Election Season

AlbuCORE began as an informal group of fed reps who met regularly to discuss education issues and workers rights. Our primary goal in our campaigns was promoting democratic processes within our local.  With our campaigns we ended the era of uncontested elections and exerted our right to a public forum, which gave candidates an opportunity to articulate the platform and positions our caucus had agreed to coalesce around. A few of the planks our caucus pushed for were: transparency within the budget and the need for members to be informed as to how and where our dues are used, for negotiations to include equitable prep time and smaller classes to improve working conditions for all constituencies. Additionally, we spoke to the need to educate and engage members through meaningful activities such as contract studies and action committees.

Leadership’s reaction to AlbuCORE’s engagement of our union’s internal electoral process, and our site-based organizing, has been very instructive for all who have come through AlbuCORE’s ranks including those who have supported and followed our recent campaigns. Possibly the most obvious lesson one could walk away with is the continued need for all of the reforms we organized around, as well as a heightened sense of urgency in achieving them. For those who have been paying attention to the internal dynamics that played out between union leadership and AlbuCORE,( including the  “trusted team” that mobilized to protect our ossified leadership clique), there are myriad examples to drive this lesson home. The “trusted team’s” endorsement flyer from leadership, the cease & desist letter delivered to outspoken opposition union members (not all of whom were officially affiliated with AlbuCORE) during last year’s campaign, and the personal attacks, such as claiming what we do is akin to the Koch brothers union busting, are just a few of the most recent examples.

Not only has the experience of AlbuCORE demonstrated the need for internal union reform that emanates from the bottom up, but so do the examples of rank and file initiative sweeping the country right now: WV, OK, AZ, KY…While there are certainly many peculiarities to each of these places that need to be accounted for, so are there commonalities. Maybe the most glaring has been the role played by union leadership. In none of these struggles has established-union-leadership played a progressive and active role in the organizing. In fact, in many circumstances it’s been just the opposite forcing the rank and file to organize not only against austere cuts and reforms, but also against their own leadership. This trend denotes the incredible importance of deep organizing, rank and file autonomy, and union democracy.

Lastly, in regards to learning lessons from the work; change will not come from the top. This is by no means a new understanding in regard to political struggle, but certainly a lesson that has come to take on more weight and significance given the last few years of AlbuCORE’s experience; especially when considered alongside the upsurge in rank and file struggle across the country. While there are certainly many valid arguments to be made in favor of running for elected positions within our local, those of us who have been active within the AlbuCORE’s campaigns over the last few years have come to the conclusion that none of those arguments best describe our current moment in Albuquerque. In short, our read of the political terrain is that the most important work for us right now is to reignite a fighting culture – a base – within our local. A base that could be relied upon to engage in militant struggle should the time come for that sort of action, and rest assured, we do believe that time is approaching. Consequently, expending very limited resources on electoral campaigns is not what we consider a strategic use of our time. So, while we will not be running candidates in the election this year, we will continue to educate, agitate, and organize in the fight against neoliberal reforms and the privatization of our public education system. We look forward to the future fights and ask that if you find yourself in agreement with this basic principle to please reach out.

In solidarity,

AlbuCORE

 

Fed Rep Reflection #5

At the most recent Fed Rep Council meeting, union leadership continued an ongoing discussion about the growing workload for special education teachers. The district has been making many numerous and unclear mandates with little to no training constituting an undue burden. Union leadership has made efforts to rectify this situation by meeting with district leadership and has been unsuccessful. This advocacy model in which union leadership acts for the rank and file, but not with the rank and file, is a problematic approach that fails to actually challenge power; to alter the existing power structure, the rank and file must win our own battles. This would require union leadership to step aside while an empowered rank and file engages in direct and collective action. Rather than closed door meetings between the union president and the boss, district should hear from us directly and publicly. These opportunities will encourage teachers to get involved, fight back, and advocate for themselves.

Because union leadership admittedly failed to solve this problem, the issue was brought to fed reps. Fed reps were sent to their constituency meetings with the task of brainstorming tactics to pressure the Board of Education, and the superintendent, Raquel Reedy. While the campaign objectives are vague, the overarching goal is to alleviate the unfair hardship placed on special education teachers. Initially, leadership recommended teach-ins at board meetings and letter deliveries to Reedy.

Rank and file who have participated in the recent fights over the high school schedule and the budget know that picketing board meetings, writing demand letters, and speaking frankly to the board are effective measures. In the high school schedule fight, teachers from across the district took it upon themselves to act on their own behalf which built trust, solidarity, and agency amongst the rank and file. Second, we shook leadership up. When high school teachers took turns delivering letters to demand the 5/7 schedule, Reedy became so uncomfortable that she had security stop teachers at the door. In addition, the constant barrage of teachers voicing their opinions to the board sent a clear message that teachers would not do extra work for no pay. In fact, during one picket, board of education members were seen using a side entrance to avoid their disgruntled constituents. Due to this action, high school teachers won their schedule.

In this campaign, high school teachers executed these actions not only without the support of union leadership, but in spite of their direct resistance to our efforts. However, when these actions saw success, union leadership was quick to claim credit for the win. Now, it would appear that union leadership seeks a cheap imitation with vastly different goals. Rather than handing power, autonomy, and credit to the rank and file, union leadership seeks to maintain control and claim victories as their own. When union leadership curtails the power of the rank and file by controlling actions and the narrative, this results in a maintenance of the existing power relations. It is important that the rank and file self-direct and actively participate because it is this type of mobilization that will not only triumph, but also challenge power in a real way. Union leadership should facilitate rank and file activity, not dictate and control the terms upon which we struggle.

It is rare to sit in Fed Rep Council and engage in conversation about how to organize against district leadership. This type of dialogue has proved elusive as Fed Rep Council is not generally a place for deep discussion or organizing. It was refreshing to have such discourse – this is what we should be doing all the time! This positivity ceased after becoming apparent that Board of Education member, Barbara Peterson, had participated in the elementary teachers’ discussion of tactics and was to remain at the meeting for the subsequent large group discussion on organizing. This is clear evidence that both union and district leadership seek to regulate and restrain the rank and file.

One fed rep stated that Barbara’s presence was a conflict of interest. How can union members have a candid discussion about organizing against district leadership when district leadership is sitting in the same room? Barbara’s presence was defended by union leadership on the grounds that she was a teacher and union member for many years. This should not grant her uncensored access. Union meetings should consist of union members, not those who hold power over us. This represents the all too familiar trend of union leadership placing their cozy relationship with the the boss over the interests of the rank and file.

District leadership now has access to all the information discussed at our meeting such as insight into the potential activity, and which teachers suggested certain actions. This not only undermines the work, it destroys the trust and solidarity we should be building in our union. The union hall should be a place where members can speak freely and express ideas – not a place where union leadership’s inappropriate relationship with management manifests itself at the expense of members. This is an affront to the rank and file.

Friendly folks in positions of power will not win the fight for the working class; we will. It is important that we recognize that labor and capital have fundamentally opposing interests that cannot be negotiated away by champions and advocates. The rank and file must wrest their victories from the firm grasp of power and this requires direct and collective action. Inviting management into our union building violates the space and illustrates a clear refusal on the part of union leadership to build real power through an organized and active rank and file. We do not need champions, we need working class unity and solidarity. Together, we are a force to be reckoned with and it is our power that will ultimately triumph. Unite and resist.

 

Mary Kelly

Subterfuge

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, AFT national president Randi Weingarten has failed to wholly denounce and condemn the Trump Administration and their abhorrent agenda of white supremacy, starvation of public services, privatization of education, and the general enrichment of the ruling class at the expense of the American people. In light of Weingarten’s defense of Betsy DeVos and her mysterious meeting with Trump’s then Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon earlier this year, any self respecting teacher should be wondering whether she is friend or foe.

Weingarten’s questionable actions back in February when she condemned the peaceful protest of teachers and students at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington D.C. Protesters blocked DeVos from entering the school; an incredible action worthy of praise and admiration. Why shouldn’t they block her when she would love nothing more than to shut the school down and reopen it as a private charter? DeVos’ agenda of “school choice,” which is a euphemism for the commodification and privatization of public education, aims to marginalize working class families – the very families who stood their ground against her. Good for them.

But, Weingarten’s tender sensibilities were offended. She tweeted, “Just heard a protester blocked & almost knocked Secy @BetsyDeVos down at Jefferson. We don’t condone such acts. We want her to go to pub schls.” This defense of DeVos and condemnation of courageous protesters illustrates her troubling disregard for the people she represents. A couple months later, Weingarten accompanied DeVos on her tour of public schools in Ohio. This particular district was chosen due to DeVos’ belief that the area would benefit greatly from school choice and voucher initiatives. Weingarten claims to oppose DeVos at every turn – so why is she with her as she scopes out potential locales to implement her malignant agenda?

On top of these dubious school tours, it was recently reported that Weingarten had a secret meeting with Steven Bannon back in April. How disturbing to learn that our union president is having closed-door meetings with fascist scum. Weingarten claims she was there to defend public education – our “hero” going toe-to-toe with the Trump Administration. Well, if that was the case, then why keep it from the public? Wouldn’t she want people to know she was taking a stand for public education? When elected officials refuse to be open about their actions, it leads one to suspect dishonesty and ulterior motives. Weingarten has absolutely no business meeting with someone as repulsive as Bannon. You don’t sit and discuss white supremacy and bigotry – you shut that shit down. These are not conversations that civilized people have. We do not owe the alt-right this type of consideration.

When this issue was brought forth in November’s ATF Fed Rep Council, union leadership and a few of her flunkies tied themselves up in knots defending Weingarten and justifying the secret meeting. Union leaders “trust” Weingarten and say she vehemently opposes all the evils seeking to destroy public education. Others said we have to keep an open-mind, even with people we oppose. Others claimed that Weingarten is off the hook because she is a Jewish lesbian who wouldn’t be rubbing shoulders with such a person. And even another said that we can’t blame Randi for a secret meeting, because maybe it was Bannon who wanted it to be a secret. There’s a lot to unpack.

If Weingarten opposes the evils facing education, she should prove it. Not with words, but by immediately ceasing her continued contact with the Trump Administration. As for open-mindedness, why on earth should we be open, to any extent, to the decimation of public education and the rise of the alt-right. This isn’t a conversation we entertain. This is an agenda we meet with forceful pushback through direct and collective action in the defense of our schools and communities. A concept largely foreign to current union leadership at all levels. Randi’s heritage does not absolve her from this wrongdoing and it matters not whose idea it was to have a secret meeting. Weingarten should never have been at the meeting. Period. She should have declined to meet with Bannon due to the fact that he is an alt-right fascist. And since she is paid by union members, she does indeed owe explanations to the rank-and-file for her actions.

Weingarten is clearly no friend of the working class. She is part of a business union hierarchy that serves the capitalist ruling class. Pair that with the material benefits of her half a million dollars salary and it is obvious why she has no interest in her constituency and the needs and desires of the rank-and-file. The fact that local union leadership and some members will work so hard to make excuses for Weingarten shouldn’t come as a surprise. This driveling justification of indefensible actions leads us down a path in which abominations like white supremacy become normal. A path where we convince ourselves that to have an open mind, we must make space for great evil. Until we can clearly recognize friend from foe, we are doomed to continue to fall victim to the ruling class. Our union leadership is so consumed with their position of power and wealth, that they have completely abandoned the rank-and-file. It is incumbent upon us to realize our collective power and recognize the mutually exclusive interests of capital and labor while acknowledging that our current union leadership serves the former. We are called to flex our unified strength to kick these sorry ass parasites to the curb. Recognize friend from foe and engage in the struggle. Unite and resist.

– Mary Kelly

UCORE Report Back

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The weekend before school started two of our members attended the annual UCORE conference in Los Angeles.  UCORE has held yearly conferences since 2013, bringing together caucuses that have won office in their locals with those that are still trying or have just started out.  Education activists representing school districts from across the US – including Philadelphia, Hawaii and Massachusetts- came together to share the work they are doing to create democratic, teacher directed unions.

The common theme was working to create the schools our students deserve and moving away from the business-model unionism that is beholden to the holy trinity of AFT-NEA/state legislators/district leadership.  AlbuCORE members attended panel discussions that included topics such as:

  • Fighting for Social Justice
  • Funding and Revenue Fights
  • Fighting Privatization and Vouchers
  • Moving Towards Community Alliances

Our members were also part of a panel session titled Running for Union Office that included Classroom Struggle/Oakland Education Association and the next candidate for president of Educators for a Democratic Union(EDU) of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. This session focused on questions that included:

  • Why run for office?
  • What was the format of the election?
  • What did you learn?

Panel members focused on the lack of representation and trend of being attacked by existing leadership.  Our common experiences made it clear – across the country educators voices are being minimized in favor of the business based, top-down model of unionism.

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The opportunity to speak with and listen to the experiences of other union members who are doing similar work has strengthened our resolve that the work we are doing in Albuquerque is not only appropriate, but necessary. UCORE members have had great success in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Baltimore in the recent past.  They have worked to educate and motivate the rank and file and been at the front of the fight to preserve our public schools.  Educators have joined together and spoken out about standardized testing, school letter grades and inappropriate evaluation systems.

AlbuCORE is organizing to take on these, and other fights in the 2017-18 school year.  We are only as strong as the voices of you, our fellow brothers and sisters.

Fed Rep Reflection #4

August 2017

 

August fed rep council opened with Ellen’s attempts to overplay relatively small victories, while also claiming full credit for said wins. Ellen presented a letter to be shared with members at the beginning of the year which starts by emphasizing the union’s position on the budget; “No more cuts. Not. One. Cent.” This is a great position! In fact, it was a position AlbuCORE presented to union leadership, fed reps, and the Board of Education almost 2 months prior to Ellen’s appropriation of the rhetoric. We take pride in this – AlbuCORE clearly adopted a position and strategy that resonated with the rank and file so much, that it simply couldn’t be ignored! This is how a union should run – from the members to the top.

Ellen claims that determination in negotiations prevented furlough days, increased class sizes, and the heavy high school schedule. Lamentably, contract negotiations are open to only the executive council and leave the rank and file in the dark. This makes it quite convenient for Ellen to tout her negotiating prowess because the membership has no access to the truth of the negotiating table! Additionally, Ellen’s letter omits completely the participation of the rank and file who wrote letters, attended board meetings, sent clever letters to the editor, and wielded collective power in the form of a walkout to defend public education. We applaud the courage of everyday teachers and students!

Also problematic was Ellen’s staggering lack of solidarity with the working class and our fellow teachers. She said that although teachers did not face furlough days, other APS staff, who make less than teachers, took pay cuts. While this is a good development for teachers, to cheer the preservation of our pay at the expense of others in the working class is disgraceful. In a similar vein, Ellen qualified our modest contract gains by stating; “I am proud to say that, unlike many of our union brothers and sisters across the country, there were no losses.” To proudly use the losses and hardships faced by teachers to justify a weak contract negotiation is reprehensible. Unionism is about the struggle of the working class against the ruling class – it is quite horrifying that union leadership so grandly fails to grasp the collective nature of our struggle.

Ellen’s letter ends by quoting Randi Weingarten discussing the importance of our schools, democracy, protecting the vulnerable, etc. etc. etc. Based on Randi Weingarten’s recent actions, this is mere lip service. Randi Weingarten spends her time taking the absurdly incompetent Betsy DeVos on school tours while condemning the legitimate protests of teachers and students who take a stand against DeVos’ agenda for privatization. It is of the utmost importance that we remember that regardless of the pretty rhetoric they might spin, none of these bureaucrats are friends to the rank and file.

As we enter a new school year, it is crucial that we stay engaged in the struggle. It is beyond clear that change will not come from bureaucrats and business unionists – it must come from the activity of the rank and file. There are no champions to fight for us, we must be the advocates for public education, social justice, and working class solidarity. AlbuCORE will continue to mobilize and engage the rank and file with direct and collective action to improve our schools and communities. Join us – unite and resist!

Bold May Day Action at AHS

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On May Day 2017 over 1000 students and teachers at Albuquerque High School (AHS) came together in solidarity and shared purpose to stage a peaceful demonstration in support of adequate funding for public services. The students and teachers who participated in this walkout left class for the last 15 minutes of the school day to protest the proposed budget cuts then being handed down by the Governor’s veto. This walkout was a prime opportunity for AHS students and staff to engage a political process that typically ignores their input. Students and teachers exercised their collective strength and used their voices to demand that their interests be given priority over those of political careers, bankers, and the politics of austerity. Certainly a lesson that is desperately needed in our current political and cultural climate.

After walking out, the group assembled at the embankment on the North side of campus where they held signs, chanted, and engaged the media who had gathered on the opposing side of the fence; all doing their level best to get their demands for funding heard as parents arrived to pick up students. The AHS group revelled in the many honks, shouts of support, and fists of solidarity held high coming from drivers and parents. All was peaceful and very well organized. For the students and staff at AHS, it’s become obvious that the status quo will not solve the funding issues for public services – something becoming more widely understood on the daily – and that the time for direct action to fight for our collective interests is now. We applaud the students and teachers from Albuquerque High for being unafraid to use their collective influence to speak out against the outrageous and “scary” budget! Way to go courageous activists!

Following this bold action, teachers at Albuquerque High School were promised (read; ‘threatened with’) a district investigation to be aided and abetted by the full support and  cooperation of our very own union president. What a working class heroine she is! At the final fed rep meeting of the school year, ATF president, Ellen Bernstein, took the opportunity to threaten, ridicule, and defame the AHS students and teachers for their participation in this May Day walkout; one really must wonder what Mother Jones, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, or even Helen Keller would’ve had to say about this sort of ‘labor leader’. Ellen’s vociferous diatribe included the now infamous accusation that both AHS staff and students acted because they are working “hand in glove” with Governor Martinez’s corrupt agenda to dismantle both public education and the district. Ellen’s assertion is absolutely absurd. One would hope Ellen does not truly believe this, but if that is the case, it makes Ellen’s targeting of union members all the more loathsome. She clearly tried to take advantage of a perceived opportunity to relieve herself (which is what it smelled like to be sure) of a feisty political opposition .

There’s a lot to lament in the way that union leadership chose to engage with the AHS walkout (none of it too surprising), but one of the most concerning things would be union leadership’s apparent readiness to throw an entire staff under the bus just to go after a few vocal AlbuCORE members. For brevity’s sake (we’re sure you’d rather be enjoying a little well deserved R&R this summer) all ended well at AHS. There was an investigation for ‘teacher misconduct’, which was essentially dropped after a handful of interviews. Teachers (not nearly all who participated) received a letter from administration that basically quoted district ‘no-strike’ policy. Fortunately, in no small part due to a supportive administration, those letters were nothing more than a friendly reminder, and won’t be placed in anyone’s permanent file. In sum, the district (and presumably union leadership as well) believe AHS staff engaged in strike action. But despite their best efforts to punish individuals, they were unable to do anything other than remind us that it’s against their rules. Nice job AHS!!

Less than a month later, the APS Board of Education and leadership team approved a budget that greatly limited the impact budget cuts would have on the classroom. This, after months of emails, radio broadcasts, and media that vigorously predicted the worst case budget scenario for our schools. During the months of uncertainty, district and union leadership consistently presented themselves as helpless victims to evil forces. However, the final budget dictates that class sizes will not increase, teachers will not suffer pay cuts, and high school teachers will not be saddled with uncompensated work. These final budget decisions present a starkly different narrative in which district leadership is not at all a victim, but a powerful decision-making entity. Thus, it would appear that decision-makers can indeed be swayed, and scared straight, by direct action – let that be a lesson to us all!

 

Fool & Tools #2

June 2017

 

It would appear that APS budget cuts did not even come near the worst case scenario presented by both union and district leadership. While this is obviously good news for our students, families, schools, and communities, it also begs the question: why did both union and APS leadership paint such a bleak picture? Since early this year, APS students and staff have been threatened with increased class sizes, reduced supply budgets, furlough days, reduced pay, uncompensated work, and cuts to student programs like middle school sports. While able to prevent some cuts, most unfortunately, schools have lost teaching positions as well as technology staff. This is unacceptable and also indicative of a system that puts profits over people. Therefore, these budget “wins,” should be considered as wins in as much as they were not the worst case scenario. However, no cuts to education should be considered victory.

In a recent email from the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, union leadership sent the message that the this budget “victory” belongs to Randi Weingarten (AFT President), close relationships with state legislators, and union leadership’s coziness with district leadership; the Holy Trinity of business unionism. Accepting any budget cuts as a victory is both fallacious and cowardly, but to be fair no one ever accused our union leadership of being either honest or courageous. Our schools should not be subject to budget shortfalls, in fact, they should be highly prioritized, adequately funded, and valued as a critical component of a functioning society.

Let’s address union leadership’s take on these budget wins. First, Randi’s attendance at our union hall has been shamelessly touted as a prominent factor in this struggle. It surely was big of Randi to take a break from her jet-setting tour with one of her new bestie’s – Betsy Devos – to hit us up here in the 505. Just in case you hadn’t got the news, the two of them have recently been on a ‘fact-finding’ tour of sorts. Actually, what’s more likely is that Randi agreed to act as a bodyguard for Betsy after courageous DC teachers blocked Ditsy Devos from entering their school. Afterwards, Randi came out forcefully opposing such actions, demonstrating once again the chasm between her style of unionism and ours. Besides access to powerful people, one must wonder just what Randi gets for cracking Betsy’s whip on rank and file teachers. Make no mistake, Randi is no friend of ours. Because she’s able to parachute in on a union meeting and make a stump speech for the neoliberals doesn’t get her much in our books. Any advance in the struggle to secure funding for public services belongs to the rank and file.

Union leadership would also have us believe that the legislators in Santa Fe are both the heroes and champions of public education. Admittedly, some of these legislators do believe in, and fight for, public education and we certainly encourage them to continue taking a stance against austerity policies that delegitimize our public services. But, if it was that simple, why didn’t these saviours mobilize the public for an override of the governor’s veto in the first place? Why are we endlessly pressed by union leadership to contact our legislators and beg them to save our schools? If these politicians are truly on our side, why must we perpetually remind them with phone calls, emails, postcards, and trips to Santa Fe? Don’t these “supporters” know that cutting education is criminal? Our state government is on a path toward privatized education and this must be combated, not with phone calls, but with direct action! These legislators do not deserve credit for the budget wins, those belong to the rank and file.

Lastly, the union cited a “professional” relationship with the district as tantamount to the well-being of our schools. Ellen, our union president, would have us believe that her relationship with the district is critical. Ask yourself: why does the relationship between our union president and the superintendent dictate the quality of both learning and working conditions for hundreds of thousands of people? This is also dubious as Ellen has recently characterized contract negotiations as highly “adversarial.” If Ellen is correct in her assertion that district leadership is benevolent and wants the best for the rank and file, why would they be “adversarial” when developing a contract to adequately support teachers? It seems that Ellen is talking out of both sides of her mouth in asking us to be overly grateful to the district for simply doing their jobs, while also blaming them for shortcomings in the negotiated agreement. Can you have it both ways? Ellen can. Thus, it is clear that the district does not deserve credit for the budget wins, those belong to the rank and file.

While union leadership will happily give greedy and self-serving bureaucrats credit for limited budget cuts; this victory should be given directly to the rank and file. The rank and file in APS fought a tremendous battle! Over the last few months, students and teachers picketed and addressed the board, wrote and signed petitions, sent pointed letters to the editor, and even staged a walkout! Oddly, not a single one of these actions was even mentioned in ATF’s email. Union members engaged in union work, not with the support of union leadership, but in spite of union leadership.

Ellen actively discouraged members from engaging in collective action and openly mocked and berated organizers and activists in union meetings for trying to save our schools. She used union legal counsel to send a “cease and desist” letter to her political opponents to try and stop them from claiming their membership in ATF. Ellen enthusiastically volunteered her full participation with an APS investigation of teachers at AHS presumably in the hope that those who challenge her leadership would lose their jobs and be purged from the union. These actions very clearly indicate union leadership that has no problem accepting these attacks on public education as totally legitimate and within bounds.

There are a few lessons to take away. First, the rank and file should continue to go to battle for our schools because a free, public, and quality education is a human right. Second, the rank and file should never be deterred by union leadership that is indistinguishable from the corrupt bureaucracies that govern us. We must continue the struggle no matter what our union president believes because WE are the union! Lastly, Ellen has established a clear trend of attempting to stonewall direct action to appease her friends at the district. Then, when the rank and file organize anyway and win, she swoops in to take credit for herself or hand it off to her superiors. This is testament to a high degree of moral bankruptcy. We will continue to fight knowing that the victory lays not in earning public applause, but in keeping our schools, communities, and jobs intact. This is a worthy fight that the rank and file shall continue to engage on every front!

Fed Rep Reflection #3

May 2017

 

The most important aspect of the May fed rep council was Ellen’s officer report. Ellen wove a tale of woe about the division of the unified and blissful ATF/APS family. In order to set the stage, Ellen began by emphasizing the extreme importance of the close, familial relationship she shares with district leadership. Ellen would have us believe that the close-knit relationship between boss and union serves the worker and is crucial in the maintenance of our school district. What a happy family!

After working to convince the rank and file that her cozy relationship with the boss is tantamount to our well-being, Ellen spun an extensive story about the villainous forces that seek to divide the family. This division, according to Ellen, would result in the PED’s unilateral decision to split the district in half, consequently busting the union. Ellen first laid blame on the governor and her secretary of education based on their malicious attempts to create chaos, defund public education, punish teachers and move toward privatization.

She was right about a couple things. The state holds much of the blame for the ongoing crisis in public schools in New Mexico. Let there be no doubt, Susana Martinez and Hannah Skandera have a particular agenda that aims to decimate public education, with the presumed end goal of privatizing schools. The nefarious standardized tests, teacher evaluations and misleading schools grades have been forced upon us all to great detriment. The policies of the current administration are patently egregious and should always be acknowledged as a problem facing public education.

The next force seeking to split our district and our union, according to Ellen, is The Albuquerque Journal, which serves as a mouthpiece for the governor supporting her policies and consistently slamming district leadership and teachers. Here, we must draw a distinction. While the journal should never, under any circumstances, slander the qualified and hard-working teachers of APS, their criticism of the district can be accepted or discarded with critical inquiry.

Let’s ask some questions of district leadership, shall we? Why did you idly threaten to cut middle schools sports? Why have you unceremoniously proposed a multitude of budgetary ‘solutions’ that threaten the jobs and livelihoods of the rank and file? Why do 35 people in district leadership make 6-figure salaries that, in some cases, quadruple the salaries paid to the rank and file? Why do you continue to insist that your process is transparent when it clearly is not? Before the union gets too warm and cuddly around the family campfire with our employer, let’s demand the answers to these questions. When our schools and jobs are under attack, we deserve information!

Ellen’s saga of the malicious and evil forces seeking to bust the district and the union seemed to be leading up to an attack on AlbuCORE. Members sitting in the crowd were anxiously awaiting the inevitable onslaught that we’ve experienced so many times before. Before homing in on AlbuCORE, Ellen first addressed the walkout that occurred at AHS the day before. She claimed that the student-led walkout on May 1 was a direct attempt to align with the governor and the PED. This assertion is absurd. How can Ellen possibly claim that a peaceful protest by students to demand their human right to an adequately funded education is meant to support the governor’s policies of defunding and privatization? How can she so callously toss aside the eloquent voices of aspiring young activists who seek to save their schools? While ignoring the autonomy and bravery of young people in our district, Ellen shamefully asserted that this walk out shows that AlbuCORE is in league, if not in fact, by virtue of association with Susana Martinez and her mouthpiece, the Journal. Instead of taking this line, union leadership should have honored and applauded our students for taking a stand.

As if insulting our students for exercising their constitutional rights was not bad enough, Ellen then went on to threaten anyone else who might be inspired by this bold move. Ellen stated that the district would be investigating the walkout. While staring down fed reps from AHS, Ellen stated that people’s employment was in jeopardy and teachers would not be protected by the union. An investigation has since occurred at AHS in which AlbuCORE members have been unfairly targeted; one can only assume that Ellen was true to her word in fully cooperating with the boss by eagerly handing over the names of her political opponents. This is deplorable – can you imagine a union president colluding with district leadership to enforce disciplinary action against union members? Unionism indeed!

The meeting rapidly deteriorated and ceased to be a union meeting. Ellen was using her platform and microphone to air her personal grievances against AlbuCORE. In fact, she told AlbuCORE members who wished to speak to put their hands down because she was “sick and tired” of us. When a member tried to stand and speak, she was told she was ‘out of order,’ ‘not a real union member’ and to ‘sit down and shut-up.’ So much for union democracy.

It must also be noted that this meeting occurred on the same night as the constituency election vote count was to occur. The AlbuCORE slate had a great showing in this election which clearly threatened the status quo. Ellen has grown more caustic and aggressive toward AlbuCORE members as our message of rank and file solidarity gains ground. The fact that she would jeopardize the majority of teachers at AHS in an attempt to rid the union of a few dissenting voices is testament to the lengths to which she will go to maintain her power.

Let’s be clear. AlbuCORE is here to strengthen the union, not break it. We believe the power and solidarity of the rank and file is more important than the sitting leadership. We believe in social justice for all who live in our communities, a living wage for teachers and adequately funded classrooms so our students can learn. We believe that direct and collective action will take us there. Unite and resist!

Fools & Tools

Listening to ATF president, Ellen Bernstein, or to the leadership clique around her (aka Team Rust) explain the historical arch of the 5/7 high school schedule fight, one might easily walk away thinking that rank and file members played no role in shaping the most current outcome. That outcome being that the district has apparently surrendered their ill-advised attempts to burden high school teachers with more work for less pay with the thieving and already failed 6/7 schedule. A schedule that amounts to what some might call a ‘speed-up’. Instead, union leadership prefers to spin a tale of successful “ongoing conversation” between negotiators on both sides of the table. Crafty negotiators indeed.

There’s a problem with this narrative though. While basking in the undue glow of success, union leadership seeks to erase the role that rank and file teachers and supporters played in pushing the district back on their threat of a 6/7 schedule. No mention of the letters, phone calls, news interviews, schoolhouse Q&A’s with BOE members (hot seat sessions), LTE’s, or protests and aggressive commentary at BOE meetings. None of it. It’s as if the actions taken by the rank and file never happened.

This is no accident. It’s an intentional move to erase the collective confrontational tactics preferred by a growing number of union members. Tactics that reflect the growing sense that applying direct pressure to decision-makers is the the most effective way to engage in the struggle and that union leadership’s business as usual playbook is not suited to the changing political terrain we find ourselves on.

This analysis gives leadership the benefit of the doubt regarding their political savvy as one should not make the error of underestimating a political opponent. It could be that leadership possesses the political skill to delegitimize the direct action of the rank and file in a desperate bid to maintain power and influence; but perhaps it is more likely that leadership is deluded enough to believe that district negotiators were persuaded to take the 6/7 schedule off the table because it was politely requested at the bargaining table. Not bloody likely! We know better. It was the threat of rank and file teachers upping the ante that was responsible for this victory.

We’d like to thank all rank and file members who played any role in these last few weeks of struggle, and encourage you to own this as your win. It’s through our collective efforts that we were once again able to secure the 5/7 HS schedule. The struggle to keep public schools open and adequately funded continues, and we must grow our movement to secure that right for every child. Let us work in solidarity with all our fellow educators at elementary, middle, and high school for funding, a living wage, adequate prep time and appropriate class sizes. Stand with us, and fight back!