"Affirmative Action" has scarcely been implemented at all in the US, at least with regard to blacks and latins. But, if it WERE implemented strongly, it would benefit, not just blacks and latins, but white male workers as well.
It would, however, harm employers. This explains the attack against Affirmative Action by both Republicans (more noisily) and Democrats. It also explains the attempt, on the part of ruling-class politicians and others, to dismantle Affirmative Action while using it as a tool to build racism -- to blame minorities and women for the declining standard of living and rising unemployment of white male workers, among other things.
Minorities and women remain, as they have historically been, a source of cheap labor for employers, to be used when needed, and relegated disproportionately to unemployment when they are not. In other words, higher-paying jobs are now, and always have been, filled disproportionately by white males.
Far from being a benefit to white male workers, however, this harms them. This is because "cheap labor anywhere is a threat to better-paid labor everywhere."
Employers have moved millions of jobs to the Southern states in past decades because of the lower standard of living in the South. Employers have moved millions more abroad, to areas of even cheaper wages. In other words, millions of these workers now have jobs and all the "joys" of exploitation -- long, hard work under dangerous conditions for very low wages -- while millions of once better-paid American workers have either unemployment and poverty, or jobs at much lower wages.
This move to areas of lower wages is, in effect, "Affirmative Action" for Southern, Latin American, Asian, etc. workers. It "benefits" them only insofar as, under capitalism, vicious exploitation is the only alternative to starvation. And it harms workers in the Northeast/ American workers, clearly.
Whom, then, does it benefit? The corporations; the employers. The capitalists.
Within the US, too, there are "pools of cheap labor" everywhere -- minorities and women -- to be taken advantage of by employers who decide, for whatever reason, NOT to move (or who have already moved, say, to the South). It is in the interest, not only of minority and female workers, but of white male workers as well, that these pools of super-cheap labor be eliminated -- that the wages, levels of employment, etc., of minorities and women be raised to the level of white male workers, so that "pools of cheap labor" be eliminated. Similarly, it would be strongly in the interest of American workers if workers in Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. -- i.e. in all areas where capitalists have moved jobs in order to raise the level of exploitation (profit) -- were to successfully fight for wages at the level of American workers.
"Affirmative Action", successfully implemented, would tend to raise the level of wages and employment among minorities and women. That means, it WOULD, if implemented, also benefit white male workers, in that these pools of cheap and unemployed labor would be removed. Naturally, therefore, there has NEVER been strong support for Affirmative Action from employers. Employers never support any policies that tend to lower their profits by raising wages.
A word on "qualifications": they are phony, period! Many studies have shown that SATs, for example, predict family income much more accurately than they do performance in college. Likewise with the "qualifications" for medical, law, and other schools. ALL of these tests are biased IN FAVOR OF WEALTHY PEOPLE. Of course, the rich can afford expensive education, where the kinds of things that are "tested" in these tests are taught. They can also afford special tutors, preparatory course, etc. These tests are built around certain "assumptions." The main assumption is that "rich people are more competent and intelligent than poor people."
In the 1930s it was discovered that men did more poorly on IQ tests than women. Result: the tests were changed! The sexist psychologists were not willing to make the assumption that men were "dumber" than women, so they concluded the test must be at fault. Would they have changed the test if men had scored HIGHER than women? Forget it!
For decades the SATs produced lower scores for women than for men, despite the fact that women did (and do) better in High School and in college. Finally in the late '80s the College Board decided to relent and change the scoring ("standardization") of the SATs so that, other factors remaining constant, women's and men's scores came out the same.
In other words: for decades the SATs reflected the ASSUMPTION that women had "less SA" (a completely bogus concept itself; there is no such thing as 'scholastic aptitude') than men, and the tests were fine. Then, a few years ago, the College Board decided that this assumption was false, and it was the test that was at fault. Another assumption -- this time, that women are as competent as men (i.e. have as much of the fictional 'S.A.').
But the College Board has NEVER suggested making the same assumption about Blacks -- or poorer students, or working-class whites, etc. The fact that these groups score lower on the SATs simply reflects the ASSUMPTION of the test-makers that these groups have "less S.A.", whatever that is, and therefore the tests should reflect that assumption. The reasoning is completely circular.
All these "qualification" tests are racist, sexist, anti-working class nonsense, period. NONE of them "predicts" who will make a good, caring physician; a lawyer who will fight to protect the working class rather than the corporations; a teacher who will use his/her ability to attack racism, sexism and elitism.
Furthermore: ANY test that serves to keep minorities and women out of better-paying jobs and in a "pool of cheap labor" serves the interest of the capitalists by providing phony "support" for racism, sexism and anti-working class thinking, and HURTS ALL WORKERS, INCLUDING WHITE MALES.
There has been some support for Affirmative Action from employers, especially early on. This has to do with the fact that, in the post-World War II period, women and minorities have become an essential part of the working class in the US. The rebellions, and the feminist movement, of the 1960s showed (worldwide, not just in the US) that black, latin and female workers could not be "supervised" exclusively by white male bosses any more. A stratum of "middle-class" minorities and women had to be created to "control" these increasingly important parts of the workforce.
Likewise, some minorities and women had to be recruited into the ranks of politicians, in order to make these groups believe that "they have a stake in the system." The Democratic Party did this very abruptly after the mid-1960s. Both politically and economically, this strategy has worked rather well for the capitalists. The major cities which had urban rebellions in the '60s have been, on the whole, quiet under the regime of black politicians since then, with few exceptions. Economically, a stratum of "middle-class" minority and female managers, professionals, straw-bosses, cops, etc., necessary to control these new groups in the workforce, has basically been built.
At the same time, minorities and women remain, on the whole, a reservoir of cheap labor, and a threat to be used to pull down the wages of the higher-paid workers (including, of course, the relatively few higher-paid minority and female workers). So the capitalists have it both ways!
The same process has been going on in South Africa -- more dramatically, because the changes have come much faster. There the South African capitalists, in league with (primarily) US corporations, have given up the old "apartheid" system under which super-exploited African labor was directly supervised by whites, under fascist conditions. This system was given up because of the refusal of African workers to accept it any longer, despite Nazi-like levels of murder, torture and intimidation. In other words: the "apartheid" system was no longer profitable because of the costs of repression and policing -- i.e. the costs of rebellion.
As in the US, the South African capitalists turned to African poiticians and the building of an African "middle-class" stratum of managers and supervisors in order to "save the system" by trying to make African workers believe they have some stake in it. Because the consciousness of South African workers was and is primarily nationalist rather than class, this policy is working, despite some difficulties. Rebellions have nosedived. Nelson Mandela is able to accomplish what De Klerk never could -- make black South African workers sit still for very high levels of exploitation, unemployment, poverty, repression, premature death, and so on.
The overt attack on Affirmative Action, including by representatives among the minority and female "middle-class" elite which it has created, reflects the belief of many in the US ruling class that the essential job of Affirmative Action has been completed. The new stratum of "middle-class" managers and professionals essential to controlling the working masses and providing the illusion of 'equal opportunity' -- i.e. faith in the system and a tendency therefore to blame onesself for any failures -- has been largely built. To continue the "Affirmative Action" policy would begin to cut into profits, by beginning to limit the "pools of cheap labor" which minorities and women provide them.
"Affirmative Action" policies were first put into effect in the 1960s, an era of popular militancy unparalleled for several decades. They were part of a series of reforms that were intended to placate and deflect this militancy by proving that capitalism could be "reformed". They also occurred at a time when US capitalism was still in its ascendant period over the other industrialized countries as a result of World War II. Simply put, the reforms were minimal, but they did exist, and they had a cost which, given US economic dominance, the US capitalists could bear.
Today the situation is very different. For one thing, the US is no longer economically dominant over Western Europe and Japan. On the contrary, US banks and corporations face unprecedented competition, and are desperately cutting costs -- meaning, increasing the level of exploitation of the working class. Second, there is no mass popular movement. The union movement is passive, its leaders long since "sold out." Union members are about 11% of the work force, as compared to close to 30% in the '60s.
Given this situation, US capitalists are far less able to afford costly "reforms" to buy off working class militancy, while at the same time they don't have to -- the militancy is not there. Some of the "liberal" (read: more far-sighted) ruling class experts realize that this militancy will return, and want to preserve some reforms. But it appears that most capitalists now think reforms are too costly. Given US economic decline, they cannot be afforded. The US working class must be squeezed harder and harder so that profits can be increased, the better to meet the competition. This means doing away with the reforms of decades, including wages, fringe benefits, and Affirmative Action. That is what the "Contract With America" is all about, and is also the reason for the attack on Affirmative Action.
There is an additional benefit to the Affirmative Action policies that have been in place for the past quarter century or so. They have been publicized and administered in such as way as to be as divisive as possible. From the beginning white workers were told that "whatever the minorities and women get will be taken away from you."
That this is completely false I have argued above. To restate it: the truth is just the opposite: real "Affirmative Action" would BENEFIT white male workers, and all higher-paid workers regardless of ethnicity and gender.
But the IDEOLOGY of Affirmative Action has always been racist. This divides the working class against itself, preventing any effective, united fight to -- among other things -- REDUCE unemployment and RAISE wages by recognizing that it is employers, and the capitalist system itself, which is responsible for these things. Unemployment and low-wage employment affect minorities and women disproportionately, but hurt white males greatly as well.
The racist ideology pushed among workers today about Affirmative Action is the same ideology that the slave-owning rulers of the pre-Civil War South used to divide the slaves from the majority of poor whites, and even get the poor whites to fight, kill and die for slavery.
Slavery enslaved the poor white farmers almost as much as it did the black slaves themselves. Using slave, i.e. cheap, labor a plantation owner could grow, and then sell, his crop -- tobacco, cotton, etc. -- for a low price. But the small white farmer, using his and his family's labor, could not get a higher price for HIS crop just because he was white! The white farmer was thrown into competition with the cheapest form of labor at the time, slave labor, and so lived only a little better than the slave himself.
What kept white farmers from realizing this and fighting for an end to slavery by uniting with the slaves and opposing the plantation owners was the ideology of racism. Briefly, the slaveowning ruling class convinced the poor whites that "whatever the blacks got would be taken away from them". Exactly the opposite was the case: any gain for the slaves would be a gain for the poor whites!
Some -- most prominently, some of the leaders of the southern Populist movement -- realized this, and began to form a multi-racial movement based upon this realization. Weaknesses -- basically racism -- in this movement created the conditions for the Southern ruling class to smash the Populist movement in the early part of this century.
In the 1930s the Communist Party built, for a time, a strong multi-racial movement in the rural South based upon this same recognition, only to abandon it in the "united front" during World War II. But this recognition of the economic basis of unity between poor blacks and whites in the South attracted most black intellectuals in the US to the Communist Party during the period 1930-1960.
The ideology being pushed by the Republicans and (more quietly) Democrats -- and supported by many misguided workers, intellectuals and others as a result -- that Affirmative Action HURTS whites is exactly the same as that promoted by the pre- and post-Civil War Southern elite: "whatever the blacks [minorities, women] gain will be taken away from you." To repeat: Exactly the opposite is the case. The working class -- employees -- as a whole, white and male as well as minority and female -- benefit, and employers are harmed, when employment and wages among minorities and women rise. This is the kind of "Affirmative Action" that must be fought for.
The bosses love to have us, the workers, fighting each other over an increasingly small share of the economic "pie." As millions of jobs are lost, there is no way that ANY group of workers -- minority, female, white, male -- can feel secure.
We have to reject the ruling-class attack on Affirmative Action and demand jobs for all! Because jobs for all will not be immediately provided, this must be coupled with a fight for A SHORTER WORK WEEK (to create more jobs); MUCH HIGHER UNEMPLOYMENT AND WELFARE BENEFITS (to reduce the pools of cheap labor which high unemployment and low welfare benefits provide); GUARANTEED EMPLOYMENT FOR YOUTH.
None of this can be done without a determined FIGHT AGAINST RACISM. Today as in the days of slavery, racist ideology -- together with sexist ideology -- is the main obstacle preventing the working class from uniting and fighting the bosses successfully, both in the US and worldwide.
What about "Affirmative Action"? Any attack against "Affirmative Action" means falling for the ruling-class racist, sexist line. We must demand that it be continued, and strengthened, but in an anti-racist way. More jobs must be created; we refuse to play "musical chairs" and fight each other while the bosses profit.
To conclude: we must demand:
Most of all,
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