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Just as UAW members know that we must have a voice in the quality process, teachers must have a voice on quality in the classroom.
But conservative governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere want to strip teachers of their voice and their unions, just as Republicans in Congress tried to kill off the UAW during the auto crisis.
Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member strong American Federation of Teachers (AFT), had a simple message for the Scott Walkers, John Kasichs and Rick Snyders of this country.
AFT President Randi Weingarten says labor activists must seize the moment because the public believes that conservative governors have gone too far. Photo by Rebecca Cook.
“So be it. Game on!” she said to rousing cheers during the final day of the 2011 UAW Special Convention on Collective Bargaining in Detroit.
Now is the moment for the entire labor movement to unite to fight against efforts to turn middle-class jobs into working-poor jobs.
The public is clearly against the moves by the Republican governors, Weingarten said, citing recent polls that show Kasich, Walker, Snyder and others would have lost their elections if held today.
That’s because they didn’t campaign on promises of breaking unions, destroying hard-earned pensions or other anti-worker initiatives. They had an agenda but kept it hidden from voters. Weingarten, who UAW President Bob King called “a fighter for all of us,” talks to her members about supporting manufacturing unions. Weingarten said Republicans are counting on the short memory of voters and their apathy that led to many GOP politicians being elected in the first place.
“Our job is to take this moment where the public agrees with us,” Weingarten said, her voice rising. “Is the game on? Will we do it? Will we do it together?”
She knows the UAW will be there because it was there in the AFT’s infancy, in the 1960s when then-President Walter Reuther lent staff, logistic and moral support so teachers would have voices on the job. That’s important because teachers are the ones closest to the children every day. For teachers to have their collective voice heard there must be collective bargaining.
“We see the collective bargaining process as a vehicle not only to help children see their dreams, but also to achieve them,” she said.
But right now those children see a world where democratic rights are being eviscerated and jobs that they might aspire to one day being denigrated.
“They see a world where there will be an evisceration of the middle class,” Weingarten said. “That is the world we have to fight against.”
Part of the anti-union effort includes the explosive growth of charter schools. There may be a public perception that charter schools are better – some are, she said – but most do worse or no better than regular public school. Studies show that roughly 34 percent are worse than public schools while less than 20 percent show any improvement over public schools Weingarten told UAW members.
“If they did so well, then why aren’t they cleaning our clocks?” Weingarten said.
Marci Leahey, a UAW Local 1435 member at Chrysler’s Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg, Ohio, appreciated Weingarten’s remarks on public education. Leahy said her sons, ages 7 and 8, have “wonderful” teachers in the Washington Local School district in Toledo and deserve the benefits of being in a union.
“If they don’t have a voice in the process, what is my child going to become?” Leahey said.
She said she was also concerned about the future of education if the pay and benefits for teachers are reduced. Leahey said she knows people who are studying to be teachers but are having second thoughts because Ohio Gov. Kasich wants to strip teachers of collective bargaining rights. Teachers, like everyone else, deserve a secure retirement.
“Why would I want to go to school to become a teacher if I’m going to lose everything?” Leahey said.
The Chrysler worker added that Weingarten is correct in saying that this is a defining moment for the labor movement. Leahey has seen others not normally involved in their unions get involved because of her governor’s anti-worker actions against public workers. She’s attended rallies in Ohio where police officers, teachers and others have thanked her for supporting them.
“People are seeing who these people [like Kasich] really are,” she said. “They are not for us. They are for themselves. People are starting to catch on.”