Archive for March, 2012

Regarding the Brown-Millionaire Tax measures compromise

March 22, 2012

By Russell Kilday-Hicks, CSUEU VP for Representation

“My practicality consists in this, in the knowledge that if you beat your head against the wall it is your head which breaks and not the wall … that is my strength, my only strength.”                        — Antonio Gramsci

As one of four statewide, rank-and-file elected officers of my union, the CSU Employees Union, Local 2579 SEIU, I recently returned from a meeting of our statewide Board of Directors, a body made of statewide and campus chapter rank-and-file elected officers.

Along with two other officers who, like me had participated in recent Occupy Education activities, we made the argument for support of the Millionaires Tax measure (MT). We lost, overwhelmingly. Even though in their hearts they supported the MT, their heads told them that it couldn’t win, that it would be an uphill struggle to get it on the ballot, and that from their perspective there were some serious flaws in its design. While I can see both sides of the argument, I am going to support their position.

I proposed in the Occupy Education GA on March 17 that we declare the Brown tax compromise a victory and move on. Here’s why.


I participated in the “99-Mile March to Sacramento for Education and Social Justice” and greatly value being part of that experience and the community we built. I believe in the power of the Occupy Movement (Occupy) to bring about significant social change that’s long overdue. It has given me real hope I haven’t felt for 30 years of activism. I also strongly support taxing the rich to fund a vibrant public sector, and to expose the obscenely unequal distribution of wealth in our society, the unbalanced distribution of power, and the farce both of these make of democracy,.


The time is right for a tax measure like this. But the MT is not getting the support it needs from some key organized groups, making its qualification for the ballot, let alone passage in November, an extremely long shot. We need to understand why. It is too simple to just say, “the unions are in Brown’s pocket” or, they are “too tied to the Democratic Party.”


One persuasive argument against MT is that even if the MT gets on the ballot and wins a majority vote (two pretty high hurdles), because it doesn’t address the ongoing structural General Fund deficit (the state’s income is less than mandated expenses), in the end, there could be no net increase to CSU funding. Whatever the CSU gets on the front end (from MT) could be cut on the back end (from General Fund dollars) in order to address other pressing social needs. CSUs and UCs are at least earmarked to receive funding in MT. Not so for child care and health and human services.


Another problem is that the funds set up by the MT won’t begin paying out until Sept. 1, 2013. What happens until then? Brown has promised to cut the CSU another $200 million (on top of the $750 million cut to this fiscal year) if his measure doesn’t pass. At least the compromise measure brings in funds immediately so some planned cuts can be stopped. It’s true these funds are from a regressive sales tax. But without some immediate infusion of funds the CSU and the people I represent will loose even more jobs than we already have. Since CSU can’t gamble on something passing in November, they must cut at the start of the 2012 fiscal year (and they just announced at the Board of Trustee meeting that up to 25,000 students could be turned away and about 3,000 staff could be laid off). If this happens, one of the ongoing threats to the union, dismantling and privatization of the CSU system, will have an easier time moving forward.


Now is the time to push for increasing taxes on the rich. Our tax system has been inherently unbalanced for the last three decades, and that problem has become even more severe in recent months with our “jobless recovery.” Neither do we need to debate whether or not Brown is part of the problem. He’s a solid corporate centrist who is not about to challenge the two-party system of privilege and inequality that is too often mistakenly called democracy.


The question here is what will best build the movement. I’m making a call for a tax-the-rich victory that will deliver much-needed funding more immediately and encourage an increasingly broad group to keep fighting. If we are going to choose electoral work as a tactic, we must get into the nitty-gritty details of how thing work in Sacramento, how to qualify measures for the ballot and figure out who will vote for what—and if we are in this for the long haul.  


We heard from the president of CFT some of the practical reasons why they compromised—primarily not enough support to even get it on the ballot—let along pass it in November—both financially and from activist/volunteers. The harsh reality is: there have been a number of recent, progressive ballot measures that have gone down to defeat. You may say this doesn’t matter because Occupy has changed everything, and I would agree to a point. This compromise would not have happened without Occupy. It has changed the debate and opened up new space for change, but has Occupy delivered millions of new voters, for example? This compromise measure needs to qualify for the ballot in record time. Even the compromise measure is an opportunity for Occupy to show its strength by shifting the tone of California’s politics and show our readiness to stand up against the anti-tax rhetoric.


Even if MT is still a viable option, successful passage could still lead to cuts in areas not protected by Prop. 98, and comes with the risk of carrying on the message that government and taxes are the problem, rather than the real issue (the strength of the Occupy meme), that the wealthy are in control. While Prop 98 is an important defensive measure against Prop 13 and the attack on education, as long as we have one public sector with guaranteed funding (as inadequate as it is still) while other crucial services for the 99 percent continue to starve, we will have a divided movement. We need to build initiatives that unite all public sectors serving the 99 percent: health and human services, and education from diapers (child care) to PhDs and life-long learning. Until we find a better way, some revenue dedicated to the General Fund is what we need.


It is unfortunate that Brown has not officially withdrawn his measure. I spoke with CSU Trustee Steve Glazer, who is spearheading the ballot effort for the governor, about the perception that if the old measure is not withdrawn then the compromise measure looks like a ploy to merely eliminate viable competition. He said he understood and will deliver that message to the governor. Glazer also said they are going to be challenged with keeping their governor’s business partners behind the compromise agreement.


In addition to appropriate criticism from the Left, it’s important to understand what the Right is calling this compromise. They portray it as Brown giving in to the unions. If we are really trying to build a mass movement we need to be strategic and keep the “eyes on the prize.” We must transform unions as a crucial ingredient for progressive and radical change. We must be careful that our critiques of unions don’t support those forces attacking the unions.


The fact that unions don’t feel supported enough by Occupy to take the chance on the MT should not surprise us. We are at the beginning of this movement. The unions need the support not only to survive, but to democratize internally, and allow more radical leaders to come into power. Let’s analyze why our natural allies continue to align with the likes of Brown (let alone the crazies on the Right) and give them the support and security they need to join us. Let’s broaden our discussions to those affected by other public sector areas, unionized or not. The public education sector has the strength of organization, dedicated students, and unions to lead this charge. As one of those unionists, I’m dedicated to Occupy for the long haul. I’m asking for your help. Peace.



Occupy Education walk from Oakland to Sacramento, March 1–4

March 9, 2012

By VP for Representation Russell Kilday-Hicks

California State University Employees Union


A rag-tag band of approximately 50 to 60 people started out from Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland on Thursday afternoon, March 1, for a 99-mile stroll for the 99% to Sacramento. Our ranks were formed out of Occupy Education, a coalition group made up of concerned citizens who work in, with, at, or around public education. The common thread among us was the belief that California’s public education system isn’t working for the working class. We marched behind a large, yellow hand-painted banner and a one-person, hand-sewn, multicolored 99% banner. (I joked with the 99% banner maker that this movement isn’t old enough to have banners made in China just yet, but next year we will have T-shirts with Che saying, “Occupy!”) Our controversial upside down American flag read in words of tape: “Education is in distress.” (BTW—an upside-down flag is an internationally recognized sign of distress, like opening the hood of a car when broken down at the side of the road. The walkers held a GA to discus the pros and cons of the flag. There is no doubt that it garnered attention, some of it misunderstood as disrespect, but it was a powerful statement and not enough to divide the group over.)


Along the way we were mostly cheered and occasionally jeered, hosted and fed by churches, welcomed and honored by Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and even provided breakfast by the CSU Maritime Academy, arranged by supporters in the CSU’s California Faculty Association. We were heading to Sacramento in time for the annual student association rally and lobby day. We planned to hold a GA in the capital rotunda at the heart of California’s government—the idea of bringing the Occupy Movement’s direct democracy model to Sacramento being a powerful one. There were others who wanted to support the civil disobedience action afterward by staying beyond closing time.


You may have heard on the news coverage of the march how a “group of university students” were doing this, and that was mostly true. They came from a sprinkling of SF Bay Area schools, including SF City College, SF State, CSU East Bay, and UC Berkeley and Santa Cruz.  But we also had a Concord high school teacher with us, and others who attended college and never made it to degrees. We even had a child care teacher, to encompass all learning from diapers to PhD. We had along some graduates, from UCB and even from private schools like Stamford, who were still looking for meaningful jobs aligned with their studies. We had local Occupy activists and even some who came from afar, like the man from Occupy Boston. Along the way we were joined for parts of the march by others, like when a group at Solano Community College hosted us for lunch we left with more walking pairs of feet than what we had arrived with, and others who joined along the road.


I joined along not only because I share the discontent in the state of public education funding but to represent the union workers who support education. I was also a bridge from past social movements to the present. Many of my friends who could not be on the march because of its physical demands were overjoyed that I was representing older generations of activists disturbed by the shrinking support of the public sector.


On foot from Thursday through Sunday is a long journey, not just walking but eating, sleeping and taking care of other human needs (like entertainment) together. The operating principle was clearly “from each according to ability, to each according to need” but it also offered us the opportunity to really get to know each other. With all the various disciplines and life experience represented, it felt like an open university on the road. And that is just the thing. We do have much to teach and learn from each other if this movement is to grow into something that will bring on real change. Join us next time, and don’t worry, there will be a next time.


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