An Unhappy Anniversary as the Education Agenda Continues as a War Agenda

All Out On October 7th! Real Hope vs Despair!

by Rich Gibson

Substance News October 2010


October 7th marks the ninth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, a full blown hot war, a “War on Terror”, rather than an attack on a crime mounted by a billionaire irrationalist, Osama bin Laden, once a CIA favorite.


As the truth of the empire can be found, internally, at work, and externally, at the ends of its tentacles, let us look at highlights inside the US from coast to coast, and in the middle. Then we can turn to the internal and external arts of resistance.


On the east coast, last weekend, the AFL-CIO, a variety of liberal and self-proclaimed left sects held a pro-war nationalist rally designed to:


*drive people into voting booths where they are urged to choose who will oppress us best from the executive committee and armed weapon of the rich: the corporate-state government;

*to promote the newest unionist rendition of “Buy American,” this time aimed at the Chinese. Flags were draped everywhere as the United Auto Workers’ new King (Bob) shouted, “Are you America?” The loud response: “Yes!.”  We might remember the last time the UAW did this, young Vincent Chin, about to be married and full of joy, was beaten to death with baseball bats on the main street of Detroit, Woodward, by auto-workers who thought, wrongly, that Chin was Japanese. US union tops often gain from racism;

*to create an illusion that the union bosses and liberals have a base of conscious people who back them. They don’t. Indeed, the last thing these Judas Goats want is a mass base of class conscious people who recognize what is up (an international war of the rich on the poor where the children of the poor fight and die on behalf of the rich in their homelands) and what to do about that;

* to locate hope anywhere but where it should be, with us, our united, wise, internationalist action to control our communities and work places with direct action.


The AFL-CIO event couldn’t be a demonstration, which might get out of hand. Instead, the union bosses allowed many people to be bracketed in what amount to police pens, gates surrounding them, keeping them from uniting with others and guaranteeing, again, labor peace for the day.


Some leaders of the sects and front groups, like the Communist Party and its failed United for Peace and Justice, felt tricked. It was a decidedly pro-war rally led by people with a long history of pro-war action. There was nearly no mention of the war, a scenario carrying over from, for example, the school worker union conventions where union heads fought anyone who connected capitalism, imperialism, class war, and the education agenda. The only reference to the war was from Harry Belefonte who was, overwhelmingly, ignored. Tricked? Who couldn’t foresee the union chiefs and liberals lying? Once again we see the interaction of sectarianism and opportunism: the sects have nearly nobody with them and those who are, don’t know much.


It was, then, a counterfeit rally thrown together by sham unionists and farcical reformers who have an interest in gaining from class and empire wars. Interest? Take for example, the $686,949 earned in 2008 by then National Education Association president Reg Weaver. Good pay for mis-representing 3.5 people, many of whom live in trailers. Both the NEA and AFL-CIO have been deeply involved in backing US wars for decades, working with US intelligence agencies at the ends of the empires’ vicious tentacles, destroying indigenous workers’ movements on the belief that American workers will do better if other workers do worse. 

And, within the US, at work where democracy is nullified in the private sector and nearly nil in the public sector, we have witnessed the UAW’s King use both deception and violence to hand more concessions to the bailed out, corporate state, auto chieftains while union members earn one-half what they made just a year ago. In fact, the UAW is nearly vanished, lost a million members, proved good only at fighting its own members on the picket lines and in the shops, making concession after concession when it is clear that concessions don’t save jobs–only make bosses want more.


In the public sector, the school worker unions not only made concessions but, with Quisling finesse, managed to assist in the creation and advancement of the education agenda as a war agenda with the Obama Race to the Top accelerating where Bush left off:

*regimented curricula promoting nationalism, eradicating history;

*intensification of racist, anti-working class high-stakes exams,

*militarization in poor and working class areas,

*merit pay, elimination of tenure, pay cuts, layoffs,

*some privatization met by equally destructive corporate state schooling,

*a full scale assault in colleges and universities on students, support workers, and professors of all kinds.


Let us leave the fabricated rally and turn our gaze to the Midwest, its most glaring manifestation of capitalism in rapid decay where racism, alienation, poverty, corruption, and sheer incompetence left the city and its schools reeling in despair.


In the last 18 months, the Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was jailed for corruption as were several of his top aides. So was city council person Monica Conyers, wife of Congressman John.


The head of the school board, Otis Mathis, a functionally illiterate man elected by a board vote of 10-1 over a University of Michigan grad, pled no contest to a charge of masturbating in front of the female superintendent, repeatedly. Board member Reverend David Murray (not a reverend, he changed his name to Reverend, who, incidentally, had his six kids removed by protective services but was re-elected) said,  "It happens to a lot of young men. They engage in behavior they feel is harmless and it's offensive to certain people... It could be deemed offensive, but some women are more sensitive to those types of things than others...."I feel bad for him because he probably felt that it was something she would probably like or she got humor out of it."


Detroit schools “lost” more than 100,000 kids in the last decade. In that context, during a state takeover of the school board, suburbanite board members set about building new schools and refurbishing others. The upshot of that is that dozens of the new and rebuilt schools sit empty, stripped by scrappers, while the current board pays more than a million dollars a year to fence and guard them. The takeover board’s promises of better schools for the city’s kids, about 90 percent of them black, never materialized. They left a debt of about $200 million, though nobody can trust any figures that come out of Detroit–not the student count, not test scores, and not the balance on the books.


19 months ago, the school board was effectively taken over by a Broad Foundation product, Bob Bobb who set about rooting out small time crooks (and they are there by the dozens) while fobbing off big contracts to friends and cronies. Bobb met resistance from what has to be seen as a wacky school board and members of the By Any Means Necessary (Bamn) group which also took on, fought from time to time, the sellout leadership of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.


Not long ago, the DFT negotiated what may be the worst school worker contract in US labor history. Union officials successfully foisted a contract on the members that gave up $500 a pay, massive health benefit give-backs–especially harmful to people with kids—merit pay, the near abolition of tenure, promotion of Priority Schools which get cleaned and supplied, distinct from Neighborhood Schools which don’t; all on the promise of again, saving jobs.


BAMN organized serious opposition to the contract, at one point winning more than a thousand educators to sign a petition not only attacking the contract, but the DFT President, Keith Johnson. BAMN members repeatedly disrupted DFT meetings. Johnson moved to expel one BAMN leader from the union; actually began to hold a ludicrous trial.


Then, oddly, BAMN opposition nearly evaporated. Johnson agreed to back a BAMN rally in Washington DC (the busses broke down) and hired a BAMN attorney to do some legal work.


Quid pro quo? We can only hope not. BAMN members now prepare an election campaign against Johnson but their silence, for months, puzzles many, many, members.


In much of the mid-west, we see the organized decay that is indicative of much of intellectual and practical life in the US now. The alternatives are clear enough: community or barbarism. Real community is for just a moment later.


Instead, let us look to the left coast where, over the weekend of October 1st, some very serious people gathered in San Diego County.


750,000 spectators and participants cheered the Miramar Air show, complete with flyovers from the Blue Angels, F-22s, F18s, Harrier jets, strategic bombers, and more. One of my former students, a single mom, took her kids. She emailed me from the show. Each year, she said, the producers create a “Wall of Fire,” from napalm. This year, “the announcer went a bit overboard in describing how useful napalm is in sticking to human flesh.”


Seven hundred and fifty thousand men, women, and school children, cheered for that Wall of Napalm which I saw explode in brilliant reds and yellows from my home 8 ½ miles to the south.


Outside the US, the high-tech war machine is fought to a standstill in both Iraq (where another Saddam is the US’ best hope) and Afghanistan. There, people with Kalashnikovs have paralyzed the vaunted US military, and its economic conscripts. But, over time, as children of the poor kill other children of the poor, barbarism rises–now in the form of murdering civilians, keeping body parts, making film of the activity–a kind of death-cultism that is indicative of fascism. Today, the choice is clear enough: communities of resistance, or barbarism. 


Five years ago, in numerous presentations, the historian and political scientist (and former CIA asset) Chalmers Johnson called the US a fascist state. Surely, the population is being prepared for that eventuality.


Now we have a photo of right, left, and center in the USA. But it’s only a frozen picture of what should be a moving film because, as we know, people will fight back, as they must fight back to live.


At issue: can we make sense of why we must resist, that is, class and imperialist war, or will we fight back a few at a time, divided along lines like the fetishes of unionism that US unions are, i.e., by job (teachers for teachers, support workers for support workers, students for students), or by industry (auto workers for auto workers, steel workers for steel workers, or the unemployed, left alone by the millions).


The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and booming inequality met by the potential of the direct actions of masses of class-conscious people. Two events, one ongoing and another in progress, are signals of hope.


The first, the library, “La Casita,” occupation in Chicago. Substance coverage on the exemplary action is familiar to readers. No need for repetition. As I write, the local warlords are trying to freeze out the occupiers. A library action like this is near-perfect. It is hard to launch an attack on people who want a library, harder still because they are inside it, and are building it. I will only add that the action, and Substance reporting, inspires people all over the country including those I address now.


Last March 4, students throughout the US, led by students in the elite University of California system and the California State Universities, shut down their schools. They struck. They occupied, demonstrated, seized freeways, taught in and out, held freedom schools. Other students, school workers, and community people around the US followed their example. In nearly every instance, the students rightly connected this reality: the education agenda is a war agenda. It is a class war agenda and an imperialist war agenda. \


March 4th was a dramatic success, a real step forward in the development of rational resistance in the US. The unions and sects, however, followed the path described in the fake rally, above. The unions, both NEA and AFT, first tried to dismiss the call for strikes and actions. Some went so far as to reserve campus space, then deny it to student activists. Then the union tops tried to divert the movement, wipe out any mention of class war or empires’s war. Later, when the movement succeeded, they claimed credit for it–repugnant dishonesty at every turn.


In the weeks that followed what became known as M4, meetings were held around California and the US, looking for next steps. It was decided to call for October 7th as, again, a Day of Action. Most people involved in those discussions knew the significance of 10-7, the anniversary of the 2001 US invasion. Some did not. Once again, the union chief and sects sought to feed on, and demolish, the movement, with only marginal success.


In either case, the October 7th anniversary and the Call for Action is upon us. Students I know in Southern California have worked tirelessly to spread the word, to build a base not only for action, but reflective, conscious, knowledgeable action.


We can reclaim real hope from false promises by organizing ourselves, our schools, and our communities in accord with those student leaders who have grasped why things are as they are, and are learning what to do about it.



It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.

But it has one defect:

It needs a driver.


General, your bomber is powerful.

It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.

But it has one defect:

It needs a mechanic.


General, man is very useful.

He can fly and he can kill.

But he has one defect:

He can think.”




On the US unions’ promotion of war and empire, see Kim Scipes’ and Paul Buhles’ work on-line and Scipes’ very fine, carefully referenced, book, just out, “The AFL-CIO’s Secret War.”


On the decline of the UAW, see Gibson, The Torment and Demise of the United Auto Workers Union:


On the NEA conventions, the DFT contract, and M4, a prediction about the AFL-CIO sham rally, see Gibson in Substance online at:


For Chalmers Johnson, see his brilliant “Nemesis Trilogy” and the more recent, if disappointing, “Dissolving the Empire.”


For Schooling and Unionism as Commodity Fetishism, see Gibson pending at Cultural Logic online at:


The poem is Brecht’s linked here:


Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor of education at San Diego State University.