To the members and families of AFSCME Iowa Council 61,
To the Abbe Center’s patients and their loved ones,
Most people in Linn County are still unaware that the Abbe Center for Community Care is being shut down at the end of next month, but news is spreading every day. Everyone in our community with even an ounce of moral fiber is saddened to hear that, after twenty-six years, the best residential and transitional mental health care treatment in Eastern Iowa – if not the entire state – will no longer exist. The more far-sighted among them might feel an instinctual need to do something about it, should the day come where they or someone they know may need care without being sent to a far-flung location away from their homes. But even then, they’re unlikely to follow that “do something” impulse – unless the people most affected by this closure lead the fight to stop it.
The Abbe Center is just the latest in a series of cutbacks in social service programs and democratic rights – in a word, it’s the latest in austerity. The immediate cause may be the $1.4 million reduction in county-level funding or Governor Branstad’s $13 million veto of funds for mental health services, but behind that stands the cuts to MHDD, the slashing of SEATS para-transit in Johnson County, former Democratic Governor Culver’s ten percent “across-the-board” budget cut, Obama’s attacks against Social Security and federal workers’ pay, and the sequestration… just to name a few.
The politicians say cuts are necessary to regain fiscal responsibility. Sometimes, like now, they even say they’reimproving or “modernizing” our social services. State Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), after the Sandy Hook massacre, said “I personally have some interest in it”, referring to improving Iowa’s mental health care provision. “It might be something we need to re-visit,” he continued. What a strong commitment! He released a statement opposing the closure, but what else has he done? Iowa AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan restricted himself to the same kind of token, purely symbolic opposition with a statement that says, among other groundbreaking revelations, that the closure is devastating for those affected by it.
Workers deserve more than platitudes from those who claim to be in our corner. Democratic Party politicians don’t fight to preserve and expand the rights and resources of the majority because they belong to Big Business, not working people. Most union leaders preside over business unions, not the democratic, living, fighting unions that built Labor in America by winning concessions like the forty-hour week, better wages and job security. It’s up to you, the rank-and-file union members, the people who actually run the Center, along with the patients and their loved ones to open up a movement against austerity and for working people’s power.
No outside force can dictate the terms of your own struggle, but a look into the history of the labor and working class movement can serve as a useful guide. It only takes a few activists on the job and in the community to begin organizing Workplace Assemblies and Neighborhood Assemblies that are controlled democratically from the bottom-up.
As a first step, a protest demonstration could be organized to solidify the discontent that already exists into a real movement. From that point it’d be possible to mobilize job-site and door-to-door advocates, take on the Republican budget cuts and their Democratic collaborators, including the business-unionist misleaders. A positive action program for the way forward could be decided on by the movement’s ranks. Our small organization, the New Communist Party of America, would gladly lend any assistance it could to you if you choose to struggle. We can’t impose ourselves and our ideas on anyone – and we wouldn’t even if we could – but from one group of working-class people to another, we think that a program like this could truly improve the situation for the majority, galvanizing them into action to fight for their own interests:
* No cutbacks, no closures! Return the $800 million state budget surplus that was stolen from the people by austerity. Full funding for the Abbe Center, MHDD Linn County, Johnson County SEATS and all social programs on the chopping block.
* Organize Workplace Assemblies in the broader health care industry and unite them as a fighting, democratic, revolutionary industrial union in health care! For worker and community control of the Abbe Center – let those who do the work and those who are affected by it call the shots!
* Unite with other victims of budget cuts – those who need the social programs to live with dignity and those who work to provide them. Our strength is in our numbers, our organization and our position as society’s wealth-making class.
* Protest demonstrations, slow-downs, mass popular awareness campaigns, strikes and occupations are just a few of the working class’s tools. Even running candidates for public office, independent of the corporate parties and controlled by the workers’ organizations, can strengthen our side in the struggle. Lay the foundation for a political, economic and social / cultural movement against the 1%.
New Communist Party of America, Iowa Corridor Branch