S.F. teachers caucus meets

March 30, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO--A spirited group of 60 teachers, paraprofessionals and substitutes met this March 20 to help build a new union caucus within United Educators of San Francisco (UESF).

The event was the launch meeting of Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU), which is challenging the current union leadership by running a slate of officer candidates for the leadership of UESF at the end of April. EDU believes the current leadership has not built a strong rank-and-file base to our union in the six years it has been in office and is running on a platform that emphasizes democracy, transparency and action in the face of massive planned cuts to public education in the coming years.

For many, this was a first time to see all the EDU candidates together. Adrienne Johnstone, a member of EDU who is running for President of UESF, emphasized that today's schools are more segregated than before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, and that our union should take this issue up.

Other candidates were asked to come to the stage as a group and express why they personally had decided to get involved in EDU. One member of EDU expressed that there was a need to combine the fight for social justice--like immigrant rights--to the union fight.

After a brief introduction by the candidates, an impromptu question and answer session broke out that covered topics like community schools and merit pay. The EDU launch was time for educators across the school district, who often feel isolated, to get together and discuss what to do about the problems in public education.

EDU faces two major challenges in the two months remaining before the election. First is organizing a coherent core of activists with a long-term vision of transforming their union and a commitment to working together beyond the election. The second is overcoming the malaise and indifference that many members feel about their union. Many members just do not see their union as a relevant force for change.

UESF has about 6,500 members yet, historically, less than 1,000 (sometimes far less) usually vote in a union election. This indifference is probably the single biggest barrier to getting the word out about EDU and will need to be overcome to win the election and to create a more active, rank-and-file union.

The launch was a positive step toward building a more unified EDU, and towards finding a layer of union activists that can become active within the union in the long run.

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