Five years ago, Detroit voters passed a billion dollar bond issue to fund
school repairs. For four years, the elected school board bickered about how
the money would be spent, and spent a little of it. But most of the money
sat fallow. The schools remained in disrepair. Many elementary teachers
taught for months in heavy coats because there was no heat–and no windows.
Many citizens believed the board was fighting over who would get what
kickback from who, whose relatives would get the jobs. Suburbanites,
usually in conversations coded with comments about the "inner city,"
offered the schools as proof that black people could not govern themselves,
forgetting that the Detroit School Board has been notoriously corrupt, and
white, for nearly a century. In the early 1900's Detroit Mayor Hazen
Pingree had the entire school board arrested because, "I bribed you last
night, and now I have discovered you took a bigger bribe. So, you are
arrested for not staying bribed."
Using low test scores and the unspent bond money as excuses, Governor
Engler seized the schools and abolished the elected board early this year.
He ordered Detroit Mayor Archer to appoint the new board, but Engler kept
one appointee, who has full veto power, as his own. Archer appointed
representatives of the rich, a V.P for marketing from Daimler-Chrysler, the
head of the local corporate community, and a five others. The board hired a
CEO, David Adamany, the ex-president of Wayne State, who is responsible
for the daily operations of the schools. Adamany left his last job under a
cloud, a huge faculty vote of no-confidence, following years of efforts to
destroy the campus unions.
Adamany moved quickly to abolish the unions in DPS, construction unions,
administrator unions, etc., suggesting that the people on the school
payroll were culturally poisoned, unable to work. At one school board
meeting, 150 repair people appeared with the leader of their union. The
spoke respectfully, earnestly: "We want to work. We are good workers. We
have kept the 80 year old boilers in the furnaces going with no parts. We
spent our own money to keep the kids and teachers warm. You wonder why it
is so hard to get repairs made in the system? There is one truck for all of
us." Adamany has not succeeded in removing one union from the system.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers supported every aspect of the takeover.
Adamany hired a democratic party pal to spend the bond money and repair
the schools this summer. DPS trades workers had to bid on the jobs. Many of
the schools are indeed repaired, shiny floors, new windows, working
bathrooms. Some are not. Mayor Archer talks about the "euphoria, the
enthusiasm, the sensation, of the building project, which was all there to
open the schools." Now he feels teachers, acting in an illegal strike,
spoiled the party.
Today, at a demonstration of about 150 educators, parents, kids, nurses,
professors, and other workers around the city, one teacher stepped forward
to say, "Sure, the buildings are important. But the people are more
important, and education isn't just a building. We have many schools in
this system that don't have books, don't have libraries, don't have
functional computers, hell they don't have phones."
Another teacher from a middle school said, "We don't have supplies, and
our students cannot get the help they need in classes of 43. What would
Birmingham people do if the Governor stole their schools? What would you
do? He says this strike is illegal. Well, the new board is illegal–and so
is that dictator Adamany."
The demonstrators rallied in front of the school center building, site of
negotiations for the DPS contract. At 9:30 p.m., negotiators from both
sides halted talks until tomorrow. Both sides reported a great deal of
progress, having "exchanged final packages. "
A union bargainer suggested that the DFT may go to its members on Tuesday
to seek a motion to return to work, "since this contract is so close," and
then conduct a mail ballot ratification vote when a tentative agreement in
reached. A leader of a dissident caucus said, "This is a double
peculiarity. They cannot be so stupid as to think we are going back to work
without a contract on their promise. We all saw them lying to us just last
week. Beside that, what's up with the DFT suddenly supporting a secret
ballot? They never use the secret ballot, because it would allow people to
vote against the people who run the union. But now they want it because
they are scared the members would shout this double-talk down again."
George Washington, a prominent Detroit radical labor lawyer, said, "These
Republicans think they can seize the schools and smash this strike. Well,
we will have an injunction against that in a minute."
The Rev. David Murray, a former DPS elected board member, speaking to the
demonstrators, said, "This is a Caucasian plot to take over Detroit, and
the Caucasian people working in the middle of it will have to pay the
price." His comments were highlighted in the electronic media reports
One teacher watching the demonstration from across the street commented,
"It is wealth, Democratic, Republican, casino wealth, dollar wealth holding
up the city. We showed them there money is worth nothing when we shut the
While the strikers rallied, Vice-President Al Gore and AFL-CIO President
John Sweeney visited the city. Gore spoke to an audience of 200 mostly
white labor leaders in Central Methodist Church, then went on to address
the 800 mostly black parishioners of Sacred Heart. Gore was introduced by
Sweeney as a man seeking to link churches and labor in a "faith and
justice," campaign. Gore spoke heartily in opposition to "replacement
workers taking the jobs of working people on strike." Neither Sweeney nor
Gore mentioned the ongoing Detroit teacher strike.
The Labor Fest sponsored by the AFL on Monday is threatened by rain.
Please circulate our www site on the DPS Strike