In terms of my labor education, a turning point occurred with the election of the New Voice slate to AFL-CIO leadership in 1995. The old Cold War apparatus that had supported U.S. imperialism for so long was partially dismantled, and the Federation and some of its member unions became more open to left-liberal and even radical ideas. I noticed that I could discuss the political economy of Karl Marx more openly and that students were not only receptive but enthusiastic. Workers had always had an intuitive grasp of concepts like surplus labor time and surplus value, the inherent and ineradicable conflict between themselves and their employers, the reserve army of labor, and the apologetic nature of mainstream economics. But now I didn’t have to beat around the bush, and I could cover more topics in greater depth. I could ask students to imagine alternative modes of production and distribution and different ways in which work might be organized, and at least some of them would know what I was talking about. They could begin to see that it is capitalism itself that is responsible for their problems.
Anti-communism also served to make workers here xenophobic, blaming those in other countries for the depredations of their own employers. Not that many years ago, many of my students were ignorant of or hostile to workers in the rest of the world. Union workers were unaware of the efforts of their own unions, in collaboration with their employers and their government, to destroy progressive labor movements around the globe. Today, the rapid globalization of capital offers opportunities for radical labor educators to challenge the isolation of U.S. workers. Auto workers cannot ignore what happens in Japan, Mexico, or South Korea. In the past, there was some truth to the notion that workers in this country benefitted from the exploitation of foreign workers, but this is not the case now. Workers everywhere are in competition with workers everywhere else.