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Why California Politics Is Different from the Rest of the Country

February 20, 2013 in Blogs

By Don Hazen, Alyssa Figueroa, AlterNet

What’s happening politically in California — the big state that used to be ahead of the curve in terms of innovation — may foreshadow a brighter future for liberal ideas, union growth and people power than many have predicted. California may be back to lead the way, after decades of shrinking budgets and cuts to education.

In the latest national bad news for unions, recent data from the Bureau of Labor statistics showed that the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, making the percentage of workers in unions 11.3 percent nationwide — the lowest level since 1916.

In stark contrast, California added 100,000 union jobs last year. Why is the state bucking the trend? One reason is the intense level of grassroots organizing by groups like California Calls, the statewide alliance of local organizations working to expand the electorate, which has led to successful initiatives – the first eliminated the California law that required a two-thirds majority to pass the annual budget, which gave a small number of Republicans the ability to hold up the entire process. Then in 2012, the highly unlikely happened: The State voted in support of Proposition 30, which raised taxes in the state, primarily on the wealthy, ending years of deadlock in Sacramento, and huge budget cuts.

Now in California there is a two-thirds supermajority of Democrats in both houses of the state legislature, along with Democratic governor Jerry Brown. Meanwhile, in normally blue states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, there is currently full Republican control of state government.

Another factor contributing to California’s union success is foresight. Anthony Thigpenn, the chair of California Calls, explained: “The Social Service Employees Union (SEIU) understood a decade ago that low-wage workers could be organized effectively in California, and the increase of union jobs in the state is in part due to their early work.”

California is also not going the way of other states in attacking unions. As Kent Wong, director of the USC Los Angeles Labor Center, said: “The voters in this state passed Prop. 30, which raised taxes to reinvest millions of dollars to public education. That …read more

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