NEA'’s Van Roekel Denies Planned Funding of Obama Campaign... Which Way's the Resistance?

As nearly 10,000 public school teachers finish their planning for the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (to be held in Chicago at the McCormick Place convention center from June 30 through July 5, 2011, see, more and more discussion is going on about the support the NEA will continue to give to Barack Obama. On June 15th , Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association sent this note to the 9,000 delegates of the 2010 NEA representational assembly:


Just a quick note regarding Chip’s question about withholding financial support for the Obama campaign. Two things: 1) the Obama campaign does not accept PAC contributions so NEA’s PAC does contribute to the campaign. Our funds are mainly used to communicate to our members about all of our recommended candidates. 2) The Obama campaign spent $750 million in 2008 and some project that spending will approach $1 billion in 2012. It boggles my mind the amount of money spent in campaigns. To raise $750 milion in 2 years means over a $1 million a day – every single day! Our competitive advantage is not money – it'’s people! Organized, motivated, voting people.”

A photo from the 2010 NEA Representative Assembly (RA), showing a number of the state delegations. In the lower right, a delegate is wearing one of the favorite signs of the convention: "It's a right, not a race..." criticizing Barack Obama's Race To The Top. Substance photo by Rich Gibson.Van Roekel lied.

NEA spent more than $50 million on the 2008 Obama campaign. Untold thousands of NEA volunteers staffed the Obama campaign. Of all the organizations on the floor of the Democratic Convention, NEA topped them in numbers. Together with the American Federation of Teachers, school workers’ money and time was pivotal in the demagogue’s victory.

In a June 11th interview with Politico, NEA executive director John Wilson said the NEA would spend $60 million on the Obama campaign. He added. ““We’ve got a lot of selling to do. Our members are very unhappy. We’ve got to explain to them the stakes. We cannot wait until a few months before the election.”

The NEA Political Action Committee had endorsed Obama in early May. (http://www. substancenews. net/articles.php?page=2245§ion=Article )

Even so, there is notable debate among NEA delegates about when, and if, to endorse Obama. The debate, however, is paper thin.

Reason means asking core questions like: Why are the wars, the bailouts, the attacks on what people know and how they come to know it in schools, the assaults on school workers' lives, all fully bi-partisan affairs?

Deeper, why have government?

Al Szymanski answered that fairly well 40 years ago: 1. To guarantee the accumulation of capital and profit maximization and make it legitimate.

2. Form and Preserve capitalist class rule. 3. Raise money to fund the state.

In today’'s context, the US government is an executive committee and armed weapon of the rich, a corporate state engaged as a partisan, on the side of wealth, in imperialist war abroad and class war at home.

While public schools have never been truly public, but fully segregated by class and race, they are corporate schools today, not privatized but government illusion factories seeking a mix of social control and profits, the former often trumping the latter. They’re corporate state schools.

The unions and their bosses are full partners in this development, all behind the bailouts, the wars, and complicit in creating the NCLB, now the RaTT.

The National Education Association’s Dennis Van Roekel will make more than $450,000 this year (Reg Weaver was paid $686,949 for his last single year). That money is a payoff, in part, from the empire: war (children of the poor killing other children of the poor on behalf of the rich in their homelands) and a reward for betraying the rank and file.

The entire AFL-CIO, especially, is involved in America’s imperialist adventure. So is NEA. Groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, the Al Shanker Institute, and the American Institute for Free Labor Development all serve as intelligence fronts for imperialism: the relentless search for raw materials, cheap labor, regional control, and markets.

The systematic effort coming from the unions to disconnect the current financial crises, the (lost and losing) wars, and the regimentation of schooling only makes sense when one grasps the Quisling nature of the labor tops who, at base, sell labor peace in exchange for dues income (that is the traditional trade-off).

This campaign, in NEA and the American Federation of Teachers, takes the form of harsh criticism of Arne Duncan and the RaTT, but eradicates attacks on the puppet-master, Obama, his wars, bailouts, attacks on immigrants, and his refusal to act for the jobless. Narrowing critique to schools alone is a losers’ game, isolating education workers from their most precious allies, poor and working people who suffer from the political class’ lies.

The struggle to control the work place is central to any worker’'s life; school workers, too. But the last thing labor bosses want is a mass of class conscious workers dedicated to winning mastery of their work sites, able to open and close them, since such a work force would make them irrelevant, and the trade-off impossible. That’s why this electoral circus is manufactured.

Barack Obama in 2008.Nobody ever voted their way out of a social context like ours. But union hacks want us to believe it’s the sole escape route. Why? Because electoral work plays on people’s illusions, driven into their heads by years of mis-education. It’s a useful diversion, pretending there is some difference between the two heads of the snake that is fake US democracy. There isn’t.

Just as many Americans cling to “democracy” with quasi-religious fervor, despite overwhelming evidence, so many people also still believe that unions are what they think they are. They are not. Not a single labor boss in the US believes in the reason people join unions: the contradictory interests of workers and bosses. More, unions divide people more than unite them, by class, job, public/private, race, etc. Unions mirror their individual industries, recreating parallel hierarchies. In brief, unions alone are unfit the meet the challenges of our times: booming inequality and perpetual war.

The issue is not when NEA will endorse Obama. The NEA is going to endorse Obama. The issue is whether, within NEA and AFT, a movement can grow to build both reason and direct action, connect ideas and analysis to power.

The Chicago Teachers Union, whose contract was just voided, and the Michigan Education Association, have begun to grapple with the issue of a real strike, as people who are so cornered must resist in order to live. Rank and filers at the RA need to take up the same question, setting aside the nonsense of choosing who will oppress education workers best.

At issue: will school workers make sense of why they must fight, class war and imperialist war in full bloom, or will they fight piecemeal, teachers for teachers, students for students (the recent tuition battles or test resistance), nurses for nurses, etc–and lose?

The recent mass actions in Spain are good indicators of the potential of masses of people who have walked away from their traditional, failed, unions and political class, hit the streets, and began to win.

Justice, of course, demands organization. Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor at San Diego State University.


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