OAKLAND, Calif. - With unemployment officially pegged at 12.3 percent in California, it's clear topic number one for Democratic candidates at all levels will be jobs - good, family-raising jobs - and that the labor movement is fired up and ready to go for candidates who promise to get the state working again.
That was the theme at union sponsored Labor Day events around the state, as former governor Jerry Brown, now running to get his old job back, and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who is campaigning for a fourth term, joined candidates for Congress, state and local offices at rallies in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento.
In Oakland, California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski drew a stark contrast between Brown and his billionaire Republican opponent, former E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman. "In one corner," he said, "we've got the darling of Wall Street, the billionaire big spender, who made her fame by laying off workers everywhere she went. In the other corner, you've got the penny-pincher, who slept on the floor last time he was governor, the guy who created 1.9 million jobs and created the combination of that and the best surplus that California ever had."
Besides the support of the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, Whitman has already spent over $100 million of her own money on her campaign, dwarfing the far more modest expenditures of Brown's supporters.
Brown highlighted his plan to create half a million jobs in the state through renewable energy projects, comparing it to Whitman's scheme to give corporations and the wealthy $17 billion in tax breaks, which he said would nearly double the state's deficit. "One of the ways we got into the depression is so much of the money was pushed up to fewer and fewer people," he said. "When you have security, you can raise a family, and buy the things that turn this economy around."
Boxer contrasted Congressional Democrats' success in restoring 160,000 teachers' jobs nationwide with the layoff of 30,000 workers by her opponent, Carly Fiorina, before Fiorina herself was fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Pointing out that Fiorina left H-P with $100 million in severance, Boxer added, "No wonder she didn't think it was important for families to get unemployment compensation!"
A moving tribute to area workers suffering plant closings, lockouts, illegal firings, slashing of hours, abysmal working conditions and prolonged contract battles brought the devastating effects of corporate policies up close and personal.
When the auto giant closed the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant earlier this year, "Toyota just ripped the hearts out of our members," United Auto Workers Local 2244 president Sergio Santos told the crowd. "Not only were their jobs taken, their homes are in foreclosure, their families are being destroyed and eventually their health will be affected," he said. With one in five California workers jobless, underemployed, or too discouraged to look for work, Santos said, "we need labor friendly candidates who are going to get behind working families to create good-paying middle class jobs."
Also among those addressing the crowd of nearly 1,000 were U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., state Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.
For Boxer and Brown, the day started with the traditional Labor Day mass at Los Angeles' Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. At the breakfast that followed, LA County Federation of Labor head Maria Elena Durazo told the crowd, "If we do our job right we are going to drive Meg Whitman so far out of politics that she will have spent all of her money - and after the election don't be surprised if we see her in an apron asking people if they want fries with their burger."
At a labor picnic in Sacramento, Brown contrasted his lifelong record of voting in California with Whitman's spotty record of voting at all. "I love California," he said. "That's why at this stage of my life, I want to come back to Sacramento and do everything I can to get California voting again."
Photo: Sen. Barbara Boxer addresses the Oakland Labor Day event. (Marilyn Bechtel/PW)