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Common sense and  union consciousness are still alive in the National Education Association (NEA) despite the attempt by NEA President Bob Chase and the inner circles of the union to change its historic opposition to merit/performance pay. At the recent NEA Representative Assembly, some 10,000 delegates debated the proposed policy change. In the end, not even Chase’s desperate and unethical use of NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin, a paid staff person, in the debate could save him. A savvy majority who remembered why the organization has always been opposed to merit/performance pay gave the Chase scheme the boot.

Chase’s political defeat is but the latest example of his unwillingness to recognize that his attempts to fashion a so-called "new unionism" have seriously enlarged the ideological divide that has long exited in the organization. Put simply, our organization has always been split between those with a deep commitment to collective bargaining and strong advocacy on behalf of the membership and those who fancy themselves members of a professional association who shrink from thinking of themselves as labor and from the collective action that is at the heart of labor organizations. Where NEA leaders like Mary Futrell and Keith Geiger sought to adumbrate these differences and slowly bring the associationists into the labor camp, Chase has played to the organization’s elitists, actively promoting a de-emphasis of collective bargaining and militancy in favor of peer review, performance pay and other anti-union schemes in an apparent attempt to appear more reasonable to the political right - hoping thereby to mitigate their unrelenting attack on public education in the United States. The attack continues, and the Chase strategy is aiding and abetting it.

With Chase in his last term as NEA President, the time is at hand for a leader to emerge with broad union experience and the courage forged in the battle for members’ rights to set a new direction for the NEA - a direction aimed at the goal of a new solidarity, predicated on an understanding by all NEA members that their welfare is inextricably tied to that of their colleagues and that the noblest goal is still to rise with the ranks and not from them. The debate against performance pay was brilliantly led by Phil Rumore, President of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. To my mind he would suit our leadership needs just fine.

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