Dear Friends,
        The DPS strike remains active and solid. Despite reports of a tentative
agreement which many thought would end teacher picketing at schools, every
facility was still lined with picketers on the neighboring sidewalks–even
the elementary schools.
        Very few people have seen the tentative agreement signed by DFT President
John Elliot and DPS CEO David Adamany. Some favored reporters have been
provided courtesy copies, but the DFT has not circulated them to the
membership as yet. Unfortunately, only a few of the local reporters have
the background to read and comprehend an education contract. Their
interpretations are confused and murky.
        It is critical to underscore the fact that one thing this strike has shown
is the incredible power of united parents, students and educators. The key
demands, class size, books, academic freedom, are demands that have made
the continued strike possible–by uplifting that unity. This solidarity,
which united rank and file people across the spectrum, also made it clear
that the union bureaucracy and many arrogant managers can be made
irrelevant. Now, when push comes to shove, the people of Detroit will be
looking at teachers and wondering if they are willing to sell things they
called principles for a few percentages on a salary scale.
        Educators should note that pay is not primarily related to the number of
years in a district, the number of degrees, or merit. Teacher pay and
benefits, first of all, are linked to the needs of the community, and to
the power of teachers to fight. You don't ger more because you have an MA
plus 30. Ask the teachers in Colorado. You get more because you are
        Let us look at the voting process. Educators will vote at Cobo Hall in a
meeting that begins at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday. The vote, according to DFT
leadership, will be on whether or. not to return to work. Then, later,
using a mail ballot, teachers will vote up or down on the tentative
contract. On the face of it, this makes no sense. Why have two votes when
DFT has traditionally voted on contracts, usually by voice vote, in mass
meetings? Why not just vote on the contract itself?
        One veteran union organizer I know, a professional with the National
Education Association whose job is to watch the AFT, said this: "Well, keep
in mind that the leadership of the DFT has bungled everything they touched
for some time, so to attribute a thoughtful plot to them may be a bit too
much, but remember that some top AFT staff are in Detroit now, so here is
what I think they may be doing. There are two questions in a vote like
this: the substance of the contract and the opposition leadership. If the
contract is good, it will sell itself. I think this is one that needs to be
sold–hard. So, DFT leaders believe they may lose any public membership
vote, simply because they know that Elliot may not match be able to wits
with the many dissident teachers. On the other hand, they may believe their
own propaganda, that only a tiny minority of the teachers started this
strike, and thus they will win the vote hands down.
        "Now, if they win that first vote, they're in good shape. They can call
for a vote on the contract right away, or they can go ahead and do that
mail ballot. If they lose the first vote, then they can allow the strike to
continue, knowing that they will do the counting when the mail ballots are
returned. The AFT does not do ballots supervised by the American
Arbitration Association. Even so, this really makes no sense. I hope the
members at least make them work this voting process out."
        The substance of the contract is still unclear, although members will have
to vote very soon, and the rank and file distrusts the DFT. DFT members I
have interviewed feel they have not been told the truth about previous
contracts, and they do not trust John Elliot to count fairly in a vote,
mail ballot or voice vote.
        DFT bargainers say the new three year contract brings Detroit teachers
close the surrounding suburbs in pay. This is most unlikely. The average
top-of-the-scale teacher with an M.A.  in nearby working class suburbs
makes an average of $12,000 a year more than Detroit teachers. Over the
course of a career, the racist pay differential amounts to the cost of a
lovely home–paid for. The DFT claims that it has won a raise of 4% per year
for top scale teachers. The math does not work.
        DFT says part of the raise comes to teachers at the top of the scale, who
are rewarded at double the level of entry level teachers. There are several
problems with this: The multi-tiered salary schedule divides the union,
wrecks solidarity. In this contract, for example, union bosses and
management were able to locate, on the salary schedule, where the majority
of teachers are, and to reward a number of them, at the expense of the
rest. Over time, this will erode solidarity, hence eroding wages. Of
course, entry level teachers will be, at least, annoyed. They are not
likely to see, either, that raising the number of steps on a salary scale
simply extends the time it takes to reach the top, thus slashing income
over a career. The guiding principles for the union, in every action,
should be equality and democracy, as the bedrock of democracy.
        The average Detroit elementary classroom holds between 35 and 42 kids,
depending on the area of the city. The average working class suburban
elementary school has class sizes at 23, and the suburbs are making serious
efforts to get this down to 20. DFT says that it has made improvements on
class size, but they do no come into effect until next year, and they only
cover about 12% of the schools in the Detroit system. What happens to the
        There have been no reports of guarantees for books, a library in each
school, or supplies. Nor does there appear to be language about protections
against school reconstitution, closing schools and firing teachers where
kids have low test scores. There are no reports about language protecting
teachers from involuntary transfers, no language guaranteeing seniority on
voluntary transfers.
        DFT admits concessions were made on sick leave, requiring written excuses
after 8 days–in practice probably reducing the real usable sick days to 8.
        The district initially sought to extend the teacher work day by 1 ½ hours.
DFT says they defeated this demand. But DFT does not say whether or not
they have allowed the district to reduce planning time.
        DFT says they defeated merit pay, but David Adamany claims that he can use
the state legislature and the law to get what he wants in this area anyway.
DFT makes no statement about protection from merit pay. The union says one
section of the contract may go to arbitration. This could be it. Other
rumors suggest that elementary planning time is the subject of further
        Both Dr Adamany and DFT PresidentJohn Elliot said today that this contract
contains nothing that would not be there if the strike had not happened.
Both blamed the strike on a tiny minority of the Detroit teachers who
somehow bamboozled the others to hit the bricks. My experience suggests
neither statement is true.
        Meanwhile, the media is urging teachers to come to the meeting on
Wednesday, suggesting, with Adamany, that the vote last time was
manipulated. David Jaye, a state legislature from a racist working class
district that prides itself on Reagan Republicanism, says he will take
action in Lansing to fine every teacher who has been on strike–$500 a day.
Adamany says he may approve of Jaye's plan. Adamany and Jaye agree that
teachers in other districts could look at this strike and conclude the law
is impotent against united educators. I counted five suburban teachers on
the Labor Fest march yesterday. Clearly, they have not learned that an
injury to one really does precede an injury to all.
        What will happen if the teachers vote no? They will come under a much
sharper attack. It is reasonable to say the Governor, the state
legislature, and the bosses of their own union, will all join the assault.
At this point, the struggle will become much sharper, and more will be
demanded of teachers who are sincere about serving their students, fighting
for lower class size, libraries, books and supplies. While the old DFT
leadership will be swept aside in theory, it will need to be done in
practice. The old tactics, pickets around buildings, will need to be
replaced with real base-building: door to door appeals throughout the
community, explaining the strike in coffee clatches and small group
community meetings. The spectacles of huge demonstrations at the school
center building, primarily tests of internal union strength as well as a
way to seek publicity, will have to be supplemented by actions which will
not merely be symbolic, but as threatening to management as an injunction
is to strikers. This is where creative demonstrations, say at the casinos,
might come into play. At the same time, teachers could establish Strike
Freedom Schools where they could teach in ways they cannot teach in their
own schools. Finally, teachers, parents, community people, and students
need to build an organization, existing both within and outside the union,
where they build mutual trust–and discover new methods to win. This is why
the Rouge Forum was organized.
        I do not believe anyone can predict how the vote will go. But the teachers
of Detroit have already done their share to change their profession, by
remembering whose side they are on.
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