Tuesday, December 23, 2008

UFT/AFT Leads the Race to the Bottom

Bob Herbert in today's NY Times (A Race to the Bottom) talks about the attacks on workers while millionaire bankers get bailouts. He focuses on teachers and auto workers, quoting extensively from Randi Weingarten. What's interesting is that in the midst of this supposed defense of teachers he says:

But Ms. Weingarten’s defense of her members was not the most important part of the speech. The key point was her assertion that with schools in trouble and the economy in a state of near-collapse, she was willing to consider reforms that until now have been anathema to the union, including the way in which tenure is awarded, the manner in which teachers are assigned and merit pay.

Here we go again as both Herbert and Weingarten engage in the more subtle type of teacher bashing by putting issues like tenure, merit pay and the assignment of teachers on the table as the causes of the problems in education. What Herbert doesn't get is that these ideas have not been anathema to the UFT/AFT.

Rather than pointing out how all these market-based ideas won't work and will in fact damage education, Weingarten goes along with the plan.

The economic crisis is a gift to Weingarten who can use it to justify giving away the store.

Now let me make this clear. This is not just a tactic of Randi Weingarten. Albert Shanker started rolling this ball down the alley 25 years ago and Randi is giving it her own spin. And as far back as 1975 Shanker used the economic crisis in NYC to go along with the layoffs of 15,000 teachers, the cutting of prep periods, the freezing of salaries for years, the closing of schools and lost of other attacks on education, all the while using teacher pension funds to help bail out the city.

When these attacks come this time, the script Weingarten will use was written by Shanker 33 years ago.

What UFT and AFT members need to see clearly is that Randi Weingarten is not there to represent their interests but to serve as the agent for the phony ed reformers in selling teachers on the plan even if it leads to undermining the union at its core.

She does this piecemeal by using scare tactics and saying, "see they wanted the whole loaf and we gave them only 75% but look at the victory in preserving 25%." We have seen it is only a matter of time until the other 25% goes too.

What do the teacher unions get out of this? While teachers at the school level see their unionism destroyed, the union at the top flourishes with incoming dues, a seat (minor) at the table and a sense of power and influence - for the leadership – while the members flail helplessly.

People like Joel Klein don't want the UFT to go away. They serve a much needed function and the political and business/corporate powers that be will continue to praise Weingarten as one of them.

And, so she is.

Related: Ed Notes is inviting people to join in a series of discussions on the role the current leadership of unions is playing and will play in the context of the economic crisis and what the rank and file would need to do to fight back in what is a two front war that attacks them from both sides. Hopefully this will lead to a more in depth analysis. If interested, let us know.


  1. Whoa!! Uno momento por favor! Comparing teachers with auto workers?
    This is like comparing apples to road apples.

  2. To "A Teacher in The Bronx,"

    You are mistaken: unionized public school teachers and UAW auto workers have a lot more in common than you think.

    Just as the UAW has traditionally set the standards for industrial workers in the US, even non-unionized ones, so too have unionized teachers set the standards in education and among non-uniformed public sector workers.

    And just as the willingness to allow the auto industry to go bankrupt, whether in a "pre-packaged" form or otherwise, is a really an attack on the UAW, so too will the emerging fiscal crisis of states and localities be used to attack teachers and public education in general.

    Please don't make the error of thinking that we are seen as "professionals" or that we are "above" other workers. One of the primary objectives of corporate ed reform is to transform teaching into what virtually every other form of employment in this country has become: short term, at-will work with reduced and ultimately eliminated benefits, the terms of which are set and remotely surveilled (what do you think ARIS is all about?)by management.

    The tragedy of our situation is that the most prominent representative of teachers in the nation, Randi Weingarten, has continually demonstrated her willingness to sacrifice our job protections and working conditions in exchange for her rising status as a "statesperson" of labor.

    Her status among elites rises in direct proportion to her "flexibility" and cooperation in undermining her members and public education in general.

    Wake up, cousin.

  3. Read Randi was throwing her hat in for Senator and wants Clinton's seat ? Wonder if that's true ?

  4. Hi Norman,
    I read your very interesting comment on Randi's comment on Bob Herbert's article and I agree with every word. The only thing that is missing is a little historical context. Union accommodation with the capitalist class in order for these large organizations to survive
    and to garner some crumbs from the table began in the late nineteenth century with Samuel Gompers and the AFL. The mainly urban craft unions from the 1830s on were also willing to make lots of compromises to stay afloat. This pattern accellerated
    somewhat with the purge of communists and other radicals and the unions they led from the CIO in the 1930s and from the AFL-CIO a little later. Randi and Shanker take
    their places in a long line of union leaders other than UFT.
    Until union members catch on to this scam and demand fiercely anti-
    capitalist, anti-establishment stands from their leaders, nothing will change. Or at least no significant change will originate with organized labor.


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