Public Comment

Labor on the Millionaires Tax

By Harry Brill
Friday March 23, 2012 - 12:53:00 PM

Many of us are traumatized by the decision by labor to abandon the Millionaires Tax. Let us consider just how this came about. First, The two largest unions in California, SEIU with 700,000 members and CTA with 325,000 immediately jumped on the Brown bandwagon. And even the California Nurses Association (CNA), which rhetorically supported the millionaires tax refused to donate even one penny to the campaign, and its leadership did absolutely nothing to galvanize a signature campaign. Many other unions and labor councils throughout California gave it only luke warm support. 

Even the CFT attempted as early as November 2011 to negotiate a compromise with the Governor, but he refused. There were other attempts in which State Senate leaders became involved with the cooperation of the CFT, but he still refused. Later on he changed his mind because every poll showed the Millionaires Tax was the most popular. So negotiating for a modified proposal with the Governor was from the very beginning always the position of CFT. The historical record shows that CFT's recent decision to work with the governor because it lacked sufficient fund to continue is clearly bogus. 

Frankly, what we learned from this experience is that the strong ties of labor to the Democratic Party sabotaged what could have been an effective campaign on the millionaires tax. Those ties developed during the 1930s depression, and it was, then, a very good thing. But to a considerable extent the current mainstream leaders of the Party have moved from a New Deal ideology to Raw Deal politics for working people. Labor should be acting independently while still working to elect New Deal Democrats. 

The proposed tax on millionaires would not have made things fair, but fairer. They would still be under-taxed. Had we won that tax it would not have affected their standard of living one iota. Also, this tax aside from equity issues is neither good for small business nor the economy because to some extent it further discourages spending. 

What lessons should we learn from this experience? The Labor Movement must find a way to maintain independence from the Democratic Party while supporting progressive candidates who represent the best interests of the 99 percent. It must distance itself from those Democrats, including Governor Brown, who mainly represent corporate interests and the one percent! And wherever and whenever possible, we should do what we can, perhaps by aligning with dissatisfied members of some of these unions, to persuade the organized labor leadership to better represent the interests of their members and working people generally.