Social media may rule; however, a passionate, rabble-rousing speaker who makes you jump out of your seat along with a few thousand others is contagious, quite a morning. The recent Janus Supreme Court decision was supposed to disempower public employee labor unions, the heart and core of the labor movement in our nation. It has nothing to do with the First Amendment free speech rights; it has everything to do with attempting to rip away a powerful force to support worker rights and the rights of the middle class; to weaken organizations that stand in the way of the rich and powerful, to further enrich themselves partnered with far right wingers who want to impose their philosophies on the nation.
Weingarten’s opening “Hope in Darkness” speech portrayed the darkness that hovers over the nation – click here – and watch a frightening and encouraging view of the future of the nation.
There are four unions representing the tens of millions unionized public employees, the two teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association (NEA), led by Lily Eskelson Garica, along with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU)) All four of the union presidents on the stage at the same time. The AFSCME president gave an old rip-roaring, table pounding speech, a mixture of labor leader and preacher, WoW!! The thousands of delegate jumping out of their seats – quite a show. The NEA president followed up with an equally enthralling, gutsy denunciation of the evil that surrounds us. Both humorous and heartrending she touched us all – and – at the end of the speech picked up her guitar and we all sang the Woody Guthrie song, “I’m Sticking By My Union.”
Our next speaker was Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, again, a wonderful, passionate speaker. Warren was born in Oklahoma, her father was a janitor and her first job was as a classroom teacher, she eventually earned a law degree and a worked as a law school professor. I had never heard Warren give an extended speech, once again, passionate, with the thousands in the audience jumping up and screaming “2020,” who knows?
Watch videos of the speeches (Clinton, Warren etc., here, scroll down the left hand column)
Later in the day I attended the reception for the foreign guests, teacher leaders from 52 nations. I had an extended talk with a teacher leader from Norway. In New York City we proudly celebrated getting the city to agree to six weeks of paid maternity and/or child care leave, in Norway there is one year of paid leave that can divided between the parents and very inexpensive child care from the age of one year. I asked, “Must be very expensive?” My new Norwegian friend replied, “Norway has the highest percentage of women in the workforce of any European nation, the benefits are paid for by higher productivity and taxes paid by the women in the workforce.”
Politics in Europe continues to be disturbing with the growth of populist right wing, in some instances neo-Nazi parties. In Poland and Hungary far right wing governments are rolling back democracy and growing elsewhere; partly due to immigration and partly due to a search for prosperity that eludes the less educated. Of course, all the foreign teacher union leaders think Trump is mad.
Sunday: Bernie came out roaring, white hair flying, that angry, snarling countenance (Watch Bernie’s speech here) calling Trump a “pathological liar,” and going on to lay out a list of policies, a typical political stump speech. A New York Times article sees Warren, Sanders and Senators Harris (California) and Booker (New Jersey) as beginning the long, long path to the nomination.
Representative Connor Lamb, elected in a heavily Trump congressional district in a recent special election spoke, a candidate who fit the district, a military veteran with middle of the road policies, a candidate for Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin district, also a veteran and a steel worker, who has had a tough life and pulled himself up with the benefit of a union job. Blue-ish candidates in red districts.
Teachers who are running for a variety of offices, a teacher in Orlando running for the school board, the schools are 43% Hispanic with no representation on the school board, a middle school teacher, Brandon Johnson, brought down the house, first regaling us with classroom stories followed by a rip-roaring sermon, yes, his father is a preacher, he is running to be a Cook County commissioner. You gotta watch the video!!!! (Click here)
We began to plow through the resolutions, almost 3,000 delegates, eight microphones on the convention floor, following Robert’s Rules. At times tedious as the chair has to remind delegates re the rules that govern the debate, Weingarten was kind and effective.
(Monday morning): Probably finish off by noon, five of six committees remain.
Some reflections: meeting teachers, public employees and nurses from across the nation is exciting; they fight the fight from Massachusetts to California, from Montana to Florida. We met, via Skype, nurses walking a picket line in Vermont, learned that the newly created Montana Federation of Public Employees, a merger of all the teacher/nurse/public employee unions hopes to win scores of elected offices across the state in November. I learned that Texas hopes to win three or four “red” congressional seats, and, on the dark side, I spoke with the president of the Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers. The superintendent, appointed by the governor, a bureaucrat who never served as a teacher, is closing schools across the island and opening privatized schools; she’s making the island, still reeling from the hurricane even more chaotic.
Will Janus cut into teacher union funding and weaken unions, or, will the teacher response embolden and make unions more powerful in the political arenas?
Across the nation there are hundreds of teachers running foe local offices, from state legislatures to local town councils to school boards.
Listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing “We are the 99” at Occupy Wall Street.