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TRY A LITTLE ORGANIZATION

2/16/02

    Wherever I go and in much of what I read about education unionism today, I hear the union leaders talking about how newer teachers do not respond to the message of today’s teacher unions. Just the other day I picked up the January 30, 2002 edition of Education Week to find a lead article, "Gen-Xers Apathetic About Union Label." Once again I found myself reading about how the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are hell bent to overhaul themselves so as "...to make themselves more meaningful to younger teachers." Once again Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski, a guru of the "new unionism," recites his mantra that, "The world around us is changing. Educators are coming in with different dispositions, different needs and different requirement for their unions."

    What bunk! If Urbanski, Chase, Feldman and all of the other defeatists in our movement are correct, we must believe that somehow or other human nature has changed and that the ideas that inspired the pioneers of the teacher labor movement are irrelevant to today’s teachers. We have to believe that young teachers are not interested in earning a decent living and supporting their families. We must believe that they aren’t concerned about having quality health insurance and other insurance benefits. We must believe that the newer teachers are like Raul Garcia, a Harvard-educated educator, quoted in the Education Week article who says, "I don’t need a union. I really trust and believe in the [school] leaders here. If I did have a really serious issue, we’d deal with it. I know my interests are being looked out for."

    The younger members of the PCT aren’t anything like Raul Garcia. I seriously doubt that many of the nation’s newer teachers are. The PCT member of today is every bit as much connected to our union as people were when I joined in 1969, maybe better. We have one hundred percent membership today. We didn’t then. We have more members working on committees than ever before. In just the past few months we have had members working on committees to deal with a new math program, inclusion, educational policies, enrichment and foreign language. PCT members volunteered to staff our phone bank in a recent political campaign to win public support for expansion of our public library. These committees are composed of many Gen-Xers. It’s PCT Gen-Xers who are working to restructure the school day for elementary teachers and students. It was PCT Gen-Xers who made the lion’s share of the over four thousand phone calls in support of the library expansion. It was the PCT membership who were willing to risk the loss of their pay and substantial fines to defend a colleague who was being fired unjustly. Wherever one turns in Plainview-Old Bethpage, there are PCT Gen-Xers along with those of us who came before them struggling to improve conditions in our schools for ourselves and our students. As I write, we are organizing ourselves, building by building, to raise the academic standards of our district beyond those promulgated by the state of New York.

     I refuse to believe that Plainview-Old Bethpage is the last professional home of the soon to be extinct teacher unionist. We aren’t a different sort of humanity here. Our union has always given people a reason to join the PCT and become active. We are engaged in everything that affects our members in the workplace, from salary to curriculum. That is just another way of saying we’re organized.   Our two state and national teacher unions might try this established brand of unionism.  Where it's practiced, it works.

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