by michael hureaux perez
If there is one organized force with the potential to resist Barack Obama’s corporate offensive, it is the teachers unions. Yet the multi-million-member American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association seem not to understand that they have been targeted for destruction by the man they fought so hard to elect. It’s up to rank and file teachers like Seattle’s Social Equality Educators to sound the alarm, before it’s too late.
Eshu’s blues: Launching a Teacher’s Fightback Newsletter in Seattle
by michael hureaux perez
“Local privatization effort, which is an offshoot of the national attack on organized teachers led by Barack Obama and his boy Arne Duncan.”
Below is a copy of Reconstruction, which will be an ongoing newsletter/ commentary on the effort of a handful of workplace activists in the Seattle Public Schools to challenge the Obama/Duncan privatization effort as it’s understood in this town. Of late, Seattle Education Activists led by longtime Seattle Public Schools math teacher and whistle blower Robert Femiano and Seattle Education Association’s (SEA) opposition caucus, Social Equality Educators, with its point man Jesse Hagopian have been attempting to counter attacks on the SEA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with a call for a vote of No Confidence in Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe Johnson.
Predictably, the Seattle Education Association has rejected this call, maintaining that the Association must demonstrate the willingness of its members to “bargain in good faith.” Meanwhile, the number of school staffs that are rejecting Superintendent Johnson’s and doctrine through a No Confidence vote continues to grow. Here’s yours truly hoping for a wildfire. – mhp
Workforce commentary on Seattle’s “Education Reform” by teachers in the Seattle Public Schools. The education workforce will reshape public education, or it won’t happen at all. No Privatization.
Stiff-arming the move for a No Confidence Vote
SEA Leaders circle the same old rock
In the last part of the 2010-2011 school year, Social Equality Educators (SEE), a handful of rank and file SEA activists, undertook the sort of bold action long needed from educator union leadership in this city. Beginning with teachers at Ballard High School and sweeping through at least eight other programs before the school year’s end, SEE encouraged teaching staffs to call for No Confidence votes in Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe Johnson. At the very least, these workforce partisans hoped to block a renewal of Goodloe Johnson’s contract for another year. Clearly such an action cannot be decisive in terms of the long range battles that stand before public school education – given the actual scope and origins of the local privatization effort, which is an offshoot of the national attack on organized teachers led by Barack Obama and his boy Arne Duncan. But a growing vote of “No confidence” would be an education shop floor-led show of strength inflicted on a privatization effort which, to date, has employed an effective, urbane and uniquely vicious spin here in Seattle.
But as usual, the Seattle Education Association leadership has balked at a creative development among its own members. Rather than seeing the No Confidence vote as an opportunity to demonstrate to district officials and their corporate sponsors that there are some serious fightbacks concerning the future of public education that sections of the education workforce are carrying forward, the old guard of the SEA falls back on the tired claim that such a campaign shows “disunity” and “lack of good faith” during a tough bargaining year. So the traditional arrogance of the SEA old guard goes on; “unity” and “good faith” will continue to be defined as those forms of discourse within which the union bureaucracy and its supporters feel safe.
“The old guard of the SEA falls back on the tired claim that such a campaign shows ‘disunity’ and ‘lack of good faith’ during a tough bargaining year.”
But there’s a big problem here. The No Confidence vote was no unity breaker or wildcat strike. Nor is it by any stretch of the imagination reckless, given that the agenda the Seattle Public Schools and its catspaw Maria Goodloe Johnson continue to put forward is a rerun of the very high stakes test laden and commercial vendor sponsored nonsense which has been making a hash of public education in this country under the rubric “education reform” for close to 30 years now. The largest victims of these wretched policies continue to be urban young folks of color and the children of the working class everywhere. Even Diane Ravitch, a principal theorist of the “education reform” movement, has repudiated the doctrine. So no one need lecture SEE activists on recklessness or good faith. The truth is that the recklessness resides where it has for years, in the education ideology of a ruling class that can’t burn down the world fast enough in terms of education practice, financial matters, public health and environmental and foreign policy. And as usual, the SEA, in league with its mentors in the Washington Education Association and the National Education Association, refuses to think outside the boxes – or more specifically, the box heads – that the corporate agenda has imposed within its own ranks via the “democratic” party and other such entities.
“The largest victims of these wretched policies continue to be urban young folks of color and the children of the working class everywhere.”
A more imaginative view of the situation would have been one which sees the No Confidence vote as an initiative which is actually a call for a more refined concept of the word “unity,” or a sign of some real fire at the heart of this organization. Sadly, members who want to bend the “education reform” stick they’re being beaten with need not apply. “It’s about the kids,” goes the tired litany. Well, no, ladies and gentlemen of the old guard. It’s about every dimension of the learning community in a democratic society. Believe it.
It is no exaggeration to say that if the SEA’s style of labor leadership had been confronted by the sit-down initiative that greeted union tops in the automotive shops of Detroit and Flint 70 years ago, or the handful of activists that sat down at a Greensboro lunch counter in 1960, it would have missed the boat entirely. Frankly, it is sad that educators anywhere in this country have to be reminded that it is usually relative handfuls of people who spark a qualitative leap in the direction of any political or cultural movement. The examples in history are numerous, but if we have to rely on a more “moderate” sense of history, than it should be pointed out that it was a handful of “unity breakers” who split with Tory reaction in 1776, and an isolated German cleric who broke with “the good faith” of a religious institution 260 years before that.
There comes a point when everyday events make it plain to sections of any organized workforce that the desire for security as an end in itself is not enough to keep the wolf from the door. The wolf simply moves to an accessible set of windows. The tune and the variations of the attack on the collective bargaining agreement are taking a great many shapes, both inside and outside the formal bargaining sessions. And the old guard of the SEA leadership simply isn’t keeping up.
To Wit, then, SEA Leaders: get bigger. Initiative is when you move inside the decision making operations of your opponent and disrupt his ability to set the terms of the battle. The SEE activists who led the No Confidence vote have sought to broaden the ground upon which this union breaking privatization effort in this city must be fought. Instead of fighting them, you need to be learning something valuable from their audacity. --- M. Hureaux, Rainier Beach High School.
Michael Hureaux can be contacted at [email protected].