Classes were cancelled for Friday in the Detroit School strike. While
hundreds of citizens, teachers, students, and community people are meeting
around the city, and the strike appears strong, the AFL-AFT leadership
moved to assert control of the strikeľ to step in front of the rank and file.
At a rally in front of the city's symbol, a statue called the Spirit of
Detroit, state AFL-CIO leadership joined a small rally of about 60 people,
a coalition of non-teaching school personnel, to insist that they are
behind the strike, and to issue their own demands.
The most numerous among the demonstrators was the Organization of
Supervisory Staff, mid-level officials. Top district managers have them
targeted as superfluous. The 11,000+ teacher bargaining unit is served by
an 8 story building full of unionized administrators, some of them talented
takers of lunch, others known to be dedicated professionals. They outlined
demands like: support for more standardized exams and a common curriculum
for all teachers, for grade retention, harsh truancy policies, and a cap on
Joining them on the line was a handful of parents and school support
personnel who did not speak. Steve Conn, a leader of a dissident faction,
was denied an opportunity to announce a rally his group plans on Sunday at
3:00 at the School Center Building.
When I asked what the AFL will do if the Governor takes severe action
against the strikers, the president of the state body announced that he
would initiate "preventative legislative action." I asked the state AFL
secretary treasurer if the group would call sympathy strikes when the
legislative action fails, and she stated, "It is possible," that the AFL
would call a general strike in Detroit. She said, "The rank and file has
spoken in opposition to their leadership. But they are the beginning point
of labor and we must back them up."
A rally is planned by the elected leadership of the DFT on Friday morning
at the school center building in Detroit. AFT head Sandra Feldman, a key
proponent of the standardized testing movement, and a solid supporter of
grade retention, is in town for the rally.
Rank and file strikers have made it clear that their key issue is class
size, and they oppose punitive anti-student measures. The district claims
poverty in response to the class size demand.
The media continues to focus on the need to open school immediately after
Labor Day, apparently forgetting that Detroit schools were closed two weeks
last winter due to a snowstorm. The city does not plow streets. The lost
days were waived by the state.
Pickets at two elementary schools were robbed at gunpoint this morning.
One striker claims she lost $4,000 in jewelry.
Suburban teacher reaction appears mixed. Many teachers in the nearby
suburbs either taught in Detroit or have spouses there and support the job
action. However, many other educators tell me that they were pleased by the
takeover of the Detroit schools and eager to see the city to start the year
with refurbished orderly buildings. The leadership of the suburban Michigan
Education Association has made no plans, as yet, to take action if Detroit
teachers are penalized.
Letters of solidarity for the strikers can be emailed to me. They will be
posted on the www site below as soon as possible. Thanks to those who have
already written. Best, r