Thursday, July 23, 2015


The Huffington Post just published a powerful open letter to Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders written by some of my closest friends who are among the finest human beings alive on this planet. Diane Ravitch posted a portion of the letter and a link on her blog.  I had every opportunity to sign and even contributed an edit to the open letter but at the end of the day I could not sign it.

For me, the yes vote in the US Senate from Senator Sanders on the Murphy Amendment to the new euphemistically titled "Every Child Succeeds Act" puts Sanders in the category of just another politician who wants to continue the George Bush-Barack Obama test and punish education policies. As Ravitch put it, "The Murphy Amendment would have continued, in fact intensified, the punishments attached to No Child Left Behind." Keep closing schools and firing educators.

This blog analyzed the situation in DC last week and concluded that anyone who supports public education should be satisfied that the Republicans united with two dissident Democrats along with one independent to defeat the Murphy Amendment before passing the overall "Every Child Succeeds Act".  Gone are the days when I am going to take a politician at his/her word that he/she loves public school teachers and parents.  The proof is in their record.  On that score, Sanders failed the test last week.

Therefore, to support a letter that states right in the introductory paragraph, "We are educators and supporters of yours, from across the country," is a step I cannot take right now. I refuse to endorse another Democratic politician, even if he says he is a democratic socialist, who would vote for such an anti-public school teacher and student abomination of an amendment that continues test and punish.  I may end up voting for Sanders as the lesser of the evils in the primary but no he is not our friend.  Do not be fooled by Sanders or anyone else.

Haven't we been down this road too many times in the past few years with Democrats who say they are with us and then stab us in the chest and the back?  See Barrack Obama and Bill de Blasio for some recent examples.  I'm no Hillary Clinton fan and voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party so they can increase their vote percentages to hopefully make a breakthrough in this millennium is not something to look forward to in the 2016 presidential election either.

I will probably vote for a Democrat for president hoping they keep control of the federal bureaucracy and make judicial appointments because Republican Party policy goes against working people, teachers, public school parents and labor unions, all groups I belong to.  However, the Democrats are not much better for us and on public education in particular, they are in some ways just as bad or worse.

We can delve into the reasons why most Democrats now vote against us and certainly the impact of the Supreme Court case called Citizens United, which has opened up the floodgates to corrupt money in politics and should be overturned, is right on top of the list.  However, that is not my purpose in writing today. If working people, teachers, public school parents, students and labor unions want to turn around our national 34 year slide since Ronald Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981, there is only one course to take, one that is seldom taken anymore.  It's called labor militancy.

  • How could New York City get away with giving teachers a contract where we won't get paid for work we did from 2009-2011 until 2020 and embeds second class status to members called Absent Teacher Reserves?

  • How can the city get away with keeping the anti teacher bureaucracy in place at the Department of Education even after the unions supported a so called worker friendly Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2013?

  • How can the state of New York get away with changing the teacher evaluation system over and over as a way to try to fire teachers and say public schools are failing?

  • How can President Obams get away with anti-teacher test and punish policies and praising firings of whole groups of teachers?

I could go on and on and have done so on this blog.  The answer to all of these questions is they get away with it because labor militancy on a grand scale does not exist in the US. It is that simple.

Please don't tell me about the strike by teachers in Chicago or threats and local job actions elsewhere. These local actions are amazing but they only score small victories.  After the 2012 strike, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel still closed a bunch of schools and got rid of  masses of teachers and the union was powerless to stop most of it.  When we are threatened nationally, we need a national response that is strong and firm.  Will we get it from our union leadership at the AFT/NEA or AFL-CIO levels?  Of course not. We never do.

Let's spend our limited energy as NYSUT opposition Stronger Together Beth Dimino (who signed the Sanders letter) says "saving ourselves."  We know the Supreme Court in the Friedrichs case could end public sector unionism as we know it.  Without automatic dues coming in thanks to Act 10, Wisconsin has lost half of its public sector union members.  As the video above shows, this is a national model and it might just succeed.

We have to fight to make members believe in the union again.  We can't expect politicians who might be with us on some or even many issues to bail us out.  The House of Representatives has been so gerrymandered that very few districts are competitive so even if  the unlikely happens and Sanders wins the White House, the national political equation will not change radically.

Why there has not been a threat of a nationwide or statewide teacher or public employee massive job action or a general strike from the rank and file is beyond me? We have to stop expecting some ideal leader to save us at the government or union level because as my friend Sue Sutera said during the Jamaica High School phase out, "All we have is each other."

All of us together could be an unbelievably robust weapon if we would just try. More about that later.


NYC Educator said...

Just an FYI--I don't believe you need to vote for Jill Stein for them to keep their ballot line. That's based on the gubernatorial results and they did fine. Also, it's not relevant. Sanders is running in the Democratic primary and does not plan to oppose the eventual nominee. The question is whether or not NY State Democratic leadership will even permit his name to appear on the primary ballot.

Anonymous said...

Call me naive, but the democratic primary is going to be a battle between Sanders and Clinton. Clinton sucks and will be just as bad as Obama. Thus, you can vote for Sanders who is not "that" bad in regard to education, or you can vote for an independent candidate which is a fair thing to do on principal but will not sway the election. Of course you could not vote at all which will not sway the election either. Voting is very personal and I would never encourage anyone to vote for someone they do not believe in. But in my opinion, folks should face reality in that the democratic primary will be all about Sanders and Clinton.

Anonymous said...

I am not going to talk about the lesser of two evils here. No candidate is going to be exactly aligned with every one of your viewpoints. We have a candidate in Bernie Sanders who has stood on the right side of almost every issue throughout his career. When was the last time that was even an option?
Are we going to have a revolution in the immediate future right here on our soil? I don't think that is coming up real soon. Bernie Sanders is a true beam of light in a very dark time in America.

Anonymous said...

Please don't get caught up in focusing on one issue. Need to look at the whole picture!
This is exactly what the Koch brothers want - to side track voters with issues that are a small part of the much bigger and more important umbrella.

Please check out:

James Eterno said...

Thank you NYC Educator. We corrected the post on the Green Party.

James Eterno said...

10:11 am and 10:39 am. I think people are missing some of my main point.

I'll more than likely vote for Sanders in the primary but if he renounces his support for the Murphy amendment, I might not have to hold my nose in the voting booth. His support for test and punish is a huge red flag as it should be for any teacher or supporter of public education. With him and Elizabeth Warren clearly in the test and punish camp now, we have lost what is left of the so called left.

We keep on backing politicians and a party (Sanders is running as a Democrat) that when in power, does nothing or next to nothing for us. What have Barrack Obama or Bill de Blasio done for teachers in public schools? OK maybe de Blasio has done a little more for us than Bloomberg but I can't point to one thing Obama has done to improve our lot. (Yeah I voted for both Obama and de Blasio.) And Sanders just voted to continue the Bush-Obama test and punish policy. Ravitch says he voted to intensify it. Imagine Sanders gets in and it is just left to the states on how to punish schools so Cuomo continues his war on us while de Blasio looks the other way as the Bloomberg holdovers keep making our lives miserable in the schools. That is all likely to happen no matter who is elected.

I respect the writers of this letter and agree with many points but I am not going down that road where we spend time, energy and money supporting a politician who we think is going to save us. Sanders won't save us. He couldn't save us even if elected (see Republican gerrymandering for why). The Sanders road is most likely a dead end. I have other things to do with my time like organizing teachers to keep a union and helping Absent Teacher Reserves get representation.

The Sanders people will claim a major victory if they move Hillary Clinton to the left in the primaries and get language in the Democratic platform that is somewhat more agreeable than Democratic Leadership Council right wing garbage. Do you think Hillary will remember any of that if she overcomes her own considerable negatives and wins the presidency? Our fate will be tied to her close relationship to Randi Weingarten and how the Supreme Court decides Friedrichs. The Court is a wildcard (I can't predict which side of his bed Anthony Kennedy will wake up on when he decides the Friedrichs case) and who knows if we do better with Randi having Hillary's ear?

What should we do? We should spend our time and energy organizing a real union movement capable of fighting back instead of looking to find a perfect Democrat or democratic socialist. If we were a real union, the powers that be might actually have to listen.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you James and I would sign a new letter saying until his vote, I was a teacher who supported him. Then I would go on to say what's wrong with the Democratic view on education. I personally would like him to reflect on his vote and come to the conclusion he was wrong. And state so publicly.