When I was young and naive, I actually believed that we could make this society kinder and gentler. I was 23 years old when I began teaching. My salary was $4,500 per year, I was married and my wife was pregnant.
Teachers’ salaries were very low mostly because teaching was considered a woman’s profession and women who worked didn’t need much money because they were generally supplementing their husband’s salaries.
When the United Federation of Teachers was formed, I quickly joined, hoping that it would be a vehicle for change in a system in which both teachers and students were being neglected and exploited. When we went out on strike, we only had 5,000 teachers out of 60,00 teachers striking and refusing to accept the current working conditions. Because of the Taylor Law in New York State, which did not allow strikes by public employees, all of us on strike were fired and the UFT fined. The next day we were rehired and the union recognized as our bargaining agent.
What did I learn? The union would not be the agent of change, it limited change to better teacher salaries and a small reduction in class size. Within a short period of time, the UFT became the buffer between real, meaningful changes and the educational establishment. My succeeding battles were against the union’s position which were anti-community and, in some cases, racist.
As I became older and more politically sophisticated, I began to realize that meaningful change will never be available as long as we accept capitalism as the underpinning of how we live our lives from day to day. Capitalism is a predatory, hierarchal, exploitative system, one in which the wealthy will dominate politically, economically, and socially, establishing the parameters in which working people can function.
It became clear to me that we cannot make capitalism kinder and gentler because, by its very nature, such attributes do not exist. It exists for one reason and one reason only… to provide the capitalist class with access and opportunity to markets and resources that will assure profits and an increase in their wealth. Therefore, the capitalist must make certain that there is a strong military to assure this access to worldwide markets and resources. Hence, as we see today, the US has been and is at war continuously, overthrowing regimes that refuse to agree to the capitalists’ imperialist agenda.
What exactly has capitalism provided for the working men and women?
- An opportunity to find full-time employment in the military. Constant, unending wars.
- Poverty and unemployment or underemployment. Capitalism benefits from the financial struggles of the working class. It provides the capitalists with a pool of hungry, desperate people willing to accept low paying jobs, poor working conditions, and long hours.
- Elections in which we have the opportunity to elect one of two candidates who will represent the needs and desires of the wealthy capitalist class.
- A system of taxation in which working people often pay higher taxes than millionaires.
- A welfare system that neglects the needy while providing millions of public dollars to provide help to large corporations to operate their businesses.
- An environment, toxic air and water, climate change, in which life on Earth may be impossible to sustain within the next 100 years.
I am no longer a liberal. The only way to improve the lot of the working class is to crush capitalism and do it by any means necessary before it destroys all of us.
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner-city adolescents.