Detroit teachers’ union agrees to work with Democrats to cut jobs, wages

Published on WSWS, by Jerry White, 1 September 2009.

During a mass meeting of public school teachers in Detroit Sunday, officials from the Detroit Federation of Teachers outlined a policy of surrender. Union officials expressed their willingness to work with Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager appointed by Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm to impose unprecedented job cuts and concessions on teachers …

… Other teachers also expressed opposition. One teacher asked, “Are we going to be right back in the same place in 60 days from now [after the two-month extension of the contract]?”

Another teacher pointed out that calling off a strike on the eve of the student enrollment count that was used to determine state funding to the schools would remove all leverage from the teachers and hand the initiative to Robert Bobb. She added, “talking about ‘accountability,’ why are there so many members of the union’s negotiating committee and how much are they paid?’

During the meeting, DFT officials relied on long-time union dissident Steve Conn and his Equal Opportunity Now caucus to bolster the authority of the union and block opposition from rank-and-file teachers. Conn took the microphone saying, “I rise in support of the 60-day extension” to the surprise of many teachers. He urged the DFT to “start acting like a union” and publicly oppose charter schools and the privatization of public education.

Conn has long insisted that no struggle is legitimate unless it has the stamp of approval of the union apparatus, and that teachers should focus all their efforts on reforming the union even as it openly collaborates with the Democrats to attack them. At the same time, Conn and other ex-lefts who have trade union positions in Detroit expressly oppose a political struggle by the working class and bolster illusions in the Obama administration.

In his opening remarks, Johnson noted Conn’s role as a “left” advisor—not a political opponent—of the DFT, saying, “People may think we don’t like each other—but actually we do. And I’m talking about brother Steve Conn. Brother Conn has been asking me for a month, ‘Doggone it, Keith we need to have a rally. We need to go up there and tell them what we are not going to stand for.’ I said, ‘Steve, I’m waiting on them to give us something to rally about.’ Well brothers and sisters on August 18 they gave it to us and on the 25th we rallied.”

Conn got his rally and in return pledged his support for the contract extension. The day after the rally, Johnson appeared in a joint press conference with Bobb, announcing the extension and his willingness to collaborate with the governor-appointed hatchet man to attack teachers and help dismantle public education. (full text).

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