“[T]he income gap between the rich and poor is wider than at almost any time in history and magnified by sudden wealth and lavish living of a growing elite.” – Los Angeles Times[i]
|Protesters face arrest at the capitol.|
Less than a month ago, marchers from the bay-area descended on the Central Valley under the slogan, “march, strike, occupy.” Was the revolution here? Was massive change just around the corner? Why had people from across California taken up such a radical slogan (alright, it was originally ‘Strike, Occupy, Takeover'), that before was only found within the student movement? The goal of the marchers: to bring a Wisconsin-style occupation to the steps of the state capital. While we were perplexed as to why you would announce such plans to the police ahead of time, we couldn't help but be intrigued. However, after the symbolic arrests were made, protesters cleared from the capitol grounds, and the union leaders finished giving their speeches – it was clear that the recent ‘occupation’ at the state capitol was simply more of the same. It was an attempt to get those in power to listen; to act on our demands. But if the police hauling you away wasn't clue enough as to how this system works…
The solution to the current budget crisis is not more taxes or taxing the right or even the richest people. These are all attempts at managing capitalism better; of “managing the disaster.” We are not interested in slightly less border patrol guards and more taxes for schools from BP, we are interested in a social revolution in which people and communities take back the land on which they live and create a completely new relationship with it. Whereas human labor is directed towards needs and not sold to those that own property for the sake of profit. The solution to the problems brought on by austerity is attacking the problem at its source: the capitalist system. The crisis isn’t brought on by a lack of “money;” the corporations have never had it this good, as Wal-Street reports the highest gains in decades. The crisis was created by the constant boom and bust cycle of capitalism – a cycle that we constantly take the fall for and in the end, pay for.
Those who parade around as ‘our’ leaders want to smash organized labor and lower wages, they want to divide the working-class and further criminalize migrant workers, they want to drive up the costs of education and privatize it completely, they want to destroy every safety net and social program that currently exists. With the financial crisis, they have their context. Thus, they tell us that “we all need to bleed,” while we become shriveled and they sit fat and torpid at the blood bank. Ultimately, they have the power of the law, the police, and the military on their side – we only have each other and our ability to get organized and collectively fight back. The question is: will we try and beg for a more ‘kinder, gentler’ system, or will we finally shovel the last bit of dirt onto the bourgeoisie and bury them for eternity?
Everywhere the assault on poor and working people across the globe is becoming more naked and brutal. Opening up the Modesto Bee, all one seems to read about is rising costs, the closure of schools, and laid-off workers. But it’s not just here in the Central Valley, but across the United States that schools are shutting down, services are being slashed, and access to benefits and programs are drying up. Meanwhile, we see privatization being touted as the best alternative and the unions, where they still exist, doing nothing but trying to hold onto their dues money and their power. They are not interested in resisting; they’re interested in keeping their power and managing their business: the union itself.
While corporations gain the highest revenues in decades, real wages are frozen and the cost of living continues to rise. Recently, Jerry Brown’s administration proposed that the remaining budget deficit be covered by even more cuts to public education, low-income medical coverage, and social welfare programs.[ii] What’s more, the Obama administration is proposing to ax $100 billion dollars from the federal budget. This decision would have a massive impact on working-class students, because it would deny access to Pell Grants based on need.[iii] States such as Wisconsin are also passing or attempting to pass laws that make certain strike actions illegal, curtail the power of public-service unions, and reduce pay and benefits for employees. It’s not just Republicans like Wisconsin’s Walker who is leading the charge against union members either. According to Labor Notes:
Politicians of both parties have been tough on public employees in this recession, balancing state and city budgets through layoffs, wage freezes, furloughs, and benefit cuts. But rarely have labor-backed Democrats targeted the very right of public employees to collectively bargain. That’s now changing. In Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut, Democratic legislators, eager to save money, are betting they can cut into public employee bargaining rights and still win union backing at election time.
At the same time, many states are also trying to pass anti-migrant worker legislation that would make it easier for the state to deport migrant workers. Centers like Planned Parenthood lose funding and close down, placing even more burdens on poor and working-class women. Everywhere there is social war; all across the terrain. We are partisans in a global struggle between the working class and the elites. So then, where are our weapons?
|Led away by the fuzz.|
The (oh-so) ‘loyal’ opposition, the Democrats and the trade unions, have done nothing to stop this assault. And of course, it is Brown’s administration which has helped push through so much of these cuts and the union officials which have supported him. While much of the Left prepares for Obama’s next electoral battle, they are also attempting to keep our anger firmly within realm of the ballot box and tightly controlled demonstrations. The unions helped launch Brown into office by portraying him as a ‘friend of the workers,’ but it is both parties which are helping to destroy services and programs that workers and those in poverty depend on.
According to the major labor unions and the Democrats, our greatest current “hope” lies in the proposed tax extensions (which are simply continuations from Arnold’s increased sales, income, and vehicle taxes) that will help stop cut from becoming deeper. As Dan Brown and David Conway wrote:
The governor’s tax proposals, like the austerity measures, have been supported by the trade unions. The California Teachers Association launched a campaign for the tax increases that culminated in “state of emergency” protests earlier in the month. The unions have repeated the line from Brown that the only alternative to the regressive taxes, mainly targeting working people, is massive cuts in K-12 education funding.
The message from both the unions and the government is the same: you pay either way, either through increased taxes or further budget cuts. This isn’t a solution – it’s a threat! We are forced to choose between taxes and further cuts, yet the real question is: will we revolt or do nothing? And, even if the tax extensions are extended, Brown and the rest are already continuing to cut education, health-care, and all social services. The cuts that have already happened stay on the books and more cuts will keep coming.
|Tax or abolish?...|
There are others that proclaim that instead of simply more taxes, we should instead tax the richest people within society. It is these people that made up the coalition of Leftists who came to the state capitol in early May. They are calling for higher taxes on the rich and a re-shifting of priorities on what tax-money is spent on. Large non-profit activist groups such as Code-Pink, socialist political parities like the Peace and Freedom Party, and ‘peace’ talking-heads like Cindy Sheehan have helped to organize this ‘May Strike and March’ from the bay area to Sacramento which also coincided with a week of demonstrations by unions designed to promote the tax extensions.[iv]
The march started in the bay area and snaked its way east towards the valley, stopping in various towns along the way to hold banners and small protests. Upon reaching the capitol, the plan was that the group would convene in front of the capitol and then go in and ‘occupy’ the building, gaining numbers from the union demonstration. Both camps were united in agreeing that the ‘democratic process’ was capable of meeting their demands and that if they could just get the politicians to listen or pressure them enough, things would change.
On May 9th, these demands fell on deaf ears. After the marchers had arrived and listened to a parade of union official’s speeches, about 70 people were arrested inside the Sacramento capitol rotunda after refusing to leave. When the police made the announcement that arrests were immanent, many people got up and headed for the door as the arrests were purely symbolic. The capitol had already been closed and ‘politics-as-usual’ had already gone home to their mansions.[v] In the coming days, the CTA (teacher’s union) also conducted several pre-staged media stunts that resulted in 26[vi] people getting arrested.[vii] The next week, Brown also released his proposed budget plan which included the continued sweeping attacks on education, social-services, and medical care. At this point, it remains unclear as to if Republicans will be able to block the tax-increases on the ballot during the summer.
|The coming Wisconsin?|
The Leftists involved with organizing the May Strike and March, proposed that they would “occupy” and camp out at the capitol until “their” legislature agreed “to fund education, schools, and teachers.” In doing so, they reasoned that they would “bring Wisconsin to Sacramento.” Looking back at our recent interview with someone involved in the Wisconsin occupation on this blog, we can see that this is clearly not the case. Workers and students in Wisconsin began actions in the face of Walker’s proposed bill attacking public employees by launching wild-cat strikes, walkouts of schools, and calling into work sick en mass. All of these actions were discouraged against by the labor-unions officials. Soon, people were occupying the state capitol of Wisconsin in an attempt to block the passing of the bill. As our interviewee noted, this wasn’t an exercise in democracy, but instead one of working class power. As prole.info wrote: “This is not the ultimate form of democracy. We are imposing our needs on society without debate—needs that are directly contrary to the interests and wishes of rich people everywhere. There is no way for us to speak on equal terms with this society.”
Despite the actions in Wisconsin, Walker passed the bill, leading to the second occupation of the capitol building as some workers began to talk about the need for a general strike: a massive strike of all workers, regardless of industry or profession. The union leaders responded by instead calling for everyone to end the occupation and return to work. Instead they claimed, people should push for a recall of Walker. Let the lawyers and professional activists handle it, they cried. Let us lead you, they begged.
But it was the ordinary people of Wisconsin who had started things, not the union apparatus. And thus, any talk by Leftists of ‘bringing Wisconsin to Sacramento’ is false. They were not interested in self-organized and autonomous working class action - they were interested in lobbying and begging those in power to change.
|GET IT IN.|
We locate ourselves within the revolutionary camp. We do not think tax-extensions are the answer; they are based on the same idea that we should pay for the crisis. Taxes themselves are just ways in which those above us suck like parasites from our wages; taking that money and hiring more cops, launching more wars, and keeping their system running. Fighting for something like tax-extensions distracts us from the real battle of attacking the capitalist system. Nor do we think that slightly more taxes for the rich or less money spent on things like the military or wars will create the kind of revolutionary change that we want or need. None of these things change the full nature of a system that makes a few rich through controlling property while the rest of us are wage-slaves. Further still, the elite class will not give up their power without a struggle.
We need to recognize the protests in Sacramento and others like as purely symbolic; as not having the ability to give us any sort of power. Along with the failed “occupation” at the capitol, there have also been sit-ins at banks, protests against bailouts, and disruptions at against shareholders meetings all organized by similar large non-profit and union groups. While we certainly are happy that working-class people are taking action, we feel that this mode of activism, or the focusing on issues and trying to get those in power to respond to our concerns is useless. If we understand ourselves to be a we with shared conditions, then we can begin to act on our needs regardless of the laws or edicts of other classes.
But what are the ways that we can act and organize that build power instead of give it away? How can we resist so that it prefigures the world we want to live in and meet our needs now instead of placing faith in politicians? Capitalism blocks access to things that all of us need based upon violence and centralizes resources in the hands of a ruling class. The current austerity measures attack the safety nets that seek to make this reality less brutal – in a sense, making the lack of access that we all have to food, clothes, shelter, health-care, and security even more deep.
First, we can begin to think about ways we can act that reverse this process, and open up access to resources we all need and return them to the neighborhoods and communities that use them. Or, we can shutdown and occupy the infrastructure of our enemies and make it work for us. Have they shut down a day-care center at your Junior College? Occupy it or another vacant building and have free day-care for all. Is a vacant lot sitting unused? Take it over and plant gardens. Takeover vacant houses and turn them into meeting centers or housing for those foreclosed on or evicted. The process of taking things out of the hands of those in power and liberating them back into the hands of the people for our own purposes has been called, “communization.”
Second, we must normalize collective confrontation with the state and its police when we are attacked. With the crisis comes increased repression. In countries like France, police murders are often met with nights of rioting, the looting of businesses, and clashes with police. We need to begin this practice as well. Furthermore, we can normalize other actions as well. When prices are raised on say, public transportation, we can collectively refuse to pay. We can also begin to loot en-mass, take over property, and begin the practice of meeting together to discuss our actions and how to proceed. We can promote walkouts, general strikes, sabotage, and occupations – actions which refuse to give anything to those in power. All of this comes along with a rejection of a belief in ‘democracy,’ or the working class giving the ruling class power, and instead puts faith in our own abilities and actions.
|Occupation at Glen Cove.|
Third, we must generalize struggles and break down the barriers that divide us. As this piece is written, several large labor struggles are boiling in Southern California. Grocery workers at several major chains are on strike and nurses have also walked out. We need to expand these strikes from beyond these industries and push them into general strikes. If one neighborhood, community, or workplace takes up a struggle, we should show solidarity with it as much as possible. And by solidarity, we do not mean hitting the "like" button on facebook, we mean showing physical solidarity in ways that help that struggle. The recent indigenous occupation of Glen Cove in Vallejo, California has brought hundreds, if not thousands of people out to the over month long occupation. There, indigenous warriors have occupied the land to stop development of a sacred site. In times like these, these spaces act as a commune and a base of power in which rebels can come together to meet each other and discuss strategy; forming bonds and making plans.
The crisis will get worse next year – much worse. We will see continued battles in public education as well as more and more labor struggles. Everywhere we must seek to make the connections within the working class; immigrants, students, workers, the unemployed…We must resist those that want simply a new version of this system and push forward towards the world that we truly want to see.