Taking the Chicago story to DC.

In 1938, the great blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Huddie Ledbetter wrote about his experiences in Washington, D.C..

I tell all the colored folks to listen to me.
Don’t try to find you no home in Washington, DC 
‘Cause it’s a bourgeois town.
Uhm, the bourgeois town.
I got the bourgeois blues, 
Gonna spread the news all around.

Washington is historically a Southern city.  It was also the first city in the United States with an African-American majority population.

Until this year. Like other big cities, gentrification is changing all that.

More than ever, it’s a bourgeois town.

I’m heading there on Saturday for the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association. As an elected delegate from my home district, this will be my last RA as an active teacher.

My first RA was a dozen years ago in New Orleans. The big debate at that RA was over the merger of the AFT and the NEA. That idea didn’t fly. I was the only Illinois delegate who voted for it.

I’m not sure what to expect at this one. As usual, the leadership will allow some floor debates. They will cause some minor heat and then we will move on. Although most rank-and-file teachers are disappointed with the Obama administrations’ education policies, 70% of the delegates at the last year’s RA voted an early endorsement. The nomination of Mitt Romney by the Republicans will do nothing more than reinforce Obama’s support from both the leadership and the delegates.

Don’t get mad at me. That’s just the way it is.

With 9,000 delegates at a five-day business meeting in a big hall, it is a big democratic mess. By that I mean that things are so unwieldy, and the national association is so state affiliate based that not much really gets done at these yearly meetings.

Although the Chicago Teachers Union is an AFT local, I have already received inquiries from around the country about what is happening in Chicago.

So I will be spending most of my time networking and telling what I know about the Chicago story.

I’ll be talking about the possible.

That’s the Chicago message.

And I will try to counter the Springfield message. That message is that it is better to surrender than to lose a fight.

That is what happened with Senate Bill 7, which took away tenure, seniority and raised the bar on the number of union members required to authorize a strike in Chicago. Just Chicago.

At first the IEA leadership tried to spin Senate Bill 7 as a win. But nobody bought that story.

Both the IEA leadership and the NEA leadership called it a national model.

Recent developments in Massachusetts, where Stand for Children cloned their Illinois victory, shows that in some ways it is. And that’s not good.

That’s why I want to go and talk about the two midwest models.

There is the Wisconsin model of Republican Scott Walker – a head to head battle over collective bargaining rights.

Then there is the Illinois model of Democrats like Mike Madigan, Pat Quinn and Rahm Emanuel. It is different, but no less dangerous. It is a model of chipping away, piece by piece, those same collective bargaining rights. And it has been made easier because of the compliance of the state union leadership.

It is also dangerous because some people, even teacher union activists, fail to see the differences between these two models. Each requires resistance and smart situational tactics.

The Chicago union story shows that surrender is not the only option.

That’s the story I’ll be taking to DC.

And I’ll be blogging from the floor.

16 Replies to “Taking the Chicago story to DC.”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you Fred!! I completely agree that the danger is people not seeing what is happening in Illinois is just as dangerous as what happened and is still happening in Wisconsin. I was called a traitor and non-union because I support and vote for our downstate republicans, whom are the only ones fighting for us right now. People may disagree and get angry but to keep voting for Democrats who are dismantling us is insane and SB7 was a poison pill. We need a paradigm shift.

    I am not stupid or naive. I know there is a risk in voting for Republicans who could turn on us once they get in, but isn’t that what we are blindly doing every election cycle with the Democrats as well. We are stuck with this two party system; however, how I see it we really have a three party system rural/downstate, Chicago suburbs, and Chicago city. And right now the ones fighting for public education are our downstate reps who understand the importance of public education, supporting teachers, their union and their pension. You see it is what keeps small towns alive and insures our children’s’ future and their accessibility to a good education. The most radical Republicans voted in, who vowed to be against unions, figure out quickly that if they kill us they kill the rural/small town economies, because all these teachers, retired and active, are consumers of local goods and services. You destroy us and you shrink the local economy. Even our downstate Chicago Civic Committee backed money republican reps figure it out quickly because they know their own Republican constituents will vote them out in a heartbeat if they do not support their small town economies, their and our lives depend on it.

    I don’t know the answer and wish we could all sit down together and figure it out. However, I know calling SB7 good is ridiculous and no matter how our IEA or IFT spin it, it is still union and teacher busting. I abhor them for giving in. How do we hold Democrats accountable? Can we trust Democrats? Do we court Republicans? Do we vote in new IEA/NEA, IFT/AFT leadership? Do we merge unions? Why can’t we have these conversations openly? It seems to me we need too if we hope to succeed and/or survive, or future depends on it.

  2. These “leaders” have forgotten how we got contracts and rights to due process in the first place. We went on strike when it was illegal. It only became legal because we went on strike anyway. You don’t ask permission. You fight back. If you don’t you have decided to lose.

    It isn’t about the law. It isn’t about elections. It’s about power.

  3. While you’re there, see if you can find out what happened to our old friend Barack.

    Missing Person Report
    Last Seen Wearing ________ Uncomfortable Shoes
    Location and Date _________ Spartanburg, South Carolina, 3 Nov 2007
    Last Heard Exclaiming, ‘ere he drove out of sight:

    “And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.”


  4. As usual, thank you Fred. Almost 700,000 (& growing!) subscribers can’t be wrong.
    We all know–especially since this is your last NEA convention as an RA–that you’ll fight like hell. Any/all of you RAs out there–please fight the good fight w/Fred!

  5. Interesting mention of that merger go AFT & NEA. What do we have, 5 teacher unions in Illinois? We REALLY need to weld them together to get more umphh in this battle. It would be harder to pick us off. I am still amazed how little teachers know in my area or (seemingly) even care. My local only has passed on IEA info this summer. Keep fighting for us Fred!

    1. I so agree w/you, Bob. I have been saying that we should merge ever since I was truly aware of the horrors of pension reform (thanks to Fred) but, even more, the horrors of IEA betrayal & the continued lack of “communication” (substitute “Charlie” for Waldo in the
      “Where’s…?”). The cancellation of Lobby Day (due to “construction” taking place in the capitol–there was little to none, NOTHING of a magnitude to keep us from Springfield: did you see the “construction” sign that Fred posted on May 4th or 5th? {I had seen it & pointed it out to him) was the straw that broke this camel’s back. 60 of us went to the capitol & to the IEA building. The IEA staff gave us lunch, & THAT was THAT. (Our dues paid for that anyway, don’tcha know?) If we could have just one union president’s salary to pay (& others’), perhaps then we’d have enough money to put out ads. Aren’t “failing” schools restructured, buildings closed? (And some of these aren’t really failing, but I–& many others–say the IEA “leadership” HAS failed us.)

      Let’s restructure the IEA! It’s time.

  6. Hey Fred, I was at New Orleans, too. I voted on the other side of the merger. I believe those were the years prior to the hideous orange sweaters. Now that a little time has passed, what do you think? Would the merger have done good or bad? Would you vote for it today?

  7. Sure. I have always thought that having two separate national teacher unions, one urban with large numbers of minority teachers, and one suburban and rural and mostly white, makes no sense.

    What about you? Would there now be two votes in Illinois for merger?

    1. Now that I’m basically senile… I would need a quick consult before voting on this one. My youthful impression was that the AFT Convention was considerably more “controlled” than the NEA RA and therefore somewhat less democratic. I would need to host a brief talk show on the roles of delegates in each organization to get clarity on this one because I haven’t reviewed it in a while. It seemed to me that as an NEA RA delegate, I had a vote in every little thing.

      In general, I think the urban/suburban separation of the unions has been a disaster for the urban teachers, as has everything else. You’ve chronicled some of the screwing-over by allies that CTU has taken of late. So you’re right there.

      When I look overseas, I see that the UK teachers seem to speak with a unified voice with their two big unions, and Spain seems to have a multitude of them, and they all walk out together. National action is called for on so many fronts; we don’t have anything like that here.

      If I thought there was a chance that a national merged union would elect Karen Lewis, I would be circulating a petition. If I thought it would elect Dennis or Randi, well, shmeh.

      But of course, I would vote in accord with you on this one, in exchange for a “yes” vote on this one for all the crap you took on the database NBI from those people at IEA who are terrified of the idea of members actually talking to each other.

      1. The democracy of the NEA RA is a sham. As democratic as the Soviet Party Congress or the Cook County Democratic Central Committee. And so, looking back, maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s not as if the two are now engaged in jurisdictional raids. In some states, like Florida and California there is total or partial merger anyway. And, with some minor differences, mostly cosmetic, they function together okay. After all, here in Illinois the IFT and the IEA collaborated to get SB7 passed and sold the CTU down the river. Together. Collaboratively. In two different unions. No merger necessary.

        Just so you know. I took no crap from the IEA on the data base idea. I gave much more than I got. Every time they try to screw around with me it is a gift. So thank you for that one.

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