"Not Just No, But HELL NO!"
In most liberal and radical circles, there is a sense of renewed
hope in the labor movement. Michael Yates' article in Monthly
Review, "Does the Labor Movement have a Future?"
suggests that the answer is most certainly "Yes." His
later book, Why Unions Matter, coupled with monthly periodicals
like Labor Notes, and a turn in the re-emerging IWW
News to support for reform struggle inside the AFL-CIO, lends
support to the notion that labor may be stretching and flexing.
The victory of the Solidarity-led Teamsters for a Democratic
Union, though quickly reversed when Ron Carey and other top leaders
were exposed as corrupt, spearheaded an apparent rise of reform
movements inside the AFL. John Sweeney's election to the top
spot in the AFL-CIO, girded by promises for a "New Labor
Movement," and the beginnings of "Organizing Summers,"
institutes for young people led by big labor, have inspired a
sense of revival. Prominent left academics like historians Eric
Foner and David Montgomery have fostered campus labor-educator-student
teach-ins, while graduate student organizing has blossomed. Still,
the AFL-CIO as a whole has continued to lose membership. Liberals
and radicals across the spectrum leap toward building the labor
federation, as if rising membership will intensify worker radicalism.
2. While any Marxist analysis
is finally going to pin its hopes on the working class, I suggest
that this flurry of talk and action from most of the left is
romanticism, opportunism; reflecting a failure to study the lessons
of the past with care, a moth-to-flame response to a shallow
analysis of the present, and a refusal to think through what
it is that people need to know and do in order to forge a better
future. The relationship of reform and revolution remains unresolved,
and with the absence of a sizeable left presence the U.S. labor
movement, the practice that is necessary to guide or evaluate
the grinding of provisional and fundamental change is also absent.
What left remains in the U.S. must face a choice of where to
send its limited cadres and how it is they should operate. The
relative privilege of the U.S. working class (materially as well
as in consciousness) vis a vis the rest of the world, the nearly
unalterable and corrupting structures of the AFL-CIO unions,
compound a difficult choice about who should do what and where.
3. Marx's thought is that the
seeds of the future are within the present. The organization
of the working class is accomplished, in part, by the expansion
of capital, for example. The liberal left, which may or may not
want some kind of fundamental change, seems to believe that building
and organizing within the AFL will lead to worker solidarity,
action, and thus a better world--a connection, without a near-revolutionary
assault on the AFL-CIO hierarchy, I think lacks evidence.
4. There is no necessary link
between the growth of the AFL-CIO and worker action or solidarity.
Indeed the craft-based AFL was in part created to prevent worker
action and solidarity, beyond the most narrow and legalistic
maneuvering, while the industrial-based CIO, a creation of the
old left, set in place structures which make its reform nearly
impossible. There is a relationship, early on, between employer
pressure and union corruption. Today, however, the undemocratic
and authoritarian structures of the AFL-CIO, coupled with deep
involvement with U.S. intelligence agencies that goes back to
World War I, take on a life of their own. Moreover, reformer
habits and practices inside the AFL-CIO hardly lay the groundwork
for radical change. The Teamsters for a Democratic Union's reliance
on Carey on one hand, and the Solidarity party on another, or
the liberal reformers' participation in the class-collaboration
of "new unionism" addressed below; none of this adds
up to a potential assault on the many structures and veils that
buttress and fuel the sucking pump of capital, nor do they address
or create new forms of consciousness that might lead people to
never again replace an old boss with a new one.
5. This essay assails one of
the liberals' favorite projects in the 1990's, the manufacture
of a merger between the largest union in the United States, the
independent National Education Association, and the AFT-AFL-CIO.
It focuses on the particulars of the merger, often using the
voices of proponents and opposition forces, in part because the
roots of change are within the material details, and their interpretations,
of history. Because there are few radicals or revolutionaries
operating openly within the NEA, the critique goes mainly to
the liberal drive to unite the unions from the top. Even so,
the absence of radicals and revolutionaries in either union is
a telling point about the state of U.S. radicalism at the turn
of the century.
6. Also underlying the ethnography
is a sense that educators and their unions are now centripetal
in the recreation of production relations in the U.S., as seen
in practice in the raging battles over control of public school
curricula and pedagogy, and that organizing in education could
easily reverberate into industrial work places and communities,
and at the present moment that schools, not factories, might
be the sites that initiate serious struggles, even if they are
unable to carry them through to the end.
7. On July 5, 1998, 58 percent
of the 9,741 delegates to the National Education Association's
77th annual representative assembly rejected the strident urging
of their leaders to merge their national membership of 2.3 million
with the 900,000 members of the American Federation of Teachers
and the AFL-CIO. The vote reflected a stunning rebuff to NEA
President Bob Chase, vice-president Reg Weaver, secretary-treasurer
Dennis Van Roekel, and the executive director, Don Cameron. The
four dapper men lead an organization whose membership is 84%
women. They were the key negotiators of a merger pact which required
a two-thirds favorable vote. Merger negotiations, involving massive
expenditures of NEA funds, have moved sporadically since 1991.
8. If the NEA delegates jilted
the House of Labor, they simultaneously joined it. Never before
has an NEA assembly been so divided, never have delegates demonstrated
such deep distrust of and alienation from their
leaders. Like the rank and file of much of the labor movement,
NEA delegates were met with an onslaught of crude campaigning
for a leadership proposal many of them earnestly hoped to seriously
critique. Like their AFL-CIO counterparts, NEA delegates, when
given a chance with a secret ballot, ignored the leaders' demands.
They said "yes" to their leaders and voted "no"
in private on the "Principles of Unity," a brief conceptual
document many delegates believed lacked the details to protect
the heritage of the remarkably successful NEA in a merger with
the fading AFL-CIO.
9. Even so, delegates did pass
a proposal from Minnesota that allows states--like Florida
and some locals, which are deeply involved in merger negotiations
with the AFT--to continue to bargain, and perhaps to link with
the AFL-CIO. In this sense, the predictions of Albert Shanker,
the president of the AFT from 1968 to his death in 1997, may
come true. Shanker told a top NEA official in 1989 that the national
bodies of NEA and AFT could never merge. However, the AFT could
gain a defacto merger by combining slowly with NEA state and
10. A merged NEA and AFT would
have created the largest union in North America. With more than
three million members, it would have been three times
the size of the Teamsters, now the biggest union in the U.S.
The slowly disintegrating AFL-CIO, representing a low of about
13 percent of the nation's work force, would have enjoyed a quick
injection of nearly eight million dollars--and much needed respectability
in the face of federal indictments against leaders like Ron Carey,
and potential charges pending against other top officers like
the United Mineworkers' Rich Trumka, who was prominent in calling
for an NEA merger. The merged organization would have comprised
about 20 percent of the AFL-CIO.
11. All of NEA's chickens came
home to roost at the New Orleans assembly. A formal, if superficial
dedication to internal democracy was strained by a growing gap
between leaders, staff, and members at every level. All of the
pieces of the NEA's history as a company union, its moments
of militancy from the 1960s to the 1980's, and its sudden turn
in the mid-1990's toward "new unionism," that is, a
coalition of union leaders, business interests, and politicians
claiming to save public education--all of the past collided
with an effort to enforce NEA's leaders' view of the future.
The education community is genteel, internally tolerant, and
refers to itself as a family. The "NEA Family," a term
common within the union, was met by bitter leadership denunciations
and threats of recrimination for "not being with the program."
Pride in honest unionism was challenged by rumors of payoffs
and corruption at the top. Fears of ambitious second-tier leaders
were teased by both their membership base and the top
leaders who can reward and punish. Years of battles with the
AFT which required extensive training of the rank and file--about
every AFT blemish--contradicted the sudden leadership romance
with the entire AFL-CIO. The suburban base of the NEA conflicted
with the urban realities of the AFT. Teachers who themselves
were often blue-collar children at once rejected their
past, the AFL's lack of focus on education, and the AFT's centralized
structure. A stodgy schoolteacher reputation, NEA,
encountered the realities of a union, the AFT,
which reflects its industry and schools, including
all the sensual passions of a middle-school outing.
12. It is not possible to categorize
the overwhelming vote, characterized by one leader as "Not
no, but Hell NO!", as radical or conservative. Many delegates
wanted nothing to do with the AFL-CIO, some because they don't
want to be connected to the working class, others because they
believe the AFL-CIO is too corrupt to reform, and many because
they saw no reason to give up what they know they have in NEA
for what they might lose with a merger. Most delegates, according
to extensive post-convention surveys of each NEA delegate, did
not trust their leaders, were offended by strident leadership
demands, and saw no reason for the huge decentralized NEA to
adopt the structure of the smaller, notable undemocratic, AFT.
13. The huge New Orleans assembly
took place in a microcosm when the relatively tiny Student
NEA Program, composed of pre-service teachers, met the week before
their parent body. The collegians were greeted by a series of
emotional appeals from two key NEA leaders, Chase and Van Roekel,
and sharp, sometimes nearly hysterical pressure from a past chairperson
of their program exhorting that "Real leaders say yes to
14. Angie Whitlow, the Student
NEA President from Illinois at the time of the assembly, said:
They refused to give us details. They just kept telling us
to look at the "half of the glass that's full, the happy
side." They appealed to egos, refused to talk the facts
that everyone was clamoring for. They implied that only an outcast,
a non-leader, would oppose this. Our current national chairperson
was fair with the procedures, gave people a chance to talk. In
the debate, we made it clear that there was another side, "Unity
Without Merger," the position leaders took from Michigan,
Illinois, and Alabama. Our issues were the same as the convention's:
the merger with the AFL, the loss of the secret ballot, taking
on the undemocratic structure from AFT, NEA's term limits for
officers, our guarantees for minority representation. They really
tried to force this on us. Why push this so hard now? They told
us that the merger issue wouldn't come forward for years, after
the turn of the century, then suddenly here they are, ready to
merge. They said they wouldn't bargain away our independence
from the AFL-CIO. Then they did. They tried to ram this through
the grassroots, but the grassroots won. If they keep trying to
bully people, the people will boot them. We all came away more
questioning, and we will be even smarter next time through.
15. The Student Program was
not asked to vote on the merger. Ms. Whitlow said a vote was
not taken because the program is simply a separate branch of
the NEA. The director of communications of a large northern state
said, "Hell, they would have had them vote if the leadership
thought they would win by two-thirds. They couldn't even do that
with the kids. Still, they (Chase and Van Roekel) plunged ahead."
16. According to Secretary Treasurer
Van Roekel, the average NEA member makes about $40,000 a year.
In this sense, at least, the gap between leaders and the membership
is fairly wide, though surely not as wide as many CEO's and their
workforce. Van Roekel reported staff and leader salaries, allowances,
and expenses to the Labor Department in 1997. Executive Director
Cameron's total was $216,593.55. (Cameron, in the NEA structure
which clearly demarcates staff and governance, is staff.) Bob
Chase's total was $301,302.03. Weaver reported $275,162. Van
Roekel's predecessor tallied $252,658. That year, while Van Roekel
was on the NEA Executive Board, he collected a total of $50,723
in expenses and allowances. NEA secretaries, who like school
secretaries are often actually in charge, average nearly $50,000
per year. A typical NEA staff person, an organizer, made a salary
and expense total of $104,669.
17. The NEA is not poor.
In 1997, it reported assets of nearly 145 million dollars. It
is the largest and most effectively organized union in North
America. Its members, school personnel, have become centripetal
in a de-industrialized society. Compared to the urban base of
the AFT, saddled with the collapse of urban America, the suburban
NEA lives fairly well within a society growing increasingly authoritarian
and inequitable. The union long ago decided to travel first class,
to reward its staff and leaders well. The NEA spent millions
in the late eighties and early nineties to refurbish its building
in downtown D.C., while many of its members lived and taught
in trailers. Board of Directors members are feted with generous
expense accounts. They were given around $1800 per person for
unaccounted expenses the week of the 1998 assembly. They get
free trips, time out of the classroom with union-subsidized substitutes,
free luggage, briefcases, dinners, trips to resorts for meetings,
chances to meet with high-ranking officials, etc. For classroom
teachers, this is often seen as the big time--a lot to lose if
one votes wrong. Moreover, there was a lot to gain in exchange
for an affirmative vote: jobs with AFL-CIO related organizations,
for example. Delegates from one large southern state are convinced
their president was promised a job with an insurance company
controlled by the federation in exchange for the state's "yes"
18. Money was not the only gap
that was in the sights of many local leaders at the assembly.
The majority of them saw an unprecedented arrogance and demagoguery
that offended not simply their sense of intelligence, but the
history of the organization they helped to build. However, many
delegates left the assembly wondering about the authorization
of hundreds of thousands of NEA dollars on merger planning, and
the expenditures from union funds that are rumored to have buttressed
the pro-merger campaign. President Chase said the costs to pay
for the pro-merger campaign materials came from states volunteering
funds. Interviews with the financial officers of three key states
supporting the merger suggest that they knew of no such expenditures.
19. Bob Haisman, president of the
NEA in Illinois, a leader of the "Unity Without Merger"
coalition, spoke just as the delegate vote against the merger
It's clear that there is a huge
gap between the national leaders and the rank and file. They
grossly overestimated their potential votes. They worked this
for years, yet had no idea that they would be so completely defeated.
We only worked this for a few weeks.
They bargained this without
authorization, they were never to do a deal uniting with the
AFL-CIO, they were never to give away the secret ballot or minority
guarantees or term limits. They gave away our democracy, yet
they tried to intimidate people into supporting it. It half-worked.
People were intimidated. They had staff all over the country
reporting on people. NEA just doesn't do that. So people covered
up, then used a secret ballot to vote no. Some people thought
that we were intimidating people too, that this would happen
on both sides. It didn't. We kept people informed, made every
detail available, urged people to make informed decisions on
their own. The leadership tried to use crude right-wing tactics.
They said that opposing merger was tantamount to opposing the
Declaration of Independence. Then they said we united to join
the AFL to combat the right wing. Makes no sense.
20. Indeed, convention speakers
in favor of the merger did table-thump more than the delegates
were prepared to accept. Prior to the balloting, nearly every
issue of the assembly was used to promote a yes vote. Delegates
attending the Human and Civil Rights Banquet, a fashionable annual
dinner which usually honors activists in the field, complained
that every honoree used the chance to make a pro-merger speech.
Even keynoter Al Gore alluded to the benefits to be gained from
a unity vote. On arrival at the assembly, delegates were met
at every hotel by "Vote Yes for Unity" posters featuring
statements from every past president of the NEA going back to
1973. A "Unity" booth dominated the entrance to the
assembly hall. "Unity" buttons, T-shirts, and flyers
were everywhere. An honoree from the support personnel ranks
promised a brief speech, then wore on about the necessity of
the merger. But delegates sported "Muck Ferger" and
"Chase Bob" buttons hidden inside their lapels and
winked as they passed the Unity booth. Delegates from
opposition states like Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, and New Jersey,
wore "UWM" buttons, for "unity without a merger"--a
proposal submitted by Illinois' Haisman which suggested continuing
a united relationship with the AFL and AFT, but without any legal
21. Opening speakers at the
assembly included past NEA president Mary Hatwood Futrell, one
of the union's most beloved leaders, now the top officer of Education
International, the result of the merger of the international
bodies of NEA and AFT in 1993--a harbinger of the 1998 proposal.
Futrell made it simple. "I saw the light. Merger is for
the children. Albert Shanker and I hugged one another. Now we
have clout in a united organization with the IMF and the World
Bank. My friends, and I call you my friends because you are,
the children need us . . . tomorrow you will vote on the
kind of America you want children to have. Vote for unity with
22. While the floor debate was
orchestrated, most delegates believed it was fair: one speaker
for, one against, with a point of information (usually a soft
pitch for President Chase to answer authoritatively) in between.
One pro-merger speaker compared the action to her successful
marriage; another pointed out that her mother is a member of
the AFL-CIO, and none the worse off for it. Another said, "Other
educators are not my enemies."
23. But the opposition clearly
drew the most applause. A student NEA leader from Illinois said,
"The pressures and tactics being used to whip members into
line threaten the integrity of the organization. We wouldn't
give up our democracy if we were just voting internally. Why
should we do that with a merger?" Mary Washington, the African-American
president of the Louisiana NEA, stated, "We fear our beliefs
are being diminished. We have been led to believe that an independent
NEA is a good thing, that the little guy should have a right
to democratic participation . . . this set of principles makes
a mockery of our core beliefs. This is unacceptable, unacceptable,
24. Bob Gilchrist, president
of Iowa's NEA, which had surveyed extensively about the merger
for several years, ran for the national executive committee solely
on a "No to Merger" platform. He got 45% of the vote.
His "it's simple, vote no!" drew loud applause.
25. Illinois' Haisman said,
"We reject this document only after careful analysis. We
are willing to work with the AFT, but we don't want to become
the AFT. We don't know the details of the agreement, but details
help preserve our rights, our democracy. This flawed document
will not help us focus on education. It creates a top-down structure
that reduces our key leaders to spectators."
26. A California delegate pointed
to united labor's success in the defeat of a state ballot initiative
which would have de-funded political action coffers. The united
labor movement spent $11 million defending its right to make
donations to politicians.
27. A delegate from Ohio, pointing
to the vote taking place on the fourth of July weekend, said,
"Speaking against the principles of unity is the same as
speaking against the Declaration of Independence."
28. A disappointed pro-merger
delegate who was not called upon before debate was closed showed
me her speech. "Look, I would have stuck to what I think
are the facts. Unity with the AFT makes sense for these reasons:
we are under attack from an organized right-wing movement
that wants to de-fund public education. We need to be together.
We have bargained about this with the AFT for more than five
years. We got some. They got some. We can live with this agreement.
We can do it now because the time is ripe. Why wait? Some states
are about to merge anyway. Why isolate them? We have locals that
are already merged, and they are here supporting the merger.
They have experience with this. Who else does? The AFL is the
AFL. Good and bad, not the big bad wolf. Our leaders can easily
hold their own with them, if they have to. I wish I could have
talked. This is a shame. Honest people on both sides are set
up as crooks."
29. Silence from some quarters
was interpreted as a powerful message. A Florida delegate said,
"Bob Chase's campaign manager for his presidency was one
of the most prominent African-American leaders in the
NEA. She was also ex-president Geiger's campaign manager. When
she talks, we all listen. She hasn't said a thing."
30. Executive Director Don Cameron,
originally a teacher from Michigan, compared opposition to the
merger to opposition to the American Revolution. Cameron then
invoked the legendary Dr. Seuss who lent his name to the "Read
Across America" literacy projects. Young NEA members flooded
the floor distributing tall red and white stovepipe Dr. Seuss
hats. The nearly 10,000 delegates to the NEA assembly, casting
the most significant ballots in the last forty years of the labor
movement, voted wearing the accouterments of the beloved Dr.
Seuss. While they voted, NEA showed a promotional film on universal
human rights on huge screens stationed around the auditorium.
When the film came to a group of children praising the secret
ballot, the Illinois delegation broke into raucous cheers.
31. Even before they arrived,
delegates were deluged with pro-merger material: a personal letter
from Chase, a series of pro-merger articles and ads in the prestigious
Education Week newspaper, support from professors who
linked the merger to Chase's "new unionism," visits
to most states from top NEA leaders. In late January 1998, Executive
Director Cameron circulated a letter threatening staff who were
not on board with the program, "There is no room on the
boat of new unionism and new culture for old culture stowaways.
You can ride, but you can't hide." And in May he said, "NEA
is NOT neutral on this issue. Therefore, neither is NEA staff.
NEA strongly supports, and is actively advocating for, the approval
of the Principles of Unity by the delegates to the 1998 NEA Representative
assembly. So, therefore, is the staff." This form of direction
to staff is unusual inside the NEA Family. Nevertheless, staff
opposition to the merger was often vocal. Staff members, usually
former teachers, raised many of the same objections that came
from the rank and file, and they added their own concerns about
their wages and pensions should an affiliation with the AFL proceed.
32. More than 40 percent of
the delegates were attending their first or second NEA assembly.
The line-up of pro-merger past presidents meant nothing to them.
One young delegate referred to the renowned Futrell as "that
woman from some Educational International; what's up with that?"
Pro-merger leaders were provided with lists of first-time delegates
and told to contact them, one-to-one, in their hotel rooms before
the vote. The room lists were often incorrect, the new delegates
gone, out on the town. Most last-minute contacts were never made.
33. Before the vote, people
very intimate with Chase and Van Roekel predicted they would
lose, 55-45, an estimate remarkably close to the actual vote.
The press reported the massive rebuff as a stunning defeat. The
New York Times ran the coverage at the top of the front page.
Chase was reported as appearing shocked in a press conference
immediately following the vote, although he smiled on stage when
the vote was announced.
34. It is hard to believe the
leaders were shocked. While state presidents surely mis-estimated
their ability to deliver (the president from Florida assured
Chase a 90% yes vote, while my survey of that delegation indicated
a no vote of around at least 35%), the Wall Street Journal
and Education Week had reported an uphill climb for the
merger supporters, with a state-by-state analysis.
Moreover, Chase's home state of Connecticut openly voted against
the merger prior to the convention, as did Weaver's home state
of Illinois. Michigan, which has produced so many NEA leaders
that key players are known inside as the "Michigan Mafia,"
stood solid in opposition, as did most of the huge Texas delegation.
California formally supported the merger, but many California
delegates reported to me that they would vote to reject. One
president said to Weaver, just before the vote, "I have
several hundred delegates here. I have been telling them to think
for themselves for years. Now you want me to muscle them--overnight?"
Leadership actions following the rejection would indicate they
were more than surprised. Perhaps they believed they had prepared
for so long that nothing could truly go awry.
35. NEA president Bob Chase,
who has distinguished himself in his fervent support for gay
and lesbian rights inside the NEA, was on the merger hunt for
quite some time, as were many other top NEA officials. Indeed,
the AFT has almost always been ready to talk merger. NEA claims
a merger with the AFT in New York was sabotaged by federation
efforts to simply subsume the NEA membership in the late 1960's.
A similar scenario followed in Florida in the early 1970's. In
1973 and again in 1993, NEA delegates passed New Business Items
insisting that any discussions with the AFT had to take place
on the grounds that there would be:
affiliation with the AFL-CIO.
minority group representation.
of secret balloting.
36. The 1993 NBI included language
that promised any united organization could take positions on
questions "that are in the best interests of our members."
This indicates well-founded fears that the private sector domination
within the AFL-CIO would cause divisions over raising and distributing
public funds. The members wanted to be able to lobby for taxes
for public school--above potential AFSCME member claims for mental
health expenditures, for example, or cries for tax cuts from
the Carpenters Union. The 2.3 million members of the NEA wanted
to be sure that their voice would be loud.
37. In the early nineties, Chase
helped steer the movement toward merger through his position
as the leader of the NEA Streamlining Committee, a heavily funded
group which was charged with simplifying the NEA structure. One
prominent observer of that committee says, "That was just
the stealth committee for merger, affiliation, and centralization.
All they did was set the stage for merger, do surveys designed
to support pro-merger views, and make it possible for the NEA
to seize, trustee, local and state organizations--just in case
they did not get in line with the move to join at the top. Well,
they ate out a lot too."
38. In 1993, Chase, then-NEA-President
Keith Geiger, and others resumed merger talks with the AFT. In
1995, bargaining for merger came to a halt, the NEA team reporting
that the AFT could not bargain within the guidelines set by the
convention. Among other things, the AFT had to have the AFL-CIO
affiliation. In fact, however, according to NEA insiders, the
talks broke down as much because of the clash of the considerable
egos of Geiger and AFT's Shanker. Who would get what was a major
39. In September 1995, merger
discussion resumed, presumably with the NEA negotiators being
given more flexibility in a July assembly vote. The states began
to sign no-raid pacts with the AFT.
40. In 1996, Chase was elected
NEA president in a very close election. In February 1997, Shanker
died. He was replaced by his protégée, Sandra Feldman.
Like Shanker, Feldman has not been a classroom educator in thirty
years. She supports the causes Shanker championed, though she
lacks his charisma. As on Education week writer put it, "No
one is rushing out to buy The New York Times to see what
Feldman says about school." With the two competing egos
absent, the move to merge rushed ahead. Van Roekel had repeatedly
told close confidants that no merger vote could possibly take
place before the turn of the century.
41. Chase served eight years
as NEA vice-president under Geiger. After his 1996 election,
a campaign which simply focused on electioneering, not issues,
President Chase had two surprises in hand. The first was revealed
in 1997. He declared himself the champion of "New Unionism,"
a model based on the GM Saturn plan which proposes unity between
the work force and management. For teachers, Chase said this
means unity with corporations, with politicians, and with school
administrators. He came out in favor of intensified standardization
of the curricula, for national testing, for more rigorous requirements
for teacher-training, and for peer evaluation--all of which seemed
to mimic the program that Al Shanker had developed for the AFT.
42. This was a new twist to
the press, coming from NEA, posed as the more radical and militant
of the unions since the mid-seventies. Education Week
carried Chase's speeches on the front page. New Unionism, praised
by Feldman, became the unspoken content of the proposed merger,
a move which trailed the corporate sector by more than a decade.
At the 1998 NEA assembly, delegates were treated to praise for
the Saturn corporation; speeches from prominent academics and
United Auto Worker officers celebrated the cooperative Saturn
contract and bargaining style. A Saturn car was offered to the
winner of a political action fund-raising raffle. He took the
43. In January 1998, Chase,
Van Roekel, Weaver, and Cameron reached agreement to merge the
NEA with the AFT and the AFL-CIO. In February the group produced
a joint AFT-NEA document, the Principles of Unity, describing
the merger and declared this the final deal--"untweakable."
In March, the NEA flew more than 260 top state and local leaders
to Washington to discuss the Principles. Meeting complaints,
the document was tweaked, changed to meet the needs of delegations
from New York state among others. The May NEA Board of Directors
meeting vote should have been ominous, a bare two-thirds majority:
106-53 in favor. The AFT, whose structure is more reflective
of its urban base, far more centralized, took the only vote that
mattered in February, their Executive Council voting in favor.
44. NEA leaders did conduct
a reasonably open discussion on the merger issue. They established
a "Unity Discussion Bulletin Board" on the NEA page
of the world-wide web. Sophisticated NEA members like
Bill Harshbarger took on the Principles of Unity one at a time,
and disputed them: "What benefit does a merger give to NEA
teachers that they can't get from forming a simple alliance with
the AFT? Why wouldn't an alliance be better than a merger? It
would avoid all of the "adjustment" and "realignment"
and uncertainties of creating a new organization." Others
asked, "If we go in, can we get out? If not, why not? "
Outsiders were allowed to post as well. Mike Antonucci of Education
Intelligence posted a note on his survey of the delegates, indicating
that Chase getting the merger passed would be like
pulling an elephant out of a hat. He accused Chase of using the
"right-wing bogeyman" to try to whip up support for
the AFL-CIO merger. The Pennsylvania NEA established its own
www discussion site which drew extensive debate, pro and con.
AFT's www site offered no opportunities for such discussion.
45. The NEA is more than 150
years old. It was formed and run by school administrators and
remained in their hands for years. Upton Sinclair, in his "Goose-Step"
and "The Goslings," documented control of the NEA by
local administrators and textbook publishers. In the mid-sixties,
the NEA was challenged by the more militant American Federation
of Teachers, led first by David Selden and later by Albert Shanker.
Shanker gained fame as a labor leader by going to jail as an
advocate for the racist Ocean-Hill Brownsville AFT strike, a
strike against a black community seeking greater control over
its schools. The AFT made inroads in organizing urban schools,
taking them from the NEA . Shanker became a celebrated conservative
leader in the AFL-CIO, the mobilizing center for right-wing
intelligence adventures inside the Federation, and one of the
first union leaders to make massive concessions to an employer
when, during a New York financial crisis, he allowed AFT pension
funds to be used to buttress city coffers. Shanker dined well,
cultivated close relationships with investment bankers like Felix
Rohatyn. On his watch, the AFT helped organize the decay of urban
46. NEA responded by developing
a militant organizing department and by moving rank and file
educators into the leadership. The NEA organizing department,
from the early seventies to the late eighties, concentrated on
opposing the AFT, and trained thousands of classroom teachers
in resistance as well. On the one hand, NEA holds a deep organizational
history of pride in its focus on educational issues. On the other
hand, many, many NEA leaders come from the ranks of people who
remember the "teacher wars" against the AFT. Overcoming
that kind of history is difficult, a project both cognitive and
47. NEA has clout. It sent more
delegates to the last Democratic convention than any other organization.
Its rank and file, literate, well-spoken, disciplined, are a
politician's dream-force. Its staff, kept relatively separate
from the vagaries of elections by the union's structure,
are professionals, mostly competent and tough bargainers. There
should be no wonder about why the well-financed, successful NEA
should be quite a plum for the reeling AFL-CIO--and why it may
have been so tempting to rush through a merger vote. Then too,
Chase had been promised the presidency of the new organization.
Term limits alone close his potential presidency of NEA in 2003.
The merged group could have extended his presidency indefinitely.
Feldman, if the merger had passed, was touted to run for the
presidency of the AFL-CIO--as a conservative candidate in the
48. The rush to merge had a
steep price, a split between the rank and file and the leadership
that may be impossible to mend. Chuck Agerstrand, president of
the National Staff Organization, the union for NEA staff, said
that the majority of delegates were unhappy with the way the
leadership maneuvered to press a yes vote, and "it is also
clear there are certain NEA principles that cannot be set aside.
These principles are minority guarantees, one-person one-vote,
secret ballot, dilution of the current governance structure,
and AFL-CIO affiliation. A majority of the RA delegates strongly
stated their concerns of the Principles of Unity, and that key
aspects of the NEA culture were not addressed or eliminated from
49. There was bitterness about
nearly every aspect of the assembly. Passion probably plays a
part in any national convention. Several delegates complained
that at this assembly, passion played a subversive role:
"NEA has been proud of its delegates' practice of work hard,
play hard. We always do our business, but we also meet new and
different roommates, party, drink, don't get enough sleep. Some
of this lack of inhibition, discretion, judgement, may spring
from exhaustion. Factor in the tugs on the heartstrings. For
many of these folks, this is the only time they hear what a great
job they are doing. Education employees can commiserate with
10,000 others in the same boat . . . the biggest teachers' lounge
on the planet. And we know what fun those can be."
50. Another delegate, from Michigan,
said. "I really don't care who sleeps with whom. But this
year even the seating at the Civil Rights banquet was reserved
for whoever was sleeping with a leader. That was true of access
at many levels. This just makes people resentful. These guys
are out of control--in every arena."
51. The Chase-Weaver-Van Roekel
leadership team made little effort to patch things up. After
the second critical vote, which allowed the NEA to maintain a
relationship with the AFT and may allow some state of local mergers,
president Bob Haisman of Illinois said:
They didn't do anything to bridge
the gap. Chase's arrogance astounds me. The NEA national counsel
invaded one of our meetings after the merger vote and yelled
at us, he stood up front and yelled at us. We finally asked him
to leave. He said he was going to ram through what he wanted.
They haven't learned a thing. Chase didn't even talk to us. They
took our dues money and used that to subsidize their campaign.
Our delegates went one to one and stole their base because we
did an honest job. We're educators. We educated people. We can
do that again.
52. At the close of the assembly,
I rode to the airport with delegates from Pennsylvania, a delegation
which had reported considerable support for merger to their leadership.
But, according to this group of eight, the state leadership had
never seriously consulted the state board of directors. When
they arrived at the assembly, their caucus voted 198 to 134 in
favor, a deep split when the merger required a 2/3 favorable
vote of the entire assembly. One delegate added:
I worked for Bob Chase for NEA
president and voted for him, but I won't again. That slogan,
"One-term Bob," makes all the sense in the world. And
that Reg Weaver and Van Roekel may as well look for real work
too. They just decided to do this among themselves, told the
state presidents to deliver. The presidents promised they would,
but none of them got around to asking us. They never paid us
any attention, and I don't think they learned a thing even after
we slapped them silly. They should have known better. We are
a democratic group, education people, and we are not as scared
as some think. That chant after the vote was announced, "NEA!
NEA! NEA!," that meant we stand for some things that are
not to be sold.
Ann Huberger, a Texas delegate and NEA director said:
We were being railroaded. They
had no mandate to negotiate this. The opening session positioned
us as being against children, against the Founding Fathers. They
threw Futrell at us in our caucus. She said that opposition to
merger was opposing kids. Nonsense. Texas is now allied with
Michigan and New Jersey--strange bedfellows. Chase did more to
divide the NEA than anyone ever has. If he had allowed a secret
ballot on the second vote, the one on allowing some states to
continue to bargain, he would have lost that too. Chase has no
clue what the people are thinking. To see such an outpouring
against the principles and come back the next day and fight for
them again, well he just didn't get it. Now, on the NEA Board,
there are many more people asking questions. Each of us is personally
stronger now. From now on, we will question the whole Executive
Committee. They just did what their bosses told them. They get
a lot of perks.
53. After the big merger vote,
at the NEA Board Forum, we (the board of directors) were lectured.
They told us they wanted to heal, then came with this motion
that says they can merge anyway. In that motion, the one that
squeaked by, all the power goes back to the people who failed
this time around, the executive committee. You can bet if he
can avoid it, Chase will never allow another secret ballot.
54. Just think of all that we
could have done for public education with all the money and staff
time they threw away on this. There was incredible pressure to
vote yes. The money and power Chase had, doing nothing but talk
merger all year, none of that made a difference. Many people,
even people from pro-merger Minnesota, told us they were going
to vote no. That's the power of our secret ballot.
55. People are leading double
lives in the NEA. That's new--bad. They used far-right language
and tactics on us. But NEA also taught us to think for ourselves,
and we did.
56. A leader of a large Michigan
local summed up the assembly: "It was like Vietnam. From
the top down, and back up again, everybody was lying to everyone
else about the body counts. Promotions and jobs were tied to
a good count, so the good counts came in. But the people were
on the other side, slowly tunneling away. Then, when the decisive
moment came, big surprise, the people won. Then they lost later
on. We will see about that in the NEA."
57. The motion that did pass
by a narrow role call vote, called the Minnesota New Business
Initiative by most, requires a survey of the 1998 NEA assembly
delegates, before any new merger project goes forward. Some of
the members of the board of directors say they will also demand
a staff report, written by old hands who have studied the AFT-AFL-CIO
for years, on the feasibility of a possible merger, with or without
the AFL-CIO. Other national executive board members, who voted
in the affirmative, say they will insist on an accounting of
the origins of the budget for the "Unity" campaign.
58. Whether Shanker is able
to reach into the NEA from his grave and gain state and local
affiliations until the national organization loses its meaning
remains an open issue, largely dependant on the board of directors.
Minnesota NEA merged with the AFT shortly after the convention.
Florida was expected to follow suit in the spring of 1999, though
glitches were apparent as old Florida leaders from both NEA and
AFT clashed over structure and who would be what in the new association.
59. A seasoned NEA staff member,
a veteran of the wars against the AFT and a close observer of
the latest NEA leadership said, "Sure they knew they would
lose this vote, though they didn't know they would get blown
away like this. In believe they went ahead to strengthen their
hand in further bargaining with the AFT for the next vote. In
think that they will also let several states merge and see how
it goes--Florida, New Mexico, Minnesota, and I believe, maybe,
Wisconsin. You can see that they don't feel restrained by directions
60. One young delegate, Tania
Kapner, from the Oakland, California, schools, brought a series
of new business items on issues she thought NEA should address:
support for affirmative action and a national march on Washington
for equal and quality education. Ms Kapner said there is a growing
sense of unity between parents, kids, and teachers in her school
system--a unity that has grown through a series of struggles,
that is reflected in joint student-teacher demands like caps
on class size. Her motions were quickly referred to a committee
by an assembly tired from days of merger debates. It is often
hard to spot the potential of a movement before it fully matures.
61. There never has been a clear
debate about the content of the merger, Chase's "New Unionism,"
made of GM's Saturn cloth. Many delegates who worked hard against
the merger, including Illinois' Haisman, said they support
the New Unionism concept in general and that they
are looking closely at the possibilities for initiating at least
significant parts of the program. Others were just as bitterly
opposed to "New Unionism" as they were to the merger.
A Michigan delegate said, "We saw the UAW lose 700,000 members
talking that partner-with-your-boss trash. NEA has two million
members, in part, because we know whose side we are on--education
people--and that there are sides to be taken." Again, while
some delegates did vote against the merger because they opposed
any affiliation with the blue collar work force that they perceive
to be the AFL-CIO, it is more telling that the key organized
opposition to merger came from states with a great deal of experience
with the AFL-CIO, northern industrial states, and they were rejecting
the merger because of their experiences with the AFL-CIO; not
because they want no connection with workers, which would include
most of their parents, but because they saw no connection between
the AFL and making gains.
62. On July 18, the AFT voted
1982 to 46 for merger. Opposition delegates had to stand up to
vote. AFT delegates do not enjoy rights to a secret ballot. The
loudest applause at the convention came for a delegate who made
it clear that any talks with the NEA must be predicated on
a merger with the AFL-CIO. Delegates chanted, "Union,
63. Bitter liberal reformers
who had carried the joint banners of "New Unionism"
and Unity through Merger, went home wondering what happened and
published articles in journals like Rethinking Schools,
wondering why the AFT was "left at the altar." It apparently
did not occur to them that this was an arranged marriage, that
the folks left alone at the church were the parents who never
consulted the kids. For the most part, the liberal leadership
from both NEA and AFT incorrectly identified the defeat as based
in the anti-working class and racist beliefs of the NEA delegates,
a charge for which I find only slight foundation. And, after
all, it is the same liberals in conjunction with the leadership
of the AFT, like the neo-fascist Adam Urbanski of the Rochester,
New York AFT, who call for racist, anti-working class practices
like standardized testing and grade retention and a disingenuous
focus on "safe schools." They have more in common with
the teacher-chamber-of-commerce unity proposed by NEA President
Chase than the rank and file of either union. Yet, at the same
time, other liberals, like supporters of the Boston-based Fairtest
organization which produces excellent research opposing the regulation
of knowledge through standardized curricula, work hard against
these forms of intensified oppression and irrationalism in classrooms,
a good indication of the complexity of the contradictions and
competing interests in education. In brief, there is no simple
binary of AFT progressivism within the AFL, and NEA snobbishness
on the outside.
64. On July 19, 1998 UAW workers
at Saturn's exemplary plant voted to strike, overwhelmingly.
"We're not going to be part of a lie," Joseph Rypkowski,
president of United Auto Workers Local 1853, said, referring
to Saturn's much-promoted image as "a different kind of
car company." A week later the work force returned, a majority
apparently glad to be once again part of the Saturn family's
65. U.S. labor, of which the
AFL-CIO represents but 12 percent, is finally the vehicle for
the fundamental change that is required in order to establish
democracy and equality. The AFL's guiding idea, the unity of
labor and capital on national grounds, is an important element
of fascist ideology. The AFL-CIO remains structurally and ideologically
racist, sexist, and authoritarian. It is simply not possible
to use democratic methods to change the direction or leadership
of most of the AFL-CIO's affiliate bodies. The racism that propels
all of the history of craft unionism still dominates the structure
and social practice of the AFL--as the failed fruits of the Detroit
newspaper strike in the mid-1990's should show. The AFL-CIO disorganizes
and divides workers through union corruption, proved by the repeated
recent, though historically repetitive, arrests of AFL leaders
for collecting multiple salaries and using member dues on lavish
homes, through perfectly legal but reactionary lavish salary
schedules and perks for union leaders, and through its structure
which splits workers either by craft or industry--or both. The
labor federation is isolated on the one hand, and its members
are relatively privileged on the other.
66. The AFL's new leadership
has no history of fighting employers--President Sweeney has insisted
over and over again that he wants to be a partner with the corporate
class--and there is considerable evidence that they simply do
not know how. The history of organized and deliberate retreats,
from Patco to P-9 at Hormel, to the UAW's massive loss of membership
which came from a decision to make concessions in order to preserve
U.S. capital; all of this sums up as evidence that the AFL-CIO
leadership is unready to design a line of march. The sole contradiction
to this, the Teamster strike at UPS in 1998, simply demonstrates
that it is not tough to defeat an opponent who does not fight
back--and the Teamsters were the first to declare themselves
back in the fold at UPS as partners in production. Even more,
there is a good deal of proof that the only people the AFL-CIO
leaders do know how to fight are their own members, as shown
in the long, failed, Detroit newspaper strike which was systematically
disorganized by UAW functionaries.
67. Some elites recognize the
need for unions of the AFL type as evidenced by the recent Ford
contract in which the company agreed to organize future plants
on the behalf of the union, and by the UAW-Ford advertising campaign
which declares the unity of interest between the company and
the union. Other elites, in the same business, assault their
unions as bitter enemies, as evidenced by the Flint strike against
GM in the summer of 1998. Uncritical support of the suited thugs
of the AFL-CIO leadership, or even the reformist call for more
democracy, simply misunderstands the fundamentally reactionary
nature of the top levels of the AFL, and misleads people to believe
that a purely reformist organization, unwilling to challenge
capital, can become something besides moribund. AFL-CIO leaders
are now clearly enemies of working-class members. The AFL leadership
is surely aware of this, even if their members are not. Those
with memories extending back to the radical seizure of the Detroit
Mack Avenue plant in Detroit, 1973, a popular sit-down strike,
will remember the violence the UAW leadership launched against
its members, unleashing hundreds of armed goons on the plant
sit-in, dragging out the rank and file and turning them over
to the police in order to "protect the contract." It
will take more than a vote to move people of this caliber out
of the way.
68. How radical reformers and
revolutionaries will find their way through this bog is key to
making real social change--and the kind of society that prevails
afterward. At issue, in part, is a structural question. On the
one hand, only a disciplined organization that functions within
and without the AFL (or the NEA), a class-based organization,
can possibly assume the power to either reform the unions or
to fashion the solidarity and rule-breaking necessary for social
change. On the other hand, successful cadres of such an organization,
operating within the relatively privileged milieu of the AFL,
will develop stakes in their rising positions and the internal
systems that permitted them to prosper within. This, of course,
is the historical fate of "underground" cadre sent
into reform organizations to perform secret yet revolutionary
activity, from China to the U.S.S.R. to the U.S.A.
69. On yet another hand, the
consciousness of those involved in reform or revolution must
both sweep ahead of the structures the people face; people need
to be able to not merely register disgust at their current situation
but also envision a better one, and to write ideas, habits, and
behaviors into their present struggles that they can use in a
better world. That is, in the abstract, the lines of the spirals
toward the future are with us now. People who believe they can
take charge of their own lives, and who are sacrificing life
to do it, need to have a reasonably clear idea of what went wrong
before; a question which leads not only to the shop floor but
to the structures of the family and communities. Consciousness
for change must become mass consciousness, egalitarian and self-actualizing,
able to quickly discover and reveal the veils of capital even
in a new world that might deny the veils are there. After all,
capital has had 500 years to learn many disguises.
70. What, at least, must people
know, to create a track for the leap into a better society? Surely
they must know things neither the NEA nor AFL leadership wants
them to know, or knows themselves. They need to know about the
giant sucking pump of surplus value, the priming pump of capital,
which cares not a whit who runs it nor who gains a little at
the expense of others.
71. They need to know that surplus
value must run at full steam, and when it does not, when surplus
value can be better served elsewhere, when some boss can pay
a worker less, work them faster or longer, somewhere else, capital
will empower that boss and turn ruthlessly on its old friends
in relatively privileged lands. Surplus value, mostly the difference
between what a worker takes home in pay and the value that workers
create for the boss, is a key veil of capital's success.
72. They need to know that capital,
begot and fueled by surplus value, cannot allow people to even
firmly believe they can understand or change their lives or their
world. Nor can capital allow people to be creative, human, in
determining the product or process of their work. Over time,
workers under capital's hegemony can only have less and less
control over the product and process of their labors, a process
of production which reverberates back and creates surplus value,
one recreating the other in a broadening spiral. Capital requires
that people finally view their work as distinct from their pleasurable
lives. In creating this distinction, people blinded to the process
become instruments of their own oppression: they enrich their
boss and destroy themselves. They need to know that surplus value,
on the one hand, and alienation on the other, are part and parcel
of capital, and that these underpin the old saw from the IWW,
"The working class and the employing class have nothing
in common"--itself something of a misnomer as the two surely
have opposition in common. They need to know that organizations
which only seek to reform capital necessarily adopt the veils
of capital as working mechanisms: unions mimic the industries
and hierarchies that give them birth.
73. The conundrum is, at base,
the liberal organizations which strain to reform unions which
themselves take on the impossible task of constructing gentle
forms of capital lead workers down into closed canyons. Radical
organizations, like Solidarity, calling for internal union democracy
yet profoundly hierarchical and undemocratic themselves, may
fall into the trap of creating a work force too willing to say
"me too," a condition I think will ricochet back and
assist in the recreation of capital's strengths. Announcing definitions
of alienation and surplus value, even in the context of dramatic
sacrifice and revolutionary struggle, does not innoculate people
against reincarnating the desires and social forms of capitalist
relations a generation later, as the Soviet and Chinese socialist
history would indicate. Witness the crisis of consciousness that
belies fixes on the superstructure and base when people eagerly
lurch backward, past the egalitarian and democratic histories
they themselves fought to create, toward the demonstrable horrors
of warfare and estrangement that a dose of surplus value stimulates.
74. It follows that reform struggles,
if they are to host anti-capitalist action (as they must today,
if they are to win even modest but defendable reforms) have to
creatively find ways not to merely raise the level of class struggle,
or to make the objective conditions clear, but to reach into
the minds of people and change the way they think and live. This,
in part, goes to the need to build organizations which are simultaneously
in battle and at one with their membership, developing unity
and consciousness through struggle. People must be rediverted
from the daily spectacular offerings of capital in crisis, from
Monica to O.J. to Jean Benet Ramsey, and offered an understanding
of the sensuality of the struggle of testing for what is true.
75. Educators, all workers in
education, are well positioned to deal with these issues of domination
and resistance in the classrooms, probably the most free place
where people receive wage labor in the U.S. Teachers are the
most organized group of workers in the country. While educators,
too, are relatively privileged, among the last working people
with health benefits and tenure, many if not most of them are
in classrooms because they have sacrificed in order to fashion
hope for other people. While it is certainly true they play a
reproductive role in recreating the relations of a capitalist
society, it is also true that they play a productive role in
creating the skills and hope that are necessary to see into an
act for a better life. While education workers surely warehouse
kids, they also demonstrate that it is possible to coherently
gain and test knowledge, often in rational ways. But it is easily
apparent to many educators that they face, within the state apparatus,
a government that has little interest in real hope or reasoned
and critical skills.
75. Educational work places,
not the factories of decentralized and de-industrialized America,
are now central to U.S. society. It is at home and at school
where people first learn to read the world as a site of freedom
or alienation and obeisance. This is not to say that the industrial
work force is not finally the lynch-pin of change, or that teaching
is the heart of productive relations, or even creates surplus
value in tangible ways. Education is the center of the social
communities, now, that may be the flashpoints of change. For
now, it may be that the L.A. rebellion, multi-cultural and beyond
the control of reformers, will be more of a storm petrel of change
than the 1998 GM Flint strike. The massive Ontario teachers'
strike which paralyzed the province and mobilized citizens far
beyond schools in 1998, the walkouts of students in San Francisco
protesting the fact that their schools are prepatory sites for
prisoners in the fall of 1998, these may be better signs of what
might be organized in the future than the quick Teamster action
76. To return to the merger
vote, there is little reason for either NEA or AFT rank and file
members to celebrate--other than the fact that they know they
can defeat the best laid plans of their union officials and that
they won in their defense of formal democratic procedures in
the larger union--no insignificant defense. The appearance of
democracy is consequential, even if it is undermined by the realities
of top-down control by staff with the time and resources to strategize
and implement plans. The appearance of democracy--in NEA the
secret ballot, the preservation of anti-racist guarantees of
minority leadership, term limits, etc.--offers education workers
the chance to maneuver on a wider plane, and may influence a
restructure of the AFT in order to gain a future merger. A merger
which would have adopted the structure of the AFT, and the domination
of AFT leadership, would have narrowed the possibilities for
77. Nevertheless, there are
only the slightest hints of insightful analysis or bold action
rising in the teacher unions. Only one young rank and file member
was able to articulate some of the key demands which might unite
education workers, working-class parents, and students into the
potentially powerful unity that they possess. Demands around
class size, control of the curricula rooted in a relationship
of communities and educators, and a more just tax system have
a history in both the NEA and the AFT. Margaret Haley, an early
leader in both unions, made these demands and often won--the
last a message that people also need to hear: We can fight and
78. Today, the Rouge Forum,
a grassroots group of k-12 educators from both unions, as well
as students, parents, and community people, originating inside
professional schools of education and building deep ties in communities
in the mid-west, may offer illustrations of how a class-based
reform group could operate in schools and demonstrate the key
lesson: Working people can win. This comes from a Rouge Forum
flyer attacking standardized tests in Michigan:
We are school workers, professors, students, parents, and
community people concerned about questions like these: How can
we teach against racism, national chauvinism and sexism in an
increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic society? How can
we gain enough real power to keep our ideals and still teach
and learn? We are both research and action oriented. We want
to learn about equality, democracy and social justice as we simultaneously
struggle to bring into practice our present understanding of
what that is. We seek to build a caring inclusive community which
understands that an injury to one is an injury to all. At the
same time, our caring community is going to need to deal decisively
with an opposition that is sometimes ruthless.
79. On the classroom level,
I am researching the work of two untenured openly Marxist high
school teachers, one working in a large inner-city school, the
other working in an affluent suburban school. Without belaboring
the fits and starts of our collaboration, it is noteworthy that
it is possible to risk communism in classrooms these days, and
gain sufficient parent, teacher, student support to carry on.
Perhaps this is an indicator of the perception of the weakness
of post-socialism Marxism. Still, the class struggle is sufficiently
obvious in school that these are both popular educators.
80. Neither the NEA nor the
AFT nor the AFL-CIO have a strategy to resolve the fragmentation
of the working people they represent, nor does the AFL want to
demonstrate to them that workers can indeed understand and transform
the world. That can only be accomplished by a class-based organization,
perhaps presently initiating its work in schools, willing to
take the practical risks of rubbing together reform and revolution,
the relationship of wanting a better life now and understanding
that the ravenous demands of capital for more and more surplus
value make a better life transient---that an injury to one really
does precede an injury to all.
go to this back issue's index
Contents copyright © 1998 by Rich Gibson.
Format copyright © 1998 by Cultural
Logic, ISSN 1097-3087, Volume 2, Number 1, Fall