Skip to content

Archive for

Teachers Push Back Against Mismanagement

By John O’Reilly

The story that came down was simple: we were going to get our hours cut. We work at a school for adults, teaching ESL to immigrants and refugees. Because many of our students are Somali, they use Somali-speaking daycare for their younger kids. Since Friday is the Muslim holy day, their daycare centers generally aren’t open, and so any of our students with children younger than school age can’t come in to learn English on Fridays. The result of this situation is that our student numbers plummet on Friday, and student numbers matter for state funding.

So 3 of us were going to lose our Friday hours. We already work a hard, underpaid and underappreciated part-time job. While teachers in the K12 system are getting attacked by Betsy DeVos and her cronies in Washington, teachers in adult education have long been considered unimportant. No paid time off or sick leave, years since the last raise, and with a management team that wouldn’t know education if it bit them in the eye: it’s tough out here. Losing a whole day a week of pay was intolerable. Tali is a loving mother of two young girls and it’s obvious from talking to her that she would do anything for them. Jane has a bright teenage son looking at colleges. I’m still paying off my debt from the years of college I had to complete to become a teacher in this run-down school and the mice in my apartment eat better than I do some weeks.

We knew what needed to be done. Lacking students, it sure didn’t help that our school’s approach to outreach was to not do any. Rather than cutting hours, what we needed to do was build our program, bring in more students, and expand the student body beyond our primarily Muslim base. After all, there’s lots of people in Minneapolis who could use a free, supportive classroom space to work on their English skills.

Teachers are not known for their interest in shying away from a fight. We talked to all of our coworkers, one by one, over coffee or cheap fast food. We told them that we weren’t okay with losing our hours, that we couldn’t afford it, and they agreed with us. “I don’t understand why they run things this way,” our newest coworker whispered to me over the table at a coffeeshop, looking both ways to make sure nobody was watching us, “It’s like they’re trying to make the school fail.” It turned out the three of us weren’t the only people who had complaints. We promised to support our coworkers if they had our backs this time around.

On the day before the cuts were to go into effect, we marched into management’s office. Appointments be damned. The manager’s eyes went wide as saucer plates when she saw us. The director, smooth as he is, slapped everybody on the back and sat down with us in the plush conference room. He’s got a reputation as someone who will show you the nice things one day and fire you the next for looking at him funny. Great view, I thought as I looked out the large window in his second floor office and settled into a cushy chair, better than the dingy, windowless basement that my students are subjected to all day. We stuck to our plan, each said our piece, delivered the letter with our proposal and signatures, and got up to walk away before he could get a word in edgewise. Everybody’s knees were shaky as we walked out of there but we had gotten through it.

Four hours later, we got an email: the director had approved our plan. Sure, it was good for the whole school, but it wasn’t like those geniuses, who’ve never actually taught a day in their lives, had come up with it. We, the workers who keep the school going, knew what we needed to succeed. “Praise Jesus,” Tali said when I texted her that we’d won, waiting in the school parking lot to pick up her girls. “I realized, he’s just another guy. He’s not better than us, and we made him listen to us,” Jane said as we debriefed. We did it together. We kept our hours. We built our program. The teachers, all women save myself, served our students, overwhelmingly women themselves. We made the big man upstairs listen to us. And we, the workers, did it on our own. It turns out that when you get a bunch of teachers mad, sometimes they fight back. And when we fight, we win!

A Shift in Power: Unprecedented Victory at the School Board

 

Thanks to Unicorn Riot for their great video! 

“It’s pretty clear that there’s a problem,” said Director Nelson Inz at last Tuesday’s school board meeting, “And it’s really disheartening to hear the things that people are saying about racism and practices taking place in our schools to silence teachers of color that we worked so desperately to get to work for our kids, because we know how important it is that they’re there. It’s crushing, really. I can’t believe I’m hearing it.”

At the Social Justice Education Movement (SJEM), our mission is to empower education workers to organize to fight for social and racial justice in their schools, as well as to fight for their own rights as workers. What we’ve found time and time again is that if we don’t do the second, we can’t do the first. In other words: if teachers can’t defend themselves, they can’t defend their students.

Unlike Director Inz, we were not surprised by the stories educators of color shared publicly at Tuesday’s meeting, about the various ways they were pushed out of their schools in a systematically racist school district. They are consistent with what we have heard, seen and experienced in MPS and beyond: staff who speak up for students, or speak out against administrators in any way, are pushed out of schools. We see this pattern hit staff of color the hardest, in large part because staff of color are often the ones to notice and speak up about practices that harm students.  In Minneapolis 66% of students are students of color, and yet our teachers of color only represent 15% of the teaching staff. A recent study shows that having just one black teacher in elementary school can dramatically increase students’ chances of graduating. In a district that claims to know how important it is to have staff that represent students, staff of color who face racism in their schools that goes unchallenged or is directly perpetrated by administrators.

Some of these stories were shared before the school board on Tuesday. We heard from a teacher who got positive performance reviews for two straight years, but was then told she would not be asked back for “poor performance” a month after disagreeing with the principal at a staff meeting. In another instance, a black Special Education Assistant (SEA) was fired for refusing to deny hot lunch to students as a form of punishment. Another black SEA resigned in protest over the way he and his students were being treated–then his former boss made it impossible for him to get another job in the district by calling him “unprofessional” in references. A Hmong social worker at Hmong International Academy was fired for “insubordination” after refusing to comply with administrative orders to unlawfully expedite a special education designation. These are just a few of the stories shared, and they are only a glimpse of what is happening across the district.

The board would like us to think this is a crisis of communication, a problem that results from them not “knowing the full story,” as Director Rebecca Gagnon put it. But do they really want to know? The board tried to block the community from entering the boardroom because of overcrowding; security guards were ordered to push us aside and close the doors. We had to push our way in, only to find ourselves in a room that comfortably fit us. Comfortable except for the heat, which the board repeatedly said was because the room was over capacity. Those of us who stayed after, however, heard the AC go on after the crowd left.

Do they really want to know? Superintendent Ed Graff began the meeting by framing all of the testimony to come as the sad consequence of necessary budget cuts.

“I want to acknowledge that we have a number of individuals coming forward tonight to speak about their personal situation, specifically as it relates to employment decisions and race,” he said “We know that this is a very difficult time for employees who are impacted by the cuts and organizational restructuring that is taking place.”

Not a single one of the educators speaking that night were excessed due to budget cuts, and the board knew that. They read our emails, and promised a meeting with the fired educators, which they canceled the day of. But it’s certainly easier to be sad about budget cuts than  racism, or staff fired for advocating for students.

Do they really want to act? The board responded to the testimony with outrage and a promise to look into it later–then prepared to move on. We were ready for this with a fully-written, legally sound motion that we requested the board vote on. A motion to rectify the wrongful firings of educators who spoke that night, as well as prohibiting food punishment in the district. Though the discussion mainly consisted of board members saying that this was not the proper process, that they needed to investigate further, and that this didn’t set a good precedent; they were looking at a room of 200 people on their feet, holding signs in support, who had pushed through guards to be there. They passed the motion unanimously with two abstentions. Seven dedicated educators of color can work with our students again.

Do they really want to act? In the face of the budget deficit, the cuts the board is choosing to make are telling. The Davis Center and central administration, which primarily “oversees” (rather than assists) us, has a $43,000,000/year budget for salaries alone. Yet only a small percentage of the total cuts will come from the Davis Center. Yet massive cuts are coming from programs that our students of color rely on the most, including Check and Connect.  They’re also coming from massive pay decreases and work increases for the engineers who make our schools clean and safe, most of whom are people of color. And whose budget remains untouched? School resource officers, who mostly get paid to be on their phones, and often make school a criminalizing and traumatizing place for students of color.

The fact is, we’re being given a tired story: that we just need to give the people in power more time to fully understand the issue and then they will fix it. But the solution is not to rely on the nine people sitting on the school board to understand what is happening in every school – that’s impossible. Our schools are somehow supposed to prepare students to live in a “democracy” while being run as dictatorships, where administrators hold all the power. Our schools are somehow supposed to be able to fight racism when the administrators who run them with unilateral power benefit from avoiding controversy. In the same way it is in the board’s best interest to silence us, it is in the principal’s best interest to silence staff.

The solution is not to be patient with our “leaders.” The solution is for the workers, students, and families in schools to have the power. To shift power from positions that benefit from quieting dissent to people whose first priority is the students and the health and happiness of the school community. The solution is to organize for social and racial justice in our schools, and to protect each other along the way. An SJEM organizer who spoke at the meeting framed the night as a “test” for the board, but the real test was for us: could we build the power to defend each other? All it took was connecting educators across the district who wanted to fight, and an organizing strategy to do so. Now that we see the power we have, it’s time to expand it. It’s time to continue the fight. Time to get organized Will you join us?

Come reflect and celebrate this Thursday, 5-7pm at the Waite House Community room: facebook event here. Or contact us at SJEMiww@gmail.com.

 

1493078795521

IWW Members Stand with Fired Ford Union Organizer in Spain—Solidarity is Strength! (en Inglés y Espanol)

By John O’Reilly

20170324_165859

Wobblies talk to workers and management at Midway Ford

On Friday, March 24th, Twin Cities IWW members gathered outside the Roseville Ford dealership to stand in solidarity with a fired union organizer from our sister union in Spain. An organizer with the National Confederation of Labor (or CNT, for its name in Spanish) was fired in retaliation for organizing in Valencia, Spain. His court date for reinstatement was set for March 27th.

A dealership manager approached our members and told them they were annoyed that we were picketing their workplace. The manager insisted that the site was union friendly and then sent out the union representative from the service workers to talk with IWW picketers. IWW member BP reports that “after some good conversation with the steward, he said he was on our side and took a large quantity of flyers – much to the dismay of the manager!” Workers from the site soon gathered and mixed with IWW picketers, impressed by the dedication of our members to their coworker in Spain’s cause.

Ford’s restructuring plan, The Way Forward, lays out a strategy of closing down plants in the US and moving them overseas to countries where the wages are lower. That’s why, as IWW member ED points out, “the Twin Cities factory shut down, taking away 2000 well payed union jobs, while production is ramping up in Spain, where labor laws are changing to make firing workers easier.” But the strategy only works as long as wages remain low in those countries. “So, by busting unions in Spain, Ford can keep outsourcing jobs, which busts unions here in the US. An injury to one is very much an injury to all,” ED adds.

The working class in the United States and globally is under attack by the international capitalists and their buddies in government. By moving labor and attacking workers organizations, the bosses try to keep us divided and fighting with each other, instead of working across national boundaries. Outsourcing only works if unions around the world are kept divided and weak. As ED points out: “Global capitalism can only be answered with global labor solidarity!”

 

 

 

Miembros de la IWW defienden Organizador Sindical Despedido por Ford en España – ¡La Solidaridad Hace la Fuerza!

20170324_163558

Una IWW signo de piquete, “Ford ataca a los sindicatos en Estados Unidos, España, y en todas partes!”

Por John O’Reilly

El viernes, el 24 de marzo, miembros de la IWW en las Ciudades Gemelas reunieron afuera de la representación de Ford en Roseville, Minnesota, para estar en solidaridad con un organizador despedido de nuestra unión hermana en España. Le echaron a un organizador con el CNT por organizando en Valencia, España. Su fecha de corte para reintegro fue el 27 de marzo.

Un jefe de la representación se acercó a nuestros miembros y les informó que estaban enfadados que estuvimos picoteando su taller de trabajo. El jefe insistió que el sitio era pro-sindicato y mandó a un representante del sindicato de los trabajadores de servicio para hablar con los picadores. Miembro de la IWW nombrado “BP” dice que “después de alguna conversación buena con el representante, nos dijo que estaba con nosotros y tomó un gran cantidad de informes – ¡el jefe se dejó consternado!” Trabajadores del taller se agruparon por el piquete y charlaron con los sindicalistas. Se impresionaron la dedicación de nuestros miembros para la causa de su compañero en España.

El plan de restructura de Ford, “The Way Forward,” es una estrategia de cerrar fábricas en los estados Unidos y moverlos a otros países donde los salaries son más bajos. Por eso, según miembro de la IWW nombrado “ED,” se cerró la fábrica en St. Paul, eliminando 2000 puestos buen pagados y sindicados. “Esta estrategia solamente funciona si salarios se quedan bajos en otros países y Ford lucha contra sindicados para hacer eso,” él dice. Entonces, “Ford ataca sindicatos en Espana, y por eso puede seguir externalizando aquí, y por eso puede atacar sindicaos aquí en los Estados Unidos,” ED añade.

Los grandes capitalistas y sus amigos en gobierno están atacando la clase trabajadora en los estados unidos y mundialmente. Los patrones traten de dividirnos por moviendo labor y atacando organizaciones obreras. Ellos quieren que nos peleamos en vez de coordinar a través de fronteras nacionales. Externalización solamente funciona si uniones en todas partes se quedan débiles y divididos. Como ED dice, “¡solo podemos responder al capitalismo mundial con solidaridad trabajadora mundial!”

Workers Inside, Workers Outside: IWW Organizers Fight Prisoner Exploitation in MN!

By John O’Reilly 

The Organizer sat down with Sophia, an organizer with the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, to talk about organizing the working class behind bars and the particular struggles of incarcerated women.

Q: What is IWOC and why do you organize prisoners into the IWW?

Sophia: We began when prisoners organizing in the Free Alabama Movement reached out to the IWW to support work stoppages inside. A common misconception is that IWOC members on the outside are organizing people inside. We support the self-activity of prisoners organizing to change their conditions and make the prison system untenable by building collective power and class consciousness. We have over 800 inside members nationally. As people on the outside we provide support and resources to those putting their lives on the line inside.

We believe fighting the prison system is an important arena of struggle against racialized capitalism. We also believe in working class solidarity and see prisons destroying the social fabric of our communities and families. We are explicitly abolitionist, meaning we don’t believe in reforming prisons but abolishing them altogether. IWOC is taking the IWW back to its roots of multiracial organizing at the front lines of wage slavery.

 

Q:  What kinds of IWOC organizing are prisoners and supporters doing in the state of Minnesota?

Sophia: Unlike other states where we witnessed massive mobilization for the national prison strike on September 9th, our inside organizers in Minnesota are still in the initial stages of building organization. The outside committee continues to struggle with mail censorship which has made communication with our inside members difficult. We’ve started to more heavily rely upon phone communication for this reason. We’re also producing podcasts amplifying the voices and analysis of prisoners on conditions inside. This has allowed us to continue to build connections while we’re under heavy surveillance by the Department of Corrections.

 

Q:  What’s the next step for prisoner organizing in the IWW?

Sophia: We have a national conference coming up this spring that will allow us to share best practices across locals and solidify conversations about national structure. I think the priority continues to be how we orient to local organizing while recognizing we don’t have functioning outside committees in all the places where we have members inside. We are still reflecting on the implications of the national prison strike. Many of the most prominent strike leaders such as Siddique Abdullah Hassan have faced intense repression as a result of their participation.

Locally, we’re working to change the composition of our outside committee to include more former prisoners and family members. Once people are released it’s often a survival game, so organizing is a challenge before people get back on their feet. We’ve also had several people get violated and sent back. We’re building stronger connections with our inside organizers’ family members. Finally, we’re determining how to respond to ongoing surveillance by the DOC.

Q:  What kinds of specific challenges do women prisoners experience under our capitalist prison system?

Sophia: Women prisoners face particular challenges inside. While they make up a small percentage of those locked up, women, specifically Black women, are the fastest-growing segment of those incarcerated. Many women are locked up for defending themselves against their abusers and many are mothers with primary custody over their children prior to their incarceration. Gender-specific healthcare is another major concern. While the demands women are agitated around may vary, the organizing methods and strategy are largely the same. We saw mass participation from women inside during the national prison strike given their relatively small percentage of the overall prison population.

There’s one women’s prison in Minnesota in Shakopee. Twin Cities IWOC continues to make connections there but have struggled because cold call letter writing is much less successful than outreach within our networks, the majority of which are male prisoners.

When It Happens, What’s Next? May 1st is Coming! by John O’Reilly

All over the country, workers are standing up. The rise of Trumpism, combined with the daily attacks on our class by big business, have awoken a sleeping giant. In February, hundreds of thousands of workers participated in the “Day Without an Immigrant,” a mass political strike against the administration. May 1st, International Workers Day, is right around the corner. Where are you going to be on that day?

What’s unique about our role as working people in the economy is that we make the whole thing spin. As the old labor anthem Solidarity Forever goes: “without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn.” Will May 1st be a day when the working class, united across its differences, steps out of the workplace and onto the political arena? Will it be the day that we stop being just the working class by accident of birth or luck, and start being the working class for our own interests?

It’s hard to know, but while we in the IWW welcome the call for May 1st strikes and actions, we also think about the long game. If you and your coworkers strike on May 1st, what will you do on May 2nd? Or May 3rd? We can send a powerful message to the politicians in Washington and St. Paul with our big day of actions, but we can’t shake the foundations of this unjust system with a single day. What we need to do that is a unified working class, taking action at our workplaces and building the power of our class where it really hits the system: profit.

So let’s build hard for May 1st. Talk with your coworkers, talk with your friends, talk with your family. Strike, walk together, break bread with new friends you didn’t know you had in the streets. But don’t forget that what really matters in the long run is what you do on May 2nd and after.