Opportunism: Who Wins?

Rich Gibson

In response to a post below,

"I dont get the logic. If labor is cheap other places, capital will leave the US. If workers get paid the same everywhere in the world, theres no reason to export jobs and workers here will do better. What am I missing?

The idea that some relatively small group of workers will do better by toadying to their masters, and thus betraying the mass of workers, is as old as first time one small group of humans exploited another. It is a divide and rule maneuver, one of many in the Masters' quiver. Opportunism, the betrayal of the interests of the many, by a few, is made possible in the US by the fruits of imperialism. Some of the main actors, beneficiaries, of opportunism, are union bosses.

Opportunism is, ultimately, wrong. It is morally wrong, right at the outset. It is most surely materially wrong in the long run.

However, there is considerable debate about whether a relatively small group of workers can actually do better for themselves, at least in the short run, by this kind of betrayal. While there is not much debate about whether this is true of union bosses in the US, who have benefited for quite some time, those union bosses can never be certain when the ruling classes will turn off the spigot, or when working people will actually win change---and remember who betrayed us.

That debate is pretty interesting and important. It takes place sharply in debates about the role of white workers, and racism, in the US for example. David Roedigger, Ted Allen, and others, had sharp fights about it. My friend, Ted, who died recently, summarized some of his work here. http://clogic.eserver.org/1-2/allen.html

There is a lot of material on my www page, here. http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/racism.html
and a chart that reflects some of the underpinnings of the debate here. http://www.pipeline.com/%7Ergibson/approach.htm

I think a good case can be made that white skilled workers in the US, in the AFL at first, and later in the AFL-CIO, did benefit in the short run from the racism that they enforced in their ranks, by excluding black workers and women, and by following the AFL CIO's policies of attacking workers in the rest of the world, in order to prop up US companies, and imperialism.

But that benefit was very short lived, maybe 20 years in the fifties and sixties (and please do not hold me to dates to prove it for all of the fifties or sixties). In that period, white male AFL-CIO members did fairly well. They could work a mostly 40 hour week (won through the leadership of communists and anarchists taking direct action in the thirties), support a small family, have health benefits, maybe have a cottage and a boat, and they thought they could retire on easy street.

For lots of them, the retirement plan evaporated. And, by the mid seventies, when the US had destroyed its economy and its moral authority by the victory of the Vietnamese people on the battlefield, politically, and morally, then those white workers began to see the lie they lived go up in smoke.  Coming from Detroit, where jobs vanished, families fell apart, dreams died, and the school system was demolished, I watched all of that happen. I was too young to ever believe the opportunist lie might work for me---setting aside whether I was bright or honest enough to recognize it as a lie.

Teachers are in a very similar position to those white workers in the auto plants, in steel mills, etc, in the sixties. The AFL CIO rank and file chose wrong. They chose to believe their union bosses (bosses who know they live off the table scraps of imperialism) and to continue to support racism in their own ranks, to support US imperialism (though by 1967 the sons and daughters of a lot of these white workers were following their black working class friends and refusing to go to Vietnam, or blowing up their officers when they were there).

Teachers today amount to an apartheid work force, 90 percent plus white. They teach a student population that may already be majority, minority. Nothing is being done about this in colleges of education, where racism, ignorance, opportunism, and fear dominate policies and programs, and nothing is being done in the unions, where leaders talk about "diversity and multiculturalism" (a dodge to distract from talk about racism and capitalism) , but consistently tack on more and more bogus requirements to get teaching certificates, systematically driving out students of color and working class people. It is amazing to see the processes of capital just shave people off. If you don't have that extra thousand dollars for tuition, out you go---waitressing.

School workers make a choice, wittingly or not. Teachers, the most unionized people in the USA today, can choose to support the racism that propels the NCLB, for example, and to follow their union bosses in backing it (AFT just called for full funding for NCLB), or they can side with their kids and their communities and fight back. Teachers can side with their union bosses in supporting US imperialism, or they can easily find ways to fight US imperialism---as in kicking military recruiters (paid professional liars) off campuses. We can build mass boycott of the Big Tests.

Teachers are among the last people in the US with regular jobs, some contractual protections (which are never protections really, unless we control the work places), and health benefits.

We should learn from the rank and file of the AFL-CIO and see that all fruits of opportunism can vanish, very fast.

Most likely, it will follow the path of racism. Pay and benefits will be linked to test scores. They already have. The teachers will be divided, grotesquely, by pay, by the color of kids they teach, by the income of the parents in their school. The first teachers to lose pay and benefits will be those in very urban, and very rural, districts, where scores are, by design, low. If suburban teachers let that happen, then they will just be next. An injury to one really does just go before an injury to all.

But, Susan, you hit on exactly the point. The best answer to all this, really the only answer, is "EQUALITY"
(If you want to see a great film about that, rent Salt of the Earth, long banned in the USA)

That is the answer for all working people, all poor people, everywhere in the world. It is the answer the ruling classes cannot stand. They really hate that and, in the US, have the gall to denounce it as a call for class war, which is exactly what it is.

Justice demands organization and action.



AFT Backs Israel's war, raises dues

My friends on staff at AFT tell me that the AFT passed a motion supporting what AFT calls Israel's response to Hezbollah aggression, etc. That appears to put AFT right in line with the US State Department, and George Bush (and much of the Democratic party too).

The vote, according to my friends, appears to be much closer than the NEA  3 to 1 decision at their RA to not discuss the Middle East wars at all. It is hard to tell from a phone call, but the impression I have is that the AFT vote was quite close, maybe even deliberately miscounted by the leadership---which is usually unnecessary in AFT since dissension is hardly tolerated in the union.

AFT has long had well-known connections to the U.S. State Department, and the CIA (through AFT leadership in the National Endowment for Democracy, the American Institute for Free Labor Development, etc) and AFT bosses have long played a key role in the ongoing relationship of the entire AFL-CIO with the CIA. Even today, the AFL-CIO spends about 50% of its dues income outside the United States, usually seeking to destroy indigenous trade union and people's movements in other nations. Most recently, the AFL-CIO-NED was instrumental in the effort to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela.

Do not take my word for this stuff, nor my own research. Look for work by Kim Scipes, Paul Buhle, Jack Scott, and many others. It is not a conspiracy theory, but a recognition of the confluence of interests between US union bosses, the US government, and US business. The AFL-CIO unions believe, and have always believed, that workers in the US will do better if workers elsewhere do worse, following closely to the same line that they adopted in the US, that is, white workers will do better if black workers do worse.

While this racism and nationalism may be true (that is, it works) for the union leaders, who are relatively well paid, it is against the interest of the mass of rank and file workers in the unions, including school workers, who have much more in common with, for example, an Iraqi or Israeli or Lebanese teacher, than they do with George Bush or Ted Kennedy: millionaires.

The union leaders betray the people they claim to represent, us, serving as Quislings in our ranks, in exchange for the opportunity to try to behave like bosses, to win income and opportunities that are denied to the rank and file. They systematically, deliberately, disorganize and mislead us, offering our potential militancy as a bargaining chip for their own benefit. They live off the fruits of US imperialism which is necessarily born from US warmaking---and they know it. That is why they support the many endless wars that capitalism has to offer---and it has nothing but war to offer.

The AFT-AFL-CIO--CIA links are pretty commonly known and accepted.

What is not so well known is the NEA's role in all of this. NEA is involved through the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs,  a branch of the National Endowment for Democracy. NEA signed on to that in 1984.

AFT also voted to raise member dues about 14 dollars per month.

Justice demands new kinds of organizations.