California's socialists call for fightback

Submitted by martin on 8 July, 2009 - 10:00 Author: Steve Zeltzer, a longtime socialist activist in San Francisco, spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity

The Peace and Freedom Party of California - which is the only socialist party on the ballot, with 60,000 registered members - has called a conference on 1 August to try to form a new socialist and working-class alternative across the USA in 2010.

With the economic crisis, and now the state budget crisis in California, I think the bubble around Obama is being burst. It's a good time to present a socialist programme.

California state governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is paying the state's bills with IOUs, saying that the state has run out of dollars, and has forced state employees to take three days' unpaid leave every month.

He's trying to cut all state employees' pay to the minimum wage. He's been blocked on that by the courts for the present. He's shutting down many services and programmes for low-income people.

The unions have refused to have any mass mobilisation. For example, on Thursday 2 July there was a demonstration in the state capital, Sacramento by SEIU Local 1000, which represents 70,000 state workers in California, and they only had about 2000 or 3000 people there.

The SEIU, which is the biggest union in California, has 750,000 members in the state, and maybe 25,000 in Sacramento. They didn't even mobilise their own members.

The unions in California have not made an emergency call for mobilisation. They have not formed a united front. Each union demonstrates separately. For example, the teachers in Richmond, where they have been on strike, have had separate rallies. County workers throughout the state have had rallies, and local workers.

But meanwhile the unions are taking concessions, and they are not running any campaign to challenge the structural problems.

A large number of local services are funded by property taxes, so the decline of 20% to 30% in housing prices means a big decline in revenue for the public services. This is a long-term decline.

To tackle it requires a restructuring of the constitution in California. Firstly, the constitution requires a two-thirds vote for a budget to be passed, so the Republicans have prevented a budget being passed without massive cutbacks. Secondly, we need an elimination of the commercial exemption in Proposition 13 [a constitutional amendment from 1978 limiting property taxes], which has meant a transfer of taxation from corporations to home-owners, and a move to tax the wealthy in California.

The Democrats are refusing to do that, and the unions are refusing to call any mass demonstrations or to have any campaign to tax the corporations, to get single-payer health care, to get rid of the [private] insurance companies [which currently dominate health insurance].

There is a political vacuum in California and nationally. In San Francisco Labor Council a resolution was passed calling on Obama and the Democrats in Congress to have the federal government back California state bonds. There's been no response to that. The Obama administration is bailing out the banks and the auto companies, but they are refusing to back California's bonds so that the state government can borrow.

The union leaders' strategy of relying on the Democrats has led to this fiasco. In fact the Democratic leadership in California was involved in putting forward a ballot amendment in April that would have put a cut on public spending. You had the California Teachers' Association supporting those ballot measures, and the other unions opposing them. A leader of the California Teachers' Association, at a recent teachers' rally, suggested that the answer to the budget problem was to cut back the school year by ten days.

There is no solution within the present framework. A new network has been formed, called United Public Workers for Action, UPWA, which is seeking to unite public workers in California and nationally, to set up local cross-union committees, and to develop a programme for the crisis. It is campaigning for a common day of action by all 1.5 million public workers across California.

The banks are in charge, really. They have said that they will accept the state's IOUs, but they can stop that whenever they choose.

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