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On the picket line

October 31, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11

New York City teachers
University of Maryland-College Park

Chicago teachers
By Jesse Sharkey, CTU delegate

CHICAGO--In the aftermath of an unprecedented "no" vote on a contract offer endorsed by the union's bargaining team, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership is showing signs of repairing divisions inside the union and preparing for a strike. Many delegates went into last week frustrated by the disappointing contract offer and feeling as though leadership showed they couldn't hear what the rank and file was saying.

But as the week progressed, it turns out that leadership was in more of a mood to listen. On Monday, officers reached out to school-level leaders, organizing "conversation on the contract" meetings with delegates to discuss our demands and next steps.

At the high school meeting, dozens of rank-and-file leaders spoke out in a meeting that lasted three-and-a-half hours. Delegates spoke about pay and health benefits, but also demanded a contract of no more than three years, smaller class sizes and strengthening workplace rights protected by a strong grievance procedure.

The meeting reinforced the powerful sense of anger coming from the rank and file. Several delegates denounced how powerless they felt in the face of the administration's harassment and disciplinary actions as retribution for exercising union rights such as filing grievances. Other delegates railed against the hypocrisy of the school board, demanding that teachers improve student test scores while refusing to lessen overcrowding in elementary classes.

Many delegates voiced criticisms with the way the leadership has handled the contract campaign up to now, but sentiment in the room was also overwhelmingly in favor of moving forward in a united fight against the board's proposals. Union leaders also reported that they have formed a strike committee and started production of buttons and contract campaign literature.

Elementary school delegates are to meet followed by a meeting of the entire house on October 29. Leadership is likely to ask for a strike vote on Wednesday.

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New York City teachers
By Megan Behrent, United Federation of Teachers

NEW YORK--More than 10,000 teachers rallied at City Hall last week, protesting overcrowding in schools and new work rules instituted this year. These rules have led to micromanagement of teachers by administrators and are widely seen as hampering teachers' ability to teach their students effectively.

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union that represents more than 80,000 educators in New York's public schools, called the "Rally for Respect"--the first major teachers' rally since the contract expired last May. Yelling chants of "Let teachers teach!" teachers expressed their immense anger at Mayor Bloomberg's meddling in every aspect of teachers' jobs--from instituting a standardized curriculum for math and English, to enforcing rigid guidelines for the timing of lessons, to dictating the exact layout of classrooms, going so far as to distribute memos about the placement of staples on bulletin boards!

"I'm tired of people who have never even spent a year in a classroom telling me that I'm standing in the way of them teaching my students," said one teacher from the podium. Last week's rally came at a time when teachers are under increasing attack by Mayor Bloomberg and the chancellor of schools, Joe Klein.

Negotiations for a new contract have been stalled since they reopened in September. The week before, Klein unleashed a new offensive--proposals calling for an end to tenure, seniority rights and separate pay scales for teachers based on shortage areas in an attempt to divide teachers and scapegoat them for overcrowded and underfunded schools.

"It's time to invest in the new three R's," UFT President Randi Weingarten told the rally. "Respect for teachers. Retention of qualified staff. And resources for schools."

While the rally was an important step in gathering teachers to express their anger, the union leadership provided no concrete strategy for organizing a real fightback capable of winning a decent contract. In fact, Weingarten herself offered concessions on work rules before contract negotiations even began.

It's time to start building rank-and-file power that can win real victories in work conditions, a decent contract and improve education in our schools.

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University of Maryland-College Park
By Nick Chin

COLLEGE PARK, Md.--Two hundred people rallied in front of the administration building at the University of Maryland—College Park October 22 to fight back against the latest tuition increase by the Board of Regents. Protesters demanded that the university give back the money from the tuition increases, return laid-off workers to their jobs and give workers a new contract.

The union has been in negotiations with the university for 22 months, four of which were spent on setting ground rules. "Power concedes nothing without a demand," said State Senator Paul Pinsky, quoting Frederick Douglass. Pinsky went on to request that the administration "expand its vocabulary" beyond the word "no" and called for them to "bargain in good faith."

The Board of Regents has passed yet another tuition increase, this time planning to raise in-state tuition to $7,426--an increase of 9.9 percent. "When tuition spirals out of control, students and workers are asked to share the burden," said Sally Davies, president of the AFSCME Local 1072.

Asked if the protests are having any effect, Simon Fitzgerald of the campus activist group Student and Workers Unite (SAWU) said that the university has scaled down its layoffs from 300 to 100 and that 20 workers have come back. By coming together, we can organize opposition to the cuts in higher education.

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