A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Our Strike Averse Unions

Teachers and other school personnel remain on strike in West Virginia. A deal negotiated with the governor but dependent on action by the legislature was rejected by the rank and file. Every school district in the state is closed. The editorial page of the New York Times this morning looks at this stunning example of union militancy and says, “…we can hope, these teachers can provide workers throughout the country with a powerful lesson.”

Yet, do we see any of our unions trying to teach this vital lesson? Do we see our national teacher unions trying to inspire their affiliates to see in the militant struggle of the West Virginia school workers the untapped power to demand and achieve reasonable salaries sand working conditions? No we don’t! The New York Times is more militant than our unions!

While the AFT’s Randi Weingarten put out an email Sunday night soliciting donations to a solidarity fund created for AFT-West Virginia, both the NEA and The AFT appear desperate to keep the strike localized, afraid that the militancy it represents will spread to other states where to work in the public schools is to essentially take a vow of poverty.

At a time when the two national teacher unions and their state affiliates are expecting huge membership losses from a ruling in the Janus Case that will outlaw agency fees, when both organizations have been straining to show members the value of union membership, it defies the very concept of a union to essentially ignore an example of the power that can flow from the ranks of union solidarity.

If we get the lesson to be learned from the West Virginia strike, it is essential that we support it. I’ll be contributing today to the AFT solidarity fund. I hope my readers will too. Here are the particulars. Please make checks out to: AFT-WV Solidarity Fund. Mail to: AFTWV, 1615 Washington Street E . Suite 300, Charleston WV 25311

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West Virginia Militancy

I’ve had a few arguments with the leaders of both the NEA and AFT over my years as a union officer. In general I have criticized both for a general lack of militancy and an idealized, distorted view of the conditions under which our members work. Both organizations have been slow to realize that k-12 teaching has become an increasingly difficult, less rewarding job, a job that with each passing year has less and less to do with serious education, a job that forces thousands upon thousands of teacher across the country to work one or more extra jobs to keep their families going. Where we should be organizing them to demand better pay and benefits, we offer them professional development, often how to courses that teach them how to cope
with conditions that they shouldn’t have to contend with in the first place. Where militancy is sparked by these dreadful conditions, we often find our national organizations hosing down the fires rather than stoking them.

A case in point is the recent teacher strikes in West Virginia. If you expected to read about how teachers in three West Virginia counties closed down their school districts last Friday and went to the state capitol to demand better pay and an end to attempts to do away with seniority regulations, you would have been completely disappointed. I came upon it in Newsweek, not exactly a journal of radical labor opinion. Wouldn’t one think that NEA and AFT would be in the vanguard of these brave teachers? Shouldn’t we expect our national leaders to shine the spotlight on West Virginia as an example of teachers taking their destiny into their own hands and demanding the respect they so completely deserve? Shouldn’t we wonder why two potentially powerful national organizations appear to be missing this opportunity to use the example of West Virginia to demonstrate to their memberships the importance of maintaining membership in these unions?

The two state organizations in West Virginia have been feuding for years, raids and counter raids preventing them from doing the sensible thing and developing a common agenda to improve the conditions of their members. If there ever was a time to put the past behind them, it would certainly seem to be now.

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