Thursday, March 10, 2011

Who Needs Bargaining Rights?

If they take away bargaining rights, dues checkoff, force an election every year to even have a union, what is left to take away if there are sick-outs and wildcat actions?

At the Delegate Assembly yesterday, Joan Heymont, inspired by missives from Miami teacher Paul Moore similar to the one below, made a resolution calling for a sick-out on Brooklyn Day when there will be no children in school. As expected, the UFT leadership shot it down, making the point that such an action would render the contract null and leave us wide open to just about anything. Naturally, it lost. I didn't see the point of shutting schools down on a day when they were empty of kids, though maybe from a PR point it made sense. If schools are to be shut down, it must happen with parent support. Maybe when class sizes reach 60.

Let's be clear: a union leadership has a major fear of taking such action because the power of the state is squarely lined up against them. Crippling fines, removal of checkoff, etc can destroy a union. As we've seen in Puerto Rico, the union leaders can be fired (come hear PR teachers union president Rafael Feliciano tell the story at the next GEM meeting on March 21). 

From the leaders' perspective, the gravy train would be over and going back to the classrooms they have so allowed to deteriorate is not appetizing at all. So union leaders play a role in trying to kill any insurgencies not only because of the punishments but because once the militancy cat is out of the bag, their control of the union could be as much threatened from below - the rank and file - as from above - the government.

That was why when Bloomberg in an op ed in the Times defended bargaining rights - sort of - what he really meant was "I am smarter than that yokel in Madison - I work with the union leadership itself to control the members. Imagine if there were no UFT and Randi Weingarten to assist with our reforms?"

So, what if there is nothing left to lose? I was just with another retiree in the gym who talked about the National Football League players association decertifying itself and forcing the NFL to face a loss of protection as a monopoly - a very interesting strategy.

If Wisconsin teachers went on strike they could be fired. But so could any teachers anytime in history before collective bargaining. Yet they did it often enough to win bargaining rights.

Now a sickout in say NYC led by wildcatters might be difficult to pin on the union. What if people followed Paul Moore's advice?
This will help destroy the illusion that workers in Wisconsin and across the US have any recourse to legislative or electoral remedies. Government and all of its branches are under corporate control.

Teachers, shut down the schools of Wisconsin tomorrow. You will be urged to rely on the courts. You will be urged to rely on the recall process. You will be urged down all manner of dead ends. Be not deceived though, you are now in an openly declared class war. Fight fire with fire!

"Florida teachers showed us last year how to fight this trend. They made a powerful alliance with parents, and put immense pressure on their political leaders to stop Senate Bill 6." This pressure included a massive demonstration in Tallahassee, volumes of testimony before committees of the Legislature, visits to the Legislator's home offices, a well-funded lobbying campaign run through the Florida Education Association (FEA), a mountain of e-mail and other communications to the lawmakers, the creation by parents of powerful YouTube videos that went viral on the Internet, and the wearing of red T-shirts in public schools around the State.

And SB6 sailed through both chambers of the Florida Legislature. Not a vote was changed!

As the legislation worked its way to the governor's office, Charlie Crist made nothing but supportive statements. He repeatedly assured the bill's prime sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher, that he intended to sign it. Never was heard a discouraging word from Crist on SB6.

Then something happened that changed everything. There was a clap of thunder and the sleeping giant stirred.

I'm not at liberty to reveal the teacher's name, but in Miami-Dade County, the largest district in Florida and the fourth largest in the country, a former US Army Ranger and conservative Republican began calling and texting his long list of contacts with a message. "You have a doctor's appointment Monday" went the text and Monday referred to April 12, 2010.

Administration of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) got wind of the proposed action and began warning teachers of the dangers of it. Staffers for the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) fanned out across the District to instill the fear of job loss and even criminal prosecution in the membership. Word began to spread statewide and so the Florida Education Association (FEA) reminded all teachers that a sickout was a violation of law. Teachers should just keep on wearing their red shirts and e-mailing Gov. Crist and even if SB6 did become law teachers would still retain the right to beg for mercy.

But on the appointed Monday 6,300 of Miami-Dade's 21,260 teachers called in sick. The teachers of Miami-Dade County shutdown the District's public schools with an act of civil disobedience! Lo and behold that next Friday, Gov. Charlie Crist did an about face and vetoed SB6. The FEA and UTD bent over backwards to give all the credit to Crist. Teachers were urged to write "thank you notes" to the governor. Our red clothing and e-mails had carried the day.

Very few thank you notes went to the now retired Gov. Crist from Miami-Dade. Teachers there knew better. We had done it! We had the power! When we moved together, nothing could stop us! And they knew it too! Not a single teacher among the 6,300 MDCPS teachers from the illegal strike was fired or disciplined in any form or fashion. Administrators, union bureaucrats, teachers, parents and students just celebrated the defeat of SB6 and President Obama's new friend Jeb Bush.

Much the same dynamic is playing itself out on a larger scale in Wisconsin today. The teachers united, an irresistible force, has become conscious of itself. Teachers shut down schools in Madison and several other districts for three days when Gov. Scott Walker's machinations became clear. He even threatened them with the National Guard but they remain unbowed. They have Walker stopped cold unless he decides to escalate the conflict.

As with Charlie Crist in Florida, some are determined to give the lion's share of credit in Wisconsin to 14 Democratic politicians who crossed the state line into Illinois. It is critical that someone else get the credit because their power is the secret that must be kept from teachers around the country if the public schools are to be destroyed.

Paul A. Moore

Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.

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