SAN FRANCISCO — Joel Britton, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of San Francisco, was the first speaker at a public hearing here July 9 sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric Company and the California Public Utilities Commission, the state regulatory agency that supposedly oversees the energy giant, to hear comments on company bosses’ demand for a rate hike. Britton told the 80 or so people there that not only was he opposed to the rate hike, but that his party “calls for the nationalization of PG&E and running it under workers control.”
PG&E supplies natural gas and electricity to 16 million people in Northern and Central California. It proposes to boost rates by nearly $2 billion, raising charges to customers by 6.4%. They say the increase is necessary so they can “make important additional safety investments to help further reduce wildfire risk” and “to enhance gas and electric safety and reliability.”
“PG&E management’s sole concern is maximizing profits for its shareholders,” Britton countered. Their record “demonstrates the urgency of taking the utility out of the hands of its management.” He cited a number of examples, including the notorious Camp Fire last fall that destroyed 19,000 homes and other buildings and killed 85 people.
“As a longtime oil refinery worker and member of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers union, I learned firsthand the importance of union struggles for safety,” he said. “The more control workers had over operations, the greater the protection against explosions, fires and other disasters affecting workers and the surrounding community.
“Workers at PG&E, many of whom are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, need to be in control of operations of this utility. They know from their own experiences what is safe and what is dangerously unsafe. They must have the authority to organize the work and to initiate shutdowns when they are necessary.”
That is the only way, Britton said, “to enforce job safety, control all technical processes to provide affordable gas and electricity, and to prevent the company from causing other disasters.”
Independent from bosses’ parties
The San Francisco Chronicle reported in its online edition that “nearly all of the 16 people who spoke at the meeting opposed the rate hike.” The article quoted two, including Britton. It identified him as a Socialist Workers Party member and former oil refinery worker. Working people must “not be forced to pay for PG&E’s disregard for people’s lives and property,” the paper quoted Britton saying.
Britton told the hearing that the fight for workers control over production and safety “will require organizing and acting independently of the capitalist parties — the Democrats and Republicans.
“This fight can be part of a movement of millions of working people that we need to build,” he said, “and chart a course out of the capitalist economic, social and moral crisis to replace capitalist rule with a workers and farmers government.”