Monday, March 18, 2013

Karen Lewis Video at NYCORE: 30 Minutes of Wisdom

Rather than continuing an insider strategy that has netted so little for the rest of labor over the years, the CTU has entered into open opposition with the neoliberal wing of the [Democratic] party." --- Micah Uetricht from Strike for America: The CTU and the Democrats as quoted by Diane Ravitch.

This is an important development. And this is an essay you must read.-- Diane Ravitch
What a treat seeing Diane Ravitch signing on to the analysis that lays waste to the UFT/AFT strategy of never mentioning the word "neo-liberal" and placing the blame on Bloomberg and holding out hope to NYC teachers that once Bloomberg is gone all will be well with a Democrat in office. Sorry, Charlie. Ask Chicago and especially CORE teachers what neo-liberalism is and you will get an immediate response. Go ask the average Unity Caucus member what it means and you will get "duh."

If you viewed the video of Karen and Mulgrew at the UFT Friday night (Karen Lewis and Mike Mulgrew at Left Labor Project), this keynote at NYCORE from Saturday morning is a powerful treatise on organizing and teaching. You see how Karen was a TEACHER and these are the people we want running our TEACHER unions.

People who spend years interacting with students and parents. Leaders who know and understand what we do and can translate that into action to defend the teaching profession and public schools. She even gives some discipline tips (and I was thrilled since I used to do exactly the same thing -- tell the parents of the most difficult behavior problems what a pleasure it is to work with their children.) But most important -- and here is a lesson for MORE -- she talks about how CORE started in 2008 with 8 people studying the issues to try to understand what was happening to teachers and public education. "You need to understand your enemy in order to fight them." And the most fun --- mocking Rahm Emanuel and his stamping of his tiny little feet.

NYCORE Conference 2013 - Karen Lewis Keynote from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.

Diane Ravitch just posted this which resonates with the issues raised by Karen. (Really, for long-time Ravitch watchers, how remarkable to see this coming from Diane.)

How CTU Confronted Antagonists in the Democratic Party

by dianerav
This is a stunning analysis of the relationship between labor unions and the Democratic Party.
It is a must-read.
Many in education have been baffled by the bipartisan consensus around Republican ideology. Micah Uetricht is not baffled. He says without hedging that "Democrats have swallowed the Right’s free market orthodoxy whole. Much of the party appears to have given up on education as a public project."
Teachers unions, he writes, have been unable to articulate a coherent response to their abandonment.
That is, until last September, when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike. He writes:
"The union has been unafraid to identify the education reform agenda pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his party nationally as an attempt to exacerbate inequalities within the education system, strip teachers of power and erode their standards of living, and chip away at public education as an institution, and to call such Democrats enemies. Rather than continuing an insider strategy that has netted so little for the rest of labor over the years, the CTU has entered into open opposition with the neoliberal wing of the party."
This is an important development. And this is an essay you must read.

I wanted to share a comment my friend made on the Friday night video that cuts to the core of some of the things Karen is talking about that distinguishes the CORE/CTU from the Unity/UFT approach: the refusal to let the enemy divide us. Divide closing school teachers from safe school teachers. Divide ATRs from the rest. Divide rubber room teachers from the mainstream. Divide small schools from large schools. What Unity does is call people like me and opposition caucuses like MORE dividers because we do not go along with whatever the leadership decides, even if it takes us over the cliff (like running charter schools -- which helps legitimize them -- and worse, co-locating them and undermining the public schools they reside in).
Karen Lewis is amazing. I only saw the initial statement you put up on the blog, but one of the things she seemed to be doing was to actually put her three maxims into effect by the way she was relating to the entire group she was addressing--both MORE and Unity Caucus people (who else was there?).
1. Unite
2. Make yourself stronger
3. Build power

Even her later statements which made Unity squirm were probably meant to do that, especially after she manipulated Mulgrew into echoing her (in the parts of his statement that was videotaped), setting up the contradiction between what he says and what the union actually does. Especially given the missed opportunity of building unity with parents/students/community when it came to closing schools.

For example, the question of union officer salary: How can union leaders really represent (and unite) teachers if our salaries [and job security] are so different from theirs, not to mention members of other unions and parents?

So, what do we have to do to make ourselves strong and unite with others? Let's start working to eliminate whatever we can that divides us (including those of us sitting in the room). Not that we necessarily believe that Mulgrew himself can be "united", but there were many others in the room.
The MOREs in the room Friday night looked at each other and covered their mouths as Mulgrew said stuff echoing Karen that was so far from reality, we felt we were in a comic book.

Here is one more quote from the Micah Uetricht article:

the union has put forth its own vision of reform, both at the bargaining table and in the streets through their engagement in mass action, their September strike, and their formal policy recommendations. It is a vision that explicitly rejects the Democratic Party’s education agenda and offers a strong program to shore up public schools as a public good–stronger than any reform proposals by the two major national teachers unions.
 You mean Randi's "Share Your Lesson" doesn't quite cut it?

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