OAKLAND – While front-running Republican gubernatorial contender Arnold Schwarzenegger dominates the airways with cute sound bites, organized labor and other people’s movements are vigorously gathering their forces to oppose California’s special recall election Oct. 7.

“This is personal! They are out to get your wages, your pensions, your health benefits,” Bill Camp, Sacramento Central Labor Council executive secretary, told a spirited crowd of more than 125 trade union activists gathered in Sacramento on Aug. 9. Camp was speaking at the fifth in a series of training workshops being held statewide entitled Workers Against Recall, or WAR. The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, in cooperation with central labor councils and the California Labor Federation, is sponsoring the sessions.

Dorothea Revell, NAACP California state secretary, blasted the recall as “a clown act” with serious consequences for democracy and the people. Two hundred forty-seven candidates have entered the race for governor in the event Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is recalled by a majority of the voters. The number of certified candidates was unknown at press time.

If the recall passes, a replacement to Davis could be installed with as little as 10 to 20 percent of the vote, since only a plurality, not a majority of voters is needed to elect.

“Why spend $35 [to $70] million to do a recall instead of putting it in the schools to teach our children,” Revell told the World in an Aug. 12 phone interview. Revell said the NAACP and the AFL-CIO constituency groups are sponsoring California appearances by NAACP leaders Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond against both the recall and Proposition 54, “Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color, or National Origin Initiative,” to help mobilize massive voter registration, education and get out the vote drives.

“Arnold is out there smiling,” Sofia Mendoza, longtime San Jose community activist, told the World in a phone interview, “but I’m sick of hearing him talk about how much money he has while avoiding the critical issues affecting working people’s lives.”

The economy in the Silicon Valley, where San Jose is located, is in shambles, largely due to “Bush administration big business policies,” which Schwarzenegger is expected to emulate for California, she said.

Meanwhile, it was former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, Schwarzenegger’s campaign chairman, who stood in for the multi-millionaire actor in last weekend’s news talk shows. Despised by organized labor, minority groups and others, during his tenure as governor Wilson overturned daily overtime pay regulations, prevailing wage guarantees in construction, pushed through electricity deregulation, which later led to the monopoly-created energy crisis during Davis’ tenure, and successfully promoted Propositions 187 against immigrants and 209 against affirmative action. He also pushed anti-union proposition 226, which failed. Wilson’s top advisors and staff have all taken top posts in the Schwarzenegger campaign.

While Schwarzenegger initially made much about someone like himself, an immigrant (from Austria) making it big in America, under public pressure this week the actor revealed he voted for Prop. 187, which denied undocumented immigrants and their children, including those born in the U.S., the right to public education, social services and democratic rights.

“How can an immigrant have voted for it?” Mendoza asked, “Where’s this guy’s head?”

Speaking to the labor activists, Sacramento’s Camp was more blunt: “Pete Wilson’s head is on the Terminator’s body,” he quipped.

“It’s not about Davis,” Judy Goff, executive secretary treasurer of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, told the World, Aug. 11, in a phone interview. “It’s about a narrow right-wing agenda pushed by an extremist part of the Republican Party that wants to recall daily overtime, prevailing wages, small class size and public schools, the new paid family leave law [first in the country], and other very positive legislation,” she said. These gains were won by organized labor and its allies after a Republican right-wing governor was replaced with Democrat Davis and both chambers of the state legislature went into Democratic hands.

At the same time, Goff said, “It’s a disgusting power ploy” aimed to install a Republican governor who “they see as helpful in the 2004 presidential elections.”

Labor, civil rights, women, environmental and other major progressive social groups, along with the Democratic Party and independent activists generally, vigorously oppose the recall. However, there are differing views over whether to support a major candidate running to replace Davis as governor in case the recall passes, and, if so, who.

The California Labor Federation, which is energetically focusing on a “no” vote on the recall and strong opposition to Prop. 54, has called a Recall Election Special Convention on Aug. 26 to mobilize its affiliates. Whether or not to endorse a candidate is also on the agenda.

The authors can be reached at ncalview@igc.org

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