Public Comment

Commentary: Arnold, Union Organizer

By Russell Kilday-Hicks
Friday September 29, 2006

Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley, in the Sept. 8 edition, bemoans the California prison guard union’s endorsement of Angelides. Well why not? For all his liberal stances (and there are a few significant ones at least, like campaign finance reform and the public financing of elections that cut against the grain of DLC policy) Angelides supports the draconian “eye-for-an-eye” social policy a.k.a. capital punishment (“those with the capital don’t get the punishment”). But there is more going on here that’s worth examining. The relationship between the prison guard union and Angelides is not exactly the one they had with the former Gov. Davis. 

While it’s true the CCPOA selfishly supports building prisons over schools and other ultra-conservative stances, and possibly they feel the Angelides campaign needs them more (and they may get some of what they want under Arnold anyway), Arnold has stated in very uncertain terms, he hates unions. That’s all unions—even the bad ones. As powerful as they may seem (Arnold’s favorite myth of the “union bosses” running California), a right-to-work agenda is a threat to them as well. 

The union movement is not monolithic. There are some very real differences between the AFL/CIO and the rebellious Change To Win, for example. But when Sweeney ordered the AFL-based labor council system to give the CTW unions the boot they balked, especially in California, because that would weaken us before our common enemy. My chapter (305 of SEIU 2579, staff employees at San Francisco State) has a special charter that Sweeney was forced into, allowing us to remain part of the local union movement (unfortunately it expires in December, and maybe it will take the re-election of Arnold for it to be renewed). 

Local musician Hali Hammer’s parody of the “Solidarity Forever/Battle Hymn of the Republic” song refrains: “Arnold union organizer, Arnold union organizer, Arnold union organizer, for he’s made the unions strong.” That union strength, such as it is, helped defeat Arnold’s agenda last November. (Remember that? We all paid the first bill to feed Arnold’s ego, and working folk paid the second bill to put him back in his place.) The prison guard union helped with that as part of the Alliance for a Better California. That was a first. Previous to that the CCPOA was not really part of the greater union movement, playing into the divide-and-conquer strategy often used to great affect against union influence (the myth of union solidarity).  

On the capital steps last year in a huge rally against the governor’s “special election” agenda, the president of the California Teacher’s Association introduced the crowd to her “new best friend,” the president of CCPOA, and announced they were going to tour California schools and prisons together. That was a powerful moment that puts some truth to Hammer’s parody.  

Maybe O’Malley expects too much of the Democratic Party (but please let’s all of us not lower our expectations). Can pure principles trump dollars in California elections, or for that matter, any election? Sometimes, but that’s unfortunately the all too rare exception. In our very undemocratic world of elections, the reality is you need tons of money, especially to run against the likes of Arnold, who criticized Davis for being pay-to-play and promised us he would be different. Well, he’s different all right. Davis just looked like a Boy Scout for the photo opps, but compared to Arnold, Davis was a mere tenderfoot when it comes to corruption from “special interests.” Angelides needs the unions, but union support will not guarantee victory or that he will be “in our pockets.” 

The worst of the union movement is when they are insular and run on a corporate model. The best is when unions fight for the rights of all workers. There is an internal struggle right now to rid American unions of the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover-era “business” model imposed on unions (which history calls McCarthyism, but he was just a patsy). For the CCPOA to change models they need to be part of the larger union movement and support the civil rights of all.  

Right now, the fox is in the henhouse of state. That fox is looking more like a chameleon at the moment, trying his best to blend in with the Democratic majority in the statehouse, but make no bones about it, post election day, if we the people of Cal-e-for-nee-yea return Arnold to his project, the agenda is going to take (once again) such a right-hand turn the state will need medical treatment for whiplash.  

Do us all a big favor: Fire my boss, please! 


Berkeley resident Russell Kilday-Hicks is president of Chapter 305 of the California State University Employees Union at San Francisco State University. 



Opinions expressed in Daily Planet commentary and letters to the editor are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Daily Planet or its staff.