A Green leader picks the wrong side

July 8, 2010

I SAW Matt Gonzalez speak in Chicago almost two years ago when he was campaigning as Ralph Nader's vice presidential candidate.

Despite sharing a dedication to democracy and fighting corporate domination, there was a clear contrast between the two men. Ralph's outstanding career--capped by four presidential runs--was coming to a close. Matt, a leader of the Green Party from San Francisco, who seemed to be a rising star, spoke powerfully and eloquently.

I knew some of the details of his career in San Francisco, and unfortunately, Matt's first foray into national politics was eclipsed by the seemingly historic victory of Barack Obama. He and Ralph still got my vote, for what it's worth.

The other day--while halfway through Peter Camejo's memoir North Star--I decided to Google Matt's name to see if I could find out what he was up to politically. I had seen a few weeks ago that he was invited to speak at Socialism 2010 in commemoration of Peter and his book. I hoped this indicated that he remained firmly on the left, dedicated to the values that he and Peter shared when they worked together in the California Green Party.

I was shocked and disappointed that the first article I came across was titled "Socialists Unfriend Matt Gonzalez." Apparently, Matt has sided with the corporate class and the Democrats in an attempt to reform San Francisco's pensions on the backs of workers.

What a contrast to the man who, not seven years ago, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a candidate for mayor, "stood his ground and did not bend on his pro-labor positions," according to Camejo.

As I read further in Peter's memoir, I was again disappointed to learn that San Francisco's unions had betrayed Matt at that point seven years earlier, perhaps laying the basis for this change of heart. According to Camejo, "Matt felt terrible that after he had fought for so many of these unions, they closed the door on him. Here he was pressing for the highest minimum wage in the country and found himself opposed by the union leadership."

These events are significant, but are only two of many in the long, tragic history of the American working class movement and its capitulation to the Democratic Party. While not knowing all of the details of the proposed reforms, I have to side with the unions against the Democratic establishment and the corporate backers who Matt has aligned himself with. Yet I must ask myself if the majority of organized labor will once again throw its weight behind these same corporate Democrats when elections roll around in November.

Across the country, Democrats and Republicans at all levels of government are attempting to balance their bloated budgets on the backs of working people. Victories for reform caucuses in SEIU locals in California and the teachers union in Chicago, and the emergence of National Nurses United are hopeful signs for the labor movement.

Elections are no substitute for rank-and-file organization and workplace militancy. However, when they roll around and independent candidates like Matt Gonzalez in 2003 or the Illinois Green Party's Rich Whitney this year, it is vital that labor sides with those who are taking a stand against the bosses and corporations--who struggle alongside them, not those who have proven again and again that they will stab unions in the back as soon as they take office.
Dan Russell, Chicago

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