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!