Anti-labor steamroller threatens affirmative action

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Encouraged by the victory of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in California, politicians and bigots nationwide are now leveling their guns at affirmative action.

They are squawking that affirmative action, the latest scapegoat for the lifeless economy and entrenched unemployment, is unnecessary and unfair. Equality has arrived, they say, and “incompetent” women and people of color are beating out qualified white men.

In reality, the bosses rely on discrimination more than ever to keep workers divided and wages and conditions down. As long as the bottom line rules, affirmative action can’t eliminate disparity. But it provides a measure of real help to society’s most beleaguered members, and its repeal would take us one more step backward toward the days of Jim Crow and the Feminine Mystique.

Mission incomplete. Backers are working to place a deceitfully named “Civil Rights Initiative II on the ballot in California, where Gov. Pete Wilson has already banned affirmative action everywhere he has the power to. The initiative would bar the state from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in jobs, school admissions) and contracts. Similar laws are being proposed in other states and Congress.

President Clinton is waffling, as usual, squeezed between his desire to look good to female and minority voters and his fundamental allegiance to business.

But affirmative action’s real failing is in how much discrimination it has left untouched. For example, thirty percent of the military’s ranks – those who fight and die – are of color. But of its top officers, ninety percent are white.

Statistics like these from every arena show how little ground has really been lost by the actual, historic beneficiaries of “preferential treatment.” What’s in it for white guys? Nevertheless, affirmative action has accomplished a lot, and not just for the disadvantaged workers and students who use it to push open closed doors.

Affirmative action has brought diversity – i.e., the real world – to campus and worksite. It has weakened the chauvinisms that can make the working class its own worst enemy. And women and people of color have kept militancy alive in the schools and labor movement, winning benefits for all.

These gains are what Corporate America wants to reverse. With the economy a basket case, it can’t afford them.

Divide and conquer vs. unite and win. The right wing is trying to drive a wedge not just between white males and everybody else, but, by painting affirmative action only as a race issue, between white women on one hand and men and women of color on the other. Don’t take the bait!

We can turn the bosses’ strategy on its head by countering their false solutions with real ones – such as the creation of jobs for all. Workers and students of all colors and both sexes could then be attracted to a united front capable of saving affirmative action and of bringing together the fractured and frustrated working class more powerfully than ever before.

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