Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Detroit Sickout Mystery: Who is Leading and Who is Trying to Stop It?

Why am I reporting so much on the Detroit wildcat sickout? Because of comments I've seen by dissident teachers here in NYC who are hoping for a UFT loss on Friedrichs and feel that with a weaker union teachers will arise from their slumber and revolt - and Detroit may be a model for a weak union. So I'm trying to decipher exactly what is happening - are there leaders who organized this? To what extent is this spontaneous combustion?

...the DFT [Detroit Federation of Teachers]—discredited for its willingness to sign onto any concessions contract, layoff and school closure handed down by a succession of emergency managers—has been unable to stop or control the sickouts and has gone into crisis mode. For the DFT and its national parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), it is now ‘all hands on deck’ to try to quell the protests while at the same time trying to prevent further loss of union membership come next June, when members will be able to opt-out under the state’s right-to-work law.

Meanwhile, the corporate media, from the local Detroit press to the New York Times and UK-based Guardian, have falsely claimed ousted DFT president Steve Conn is the leader of the protests. But teachers have gone through an experience with Conn’s brand of pseudo-left racial politics and unprincipled maneuvers with the Democratic Party, and the organizers of the sickouts have specifically dissociated themselves from him.... the 4th International, World Socialist Website
There is too much information coming in on what forces are behind the revolt in Detroit which may be a true rank and file movement independent of the official union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and Steve Conn and his group BAMN.

We've reported on Steve Conn's story of being elected as president and then removed and tossed from the union. Knowing the DFT which follows Randi Weingarten's lead was too  passive to lead the sickout I assumed that it had to be Steve.

Well-known and trusted blogger Nancy Flanigan posted a comment on Ed Notes and a link to her blog affirming that the union is not involved but also casting doubt on the role Steve Conn has played. Nancy Flanagan on Detroit Sickout.
 This story has been reported, as all stories are reported in MSM, by contacting union leaders, rather than garden-variety teachers. Because that's what reporters do, when they want to hear the "teachers' voice." As you well know, official union leadership (as well as deposed leadership) does not always represent what classroom teachers really want. Steve Conn has taken credit for a bubbling surge of rage that he had no hand in instigating--here's a quote from a DPS teacher:

"Mr. Conn held a meeting this afternoon first touting it as teachers taking a strike vote and then as an endorsement of the current sick outs. He even went so far as to encourage yet another sick out on the 20th for people to show up at his hearing and show their support for him! Imagine closing down the schools over an internal union issue rather than an issue with the schools. And that gives you an idea at how crazy things really are right now."

Public hearings would a chance for the conditions in DPS and the dedication of DPS teachers to be heard, rather than glossed over or buried under still more governmental blah-blah. Here in Detroit, there is no school board, there is no democracy--there is management by fiat. A public hearing would be something the press could report on.
I'm curious since Steve Conn did seem to win election as president over a DFT Randi choice. And then was removed and tossed from the union.

Nancy on her blog includes comments from rank and file teachers:
  • This teacher sick-out is not an action spearheaded by the DFT! We teachers are sick and tired of always being the ones who compromise. We have lent the district money in good faith, we have remained frozen in our pay since 2008, we have taken decreases in health care--and that's not even half of it! If we were in school today every student and teacher would have had to wear coats hats and gloves, because there's no heat.
  • Recent teacher sickouts ARE NOT a DFT union-led activity. These sickouts have been organized by individual groups of teachers. This is how dysfunctional Detroit is. Teachers, who have been largely apathetic in the past decade even in light of their diminishing pay, benefits and working conditions are standing up and saying No More! The district wants to paint these teachers as uncaring about their students' welfare when the truth is exactly the opposite. They are taking a stand and saying "Our students deserve better and we will not be complicit any longer."
I'm guessing Nancy is pointing to what appears to be a third force - DPS FIGHTBACK - a Union Within a Union: DPS TEACHERS FIGHT BACK! "A Union Within a Union".
DPS Teachers Fight Back (A union Within a Union), is a group of teachers mobilizing to unite, shed light on unsafe and subpar learning conditions, and demand resolution. 
Is this the real group behind the sickout? They do make it clear that
We are not affiliated with BAMN, its' leadership, or any former DFT leadership.  We are teachers united as it is time that we stand up and defend our students, our profession, and our rights!  Our cornerstone issues are Academics, Fairness & Equity.  Our goal is to ensure that Detroit students are no longer pay for the deficit created by state control, and to protect their civil rights and ability to receive an exemplary education.  
Some sources in Detroit point to them as an offshoot of the DFT but that is not clear. Oy! If I were a real reporter I would start calling people and dig this story out. Or better yet, if there were real ed reporters out there who actually get paid to report on education we might get an accurate report. But don't expect that. Is Chalkbeat still in operation?

Then there is this long piece from the World Socialist Website - the 4th International with attacks on both the DFT, Randi AND Steve Conn.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/13/dpst-j13.html

Detroit public schools teachers continue sickouts

By Nancy Hanover
13 January 2016
Detroit public school teachers continued rolling sickouts yesterday, forcing the closure of 24 schools or over one-fifth of the district. This follows Monday when 64 schools were closed, as hundreds of teachers have taken a united stand against the overcrowding of classrooms, unsafe schools, budget cuts and privatization.

It is an unprecedented feat by teachers who have used social media and local connections to develop the initiative as a grassroots campaign organized independently of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT). The militancy of teachers has taken both government officials and the teachers union by surprise. Both have gone into overdrive to try to suppress the snowballing protests and prevent them from taking a politically independent form.
Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who has presided over millions of dollars worth of cuts to Michigan schools, including the shuttering of entire school districts, issued a statement saying the sickouts came “at the expense of the kids,” and threatened state retaliation if the struggle continues.
Public employee strikes are illegal in Michigan and state legislators have been trying to find a mechanism to categorize sickouts as strikes. In the hopes of carrying out mass firings and/or imposing fines, they also seek to eliminate teachers’ right to a hearing in the event of victimization.

The lead editorial in the Detroit News Tuesday was headlined “Fire DPS strike ringleaders,” and called for state legislators “to make it easier to punish teachers who break the law.”

Meanwhile, the DFT—discredited for its willingness to sign onto any concessions contract, layoff and school closure handed down by a succession of emergency managers—has been unable to stop or control the sickouts and has gone into crisis mode.

For the DFT and its national parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), it is now ‘all hands on deck’ to try to quell the protests while at the same time trying to prevent further loss of union membership come next June, when members will be able to opt-out under the state’s right-to-work law.

The level of crisis by the union bureaucracy is indicated by the fact that Randi Weingarten, AFT president, is flying into town to address a mass union meeting this Thursday. She will be joined by Michigan AFT President David Hecker and DFT Administrator Ann Mitchell. Weingarten is notorious for her intimate connections with all manner of school privatizers such as the Gates Foundation, as well as her mantra, “School reform with us, not against us.”

Meanwhile, the corporate media, from the local Detroit press to the New York Times and UK-based Guardian, have falsely claimed ousted DFT president Steve Conn is the leader of the protests. But teachers have gone through an experience with Conn’s brand of pseudo-left racial politics and unprincipled maneuvers with the Democratic Party, and the organizers of the sickouts have specifically dissociated themselves from him.

Both the politicians and the union are “discovering” for the first time the scandalous conditions of the schools. Yesterday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan toured schools with AFT official David Hecker and health and building inspectors. Seeing a dead mouse in Spain Elementary School and four-year-old children who had to wear their coats in class, Duggan admitted it was “deeply disturbing.”

“The situation in the Detroit Public Schools is far worse than we ever imagined,” said Ivy Bailey. This from the current DFT interim president and former executive vice president! After being “shocked, shocked” like the police inspector in Casablanca, Bailey has called for public hearings into DPS schools to try to retain some feeble credibility.

The list of health and safety violations, as posted on the DFT website, should really be the basis of a series of criminal indictments against the Democratic Party emergency manager Darnell Earley, the state officials, including Republican Governor Snyder, and the DFT/AFT which has colluded with them.

The DFT writes: “A few examples of current school conditions:
  •  Spain Elementary-Middle School: Black mold, the gym floor is buckling, the swimming pool is broken, the boiler has problems and the garden is unusable because of debris.
  •  Thirkell Elementary-Middle School: Not enough teachers, so eighth-graders are housed in the gym and pulled out for instruction in core subjects for only an hour or so each day. The ceiling is so compromised that rain and snow pour in. Teachers get just one prep period a month.
  • Osborn High School: The building is literally falling apart.
  •  Moses Field School (for students with severe cognitive impairment): Boiler is broken, causing drastic temperature fluctuations; infestations of rats, other rodents, roaches and bed bugs; and no security guard.
  • Palmer Park Preparatory Academy: Pieces of the ceiling are falling on kids’ heads and rats run around.
  • Jerry L. White Center High School: No heat, no security guard.
  • Bates Academy: Security issues, mice, heating issues, computers are broken.
  •  Dossin Elementary-Middle School: Standing water in classrooms, holes in the ceiling, a classroom without power due to black mold in the wiring.
  • Sampson Academy and Douglass Academy for Young Men: No heat.
  •  Ronald Brown Academy: A special education class has no textbooks; slimy growth on the walls and crumbling ceilings.
  • Western International High School: Rats, roaches, not enough books, classes with 45 students.
  • Golightly Education Center and Emerson Elementary-Middle School: Classes with 45 students.
  • Mann Elementary School: Untrained teachers forced to administer medication to student suffering severe seizures.”
Nearly 50 years after Jonathan’s Kozol’s sensational expose of substandard education and crumbling infrastructure in the Boston schools, entitled Death at an Early Age, millions of schoolchildren are being subjected to the same or worse learning conditions. DPS teachers and administrators have reported these violations for years with no results. The fact is that they have become endemic, not just in Detroit, but across the United States as education has been systemically defunded.

Despite these conditions, Detroit teachers continue to express their determination for the rights of students and teachers. They aim not only to redress the most immediate problems, but to rebuff the efforts of the state to privatize the DPS, destroy pensions and open the schools to the education “market.” Such an effort will inevitably bring teachers into conflict with both the Democrats and Republicans and the capitalist profit system.

Theresa, with seven years at the DPS, told the WSWS, “We have to fight. When I was a postal worker they tried to take our pensions away. We had to fight for them then. This is a fight of the whole working class.”

“I make less now than when I started 20 years ago!” said another veteran teacher. “I went to work in Inkster but they closed the whole district down. So I went from $79,000 a year down to $56,000 to come back to Detroit Public Schools. I lost my home; I couldn’t afford it.”

An Education Achievement Authority teacher added, “Conditions are getting a lot worse. Nobody wants to come and teach. So DPS hires teachers who are not even certified. Now they look at the finances and are going to steal our pensions. It's been their plan all along.

“Earley was sent in to wreck the schools. They send in black capitalists to destroy public schools and send the funds to private entities such as charters. The union does not represent teachers. The sickout has been organized by teachers going on social media and organizing. The teachers need a political force to pull out all their energy.”
Even Robert Reich made a few comments on the outrageous priorities of debt service.

Detroit teachers on strike

Robert Reich - Detroit teachers are out again today in a protest against deplorable conditions in the Detroit public schools. The “sickout” has closed roughly two-thirds of the 100-odd schools serving about 46,000 students. Teachers point to rodent-infested buildings, dripping water, non-working toilets, mold, broken windows, crumbling ceilings, broken locks, as well as over-crowded and unsafe classrooms -- and the failure of state lawmakers to agree on a plan to rescue a system teetering on the edge of insolvency and breakdown. Over $3,000 of the $7,296 per-pupil funding the school district gets from the state is now going to service its debts – 41 cents on the dollar. Which explains why the schools are falling apart.

1 comment:

  1. My sense over the years is that Steve Conn is a nudnik. On the other hand, the World Socialist (ISO) attack on him is about one Sectarian group attacking another, so what they say transacts at a high discount.

    As for who's trying to stop the sick-outs, that would be Ms. Rhonda Weingarten and her apparat.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating).