Enough Blame to Go Around

by Michael Hirsch

 Steier cover

Review of: Richard Steier, Enough Blame to Go Around: The Labor Pains of New York City’s Public Employees. Albany, New York: Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 2014. 304 pp. US$24.95  (paperback).

Two things I know to be true about Richard Steier. He is the best full-time reporter on the New York City labor beat. He is also the only full-time reporter on the New York City labor beat.

That is no mean praise. Sure, The New York Times’ Steve Greenhouse does yeoman work as its national labor reporter, and the city’s union doings are covered sporadically by the dailies, but with the Times and the tabs, if it does not have a business angle or a political angle or a sports angle or an education angle or does not prefigure a strike that threatens to close the city down, it is not news.

It is to Steier, who thinks that what happens to working people on the job and in their unions is well worth knowing. It is Steier who knows union leaders and their industries, knows elected union officers sometimes act heroically, if rarely. It is Steier who unfailingly listens to what workers say. Like James Thurber’s description of the good newshound, Steier “gets the story and writes the story.” That skill and that sensitivity are amply on display in his There’s Enough Blame to Go Around: The Labor Pains of New York City’s Public Employees Unions. The book is a selection of his writing from 1996 to the present. With the exception of an introduction, conclusion, and section updates, all first appeared in his must-read and widely circulated weekly The Chief, which he edits. Know that the book is no simple cut-and-paste job, but shows the utility of covering closely the progression of stories over time.

And what stories! They have the quality of a Grand Guignol, as Steier captures a real-life demimonde inhabited by thieves and poseurs who prey on the poor, whether they be union leaders running the table and stealing the chairs or elected public officials who think smart budgeting means shilling for the city’s already undertaxed corporate elite by instituting austerity programs whose savings come from either contract takebacks or employee layoffs. In the extreme case of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, that meant layoffs only for workers whose locals failed to endorse him, something even Michael Bloomberg never tried.
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Building power- the role of teachers and their unions

Building power beyond elections: The unique
role of educators and their unions

 By Joshua Pechthalt, President, California Federation of Teachers

The Republican victory in November reminds us that organized labor and the progressive movement can’t rely on elections to advance our agenda. Our power to improve the lives of members and community allies flows from our ability to organize the kind of powerful labor-community alliance that can demand change from politicians.

In spite of the national drubbing inflicted on Democrats, there were a few bright spots. The reelection of Tom Torlakson as state superintendent of public instruction demonstrated once again that mobilized educators can beat a multi-million dollar, anti-teacher campaign.

Significant victories across the country suggest that voters are not necessarily moving to the right on key issues. Voters passed measures to raise the minimum wage, legalize marijuana, and protect a woman’s right to control her body. In California, Democrats won every statewide office and continue to hold strong majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. They also picked up one congressional seat.

Electoral support for the Republican Party reflects the public’s deep uncertainty about the economy. While there has been consistent job growth for months, the majority of Americans worry about their current situation and the future.

Economic disparity is greater now than at any time since the Great Depression. Real wages have stagnated for years, job growth is primarily in the low-wage service sector, and for young people, a college education is expensive and no longer guarantees a decent middle-class job.

Conditions are ripe for the reemergence of a progressive political movement, yet none has developed. Democrats are not providing leadership; many people have lost confidence in them. They are unwilling to articulate a vision that puts people to work, rebuilds the nation’s infrastructure, invests in our schools and makes higher education affordable. Continue reading

Massachusetts Teachers Association Has a New Reforming President!

Ed. note:     The election of Barbara Madeloni  as President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA demonstrates the commitment of the MTA to quality public education at all levels.  This excerpt from her first editorial statement speaks eloquently for itself.

Fighting for our vision of public education

Barbara MadeloniBarbara Madeloni
MTA President

This is my first MTA Today editorial, and I am writing it at a moment that is filled with promise and possibilities. I want to begin our conversation in these pages by saying what a great honor it is to be given your trust and the privilege of representing you as your president. I know that our new vice president, Janet Anderson, shares my excitement. Working with all of you, our members, we now have an incredible opportunity to build the MTA’s strength as an activist union so that we can reclaim our voices, our power in solidarity, and the hope of public education.

We come into office during tumultuous times — indeed, dangerous times. Corporate players, looking to privatize public education, profit from the public dollar and bust our unions, have imposed business ideology on public schools through high-stakes testing, charter schools and technocratic accountability systems. Their narrative of failing public schools and bad public school educators — along with lazy public-sector workers — has been accepted by a bipartisan legion of legislators and policymakers. Our great institutions of public higher education are subject to similar attacks and story lines.

This narrative denies the devastating impact of economic and racial injustice and shows disdain for the enormous achievements of our members. As a result, too many of our students remain in poverty, public-sector unions are threatened, and public education — the cornerstone of our hope for democracy — is endangered.

MTA members recognize that this is a critical period in our history. With the election of new leadership, members announced that we are ready to fight for public education, for our union, and for our communities.

More than 500 first-time delegates attended the Annual Meeting, buoyed by an understanding that the struggle we are engaged in needs activists, organizers and a commitment to win. Our members came to the Annual Meeting because they recognized that the MTA is each one of us, talking to each other and working together to create strategies that protect collective bargaining and due process, strengthen our union, and support the best education possible for every student in Massachusetts.

Ours is not simply a fight against corporate “reforms,” as some would frame it. Ours is a struggle for a vision of public education as a place for joy, creativity, imagination, empathy and critical questioning so that students enter the world ready to participate in democratic communities.

MTA members recognize that this is a critical period in our history. With the election of new leadership, members announced that we are ready to fight for public education, for our union, and for our communities.

In this vision, every child is exposed to a rich curriculum; every school is well-funded; all educators are given respect, autonomy and time to do our work; and parents, students and educators work together to assess and reassess our efforts. This vision must replace the dehumanizing data-driven madness that is choking the life from our schools.

Ours is a vision for economic and racial justice, a society in which every child enters the classroom from a place of material security and with the consciousness of being a valued member of our community with the same opportunities as any other child.

Ours is a vision in which higher education — public higher education — is accessible to all families and affordable to every student. Our colleges and universities are places of free inquiry and intellectual exploration of the highest order, as well as institutions that offer preparation for economic security and successful professional lives. Along with our schools, they help provide the threads that bind us together as a healthy and just society.

This fall and into the years ahead, MTA members will engage in a movement to create a more activist union and reclaim public education. The more members engage, the stronger our movement will be and the more we can do.This is a terribly important time for public education and union democracy. It is a time for struggle, but a time, as well, for the joy of solidarity and of being able to say, when asked, that we stood together for students, public education and democracy.

In solidarity, and in anticipation of many great things ahead,

Barbara

How Teachers Unions Lead the Way to Better Schools

Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

by Amy Dean

Diane Ravitch upends the “bad teachers” narrative.

Part of what I object to is the assumption that somehow the problems in American education are all tied up with teachers. The teachers are causing low performance, and if we could just find the ideal teacher evaluation system, we would be the highest performing nation in the world. I think that’s a false narrative.

I have a concern: Teachers are getting pummeled. Too often, they are being demonized in the media and blamed by politicians for being the cause of bad schools. Right-wing governors, power-hungry mayors and corporate “reformers”—all ignoring root issues such as poverty and inequality—have scapegoated the people who have devoted their lives to educating our children. Moreover, these forces are seeking to destroy the collective organizations formed by educators: teachers unions.

The stakes for our country could not be more profound. The labor movement and the public education system are two critical institutions of American democracy. And they are two that go hand in hand. Teachers unions have played a critical role in advocating for public education, but you’d never know it from mainstream media coverage. Therefore, there is a great need to lift up this tradition and highlight the efforts of teachers to collectively push for top-notch public schools.

To figure out how we can push forward on this issue, I talked with Diane Ravitch, one of the country’s leading education historians and public school advocates. A professor at New York University, Ravitch is a former Assistant Secretary of Education and the author of several books, including 2010’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

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