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Teachers in Philadelphia, St. Louis facing same austerity lies and giveback demands that Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 beat off

Although union teachers in some cities (Newark, Baltimore) surrendered to demands that they accept merit pay, givebacks, and a major increase in privatization, other local teacher union were still standing against what is obviously a national policy to attack the unions behind a smokescreen of "austerity" claims. Within the past two weeks, teachers in both Philadelphia and St. Louis have faced demands similar to those which resulted in the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. The question of whether teachers in other big cities will strike -- or surrender -- was not settled as March 2013 began.

The PFT call for the March 7 action.If this all sounds familiar to Chicago teachers and union leaders, it may be because, thanks to the Broad Foundation and others, the "one percent" has been coordinating not only its attacks on unions, but even its talking points and underlying infrastructure creation. While Chicago hasn't had a scandal as great as the one Philadelphia faced when the city discovered that former Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman left town with a golden parachute of almost a million dollars, the churning of mercenary bureaucrats in and out of town will ring a familiar sound to every Chicagoan who asked one day "Who is Jean-Claude Brizard?" only to be forced to ask, a little later, "Who is Barbara Byrd Bennett?" when Brizard was ousted (with a golden parachute) and another out of town mercenary hired gun brought in. The underlying group with each is also the same. In Philadelphia, in Chicago, and elsewhere, a cadre of corporate trained hacks draws six-figure salaries pushing a "school reform" agenda that includes school closings, privatization, charter schools, and union busting.

FIRST, PHILADELPHIA...

As of March 6, the organizing in Philadelphia was focused on a march and rally scheduled for March 7 at the headquarters of the city's school board (called "400" in shorthand there).

One of the most comprehensive accounts of the situation in Philadelphia was published in the Philadelphia Daily News:

If This Is The Deal, Philly Teachers Should Strike. Will Bunch. February 27, 2013. Philadelphia Daily News

Here come the contract demands that the Philadelphia School District would like to cram down the throat of the city's unionized school teachers. The so-called City of Brotherly Love is on the brink of setting a new standard in squeezing middle - class workers to death. It's not like we haven't seen this story before: Working men and women asked to take a sizable pay cut...and work longer hours...and pay more for shrinking benefits.

But... in some places there was fighting back: see Chicago teachers on strike at the beginning of September 2012., credit - CNN,

Apparently the old saying is wrong: You can get blood from a stone after all. In a world where "the American Dream" has become a year in which your salary stays the same, the so-called City of Brotherly Love is on the brink of setting a new standard in squeezing middle - class workers to death. It's not like we haven't seen this story before: Working men and women asked to take a sizable pay cut...and work longer hours...and pay more for shrinking benefits. Usually such reports alternate with the news that the CEO of that same outfit is leaving with a golden parachute worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions.

But just when you think it can't get any worse, here come the contract demands that the Philadelphia School District would like to cram down the throat of the city's unionized school teachers. The news -- first reported by Kristen Graham of the Inquirer -- is a jaw- dropper:

-- Large pay cuts imposed in teachers up to 13 percent for those making (a whopping) $55,000 a year or more. then frozen until 2017.

-- A sizable jump in out of pocket costs for health coverage.

-- In return for this honor, teachers would have to increase their work day from just over 7 hours now to eight hours, and "would also have to lead professional development, attend meetings, perform bus, yard and lunch duty and be available for parent meetings outside work hours with no extra pay."

-- There's a lot more, but one of my favorites is that the district would no longer have to provide, among other things, "water fountains, parking facilities, [or] desks for teachers..." (although presumably some teachers would retain these? Who knows?)

-- It should be noted that many of these cuts are not so much harmful to the teachers as to the kids -- lifting limits on class sizes and not requiring librarians or guidance counselors in every school, for example.

Former Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman, who died February 2, 2013, left Philadelphia after less than three years in the top job with nearly a million dollars in a "golden parachute." Ackerman continued pushing the corporate agenda on Philadelphia's public schools that had begun when Philadelphia picked up former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas following Vallas's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party nomination for governor in 2002. This is outrageous for so many reasons that it's hard to know where to begin. It is worth noting a couple of cavaets. Obviously, this is an opening negotiation gambit and not the final offer; it's hard to imagine that even if the district sought to impose terms on the union (which would surely cause a strike -- more on that in a minute) that they could possibly be this draconian. I've heard that some of this may be a spring offensive to get hundreds of teachers to take early retirement -- and I'm sure it will work. Those things said, one also senses that the schools district -- egged on by its high-priced Boston consultants -- "means business" this time.

I think there's three levels to look at this. Human nature tends to look at the micro, and people are going to be tempted to point out all the management waste and excess that preceded this -- late superintendent Arlene Ackerman's $900,000 severance check and her cadre of overpriced spin doctors and how Ackerman's replacement William Hite came in and gave pay raises -- to 25 non- union employees. (Just the first three that popped into my head, frankly.) But this goes so much deeper.

On what you might call the middle-macro level, this would appear to be the final offensive by a grand alliiance of hedge-funders, libertarians and assorted right-wingers, the purely profit-minded and misguided philanthropies and their well-heeled consultants to destroy public education in Philadelphia, once a font of opportunity for children from every social class. Again, just to pick off the low-hanging fruit, it's unconscionable to seek to destroy the lives of hard- working teachers when we have a local charter school operator building a $28.9 million mansion in Palm Beach and when Pennsylvania continues to throw away millions of dollars on shady cyber-schools.

But look, the real outrage here is on the macro-macro level. Do we really live in a nation where millions obsess over the "freedom and liberty" of CEOs to make 380 times as much as his average worker or not to provide those employees with health insurance, but no one gets worked up when the people teaching our children are nickled and dimed out of their jobs? Where it's an act of political derring-do to suggest that just maybe workers should get a minimum wage of $9 an hour? Where there's not any problem that can't be solved by asking rank-and-file workers to take a few dollars less, while working a few hours more -- and jacking up their kid's college tuition while they're at it?

The time to stop this downward spiral of bulls--t is right now -- and what better place to start than Philadelphia, the city where America began. Hopefully, this contract proposal from the Philadelphia School District will die from its own ridiculouslessness, albeit after they've scared some good and dedicated veteran teachers out of the classroom. But if this really is the deal, Philadelphia teachers need to walk off the job. That's right -- strike. And anyone who cares about the ability of the middle class to raise a family -- particularly a well-educated family -- needs to stand behind them. Be inspired by what happened in Chicago, where most of the community stood behind its teachers.

The pioneer of the corporate school reform mercenaries is Paul Vallas, who left Chicago in 2002 to take over Philadelphia's public schools, appointed by the Republican governor. After a stormy and scandal ridden term at the top of the Philadelphia system, Vallas was dispatched to New Orleans to oversee the dismantling of the New Orleans public schools and their replacement with charter schools following Hurricane Katrina. Vallas has trailed a group of aides with him as he has gone from place to place (including briefly, Haiti and Chile), all talking the same talk and implementing the same program, which included union busting and charter schools. Vallas is currently chief of the Bridgeport public schools.Strike? I know what some of you are saying -- what about the kids? Spare me. Aside from the basic -- and fairly obvious -- fact that the long-term education of Philadelphia's children would die the death of 1,000 cuts here, there's something bigger at play. What I would like Philadelphia's...no, America's....kids to witness first-hand, more than anything else, is that they can grow up to be adults who will fight for their rights, for their families -- and for their human dignity.

And win.

[Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.]



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