By Alan Benjamin and Peter Brown

Posted on March 15, 2012 by the Website Workers Council


UPDATE -- There will be a rally and press conference, sponsored by Occupy Education California, on Tuesday, March 20 in downtown Oakland. Click here for details.

During the weekend of March 10-11, leaders of the California of Federation of Teachers (CFT) struck a bargain on tax proposals with Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor agreed to make his proposal slightly less regressive. (Well, maybe. News accounts acknowledge that the revised version might not make it on to the ballot, while petitioning will continue for the original version in case it doesn't). In return, the CFT will no longer push for it's Millionaire's Tax proposal.

The Peace and Freedom Party supports the Millionaire's Tax (see this article). We urge its supporters -- including the CFT --- to continue the petition drive and get it on the ballot. The letters reproduced below explain why. Although progressive taxation is not a real solution to the problems of capitalism, we must defend working people's interests in the present, while also building a socialist movement.

Letter to activists

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Many of us were stunned to learn yesterday [March 14] in the media about a deal between the CFT and Governor Brown that would have us withdraw the Millionaires Tax in favor of a slightly modified Brown measure (which now includes a regressive sales tax) in exchange for ... nothing -- as the Governor would not be withdrawing his plan.

Throughout the day, I was in touch with countless unionists and activists, who, like Peter Brown [see letter below] felt, as I do, that we simply cannot let this agreement go through -- no matter how solidly it appears to be etched in stone. Nothing of this kind is ever etched in stone. It can just as easily be reversed.

The governor has meddled in the internal affairs of our unions to try to impose a "shared sacrifice" deal that is acceptable to the Chamber of Commerce. The strength of the Millionaires Tax is that it rejected this unacceptable compromise.

The CFT leadership valiantly stuck its neck out on behalf of all of us -- and, unfortunately, too many unions buckled to the pressure of Governor Brown, instead of making common cause with the CFT.

Many of us were worried early on that the pressure upon the CTA not to stay the course would be too great. But then something amazing happened. A Millionaires Tax movement erupted. Young people, unionists, community folks, everyone was inspired by the CFT's courage and leadership, and responded, "Presente!" A tax revolt, this time directed at the 1 percent, had been given birth. A movement was born.

Anyone who was present in Sacramento on March 5th could see it and feel it.

We cannot stand idly by and let the governor run roughshod over the labor movement and this budding tax revolt against the rich and the corporations. If the governor is so concerned that only one measure should be on the ballot, let him withdraw his bill. Our measure has been polling better than Brown's -- which is why he staged a full-court press, including a page 1 interview with the SF Chronicle, to pressure us to back down.

But the governor's deal is a trap. Brown understood that a groundswell of activism had been ignited around the Millionaires Tax, and he feared it. He got the CFT leadership, brave but relatively isolated in the labor movement (as Brown had already been successful in dividing our labor-community coalition for progressive taxation) to withdraw their support for the Millionaires Tax, he but did not withdraw his plan. The governor knows that without a grassroots base, the new version approved by the CFT leadership is a non-starter. He outmaneuvered us in the most unprincipled of ways.

We, who responded to the CFT's call, need to urge the CFT leadership to reverse its decision. Way too much is at stake here. Far more than even this bill itself.

Young people were inspired that a wing of our labor movement finally took an independent stand, unwilling to buckle to the pressures of the enablers of the 1 percent. They will lose faith in the labor movement, seeing that we, too, ultimately bend to the pressures from the 1 percent.

There is clearly an issue of money. We cannot ignore it or take it lightly. But let's address this genuine problem collectively as a movement; let's build the movement to go get this money. Rely on us, writes Brother Peter Brown below. He is 100 percent correct.

Let's reverse this bad decision, made in the heat of the moment.

It is better to fight like hell and lose (and the irony here is that we can actually win, if we stay firm and on course), than to fall into a trap laid out by a governor who has no shame.

I urge all of you who have endorsed and/or supported the Millionaires Tax to contact the CFT leadership to thank them for their leadership and vision, to acknowledge their terrible dilemma and genuine concern about finances, but to ask them to please reconsider.

Many thanks,

Alan Benjamin
delegate to SF Labor Council
(in a personal capacity)

Letter to Josh Pechthalt, CFT President, and Jeff Freitas, CFT Vice-President

Hi Josh, Hi Jeff,

I know what pressure you guys must be feeling now to compromise with Jerry Brown's tax. I know we don't have the money resources we need.

But what I also understand, is how important the step is that you've helped us to take; this is the first initiative to put class wealth and privilege front and center, and that's why people are responding to it.

This may sound odd, but it is more important that this go forward and give Californians a strong position they can gravitate around, than whether or not it wins in the end.

This corporate economy will continue to unravel; even the Millionaire's Tax will not protect us against that. Only vision and organization can protect us now.

The corporate forces are dead set against the Millionaires Tax precisely because it clearly expresses the polarization which is now raging through our communities, and creates a rallying point for the 99%.

They do not want clarity, they want us to feel confused and powerless, that nothing really changes.

They want us to see our leaders compromise, so that the rightists and the ultral-leftists can scream "see? see? Union bosses, union bureaucrats.....they always betray you !"

Please stay strong, keep the Millionaires Tax pushing, and trust your foundation - us - to move this forward. It is a powerful organizing and educational tool.

Don't spend more money than we have, but rely on our people.

We are with you. We elected you for just this kind of fight.

In unity for a real future,

Peter Brown
PFT 1603
Laney College Oakland

Alan Benjamin is a leader of Socialist Organizer and a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council. Peter Brown teaches at Laney College in Oakland and is a member of CFT Local 1603. (Affiliations are for identification only.)

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