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