On November 5, Seattle voters made Occupy activist and economics professor Kshama Sawant the first avowed socialist city council member in their city’s history – and the country’s first big city socialist council member in decades. In an interview Thursday – one day before her vote count lead spurred her opponent to concede the race – Sawant slammed Obama economics, suggested she could live to see the end of U.S. capitalism, and offered a socialist vision for transforming Boeing. A condensed version of our conversation follows.
It appears you’re on the cusp of winning a major city’s council race as a socialist. How did that happen?
I think the basis for everything that’s happening in Seattle, and everywhere else, is the fallout of the economic crisis … In Seattle, we are seeing a city that is very wealthy but is very unequal, and has become unaffordable for the vast majority of people …
Along with our [state Legislature] campaign last year and [city council] this year, we’ve seen a movement towards $15 an hour through the fast food movement … workers have courageously gone out on one-day strikes … The workers of [nearby airport city] SeaTac and the labor movement, they put a $15 an hour minimum wage initiative on the ballot for SeaTac city, and that is now leading …
All of this is happening in the cauldron of the economic crisis and the burden placed on the shoulders of working people … The conditions that shape people’s consciousness in Seattle are not different from anywhere else. And in fact, there is a deep frustration and disgust with the political system … This is the background in which our campaign has had a resounding echo.
After the 2008 financial crash, were you disappointed that there wasn’t more of a left turn in U.S. policy at the national level?
I think it’s been it’s been demoralizing for the left for a while. But at the same time, I think what we’re seeing is a slow but steady change, and the Occupy movement was a really significant expression of the disenchantment from the system that we knew that everybody was feeling…
In the absence of movements, especially mass movements, people tend to feel atomized, and everybody is privately thinking that “the system is not working for me.” The Occupy movement, what it did was it ended that silence and people were more openly talking about the economic crisis, the fact that the banks got bailed out and the rest of us were left with unemployment, low-wage jobs, and an epidemic of foreclosures and evictions. So I think, contrary to what people thought…It’s really been a period where newer, small but new movements are starting to rise up. There’s been the Occupy Homes campaign in Minnesota, which has actually prevented several foreclosures…And there’s been sort of initial eruptions of the environmental movement.
…Now, what [the] Left has to do is to recognize that there is an opening here, there is a hunger among people in the United States, especially young people, young working people…In reality, what has become a dirty word is capitalism. Young people can see that the system does not offer any solutions. They can see that a two-party system is not working for them. But what is the alternative? We have to provide the alternative…
Boeing workers…rejected this contract that has been forced on them by Boeing executives [who are] holding the state hostage to their demands…Every few years Boeing demands a massive corporate giveaway from the state, and the state each time gives into it – and this is a Democratic governor of the state who was leading this effort. For Boeing workers, it’s very clear that neither of the two parties is going to stand by them. And so the signal that it sends to the labor movement is that we have to have our own political organization.
So what is the most likely path in your view to making the United States more socialist?
I wouldn’t call it “more socialist,” in the sense that it doesn’t make sense: It can be either capitalism or socialism. But what we can do, in the journey toward making the economy into something that works for everybody: We have to fight for major reforms under capitalism … We are going to be pushing forward for $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle in 2014 …
The only way we can get that any of these demands to be fulfilled is if we have mass movements of workers and young people coming together in an organized way and demanding these reforms …
But we also have to be honest … That’s not going to be enough. Because the system itself is a system of crises … Capitalism does not have the ability to generate the kind of living wage jobs that will be necessary in order to sustain a decent standard of living for the majority … So we have to have a strategy where we not only fight for every reform that we can get, including single payer healthcare, but … It can’t be in isolation from also thinking about fundamental shift in society …
In all this discussion, we cannot ignore the questions about climate change that are looming large in terms of this. And capitalism has shown itself completely incapable of addressing this crisis. And in some ways that’s as compelling a reason as any to think about a fundamental shift.
Do you believe that capitalism can or will end in the United States in your lifetime?
I can’t give a definitive answer to that because it will depend on what role we play – you know, we as in working people, young people, older people, people who have a stake in changing society, you know – it’s in our hands … We have to point the way forward, and that is the responsibility of the left, and we’re trying to do that. But we need other forces to step in.
We need the labor movement to play a huge role in this. And you know, one of the things that the labor movement can do is it can join hands with the environmental movement … The other thing the labor movement needs to do is run their own candidates, independent of the two parties, independent of corporate money, and show that it’s possible.
I mean, our campaign has shown that you don’t have to obey the rules.
In the best case scenario for you, the day that capitalism ended in the United States — how would that happen, what form would that transition take?
It would be difficult for me to lay out a blueprint of that. But … we can think about what it will require …
Capitalism is a system where it’s extremely productive, and productivity rates are at an all-time high, but the gains of the productivity are delivered almost exclusively to a very tiny elite at the top …
Boeing has an enormous factory, [as well as] all the auto factories that are lying defunct right now in the U.S. — they all have enormous capacity for production. And there’s any number of workers with the skills, and people who have the potential of learning those skills. And instead we have a situation where, because we don’t have a say in the production, either the machines are lying idle, or the machines are being used to produce destructive machines like drones.
So what we need to do is to take the machines and the factories into democratic, say, democratic ownership — and the workers can contribute rail cars or buses, something like that, something that is beneficial to society. And that’s something that creates jobs — it will create living wage jobs …
That’s the kind of system that we need, where the decisions on what to do with resources, and what to produce, how much of it to produce, that is made in accordance with democratic principles, and in accordance with what human society needs, not because the Wal-Mart CEO needs to make 2 percentage points more profits this quarter.
Under that vision of socialism, would there still be a Seattle City Council?
Absolutely. There has to be elected representation. There would still be unions. There has to be accountability.
What will change is how democracy actually functions. I mean, today we have a certain level of democracy — I mean, when you look at the vote, that’s true. And we are running within the system. But it’s a very limited form of democracy. You know, in order to get your message across, if you are a campaign with loads of corporate money, it’s easier for you. If you’re going against the status quo, it’s harder … And voters themselves are disenfranchised in so many ways …
Democracy is nonetheless absolutely the bedrock of socialism. In fact, I would say that democracy is absolutely critical for this vision to come alive. And in fact democracy is antithetical in many ways to capitalism. And in fact this democracy that we have is something that allows us to do a little bit within the system, but that’s not what the capitalist class want. I mean, they do not want us to fight for $15 an hour, they don’t want to give that. But we’re able to fight for it within the system. But that’s despite capitalism, not because of capitalism.
President Obama told the Business Roundtable – speaking of “the capitalist class” – in his first term that he’s an “ardent believer in the free market,” and that he sees three roles for government: to create rules for a level playing field; to provide things that individuals can’t do for themselves; and to provide a social safety net. What do you make of that kind of politics?
First of all, I think Obama is being quite honest … he believes in capitalism. And so for people to have the faith that he is going to really fight against those ideas … there is no basis in reality for that …
I would say that the “free market” is basically free for the super-wealthy, and extremely un-free for the rest of us. Because they dictate the terms. And so this idea that the free market can generate conditions where social programs can thrive and a level playing field can be created — it is an oxymoron. Because what the capitalist market does – and that’s what they call the “free market” – is that if you are a big player, like one of the oil companies, then you are in the best position to consolidate your wealth even further … One of the systematic, statistical realities under capitalism is intergenerational transmission of wealth and intergenerational transmissions of poverty …
I often ask my students, “What do you think is the best way of making money under capitalism?” They often give me interesting answers, like maybe [creating] an app for an iPhone … I tell them, “Look, the best way of making money under capitalism is to have money in the first place” …
You also hear people saying, well, it’s “crony capitalism” or it’s “disaster capitalism” or some other capitalism. Well, the fact is, you know, they’re all dancing around [that] this is capitalism … It’s not built into the system that the goal is to ensure that socially responsible life is possible. The goal is to maximize profits for those who already have wealth …
The reality is that capitalism rewards the biggest corporations and it tends toward monopoly. That is what capitalism is.
If you end up on the city council, how different is your agenda on the council and your voting record going to be from the liberal Democrats on the Seattle City Council?
Most of them are typical, homogenous block of more pro-Big Business conservative advocates, although in name they’re all Democrats … Seattle, like most major cities of the United States, is ruled by the Democratic Party establishment. And all of the problems that we see here, you know, crisis of affordable housing, low-wage jobs and all of those things, lie at the doorstep of the Democratic Party …
One [example] was a vote on whether the city should allow regulated homeless encampments … a very necessary stopgap measure to protect families from the ravages of homelessness. And my opponent … was the fifth vote that crushed it …
Another example — this is also politically really instructive — is the paid sick leave for Seattle workers … That was possible because rank-and-file workers and the labor movement took it on themselves — I mean, they were the ones who championed it. They were out on the streets demonstrating and demanding that the council pass a paid sick leave initiative … That, in combination with the fact that there are one or two more progressive voices on City Council who took that on and pushed for it, ensured that basically the issue was passed … My opponent [cast the] sole vote against it. That one thing should be enough for people to not elect him again, because that was a completely unconscionable thing to do…
When we launched our campaign, and it was early this year, no one else was talking about $15 an hour except for us and the fast food workers, and all the corporate candidates — including the mayoral candidates — were very, very carefully avoiding it … Ultimately, it was impossible for the corporate candidates to ignore, and toward the end of the campaign you had both of the mayoral candidates putting on paper that they support $15 an hour …
What I can do on the City Council as one socialist is really far more than what people imagine it to be. Because it won’t just be my voice … to talk to other council members, but it’s also going to be to continue to really encourage and to invite public pressure into it. Which is how this camp succeeded.
Are there countries that you look to as good examples of socialism?
There is no real full example … but there are elements of what we are talking about in our vision for a future society …
In the United States, the creation of the welfare program in the first place. The creation of Social Security. All the advances that have been made in women’s rights and LGBT rights — a lot of this is well within the vision of what I would consider a really humane society in the future, and what I consider socialism … The gains that we have today are very consistent with our vision for a socialist society, and also they came about because a lot of these movements were headed by socialists.
And there are elements of socialism or socialist society in many other countries as well. So if you look at Finland and the funding for public education, how strong the teachers’ unions are, the full funding for healthcare in Cuba, also education. These are all elements that we would want to see put in place in a future society.
But at the end of the day, it’s not possible to have socialism in one country … If resources are organized globally along capitalist lines, it’s just not possible to provide that really high standard of living that some people have to everybody else …
[A] small section of the working class has attained a really good standard of living. But first of all, that was not delivered to the vast majority. And secondly, and more importantly, those kinds of living are starting to disappear … It’s a politics of austerity in Europe, and all of these programs are under major assault. And so that shows you that you can’t have socialism in one country, and you can’t stop at social democracy. You can’t stop at having reforms … We have to have a fundamental shift.
In the past few decades, has the United States been moving closer toward that ideal of socialism, or further away from it?
As far as what has been happening broadly in the economy, no, it hasn’t been moving closer to socialism. And in fact what’s been happening is that some of the gains of the post-Second World War era, the creation of the middle class, for example, the funding for public education, a lot of these things are under attack … You don’t have to be a socialist economist for someone to admit that the middle class is fast disappearing. You know, Paul Krugman talks about it. So that’s going in the wrong direction.
What it shows is that, you know, when there is a major crisis in capitalism, the people who are going to be squeezed are working people.
When did you become a socialist and what brought you to socialism?
Consciously, I became a socialist when I came to Seattle, and I just happened to attend a meeting where somebody from Socialist Alternative gave a speech. And for me, there was — that was exactly what I was looking for. And I haven’t looked back since then.
But I would say more accurately that I have always been a socialist, but less consciously. From my very childhood, it was just the experience of growing up in Mumbai, India, and seeing just the ocean of poverty and misery all around me. And for me, it was not simply a question of outrage or fellow-feeling. Of course that’s the starting point, but for me it’s a logical question as well. Which is: How is it possible that there is so much wealth in society, and you can see that there are so many wealthy people who are just wealthy beyond measure, and you have such unimaginable poverty and misery, and just absolute horrendous conditions that human beings are living in …
It just seemed very, just unacceptable to me logically that that situation was a natural one. I mean, I could see that it had nothing to do with resources or productivity. It was clearly a political obstacle to eliminating poverty.
Catherine Komp: It’s been twenty- five years since the publication of your and Edward Herman’s acclaimed book Manufacturing Consent. How much do you think has changed with the propaganda model, and where do you see it playing out most prominently today? Noam Chomsky: Well, ten years ago we had a re-edition and we talked about some of the changes. One change is that we were too narrow. There are a number of filters that determine the framework of reporting, and one of the filters was too narrow. Instead of “anti-communism,” which was too narrow, it should have been “fear of the concocted enemy.” So yes, it could be anti-communism—most of that is concocted. So take Cuba again. It’s hard to believe, but for the Pentagon, Cuba was listed as one of the military threats to the United States until a couple of years ago. This is so ludicrous; you don’t even know whether to laugh or cry. It’s as if the Soviet Union had listed Luxembourg as a threat to its security. But here it kind of passes.
The United States is a very frightened country. And there are all kinds of things concocted for you to be frightened about. So that should have been the filter, and [there were] a few other things, but I think it’s basically the same.
There is change. Free Speech Radio didn’t exist when we wrote the book, and there are somethings on the Internet which break the bonds, as do independent work and things like the book I was just talking about when we came in, Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars, which is a fantastic piece of investigative reporting on the ground of what actually happens in the countries where we’re carrying out these terror campaigns. And there’s a lot of talk about drones, but not much about the fact that they are terror weapons.
If we were sitting here wondering if, all of a sudden, there’s going to be a bomb in this room, because they maybe want to kill him or kill us or whatever, it’s terrorizing. In fact, we just saw a dramatic example of this which got a couple lines in the paper. A few days after the Boston Marathon bombing, there was a drone attack on a village in Yemen, kind of an isolated village. Obama and his friends decided to murder some guy. So the villagers are sitting there, and suddenly this guy gets blown away and whoever else is around him. I don’t think it was reported except for the fact that there was Senate testimony a week later by a person from the village who’s quite respected by Jeremy and others who know him. The man, Farea al-Muslimi, who studied at a high school in the U.S., testified to the Senate and he described what happened to his village. He said that every- body knew the man that they murdered, and that they could have easily apprehended him, but it waseasier to kill him and terrify the village. He also said something else which is important. He said that his friends and neighbors used to know of the United States primarily through his stories of “the wonderful experiences” he had here.* He said the U.S. bombing has turned them into people who hate America and want revenge—that’s all it takes. And, in fact, this whole terror system is creating enemies and threats faster than it’s killing suspects, apart from how awful that is. These things are going on, and going back to Jeremy, his book exposes a lot of it and also the exploits of the secret executive army, JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command. It’s dangerous, but it’s the kind of thing an investigative reporter could do, and he’s done it. There’s more of it now, fortunately, in some respects, than there was then. So, some progress.
Yes. On the other hand, the indoctrination system has gotten incredibly powerful. The examples that I mentioned, like the right-to-work laws—it is pretty shocking that that can succeed. So, I’d say it’s about the same inequality entered the national dialogue with the Occupy movement, but the wealth gap for black and Latino families rarely generates debate or headlines. What role should the media—particularly independent media—play in ensuring critical public interest issues like these are at the forefront?
Independent media ought to be telling the truth about things that matter. That’s quite different from the task of the commercial media. They have a task. They’re supposed to be objective, and objectivity has a meaning in the world of journalism. In fact, it’s taught in journalism schools. Objectivity means reporting honestly and accurately what’s going on within the Beltway, inside the government. So that sets the bounds. There are Democrats and there are Republicans. Report honestly what they’re saying—balance and so on—and then you’re objective. If you go beyond that and you ask a question about the bounds, then you’re biased, subjective, emotional, maybe anti-American, whatever the usual curse words are. So that’s a task and, you know, you can understand it from the point of view of established power. It’s a distorting prism with enormous impact. Even just the framework of what’s looked at.
Take, for example, current domestic issues. We have “the sequester,” which is harming the economy, and that’s, in fact, conceded. But what’s it about? Well, it’s about the deficit. Who cares about the deficit? Banks, rich people and so on. What does the population care about? Jobs. In fact, this has even been studied. There are a couple of professional studies that tested this question. It turns out that concern about the deficit increases with wealth, and the reason is rich people are concerned that maybe someday in the future there might be a little bit of inflation, which is not good for lenders. It’s fine for borrowers. So, therefore, we have to worry about the deficit, even if it destroys jobs.
The population has quite different views. They say, no, we want jobs. And they’re right. Jobs mean stimulating demand, and government’s got to do that. Corporations have money coming out of their ears, but they’re not investing it because there’s no demand. Consumers can’t fill the gap because they’re suffering from the impact of the crimes that the banks carried out. Of course, the corporations are richer than ever. That’s the way it works, but it’s not what’s discussed within the Beltway. So you get some little comment on it around the fringes, but the focus has to be on the terrible problem of the deficit, which will maybe be a problem someday in the future, but not very serious.
In fact, professional political science has done a pretty good job on a specific topic relative to this. This is a very heavily polled country, so you get to know a lot about public attitudes, and there are quite good studies on the relation between public attitudes and public policy and differentiating attitudes. And it turns out that maybe 70 percent of the population, the lower 70 percent on the wealth income level, are disenfranchised. That is, their opinions have no influence on policy. Senators don’t pay any attention to them.
As you move up in income level you get more influence. When you get to the very top, and here the Occupy movement was a little misleading— it’s not one percent, it’s a tenth of a percent. When you get to the top tenth of a percent, where there’s a huge concentration of wealth, you can’t even talk about influence. They get what they want. That’s why the banks who created the crisis, often with criminal action, are not only scot-free, but richer, more powerful and bigger than ever. Reading the business press, you can see there’s a criminal action here and there, and maybe a slap on the wrist or something there.
Because of that, what’s within the Beltway reflects wealth and power. Elections are basically bought. We know the story. So “objectivity” in the commercial media means looking at the world from the point of view of the extremely rich and powerful in the corporate sector. Now, it’s not 100 percent from their view. There are a lot of very honest reporters who do all kinds of things. I read the national press and learn from them and so on, but it’s very much skewed in that direction. It’s kind of like the filters in Manufacturing Consent. And going back to your point, what the independent press ought to be doing is what the national press ought to be doing, looking at the world from the point of view of its population. This holds on issue after issue—you can almost pick it at random. The Occupy movement has had several pretty big successes: Occupy Sandy, Occupy Our Homes, Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee. But what do you think a post-Occupy movement looks like? What comes next?
The Occupy tactic was a remarkably successful tactic. If I’d been asked a month before Zuccotti Park whether to do this, I would have said, you’re crazy. But it worked extremely well. It just lighted a fire all over the place. People were just waiting for something to light the spark. And it was extremely successful, but it’s a tactic, and tactics are not strategies. A tactic has a half-life; it has diminishing returns. And in particular, a tactic like this is going to arouse antagonism, because people don’t want their lives disrupted and so on. It will be easy to fan it the way you do with public workers. So it’s a tactic that had to be revised. Frankly, when the police broke the occupations up, it was harsh and brutal and didn’t have to be done like that. But in some ways, it wasn’t a bad thing, because it turned people to what they have to do next. And what they have to do next is bring it to the general population. Take up the topics that really bother people. Be there when you’re needed like Sandy. Be there for the foreclosures. Focus on debt. Focus on a financial transaction tax, which ought to be instituted. Nobody else is bringing it up. That’s what the Occupy movement ought to be doing, and not just as a national movement, but as an international movement.
It’s actually striking that there are Occupy offshoots all over the world. I’ve talked at Occupy movements in Sydney, Australia, and England, all over. Everywhere you go there’s something. And they link with other things that are happening, like the Indignados in Spain; the student actions in Chile, which are pretty remarkable; things in Greece, which are enormous; and even movements in the peripheral parts of Europe trying to struggle against the brutal austerity regimes, which are worse than here and which are just strangling the economies and destroying the European social contract. We look progressive in comparison with Europe.
So that’s a future that can be looked forward to, including things like we were talking about before, supporting and maybe even initiating things like worker-owned, worker-managed enterprises. It sounds reformist, but it’s revolutionary. That’s changing—at least giving the germs for changing—the basic structure of this society in a fundamental way. Why should banks own the enterprise in which people work? What business is it of theirs? Why should they decide whether you move it to Mexico or Bangladesh or where the next place will be? Why shouldn’t the workers decide, or the communities? There’s a lot to say about this.
Just consider, for example, the things that aren’t being discussed in the immigration struggle. We’re here in Boston, right? Right around Boston, there’s a pretty large community of Mayan immigrants. They’re still coming right now. They live right near here, but under the radar because they’re undocumented. Why are Mayans coming here? They don’t want to be here. Some of them I know pretty well, and when you talk to them, they say, “We’d rather be home.” They don’t want to be here.
Why are they coming? Well, because in the early 1980s, there was a virtually genocidal attack on the highlands in Guatemala that was supported by Ronald Reagan, backed by the United States. It practically wiped the place out, andthere are now actually trials going on in Guatemala of the perpetrators, but nobody here talks about it. So, you know, we destroy their country and people flee because they can’t survive. In fact, there’s an interesting book coming out by David Bacon, who is an immigration activist. It’s called The Right to Stay Home.
It was obvious, for example, that NAFTA was going to destroy Mexican agriculture. The Mexican campesinos can be as efficient as they like, but they can’t compete with highly subsidized U.S agribusiness, and that means people are going to flee. And, in fact, it’s not just coincidental that the year NAFTA was passed, Clinton started militarizing the border. It was an open border before, and so, of course, people are going to come. Well, these topics aren’t discussed.
If you’re worried about immigration, let’s take a look at why people are coming and what our responsibility is and what we can do about it. They don’t want to be here. And the same is true about exporting factories. People ought to have jobs in Bangladesh, but we ought to be paying attention to the fact that they have decent working conditions. They want it, we should want it, and we should struggle to make sure they have it. And then decisions can be made about a workforce and where they want their enterprise to be. There are all kinds of topics like this that free, independent media can bring up and movements like Occupy can be dedicated to. You’ve talked about the effectiveness of sit-down strikes in which workers occupy a workplace as a precursor to taking it over. You’ve said, with enough popular support, sit-down strikes can work and be the basis for a real revolution. But how much popular support is needed and what should it look like?
Well, it has to be extensive. Actually, it can work. I happen to have just come back from Ireland, and one of the things I did there was meet with a group of workers at a plant called Vita Cortex. I’d been supporting their strike. They had a long sit-down strike. The management wanted to sell the plant, a profitable plant, to some rich entrepreneur who would move it somewhere else. All the workers were just going to be fired. Some of them had long tenure. They got together, formed a community support group and sat in on the plant. And there was community support—people wanted to keep them there. People brought food and all kinds of help. And they won, after, I think, about six months. The owner agreed to keep it there, pay the workers and so on. And that was in Ireland?
That was in Cork, southern Ireland. And it was doing okay, not hugely profitable. Ireland is in a big downturn, so this was serious. But they won. They didn’t get everything, but a lot. It can be done. Much of the New Deal legislation, which was important, was motivated by employee concerns, and other concerns, when CIO organizing, which was new then, reached the point where it was leading to sit-down strikes—because sit-down strikes drive fear into management and everyone else. If we’re sitting in and doing nothing, why shouldn’t we? We’re the ones who know how to run the place, so let’s run it and kick out the bosses. That’s only one step away. Why are they so rare in the United States?
Strikes of any kind are very rare, especially since Reagan, who kind of broke the mandate against using scabs. That’s outlawed everywhere in the world. I think maybe apartheid South Africa allowed it. But when Reagan broke the flight-controllers’ strike, he set the tone, and maybe ten years later there was a strike at a major Caterpillar manufacturing plant. I think it was in Peoria, and management broke it by bringing in scabs. Now that’s illegal everywhere in the world. As I said, apartheid South Africa I think allowed it, but it passed.
It’s kind of interesting what happened. The Chicago Tribune, which is a conservative newspaper but covered labor affairs pretty well, had a lot of coverage about Peoria and the scandal of bringing in scabs. Well, that was maybe twenty years ago. When President Obama—who was in Chicago at the time, so he couldn’t have missed it—decided to show his solidarity with workers, he went to that plant and nobody commented on it. It’s effaced from memory. And the labor movement, as you know, has been decimated. It developed enormously in the 1930s and it’s responsible for most of the progressive legislation that took place. There was an immediate backlash, even by the late 1930s. That’s when management initiated what are now called scientific methods of strike breaking, sophisticated strike-breaking techniques. What are some of those?
Some of them are called the Mohawk Valley formula. Say there is some town in Pennsylvania where there’s a strike going on. The idea is to saturate the town with propaganda whose basic theme is Americanism: We’re all Americans, we all work together, we all love each other. We’re all helping the friendly boss who works to the bone eighty hours a day for the service of the workers, the banker who loves to give you money to buy a car, and the workman with his pail going to work and his wife who’s making dinner at home. They’re all one big happy family living in harmony. And then these outsiders come in, the union organizers, and there’s a hint as well that they’re probably communists, and they’re trying to disrupt the harmony and prevent everyone from living the good American dream. That’s basically the theme, and the idea is to saturate everything with propaganda: the schools, the churches, everything. And it sometimes has an effect. That’s one technique. There are others.
These developed substantially under Reagan, who was very anti-labor. In fact, he hated poor people with a passion. So, for example, during the lettuce strike, Reagan was governor of California. He very ostentatiously appeared on television happily eating lettuce just to show what he thought about the striking workers, the poorest of the poor. If he can kick them in the face, great. He loved that. Just like his “welfare queen” business, which demonized welfare and portrayed rich black women being driven in their Cadillacs to the welfare offices and stealing your money, and that sort of thing. In fact, he made it very clear. You couldn’t miss it.
Reagan opened his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a little town which is probably unknown except for one thing: There was a massacre of civil rights workers there. And that’s where he very ostentatiously opened his campaign—telling people: Don’t worry, I’m a racist thug. And then came the strike. But his administration also informed the business world that the government essentially wasn’t going to apply the laws. There are laws about illegal interference with union organizing and they’re obviously supposed to implement them. But he made it quite clear that you can do what you like. Illegal measures, like firing of union organizers, went way up during the Reagan years. I think it might have tripled, and it continued.
Then came Clinton, who had a different technique for undermining unions. It was called NAFTA. There have been studies on the effect of NAFTA on strike breaking in the United States, and it’s substantial. It’s illegal, but if you have a criminal state, you can do what you like—you don’t enforce the laws. So a standard technique would be, say, if there’s an organizing campaign somewhere, for management to tell workers, “You guys can go and strike if you want, but if you win, it’s all going to Mexico.” That’s a very effective technique. In the absence of solidarity, real solidarity, in fact international solidarity, it’s a pretty effective technique of strike breaking, and the number of illegal strike-breaking efforts, I think, went up by about 50 percent after NAFTA.
All this started right after the Second World War with Taft-Hartley, the huge anti-labor campaigns and so on. Now there are companies which just do strike breaking. There are scientific and sophisticated techniques, and there’s plenty of clout behind it, a huge amount of corporate money, and the government supports it. And there isn’t much popular support. You could see it in the passage of the right-to-work law in Michigan, which was pretty shocking. That’s a labor state, and it turned that out a lot of union members voted for it. If you look at the propaganda, you can see why. First of the all, the very phrase “right to work”: It’s actually not right to work; it’s right to scrounge. What it means is a person can work in a factory and refuse to join the union so he doesn’t have to pay dues, and he’ll get all the protection that the union offers to others, the grievances and so on. He gets the protection, but doesn’t pay. That’s all that right-to-work means.
It’s a technique for destroying labor. But the propaganda has been effective, and it’s best against public workers, librarians, firefighters, teachers or even workers in a unionized plant. They have jobs, they get pensions, they get health care. You are unemployed, you can’t a job. And if you get one, it’s part-time and you don’t get a pension. So they’re stealing from you, especially the public service workers who are leaning on taxes. They’re underpaid, relative to their skill level, and the reason they get pensions is because they take lower pay. It’s a trade-off. They say, okay, we’ll take lower wages, but you guarantee us our pension. But the propaganda works, and the administrations supported it.
When Obama declares a freeze on pay for federal workers, he’s saying that we’re not going to raise taxes on the rich but that we are going to raise taxes on you, because a freeze on public workers is identical to a tax increase. The whole technique of demonizing labor and “corrupt union leaders”—I mean, this goes way back.
In the early 1950s there were two movies that came out about the same time. One was Salt of the Earth, a marvelous low-budget movie. It was about a strike that was eventually won. I think a Mexican woman was leading it. It was a very well-done movie, but nobody ever heard of it. There was another movie that came out at the same time called On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando, and it was about a corrupt union leader and the good, honest workman, you know, Joe with his pail and stuff. They finally got together. Marlon Brando kind of organized them, and the thing ends up with Marlon Brando throwing the union organizer into the ocean or something like that. Now that was a big hit. Incidentally, it was directed by Elia Kazan, who was supposedly a rather progressive director. But the point was to get people to hate the unions because they’re all a bunch of corrupt gangsters and they’re just stealing from you honest workmen and so on. And this is just one piece of an enormous campaign. By the time some of the scholarship came out on it, I was shocked by the scale. I had been following it, but had no idea. And it’s had an effect. One solution, since labor has been weakened, is for workers to start their own worker-run and worker-managed businesses. A lot of people were inspired by the growth of worker-run collectives and businesses in Argentina following the 2001 economic collapse there. In the United States, there are about several hundred, including Free Speech Radio News, which has been worker-run and worker-managed since itwas founded thirteen years ago. Do you think this could grow and expand in the United States?
It’s quite significant. There’s been very good work on this, which ought to be read, by Gar Alperovitz, who is both an activist and a writer, a very good historian. What I know of, it’s mostly around northern Ohio and the Rust Belt, and what happened there is interesting and worth thinking about. The steelworkers union, which is one of the more progressive in some ways—not without plenty of problems—are working on some sort of an arrangement with Mondragón, which is this huge, worker-owned conglomerate in the Basque country in northern Spain. And that’s been around since the 1950s, right?
Goes back to the 1950s as church-initiated, what became liberation theology and so on. But there’s also a strong workers’ tradition there, going way back to the Spanish Revolution. And it’s grown and developed. It’s now a number of productive enterprises: banks, housing, schools, hospitals. It’s quite an elaborate affair. And it seems to be with standing the financial crisis, while everything else in Spain is collapsing. I don’t know the details, but that’s what it looks like. It’s not worker-managed. Workers select management, who then act on their own. And, of course, it’s part of an international capitalist economy which means that you can argue the ethics of it, since they do things like exploit labor abroad and so on. They say that they have to do it to compete and survive—maybe—that you can’t extricate yourself from the world you’re in.
Of course, the more solidarity spreads, the more you can do things about that, but that’s not easy. It’s hard enough to reconstruct the labor movement internally. After all, every labor movement is called an international. That’s an aspiration. It’s a real problem in the United States. You could see it yesterday. Yesterday was May Day. I happened to get a letter in the morning. A ton of email comes in—one of them was from a friend in Brazil who told me that she wouldn’t be going to work that day because it’s a holiday, a labor holiday. In fact, it’s a labor holiday all over the world, except in the United States where nobody knows what it is. I happened to be giving a talk at Harvard in the afternoon and this came up. I asked the big audience of Harvard graduate students, “What do you think May Day is?” And some people said, “You mean dance around the May pole,” or something like that. It’s not only a labor holiday. It’s a labor holiday that was initiated in support of American workers who were struggling for an eight-hour day and who were among the most oppressed in the industrial world.
So here’s this holiday—you know, big demonstrations everywhere, and all kinds of celebrations and so on, and here nobody knows what it is. That’s a sign of extremely effective indoctrination. It’s the kind of thing that we just have to work our way out of. Here there are some small celebrations. Maybe Occupy might have had a May Day march or something. And it’s kind of interesting the way the press treated it. Usually they just ignore it. But if you take a look at the New York Times the next day, it had an article that said demonstrations were in support of labor or something. But it was datelined “Havana,” and there was a picture of a huge mob of Cubans marching and some commentary. It was clear what the implication is: This holiday is some kind of commie business; it’s got nothing to do with us. I don’t know if it’s conscious or if it’s just so internalized that the journalists don’t even see what they’re doing. But the message was, “Forget it, it’s some alien thing.”
It’s like breaking up the harmony in your town when the union organizers come in; it’s kind of that imagery. And here, strikingly, we do have a Labor Day, but notice what day it is. It’s the day when you go back to work, not the day when you struggle for your rights. The success of indoctrination in the United States is really amazing. * Charlie Savage, “Drone Strikes Turn Allies Into Enemies, Yemeni Says,” New York Times, published April 23, 2013.
CTU Playing Same Old Political Game By Jim Vail The political game is rigged. The unions can barely play this rigged game when it's all about the money. If you have the money, you call the shots, and determine who gets elected. Therefore, the millionaires and billionaires are winning at this game because they have all the money. The CTU which re-elected a reform leadership called CORE is trying to play the same game its predecessor the UPC played, and its parent union the AFT is playing on the national level. Feed the politicians money, no matter how much damage they are inflicting on us, because we need access to power. Big business - which controls the political arena - do not like unions representing workers rights and giving them a far share in compensation. It's all about maximizing profit, which means squeezing the workers. The fact is the unions think they have to play this ugly game with the politicians to hold on to the little they have, even though it gets eroded every year. The UPC followed by PACT would write out $10,000 checks to Mayor Daley before, even though the mayor did all he could to destroy the CTU via privatization and union busting. So the CTU plans to play the same old game of giving the democrats money so they don't hurt us. They also want to placate those who thought they elected a force to fight the system by claiming they will organize an independent political organization. However, there are no specifics and the CTU says this will take a long time.
Karen Lewis states: "We are launching our Political Action Campaign in order to change the political landscape in the city and the state. Our new PAC campaign will not only provide donations to elected officials, it will fund the cornerstone of our vote education drive, our member lobbying support and our focus on our future. Will this campaign unite us, make us stronger and build our power? Yes it will." One of the keys to making this lofty campaign work among the teachers will be honesty. The UPC used to distribute to delegates a paper stating which politicians were endorsed and how much money the CTU gave them. Delegates are requesting the same from the CTU today.
The reason we the workers are losing, and they the 1% are winning is because they control the political world.
Who do you think chose Obama to be president - the people, or billionaires like the Pritzkers who now have coveted government posts and see laws passed in their favor. The banks got bigger, and health insurance profits increased after the election of the first African American president. And certainly they put plenty of money into his campaign.
It is such a rigged game.
I am still amazed that people believe in this system they call democracy.
When Mayor Richard Daley announced already almost four years ago that he would no longer continue his reign over Chicago, it was like a king and a dynasty ending.
But that was in name only.
The new rep for the rich is this guy from Winnetka named Rahm Emanuel, who has a knack for squeezing the rich for their money and climbing up the political ladder by threatening unions, pensioners and anyone else in the 99%.
He's now the mayor and it's all very depressing.
After attacking the teachers union, which brought on the first major strike in 25 years, this guy is supposedly so hated that everyone keeps saying he can't possibly win re-election.
The reality is anything but.
It ain't the people who have a choice here, despite what some may foolishly think, it's the ruling class. And the ruling class feel this big lover of privatization and big banks and hedge funds is getting the job down.
So you actually have talk of Emanuel eventually running for president.
So who could possibly run against this guy if you don't have a massive war chest?
Well, you obviously can't compete against him when he's got most of the corporate and Hollywood cash in his bag.
How about defeating him with an army of workers?
Well, there again it's very depressing. Many of the city's unions are vying for the lead role of the cowardly lion, and coughing up hard-earned worker cash for the mayor. Teamsters, Engineers, Unite-Here!
There are some who are holding out the faint hope that the one visible candidate who could raise a ruckus, and has, against the mayor and gain a media presence, would be Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
But Lewis has told her troops she cannot run for mayor. Why? D-I-V-O-R-C-E.
Whatever, as my good friend Masha always says.
She will run, trust me, if its possible, if she can be convinced.
There are many who would like to see Karen run. They even started a Facebook page devoted to Karen for Mayor.
But should Karen run?
Well, the idea sounds sexy. It would certainly appear to be a good fight between two prize fighters. Why not continue that battle between the CTU president and the mayor in the next election.
And certainly, Lewis would raise the issues of the 99% - jobs, pensions, heath care, etc.
And should she run a strong campaign, would it not give hope to the rest of the country that our political process is actually open to a good fight for the people?
But would it make a difference? Could Karen possibly compete against corporate America? Would she actually implement changes against the wishes of big business who put Emanuel where he is today?
This is what one teacher delegate told Karen at the recent house of delegates:
"Instead of supporting Democrats, we should run our own. The rest of working Chicago faces the same attacks we face, both from the mayor and from the corporations. Our campaigns could attract lots of support – the kind of broader support we are going to need if we are going to try to push back budget cuts, bad laws and school closings. We may not win these races, but that’s besides the point. We will be able to organize our power on our issues, and show how those relate to the concerns of parents, city workers and others.
"Which brings me to this, and I know I’m not alone on this one. I think Karen should run. Karen could lead the biggest and most visible fight against this mayor, and the biggest fight and most successful fight in the city in recent memory. She has the respect of those who see the need to fight. You running would give people a chance to say “it’s wrong, what you’re doing” when they go to the polls. I know you don’t want to run, but the circumstances call for it, our situation calls for it. This would be a great opportunity to reach out – a campaign would give people in the community a chance to work with us, and for us to know their concerns. And you liked showing up Jesse Ruiz? Guess who you’d get to debate, this time. . . "
Education historian Diane Ravitch, the leading voice in the movement opposing corporate-based school reform, has for several years said she has no definitive opinion on the Common Core State Standards. Now she has come out against them, in this post, which appeared todayon her blog.
This is the third Common Core post I am publishing today.
By Diane Ravitch
I have thought long and hard about the Common Core State Standards.
I have decided that I cannot support them. In this post, I will explain why.
I have long advocated for voluntary national standards, believing that it would be helpful to states and districts to have general guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school. Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government; before implemented widely, they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one.
I envision standards not as a demand for compliance by teachers, but as an aspiration defining what states and districts are expected to do. They should serve as a promise that schools will provide all students the opportunity and resources to learn reading and mathematics, the sciences, the arts, history, literature, civics, geography, and physical education, taught by well-qualified teachers, in schools led by experienced and competent educators.
For the past two years, I have steadfastly insisted that I was neither for nor against the Common Core standards. I was agnostic. I wanted to see how they worked in practice. I wanted to know, based on evidence, whether or not they improve education and whether they reduce or increase the achievement gaps among different racial and ethnic groups.
After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t wait five or ten years to find out whether test scores go up or down, whether or not schools improve, and whether the kids now far behind are worse off than they are today.
I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.
The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.
Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan often say that the Common Core standards were developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. This is not true. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core.
Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states. In fact, it was well understood by states that they would not be eligible for Race to the Top funding ($4.35 billion) unless they adopted the Common Core standards. Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from prescribing any curriculum, but in this case the Department figured out a clever way to evade the letter of the law. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, not because the Common Core standards were better than their own, but because they wanted a share of the federal cash. In some cases, the Common Core standards really were better than the state standards, but in Massachusetts, for example, the state standards were superior and well tested but were ditched anyway and replaced with the Common Core.
The former Texas state commissioner of education, Robert Scott, has stated for the record that he was urged to adopt the Common Core standards before they were written.
The flap over fiction vs. informational text further undermined my confidence in the standards. There is no reason for national standards to tell teachers what percentage of their time should be devoted to literature or information. Both can develop the ability to think critically. The claim that the writers of the standards picked their arbitrary ratios because NAEP has similar ratios makes no sense. NAEP gives specifications to test-developers, not to classroom teachers.
I must say too that it was offensive when Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice issued a report declaring that our nation’s public schools were so terrible that they were a “very grave threat to our national security.” Their antidote to this allegedly desperate situation: the untried Common Core standards plus charters and vouchers.
Another reason I question the Common Core standards is that I am worried that they will cause a precipitous decline in test scores, based on arbitrary cut scores, and this will have a disparate impact on students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students who are poor and low-performing. A principal in the Mid-West told me that his school piloted the Common Core assessments and the failure rate rocketed upwards, especially among the students with the highest needs. He said the exams looked like AP exams and were beyond the reach of many students.
When Kentucky piloted the Common Core, proficiency rates dropped by 30 percent. The Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents has already warned that the state should expect a sharp drop in test scores. What is the purpose of raising the bar so high that many more students fail?
Rick Hess opined that reformers were confident that the Common Core would cause so much dissatisfaction among suburban parents that they would flee their public schools and embrace the reformers’ ideas (charters and vouchers). Rick was appropriately doubtful that suburban parents could be frightened so easily.
Jeb Bush, at a conference of business leaders, confidently predicted that the high failure rates sure to be caused by Common Core would bring about “a rude awakening.” Why so much glee at the prospect of higher failure rates?. I recently asked a friend who is a strong supporter of the standards why he was so confident that the standards would succeed, absent any real-world validation. His answer: “People I trust say so.” That’s not good enough for me.
Now that David Coleman, the co-lead author of the Common Core standards, has become president of the College Board, we can expect that the SAT will be aligned to the standards. No one will escape their reach, whether they attend public or private school.
Is there not something unseemly about placing the fate and the future of American education in the hands of one man?
I hope for the sake of the nation that the Common Core standards are great and wonderful. I wish they were voluntary, not mandatory. I wish we knew more about how they will affect our most vulnerable students. But since I do not know the answer to any of the questions that trouble me, I cannot support the Common Core standards.
I will continue to watch and listen. While I cannot support the Common Core standards, I will remain open to new evidence. If the standards help kids, I will say so. If they hurt them, I will say so. I will listen to their advocates and to their critics. I will encourage my allies to think critically about the standards, to pay attention to how they affect students, and to insist, at least, that they do no harm.