It is hard to imagine any generation subjected to more horrors than this one. Ruling class desperation to hide reality, to declare the end of all war in a world full of war, to proclaim the end of history in a period of vicious class struggle, to announce prosperity in the midst of world famine and homelessness, translates into a generation schooled in lies. 

The kids are hit with crass materialism, from the right jacket to the best shoe labels, racism, mysticism (one Lakeland, Florida, teacher, undisciplined in her five years of teaching high school, makes her kids get a prayer ring designed to "cure the devil's mental illness"), sexual harassment and molestation, drugs,and, of course, lousy food. Bad as it may be, school food could be the only food for the day.

What is remarkable about kids in school is their resiliency. The tycoons are every bit as aware of that as any activist. They bank on it. But kids resist. Even so, most walk-outs and similar student actions in the last decade, although they outnumbered teacher actions, were short-lived and soon fizzled. Somehow, despite wretched conditions and moronic curricula, most kids do pick up basic skills.

Still, KIDS are the focal point of schools. Teachers often lose sight of that, just like some social workers think they, rather than recipients, are the focus of welfare. But the children are the key to understanding schools, and changing them. 

Any plan to change school which does not focus primarily on the kids, and mainly working class kids, will eventually turn foul.

Within every school system, in every state, schools vary a good deal. The differences reflect the varying goals of the community (a school system serving a community whose constituency is controlled by the hotel industry is likely to produce a lot of drop-outs who become low-paid hotel maids, while a school system serving Cape Canaveral is likely to be full of computers) , the parental constituencies, and most importantly the combined needs of the local and national ruling classes.

The rich who rule the U.S. have different needs for different groups of kids and, while the ruling class cannot exert total control over the schools, any more than they can completely control the prisons, for the most part the bosses get their way. In this case that means the organized decay of education. 

Let us turn to how that is accomplished.

Return to Top of Page


1) The elites want to perpetuate themselves, to make sure their children are able to handle their inherited wealth. They send their kids, mostly, to a few elite private schools (Exeter, Cranbrook, Hanover, Miss Parson's Academy, etc.) where they are taught to rule, to view the world as something to be owned and manipulated. Their education differs considerably from, say, the schooling designed to prepare lawyers or dentists.

2) The people in power need a variety of technicians with wide skills and bureaucrats to operate the government system. This overwhelmingly white group goes to public schools in suburban areas, elite public schools in city systems like Renaissance High in Detroit, and attends institutions like the University of Michigan. These kids are the student government leaders who learn to posture for minor rewards, the computer crowd, the future lawyers club, and so on.

3) The ruling class needs lower level bureaucrats like social workers, IRS agents, teachers, etc. They're important social props, gate keepers, virtual border guards, and an equally important group of consumers-to-be. These people eventually attend the old second and third level state college systems and community colleges.

4) The ruling class needs workers--people disciplined enough to do a reasonably simple job--and come back day after day, frequently on time, remembering what they did yesterday. This group is held in high school for as long as possible.

5) They need warriors. This group will be comprised of spill-over from number four above. ROTC involves more than 1/2 million young people in high schools around the United States. The promise to the kids is that they will be officers. The truth is that most of them will not. They'll be among the first drafted and rushed to whatever the front is at the time. Those who return whole will vie to become the lower level officer corps, cops, etc. 

At the college level, the intensifying militarization of the U.S. is demonstrated in the fact that of all the federal grants to universities, more than 70% are directed by one arm of the military or another. Every level of research is infected by the need to make war.

6) There is a huge, growing pool for whom the ruling class has nothing at all. Flatly, they are cannon fodder, at best. The problem that the ruling class faces is that they want this group trained sufficiently to actually serve as cannon fodder, but because of the steady decline of surplus value, the elites lack the funding to even train these kids that well. Soldiers really do need to know how to read. Yet literacy rates among young minority people are estimated at 50 %, tops. Drop-out rates (statistically deceiving from state to state) parallel the literacy rate. (See another important contribution from Jonathan Kozol, "Illiterate America")

While there is some movement between these groups, the careful, systematic division of students into rather easily distinguished categories (each fundamentally racist) is one of the main trends in the education system. It reflects the sharpening division of social classes in the United States and the deepening decomposition of American capitalism. It also reflects a stratification of education first proposed by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. (See Lewis Corey, "Unfinished Task" p. 90 and "Educational Philosophy of National Socialism", by G.F. Kneller)

Each group of kids, future victims and oppressors, must deal with a different form of fascist development in their particular schools. At one end of the spectrum, the best schools will teach the most sophisticated forms of racism and individualism; at the other end, armed cops stalk the kids in the hallways. In a sense, in the latter schools the governing class is hung by its own petard, caught in its own trap. While there is considerable apparent control of the kids, in fact there is little attention paid to the curriculum and instruction. Teachers who show up stay. Educators who counsel resistance have a good chance of survival..

What will become of the kids? Young people, 12 to 25, are always the bayonets of social change. The question is whether or not they can become, in Lincoln's words, "THINKING bayonets". (Foner, "Reconstruction") Lets first look at the workers inside the schools; the support personnel and the teachers.

Return to Top of Page


Although there is no school without them, support workers get little notice from academics doing research on schools until, that is, the academics discover how much support workers cost, and how much can be made off them. 

Support workers, bus drivers (with their ability to move around and communicate school to school, great organizers during job actions), cafeteria workers, aides, secretaries, mechanics, custodians, etc., are vital parts of the schools and are sometimes the most militant when school struggles arise. Traditionally support jobs have been patronage positions, jobs doled out to the superintendent's favorites or pals of school board members. In some states, support workers have benefits which mirror the teachers, making them envied among their friends and neighbors.

There is a tremendous amount of money in support work; not in doing it, but in controlling it. For example, machine shop bosses are regularly charged with big auto parts thefts, superintendents routinely have their homes cared for by school groundskeepers and so on. But the big money, bus purchase contracts, for example, often goes unseen. It just dribbles out of the school budget into a swamp of cronyism and corruption. 

A continuing trend for support workers is to take on more and more duties once performed by teachers (especially true for aides) while at the same time to see jobs evaporate to outside contractors. There is even more money in kickbacks from contracting out than there is in hiring your brother-in-law.

Support workers occasionally prove to be tough fighters. They sometimes don't suffer from the muddled vision of middle class teachers that refuses to recognize the contradictory interests of workers and bosses. The work place opposition they face varies from job to job. Cafeteria workers, according to interviews with union organizers, contend with constant harassment from dictatorial supervisors and are the most intimidated. The jobs are generally race and sex-coded. At one end, mechanics are usually white men. School secretaries, cafeteria workers, aides, are usually an integrated group of women. Bus divers are a fairly even mix, depending on the community. 

Even though both of the big education unions, the NEA and AFT, treat them like step-children, support workers know that some boss is living fairly well off their labor and organize. And so, as the 1991 support workers strike in L.A. demonstrates, they have a lot to contribute not only to the education of each child, but to the unity necessary to make reforms in the schools. Bus drivers, for a example, are an instantaneous communications system between schools. 

But, while individual support workers may come to the fore, as a group they do not have the leverage now to take the lead in school battles. (The National Education Association leadership is determined to restrict the power of support workers in the union and, as support personnel represent a growing section of the unions ranks, the leaders are strangling on their own success) It will be some time before any community will agree to raise support workers wages rather than buy computers.

This does not mean that individual support workers cannot give leadership. To the contrary, a progressive step in any school union would be to move support workers into the highest leadership. Moreover, support workers can contribute significantly, with their sharp vision of the split between workers and bosses, to any conflict in a school. But, on the whole, it remains that the key juncture in a school is between a teacher and a student.

Return to Top of Page


You remember a teacher, a good one, maybe several; and probably many bad ones. Most people had a good teacher, two or three if you're lucky. Maybe that teacher taught you to read. Reading is a troublemaker's hobby. Whatever your main interest is, some good teacher probably initiated or developed it.

Unfortunately, many teachers aren't so good. They usually don't start out that way. But they suffer through a few college education courses ("Education is good for American democracy", etc.), do a quick stint as a student teacher, and there they are, in front of a class of 35, with all their chaotic and incoherent views of the world about to be tested by a sea of kids. Many teachers look for a safe route.

They find that path in the directions they get from their employers, the principal, the superintendent, the booksellers who really develop the curriculum, and the teacher's editions of the textbooks which provide some dull but fairly clear guides. Teachers get rewarded for playing it safe, keeping the class seated, quiet and on task with whichever standardized tests are in vogue. They might see a few rebel colleagues pass through the system, get in trouble, and leave. Over time, these pacified educators grow more cynical, adopt self-destructive behavior patterns (like boring themselves and their students), and blame kids and parents for bad schools and social inequality.

Some good teachers stick it out. Usually they're the ones who really respect and love kids, instill a purposeful sense of mutual trust and discipline, who can focus on one kid at a time yet still see the whole group developing, who demand levels of competence in their field and others, link school to life, and who are passionate about their subjects. Good teachers must be sensitive to the individual and collective impact of racism and sexism. They don't expect all Chicano children to be able to describe the origins of Cinco de Mayo, or black children to be innately familiar with W.E.B. Dubois. 

Good teachers are prepared to listen through a kid's problems and to find ways their subjects will meet a kid's real needs. They see their own personality as a medium for education. They know knowledge is a weapon, the best defense, and that powerful education comes from teaching by example. They teach kids to ask "Why?" and they try, in an unjust atmosphere, to be fair.

For both teachers and students, there is a common goal: presenting and becoming an educated person. Anatol Lunacharsky, the Soviet Minister of Education immediately after the October 1917 revolution, bemoaned the training of Russian teachers but gave them a vivid description of his image of an educated person as one who, "hears the whole concert being performed around him; all the sounds are within his range, they all blend together into a single harmony, which we call culture. And at the same time he himself is playing one instrument in it, he plays well and makes his valuable contribution to the commonwealth, and this common wealth is all, as a whole, reflected in his consciousness, in his heart." (Lunacharsky, "On Education", Progress Publishers, Moscow, p.47). 

Lunacharsky's views were quickly leashed. He didn't survive Stalin's purges. In a society where the truth is a threat to the powerful, where exploitation is the sinew of virtually all movement, teaching is meant to be a gate-keepers' job. Bad teachers, teachers whose racism enslaves their ability to gain and test ideas or who opted for the easy routine following the book, burden good ones. Quality teachers who must face 170 kids in a day, who are regularly interrupted by assemblies, announcements, discipline problems, nonsensical paperwork, and denied supplies like copy machines, often become boring teachers opting for a manageable routine. The system, in this sense, works.

Teaching in some ways parallels the role black preachers played in the old south. While a few teachers use their roles as opportunities to create or support resistance, many teachers toe the line in exchange for petty recompense.

Good or bad, teachers create terrific social value: false hope. Yet they're confronted with an insolvable riddle, how to tamp down their students' expectations to the narrowed confines of a declined society, but not so far that the kids rebel. 

Teachers are often the best paid workers around, the only ones with job security of any kind. While teachers, like all workers, live on the fragile edges of personal economic calamity, one illness would wipe them out; it remains that in a relative sense they're doing fairly well. In times of economic collapse, school goes on. But financial crisis weighs most heavily on minority educators and students.

The weave of complex forces that confront black teachers, especially in the south, fashions a texture that may explain the declining numbers of black educators. There are still many black educators in the south who were themselves taught in the old separate-but-equal school systems in place not long ago. And there are many graduates of the remaining black colleges. 

Integration slammed black teachers, as well as students, into white schools with white colleagues and administrators who often saw their new colleagues as somehow inferior, and waited for them to fail. Concurrently, black teachers faced white parents who could not conceive of their children being taught by a black person. There was little of the casual exchange in teachers' lounges that often amounts to a teacher training system and source of support to go on after a bad day. Administrators, ordered to make integration succeed, or at least quiet, were reluctant to make constructive criticism and felt unable to engage disciplinary measures. The black community correctly saw black teachers as the sole model for black kids, and sometimes the only understanding allies a black child could find in a fundamentally hostile environment. And in that environment, where in many circles it is still quietly understood by white people that blacks will never measure up, the presence of black teachers serves both as a defense and a constant reminder that someone nearby just might react sharply to racist comments. 

The reasoned position of many black citizens is that no matter what the educational background of the black teachers, good or bad, they must be present for the children, both black and white. Yet, simultaneously, these black teachers achieve a material and social status in their neighborhoods that often gives a greater reason to defend the status quo than to challenge it. And given that many southern school systems are far more integrated than their northern counterparts, indeed so are the neighborhoods, black teachers over time achieved social ties that reinforce a reluctance for confrontation.

To conclude that black teachers are thus more reactionary than whites misses the mark altogether. Black teachers, at great personal risk, provided key leadership and support for the civil rights movement. The tensions black educators face are incredibly intricate. All of the history of struggle against racism, the primary force retarding educational reform in our society, confirms that only integrated struggle, a united multi-racial effort, can succeed. What does follow from this is the importance that black teachers, once convinced of the need for change, are perfectly positioned to lead a movement for democracy and equality.

Teachers black and white like to be flattered with notions of professionalism, but they do not set their own hours, control entry into the craft, choose their working conditions, set their own pay, or design the substance of their jobs. In many ways, teachers have less autonomy than 19th century skilled metal workers. Though they may come from the middle class, teachers are workers, journey-persons perhaps, but workers never-the-less. While many teachers like to see their school as an extended family with the principal at the head, even the most naive teachers recognize competing interests at work.

Teacher unions promote the idea that since education has historically been a woman's field (today about 2/3 of the K-12 educator force are women), and that since a world of more renumerative employment opportunities now opens for women, there is a growing shortage of teachers. Flatly, that's bargaining talk, designed to create an image of demand over supply, a claim unverified by school employers inundated with job applicants. 

The number of eager teachers is partly a result of the fact that, compared to other workers today, teachers do fairly well. Because of the importance given to education, elites must pay. The benefits, declining as they may be, are still there. Educators' hours are relatively short if we only measure time spent in a classroom, or even on the school grounds. For most teachers, June, July and August are still three good reasons to take the job. Not too many teachers suffer industrial problems like deafness from noise, missing fingers or more serious injury, though many should worry about asbestos. Teacher health benefits are superior to most other workers, if only because teachers HAVE health benefits. But teacher contract negotiations grow more and more complicated by the addition to health policies of adult family members, either unemployed or employed in positions that offer no health provisions. Teaching, while quite demanding, isn't the numbing routine that pursuing an assembly line is. 

As long as the surplus value is there to pay for it, the ruling class will probably trade wages or benefits to offset vocal educator opposition to oppressive programs like police sweeps, increased standardized testing, ROTC, or the new history that teaches the U.S. won in Vietnam. 

The result of the trade-off, educator pay, varies from state to state. So does the work force. 67% of all teachers are women, 87% of elementary teachers are women. ("Education Digest", 2-92 p.49) In Michigan, the average teacher is over 45, white and female, and makes about $36,000 for nine months work. There are, however, over 10,000 laid-off teachers in the state. Florida, which up until their recent economic crisis had hired 7,000 out- of-state teachers a year for a decade to keep up with the population explosion, pays its teachers an average of $28,500. (NEA Research 1991) Private school educators are 93.9 per cent white, no surprise. But their public school counterparts are 88.3 per cent white, a figure disturbing to those who foresee an increasingly diverse student population. (Education Week, 1-22-92)

Most, 75%, of teachers are married. Nearly one half of the group has no kids. Well over half own their own homes. In 1980, 69% of the teacher force was under 44 years old. In the year 2000 that number dwindles to 43%. By 2000, school board budgets will be hit by massive retirement payouts. (NEA Research, 1988)

At two extremes of an average pay chart, Connecticut teachers collect an average $40,500 and South Dakota teachers get $22,000. Given a seven hour day, not bad by current standards. In minority communities, especially in the south, teachers are the best paid people in sight.

Teaching is now, and is likely to remain, a predominantly white job. Although the number of minority teachers is slowly growing, relative to the entire teaching population the percentage of minority teachers is shrinking. In the period ahead, the tense reality in the schools will be a white teaching force addressing a student population composed of more and more minority children.

The governing class is beset with problems with teachers. The group is more highly unionized, and has been involved in more job actions recently (from L.A. to Oklahoma to Mississippi), than any other group of workers. Teachers occupy pivotal positions: baby sitters, guardians of the light, and high school coaches. (Find a teachers' strike that didn't allow football to continue and you are likely to find a strike that lost). The women's movement thrust new talent into stultified teacher organizations, many of them more demanding than either their male or female predecessors. Today, teachers can be a pain. 

At once, teachers are seen as important but too expensive. Educators, after all, are expected to implement the elites' schemes described above. Yet there is a declining level of surplus value left over to be passed along to pay for school, and teachers are the most costly item in a classroom. Thus willingness to buy off a section of a class of people, teachers, to oppress another, youth, is tempered by limited resources. 

The practical solution is to create still another split, to buy off a very particular group of teachers. This is part of the motive (the primary force being the need to provide varying levels of education to the student groups described above) behind the multi-tiered "super teacher" salary schedules, pay-for performance plans, now in vogue around the country. Not only do these plans turn some teachers into, at worst, entrepenurial spies or, at best, deluded pawns who simultaneously believe they are singularly exceptional but who are ashamed enough to keep their token reward a secret from their fellow workers; in the long run the remaining teachers could be partially replaced with low-paid aides in some classrooms, just as degreed social workers were replaced with uncertified "eligibility examiners" in the early 1970's.

The school system where the super teacher scheme has been magnified most is perhaps in Rochester, New York, where an American Federation of Teachers local cultivated the plan for about three years. There, after a period of intense implementation, both the teachers and the school board voted to reject a new contract based on the continuation of the plan and to start from scratch. The board was unhappy that pay for performance wasn't being measured sharply enough. The teachers refused to ratify the contract because their experience demonstrated that measurement of performance was mostly subjective. But after the American Federation of Teachers made them vote until they got it right (three times), the teachers chose to let the Rochester Plan drag along. (For the AFT's side of the Rochester debate, see "Real Change is Real Hard" by Adam Urbanski, Education Week, 10-23-91, p. 29)

Another AFT showcase for collaborative school efforts is Dade County (Miami), Florida, home base for long time AFT big-wig Pat Tornillo. Dade's experiments in school reform, merit pay, site-based decision making, and union-management cooperation became so renowned that the superintendent parlayed the notoriety into a position at the top of New York City's schools, where, by no accident, he is again greeted by an eager AFT local. But back in the sunshine, after years of cooperation, Dade County teachers ratified a no-raise contract for the '91-'94 school years, a three year deal and, considering inflation, a cut of more than 12% in real wages. The offset, the positive side used to sell the deal to Dade's educators, was a provision to expel students for using profanity, and an agreement to "free" veteran teachers from submitting lesson plans. (Education Week 11-6-92, p. 4)

To demonstrate the murky marketing world that characterizes competition between the AFT and the arch-rival National Education Association, and to show that dues, not principles, are the nucleus of the matter, the Fairfax, Virginia, school merit pay plan deserves some attention. Fairfax is an NEA local, indeed a lighthouse local. It's the home union of former NEA President Mary Futrell, so beloved that NEA amended their constitution to provide her with an extra term of office. 

In Fairfax, NEA approved a merit pay plan in 1989. The plan, spreading pay increases ranging from 2% to 9% among nearly 2,200 of the county's 15,500 educators, was bitterly opposed by the competing representatives of the AFT, even though there is no fundamental difference with the Rochester plan. But, as is the case when neither union builds a base of rank and file support for control of the work place, it was easy for the Fairfax school board to simply eradicate the plan altogether, thus handing more than 2,000 teachers wage cuts, when the district confronted fiscal problems. Divided and absent any analysis, other than the most rank opportunism,from either union, the Fairfax educators were left defenseless. (See Washington Post, 2-23 and 2-19-92, p.1) 

Notably, at least one teacher later wrote the Post to say good riddance to merit pay. ("Who is to say who is a 'bad' or a 'good' teacher?...The only constant we have is change." Washington Post, 3-29-92 p. C8)

What is clear about this kind of school reform, which refuses to recognize the partisan nature of education and the fundamental differences of teachers, parents and students as opposed to top administrators and elites who influence schools; is that, if nothing else, collaborative plans disarm the teacher unions, divert potential leaders who become cynical or coopted, and mislead the rank and file who, in hope that there is an easy peaceful way around struggle, are left without a critical analysis of their situation and no plan of action when the inevitable crises arise. 

According to the NEA's research, and the union's persistent experience with problems of recruiting young teachers, recent college graduates see themselves less as potential union activists than fully competent professionals ready to do a job in spite of what they view as the failures of the teaching force that preceded them. Moreover, many of these new educators are especially aware of the development of school and state laws which virtually replace protections once only gained through collective bargaining. That these young educators discover, after a couple years of front line work, that they have a great deal to gain from their senior colleagues, and that collectivity as a form of defense and learning from the experienced is perhaps wise, is not much use to a union in need of dues, now. This generation, twenty years distant from any real national strife, awakes slowly. In America's unions, that translates into market loss. The unions' response is to lower their aim, to pander to the lowest common denominator, to play to the individualism of younger educators (or to offer them "super-seniority as union stewards, that is, top seniority for union chiefs, a sure ligthning rod when layoffs threaten) and, as we shall see, to build the unions' superstructure on a base of sand.

There is no typical teacher. But educators are part of what must be called a new class, now the only class capable of providing the leadership necessary to democratically transform America. While they are influenced by conservative echoes of their fading middle class counterparts, small shop owners, barbers, little enterprisers, who once dreamed of riches but are now driven to poverty, bankruptcy, or low-wage work; teachers are still more influenced by contact with children, efforts at intelligent presentation and discourse, and collective problems beyond individual solutions. Members of this class, school workers, social service professionals, health workers, now replace the vanished industrial work force and their fossilized union leadership as the guide for change in de-industrialized society.

So the ruling class has problems with teachers. One way to keep them in check, like other American workers, is through the unions.

Return to Top of Page


More than 2 1/2 million school workers belong to unions. They're the most highly organized people in the U.S. The National Education Association, NEA, the last independent union of any size, is the largest and fastest growing union in the country with over 2 million members. Their arch-rival, the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, represents more that 500,000 school workers. Both are fundamentally craft unions (limiting entry into the job, maintaining long apprenticeship periods, organizing primarily along craft lines rather than entire school systems, rarely allied with parents or kids) and both are agents of social control rather than a line of defense for their members.

The National Education Association

Right up to the mid-sixties, the NEA was the epitome of company unions, but worse. It was run by school administrators who, in turn, were run by the people who struggle for ownership of the schools, book publishers, milk producers, contractors, all the representatives of the ruling class. (See "The Goslings" and "The Goose Step" by Upton Sinclair). By 1970, challenged by the younger AFT, the NEA learned to strike. The huge union which initially gained its membership base through the employers' support (principals simply required that teachers join) led job actions all over the country in the 70's and 80's when other unions were in full retreat. 

Most of the NEA's base is rural or suburban. The union maintains liberal internal affirmative action policies while allowing racism to run rampant in its constituent schools. NEA prides itself on internal democracy, but the staff runs the union, like all unions in the U.S., if in a somewhat more sophisticated manner. (Interestingly, there is no provision for a "trusteeship", a provision typical to union constitutions that allows a higher body to seize the assets of a local out of favor, in the NEA constitution. It's simply not done. A massive restructuring called the "Streamlining Report", designed to ease a move into the AFL-CIO, would change all that at the 1992 NEA convention in Washington D.C.) The key to staff rule is simple enough, the staff is always there. Elected teachers come and go. The staff knows where the perks are, and who takes them.

NEA consistently follows a liberal pattern in international affairs, most recently a call to "Let the Sanctions Work" as the U.S. began to bomb Iraq. NEA can afford its liberalism and internal democracy. NEA is RICH. In 1991, NEA total revenues stood at $149,896,394, more than $12 million over the revenue income from 1990; this in a collapsing economy. (NEA Annual Audit,11-12-91, reported in "NEA Today", 2-92) Cost overruns alone on its newly refurbished headquarters in D.C., complete with an executive dining room, exceed $5 million. NEA's suburban community's choices, set by the level of the financial crisis, are less sharp, so far. In any case, NEA has plenty of carrots and less need for sticks.

The NEA likes its big and powerful image, especially when leaders and staff dine regularly at member expense in the opulent Madison and Mayflower Hotels in Washington. At the Democratic Convention in 1988, 7.5 % of the delegates were NEA, more than any other organization. But NEA elected leaders are skillfully bought off and diverted. What power they might exert is lost in a swamp of free luggage, convention parties, free trips, generous expense accounts, gargantuan titles, free phone calls, personalized stationary, baggage-carrying staff, all quietly given to NEA's anointed from brimming treasure chests. In the words of a long-time NEA Executive Board member from Higher Education, "We used to have morals; no more. Now I'm here to make up for what I can't get from teaching. I travel, meet women, pad expenses. I take all I can get my hands on and give up as little as possible". Some elected leaders do very well. The former president from Michigan stepped quietly into a six-figure staff job. Other leaders angle for staff positions with the very politicians they lobby so diligently.

Most NEA staff are quite aware that electoral work is a diversion. In the words of the former political action head of a southern affiliate, "If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it". But the union's top staff press activist members into the electoral arena because it keeps them busy, and flattered, in an realm where they can't do much damage. Those less cynical, perhaps the radicals and Communist Party USA members who found safe refuge in NEA after the turbulence of the 70's, may honestly believe they help teachers choose from a series of lesser evils, but it is clear that elected officials who estimate that teachers are weaker than the rich, are unstable allies.

Florida teachers, for example, poured volunteer workers and money into the election of now-senator Bob Graham (brother of the owner of the Washington Post) as governor. Days after his inauguration he responded to teacher demands for better schools by calling educators "...worse than Libyan terrorists." Los Angeles teachers in 1990 elected a voting majority to the L.A.School Board, which turned about and laid them off in droves. Teachers all over the country can recite similar stories. 

Perhaps the words of Hazen Pingree, long ago the progressive mayor of Detroit, best characterize school boards: "You are all so corrupt that once I have bought you, you will not stay bought." Corruption on school boards today is more often a recognition of common interest or fear of real power than bribery and collusion, but it has the same effect. All the millions the NEA spends on electoral work have not curtailed the massive attacks on the profession the union represents.

Electoral work reintroduces the question: just who are educators' allies? In a historical perspective, all teachers have a lot in common with poor whites in the Reconstruction south. They must choose between allies, the rich and seemingly powerful, or poor and working class people. We can see the results of a wrong choice. The massive school cutbacks in nearly every state are a clear indication of an organization with but a pretense of power. There is no power in casting your fate with people whose interests are finally inimical to your own. Power lies in unity with those people who have most at stake in school, people of color, workers' kids and their parents, people who actually live nearby. That alliance can stick. Other alliances are illusion. The impact of the electoral boondoggle is, for the most part, to slowly ratify an outright reactionary agenda by tediously adopting one lesser evil after another. Sadly, this has nothing in common with the practice of the NEA.

That doesn't mean the NEA can't get tough. Like most unions, they're better at disciplining their own members than employers. Upper levels of NEA management and elected leadership maintain close ties with the business and political communities. And there are penalties for missteps. Gerald Bracey, a prominent Colorado PHD and NEA researcher, was fired by the union for simply signing his own name to published articles which said schools aren't so bad, a position the NEA bosses fear might underlie future cuts in funds. (Education Week, 12-11-91) When NEA locals threaten strikes, staff is poured in to make sure the rank and file doesn't carried away. 

The union Balkanizes it's members, within school systems, between districts, and state against state, to minimize the possibility of mass collective school worker action. NEA promotes an individualist, "me first", approach among its leaders, a vision that perpetuates internal discord. NEA, even with all its factual claims to internal democracy, is just another pillar of the status quo.

There are two anecdotal myths which constantly circulate about the NEA. Neither is entirely wrong. First is the idea that the NEA is run by a "Michigan Mafia". Indeed, key people in NEA are from Michigan: Don Cameron, the Executive Director, that is, staff boss, is from Birmingham, a wealthy Detroit suburb. President Keith Geiger is a Michigander. Former President and current top executive in Florida, John Ryor is from Michigan. To believe they are unconnected is to be naive, but they do not unilaterally run NEA. The other perpetual rumor, one the NEA would like to silence, is that most of the top elected leaders are gay. The fact is that it's only about half. But what NEA recoils from most is a survey done in spring of '92 on the number of gay teachers in the union's national ranks. Given that an inordinate number of staff hours are spent defending teachers from sexual harassment charges. Even though gay teachers are probably involved in but a tiny percentage of those cases, the public perception is something to worry about.


The AFT, the AFL's creation to combat the company-union NEA, organized for years in urban school systems. Early on, their biggest base was in Chicago, but the Ocean Hill-Brownsville strike in New York City put the union on the map. Led by ALbert Shanker, the 1968 teacher's racist strike against the black community made the AFT infamous among minority workers, famous among the mostly white teaching force. In brief, AFT struck against attempts to integrate the teaching force in minority schools. In a perverse way, the AFT won the strike. 

With more than 500,000 members, making it one of the larger unions in the AFL-CIO, AFT's base is mostly urban, indeed, most heavily New York state. The AFT membership reflects its urban focus. Since the economic collapse is greatest in the cities, AFT had to confront issues only peripheral to NEA. On the one hand, the possibility of rebellion is far greater in urban areas and teachers hold potentially powerful positions. On the other, tax revenues and other resources are minimal in the cities. The governing class needs more and can pay less.

AFT does all it can to help out. The union parented the concessions movement when it, along with AFSCME, turned over the members' pensions to the City of New York to stave off the city's bankruptcy. AFT's boss, Al Shanker hobnobs with upper crust economic financiers like Felix Rohatyn and sits on a variety of corporate boards. Still Shanker after all these years, is in the forefront promoting "quality of work" programs in the schools which seek to mask class differences, to convince school workers that they and Shanker's banker friends are all in the same boat.

Shanker, born in 1928, rankles NEA publicists by getting ink as a school reformer far out of proportion to the comparative membership figures of the two unions. His weekly Sunday columns in the New York Times give him a panache of intelligence as well as an ongoing publicity base to press his concept of school reform. But observable life is stubborn, after 24 years in power, Shanker's urban schools only reformed backwards.

AFT's urban base, strongly represented by black professionals, sometimes key gate-keepers in the black community, at once better off yet better positioned to make change than most of their neighbors, has most frequently cast its lot, on advice of leaders, with the white elites in controlling volatility in the schools. For example, Mary Ellen Riordan , a white former teacher, was long the President of the Detroit AFT. In the mid-seventies Riordan led a Detroit teachers strike which quickly headed toward failure. Leaders of other Detroit unions, especially the unions representing welfare workers and clients, called on Riordan to call a mass community demonstration in support of the strike. Riordan rejected the idea immediately saying, "They would riot. Those black kids can't march." Eventually, Riordan declared a strike victory and hurried her largely black rank and file back to work. Subsequent to her passivity, Detroit schools enjoyed the quietest of riots, as has the entire city, awash in crack, murder, violence and police sweeps in the schools, mass Halloween arson, a collapsed welfare system, and just a boundary line away, is Gross Pointe, one of the richest cities in the nation, where teachers do not hesitate to mobilize their community in favor of bigger educator salaries. (Interview with Tom Suber, former AFSCME Detroit welfare local official, 12-19-92, Washington D.C.)

Remarkably, AFT's urban base once made the union a leader in the struggle for integration. Today AFT is notorious as an actively racist organization. Clara Zitron cites AFT efforts to forge links with the minority community in New York City going back to 1935. Of interest to curriculum specialists, in 1950 the union published a pamphlet, "Bias and Prejudice in Textbooks in use in the New York City Schools". Throughout its early history, AFT encouraged "Intercultural" Studies, that is, the study of black history and culture as well as anti-semitism. During World War II, AFT pressed these works into the formal curriculum. But Shanker turned this proud heritage for social justice inside out. 

As noted above, Shanker rode to power on the back of the racist Ocean Hill-Brownsville strike in 1968. The upshot of the strike was to halt the city's attempt to decentralize the school system, an effort designed to give minority communities a greater voice in the school system. Clearly, Shanker witnessed the developing white backlash of the period, as especially represented by the George Wallace Presidential campaign, and saw a way to make personal gains. The AFT, on Shanker's watch, abandoned any pretense of interest in social equality, except perhaps for its top leaders. Here are four additional examples:

1. At the 1975 AFT convention, Shanker gave up the gavel to speak from the floor to oppose a motion from the union's black caucus "to endorse and support busing" as a means of urban desegregation. Shanker "won".

2. In 1977 AFT submitted an amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court in support of Alan Bakke's challenge against the University of California's affirmative action plan. The brief argued against the use of quotas in employment.

3. In 1978 Shanker sought to have the AFT submit another amicus brief, this time on the Brian Weber case, which would have opposed a union negotiated affirmative action plan. Black leaders who prevailed against Shanker now consider the result of their effort, the union's "no position" on Weber, a major victory.

4. In 1985, again behind Shanker, AFT did submit an amicus brief in the Wygant case. Here AFT argued that a NEA negotiated affirmative action plan in Jackson, Mississippi, should be abolished. NEA had bargained an affirmative action agenda for the employment of minority teachers. The plan included an affirmative action retention policy. The Supreme Court upheld the right of a union to negotiate an affirmative action plan, but voided the retention policy.

In this instance, Shanker used the old craft union argument, seniority above affirmative action. But, as many critics point out, Shanker's own locals take peculiar stands on seniority. In New York City, teacher seniority is counted on an "at site" basis, that is a teacher with 20 years in the system but three years in one assignment has three years of effective seniority. (See "AFT--An Historical Outline" by Don Keck and Dan Mckillip, 1990 NEA publication)

AFT is notoriously undemocratic, stifling any possibility of serious dissent through a tight caucus system controlled mostly by the New York City local. While there is some erosion in the pattern, dissident types captured a few seats in New York in 1991, typical AFT officials stay in their jobs a long, long time. 

Pat Tornillo, Miami AFT boss with an island home in Dade County, Florida, still clings to his spot after twenty years out of the classroom. Al Shanker worked at one top post or another since 1968. In contrast to the AFT, NEA presidents are limited to two three year terms and NEA Executive Directors (now Don Cameron) are notoriously low-profile. (See especially "Teacher Rebellion" by Dave Selden. For an earlier history, see Celia Zitron, "The New York City Teachers Union--1916 to 1964")

Indeed, Albert Shanker is a key in differentiating NEA and AFT. Flatly, he is an active fascist, the living embodiment of the Dutt thesis that liberalism is a sheep's skin over a fascist wolf. Shanker, a native New Yorker and University of Illinois philosophy graduate, was once a junior high school teacher. In 1959 Shanker left the classroom to become a full-time organizer for the AFT. He was mentored into the AFT leadership by its former president, David Selden, who bitterly remembers his protege turning on him in a power struggle culminating in Selden's defeat and Shanker's accession in 1974. 

Subsequently Shanker developed gourmet tastes, today he favors the La Strada East Restaurant near the AFT offices on Park Avenue, and sips George Dickel Bourbon. (Interview with David Selden, 1-9-89)

A leader of "Social Democrats, U.S.A.", Shanker, and his apparent successor Sandra Feldman, are deeply involved in the intelligence community, sitting on the boards of the National Endowment for Democracy which, among other things, funded the Nicaraguan Contras, the extreme right wing in El Salvador, the deadly forces that overthrew the democratically elected Allende government in Chile in 1973, and similar fascist movements around Latin America. 

Shanker also serves with the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the CIA's paw inside the AFL-CIO. (AFL-CIO, incidentally, spends more than half of its money on overseas projects, a fact remote from most of its members). Inside the AFL-CIO, Shanker usually votes in coalition with the most reactionary of the craft union bosses. He was, for example, a key supporter for George Meany in gaining backing for votes favoring the Vietnam War. 


Without the knowledge of the members, the top leaders of the two unions made a plan to merge as early as 1988. They recognize that the unions are more alike than different. They both divert on-the-job struggle into the electoral arena, both are heavily involved in encouraging corporations to take over school systems, both have leaders closely linked to the ruling class and its intelligence community, both abandoned battles over the curriculum in favor of phony "teacher control" programs. Both use craft union tactics to keep working class people out of "the profession" and, internally, both use divide and conquer tactics (from racism to multi-tier salary schedules) to keep education workers in line. Both are, on their worst days, rackets. Yet both house terrific potential for struggle; issues, meeting places, forums, thousands of honest people in search of rational answers, and respect for commitment.

Remarkably, the merger of the international wings of the two teacher unions, the International Federation of Free Teacher Unions chaired by AFT's Shanker, and the World Council of Teaching Professionals led by former NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell, was completed in 1992. Once bitter rivals, the two leaders of the teacher federations set aside their secondary differences to form one organization. This extraordinary convergence brings together two organizations that once reflected the often bizarre battles created by the shadows of the Cold War. IFFTU was formed by the CIA to serve as an international alternative to what American intelligence saw as professional organizations that were, if not dominated by Soviet-led communists, too left anyway.

Let us examine some other ways the two educator unions are more alike than different. Both NEA and AFT bosses see dues income (multiply $340 yearly per capita average dues x 2 1/2 million members and you get an inkling of the money involved, this is bigger than many corporate mergers), as the bottom line, which, in the union business, it is.

NEA and the AFT fear serious battles against racism, either because the unions' leaders are themselves racist or because they fear they will offend the racists in their own ranks, especially in states where membership is voluntary. Rather than create an integrated educators' movement to fight all aspects of racism in the schools, from discipline to the curriculum, NEA and AFT pander to seperatists, multi-culturalists who stress the differences between natural allies rather than Zitron's "Interculturalists" who stressed the commonalities. Both toady to the rich, essentially preferring capitalism and huge staff salaries. Both believe the source of their unions' strength is their ability to influence bosses by shmooozing, not their ability to organize fights on the job. Neither union places items like the curriculum above teacher pay or hours of work in collective bargaining.

School worker unions have historically been either company unions, dependant on the good will of the superintendent to survive (this especially pertains now to right-to-work states where dues check-off is entirely voluntary, where there is a cultural reluctance to confront and struggle, and where a bad word from an administrator can cost plenty from the union's treasury), or borrowing Selig Perleman's model, job conscious unions like their craft counterparts in the AFL-CIO, attending to bread and butter issues like wages, seniority, and fringe benefits. 

What no school workers' union has done is to determine to control their work place, to recognize the necessarily adversarial relationship before school workers and elites, and to set out to fully address the essentially professional issues of why and how kids learn, what the social situation is at hand, who rules and who obeys, who will be the most reliable allies, why indeed some children do not learn, what the functions of race and class are in the classroom, and what will happen if educators put their understanding into practice and seek real change. Answers to those questions are only found in the broader turmoils in the communities, and in the engaged practice of making a difference in conjunction with the neediest parents and students.

An AFT/NEA merger, mimicking the corporations of the '80s which survived through amalgamation when they could no longer produce value, and the union mergers (the Teamsters return to the AFL-CIO), which continued their extravagant staff salaries by merging rather than fighting employers, will end turf battles over members that drain both NEA and AFT coffers. For rank and file school workers, the NEA-AFT raids, from San Francisco to Florida, forced forward issues which both unions would prefer unseen, and gave teachers an occasional measuring stick for their quality of unionism. Dissatisfied teacher activists now have an alternative, fundamentally false though it may be.

Although neither union has seen a serious internal dissident challenge in a decade, wiping out the option of leaving for another union, in a profound sense, gives the ruling class more control over the schools; the key in understanding the main developments in the school systems. If nothing else, the AFT cadre, in a merged union, would be expected to discipline the remaining mavericks in NEA. The drive for teacher unity, in this case, would mean a tightened unity with the ruling class, not a vehicle for sharpened school worker resistance.

Should the unions merge, or if the NEA simply enters the AFL-CIO on its own, new teacher organizations will rise up. In right-to-work states, teachers will quickly leave the merged union by the tens of thousands, frequently because they don't like rubbing elbows with blue collar workers and because they see the AFL-CIO as absolutely corrupt. One top NEA publicist estimates 200,000 educators will, at first, quit. 

The direction these workers take will largely depend on their leadership. They may, absent the introduction of a new organization, follow the direction of the growing National Association of Professional Educators, a mostly white Christian organization proclaiming the unity of administrators and teachers. Membership in NAPE, not AFT, runs second to NEA in some right-to-work states like Mississippi. On the other hand, the time would be propitious to create a new teacher movement, based on democratic principles of professionalism and unionism.

There is some evidence that there is increasing struggle against trends of educator passivity. Teachers have been active. Even Utah teachers went on strike in 1990. Mississippi teachers struck in '84. Oklahoma, New Jersey, Michigan. Pensylvania, Los Angeles, West Virginia, Louisiana and Washington state school job actions boiled over in '90. Only the unions' truly tenuous misleadership of the teachers prevents major job actions in big cities. In the spring of 1992, teachers in Marion County, Florida, were only dissuaded from a strike against a board which reneged on contractual wage promises by an influx of NEA staff, some of whom privately admit shame in their actions. Teachers were particularly active in anti-war work related to the invasion of the Gulf. Entire school systems now refuse to release the names of their kids to military recruiters. All of this took place within the bounds of NEA/AFT unionism.

But, paradoxically, some of the most apparently progressive struggles only provide a veneer for a backward agenda. Maryland teachers in 1991 took a series of militant actions, work-ins during which they did nothing but paperwork, refusal to do any extra duties like writing college recommendations, mass protests in conjunction with other public worker unions at the state capitol, and even sporadic work stoppages, all of this the culmination of years of hard organizing efforts. But the purpose of the sum of this activity, made clear to the public, was to win a regressive tax increase, a direct assault on working people, including school workers, in the community. It would be naive to believe these people were not set up by their union leadership, a few school administrators, astute politicians, and the business community.

Florida teachers are more direct. in 1992, they went after a similar backward tax goal absent the messy aspects of public displays. Since a 1968 Florida state-wide strike was bungled (although the "defeat" caused the adoption of a state bargaining law progressive for the south), the state's educators are told by old hands and their union leadership that straight-forward encounters are hopeless. (See "The Great Florida Teachers Strike", unpub. master's thesis, James Sullivan, University of Florida, 1990)

For many years, the massive influx of people to Florida (1,000 people a day at its peak) kept the state coffers full. Florida hired around 10,000 teachers each year. But as the present economic collapse touches even the Magic Kingdom, many Florida counties choose to gut their education funding. The solution, proposed without any veneer of militancy, comes from a joint commission of teacher unions, the governor's office (keeping as low a profile as possible) and Allied Industries, Florida's powerful consortium of business. With one voice, they want a state income tax, aimed directly at workers, no pretense of a progressive tax here. Sadly, the Florida working class will remember what the teachers tried to do to them. But, interestingly, it appears that Florida governor Chiles has scotched the whole deal. Seeing a tax revolt looming, he's shrugged, said, "Who me?", ducked and opted for the most regressive of tax increases, a sales tax hike, while the teachers take the heat. (Education Week, 1-29-92 p.19)

Florida also serves as an example of a scam carried out by teacher unions in dozens of states; state lotteries. The teacher union leadership, in exchange for promises from business and politicians of later favors and a bountiful treasure chest, carries the ball for a state lottery, assuring the public the money will go toward education. But the leadership of the teachers' union (including the former president of the Michigan Education Association who lived through an earlier model), knows from practical experience all over the country, that the money will not go to education. It will go into the general budget and be doled out at the politicians' whim. Lottery monies are used to supplant general revenue dollars, now spent elsewhere, that would have gone to education in the first place. (See "Florida's Lottery: an Education Shell Game", Florida Trend Magazine, February, 1992).

Several things happen: the public, convinced they can fund schools this way, passes the lottery bill. But the numbers racket will not support the school system. Now the public believes they've paid for schools with a lottery and won't pass subsequent school tax hikes. Moreover, kids are provided with the clearest example of how adults view the motive forces of society. Take your pick: hard work or--win the lottery. When the newly appointed Lotto boss starts to collect a six-figure salary, the union leadership bellows, "We wuz robbed!" All the players knew the scenario well before-hand. It's been reenacted from state to state. But the union leadership manages to buy a little more time, to hold out one more carrot of hope to their dues-payers, and to escape a little longer from the battle to come.

The pivotal issue which school workers and their unions must address, and mostly do not, is racism. It is the Achilles heel of the educator movement. In a narrow sense, educators recognize their most narrow class interests as a craft. Too often, they bargain for themselves, not for their kids. School worker leaders have not broadened their vision sufficiently to build a defense against the attacks they now confront. Teacher organizations have offered nothing but talk in the face of the demise of inner-city schools. In every instance, the union leaders, like their poor white southern counterparts 150 years ago, choose alliances with the wealthy and politically connected over the ultimately more tightly bound alliance of interest with people of color. Ahead of the demand for "Jobs for Youth", or "Free Breakfasts for All", the teacher unions demand metal detectors. This is precisely what Sandy Feldman, president of the New York City teachers' union, did in late February of 1992 when she visited a city school tarnished by its second violent incident in two weeks, this one a murder on February 27, the day of a scheduled visit from Mayor David Dinkins. Feldman addressed the teachers, calling for a walkout for more security, nothing about a job action against the day to day violence which destroys the lives of thousands of New York's youth, but a battle for security, essentially cops to be used by the teachers and administrators against the kids. But this treachery, rooted in racism, only rebounds like lowering the minimum wage or creating more unemployment. Eventually the largely white teacher force suffers as well. In New York, the largely demoralized teacher force suffered enough already. What is prescribed by any reasonable analysis is resistance, not entrenchment.

The essence of the merger of the AFT and the NEA is the further intrusion of a fascist agenda, the corporate state injected into every level of education from curricula development to teacher placement. Nothing could illustrate this more graphically than a recount of a presentation made to the prestigious NEA Executive Board on Saturday, February 8, 1991.

The Board, composed of NEA national officers and 50 state NEA presidents welcomed to its august midst...the CIA. William Colby, CIA Director from 1973 to 1976, the predecessor of George Bush, was the keynote speaker. While Colby did not receive the standing ovation customary from an audience of polite educators, nobody had the gall to boo. Colby's presentation to the liberal NEA is of important for several reasons. It is remarkable in itself that a CIA boss would ever be invited to speak to the gun-shy NEA. But of greater interest is how precisely Colby fits into many of the themes addressed in this book. Let us first examine just who Colby is, then review the agenda he proposed to the top leaders of the NEA.

William Colby enjoys a reputation as the most liberal of the CIA chiefs. He fits the CIA mold as if it was made around him. The Catholic son of a University of Minnesota professor and a Princeton graduate, Colby is stamped with the Eastern Establishment that sneers at its counterparts in espionage at the more blue-collar FBI. Following his university stint, Colby enlisted in WWII and worked throughout Europe for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. There Colby met "Wild Bill" Donovan, a founder of the CIA who would later recruit Colby to his Wall Street law firm as a consultant for the government of South Korea. More portentously, Colby joined forces with an alcoholic OSS activist named Frank Wisner. Wisner would set the tone for Colby's life.

Frank Wisner concluded in 1943, mid-war, that Hitler had lost and the real battle for Americans was with the Soviet Union, starting immediately. Wisner decided that the way to beat the Soviets was to work with the Nazis. In 1943, Wisner recruited the head of Nazi Intelligence, Reinhold Gehlen, to operate for the OSS. Over the next decade, Wisner would enlist and support literally thousands of Nazis, many of them war criminals. Wisner, for example, headed Operation Paperclip, the project that brought dozens of war criminals to the United States under falsified entry documents provided to them by the OSS/CIA. (See "Blowback" by Christopher Simpson, 1988, p.90)

Colby worked immediately subordinate to Wisner and began to develop a reputation as a cold, amoral bureaucrat. In France, at the close of the war, Colby joined Wisner in what became a blueprint operation for the future. 

Post-war France was a deeply divided country. Many, if not most, French people had collaborated with the German invaders, with disasterous results. What resistance there was, as in nearly all of Europe, was led by communists who enjoyed considerable prestige after the war, much to the chagrin of Wisner and Colby. The French dockworkers provided a microcosm of this split. Led by the Communist Party, the dock workers went on strike. The CIA determined to crush it. 

Wisner and Colby developed a multi-pronged method of attack. They solidified the relationship of American intelligence agencies and the AFL-CIO (which extends back to AFL support for WWI) by making payments to "unionists" identified by AFL operatives as potential scabs. Irving Brown, an AFL/CIA agent who died in 1991 and who was the primary link between American labor and the intelligence community, got his start in this French operation. Wisner and Colby recruited former Nazi thugs to work as goon squads to attack strikers. They worked with the Mafia, whose members had an interest in keeping the "French Connection" ports open to guarantee the movement of heroin. With the iron fist and the green-filled glove, Wisner and Colby defeated the dockworkers strike and set back the prestige of international communism. But slept with the devil to do it. (see "The Politics of Heroin" by Alfred McCoy, 1991; also "CIA and the Cult of Intelligence" by Victor Marchetti)

Things went so swimmingly that the dangerous duo took their template and placed it on Italy, hoping to defeat a probable national Communist electoral victory. Colby employed the same tactics of thuggery and bribery to make massive payments to former Nazi goons, the Sicilian mob, and "Christian Democrats". The Vatican, Colby's church and a major conduit to smuggle wanted ex-Nazis in clerical disguise around the world, lent a modest hand. The money to fund Colby's labors, known as "black currency", came from captured Nazi assets, including money and gold the Nazis looted from Jews. In short, the communists lost the election. Colby's prestige leaped. The thugs later formed the nucleus of fascist paramilitary groups, known as "Operation Gladio" ("Sword") and funded by the CIA, which operate terrorist cells throughout Europe to this date. (See "Blowback, p.90 and "Washington Post, World News", 11-14-90)

In 1958, Colby went to Saigon. Over the next 13 years he moved up through the chains of the CIA command (including a stint with the Agency for International Development, a CIA front). Eventually he made head of the CIA's Far East Division. Then he began Operation Phoenix. According to Colby's own testimony to congress, Phoenix killed "a minimum of 20,000 Vietnamese". (Washingtonian Magazine, 2/89, p. 115) 

Colby, who still contends Vietnam was a "noble war", calls the Phoenix program, "The single most effective operation". Phoenix was, in its press releases, designed to surgically crush the leadership of the Vietnamese resistance. One person's surgeon is another's barber. Two former CIA front line veterans tell quite a different story, describing Phoenix as a form of genocide. Both Frank Snepp and Ralph McGehee say Phoenix was a "shoot first and ask questions later program". There was little effort to identify combatants, or distinguish them from civilians. "We took a scattershot approach". (Mother Jones, May 1984) 

On Colby's watch in Vietnam, the CIA also entrenched its relationship with the drug cartels of the "Golden Triangle" covering Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. While Colby was station chief, the CIA backed the drug dealers in an ostensible effort to win their anti-communist support and to use monies laundered from the drug operation for covert CIA activity. But, perhaps most importantly, on Colby's watch the United States was militarily defeated in Vietnam and, in the panic of the last hours as helicopters raced from the embassy rooftops, dozens of indigenous CIA collaborators, and their files, were left behind, abandoned, a lesson to future CIA partners like Manual Noriega. Those who enter into a relationship with the CIA enter a life of planned obsolescence.

While Colby directed the CIA, from 1973 to 1976, he had his eye on targets well beyond Vietnam. At home, Colby did all he could to stop and censure the publication of a book critical of "The Company" as the agency is known to its secretive employees. "Inside the Company--a CIA Diary" by Philip Agee, named names and told secrets, more than Colby could bear. He sued, harassed and annoyed to the point Agee left the country. But the book was published. A second blemish on Colby's career.

Then there was Australia. Never one to let local people make mistakes in voting, Colby toppled a popularly elected government.

In 1972, in Australia, a Labour Party came to power that Colby perceived as potentially threatening to U.S. interests, three interests in particular. 

First, Australia was the home of a major CIA intelligence-gathering station. Located at Pine Gap in mid-country, the station was uniquely perfect for intercepting electronic communications from all over that half of the world. Colby feared that the Labour government might compromise the station.

Secondly, Australia's strategic location lies right next to critical shipping lanes and air-refueling stations. Any disruption of U.S. activity in Australia might ruin American ability to oversee commerce. 

Finally there was the embarrassment of the Nugan Hand Bank. Nugan Hand was a CIA sponsored conduit and laundering agency for the drug trade. The banks top officials included Edmund Wilson, a CIA agent now in prison for "rogue" activity, and a prestigious list of Army and Intelligence officers. In very brief, the bank was on the verge of collapse when Frank Nugan, the top officer, was found dead in desolate sheep country. William Colby's business card and a Colby trip itinerary was in Nugan's pocket. Colby was the legal, political and tax advisor for Nugan Hand.

Like Italy before, the CIA prejudiced Australian politics. To protect its considerable Australian assets, and to avoid Nugan Hand embarrassment, the "Company" fabricated evidence against the Labour government. Its leader was forced to resign by the British Queen in November, 1975. In the early eighties, Colby's activities came to light. The Australians, publicly hoodwinked, developed a level of distrust for the U.S. that continues to threaten a once congenial relationship. (Foreign Policy, Winter 1982-1983)

Colby polished his liberal sheen at the CIA through his dismissal of one of the agency's most hard line, if least rational, top officials. James Jesus Angleton worked with the younger Colby in the halcyon days in France. But Angleton, once a close friend of the Soviet mole and British chief of counter intelligence who helped design the CIA, Kim Philby, became obsessed with the possibility of a highly placed Soviet spy in the CIA. Angleton searched for years, at the expense of nearly everything else, with no success. If information came to him that didn't fit the Soviet mole pattern, he filed it in safes that were never opened. Angleton, in a fit of single-mindedness that remains a major embarrassment to the agency that helped him carry it out, jailed a legitimate Soviet defector for three years in an 8' x 8' cell in a CIA "safe-house"in Virginia, repeatedly drugged him with LSD, and tortured him in hopes of getting a confession that the defector was actually a double agent. Eventually, as it became clear that the defector was bona fide, the CIA assisted him with a name change and a modest income as an American citizen. 

Angleton was described publicly by the CIA's own psychologist as a paranoid schizophrenic. But nothing dislodged him until Colby leaked information about Angleton's certified madness to Seymour Hersh in 1974. Angleton resigned. In the classical fashion of an American bureaucrat, by stomping down, Colby stepped up.(Washingtonian, Spring 1985)

In 1975, Colby made a lengthy presentation to the U.S. Congress about secret CIA operations. In the words of former CIA agent John Stockwell, "Mr. Colby gave thirty six briefings to the Senate in which he offered false information...those statements were absolutely not true, not correct, not accurate. Those statements were false." 

Referring to the same testimony, another ex-CIA officer, Ralph Mcgehee said, " I know the specific steps the agency took to create the conditions that led to the massacre of at least half a million Indonesians. While I was in the CIA I also helped prepare briefings for Congress for Mr. Colby, and it is a fact that those briefings had nothing to do with reality. The briefings were designed to present a certain picture that would allow the CIA to sell covert programs to congress. Very few of the briefings were true. They were complete whitewash jobs". (Both, "Harpers" September 1984)

When Colby ostensibly left the CIA in 1977, the Vietnam experience continued to haunt him. His daughter, raised in Vietnam and disturbed by her fathers practices there, died of anorexia nervosa.

In the mid-eighties Colby again tiptoed into liberalism by joining former hawks Macgeorge Bundy and Robert Macnamara in proposing a nuclear freeze. He went so far as to write a Washington Post editorial calling for a reduction in NATO arms, predating the success of Reagan's plan to spend the USSR into oblivion. (Washington Post, 8-28-89) But not one to keep his hand out of the pie, Colby still insists on the propriety and legality of covert operations in general and the use of live agents in place over technology. Indeed, Colby sees nothing wrong with the CIA overthrow of the government of the Congo in the mid-sixties, a coup which included the company's liquidation, murder, of the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba. (C-Span presentation of American University Forum interview with Fletcher Prouty, ex-CIA, on 2-1-92, see also "Veil" by Bob Woodward and "Harpers", September 1984)

In sum, there are several threads that weave together to form William Colby's career. There can be no question that Colby's life revolves around deceit, dissimilation, the corruption of unions, assassination, drugs; all in what the Princeton grad sees as the national, if secret, interest. Colby is an archetypal post-modern fascist, not in hob nailed boots but wing tips, not screaming racist insults but coldly implementing a deadly racist program. He is hardly the ideal speaker for a liberal union of educators, people who believe in the free exchange of ideas, or is he?

Let us now turn to exactly what it is that William Colby proposes today.

Colby believes the war is still on. Whatever the state of the Soviet Union, the war in Colby's mind is now, and has always been, first an economic war, American capitalism versus the cosmos, then a bloody one. In picking priorities, Colby is consistent, first wage economic battles, then the physical ones. That American workers have nothing to gain from either war is of no interest to Colby. He is a partisan, on the wrong side. He understands that there are sides to be taken. And he knows whose side he is on.

The war Colby wants to wage, with NEA and AFT help, is the "Campaign for New Priorities" (CNP). The CNP has a fairly simple, if unspecific, agenda: Reindustrialize America with the taxes of working people. Of course, they don't put it quite so openly. In a materials packet and a promotional video tape that bears a striking resemblance to a military briefing, CNP lays out its broad goals: Don't cut taxes because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Take the tax savings that would have been spent on defense and put the money to work in rebuilding the American infrastructure, "promote long-term economic growth by investing in education, infrastructure, cleaning up the environment, and assisting industries and communities in the orderly conversion from military to civilian production." (CNP "Generic New Priorities Resolution, 1992)

What we have here is Colby's French blueprint, slightly modified for local culture, applied to the United States. Overall, Colby and CNP suggest that (1) the distribution of the tax money will somehow be fair and rational, (2) to continue a tax system that grew grotesquely more unfair in the last decade and that is seen with contempt by most Americans is a good idea, (3) the unjustly gotten booty should be distributed to industries which deliberately deindustrialized in the 1980's and which simply took their capital profits and refused to invest in new plants and machinery and (4) we are all in this together, we will loose the new war, the economic war with Japan and Germany, if we do not sacrifice and fight.

In every sense, this is a fascist agenda, a microcosm of the corporate state. We are NOT all in this together, as the corporate owners who took millions in workers' concessions and paid themselves multi-million dollar salaries easily attest. A government in the hands of wealth will NEVER equitably distribute the potential defense savings to poor schools and social services. The homeless won't get a single home from this scam. This is a corporate bailout of the highest order. It is not the "American Infrastructure" (schools, roads, welfare grants) which will be rebuilt. It's corporate profits. What will be generated is an ideological and practical attack on Japan and Germany and, at home, with union complicity, American workers will be further twisted into instruments of their own oppression.

One of the truly high-tech features of the CNP scheme is an "800" number (800-92-action). The number is answered by a machine. Callers, at no cost, can cause a letter to be reproduced to all of their congresspeople demanding support for the CNP agenda with a simple phone call. In addition to deceiving working people about the need for a serious partisan agenda to face the financial collapse of the 1990's, this plan disarms people by implying that there is an easy, free, way out; there is no need to organize a mass movement with power in its own right. One merely needs to make a free phone call and let things flow. After all, aren't the workers' organizations participating?

Sadly, just as the AFL participated in France and Italy, they are. CNP is now sponsored by both national teacher unions as well as a list of liberalism that ranges from the American Association of University Women (upper middle class white women), to the U.S. Student Association (embarrassed by public exposure as a CIA front by "Ramparts" magazine in 1967. The same article exposed NEA officers on the CIA payroll). 52 organizations are signed on including the "City of New York" (whose finances are run by Al Shanker's good friend, Felix Rohatyn) and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the home base for the CIA when it initiated its relationship with trade unions through Irving Brown and former ILGWU President David Dubinsky. There's the International Association of Machinists which scabbed on virtually every airline strike in the last decade, SANE/Freeze (where Colby once kept his desk), the Service Employees International Union, AFSCME and CWA (both linked in the past with CIA activity: see the AFSCME biography, "Power to the Public Worker") and relative innocents like "Ben and Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream".

As descibed far above, the pecunious people who own American industry need to rebuild their economic foundation, to create a base of production in steel, rubber, iron, that will allow these owners to compete, both economically and militarily. But the capital for that rebuilding is gone, blown in a decade of excess. So they rediscover their old patsys, American workers, and bang the old drum of nationalism and common interest. This is precisely the fascist agenda that American workers, and especially educators, must fear most. But it is also the program, the raison de tat, for the merger of the AFT and the NEA.

The unity of school workers is, in the long run, fundamental in the effort for social change. But the question is: Unity with who, for what? The economic crisis in the United States is the foundation for fascist intrusion in the schools. Part of that intrusion will be made possible by the merger of the NEA and the AFT. The AFT will discipline the NEA staff, the CIA and American intelligence agencies will enjoy an increased grip on the largest union in the country and expanded access to the schools to press for the governing class' agenda. Rank and file NEA and AFT members will get nothing from the merger but a dues increase. Besides, when teacher union staff and top governance people making $80,000 a year call for educator unity, they mean "Unite to protect ME!". Many corporations raise the same cry. "We're all in the same boat, let us row together." Lets turn to the corporate agenda.

Return to Top of Page

To Next Section

Return to Beginning

To Rich Gibson's Home Page

Web page created by Amber Goslee