Between 5,000 and 6,000 education workers and their supporters, carrying
signs and chanting demands like "Lower class size, books, and supplies!"
marched the circumference of a huge city block around the Detroit School
Center building early this morning. Four and five abreast, men and women,
veteran teachers and school workers holding tiny babies, black and white,
the demonstration was the high-water mark of the illegal and massive
wildcat strike that has halted school in the 180,000 student district. The
demonstration, on the central artery of the city, Woodward Avenue, was
witnessed by thousands of commuters, many of them honking and waiving in
One teacher told in a small meeting of educators said, "I was in the
military for twenty years. When I was there, if an officer sent me on a
mission and I discovered that I could not do it without more people or
supplies, I either got what I needed or I did not take on the task–and I
made it clear why it was not done. I came here because I want to help kids
where I came from. I sure as hell do not need the money. Most of the people
here could make a helluva lot more in this economy. But this job is
impossible. I have an average of 39 kids in my classes. In one small class,
one of my kids got shot and killed a block from the school. So I surveyed
the rest of them. 24 of the 34 had been involved in a violent traumatic
incident of some kind in the last year. That is day to day life here. We
must have a reasonable cap on class size, or nobody could do this. And if
it can't be done, why open the damn school?"
While caucuses around the city have given the DFT competing lists of
demands, from opposition to standardized exams to calls for more
standardization, it remains that the DFT leadership is unclear about
exactly what it is, at minimum, that their members will tolerate.
A school secretary supporting the teachers on the picket line told me, "I
send my kids to Detroit schools. Before that, they were in D.C. schools. I
know something about horrible schools and bad teachers. But I support these
people because I know some of them are trying to help my kids, and the rich
folk on the board don't care if my babies eat."
AFT President Sandra Feldman flew into Detroit and spoke at the rally
early in the morning. Most of the teachers who listened to her speech were
impressed by her calls for solidarity. However, Feldman in a small press
conference, said. "I support the concept of merit pay, as well as the
standardization of the curriculum, but Adamany is just plain wrong in using
this process to get it. He is going about this in the wrong way. The people
must be involved."
Detroit is the most racially segregated city in the U.S. The teachers have
made only small gains in crossing geographic divide, to gain support from
other educators outside the city. A supportive suburban teacher says this:
"I must say, at (my school) the strike is not only a Detroit thing, it is a
non-issue. Surprise, surprise."
The rally achieved the goal of pulling many teachers back to supporting
DFT president John Elliot. One high school teacher who spoke as he marched
said, "I voted against Elliot in the president election–twice. And I voted
against the contract–for this strike. But like they say, I can see that he
is the only horse we have got, and we need to ride him for now. We need to
support Elliot and the DFT. We know we can't win everything that is on the
table. If we can't get class size, well then we need more money."
Yesterday afternoon, DFT supporters of John Elliot, discredited by his
signature on a tentative agreement that was rejected by the rank and file,
fanned out to most of the schools in the city with a message: "Do not
accept leaflets or literature from anyone who is not from the Elliot side.
Do not allow outsiders on your picket line." At one school, teachers were
warned not to speak to supporters of Steve Conn, the dissident caucus
leader who was instrumental in the rejection of the contract.
Both of the two caucuses which led the vote against the contract issued
leaflets to the demonstrators today. One, the FEE (Fighting for Educational
Excellence) detailed their support for Elliot and the bargaining team, and
offered to put one person on the team, describing differences as a family
squabble. The other, the Quality Education Committee led by Conn and
members of the National Women's Rights Organizing Committee, underlined the
strength of the strike, and victories already won: the longer work day with
no boost in pay is off the bargaining table, and, on the other hand, Elliot
is now saying that the DFT is standing firm on class size. From their
leaflet: "Our strike has proven that fighting can win."
In a meeting of Conn's group, members discussed the need to fight against
the possibility of another bad contract, and undemocratic procedures that
might get it passed. Conn repeated his feeling that once that barrier is
overcome, "We can win a real victory, a great contract." Others in the
meeting disagreed, saying that it will take a lot more than that to win a
The Reverend David Murray, one of the elected board members whose job was
abolished, declared, "God is on our side in this and thus we cannot lose."
People attending one caucus meeting told me that their numbers were cut in
½ from previous day, and attributed the loss to DFT pressure on members to
In a city where GM abrogated a contract with the UAW not long ago, where
the entire elected school board was illegally abolished and replaced by
representatives of the rich, any contract must be seen as a temporary
truce, an ephemeral victory at best.
In the afternoon, Detroit's Mayor Dennis Archer directed the union and
representatives of school CEO David Adamany to come to his office to
bargain, and "bring your toothbrushes." The union side declined to come.
Elliot's PR person pointed out that negotiations were already going on at
that moment in the School Center Building. The little act of defiance could
be part of Elliot's prearranged campaign to become believable, or it could
be real contempt for the mayor who was letting Elliot swing in the wind.
Elliot later agreed to around-the-clock bargaining, but not in the mayor's
den. Early evening reports from the negotiations from the union said:
"Nothing is happening." In contrast, a board bargainer said, "Expect an
There is growing media pressure, and pressure from the Governor's office
and the Mayor's office, to, "Get this strike settled, done, finished, by
Wednesday–at the latest," according to a release from the mayor's office.
People who want to impeach the mayor, led by a black multi-millionaire who
was denied one of the three permits to open a Detroit casino, were
prominent at the demonstration. The TV media moved coverage of the gigantic
demonstration today to the back-burner, following stories about a big car
wreck, the usual round of city shoot-outs, a minister who ate 12 BigWhops
on a bet to get a pal to church, and a story about a local basketball star
who urinated on the floor of a local restaurant, disturbing patrons. The
march got seven seconds on one channel.
State legislators issued press releases threatening action against
the strike late this evening. The existing law (see my www page) offers the
legislature little or no leverage in this job action. At base, the only
illegal strike is a strike that fails.
If nothing else, the strike is demonstrating the power of working people
and the power of social practice. The theories of standardized testing are
answered here–in the streets. Nothing functions when workers simply say
"No," and walk away. This demonstrates who it is that creates value, who
can live without who. Even so, walking away is only part of the path to
gaining control of the process and product of one's working life. Just
saying NO, is only part of the way to empowerment. On the other hand, it is
abundantly clear that the cutting edge issue in this struggle is social
class: rich vs all. Top leaders on all sides of the strike are drawn from
the multi-cultural spectrum, which undoes the underlying premise of
multi-culturalism: that we are all in this together. Even so, for working
people, the impact of the strike likely to demonstrate that an injury, or a
victory, to one can precede the same for all.
There are rallies scheduled for both Sunday and Monday in support of the
strike. Best, r