MergerTalk   By NEAFT Caucus Chair Morty Rosenfeld

 

IT’S TIME TO FOCUS ON UNITY

          I would bet a significant sum that among the Democrats and Independents of Massachusetts who voted for Scott Brown were numbers of AFT and NEA members who at least in part were motivated by the just plain stupid education policies of this administration, policies that too many union leaders are willing to embrace for a so-called seat at the table.  Their members know that it is a seat at their master’s feet begging for scraps.   They know too that no increase in the number of charter schools or divisive pay for performance scheme for public school teachers is going to address the problems of public education.  They know that the Race to the Top is but the latest scam of politicians who have neither the knowledge, political savvy nor the guts to take on what’s really wrong with America ’s schools and fix it.

            What many union members are beginning to wake up to is the absolute necessity of putting aside the parochial differences that have kept the NEA and AFT apart.  They are tired of having one union played off against the other.  A recent New York Times editorial is but the latest example of how our voice is weakened by a senseless competition that has completely lost its meaning to the rank and file members of both organizations.  Speaking about AFT President Randi Weingarten’s recent speech before the National Press Club, the Times opined, “The American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers’ union, has been working hard to distance itself from its competitor, the National Education Association, which tends to resist sensible reforms. The federation’s president, Randi Weingarten, set the contrast quite effectively with a speech last week in Washington, in which she offered a proposal to reform teacher evaluation.”

          Lost on the writer of the editorial is the fact that the culture of the two unions leads them to approach issues differently.  In recent years they tend to wind up in much the same place on most matters, the differences between them of significance only to those who benefit from keeping the two unions apart.  To the people in the classrooms, in the school offices and on the buses, there is great difficulty differentiating the positions of the two.  To the public, however, the union that inclines more towards the Times’ view is the good union.  The other, obstructionist, resistant to reform – a special interest.  Lost to all except most of the membership of the NEA and AFT is that both organizations have been desperately looking for a way to address the ills of America ’s schools and keep public education from being destroyed by the right-wing. 

          Imagine if we had a merged union today.  Imagine the leaders of NEAFT going to the White House and telling the truth to power, telling them that all the data in the world doesn’t make a good school, no number of charter schools will raise educational standards in America, no teacher stultifying test prep program will educate our young, that the only way we can begin to rebuild and strengthen our public schools is to begin to cherish them as central to the health of our democracy.  We must begin to find ways to tap into the creativity of our almost four million members who so often know what needs to be done.  We must harness their vision, their energy and their decency to combat those arrayed against us.  We’ll never do that as AFT or NEA.  Imagine if we told them that we demand to be central players in improving our schools, and, if we can't be, they should not count on our members continuing to support them at the polls.

     With an NEAFT we would have a fighting chance.  Our focus has to be on unity.  It’s our only hope.

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