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Historic Opening to Reverse Austerity in California

By Rico Blanc

An historic opportunity to reverse decades of austerity has arisen in California after the November 6 elections. By passing the revenue-generating Prop 30, defeating the anti-union Prop 32, and sweeping the Democrats into their first super-majority in the state legislature since 1933, working people expressed a clear mandate to reverse the past years of devastating cuts and fully fund public services

“Republican opposition” — the classic excuse given by the Democrats for failing to pass progressive demands — has been swept away now that the Democrats have the two-thirds in the legislature needed to raise taxes, propose constitutional amendments for referendums, and override Governor vetoes. This puts the Democratic Party, a party funded and controlled by the ruling rich, in an extremely uncomfortable position. Workers, students, and oppressed communities expect them to deliver — and will likely mobilize to make them deliver. High popular expectations can be a dangerous thing for the powers-that-be.

In this context, the immediate response of both Governor Brown and Senate President Steinberg has been to immediately attempt to deflate expectations by declaring that they would not use their mandate to raise new revenue. Moreover, the Governor has announced that he wants large amounts of the Prop 30 funds to pay back the state’s deficit. Similarly, the heads of the UC and CSU systems — plus the Chancellor of City College of San Francisco, which remains under the gun of the accreditation imposition — immediately announced the need to march ahead with new tuition hikes and more cutbacks, despite the new increases in revenue from Prop 30.

Nevertheless, an historic opening has emerged because working people have expressed a clear anti-austerity mandate, have raised their expectations for change, and have placed the politicians in Sacramento in position that makes it significantly harder to reject the people’s demands without exposing themselves as corporate lackeys.

There is an urgent need for workers and young people, particularly from communities of color, to independently organize to demand that Sacramento immediately raise the revenue needed to reverse the past years of tuition increases, layoffs, and budget cuts to education and social services, and to put forward Constitutional Amendment referendums to revise Prop 13 (to taxing commercial property through a “split-roll” tax”) and reverse Prop 209 (to restore Affirmative Action.)

As always, it is only through independent mass struggle — including rallies, marches, occupations, and (most critically) strikes — that we can win anything substantial. As the first term of the Obama administration demonstrated, there is no reason to expect the Democrats to pass anything in the interests of the working class on their own initiative.

To achieve our goals, the broadest possible unity in action of labor unions, student organizations, and organizations of oppressed communities, will be needed. A first step in this direction would be a statewide conference bringing together these forces to formulate a platform of common demands and an action plan to win them.

The stakes are high. Since the 1970s, California has been in the vanguard of cutbacks and privatization — but now we have an opening to help California show the way forward for effective mass anti-austerity resistance. Let’s seize the moment.

ALTERNATIVES TO CUTTING PUBLIC SERVICES

Close Prop. 13 Commercial Property Tax Loophole: Would generate an additional $7.5 billion annually. (Source)

Stop Funding California Prisons: Would generate $9.2 billion. (Source)

Tax Oil Extraction in California: Alaska’s tax rate of 25% would generate about $8 billion annually. (Source)

Repeal the Bush/Obama Tax Cuts for Wealthiest 5%: Would generate $20 billion annually in California. (Source)

Tax the Rich: Doubling the tax rate on richest 1% of the population and on corporate profits (i.e. returning to the tax rates of the U.S. in the 1950s) would generate $375 billion annually (nationwide). (Source)

Cut the Military Budget: Would generate over $1.4 trillion annually (nationwide). (Source)

Repeal the Obama/Bush Bank Bailouts: Would generate $12.8 trillion (nationwide). (Source)

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