A Summer of Resistance or Retreats? By Rich Gibson
The core issue of our time is the potential of mass class conscious activist resistance met by the reality of perpetual war and intensifying exploitation: joblessness, layoffs, low pay, attacks on pensions and benefits.
The core issue to the National Education Association and every major national union in the united states is to obliterate our social context, class and empire’s wars, to shovel members and the public into voting booths in the belief that they can elect the rich out of their money and the government into a democracy that overpowers capitalism. Nonsense, but serious nonsense.
In a June 13th, 2012, phone interview with what was probably hundreds of school worker delegates to the NEA representative assembly, NEA’s president, Dennis Van Roekel ($465,000 a year and a generous expense account) made NEA’s convention strategy clear:
(1) to guarantee that there is not even a scintilla of criticism of the Obama and Duncan regimes that the press could pick up and “use for (Mitt) Romney,” “nothing should happen to create an impression that we are not 100% behind President Obama.”
(2) “I want 90% of the delegates to join Educators For Obama (an NEA backed electoral group),
(3) “We must work every day to elect Obama. This president has fought for jobs, the main campaign issue. I need you to stand up for him. I appreciate you...(rousing conclusion)...Together we can make a difference.”
In the introduction to the phone “Town Hall,” Van Roekel or “DVR,” cleverly revealed the strategy from the July, 2011 early endorsement of Obama. DVR pretends that endorsement is irreversible, written in stone, and the only thing the coming convention can do is cheer for it.
“Last year the representative assembly voted 74% for Obama. We already have a position. What has changed? Wisconsin. We had 50,000 volunteers knock on 1.4 million doors but we competed with Citizen United millions (surprise, the rich have more money, RG) and we lost. But we can compete electorally. We do have disagreements (with Obama) but our polling of members says the number one issue is funding for education. Obama spent more on education in three years than either Bush or the Clinton years. He advocated for health care. The choice is clear–vouchers under Romney, anti-worker measures. We need to support the middle class–firefighters, policemen, and teachers...”
Of eleven people who passed through the call-in screeners, every one formulated a question that would go directly to Obama election support. Indeed, a caller from the Peace and Justice caucus forgot about Peace and Justice altogether and complained about charters and corporate control. She was gracious enough to note NEA help in winning her a visit to China next week.
DVR fobbed that question off easily. “I have frequent meetings with White House staff (read, we play with each other) and let me tell you I lay it on the line with them. Our NEA staff are incredible, you know...”
During the Town Hall, callers were offered two polls. One was, “Will you join Educators for Obama?” The other option was “Have you joined Educators for Obama?” There was no “The hell with Obama let us organize some job actions to rescue education from the ruling classes.” Oddly, when the results were announced, 56% are members of EFO, and 44% will join. Since I did not vote, having no choice, something is amiss with NEA’s figures, as is often the case.
It is the lesser of two evils story all over again as evil gets ratified step by step. The electoral world itself is an assault on class consciousness: seek someone else to explain and act on the world for you; pay them well and then let them be bribed by people who have more money still, pretend that capitalism and democracy are compatible, and as evil grows (bailouts to industrial and finance capital at more than $13 billion while unemployment remains at least a real 10 percent and far more in communities of color), make-believe that last decade’s evil was essentially the same as today’s.
One caller asked DVR if he would call on Obama to fire Education Secretary Arne Duncan as many misguided, or deluded, education reformers have insisted.
“I do not tell President Obama who to hire and fire. He does not tell NEA who to hire and fire.” (DVR more than confused on that one–a believer in the democracy sham, DVR should realized he has every right in the world to tell “his president,” Obama, what to do.
DVR even took the down-home-just-folks approach while explaining that although NEA and Obama/Duncan have tactical differences, they share the same big goals. The education of all American children. In between–just details. “I am a small town kid from Iowa. Without the public schools, or under Romney, I never would have made it.”
DVR noted that the AFL-CIO, the Change to Win Coalition, and the NEA have joined together in this vast electoral scheme to re-elect Obama, and to tamp down expectations, to divert real resistance, while ignoring the fact that the AFL-CIO is nearly bankrupt, its member unions fight each other, its private sector unions vote against the taxation efforts the public sector unions fight for, that Change to Win hasn’t changed a thing and won nothing, and that unionism was never won by a public vote, but either by massive job actions, like the great Flint Strike against GM in 1937, or through employer cooperation in order to ensnare the workforce with a new set of enemies, in their own midst–as with most of the early AFL “victories,” or the current Ford promise to organize plants on behalf of the United Auto Workers Union.
Delegates to NEA's Rep Assembly have, for years, called the last hours of the last day of the convention, "the Train." It is a time when union tops rush past dozens of agenda items, slam them to do-nothing committees, dodge discussions (but in the instance of the wars, the delegates not long ago voted, overwhelmingly, NOT to discuss them, a good indicator of the witting and popular acceptance of the empire's bribe: shut up, get paid, and let imperialism run amok, until it blows back on you in the calamitous world ponzi economy–and it is too late).
This year, the train began in July 2011, at the assembly noted above, when NEA voted to endorse the demagogue, Obama, meaning an endorsement not only for his hackneyed education policies, and his wars, his National Defense Authorization Act that trumped the Patriot Act, his brutal deportations, his bank/auto bailouts, and his class' relentless attacks on workers as well as our students' lives.
The train is chugging along now. Choo damned Choo. You will find below a letter from NEA's presidentVan Roekel insisting that we really need to bust tail for Obama now because he will stand up "for the middle class" (demagoguery for white people, like most teachers) and to move "our country," forward--as in massive unemployment, suicidal troops, and more lost wars.
What Van Roekel really wants support for is dues income, his ability to sell labor peace (the only thing that makes him relevant), under the guise of farcical nationalism in a nation which has proved, with emphasis, that we are not all in this together, rather it is class war.
Below the "Suck up to Obama" letter is an excerpt from the NEA's strategic plan for next year. Income is down for the $350 million a year operation. Staff may see layoffs. So, the key is "organizing." To what end? To keep "market share." That would mean organizing people to pay dues, vote, and nothing more. Feed Van Roekel and his Quisling class, the delusion promoters. See, NEA members, you are part of Van Roekel's market share. If there ever was evidence of the nature of the embedded capitalist unions, this is a fine piece.
Grabbing market share, that is, signing up more members, might have a "toward what end," with it, but it doesn't, beyond electing Obama. Union bosses love that maneuver, deluding members one more time, easy because members believe in capitalist democracy with quasi-religious faith when capital has overwhelmed democracy since the word came into being. The electoral world, like church, has members faithfully seeking others to interpret and act on the world for them, others who are paid and housed very well, who develop an interest in promoting the myths and who frequently abuse the parishioners. It is a suckers game and, in the words of a former NEA top Political Action director, a bit of a cynic, "Rich, if voting mattered they wouldn't let them do it."
The Laborites of the AFL=CIO, Change to Win, and the NEA spent millions in the wasted Walker-Wisconsin scam, diverting a hopeful movement that initially seemed to back direct action. They lost, big time. But their work was a successful diversion, bought time, as part of a full spectrum attack on whatever there might have been about the Occupy movement that hinted at class consciousness and mass action.
What could NEA do?
The realization of a mass class conscious movement became more possible in the last year and, at the same time, met a full spectrum assault from every weapon of rule. The Occupy movement was flooded with dis-organizers, union hacks, Democrats, Moveon hustlers, police agents, and bogus leaders like the Messianic Chris Hedges or the running fistula of opportunism and Truthout Board member, Henry Giroux, or the vacillating reactionary Diane Ravitch, servant to the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Endowment for Democracy, NEA “Friend of Education,” always a nationalist who dissembles, asserts she discovered the flaws of high-stakes exams, but says nothing about the regimented, now CORE CURRICULUM, and imperialist war. Ignoring the well spring of educational intrusions means even reversing them is impossible, and she knows it.
In addition to mis-leaders, elites enjoyed the “we have no ideology,” of Occupy, when its ideology predictably become the lowest common denominator of thought in the room, and “we have no leaders,” when leaders were easy to identify and rulers were always eager to supply more.
Then, with deception, came widely publicized sheer terror, beating and pepper spraying innocents, the loudly announced eradication of whatever civil liberties might have existed, the pre-demonstration roundups of “terrorists,” who were not terrorists but victims of police plants, kettling and macing demonstrators, running them over with horses and APC’s–in sum, all the methods the powerful used to rule for centuries: lies, deception, demagoguery, prosecution, slander, bribery (DVR and the delegates too), hatchet jobs, and terror; with plenty of help from every form of their press.
The leap from here to a better world will not be made through harmony, but a fight. It may be that NEA’s tops recognize that middle classes don’t like the term, “class war,” and, to appeal to their once-middle class base, they must obliterate it. Or, not. The recognition of class war would, over time, not only make their elephantine salaries impossible, but make them personally irrelevant–who needs them when a mass of class conscious working people set out to control their own work places and destinies?
NEA could fight and it is better positioned to do so than any union in the US. Imagine, the first two weeks of school, struck, with Freedom Schools offsetting the babysitting function of schooling using the driving method, “why are things are as they are?” in the context of “we make our own histories but not in circumstances we chose.” A strike of that kind, even with such a powerful message, is not enough--Wisconsin proved once again that, surprise, the rich have more money, and they can wait while workers go hungry, but it would be a beginning.
NEA could, on a smaller scale, back what appears to be a coming Chicago Teachers' strike. but NEA won't--the most common excuse, "it's not an NEA local," upside down Solidarity Forever in a parallel move to the Michigan Education Association's abandonment of Detroit's union--the result being that the whole state will soon be Detroit-ed.
With massive NEA and AFT backing, the Chicago fight might be won without a job action. Indeed, the best way to avoid a fight is to prepare so thoroughly that the opposition chooses to retreat. NEA and AFT, however, want no part of any movement that could offer the whiff of direct action and class understandings. Such a malignancy within the labor bosses unions could destroy them, make their work of selling labor meaningless, or worse, get members to sweep them aside.
On a smaller scale still, NEA could back the planned Oakland, Ca, sit-ins at the neighborhood schools Oakland plans to close this year, sitins at the end of this week. The California Teachers Association could flood the place with staff and lawyers, ensuring that this action succeeds, with no prisoners, but they won't.
Locals of the Oregon Education Association struck repeated this year. But NEA, and AFT as well, will do everything they can to crush in infancy any job actions between now and November.
Or, CTA could back former San Diego Education Association president, Camille Zombro, ho backed for years, but who has been removed from her staff position, ordered back to work by the union she helped create, because she now opposes concessions. Zombro appears to have believed the "no concessions" promises made by new president, Bill Freeman.
Freeman is now hell-bent to make concessions. With backing from NEA and CTA, Freeman "scrubbed," the San Diego school budget and found them broke. Of course, they have pled broke for the last five years, demanded concessions, got them, and then found money they swore was never there. San Diego have, in fact, repeatedly made concessions when all evidence says concessions do not save jobs.
Freeman, following the "audit" which was never released, scheduled a survey of SDEA members, about 700, which he claimed would be a fair sample of the 8,000 SDEAers. The survey was to be performed by a firm approved by NEA.
According to several people who received the call, the survey never offered a "no concessions," option, but a variety of choices on how to save jobs with varying concessions.
On June 10th, Freeman announced he had convened a bargaining team, and opened the contract. He noted there were problems with the survey, which has not been released either.
Former SDEA president Zombro has formed something of an online caucus, "the Breakfast Club," which exposes the clear scheme to foist concessions on a rank and file that may have learned their lesson--it is better to fight than cave.
NEA, however, is far more likely to back Freeman. Social disorder of any kind would, in the eyes of union mis-leaders, hurt Obama’s election campaign. We saw this outlook in practice during the 1996 Detroit Newspaper strike, which the AFL-CIO swore to back. Coming during an election year, the entire AFL-CIO, including the two leading newspaper unions and the United Auto Workers, used violence against their own members to help smash it.
Both NEA and AFT have conventions coming soon. They may be a place where activists can meet one another, make connections, and plan strategies that run in opposition to mistaken repeats of the past: concessions, lesser evils, and more war. I will be at NEA, at the Washington Hilton. Give me a call!
This can be a summer of organizing and preparation for resistance, or a summer of organized decay, retreat after retreat, a march to the ballot box asking capital’s favorite question, “What about ME?” and certain defeat for working people everywhere.
Good luck to our side.
Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor at San Diego State University. He is co-founder of the Rouge Forum which will have their annual conference in Oxford, Ohio, June 22-24 this year, where Susan Ghanian will be a keynote speaker. Rgibson@pipeline.com
The stakes have never been higher this election year, and it is going to take all of us working together to re-elect President Obama. President Obama is the only one that will stand up for the middle class and we need his leadership so we can continue to move our country forward.
As an RA delegate, I am inviting you to join me and thousands of your peers for a special tele-town hall concerning our work this election year and our Educators for Obama program.
The call will take place on Wednesday, June 13, 2012, from 8:10-9pm EDT. This will be the final tele-town hall before the Representative Assembly and is your opportunity to learn more about what we can all do to keep a friend of public education and the middle class in the White House.
On Tuesday, June 12, you can anticipate a call reminding you about the event, and on the day of the tele-town hall you will receive the call from me that will automatically connect you to the event.
While you will have time to ask questions during the tele-town hall, we have created a short survey for you to complete as well. This will help us get a better idea of some of the issues important to you.
Now is the time to let your voice be heard. Join the call and get involved!
Dennis Van Roekel President
National Education Association