I have narrowed margins in this, on request. It is not as long as it
looks. I promise.
Negotiations for the Detroit Public School Strike took place for nearly
eight hours today until, at about 9:45 p.m., bargainers for both sides
chose to end the talks until noon, Sunday. Union bargainers indicated that
at least one issue is completed, the hours of work. They said that the work
day would remain the same, but that teachers would be teaching more. They
declined to answer whether or not concessions have been made in teacher
The DFT began to run a radio ad explaining the reasons for the strike this
afternoon. A woman's voice says, "This strike is not merely about money or
school reform. It is about whether or not teachers will be able to perform
as professionals in the classrooms with your children."
She goes on to describe overcrowded classrooms, the lack of supplies, the
absence of art and music classes, the difficulty of retaining good teachers
in Detroit, etc.
It is a moving advertisement. Unfortunately, it did not run through the
summer, to prepare the community for the struggle ahead. Now, in this
context, it is at once a sophisticated appeal for community support and a
prop for the discredited DFT president. The ad closes with her voice,
"brought to you by Detroit Federation of Teachers President John Elliot."
The media began to sharpen its attack on the strike as well. The Detroit
Free Press ran an article suggesting that Jesus would cross the picket
lines. WWJ radio, the s24-hour news station with the top arbiron ratings in
the city, ran an interview with a professor from the Michigan State
University school of industrial relations. The authoritative expert said
teachers will begin to be fined early next week. In addition, he suggests
that the union could expect especially heavy fines, and perhaps jail for
its leaders. Finally, he said all of the teachers may be, "fired, as were
the teachers in the Crestwood district 15 years ago, and not one of them
got their jobs back."
The 1994 Michigan law allows (see the DPS section on the www site below)
for fines, not dismissals. The union may not be fined at all. The Crestwood
strike, an MEA district, took place almost 20 years ago. It is correct to
say that the teachers were fired and never returned. The little district
employed less than 400 teachers. They struck, against an injunction, early
in the fall. Their strike was solid. They had massive support from the
community. Dozens of unions, and hundreds of people, joined them on the
picket lines. Management brought in scabs, initially escorted through the
lines by a phalanx of city and state police. Rank and file members decided
to stop the scabs and, early in the strike, closed the picket lines to the
cops and the scabs. On the second day, about 20 people were arrested. But
the lines held firm.
MEA panicked. The leadership decided to request that community support
come to an end, and told the strikers that the association would file legal
challenges that would prevail. MEA actively disorganized the teachers'
picket lines and sent militants home. The MEA legal challenges failed in
the courts. Not one teacher who followed this path got their job back, and
few of them taught again in Michigan. The lesson that every MEA staff
person took from this experience was that the law was merely a weapon of
dominance, and that future strikes would have to be more, not less
militant. A later strike, led by the MEA in River Rouge, saw the district
repeat the threat to bring in scabs and to fire educators. Teachers,
knowing it is difficult to defend picket lines which must stretch around
wide school boundaries, seized the school buildings, sat in, and won.
It is not the law, but political reality that defines the legality of a
strike. Michigan educators have been involved in hundreds of strikes all
over the state. Every teacher strike broke the law. In the strikes that
won, and nearly every one did, the law was circumvented by both labor and
management by calling the strike a "job action," often one against unfair
labor practices. The issue was lifted out of the courts by power, not legal
Schools of Industrial Relations, and Labor Studies, are often the most
politicized section of a campus. On the management side, well, the
professors are on the management side. In labor schools, professors, even
tenured professors, frequently see themselves as dependant on the labor
movement, the top AFL-CIO leadership, for students, money, and other forms
of support. The Michigan State professor, introduced as an expert on
industrial relations, rises out of a mire of servility.
This is Labor Day weekend. In Detroit, where 100,000 people once marched
down Woodward Avenue, the main artery, in support of communist-led union
action at Ford Motors, working people are offered up an endless round of
spectacles: a jazz festival, a boogie festival, a state fair (costing $20
to enter); all veritable eat-a-thons encouraging the most passive forms of
consumption, fun becoming a spectator event. The cultural events, in
contrast to most of day to day city life, are reasonably integrated.
The Ford Rouge Plant once employed more than one hundred thousand workers,
making from scratch everything that went onto a car, iron to glass. Now
less than 9,000 people work there. The prime growth industry in Michigan is
prison and surveillance. Jails derange the landscape all over what was once
the lovely north of the state, covered by white pines. In Grand Rapids,
furniture factories are moved inside the prisons, where the managers
appreciate the attendance of the workers. Privatized prisons make each
inmate a source of profit, belying the apparent contradictions of school
and jail spending. Education is a loss. Jail is a profit. Simple. Schools
in Detroit are huge markets for the surveillance industry, cameras to metal
detectors, to private guards.
Besides jail, the key industry is the spectacle: Casinos, strip-joints,
Tough Man contests, which treat people as a double object, a source of
profit, a mindless consumer. The largesse of the richest society in the
history of the world makes it possible for dominance to discover, and offer
up, the most base desire of each potentially privileged citizen, and to
simultaneously suggest penalties for resistance. In this, educators face a
difficult series of choices of paths.
The annual Labor Day parade, once a huge militant march topped by fervent
speeches in what is now Kennedy Square (named after he spoke on Labor Day),
is now a Labor Fest, absent the speakers and debates that the AFL-CIO
leadership claims no one wants to hear. The fest offers music, food, beer,
and promises, in its literature, "No rhetoric."
This year, the on-strike DFT will lead the parade. For the last three
years, the gathering has been led by hundreds of Detroit Newspaper strikers
who lost their jobs when the powerful UAW and the Teamsters betrayed them,
urging court action in place of massive community militance on picket
lines, going so far as to identify disruptive picketers to the police.
The only leaflet the DFT has issued during the strike closes with this
slogan in bold print: The Union United Cannot be Defeated.
It can. But not if the rank and file, united with the community, fighting
racism above all, can take direct action to control the work place, and to
move beyond the workplace to the key sectors of the community. The rank and
file activists promise an active presence at the Fest.
Please circulate this piece and the url below. Happy Labor Day. best, r