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Current Opinion: Defend Affirmative Action
by the Affirmative Action Workshop, SftP National Conference
In the last year, the attacks on affirmative action programs have sharply escalated. The Bakke decision overturned educational programs based on admissions quotas for minorities and women. This will cut back the limited gains in access to higher education won in the 1960’s. In another case, since dismissed, Sears Roebuck Co. sought to avoid instituting affirmative action programs, by blaming inequality in employment on government programs (such as the G.I. bills after W.W. II) which created an all-white educated male workforce. Now, the Weber case threatens to reverse all advances in equal employment opportunity won by the civil rights and women’s movements.
Brian Weber was a white male lab technician at a Kaiser Aluminum plant in Louisiana. In 1974 the United Steel Workers negotiated an affirmative action program with the three major aluminum producers. In Kaiser’s case, federal investigations and threats of lawsuits played a strong role in acceptance of a “voluntary” program.
Under the affirmative action provision that removed prior work experience as a requirement for entering training programs, Brian Weber applied for a craft training program. He was denied entrance, while two blacks with lesser seniority were accepted. Like Allen Bakke, Weber challenged the affirmative action program on the basis of”reverse discrimination”.
“Reverse discrimination” attacks affirmative action on the basis that minorities and women are given unfair advantage in competition against white males for educational and employment opportunities. Proponents of reverse discrimination claim that the gains won in the 1960’s have eliminated discrimination against women and minorities. Continuing these programs actually “threatens” to push white males into a subordinate position.
The basis of claims for reverse discrimination is simply untrue. In no field have women and minorities achieved equality of opportunity with white males. The proportion of women and minorities in skilled positions has yet to reflect their proportion in the workforce. Since 1975 the income gap between white and black families has widened.
Brian Weber won his case in a one day trial, and in appeals court. Kaiser and the USWA appealed. In neither trial, were women or minorities explicitly defended by their own organizations. The Supreme Court began hearing the case on March 28, 1979.
As was true in the Bakke case, the Supreme Court can take several approaches. It could rule illegal all quota programs not ordered by the courts, eliminating the power of unions to negotiate effective affirmative action programs. As in school desegregation cases, it could require proof of past discrimination before imposing quotas. By throwing every affirmative action program into the courts, real changes could be delayed for years, just as some school desegregation orders have been blocked in the courts for nearly ten years. Or as in the Bakke case, it could rule all quotas illegal. The history of discrimination in employment shows that only definite goals, quotas and timetables can force employers to stop discriminating against women and minorities.
Representatives of over thirty organizations met to plan a national campaign against the Weber Case. May 26 — June 2 was declared the National Anti-Weber Mobilization Week. Educational programs, and local and regional rallies are to culminate in a national demonstration in Washington D.C. on June 2. These campaigns will be unified around the slogans:
Reverse the Weber Decision
Defend and Expand Affirmative Action Programs for Minorities and Women
Fight Racism, Sexism and National Oppression
Support the Efforts of Labor Unions in the Struggle for Affirmative Action
The First National Convention of Science for the People passed by acclamation the following resolution, drafted by the Affirmative Action Workshop: “Science for the People supports affirmative action and opposes all attacks on it. In particular, the conference urges all chapters to participate in activities against the Weber suit and other attacks on affirmative action.”
We urge that wherever possible, chapters of Science for the People join local coalitions in support of the Anti-Weber Mobilization.