A writer must “know and have an ever-present consciousness that this world is a world of fools and rogues… tormented with envy, consumed with vanity; selfish, false, cruel, cursed with illusions… He should free himself of all doctrines, theories, etiquettes, politics…” —Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?). “The nobility of the writer's occupation lies in resisting oppression, thus in accepting isolation” —Albert Camus (1913-1960). “What are you gonna do” —Bertha Brown (1895-1987).
A Conversation Regarding the Leadership and Membership of the Illinois Education Association
Dear Fred, John, and Glen:
gave valuable adult lessons to children, parents, teachers, and all of us.
“I like to be told
If it’s going to hurt,
If it’s going to be hard,
If it’s not going to hurt.
I like to be told. I like to be told.”
...Active and retired teachers in Illinois
and across the nation are besieged with attacks on basic teacher rights,
salaries, working conditions, evaluations based on the scores of classes they
never taught and students they never had in class, pillaging earned
compensation (present and future pensions), and much more.
ability to mass communicate today has never been better or easier. Are teachers
being told what they need to know by their own leadership?
Illinois and Chicago have two separate
teachers’ union leaderships. Chicago has the Chicago Teachers Union led by
Karen Lewis. Illinois has the Illinois Education Association led by Cinda
With SBI in court, which cuts earned
income for retired teachers while continuing to mandate that teachers pay 9.4%
and more into a system which is intentionally robbed (underfunded) as a
quasi-legalized form of wage theft, Klickna and IEA send automatic updates of
member discount coupons for Men’s Wearhouse, Brooks Brothers, Worldwide Golf Shops,
IZOD, Under Armour, Texas de Brazil Steakhouse, etc…
Lewis and CTU regularly appear at every
venue that gives an opportunity to update members with the truth – good news or
bad news. Lewis calls for a fair tax on stocks and futures transactions to
pay what is legally owed to the pillaged teacher pension systems. “We don’t
have a pension crisis, we have a pension shortfall and a crisis in
[legislative/political] leadership.” View and read HERE.
How the producers of the reality TV
show Chicagoland attempted to intimidate her into being part of the series.
View and read HERE.
The racial and political abuses presented in raw power Chicago politics. HERE.
The CTU opposition to Common Core, why
Rahm Emanuel and an appointed group of multimillionaires and billionaires who
invest and profit from charter schools should not be Chicago’s School Board,
what Emanuel’s re-election destroy in public education (HERE)
and much more.
The most recent episode of Klickna and
IEA taking actions and keeping members updated was the fiasco of endorsing
($50,000) the recent IL Chair of ALEC Kirk Dillard (R) as a “pro-public
education, friend of teachers” gubernatorial candidate even as he spoke to
right-wing groups about closing schools, firing teachers, and stealing teacher
pensions. Read HERE.
Because IEA leadership has not searched
for or created a candidate within the last few decades who is pro-public
education, members are fed this political insanity as the old
lesser-of-two-evils routine rather than as an example of a lack of effective
union leadership. Leadership with long term progressive building skills.
Even worse, IEA/NEA teachers are now
being given silence or updates consisting of store coupons for Men’s Wearhouse
and other stuff. This is insulting on more levels than can be expressed in a
This is NOT
an anti-union diatribe.This a demand for real leadership in Illinois. WE NEED TO BE TOLD THE TRUTH IN A TIMELY MANNER.
You have hit on a topic that is guaranteed to get my blood
flowing. From my earliest days as a union member and union activist I have
fought for the idea that a democratic organization requires that the members
have access to information. I guess that is why we became bloggers.
I recall an IEA Representative Assembly a few
years back when I and other members proposed establishing an internet-based
system that would allow local members to contact each other for the purpose of
political action and lobbying.
The leadership put the kibosh on that faster than
you could say Ken Swanson. You know how that works,
Ken. When the leadership wants a proposal to die, they put a price
tag on the proposal that is so high that the delegates’ only response is to
vote it down. However, the leadership’s real purpose is controlling the
Member to member contact without going through Government
Relations? No way. To me, the issue of the free flow of information and
communication between the leadership and the rank-rank-file is but a single
part of making our union more democratic and more powerful.
Milwaukee teacher union President Bob Peterson writes in his
essay, “A New Teacher Union Movement Rising”: “We promote an organizing model with a strong dose of internal
union democracy and increased member participation. This contrasts to a
business model that views union membership as an insurance policy where
decision-making is concentrated in a small group of elected leaders and/or paid
This is the choice facing active and retired members of
the IEA. Do we stay with the old business model? Or do the threats we now
face demand an organizing model with internal democracy and the free flow of
I don’t think that the old model – which is the IEA’s
current model – will get us through the next period.
Received your ideas and concerns about
union communication and leadership and found myself wondering what the last
brontosaurus mused while munching swamp grass a hundred and forty million years
Of course, Ken, your polemic against
the offers of shirts and linens through the IEA internet contact was amusing,
and I always did have an appreciation for the calming influence of Mr. Rogers,
but the message was pretty clearly non-political, only a membership offer for
consumers prior to a holiday.In fact,
it included a click point to refuse receipt of further consumer materials from
IEA.Just click it, Ken.
On the other hand, your and Fred’s
concerns certainly mirror my own unsettling thoughts about what is coming and
if we (IEA, IFT, and others) are quite prepared.
Like Wisconsin, we too could be looking
at a sea change in leadership very shortly, a continuing fiscal crisis
certainly, and a dubious outcome in the court battle over our benefits from
pensions we worked for and deserve.
Except for the last item, it appears
that neither IEA nor IFT have anticipated any of these issues, and Fred’s
reference to the need for a new model is certainly fitting; but if we are to
become a leaner and certainly meaner machine like Karen Lewis’ CTU, we’d better
start creating and promoting a different kind of active IEA member.I hear ennui and exasperation from actives,
not anger – at least in the suburban areas.That would need some serious adjustment.And we’d (retirees too) all better be prepared to do a lot more
politically and educationally than we ever have before.
Union membership is less than it was in
1915 now.And our numbers are sinking
abut as quickly as the Lusitania.Furthermore, recent drops in public union memberships in Wisconsin and
Indiana tell a very dismal tale of what happens when a Rauner-like character
gets in the governor’s door.Have you
seen any mobilization to stop that?
I remember a year ago, Will Lovett
remarked to a group of retired IEA members that the “very atmosphere” had changed
in Springfield; everything had transformed.This was more than just preparing us for
SB2404; it was a truism about how a disappearing power is treated, and the
legislators can feel union power and influence fading away.
Will the old top-down model survive
what’s continually coming, ask Fred?
“Are teachers being told what they need to know by their own
Generally speaking, a union
(or association) leadership will never reveal the inner workings of its clandestine
decision-making process to its membership; nor should it. What cabal will share
its secrets anyway, except when it might be deemed necessary to create an
illusion of self-restraint and intelligence to mask incompetence or
diffidence? Furthermore, keeping union members in metaphoric “darkness” until
leadership decides to tell them what they need to know and when to act
maintains their mystery and power.
Conversely, it is prudent for the
IEA not to reveal the significant details of the current so-called “pension
reform” litigation, and perhaps it is better for most members not “to be told
if it’s going to hurt” since many retired and harried IEA members seem to prefer
a leadership that allows them to live life without trepidation.
Although it is often said that
“ignorance is bliss,” history reveals quite consistently that what we do not
know can “hurt” us, nonetheless. Perhaps this is why some retired and active
members of the IEA demand meaningful communication from their leadership.
We can expect Illinois General Assemblies
will continue their assaults on our constitutional contract. Senate Bill 1 and several
antedated court cases prove chronic attempts at theft. Thus, we need a dynamic
leadership with the determination to inspire and to listen to its politically-informed
members when fighting against the next assaults upon constitutional rights and
benefits and public school teachers.
This necessitates a current leadership
that does not readily condemn differences of opinion from those who might question
and challenge the IEA leadership regarding the significant issues confronting
all of us. This unfortunate situation has been exacerbated by two IEA
ex-presidents who have labeled any disagreements as blatant disloyalties.
As stated by John Stuart Mill:
“If a [differing] opinion is right, [leadership and the membership will be]
deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong,
[leadership and the membership will] lose what is almost as great a benefit,
the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its
collision with error” (On Liberty).
author and activist Chris Hedges: "Unions, organizations formerly steeped
in the doctrine of class struggle and filled with those who sought broad social
and political rights for the working class, have been transformed into
domesticated partners of the capitalist class. They have been reduced to simple