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economic justice | labor

San Francisco Mayor Lays off 500 City Workers

Oh my! The mayor lied.
SEIU Leaders collaborated with the employers back in June when their members stepped to the plate and the rank and file are about to pay for it.

So I read in the San Francisco Chronicle today that relations between San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome and the SEIU are very strained. Newsome says he's "had enough of their lies". According to him, talks with SEIU have "broken down."

SEIU members have been turning up at Newsome's public events and making an awful noise, disrupting City Hall receptions and the like.

This is not a bad tactic in general but this failed tactic is an attempt by the leaders of SEIU to appear to be doing something in response to layoffs. Local 1021 leaders are "hopping mad" over 500 layoffs this month and will be organizing noisy protests as Newsome goes on the campaign trail on his bid to become the state's next governor.

But the leadership of SEIU and the local Labor movement in general had an opportunity to fight the cuts including layoffs earlier this year when the members of Local 1021 that represents city workers, rejected a concessionary contract that had some $38 million in cuts on the table. Rather than build on the contract rejection, top Union officials attacked their members for voting down the contract claiming they were "confused" and ensured the bosses that they would "take another package of concessions to their members for a vote... " They wouldn't say this on the record but stated this privately." wrote the San Francisco Chronicle at the time.

I also wrote at the time:
"The head of the San Francisco Labor Council, Tim Paulson finally breaks silence and ensures the bosses that all is well, letting them know that another vote will take place before the layoff deadline and he is "hopeful that if it's approved, the mayor will rescind the layoffs.""

Naturally, the "confused" members of Local 1021 faced with a formidable opposition of the employers and their own leaders were worn down and eventually accepted a concessionary contract. According to today's Chronicle report, the Union officials had made a deal with the mayor that he would, "... place a revenue measure on the November ballot in hopes of staving off layoffs." They are now angry that he has reneged on this "promise".

Naturally, Newsome says he never promised he wouldn't layoff people during a recession. The top Union officials are aware of this of course and are simply playing a game that they have played for years. And most workers know how rotten big business politicians like Newsome are but it seems a monumental step to overcome such a powerful force as a combination of the employers and our own leadership, but overcome it we must. In fact, in the event of a movement from below building up steam, the obstacle will reveal its weakness like rotten apples clinging to the tree that fall to earth when a strong wind comes along.

I have no idea what the revenue measure that the Union leaders supported was but if history is anything to go by it would be a solidarity breaking and movement crushing measure. The leaders of organized Labor along with the liberals in the Democratic Party always respond to attacks on services, wages, jobs, by taxing workers and the middle class in some form or fashion. Teacher's Unions champion property taxes as a means of raising meager sums to save some of the worst cuts in education. Naturally, this divides home owners without children (or with grown children) or who are severely strapped, from those who can reluctantly pay up; they are measures that make unity and therefore the building of a generalized opposition that could counter the offensive of capital, extremely difficult.

It is not a moral question. Either workers and the middle class pay or we make the wealthy pay. As a representative of capital, Newsome, like all Democrats, will make us pay. The Union leaders agree with them on this and simply try lessening the pain or introduce measures that divide workers by shifting cuts from one section of the working class to another forcing us to compete for an ever-dwindling pie.

The leadership of SEIU at the Local and national level, as well as the leadership of the San Francisco Labor movement were given an opportunity by the members of SEIU Local 1021 back in June to set the ball rolling and build a generalized opposition to the attacks. Instead, they attacked these members for rejecting concessions contractually which was a bold step.

I sympathize with the folks that are being laid off; we are all facing unprecedented attacks as they make us pay for their economic crisis. But we are not helpless. We can only rely on our own strength, our own ability to disrupt the economy and halt profit taking. Instead of building this offensive, the Labor leadership begs for crumbs from the bosses' table, appealing to millionaires like Newsome and other Democrats to help us.

They have handed over or allotted anywhere from eleven to thirteen trillion dollars to their friends to bail them out. There is no need for cuts. Nine banks that received $175 billion in public money paid $33 billion in bonuses, a sum that would have paid the California deficit with one third left over. How many jobs schools, hospitals would that provide? There's no need to lay off workers, we can add them, we just have to take money from the Iraq/Afghanistan invasions; we simply have to divert money from where they want it to where we want it but it will take a fight; and the Democrats won't do it, we have to have a party of our own based on our own workplace and community organizations.

The workers of local 1021 will hopefully recognize that they did the right thing last June, that it could have been the beginning of a successful fight back (Transit workers, members of SEIU, were in contract negotiations over the summer also).

The members of SEIU local 1021 weren't "confused". Their leadership failed them.

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