Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Views On the Coming Election
by Bill Onasch

Election Overview
One of the coolest bumper stickers I've ever seen read, "Don’t Blame Me–I Didn’t Vote!" While I usually do vote I sympathize with the genuine feeling behind this wise-ass remark: since we are given no acceptable options why should we dignify this travesty that insults our intelligence?

Fundamental change of the kind so sorely needed today will not come about solely as the result of elections. Never has, never will. It took a Revolutionary War to free us from the absolute rule of the English Crown. It took a threat of armed uprising by workers and farmers to secure the Bill of Rights as amendments to the draft of the constitution the founding rich originally offered. It took a bloody Civil War, first to turn back a challenge to the outcome of the 1860 election, then going on to eliminate slavery as well. Women and African-Americans had to challenge the Establishment with mass movements in the streets just to get the right to vote. We could go on and on with examples of the extra-electoral road to progress just in the United States.

But while we cannot rely just on elections we really can’t afford to ignore them either. Even those–perhaps a majority–who are completely fed up with today’s political establishment, and abstain on election day, are not prepared to reject the democratic promise of elections. They keep hoping that somebody, some day, will come along that deserves support. Appeals to renounce elections in favor of picking up the gun, or the one big general strike, have never gotten much response, even from the poorest and most oppressed among us.

The challenge for working class leadership in this country is developing an effective combination of struggles for justice in the work place, in the streets, and also at the ballot box. Only when we have built mass movements in each of these arenas can the working class effectively use our great potential power to bring about fundamental change to advance our interests. We’re a long way though from attaching such a winning troika to our wagon.

We do have a mass movement in the workplace–our unions. But the size and bargaining clout of this first line of defense is in a decline, verging on a free-fall.

Segments of the working class are sometimes mobilized in the streets around specific issues these days but nothing on the scale and continuity of such past mass movements as civil rights in the 1950s-60s, or antiwar in the 1960s-70s.

And, while organized labor has poured record sums of money and volunteer hours into the current election campaign, never has the real political influence of unions been so irrelevant.

Do I paint a bleak picture? Sure do, though, unfortunately, it’s also I believe an honest one.

Is our situation hopeless? By no means.

Unlike some comfortable middle-class liberals who, when discouraged or bored, can look for another project, workers in factories, offices, clinics, farms, mines, restaurants, on the road, rails or in the air, have no place to run from the realities of class warfare.

Certainly despair will lead some individuals to drink, drugs, derangement or worse. But history has demonstrated the remarkable resilience of the working class. Sooner or later, they have always recovered from the worst defeats and bouts of demoralization to fight again. There’s no reason to doubt that today’s workers will do the same.

There are, in fact, some hopeful signs of fledgling efforts in the right directions.

The recent Million Worker March, though small and not without some problems, demonstrated that there is a core of at least some thousands prepared to march independently to advance working class issues.

US Labor Against the War has been an inspiring effort to mobilize organized labor against a bosses war. There will be a USLAW leadership gathering in early December to plan post-election strategy.

Last, and probably most important, is a potential for linking up the three areas of struggle–the Labor Party. The Labor Party has developed an excellent program and a sound electoral strategy. It has established a so far secure beach head within the union movement. The challenge now is to break out beyond the beach, to win broader support, with a higher level of commitment, within the unions--and also start making progress in the community among the nearly ninety percent of the working class who are not in unions. The Labor Party leadership will also be meeting, a week after the USLAW gathering.

But these encouraging developments are not part of voting options in this election. What can we do November 2?

Since I view the main contenders as being evil twin parties of the boss I have never in my life voted for a Democrat or Republican. I have never been less tempted to do so than with the choices facing us this time around. No matter which one wins we lose.

In 2000 I voted for Ralph Nader. I thought his campaign showed some promise in advancing at least a working class friendly political realignment. I was disappointed by how little was accomplished by that campaign. This time around Nader tried a different approach that has included making deals with some loony right boss party wannabees. I sure can’t follow him there.

I do, without reservation, however, support Nader’s right to be on the ballot and to be heard. One of the many sleazy aspects of the 2004 campaign has been those liberal hypocrites who, while shouting "count every vote," work hard to keep Nader off the ballot.

Since I am planning to go to the poll to vote on various local ballot questions (dealt with in another section) it seems a shame not to at least write-in a vote for a presidential candidate. I think I have finally come up with an acceptable option.

There is a tradition in Missouri of not only voting for dead candidates but even electing them. In 2000, Governor Mel Carnahan’s death in a plane crash didn’t stop him from unseating incumbent Senator John Ashcroft. (Of course, I guess Ashcroft had the last laugh as he went on to become minister of state security–excuse me, make that attorney general–and trail blazing the PATRIOT Act.)

I plan to write in a deceased hero of mine, a man who set the bar very high for working class presidential candidates–Eugene V Debs. After all, it was Debs who told us "It’s better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it." They probably won’t count this vote but then they probably didn’t count a lot of his votes when he was alive either.

Local Issues In Kansas City Area

Yes On Hickman Mills School Tax Increase
It’s always good, they say, to begin on a positive note. Well, this is the only area ballot measure I recommend a "yes" vote for–with no illusions about this being the way to fix the education crisis We need a radical change in public education, along the lines advocated by the Labor Party. But we can’t afford to neglect our schools until we make such fundamental changes. For the foreseeable future, property tax levies will be the primary funding source for schools.

The Hickman Mills measure promises to use increased funds "for the purpose of improving student performance by lowering class sizes; paying teachers and other employees competitive salaries; purchasing adequate numbers of up-to-date textbooks; upgrading technology; hiring additional librarians, reading specialists and student activity sponsors; and implementing a preventive maintenance program for all schools." If they do all that it’s worth another 36 cent assessment. (Full disclosure–I am a graduate of Ruskin High School.)

No On Constitutional Amendment 3
What a mess! Missouri has terrible roads. Much of the vehicle fuel tax paid by road users is spent by the state for other things. This measure would require all of the fuel tax revenue to be devoted solely to building and fixing roads. That’s only fair, they say.

While I feel the pain of chuckholes, and the tension of traffic congestion, like everyone else, I say it’s not that simple. The bipartisan state fiscal "reforms" in the Eighties and Nineties have produced a fiscal crisis today. Vital public services such as education, health care, and mass transit are starving. This emergency would be even worse without the diversion of some fuel tax money to bail out crucial programs dependent on general revenue.

Locking fuel tax money into roads only also precludes funding other transportation alternatives–such as expanded mass transit in the major metropolitan areas and a high-speed rail corridor connecting St Louis/Jefferson City/Columbia/Sedalia/Kansas City--that would lessen the need for road construction and repair. Such alternatives could not only save us money; they could also save lives by reducing the number of traffic fatalities and save our environment by slashing the wide range of pollution generated on our roads today.

The people of Missouri, along with many other states, need a fiscal counter-reformation. We need to rid ourselves of constitutional and statutory obstacles to obtaining essential public services. We need a progressive tax structure based on ability to pay rather than just the opposite system we have today. Constitutional Amendment 3 would make a bad situation worse.

No On County Question 1
I’ve already written an article about this THINK BIG proposal from the Bistate Tax boosters. Some readers said they have seen differing figures about how much money is involved in this mother of all developers scams. The fact is no one knows for sure.

There are too many variables: the number of counties collecting the tax; the volume of retail sales in those counties; the cost of paying off the bonds needed for start-up funds–all unknown, just about anybody’s guess. The one bottom line spelled out in this measure is a minimum 360 million must be collected for "renovating" Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums.

The arithmetic is complicated. The cultural objectives are hazy. But the essence of County Question 1 is clear as HDTV–a massive redistribution of wealth from working class consumers to banks, building contractors and major league sports franchises.

No On City Question 1
You haven’t heard much about this one. It promises to clean up the City Charter by removing certain unspecified obstacles to the City Manager and City Council operating efficiently. In the lexicon of public sector bosses efficiency usually means privatization, layoffs, attacks on wages, benefits, and working conditions. I think city workers have already given more than their fair share in sacrifices to such "efficiency."


KC Labor webmaster Bill Onasch is a retired ATA bus driver, member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287. His retirement leisure activities include serving on the national steering committee of US Labor Against the War and representing Midwest chapters on the Labor Party Interim National Council.