News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

February 25, 2019

Lies in the Skies

An anti-union group hired a private plane to slander the leadership of the Oakland teachers’ union. The stunt reveals a network of wealthy donors and Republican politicians that want to break the power of unions, and the OUSD strike, at any cost.

By Meagan Day

On the first day of the Oakland teachers’ strike, an estimated 5,000 teachers, students, parents and supporters converged downtown. Most people were consumed with the street-level scene — the music, speeches, chanting, and signs. But if you happened to crane your neck, you might have caught an odd sight overhead: a private plane trailing a banner that read, “350000/YR TO KEITH BROWN. MIDDLE CLASS?”

Keith Brown is the president of the Oakland Education Association (OEA). He does not make $350,000 a year. He’s an Oakland public school teacher on leave, and makes a teacher’s salary — and if Oakland teachers like him made that much money, they wouldn’t be on strike right now.

That means someone literally hired a private plane to tell anti-union lies in the sky. Who would be mean and desperate enough to do a thing like that?

At day’s end, the answer was revealed. The Twitter account of the Freedom Foundation, a libertarian organization funded by the Koch brothers and the Walton family, took credit for the stunt. “Oakland Education Assn launches latest teacher strike today – and @FreedomFdtn was there too!” they tweeted, along with a picture of the banner trailing the private plane.

Another tweet that evening read, “@FreedomFdtn was in Oakland today to remind Oakland Education Assn of their current spending habits w/teacher #union dues – generous paycheck for the union prez!”

The next morning, they tweeted yet another picture of the banner and said, “Oakland Education Assn began strike – but what about that $350,000/yr for Keith Brown? Middle Class on the back of teacher #union dues?”

Fortunately they were pretty much the only ones tweeting about it, besides union members and community supporters telling them to get lost.

The Freedom Foundation is an anti-union organization founded in 1991 that exists to “free workers from forced unionization”. They’re specifically focused on eroding support for public-sector unions. As their website puts it, “The Freedom Foundation is working to reverse the stranglehold government unions have on our state and local policymaking.”

This group specializes in anti-union propaganda. They’re explicitly right-wing and frequently push the narrative that the Left is using unions to advance a political agenda — or, in their words, “to accomplish militant societal change — the kind of change that’s failed everywhere it’s been tried.” This phrasing is a right-wing dog-whistle for socialism. Mitch McConnell used the exact same wording on the Senate floor to describe socialism the same day that Freedom Foundation article was published.

But in our capitalist society, where working people are being squeezed for every hour and every dollar while the rich get richer, socialism is losing its taboo quality. This is especially true for young Americans, who now prefer socialism over capitalism.

But the Freedom Foundation does more than plane stunts, dumb tweets, and red-baiting.

After the major Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME in 2018, which undermined public sector unions by prohibiting them from collecting fees from workers whose interests they represent unless those workers voluntarily opt in, the Freedom Foundation sprang into action with a series of “opt-out campaigns.” The group, which called the Janus decision “the opportunity of a lifetime,” sent paid canvassers to union members’ doors along the West Coast to convince them to ditch the union.

Because public sector workers are employed by the state, it’s possible to request full and accurate employee lists. The Freedom Foundation has targeted the individuals on these lists with in-person home visits, mailers, endless harassing phone calls (up to three a day). And they always say the same thing: the union is conning you out of your money, and using it to pay exorbitant salaries for corrupt union leaders instead of bargaining good contracts for you.

The purpose is to confuse, demoralize, and erode solidarity among the union membership, eventually convincing enough people to stop paying fees that the union loses the funding source it needs to fight the boss.

This is the exact same union-busting strategy that the Freedom Foundation tried to use against OEA last Thursday. We’ve gotta hand it to them, though: the airplane was a clever twist.

The Freedom Foundation aren’t lone anti-union vigilantes. They are funded by a powerful network of other right-wing dark-money groups. Behind this network are some familiar billionaires, like the Koch brothers and the Walton family.

The Koch brothers are libertarian capitalist ideologues determined to privatize everything that isn’t nailed to the floor. The Waltons — who own Walmart, the nation’s largest employer and a flagrant labor law violator — are uniquely invested in dismantling public education in order to break public-sector unions and reduce the tax burden on the ultra-rich. One of their main strategies is to throw money into school board races in select cities and ensure the installation of pro-charter school members.

The Waltons did this in Oakland, along with other billionaire privatizers like Michael Bloomberg and Reed Hastings. Little wonder, then, that the Oakland Unified School District is trying to close 24 of the district’s 86 schools, paving the way for replacing public schools with undemocratic, unaccountable, privately-managed charter schools.

The people telling lies in the sky about the Oakland Education Association are not kooks, and while they may be pathetic, they ultimately aren’t dumb. They’re thugs of the billionaires, and they’re engaged in a massive and well-funded operation to eliminate this country’s last remaining working-class institutions, like unions and public schools.

In this case, they want to sow doubt and division to weaken the strike. This is because they know that the organized working class is the only force on earth that can successfully obstruct their plan to turn every corner of society into a profitable enterprise for the few at the expense of the many.

They want to scare us. They want to splinter us. They want to break our power. And we won’t let them.