National Educators Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel is asking all members to “Wear Red for Public Ed” every Tuesday, starting tomorrow. It is a purely symbolic action, but it does have the potential of unifying millions of teachers nationwide and it is an opportunity to educate and mobilize the public.
The problem is that the message currently being conveyed is a pathetic one. (See Van Roekel’s message below). Note that he specifically denies that the struggle has anything to do with better wages, working conditions or benefits. He says nothing about the corporate interests that are exploiting public education funds or the race to privatize public education. There is no criticism of NCLB, Race to the Top, vouchers, accountability, merit pay, value-added, or schemes to eliminate tenure and seniority. He reduces it all to protecting the teacher “voice in their profession,” (as expressed through the union and collaboration with the bosses). But what good is this “voice” if it is only used to agree to concessions, cuts and take-backs? It is true that teachers in Wisconsin are demanding that their voice be heard and that their collective bargaining and union protections remain intact, but they are also furious about the 20% pay cut that Gov. Walker has imposed on them. They are incensed that he gave tax cuts to the rich and is making them pay for it.
His message is insulting to teachers and it is hypocritical. His demand that we maintain “message discipline” by only sharing his weak message with the public and media, denies us the right to think and speak for ourselves, exactly what he criticizes Gov. Walker of trying to do. He acts as if he understands the needs and concerns of teachers without even speaking to us or doing the one on one organizing that would provide him with this intelligence. He insults our intelligence and courage by suggesting that we only want the right to speak, but not the right to use it to demand better working conditions and pay.
This is a classic example of leaders, asleep at the wheel, suddenly waking up and trying to bring things under their control. The Wisconsin protests threaten their leadership and interests. What leaders like Van Roekel and Weingarten (AFT president) care most about is NOT the well being of teachers, but their ability to hobnob with politicians and bosses, a role that is dependent on both the continued existence of their unions and the steady flow of members’ dues.
From NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:
"The NEA family has come out in force to support our members and colleagues in Wisconsin, as well as those in Idaho, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee. Other states are facing unprecedented threats as well. Although we have made inroads in making the media aware of these battles across the country, all eyes and cameras continue to be on Wisconsin. Please remember as you are asked to talk about our battles across the country and the fight in Wisconsin that we are fighting for members to be heard and for their rights. Message discipline around Wisconsin's fight will help us in all our battles. Below is a message from the communications team on the ground in Madison that we are sharing for your reference:
- This protest is about public sector employees retaining a voice in their profession and Wisconsin's future. The proposed legislation strips away worker rights and destroys the collaborative partnerships that have been established between labor and management in Wisconsin. It's not about pay and benefits, pensions and health care.
- What is happening right now in Wisconsin is historic. Tens of thousands of citizens - unprecedented numbers - are gathering and speaking out to show their support for the state's public servants. They want to voice support for the third grade teacher who stays late to help a student with math - for the nurses who work every day to care for patients - for the firefighters who keep us safe -- and for the snow plow drivers who plow streets through the night so their neighbors can get to work in the morning. These public workers are on the front-lines everyday to support us - and they should have a say in their profession.
- The people of Wisconsin are asking the Governor and legislature to hear them out - and work with them to find bipartisan solutions that will address Wisconsin's challenges. Silencing the voices of public sector employees by busting up their unions is not a going to help Wisconsin move forward - and it will only divide the people of this state.
"Because we know everyone is looking for a way to lend their voice to our collective fights, here are three things you can do right now:
- Have members sign the petition on Education Votes website: National Petition
- "Wear Red for Ed" to support public education beginning Tuesday, February 22nd , and every Tuesday this spring