Around 2000 of the 3000 teachers attending
a meeting of the Detroit Federation of Teachers voted to strike on August
30, 1999. There are 11,500 teachers in the school system. A huge "School
Opening Rally" scheduled for Tuesday, was cancelled. The strike vote flies
in the face of a harsh state law, untested to date, that levies steep fines
against striking teachers and their union. The strike vote also shatters
the appearance of school reform in the city, a project which has spent
about 100 million dollars refurbishing decrepit schools this summer, a
reform directed by seven member school board appointed by the Governor
and Detroit's Mayor. The board seized the city's schools which serve about
180,000 children in 1999. The elected school board was abolished. The new
board is primarily made up of representatives of industry, banks, and casinos,
none of whom has experience as a school worker, the majority of whom does
not live in Detroit.
Significantly, the strike vote also is a clear
rejection of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) leadership which
asked the membership to approve a ten-day extension of the contract, promising
that the leaders had achieved success on many key issues. In fact, the
DFT sent out a press release the evening before the vote which said the
members had voted to return to work. The repudiation of the leadership
by the rank and file, by at least a two-to-one margin, continues a trend
inside teacher unions which reached a high mark in 1998, when the membership
of the National Education Association, with more than two million members,
by far that largest union in the U.S., defeated by a 60-40% vote a leadership
proposal to merge with the smaller, urban-based AFT-and to virtually adopt
the AFT's undemocratic structure.
The union members met on August 30 at Cobo
Hall, a huge convention center downtown. The rank and file members had
heard radio reports the night before indicating that John Elliot, president
of the DFT for 18 years, had already agreed to a ten-day contract extension.
Elliot did nothing to allay that concern. Instead, Elliot began the meeting
by introducing a lawyer who started to outline the many sanctions government
could levy against the union and educators in the case of a strike. Early
on, teachers began to shout at her. She said, "And I thought teachers were
supposed to be models of being polite!" They booed. Elliot intervened on
her behalf, "I can see why many of you have discipline problems in your
classrooms. You behave like your kids." This set off new rounds of booing,
shouting-and demands for a division of the body, not a voice vote, as teachers
yelled that Elliot had "miscounted" in the past. One teacher said later,
"We are sick of them talking down to us." Finally, one high school teacher
took a microphone and said, "Everyone who wants to strike, move to the
left. Everyone opposed to the strike move right." Elliot's choices ended
as the vast majority moved left.
The leadership circulated an outline of the
results of the last two months' of bargaining. Included in the section
of items completed was an agreement to give away seniority as a key factor
in transfers, referring the question to a site-based management committee.
Class size limits, promised publicly by both the new board and the DFT
leaders, are merely referred to a committee for "review and study." The
DFT agreed on a proposal which indicates that if teachers use more than
eight of their fifteen days of sick time, they will not get salary increases
the following year. The agreement includes a merit pay section, which links
pay increases to student performance on standardized tests and principal
evaluations. Still on the table, with no agreement, are: pay, fringes like
health benefits, longevity, duty periods, a longer work day, unpaid teacher
education days, time off for union representatives, and sick bank accrual.
There was no discussion in the meeting as to which section particularly
annoyed educators, so the leadership is at a loss as to the direction to
take. However, it is clear that the repudiated contract represents the
general tendencies of "school reform," or "New Unionism,"as it has been
presented by the top leadership of the American Federation of Teachers
and the National Education Association, an outlook rooted in the idea of
In a press conference hours after the mass
meeting and following a caucus of the top union leadership, DFT's Elliot
blamed the vote on a "militant minority who always wanted to strike, and
who were able to get people to the meeting today." In the same press conference,
board Superintendent David Adamany, the former president of Wayne State
University, urged teachers to start school on Tuesday, saying, "This strike
is against the law. It is a matter of individual conscience, a decision
for each teacher. It hurts the massive reform effort that is demonstrated
by our success in repairing the schools." On August 31, only 150 teachers
crossed the picket lines.
Adamany earlier had outlined three goals for
starting the school year, other than the building repairs: Each child in
a uniform, the arrest of parents of truant kids, and each teacher on the
same page of the same text, each day. He said, further, "If this is a rejection
of what we have already agreed to, which we must have, we are all in serious
trouble." Adamany urged teachers to come to work but told parents to keep
their children home, and said he would not request state help in invoking
the law until he had a further chance to bargain.
The strike vote could have important implications.
In the context of the labor movement, it could be the harbinger of things
to come in Detroit, and perhaps around the U.S. In Detroit, the strike
could, conceivably, spread. Professors at Wayne State University, the 35,000
student urban college serving the metropolitan area, may take a strike
vote next week. Like the DFT, they are members of the AFT. In addition,
later in September, the UAW will target an auto company, probably Chrysler,
for a strike. In the context of the education community, the strike could
inspire action elsewhere, like Chicago, where the union leadership has
taken stances similar to the DFT leadership. NPR, on August 30, carried
a statement from a dissident DFT member calling for a general strike in
Detroit. Following the bitter loss of the Detroit newspaper strike, feelings
run strong in metro-Detroit. The DFT has no plans to radiate the strike.
However, the conditions of this strike make it possible that it could erupt
into a social battle that could set aside decades of working class passivity.
There are other factors to consider. The level
of opposition from management and government is a serious concern. While
the size of the DFT makes it a big elephant among teacher unions, those
arrayed on management's side are not merely tough bargainers, they are
ideologues who have long fought to destroy unions. The state Governor,
John Engler, who harbors vice-presidential ambitions, struggled for most
of his political life to end what he sees as a union strangle-hold on the
state. His efforts, coupled with the bungling of the Michigan Education
Association, led to the passage of the law outlawing teacher strikes, as
well as laws restructuring the tax system to shift the burden of education
costs away from corporations and onto working and poor people. Schools
are now funded by a property tax, guaranteeing that poor schools stay poor.
One of his goals for 1999-2000 has been to end the agency shop clauses
in teacher contracts, shifting that sector of the Michigan work force to
a right-to-work state. Engler is known as a ruthless and cruel opponent.
There is no question that his attention is focused on Detroit teachers.
David Adamany, the DPS Superintendent, made
a reputation at Wayne State attacking the faculty union-to the extent that
he was finally forced to resign after more than ten years on the job-following
a no-confidence faculty vote. Adamany was skillful at dealing with capital
improvements.Wayne State building projects grew and prospered in the middle
of a city in collapse. But, like Engler, he is seen as vindictive and vengeful-and
hot-tempered. He is well-known for taking decisive action against anyone
who opposes him. Adamany, too, has long battled to change public education
to a corporate model. At Wayne State, he initiated a program for freshmen
and sophomores that put them on the same page of the same book-teacher
to teacher-a move the faculty fought every year. In Detroit Public Schools,
Adamany was expected to "clean house." But he has only been able to clean
buildings. He told the district principals, in a spring meeting, that he
would like to fire about ½ of them for "obvious incompetence.".
To date, none are fired. The district's personnel office is notorious.
Teachers routinely do not get paid for months on end. Job applicants are
treated like supplicants, ordered to pay steep fees to apply for a job.
Adamany has not moved to change the personnel personnel either.
He has considerable teacher and parent opposition,
some of it taking root in his arrogance. In a summer meeting with teachers,
he was challenged about what he would do as an educator facing disruptive
students. "I would just put down my chalk and refuse to teach." Openly
gay, at the board meeting following his appointment, Adamany was met by
a church-based group of parents chanting, "He's gay-not with my kids!"
and demanding his removal.
Adamany claimed, after the strike vote, that
he was worried that a strike might propel parents into charter schools
and support for a voucher amendment that will be on the Michigan ballot
soon. But Adamany, as president of Wayne State, opened the first charter
school in the state, and caused the dismissal of the dean of the college
of education who refused to support him. Last year, the charter school
scored lowest in the state on standardized exams. Still, hundreds of parents
wait in line to enroll their kids in the school each fall.
The chairman of what is known as the "Takeover
Board" is Freeman Hendrix, a mayoral aide who opened the first public meeting
of the new board by inciting the two hundred police attending to assault
students and parents who had come to protest the seizure of the school
system. Hendrix, who lives in the city but whose children attend Catholic
Schools, shouted at the cops, "Throw them out and arrest them. Now! Now!
Now!" repeatedly over a public address system designed to drown out any
sound of dissension." His approach continued week after week, culminating
in the police beating of an older woman in the parking lot of a Detroit
high school. He halted only when he was clearly threatened by a group of
men who attended the next meeting, telling him he had caused beatings for
the last time and offering him a "taste of pain." Hendrix has mayoral aspirations-and
Mayor Dennis Archer has hinted he hopes to leave the city to become the
Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Archer, in the press conference,
urged teachers to report to work on Tuesday. Hendrix, the following morning,
issued statements of deep admiration for the DFT's Elliot, saying that
the president needs to rally his supporters and quickly hold another vote
on the contract-to end the strike.
Material conditions might suggest a prudent
course for management: combining threats about the law, perhaps even an
injunction, with rewards for returning to work, bargaining behind closed
doors with the union leadership, a hurried meeting in which pro-contract
votes are mustered and counted, a back to work order, and a new opening
of the schools. But the personalities of the players are significant, and
the people involved on the management side have a history of hot-headed
behavior. These are not people accustomed to negotiations, the cynical
give and take of corrupt union bargaining. The management side is composed
of people who see the key issues, like merit pay, the end of seniority,
control of the curriculum, etc., as matters of principle.
Of course, there is a lot at stake for them.
The seizure of the Detroit public schools by the rich comes at a critical
juncture in the history of the city and the state. Detroit today is third
world. Key city streets look like tank traps. Electrical service is routinely
interrupted for city and nearby suburban residents, for up to two weeks
at a time. Public transportation is nonexistent in the Motor City. In the
winter of 1998-1999, the city was paralyzed for seven days by a moderate
winter storm. Schools and businesses closed because Detroit has no equipment
to plow streets. During the same storm, the major airline serving Detroit
held passengers prisoner on planes on the tarmac for up to 14 hours. The
airline had no contingency plan for a storm.
Vaccination rates of the city children run
about 35%, while TB continues to be a force in some areas of the city.
The day the first casino opened, the county had to close 29 lakes, due
to ecoli poisoning. The lake inspectors were laid off days later. The Bureau
of Labor Statistics lists 35 major layoffs of more than 100 people so far
this year. Even so, the Wall Street Journal declared Detroit on the "comeback
trail, " in mid-August. Housing prices are up for the first time in decades.
On August 30, the day of the strike vote, the Washington Post carried a
long article lauding Detroit's black mayor for leading a "dramatic turnaround,"
calling him a leader of the "post civil-rights era."
Thirty-five Detroit police officers were indicted
for drug related crimes this year. The former chief of police, of a department
with a long history of corruption, is now serving time in Milan Federal
Prison, just west of Detroit. The police department has settled millions
in liability suits in the last few years-making them a hated entity once
again. The two officers who killed Malice Green, in a famous assassination,
appear to be about to escape serious punishment. The murder rate is up,
about 25%. Robberies, a rate determined by arrests made by a crooked police
department, are down.
Detroit schools crawl with police, yet remain
centers of drug dealing. Detroit students live under unremitting surveillance
in school. They face an array of metal detectors, rules of citizenship
(which strip them of their constitutional rights) and an endless stream
of standardized exams-though their teachers have no textbooks to offer
many, even most, of them. One high school, whose principal moonlights as
a local professor, opens each year with a traditional sweep and lock-down.
The school is surrounded by police in the morning, who, at first bell,
sweep everyone in the surrounding block into the school. Then the school
is locked down. All inside are searched. Non-students, those with contraband,
and others are taken to the central precinct-where they are routinely released
since the charges against them can never be upheld.
The auditor of the former school board, in
acknowledging that she could not count for up to three million dollars
of board funds, finally admitted that she had not been the auditor at Northwest
Airlines-she was a clerk. After she resigned, she bought one of the most
fashionable restaurants in Detroit.
The city schools spend about 4,500 $ per child,
about $750 less than the next poorest district in the state, a rural area
where many people are without running water. Detroit teachers, once the
highest paid in the state because of a series of militant strikes, are
now in the bottom third. One of the demands of the strike is to put teachers
in the mid-range of pay for educators in the metro-Detroit area.
Once known as the Homeowner's City, with more
single family homes per-capita than any other, the city has bulldozed huge
plots of land where housing once stood-to the point that residents walking
just a mile from the city center commonly kick up pheasants who have moved
into the vacant fields. While unemployment levels in the city are two to
three times those of the rest of the state, the state as a whole is experiencing
remarkable growth and prosperity-as is the U.S. Unlike the 1980's, when
joblessness in Detroit exceeded 50%, most people now have jobs. The city
school system is 90% black. Two-thirds of the children who enter DPS do
not graduate. Prominent sociologists recognize Detroit as the most racially
segregated city in the U.S. Most suburban white people never enter the
city, except perhaps to quickly enter the city for Tiger and Red Wings
games-and flee just as swiftly.
About five years ago, property values in the
city bottomed out. GM, Ford, and speculators began to buy back what was
once theirs-including land on the priceless riverfront. Although Detroit
residents voted repeatedly to oppose casinos in the city, the issue was
placed on a state-wide ballot and passed. The mayor promised that the three
casinos approved by the voters would never take up precious riverfront
space. One $200 million temporary casino was completed in two months and
opened in July-to lines of thousands of working people cuing in the heat.
Two others will open before Y2K. All three casinos plan more swank permanent
structures-on the river front, as the mayor recently announced. The Lions
and Tigers are completing new stadiums downtown as well. When asked where
all the poor people who live near the new entertainment centers will move,
an urban planner simply said, "Well, I certainly hope they leave." Once
a proud urban center with hard-working blue collar values, where the top
hockey heroes were the "Production Line," the city now offers spectacles
in place of production.
Many things happen first in Detroit. The 1929
depression began in the city. Because of the long dependence on industrial
production, the impact of economic shifts are early and severe. Detroit
was once a rowdy city, where honky-tonks, blues bars, rock and roll, all
found a home on the streets and in the plants. Now, perhaps leading the
nation, Detroit is commodifying and constraining what was once the margins-and
giving the citizens a health dose of authoritarianism at the same time.
The casinos, gambling centers, promote themselves as family entertainment
centers, replacing the back-room card games-and the music that fronted
for them in all-night bars. Prostitution is moved off the streets, into
trendy counter-culture newspapers, into the casinos, and into a burgeoning
business for strip joints surrounding the city. The suburban voters who
thought they could locate gambling and immorality in Detroit alone are
finding their daughters turned into dancers. An annual Woodward Dream Cruise
is designed as a nostalgic look back at late 1950's cruising of the street
that Life Magazine once called the "Longest Unrecognized Drag-way in the
World." It was a scene of kids fighting cops, night after night, for their
right to enjoy cars, sex, and rock and roll. In July, 1999, more than 1.2
million auto fans showed up for the Fifth Dream Cruise. 5,000 suburban
cops shut down Woodward at 9:30 p.m., threatening anyone walking on nearby
sidewalks with arrest, simply because, "Too many people are here." This,
like most city cultural events-and churches--is profoundly segregated
Detroit is being reclaimed by elites who have
no desire for an integrated, critical, authentic school system. While they
recognize the need for multi-culturalism in their own ranks, they are keen
to maintain a system of segregation among other classes. The state standardized
tests for school kids measure, solely, parental income and race. The tests
are used, along with geographic housing choices made by racist parents,
to deepen segregation, not enliven education. In seizing the form of education,
the school buildings, and the content, the curricula, wealth seeks to stratify
not only children, but also educators, who eventually will be paid, through
merit schemes, along the lines of the income of the parents of their kids.
What elites must have right now is social peace-and
that is why they seized the Detroit schools when they did. They are led
by an organization called "New Detroit," formed by quaking corporate leaders
in the midst of the 1967 rebellion, whose director, Bill Beckham, is the
key leader of the Takeover Board. Beckham, a former mayoral aide, is acutely
aware that conditions in Detroit mirrored conditions in the summer of 1967:
hatred for the police, high expectations contradicted by minimal real-life
possibilities, a community acting on gossip and tabloid TV news since a
boycott of the scab papers is still 40% effective, and contempt for what
is traditionally a center of hope-school. The 1967 uprising was only quelled
by military intervention including troops returned from Vietnam. It was
a terrible setback for elites everywhere-and a material boon to local citizens
who gained nearly 100,000 jobs within six months of the rebellion. Strict
welfare restrictions were quickly dropped and caseloads exploded. The carrot
briefly replaced the stick. But the "Renaissance," of Detroit, declared
thirty years ago but never realized, is now a Ponzi scheme, based on the
faith of wealthy investors believing that their money will not vanish in
a wave of class or race violence.
In order to gain social peace, vital to winning the failed bets of suburban gamblers taking the chance of entering the city (the photo of one horrified suburbanite running from an urban insurrection would destroy downtown investments for a long time to come), elites had to hold out a believable carrot-schools that work. They wiped out the existing board, which was traditionally corrupt and incompetent, going back to the 1920's, and set out on a reform program which sees parents, teachers, and kids as the source of most of the school's problems-as Adamany's program demonstrates. Remarkably, the old board had adopted a carbon-copy plan, days before they were abolished. As proof of the old board's political bankruptcy, only a handful of people protested their removal. The Takeover Board moved swiftly to smash any potential opposition. Massive police presence at early meetings drove away many parents and students. They opened the district treasury to make repairs in schools all across the district, and succeeded in at least 4/5 of them. Days before school opened, they flooded radio stations with announcements of a huge "Back to School Rally" with parents and kids invited to each school. They were also ordered to attend, and told that anyone not at school the first day would have to repeat a long registration process. Many saw this as an effort to limit the potential of a DFT job action by raising parental hopes-and fears.
There are serious problems inside the DFT.
The union leadership has long been profoundly alienated from the rank and
file. The leaders are widely seen as incompetent and corrupt-on the other
side. In midsummer, DFT president Elliot was asked how many days teachers
teach in the school year. He guessed wrong, by ten days. Elliot has never
led a serious job action, other than a brief strike in 1992, nor have his
cohorts. In meetings to report the results of bargaining for the last two
DFT contracts, Elliot declared voice votes which clearly opposed his positions,
to be votes in favor of a return to work. The staff leadership of the AFT
has very, very close ties to the UAW leaders who systematically sabotaged
the rank and file and community action which could have led to a victory
in the newspaper strike. Now, because they have been so separated from
the members, the leadership has no idea of what it is they must bargain
to gain member ratification-except a clear message from the members that
they do not like what the leaders have already done. Elliot was obviously
shocked by the strike vote, as was Adamany. The union side has no plan
for a long strike.
Opposition to Elliot, despite his claims and
hints about outside agitators, is really small and not well organized.
His perennial opponent, a high school teacher at the city's most prestigious
school, has never been able to gain more than 40% of the vote in presidential
elections, and there are no indications of extensive opposition organizing.
The Trotskyist National Women's Rights Organizing Committee and the Columbus-based
anarchist Anti-Racist Action group both have a tiny presence; neither could
be considered influential now. The Rouge Forum, described below, has a
small presence among teachers and parents. In sum, the teacher side has
a serious problem with leadership-and the feelings of the rank and file
are hard to gauge. The DFT did no extensive bargaining survey, asking teachers
what they wanted, before bargaining began.
While no one has a clear count, it appeared
that the meeting on August 30, consisting of only about 1/3 of Detroit
teachers, was heavy with voters from high schools, typically centers of
greater militance. The key to a successful strike of this size is not the
high schools but the elementary schools, critical to companies and parents
as a source of free baby sitting. High school students can take care of
themselves; grade school students cannot. Without a good base of elementary
school educator support, the strike could unravel.
No one knows the feelings of the nearly 1,000
teachers the district hired in special hiring fairs in the summer of 1999.
I was not able to locate a single new teacher on the picket lines. NEA
and AFT research clearly says that new young teachers are far less likely
to support union action than their colleagues who were hired in the late
1960's and early 1970's.
Moreover, the union has nearly no base in the
community. No from DFT one organized parents or kids over the long summer
vacation. The Board received heavy, congratulatory, press coverage for
the school repair program. City schools have suffered from a bad reputation
for years, much of it deserved. The schools are one of several reasons-the
most important being systematized racism-that the city went from a population
of about two million to less than one million today. About ½ of
Detroit public schools were built before 1930, about 1/4 before 1920. 83
schools, in the spring, were still heated by coal furnaces, leading to
rates of asthma among staff and children over 70%. Class size is, on paper,
often outrageous, over 40, but the district counts on truancy to offset
what would otherwise be a crisis of space. The DFT has repeatedly taken
extra pay for teachers in larger classes, rather than placing a strict
cap on class size, and in this and in many other instances is seen by community
people as a privileged force in their midst-living well at the expense
of community people. Very few teachers live in the communities where they
teach, in fact, only a minority of them live in Detroit-and fewer still
have children in Detroit schools.
The DFT has another problem: they supported
the Takeover Board, and nearly all of the principles the board adopted,
from standardized tests to harsh discipline to site-based management and
a "partnership" between the union and management. The partnership idea
has origins in Detroit, with the UAW's father-son duo, Irving and Barry
Bluestone. Irving was a professional anti-communist who helped lend an
intellectual panache to Water Reuther's racist slate controlling the union.
Later, son Barry, an Ivy-League economist, enunciated the necessity for
labor/management/government partnerships, taking the lead from Mussolini.
Barry Bluestone is now very close to the NEA's president, Bob Chase, whose
policies of "New Unionsim" mimic Bluestone's theory. The AFT's boss, Sandra
Feldman, carries on a tradition begun by the deceased reactionary, Albert
Shanker, a father of the union concession movement in the 1970's, and one
of the early boosters of the idea that the working class and the owning
class have everything in common. Detroiters have lived the partnership
notion in their unions, and have become the worse for it. Many people see
this school reform as a partnership against them. The DFT, having slept
with the Takeover Board, lacks a moral ground for a fight.
Neither the union nor the Takeover Board has
any plan to deal with the key problem in Detroit's schools: the deep racist
poverty that has overwhelmed the city in the last forty years. As Jean
Anyon has shown, doing school reform without radically changing economic
oppression is like washing the air on one side of a screen door. In this
fuller context, it is not possible to address the takeover of the schools
without considering the construction of fascism, on a slow, ugly, day by
With no organization, no history of serious
battles, no base among parents, kids, or workers in the community, the
DFT leadership appears to be in big trouble-and they are. But they remain
in charge as long as the mind set of the rank and file and the community
remains mired in the narrow history of unionism--which has historically
divided more people than united them-and as long as the rank and file unconsciously
chooses to let the leadership remain in charge. While it is most likely
that this strike will be sold out, there are some clear actions rank and
file activists might take. The crux of this, though, is that the union
leadership must be superceded, and this process begins by declaring and
making them irrelevant-and taking power from them when it is necessary.
The principles which drive this should be equality and democracy, at every
Both the Takeover Board members and the DFT
union leaders were genuinely shocked at the vote of the educators in Cobo
Hall. Neither group had contingency plans in the case of failure. Adamany
believed Elliot could deliver. Elliot thought he knew what his members
wanted, and would tolerate. They were wrong. Now the situation is, at least
temporarily, out of their control.
Those who see schools as vehicles for social
change-for democracy and equality-need to move quickly to unite the community
and educators against the wealthy and privileged few who now run the schools,
and the many who follow their directions. The issue: Whose Side Are You
On? This can be achieved, within the confines of the union, by elevating
demands which naturally unite parents, kids, and school workers-like class
size, academic freedom, a more just tax system, more equitable pay schedules,
and integrated inclusive schools. At the same time, Freedom Schools could
be established, schools set up in local facilities and people's homes which
could take up their own curriculum-like just who are these people on the
school board and why do they act like this? Or, why is Detroit such a racist
city? In other words, they could teach as many teachers believe they cannot,
and both students and teachers would learn a lot.
A quick fix, and one is needed to inspire and
carry forward the strike, would be for educators to march on the casino
and shut it down-and keep it shut. The casino is a weak link in the power
of elites in Detroit, the cultural, economic, and the social pollution
it engenders makes it a clear target--and suburban gamblers do not want
to face angry people as they wait patiently in line-for the opportunity
to lose. This is a move the city elites do not expect.
Longer term, rank and file notables need to
assert their leadership of the strike-by seeking to spread it. This involves
appealing to rank and file members of other unions in the area, especially
the militants in the MEA, who recognize the reality of the old union saw,
"An injury to one only precedes an injury to all." No one should expect
genuine support from other union bigwigs, especially those who wrecked
the newspaper strike. The UAW big-cheeses are likely to feel they need
to do nothing but plan for their strike at Chrysler, and Al Gore's election,
but there are many UAW members who see otherwise-and many former UAW members
who are now motel clerks who might be mobilized in support. Michigan Education
Association, the states largest union by far, must be won to take action
in support of the strike, from koining DFT picket lines to closing schools
in the case of mass fines or firings aimed at Detroit. A general strike
in Detroit is unlikely, especially since it will have to climb over the
bodies of the moribund union bosses, but it is possible.
In the long run, the crux of the matter is
to build an organization that understands that in order to make serious
social change, to fight for democracy and equality, it is necessary to
organize people in new ways-and to challenge the permanence of capital
which today can only offer war, racism, organized social decay, meaningless
spectacles, relentless surveillance, and jobs to people who look at others
and think, "Sucker." Those of us working in schools, and attacking capitalism,
are right on point. Everything is in place for social change--except the
decision to make it and the understanding of what that is.
The Rouge Forum is a group of educators, students, and parents seeking a democratic society. We are concerned about questions like these: How can we teach against racism, national chauvinism and sexism in an increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic society? How can we gain enough real power to keep our ideals and still teach--or learn? Whose interests shall school
serve in a society that is ever more unequal?
We are both research and action oriented. We want to learn about equality,
democracy and social justice as we simultaneously struggle to bring into
practice our present understanding of what that is. We seek to build a
caring inclusive community which understands that an injury to one is an
injury to all. At the same time, our caring community is going to need
to deal decisively with an opposition that is sometimes ruthless.
We hope to demonstrate that the power necessary to win greater democracy will likely rise out of an organization that unites people in new ways--across union boundaries, across community lines, across the fences of race and sex/gender. We believe that good humor and friendships are a vital part of building this kind of organization, as important as theoretical clarity. Friendships allow us to understand that action always reveals errors--the key way we learn.