Hatchet-wielding Democrats in Washington State
side with corporate fat cats and against workers and the poor


by Fred Hyde, Freedom Socialist Party
April 1, 2009

Labor's so-called friends are proving once again to be a treacherous, two-faced crowd. After helping themselves to hefty union campaign contributions, Governor Gregoire, a Democrat, and the majority Democratic leadership of the House and Senate are proposing drastic budget cuts, pay freezes, and layoffs of over 10,000 public workers, citing a serious budget shortfall.

How did the state get into this fix? It is the consequence of years of Democrats and Republicans giving one tax break after another to Big Business. This policy has left state reserves far below the level needed to weather the current crisis.

Killing worker protections
Just as it does in Washington D.C., where corporate opposition has effectively blocked adoption of the Employee Free Choice Act, union-busting Big Business is pulling all the strings in Olympia, directing the actions of both political parties. Their lobbyists work for Boeing, Microsoft, the Building Industry Association, and Washington Association of Business to name just a few of the corporate heavy hitters.

This became clear here locally when Governor Gregoire and leading Democrats conspired to kill the Workers Privacy Act, the top priority for Washington labor this session. The act outlaws the use of mandatory employee meetings called by management to discuss politics, religion or unionization.

Acting as shills for corporate interests, Governor Gregoire, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown tried to justify sabotaging the act by throwing up a smokescreen of bogus ethics charges against the Washington State Labor Council. Its crime. Having the audacity to say that Democrats who fail to support this important piece of legislation would not get "another dime from labor."

Only after both the State Patrol and the Public Disclosure Commission cleared the Labor Council of any wrongdoing for its free speech activity, did it come out that Governor Gregoire had previously promised Boeing that the privacy act would not see the light of day if it impacted the company.

As it turns out, Boeing executives are the real extortionists, threatening once again to take the secondary 787 airplane assembly line out of state if the state legislature doesn't give it more concessions and tax breaks.

Whose party?
I have attended many labor conventions over the last 30 years as a member of Washington Federation of State Employees and have consistently argued that labor needs to have its own party putting forth its own candidates and initiatives, such as one to overhaul our regressive tax system. Many rank-and-filers have supported this position and passed resolutions calling on the AFL-CIO to do just that.

Unfortunately, the only attempt at forming a fighting labor party was stillborn due to strangulation by labor bigwigs who had no stomach to buck the system or the Democrats.

My arguments for a workers party were often met with the retort by Labor Council leaders that "the Democratic Party is Labor's party." Well, it sure never acts like it. Why aren't the Democrats proposing a steeply graduated corporate and individual income tax by which the wealthy pay to make up the budget shortfall? Instead, they are patching together a partial fix of more regressive taxes that will fall heaviest on those of modest means or no means at all.

A simple, effective budget fix
The Seattle Times carried an article a while back stating that in 2007 there were more than 130,000 households with over $1 million in income in Washington State. They currently pay no state income tax. A 10% tax would yield $100,000 or more per household. Even if the number of millionaires declined over the last couple of years to 100,000, such a tax would yield over $10 billion in new revenue. Budget crisis solved!

But instead of taxing corporations and the rich, the Democrats are imposing all the burden of the cuts onto state employees, working people and the poor, causing untold hardship and injury. It is clear whose interests they represent—and it sure as hell ain't the hard working laboring class whose money and support got them elected.

Workers need a fighting party of their own
In addition to mishandling the budget crisis, Democratic legislative leaders have used their power to block almost every piece of legislation supported by labor and to advance all sorts of anti-labor legislation, including privatizing of child welfare services. If there are any Democrats out mere with a conscience and sense of accountability—and I know there are, particularly amongst the ranks of labor—they need to mobilize to challenge the actions of their politically bankrupt leadership. Instead of following in lock step, voting overwhelmingly for one bad bill after another, rank-and-file Democratic Party legislators should be walking out in protest.

In my opinion, they should keep on walking and break with this party, controlled by political opportunists whose true loyalties are for sale to the highest bidder, to form a real Labor Party independent of Big Business. Unions should support such change by diverting money wasted on Democratic party big-wigs and spend it instead on running labor candidates, fixing the broken tax structure and pushing public funding of all political campaigns to counteract the buying and selling of politicians.

Broken system needs a complete overhaul
These partial reforms area good start, but they can't fix a broken system. Economic and political democracy is impossible as long as the major industries, and the wealth created by workers' labor, are in private hands. As recent events have proven, corporate crooks will go to any length, including out-and-out robbery, to satisfy the greed of their executives and stockholders. They will continue to use the parties of Big Business to try to prop up this outlived, capitalist order with its escalating booms and busts that are wreaking misery around the globe.

Political corruption under capitalism exists everywhere, but there are countries where the workers and poor have pushed their rulers to nationalize resources and industries for the benefit of the majority: Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Venezuela to name a few. This can also be done in this country. If banks, the auto companies, the utilities and energy companies, airlines, the medical system and other large industries were nationalized under workers' control, the public would know 1) what these industries' real financial situations are 2) could decide how to share the wealth created by them to benefit society as a whole. Only then will the proceeds of our labor be available to serve the common good and provide medical care, housing, education and meaningful employment for all.

It is time to put an end to the abuse of power by the corporations and their corruption of the political process. It is time for we, the working people, and our allies to take to the strike lines and the streets to fight for our future. One for all, all for one!

Fred Hyde is a civil liberties attorney, a writer for the Freedom Socialist newspaper and a longtime unionist who has been on the frontlines of labor battles in the Northwest for 30 years.