Recent events in Wisconsin have been a real eye-opener. Anyone in America not mesmerized with Dancing With The Stars or the latest on Charlie Sheen or their X-Box 360 knows that a class war is on.
When the banks and their corporate partners decided to maximize profits and globalize the economy the war was on. It was then that the US was de-industrialized and the great industrial trade unions were smashed. The United Auto Workers, the United Steel Workers, the United Mine Workers unions are just shells of their former selves.
That hollowing out of the US has left the teacher’s unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) combined, as the largest national force of organized workers left. And that explains the withering attack on teachers, not just in Wisconsin, but from coast to coast which is currently in progress . The forces of globalization see more profits to be won by destroying the public schools and impoverishing teachers and other public sector workers. At the same time they seek to destroy public worker pensions and will ultimately mount a full frontal assault on Social Security and Medicare.
But right now it’s organized teachers in the cross-hairs. Recently, a teacher in Oakland named Anthony Cody reacted to the events in Wisconsin in the context of the stunning appearance of President Obama with Jeb Bush at a South Florida inner-city high school. Cody, who is a National Board Certified teacher and taught science for 18-years in the inner-city, paid homage to the teachers of Florida. He wrote:
Florida teachers showed us last year how to fight this trend. They made a powerful alliance with parents, and put immense pressure on their political leaders to stop Senate Bill 6. They ultimately convinced Republican governor Charlie Crist to veto the bill. This year they have launched a campaign called Awake the State that is holding dozens of rallies across Florida to oppose the huge budget cuts that loom for schools and social services.
An insiders account from Florida would have to concede to Brother Cody that there was indeed immense pressure from teachers and their parent allies. This pressure included a massive demonstration in Tallahassee, volumes of testimony before committees of the Legislature, visits to the Legislator’s home offices, a well-funded lobbying campaign run through the Florida Education Association (FEA), a mountain of e-mail and other communications to the lawmakers, the creation by parents of powerful YouTube videos that went viral on the Internet, and the wearing of red T-shirts in public schools around the State.
And SB6 sailed through both chambers of the Florida Legislature! Not a vote was changed because money calls the shots now in Florida and all the teachers and parents and people of the state can demonstrate and e-mail and vote until they’re blue in the face and money will still make the law.
Getting back to our story, though, as the legislation worked its way to the governor’s office, Charlie Crist had made nothing but supportive statements. He repeatedly assured the bill’s prime sponsor, Jeb Bush’s man, Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, that he intended to sign it. Never was heard a discouraging word from Crist on SB6.
Then something happened that changed everything. There was a clap of thunder and the sleeping giant stirred.
I’m not at liberty to reveal the teacher’s name, but in Miami-Dade County, the largest district in Florida and the fourth largest in the country, a former US Army Ranger and conservative Republican began calling and texting his long list of contacts with a message. “You have a doctor’s appointment Monday” went the text and Monday referred to April 12, 2010. It was a call to sick-out, in effect, an illegal strike.
Administration of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) got wind of the proposed action and began warning teachers of the dangers of it. Staffers for the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) fanned out across the District to instill the fear of job loss and even criminal prosecution in the membership. Word began to spread statewide and so the Florida Education Association (FEA) reminded all teachers that a sickout was a violation of law. Teachers should just keep on wearing their red shirts and e-mailing Gov. Crist and even if SB6 did become law, teachers would still retain the right to beg for mercy.
But on the appointed Monday 6,300 of Miami-Dade’s 21,260 teachers called in sick. The teachers of Miami-Dade County shut down the District’s public schools with an act of civil disobedience! Lo and behold, that next Friday, Gov. Charlie Crist did a complete about face and vetoed SB6. The FEA and UTD bent over backwards to give all the credit to Crist. Teachers were urged to write “thank you notes” to the governor. Our red clothing and e-mails had carried the day.
Very few thank you notes went to the now retired Crist from Miami-Dade. Teachers there knew better. We had done it! We had the power! When we moved together, nothing could stop us! And they knew it too! Not a single teacher among the 6,300 MDCPS teachers from the illegal strike was fired or disciplined in any form or fashion. Administrators, union bureaucrats, teachers, parents and students just celebrated the defeat of SB6 and President Obama’s new friend, Jeb Bush.
Much the same dynamic is playing itself out on a larger scale in Wisconsin today. The teachers united, an irresistible force, has become conscious of itself. Teachers shut down schools in Madison and several other districts for three days when Gov. Scott Walker’s machinations became clear. He even threatened them with the National Guard but they remain unbowed. They forced Gov. Scott Walker to resort to thoroughly undemocratic measures, the acts of a petty tyrant, to get his union busting way.
As with Charlie Crist in Florida, some are determined to give the lion’s share of credit in Wisconsin to 14 Democratic politicians who crossed the state line into Illinois. It is critical that someone else get the credit because their power is the secret that must be kept from teachers around the country if the public schools are to be destroyed. Teachers in Wisconsin are now being misdirected away from their real power, the ability to shut down and eventually to take over the schools, into dead ends like recall petitions and electoral politics. So Wisconsin may prove that we are not quite ready to win yet.
But Florida one year and Wisconsin the next. We are getting close!