by Rich Gibson, Substance News, April 25, 2017
The Real Mayday
The National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and other union bosses are about to sully the celebration of Mayday, an international radical, usually revolutionary, workers’ holiday.
The union tops plan a series of scams set up to march their members straight back into the corrupt Democratic Party, half of the two-headed electoral snake that represents capital and empire.
Mayday militancy began in the US, in Chicago, but today, it’s flipped as “Law Day,” a statue signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1959.
It’s the day Americans are to celebrate the sanctity of property rights, not human rights, as written into the slavers’ Constitution.
Eisenhower, however, in his famous farewell address, warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex,” a reality that the law-abiding tops of NEA and AFT hope we will ignore. So far, as we will see, they succeeded.
Let us review the historical implications of Mayday, then look at what the school worker unions plan, and propose what might be done otherwise.
The original Mayday came from a demand for the eight-hour day, beginning May 1, 1886 forward, by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, founded mainly by radicals, anarchists, and socialists. Most of them backed direct action on the job rather than the voting booth. As they saw it, alone in the voting booth, the key issue is: “What about ME,?”—capitalism’s favorite divide-and-rule question.
At the core, the battle for the eight-hour day was based on a sharp recognition of class warfare and battles for control of work places.
On May 1, 1886, tens of thousands of workers walked off their jobs across the United States. In Chicago, as many as 40-50,000 workers struck.
More and more workers joined the fight. On May 4, 1886, a pitched battle broke out at the McCormack Reaper Works factory, where for months locked-out workers had fought the police and Pinkerton agents (national mercenaries of the time). On that day, two workers were killed.
Anarchists called a public meeting for the following day in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Inclement weather kept the crowd at a minimum. Even testimony from local officials later showed that the gathering was peaceful.
Nevertheless, the police declared their usual, “Disperse or be dispersed.” At that point, from origins unknown, a bomb exploded in the police ranks. All told, eight cops were killed.
Furious, the police fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding, perhaps, forty to fifty.
Albert Parsons, Louis Lingg, Sam Felden, Michael Schwab, August Spies, Oscar Neebe, Adolph Fischer, and George Engle (eight anarchists) were arrested, charged, and convicted of murder.
Only three of them were present at the demonstration. The others were in full view, and clearly not guilty of the violence.
Tried for their anarchist convictions, not their actions, seven were sentenced to death; Neebe to 15 years in prison.
A worldwide movement involving millions of people grew to defend the Chicago anarchists.
But, in November, 1887, Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engle, and Michael Schwab were hanged. Louis Lingg committed suicide.
Moments before the trap door dropped, Spies shouted, “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”
Its substance is only part of what the NEA and AFT mis-leaders would like forgotten on Mayday.
In June, 1893, Illinois Governor Altgeld, pardoned Feldon, Schwab, and Neebe, noting that the bomber, who was as likely as not an agent provocateur, was never found.
In 1890, the newly formed American Federation of Labor declared Mayday as a day of strikes for the eight-hour day, and much more. The Marxist Second International signed on. Anarchists demanded: “Abolish the wage system!” while socialists called for Marxist revolutions, world-wide.
That year, Mayday strikes circled the world. Since then it has been an international day of direct action nearly everywhere but the United States, where history itself—certainly labor history as it must mention Karl Marx—is almost abolished in schools; notably without rebuke from NEA or AFT, or any other union.
The Haymarket attacks inspired radicals like Big Bill Haywood, the anarchist Emma Goldman, and not surprisingly Albert Parsons’ comrade and wife, Lucy Parsons, who all went on to play a role in the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World.
The preamble to the 1905 founding IWW Constitution begins with:
“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together on the political, as well as on the industrial field, and take and hold that which they produce by their labor through an economic organization of the working class, without affiliation with any political party.
The rapid gathering of wealth and the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands make the trade unions unable to cope with the ever-growing power of the employing class, because the trade unions foster a state of things which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars.
The trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers. These sad conditions can be changed and the interests of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries, if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.”
The IWW’s prescience is significant more than 100 years later.
This is, of course, the deception the NEA and AFT hope to advance.
The NEA, AFT-AFL-CIO Mayday
Flim-Flams: “A Day of (in)Action”
Actually, the fake unions’ “Day of Action” is a day of more talk–less action–and no talk about the essence of Mayday–international class war from below.
Why No Mayday Strikes?
The essence of today’s business unionism is a simple exchange: guaranteed, often forced, dues income in exchange for labor peace. Unions, which as we shall see think of their treasuries first and members a distant second, could be sued for not keeping the rank and file pacified. And, in pacified areas, people become instruments of their own oppression.
The California Teachers Association, one of the largest (and richest with guaranteed forced dues) NEA affiliates, plans this for Mayday:
“CTA’s statewide day of action will profess our unwavering support for all students, our vigilance in making schools safe zones, and our persistent advocacy for the public education all California students deserve.
Why May 1?
May 1st has been historically linked to international worker’ rights. On May 1, 1886, the U.S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions (including immigrant workers) ruled that an 8-hour work day, would be a full and legal work day. NEA and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) are also holding a national day of action on May 1. May 1, or May Day, continues to be a national day of action to raise awareness about immigration rights and the need to keep families together as they fight for a better life.”
It is correct to say that Mayday became a day related to immigrants. On May 1, 2006, immigrants and allies effectively shut down the U.S. workplaces and school systems with a massive general strike–not what the labor bosses, who would be irrelevant if an activist, class conscious rank and file emerged, want.
The Oregon NEA, plans Mayday in-actions:
“May Day is coming! Join OEA in standing up for the Schools our Students Deserve as part of a national day of action at local school sites Monday, May 1, 2017.
This is a great opportunity for educators to organize at school sites and connect with their community to:
Welcome, protect, and defend all students, no matter their ethnicity, gender identity, and/or immigration status.
Provide a safe learning environment for all students regardless of where they were born, how they look, or who they love.
Invest in our future by fully funding public education.
Protect our public schools from privatization that drains resources from public school students.”
CTA even has a video, complete with kettle drums, created by an NEA front group, “Reclaim Our (sic) Schools, calling Donald Trump “Un-American” for his border wall fantasies, while not noting that NEA’s favorite president for the empire, was known as “Deporter in Chief.” The video is embedded here: http://www.reclaimourschools.org/
My own California-NEA affiliate, The CCA has this to say:
“Collectively, the intent is to send a clear message: that college faculty and educators will not tolerate hateful rhetoric and bullying of immigrant students, LGBTQ+ students, Muslims and others; that we demand safe schools and colleges where students can learn without being frightened or harassed; and that we will work for policies and practices that strengthen community colleges and public education, not dismantle them.
On a symbolic note, May Day has been linked to international workers’ rights in commemoration of the May 1, 1886, strikes and protests for an eight-hour workday across the U.S. More recently, May Day has served as a national day of action to raise awareness about immigration rights and the need to keep families together as they fight for a better life. Other labor unions and community groups are planning actions for the weekend of May 1.
“Take the pledge,” said CCA President Lynette Nyaggah, “and plan a May Day event with your students and others on campus that will demonstrate how we advocate for all of our community college students. Whatever you can do, thank you for joining our efforts to make sure all of our community college students get the public education they deserve.”
My local community college NEA has nothing planned for Mayday, but they did bargain a one-percent pay cut for faculty (there are five unions on the campus, easily played one against the other) and they do project a dance party soon—paid by member dues.
Oddly, despite a clearly articulated message to locals, the NEA national publication, “NEA TODAY,” has nothing to say about Mayday. The national AFT website is silent as well.
What’s being promoted for Mayday by the counterfeit unions of the USA?
- Nationalism of all kinds,
- Ethnic separation,
- Racism, no mention of a fully segregated capitalist school system,
- Indifference to perpetual war–never mentioned,
- cowardice, herding the members into a pretense of action that is no action at all.
Not a single top US labor leader will say this: my members and our bosses have contradictory interests. None will seriously oppose the empires wars, even though those wars impact every aspect of school life, from budgets to the curriculum to salaries to student and, often, faculty lives.
Why Would This Be?
Money, empire (the search for cheap labor, markets, raw materials, and regional control), and corruption.
The money aspect is fairly easy to uncover with a visit to the Department of Labor web site, searching for the LM2 reports of top NEA and AFT leader salaries and benefits.
Here’s how that plays out:
The National Education Association is the largest union in the country with 2,968,722 members, down about 10% in the last five years. The union has nearly $400 million in assets. That’s the bank account union bosses are determined to protect—as it’s their salaries and retirement income.
In 2016, NEA president Lily Garcia took a total of $512,504. Not bad, and well up from the approximately $466,000 her predecessor, Dennis Van Roekel made, but not nearly the $686,949 the bulbous empty suit and former NEA president Reg Weaver made in his last year in office.
NEA Vice President, Becky Pringle, made $434,738, in total.
Pringle may be unhappy as the Secretary-Treasurer Princess (sic) Moss took home slightly more at $436,423.
The much smaller but more widely recognized AFT has 1,544,143 members, many of them not school workers, including nurses and some state employees. The AFT is a predominantly urban union; NEA mainly suburban.
To underline the divide and rule nature of capital and union complicity, note Detroit. The Detroit Federation of Teachers, DFT, assisted in the organized decay and ultimate ruin of what was once the finest urban school system in the US. The Detroit Public School system no longer exists. Less than five years ago, every teacher was fired and forced to reapply for a job. DFT did nothing but sue to continue its lifeline: dues income.
The Michigan NEA, representing most of the rest of the state, did nothing as Detroit slipped into near-oblivion—despite recent claims of re-colonization within a small Green Zone.
But now, MEA faces the same attacks that destroyed the DFT, and MEA, typically, does nothing. Sure, an injury to one precedes and injury to all, but these injures were manufactured by Quislings.
Despite being half NEA’s size, AFT boss Randi (Rhonda) Weingarten made $497,311 in 2016, nearly matching her NEA counterpart.
NEA has term limits. Weingarten, whose mother joined in the racist New York Ocean-Hill Brownsville strike, may be president for life.
AFT Secretary Treasurer Loretta Johnson took home $358,225.
These salaries, about ten times the average teacher wage (labor bosses representing many school workers who live in trailers, support personnel who must bunk up with others, etc.), are fruits of the empire and made possible by the empire.
Fruits of the Empire
The NEA and AFT leaders alike serve in concert with the National Endowment for Democracy, a Central Intelligence Agency front.
Previous long-time AFT boss, Albert Shanker, led the racist New York City strike in 1968 and demolished any form of democracy in the AFT soon after. Shanker not only led the charge for worker/boss unity in theory (his form of NEA’s “New Unionism”) with his backing of the NYC bailout, but he and the AFT were also key in supporting the American Institute for Free Labor Development, another CIA front as Substance author Kim Scipes and editor George Schmidt ably demonstrated. (Schmidt, George. 1978. The American Federation of Teachers and the CIA. Chicago: Substitutes United for Better Schools, and, Scipes, Kim. 2000. It’s time to come clean: Open the AFL-CIO archives on international labor operations. Labor Studies Journal 25 (2): 4-25). Further: The AFT and Albert Shanker— http://richgibson.com/SHANKER.htm
While the CIA’s mandate is signals intelligence (bugging phones, etc.) and human intelligence OUTSIDE the USA, the spies never abided by the rules. And, the CIA has had an abiding interest in education since its inception. It created, for example, the National Student Association and ran it from the early fifties to the mid-sixties (see Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to enroll American Students in The Crusade Against Communism by Karen Paget, 2015), or the original, “NSA and the CIA by Sol Stern”, March 1967, Ramparts Magazine online at http://www.unz.org/Pub/Ramparts-1967mar-00029)
The nationalist project that NEA and AFT pursue is simple, if grossly wrong: American workers will do better if the workers of the world. Thus, their unions and social movements must be destroyed with CIA money, co-option, or violence. Any will do, and the CIA will back anyone, hoping to flip them in the future.
AFT and NEA bosses’ income comes, in part, as a payoff from the empire.
When they retire, they will join other former NEA and AFT officers in Education International, another CIA front set up after the cold war, which obviously never ended.
That bribe spills down on the rank-and-file school worker force as well.
The NEA, one of the more (small-d) democratic unions, holds yearly representative assemblies (RA’s). Since 2002, approximately every other year delegates put forward a motion to “discuss the wars.”
And every time that motion came up (not to oppose, but discuss, the wars) it was voted away, about 95% to 5%, by a rule, peculiar to NEA, that such a discussion would upset the members in attendance.
Blood Money Made Possible by the Empire
As above, the labor tops sell the pacified labor of their members in exchange for dues income. Pacification can take many forms, from debasing the history and future of Mayday, to upending the key practices the historic Mayday urged: direct action, strikes, company seizures like the Great Flint Sit-down Strike against General Motors in 1937. (A great video of that strike, “With Babies and Banners” is less than an hour long; perfect for classroom use on Mayday: here
Or, take, for example, the 1968 Florida state-wide teacher strike, the only state-wide school worker strike to date, made in part possible by the organizing actions of rank-and-file teachers, even principals who joined them, and leadership like the union president, Dexter Hagman.
The Florida Education Association (a combination of NEA and AFT) made a shockingly dishonest video about that heroic strike where every school worker participant submitted a resignation. The video is linked here
Nowhere in the video does FEA note the many victories of the strike. Before the massive walkout, female teachers who became pregnant were forced to leave work, and stay away after giving birth. That ended. And, the politicos and local business bosses learned that one strike might lead to another (Gainesville, Florida attorney James Sullivan wrote and excellent MA thesis on the strike that I reviewed—now in the UF library).
But, worse, the video praises former Dade County Florida FEA boss for decades, Pat Tornillo. Tornillo’s unit scabbed on the strike and more, he was imprisoned for stealing millions of dollars from the Dade union—unnoticed for years, of course, by the national office.
“I really thought that what I was doing was OK,” Tornillo said. “It wasn’t that I was trying to hide the things that I did.”
No strikes. Lots of corruption. An endless stream of AFT leaders in Florida, and elsewhere, have been imprisoned for embezzlement, and in one case, child abuse. My own NEA boss in Florida cut a deal to repay what may have been ½ million dollars he gambled away and blew up his nose.
NEA president Lili Garcia loves staged militancy. At every opportunity, she quotes the IWW hero, Joe Hill, who was hanged for his beliefs. He said, “don’t mourn—organize.” He did not mean organize for the Democrats and sell out the rank-and-file.
Garcia habitually grabs a guitar and sings select parts of “Solidarity Forever” written by IWW Ralph Chapin which contains these words:
“They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power gain our freedom when we learn
That the Union makes us strong
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousandfold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the Union makes us strong”
Garcia hums a good tune, but wants nothing of its meaning.
Like her, Randi Weingarten takes on some false militancy, falsely opposing new Education Secretary and millionaire mystic, Betsy Devos (both Garcia and Weingarten wildly backed Obama, and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, who carried on the Bush NCLB, with the more repressive Race to the Top—and Obama gave Chicago the school closing Rahm Emanuel).
Weingarten joined in a chummy school visit with Devos on April 20th.
Devos: “It was clear that this community has invested heart and soul into the students here,” Ms. DeVos said, praising the district.
Ms. Weingarten said the visit “proves that support for public schools transcends politics.”
Education is always about money and politics, and they both know it. Yet they will dine together and have a laugh.
They Are Not Fit To Rule
America is in the midst of a real legitimacy crisis that some ruling elites recognize, if school workers do not.
Economic elites from finance and industry lost control of the economy in 2008. They used the political class to give the bankers and industrialists more than $12.9 trillion while winning massive concessions from industrial unions. Today, they are back looting and ignoring their frantic promises to not take huge bonuses, to allow greater regulation, and to offer good loans. The Dow Jones Industrial Average over 20,000 equals another bubble—bursting when and with what implications?
The political class, with the nauseating choice of war-hawk, Wall Street toady, Hillary Clinton, versus the sociopathic narcissist Donald Trump, at the end couldn’t even rig the election to protect their own interests. Now, they bow to a president who loses Naval Armadas in oceans he doesn’t understand.
The warrior class, the generals who so love five star hotels and meals served with demitasse cups, can’t win wars. When guerrillas fight you to a standstill for 15 years, you lose. Instead, officers use troops, products of an economic draft, as cannon fodder and deny them benefits when they no longer are conscripts.
None of the collected elites has a grand strategy. Hence, they admit to having no strategy. They’re left with whack-a-mole tactics which cannot match a determined, single-minded, deadly assemblage of enemies who do indeed have grand strategy: Sharia law everywhere.
Of course, the bosses of the national education system, from Arne Duncan to Betsy Devos and all before them, are unfit. They have no interest in education (literally, “leading out). Rather, they design schools as human munition factories, missions for capitalism, and illusion mills. It is only reasonable to expect that a society writhing in booming inequality and promising perpetual war will make seemingly odd demands on schools—demands that vary somewhat by student birth class.
Union bosses are unfit for their offices. They cannot be trusted. Using the theory of labor-management unity, they have enriched themselves since the 1970’s while promising the rank-and-file that concessions will save jobs. Concessions never saved jobs but, like feeding blood to sharks, give-backs only make bosses want more.
As Wikileaks revealed, both NEA’s Garcia and AFT’s Weingarten, rigged their internal union processes to offer Hillary Clinton an early endorsement, then spent more than a combined $30 million and more on the failed election—only to lose. (https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/3695. For campaign spending see “Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Reap Little,” Education Week, November 15, 2016).
The NEA budget audit for the year ending August 31, 2015, reflects a total expenditure of $102,318,446 for “Organizing,” that is:
“(1) develop an organizing culture that grows NEA membership through data-driven, researched based campaigns in state and local affiliates while testing and assessing strategies for membership growth, member retention, member engagement, and relevance to members…
(2) Develop the necessary skills within our affiliate leaders and staff to thrive as organizers in a changing internal and external environment,
(3) Assist state and local affiliates to develop their capacity and enhance their effectiveness.” (California TA budget, NEA section, p. 35).
Translated, this means NEA spent more than one-quarter of the national budget, not to organize anything substantive, like strikes, or to determine collective demands (as in Detroit’s call for “books, supplies, lower class size,” and wage/benefit hikes) but to discover new, and old, ways to collect dues—to protect and grow the revenue stream, as in any other business.
The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and booming inequality met by the potential of a mass, class-conscious, internationalist revolutionary movement against fascism; for equality, justice, and retribution.
The American counterfeit unions reject this solution. We should think otherwise, and act upon the thought.
What defeats Quislings backed by men with guns?
First step: ideas! A unity of thought and action against empire and capital are the orders of the day—a real fight for real reforms tied to a long, long-term revolutionary action.
The strike weapon, settling what is really a daily battle for control of every workplace, and demonstrating just who it is—workers—that create all value, most be restored.
Figures for the union salaries and member figures are from the Department of Labor, LM2 web site: https://olms.dol-esa.gov/query/getOrgQryResult.do
Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor, San Diego State University. For a decade, he taught labor studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. He once worked for the NEA as an organizer and bargaining agent, leading strikes in Michigan and Florida. He is a co-founder of the Rouge Forum. Rg@richgibson.com