Monday, July 13, 2015

AFT's early Clinton endorsement is creating a rank-and-file backlash

The AFT's early endorsement of Hillary Clinton comes as no surprise, at least to me. Randi Weingarten and the current AFT leadership has long been tied to the Clinton's political organization by a thousand threads.

After all, the 1.6 million-member union backed Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primary, even as Barack was running to become the country's first African-American president.

Weingarten sits alongside the biggest Democratic Party fundraisers on the board of Clinton's SuperPAC, Priorities USA Action, a PAC which in the past has been riddled by fights between Obama and Clinton factions.

This is the way things are done in the AFT.

When incumbent Obama ran unopposed in the 2012 primary, the AFT rushed to endorse him without making any demands or getting anything in the way of pro-union, pro-teacher concessions from an administration and a political party that had clearly turned a deaf ear towards the interests of public school educators and parents. The early endorsement didn't sit well then with many rank-and-file teachers (including even many Obama supporters) who saw the move as crass opportunism and a give-away of any leverage the union might have had in shaping policy on issues like testing, teacher evaluation or Common Core.

Leave it to Weingarten to proclaim last month -- without any self-reflection -- that...
"Despite the best intentions, what essentially happened here is President Obama and [Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan essentially followed the No Child Left Behind-Bush template in terms of testing and charters and sanctions.There's a growing consensus that we need a reset to educational policy in the country."
So there was never any doubt in my mind that another Hillary early endorsement was forthcoming. What did surprise me was the clumsy and self-defeating way it was done, once again without bringing the membership along or getting or asking for anything from Clinton in exchange.

The AFT executive board did meet with Clinton and Democratic Party rivals  Sanders, and O'Malley, (Chafee had not yet announced) to discuss issues. But issues were never really the issue here since all are pretty much indistinguishable on public education matters and none of the Clinton contenders appear to have the money or juice within the party to win the nomination -- not counting a major Clinton campaign stumble.

Clinton has come out in favor of of tying teacher pay to student performance on standardized tests. She has been outspoken in support of privately-run charter schools.

In fact, the only thing the union got from Hillary was this vague statement of support, reminiscent of many made by Obama and Duncan over the past 7 years.
"It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society's problems," Clinton told the AFT. "Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too."
Sanders and O'Malley made similar statements.

In a social-media announcement I received yesterday, RW claims the leadership surveyed "a million" AFT members before making the endorsement with an overwhelming 3-1 majority voicing support for Hillary over the Sanders and the other contenders. The announcement calls Clinton, "the champion of working families" and asks those of us in social media to sport these I'm With Hillary social media badges. I won't be sporting any.

I'm dubious about the million-member survey mainly because I can't find even one rank-and-file teacher here in Chicago who says they were polled. If there's indeed 3-1 membership support for the early (nothing-in-return) endorsement, it sure isn't showing up on Twitter or other social media. You would think that RW would have a host of rank-and-file teachers all over social media proclaiming their support for the endorsement. Instead there appears to be an swell of anger and resentment, at least from ed activists over the endorsement and the leadership's undemocratic (small d) leadership style. No surprise there either.

A petition circulated yesterday, calling on the union to revoke its endorsement, got thousands of signatures in just a few hours.

I did see one official poll done by Hart Research Associates of 1,150 union members. But that's a far cry from 1 million.

BTW, guess who runs Hart Research Associates? None other than Geoff Garin, who briefly served as co-chief strategist for Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign. Geoff's company also works for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which has poured millions into the AFT coffers in an attempt to influence union policy.

So yes, the Clinton juggernaut is rolling. Clinton PAC money is flowing. Look for its influence to be felt not just on unions (the NEA will have no choice but to follow suit) but on local community organizations and social movements as we head toward 2016.

It would be ironic however, if the bullish and undemocratic way the Clinton endorsement was done leads to a rank-and-file backlash that ends up actually hurting, rather than helping the campaign and letting Hillary and the Democrats once again, off the hook on education policy.


  1. I'm rank and file. I'm a local president. I'm NEA, NYSUT, and AFT. I was not polled. I'm following the candidates closely. My governor has openly attacked my profession. I want a President who will stop the assault on public education. I'm angry. I don't like back door deals. I hate the spin! We were not polled, and we know that's not how the AFT rolls, but I hate that it sounds to the public that over a million teachers and other education professionals want this. This was way too early. Randi is a political ladder climber. We need a union leader.

  2. "It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats...Where I come from, teachers are the solution..." Again, I ask that those of you who haven't read Carl Bernstein's 2007 book, A Woman in Charge. Yes, indeed, Arkansas teachers were chosen to be the "villains" at a time when something was going awry w/in the Clinton governorship.
    Doesn't anyone remember this--the call for teacher-testing, etc.?
    Anyway, get the book & read it yourself. I had long been in admiration of Hilary, but, I guess, the old saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" might apply here.

    Bernie 2016--please contribute & work for him, so we'll not have another Duncan in the next administration. Yes, WE have (you guys--Mike--w/Guzzardi & Ramirez-Rosa), yes, WE can & yes, WE WILL.

  3. As a retired public school teacher, lifetime NEA member, Democratic precinct committeeman, and long-time Democratic activist, I've been a close observer of educational issues and related politics for many years. One of my biggest concerns has been the direction of the Democratic Party on educational policy.

    One of my major criticisms has been against Democrats, particularly the leaders, who support so-called "school reform." They've swallowed the Republican/Libertarian B.S. that "public school teachers are incompetent," "our schools are failing" and only "competition" in a "free market" can save American "public" education. I'm angry and bitter against that faction of the Democratic Party, and take every opportunity to confront them and to rip their assertions to shreds.

    What I find particularly galling is their utter recklessness in advocating the destruction of public education. Even with its inconsistencies and imperfections, public schools are still "great equalizers" and stabilizers of our society in which every child has an opportunity for personal advancement and to make a contribution to benefit the nation and mankind in general. As one of my colleagues put it many years ago: "Public education is the glue that binds the nation together." Public education is one of the major pillars of American democracy and, if there's any group of people who should understand this to its fullest extent, it ought to be the leadership of the Democratic Party.

    Hillary Clinton, I fear, will just give us more of the same "free market" pablum of Arne Duncan and Barack Obama that's wrecking American public education. I have other issues with Clinton regardless of what she says, but any support for charter schools and other so-called "reform" measures are non-starters for me. If any one ought to recognize the value of a public school education, it ought to be Hillary Clinton. She's a "product" of it.

    She attended public schools, including Maine East and Maine South High Schools, which were recipients of direct federal aid to education under the National Defense and Education Act (1958) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). Both of these acts gave big boosts in funds to public schools throughout the United States. Hillary Clinton, like many of her generation, including yours truly, were the beneficiaries of that federal aid which did not tie teachers' evaluations, salaries, nor other disgraceful indignities to standardized test scores. No one at the time, except an unknown, undistinguished, third-rate economist by the name of Milton Friedman whom no one took seriously, even thought of concepts like "vouchers," much less of a parallel, *"cuckoo bird" school system we now call "charter schools." Hillary Clinton made it into the National Honor Society. Her education in public schools in Park Ridge made it possible for her to attend Wellesley and later, the Yale Law School. If anyone ought to be grateful and have a deep respect for public school teachers and public education, it ought to be Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    As for Randi Weingarten, AFT members please vote her out and replace her with a leader like Karen Lewis.

    *cuckoo bird --- a (parasitic) bird of northern Europe that lays its eggs into the nests of other birds. The young cuckoos are big, ravenous eaters, and displace the young of the host birds. In this country, "cuckoo" is usually associated with "crazy," "nuts," etc. In both regards, the "cuckoo bird schools" is a metaphor for charter schools --- They're parasites, displace public schools, and are just plain "nuts."


  4. Slate has picked up on the "Endorsement of our Discontent"!


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