Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Labor leaders pathetic response to Vergara v California

David Welch blames teachers for market failure
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The war against public education and the teacher’s unions had another victory last week as a California judge declared that teacher seniority rights and tenure are unconstitutional.  The ruling is the result of what is known as Vergara vs California, a lawsuit brought and financed by Silicon Valley millionaire David Welch on behalf of nine students. Welch’s compensation for 2013 was a paltry $2 million according to Forbes. At 53, he’s got his sights set on grander things, privatizing education being one of them. 

The judge agreed with Welch that present rules regarding teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure, disproportionately harm minority students in high-poverty schools by making it too difficult to fire incompetent teachers.

One has to laugh at statements from judges and Silicon Valley executives about harm done to working class students, let alone minority students by a dysfunctional education system.  Students and teachers are “unfairly unnecessarily” affected by the present system the judge says. He adds that tenure and seniority rights affect “students fundamental right to equality of education” and “impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.” SF Chronicle 6-11-14.

Closing schools in Oakland CA that served mostly communities of color didn’t help minorities too much I would say and I’m sure that the Judge didn’t have much to say about that. In fact, when parents, teachers and the community staged a 17-day sit in at one of the Oakland schools scheduled for closure, the cops were sent in to drive them out.

Quite naturally, Arne Duncan, Obama’s Education Secretary welcomes this legal victory.
“For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher” Says Duncan who along with Obama and Rahm Immanuel are directing a scorched earth policy in Chicago when it comes to public education, also affecting students of color primarily.

And how do layoffs of their parents affect children? And what about foreclosures and being driven out of your home by sheriffs on behalf of bankers? Does that have some bearing on a child’s education?

While there are undoubtedly bad teachers, the vast majority of them have dedicated their lives to education of working class youth.  A cursory glance at how rich people educate their children would reveal a teacher to pupil ratio as low as one to twelve. In most public schools teachers have as many as 40 kids and maybe ten language groups, in addition to this, the crisis of capitalism that damages personal relationship and family life means that all the sickness of this market induced madness is brought in to the classroom.

David Welch wants to blame teachers for a crisis in “high poverty” schools and his solution is being able to fire them easier and destroying other workplace protections teachers have won over the years. This is nothing new.  Autoworkers are to blame for the crisis in the auto industry, public sector workers for the municipal bankruptcies and deficits.  The post office is losing money they say and our local mailperson is responsible for that.

I often introduce myself to people as a retired public sector worker, “You know, the person whose pension is destroying the American way of life.”

If David Welch or Rolf Treu cared about minorities or any other poor people they’d be campaigning against the racist justice system in the US that incarcerates them in staggering numbers.  No society in human history has put so many of its own citizens in prisons as US capitalism. They would be boasting that the USPS is the most efficient service in the country guaranteeing mail to every person no matter what their location.  Public services should not be businesses; profit doesn’t enter in to it.  The USPS they said needed $10 billion.  We spend that in foreign wars in a month. Some investors and other coupon clippers have earned that much in a year.  Investing in public services including education is simply returning the surplus value workers create back to us in the form of services; it is a public service, a right.

Welch, as a representative of the 1% even though he is a relatively small potato in their ranks, started the organization StudentsFirst in 2010 to advance his privatization agenda.  Bill Raden wrote of StudentsFirst, “

“Most websites belonging to educational privateers such as StudentsFirst, NewSchools Venture Fund or Parent Revolution present images of children at play or of hand-raising students in class. is something altogether different. Here a reader will find no editorials about learning tools, pedagogical developments or issues facing today’s teachers. Instead, nearly every screen down to its donations page is devoted to a single subject: Vergara v. California. Far from appearing as a celebration of “school reform,” Welch’s site seems to represent a lawsuit in search of a school district.”

It’s not difficult to understand Welch’s motives here.  Raden again:

“The David and Heidi Welch Foundation, for example, has given to NewSchools Venture Fund, where Welch has been an “investment partner” and which invests in both charter schools and the cyber-charter industry, and has been linked to the $9 billion-per-year textbook and testing behemoth Pearson. Welch has also supported Michelle Rhee’s education-privatizing lobby StudentsFirst, most recently with a $550,000 bequest in 2012”.

This writer has commented many times on the offensive against public sector workers and our unions in the aftermath of the disarming of the UAW accomplished with the help of that union’s International leadership.  Without the public sector there are few American workers in unions any more. The public sector is about 35% organized and in all around 12% of US workers are in unions. Without the public sector that drops down to less than 7%. 

The National Education Association is the largest union in the country with 3 million members and it is represented in every state. The American Federation of Teachers that is affiliated to the AFL-CIO represents 1. 5 million members.  The fact that these organizations, exist is a problem for Welch and the US capitalist class that sees juicy returns in the privatization of education. Despite a business friendly leadership they will not be satisfied until these organizations are destroyed and US workers are thrown back to conditions that existed prior to the civil rights movement and the great labor upsurge of the 1930’s that built the CIO. They worry the heads of organized labor will not be able to hold back the anger within their ranks indefinitely.

The labor hierarchy prostrating themselves before the bosses and their representatives in the Democratic Party have brought union members and the US working class nothing.  The bosses are confident that they will not fight, will not mobilize the potential power of organized labor in an offensive of our own, they have proven this time and time again. Rand and file movements from below have been derailed or suppressed and in some cases the hierarchy has collaborated in the termination of troublemakers who threaten the relationship they have built with the bosses based on labor peace; at their members expense of course.

The response to The Vergara v California decision is more of the same.

This is just the beginning of a long legal battle, lawyers for the unions told the media. “I am confident that the court of appeal will reverse this decision” James Finburg, an attorney for both the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers told the San Francisco Chronicle.  That sort of confidence can only come from someone whose interests are not at stake.

Relying on the courts and their friends in the Democratic Party is the only strategy that is open to the theoreticians and heads of organized labor. The alternative is to mobilize their members and launch a direct action offensive of workers and our communities against the assault of the 1% on our standard of living and the benefits and social services we have won through decades of sacrifice and struggle.  But having the same pro-market worldview as the bosses, the policies of the labor hierarchy are policies aimed at appeasing the capitalist offensive not policies that confront it.

The California Labor Federation has about 2 million workers affiliated to it although most of them wouldn’t know that.  The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has some 800,000 workers affiliated to it. This is potential power whose money and human resource is used to help Democrats in to office. For union members we are in a war on two fronts. One is the obvious, against the employers’ offensive. The other is against the concessionary policies of our own leaders.

Instead of relying on the courts and the Democratic Party workers can only rely on our own strength, our own organizations and our own communities. We must reject the passive and concessionary approach of the present heads of organized labor.  We must oppose layoffs and temporary layoffs they refer to as furloughs; we need more teachers. 

We must oppose it in the unions by building fighting caucuses that will challenge the present leadership and build a generalized movement that demands what we need not what is acceptable to the Democratic Party and big business. There’s no shortage of money.

No privatization of education

Fully federally funded education at all levels.

Maximum class size of 15 for K through 12

Massive infusion of capital to train teachers at Union scale and benefits to be paid for by ending the 1%'s predatory wars and military ventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and by taxes on the rich

Free child care before and after school

Control of curriculum by students, teachers and those who use education

No corporate influence in education

Cancel all student debt

Here are a couple more pieces on education and there are many more under the Teachers and Education labels on the right.


David Bensman said...

I heard Randi Weingarten denouncing the decision this week and her arguments wete far from pathetic. They were passionate, incisive and clear that what was at stake was the future of public education.

Richard Mellor said...

And what was her strategy for defeating it David?