Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Conversation Regarding the Leadership and Membership of the Illinois Education Association

Dear Fred, John, and Glen:

Mr. Rogers 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. 

The technical 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 Klickna…

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 single blog.

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.

Dear Ken:

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 message.

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 staff.”
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 information?
I don’t think that the old model – which is the IEA’s current model – will get us through the next period.
Do you?

Dear Ken and Fred:

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 ago.  

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? 
Not a chance.  

Dear Ken, Fred, and John:

“Are teachers being told what they need to know by their own leadership?”  

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). 

According to 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 bartering tools.”



  1. As a lifelong activist and furious retired special education teacher, I'm going to say as simply as I can these points: 1) the right-wing, neo-liberal, libertarian, religious extremists succeed for four basic reasons, a dominant patriarchal system--no questions asked, most of the money in their pockets, ownership of the media, regulatory agencies, our politicians and the courts, and a doctrine of fear and hate of others who don't look, act, believe as they do; 2) the left, progressive, centrists, liberals are scattered; there are thousands of organizations with no central theme, often times sniping at each other, and often times power goes to the top and stays there and they become no different than their opponents. I (we) have fought this for years. The dilemma is that people don't stay motivated unless they're included in the process, but unless you also have a well-run organization with a place at the table for different views, nothing will ever happen and everyone accepting the consensus method, nothing gets done. Some people are more secure taking orders but most want to be included. So, let me refer to The Coalition to Restore Democracy, which I helped start. There are 25 well-known groups that have signed on at some level. As time goes along, I see several problems, universal things happening which happen to every group, which you can work around or fail. One is the inevitable power-hungry egoists. Some are willing to compromise with the "enemy" while others say absolutely not. I say this over and over again--we have one enemy that has taken us over--plutocrats (money controlling and owning our political system). So I feel that everyone has to be brought to the table at our end and we need to respect and listen to differing opinions, but in the end come to decisions by consensus. One of the problems we have today with our politicians is that even if we work hard to put someone in (which I will no longer do), it's the rarest of exceptions that they can resist the corrupting influence of money that comes there way. Instead, we need to have so many people educated, informed and ready "to be called to action" at a moment's notice that we can push back and our politicians willl listen. Is it a dream--yes--but that's the purpose of building a coalition and as I see it, the only thing left. Last year we worked together to get a non-binding resolution passed in Springfield on a bi-partisan basis, but since then the battle has been--what next. Illinois is just about the worst state there is to get anything on the ballot such as a people's initiative We've decided that our role is taking an education show on the road throughout the state and have a door-to-door campaigns to educate the public. We're running out of time. I love all of your blogs, I love Diane Ravitch's blog--but when you get out in the world, there are very few people who know any of this. And all I hear is that teacher's pensions are killing everything and people need to vote for Rauner. That's the level of stupidity out there. So, even though my rant is not directly tied to what you've said above, I do think there has to be a statewide meeting of the minds, a conference, a showing of power even of different ideas and come to a consensus on what and who we need to support and what we must do. The right-wing loves all our infighting--they just gloat. We need action. Last night, at the Bernie Sanders event in Evanston, he may have been preaching to the choir, but the choir was motivated and we have to keep them that way or else we're done.

  2. Sharon,
    You are actually helping to begin the process of creating a 21st Century counterpoint to 21st Century corporatist America. At the Network for Public Education National Conference last March at the University of Texas in Austin, Ravitch and all of us in attendance were well aware that this was their goal in regard to public education - all aspects of it.
    WE are all part of the choir. WE are a minority - for now. I find that very hard to handle at times.
    I have never felt as alone as I was on the plane going to the conference. I never felt more comforted and aware of potential for support and eventual progress than I did as I spoke with the incredibly diverse groups of people I spoke with. This is going to be a hard, long battle. If we fight, we might lose. If we do not fight, we have already lost.
    You are a gem with many facets. Please keep us all motivated by being you.