Sunday, June 9, 2019

Labor's Leadership Failed Teachers Parents and Youth in Kentucky

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Member, DSA

I want to add that my knowledge of the actual composition of the more combative Jefferson County group is something I'm not fully aware of including its own internal differences. I would also like to add (and I'll put a couple of links up with more information.) that we should not underestimate the courage it took for some of these teachers in Jefferson County (and I understand there were others) to defy the deal made by the leadership of the KEA, KY120 and the state to not shut down the schools by calling in sick. After they did and the schools were shut down once again, the state sought to get the names and addresses of the teachers that did and threatened them with retribution; in other words, they applied good old fashioned economic terrorism. Jefferson County are the people that the leaders of the labor movement in Kentucky and nationally should have rallied around if they were at all serious about transforming the present balance of class forces.

I have spoken to a teacher in Jefferson County KY since I made this video and she made an interesting point about the situation in Jthere regarding the unions. In the video above I make reference to how the trade union officialdom goes to war in the competition for members. I recall here in California before CNA affiliated to the AFL-CIO, there were major disputes between competing unions including my own, Afscme International and SEIU in particular competing for CNA's members.  The union hierarchy looks at it as a revenue gain, bring in a union or association with 50,000 members and that’s 50,000 times $75 a month for example. When they do bring them in, there’s no huge democratic debate among the members in the union halls and on the job but an agreement between the two leaderships. A deal is struck that benefits both parties and that’s it. I raise this competition in the video.  But in the case of Jefferson County KY from what my friend tells me, things were similar but at the same time different.  In this example, the heads of what would be competing unions got together and rather than go through a nasty competitive war in a state where the unions are relatively weak, a “gentleman’s agreement” was made and they divided up the pie.

The Teamster got the drivers, the NEA the teachers, the Cafeteria workers SEIU, and Afscme the secretaries. Secretaries are often in management unions or non-represented as they have access to information that the bosses’ don’t want us to have.

This might seem like a good idea but we can see how divisive it is if we watch the press conference that the Jefferson County Teachers Association (KEA/NEA) called inviting the Teamster\SEIU, and Afscme leadership along to attack the Jefferson County folk. A cursory glance at union history will reveal that in the decades of declining membership due to the very same leadership’s class collaborative policies, as well of course, through de-industrialization, innovation in the auto and other industries etc., the union leaders' approach is to poach any members they can from other unions and cross jurisdictional lines all the time. The UAW represents university grad students, the Teamsters represent teachers and hotel clerks etc.

Just because they make these “Gentlemans” agreements as a means to save money and time doesn’t alter the fact that their policies are harmful to union members and workers as a whole.

The role of the trade union leadership in Kentucky and the approach of some left forces in our movement (read the picket line rules the IUOE leadership issued during the crane operators strike last year) is one small example of the differences some of us around Facts For Working People have with some left currents in the labor movement on how to approach this question. The main issue is that we do not believe the role of the labor leadership can be ignored by individuals or groups whose claim it is that they want to transform the trade union movement from accommodating capital to confronting it. This is our difference with the leadership of Labor Notes, the TDU (and they are connected) as well as the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America who have contracted out the DSA's labor work to these forces. We can and should have an open, comradely debate about how we relate to the present trade union hierarchy. Facts For Working People has shared these differences publicly on this blog:

If one wants to transform the labor movement it will inevitably mean a conflict over policy with the trade union hierarchy; they will not sit idly by and allow this. To ignore their role is to support them.

It is my personal belief, that this is why these forces have not paid the same attention to the war the teachers, parents and allies have fought in Kentucky, because it would bring them in to direct conflict with the union hierarchy in the area that have openly attacked the most forward thinking elements. This leads them, intentionally or not, it doesn't matter, to act as a cover for this right wing bureaucracy. I was at a DSA meeting here in Oakland of some 250 people and made this point.  The trade union hierarchy cannot ignore the tremendous success of the teachers/educators struggles, the word "strike" has even become quite popular. Yes strikes can be won---if they're run right; if they are designed to actually win. But what is left out by the trade union leadership and the leadership of DSA and Labor Notes, is how they won. They violated the law. They by-passed the official leadership and they reached out to all workers in education, even charter school teachers.

This is a complete break from the losing strategy of the trade union hierarchy for the last last half century. Watch the presentation below by Rebecca Garelli, a teacher from Arizona and you get a real sense of the difference and how we can make some real progress.

Here's some links to more on Kentucky and education:

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