The economic crisis and rank-and-file pressure may be forcing a shift inside of the California Teachers Association leadership on the question of Proposition 13, split roll, or other tax and budget reforms. But given the history of timidity and false starts in 2004 and 2005, we can’t rely on CTA’s bureaucracy to rouse itself, let alone to mount an effective and sustained fight for progressive taxation.
Such a campaign is more likely to grow out of organizing and mobilizing by various local and statewide organizations working together. Here are a few groups that may help lead the way:
- The California Federation of Teachers has consistently taken much better positions on these issues than CTA: it strongly opposed the recently completed budget deal, demanded that the budget deficit be remedied through progressive taxation and not cuts, and stood up for all social services, not just schools.
- The California Nurses Association has also been good on this issue and been less afraid than most unions to strongly criticize Democratic Party capitulation. Best of all, in 2004 and 2005 CNA activists loudly hounded the then-popular Schwarzenegger at his appearances around the state and across the country in defense of safe hospital staffing ratios. Their militant street actions inspired the participation of other workers and unions and led to Schwarzenegger’s first major political defeat. In a special election he called for November 2005, all four of his propositions, including two that were strongly anti-union, lost.
- The People’s Budget Fix is a campaign led by a partnership of the Ella Baker Center, Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU California Affiliates, and Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes. The campaign proposes reallocating billions spent annually on prisons and police into programs for education, health care, and aid to disabled and elderly people.
- Another positive development is San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting’s “Close the Loophole” campaign for a state split roll tax initiative. Split roll would eliminate the ongoing Proposition 13 windfall to commercial and industrial property owners.
- The Courage Campaign, launched a letter-writing campaign for an oil severance tax during the recent budget fight. Unfortunately it tied this demand to the exclusive defense of two programs (children’s health care and in-home support services), just as CTA narrowly defends K-12 education. The problem with this approach is that it perpetuates divisions between the constituencies for various public services.
Some of this special interest isolation may break down if different organizations can coalesce around progressive tax reform. Rank and file initiative within the different groups involved could provide an impetus toward such a coalition. Such grassroots pressure would have to continue within such a coalition to fuel a dynamic, militant movement.
The most powerful possibility for a concerted, powerful fight back may be a broad movement to demand a people’s bailout. At least a few efforts have pointed in that direction so far. The plant occupation by workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago last December forced Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase to use $1.75 million of bailout funds to cover eight weeks of severance pay, vacation pay, and health benefits. Since then workers at Hartmax suit factory in Des Plaines, Illinois, have followed suit (so to speak). The plant’s 500 workers voted to hold their own sit-down occupation if bailout-recipient Wells Fargo shut Hart down instead of extending credit needed to save their jobs. They appear to have won. And this summer workers in Rock Island, Illinois (there must be something great in my native state’s water!), have taken direct actions, including blocking an intersection, to demand loans from Wells Fargo to keep the Quad Cities Die Casting plant open.
Workers at Quad Cities and Republic belong to the United Electrical Workers, a union with a history of supporting militant rank-and-file action. Both have also been supported by Jobs with Justice, a national campaign for workers’ rights that may be able to play a leading role in people’s bailout campaign.
Community organizations like ACORN can also be powerful allies in this effort. ACORN’s work in defending victims of home foreclosures through direct action points toward a genuine struggle for a bailout for people instead of banks.