September 13, 2012
John Elfrank-Dana, the UFT chapter leader at Murry Bergtraum High School, sent this letter to the teachers at his school on Wednesday.
When I was in the hotel management business there was a strike. The union representative at the hotel, himself a survivor of Auschwitz, told me I’d better hope the workers win the strike. Puzzled, I thought, Why would a manager want the workers to win the strike? He then explained that the company would have to at least match the benefits they get for me for him as well.
Of course; it was so obvious once he explained that. It’s why non-union hotels provide equal benefits to their employees: the fear that a union would come in if they didn’t. It’s at that point I saw how unions raise the bar for everyone. That bumper sticker, “Unions: The people who brought you the weekend,” rings true.
However, I get the impression many of us think what we take for granted — weekends off, 40 hour work week, health benefits, paid sick leave/vacation, rights against discrimination, etc. — were handed down to us from the ancient Greeks. But these rights are less than a century old, and they are challenged at every corner, i.e. fewer paid sick days, more free coverages, streamlined firing process, larger class sizes, more classes, are some of the stakes for us in education.
Anyone in education more than five years away from retirement needs to watch what is going on in Chicago, if for no other reason than to plan their next career change. For, if the Chicago Teachers Union loses this strike, the stakes for all of us in education could be dire. It’s not about the money.
In Chicago it’s illegal for teachers to strike for anything other than wages. Classroom conditions are off limits. However, it’s the thrust of the reason for the strike. The teachers are demanding, in addition to fair compensation: smaller class sizes, a return of the arts, social services for students, and teacher evaluations not based solely on test scores. The Chicago parents know this and it’s why they support the teachers.
Opposed to the teachers are the corporate education reformers who assume all we want is more money and are willing to sell out colleagues who don’t “carry their weight” and take their students into larger classes. They assume that tweaking instruction can overcome the effects of poverty, lack of supervision, and general problems associated with raising children in poor, single-parent households.
But we are made the scapegoats for these problems outside our control in a clever attempt to bust the teachers unions in this country. It’s because we are the only obstacle to wholesale privatization of schools in our poorest districts. There are investors waiting to feed at the public trough. As Rupert Murdoch said, it’s a $500-billion market just waiting to be exploited; and it’s exploited already by testing companies who make profits from the ill-conceived notion that you can measure student achievement and now, teacher effectiveness, via standardized tests. Propaganda films are produced like “Waiting for Superman” and now “Won’t Back Down” funded by hedge fund managers and other privatizers masquerading as grassroots productions espousing the fiction that charter schools are solution to America’s problems with public education.
The Chicago teachers reject this privatized vision for education. They envision a future where curriculum is rich for the students, class sizes are significantly smaller, and the teaching profession is afforded the dignity it deserves.
To stand in solidarity with our Chicago brothers and sisters is to honor ourselves.