Union activists develop many strategies at CORE’s National Conference to Fight for Public Education

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (left, at podium) was one of the speakers at the opening session of the conference on public education held in Chicago July 6 and 7. Others, seated at the table, included (left to right) Nathan Saunders (President of the Washington, D.C. Teachers Union), Bob Peterson, President of the Milwaukee teachers union, Larry Keunn, representing the British Columbia teachers union, David Rabkin, from United Teachers of Los Angeles, Rafael Feliciano, President of the Puerto Rican teachers union, and Maria Luz, of the Mexican teachers union. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.About 150 activists from across the United States — mostly union teachers — gathered at the “National Conference to Fight for Public Education” in Chicago on Wednesday, July 6, 2011. Sponsored by the Chicago Teacher Union’s CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) caucus and activists from other locations (including Puerto Rico, British Columbia, and Mexico), the day-long program at Jones College Prep High School downtown. The conference was also dubbed a "Tri-National" event because of participation from Canada and Mexico.

Organizers and participants are still writing reports and analyzing the strategies that were discussed, to decide what unionized teachers and their allies can do to fight back against the corporate, government and media attacks on public education. Substance News will publish these reports as they become available. None were available at press time, two days after the conference's closing.

Guest speakers at the conference included:

Rafael Feleciano (left), president of the Puerto Rico teachers union, was one of the speakers at the beginning of the conference. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.-- Rafael Feliciano, president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Union, on how to continue organizing when suffering from complete government repression;

-- Larry Kuehn, leader in the British Columbia Teachers Federation, on an illegal (but successful) strike;

-- Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, on the fight against the union-busting Governor Walker in Wisconsin;

-- Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union, on lessons learned in the successful fight to Michelle Rhee and the mayor who had appointed her as head of the D.C. schools;

-- Mari Luz, leader of the Trinational [Canada, United States & Mexico] Coalition to Defend Public Education and Mexican education leader, on fighting corporate globalization and the privatization of education and other public services, and

-- Gillian Russom of United Teachers Los Angeles, on mobilizing students and the community to join rank-and-file educators.

-- David Rabkin of the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

-- Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union on the struggles in Chicago.

Workshops at the conference covered such topics as ways to transform teachers unions and creating alliances; fighting against charter schools, “parent trigger” school closings and turnarounds; mayoral take-over and governance; merit pay tied to high-stakes testing; budget austerity and radical take-overs; seniority/tenure and teacher evaluation; lessons learned from Oakland, California, and Madison, Wisconsin; community/teacher collaboration; developing global resistance to school reform, and fighting the banks that crashed the economy and continue to bankrupt our schools.

Organizers for the conference came from several of the participating groups. The one-day July 6 event was followed by a smaller event that sought to plan some ways in which the groups could remain in contact over the coming year. Individuals volunteered to chair ongoing groups that would coordinate exchanges of information regarding the major issues.


July 10, 2011 at 4:01 AM

By: John Kugler

Unions are Getting Stronger

It was interesting that many of the locals that spoke at this event that have had their "rights" taken away by governments and laws said that they are stronger now than before. In my view collective bargaining protects both sides and when one side unilaterally decides to break agreements then all bets are off. Union history is clear; rights were never given by management.

They were taken by force by labor.

Any silly fantasy about deal making or good faith between management and labor are just that, silly.

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