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WHERE ARE WE GOING?

6/7/00

I’ve written from time to time of my belief in the efficacy of a merger between the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). While I still believe that the interests of education workers would be best served by a united union, the leadership of both national organizations has me wondering. Maybe, what we really need is something very different from what we have been offered?

Instead of continuing to attempt to put together the NEA and the AFT, perhaps we need to face the harsh truth that they are ideologically merged, and that putting them together would probably mean a more concentrated erosion of the workers’ rights advocacy to which they were once both committed. Think about some of what these so-called unions have been doing.

The leadership of both the AFT and NEA share a belief in something they refer to as a "new unionism." Both appear to believe that a new era is dawning in which school managements will sit down with labor and share power to improve education and the conditions of teachers. That these "sharings" almost always mean working longer hours without extra compensation is left unsaid. What matter! We’re only interested in the children.

Both the NEA and AFT aggressively pursue the encouragement of peer assistance and review. Let’s participate with management, they say, in helping to fire dues paying members of our local organizations, but let’s not call it firing them. Let’s counsel them out of the profession instead.

Taking on the agenda of the political right wing, the leadership of both the NEA and AFT are currently hawking performance pay schemes. Through some pseudo-scientific evaluation scheme designed by some education theorists, members will be judged by some numbers and rewarded accordingly. It’s somehow becoming sinful to say we all deserve a good raise.

Both unions also appear to be attempting to modify their positions on privatization of school services. In some places in our country, towns contract with private schools and other agencies to provide instruction to their residents. The NEA has before it now a proposal that would change our current policy of opposition to such contracting out. Is the next step support for vouchers?

For many of us, such behavior is not only un-union; it’s anti-union. Unchecked, it will undo what several generations of union people have accomplished.

Maybe instead of a merger of the NEA and AFT, what we have to begin to talk about is a re-alignment of the members of both organizations into two new organizations, one that will militantly champion the rights of its members to decent working conditions and salaries. In other words, let’s have a union. For those who wish to turn their backs on the labor movement and collaborate with management and government in spouting the latest education reform mantra sure to make all students enlightened, skilled and self-esteemed citizens of the new information age dawning in this new millennium, able to shift a paradigm with the best of them, let them have whatever type of organization will make them happy. When they find the error of their ways, we will welcome them to membership in our union with open arms.

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