Tag Archives: solidarity

Theory into practice: Social justice, solidarity & AESA

The American Educational Studies Association is currently facing a dilemma that forces its leadership and membership to decide just how committed they are to the principles of social justice, principles upon which the organization has built its reputation.

How much are the organization’s principles worth?

Should AESA members cross the picket lines and hold its 2016 meeting at the Grand Hyatt Seattle to save itself from an $83,000 cancellation fee? Or, bite the financial bullet in the name of walking the talk on social justice, solidarity, allyship?

Yesterday the AESA membership voted to punt these questions back to the leadership. But before that decision was made there was a long and sometimes puzzling discussion of these issues. Below are some musings on that discussion.

Spot the similarities: AESA 2015 / CUFA-NCSS 1998

Similarities between the AESA’s financial versus principles dilemma and the one CUFA-NCSS faced in the 1990s are striking.

I was deeply involved debates/actions related to the boycott of California in the 1990s in response to the racist, anti-immigrant Proposition 187. Prop 187 was passed in 1994. The College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies was scheduled to meet in Anaheim in 1998.

At its 1994 meeting in Phoenix, the membership of CUFA-NCSS voted to boycott Anaheim and then lobbied NCSS to do the same. NCSS, which is a profoundly conservative organization, rejected the boycott arguing that it had “contractual obligations.”

Despite that fact that CUFA leadership had four years to make arrangements for an alternative meeting site (CUFA is an affiliated group of NCSS and while it meets in conjunction with the larger organization, it functions as an autonomous group), it took no substantive action.

The delay tactic worked, creating a crisis situation.

In 1997, the combined efforts of the leadership of CUFA and NCSS convinced the CUFA membership to rescind its boycott and meet in Anaheim. Every African American member of CUFA-NCSS (and a few others) in the room quit the organization the night of the vote.

NCSS did not condemn the racist, xenophobic Prop 187 until 1997. It also promised not to meet in California while Prop 187 was in effect, with the exception of the 1998 meeting in Anaheim.

With their actions the NCSS-CUFA leadership was boldly saying something like:

Sometimes doing the right is inconvenient, so we’ll make our commitment to social justice when it doesn’t hurt our pocketbook. Don’t you know we have contractual obligations!

In the AESA 2015 business meeting (held in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt San Antonio), many folks offered up similar lines of reasoning as CUFA-NCSS leadership on why the organization can’t take a stand in solidarity with the workers at the Grand Hyatt Seattle:

  • contractual obligations / sizeable cancelation penalty
  • financial hit would have deleterious effects on the organization
  • let’s wait and see what happens
  • boycotting the hotel will not accomplish anything
  • boycotting the hotel will hurt the workers
  • let’s illustrate our solidarity by our academic discourse, not a boycott
  • not all organizations are boycotting, etc.

In addition, as was pointed out at yesterday’s meeting, AESA’s leadership has been aware of the union boycott of the Grand Hyatt Seattle for years, but never developed any viable alternatives.

To be fair the AESA Executive Council (EC) offered up several options, including a “shadow conference,” but none of these were thought through. There was not even a detailed assessment of the impact of the cancelation fee on the AESA finances. (Although one EC member stated AESA has the funds to pay the cancelation fee, which was supported by the financial report distributed to members).

Rather than providing concrete details to members about risk factors and logistical options, the EC members raised the spectre of members having to cover the costs of the cancelation fee via increased conference/membership rates and the difficulty of finding alternative spaces for the Seattle meeting, implying that honouring the boycott meant cancelling the 2016 meeting.

Perhaps the most appalling leadership tactic was a long harangue by an EC member that argued Grand Hyatt Seattle workers already had a pretty good hourly wage and being able to form a union would not increase their wages much. This EC member also offered up the twisted logic that drinking coffee from un-unionized Starbucks wasn’t much different from crossing a picket line at the Grand Hyatt Seattle … and everybody drinks coffee from Starbucks, right?

The leadership of AESA is correct that there’s not much time left to make a plan for an alternative site for the 2016 meeting, which begs the question of what they’ve been doing the past 4 years. Likely, just hoping that situation would resolve itself and save AESA from having to make a tough choice.

In some ways the membership endorsed that strategy by refusing to take a vote on the motion to honor the boycott and instead kicking the issue back to the EC.

Some EC members repeatedly stated their concern for the Hyatt workers and their desire to be responsive to members who support the UNITE HERE Local 8 boycott. But, these sentiments were weakened in the face of repeated statements that the EC wanted to investigate the circumstances of boycott before they took any action.

Which side is the AESA EC on? After yesterday’s meeting I have a strong feeling this is a repeat for the CUFA-NCSS California boycott debacle.

Allyship

AESA is an organization whose members frequently write about social inequity, privilege, and allyship. But there was a stunning lack of sensitivity to these issues in the business meeting discussion of the boycott.

I am convinced that if one substituted people of color or LGBTQI folks for the members of UNITE HERE Local 8, many of the comments made in the business meeting would be immediately rejected by most AESA members has reflective of the privileged telling oppressed people what their problems are and how they should be solved.

Indeed many comments were the opposite of allyship:

  • UNITE HERE Local 8 wants to make this an either/or question and it’s not;
  • We want to support the workers, but I don’t think the boycott is the best way;
  • The union is not interested in other ways we can support the workers.

These kinds of expressions ignore what the workers have requested of would be allies, namely not to eat, sleep, or meet at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

Many members of AESA obviously think they have better ideas for how they might support Local 8, and are offended when the union isn’t interested in what they think.

As the Anti-Oppression Network argues:

allyship …is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with …

Is There Potential for an Organizational Split in AESA?

I heard lots of talk at AESA about holding an alternative meeting (and protesting) if AESA goes ahead with its plan to meet at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

The circumstances have significant differences, but the CUFA-NCSS boycott collapse was a significant factor in the creation of the Rouge Forum, which worked within CUFA-NCSS for a years, but ultimately went its separate way.

While remote, I do believe there is possibility of a faction within AESA looking elsewhere if the current plans for AESA 2016 are not changed. At the very least there might be reduced commitment to the organization by some members if AESA cannot find the will to walk its talk.

Based upon yesterday’s dialogue, some members of the EC seem quite sincere in their pledge to lead AESA out of this dilemma, while preserving its credibility as an organization committed to social justice.

What AESA needs right now is a little less conversation and a little more action.

 

Support Chicago teachers refusing to give the ISAT standardized test

[via Pauline Lipman]

Colleagues,

Please sign attached letter of support for Chicago teachers refusing to
give the ISAT standardized test. Teachers at Saucedo elementary school in
Little Village (serving mainly Mexican children) took the courageous stand
to support parents who are opting out of the test by refusing to
administer it. CEO Barbara Byrd Bennet sent teachers a threatening memo
threatening any teacher who boycotted the test with being fired and having
her license revoked. Nonetheless, teachers at a second school have just
joined the boycott. Please add your name to this letter. We need a strong
national showing now. Testing will begin next week so we need to move on
this now. The letter will be posted on numerous websites and may be read
at press conferences at the schools. (more background below)

PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS LETTER WIDELY
TO SIGN, PLEASE SEND YOUR NAME, TITLE, AND UNIVERSITY AFFILIATION TO:
gutstein@uic.edu

Thank you for your solidarity.

Pauline

Pauline Lipman
Professor, Educational Policy Studies
College of Education
University of Illinois-Chicago
1040 W. Harrison, MC 147
Chicago IL 60607-7133
312-413-4413

BACKGROUND
CPS has announced that this year the ISAT test has no impact on students’
grade promotion or admission into selective programs. The ISAT is no
longer part of the “school performance policy” nor will it be used to
evaluate teachers. CPS’s claim that the ISAT is aligned to Common Core
standards is dubious at best since the PARCC exam, which is being designed
to measure performance on those standards, has been years in the making
and has yet to be released. The ISAT will not help teachers understand
their students or improve instruction for them. Because CPS has not
provided any valid reason to give this test hundreds of parents have opted
their children out of this test.

LETTER
February 28, 2014

STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR CHICAGO TEACHERS REFUSING TO ADMINISTER THE ILLINOIS STANDARD ACHIEVEMENT TEST

FROM UNIVERSITY EDUCATION FACULTY

As university faculty whose responsibilities include preparing future educators, we support the action of teachers at the Saucedo Elementary School in Chicago who are refusing to administer the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). Over a decade of research shows that an over emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests narrows curriculum, creates social and emotional stress for students and families, drives committed teachers out of the profession, and turns schools into test-prep factories with principals forced to comply as overseers—especially in low-scoring schools. We understand assessment as the process of gathering evidence about learning, from multiple sources, so that teachers can better support student learning. The ISAT, in contrast, contributes virtually nothing. CPS no longer uses the ISAT for promotion, graduation, or eligibility for selective-enrollment schools and is phasing it out after this year. It is not aligned with Common Core State Standards—which, regardless of how one sees them, Illinois has already adopted—and does not help teachers improve student learning. The pre-service teachers with whom we work are demoralized about a future of teaching in such a test-driven atmosphere. We teach our students—future educators—to stand up for their students, families and communities, and to take principled stands for social justice. That’s what the Saucedo teachers are doing. We applaud them and stand with them.

Signed

Pauline Lipman, University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Education
Rico Gutstein, University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Education

Organizing adjunct faculty: In whose interests?

In  2012, the Service Employees International Union announced a locally focused organizing strategy, aimed at adjunct faculty working in large metropolitan areas. The idea is that by unionizing as many institutions as possible in a metro area, market pressures will build for colleges and universities to improve adjuncts’ pay, benefits, and working conditions, creating new local benchmarks.

SEIU Local 500  has had success in Washington DC area organizing adjunct unions  at American University, George Washington University,  Georgetown University and Montgomery College in Maryland. And organizing efforts are progressing at other area institutions, such as the University of DC.

SEIU’s Adjunct Action effort has since spread to Boston (Tufts University, Northeastern University, Lesley, Bentley University), Los Angeles, (Whittier College, University of La Verne) and Seattle, (Pacific Lutheran University) and other US cities, including Philadelphia.

But now, a little over a year since the SEIU metro strategy was announced, the American Federation of Teachers have announced their own citywide adjunct organizing strategy in Philadelphia, where they’ll be in direct competition with SEIU’s efforts.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the AFT’s United Academics of Philadelphia has targeted adjuncts (and graduate employees) at a number of the City of Brotherly Love’s higher education institutions, including: Temple University, Moore College of Art and Design, University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, Swarthmore College, Community College of Philadelphia, Villanova University, and St. Joseph’s University. United Academics’ aim is to “become a city-wide bargaining unit under a common contract onto which individual campuses could sign.”

Is there enough adjunct love to go around in Philly?

Is the competition between SEIU and AFT to represent Philadelphia adjuncts a good thing for their potential members?

What is happening in Philadelphia seems to be a burgeoning turf war between SEIU and AFT and the prize is dues money (and clout). The Philadelphia situation is nothing new, merely a variation on a long running theme of unions battling for (each others) members, something that has intensified as organized trade union membership in the US has continued its slide. Recent examples include: SEIU v National Union of Healthcare Workers (Kaiser Permanente in California); Transportation Workers Union v Teamsters (American Airlines mechanics); Teamsters v International Association of Machinist (US Airways); and SEIU (SPM) v Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), to name a few.

Certainly these situations are bad PR for unions (especially since nearly 90% of the workforce in the US is unorganized). It’s also true that union raiding and organizing battles contradict the notion of solidarity amongst all unions and workers. The fact is that union bosses pretty much operate on the mantra of “solidarity for never” (as Rich Gibson says). Examples: Lawsuits filed by the nurses union against SEIU or the TWU’s legal actions against the Teamsters. Ironically (or not) what fuels these intra-labor union wars, at least in part, are the concessions these same unions have bargained away (e.g., job cuts, two-tier wage scales, benefit givebacks, the right to strike, etc.) all in order to ensure the flow of dues money.

Unions ≠ Worker Solidarity

Solidarity is the power of labor, no doubt. But worker solidarity shouldn’t be conflated with trade unions and their bosses. From the examples above we can see the divisions union bosses often create among workers and between union members and other members of the working class, with whom they share collective interests. In short, workers need to cast a wary eye toward their own unions because the unity of interests often described between the rank-and-file workers and their unions is most often a chimera.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be a union member than not and I support organizing of all academics because unions have the potential to improve workplace rights, working conditions, wages, benefits, etc. But organizing, followed by bargaining a contract is merely the first steps of building solidarity and there are serious limitations to the kind of “business unionism” contracts we see for teachers and academics in particular.

For example, teacher unions in the US have tied their interests to corporate education reform (note that not all teachers have, but the union leadership has). The solidarity offered by National Education Association and AFT is not with the source of real educator power—that is unity with poor and working class parents and students who have everything to gain from school. Some early teacher unionists, such as Margaret Haley (who worked in both the NEA and AFT in the early 1900s), led campaigns that drew on the powerful unity of interests among students, teachers, and parents around issues such as class size, freedom to control the local curriculum, and a more just tax system.

Unfortunately both NEA and AFT have abandoned the vision that would link the activities of school workers with students and parents. The most obvious example of this estrangement of interests is the 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville teacher strike, which pitted the New York City teachers union, led by the late, long-time AFT President Albert Shanker, against the African American community. The conflict centered on community control of public schools. The union won and community control was lost, establishing a labor-management model that mirrors private industry, one in which educational policy was determined in bilateral negotiations between a highly centralized school administration and highly centralized union. 

Neither of these unions, anywhere, has attained attractive and enforceable rules about class size. Neither union has fought hard against the shift of the tax burden onto poor and working people. Neither the NEA nor AFT has defended academic freedom from the onslaught of standardized test regulations, indeed they commonly support a mandated curriculum (e.g., NCLB, Common Core State Standards).

The good news is that workers and their unions are not synonymous and there are movements within (and outside) of unions led by workers to pursue real, collective solidarity that extends beyond narrow unions interests.

In a nutshell, criticizing the actions of labor unions is far from throwing the interests of rank-and-file workers (or the working class) under the bus, indeed it is one of the first things we have to do to protect ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-Secondary Faculty Support BC Teachers

Please consider signing and circulating a petition for post-secondary support of BC teachers / BCTF
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/support-bc-teachers-bctf-2012/

Thank you,

Sandra Mathison, Stephen Petrina & E. Wayne Ross
University of British Columbia
Faculty of Education

Institute for Critical Education Studies
http://blogs.ubc.ca/ices/
http://blogs.ubc.ca/workplace/