Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Revolutionary Milquetoast or General Strike?

Teachers and Students Occupying the Rotunda, CA State Capital
68 people were arrested at the California state capital last night protesting for tax extensions to bail out the state and avoid further cuts to K-12 education. 20 of those arrested were UC Santa Cruz students who came in solidarity with the California Teachers Association. “We came with our A game,” said one student who was clearly frustrated and disillusioned by the CTA’s lack of commitment and weak message. Many of the students felt betrayed, having made a personal sacrifice to help the cause, while the majority of teachers seemed to care less about their action. Thus, the UC students decided to head home after only two days of the CTA’s State of Emergency week of actions.

I spoke to one regional representative to the CTA this morning who said that the CTA wasn’t supporting those who were arrested last night because they broke the law and violated CTA’s own code of conduct which directed members to “obey the directives of law enforcement personnel.”This CTA representative seemed to feel that CTA would face federal conspiracy charges for offering legal support for teachers arrested for refusing to leave the capital when asked. In fact, he seemed quite irate that I would even question whether teachers would get any legal representation from their union. He was also antagonist to the tactic of trying to occupy the capital, even though this was the game plan originally advertised by the CTA. “What do you think happens if you punch ‘em in the face on day one? Where you gonna go next?” This was obviously a bombastic and paranoid metaphor. No one punched anyone in the face and an actual occupation would require people to refuse to leave when asked, especially starting on day one. When else would you start an occupation—at 6 pm Friday, when everyone is going home for the weekend?

A successful occupation, however, would also require hundreds of participants, perhaps locking themselves together or doing something to inhibit the police from simply picking them off one by one and carting them away, as happened last night, not to mention many more outside providing logistical support and encouragement. Indeed, police promptly started arresting protesters soon after 6:00 pm, when the capital closed for the night. Protesters didn’t even get the chance to get their message out that they opposed the regressive tax extensions being promoted by the CTA and instead wanted the rich to bail out the state. Media coverage implied that the protesters were getting arrested for promoting the CTA’s message of tax extensions for the poor and working class.

I did speak to other CTA representatives later who said that CTA would in fact provide legal defense for those arrested. I should point out that many protesters were held overnight in jail. Most of the teachers arrested were from United Educators of San Francisco and Oakland Education Association. The CTA literature handed out to teachers at the orientation also tried to discourage teachers from participating in any civil disobedience by suggesting that their credentials could be revoked if they got arrested.

Overall, the CTA has no interest in challenging the status quo in any sort of meaningful or effective way. They are unwilling to take any risks, promote any sort of confrontational tactics or put any real pressure on the decision-makers. This does not bode well for workers hoping to stem the effects of the escalating class war. Ultimately, workers will have to take a stand against the attacks on their working conditions and living standards, or face increasing immiseration.  The best chance they have is the general strike, which was made illegal by the National Labor Relations Act. If unions are unwilling to risk doing anything illegal, they certainly won’t promote or organize for a general strike, as was clearly demonstrated in Wisconsin.

Nevertheless, there are members of CTA, including regional representatives, who do support a general strike:

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