What are the unions doing on nclb?
by Rich Gibson
Susan Harman, Bob Apter, and I just returned from a 2444 mile tour of
California. We met with education activists, parents, some students,
and antiwar organizers. We'll have a report as soon as we get our
land legs again, but one thing that came out over and over was, "what
are the unions doing?"
The unions, if we are to admit that the unions are controlled by
their executives and not the rank and file, are supporting the
essence of NCLB, while trying to convince their members (who pay the
$450,000 salary of NEA boss Reg Weaver, but who unlike Reg, often
live in trailers) that the unions are opposing parts of NCLB.
This is nonsense. The NEA and AFT demanded the NCLB. Proof is that
they took out full page ads in the New York Tmes urging the creation
of the act. Those NEA and AFT ads were also sponsored by the Business
Roundtable and the US Chambers of Commerce. Top NEA and AFT leaders
helped write the NCLB. And they helped NCLB get implemented by
refusing to arm their members with the information they needed to
fight it from the outset.
NEA and AFT are the key groups responsible for the NCLB because they
are, purportedly, the only groups representing masses of people who
could halt it, but NEA and AFT mis-leaders do not want it halted.
Why would the union executives who run the unions do this? Because
they are on the other side. They are errand boys and girls for the
rich. Why? Because they get paid plenty and do not have to go to work
in classrooms. Where does their high pay come from? Partly from the
profits the US wins in imperialist adventures overseas, which the
union executives actively support through groups like the National
Endowment For Democracy, a CIA front.
But didn't the California Teachers Association just oppose NCLB? No,
they did not. They opposed parts of it, and far too late. CTA had
plenty of time to mobilize direct action boycotts and other forms of
dissent against NCLB, but they did not. They could easily
disseminate information to school workers about how to inform parents
and kids of their opt out rights to NCLB exams.
But instead union bosses continue to funnel member action into
cul-de-sacs like lobbying which the union executives know full well
will go nowhere, but it gives the members a feeling that something is
going on when nothing of importance is going on when poor people try
to out-lobby or out-bribe rich people. Surely by now we can recognize
every level of government as an executive committee of the wealthy, a
weapon aimed at poor and working people--and not a neutral body
influenced by reason.
NEA as a national group is only opposing NCLB on the question of
merit pay. In other words, if the pay system is ok, then NCLB is ok:
the ethics of concentration camp guards.
Some NEA and AFT locals are actively opposing NCLB, to their great
credit, but always with sharp opposition from their parent bodies,
just as NEA attacked Susan Ohanian for beginning a modest petition
NEA and AFT reject the obvious connections between imperialist war,
inequality, segregation, and the regimentation of knowledge noosed by
high-stakes testing that goes on in every school. Only the Rouge
Forum (www.rougeforum.org) makes that vital connection. But NEA and
AFT bosses reject it not only because they are bought, but because
their pay influences their philosophy. Now they reject even the main
reason people join unions: employees and bosses have only
contradiction in common. Instead, NEA and AFT executives tout "new
unionism," the unity of labor, business and government, "in the
national interest." That is about as close to Mussolini's ideas about
the corporate state, fascism, as one can get.
Even if the labor executives were not corrupt and utterly dishonest
enemies of working people (and they are), the structure of unions
makes it impossible to organize unity among parents, education
workers, and students---the key to making a fight.
So why work in the unions? Because a lot of people are in them and
believe in them. We need to change their minds and at the same time
make the kind of fight inside the unions that lets us organize beyond
Here is what a fellow who wrote a puff piece book on AFT boss Al
Shanker says Shanker would say today:
* "No one can say for sure, but having spent the past several years
researching and writing a biography of Shanker, I believe he would
have backed the basic thrust of No Child Left Behind -greater
resources in return for greater accountability - but would have
fought to change several of the federal law's deviations from his
original vision for standards-based reform." ? Richaard D.
Kahlenberg, author of Tough Liberal, a biography of the late American
Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker. (September 5 <http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/09/05/02kahlenberg.h27.html>Education
and here is a better piece on Shanker http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/SHANKER.htm
Below are some quotes from recent AFT material. Quote:
ON CAPITOL HILL, AFT MEMBERS DELIVER MESSAGE ON NCLB
Congress must take the time needed to get the No Child Left Behind
Act right. That was the message scores of classroom educators and AFT
activists took to Capitol Hill on Sept. 20, in a day of frank
discussions with House and Senate members from 15 states, including
many members of the House Education and Labor Committee, the body
charged with drafting the legislation. The lobby day activities were
timely, since the committee in recent weeks released a 1,000-page
discussion draft of the No Child Left Behind Act, leading to
speculation that Congress might put the legislation on a fast track.
This would be the wrong move, AFT executive vice president Antonia
Cortese told activists before they fanned out across Capitol Hill.
When it comes to reauthorization, "the product, not the clock, should
govern the process." The AFT is deeply troubled by many provisions in
the discussion draft, which often identifies the right problems but
offers the wrong solutions and includes many contradictory
provisions. The lobby day was just the latest step in the union's
top-priority mobilization effort around NCLB reauthorization; at the
same time activists were meeting with their representatives, AFT
leaders were engaged in discussions with the National Council of La
Raza on testing of English language leaders, resources and other
matters tied to NCLB. And on the day of the Capitol Hill visits, AFT
activists conducted radio interviews to explain why it is so critical
for Congress to take the time it needs to get NCLB right. Comments
from AFT activists were fielded by 13 national, state and city radio
networks, plus several news-talk stations, a potential listening
audience of more than 2 million. AFT leaders can help spread the
message and prepare for mobilization in the weeks ahead. Encourage
members to mail NCLB post cards included in the last issue of
American Teacher and PSRP Reporter, and refer them to the union's <http://www.unionvoice.org/ct/h11UNt61yunA/fixNCLB>legislative action
center on the Web to send a letter to their members of Congress.
When you are in your classroom with an overseer with a clipboard
watching your every move on the clock, and you are told your kids'
test scores will be the benchmark of your pay or the existence of
your school, and your union tells you to send a postcard to the
people who are standing on your throat, you might evaluate the value
of your union, and come help organize something where you can not
only help connect reason to power, but where you can exert your own
creativity and freedom in a group where you can trust your
colleagues. The research about NCLB is long done. It is time for
organization and direct action.
All the best, r