HOUSTON, Texas – The Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE) met on Aug. 28 here to discuss the coming class battle over pension funds. This is the same struggle seen in Wisconsin and all over the country.
The city only allocates 2% of its budget for its public employees’ pensions and 9% for the firefighters and police. Mayor Annise Parker is planning to use “governance ” by her wealthy friends and cohorts to take control of the workers’ pension fund so it can be eventually turned into a 401k. This will lead to the end of any real retirement for the workers. One union member said they would have to work till they died if this happened.
The union leadership mapped out a plan to fight back against the mayor and her rich business friends. Can more money be found? Three hundred of the wealthiest building owners in Houston save $57 million a year by not paying their fair share of property taxes, and the city spends another $17 million fighting them in court. There’s $74 million for the city budget right there!
The guest speaker was Mary Kay Henry, head of the Service Employees International Union. She spoke of the coming battle and how, by building a broad coalition of unions and community support, they could win. She spoke of the lessons learned from the victory of the janitors’ strike here recently.
I was impressed by one of the leaders in the firefighters union who said they were approached to set up a separate deal with the city, but they said no, they would stand by their brothers and sisters in the other unions and not do a separate deal. He said we must stand united or they will separate us and take us down one at a time.
Unfortunately, the police union made a separate deal with the city. No surprise there.
HOPE represents around 4,000 city employees since signing its first collective bargaining agreement with the city of Houston. It is the largest city workers’ union in southeast Texas. I can say without a doubt, the union members left the meeting ready to win this upcoming struggle. We need to support their struggle by helping to build the broadest coalition possible. This is just the beginning of the 1% trying to drive all our wages down until we lose all the historic gains our brothers and sisters have made in blood and suffering over the years. Let’s not allow ourselves to be tricked or divided by our enemies. Otherwise they will suck us dry and leave us in the dirt while they live high on the hog.