WHERE'S THE NEAFT PARTNERSHIP?
In the months ahead, both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) will have to decide whether to continue their NEAFT Partnership Agreement. This document was put together after the NEA Representative Assembly failed to pass the Principles of Unity negotiated by the leadership of both unions that would have led to a merger of the two national organizations. At the time of its adoption by the conventions of both unions, though I was not particularly sanguine about the probability of successful implementation of the agreement, I wrote, "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 membersí dues dollars would have been spent on attempting to wound each other rather than 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." That leadership never materialized!
Instead each national union committed some staff to work together on a few issues like health insurance. While I am sure that these staff were completely committed to their task, and while I am equally sure they produced reams of documents for their superiors, the simple fact remains that the overwhelming number of NEA and AFT members know nothing about the Partnership, nothing. Even more importantly, they have not been asked to do anything in its name. The main reason for creating the Partnership was to take a step toward a merger by working together on common goals. The two staffs working together is fine, but that does nothing to break down the barriers to a full merger and the union of two proud and powerful organizations to fight the enemies of public education. That can only come when our leaders get the members of both unions working together in common cause, seeing that their interests are the same, their problems the same, the solutions to the problems the same.
With the 2004 election starting to heat up, imagine what could happen if the 2.7 million members of the NEA joined with the 1.4 million members of the AFT to map out and implement an election strategy to defeat the enemies of public education. Imagine if we mobilized our members in every congressional district in this great nation to educate voters to the hoax called the Leave No Child Behind Act. What might we not accomplish for public education and ourselves? After we achieved some common goals by working together, who could reasonably be against a merger having seen the potential of uniting two great unions?
By all means, let us renew the NEAFT Partnership, but let us do so with some real commitment to organizing our members to breath some life into it. As a member of the NEA, I want Reg Weaver, our newly elected president, to go to the meeting on the Partnership with his counter part from the AFT with an agenda - to make the members of each organization partners, not just their leaders.
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