By UFTers in Class Struggle Education Workers
The teacher bashing is ultimately in the service of union-busting, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein take aim at teacher tenure. Those placed in ATR status include some of the most experienced and dedicated teachers in the system. This is no accident. Klein wants these teachers “terminated,” as he put it. Partly it’s to save bucks, so they can hire two beginning teachers for the price of one senior teacher. Partly, Klein wants to pit senior teachers and newer teachers against each other, just like he wants to foster “competition” between teachers with so-called “merit pay.” And in large part, it is to uphold the corporate principle that the principals run the school and can hire whomever they want, seniority and tenure be damned. That is, until “underperforming” principals as well get axed by the management “experts” at
An Ad Hoc Committee to Defend ATRs was set up last September following the DOE/media threats against these teachers. The Committee issued a fact sheet that was widely distributed around the system, and launched a petition campaign calling on the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) to hold a citywide union mobilization to defend the ATRed colleagues. Hundreds of teachers at more than 100 schools signed the petitions. As a result of this work, the UFT agreed at its October 15 Delegate Assembly to sponsor a rally to show support for ATRS and demand that no new hiring take place until ATRs receive permanent placements.
However, seeking to undercut the mobilization, which it only reluctantly agreed to in the first place, a few days before the rally the UFT and DOE signed a side agreement to encourage, but not require, the placement of ATR teachers. On the day of the rally the UFT leadership held an “informational session” at union offices to explain the side agreement, and even stationed some flunkeys at Broadway and Chambers to re-route arriving teachers away from the rally. But despite this active sabotage, as the UFT tops were sipping wine and munching cheese at 52 Broadway while patting themselves on the back for their “victory,” some 225 teachers rallied in support of the ATRs at Tweed Courthouse. After 1 hour and 45 minutes, the suits finally arrived.
It was a real teacher rebellion. Numerous teachers, social workers, counselors, school staff and supporters spoke from the open mike about their ideas, their stories, their struggle. Every single person who came played an important role in building it at their schools, their committees, and among their friends. Speakers said that while hopefully some ATRed teachers will get positions from the agreement, it does not change the basic structure, which continually produces hundreds of new ATRs, as the DOE keeps shutting down schools, its favorite ploy to shirk responsibility for its own failure to improve education. The demonstrators vowed to continue to struggle for a job freeze until all ATRs who want them have positions.
When the UFT leaders showed up around 6:15 p.m. along with several dozen rank and file UFTers, the demonstrators started a spirited march around the DOE/Tweed Courthouse chanting. Facing shouted objections when she started to start the "official rally" while the march was underway, UFT president Randi Weingarten waited until they returned from the walkaround. After she had spoken, a request was made that
There were many chants and shouts of “Bring Back Seniority” directed at the Unity leadership--an understanding that it was the sellout of the 2005 contract which has in good part led to this mess we're in. After awhile, when the leadership kept repeating “Let Teachers Teach,” the crowd chanted back, "Place ATRs!"
At the speak-out, which lasted for well over an hour, there were many powerful voices. One of the first speakers was Dr. Lezanne Edmond, Ph.D. in education, literacy specialist and an ATR! She said "we have to stop making education a business and get back to the business of education." Among the speakers were John Lawhead from Tilden High School in Brooklyn, where they have lost many ATRs; Robert Bobrick who came with a group of teachers and students from Lafayette High School; Michael Fiorillo, chapter leader at Newcomers HS, colleagues from the “rubber room;” Christine Grassman from GED-Plus; Angela DeSouza from TAGNY, Keith Brooks from Restart. Dan Feldman spoke from the Teaching Fellows.
There were speakers from ICE (Independent Community of Educators), Teachers for a Just Contract, Progressive Labor Party, the Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW), a student from the CUNY Internationalist Clubs, the Support Committee for the Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico (FMPR), and others. Everybody wanted to talk, and did. There was a class of 30 students with their teacher from the Harry Van Arsdale Labor Studies Program at SUNY, who came to observe labor struggle in action.
At the speak-out, and again from the UFT bullhorn,
The union leadership wanted to have at most a celebration of their side agreement. Hundreds of union rank and filers showed they were determined to keep up the struggle, not just for the ATRs but against all the anti-union attacks coming down the pike in this economic crisis. There is a lot of work to do, but November 24 was a great beginning.