Wednesday, April 12, 2017

We got our letter from Tom McCabe of the Freedom Foundation and...

Are you a state, county or municipal worker? Did you get a fancy anti-union hit piece aimed at your union from the Freedom Foundation and the evidently well-fed and somewhat-out-of-it Tom McCabe in the mail last week? We got ours.

The letter from the Freedom Foundation CEO is inflammatory from start to finish. There is plenty of venting about "radical liberal extremists" and the left, shots taken at Governor Brown, and (of course) "government employee unions. The real targets of the mailing are public employee unions and the work done by their members. The real purposes of the mailing are to add to the shrill whining of the ultra-right and to assure Mr. McCabe of a bright future and a large bank account.

Let's be clear about a few facts and lines of argument here.

Increases in taxes have nothing to do with public employee wages and benefits. The State and local bodies have many options when they negotiate with the public worker unions, and the state budget is not created solely out of tax dollars. So let's take the equation that says that higher wages and better benefits for public employees mean higher taxes off the table; it just isn't true.

Let's also come to grips with the fact that public employee wages and benefits create wealth for Oregon as money circulates. This is particularly true in the smaller and medium-sized areas.

Let's come to grips with the facts that workers deserve a living wage, public employees often make less in wages than private sector workers in the northwest, public employment and public works projects often provides the necessary juice needed for our region's economy, government often hires people from underserved communities and thrives when it makes full use of their talents, and the democratic right to organize a union and bargain collectively can set a pace for other workers and uphold at least the form of democracy. The Freedom Foundation and Mr. McCabe are attacking every working person in Oregon when they attack public employee unions. Their attack is aimed particularly at people of color, women, the disabled and older workers.

Let's come to grips with Mr. McCabe's evident hate for government. His game plan is clear: this is about undermining government, privatizing services, lowering wages and standards of living, creating a situation where schools become conduits for corporations and the military, environmental and workplace safety regulations are thrown out, and more police and prisons are built and even fewer social services are provided. Scratch the surface and the Freedom Foundation is a front group for a wing of the Republican Party. This is about creating a stampede to the doors as people are driven to fight for the best deals that they can get as individuals. This is most certainly not about building communities, providing social services and a needed hand up, peaceful relations, critical thinking, community control, environmental justice and overcoming racism and the fears and phobias which hold so many people back.

In a capitalist society with a social compact the taxes we pay are the cost of civilization. In other words, we pay taxes so that we have schools, roads, protections, the enforcement of laws, mediated relationships (courts, city councils, representative bodies), checks on power and some means of redress when things go wrong. Mr. McCabe & Co. are good with capitalism, but they don't like the idea of a social compact or anything which requires negotiation and acknowledgement of inequality. They are directing their anger at public workers, but they have an agenda which goes well beyond smashing unions.

Should workers have to pay an agency fee or join a union? Well, workers should be won over to the cause of unionism by unions. We should want to join a union and make it ours. We should have our hands on the wheel of anything which involves our wages, hours of work, working conditions, benefits and retirement options. The strongest unions will be the ones which are most democratic, most inclusive, most member-run, most militant and most willing to bring every working person in and give them a home. Who wouldn't join a union under those conditions?

Under the current system, however, unions are not on an equal playing field with the bosses, and each side depends on its resources to fight the other. Why? Because there is a basic disagreement between bosses and workers: bosses want more and more and workers have to organize to hold on to what we have and do better. The bosses come to this with all of the political power and the greatest share of wealth. We come to this with one another. So, yes, if  I'm helping you do better, and if you're not stepping up to help, then you need to kick in something to help me help both of us. Union dues and agency fees are the cost of civilization at work.

The mailing from the Freedom Foundation arrived as SEIU Local 503 members were voting on corporate status, no doubt confusing many people. That vote was triggered by a few folks who don't share the values of collective action for social justice and who pose as union reformers. Their agenda seems to parallel that of the Freedom Foundation. The union leadership, on the other hand, does not root themselves as firmly as they should in the union's membership, appointed union leadership is often out of touch and tone deaf when it comes to members' needs, most people do not understand the union's membership application when they join, the leadership views membership as "market share," and union staff have too big a role in determining the union's agenda. Dysfunctional dynamics on the four sides---the bureaucratic union leadership, the divided union membership, the avaricious employers and the far-right and anti-worker Freedom Foundation---prevents a needed and hard conversation among union members about union democracy and the need to have a principled union deeply involved in class struggle politics. Dysfunction will stop when a group of progressive union members organizes independently for a democratic and class-struggle union and wins leadership on the basis of that program. The possibility of that happening terrifies the Freedom Foundation.

The mailing also came as a far-right racist group hosted presentations in Salem by Jessica Vaughn, a representative of a white nationalist, eugenics-supporting hate group. The mailing and the Vaughn presentations provides a full-court press by the far-right against social progress; one targets union members and one targets people of color. Our enemies are united. Are we united in our resistance?  

Mr. McCabe & Co. intentionally distorts the left's agenda. What part of peace, rights, environmental justice, social protections and equality are they against exactly? That is the left agenda, in broad terms. It is not the liberal agenda of Kate Brown or of the union leadership or the Democrats, although social solidarity demands that everyone who wants to put people and nature before profits be in the same tent.

And here is the challenge: will Mr. McCabe & Co. be forthcoming about the real source of their funding, spell out in detail what their real agenda is, publicly disclose the names of the union members they claim to be working with, stop the bait-and-switch game of mixing up liberals and the Governor and the left, and stop using tactics which are geared to intimidation and threats?

McCabe & Co. have your name and address and they will continue to bother you unless we push back. What's the solution? Reject fear, division and hatred and organize for justice.

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