Re: DPS Strike--Monday Update--It Ain't Over
- Subject: Re: DPS Strike--Monday Update--It Ain't Over
- From: Richard Gibson <rgibson@PIPELINE.COM>
- Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 01:05:41 -0400
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The Labor Fest in Detroit doubled in size this year. While the police
estimate of 10,000 marchers would be a step up from previous years, UAW
organizers guessed attendance at over 20,000. Unionists marched under
cloudy skies, in 85 degree heat. Showers predicted for the day held off
until late afternoon, then leaky roofs flooded and closed Detroit Metro
Airport, voted by travelers as the worst in the U.S.
Marchers, were to be led by the striking members of the Detroit Federation
of Teachers. Not long into the march, a contingent of about 50 people
supporting a local Democratic political contender leaped into the head of
the parade. The Democrats were joined by Detroit Mayor Archer, bitter
opponent of the teacher strike, who said his prayers are with all workers.
The spirited DFT contingent was fully integrated, black, Hispanic, and
white, young and old, an unusual crowd of 2,000 educators in an AFL-CIO
procession overwhelmingly dominated by white people, reflective of the
union movement itself, especially the building and construction trades. The
educators chanted their familiar, "Books! Supplies! Lower Class Size!"
The marchers traveled down two routes, the primary route running south
down Woodward Avenue, the largest street in the city. They walked past the
Detroit Medical Center, a thriving adjunct of Wayne State University, an
addition that overwhelmed its parent. The medical center now houses over ½
of the WSU staff. The center is in the midst of what was once one of the
poorest areas of Detroit, not too far from the Brewster Douglas projects,
birthplace of the Supremes. Thousands of poor people were displaced by WSU
reclamation projects, organized by then- WSU president David Adamany, now
the CEO of Detroit schools. The demonstrators walked along a route that
once was traveled by electric trolley cars, a smoke-free-energy-efficient
system that traversed the whole city?until GM bought it up, sold it to
Mexico City, and tore down the wires that gave it power.
Leaving the medical center, marchers passed the boarded-up blue hulk of a
building that was once Motown, passed dozens of derelict boarded buildings
much like it, passed the huge vacant lots, bulldozed terrain, that typify
the wreckage of the most segregated city in the U.S., and passed the rising
framework of Comerica Stadium (the owners promised to call it Tiger Stadium
when they asked for tax money), that symbolizes the new era of Detroit, an
entertainment and gambling center, not the Arsenal of Democracy.
Labor Fest was all that is the labor movement today. Dozens of UAW locals
joined in, most of them with symbols of their partnerships with their
employers. GM, Chrysler, Ford, all mad donations of huge 18 wheel display
trucks, dozens of late-model cars, trinkets like frisbees and candy
(stamped with "UAW-FORD Partners in Production"). No one talked about the
massive explosion that murdered workers at the Ford Rouge Plant early in
the year. Marching with special verve were members of the "UAW-Ford Team"
who are about to lose their jobs because they work in supplier plants that
will be spun-off, detached from Ford and left to fend for themselves for
wages and benefits, as were the GM parts Teammates in 1998.
Trades workers came riding their employers' gigantic construction
machines. The union coalition of the Teamsters, UAW, and the Hotel Workers
that represents workers in Detroit's new casinos, voluntarily recognized by
their employers, had a booth. The Christian unionists were widely
represented. The UAW has a Union Chaplaincy program, and a booth for
recruiting. UAW Local 51 carried a yellow banner, "Youth Shooting Rockets
for Christ," carried by young men and women, marching in cadence, in
camouflage outfits. This seems to reflect Al Gore's campaign to unite
Christians and trade unions.
The union representing Detroit and state police had recruiting literature
there, as did the prison guards. The largest UAW local in the state of
Michigan, the state workers union local 6000, had less than a dozen members
present. The UAW is opposing their efforts to place the question of
collective bargaining for their member on a state-wide ballot?it would be
bad for Al Gore to have to deal with it.
Relatively privileged among the world's workers, often willing to seek
gain at their expense, even at the expense of other workers in their ranks,
labor as it is contained in the AFL-CIO demonstrated all of its strengths
and weaknesses on the streets today: able to shut down the 180,000 student
school system, unable to produce a single speech or flyer in support.
The march lasted more than two hours, culminating in a cultural fair next
to the gigantic hole that was once Detroit's premier department store,
Hudson's, imploded by dynamite not long ago. Just as the march concluded,
around noon, negotiations for the Detroit school strike resumed.
The key issue of this strike, usually unnoticed and unspoken, is social
control. In a society that is more and more inequitable, it is important
for elites to mask the existence and creation of inequality, and to use age
old methods like divide-and-conquer, reward-and-punish, to keep the bottom
of the pyramid in place. Detroit is the most racially segregated and
socially inequitable city in the U.S. Clear geographic boundaries separate
citizens by class and race?as do the scores on standardized tests.
Wealth allowed Detroit to go to seed, to rot, while its citizens,
surviving twenty years of massive unemployment, tore the floorboards from
homes to build fires for heat, stripped houses of plumbing to sell for
scrap, and watched as corrupt agencies like HUD gave loans to realtors, who
absconded with the funds. After the 1967 Detroit rebellion, welfare
restrictions were quickly allayed, caseloads rose. But as militancy faded
in the economic crises of the late 1970's, welfare cuts became popular. At
one point, the state of Michigan and the federal government gave Chrysler
and Lee Iacoca 1 billion $ to bail out his company. Welfare grants were
slashed the same day. Every mental hospital but one in the state was
closed. Prisons replaced them. Chrysler later sold itself to Germany.
Recently, with property values bottomed out, the rich came back, bought
property, put in their casinos as places to play. They know their grip on
the city is tenuous. Detroit is a city with a long history of race and
class violence. Uprisings of any kind could ruin investments. The people
most likely to participate in social upheavals are young people, and they
are in school. But their schools have been harshly neglected. There is
little offer of hope from a Detroit school. So it is imperative to reclaim
the schools, and, within this project, to segment the population even
further, with scalpel precision, along fairly predictable lines of who will
wind up where in the social system?to hold out hope, false and real,
against the possibility of serious resistance to inequality..
In this context, the teacher strike is a real blow against the empire,
against the social control that is enforced by legality and propriety,
against union leaders who do not represent, but want to discipline, their
members, against a ferocious campaign to enforce the notion that school
reform is about a standardized curricula, kids in uniform, and attacks on
parents. They struck against a culture and its media that says you cannot
fight city hall and win, and besides there are many other more fun things
to do?shop. The teachers have repeatedly said this strike is about ?Class
size, books, and supplies!" and while there is some question about what
they will trade off in salaries to get that, there are many teachers who
are committed to their students and their community. One teacher marching
in Labor Fest told me, "Up until now, the conservative element in the union
was elementary teachers. Well now they are sick of it. They are mad as hell
and they will not take anymore. They have been sacrificing and patient and
now they are set up as the problem. Well they are not the problem, and they
are out of control. They mean what they say. They love those kids. You must
know what a mad elementary teacher can get when she wants it. They are not
going to quit." Social control meets Ms Chips, who loves her children.
Negotiators announced a press conference for 7:00 pm. DFT President would
speak. Another marching teacher told me today, "The wraps are off Elliot.
We have protected him too long. He is plain stupid and plain on the wrong
side. He is done and we are done with him." Another teacher, though, an old
Detroit radical, said, "No, he is dumb, but he plays to these teachers. He
fools with their feelings for others. He gets up and cries. That's how he
sold the last lousy contract?and they ALL have been lousy."
Elliot did not appear until after 8:00. Part of the delay was caused by
Detroit school Security Squads who removed about 30 teachers from the area
near the press conference. Locked out, held back by a large iron gate, they
denounced the secrecy of proceedings inside.
Elliot came to the mike and appeared at a loss. He announced a Tentative
Agreement, saying there would be mail ballots sent to teachers soon.
Ballots would be counted in "a couple weeks." Prompted by reporters'
questions, he apparently remembered he would call a membership meeting, as
is DFT tradition, to vote on a back-to-work decision. He became clear,
however, that there will be two votes, one on Wednesday morning to
determine the back-to-work issue, another mail ballot to decide on the TA.
No copies of the agreement were available. Elliot said, "some copies," will
be available for teachers on Wednesday.
What is in the contract? Union spokespersons said different things to
different observers. There is consensus that this is a three year contract.
To one TV station, DFT reported a 6% to 12% raise. To my phone call, they
said a 4% raise, which they repeated to another TV station. They said 22
schools could be effected by a class size cap in the 2000-2001 school year.
They agreed that they made concessions on teacher sick days, moving from 15
to 8, unless the teacher supplies written excuses. Any excess of 8 means a
loss of the next year's raises?and potential discipline. Elliot said,
"Merit pay is not covered in the formal contract." Just what kind of
contract it may be covered by is unclear. It is rumored that one issue is
headed for arbitration. The popular demands for books and supplies, a
library in every school, do not appear to be addressed at all.
After a tired and clearly dispirited Elliot had walked away, CEO Adamany
took a spritely jump to the microphones. He denounced the strike, saying
,"This cost my district and the city of Detroit millions of dollars. It was
absolutely unnecessary. See, we had an agreement for a ten day extension,
and we reached this new agreement in seven days. This should never have
happened to the union leadership or to the city schools."
Adamany went on to say that DPS strikers could still be fined $500 dollars
for every day they were off the job, under state law.
Following his ouster from his job as President at Wayne State, Adamany
became the head of the State Civil Service Commission which oversees all of
the classified state employees in Michigan. The Commission has remarkable
powers, including the power to overturn arbitration decisions and to
approve all contracts with the employees unions, which do not have
collective bargaining rights. During his tenure at the CSC, Adamany led
moves to negate all of the non-economic provisions of the state employee
contracts that were negotiated in the previous year. For Adamany, history
suggests a deal is not a deal.
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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