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Philanthropy in the 21st Century
Undermining Labor Unions

by Seth Sandronsky
Sacramento, California

Top U.S. billionaires are deep into public schools. Take philanthropist Warren Buffet, owner of Berkshire Hathaway, who has announced a future multi-billion dollar give-away to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation, launched by the co-founder of the Microsoft Corp. and his wife, seeks to improve U.S. education. It's all about helping the nation’s school kids.

What could be better than this infusion of mega-cash given the chronic under-funding of classrooms across the U.S.? Enter the Gates Foundation.

Does public service get more sincere? For a whiff of such sincerity, look at what happened at one school in Sacramento just a few years ago.

The city’s St. Hope Academy, funded by a $3 million grant from the Gates Foundation in August 2003, successfully changed Sacramento High School, in a working-class, majority non-white neighborhood, into Sacramento Charter High. Does big money talk?

No. It screams.

Former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who played guard for the Phoenix Suns, heads St. Hope, part of STAND UP, a campaign launched by the Gates Foundation to improve U.S. public schools. The charismatic Johnson was recently appointed as the spokesperson for the national STAND UP campaign.

Pro sports have a lofty status in U.S. society. This gives a former top athlete such as Johnson much name identification.

From humble beginnings, he became a star guard at Sacramento High who went on to lead the University of California basketball team. Later, Johnson was a backcourt ace in the National Basketball Association, which has much “bling” appeal.

Such flair defines this high-octane, over-the-rim game. Arguably, the world's finest athletes play in the NBA.

Recently, Johnson was also appointed to the board of directors of the California Business for Education Excellence Foundation (CBEEF). The CBEEF backs the increase of competition for public education via the expansion of charter schools such as St. Hope in Sacramento.

Presumably, the lack of competitiveness is harming public education, and not an unequal distribution of resources. It’s all about being competitive.

Inequality of resources is so passé. Chalk this idea up to the so-called triumph of the competitive market after the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union.

Thus when U.S. school kids learn how to compete better on, say standardized tests, those who are now not measuring up will catch up and win. It’s all about educational achievement.

If more competition will address what ails the nation's system of public education, then charter schools, which are public, must be a needed step in that direction. Why charter schools?

Charter schools do not have to follow many of the regulations and rules of community school districts and state lawmakers. That means respecting the rights of teachers and other school workers to form labor unions.

Weakening the economic and political power of organized labor has been and is a goal of ruling elites in the decades-long class war underway across the U.S. Philanthropic billionaires such as Gates and Buffet have some of the deepest pockets around to fund this conflict.

About the author: Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper. He can be reached at

Published in In Motion Magazine July 28, 2006

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