BY MIKE ALEWITZ
Last week, Connecticut state employees agreed to accept yet another new concession contract.
To read the mainstream media, or announcements from the governor’s office, or statements from state union officials, this is a victory for working people.
In fact, the agreement is a theft of epic proportions – planned in secret and imposed on state workers by the governor and his allies in the top levels of the labor officialdom.
The concessions deal struck by Gov. Dannel Malloy and SEBAC (The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition) will cost state workers about $4.8 billion over the next five years and over $24 billion in the next two decades. This theft amounts to an average of somewhere between $15,000 – $20,000 for every single state employee for the next twenty years.
At the same time, hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare, along with subsidized tax relief for the wealthy, funnels that money straight into the pockets of the super-rich.
The agreement increases pension contributions for most workers and creates a hybrid pension plan that will rob future employees of a secure retirement. Health care costs, co-payments and premiums will go up for current employees and future retirees. Workloads will increase, services will be cut, tuitions will rise and debt will grow.
SEBAC is touting promises of job security and continued pension and health benefits, but these are largely meaningless when contracts are continually torn up and the workforce is disempowered.
Ultimately the human cost of cuts to social services will result in higher rates of infant mortality, lower life expectancy, increased substance abuse and a deepening of other social problems that come with poverty.
Obscenity & Greed
The deal is particularly obscene, because Connecticut is one of the richest parts of the world. The state is awash in money, home to one of the largest collections of millionaires and billionaires on the planet that are growing richer every day.
In 2004, there were 233 people in this state with incomes over $2 million. Today there are 102,300 millionaires in Connecticut – an astounding 7.4 percent of all homes in Connecticut are millionaire households.
There is so much money in Connecticut, and the inequality is so great, that a tiny progressive tax on the top 1% – so small that it would not be felt – would not only eliminate budget shortfalls, it could also establish free education through the university level, provide affordable healthcare to all and rebuild the states crumbling infrastructure.
Amid such plenty, why would state workers vote to donate to the rich? It was not because they favor concessions, but because they saw no other option. Having been lied to by the government, misled by state union officials and demonized in the press – workers were left voiceless and demobilized.
And something else was at work, to the credit of our class. Much of the state workforce performs labor that is essential to the public good. There is a deep sense of responsibility to carry on that work, even at the expense of their own economic well-being.
That empathy and sense of solidarity is learned by working together on the job. It is something that profit-driven bankers, business executives, hedge-fund operators and corporate lawyers will never understand.
Under this concession agreement, state workers get to make some big donations.
Let’s look at college professors. Most classes in our state colleges and universities are taught by low-wage, contingent labor – adjunct professors. Despite the myth that education brings income, many professors are impoverished, debt ridden, without healthcare, job security, pensions or other benefits.
But, thanks to your involuntary philanthropy, you will have the satisfaction of helping to subsidize multi-billionaires like Paul Tudor Jones.
While you speed from campus to campus pursuing work, Jones gets to lounge around in his sprawling Greenwich mansion that was built on illegally landfilled protected wetlands. Like a cartel overlord, he needed to dump some cash – so, on his 3,000-acre private wildlife preserve and marshland on the Chesapeake Bay he constructed islands shaped to form his initials, PTJ.
You’re contributing to the environment!
How about food-service workers? What does their donation to the rich get?
While they toil in hot kitchens struggling to prepare healthy meals for our children, they get to subsidize billionaires like Peter Buck and other investors that made fortunes with junk food franchises – selling us poison that creates epidemics of obesity and diabetes.
How about the janitors and healthcare workers – those that do the hard labor to keep us safe from disease? Where will their money go?
They get to subsidize hedge fund thieves like Steven Cohen, a convicted insider trader. He’s worth over $14 billion and lives on a Greenwich estate that Vanity Fair wrote “resembles Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.” It has a 6,734-square-foot ice rink with its own Zamboni machine, an indoor pool, a basketball court and golf course.
How can Steven even spend $14 billion? Here’s one way that struggling artists, unemployed art teachers and underfunded cultural workers will appreciate:
In 2006, Cohen offered to purchase a Picasso painting from casino mogul Steve Wynn for $139 million. Wynn, another super-rich parasite, accidentally thrust his elbow through the painting while clowning around with his pals. Is that funny or what? But Cohen later nabbed the trinket for $150 million.
See – our givebacks go to fund the arts!
How about the clerical and maintenance workers? The social workers that help our physically and mentally challenged sisters and brothers? How about safety inspectors that keep us from getting maimed or killed?
“America’s wealth comes from the efforts of people striving for success. Take away their incentive with badmouthing success and you take away the wealth that helps us take care of the needy.”
So says Thomas Peterffy, one of the leading claque of hedge fund thieves and private equity racketeers that profit from human misery.
Not one of them produces anything of human value. This is who is being subsidized with our stolen wages.
The Friends of Labor
How did this atrocity occur? Why has there been no outrage? Why no denunciations from national union officials or liberal pundits?
Because it’s the Democrats! When they do it, it’s ok!
The givebacks were organized through SEBAC (The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition). Despite a misleading public impression, SEBAC is not a union. It is a formation used by Democratic Party lawyers and union officials to circumvent genuine worker involvement.
Workers do not vote for SEBAC representatives. Workers do not determine SEBAC policy. In fact, there is no SEBAC website or even a list of members, ostensibly composed of a representative from every state bargaining unit.
SEBAC holds secret meetings with state officials with no independent advocates for workers present. It then presents its proposals for pre-ordained approval. In 2011, when the concessions were rejected, SEBAC simply changed the rules and took another vote to get the desired result.
SEBAC flunkies are so loyal to the employers that they are proudly, almost gleefully, boasting of how much of the member’s wages are going to the state’s wealthiest individuals.
Flight of the Oppressed
Concession advocates accept the argument of Dannel Malloy that if you raise their taxes. the wealthy will flee the state. Aside from the fact that this has been proven to be a complete fabrication, the logic is clear – you must simply accept your conditions as a peasant on the plantation. (At Christmas, you can go to the patrón, hat in hand, and beg for a chicken).
In a justification that can only be described as stranger than surreal, union officials are blaming this debacle on the Republican Party. This, in a state where the Democratic Party holds both the legislature and the Governor’s office!
SEBAC and top union officials are completely tied to the Democratic Party, still loyal to the very politicians that are gutting our contracts and dismantling education and public services. They refuse to publicly criticize Malloy – instead making vague and tepid comments calling for a “fair budget,” as though he was not responsible.
On May Day, the international holiday of working people, Malloy issued a public statement in defense of the super-rich, claiming they were being unfairly oppressed by calls for increased taxation.
There was no response to this insult from the unions top officialdom. They did not rise to our defense. They gave no indication of respect for our labor or pride in the proud history of our class.
Working people deserve better.
Bipartisan Austerity Drive
We are not facing a “right wing” or “Republican” threat – it is a 30-year anti-worker offensive by both parties. This surrender, without a fight, once again reveals the bankruptcy of relying upon Democratic Party politicians to advance the interests of working people.
For years, a malicious media campaign has been directed against state workers, portraying them as pampered, overpaid freeloaders that are responsible for inefficiency and bureaucracy. Instead of organizing a fightback, instead of demanding no cutbacks, layoffs or givebacks, SEBAC has continually championed concession bargaining – leaving state workers in a vulnerable position.
To their credit, some rank-and-file workers and local union officials have attempted to oppose the austerity measures – but they were unable to overcome the enormous pressure of union tops acting in collaboration with the state government.
State workers are not to blame for this defeat. Most workers, misinformed about the substance of the agreement, simply accepted the concessions as inevitable.
Surrender Is Not Victory
By surrendering without a fight, this deal weakens the entire labor movement – in both public and private sectors.
It means that public works will continue to be outsourced to sweatshop companies. Affirmative action, women’s and civil rights will be further eroded. Workplace safety conditions will deteriorate, etc.
In higher education, tuition will rise, classes will get larger and programs will be cut. Tenure will continue to vanish, along with the pitiful remnants of shared governance. Academic freedom will continue to crumble through self-censorship and selective victimization of outspoken academics. The bipartisan campaign to corporatize and privatize public education will continue unabated.
This is a setback, but it is not irreversible. Deteriorating conditions, and the inevitable new demands for further concessions will eventually provoke a genuine fightback.
We are living through a deep social, economic and environmental crisis. The empire is dying. The once ascendant US ruling class is represented by slugs like Trump and Malloy – creepy opportunists with no vision. Both parties are in shambles, blindly appealing to the backward ideas of racism, sexism, militarism and anti-communism.
The ruling class has only one agenda – to take more. More from your paycheck, more from your retirement, more from your healthcare. There is no limit to their gluttony – every new political, economic or ecological disaster is just another opportunity for profit.
Those who believe that this crisis can be turned around by making accommodations, or by voting for another huckster politician, will be sadly disappointed.
There are no easy or simple fixes. No individual has a magic solution. But collectively we possess the means to create new methods of struggle to advance our class interests. That has been the history of US labor – the creation of the Knights of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) – those great engines of change all emerged from the darkest of times.
Today, the stakes are higher than ever. We will either cleanse the world of corporate capitalism, with its attendant bureaucracies and weapons, or the earth will cleanse itself by removing our species.
We can start by telling the truth. We need to relearn our history. We need to join with and learn from the movements already in the streets, fighting for low wage workers, to defend reproductive rights, to oppose racist violence and end climate disaster.
That is where we will find the strength to win.
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Image: Mural detail by Mike Alewitz