On Labor Day, the day we celebrate working men and women and their unions, the Newark Teachers Union said this to the anxious parents of New Jersey’s largest city: “We cannot be seen as aiding or abetting anything that would disrupt the operation of the Newark Public Schools. ”
In short, the NTU told Newark’s parents that, as they face the anxieties of an opening day in a school system in which an inept megalomaniac named Cami Anderson holds the system’s rudder, they are on their own. The one organization that might have brought down the whole rotten infrastructure of state control of the city schools decided to bail. It did offer these, well, not so encouraging words:”We are in solidarity with the organizers”–of the boycott.
In some ways, I understand and sympathize with the letter sent to “Brothers and Sisters” by John Abeigon, the NTU’s director of organization. He warned that a strike in behalf of the boycotting parents could be seen as “conduct unbecoming” a licensed teaching professional and NTU members might be fired, maybe even face the loss of their licenses.
The way Newark teachers did more than 40 years ago. At that time, teachers were jailed, some for up to six months. They faced dismissal and loss of their licenses. They were beaten. For two months they struck.
Two months. It was rough but they didn’t lose their licenses.
I also know the NTU faced a practical as well as a legal problem. If it sought a strike vote and failed, or if the vote passed but the strike failed, then the union’s leadership certainly would have to resign and the union itself might collapse. I was present nearly 50 years ago when the leadership of the Newark Teachers Association asked for a strike vote and they were laughed off the stage. The NJEA affiliate has never recovered.
Yes, there were serious risks in the NTU’s active support of the boycott. Just as there were serious risks every time a teacher union struck–including in New York and in cities throughout the country in the 1960s and 1970s. Just as civil rights leaders faced serious risks. Just as the organizers of the Freedom Schools in the South 50 years ago this year faced death.
Think of the consequences of not acting. Think of what has happened in New Orleans. A district without public schools. Think of what is happening with attacks on tenure. Teachers–would you rather fight to protect public schools in Newark or take your chances with non-union, non-tenure, low-pay charter schools that will dominate the future? Schools in which TFA-ers take your jobs and block your pensions? Schools that do not hire many minority teachers and discriminate against children with serious needs?
In the past, if the consequences were important enough, teachers unions have acted decisively. With children at immediate risk now, with all that is at risk now–how much more important could the consequences be?
This might have been the big moment, the decisive moment, in the fight for public education and the fight against the privatization and resegregation of urban schools by the nationwide pro-charter, anti-union, anti-tenure corporatization movement. A strong teacher/parent boycott of the “One Newark” plan would have been the national embarrassment Chris Christie could not ignore and still remain a credible presidential candidate. He would have to cut a deal with Mayor Ras Baraka and state Sen. Ron. Rice and parent and union leaders–a deal that certainly would have led to the return of local control and the radical modification of the “One Newark” plan.
But that won’t happen now.
So, as much it hurts me to say this, the action of the NTU leadership was a betrayal.
A betrayal. I have to say it because it is true. The NTU could have started months ago to work with parent groups–with parents at the building level. Instead its leaders pursued some delusion about how David Hespe–Christie’s puppet–was going to get rid of Anderson. Pipe dreams–fantasies that also sucked in the new mayor for a while. Christie loves Anderson because she is a liberal white Democrat oppressing the black and brown people of Newark while she spews vile neo-liberal lies about who is at fault for school failure. She is a favorite of The Star-Ledger’s editorial writers for the same reason–come on, now, this is a liberal, how could she possibly be a racist? She’s a liberal–how could she be wrong about unions?
Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), helped solidify Anderson’s position in Newark by agreeing to a contract in which public school teachers would be paid merit bonuses from private money arranged by the Cory Booker/Mark Zuckerberg conspiracy. I have been present I don’t know how many times when Weingarten promised the people of Newark she would never abandon them.
Well, now she has. Big time If she were walking a picket line Thursday while parents kept their kids home from school, the national media would have been there and Christie would have looked like the chump Christie.
But I don’t blame just the NTU for betraying the boycott movement. They are not alone. The ministers who signed a letter demanding a moratorium on Newark but have since remained as quiet as a whitened sepulcher also have betrayed the parents of Newark. The mayor’s insistence he cannot be a “rah-rah” cheerleader for the boycott also is a betrayal. I like you, your honor. I wanted people to vote for you and cheered when all the money-changers on Wall Street could not defeat you.
But you owed the people more than a statement saying they didn’t need you. They do need you. They need you to be the radical mayor you promised to be.
Here’s the problem and it’s a problem that will not go away. Christie, Hespe, and Anderson have all broken either the law or at least the reasonable expectations of decent behavior in order to conspire with Booker to make Newark the charter school capital of the state, if not the nation.
They ignored the charter laws. They ignored the laws governing the closing of schools. They ignored certification laws and regulations so that rank amateurs like Anderson and her minions can hold down six-figure jobs. They used personal and business interests to steer hundreds of millions of dollars to privatized schools in Newark. They ignored common decency by allowing Anderson to say Newark children would turn to crime if the schools were closed for the NJEA convention. And, again, when she made children come to school during snowstorms that closed charter schools. Right now, the state is breaking a common expectation of decency by allowing what even Anderson’s swooning swain at The Star-Ledger calls an “untested” transportation experiment that most certainly will create chaos and may even cause injury.
These people are the bad guys and they break the rules. They break the rules and they get away with it.
You–the NTU, the ministers, Mr. Mayor–you are the good guys and you tell the people of Newark you cannot break the rules. You cannot strike because it’s against the law. You cannot engage in political activity–since when?–because you might lose your tax exempt status. You can’t intervene in the schools, shut them down until you’re sure the kids are safe, because that would break the rules.
The people of Newark, the children of Newark, suffer and they suffer mightily because the bad guys break the rules and the good guys obey the rules.
Sorry, friends. I hold with Jesus Christ. I hold with Martin Luther. I hold with Gandhi. I hold with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. All of them good guys who broke the rules.
Save the children, break the rules.