We have been offered a most hopeful analysis of the actions of the NEA
RA, suggesting that the delegates assembled actually took action which
will lead to some kind of progress against the Big Tests, for more equitable
and democratic schooling. Having interviewed a dozen experienced delegates,
and an equal number of staff, I think that analysis is, well, naive.
What did the NEA RA do?
This was the smallest assembly in years, down by about 1,000 delegates
from two years ago, indicative of the work force turning away from the
union leadership. The leadership, for the first time, declined to release
real membership figures. Mike Antonucci, a conservative or libertarian
online journalist who has been attending the RA's for years, suggests that
the NEA is not releasing membership figures because they do not meet the
expected rapid growth that the NEA has enjoyed for years. It appears that
in some states NEA is being whipped by "professional associations" (often
Christian-religious based groups).
The delegates elected Reg Weaver and Dennis Van Roekel to the two top
posts of the union. Lily Eckelstein of Utah won the post of Secretary Treasurer.
Weaver and DVR have both worked their way through the union bureaucracy,
each stepping up behind a predecessor. Weaver was VP for six years, under
the utterly failed six year presidency of Bob Chase.
Chase ran the union during the most prosperous times in a single nation
in the history of the world, a time when education workers and students
saw, not terrific gains, but concession after concession, a steady retreat,
decay, organized by the union bosses themselves. Segregation deepened,
standardization and Big Tests stripped teachers of their minds, and Chase
helped write the script. Chase, who never ran on any given set of principles,
announced his program, "New Unionism," (the unity of union leaders, management,
and government---the founding pillar of the Corporate State) only after
he was elected---and after spending nearly 1/4 million dollars to get there.
His main projects, New Unionism and the merger of the NEA and the AFT-AFL-CIO,
can only be considered dismal failures, despite his repeated efforts to
achieve them, even after they had been rejected by the votes of the rank
and file. Merger of the NEA and the AFL-CIO remains a key goal of the NEA
New President Reg Weaver, like Chase, ran on no platform, no statement
of principles, nothing---as did Van Roekel, a custom inside NEA that sinks
even lower than most high school student council elections. The two did
run in an atmosphere permeated by the same witless appeals to patriotism
that were applied during Chase's attempt to win the merger vote: then delegates
were told a vote against merger was unpatriotic. This time educators were
told that their activity is the highest form of patriotism; this in a country
that is trying to invade the world on behalf of Big Capital, and promising
its children perpetual war. And the delegates gave a nod to fundamentalist
irrationalism and shouted, "Under God!" (applause) when the pledge was
urged upon them.
Weaver will earn, with perks and benefits, nearly $400, 000 dollars
next year. Van Roekel will be close behind. If Van Roekel follows Weaver
into the presidency, he will have worked for nearly 12 years as a top NEA
official, having engaged in not a single on-the-job struggle, the same
path that Weaver followed. What distinguishes Weaver from ex=President
Chase is not that Weaver is black and Chase white, but that Weaver wears
better suits, and wears them better as well.
There was some discussion, but little significant debate, in the RA.
The assembly did pass a motion earmarking three million dollars to address
the bipartisan ESEA. And the body passed another motion in support of bi-lingual
education. This material is on line on the NEA site.
NEA did nothing about the rise of tyranny inside the US, nor the malfunctioning
imperial adventures of the Bush administration (Venezuela, Palestine, Afghanistan,
Iraq) , nor the fact that government is now clearly exposed as, not a neutral
arbiter, but a weapon of the rich.
Moreover, there was no discussion of how school workers, students, and
community people might organize to struggle to control the value they alone
create, at their work places, the crux of any form of powerful unionism--and
that discussion is not about to be had.
So, what can we reasonably say the NEA leadership is going to do, as
the rank and file hopefully waits for their leaders to act on their behalf?
NEA bosses are going to go on doing just what they have done, working as
an arm of control of elites in the central work site in the US, the schools,
key points of social control. While they may talk about resistance, in
practice they are going to be right in line, not seeking to abolish the
racist standards and their skeletons, the tests, but to modify them, make
them better, more palatable, etc. In short, they will continue to assist
in organizing the social decay of North American life, for most people,
but not themselves.
California educators can get out their old Gray Davis hats, bumper stickers,
and banners, because that is where NEA is heading. Enron Gray and his WorldCon
pals are gonna be your boys. Go vote. Don't fight. When the budget deficit
in the world's sixth largest economy is announced, after the election,
at about 40 billion dollars (the $25 billion surplus was given to the energy
companies, which then created a massive budget crisis so more went to those
companies, and then came September 11) then the chickens are going to come
home to a lot of roosts.
When the budget crisis is discovered, and the likely racist attacks
on the working class follow, like massive cuts in schools (bye-bye caps
on class size) , layoffs in the universities, and more gutting in social
services, coupled with tax increases, what will NEA do? Will NEA be prepared
to lead a necessarily massive battle at the work sites, where educator
power lies, or will NEA be urging people to go vote, lobby, file lawsuits,
or any other hopeless alienated avenue which will keep the traitorous NEA
leadership in power-and education workers estranged from their students?
Here is what Robert Moses said in response to a somewhat similar situation some time ago:
"We got freedom schools. You form your own schools. Because when you
come right down to it, why integrate their schools? What is it that you
learn in their schools? Many Negroes can learn it, but what can they do
with it? What they really need to learn is how to be organized to work
on the society in order to change it. They can't learn that in schools.
It strikes me that we are entering an age when schools closed by civil
strife, buttressed by some informal kind of freedom schooling, are better
than open schools where children are taught lies, using methods that train
them to hate to learn.
All the best, r
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