Mayor Adrian Fenty and most of the D.C. Council have pushed through changes that have alienated many labor and community groups, and have begun to bring them together in a fight-back movement centered on the working class—a movement that has manifested itself in a recent series of rallies and walkouts.
Mayor Fenty recently announced that 160 workers from city-run child care centers would be fired, and that all of the child care centers in recreation centers would be closed and privatized. Fenty claimed that this would be more efficient and save money. However, the city government had conducted no study on the impact of closing the centers. Additionally, these services are paid for by federal grant money and have no direct impact on the city budget. The handout to private interests could not be more overt.
The American Federal and Government Employees union has launched a lawsuit to stop Fenty, and initiated the “Take Back D.C.” movement, connecting labor and the community. Take Back D.C. brings together those who have been fighting against cutbacks and attacks on workers’ rights and those proactively fighting for public housing and lower utility rates.
While it brings together many constituent groups, Take Back D.C. is an umbrella organization fighting broadly for the rights of workers in the District, and for fully funded and expanded public services in the District, in opposition to attacks on workers’ rights and budget cuts. It seeks to wage a fight around common issues ....
Teachers and students join fight-back
Fenty has gained national prominence, along with Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee, for his school privatization plan. Fenty’s plan was centered on the closing of 21 schools and the significant weakening of union protections, including seniority, that protect teachers from termination. Throughout 2008, Fenty’s plan drew protests from parents, teachers and community members. And two days after the Sept. 22 Take Back D.C. rally, teachers and students continued to protest.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, a rank-and-file teachers’ movement gathered about 100 educators, students and supporters to protest the attacks launched by Fenty and Rhee. The movement was initiated by Candi Peterson—a teacher, blogger and union activist—and other union leaders. Peterson spoke to Liberation about the protest, saying in part:
“This administration has dismantled our public schools. … The changes have led to the illegal firing of thousands of DCPS employees, including central office staff, teachers [and other] school-based personnel, principals and vice principals, etc. … There has been an erosion of due process rights for DCPS employees. Standardized test scores have not increased to any significant degree, and fewer schools have made adequate yearly progress (AYP).”
The parallels between the struggle over public education and broader issues of workers’ rights and public services are clear, and teachers recognize that. Peterson told Liberation that this rank-and-file groundswell aims to “organize a caucus of teachers, related school personnel, students, [and] parents to address the problem on many fronts. We want to bring light to the egregious acts of the Fenty and Rhee mismanagement by joining forces with others in this struggle.”
The teachers’ rally inspired their students, and on Friday, Sept. 25, more than 100 students from four public high schools walked out to protest the firing of teachers set to be announced on Sept. 30. Students voiced worries about increasing class sizes and other difficulties they expected with mass firings of teachers. A second protest for was planned by the students for Oct. 1, with the support of teachers and other community allies.
The broader attacks on workers’ rights and access to services has not only sparked outrage in Washington, D.C., but is bringing together a number of unions, community organizations and rank-and-file workers fighting back. By fighting back, not separately but in solidarity with one another, workers have not let themselves be isolated. This brings to mind the old slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all”— an example for working people around the country.
Posted by The W ashington Teacher featuring Candi Peterson, blogger in residence