'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Sub-Proletarianization of America: A California Case Study 

Last Friday, there was an excellent article in the Sacramento Bee that exposed how government policy at the state level accelerates the sub-proletarianization of America, complimenting federal policies towards the same end. In that article, Judge Marilyn Gilliard of the Sacramento Superior Court complained that the closure of the superior courts of the state one day per week, upon order of the administrative office of the courts, would impose great hardship. She was publicly joined in her opinion by another local judge, Loren McMaster, in a column that the Bee published on Sunday.

An overwhelming number of the court's judges had already signed a petition that Gilliard had originated in objection to the court closure being adopted as part of budget deal. On Friday, she was at her sanctimonious best: Let's talk about abused and neglected children whose cases are going to be delayed. Let's talk about crime victims. Let's talk about those accused of crimes. Let's talk about jurors who could be very well in the midst of deliberations on a murder trial being told they have to go home.

Here, in a nutshell, we have the let them eat cake mentality, disguised in the form of social concern, that is so pervasive upon elite figures, such as, in this instance, a member of the state judiciary, while so many Americans are being impoverished by this recession. Gilliard is apparently unaware that child abuse and crime victims are already suffering from a severe elimination of social services at the city and county level. This is happening for two reasons: (1) severe cutbacks in state funding; and (2) more generally, the seizure of county revenue sources to pay for the state budget deficit.

Furthermore, schools, K-12, community colleges and four year universities, are facing substantial losses in funding that can only result in declining educational opportunities for these victims as well as many others. In other words, these people, like millions of other middle income, lower middle income and poor people in California, are suffering severely because of the way that the Governor and the Legislature decided to address the budget deficit. But Gilliard, McMaster, and her other colleagues that signed the petition, have only begun to perceive the problem when it washes up upon the shores of the courthouse building on 9th and H Street.

Amazingly, this situation is also an illustration of the old adage, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Gilliard and her colleagues make approximately $180,000 a year. They have received an approximately 16% increase in pay in recent years. None are currently being required to accept a cut in pay during the current budget crisis, as the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Ronald George, has only requested that judges take a voluntary 4.6% reduction in salarly. Given that judges are only required to voluntarily request it, this not only means that some judges will refuse to do so, but also that we will never know which ones did and which ones did not, unless they tell us, because, after all, one's salary is a private, personnel matter. And, as you might have guessed, the Sacramento Superior Court judges have imposed a reduction in salary upon much lesser paid court employees while refusing to collectively accept one themselves.

Hence, we have a classic example of how the sub-proletarianization of America plays out at the local level. California judges continue to receive their full salary and benefits, unless they voluntarily decide otherwise. Rank and file court employees have accepted a 5% pay cut, with 4 hours of bankable furlough time. Middle income state workers are furloughed three days a month, losing 15% of their salary, based upon executive orders upheld by, of course, a judge of the Sacramento Superior Court. Thousands of working poor people dependent upon the Healthy Families program are going to lose health care coverage for their children. 17,000 children in Sacramento County alone could lose coverage, with an additional 11,000 children denied coverage.

Meanwhile, people with serious health conditions and disabilities dependent upon in home health services face either reductions or elimination of care. According to the Bee, a $226 million dollar cut eliminates services for those deemed in lowest need and reduces services for those who require some form of assistance to perform functions. Unlike judges, in home health service providers had their salaries cut from $12.10 an hour to $10.10 an hour, starting July 1st, but, fortunately, a federal district court judge has issued an injunction, preventing it from taking effect. One has little doubt that Gilliard and her colleagues would have reached a different conclusion.

No doubt, you've figured it out by now, but please bear with my summarization. If you are a judge in California, you get to decide if you are going to take a 4.6% pay cut. If you are a state worker, one of these same judges empowered the Governor to cut your pay 15%. If you are a lower middle income worker with a family, you face the prospect of losing heath coverage for your children, while others lose the opportunity to qualify for it. If you are an in home health services provider, the Governor and the Legislature decided to try to cut your already meagre salary by approximately 17%, while reducing the number of people entitled to receive such assistance.

Combined with the Darwinian consequences of the housing crisis, and the millions of foreclosures associated with it, this is a textbook example of the sub-proletarianization of America in action, as the privileged preserve their power and economic status, complaining, as Gilliard and her colleagues do, about making even the slightest, symbolic sacrifices, while millions of other Californians are forced to subsidize their privilege through salary cuts and an extreme reduction in social services.

Furthermore, it is essential to understand that California is far from the only state experiencing such dire budget problems. It is fair to assume that similar solutions are being adopted in other states, but I leave it to others to investigate more fully and report. Of course, President Obama could have decided to soften the blow by directing funds to the states as he did for the transnational financial institutions responsible for the creation of the crisis. But that would have prevented these same institutions, and the investors connected to them, from further consolidating their control over the domestic and global economy.

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