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We can't trust the courts to defend our rights
We need to organize

November 1, 2002 | Page 4

Dear Socialist Worker,

There's a lot to learn from some of the Supreme Court decisions handed down this year. On the one hand, our side scored historic victories against the death penalty, which shows that we can still win in this Ashcroft-poisoned law and order climate. And yet the same court dealt a terrible blow to education with the decision to allow school vouchers--a major sop to the religious right.

Another brutal attack on our schools came in the same week, when a state appeals court, ruled, in a Jim Crow-type decision, that there's nothing wrong with the funding gap between New York City public schools and wealthy suburban schools. The panel of judges said the state is only obligated to provide "a minimally adequate opportunity"--not an equal opportunity--for New York City kids to get an education--and even then, only through the eighth grade! Justice Alfred Lerner, writing for three of the four justices in the majority, said, "Society needs workers in all levels of jobs, the majority of which may very well be low level."

We won ground on the death penalty because anti-death penalty activists have spent years organizing a confident, grassroots movement that has forced a right-wing Supreme Court to change course.

But with public education, teachers' unions have done everything possible to avoid just that kind of grassroots struggle. Our top union officials have accepted much of the right-wing agenda of "school reform" and given in to privatization, budget cuts, teacher bashing, testing and for-profit charter schools without a fight.

In a recent issue of my union's newspaper, our union president warns teachers not to expect much this year in contract negotiations because "times are tough." Then in the next paragraph, she has the gall to tell us how important it is to campaign for Democrats to "protect our schools." That's exactly the strategy that got us into this position of weakness in the first place!

We need teachers' unions to put forward a strategy to beat back the right-wing attacks--a strategy that is not afraid to use our power to protest, to organize job actions, and to strike. There's no other way forward. In the words of Howard Zinn, the question isn't who's sitting in the White House (or on the Supreme Court bench), but who's sitting in.

Annie Levin, AFT Local 1037, Boston

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