Over 50 AFT 1521 members were among the nearly 500 delegates and 200 visitors and staff who attended the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) Convention at the downtown L.A. Biltmore Hotel March 22-24. This year’s convention celebrated the 100th anniversary of the statewide union.
A sign at a W. Virginia strike summed up the feeling of power at the Convention: “I’m a snowflake but together we’re an avalanche.”
At the opening general session, Guild President Joanne Waddell, in her capacity as a CFT Vice President and co-chair of the Convention, introduced Julia Bogany, a representative of the Tongva Nation, on whose ancestral land the hotel is situated.
Labor scholar and author Bill Fletcher Jr. addressed the gathering with dire predictions but a way forward. “We’re in trouble for a host of reasons,” he said. “Two forces are trying to destroy us – right wing populists (the herpes of capitalism) and those who would eliminate the public sector. We’re moving in a dangerous direction – environmental disaster, civil conflict that’s racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic. We need to be part of a movement for the future to save the planet and save jobs. We need a new labor movement.”
Candidate for LAUSD School Board Jackie Goldberg reminded attendees that California lags behind many other states in education spending. “We’re spending $12,000 a year on students – less than many others. If we were a nation, we’d be the 5th richest. People don’t remember what it was like before Prop 13 – no tuition at the UC’s and free community college with grants to help with living expenses. That’s how the state became prosperous.”
She urged attendees to make the first Friday of every month “visit your state senator or representative day” and demand more funding for public education – “the last institution in America where all children who walk in the door are welcome.” She credited the recent UTLA teachers’ strike with opening people’s eyes to conditions that needed to be changed. “Teachers represent where we’re going in this country. Until we started organizing the strike, people didn’t know there were no librarians in their children’s schools.”
Historian and Professor Nancy MacClean discussed the premise of her book Democracy in Chains – the stealth takeover by the radical right, funded by the Koch Brothers and other billionaire donors such as the Cato and the Heritage Foundations, whose aim, she said, is to destroy unions and public schools. Starting in 1956 with vouchers for private schools in response to Brown v. Board of Education and integration in the South, efforts were made by these groups to discredit the public sector and impose personal responsibility for public health, retirement, and environmental protection.
“It’s a sword that can’t be pulled out,” she said. “They have control of 30 states through gerrymandering and hamstringing teachers’ unions. Their efforts seek to roll back the 20th century. The President has a knack for diverting the attention of the media elsewhere, but we’re not going to let them win! We need more voter participation, union power, democracy beyond elections, and unrigging tax laws that starve schools.”