Where to Next for Detroit’s Teachers?

From the moment that Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson told public school teachers gathered at Cobo Hall last Sunday that he and his fellow officials would not fight for a better deal if the tentative contract they presented at the meeting was rejected, the DFT ceased to exist as a labor union.

In its place is a collection of well-dressed and well-paid enforcers of the demands of “Emergency Manager” Robert Bobb and the corporatist Board of Education.

The 7,000 educators who looked to the DFT officials to represent them in contract negotiations at this critical moment are now left more or less disorganized, facing off against not just the school board, but local, state and federal officials, including Barack Obama’s White House. And now the DFT stands against them too.

But what alternatives do Detroit teachers have? If they listen to the “middle class” leftists among them, it is more of the same: keep putting pressure on Johnson until he and the other company officials in the DFT have a change of heart, or stay disorganized on the workplace floor but hold a membership in a self-described socialist group controlled by people from the same classes as Johnson and the school board.

We offer a different alternative. Since the Detroit teachers are no longer represented in collective bargaining, we would like to suggest they organize a real union that will actually represent their common interests and actually fight for their rights and livelihoods. In our view, this means organizing a local of the Workers’ International Industrial Union — the One Great Union of all working people.

As a part of the WIIU, the Detroit teachers would not only be able to organize a contract bargaining team that will actually fight for what our brothers and sisters actually need, but do so through committees elected directly by its members, and defy union-busting laws like the vicious Public Act No. 2 if the members wish it.

The teachers could also work closely with other city workers currently under attack by Mayor Dave Bing and with the Ford workers who recently rejected a concession contract themselves, and organize united workers’ action to roll back these attacks.

As a part of the WIIU, Detroit teachers would also be able to organize workers’ political action to take on Bing, Granholm and Obama when they get involved.

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