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Detroit Federation of Teachers membership meeting votes to overturn election but divisions in the ranks still run deep

The first full week of February 2011 was another difficult week in the tragedy of a death by a thousand cuts that is Detroit. And not all of the problems were in the tumultuous contest that has divided the once powerful Detroit Federation of Teachers.

A popular high school coach was arrested for trafficking in heroin. The Detroit Free Press documented a sizeable grade changing swindle in several Detroit Public Schools, crimes of high-ups who wanted to show that grades of F were really C’s, illegally making the switches behind teachers’ backs.

This week, one magazine, Men’s Health, announced that Detroit is “the angriest city in the United States.” That would make sense given the levels of unemployment, the fact that about two-third of the commercial and residential buildings are vacant, hundreds of them standing in ruins, burned out stripped hulks, and the schools, really the last centers of hope, have been in crisis for two decades–losing more than 12,000 students a year, probably $400 million in arrears, perhaps more.

And, in the continuing saga of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, a general membership meeting on Thursday, February 10, 2011 appeared to overturn the ruling of the DFT election committee which had certified the run-off election victory of incumbent DFT president Keith Johnson in a tight race over radical challenger Steve Conn. That vote was 1974 to 1933. Later, the count was corrected to reflect a 40-vote difference.

As Substance described in considerable detail, moments after the run-off certification, the vote count itself represented a monumental fraud with about 700 ballots going officially uncounted. The election committee was, clearly, controlled by Johnson. http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=1951§ion=Article

Steve Conn appealed the election committee’s ruling to the Thursday general membership meeting. The general membership meeting voted 184 to 49 to reject the vote certification, calling for a hand recount and accounting for every ballot.

However, incumbent Johnson quickly notified the attending members that he would appeal the meeting’s decision to American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten.

What this does is leave the most potentially most powerful voice for social justice and reason, in a city writhing in social and economic collapse, deeply split, members dismayed.

As previously reported here, Keith Johnson worked with AFT president Weingarten to sell what probably is the worst contract in teacher collective bargaining history (as in $10,000 in wage concessions, vanishing tenure, gutting the health care provisions, and more). The two joined Broad Foundation puppet, Robert Bobb (the financial overseer of the Detroit public schools), and city elites — like ex-basketball millionaire Mayor Dave Bing — to ram the contract through.

The deep division in the DFT rank and file is, in part, reflective of a growing opposition to that contract as its results were realized in pocketbooks.

What comes of all this? Absent Cassandra’s foresight, and not wanting the disdain heaped upon her foreknowledge, one can only speculate about options.

Conn, who in somewhat bizarre fashion had declared himself the president of the DFT days after the election fraud, can continue to press for a member re-election and, at the same time, build a base of activists in the community and in the schools. Even a fraudulent count represents the high-water mark for Conn’s side who never before won more than about one-third of the votes in a DFT election.

Johnson’s appeal to the AFT tops could result in a series of delays, a sham investigation, and, come summer as people drift away, a re-certification of Johnson’s presidency from Weingarten.

In the interim, while Conn has increased, again, his number of activists, many DFT members are merely walking away, seeing their union as split to the core, bracing themselves for the next set of defeats, retreats, as Bobb prepares to close one-half of the Detroit schools over the summer.

Nationally, however, the AFT leadership must be concerned about what is undoubtably and rising tide of dissent in a union which prided itself on top-down control, a union where most would have never predicted such opposition could move into relatively powerful positions, as we see with the CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) group in Chicago. In and election in May 2010 and a runoff in June 2010, CORE won the majority of seats on the Chicago Teachers Union executive board and all four officer positions, and behind the leadership of CTU President Karen Lewis, CORE is now running the 31,000-member Chicago Teachers Union. There are also questions arising in Los Angeles and other major cities. In Washington, D.C., the incumbent union officers were ousted in the recent election.

In the broader sense, we can see that people will begin to fight back, as they must fight back, not only to eat, but for respect as creative, thinking human beings who will bow no longer. At issue is whether they make sense of why they must resist, which I insist is class war, or they are diverted into the thousand of avenues capital can use to sustain its war of all on all. 



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