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Factory Like a City
Bruce E. Levine
Until Jesus Comes
Zaps - 11-09
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Teacher Reformers Battle Over Public Education
This summer, when President Obama laid out his plan to reshape public education, he wasn't subtle with his symbolism: he was introduced by an eighth-grader from a charter school. Soon after, teacher activists from LA, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC met in Los Angeles. These reformers shared strategies to build union caucuses with parents and shape an alternative to the federal education plan.
The president's "Race to the Top" fund, championed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, promises billions in federal dollars to cash-strapped states. But there will be "winners and losers," Obama says. The unprecedented payout takes a bead on teachers' unions. Money will flow to districts that alter pay and seniority provisions in union contracts and states that roll out the carpet for (mostly non-union) charter schools.
Nonprofit and private charter school operators stand to make big gains from the federal incentive package. Several states have already amended their laws to expand charter schools, which are publicly-funded, but privately-managed. For instance, the Los Angeles Unified School District took a big step in that direction in August as charter operators and other groups got a crack at running 250 city schools, including 50 new, taxpayer-funded buildings.
"They got just what they didn't have: real estate," says Alex Caputo-Pearl, a United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) board member.
Parents, students, and teachers from Garfield High in East LA protest outside the School Board on August 25, the day it passed a motion to expand charter schools—photo from UTLA
Since 2005, a reform coalition has run UTLA, bolstered by growing rank-and-file engagement in various caucuses, including Progressive Educators for Action, which helped propel the current leadership into power. The union has fought hard against layoffs, charters, and cuts to funding and health-care benefits. Teachers from several LA caucuses joined the July sessions, including some who launched hunger strikes against layoffs and criticized union leaders' cancellation of a planned one-day strike in May. Some caucus members say the union's effort to stem the charter tide was too little, too late. All agreed that UTLA's focus needed to center on charters—fast. Proposals for the first round of new schools are due by November, giving charter operators with ready-made proposals a distinct advantage.
UTLA Vice President Joshua Pechthalt says the union is moving on a multi-faceted plan, including possible legal challenges to the motion, which does not honor district rules ensuring teachers and parents a deciding vote on any charter conversion. Instead, the school superintendent will recommend bidders to the school board. UTLA contract language ensures teachers will be union in any new school built to relieve overcrowding, but it's unclear whether the board plans to respect that.
The union is focused on organizing charters, following a victory this spring at Accelerated Charter, where teachers approached UTLA about joining up. Union leaders are also working with teachers at schools targeted for conversion and plan to put in their own bids for union-run schools. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Boston local just opened its first this year.
Pechthalt says the teacher-led vision "is not rocket science." It entails democratic control over budgets and curriculum that teachers, parents, and administrators can tailor to the school site. Past attempts to publicize such plans in the face of rampant teacher-bashing in the media, however, have been difficult. "We have to improve on that," says Pechthalt, "so that after a few months people can say, 'I agree with the teachers' vision for schools.'"
Chicago: Activists Everywhere
In a gentrifying Latino neighborhood in Chicago, Kristine Mayle learned firsthand about the "renaissance" Obama's Department of Education wants to bring to the rest of the nation. The district shut down the award-winning De La Cruz Middle School where she worked, citing low enrollment and the need for major renovations, only to later lease the building to the charter operator United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) for $1.
Community organizations and parents from a feeder elementary school fought to extend De La Cruz's life, however, the district, which had already authorized UNO schools in the area, was intent on the operator, despite its promise not to reopen the building for charter use.
UNO has a reputation for cherry-picking students. Mayle says UNO students were routinely kicked back to her school. UNO hires very few special education teachers, thereby failing to maintain De La Cruz's legacy as a highly-touted special ed provider.
Secretary of Labor Duncan's national initiative was born in Chicago where charters continue to expand under a privatization plan he brokered as schools chief in 2004. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has lost 6,000 members and 70 neighborhood schools have closed since 2001, making a new law that expands charter schools especially foreboding.
"There really was no pushback from the CTU at the onset of this program and now we have to play catch-up," said Kenzo Shibata of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE).
CTU Chief of Staff John Ostenburg responds, "We've been fighting this from the beginning," noting the union's yearly actions against closings and its stalled push in the statehouse for a moratorium on Duncan's plan. The AFT-affiliated CTU negotiated card check rights at new charters and the local organized several campuses of the state's largest operator.
Several CORE members were at the LA meeting. Originally formed in spring 2008 to push the CTU to stand up to the city's school restructuring plan, the youthful caucus grew quickly. CORE's website offers news and grievance forms and features its candidates for pension trustees, who promised to forestall plans to slash the teachers' fund. Members are active on Chicago-area news and blog comment sections, an attempt to counter teacher-bashing. Shibata says a "Twitter army" posts live reports from school board meetings and teacher actions. "We're everywhere," he says.
Over the winter, teachers worked with the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), a collection of community organizations and parent groups, turning out more than 1,000 people to protest 22 slated school closures. "The CTU finally joined the protest and then released a flyer to delegates saying they organized it," says Shibata. "Either way, we got them out and won a big victory." The board decided not to close six schools.
New York: Two Tiers
Charters are knocking on the door at dozens of New York schools, too, regardless of reputation. Public School 123, for example, now shares a building with Harlem Success Academy (HSA), after the city's Department of Education (DOE) forced the elementary school (good test scores and all) to relinquish its third floor to the charter operator.
Over the summer, HSA hired contractors to dismantle classrooms while district dollars paid for renovations—of HSA's floor only. Parents and teachers gathered outside, chanting, "Paint the whole school!"
When classes began in September, teachers and parents protested again after finding the school in disarray. Movers had piled teachers' equipment into unmarked boxes to make way for HSA. A special education class was moved to a dusty basement and other classes were pushed into the library.
"The charters tell the city they need more space," says Brian Jones, a teacher activist, "and the DOE is doing back-flips to make it happen."
Charter companies focus on New York's largely black neighborhoods. "You don't see charter conversions happening on the Upper East Side," Jones says. They are exploiting a legacy of racial tension that has festered within the AFT-affiliated United Federation of Teachers (UFT) since 1968, when the NYC union went on strike to protest attempts by African-American communities to take more control over school management and curriculum.
A handful of reform groups continue to chip away at UFT's ruling Unity caucus, in power for four decades. Sally Lee of Teachers Unite, which organizes workshops on union and workplace rights, says decades of Unity caucus rule have made the union either an enigma or a stigma for new teachers—who see themselves more as individual activists in their classrooms. "We can only address this system by collectively organizing," says Lee, whose organization primes new teachers to run for chapter chair. "And we already have this powerful teacher organization to do it."
Lee and other New York teachers shared cautionary tales at the LA meeting about national AFT President Randi Weingarten. As president of the New York local, she negotiated a 2005 contract that included merit pay and the oddly-named "mutual consent," which allows principals to ignore seniority when filling teaching positions.
DC And Detroit: Secret Talks
The charter takeover has been achieved quietly in Detroit and DC, where around half of school kids in each city are now enrolled in charters. Under the emergency control of a state-appointed manager, Detroit opened 29 fewer schools this fall and put many high schools under control of private management groups.
The next target is the teachers' contract. The prospect of a proposed 10 percent wage cut, elimination of step increases, and increased fines for work stoppages from $250 to $7,500 per day drew thousands of Detroit teachers to protest in late August. Talk of a strike circulated.
The union leadership agreed instead to extend contract talks until the end of October—a delaying tactic that's become familiar for teachers in DC. A small outspoken group of teachers and union officials there has challenged the threat of a concessionary contract for two years.
Vice President Nathan Saunders and Trustee Candi Peterson have criticized President George Parker (and Weingarten, who joined the DC talks over the winter) for keeping teachers out of the loop and failing to mobilize rank-and-file pressure against schools chief Michelle Rhee. Teacher activists drew Parker's ire this fall for publicizing details of a draft contract, which included plans for large buyouts of veteran teachers and a "mutual consent" provision like New York's.
Union leaders at the LA meeting shared strategies for caucus building with Saunders, who is gearing up for an election run in 2010. Upon return, the DC duo pre-empted Rhee's announcement of coming layoffs, calling the community to join rank-and-file educators at a protest in front of district offices.
Wherever the Secretary of Education has sold his "reforms," large chunks of public money have disappeared into private hands—and local unions find themselves under siege. AFT's Weingarten has maintained her openness to it all, as long as reforms remain fair for teachers and good for students. The National Education Association, by contrast, came right out and said it: Obama's plan for more charters, more reliance on test scores, and more union concessions, does neither.
Duncan has stumped for the Federal plan coast to coast. Teacher reformers, now equipped with a fledgling network of activists, aren't waiting any longer to go national themselves.
Z Paul Abowd lives in Detroit, where he writes for Labor Notes. His work has appeared in Monthly Review WebZine and The Electronic Intifada. This article is reprinted here with permission from Labor Noteswhere it first appeared in the October issue.
Paul Abowd lives in Detroit, where he writes for Labor Notes. His work has appeared in Monthly Review WebZine and The Electronic Intifada. This article is reprinted here with permission from Labor Noteswhere it first appeared in the October issue.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.