ANALYSIS: Upheaval in San Diego teachers union over massive cuts adopted by a school board the union helped elect

The San Diego Education Association (SDEA), with 8,000 members, is the second largest school local in California. Of late, it has been in a bit of turmoil, firing its executive director, Craig Leedham, and moving former President Camille Zombro to a third-tier spot. Leedham is suing for wrongful dismissal.

San Diego Education Association's Camille Zombro (above) was forced out of her post as union president when she spoke out too forcefully against the current round of cuts. She is now organizing through a website and other methods while the San Diego school board pushed additional austerity in one of the wealthiest areas in the USA. Photo from the Voice of San Diego.Zombro is set up by the corporate press as a militant organizer, which she has not been. Unless there was a dramatic change in her outlook, she's a middle of the road trade unionist who has not abandoned, entirely, the idea of mobilizing the membership but who, at the same time, fit in nicely with the dishonest state leadership of the California Teachers Association for years.

Like most of this country's school worker unions, SDEA is under terrific pressure to sell its members on the idea of massive cuts. The issue is simply posed as: What kinds of cuts do you prefer? The broader reality that cuts are unnecessary, that more educators are needed, not less, with more pay, and better benefits, never hits the for-profit presses.

The last 40 years of labor history in the U.S. offers abundant evidence that concessions do not save jobs. Rather, like feeding blood to sharks, bosses only want more. That, however, is a well kept American press secret.

Last year, SDEA caused the election of a voting majority on the local school board in hopes of staving off cutbacks. That majority voted, this week, to layoff about 1/5 of San Diego's teachers, more than 1,500. That should be a good indicator of the dubious power of the vote, when it is confronted by the main side of the capitalist/democracy contradiction.

Zombro's removal by other leaders at SDEA led her to create a web site, "The Breakfast Club," denouncing the new SDEA heads and calling the state organization, the California Teachers Association, an "enemy," of the rank and file, at base, sold out. That, of course, was true every day of every year Zombro held her presidency.

The Secretary-elect of SDEA, Michelle Sanchez, recently posted a warning to the membership: SDEA's president Bill Freeman is moving to define "subversive members who belong to subversive groups," who would be silenced via a shift in the by-laws.

"This means that literally all 8,000 SDEA members could vote in a Board member in the hopes of changing our union's direction, and a 9-vote majority of the currently sitting Board could silence that democratically elected leader by voting them right back off." http://thebreakfast clubsandiego.

The clear split in SDEA leadership, with new president Bill Freeman facing off against Zombro, is a good indicator of the splits in the rank and file as well: timid, more timid, somewhat militant, militant. School workers typically wait until cornered — proof being all those signs that say, "I Don't Want to Strike, But I Will."

A false face of unity would be no better than an internal struggle, one that must be had if SDEA is to find the unity necessary with parents and students, making real job actions possible.

Recent SDEA demonstrations, a fairly regular appearance at school board meetings, have been smaller by at least one-third in the past three months, perhaps a hint that the ranks are demoralized, not inspired, by confusing messages from leaders.

On May 24, 2012, the bigwig at the top of the county AFL-CIO, Lorena Gonzalez, spoke to the press. While she dodged the direct question, "do you support wage and benefit concessions?" she made it abundantly clear that she believes concessions must be made to save jobs. The AFL-CIO, of course, sought to sabotage nearly every major labor struggle in its history, and before the merger, the AFL tried to crush even the historic Great Flint Strike which it now, disingenuously, celebrates. Note the bottom line: dues to the AFL-CIO are fixed, on a per capita basis. Losing workers loses money. Losing pay and benefits only hurts the workers, not the AFL-CIO bosses whose commodity for sale is labor peace--traded for dues income.

San Diego is, assuredly, part of the corporate state that is America now; finalized by the promise of perpetual war and bank/industrial bailouts, all of it struggling desperately to organize rapid decay, keep it under control. At the same time, San Diego is a special place, as is every U.S. city.

San Diego is comparatively rich, especially so in North County LaJolla where "public" schools are privately funded by dunning wealthy parents.

Tellingly, when President Barack Obama's current Border Czar, Alan Bersin, was San Diego school superintendent, he attempted to apply a tyrannical "Blueprint for Education," on the entire city school district. Lajolla parents took note that the authoritarian move, requiring every teacher in every grade to be on the same page at fifteen minute intervals,, would make their kids stupid. They threatened to turn their area into one big charter. Realizing what that would do to San Diego's test scores, Bersin opted Lajolla out, "because their test scores are high."

South county San Diego has pockets of poverty but, for the most part, the city's poor are kept on the other side of "Bersin's Wall", in Mexico — allowed in to work, then kicked out, or arrested and placed in cages in the back of pick up trucks if they choose to stay. The important babysitting role that schools play would be felt more severely in South County where parents are more pressed by jobs demands than the leisure class up north. It would be South County where the importance of alternative Freedom Schools, would come into play in the case of a prolonged school strike.

San Diego is oddly special in that there is, really, no daily press. The former Copley rag, the Union Tribune edited until recently by Herb Klein, Nixon's press secretary, was sold to hotelier Doug Manchester and renamed the "UT." Manchester, a big backer of the homophobic Prop 8, declared from the day of the purchase that he would devote the paper to winning a publicly financed stadium for the football Chargers.

San Diego, not long ago cited by Time Magazine as "Enron by the Sea," is broke, but local nabobs pour propaganda from every angle to win that stadium, a boon for developers, AFL-CIO contract workers, and others, but a disaster for a city reeling from publicly financed "Petco Park," built, of course, on the promise of a winning team. The owner, John Moores, then dismantled the team, left town with billions; the team languishes in last place, and nobody is quite sure who now owns the Padres (sic).

The electronic press in San Diego is what anyone would expect: filler between commercials. The PBS stations are controlled by San Diego State whose programs and policies are devoted to the same things most universities are today: militarism, the division of labor accepted within the "disciplines," and the creation of the next generation of loyal and obedient workers (the ethics of slaves). KPBS never criticized, for example, Padres' owner John Moores, perhaps because the SDSU president lived in a house Moores owned.

There was a brief respite when the on-line Voice of San Diego arrived about 7 years back. Funded initially by a private donor, the VOSD got off to a good start, hiring a former police reporter, Emily Alpert, to cover the local school beat. Alpert went out and wrote what she saw, honestly. In my eyes, she was the only reliable education reporter in the US, other than the small presses Substance readers know. Alpert, however, was fired this year after returning from an honored press sabbatical to Latin America. VOSD went on to a "pay-to--play," (like PBS, disguised as a "membership" opportunity) format and shifted dramatically to the right, recently demanding, off the editorial page, concessions from SDEA.

Bad things happen to cities that have no press: Detroit, 1967.

While the potential of an uprising in San Diego is minimal, the core issue of our time is the possibilities of a mass, class conscious, organized and integrated movement for equality, reason, and justice, met by the realities of endless war, booming inequality, and organized mysticism, all propped up by nationalism, racism, opportunism, and cowardice.

Which way things will turn is up to those who know why things are as they are, and who are beginning to determine what to do.

In our current context, the two school unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are beset with problems, internal dissent (rising especially from Chicago in AFT and, in NEA, a new "Occupy NEA" facebook site) and external pressure. The need to maintain schools as important locations of social and intellectual control presses on ruling classes.

The unions have, at bottom, three problems:

(1) locking down support for the demagogue, Obama, and his wars, and bailouts-as well as the National Defense Authorization Act and Arne Duncan's expansion of schools as human munition factories--missions for capitalism. The fake move to vastly over-emphasize electoral work serves union bosses well. Most members believe in it, religiously, It keeps the members busy. And, when it fails, it will work next year — maybe.

(2) The state affiliates have problems like the shifts to "right to work" laws in states that would radically reduce union tops' dues income (when unionites say "save collective bargaining, they really mean, "save our chance to force people to pay dues"-a la Wisconsin. They have always been prepared to give up everything else). Furthermore, unions were never created by majority state wide citizen votes, but by direct action on the job (or, in the case of the AFL, employer promotion) . But the last thing the union bosses want is a mass of class conscious workers so the last thing they are planning to do is shut down states that pass those laws.

(3) Third, the union bosses need to create an illusion of action where there is really no action, like the Moveon scheme to train 100,000 people in "Non-violent" action — as distinct from the direct action that is necessary; mass strikes and general strikes, student strikes, and mutinies in the military. Moveon, a Democratic Party front, like Truthout, also serves as a bodyguard of illusions, preserving capitalism and its shaky empire.

This summer and fall, the national union leaders will be forced to face off with all those problems, and probably more, as they try to divert or demolish the kinds of job actions that could defeat concessions in order to elect their man, the demagogue Obama.

The bank and industrial bailouts were made, not to “save our economy,” but to save the class that runs it. Bankers and industrialists have power, especially in the bribe: “access.”

Pivotally positioned in the central organizing point of North American society, educators have power too: ideas and direct action. At the end of the day, that is what defeats men with guns, violence being at the base of any government. The withdrawal of labor, combined with new ideas taught well, can upend an unjust social relationship.

A century ago, Jack London in his dystopian, "Iron Heel," warned that it is either the patient but ineluctable development of class war or just another defeat in what amounts to a Ghost Dance. Take heed.

[Rich Gibson — — is a co-founder of the Rouge Forum. Their conference this year will be at Miami University of Ohio, featuring keynoters Susan Ohanian and Paul Street. The Iron Heel is online, free]


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