Flip the funding to stop the budget cuts: Sisters Organize for Survival pushes unions to lead fight in Washington state

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While politicians in Olympia, Wash., are striving to balance an “all-cuts” budget, Sisters Organize for Survival (SOS), a campaign of Seattle Radical Women, says poor and working people cannot take another round of shredding the safety net.

SOS is mobilizing in response to Governor Christine Gregoire’s budget proposal that seeks to close the deficit by raising tuition for higher education, eliminating the Basic Health Plan relied on by tens of thousands of low-income people, reducing funds for food stamps and childcare, and other devastating measures. Gregoire, a Democrat, already suspended cost-of-living increases for state workers and is proposing additional wage and benefit cuts.

People who rely upon state programs are going to be hurt badly at a time of desperate need. And workers who provide critical services are accused of being greedy for trying to hang on to livable standards.

Fight back together. To resist these broad-scale attacks, SOS initiated a petition drive in January. Signers called on labor leaders to go on the offensive through organizing a united mass protest of workers and the community in the state capital, Olympia.

Unions are the organized representatives of the whole working class, which is the real target of budget cuts. SOS felt it was time for unions to stand up for their members and the community rather than continuing to hope Democratic politicians would come to their aid. Unions have the ability to mobilize masses of people and rouse the militant spirit so needed today.

The petition proposed a rally that would pressure legislators to tax profits of huge companies, end corporate tax giveaways, and lobby Congress to end U.S. wars and redirect funding toward crucial needs.

In only seven weeks, 2,600 signatures were gathered. SOS representatives spoke at 20 union meetings and petitioned at dozens of community events. From the Building and Construction Trades Council to the Seattle Education Association, the response by rank-and-file unionists was tremendous. They were anxious to see the labor movement fight back across union lines.

One of the people to whom the petition was addressed, Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson, told SOS he was impressed by the number of signers and supported the concept of a mass labor-led rally. General sentiment for such a rally was expressed on Feb. 21, Presidents Day, when about 2,500 people showed up at the state Capitol for a “Rumble in the Rotunda” called by the Washington Federation of State Employees. The turnout no doubt reflected both the weeks of education by SOS and the inspiration provided by insurgent Wisconsin workers. Now the state labor council and other unions and community groups are organizing a week of actions in April.

Follow the money. SOS wanted concrete answers for where money could come from to preserve social services and jobs. It devised an alternative budget called “Flip the Funding” that advances a radical reorientation on state revenue and spending. It demonstrates that the legislature is not considering revenue measures that impact business. The SOS plan shows a hefty surplus is possible by ending all business tax exemptions (also known as loopholes) except for the small-business tax credit, suspending interest payments on state loans, and initiating a windfall profits tax on oil companies. See the full proposal here.

“Flip the Funding” leaflets were distributed far and wide at protests, grocery stores and union meetings. Its thought-provoking solutions garnered great interest and provided lyrics for a protest song by members of an Olympia group, POWER (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights)!

SOS will continue pushing for utterly needed joint action. Its blend of grass-roots mobilizing that pushes labor officials to lead on a militant program is a model that will help others struggling to build a secure future. It’s beyond time for states to stop taking care of business, as usual, and start taking care of people!

Gina Petry, coordinator of the Sisters Organize for Survival campaign, is a healthcare social worker for an HMO. Email her at ginap77@yahoo.com.

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