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The June Uprisings in Brazil: Below and Behind the Huge Mobilizations (Part 1)
Editor's Note: An unprecedented wave of mass protest rocked multiple Brazilian cities beginning in June, 2013, and shows no sign of letting up. In this special two-part series, Raúl Zibechi argues that the huge mobilizations were not simply a demand for reduced bus fares -- as portrayed in mainstream media -- but the product of a decade of grassroots, anti-capitalist organizing. He dispels the myth that it was a spontaneous protest fueled by social networks, investigates the radical social movements behind the countrywide uprising, and explores the forms of organizing based on horizontalism, consensus and direct action. - R.R
The huge mobilizations in June 2013 in 353 cities and towns in Brazil came as much a surprise to the political system as to analysts and social bodies. Nobody expected so many demonstrations, so numerous, in so many cities and for so long. As happens in these cases, media analyses were quick off the mark. Initially they focused on the immediate problems highlighted by the actions: urban transport, rising fare prices and the poor quality of service for commuters. Slowly the analyses and perspectives expanded to include the day-to-day dissatisfaction felt by a large part of the population. While there was widespread acknowledgement that basic family income had risen during the last decade of economic growth, social commentators began to focus on economic inclusion through consumption as the root of the dissatisfaction, alongside the persistence of social inequality.
In this analysis, I would like to address the new forms of protest, organization, and mobilization from a social movement perspective. These new forms emerged within small activist groups composed mainly of young people that began organizing in 2003, the year Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took government. Unlike political parties, trade unions and other traditional organizations formed in the early eighties, the new social movements are key to the June mobilizations because of their ability to organize beyond their local scene, to involve the broadest sectors of society in the struggle, and to employ forms of action and organization that sets them apart from the groups that went before them....
In this essay I assert -- in tune with James C. Scott -- that the key to what is happening in the public arena is to be found in the daily practices of the popular sectors and particularly in what Scott calls "hidden spaces" where the subordinated develop discourses antagonistic to power: "The acts of daring and haughtiness that so struck the authorities were perhaps improvised on the public stage, but they had been long and amply prepared in the hidden transcript of folk culture and practice.” (Scott, 2000:264) To focus on the continent behind and below the visible coast of the political, says Scott, is a necessary step to understand a new political culture. The new forms of protesting and organizing in Brazil can better be understood if we look closely at the practices of the small activist groups forged over the span of more than a decade.
The student multitudes rejected the official bodies that claimed to represent them, made decisions in large assemblies and shared common tasks. The assemblies were held at the street blockades that spread throughout the city, and decisions were taken on a consensus basis. The assemblies functioned in a strictly horizontal manner and the proposal to set up committees was rejected, to "prevent the formation of a new student bureaucracy in the streets." (Nascimento, 2011: 9) The general feeling among the protesters was that they could lose through institutionalization what they had won in the streets....
RSA Animate - Crises of Capitalism
In this RSA Animate, celebrated academic David Harvey looks beyond capitalism towards a new social order. Can we find a more responsible, just, and humane economic system?
Corporate Elites Are Witnessing a Growing Wave of Resistance to the ‘Walmartization’ of Our Economy
The fight for more worker rights and wages is gaining a critical mass.
Noam Chomsky writes in his new book, Occupy: Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity, that the “business class” is always engaged in class warfare. They continually act to protect their interests, wealth and power. The class war manifests itself in every aspect of our lives from the attack on our public institutions and civil liberties to climate change and the global race to the bottom and racially unfair police enforcement and mass incarceration. It defines our foreign policy including trade agreements rigged for big business and wars for resources, cheap labor and the positioning of American Empire.
Active Fronts of Struggle in the Class War
There are many active fronts of struggle. In last week’s report we emphasized the bold and creative protests against climate change, extreme energy extraction and toxicity in our environment. This week we focus on another critical front, worker rights and wages; and highlight the necessity for persistence, solidarity and transformation.
Henry Giroux recently spoke with Bill Moyers about his book Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism. Giroux said, “The real changes are going to come in creating movements that are longstanding, that are organized, that basically take questions of governance and policy seriously and begin to spread out and become international.”
An area in which this is happening to a great extent is in global trade. The World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet in Bali, Indonesia on December 3. Ever since the Seattle protests in 1999, the WTO has been unable to move forward on their agenda. This week WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo announced they were unable to move forward once again. U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke expressed “great sadness,” while we applauded the failure of corporate trade. Activists and small countries being bullied should be wary, this could be a negotiating ploy and they need to continue to fight back.
We are on the cusp of a new era of fair trade instead of rigged corporate trade. Our tasks are to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is reaching completion and the new Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TAFTA) from being signed into law and then go on the offense to demand a trade process that is inclusive, democratic and transparent. Protests were held every day last week in Salt Lake City where the TPP negotiators were meeting and 250 showed up to protest the TPP in Beverly Hills at a high dollar fundraiser featuring President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and Minority Leader Pelosi. Opposition is growing....
The New Abolitionists: migrant space in Barcelona
While the Spanish government pursues apartheid policies in healthcare, a Zapatista-inspired autonomous group in Barcelona pursues solidarity for all.
On 20 April 2012, the Spanish government passed the Law by Royal Decree 16/2012, which took urgent measures to, as President Mariano Rajoy’s administration put it, “guarantee the sustainability of the National Health Service and improve the quality and security of health care benefits.” Yet with a per capita health care cost that ran at about a third of the US’s per capita costs, Spain’s public health care system had long been considered one of the world’s most efficient, and it proved so while guaranteeing truly universal coverage on the basis that every human being has a right to health.
What the new measures did, however, was curtail that universal human right, restricting it to Spanish citizens and immigrants with their documents in order. Due to Spain’s massive unemployment and the fact that the legality of one’s residential status requires an employment contract, the measures effectively exclude roughly 800,000 people from basic medical attention, according to Doctors of the World. In his appearance in front of the Congressional Health Committee, that NGO’s president, Álvaro González, explained that the Spanish government had enacted a policy of “apartheid” against those people, most of whom had seen their documents expire when they were unable to find work after the collapse of the country’s housing bubble and the construction sector. He also cited several studies indicating that the measure could actually serve to raise costs, in addition to putting public health and peoples’ very lives at risk....
ROAR: So, what exactly is the Espacio del Inmigrante? How and when did it come about?
Manuel (M): The Espacio del Inmigrante is a neighborhood-level citizen initiative started by a group of immigrant professionals here in the Raval, in response to the Law by Royal Decree passed by the Spanish government in 2012. We assessed the situation and, considering that we live in a neighborhood where over 40% of the residents are immigrants, we came to the conclusion that this is likely to have an especially large, degrading effect on our community. We were seeing that a lot of our neighbors were not going to the doctor because they didn’t have enough money, because their public health insurance cards were no longer valid and because they thought that, if they went, there was some sort of link between that institutional setting and the police. Considering that they were undocumented, this kept them from going.
Through face-to-face contact, our neighbors learned that there was a doctor on our street. Whenever she went to buy bread or groceries or go to the pharmacy, the shopkeepers would mention that someone they knew was ill but could not go to the primary care center. She would often end up doing check-ups on the spot. This doctor happened to be in contact with the neighborhood assembly a lot of us were in, and she mentioned this there. We then decided to open up a space where we could carry out free, basic medical attention. So in January of this year, we went to a building block where there was already an assembly established and asked them for a space. They gave us an entire floor, and we fixed it up, making it fit for providing basic medical attention and stocking it with basic medical supplies....
Chris Hedges on 'The Pathology of the Rich' (and vid)
"The rich are different because when you have that much money, then human beings become disposable..."
Season 1, Episode 12 “If capitalism doesn’t work, what does?” – highlights from the annual World Peace Forum teach-in in Vancouver
Co-hosts: Daniel Tseghay and Tristan Markle
On this episode of Mainlander Radio we talked to:
Roger Rashi, a founding member of Québec solidaire, about building an anticapitalist political party;
Tom Walker, an instructor in Labour and the Environment at SFU, about de-growth and the commons;
Tamara Herman, an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project and a member of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan.
Sussex University in the UK has become the site of occupations, strikes, road blocks and picket lines as students and workers rally against privatization.
..back in nov
Letter of Support to the Occupiers of Bramber House
Since the evening of Tuesday 26 November 2013, students at the University of Sussex have occupied the first floor of Bramber House. This space was occupied last February and is currently where Chartwells, the company now in charge of outsourced catering services, are operating their offices. In their demands, the students declare their continuing fight against the outsourcing process. They are protesting against the marketisation of higher education exemplified most recently through the selling of the student loan book.
Student protests in Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, York, Brighton, London and Manchester, as well as statements by the NUS show widespread discontent....
Statement of the Students’ Union on the “reinstatement” of the Sussex 5
The five students who were suspended and excluded from the University have been informed that their suspensions and exclusions from the campus have been lifted, but they still face disciplinary action.
The students were suspended by the Vice-Chancellor on Wednesday 4th December, with allegations that they posed “a threat to the safety of well being of students, staff of visitors to the University”, “a potential hazard to sustaining the University’s policies on Health and Safety”, or due to “criminal charges… pending or where the student is the subject of police investigation”.
Sussex has united behind the students, with messages of support from students and staff, a petition with over 9100 signatures, successive successful demos, and a quorate Emergency Members Meeting where students expressed their support for revoking the suspensions, tomorrow’s day of action, and for no confidence in the Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group....
Forks and Torches
This time it took me by surprise. While all eyes are on the ‘eurorevolution’ in Ukraine, yesterday Italy was swept by a sudden outburst of civil unrest. The so-called ‘pitchfork’ movement brought people to the streets all over the country. There were heavy clashes with police in Turin.
So what is this movement? Who is behind it? What do they want? It’s hard to tell, because it seems to be very heterogeneous.
The movement was started by Sicilian farmers two years ago, it gained support by truck drivers, and lately by the impoverished middle class. In general, there is a growing feeling of discontent with the government, with austerity measures, with high taxes, the euro, and with unfair competition from chain stores and cheap Chinese products. Yesterday, many small shop owners closed in solidarity with the protest. Others who didn’t adhere were picketed and forced to close....
Italian protest Rome via @ascaniodilalla
In the early afternoon, something curious happened. After the clashes, demonstrators in Turin challenged the police officers to take off their helmets and lay down their shields. ‘You are underpaid. You are with us!’ someone shouted through a megaphone.
The commander in the field was the first to comply. After that, the others followed suit. The crowd reacted with a wave of cheers. A similar gesture of solidarity from the side of police occurred in Genoa and Bolzano. Spontaneous acts of fraternization with police were recorded in other parts of the country as well.
UK Students Facing Violence, Intimidation and Arrest for Opposing Privatisation of their Universities
The growing student movement in opposition to the marketisation of Higher Education is being confronted by the full force of the emergent British police state. Universities are using court injunctions to ban student protest, and when students oppose such measures they are faced with an overwhelming and violent response by the UK’s militarised police force.
Two things have trebled under the Coalition government since 2010: university tuition fees, and long term youth unemployment. In order to pay tuition fees, accommodation, food and other expenses, the average student will leave University with personal debts of £53,300. Yet our 18-24 year olds are less likely to find employment than at any time in the last twenty years. Students and young people have every reason to protest.
The students rose up in their tens of thousands in 2010, to defend their right to an education without incurring enormous debts through tuition fees. They were met with some of the most violent policing seen on UK streets in modern history. Agent provocateurs were filmed running into the crowds, pushing , pulling and kicking student protesters in order to generate violent conditions. One student named Alfie Meadows ended up in hospital requiring brain surgery after a police officer beat him with a baton. Instead of the police officer facing the courts, Alfie was charged with violent disorder. He was finally acquitted in March 2013, by a jury who agreed he was defending himself and other protesters...
Israel's Fischer Set To Be US Fed No. 2 (and vid)
"Former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer has been reportedly nominated to become vice chairman of the US Federal Reserve."
"Stanley Fischer is former governor of the Bank of Israel and a former top official at both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank."
Police violence won't stop this new alliance of students and workers
Protests at universities across the country have been met by beatings, mass arrests and injunctions. But it's the authorities who are frightened
It's kicking off on campus again. Almost three years since nationwide college occupations, marches and strikes against tuition fee rises led to the first wave of crackdowns on student protest, undergraduates are mobilising, and meeting unprecedented retaliation. Last week in Bloomsbury, central London, students organising for fair wages for workers at their institutions said they were beaten bloody. There were mass arrests, and the sort of court injunctions banning all further protest that wouldn't be tolerated in any country that valued freedom of speech.
"We are facing a concerted attempt to silence a nascent student movement before it gets off the ground," said Michael Chessum, president of the University of London union. However, despite the clampdown on protest, students, lecturers, service workers and their allies are planning to rally in their thousands tomorrow afternoon.
The University of London described the activists last week as "violent". But it was students who reported having the teeth punched from their mouths and the crutches kicked away after a peaceful occupation in London's Senate House – the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in the Michael Radford film of George Orwell's 1984.
Just what is it about this bunch of undergraduates, as well as their more enlightened lecturers, that has scared the Metropolitan police into cementing their reputation for skull-knockery? Possibly the fact that they aren't just defending their own interests. Instead, they're making new demands, fighting for workers' rights, and winning....
The root of the dispute is the 3 Cosas campaign, a joint effort with outsourced service staff at London universities that demands three things – sick pay, holiday pay and pensions. These low-waged, largely Latin American workers formed an autonomous union, and students and allies helped crowdsource a strike fund. On strike day, hundreds swelled the picket lines, and the workers have won concessions on two of the demands.
The Transformation of America's Energy Economy
In a ground-breaking move, voters in Boulder, Colorado, approved an initiative to end their relationship with Xcel Energy, a utility with $10.7 billion in revenues, thus clearing the way for the city to form its own municipal utility that would lower rates and make greater use of renewable energy.
Opponents of the effort had themselves put the question on the ballot in order to block measures by the city council. They also tried through a second initiative to hamstring the city from issuing enough bonds to be able to afford the purchase of Xcel’s facilities.
During the fierce battle that attracted national attention, corporate executives and their allies argued that the city had neither the money nor the expertise to manage such a complex enterprise. Advocates for the municipal utility, including New Era Colorado Foundation, fought back with a crowd-funding campaign that raised more than three times their financial goal. In a landslide, two-thirds of voters supported the idea of bringing the utility under public control and then rejected the borrowing limits designed to kill the deal by a similar margin.
Though the utility industry has gone through a wave of consolidation over the last two decades, they are starting to show the strains of technological, economic, and political change. Municipal utilities are far more common than most people are aware, with more than 1000 already functioning in the United States, serving 50 million customers, a population greater than the size of Spain. Most of these entities are owned by cities, and controlled by panels of local citizens. Some are even cooperatives owned by their members....
Alberta First Nation plans second roadblock to fracking site
Winter weather has done little to shake the resolve of Lubicon Lake Nation protesters going into their fourth week of blockading an access road to an oil company’s fracking site on their traditional territory, with those on the frontlines now looking to block a second road.
A group led by Chief of the Lubicon Lake Nation, Bernard Ominayak, began peacefully occupying a road leading to a site near Haig Lake in northwestern Alberta on Nov. 26 after Penn West Petroleum Ltd. began moving fracking equipment and personnel in without notice, according to the First Nation.
Ominayak said protesters are concerned with the “irreparable” damage oil and gas development has had on Lubicon lands and the abilities of members to exercise their inherent rights, without financial benefit to the people....
‘Only One Big Project’: Italy’s burgeoning social movements
If there is one day that can symbolically represent the current struggle against austerity and neoliberalism in Italy it must be the 19th of October 2013 — the day of the General Uprising (“sollevazione generale”) against austerity. On that date, behind a banner that read “Only One Big Project: Income and Houses for Everyone!” around one hundred thousand people took the streets of Rome in what could be considered the most successful demonstration by the Italian social movements since the economic crisis began in 2007.
The demonstration was the last day of a week of struggle structured around four national events. The first was the day of struggle against the environmental devastation caused by capitalism on October 12. The second was the European social strike on October 15, launched during the Hub meeting in Barcelona. The third day was the general strike of the rank-and-file unions with a national demonstration in Rome and many local marches across the country on October 18. The final day was the national demonstration against austerity in Rome on October 19.
The Success of October 19
In the context of such a social emergency, the demonstration on October 19 was a success mainly for two reasons. The first (although not the most important) reason is the number of people who took the streets of Rome on that day. Around 100.000 people marched united in the center of the capital, a result that exceeded even the most optimistic forecast. In the days just before the demonstration, there was an attempt to criminalize the demonstration by predicting a high risk of uncontrolled clashes with the police and the potential for crews of hooligans and black blocs to “infiltrate” the demonstration and devastate the city. The images of the violent clashes that took place in Rome in October 15, 2011, still fresh in the mind of many, were deliberately used by the mainstream media (see for instance the articles in La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera). Furthermore, the high level of participation in the demonstration was even more remarkable if one considers that neither the parliamentary center-left parties nor the main trade unions took part in the organization of the march, nor did they support the protest.
This aspect brings us to the second and most important reason for the success of the October 19 demonstration, namely the social and political composition of the march. For the first time after many years, grassroots movements and radical political groups were able to take to the streets in a national march alongside members of most of the social layers comprising the lower-income classes of Italy. Therefore the protagonists of that day were those who fight every day, autonomously and from below, against the damaging effects of neoliberalism in their own workplaces and neighborhoods....
After the ‘General Uprising’
The months following the “General Uprising” seemed to confirm that what was foreseen on that day was a real and concrete path and not just an extemporaneous event. The movements behind the October 19 demonstration gathered momentum and were able to organize and support other important national days of protest around the themes of the housing problem, the defense of the commons, and the fight against precariousness — first in Florence, then in Val Susa and Naples, then in Bologna and finally again in Rome.
Furthermore, in December the autonomous protest of the public transport workers erupting initially in Genoa and Florence, and more recently in many other cities such as Rome, Naples and Turin, offered the opportunity to enlarge the political scope and social composition of the October 19 movements. Behind the outburst of the public transport workers, there was the failure of the negotiation to renovate the national collective labor contract and the attempt throughout the country to privatize local public transport. In this context, it clearly emerged how discredited the traditional trade unions have become among the workers, and to what extent their attempts to prevent more radical forms of mobilization have failed.
Contrary to these efforts, the workers began a wave of mass-strikes which blocked entire cities for a few days and created the premises for a positive encounter between the social composition of the October 19 movements and the public transport workers — a sector of the traditional working-class which until then had remained in the shadow of the ongoing social struggles in Italy. The first positive results of this encounter were witnessed in Rome on December 20. On that occasion thousands of people gathered together in a demonstration organized jointly by workers and users of the Roman public transport system against the privatization of the local service and in defense of the right to mobility....
Mobilizing for the common: some lessons from Italy
Saturday’s protest in Rome was the latest in a series of actions around a common project. What can organizers elsewhere learn from Italy’s movements?
Tens of thousands of protesters marched on Rome this Saturday to denounce the austerity measures and economic reforms of Matteo Renzi’s new government and to restate their call for income, housing and dignity for all. Dozens were injured as clashes broke out towards the end of the march and police violently charged forward into the crowds, indiscriminately beating protesters and trampling over those who got caught in the way. What the police could not trample, however, was the resolve of the movements to step up their resistance in the wake of last October’s sollevazione generale (“general uprising”), which brought a hundred thousand people into the streets of Rome.
Saturday’s events are particularly remarkable for two reasons: first of all, the Italian movements had been fairly lackluster in responding to the European debt crisis when it first broke in 2010-’11. Apart from a massive demonstration in Rome on October 15, 2011, which quickly degenerated into tactless violence, the indignados-Occupy wave largely passed the country by, even as an unelected technocratic government headed by former Goldman Sachs adviser Mario Monti took power. This somewhat ambivalent recent history makes the ongoing mobilizations all the more important, especially since the housing and unemployment crises have deepened significantly since....
Italy: Clashes during the anti-austerity protest in Rome
The Commons as a Rising Alternative to State and Market
Jeremy Rifkin's new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, brings welcome new attention to the commons just as it begins to explode in countless new directions. His book focuses on one of the most significant vectors of commons-based innovation -- the Internet and digital technologies -- and documents how the incremental costs of nearly everything is rapidly diminishing, often to zero. Rifkin explored the sweeping implications of this trend in an excerpt from his book and points to the "eclipse of capitalism" in the decades ahead.
But it's worth noting that the commons is not just an Internet phenomenon or a matter of economics. The commons lies at the heart of a major cultural and social shift now underway. People's attitudes about corporate property rights and neoliberal capitalism are changing as cooperative endeavors -- on digital networks and elsewhere -- become more feasible and attractive. This can be seen in the proliferation of hackerspaces and Fablabs, in the growth of alternative currencies, in many land trusts and cooperatives, and in seed-sharing collectives and countless natural resource commons.
Beneath the radar screen of mainstream politics, which remains largely clueless about such cultural trends on the edge, a new breed of commoners is building the vision of a very different kind of society, project by project. This new universe of social activity is being built on the foundation of a very different ethics and social logic than that of homo economicus -- the economist's fiction that we are all selfish, utility-maximizing, rational materialists.
Durable projects based on social cooperation are producing enormous amounts of wealth; it's just that this wealth is not generally not monetized or traded. It's socially or ecologically embedded wealth that is managed by self-styled commoners themselves. Typically, such commoners act more as stewards of their common wealth than as owners who treat it as private capital. Commoners realize that a life defined by impersonal transactions is not as rich or satisfying as one defined by abiding relationships. The larger trends toward zero-marginal-cost production make it perfectly logical for people to seek out commons-based alternatives....
Communities Of Color Tackle Climate As "Our Power" Movement Heats Up Richmond
RICHMOND, Calif. – It's home to one of the world's largest oil corporations, Chevron, whose 2012 refinery blast and fire sent 15,000 residents here fleeing for emergency medical treatment. It's also ground zero in the nationwide fight of homeowners to reclaim and refinance their underwater mortgages through eminent domain.
Now, Richmond, a city of 106,000 in the East Bay just north of Oakland, is hosting the third Our Power National Convening, bringing social activists together from across America to share strategies that tackle the economic-environmental crises facing this city and so many like it.
"The fundamental question is: what do we, as vulnerable communities, do to be resilient?" said Stephanie Hervey, a social justice advocate and one of the organizers of the Convening, which runs Aug. 6-9. "We have the expertise, we have the communities. We’re not going to wait for [the] legislature – we’re going to do it on our own."
The first Our Power gathering happened last year in Black Mesa, Ariz., and the second one took place this past June in Detroit. The prime focus, said Hervey, is to bring together urban and less advantaged "frontline communities" to discuss ways that they can impact – and create local solutions to – issues ranging from energy use and food scarcity to homelessness and corporate abuse of communities....
Chicago teachers demonstrate a new approach to organising
When I stumbled out of my apartment on 10 September 2012, I immediately heard chanting. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was going on strike that morning, hitting the picket lines at 6.30am, and dozens of teachers at the elementary school a few blocks away, decked out in the union’s signature red, were bellowing against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his free market education policies. I cycled past them, only to encounter another group of raucous educators half a mile further on, then another, and another. The city was buzzing with striking teachers in red, highly visible – and audible – in every neighbourhood. Chicago felt like it belonged to them.
The CTU strike came during dark days for the US education system and labour movement. Neoliberal education reform had picked up steam, bent on dismantling much of public education as we know it. And labour’s multi-decade slide saw union membership, strikes and workers’ power at all-time lows.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Chicago teachers walked off the job – and, remarkably, won some of their demands, handing the free market education reform ‘movement’ its most significant setback to date in the US.
Push from below
Having seen the hunger for change but also the disgust at hapless reform patronisingly imposed from above, a small number of CTU members began building a new group to push the union from below. That push wouldn’t be carried out in isolation: from the beginning, the teachers built the group alongside community organisations and parents, who had their own ideas about reforming CPS.
The group rapidly evolved from a handful of teachers and community members to a fully-fledged opposition caucus in the union, growing as members spoke to teachers and parents testifying at school closure hearings and encouraged them to join. Public forums on the neoliberal reform plans drew hundreds of parents and teachers. The teacher activists spoke out at the meetings of the House of Delegates, the union’s governing body of nearly 600 teachers, and organised mass public protests with community groups independently of the official union, eventually forcing reluctant leaders to endorse them.
Eventually, the group gave itself a name, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE). Urged on by community groups, CORE decided to run a slate of candidates for the union leadership, promising to both reform the union and to make the members themselves responsible for running it. In 2010, they won, with Karen Lewis becoming union president. Lewis made clear that the new leadership would take a hard line against corporate reformers. ‘This election shows the unity of 30,000 educators standing strong to put business in its place – out of our schools,’ she said after winning.
CORE quickly got to work restructuring the union. The new leaders immediately lowered their union salaries, matching them to those of ordinary members. Resources were shifted away from ‘servicing’ members towards training them to handle their own problems at the classroom level and establishing a new organising department. Existing structures of democratic control such as the union’s committees and the House of Delegates were expanded, and a summer programme was set up to train rank-and-file members in the basic tenets of organising. This was designed so they could develop links with parents and other community members in their schools’ neighbourhoods, allowing them to both make their case as a teachers’ union and hear from parents about the problems in their schools and communities.
Painstakingly, member by member, the union was moving to a democratic structure that engaged its members in new ways and, for the first time, made the concerns of the community a genuine part of its agenda....