Community Editorial: Progressives Welcome Richard Wolff To OC

Andrew Tonkovich
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The privilege of introducing economist Richard Wolff to Orange County on Thursday night, February 12 at Santa Ana’s nifty Delhi Center finds me (and you) with an opportunity to consider our complicated Dickensian moment as lived, imagined, celebrated and challenged in this beautiful, benighted county.

The evening represents the happiest and smartest of our local bests and worsts of times, starting at 6:45 and organized by the OC Green Party and Pacifica Radio station KPFK. It also features a talk by financial reform advocate Ellen Brown, live music by a terrific son jarocho musical ensemble, and the promise that Wolff and Brown will unshyly “Challenge Capitalism,” an event title you don’t hear nearly enough, and certainly not in these parts.

Indeed, the legendary Marxist scholar-activist and host of “Economic Update” (aired Sunday mornings on 90.7 FM in So Cal) arrives here at a helpfully instructive moment, where a not particularly pro-labor candidate for OC Supervisor just lost despite the grudgingly faithful support of organized labor, to a Republican, once again frustrating union activists as Yours Truly, who despair at the weak love-smother or stranglehold (you choose) of the Democratic Party on labor activism.

No doubt Wolff, whose latest book, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, tells it all, will advocate worker/workplace cooperatives and other collectivist alternatives to the proud and vigorous tradition and strategy of collective bargaining, which still works for so many, especially in the public sector. Including me and my colleagues!

As it happens, my own local, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), representing Librarians and Lecturers, is lately finding real success in organizing higher ed professionals as we enter new contract negotiations with the University of California. At the bargaining table we mean to win further improvements to our already outstanding MOU, arguably the best for often exploited “adjunct” faculty anywhere in the nation.

And, I found myself last week in the nearly unbelievably jolly circumstance of walking the picket line with UC Irvine doctors – yes, medical professionals in a labor action! – claiming unfair labor practices by administration. They work at UC clinics and are trying hard to collect and assemble information needed to build a local and secure collective bargaining, with the Office of the President refusing to give.

Also on the best of times bright side of our often unsunny local labor justice picture, my campus is the beneficiary of a new project, the UC Irvine Community and Labor Project, a resource for activists, scholars and citizens of our county. Modeled on the UCLA Labor Center, a fifty-year old institution so successful that its funding was cut by The Terminator, its first report, “Orange County on the Cusp of Change,” soberly assesses the labor landscape.

Notwithstanding these successes, Wolff’s critique of labor anticipates, correctly, the further attacks on organized labor, and promotes a different model of securing power for workers. I am not at all sold on that strategy in the short-term, and remain committed to my immediate and lately fired-up traditional union organizing.

But Dr. Wolff’s accurate assessment of our power and influence must be appreciated, and his loud call answered especially as – not-so-fun fact – the continuing assault on “fair share” and the historically empowering “union shop” tradition is being challenged by the usual anti-democratic, anti-union, anti-worker rogues’ gallery of reactionaries. And nowhere more consistently than, yup, the County of Orange, aka the Hellmouth.

By way of further welcoming Dr. Wolff, it might be helpful to remind him and everybody that the lead plaintiff in the odious Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case soon to be considered by the Supreme Court lives and works as a teacher in, yes, Orange County, as do three others. And, yes, it is the quietly apocalyptic Lincoln Club of Orange County which largely funded the “Citizen Power Campaign” and publication of a tragically dumb and mean book attacking labor penned by, you guessed it, former OC Register opinion guy Steven Greenhut. Its comically hyperbolic title? Plunder! How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives And Bankrupting the Nation.

Only in the OC, friends! So, yes, it will be my great pleasure to welcome Wolff and Brown to a community, a festering, bubbling, struggling experiment in resisting some of the worst in anti-labor attacks and considering all kinds of strategies for winning.

Tickets to attend “Richard Wolff and Ellen Brown Challenge Capitalism” are available at www.KPFK.org and www.Brownpapertickets.com

Andrew Tonkovich is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board member and lecturer at UC Irvine and president of University Council – AFT Local 2226.