At the start of 2012, a truly progressive tax measure, the Millionaires’ Tax (MT), was launched in California by the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) with the support of the ReFund California coalition (comprised of a number of unions and non-profits) and parts of the Occupy movement (such as Occupy Education Northern CA). The Millionaires’ Tax was a permanent tax increase of 3% for those earning more than $1 million, and 5% for those making over $2 million, generating billions in extra revenue. All the new revenue was to be directed towards refunding public education and basic social services. The demand to pass the Millionaires’ Tax was publicized during several actions, culminating in the protests for public education from March 1st-5th, which included actions throughout the state, the 99 Mile March and the occupation of the Capitol in Sacramento on March 5th.
The MT campaign was proceeding well and every indication was that it would make it onto the ballot and had the support of millions of workers in California. All of this despite the constant attacks from the Democratic Governor of California, Jerry Brown, who was sponsoring an alternative, temporary, regressive tax initiative based mainly on a 5-year increase in sales taxes. Then, a few days after the March 5th Capitol occupation, the CFT president and Governor Brown made a secret backroom deal and announced a new “compromise” tax initiative.  This turned out to be essentially the same as the Governor’s original initiative with some tweaks – a temporary rise in sales taxes and income taxes, with essentially no restrictions on the money’s use. And, in a final betrayal, the CFT leadership promised to stop collecting signatures for the Millionaires’ Tax, despite Brown’s stated intention to continue gathering signatures for his original plan as a ‘backup’ option! This was a monumental act of betrayal of a truly progressive, bottom-up and worker-backed initiative, by the leadership of CFT and a successful co-optation by the Democratic Party and Governor Brown.
The ‘Pragmatic’ Option
Union bureaucrats, Democratic politicians and even sections of the left  are now saying that we have no choice but to support the compromise measure. They tell us that: “yes you are right to be angry and upset at this backroom deal, we are angry too, but at the end of the day there is no alternative. Opposing this compromise is tantamount to opposing funding for education and social services, and  will only lead to more cuts and more pain for workers and students.” And furthermore, they tell us: “isn’t this a kind of progressive tax anyway? Doesn’t it include a tax on the rich?” With an impressive array of facts and figures, they tell us that this deal is actually even better than the MT, and will do more good, and so we would be fools to oppose it!
We need to be resolute in the face of this ‘pragmatism’ and stick to our position that this is a bad deal for workers and students and represents a setback to making the bourgeoisie pay for their crisis. The arguments against the compromise initiative are simple and compelling:
The most obvious reason to reject this ‘compromise’ is that it isn’t a compromise! With the stroke of a pen, the CFT leadership handed Brown a major political victory, while we got essentially nothing, especially when we consider that the revenue raised by this compromise deal is no longer earmarked for public services and could end up going to cops, prisons, banks via bonds, and executive administrative bonuses! Brown’s first goal in this backroom deal was to shift the political debate away from talk of making the rich pay and back towards the language of ‘shared sacrifice’. His second, even more important goal, was to destroy the independence of a mass, popular movement that threatened the interests of the 1%, and instead to shackle it to the Democratic Party. We must continue to push our struggle forward and reject this attempt to demobilize and co-opt us into the Democratic Party machine.
We also reject the agreement because it was made in a totally undemocratic way! The CFT leadership argues that because they were the only union to put money into the MT campaign, they are entitled to make a deal with the Governor. But this argument does not stand up to scrutiny one bit! First, the rank-and-file members of CFT had no say whatsoever in this decision, so it was not really a CFT decision, but a decision of the leadership alone. Furthermore, the CFT was not the only part of the MT movement! Many other organizations and individuals are part of ReFund and Occupy, and whilst they may have had less monetary resources to spend, they were nevertheless active organizers of the mobilizations and actions that got the MT initiative in the newspapers and onto the public stage. We need to reject the very idea that the CFT leaders had the right to make such an agreement the way they did, and emphasize the need for real workers’ democracy and an accountable leadership that should be recalled when such betrayals take place.
Finally, we reject the collaboration of unions and working class organizations with the Brown administration and the Democratic Party. These are the very forces responsible for the cuts and the austerity plans, so why believe that we would be in a better position to get money for education and services by being subordinated to them and their allies in the labor bureaucracy? The MT initiative would not even have been possible if we had tied ourselves to the Governor and his party – it was our independent organizing that changed the political landscape, not the politicians and labor bureaucrats. It is essential that we strive for total independence of our working class organizations from the 1% and their political servants in the Democratic Party!
In reply to the calls to be ‘reasonable’ and ‘pragmatic’, we have to fight to preserve our independent, democratic movement and carry the struggle forward. The Millionaires’ Tax was never our only strategy,  and  we mustn’t be seduced by the ballot box! We need to continue to fight for free, fully-funded public education and social services and to expand the horizons of our struggle to include the fight for immigrant rights and against all forms of oppression! Finally, we know the full solution for democratic rights, social equality and the redistribution of wealth can only be achieved through the complete socio-economic restructuring of society by the working class and its allies.
- Reject the Compromise! No to co-optation and shared pain, the 1% must pay for their crisis!
- For Class Independence! Continue the fight for democratic, militant unions free from the political servants of the 1%!
- Continue the Fight! The 1% want us off the streets – we say ‘Hell No!’ We are strongest when we stand and fight together and the only way to defeat austerity is by uniting workers and students in a mass, democratic movement for social and economic justice !
We Will Not Pay For Their Crisis!