MergerTalk   By NEAFT Caucus Chair Morty Rosenfeld




            The election news couldnít be worse for those of us in public education.  At a time when our economy is suffering from a lack of demand with the result that too many businesses are sitting on mounds of cash seeing no reason to invest in new jobs and equipment, the federal government in all likelihood will be unable to continue to aid the states with dollars that have helped to keep the nationís public schools afloat.   The American public appears to believe cutting public spending and continuing the Bush tax cuts will rouse the economy out of its torpor.  I fear we will pay a great price for this economic ignorance (Check out this video on this subject).  

            Completely absent are any national leaders who will stand up and say that the federal stimulus was far too timid to do much more than keep the economy out of the ditch.  As Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out, if you subtract from the stimulus the cuts that the states have made, very little money was pumped into our economy.  Do you know any political leaders willing to speak this truth?   

            For the next two years we will hear nothing from our politicians except platitudes about bipartisanship while they continue the gridlock that has plagued us for too long.  Democrats and Republicans will all hop on the austerity campaign wanting to seem virtuous to the angry electorate.  One of the very few areas where there is some chance for cooperation is, unfortunately, in the area of public education.  Itís unfortunate in that for the moment the Obama administration is pursuing education policies well to the right of the Bush administration.  The so-called Race To The Top has even given the No Child Left Behind crowd a jolt of adrenalin.  Should that cooperation break out, we need to be prepared for an intensified data driven drive to install preposterous accountability schemes, merit pay systems and privatization and who knows what else.   

            We need to be sending a message to our elected NEA and AFT leaders and the people of the United States that we refuse to simply take this attack on the chin.  One of the clearest signals we could send is starting merger talks between the NEA and AFT.  What better time to show those who attack us that we are organizing to defend ourselves Ė all four plus million of us.  The time is clearly at hand to not only finally put our two great unions together, but it is also the time to rethink our strategy, to develop a plan of counter attack for the merged union, a plan that has at its heart an educator driven program for the revitalization of Americaís schools.  Our members are struggling to find some hope.  At a time when powerful forces are bent on tearing us down, we must build a new and more powerful union than either of the two we have today.  The cultural differences that have kept the AFT and NEA apart while significant cannot possibly be as important as organizing our collective strength for what is tantamount to a struggle for survival.  The time is now.

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