Date: Thu, 2 Apr 98 08:29:09 CST
From: (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: Affirmative Action benefits all workers
Organization: Scott Marshall
Article: 31391
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

Affirmative Action benefits all workers

By Roberta Wood, People’s Weekly World, 28 March 1998

What is Big Business’ stake in the struggle around affirmative action? Why would Pennsylvanian Richard Mellon Scaife, billionaire heir to the Mellon banking fortune, donate $100 thousand to the initiative campaign to defeat affirmative action in California?

Why does billionaire union buster Rupert Murdoch care enough to fork over $1 million to the Republican Party in the same campaign? Why did corporations and millionaires pour over $5 million in the campaign to defeat affirmative action in just one state?

Here’s why. Corporate America desperately needs to get working class America off-track: A revitalized labor movement has put Big Business on notice in the last couple years. Many of the pushers of the Contract on America were run out of office in the last congressional elections. Fast track for NAFTA went down to defeat. UPS workers won a resounding victory. These victories didn’t yet tip the balance to end corporate America’s profit orgy—but they did give a taste of the possibility.

In each of these cases, labor was able to put the bread and butter issues in the forefront, and the unity of the whole working class was like a giant boulder blocking the Big Business steamroller agenda. Corporate America knows it never has and never can win over the American people on its real issues.

For example, they could never directly get the American people to support their policy that factories should be shut down and jobs moved overseas. If asked straight up, the majority of the American people would never agree that the standard of living of the work class should be lowered, or that funds for education and health care should be cut while corporate subsidies are raised, or that Social Security should be destroyed. To sneak in its program, Big Business needs to move a new set of diversionary issues into the forefront, wedge issues.

With its wedge issues up-front, and the workers real bread-and-butter issues pushed to the back, Corporate America can then sharpen up its old tools to drive its wedges into the rock that is the unified working class. Millions in corporate donations fund think tanks in Washington D.C., like Heritage Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation, in order to hone these wedges.

According to a report by People for the American Way on right-wing foundations and American politics, Over the past several years, the foundations have worked first to produce materials that foster a climate of hostility to affirmative action, and even to racial minorities. They have then gone on to fund the individuals and organizations leading the charge.

In the courts, their efforts are supported by the research, legal representation and academic groundwork done by right-wing foundation-backed scholars and think tanks.

The corporate-funded think tanks spend millions studying the American people. They know that workers are worried, insecure, scared. They know we face a shrinking pool of family-supporting jobs and disappearing educational opportunities.

Even those who ARE getting by lie awake at night wondering how their kids will be able to make it. Corporate America is funding these think tanks to persuade American workers that the cause of impoverishment and insecurity is not corporate greed, but affirmative action, African American workers, immigrants, etc.

Every worker who is thus deceived is one more chip off the rock of working class unity, another dollar in the bank vaults of the super-wealthy. If affirmative action is about dollars and cents for the super-rich, then it’s about dollars and cents for the working class too.

The truth is, affirmative action IS a bread-and-butter issue in the interest of every American worker, not only African Americans, not only Latinos, not only women. Corporate America’s think tanks have painted a picture of affirmative action taking power from white workers and shifting it to African American workers. They describe it as attempting to level the playing field between white and black, as if the basic conflict in the workplace was between black and white, not worker and boss. Then the think tankers try to rally whatever white workers they can—who like all workers nowadays are feeling pretty powerless already—against affirmative action.

What the think tanks want to conceal is the critical fact that what affirmative action really does is shift some power from the owners of industry and to the working class. In the work place, affirmative action does not take power from white workers and shift it to Black workers. What it does fundamentally is to shift power from the boss to workers as a group. It shifts the power because by building equality, it builds unity. It puts that boulder of working class unity in front of the Big Business steamroller. And it limits the corporations’ ability to extract extra profits from all workers through discrimination. Racial and gender discrimination not only robs these victims of discrimination, but holds down the wages of al.l

The right wing and their think tank outlets, the mass media, have succeeded in placing a sinister connotation to affirmative action, but let’s take a look at what the words affirmative action really means from a working class point of view. In a general sense, affirmative action means taking positive measures to fix something that’s wrong, or to improve something. The opposite of affirmative action is doing nothing.

For example, affirmative action in your house means patching the roof, new insulation, tightening up some leaking plumbing. If homeowners were barred from affirmative action on their homes, they’d have to live with leaky roofs, busted pipes and eventual homelessness.

For working class unity, affirmative action means taking steps to repair and improve equality, fairness and solidarity. It means taking away the employers prerogative—and tools—to divide the work force. Affirmative action wouldn’t be needed if nothing were wrong.

Discrimination and inequality in the work place are as virulent as ever in spite of the fact that federal equal employment laws have been on the books for 34 years. It is crystal clear, if you think about it, who is responsible for this continuing discrimination, inequality, and resultant disunity.

The culprit is the employers because they are the only ones with the power to hire, train, promote and assign work. Affirmative action programs put concrete and specific standards for employers to meet in hiring. They take away the bosses right and ability to discriminate and divide. Naturally employers don’t want to give up this right its worth billions in extra profits—and that’s why they’re going all out to slander and roll back affirmative action.

)From our viewpoint, the workers’, if the employer is beating on our house with the sledge hammer of racism and division—should we give up our own affirmative action hammer that we need to drive the nails to repair it? There’s another crucial issue at stake here; that is, will workers be allowed to act as a group collectively on work place issues? Discrimination is not now and has never been an individual issue between an individual boss and an individual employee.

My own story is a good example of how individual solutions don’t work. In 1970, when I applied for work at Bethlehem Steel in Los Angeles, there were laws on the books outlawing discrimination by race or sex. Nevertheless, I was denied a job and it took seven years, a loan from my dad to pay legal fees, and enormous persistence to work for an individual legal solution—that is, for me to be hired.

On the other hand, affirmative action in the form of a Consent Decree signed by the steel companies and the steelworkers union in 1974 instituted numerical requirements for the steel companies to meet in hiring women. By the end of that same year, 500 other women and I were working in just one plant, while my individual case took three more years wending its way through the courts. It is easy to see why employers favor the individual approach—it doesn’t work. Individual solutions to workplace problems by definition leave power in the hands of the employers. That is why corporate America always promotes workers’ individual rights, such as the right to work, the right not to pay union dues, the right not to participate in union political campaigns. They want us to see ourselves and to work as individuals, to deal with them one-on-one on all workplace issues, be it wages or safety conditions.

As we all know, bargaining individually with the boss for wages would inevitably drive everyone’s wages down to sweatshop level. If we lose our right to collectively challenge the employers’ prerogative to discriminate, how about our right to collectively challenge the employers’ wage policies, health and safety conditions, etc.? It’s time to fight back. We workers can come up with our own think tanks.

Not only in our union and stewards meetings, but also on the job, let’s all do some brainstorming about how to present the issue of affirmative action from a class point of view. We can start from the simple fact that as workers we all have a heck of a lot more in common than we have dividing us and that we have more power as a boulder than as a pile of gravel.