Toward A Genuine Movement For Social Justice
Rich Gibson March 2011
The Communications Workers of America, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and other liberal groups have called for “A Day of Action” for April 4th.
I prefer a call for real rank and file action (candlelight vigils are not action) on May 2 (or you pick if you have a better idea), walkouts, strikes, and related actions---as much as possible, recognizing the need to interact with the many honest people who may turn up at an AFL-CIO rally as well.
But we should never leave the initiative to the union bosses. They are on the other side.
The leaders of the AFL-CIO reject the very reason most people believe they join unions: the contradictory interests of workers and bosses.
Instead, AFL-CIO hacks believe in, and act on, what former AFL-CIO-American Federation of Teachers president Al Shanker called "New Unionism," the unity of labor tops, government heads, and corporate executives, "in the national interest."
That's corporate state unionism, as bad as or worse than company unionism.
It means that the union heads will sacrifice their members interests in order to preserve USA national capital.
That was, for example, the United Auto Workers' Union's line in the auto industry: make concessions to "save US auto."
The UAW built nationalist, racist, campaigns against other working people that, not surprisingly, led to the death of Vincent Chin, beaten to death by Detroit auto-workers using baseball bats because they thought he was Japanese. He wasn't. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77dp0-p0wkw
It was also silly. While the UAW was howling "Buy American!" all the auto companies were investing elsewhere. Now the UAW has lost a million members--people who believed concessions would save jobs when concessions, obviously, are like giving blood to sharks---bosses just want more. The UAW headquarters in Detroit still boasts a sign in front of its parking lot that says, "Park your Foreign Car Elsewhere."
Union dues eaters' fat wages, expense accounts, and pensions are rooted in their ability to pacify or discipline the work force and sell labor peace to corporate or government bosses. That is the traditional "Collective Bargaining Contract" exchange: labor peace for the duration of the contract, traded for the dues check-off. After fighting unionism for years, Henry Ford finally figured that out, said, "You mean I am going to be the unions' banker? Sign me on!" Today, Ford management organizes plants on behalf of the UAW.
Major sectors of the AFL-CIO are so mobbed up that it is nearly impossible to separate the gangsters from the officers while other sectors of the AFL-CIO are fully "copped up," i.e., real cops, prison guards, TSO cops, IRS agents, anti-immigrant cops---indicating the close relationship of those who do crime and the cops who help them organize it.
When CWA, the UAW, any part of the AFL-CIO and the National Education Association are demanding to "save collective bargaining," the bottom line of their intent is described in the paragraph above: preserve our dues check off so the income of the union bosses is not interrupted and the union treasury (their pensions, etc) goes unhurt. They have already rejected any basis of real unionism (fighting employers; the only part of the ranch they are not prepared to give away is the check off).
They are not fighting to stop concessions, or even to make a real fight. They are fighting to preserve themselves, first, and capitalism, at the same time. They were willing to make every concession the Wisconsin Governor wanted. But not the check off.
Can people bargain over wages, hours, working conditions, pensions, etc., without a contract or without check off? Of course, and they have for years. All they need is solidarity, class consciousness, and the willingness to act to control their workplaces. In the face of shutdowns, bosses bargain seriously. Absent that, bargaining is begging. And, keep in mind, the only illegal strike is one that fails.
The union hacks, however, don’t want to go person-to-person asking for money to support a union that would have to be supportable. That would be too much like organizing. If would challenge their ability to maintain close ties with Democrats---who got hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours from union members in the last three years alone.
We are not "One" (see the CWA call below).
This is class war, and imperialist war, one folding into the other. Born together, capitalism and imperialism are the core of workers' problems in the US, and out. There is "Us," and "Them." Union bosses are among them and will not change.
Understanding that is key to grasping the context of our times, and equally important to determining Grand Strategy (a better world, free of exploitation where people can live in reasonable freedom, more or less equitably, releasing the creativity of caring communities), Strategy (broadly, how to get from here to there over the long haul), and tactics (city to city, state to state, how can the fight best be made?).
CWA and the gangsters in the AFL-CIO, and NEA are not going to mobilize anyone around that reality. Instead, they want to obscure our social context; divert, surround, and demolish resistance--force it into the hopeless and lonely station of voting booths where capital's favorite question is asked: "What about me?"
The movements the AFL-CIO initiates (in response to pressure from the ranks who are positioned so they must do something) are right wing movements, typically joined by other right wingers like poverty pimp Jesse Jackson, the self -building Michael Moore, and others who want to destroy a real social movement for equality and justice.
These movements only run parallel to fascist operations like the Tpartyists, the anti-immigrant Minute Men, the Klan, the Nazis; none of these movements in and of themselves making much sense, but each of them serves one real purpose: the protection of the system of capital---its ideas, its profiteering, and its empires. They deliver not only bodies and minds, but nature itself, to the corporate state. Inside capital's box, all three face some kind of doom.
The leaders of these fake unions are well paid in for their professionalized betrayals. For example, NEA's former president, Reg Weaver, made $686,949 in his last year in office.
This money is, in large part, a fruit of imperialism. The AFL-CIO is and has been deeply involved with the Central Intelligence Agency all over the world, helping demolish indigenous workers' movements (see work by Kim Scipes, Paul Buhle, me, and many others).
They work through groups like the Social Democrats USA, the National Endowment for Democracy, Education International, and other fronts. AFL-CIO tops sit on the boards of these groups and know full well they are arms of the empire working with deadly thugs. So, the success or failure of American imperialism, for labor bosses, has a lot to do with their pocketbooks, in some cases, their lives.
The US Student Association (below) had deep ties to the CIA not that long ago. Whether the CIA has wandered away, I don’t know. The NAACP has been, for decades, in the right wing of whatever there is left of the civil rights movement, so completely lawyered-up that its own members recognize it is disconnected from the communities it claims to represent.
Born with the racist idea that white skilled workers would do better in the US if other workers did worse (systematically destroying other, real, unions, betraying every major strike in early labor history) the international work of the AFL follows precisely the line they established from the beginning.
I note that the CWA call, on its web site (http://www.cwa-union.org/news/entry/stand_up_for_workers_on_nationwide_day_of_action_april_4) attempts to link this farcical April 4th "action" with Martin Luther King and his work with unions.
What CWA does not mention is the fact that King was moving the civil rights movement toward a clear anti-Vietnam war stance. King began this radical move in 1967 with this speech http://antiwar.com/orig/bromwich.php?articleid=12844
Where is the AFL-CIO and NEA on the endless wars? Their union bosses support those wars where children fight and kill other children of the poor on behalf of the rich in their homelands--and treasure is sucked from the workers of the US. NEA's representative assembly last summer, under terrific pressure from NEA tops, voted NOT TO DISCUSS the wars whatsoever--that in the face of massive cuts to schooling caused, in part, by the wars.
The heads of the biggest unions in the US met on February 14, 2011 in the offices of the largest union in the U.S., the 3.2 million member National Education Association at the behest of its president, Dennis Van Roekel. NEA is not part of the AFL-CIO. It was an extraordinary meeting in an extraordinary location although Van Roekel and his predecessors have tried for a decade to force the NEA members to merge with the corrupt, bankrupt, useless, AFL. The big labor bosses laid out a plan to contain the rank and file within the electoral arena while creating a pretense of leadership and militancy. They rededicated themselves to the Democrats, to the electoral world, and to fund-raising for that effort.
I now have personalized emails from NEA (2 of them in the last 3 days) asking me to send them more money in this "profound education crisis and attack on workers." Who could imagine the NEA recognizing the existence of a working class, even if they cannot yet say "Class"? Crisis? Send NEA more money to boost its $350 million+ treasury. Things are indeed heating up, as projected, but never quite as projected.
People are fighting back because they must, in order to live — world wide. That does not mean people worldwide are making good sense of why a fight-back is required.
We should realize that everything is in place for a dramatic shift to the left, and the right. Either could happen. The US empire has lost its moral standing, it is losing wars, it's fake democracy is more and more exposed, the financial crises are real, elites are fighting bitterly among themselves, their allies don't trust them to be able to protect them around the world, and inequality is booming.
We see now a series of what are called “accelerators,” that is, events that speed social change, events that are unpredictable but rush along like avalanches gathering up power and speed from existing social crises that have been, apparently, buried for some time.
A fruit vendor immolates himself in Tunisia: a mass uprising spreads across the Middle East. In the cradle of the region, masses of people gather in Liberation (sic) Square demanding the end of the dictator–and the military backs them. They win a military dictatorship. Libya goes up. The dictator counter-attacks, using a tribal based military and, for this moment, wins, but the US uses the UN to go to war with him and–we shall see. Wisconsin. Bahrain (an important US naval base and oil refinery), ruled by a Suni King, witnesses a majoirity--Shiite uprising. The Saudis invade Bahrain, direct the killing of peaceful demonstrators to protect their Suni monarchy–absolutely vital to the US empire. China experiences mass demonstrations in the west and begins to spend more on putting down internal disturbances than it does for its military. Arrests in Lansing, Michigan. Tibetan monks immolate themselves.
The world is changing now. Can we understand the spirals of change and influence it, or will we pander to those who we know have a reason to promote lies, and not merely become impotent, but lose?
However, decades of shopping (consumerism drives 2/3 the US economy), mis-leadership, racism, anti-immigrantism, racist jailing of the poor, nationalism, sexism, militarism, evangelical religion, the eradication of history in schools--the nature of the government, its cops, laws, military, etc.-- all add up to a real possibility of, not the left, but the right. Our ground work is not done, and theirs largely is.
What is absent is an organization that has the limited sophistication to talk to people about capitalism and imperialism, and to honestly show a way out that will, without a doubt, entail a lot of courage--and suffering.
Even so, more and more people are likely to at least listen. Anti-communism, anti radicalism, does not seem as powerful as it was a decade or 20 years ago. Elites forgot to worry too much about that, it appears.
The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war, coupled with booming inequality, met by the potential of mass, class conscious active resistance.
The AFL-CIO, NEA, the NAACP, et al, want nothing to do with that potential. Rather, they want to derail it.
Every aspect of the analysis of our current social context (below), apparently from CWA, is wrong.
Privatization is NOT the key thing going on in schools or society. It is a second or third tier issue. Why would elites abandon a tax funded (mainly paid for by workers) institution that they can use to mis-educate the children of the propertyless? They won't. Some elites see money in privatization, and do it, but they are small players compared to the vast, corporate state, school system.
"Public education" was never public, but always segregated by class and race, and never educational, always teaching lies about nationalism, democracy, capitalism, and imperialism.
What exists, in fact, is capitalist schooling, always "undemocratically governed."
Indeed, the term "democracy" has become a fetish, counterfeit. People treat it like people treat religion--an article of faith in itself akin to a cross being confused with god. There is, often as not, little democratic about real social change.
There is certainly little democratic about life in the US and hasn't been since its founding (Indians, indentured servants, slavery, women, the rich-boys Constitution, Alien Sedition Acts, more slavery, wars and conscription of the poor, Jim Crow, two more imperialist wars, Cuba, support for S. Africa, the Philippines, Korea, My Lai, Grenada, systematic destruction of urban life, The New Jim Crow of incarceration and extradition aimed at black and brown people, Guatemala, El Salvador, all of Central America and Latin America, Afghanistan, oil, Iraq, the Saudis, and to end a much too short list--the relentless destruction of the environment).
"Restore" democracy? If that is democracy, it needs to be fought, not restored.
Today, capitalist schooling is seated within a full blown corporate state. That state relies on the inheritor of Bush's No Child Left Behind act, that is, Obama's Race to the Top. It means NCLB, intensified. More national regimentation of the curricula, more anti-working class high-stakes tests (the base for merit pay), more militarism in poor and working class areas.
The education agenda, indefensible, is a class war and empire's war agenda---and nothing else.
The attacks on students (an injury to one) only preceded attacks on the school work force (goes before an injury to all): layoffs, attacks on health benefits, wages, pensions, hours and conditions of work, etc.
The more school workers participated in the attacks on their students, as they did, the less human and trusting all became (an employer/employee relationship in the classroom), the more they empowered and enriched their own bosses, the more students learned to not like to learn and the more school workers pretended to be professionals, teaching, the more they set themselves apart from the community, and now, the more they participated in the construction of their own oppression. That is the track record of capitalist alienation.
Finance and industrial capital run the US government and all of its aspects. They use the government as a place to work out their real differences (Goldman Sachs vs GM, etc), like an executive committee.
Then they turn on the working class and poor people and use what is most certainly Their government to attack everyone else ($12.9 trillion to the banks, endless war, etc.) This government, this corporate state, is an executive committee and armed weapon of the rich. The corporate state has fully militarized every corner of US society.
What the AFL-CIO, CWA, NEA, and the rest want to do is preserve and protect that corporate state which feeds them.
Working solely inside this box, for example, backing Democrats and unionite heads, BREEDS fascism.
The more people buy into the legal system where the fascist Supremes, millionaires in black robes, rule; into the Constitution, written to protect the rich and their properties; into holograms of democracy like unions which are not democratic nor unions in any sense of solidarity or resistance, the more they give up (eager to make concessions in Wisconsin in order, only, to preserve dues check off) , the more people "Defend Public Education" (an indefensible myth); the more people protest under American nationalist flags; the more the people see the Democrats as "lesser evils" the more they ratify evil, and the sharper become the attacks from capital as capital in crisis, as it is, MUST attack. That is the track record of fascist self-alienation.
To urge reliance on the capitalist, corporate, state, means to allow in and quicken the emergence of fascism.
A better call would be to call for a national school walkout and strikes on the day after Mayday (a Sunday this year): Monday, May Second.
Mayday is recognized world wide as a radical workers' holiday and, while the idea was largely eradicated in the US where it began, the immigrant rights movement revived it, preserves it now. The Monday after Mayday Walkout makes sense--not to "Defend Public Education" but to "Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes," to "Emancipate Education from the Empire." Connecting the schools with the immigrant rights movement makes sense, tactically, but ethically as well: principled ideas have no borders.
Should the day of real action be matched by freedom schooling where all could rise with all, learning why things are as they are in meaningful ways, gaining and testing knowledge in a relatively free atmosphere, all the better.
Surely the last month demonstrates in practice the need to work with, and welcome, troops. Motivated by nationalism, they are dangerous to workers inside the US and out. Motivated by equality, the recognition of the need to transform class war and turn the guns around, troops become allies. A good analysis, an idea, can penetrate and turn around, an army--point the weapons elsewhere. Ask Mubarek.
There will be demonstrations against imperialist wars on March 19th, all over. I suspect most people on this list already plan to be there, seeking to link the schools movement to the anti war movement, to the troops too. Good.
That said, labor bosses and their pals are workers' nearest and most vulnerable enemies. I understand the Patriot Act and won't elaborate.
Good luck to our side and to hell with theirs.
At 04:36 PM 3/16/2011, you wrote:
In response to the corporate-funded attack on public workers and labor unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere around the country, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) issued a call for a nationwide “We Are One” day of action to protest budget-cuts and union-busting. April 4th was chosen because 43 years ago on that date Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis while supporting a strike by city sanitation workers.
The AFL-CIO national labor federation, along with the NAACP, U.S. Student Association, People for the American Way, many individual unions, and numerous other organizations are mobilizing to support the “We Are One” day of action.
The privatization schemes, budget-cuts, tuition hikes, course reductions, layoffs, furloughs, pay-cuts, union-busting, and undemocratic governance of education districts and institutions in California today are part of a broader pattern of attacks on all public workers, unions, and public education itself.
On March 12th, the Northern California regional Defend Public Education meeting endorsed the April 4th national day of action, and urged education activists to hold campus walkouts and other forms of action in support of worker rights and public education. Students, faculty, and staff are urged to participate in labor’s “We Are One” activities and carry out their own walkouts and actions on April 4th.
For more information:
List of Calif. April 4th Actions: http://ca.defendpubliceducation.org/?page_id=959
CWA Call to Action April 4th: http://www.cwa-union.org/content/april4
AFL-CIO "We Are One": http://www.we-r-1.org/
"We can have a democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both."
~Justice Louis Brandeis