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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 73/No. 6      February 16, 2009


Click here for Militant Labor Forums

(lead article)
‘Working people need
to organize, take power’
L.A. socialist campaigns for mayor
Militant/Naomi Craine
James Harris, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, campaigns at January 29 teachers’ rally in Los Angeles to protest education cuts.

LOS ANGELES—“The various ‘economic stimulus’ packages being debated in Washington have nothing to do with providing jobs and a decent standard of living for workers,” said James Harris, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, at a January 31 campaign rally here. Harris, a union meat packer, explained that the “stimulus” plans are a diversion from recognizing the true source of the crisis—capitalism—and the urgency of workers taking political power out of the hands of the billionaire rulers.

“My campaign fights to give a class understanding of politics and the workings of the capitalist system so that working people can defend ourselves from the ravages of the economic crisis that is now unfolding. I have to say that it becomes much easier to explain that proletarian revolution is the only road out of the disaster that capitalism is creating for working people,” he said.

This disaster does not stem from a lack of regulation, corrupt Wall Street CEOs, or bad oversight, he continued. “It is the product of the workings of the capitalist system.”

“The capitalists worldwide have seen a fall in their profit rates,” Harris explained. “They face stiffening competition, shrinking outlets to boost profits by expanding productive capacity and putting more workers to work, and repeated banking and financial crises. In face of these pressures, they are driving down our wages, speeding up production, cutting government social programs, and going after our unions.

“As working people, we are used to trying not to think about politics and just concentrating on trying to make it for ourselves as individuals and our families. But that way of thinking is coming to an end because of what is now being forced upon us. We will have to transform ourselves and our unions to build a movement capable of replacing the propertied minority in government with a government of workers and farmers.”  
Employee Free Choice Act
Harris was joined on the platform by Eleanor García, a sewing machine operator who announced her campaign for U.S. Congress in the 32nd district. García launched her campaign after Democrat Hilda Solis announced that she was vacating her seat to become secretary of labor in President Barack Obama’s cabinet.

“Hilda Solis’s appointment has been touted by some as a victory for the union movement because of her support to the Employee Free Choice Act, under which a union would be certified without an election if enough workers signed cards saying that they want one,” said García. “But even if this bill becomes law, it won’t change the deepening crisis of the unions, which is above all a product of the officialdom’s decades-long course of subordinating the interests of labor to those of the bosses and their capitalist parties.

“The class struggle can’t be avoided. Workers need to fight to build the kind of unions we need—unions that do not subordinate labor’s interests to those of the bosses.

“Under capitalism there is no equality of sacrifice,” continued García. “Working people need to put our interests as a class first. That’s why the socialist campaign puts forward a series of demands that are designed to unify working people in struggle.” She said the socialist campaign platform calls for shortening the workweek with no cut in pay to spread the available work. It demands Washington provide millions of jobs at union-scale wages, building schools, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure.

There should be cost-of-living clauses in all contracts, pensions, and other benefits, she explained, so as prices go up, workers’ income goes up too. To cut across the divide-and-rule strategy of the employers, the socialists call for enforcing affirmative action and they demand legalization of immigrant workers without papers and an end to raids and deportations.

The socialist candidates also call for canceling the foreign debt of semicolonial countries and lifting all U.S. protective tariffs.

“Bourgeois education teaches us that nothing will ever change. The dog-eat-dog system of capitalism has always existed and always will,” García said. “Capitalism, even in the United States, can be overthrown. But to do that we need to forge a leadership that is up to the challenge. The forging of this leadership, whether in the United States, Palestine, or on the African continent, is the central question that the working class has before it.”

Harris joined thousands of teachers, teachers’ aides, cafeteria workers, students, and parents here on January 29 to protest state and local education cuts.

“I’m proud to be here, joining with these workers,” said Harris. “Their fight is in the interest of all working people,” he explained, as he marched with a group of students and teachers from Animo High School.

The California state budget faces a $42 billion deficit by the middle of next year. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is already proposing to cut $4.8 billion from public school budgets. According to the United Teachers of Los Angeles, which organized the protest, this could mean layoffs of up to 107,000 teachers statewide and increasing class sizes by up to 35 percent. Schools superintendent Ramon Cortines announced that the Los Angeles Unified School District will notify teachers on March 15 which ones could lose their jobs next fall.

Danny Monterroso, a 16-year-old student at Crenshaw High School, told Harris, “I came here to protest this injustice, cutting schools when we already don’t have enough funds. Why don’t they bail out students instead of the banks?”

“Why is art useless?” asked Katherine Ayala, 17, who attends Miguel Contreras High School. There is a freeze on arts programs in the schools here.  
‘Education is a right’
“Before education for all can become a priority, working people will have to take political power out of the hands of the capitalists and reorganize society from top to bottom,” answered Harris. “We will have to make a socialist revolution.

“From the standpoint of working people, education is a right,” Harris said, “but the rulers could care less if we can read or write, if we have arts programs in our schools. Their main concern is that we get to work on time when they need us and that we fade quietly into the background without protest when they don’t.”

Tanya Chambers, a senior cafeteria worker and member of Service Employees International Union Local 99, participated in the march with 10 coworkers and a banner reading, “Stop the Cuts! Support Our Schools!”

Chambers explained that cutbacks in school lunches are already in effect. “We used to serve elementary school students three items, but that has been cut to two. Junior and high school students will be eating less too, from five items to three.”

Seventy-eight percent of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals—a number that is growing as the official unemployment rate in Los Angeles is approaching 10 percent. “How can these kids be engaged, how can they learn, if they are hungry?” Chambers asked.

Cuts in the school lunch programs are occurring at the same time as the state of California has temporarily halted payments to state welfare programs, services to the disabled, child-care programs for working-class families, and mental health and drug abuse programs, issuing $3.5 billion in IOUs instead. State income tax refunds are also included in this pile of IOUs.
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