Friday, December 24, 2010

"Bosses propaganda war heats up as they go after public workers' pensions"

2010-12-24 by Richard Mellor []:
anti-worker propaganda: the war on truth

“Pensions Push Taxes Higher” is the headline in today’s Wall Street Journal, the paper that represents the interests of those of us in society that are rich enough not to need a “pension” as we know it.
The headline could have read, “Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Push Taxes Higher” or “Bailing Out The Rich Push Taxes Higher”. It could have read, “Corruption and Plundering of Taxpayer Funds by Politicians Pushes Taxes Higher”.
The problem with headlines like these is that the general public’s anger would be directed at the wrong people and the people who caused the financial crisis and want workers to pay for it control the media. The increased taxes and savaging of public services that are necessary due to US capitalism’s waning global power and its massive and wasteful war machine have to be blamed on someone, and the public sector workforce is the target. As we pointed out the other day, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone have cost more than $1 trillion so far and will cost as much as $3 trillion when other war overheads are added, especially medical care for injured veterans and interest to moneylenders is added.
As I pointed out earlier this month, “The principal drivers of the deficit have been the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US government’s foreign policy in general, and Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthy. The financial crisis has added trillions of dollars in debt that Americans will have to pay for years to come. The current national debt is approx. $14 trillion. The crisis of the capitalist system is what causes them to destroy social services and living standards that took a century to win. This crisis is not of our making but their fiscal commission's proposal will ensure we pay for it.”
Despite the low percentage of workers organized in the US, they are still a potential danger to US capitalism, some 12 million workers organized and kept under restraint by their own leaders; but that might not last. In order to accomplish this the US capitalist class has to weaken the organized working class further. They need to weaken the teacher's Union to make privatization of education even easier and the state, municipal and public transit Unions in order to savage public services. They have been very successful in the private sector. With the cooperation of organized Labor’s hierarchy, they destroyed the wages and benefits in the US auto industry that were a benchmark for years. They can now turn their attention to the public sector. Only 7.5 percent or so of the private sector workforce is organized, below what it was before the Great Depression I believe. The bosses want to bring the public sector (about 37% organized) down to this level and part of this strategy is to destroy the relatively more humane and somewhat better working conditions that we public sector workers have had.
By blaming public sector workers conditions, but particularly our pensions, (A pension shouldn’t be enough to live on should it?) for the cutting of public services and increased taxes, they intend to isolate this section of the workforce and pick us off that way.
The public sector Union officials, just like their private sector counterparts have no strategy for fighting this offensive so go along with it in one way or another. Over the past months there have been vicious assaults on public sector workers. Union leaders at the highest levels have no response except to comply, “We have to take a different approach than traditional unions have taken. And that is to be part of the solution.” Says another Union official. This means helping the bosses find ways to save money, off the backs of their own members and the working class as a whole.  “It was either the legislature was going to do it (impose cuts), or we were going to define it for ourselves” says Pam Manwiller a chief negotiator for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) one of the numerous California Unions whose members are losing ground.
In today’s Wall Street Journal piece, Henry Bayer, an overpaid Union official in Illinois offers his defense, or dare I say offense, “The main driver is the irresponsibility of local public officials who for years and years have not been funding their pensions” These are the very same politicians that Bayer and other Union officials have been supporting and helping get elected. Bayer is in AFSCME and at one of the bi-annual conventions of AFSCME that I attended as a delegate some years ago, Bayer argued against a resolution I supported that called on AFSCME to campaign nationally for a $12.50 an hour minimum wage. I remember his response well, “We’d be laughed out of the halls of Congress”, he said. That’s would be a good thing, to have the top Union officials out of the halls of Congress. It would be even better if they took a pay cut and hung out with their own members; the ones who pay those exorbitant salaries. I met bayer in the elevator after those comments and asked him what he earned. I don't recall him telling me.
Many well-meaning Union leaders at the local level are going along with cuts and or at the very best offering to roll over existing contracts in the hope of better days. But there will not be better days. The serious capitalist journals are making it very clear that the US working class has to be driven back further. The average worker knows that if they raise the retirement age and eliminate benefits, rights and wage raises it took years of struggle to win, the employers are not going to give those back.
It always pays to fight back. But we must recognize that no individual Union local or individual workplace can win; no individual community can win; but we can have small victories that can help build a movement of resistance. We have to generalize this struggle and there is tremendous anger that exists in US society that could provide the basis for the building of a movement that can drive back the capitalist offensive.
By completely capitulating to the employers which is what rolling over contracts is, we are reinforcing the false view among Union members and workers in general that nothing can be done, that we are weak and have no power. This is not true. We have lost ground and strike after strike not because of the lack of dedication or the willingness of the rank and file of the Unions to fight. In all the lost strikes, Union members made heroic sacrifices and showed great solidarity. We have lost ground because the leaders and strategists of the organized Labor movement have refused to use the potential power of organized Labor to mobilize a generalized offensive against the bosses. The Union officials only fight defensive battles; you can’t draw members in to activity or our communities in to the struggle with a defensive strategy; if you refuse to fight for gains that improve people's material well-being.
Henry Bayer is wrong to say that pensions are have not been funded because of the “irresponsibility” of politicians. The politicians, (most of whom he likely supported) knew exactly what they were doing; their job is to defend the interests of the rich and the corporations and if that means not funding pensions or throwing people out of their homes or putting 2 million workers in prisons or bombing a poor third world country in to the stone age then so be it. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans.
The reality is that public sector workers are about to get the same treatment as their private sector brothers and sisters. For years the average Union member, both public and private, has gone along with the flow and avoided doing what is necessary to turn things around. Young people have been thrown in prisons by the hundreds of thousands. Conditions in the inner cities have reached third world proportions. Autoworkers have been driven back closer to the period before the building of the CIO, and now the good (or better) days for the public sector are over. We have to face that we are in a war on two fronts. One is against the bosses’ attempts to take everything we have won over the last 100 years and the other is against the policies of the trade Union leaders that are allowing them to do it.
But if we want to stop this we have to reject the idea that there is no money in society and limit our demands to what is acceptable to the Democrats and their allies in the trade Union leadership. We have numerous blogs on this site that give concrete examples of where the money is. Check the public sector or other relevant labels to the right for more reading.
We cannot avoid a fight; the bosses won’t let us.