our interests.
The first six State workers unions that signed tentative agreements gave concessions with out even a hint of a fight. The concessions extracted from the public workers will be expected from workers in private industry. Lower wages, weaker benefits are being imposed on workers when (if-ever) the economy picks up and provides new jobs (note the drop in pay to auto workers from $28 down to $14 per hour). Even before the G-20 meeting in Toronto last month the plan was clear to limit social spending and drive down unionized workers wages.
Beyond the financial burden on workers’ families, the 18 months of furloughs followed by instability in July and August this year has wreaked havoc on the management of work flow and accomplishment of tasks the state is mandated to attend to by law. Chaos and demoralization of the workforce is leading to safety problems, retention and production problems, which create waste and non-recoupable losses to the tax-payer. While the Governor attempts to drive back the state workers income by 15% he is draining the state economy of millions in lost circulation of retained wages (see furloghs drain California economy in my August blog roll).
State and public workers have been made the media scapegoats for the budget impasse. The politicians and pundits point to the pensions of the relatively few top earners who have spiked their earnings and finagled pensions way above average retires whose checks are under 30K. But these same media hacks never point to the majority of State workers who will retire with such bare bones pensions.
Indeed the drive by the free marketers today is against defined pensions. Although CalPers is not going away soon the bosses prefer 401K’s to defined pension plans. The 401K leaves one with little option but to invest in the market so the bosses friends on Wall Street, who fix the game, can drain our “investments” through a thousand fees and market fluctuations which tend to kill the small investor who generally has little understanding of or ability to “play the market”. Not that we should ignore the bozo moves made by CALPERS buying into the colateralized mortgages at the top of the bubble and loosing billions of workers hard earned savings…but that is another sad story.
The same hype is used in each attack on public workers. The Sac Bee or the ANG papers will post links to public workers salaries as a way to show the high salaries, this method was used to discredit the BART workers during negotiations last year. But you don’t have to scratch too deep to see that a pyramid structure exists in all public works salaries which mimic the income stratification in private industry. A few well paid at the top and the bulk of us far below in the middle. But the media makes hay over the top earners as a way to turn the public against all state and public workers. It would be interesting to post the salary of the corporate media hounds and their publishers along side that of the average state worker.
The attack on pensions and wages is couched in the manufactured anger of those without. State and Public workers are implicitly and in some cases explicitly being told to be happy we have a job because those without have none and hate us for what we have. We are told to be happy we have health care because so many are without. We are told not to fight the capitalists or their politicians, to sit and wait out the crisis, tighten our belts and continue to vote for the Democrats. This is a combined attack from the right and left of the capitalists along with the union bureaucracy they try to keep us complacent waiting for the next court decision when the California Supreme Courts adjudicates the furlough cases on September 8th and waiting for the upcoming election in November.
The reformers both among the liberal/progressives and the left/socialist/anarchist milieu clamor on about how the crisis can be resolved by taxing the rich. Oh if only California’s budget wasn’t held hostage by the 2/3rds rule the progressive Democrats could pass progressive taxes and all would be rosy in California. This is the ideal dreaming of small minds, who seek endlessly to reform that which can no longer be reformed. Progressive taxes are off the table as is economic reform which favors workers, the unemployed, the dependent and the poor.
The whole question is not how to make the capitalists pay the minimal taxes that their government gently ‘‘imposes’’ on them, but rather who should control the corporations: the capitalists and their government, or the workers?
For workers to win we must revitalize our unions, drive out the class collaborationist leaders, break with the bosses twin political parties and take independent political action. Such action can take the form of an independent workers/labor party but must not rely on legislative or judicial action to win. Political independence for the working class must seek a transitional program to bring us from where we are today through to the development of mass organizations of workers democracy such as work site committees, factory committees, councils of the unemployed and form up regional workers councils which use all means to replace the capitalists’ government with a workers’ government.