Lessons of the “millionaire’s tax”

March 20, 2012

THE AUTHORS of the "millionaire's tax" initiative in California--which would have permanently raised income tax on the 1 percent to fund education--have announced a "compromise" with Gov. Jerry Brown's competing tax measure.

Compared to Brown's plan, the new compromise places less burden on working families, raises taxes on the wealthy and is extended to seven years (up from Brown's original five-year expiration).

But the decision to compromise was made behind closed doors. It's frustrating because thousands of activists didn't throw themselves into supporting the millionaire's tax to be a "bargaining chip." Undoubtedly, the decision by the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) to compromise will exacerbate hostility towards unions in the Occupy movement. And the new tax muddles the message that the 1 percent need to pay for the crisis they created.

There is a silver-lining that I hope activists will exploit. The CFT is substantially smaller than the 325,000-member California Teachers Association (CTA). And yet, criticisms aside, the CFT has managed to force the governor to back a more progressive tax initiative. Meanwhile, the CTA lined up behind Gov. Brown's original proposal uncritically from day one.

The CTA claimed it wasn't big enough to win a tax initiative without the governor's help. The CFT proved that a coalition can be built around the right types of tax initiatives, and that the public will respond favorably to making the rich pay up. The CFT is a much smaller union.

I don't agree with their compromise, but the fact that the CFT arm-wrestled one out of the governor while CTA just cheerleaded for him should be a lesson for all union activists.

Our unions are under attack, but we still have enough strength to accomplish things. Our strength is undercut by our leaders' servant-like relationship with Democratic politicians.
John Green, Hayward, Calif.

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