Friday, July 6, 2012

A big push for unity at the NEA meeting

(F. Klonsky pic)
I'm back at it after a nice getaway to blazing hot Lake Geneva (109 degrees). That's Wisconsin, not Switzerland for those who don't know me.  Got a chance to spend time in the cool lake waters and to catch up a bit on my reading. 

Brother Fred is also back from an equally hot D.C. and the NEA Representative Assembly, a great exercise in union democracy -- and we all know how messy that can be. You can read Fred's blog to get a great first hand account of the RA goings on. His last few posts are especially important.

Overall, this year's RA was significant in many ways. Set against the backdrop of the continued assault by the one-percenters, on teachers, their unions and public education in general, the assembly of more than 9,000 teachers was able to find consensus around some important resolutions. Not so much around others -- not surprisingly.  I thought NEA prez Dennis Van Roekel gave a good appraisal of current conditions in his opening speech:
We all know, there are plenty of people who are eager to offer advice … or worse, try to impose their ideas on our profession. Bloggers, columnists, elected officials and self-proclaimed “reformers” – they are constantly weighing in about public education. I mean, they have an opinion on everything – the WHO, the WHAT, the WHEN, the WHERE and the HOW – about public education. The “WHO” they love to talk about and blame are teachers – as if this disjointed and underfunded system is the fault of those who teach. But the real problem is the profiteers and mega-rich Wall Street folks who created an economic crises that has our country and the world reeling.
As expected, there is anticipation of the imminent death of the NEA and all public sector unions coming from extreme right-wing groups like EAG. More surprising has been similar  calls for the "NEA’s eventual eradication" with "bittersweet jubilation" coming from some lefties.

High points at this year's RA included a unanimous and resounding voice vote in support of the Chicago Teachers Union, an AFT affiliate. This takes on great significance, not only for being a rare (these days) statement of union solidarity, but considering who it is who the CTU is unfortunately up against  -- Obama's campaign boss and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the campaign's chief fund raiser, Penny Pritzker, and the president's chief adviser, David Axelrod, whose former company is writing all the anti-CTU radio sound bites.

The RA also passed more anti-testing resolutions including support for teachers and parents who opt out of standardized testing. Resolutions condemning Arne Duncan and Race To The Top failed to get a majority vote from many of the same delegates who voted the other way last year. The reason according to Fred:
This year the elections suck all the nuance out of these issues. It all becomes about Obama or Romney. NEA delegates are by-and-large center-left Democratic liberals. No matter how unhappy they are with Obama, and they are unhappy with Obama, they’re not going to desert the national Democrats five months before the election. And they’re not going to engage in specific policy disputes now that might threaten Obama’s chances. Anyone who had expectations of anything else is living in a dream world.
Several people have asked me about a failed proposal calling on the delegates to endorse our upcoming SOS conference. The resolution (not put forward by the SOS National Steering Committee) was taken as an opportunity for a small group of sectarians to jump up and attack SOS for supposedly being "supporters of Michelle Rhee." These idiots then announced that folks like Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody had withdrawn support for SOS. Of course these were all lies. This whole incident made me flash back to the ''60s and the divisive tactics that were used to divide the civil rights movement and other progressive movements at that time.  Just a thought.

Here what Diane had to say:
Apparently some delegate got up and said I had disassociated myself from the group. I replied that this was untrue. I was invited to speak this summer, and I declined but that was no indication of a lack of support, just a wish to minimize travel during the summer. I participated as the lead respondent in an SOS webinar on June 19. I think that is a show of support. I support SOS.
What motivated this divisive move is beyond me. But here's how I responded to a question in the comments section of Diane Ravitch's blog:
Just to clarify, first of all, SOS is having its convention national education conference in D.C. August 3-5 — not a march like last year. Everyone and anyone who supports the goals of the SOS movement is welcome to attend. SOS doesn’t need any group’s “endorsement” to hold such a meeting, nor did we ask for it from our brothers and sisters in the NEA. 

Obviously, some individual, on their own put forth a resolution asking for the NEA’s “endorsement.” Another individual jumped up and used the opportunity to spread lies and gossip about Diane, Anthony Cody and other SOS supporters, as Diane notes above. Whether or not any NEA leaders “should have known better” is not the issue here since the leaders don’t make the decisions at the RA. If you need any more information about the RA, my brother Fred, who was delegate gives a good first-hand account on his blog. Be sure and read it.
 All in all, the NEA meeting sounded great. Hopefully, the forces of unity will prevail and the teachers unions will remain strong in the face of these attacks from corporate "reformers" and others.


  1. (note to moderator-i tried first time to write and send this comment via iphone but don't think it went through-if it did please disregard this comment as a repeat-thank you)

    Once more for the cheap seats in the back and for those who read only phrases removed from their original context and are left only with a sound bite- The organizers of United Opt Out are 100% behind unions who are 100% behind their members! There is a difference between an enemy who WANTS to see our demise as fighters for public ed, and those who criticize or even dare challenge some of the efforts in a desperate attempt to SAVE the things we are fighting for from being sold up the river, or co- opted. Anyone who KNOWS the members of Opt Out knows this difference.
    I agree with you Mike that unity and coalition building are vital (in spite of mis understandings to the contrary) but the question looming is -- with whom should we build with and with whom should we unite?
    Let us not forget that the push toward corporate reform, is being done by corporatists, who have "friends" in their back pockets from BOTH sides of the aisle! The democratic party has brought us Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan. Thanks. Yet teachers are being told from those who claim to have their back that they are being unrealistic in expecting the changes they are entitled to demand, and that we are supposed to be fighting for. Instead of forming official and public unity with groups who have proven their dedication to the elimination of corporate model reform, like Dunk Duncan and SOS, and empowering teachers BETTER in their desires to opt out of HST, we are aligning with big powers and big money, neither of which have done anything to earn my trust.
    As the saying goes "If you hang around a barber shop long enough you're gonna get a hair cut." Solidarity=democracy=transparency.
    I stand with those who have fighting for public education, teachers, and children as their first and primary goal.

  2. In the past week I have heard many people declare they are "for unions." This can have as much meaning as when some reformers declare everything they do is "for the kids."
    How can we tell?
    The struggle within my union must be led and fought by the members. No one can speak for us but us.
    It must be fought to make my union stronger, not to eradicate it, or as some have recently suggested, "to start over."
    Third, it must be fought over issues, program and action, not simply slogans or choosing which group said something first.
    And fourth, we always must distinguish between the members and the leaders.
    And even the leaders must be given room to change.
    -Fred Klonsky

  3. You say you will only support a union that;s "100% behind their members." But that sounds like if the union doesn't agree with you then your group will call for the destruction of the union. You obviously don't like it that our union supports Obama. Does that make us a bad union? Who do you support?

  4. Aside from spouting cliches and calling names, what is it that you want the NEA to do? Where are your disagreements? Stop whining for God sakes and make your case.

  5. I don't know the members of Opt-Out. Who are they? What's the difference?

  6. "You obviously don't like it that our union supports Obama. Does that make us a bad union?"
    I'm glad "your union" supports Obama. The union that I support would have no problem calling out the Democrats that have been complicit in selling out public schools, teachers and kids.

  7. I think it would be reasonable to ask the NEA to support education policies that buttress rather than undermine the teaching profession. So, taking strong stands against HST, common core, and Race to the Top are nice starts. Making out with the air Obama breathes when he's pushing these kinds of policies is not becoming of a so-called activist organization, which is part of the illustrious history of labor and trade unions.

  8. Morna nailed it. Teacher unions have outlived their purpose. Today they are just an extension of corporate reform and don't deserve our support. There's no better example than their failure to oppose Common Core. As long as union teachers go along with CC they are aiding and abetting the enemy and hurting children.

  9. Slekar, exactly which union do you support? You never say.

  10. Morna,

    Thanks for your comment. It seems to me that UOO could do us all a service and help re-frame this whole discussion by taking down the offending paragraph from your statement. It not only would help clear the air, it would help keep you and your members from having to defend something that's indefensible. It would also allow those of us who support opting out of standardized testing to do so without being seen as union haters.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.