Elite Capture in the Real World of Class Struggle




On October 6 Stellantis began asking its white collar workers to volunteer to cross UAW picket lines to work in distribution centers shipping parts to dealerships, with the call coming from the automaker’s top executives as well as its diversity and inclusion groups. 

Stellantis is relying heavily on its business resource groups (BRGs) to spearhead the strikebreaking effort. The automaker’s 11 BRGs are company-sponsored groups ostensibly focused on organizing and supporting marginalized communities such as the Women’s Alliance, the African American Network, Prism LGBTQ+ Alliance and others. Stellantis sent out a flier, according to the Detroit News, that said, “Each BRG will pick a specific day of the week to volunteer as a team.” Working Parents Network announced that October 13 was its day at parts distribution centers. 

According to the Stellantis website, BRGs “develop multicultural learning opportunities, mentoring and networking events, community outreach opportunities, charitable activities…” 

Only a week earlier Delta released a new six-minute film they show to passengers when they fly. The film features a group of Delta execs traveling to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the Civil Rights museum there. In the film, Peter Carter, Executive VP and Legal Officer and Corporate Security, explains how deeply he was affected by the visit. Keyra Lynn Johnson, VP and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, shares the same type of sentiments. Together, they commit themselves and Delta to something called the Equal Justice Initiative. Please keep in mind that Delta has used every tool available to try to defeat the union campaign currently underway at the airline. Keep in mind that a heavy majority of Delta ground workers are people of color. Keep in mind that, as one Delta worker says, “Equity looks very different from the corporate boardroom than the baggage handler breakroom.” 

The struggle of Black people to smash an apartheid-like Jim Crow system that existed in the South and many parts of the North up until the late 1960s is indeed inspiring. Black teenagers and adults risked their lives to bring that chapter in American history to an end. This struggle is also bound up with the struggle for workers rights in places like Memphis, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while supporting Black sanitation workers in their strike against the city. Delta’s hypocrisy is stunning.

Major capitalist corporations have always actively sought to leverage racial divides they create in the working class to defeat workers’ struggles. In 1941 Henry Ford, who had poured money into Detroit’s Black churches and community organizations and hired Black workers when other companies refused, thought he had a ready-made strike-breaking force with so many Black workers employed in his plants. On April 1st of that year, workers shut down every Ford plant. Yet workers stood firm against armed company goons, with Black workers helping to lead the strike and very few becoming strikebreakers. Within a week Ford agreed to negotiations meaning eventual victory for the Ford workers. 

Stellantis and Delta are both trying to use identity and diversity as a weapon in service of their union-busting and strike-breaking. This is a prime example of “Elite Capture” of identity politics. The ruling class has become expert at using identity to divert and blunt class struggle. Through the use of nonprofit-like groups like the BRGs, they advance equity as a weapon, while opposing the very labor policies that would actually bring equity. 

In Minneapolis Andrea Jenkins is the prime example of this. She has based her reputation as a progressive largely on her identity as a disabled, Black, trans woman. The ruling class has used her to oppose rent control, real police reform/public safety beyond policing, and the Roof Depot Urban Farm, among other things. If Minneapolis Ward 8 is any indication, many people are not falling for this superficial nod to diversity and equity anymore. Canvassers for Ward 8 challenger, Soren Stevenson, report a low level of support for Jenkins. And the buses escorting Stelantis’s BRG team members to scab at striking distribution centers arrive nearly empty, according to reports from UAW workers on the picket line.

Even so, it’s important to understand why corporations like Stellantis and Delta continue to perpetuate this increasingly flimsy diversity narrative: it can still serve to drive a wedge between the general public’s growing solidarity with striking or unionizing workers who are rising up in record numbers across the nation.

Everything anti-union corporations like Delta do and say publicly around equity is performative. It bolsters their reputation as good corporate citizens. It’s all outward facing. When Delta workers leafleted their passengers at the terminal asking for support in their struggle for dignity against a very anti-union employer, many passengers were surprised by what they heard. Delta knows that showing apparent support for diversity and inclusion is key to keeping the seats of their aircraft full and therefore key to maintaining profitability. 

Likewise in Minneapolis the Downtown Council and Minnesota Business Partnership know that key to the continued profitability of the companies they represent is a supposed commitment to diversity and inclusion. Cloaking themselves in this language gives cover to actual racist and anti-worker policies that protect their wealth. It’s a mask that TCDSA has been peeling back over the last year, and why the ruling class is increasingly turning its fire on us.

Regardless of this pressure, we must recognize that the ruling class of Minnesota has myriad transmission belts that feed directly into the progressive and socialist movements. The preponderance of the DFL, liberal and left-wing nonprofits in the Twin Cities is a heavy weight on organizations like TCDSA that cannot be satisfied by mere “reforms” or incremental changes to a broken capitalist system — solutions that are the stock and trade of the nonprofit industrial complex.

Identity politics without the frame of racial capitalism and the pressure to look anywhere but the multi-racial working class of the metro as the real source of power are empty approaches to fighting racism without addressing its source. That is why, if we are to resist the ruling class’s “elite capture” of identity, inclusion and diversity, we must practice anti-capitalist anti-racism that is based squarely in building power with workers at Amazon, Delta, Uber/Lyft, UPS, UAW and the like. This is where workers of color are. And so, this is where we must be every day.

By Kip H