The AFT Convention: Summing Up – Can Teachers and Their Union Prevail in the Clinton-Trump Matchup?

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power gain our freedom when we learn
That the Union makes us strong

At the end of the AFT Convention the delegates stood, clasped hands and sang “Solidarity Forever,” a fitting ending to an exciting and upbeat week.

As I arrived in Minneapolis for the convention, the hundredth year of the founding of the American Federation of Teachers, I wondered whether the bruising Bernie-Hillary primary battle would spill over into the convention. Would the Bernie supporters still bear scars from the months of sparring, at times personal and nasty, or, would the specter of Trump heal all scars?

I was pleasantly surprised, there were plenty of teacher leaders who were avid supporters of Bernie, and unquestionably the goal now was the defeat of Trump and total support for Hillary. I spoke with a number of teachers who will be attending the Democratic National Convention today as Bernie delegates who are already working with the Hillary election machine.  They weren’t Hillary acolytes, they have their doubts, and the fear of a Trump victory overcame doubts.

The AFT Convention attracts a wide range of union members, from the big cities (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, etc.) to small cities and rural communities; from teachers to nurses to a wide range of other public employees – 1.6 million AFT members.

The theme of the convention: Honoring our Past and Inspiring Our Future, was obvious throughout the week. A 98-years old retired teacher from Chicago gave a rousing speech, the head of the Minneapolis Area Labor Federation, who looks 18 and had been a grocery store clerk was now organizing across the region. The AFT is the second largest organization organizing nurses, local after local recounted fights with hospital conglomerates cutting corners to maximize profits and endanger patients. Teachers and nurses are natural allies.

The convention moved from speaker to speaker, interspersed with videos, and the reporting of resolutions from the thirteen committees

Read the text of the approved resolutions here.

After each session the convention publishes a description of the events of the previous day called “Afterwards” Select and watch speakers here.

On the first day of the convention the delegates divide up by interest and attend one of the thirteen committees that discuss the ninety-one resolutions submitted by locals from across the nation. The committees range from Education Issues (the most popular – about 800 delegates attended), Human Rights, Organizing and Collective Bargaining, Pensions, International Affairs, Women’s Rights, Higher Education, Nurses Issues and a few others. For two hours, under Robert’s Rules, the committees discuss the resolutions: they may amend, add, delete, and combine or defeat resolutions. (Voting concurrence or non-concurrence) Three of the resolutions are chosen by the committees to be debated on the floor of the convention. (The other resolutions are acted upon by the Executive Council). In the past the debate has been vigorous, at time contentious. This year virtually all the resolutions had the support of the overwhelming number of delegates. In some instances locals worked together to modify similar resolutions, the AFT staff provided research backup, to me, the one overriding issue was the November election.

Rashad Robinson, the leader of “The Color of Change” explained national efforts to build a political constituency, exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice. Our goal is to empower our members – Black Americans and our allies – to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the Los Angeles Federation of Teachers (UTLA) and Keron Blair, the Director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools  (AROS) discussed plans in the fall for school walk-ins, a nationwide movement to build support for public schools in school communities. The words of Solidarity Forever, “We can break their haughty power gain our freedom when we learn that the Union makes us strong,” echoed again and again as I trudged back to the Big Apple.

I did watch the Trump Acceptance Speech, and it reminded me of something, something deep within my memory neurons; then, that flash!

Have you ever watched the 1935 classic “Triumph of the Will,” the Leni Reichanthal documentary of the 1935 Nazi Party Congress?

Watch a few minutes of film showing der Fuhrer speaking to Nazi Youth linked below:

And the mix tape of clips from the Donald and the Richenthal classic.

and draw your own conclusions.


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