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Detroit Federation of Teachers Schedules Runoff Election For January

In a key US school election, members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) gave only 38 percent of their votes to incumbent Keith Johnson, key negotiator of what may be the worst school contract in US history, and 30 percent to long-time Detroit Cass Tech radical teacher and union activist Steve Conn of the By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) group.

Detroit teacher Steve Conn (above center) spoke to the Peace and Justice Caucus of the American Federation of Teachers on July 10, 2010 (above) during the AFT convention. Conn is now in a runoff against incumbent Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.There were a total of 4,237 votes cast; 240 votes were voided. Two other candidates, Greg Johnson and Mr Victor, who insiders say will shift their support to Conn, split the remainder of votes. The United For Teachers Rights Caucus, led by Keith Johnson, won all the executive board seats including three vice-presidential spots. In the DFT, candidates must win 50 percent plus one votes. A runoff election is scheduled for January. DFT officials were not available for further comment on Sunday (December 5, 2010). More details are expected by Monday afternoon.

It is only speculation to take a stab at who might win the runoff. While insurgent candidates won with CORE in Chicago, as Substance readers well know, the winner of the District of Columbia election, while opposing the old guard, can hardly be called someone who is promising significant change inside the union or out.

In Baltimore, the traditionally hide-bound American Federation of Teachers had to make the rank and file vote twice in order to ram through a concessionary pact. In the broad sense, there are cracks in the sclerotic AFT empire.

Even so, Steve Conn has never gotten more than 30 percent of a DFT vote, having run repeatedly over more than a decade. He was the rank and filer who, a decade ago, called on assembled DFT member to march to one side of an auditorium or another, backing a strike or not. The mass moved to strike — and did so, heroically.

Johnson and the UTR caucus go back twenty years and more to the days of [long-time DFT President] Mary Ellen Riordan. More than any other local DFT official, Johnson is responsible for the grotesque concessions package DFT ratified earlier in the year, giving up in every conceivable area of bargaining — massive wage and benefit cuts, loss of seniority, merit pay, the union split by school workers in "priority" schools and "neighborhood" schools.

Johnson joined district boss, Bob Bobb, a Broad Foundation puppet, with AFT's president, Randi Weingarten, in convincing the rank and file Detroit members that the sellout was the only alternative, resistance futile. Substance covered that debacle in detail, here: http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=1063§ion=Article

Race will play a role in the runoff, as it always does in Detroit. Johnson is black in a 90 percent black city. Conn is white. Conn's record of fighting racism may or may not win him balancing votes.

The Conn caucus members say they will be joined by members of Greg Johnson's and Mr Victor's caucus in campaigning against incumbent Keith Johnson in the next two weeks.

Incumbent Johnson's caucus recently released a statement on the DFT web site complaining about the horrors that describe life in Detroit Public Schools, conditions that they themselves created. The statement is linked in an earlier Substance article, here: http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=1801§ion=Article

Whether the majority of school workers, who ratified the recent contract, see Johnson as safer, as job protection, or the more radical Conn, as a better alternative is, at this moment, guesswork.

What is clear, however, is that in the context of an international war of the rich on the poor, everywhere, U.S.school workers and the schools themselves, students, are the next in line for an even harsher concerted attack from elites: an assault not only on wages, but ideas, a key product of capitalist schooling in America. If teachers can be convinced there is no alternative to retreats (which have never historically saved jobs), then what of the students they teach?

So far, if the recent NEA and AFT conventions are any indication (and they are), school workers have been willing to accept the promise of endless war, and to make concessions, taking leadership from Quislings like Weingarten, Keith Johnson, and the National Education Associations $450,000 a year president Dennis Van Roekel, all urging educators off the picket lines and into voting booths — the latest ruse being Obama.

That may not play well the next time around. The Keith Johnson/Steve Conn runoff may give us clues of things to come.

Rgibson@pipeline.com



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