Views in brief
How the UFT could resist concessions
LEE SUSTAR'S article "Can the AFT meet the challenge?" is spot on in its criticism of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) leadership's strategy of "lesser" concessions to avoid "greater" concessions that is part and parcel of their alliance with the neoliberal Democratic Party.
One small disagreement. The apparent resistance of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT, the largest AFT local, representing New York City's K-12 teachers) leadership to the Bloomberg administration's demands for concessions is not so much the result of either the UFT leadership's greater capacities or rank-and-file opposition/pressures from Occupy Wall Street. Instead, it is the result of the peculiarities of New York State public labor law.
In New York State, the Taylor Law regulates public-sector collective bargaining, most importantly granting public-sector union recognition while banning all public worker strikes. The 1982 "Triborough Amendment" to the Taylor Law mandates that if a public-sector contract expires, the terms of that contract continue indefinitely, leaving governments with virtually no leverage to force concessions. All the UFT bureaucracy has to do to "resist" the worst of concessions is do nothing!
Charlie Post, Brooklyn, New York City, AFT Local 2334/PSC-CUNY
What's driving the AFT?
IN RESPONSE to "Can the AFT meet the challenge?": You do a fine job of documenting the AFT leadership's wholly inadequate response to the broad assault on public education.
What's lacking, however, is an explanation of how and why its business unionism--its focus on lobbying and conventional benefits, its complete ceding to central bureaucracies of authority over curriculum, school structure and school governance over the years--has rendered it toothless in the face of corporate-backed "reforms" cloaked in the rhetoric of civil rights.
Beyond its general disinclination to resist the state and the private sector, what drives union leadership, in pre-emptive fashion, into the arms of the Gates Foundation is its inability to understand and articulate alternative, democratic methods of assessing student work, teacher work and teaching in general. And make no mistake about it--for teachers who would resist the current assault, those alternatives are crucial weapons.
The left must do more than defend public institutions; it must advance proposals for democratizing them as well. In the case of students, teachers, communities and schools that means introducing fresh ideas about community and workplace control.
Avram Barlowe, New York City
Honoring Cockburn's legacy
I THANK Alan Maass for his excellent obituary of Alexander Cockburn ("A modern-day muckraker"). I wish to add one additional thought on his passing.
Many of us socialists can point to one event and/or one book that radicalized us to the point of becoming "socialists." For me that book was Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. Written by San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb in 1998, the book exposed in painstaking detail the CIA's complicity in the Nicaraguan Contra's importation of crack cocaine into the U.S. in the 1980s.
More than that, the book points out how there seemed to be a conscious effort to dump the drugs into America's inner cities, thus targeting their already poverty-stricken Black residents with the "cheap" form of cocaine. This contributed to the massive explosion of gangs and gun violence in the inner cities, the drastic increase of Blacks being criminalized and incarcerated--not to mention how many lives and communities were shattered in the process.
How does all this relate to Cockburn you say? Well, after Webb released Dark Alliance, he was almost completely ostracized by his friends and colleagues in the media--so much so that even former very good friends of his shut him out and stopped returning his calls. Many newspapers and magazines denounced Webb's expose, calling it shoddy journalism ("shoddy," until years later the CIA's own internal investigation admitted much of what was contained in Webb's book).
One of the very few progressive journalists to stand up and defend Webb was Cockburn. He, along with Jeffrey St. Clair, wrote an excellent follow-up to Dark Alliance called Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. The latter book rightly places Webb's exposé in historical context, showing how the U.S. (mostly via the CIA) was involved for decades in the drug trade, harvesting and importing opium from Afghanistan and heroin from Southeast Asia.
The sad postscript is that Webb was removed from his job at the San Jose Mercury News and was blacklisted from the field of journalism. He fell into a deep depression and allegedly committed suicide in 2004.
That said, for his courage in standing up and defending Webb--and for all the reasons pointed out in Maass' obituary--Alexander Cockburn, presente!
David Bliven, Bronx, N.Y.
Responding to a hate crime
IN RESPONSE to "An angry response to a Nebraska hate crime": I want to thank you for bringing this issue even further into the public eye.
I do, however, want to correct you that this has not provoked and "angry response" for the most part--it has provoked a response of love and support.
There was a service recently entitled "Embrace love, not hate" which drew at least as many attendees as the rally that was held on July 22. There are several other nonviolent, non-angry vigils that are being held this week, and many fundraisers and benefits planned. Facebook has lists of many of the benefits if you would like to send people there that would be great.
Jean Helms, Lincoln, Neb.