Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sean Ahern: Shanker as NeoCon?

Were Hubert Humphrey, George Meany or Mayor Wagner conservatives ( all heroes in the Shankerite pantheon)? What about Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton? Was Sandra Feldman a neo con? Is Randi Weingarten a neo con?

I have my doubts that Shanker saw himself as a neo con but it would be valuable to learn more of his contacts with them and more importantly the CIA and other state agencies.

Kahlenberg was in a position to ferret this information out from the available records but he didn't even bother to conduct his own investigation. He specifically addresses the pamphlet written by George Schmidt in the 1980's and dismisses it saying that no evidence was offered to back up the charge that Shanker was working for the CIA. I guess it never occurred to Kahlenberg that the job of the historian is to dig out the information and not just present the official version based on facts handed to him by Shanker's acolytes.

But what difference does it make for the opposition if Shanker was a neo con or not? Whether he was working for the CIA or not? The relevant point in assessing the legacy of Shankerism in order to repudiate it is not Shanker's personal beliefs or his secret connections, but the program, the direction in which he lead the union. A democratic union is based on a programmatic unity, a common practice not a common ideology, religion, or other belief system.
You can't go around affixing brands on people and shunning them based on ideology. Debate yes, star chambers no.

Affixing an unpopular label to someone whose views you find abhorrent is not criticism, it's a smear. I know that Shanker did this to his opponents during the 68 strikes, calling them scabs and anti semites, gangsters, self hating jews, etc but it does not help the rank and file opposition to chart a new course for the UFT to respond with a "left" version of the smear.

If Shanker was a neocon but Feldman and Weingarten were not, what are the unifying threads between yesterday and today’s Unity Caucus?

Why has the current leadership of the UFT/AFT championed Kahlenberg’s brief for Shankerism and campaigned for Hillary simultaneously? (Is Hillary the neo con candidate?) Isn’t it likely that if Shanker were alive today, he would have been a Hillary champion as well? All that white populist crap that Hillary and Bill were selling in Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley is straight out of the Tough Liberal playbook. Shanker made his bones in the late 60’s, fueling the fires of the white backlash, defending white privilege, marginalizing his opposition, putting in place the machine that rules the union today. The rank and file and the working class of NYC have paid a heavy price for this.

"Love the sinner but hate the sin".
Shanker was a ruthless opportunist. Calling him a neo con is no substitute for showing how his words and deed have led the union into a dead end. Shanker's ties with the neo cons may have been extensive and deep but it is his program that should be the focus. I doubt that more of 10 to 20% of the membership would describe themselves as neo conservative. How do you account for the white liberal, conservative and so called socialist members of the UFT who followed his leadership and defend his legacy and the Unity Caucus today?

If we are ever to overcome the opportunism prevalent in the leadership and I would say much of the opposition as well we will have to recognize that the criticism of Shankerism is also a self criticism, in the sense that the program of Shankerism has prevailed among the membership not merely through his alignment with the oligarchy, the state apparatus or the neo con conspirators. The point is that neither he nor Feldman and Weingarten put forward a neo con program to the membership.

If Kahlenberg wants to describe Shanker as a “Tough Liberal” so what? Let the liberals have him. The more pointed response is to ask who was this Liberal “tough” with? Who was he “tough” for? What effect has 'tough liberalism' had on living, working, and learning conditions for the membership and the students and parents we serve? How do we part company with the tough liberal legacy now in its second reincarnation?

Neo conservatism did not lead the UFT leadership to: support the war in Vietnam; oppose community control and affirmative action; partner with the bankers during the fiscal crisis and the corporate elite on education 'reform'; support Mayoral control; gut contractual provisions; extend the working day and year; support Hillary Clinton without consulting the membership, support privatization of our health plan, charter schools, or remain silent on the termination of thousands of teachers in 2003 and the ongoing disappearing of the Black and Latina/o educators under mayoral control. These are some of the facts that comprise the real damning legacy of Shankerism. The neo con label diverts attention away from the existing record to the misty realm of ideology.

In 1968 Steve Zeluck, President of the New Rochelle Federation of Teachers, wrote an article for New Politics (I guess before 'tough liberals' like Mike Hirsch were admitted to its editorial board) entitled “The UFT Strike: A Blow Against Teacher Unionism”(Vol 7 No.1). Today Mike Hirsch and Kahlenberg praise Shanker for his supposed defense of the teachers”fired” by the ocean hill community board in 1967. Steve Zeluck, writing in 1968 while the third strike was still on called out the Shankerite strike for the fraud that it was. Maybe Mike Hirsch and the editorial board should read Zeluck’s article before they write their rebuttal to your review. It might give them pause before they repeat the lies propagated in Tough Liberal, the most pivotal being the firing myth. No, there were no “pink slips,” a point which Zeluck makes loud and clear.

The strongest connection between Shanker and the neo cons is his connection with Zionism which he seems to have identified with in a big way after the 67 war- The neo cons grew into something of a Likudist lobby that allied with right wing evangelicals and rose to power within the republican party. but even here, I think that the likudists with there avowedly anti labor views and wealthy arrogant crooked supporters, the end time evangelicals, those crazy settlers on the west bank, would probably have given Shanker the creeps were he alive today.
I doubt very much that he would have supported the Bush administration even at the start. He would have supported the Invasion of Iraq, but that doesn't make him a neo con. Just ask that other great Tough liberal, Hillary and the overwhelming majority of the democratic senators and congresspersons.

On the other hand, he would have followed their lead, as Randi did on the Kahlil Gibran School and as many democrats in the congress do when they caution against a hasty withdrawal, but then again, I saw plenty of folks waffling over this including members of ICE yet not one of them to my knowledge was a neo con.

Lastly, Mike Hirsch already delivered his dutiful praises for Tough Liberal in the pages of the NY Teacher. Will he grant you some of his column space in our newspaper The NY teacher from which dissent is banished, for a rebuttal to his review? I don't begrudge anyone for making a living but Hirsch crosses the line when he repeated the big lie that the teachers in ocean hill were fired. Will New Politics give a forum to this big lie and leave Steve Zeluck’s words, one who spoke truth to power in the heat of the struggle 40 years ago, in the shadows?
Sean Ahern

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