Archive for October, 2006

Angelides comes to “my house”

October 27, 2006

Blog entry – 10-26-06

Heard on the news today that the Democratic Party candidate for governor in California, Phil Angelides, is way behind pumped-up Republican Arnold, even in the heavily Democratic SF Bay Area. What gives? Many thoughts come to mind, not the least the inherent problems with manipulative polling and the inherent favoritism of the mass media (one of the more entertaining examples of many can be found here: http://thismodernworld.com/page/2/, see Oct. 17 entry called “Los Angeles Times proclaims its un-appreciation for irony”) towards a celebrity (such as he is) vs. a “career politician” as Angelides’ Democratic primary opponent Steve (has anyone seen him lately?) Westly called him. (What’s wrong with a career in public service anyway Steve? And there is something wrong with someone seeking public office dissing public service on a statewide TV debate.)

But besides all that, I want to share a personal experience that illustrates one aspect at least of what’s wrong with the Democratic Party as I see it. The Angelides campaign came to my workplace, “my house,” to hold what they billed as an “anti-war” rally. Well it wasn’t that and I doubt that any of the leaders on the podium or the organizers had ever been to a real one so I’m not that surprised. I was a body in the room (what do they call that in Hollywood?, oh yea, an extra) and the event was overblown, to put it mildly. I was thinking that if this were a Green Party event it would have been more like the events my union chapter holds on campus (I’m the chapter president at SF State of the California State University Employees Union, representing over 1,300 staff, who are not faculty). We would rent the same room the Democrats used (Jack Adams Hall in the Student Center), arrange food like the Dems did, set up the room with a few signs and banners (unlike the Dems, explained below), and invite people to sit, eat, and hold a meeting with little fuss and fanfare (again, unlike the Dems). Myself and guests would speak from the existing podium on the existing stage in what is a very pleasant environment, big and airy with lots of large windows on two sides looking out on a quite pleasant campus that the grounds workers I represent keep looking great with their labor. None of that was good enough for the Angelides campaign.

Also, if this were a Green Party event, I and other local labor leaders, would probably be invited to speak. Well the Dems would have none of that. Local labor was reduced to window dressing at this event. We weren’t even invited to sit in the (small) VIP section of chairs they had available (most people had to stand). CFA President Linda Ellis was given a sign and directed to stand on stage as backdrop to the big cheeses (but not on the same stage as the hotshots, mind you. She was standing on the original stage, which was behind the new one the Dems constructed for the event, with Tele-prompters and flanked by two large TV screens flashing the same unimaginative words over and over: “Bring the troops home now!”). I tried my best to speak at this event because as a supporter of Angelides I mistakenly thought they would welcome my input and influence on campus. Days before the event, when I first heard they were coming, I contacted the campaign to ask to get on a “speakers list.” Well, basically I was told that the agenda was set already with State assemblyman Mark Leno and SF Mayor Gavin Newsome introducing the candidate. I even wrote a speech and sent it to them beforehand so they could be assured I wasn’t going to pull any unwelcome surprises.

And, I approached the event “sponsors” (the student group who were billed as such, although their role was a non-speaking part as well, manning a table at the door). They practically yawned in my face and filed my business card in the “round file” because I haven’t heard a word from them since. And, after I got over the shock of what they had done to the room, I introduced myself to the real event sponsor/organizer (from the Angelides campaign office, whom I had spoke to on the phone). Or maybe I was still in shock because she was pleased to meet me for two seconds and then hurried off to other more pressing matters.

So I stood there, in this now unfamiliar place, soaking in the glitzy, nightclub atmosphere of the former Jack Adams Hall. I could have been in any TV studio anywhere. They had taken light and transformed it into darkness (I truly hope that’s not a metaphor for the party but it might be for today’s politics in general). The whole scene is difficult to describe. In front of the stage they constructed a new stage with a back-stage area behind large, floor-to-high-ceiling black curtains. This took up half the room. I wonder if they had to turn people away at the door because of this. Or maybe they expected a small crowd so this would make the room look full. Then there was the fancy podium flanked by two large black screens and the tele-prompters. Then there was a food table at the back with pizza (of course, we’re dealing with college students after all) and water and soda. Then there was a small “VIP” section of chairs, which someone asked me not to sit in and then asked me to “watch them” while that person ran to do an errand or something. The black curtains extended around the room, it seemed, shutting out any possibility of natural light shining on the event. Then there was some sort of grandstand cheering section at the back. I didn’t go there.

I couldn’t help thinking about my campaign contribution to Angelides going to do unimportantly offensive stuff like this. To give to his campaign I had broken my rule of not giving to the funding-machine-that-pretends-it’s-a-political-party until it stops taking corporate monies and, like a split personality, trying to serve two very different masters simultaneously (the demos and a very demanding corporate master, who hedges its bets and demands allegiance from “both” parties of the two-party system we are stuck with for some unfathomable reason). Instead I give to Democratic Party sideshows like MoveOn because that seems like a more grass-roots way of affecting change from the inside.

All this is not to say that there wasn’t some value to the event. Angelides did make an anti-war speech of sorts. The big deal was that he was promising to do everything he could to bring the California National Guard (CNG) back home. Besides the CNG being the largest guard contingent over there and having the most guard casualties over there, etc., the point was made that California is especially vulnerable right now because of the level of natural and semi-natural and man-made disasters we can expect every year. Right now the fire season is gearing up with a raging inferno or two making newsrooms salivate with joy over the ratings showing increased market share allowing them to increase ad rates. The kicker is “everything in his power” is not a whole lot. He can ask politely for the feds to return the troops but that is about it. He can try to create enough political pressure with enough governors and the bully pulpit to influence the punditocracy to put pressure on congress to do something but, again, that’s about it. All we need is one good earthquake of Biblical proportions in one good urban area in California to have a Katrina-like or worse disaster on our hands, with no CNG to bail us out. With the National in-Security State giving us an emaciated FEMA, we’ll be reduced to mobilizing the girl and boy scouts.

Angelides also had a special anti-war guest, who lost her husband to another unpopular war, oh so long ago: The Vietnam War, or what we should be calling the American/Vietnam War because it takes two to tango and they call it the American War in Vietnam. She was an effective speaker saying she was an anti-war activist since losing her husband oh so long ago. As much as I liked her story, it was a little like the Dems were stuck in the era where the center of the anti-war movement was on college campuses. Hello, it’s not anymore. Also, there are not a few current anti-war groups, including members of families who have lost loved ones in this mess. It would have been nice if they were acknowledged. This speaker didn’t connect to that. Or to labor for that matter, because the times have changed. My speech spoke to that, so I guess that is why, even though they were a guest in my house, so to speak, and the show was characteristically late, as these things tend to be, with so much idle time I could have read my speech at least 10 times, I wasn’t allowed to speak. Can you say: “out of touch”? The whole thing is sad. Here is what I wanted to say:

I am Russell Kilday-Hicks, chapter president here at SF State for the second largest staff union on campus after the faculty. I represent over 1,300 staff that make this place run. Our union, the California State University Employees Union, is also SEIU 2579 and affiliated with the California State Employees Association, representing over 140,000 state employees and retirees. I have two quick history lessons:

First lesson: In the last major illegal and immoral quagmire our nation was involved in, during the 1960s and ’70s, labor came very late to the anti-war party … just before the American/Vietnam War ended. This time around is different. A national organization called “U.S. Labor Against War” now claims more than half all organized labor as members.

Second lesson: Powerful reactionaries in the 1950s purged labor of progressive leadership and birthed the “business unionism” model. To this day the attacks on labor have never let up and organized labor has shrunk from a high of 33 percent to the current 10 percent. There exists a great struggle within what is left of organized labor between the old business model and a new paradigm called “social justice unionism.” Social justice unionism fights for the rights of all workers and struggles to make our country worker friendly whether you are in a union or not. Business unionism makes deals with power and sometimes even sells the workers out. I won’t make any deals with heir-gro-pen-nator Arnold! I will work with Phil Angelides to grow the rights of labor—labor as in all workers and their families in California.

State Treasurer Angelides worked to protect state employee pensions and to keep corporate fat cats honest. Angelides gets it and deserves our support.

It’s time to fire my boss and give me a new one! Thank you.
###

But wait, there’s more. What about the handful of students with handmade, 8.5×11 signs saying “Your party funds the war in Iraq” who were surrounded by what looked like hired thugs who shamed the name of labor with their Teamster jackets? God forbid we have some small d democratic debate. One of the candidate’s daughters had a look of horror on her face throughout her father’s speech (I hope that wasn’t on camera) looking at these students like it was a personal affront to her father’s noble deeds.

Finally, I asked the campaign for a transcript of the event so I could put that out to my chapter via e-mail but never heard back. I guess I’m just not that important in the scheme of things. After all, I’m only one vote and there is a mass media campaign to run.

PS – I was sent an e-mail from the Angelides campaign the other day thanking me for volunteering to help and inviting me to “participate” by contacting the local campaign office in my area. Sure thing. I’ll get right on that.

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YouTube union videos

October 15, 2006

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYiKdJoSsb8

Commentary printed in the Berkeley Daily Planet

October 14, 2006

Commentary submitted to Berkeley’s Daily Planet newspaper in response to an editorial printed earlier

Arnold, union organizer
The Planet’s O’Mally, Sept. 8–11 edition, bemoans the California prison guard union’s endorsement of Angelides. Well why not? For all his liberal stances (and there are a few significant ones at least, like campaign finance reform and the public financing of elections that cut against the grain of DLC policy) Angelides supports the draconian “eye-for-an-eye” social policy a.k.a. capital punishment (“those with the capital don’t get the punishment”). But there is more going on here that’s worth examining. The relationship between the prison guard union and Angelides is not exactly the one they had with the former Gov. Davis.

While it’s true the CCPOA selfishly supports building prisons over schools and other ultra-conservative stances, and possibly they feel the Angelides campaign needs them more (and they may get some of what they want under Arnold anyway), Arnold has stated in very uncertain terms, he hates unions. That’s all unions—even the bad ones. As powerful as they may seem (Arnold’s favorite myth of the “union bosses” running California), a right-to-work agenda is a threat to them as well.

The union movement is not monolithic. There are some very real differences between the AFL/CIO and the rebellious Change To Win, for example. But when Sweeney ordered the AFL-based labor council system to give the CTW unions the boot they balked, especially in California, because that would weaken us before our common enemy. My chapter (305 of SEIU 2579, staff employees at SF State) has a special charter that Sweeney was forced into allowing us to remain part of the local union movement (unfortunately it expires in December, and maybe it will take the re-election of Arnold for it to be renewed).

Local musician Hali Hammer’s parody of the “Solidarity Forever/Battle Hymn of the Republic” song refrains: “Arnold union organizer, Arnold union organizer, Arnold union organizer, for he’s made the unions strong.” That union strength, such as it is, helped defeat Arnold’s agenda last November. (Remember that? We all paid the first bill to feed Arnold’s ego, and working folk paid the second bill to put him back in his place.) The prison guard union helped with that as part of the Alliance for a Better California. That was a first. Previous to that the CCPOA was not really part of the greater union movement, playing into the divide-and-conquer strategy often used to great affect against union influence (the myth of union solidarity).

On the capital steps last year in a huge rally against the governor’s “special election” agenda, the president of the California Teacher’s Association introduced the crowd to her “new best friend,” the president of CCPOA, and announced they were going to tour California schools and prisons together. That was a powerful moment that puts some truth to Hammer’s parody.

Maybe O’Malley expects too much of the Democratic Party (but please lets all of us not lower our expectations). Can pure principles trump dollars in California elections, or for that matter, any election? Sometimes, but that’s unfortunately the all too rare exception. In our very undemocratic world of elections, the reality is you need tons of money, especially to run against the likes of Arnold, who criticized Davis for being pay-to-play and promised us he would be different. Well, he’s different all right. Davis just looked like a boy scout for the photo opps, but compared to Arnold, Davis was a mere tenderfoot when it comes to corruption from “special interests.” Angelides needs the unions, but union support will not guarantee victory or that he will be “in our pockets.”
The worst of the union movement is when they are insular and run on a corporate model. The best is when unions fight for the rights of all workers. There is an internal struggle right now to rid American unions of the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover-era “business” model imposed on unions (which history calls McCarthyism, but he was just a patsy). For the CCPOA to change models they need to be part of the larger union movement and support the civil rights of all.

Right now, the fox is in the henhouse of state. That fox is looking more like a chameleon at the moment, trying his best to blend in with the Democratic majority in the statehouse, but make no bones about it, post election day, if we the people of Cal-e-for-nee-yea return Arnold to his project, the agenda is going to take (once again) such a right-hand turn the state will need medical treatment for whiplash.

Do us all a big favor: fire my boss, please!

In solidarity,
Russell Kilday-Hicks, Berkeley
President, Chapter 305 SF State
California State University Employees Union
SEIU Local 2579, California State Employees Association

Intro

October 13, 2006

I’m a union activist in the California State University Employees Union. I’m also active in social justice movements. I want to use this blog to share my thoughts on unionism and social justice.