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The Role of Teachers in Opposing the War

By Martin Zehr  Posted by Martin Zehr (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   1 comment
Message Martin Zehr
A recent article by Stephen Zunes takes a close look at the role of the American Federation of Teachers and its leadership in “backing the Bush administration” and “promoting anti-Arab policies”. He does a good job in documenting the role of the teachers’ union is backing US military interventions. As one of the foremost critics of US intervention in the Middle East, he presents his case. He might have gone beyond the parameters of just the role of the AFT and included other unions’ leadership as well. He might also have included mention of actions taken against teachers, such as in Albuquerque, where five teachers were suspended in 2003 for various actions against the war. Most of these teachers won their cases, including a poetry instructor and a teacher for a class dealing with current affairs. He does raise the growing internal opposition within the AFT as it becomes more organized. “The AFT leadership’s positions are being increasingly challenged by the rank-and file, particularly those involved in the AFT Peace and Justice Caucus and the multi-union U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW.) More than two dozen AFT affiliates have formally joined USLAW – more than from any other union. This includes the statewide chapters from California, Oregon, and Wisconsin as well as some of the AFT’s largest locals, including those representing public school teachers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Milwaukee, as well as the New York State United University Professions, the AFT’s largest higher education affiliate. A significant precedent took place when the largest AFT local, the New York City Federation of Teachers, began endorsing demonstrations against the Iraq war, as have the large public school teachers’ locals in Philadelphia and other cities.”If the teachers union becomes more engaged in opposing the war, there is also an issue of how to define its political action that is consistent with this goal.  Will it continue to see the Democratic Party as the standard bearer for its active support or will it begin to critically evaluate alternatives, such as the Greens? Some, such as myself, consider such options to be as significant as the choice of whether or not to oppose the war if we are to accomplish the political tasks before us.As significant regarding the AFT is a new definition of teachers’ rights to conduct their classes that begins to address the failure of the union to represent them and protect job security against arbitrary actions taken by school administration. One has to ask “Where was the union?” The answer might be “Out to Lunch”. This is not simply a matter of free speech or US foreign policy. It is fair to say that teachers’ unions need not oppose any and all actions taken by the US government. It is not reasonable for a teachers’ union to fail to represent its member teachers against harassment by the administration while in the conduct of their professional responsibilities. Those of us opposed to the war have taken many individual actions against the war. Geoff Barrett, one of the Albuquerque teachers suspended, opposed the war by going to demonstrations against the war and was the campaign manager for Green Congressional candidate Bob Anderson who opposes the war. In the election Bob Anderson received 17% of the vote. Geoff was one of those who won their case. Jeanne Pahls and Bob Anderson have worked to get a resolution through the NM State Legislature to dismantle the nuclear weapons in Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. Both are teachers. The Democratic Lt. Governor recently pulled the resolution off the floor of the Legislature. The organization Stop the War Machine includes many teachers seeking to end the war in Iraq. As people continue to focus their organizing in the legislatures, they will run into the obstacles of the elected officials who act to undermine such efforts. This enables us to see the need to increase the organization and financial support of our own independent parties that run candidates for the state legislatures, Congress and the Presidency. Left unmentioned in Stephen Zunes’ article is that political action is taking place against the war. People can demonstrate against the war and they can pass resolutions in their unions. But, until they begin to increase the weight of the political opinion of the people, then such actions can be disregarded without any political cost for public officials. In the meantime, people can contact Lt. Governor and support Jeanne and Bob in their efforts to dismantle the 2,000 nuclear weapons stored at Kirtland and support candidates with a comprehensive approach for demilitarization of the American economy. Supporting teachers who are actively engaged is a real step forward.


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Martin Zehr is an American political writer in the San Francisco area. He spent 8 years working as a volunteer water planner for the Middle Rio Grande region. His article on the Kirkuk Referendum has been printed by the Kurdish Regional Government, Another article was reprinted in its entirety by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) He is a Contributing Writer to Kurdish Aspect more...)

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