This years National Education Association Convention in Los Angles focused on what was billed as the NEAFT Partnership Agreement, an attempt by both education unions to keep the idea of a national merger alive after its defeat by the NEA Convention two years ago. Stripped of its rhetorical embellishments, the agreement simply creates a committee of equal representation from both organizations to plan and coordinate activities and programs in their common interest while allowing both NEA and AFT to remain autonomous unions. By a vote of approximately 60 to 40 percent, the convention approved the Partnership Agreement. Unlike the proposed merger, the Partnership Agreement required only a majority vote. Agreement by the AFT is assured.
To ardent supporters of merger, the Partnership Agreement is too little too late. It is clearly neither a merger nor a big step in the direction of one. Many of us were calling for similar cooperative endeavors back in the early 80's in the belief that if the members of both organizations could only meet each other regularly and work together in common cause, they would come to understand that their shared needs and experiences in the nations schools bound their interests together more tightly than their disputes about how an education union should be governed pulled them apart. Had something like the Partnership Agreement preceded the failed attempt at merger, had both organizations spent a few years working on significant joint projects that involved large numbers of the memberships of both organizations, we might well be closer to the goal of merger than in fact we presently are.
But, adoption of the Partnership Agreement and the companion "no-raid" agreement was certainly desirable. Had the NEA Convention said, "NO" to the Partnership, they would have undoubtedly touched off a new series of raiding battles where the members dues dollars would have been spent on attempting to wound each other rather beating back our common enemies. The leadership of both unions are challenged to quickly make the words of the Partnership a reality for the members in every local union. Bold and skillful leadership can make of the Partnership Agreement more than its words denote.
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