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!