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An Injury to one is an injury to all

Dear Friends, enough people wrote to me, gently criticizing my esoteric
form of attaching a file and asking that I paste the document in the text,
that I am going to do that. This is a somewhat cleaned up version of the
earlier one, having had some sleep and time to reflect. Please note one
important correction. There are more than 11,ooo Detroit teachers. We will
send photos, George. The deadline?

A Rouge Forum Broadside
Detroit Teachers Vote to Strike
Shut Down the Schools?and the Casino?Spread the Strike!
by Rich Gibson, Wayne State University

Around 2000 of the 3000 teachers attending a meeting of the Detroit
Federation of Teachers voted to strike today, August 30. There are 11,500
teachers in the school system. A huge "School Opening Rally" scheduled for
Tuesday, was cancelled. The strike vote flies in the face of a harsh state
law, untested to date, that steep levies fines against striking teachers
and their union. The strike vote also shatters the appearance of school
reform in the city, a project which has spent about 100 million dollars
refurbishing decrepit schools this summer, a reform directed by seven
member school board appointed by the Governor and Detroit's Mayor. The
board seized the city's schools which serve about 180,000 children in 1999.
The elected school board was abolished. The new board is primarily made up
of representatives of industry, banks, and casinos, none of whom has
experience as a school worker, the majority of whom does not live in Detroit.

Significantly, the strike vote also is a clear rejection of the Detroit
Federation of Teachers (DFT) leadership which asked the membership to
approve a ten-day extension of the contract, promising that the leaders had
achieved success on many key issues. In fact, the DFT sent out a press
release the evening before the vote which said the members had voted to
return to work. The repudiation of the leadership by the rank and file, by
at least a two-to-one margin, continues a trend inside teacher unions which
reached a high mark in 1998, when the membership of the National Education
Association, with more than two million members, by far that largest union
in the U.S., defeated by a 60-40% vote a leadership proposal to merge with
the smaller, urban-based AFT?and to virtually adopt the AFT's undemocratic

The union members met today at Cobo Hall, a huge convention center
downtown. The rank and file members had heard radio reports the night
before indicating that John Elliot, president of the DFT for 18 years, had
already agreed to a ten-day contract extension. Elliot did nothing to allay
that concern. Instead, Elliot began the meeting my introducing a lawyer who
started to outline the many sanctions government could levy against the
union and educators in the case of a strike. Early on, teachers began to
shout at her. She said, "And I thought teachers were supposed to be models
of being polite!" They booed. Elliot then intervened on her behalf, "I can
see why many of you have discipline problems in your classrooms. You behave
like your kids." This set off new rounds of booing, shouting?and demands
for a division of the body, not a voice vote, as teachers yelled that
Elliot had "miscounted" in the past. One teacher said later, "We are sick
of them talking down to us." Finally, one high school teacher took a
microphone and said, "Everyone who wants to strike, move to the left.
Everyone opposed to the strike move right." Elliot's choices ended as the
vast majority moved left.

The leadership circulated an outline of the results of the last two
months' of bargaining. Included in the section of items completed was an
agreement to give away seniority as a key factor in transfers, referring
the question to a site-based management committee. Class size limits,
promised publicly by both the new board and the DFT leaders, are merely
referred to a committee for "review and study." The DFT agreed on a
proposal which indicates that if teachers use more than eight of their
fifteen days of sick time, they will not get salary increases the following
year. The agreement includes a merit pay section, which links pay
increases to student performance on standardized tests and principal
evaluations. Still on the table, with no agreement, are: pay, fringes like
health benefits, longevity, duty periods, a longer work day, unpaid teacher
education days, time off for union representatives, and sick bank accrual.
There was no discussion in the meeting as to which section particularly
annoyed educators, so the leadership is at a loss as to the direction to
take. However, it is clear that the repudiated contract represents the
general tendencies of "school reform" as it has been presented by the top
leadership of the American Federation of Teachers and the National
Education Association, an outlook rooted in the idea of
educator/management/corporation unity. .

In a press conference hours after the mass meeting and following a caucus
of the top union leadership, DFT's Elliot blamed the vote on a "militant
minority who always wanted to strike, and who were able to get people to
the meeting today." In the same press conference, board Superintendent
David Adamany, the former president of Wayne State University, urged
teachers to start school on Tuesday, saying, "This strike is against the
law. It is a matter of individual conscience, a decision for each teacher.
It hurts the massive reform effort that is demonstrated by our success in
repairing the schools."

Adamany earlier had outlined three goals for starting the school year,
other than the building repairs: Each child in a uniform, the arrest of
parents of truant kids, and each teacher on the same page of the same text,
each day. He said, further, "If this is a rejection of what we have already
agreed to, which we must have, we are all in serious trouble." Adamany
urged teachers to come to work but told parents to keep their children
home, and said he would not request state help in invoking the law until he
had a further chance to bargain.

The strike vote could have important implications. In the context of the
labor movement, it could be the harbinger of things to come in Detroit, and
perhaps around the U.S. In Detroit, the strike could, conceivably, spread.
Professors at Wayne State University, the 35,000 student urban college
serving the metropolitan area, may take a strike vote next week. Like the
DFT, they are members of the AFT. In addition, later in September, the UAW
will target an auto company, probably Chrysler, for a strike. In the
context of the education community, the strike could inspire action
elsewhere, like Chicago, where the union leadership has taken stances
similar to the DFT leadership. NPR, this afternoon, carried a statement
from a dissident DFT member calling for a general strike in Detroit.
Following the bitter loss of the Detroit newspaper strike, feelings run
strong in metro-Detroit. The DFT, however, has no plans to radiate the strike.

There are other factors to consider. The level of opposition from
management and government is a serious concern. While the size of the DFT
makes it a big elephant among teacher unions, those arrayed on management's
side are not merely tough bargainers, they are ideologues who have long
fought to destroy unions. The state Governor, John Engler, who harbors
vice-presidential ambitions, struggled for most of his political life to
end what he sees as a union strangle-hold on the state. His efforts,
coupled with the bungling of the Michigan Education Association, led to the
passage of the law outlawing teacher strikes, as well as laws restructuring
the tax system to shift the burden of education costs away from
corporations and onto working and poor people. One of his goals for
1999-2000 has been to end the agency shop clauses in teacher contracts,
shifting that sector of the Michigan work force to a right-to-work state.
Engler is known as a ruthless and cruel opponent. There is no question that
his attention is focused on Detroit teachers.

David Adamany, the DPS Superintendent, made a reputation at Wayne State
attacking the faculty union?to the extent that he was finally forced to
resign after more than ten years on the job?following a no-confidence
faculty vote. Adamany was skillful at dealing with capital improvements,
Wayne State building projects grew and prospered in the middle of a city in
collapse. But, like Engler, he is seen as vindictive and vengeful?and
hot-tempered. He is well-known for taking decisive action against anyone
who opposes him. Adamany, too, has long battled to change public education
to a corporate model. At Wayne State, he initiated a program for freshmen
and sophomores that put them on the same page of the same book?teacher to
teacher?a move the faculty fought every year. In Detroit Public Schools,
Adamany was expected to "clean house." But he has only been able to clean
buildings. He told the district principals, in a spring meeting, that he
would like to fire about ½ of them for "obvious incompetence.". To date,
none are fired. The district's personnel office is notorious. Teachers
routinely do not get paid for months on end. Job applicants are treated
like supplicants, ordered to pay steep fees to apply for a job. Adamany has
not moved to change the personnel personnel either.

He has considerable teacher and parent opposition, some of it taking root
in his arrogance. In a summer meeting with teachers, he was challenged
about what he would do as an educator facing disruptive students. "I would
just put down my chalk and refuse to teach." Openly gay, at the board
meeting following his appointment, Adamany was met by a church-based group
of parents chanting, "He's gay?not with my kids!" and demanding his removal.

Adamany claimed, after the strike vote, that he was worried that a strike
might propel parents into charter schools and support for a voucher
amendment that will be on the Michigan ballot soon. But Adamany, as
president of Wayne State, opened the first charter school in the state, and
caused the dismissal of the dean of the college of education who refused to
support him. Last year, the charter school scored lowest in the state on
standardized exams. Still, hundreds of parents wait in line to enroll their
kids in the school each fall.

The chairman of what is known as the "Takeover Board" is Freeman Hendrix,
a mayoral aide who opened the first public meeting of the new board by
inciting the two hundred of attending to assault students and parents who
had come to protest the seizure of the school system. Hendrix, who lives in
the city but whose children attend Catholic Schools, shouted at the cops,
"Throw them out and arrest them. Now! Now! Now!" repeatedly over a public
address system designed to drown out any sound of dissension." His approach
continued week after week, culminating in the police beating of an older
woman in the parking lot of a Detroit high school. He halted only when he
was clearly threatened by a group of men who attended the next meeting,
telling him he had caused beatings for the last time and offering him a
"taste of pain." Hendrix has mayoral aspirations?and Mayor Dennis Archer
has hinted he hopes to leave the city to become the Chair of the Democratic
National Committee. Archer, in the press conference, urged teachers to
report to work on Tuesday. Hendrix, the following morning, issued
statements of deep admiration for the DFT ?s Elliot, saying that the
president needs to rally his supporters and quickly hold another vote on
the contract?to end the strike.

Material conditions might suggest a prudent course for management:
combining threats about the law, perhaps even an injunction, with rewards
for returning to work, bargaining behind closed doors with the union
leadership, a hurried meeting in which pro-contract votes are mustered and
counted, a back to work order, and a new opening of the schools. But the
personalities of the players are significant, and the people involved on
the management side have a history of hot-headed behavior. These are not
people accustomed to negotiations, the cynical give and take of corrupt
union bargaining. The management side is composed of people who see the key
issues, like merit pay, the end of seniority, control of the curriculum,
etc., as matters of principle.

Of course, there is a lot at stake for them. The seizure of the Detroit
public schools by the rich comes at a critical juncture in the history of
the city and the state. Detroit today is third world. Key city streets look
like tank traps. Electrical service is routinely interrupted for city and
nearby suburban residents, for up to two weeks at a time. Public
transportation is nonexistent in the Motor City. Vaccination rates of the
city children run about 35%, while TB continues to be a force in some areas
of the city. The day the first casino opened, the county had to close 29
lakes, due to ecoli poisoning. The lake inspectors were laid off days
later. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 35 major layoffs of more than
100 people so far this year. Even so, the Wall Street Journal declared
Detroit on the "comeback trail, " in mid-August. Housing prices are up for
the first time in decades. On August 30, the day of the strike vote, the
Washington Post carried a long article lauding Detroit's black mayor for
leading a "dramatic turnaround," calling him a leader of the "post
civil-rights era."

Thirty-five of the city's police force were indicted for drug related
crimes this year. The former chief of police, of a department with a long
history of corruption, is now serving time in Milan Federal Prison, just
west of Detroit. The police department has settled millions in liability
suits in the last few years?making them a hated entity once again. The two
officers who killed Malice Green, in a famous assassination, appear to be
about to escape serious punishment. The murder rate is up, about 25%.
Robberies, a rate determined by arrests made by a crooked police
department, are down.

The auditor of the former school board, in acknowledging that she could
not count for up to three million dollars of board funds, finally admitted
that she had not been the auditor at Northwest Airlines?she was a clerk.
After she resigned, she bought one of the most fashionable restaurants in
Detroit. Once known as the Homeowner's City, with more single family homes
per-capita than any other, the city has bulldozed huge plots of land where
housing once stood?to the point that residents walking just a mile from the
city center commonly kick up pheasants who have moved into the vacant
fields. While unemployment levels in the city are two to three times those
of the rest of the state, the state as a whole is experiencing remarkable
growth and prosperity?as is the U.S. Unlike the 1980's, when joblessness
in Detroit exceeded 50%, most people now have jobs.The city school system
is 90% black. Two-thirds of the children who enter DPS do not graduate.
Prominent sociologists recognize Detroit as the most racially segregated
city in the U.S. Most suburban white people never enter the city, except
perhaps to come and go for Tiger and Red Wings games.

About five years ago, property values in the city bottomed out. GM, Ford,
and speculators began to buy back what was once theirs?including land on
the priceless riverfront. Although Detroit residents voted repeatedly to
oppose casinos in the city, the issue was placed on a state-wide ballot and
passed. The mayor promised that the three casinos approved by the voters
would never take up precious riverfront space. One $200 million temporary
casino was completed in two months and opened in July?to lines of thousands
of working people cuing in the heat. Two others will open before Y2K. All
three casinos plan more swank permanent structures?on the river front, as
the mayor recently announced. The Lions and Tigers are completing new
stadiums downtown as well. When asked where all the poor people who live
near the new entertainment centers will move, an urban planner simply said.
"Well, I certainly hope they leave." .

The city is being reclaimed by elites who have no desire for an
integrated, critical, authentic school system. While they recognize the
need for multi-culturalism in their own ranks, they are keen to maintain a
system of segregation among other classes. The state standardized tests for
school kids measure, solely, parental income and race. The tests are used,
along with geographic housing choices made by racist parents, to deepen
segregation, not enliven education. In seizing the form of education, the
school buildings, and the content, the curricula, wealth seeks to stratify
not only children, but also educators, who eventually will be paid, through
merit schemes, along the lines of the income of the parents of their kids.

What elites must have right now is social peace?and that is why they
seized the Detroit schools when they did. They are led by an organization
called "New Detroit," formed by quaking corporate leaders in the midst of
the 1967 rebellion, whose director, Bill Beckham, is the key leader of the
Takeover Board. Beckham, a former mayoral aide, is acutely aware that
conditions in Detroit mirrored conditions in the summer of 1967: hatred for
the police, high expectations contradicted by minimal real-life
possibilities, a community acting on gossip and tabloid TV news since a
boycott of the scab papers is still 40% effective, and contempt for what is
traditionally a center of hope?school. The 1967 uprising was only quelled
by military intervention including troops returned from Vietnam. It was a
terrible setback for elites everywhere?and a material boon to local
citizens who gained nearly 100,000 jobs within six months of the rebellion.
Strict welfare restrictions were quickly dropped and caseloads exploded.
The carrot briefly replaced the stick. But the "Renaissance," of Detroit,
declared thirty years ago but never realized, is now a Ponzi scheme, based
on the faith of wealthy investors believing that their money will not
vanish in a wave of class or race violence.

In order to gain social peace, vital to winning the failed bets of
suburban gamblers taking the chance of entering the city (the photo of one
horrified suburbanite running from an urban insurrection would destroy
downtown investments for a long time to come), elites had to hold out a
believable carrot?schools that work. They wiped out the existing board,
which was traditionally corrupt and incompetent, going back to the 1920's,
and set out on a reform program which sees parents, teachers, and kids as
the source of most of the school's problems?as Adamany's program
demonstrates. Remarkably, the old board had adopted a carbon-copy plan,
days before they were abolished. As proof of the old board's political
bankruptcy, only a handful of people protested their removal. The Takeover
Board moved swiftly to smash any potential opposition. Massive police
presence at early meetings drove away many parents and students. They
opened the district treasury to make repairs in schools all across the
district, and succeeded in at least 4/5 of them. Days before school opened,
they flooded radio stations with announcements of a huge "Back to School
Rally" with parents and kids invited to each school. They were also ordered
to attend, and told that anyone not at school the first day would have to
repeat a long registration process. Many saw this as an effort to limit the
potential of a DFT job action by raising parental hopes?and fears.
There are serious problems inside the DFT. The union leadership has long
been profoundly alienated from the rank and file. The leaders are widely
seen as incompetent and corrupt?on the other side. In midsummer, DFT
president Elliot was asked how many days teachers teach in the school year.
He guessed wrong, by ten days. Elliot has never led a serious job action,
other than a brief strike in 1992, nor have his cohorts. In meetings to
report the results of bargaining for the last two DFT contracts, Elliot
declared voice votes which clearly opposed his positions, to be votes in
favor of a return to work. The staff leadership of the AFT has very, very
close ties to the UAW leaders who systematically sabotaged the rank and
file and community action which could have led to a victory in the
newspaper strike. Now, because they have been so separated from the
members, the leadership has no idea of what it is they must bargain to gain
member ratification?except a clear message from the members that they do
not like what the leaders have already done. Elliot was obviously shocked
by the strike vote, as was Adamany. The union side has no plan for a long

Opposition to Elliot, despite his claims and hints about outside
agitators, is really small and not well organized. His perennial opponent,
a high school teacher at the city's most prestigious school, has never been
able to gain more than 40% of the vote in presidential elections, and there
are no indications of extensive opposition organizing. The Trotskyist
National Women's Rights Organizing Committee and the Columbus-based
anarchist Anti-Racist Action group both have a tiny presence; neither could
be considered influential now. The Rouge Forum, described below, has a
small presence among teachers and parents. In sum, the teacher side has a
serious problem with leadership?and the feelings of the rank and file are
hard to gauge. The DFT did no extensive bargaining survey, asking teachers
what they wanted, before bargaining began.

While no one has a clear count, it appeared that the meeting today,
consisting of only about 1/3 of Detroit teachers, was heavy with voters
from high schools, typically centers of greater militance. The key to a
successful strike of this size is not the high schools but the elementary
schools, critical to companies and parents as a source of free baby
sitting. High school students can take care of themselves; grade school
students cannot. Without a good base of elementary school educator support,
the strike could unravel.

No one knows the feelings of the nearly 1,000 teachers the district hired
in special hiring fairs in the summer of 1999. I was not able to locate a
single new teacher on the picket lines. NEA and AFT research clearly says
that new young teachers are far less likely to support union action than
their colleagues who were hired in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

Moreover, the union has nearly no base in the community. No from DFT one
organized parents or kids over the long summer vacation. The Board
received heavy, congratulatory, press coverage for the school repair
program. City schools have suffered from a bad reputation for years, much
of it deserved. The schools are one of several reasons?the most important
being systematized racism?that the city went from a population of about two
million to less than one million today. About ½ of Detroit public schools
were built before 1930, about 1/4 before 1920. 83 schools, in the spring,
were still heated by coal furnaces, leading to rates of asthma among staff
and children over 70%. Class size is, on paper, often outrageous, over 40,
but the district counts on truancy to offset what would otherwise be a
crisis of space. The DFT has repeatedly taken extra pay for teachers in
larger classes, rather than placing a strict cap on class size, and in this
and in many other instances is seen by community people as a privileged
force in their midst?living well at the expense of community people. Very
few teachers live in the communities where they teach, in fact, only a
minority of them live in Detroit?and fewer still have children in Detroit

The DFT has another problem: they supported the Takeover Board, and nearly
all of the principles the board adopted, from standardized tests to harsh
discipline to site-based management and a "partnership" between the union
and management. The partnership idea has origins in Detroit, with the
UAW's father-son duo, Irving and Barry Bluestone. Irving was a professional
anti-communist who helped lend an intellectual panache to Water Reuther's
racist slate controlling the union. Later, son Barry, an Ivy-League
economist, enunciated the necessity for labor/management/government
partnerships, taking the lead from Mussolini. Bluestone is now very close
to the NEA's president, Bob Chase, whose policies of "New Unionsim" mimic
Bluestone, and the AFT's boss, Sandra Feldman, carrying on a tradition
begun by the deceased fascist, Albert Shanker. Detroiters have lived the
partnershio notion in their unions, and have become the worse for it. Many
people in the community see this school reform as a partnership against
them. The DFT, having slept with the Takeover Board, lacks a moral ground
for a fight.

Neither the union nor the Takeover Board has any plan to deal with the key
problem in Detroit's schools: the deep racist poverty that has overwhelmed
the city in the last forty years. As Jean Anyon has shown, doing school
reform without radically changing economic oppression is like washing the
air on one side of a screen door. In this fuller context, it is not
possible to address the takeover of the schools without considering the
construction of fascism, on a slow, ugly, day by day pace.

With no organization, no history of serious battles, no base among
parents, kids, or workers in the community, the DFT leadership appears to
be in big trouble?and they are. But they remain in charge as long as the
mind set of the rank and file and the community remains mired in the narrow
history of unionism--which has historically divided more people than united
them?and as long as the rank and file unconsciously chooses to let the
leadership remain in charge. While it is most likely that this strike will
be sold out, there are some clear actions rank and file activists might
take. The crux of this, though, is that the union leadership must be
superceded, and this process begins by declaring and making them
irrelevant?and taking power from them when it is necessary. The principles
which drive this should be equality and democracy, at every turn.

Both the Takeover Board members and the DFT union leaders were genuinely
shocked at the vote of the educators in Cobo Hall. Neither group had
contingency plans in the case of failure. Adamany believed Elliot could
deliver. Elliot thought he knew what his members wanted, and would
tolerate. They were wrong. Now the situation is, at least temporarily, out
of their control.

Those who see schools as vehicles for social change?for democracy and
equality?need to move quickly to unite the community and educators against
the wealthy and privileged few who now run the schools, and the many who
follow their directions. The issue: Whose Side Are You On? This can be
achieved, within the confines of the union, by elevating demands which
naturally unite parents, kids, and school workers?like class size, academic
freedom, a more just tax system, more equitable pay schedules, and
integrated inclusive schools. At the same time, Freedom Schools could be
established, schools set up in local facilities and peoples homes which
could take up their own curriculum?like just who are these people on the
school board and why do they act like this? Or, why is Detroit such a
racist city? In other words, they could teach as many teachers believe they
cannot, and both students and teachers would learn a lot.

A quick fix, and one is needed to inspire and carry forward the strike,
would be for educators to march on the casino and shut it down?and keep it
shut. The casino is a weak link in the power of elites in Detroit, the
cultural, economic, and the social pollution it engenders makes it a clear
target--and suburban gamblers do not want to face angry people as they wait
patiently in line?for the opportunity to lose.

Longer term, rank and file notables need to assert their leadership of the
strike?by seeking to spread it. This involves appealing to rank and file
members of other unions in the area, especially the militants in the MEA,
who recognize the reality of the old union saw, "An injury to one only
precedes an injury to all." No one should expect genuine support from other
union bigwigs, especially those who wrecked the newspaper strike. The UAW
big-cheeses are likely to feel they need to do nothing but plan for their
strike at Chrysler, and Al Gore's election, but there are many UAW members
who see otherwise?and many former UAW members who are now motel clerks who
might be mobilized in support. Michigan Education Association, the states
largest union by far, must be won to take action in support of the strike,
from koining DFT picket lines to closing schools in the case of mass fines
or firings aimed at Detroit. A general strike in Detroit is unlikely,
especially since it will have to climb over the bodies of the moribund
union bosses, but it is possible.

In the long run, the crux of the matter is to build an organization that
understands that in order to make serious social change, to fight for
democracy and equality, it is necessary to organize people in new ways?and
to challenge the permanence of capital which today can only offer way,
racism, organized social decay, and jobs to people who look at others and
think, "Sucker." Those of us working in schools, and attacking capitalism,
are right on point. Everything is in place for social change--except the
decision to make it and the understanding of what that is.

The Rouge Forum is a group of educators, students, and parents seeking a
democratic society. We are concerned about questions like these: How can we
teach against racism, national chauvinism and sexism in an increasingly
authoritarian and undemocratic society? How can we gain enough real power
to keep our ideals and still teach--or learn? Whose interests shall school
serve in a society that is ever more unequal? We are both research and
action oriented. We want to learn about equality, democracy and social
justice as we simultaneously struggle to bring into practice our present
understanding of what that is. We seek to build a caring inclusive
community which understands that an injury to one is an injury to all. At
the same time, our caring community is going to need to deal decisively
with an opposition that is sometimes ruthless.

We hope to demonstrate that the power necessary to win greater democracy
will likely rise out of an organization that unites people in new
ways--across union boundaries, across community lines, across the fences
of race and sex/gender. We believe that good humor and friendships are a
vital part of building this kind of organization, as important as
theoretical clarity. Friendships allow us to understand that action always
reveals errors--the key way we learn.

There are no dues to join the Rouge Forum. Just email

Rich Gibson
Program Coordinator of Social Studies
Wayne State University
College of Education
Detroit MI 48202

Life travels upward in spirals.
Those who take pains to search the shadows
of the past below us, then, can better judge the
tiny arc up which they climb,
more surely guess the dim
curves of the future above them.

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