Last week marked a “Week of Action” called for by the California Teachers Association which was supposed to call attention to the “State of Emergency” which public schools are in. Students, teachers, and workers from across California were supposed to engage in the week of action, which was to include an occupation of the state capitol in Sacramento as part of a Wisconsin-esque challenge to austerity measures directed towards workers.
Now, if you’ve been part of any of the anti-austerity movements on campuses in the past few years, you know that the question of directing protest towards Sacramento has been contentious. Many have called out the “go to Sacramento” route as being a means to diffuse anger directed towards local institutions of the state’s power structure (university administrations, local school boards, etc) and re-direct it towards the institution that supposedly has the “real power.”
While many of us here have definitely been partisan towards fighting where we’re at – building walkouts, strikes and occupations at the point of reproduction – we were interested in seeing what this “Week of Action” in Sacramento might generate in light of the developments across North Africa and Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, it seems that the union bureaucracy played a predictable role, as outlined in our comrade Jack Gerson’s piece below. He critiques the “short-term/long-term” strategy used by the union (not to mention many activists in general) as a cover for simply capitulating to the austerity program of the ruling parties – both Democrats and Republicans.
What will it take to develop a revolutionary program that seeks to issue meaningful demands that speak to the needs people are facing, while at the same time challenging the state power structure and calling our organizational and revolutionary attention to the fact that the bourgeois state will never meet our needs as workers? Jack’s piece reminds us of the glaring inadequacies of protests confined within the parameters of the union officialdom and reminds us of the need to develop left-wing challenges to their co-optation strategies.
The California Teachers Association ‘Week of Action’… What The Heck Was Going On In Sacramento?
Jack Gerson – May 19, 2011
On the evening of Monday, May 9, 2011, 68 Bay Area college students, public school teachers, and their supporters chanting “Tax the Rich! That will fix the deficit!” were arrested for occupying and refusing to leave the state capitol building in Sacramento, California. Although this happened on the first day of a “Week of Action” called by the California Teachers Association (CTA) to protest cuts to state funding for K-12 education, CTA leadership walked away from the occupiers and literally pulled CTA members out of the Rotunda, saying that the protesters were “not on message”. Oakland Education Association (OEA) secretary Steve Neat, one of the arrestees, described it thus:
One of the May 12 arrests outside the offices of Republican leaders in California’s state capitol, Sacramento.”CTA leadership had the perfect opportunity to join a group of students and teachers fighting for real long-term change with direct action. They were very conspicuous by their absence. In fact they left and tried to usher CTA members away when we started chanting ‘Tax the rich!’ I guess that wasn’t quite on message enough.”
Yet three days later, CTA president David Sanchez and several other CTA leaders were arrested for sitting in at the offices of Republican state legislature leaders Robert Dutton and Connie Conway. In the words of CTA’s press release, “CTA members refuse to leave capitol and demand passage of tax extensions to keep deeper cuts away from schools, colleges and essential public services.”
What is going on here? On Monday, May 9, CTA leadership did all in its power to prevent and — failing that — limit and undercut an occupation of the Capitol by students and teachers demanding funding for public education and services. On Thursday, CTA leadership occupies the Capitol to demand funding for public education and services. If you feel confused, you’re not alone. I’ve gotten phone calls and emails from around the country asking, “What the heck is going on in Sacramento?”
Part of the May 9 protest.So here’s what’s going on. CTA leadership’s strategy all along has been to throw their full support behind Democratic governor Jerry Brown. Last year, California labor unions contributed $20 million to Brown’s gubernatorial campaign last year. CTA was one of the biggest contributors. But as soon as Brown was elected, he started talking up the need for austerity.
Brown has proposed an austerity budget that includes about $12 billion in cuts to essential public programs ($1.7 billion from medical care for the poor; $1.5 billion from welfare, $1.4 billion from higher education; cut hundreds of millions from programs for the disabled, for home assistance for the elderly, etc.) and an equal amount from extending regressive taxes set to expire this year for another five years (among them increases to state sales tax, vehicle license fees, and a decrease in tax deductions for dependents).
Brown’s cuts have already been approved by the legislature, but Republicans are blocking extension of the regressive taxes. So the argument in Sacramento has been between Brown — who wants to extend Schwarzenegger’s soak-the-poor taxes for another five years — and the Republicans — who call for more program cuts instead of more taxes. Two rotten choices, right? Well, CTA leadership is openly and ardently demanding immediate approval of Brown’s tax package. Brown warns, “There is no other alternative. We all must sacrifice.” And CTA agrees: “We must fight for this budget. It is balanced. It mixes cuts with taxes. We must fight for it because the alternative is so much worse.” That is their focus, pure and simple. That was why they sat-in at the offices of Republican leaders Dutton and Conway. They tried to break up the Monday sit-in because its message was “tax the rich”, not “pass the tax extensions” (i.e., “tax the poor”).
However, it’s hardly a secret that not everyone is sacrificing. Not the banks — huge bailout and rip-off of taxpayer money, record profits, big bonuses, minimal taxes. Not the oil companies (especially in California, the only oil-producing state without an oil extraction tax). Not corporations (more than half of all profitable California corporations pay no state income tax). Not the rich (state income tax is lower now than it was under Republican governors Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson). Making the banks, corporations and the rich pay would provide the money needed to restore and expand all essential programs and rescind all layoffs.
A Code Pink member arrested in Sacramento May 9.In fact, the Brown / Sanchez call for “shared sacrifice” was so hollow that even many long-time supporters of the CTA leadership (and of the Democrats) bridled. At CTA state council in early April, the 800 delegates forced the leadership to revise their plans for the May “Week of Action”. The call that emerged from this meeting supported Brown’s proposal for extending regressive taxes “short term”, while calling for progressive taxation “long term”.
But, CTA leadership never had any intention of a massive mobilization to Sacramento for their “Week of Action”. CTA has over 300,000 members. CTA State Council alone has 800 members, and they have several hundred paid staffers. CTA leadership could have turned out five thousand to Sacramento without really trying. But that wasn’t their plan. Their plan was to keep everything small, mild, and most of all under their control. Had thousands shown up on Monday, the Rotunda occupation might have turned into a sustained occupation, and the calls for “Tax the Rich” might have grown in substance and appeal. Things might have gotten out of hand. And so there were well under two hundred at the leadership’s Monday noontime “mass rally”, where the speeches were all about supporting Brown and his regressive taxes. Here’s what happened after that rally, in the words of Oakland Education Association president Betty Olson-Jones (one of those arrested on Monday).
“By later in the afternoon, scores of UC Santa Cruz students had arrived, drawn to support teachers and occupy the State Capitol — after all, that’s what they’d heard CTA was planning to do! So when CTA members filed into the Rotunda at 5pm — as planned — to chant and march, the students joined us in a lively, energetic show of solidarity. And that’s where CTA leadership got scared, started pulling (literally!) blue shirts from the crowd and ushering them to a side hall. When many of us just kept on circling the Rotunda chanting, some of them got angry started yelling at us to leave. We didn’t. The irony (among many) is that CTA had a permit until 6pm! There was no reason to abandon the demonstration at 5:10, except that it wasn’t under CTA’s control. They were upset that the students were “taking over their action”! The reality is that the students had been unfailingly respectful, asking me and others how they could support us. What kind of a message did it send to the students when CTA leaders pulled teachers out of the Rotunda? They later told us in jail that they felt CTA had abandoned all of us. Had more teachers stayed it would have been an extraordinary opportunity to act in unison with our allies, the students.
“By 5:30 most CTA teachers had been moved out of the building (having been told by CTA staff and leadership that we faced immediate arrest and that our permit allowed us to sing, not chant (!)), and went to “rally” outside.”
Another May 9 arrest in Sacramento.And so the leadership tried to squash the Monday occupation, opting instead for a late-week “on-message” tame action unambiguously supporting Brown and demanding that the Republicans stop blocking the regressive tax extensions.
Unfortunately, despite their unquestioned courage and commitment, the “short term / long term” approach adopted by some of the Monday occupiers (OEA’s Olson-Jones included) is, at best, inadequate.
Brown’s proposal — supported by Sanchez and by State Council — is for a five-year extension of the regressive taxes. If five years is short term, what is long term? Furthermore, vague calls for “long-term” progressive taxation are already condensing into proposals for modest increases to high-end income taxes and equally modest adjustments to corporate taxation. The fact is, CTA leadership’s short-term and long-term leadership’s strategies are identical. They are to co-opt dissent and channel it into the Democrats; provide massive funding for Brown and Democratic politicians; phone-bank for Democratic candidates; usher incipient mass movements off the streets and into lobbying, phone banking, fundraising, etc.
And the Democrats’ strategy — short-term, long-term, and in-between-term — can be summarized in one word: austerity. And this is more than just a California strategy. In state legislature after state legislature, Democrats and Republicans agree that public worker unions and pensions and essential public programs must be rolled back, and labor bureaucrats support this call for “shared sacrifice”.
Fighting austerity requires a mass movement that rejects the whole notion of “shared sacrifice” and insists on rolling back all the cuts and all the layoffs and getting the money that’s needed from the banks, from the corporations, and from wealth (earned and inherited). The old slogans still apply: People before profits; Make the bosses pay!
Originally posted: http://substancenews.net/articles.php?page=2270§ion=Article