New Governor… New Cuts! Where is the change?
As soon as he took office, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed $12.5 billion in cuts to California’s public services. This time $1.4 billion will be carved out from the already starving public higher education system: $500 million from the University of California system (an additional 16.4% cut in state funding from last year), $500 from the California State system (an additional 18% cut in state funding) and $400 million from ourCommunity Colleges. Now the threat is that the cuts will increase – if Brown’s regressive tax reform does not go through at the June election.
What are the concrete consequences of these new cuts? The CSU system will again have to curtail the enrollment of students (40,000 student slots disappeared in 2009) while eliminating and restructuring programs and departments. The 112 Community Colleges statewide are planning to raise tuition $26 to $36 per unit, while cutting enrollment: in 2009 community colleges shrank by 250,000 students, next year 350,000 more will be turned away.
The UC has not announced yet how these cuts will affect education or working conditions on campus. For the moment, the UC continues to lay-off essential staff and has not restored the deep cuts of the last several years. Though our protests succeeded in making President Yudof promise not to raise tuition again, in the coming year UC students will likely see more cuts in classes, programs and student services, while the administration attacks the benefits and wages of UC workers.
As costs have risen for students, the quality and breadth of education and services will continue to decrease, and workers will be asked to do more as their wages and benefits fall.
Even worse: this would mean that all the concrete gains of our movement to defend public education, obtained from the UC and Schwarzenegger administrations (the end of the fee hikes and the restoration of a small part of the cuts in funding) through hard work and collective effort, are now being completely taken away by Gov. Brown.
The “Logic” of Austerity Measures… Whose “Logic” is That?
Both the Democratic and Republican parties seem convinced that the best solution in a period of deep economic crisis is to choose to “balance” State budgets (which bear the biggest financial burden for funding public services) on the backs of working people.
Instead of “balancing” the growing inequalities in our country, or the burden of taxation, they increase the numbers of unemployed (by laying-off thousands of teachers and other public workers), slash the few available public services for the most vulnerable, and eviscerate the public education system, our best investment in future generations.
The California Federation of Teachers asserts that in the past two years $15 billion dollars have been cut from K-12 education, to which we need to add the $4 billion cut from higher education.
The logic of these “austerity measures” defies common sense. Why are we not looking into ways of increasing revenue for public services now that they are most needed – with California families hurting from foreclosures and the job losses of the Great Recession? Why are we not creating more union and public sector jobs to fight the unemployment and the increasing impoverishment of the California population? The answer to these questions is clear: we have an enduring and deep crisis of political leadership and representation.
Our Politics for Expanding Public Education: Organizing in The Workplace and Taking Political Action to Raise Revenue
To combat these “austerity plans,” we need to continue the rank-and-file education and mobilization of the members of our local, in conjunction and in solidarity with the rest of the workers and the students of the UC system and the California education sector at large.
Our movement has made incontestable gains: we sparked a nation-wide debate about the endangering of public education, we have pressured UC administrators and the California legislature with key demands that represent our interests (and the interests of the majority of Californians), and through continued struggle and mass actions, we have made concrete gains including last year’s partial budget restoration. With Gov. Brown’s new budget intervention, we need to ask again for the reversal of the cuts, an end to attacks on workers’ rights and benefits – and an end to layoffs, fee hikes and the repression of student and worker activists.
At the same time, we need to put forward a realistic and fair plan to raise revenue and fight the growing inequalities in our society. The tax increases Gov. Brown is proposing (1% increase in sales tax, 0.5% increase in vehicle licensing fees, 0.25% increase in the state income tax) are not the solution. They are in fact regressive taxes that will be paid disproportionately by us. They function exactly like the fee hikes: they are taxes on working people.
We need to take a serious and courageous approach to reverse the tax inequalities in California: 89.3% of state tax revenue comes from working people (52,4% in income taxes and 30.9% in sales taxes). Only 10.7% of state revenue comes from taxes on corporate profits!
And this is not all. The income tax is not progressive, but regressive: the poorest fifth of the state (average income of $13,200) pay 11% of their wages in taxes, while the richest 1% (average income of $2.2 million) only pay 7.8% of their income in taxes. Our underpaid work is more taxed than the profits the companies make out of it (income tax: 2.8%, tax on corporate profits: 0.6%.)
Knowing also that oil corporations do not pay an oil extraction tax (this is 25% in Alaska and the equivalent in California would pull in around $4 billion a year) and that corporate income between 2001 and 2008 grew 411%, we should not be afraid of putting corporate taxes on the table to finance public services and jobs! Our union should demand a fair taxation system NOW!
Why the Current And Recurrent Political Strategy of Our Union Is Not Working…. And Why We Need to Reform It NOW!
Given Gov. Brown’s latest budget proposal, it is not very difficult to conclude that it was a huge mistake (and revealed a lack of political perspicacity) for our union to invest thousands of dollars in his campaign. The crisis of political leadership begins, unfortunately, at the top of our local.
But the leadership of our local is not the only one that has been funding the same political parties who, once in government, attack our rights. The entire California Federation of Labor continues to pretend Gov. Brown is representing our interests so they do not have to admit that the financial investment in his campaign was a huge political mistake, which is now hurting all its members.
This is why the CFA can publish such statements after the announcement of the new round of cuts, once again giving political support to the Democratic Governor: “The California labor movement looks forward to partnering with the governor to revive our economy and move us forward as a state. While the road ahead is full of potholes, we’re confident that we have an experienced leader in the driver’s seat who can navigate California back to prosperity.”
If the CFA and UAW 2865 leadership wants to be blind to the political and social reality of the state and the country – and deaf to our needs– WE do not have to do the same. We can and must choose to change the current politics and habits of the labor movement in which rank-and-file mobilization is stifled regarding key economic struggles. Our supposed leadership only contacts members when it is time to raise money for a “pre-selected” candidate: this also needs to end.
In October 2010, the Berkeley Head Stewards and Recording Secretary (the vast majority of Berkeley’s campus leadership are members of AWDU) attended our local’s Joint Council meeting. At that time, we questioned the wisdom of supporting Jerry Brown’s campaign with our union’s contributions and with our own volunteer hours when Brown was already on record as saying that he too would cut public education, public services, and that he agreed that public sector unions would need to “share the pain.” What healthy discussion and debate followed our question? For more than an hour members of the Executive Board and their allies threw personal insults at us. There was no way to end the attacks or move on from the discussion because the chair of the meeting, the former President of our local, was participating in the roast.
We maintain that before using any union-paid staff to fundraise for any candidate, we should begin by having an open and democratic political strategy discussion among all members. And we also strongly believe that we should make a critical assessment of what has been happening concretely with the candidates that our union has financed so far.
This sort of open discussion, critical dialogue, and honest assessment, for the moment, does not exist in our local. Under the current leadership – by the Administration Caucus –all political decisions are made without the participation or vote of the membership, and the leadership refuses to recognize or correct past mistakes. The urgency of the situation calls for us to reform our union NOW!