Beating a Dead Horse to Death, Again. CFA This Time.

Photograph Source: twbuckner – CC BY 2.0

They’re at it again.

In the words of San Diego’s Dr Seuss, “You can’t teach a Sneetch.”

The members of the California Faculty Association, including adjuncts, tenured and tenure track academics, some coaches, librarians, and others, on 23 campuses, is mimicking the United Auto Workers’ strike of a month ago.

I covered that in CounterPunch here.

The UAW’s “Stand-up” campaign rolled strikes in the Big Three from one plant to another, never involving more than one-quarter of the work force, dividing workers one against another (those at work receiving full pay while “strikers” marching picket lines got a paltry $500 a week).

Over time, the UAW piecards succeeded. They wore down the ranks, pushed through a corrupt contract that, even now, few members have ever seen.

It was another tragic loss for the rank and file.

And it was a replay of the 1970 GM strike, aptly covered by then Detroit Free press journalist William Serrin in “The Company and the Union” which ends with:  “The Company and the Union–they’re the same.”

The union bosses, who never went on strike, will continue to do very well. The UAW president, Shawn Fain (who prided his “EAT THE RICH” t-shirt) will take home more than $200,000 this year (down from about a dozen previous presidents and vice presidents who are in jail for stealing millions from the UAW treasury.

Their loyalty to capital, however, led to very light sentences.

Now, the ongoing racket is US unionism, which shifts its focus, and strategies and tactics to some of the most highly educated people in the US who, it appears, will be gulled by the union grifters in nearly the exact same manner as the UAW’s doubly exploited members–two layers of bosses–the union hacks and the Big Bosses, joined at the hip, united as “Partners in Production” against the huge workforce.

This worker/boss unity(company unionism) is the American unions’ Grand Strategy.

As per Sun Tzu, strategies and tactics must align with it. Hence, a fake strike.

NEA has long had a theory that staff must be paid very well in order to retain the best people. What “best” maybe, after the NEA adopted the same UAW “Partners in Production” scheme as the entire AFL-CIO (NEA remains independent) in the 1980’s (when I quit the staff) is unquestionable—sold out.

Even so, most NEA staff and officers (usually former classroom teachers) begin as honest brokers.

But, over time, perks like a generous per-diem, very nice hotel rooms, free luggage and travel (sometimes international) opportunities for numerous affairs, and, probably unwitting contact with US spy agencies through, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO (see Kim Scipes “American Workers and the Third World” or George Schmidt, “The AFL-CIA, online.”)

inverts their loyalties and they discover they can “do well by doing ‘good.'”

And so, here we go again. The CFA is “rolling strikes,” beginning with four campuses at a time. In the earliest stage(last week) it was Sacramento State, Cal Poly, and San Francisco State, purportedly heading to a crescendo at some date in the future.

Education workers (let us cast aside the fictional title of professionals) were urged to ride on buses to the other campuses on one-day “strikes.”

For example, adjuncts making $5,000 a class (often on several CSU and Community College campuses–freeway warriors–about 1/3 of their full-time counterparts–were urged to travel perhaps 90 miles–Fresno to Sacramento. Many did and found it exhilarating because they have learned, after all that work for a PhD, to hate their CSU jobs.

This could wear out anyone.

What’s the issue?

Money, of course. These are, and always have been, capitalist schools of the empire.

The two sides, and there are sides, are stuck–the bosses at 5% and the “union” at 12%. There are other issues—lectures’ unjust pay. Workload (especially burgeoning class size, the push for profitable online education, which the pandemic proved is not education, and publication pressures (the not terribly prestigious CSU wants to become the UC, a pipe dream).

Most of the secondary issues will probably be dropped, with loud howls around the piecards. Twelve will be whittled to much less as the rolling strikers tire out.

And side issues, like the California high cost of living, the militarization of campuses, the oppressive role of ubiquitous spy and mercenary agencies, the near elimination of the humanities everywhere, will vanish in the fog of huzzahs for pay increases.

It is money, a class war disguised as an Enlightenment (where did that go, buried under piles of militant superstition?) project for a reason, gaining and testing knowledge in a relatively free atmosphere.

But CFA wants to promote a different, disingenuous view–“Corporatization,” as if the factual boom of inequality, on campus and off, was something blindingly new. It’s not.

Some aspects of campus inequality are indeed disgusting. The many CSU presidents took home 40 percent wage hikes over time, while CFA’s terrible faculty contracts left everyone behind inflation.

Add that the new SDSU football coach, Sean Lewis, will be paid $2 million a year if he lasts four years. Brady Hoke, the previous failed football coach, was paid $3 million to leave, not to work. SDSU, somehow, portrayed this as a cost savings.

Consider too the brand new SDSU football (think CTE) stadium (Snapdragon–sic, think naming rights)  built two years ago–meditate on the pay-offs to developers, university administrators, etc., in tearing down perfectly fine Qualcomm and fashioning a new “city” with shops, apartments, restaurants, and much more. Even the local Union Tribune calls it “Big Business.” True enough.

What the corporatization dodge leads to is to pretend that the CSU system has been truly public for, at least, decades.

In California, K-12 through a university BA was once free, but tuition was illegal, in the state constitution.

But that changed in at least two stages–first, tuition was renamed “fees,” and then it became flat-out tuition–and it has skyrocketed ever since.

At SDSU my typical grad student was $30,000 in debt. I know a classroom teacher, my student from twenty years ago, who has been an educator ever since who is still $20,000 in debt. (This could be an Achilles heel of the tyranny–everyone stop paying–unlikely but fun to fantasize.

And if the CSU system is truly public, then appeals to the citizens and politicians will work.

They won’t.

But the CFA, once the strike is sold out, will continue to herd the members into voting booths to make the vile choice between the Orange Magog and the doddering war criminal Commander-in-Chief who betrayed his own troops and allies at Kabul..

Choosing one evil over another just ratifies evil. It won’t prevent the rise of fascism, which is not a mere personality, but a social structure rising from capital in decay, worldwide. (R. Palme Dutt, summarized here.)

This is about power, the potential of a mass, class-conscious, integrated (race, student/staff/adjunct full time) movement for equality and justice meeting, not a potential ally, but an implacable foe, determined to retain unearned privileges, willing to destroy lives.

Workers power is located at work, in the ongoing struggle to control the processes and products of production. Not only do rolling “strikes” concede both, the future contract will betray it–as do all US union contracts.

Forging power means, not a piecemeal, nibble-by-nibble, rolling strike, but an enforced battle across at least all the CSU and the very prestigious University of California campuses.

There is some history for that. The San Francisco strikes, the Berkeley strikes, the San Diego State strike (a closely guarded campus secret which involved some of the cast from the great communist-inspired “Salt of the Earth).

This is, thus, not an abstract call for unhinged action but is rooted in a profound past.

There is nothing new in this description of American unionism: the pacified labor of the rank and file is sold by the Little Bosses to the Big bosses in exchange for guaranteed dues income (the forced check-off off which is traditionally exchanged for no-strike pledges) off which the Little Bosses live well. And profits continue to flow for the Big Bosses.

C.Wright  Mills described that in “The New Men of Power,” decades ago (2001)

Of course, this cannot happen without overcoming layers of union bosses, administrators, cops, and reluctant, wavering staff (probably in business, some sciences–don’t ever try to strike any football team–scholarship).

Students, who will fight when over-educated faculty probably won’t, would be critical in that action. Divisions of race, culture, and all the Identity Politics distractions, would need to be demolished, or they will be used to demolish any movement.

It might require occupying some buildings, as with the origins of the UAW portrayed in the short documentary “With Babies and Banners” online here.

The film is great for classroom discussions because, in part, labor history, like all history, is banned in US schools.

There is NEA history for this, too. The Michigan Education Association seized buildings in River Rouge, Michigan, in the 1980s, and school workers went to jail during the Crestwood strike. I know. I was there.

Change does not move in a straight line. It ebbs and flows as Christopher Clark in his magisterial

“Revolutionary Spring” (2024) ably demonstrates.

People are, indeed, in motion, as the Trotskyists say, planning interventions.

And sometimes sects play a decisive role (Bolsheviks) which can become a terrible problem over time (Stalin, centralism over democracy-a new tyranny become a newer tyranny now).

Justice does demand organization. That would mean rank-and-file caucuses with openly stated principles, beginning with “workers and bosses have contradictory interests.”

But the crux is reasoned, persistent, resistance, practice, which can lead to new lessons over time.

Leaflets, person-to-person visits that bridge academic/race/cultural differences, forging close personal ties, trust, over time, social media (easily watched and shut down), emerging leaders, and more.

As Seuss imagined, the Sneetches learned the lesson. All Sneetches are the same!

That is half the story. Sylvester McMonkey McBean lives, and is a ruthless enemy.

Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor at San Diego State and a co-founder of the Rouge Forum.