Dear Friends,
        In these notes I have tried to balance between hurried journalism and
thoughtful reflection. What follows was done quickly since many people are
writing to know what happened today.
        The vote is in and the Detroit educators' strike is done, for the time
being. Between 7,000 and 8,000 DFT members voted overwhelmingly, probably
seven to one, to return to work and to vote by DFT balloting in the schools
on the new tentative agreement. Voting will conclude near September 22.
        I have asked a friend, a professional negotiator for the National
Education Association, to review the proposed contract and will have a
detailed posting as soon as possible. Most of the analysis in yesterday's
update appears to be accurate. If there are items that need to be reviewed,
it appears to be because the agreement is even worse. To be brief, there is
nothing in the contract that offers protection to students or teachers
against class size abuse. Nothing promises libraries, books or supplies, in
any enforceable way,. The contract expressly allows the CEO to
"reconstitute" schools which perform poorly on standardized tests, and
nothing protects the teachers who are bounced from those schools.
Importantly, built into the contract are factors which will fragment the
union, pit members against one another, and make it more difficult to make
gains in the years ahead.  Many teachers I interviewed are aware of these
        The agreement was distributed to less than 5,000 of the educators this
morning. DFT President John Elliot said no more copies were available.
However, teachers who arrived in timely fashion had the opportunity to read
it. The meeting, set to start at 9:00 a.m., started nearly two hours late
as thousands of teachers had to filter through the narrow doorways of Cobo
Hall. Teachers cued in a line ½ mile long, doubling back on itself, for the
chance to vote inside.
        The teachers also had the chance to see opposing views. Members of both
key caucuses urging a continuation of the strike distributed reams of
material to teachers standing in line. They did not have much of a chance
to hear those views in the meeting hall.
        The DFT leadership, having learned something from the last meeting when
everything went awry, held a fairly firm grip this time around. Elliot did
not present the contract. After praising the teachers who picketed, he had
four members of his executive board carry the news, while he repeated over
and again, "We need to get through with this so we can get some lunch and
get back to school." Each of the four presenters, in describing why one
aspect or another of the contract could not be achieved, repeated, "Adamany
was adamant."
        Less than twelve people spoke in a brief question and answer period. The
initial four questioners addressed trivial matters in the contract. This
was puzzling until a leader of what most people see as the more moderate of
the dissident caucuses came to the microphone and complained that members
of Elliot's caucus had been allowed into the building early and had taken
up positions to speak–first in line. Steve Conn, leader of the what most
teachers view as the more radical of the caucuses opposing Elliot, the
caucus which gave impetus to the initiation of the strike in the last
meeting, was so roundly booed by the audience that it was impossible for
three of my colleagues located in different sections of the huge arena to
hear him. Elliot cut Conn off well before his allotted time, which Conn
noted, apparently for the record. There was no question where the vote was
headed at that point. When the question was called, hundreds of teachers
hurried out of the hall before the vote.
        So what does this mean? Elliot portrayed the contract as the best that
could be won, though he said publicly yesterday that there was nothing in
the new contract that could not have been gained without the strike,
repeating what Detroit Public Schools CEO David Adamany had said earlier in
the day. In fact, the new contract has less in it than the previous TA, as
the forthcoming analysis will demonstrate. Adamany, unable to contain
himself, continues to threaten teachers with fines for the strike that is
now over. Adamany practically crowed, following the vote, suggesting the
vote restores Elliot's leadership and puts his vision of school reform back
on track. Detroit Mayor, Dennis Archer, whose order to "appear at my office
with your toothbrushes for marathon talks," was rejected by the union, also
claimed that the opening of the schools represents a "new day for school
reform in Detroit." Elliot said he could now return to the era of
labor-management cooperation.
        Things are complex. Most of the teachers I interviewed felt the strike was
successful in making wage gains that were not on the table before, and that
the strike caused crisis-level problems like supplies and class size to be
addressed, if not satisfactorily. They believe their time on the picket
line was well worth it. Few teachers had illusions about many sections of
the contract, which dozens of teachers called "lousy." While the vote today
would indicate that an overwhelming ratification is set, it is possible
that thoughtful educators, after careful study and review, will decide this
contract will not deal with the day to day problems that make teaching in
Detroit a very tough job. One speaker at the meeting said, "I have been in
the district for 29 years and this is the worst contract I have seen yet. I
want you to be sure there is an accurate vote count on it."
        The great strength of many, if not most, teachers is their close ties to
their kids. This is a strength that cynical people can exploit. Both the
DFT and management worked hard on teachers desire to get back into school
with their kids. This was a key factor in the vote.
        Most working people are not going take on dominance without knowing that
there is some reasonable plan of battle and some hope of winning. The
Detroit teachers had to be aware that a longer job action would draw a
severe response from all the forces lined up on the other side: wealth and
their representatives, the school board, the Governor, the legislature,
local managers, the press, the courts, the law, and finally the police.
They had to know that their first line of defense, the DFT, with a budget
of nearly $5 million from dues, would be an unreliable ally in the struggle
which would come. The distrust of the DFT leadership is profound, and
underscores a trend throughout teacher unions. The educators knew no
planning and no preparation had been put in place for a long job action.
One teacher told me, "Right now, there is no way out. We have been through
this before, we have lost some and won some. There will be another day."
        Detroit teachers defied the law, made gains, and so far have gone
unpunished. They had tremendous community support–in a city where the media
has fed the people a steady drumbeat of school reform for six months. The
educators exploded the myth of labor-management cooperation, the
partnership that masks one partner living off the other, and they blew
aside their union leadership, making them extraneous as picket lines shut
down the Detroit schools. While there is much room for criticism of the
strike, Detroit teachers–by taking direct action on their jobs and
extending their struggle to the community-- changed the way school will be
discussed for some time to come. They swept aside the appearances so
carefully cultivated by the media: School reform is better buildings and
kids in uniforms and parents under threat of arrest delivering kids to
school. They showed that equality and democracy are good answers to those
who want to use authoritarianism to buttress inequality. The educators
demonstrated that hope lies in the conscious action of human beings, which
is why school is there to begin with.
         More later. I too have to go back to school, though my union may go on
strike next week. All the best, rich


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