Friday, January 21, 2011

General Strike? Has the NEA Finally Found Some Balls?

Would teachers call for a national strike if states across the nation tried to eliminate tenure? “I would not take that off the table,” said John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union, with 3.2 million members.

What? Has the NEA finally found its balls?

Balls Replaced With Butterflies
No, the NEA does not sound like an organization that is ready to strike, or even put up a serious fight. Wilson’s “off the table” cliché was immediately undermined by his wimpy admission that a strike “is never the first choice,” and his naïve “hope that the voices of our members would be influential to policy makers.” Wilson also wants law makers to slow down and wait for the results of the Gates Foundation study on the teacher evaluations, (preliminary findings support using test scores to evaluate teachers), before they rush into the destruction of tenure—hardly the strategy of a fighter.

Wrong strategy, NEA
Brisbane General Strike 1912
For a strike to be avoided, you first have to be willing to use it. If you start out by telling the boss that you’d rather not strike, and that you hope to win him over with a few choice words, then he has no reason to take you seriously, and he’ll shine you on, and on, and on.

The evidence of just how weak they think we are can be seen in the following:
  • “Our attitude is we have them on the run and it is now time to change,” said Paul Bennett, Indian education chief.
  • Louisiana education director Paul Pastorek said, “I’ll be damned if we are going to back off at this point.”
  • “Public support is building for a frontal attack on the educational status quo,” writes Michelle Rhee, former head of DC schools and current anti-teacher activist
  • Florida’s new governor Rick Scott and New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie have both vowed to end tenure
  • Wyoming state Sen. Hank Coe has sponsored a bill, SF52, that would do away with tenure and allow administrators to fire teachers without explanation.
  • Seven states passed laws last year that “reformed” tenure

Yes, teachers should call a national strike to stave off attacks on tenure. We should have called a national strike to end NCLB. We should consider national strikes to fight value-added, attacks on our pensions and, indeed, the entire ruling elite assault on the rest of us. But to be able to pull any of this off, we need to be much better organized and willing to carry out such a struggle, with or without our union bosses. Chances are, that when we’re ready to fight, they’ll be busy cutting back room deals and selling us out to keep the peace.


  1. I am so disapointed with my local union, it's hard to tell where the admin ends and they begin... at our strategy meeting they talked membership drive not get the word out...

  2. Sadly, this is the case for most of us: Union leadership that is more concerned with appearing "reasonable," "professional" and "dignified" so they can keep a seat at the table (or place in bed) with the bosses. It is even more prevalent at the state and national levels.

    The best move for us right now is to start organizing without them. We need to be ready to act. We need teachers who understand this and are willing to fight, with or without their union leadership.

  3. Fast forward 2 months after you posted this. Look what is happening now---a fast downward spiral.