lois weiner & social movement unionism

A talk and partial transcription of a talk by Lois Weiner, The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice now up at Haymarket Books. She talks about neoliberalism, the global assault on teaching, amd social movement unionism. Lois Weiner's website and the website for Teacher Solidarity.

Teacher and community activism may accomplish more than many think they can: homeschoolers have changed the compulsory attendance laws in all fifty states in the past 30 years. I have maintained that homeschooling is the real education reform movement and a beginning for reshaping this flawed institution.

While Weiner is realistic about what education can do to alter fundamental inequalities that require changes beyond schools, I think so much more joy in living, learning and social transformation can be achieved by changing our approach to schooling. If we could move beyond the factory model, by allowing children and families to make choices in every school, pick credentials to work toward, and network schools to grow interconnected spaces and group work among different areas, we could help lay groundwork for a more equal society, stronger communities and happier people.
Lois Weiner, a life-long teacher union activist and educator, has been an officer of three union locals. With Mary Compton she co-edited The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers, and Their Unions. Internationally known for her work on urban teacher education, she received the American Educational Research Association (AERA) award for research on teacher education for her book, Preparing teachers for urban schools.


(partial transcription is mine)

I always begin this presentation by asking that we look honestly at what schools were like at an earlier time ..  This was my elementary school in Wilmington DE.  In first grade, I had recess three times a day,...I could buy a hot lunch prepared by cafeteria workers who were employed by [the schools] ... I took music lessons on a violin for free on an instrument the city school lent to me for free ... we had a school library, a school chorus, a band  and an orchestra ... and art three times a week ... however George Grey Elementary school on the other side of Wilmington ... got the leftover musical instruments ... the teachers [we] didn't want and much less money for books, supplies and maintaining the school facilities like the playground. [my school] was all-white, intentionally segregated. Real estate developers and brokers had home owners sign racial covenants that prohibited the sale of their homes to blacks ... used by the NAACP in their successful suit to desegregate the Wilmington public schools. We must acknowledge that there was no golden age to which we can return and in this I differ from Diane Ravitch ...

To be credible to the parents and community members who should be our strongest allies, we must acknowledge the complicity of the educational establishment and, yes, teachers unions, in allowing gross inequality to persist. All of the federal state and local changes that we must resist now are being done in the name of educational equality. And many .... have been bamboozled by this rhetoric

My own knowledge of this began in 2005 when I tracked down and read a report by the world bank that called teachers and teacher's unions the greatest threat to world prosperity ... NCLB was the US version of a project that had been imposed on the global south ... [beginning in] Chile under Pinochet ... in the book we term it neoliberalism ...

... if you don't need a highly educated workforce, you don't need a highly educated teacher either ... these documents ... from the world bank make this absolutely clear .... not in the mass media ... it's not a conspiracy but its a project ... promoted by global finance for more than 4 decades ... defunding public education ... fragmenting schools ... charters.... privatizing schools .... using standardized testing to control what is taught ... the curriculum is being watered down ... they specifically reject any literature .... these goals are seen in almost every country in the world ...

Why go after teacher's unions? ... teacher's unions are the greatest barrier to privatizing ... it is no accident that they are going after tenure and seniority every place in the world ... they want to deprofessionalize teaching ... unions exercise institutional power .... the union projects collective voice and power .... even if the union doesn't live up to the ideal of democracy ....

these are the conservatizing influences on the union .... there are systemic influences ... on union leaders ... its not just a matter of ... replacing leadership .... unions have to build consensus .... make them more prone to bureaucracy and paternalism ... mastering the contract ... creates a hierarchy within the union .... susceptible to prejudices that affect society, racism, sexism, ....

the attack on us is international and so our response must be international as well ... we have much to learn from teachers in other countries who have resisted longer and more effectively than we have ....

[privatizing kindergarten] in Newark NJ the schools are not giving preschool teachers contracts ... its happening in  Los Angeles as well ... I promise you that ... [it will happen] in NYC as well ....

they want to destroy the union and they intend to do it ... we don't have five years to figure this out ... we need a laserlike strategic focus and we need to be clear that our opponents want to destroy our organization and our ideals .... we need to break from ... re-conceptionalize as a social movement .... social movement unionism ... this is what ... first and foremost, union democracy ... respectful differences about pedagogy ... an understanding of neoliberalism's global project ....

be proud to be a teacher and part of a global community ... build a chapter.... educate members that they are the union .... courage, caring and critique ... the old rules don't hold any longer ... the school systems and governments break laws .... we have to have the courage to do things we haven't done for 40 or 50 years in this country and that means direct action ... schools should be caring communities.... saying that they should be caring communities gets at ... neoliberalism reduction ... to profit ... talking about schools as caring communities is very powerful to parents ....

the mass media in this country is an enormous propaganda machine ... teachers ... are at fault .. for a failing school system ... members need support ... in critical analysis of the news ... so that they understand what is going on ....[lois weiner website and teacher solidarity ]

Q: social movement unionism vs social justice unionism, expand  ... we need to be rethinking the form of union activity and the culture of union life and social justice unionism to me doesn't really get at that... we have too often a liberal caucus will capture the leadership of a union ... and the union is itself demoralized and demobilized... a base ... that resists the policies the leadership wants to make ... I think that's actually what happened in LA ... in Los Angeles, close to 30% of the schools have no chapters ... same in NYC ... and so now there's a ... active progressive leadership but a demobilized base ... how are you going to have effective action? social movement unionism really gets at the ideal of union democracy and member empowerment ... I think that CORE in Chicago .. the culture of the Chicago teacher's union ... CORE really is closer to that and is making the CTU closer to a social movement ... they understand that in a mobilized union, the leadership is going to learn from the membership .... whether that means ... de-emphasizing meetings .. using social media more ... making the union more community-based as opposed to more school-based ... I don't know ... those ideas will come from members ...I believe in union democracy ... the fight for ... a union is a social justice organization ... we have to protect public education as well....

Q: defunding public education ...the corporations are trying to get into public education...
There are two things going on simultaneously ... one is the private sector is moving in ... and ... public money for education is being cut ....

It began with Milton Friedman and Chile and Pinochet ... the second day they closed down every school of education ... labor and education ... that was the first testing ground ... how does that relate to what's going on today? ... there's a network of .. Diane Ravitch refers to them as the Billionaire Boys Club ...  Diane Ravitch's work on this is ... on target ... she really lays it out ....

education cannot fix the economy ... we need jobs ... we need a government that is going to produce jobs ... Arne Duncan said exactly the opposite  ... what we can do ... is democratize the competition for the diminishing number of well-paying jobs ... people are frightened ... every kid has access to high-status knowledge

Post a Comment