“Hey, Barbara. This is Arne Duncan. I just wanted to congratulate you on your election victory.”
In 2014, as an insurgent candidate from the Educators for a Democratic Union caucus, I won the presidency of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Duncan, then Obama’s Secretary of Education, was one of the first congratulation calls I got. The message he left on my phone provoked lots of astonished laughter when I shared it at meetings and in bars.
You’re at a union meeting, brainstorming for a campaign, when a hand shoots up. “What we need is better messaging. Can we get a billboard? Maybe we could make a meme.”
We’ve all been there. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. It seems like common sense that if we can just find the right words and the correct medium, we’ll win over our fellow workers, or the community, or politicians.
I was frustrated daily by this logic when I was president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, leading the campaign against a ballot question that would allow for more charter schools.
The ivory tower of academia does not protect its workers. Across the country, austerity politics are bleeding colleges and universities dry, opening the door for the corporate takeover of higher education. But, like their colleagues in elementary and secondary education, higher education workers are fighting back.
Labor Notes staff member Barbara Madeloni led a conversation with higher education activists on on Tuesday, May 7.
The guy at the car rental counter found my T-shirt puzzling.
It was early on a Tuesday morning, and I had just flown back into L.A. Why, he wanted to know, was someone from Massachusetts wearing a shirt that said “United Teachers Los Angeles”?
I explained that I had been out the week before to support the teachers strike. I was back for a second round because this strike was important to educators across the country.
“The whole country? Why?”
Thirty-four thousand teachers in Los Angeles are out on strike to defend public education against the privatization agenda of Austin Beutner, the former investment banker and current Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is demanding class size limits, more funding for counselors, social workers, and nurses, and a moratorium on charter school expansion. The school district is hoping to hold on to its $1.9 billion in reserves and continue defunding, dismantling, and privatizing the city's 900 public schools.