Problems With The Labor Movement

This column was prompted by an exchange on the ConcernedForDCPS list-serve. I’m going to quote a bit here:

(1) RN wrote: “Things are looking worse for Black male high school dropouts.”

(2) RL responded: “so what do you suggest?”

(3) HT responded, in part, and in his usual nearly-inscrutable prose:  

“RN,  There’s nothing to stop you from posting here, and regularly, on the efforts and increases in efforts to find more effective ones, by the metro-area labor council and of individual unions, all to make a bigger difference. Just as Rhee and Henderson, squat is what I see. (Let’s call it as it is, after Easter.) “

Me again:

To continue the digestive analogy, the only way to produce something worth “squat” is to have a “movement” — and in our case, the “movement” needs to be one in which there are LOTS of people who feel strongly enough about to join and march on the streets and go to meetings and boycott and donate and go on strike. And such a movement also needs a leadership willing to devote essentially all their time to it, to the detriment of the rest of their lives.

(It’s quite different if you ‘devote’ your life to the Dark Side: you can easily make 6 figures for showing up in business wear, attending well-catered meetings in comfort, manipulating suspect “data” on spreadsheets, and writing inane drivel using whatever the latest corporate jargon is required this week.  If you join the Dark Side, the side of the one-hundredth-of -one-percent, the side of the billionaires and the Global Corporate Edu DEformers like Michael Milken, Bill Gates, and Rupert Murdoch,  you can look forward to 7-, 8-, or 9-figure salaries even if you aren’t the most TV-pleasing face out there. But you will be rich, as Michelle Rhee once told me and my fellow-teachers from my school who came to see her to complain about our local situation, “Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams”. And she said it like it was the last line in a fairy-tale come true… )

And it was the last line of the meeting before we teachers were dismissed (to a towed car, in one case).

I just wish I had done enough research on her shady history in Baltimore at the time to call her on it at the meeting.

One of the big problems is that we keep getting sold out by our own union leadership, over and over. We here in DC’s WTU local have had a horrible experience for decades now: one disastrous leader, then another, then a thieving crook, then a complete and utter traitor, followed by a nice enough guy who doesn’t seem to quite have enough fire under him.

I hope he’s not a disaster, a crook, or a traitor, but when does the public ever find out about that stuff? When it’s too late and the wrong type of smelly ‘movement’ hits the fan! Obviously I’m not a very good judge of character, because I never thought that any of those @#$%^’s would go that far, and I feel like I’m utterly inept as a leader of anything larger than a classroom of math students (and not always even then).

We also have a national WTU leader who has never, ever taught in a classroom.  Despite her occasional militant rhetoric, she trained as a lawyer. She was instrumental in shepherding in the “cage-busting” contract between Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Local 6 of the WTU, which directly led to the current whirlwind of labor givebacks and union-busting all over the country, along with condemning millions of inner-city kids to a stupid year-long regime of test prep for stupid tests that don’t help anybody except the corporations who print and score them and make tons of cash. Weingarten also has co-sponsored a number of things with, and sits on boards with, people like Rhee and Gates…

This sort of sell-out, criminal leadership that doesn’t share the interests of the rank-and-file, or of the public, is not new in the labor movement. Look it up in any history thereof. But there have been others who were great and who never sold out and achieved great success. They and the millions who marched with them directly or indirectly bequeathed us the Weekend and the 40-hour week; Medicare, Social Security, integrated work places, unions, pensions, integrated schools, Worker’s Comp,  Unemployment Benefits and OSHA… and an end to Jim Crow, and eliminated child labor… mostly. All of which are under attack today.

Guy Brandenburg, Washington, DC

Published in: on April 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why Does Anybody Listen to Anything Said by Michelle Rhee & Her Kind?

An aside:

It really is insane to keep building “public” charter schools when we have vacant really public schools that are part vacant. Wasn’t the idea of public charter schools was to carefully try out different experimental approaches, to see which approaches worked best, and then have all schools adopt the successful ones? After the first round of experiments, then another round of experiments could be tried, sort of like how scientists are supposed to operate? And aren’t education and sociology generally attempting to be empirical and scientific — isn’t that what these “data-driven” educational evaluation models supposed to be?

Appears to me that since the “instruments” that these data-seekers use are entirely defective, all of the “findings” of the current group of educational deformers readings are worthless and a waste of time. They lurch from one half-assed idea to the next without waiting for results. Some, like Michelle Rhee, are famous for declaring victory before her experiment was even begun, and then lying about the results.


(The instruments are, of course, badly-written standardized tests prepared by underpaid temporary workers that have no real classroom usefulness at all. It’s the equivalent of measuring your personal character by the shapes of the bumps on your head, or predicting the future by casting lots, or studying tea leaves, the lines on your palm, or even animal entrails a la Cicero and Caesar..)

Rhee has been forced to admit, to the DC City Council, that she made up all those supposedly specific figures, about those supposed miraculous results she pretended to have achieved while she taught for THREE WHOLE YEARS in Baltimore?

But Rhee has never dealt with the other cheat that shows up on the record published by UMBC, many years ago, as part of a careful study of an experiment, of which Rhee herself played a small part, because she taught for several years of a relatively-well-controlled scientific experiment on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of a for-profit model of educational delivery. (What happened is that the city of Baltimore, under some pressure, allowed an experiment where Edison/Tesseract company took over so many Baltimore City schools and ran them their way (whatever that was) and the exact same number of closely=-matched BPS schools would be watched and measured on lots of different criteria, and then the public and the politicians could study the evidence and see which approach worked best.

Bottom line? The study concluded that there was no big difference.

Nobody at the time wrote any headlines about Michelle Rhee bringing a class of 2nd graders for two years into third grade, and that “she brought a class from UNDER the 13th percentile to OVER the 90th percentile” or whatever version of the story Rhee felt like telling on that day.


Had it really happened, don’t you think that the Edison company wouldn’t have found a way to leak it to the prerss? After all, Edison lost a lot of money and cliients and opportunities to make BILLIONS of dollars by having their project shut down – about the same time that Rhee quit teaching forever.

It’s like the dog that DIDN’T bark in the night. If Rhee had made stupendous progress, a self-serving, self-promoting person like Michelle Rhee would have arranged to have it publicized to the skies. It’s not in ANY of the newspapers that Rhee claimed it was published in. (Another lie!)

And when you take a slightly closer look at the data from those 3 years at those dozen or schools, you do notice two very peculiar things about Rhee’s own school:

(1) A huge amount of attrition – about half of each cohort disappeared after 3 years — no other school had that. Where did those kids go? Why? I can only guess, but somebody does know;; those records exist somewhere, I bet.

(2) Many, many kids (we are talking 20-30%) of the kids in a number of schools, in particular Rhee’s school and grade level, scored so low that their scores weren’t even counted. What on earth? Those kids scores aren’t counted at all? Wow! Hmm … that might give an unscrupulous person, perhaps someone whose name rhymes with “Wheeee!”: if  you get half of your kids, especially those from the lowest-scoring half, to drop out (you’ll miss some, but no matter), the scores of the remaining ones will look great. And if you can somehow manage to arrange to make sure that the answer sheets of a number oof other kids are SOOOO BAAD that they get tossed out completely, why you could in fact probably get your scores up a LOT. (If the scores were normally distributed, and you could cut off the entire bottom 50%, plus cut off the bottom 20% of the remaining half, that leaves only 40% of the students, all ones at the top half, and your remaining group would be by definition all above the 60th percentile. An excellent lesson in “How to Lie With Statistics”, newly revised edition by Michelle Rhee.

Why does anybody listen to this serial liar? Why do supposedly intelligent billionaires give her so much money?

It’s not like anything she tried ever worked.

It’s not like she hasn’t got caught red-handed, so to speak, lying her ass off.

In the real sciences, when a scientist makes a claim based on lies, he/she has to give up his/her awards, positions, their name on papers and institutions, and suffers public embarrassment FOREVER. Because they lied. Some even have the go so far as to commit suicide in disgrace.

But not charlatans like Michelle Rhee and Michael Millken (the cheating, early-released felon who stole BILLIONS from the rest of us; which shows that if you want to get rich by crime, it’s best not to use guns and knives — spreadsheets and law degrees are much more effective, and earn you almost no time in jail at all…)

Yeah, MM is back — the cheating liar has served a mere 2 years of his 10-year sentence, and he is trying very hard to join these other lying,, thieving politicians and crooks in cashing in on the privatization bonanza/gold rush that’s going on right now in the field of education.

(Making a mistake, admitting it later after either being shown the error or finding it out yourself, and then changing your mind and actions, as most real scientists do, are fine. Arguing and debating the results, great. But lying and covering up evidence are about the two worst things a scientist can do.

(Another aside: Unfortunately for us, those are precisely the problems with medicine and drug treatments today. Pharmaceutical companies are HUGE businesses today; their products have revuolutionized life today (kids don’t get measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whooping cough, scarlet fever, smallpox, and/or hepatitis the way my family did before about 1960), but we know for a fact that they do NOT publish the results of negative trials and tests. (They aren’t the only ones doing this. The Alternative Medicine section of NIH essentially does the same thing: lots and lots of studies on acupuncture, herbs, crystals, aromatherapy etc are started, but after 10 years and umpteen thousands of dollars later, nothing is published as to results? Not a word? How come? One could certainly be forgiven for becoming a bit cynical and concluding that the results were so abysmal (either the alternative medical route was worse than the regular medical course or the placebo, or else there were no differences at all?)

And our Dear Leader Kaya Henderson? Michelle Rhee’s acolyte all these years, backing her up all that time, never calling her out on her serial fabrications of evidence. And who was Michelle Rhee’s advocate and creator? None other than Joel Klein, who has been dismantling NYC public schools for about a decade — though he had never, ever taught a class in his life and had no experience running any individual school.

Klein now works for Rupert Murdoch, if you hadn’t heard.

But here’s the kicker: what was the result of the Edison/Tesseract experiment in privatisation in Baltimore:

Simple: No better results but the privatized schools cost quite a bit more.

What has been the results of study after study of charter schools and merit pay and paying students to do well, and so on?

Results are about the same and often worse, when dealing with average kids. The ones that appear at first to do better (eg KIPP) do serious winnowing of their low-performing students.

Does that negative result stop anything?


Boys and girls, this is the true zombie or vampire of our day: The idea that our public schools should be given over to private corporations, and re-segregated again by race and income and so on, while those who stand to profit from this move engage the best PR agents and think tanks to learn how to pretend that they are doing the exact opposite.

Just like the Confederates kept claiming they were fighting for ‘freedom’.

What Teachers Need To Do — or, rather, What Traitors Have Led the DC Teachers

I would like to commend Diane Ravitch on an excellent post on why teachers in Philadelphia need to organize and go on strike. She refers to a local Philly opinion piece: a  column that explains in detail why they should do that.

The big question then becomes HOW do you do that. Hopefully the Philly teachers have gotten rid of any corrupt, sellout union leaders like we’ve been plagued with here in DC. That’s what the teachers in Chicago had to do in order to organize the strike that took place there.

I say that concerning DC because, of our last two teacher union presidents of my local, WTULocal6,

(1) even though she sometimes talked a good game, Barbara Bullock confessed to stealing somewhere near five million dollars from US TEACHERS right from under our noses, partly by verbally abusing anybody who crossed her in any way. I saw her do it, and I’m sure she also browbeat Esther Hankerson, who was my colleague at Francis and at Deal JHS and was #2 in the WTU leadership under BB…  Bullock was only sentenced to a few years in jail, and is now free. I’d be surprised if even 10% of the stolen money was ever recovered.

Funny how embezzlers and corporate thieves get off easy, especially in comparison with those caught with certain drugs…. Think of the Enron thieves and Michael Milken (he’s out!) and then read the book by Michelle Alexander and you’ll see how the ‘War on Drugs’ is essentially acting like the Jim Crow laws (read “Slavery by Another Name”).

I regret now that,  like many others, I did not notice BB’s corruption, and I also regret not making a public, principled protest when I found how she was maneuvering not to have monthly membership meetings — ones that might have helped hold her to account. I sat on labor-management contract negotiation committees as a rank-and-file presence during the arduous process of hammering out a new contract between the Board of Education and Superintendent of schools (and their lawyers and the city council and mayor as well) on the one hand, and the Washington Teachers’ Union on the other, around 2000-1.


You may ask, how did I not notice she was stealing? Very simple: I don’t follow women’s fashion at all — I try my best not to look at my wife’s fashion magazines (except for some of the really cute models, to be honest) and don’t pay any attention to labels. I get my clothes from Costco, Filene’s, sales, discount catalogs like Sierra Trading Post, and whatever my family members get me. The other two teachers and I were by far the worst-drerssed people in the rooms whenever we had negotiations — you know that all of the lawyers and bureaucrats negotiating for the Board of Ed (few of whom had ever taught) were dressed to the nines every single day. Personally, I just thought that Bullock wore really ugly, loose-fitting clothes because she was overweight; I also just thought she really liked her to-me-unfashionable long wispy hair and pocketbooks that looked funny to me, too.


Later on, after BB was convicted and went to jail, I ran into the other two rank-and-file classroom teachers who were on the negotiating team with me that year and asked them if they had any inkling of the monies that BB was stealing. We all had the same reaction. None of us any idea that all that ugly stuff was worth all that money. Stupid me, I had no idea she had not one but many, many expensive, wigs — all of them ugly (in our opinions). I saw a whole bunch of white-elephant figurines on her desk once, and made a comment that those looked like Republican symbols. Apparently that’s her college sorority’s symbol. (Why does anybody need dozens of them, all different?)

But that’s apparently what she and her crony Henderson spent their ill-gotten cash on, that they stole from me and my colleagues: kitchy tchotchkes.


We definitely agreed that she was an amazingly good negotiator. But despite that, Barbara Bullock’s betrayal make all teachers look stupid and criminal.

In my opinion, the fact that BB and her closest associates were so publicly corrupt, (convictions and confessions, not just allegations, remember) had a HUGE negative effect, nationally.

That betrayal demoralized teachers and friends of labor everywhere. It also emboldened the billionaires, Wall Street crooks like Milken, the Koch Brothers, Joel Klein, Bill Gates, the Amway family, hedge-fund traders,  right-wingers and religious fundies and assorted eduShysters who want to divert funding for public education for the poor into their own bank accounts, even though they say the exact opposite.

It’s the results that count.

Their first attack is on the teachers, and boy have they been busy at it for the past 6-7 years. And you know something — the same group of edudeformers are the same group that invented the PLATINUM parachute for themselves and the sub-minimum-wage job with no benefits, difficult-to-impossible transportation at crazy hours, no job security at all, and the balloon mortgage on your house that you put all your savings into. They are also the ones that brought you the fact that after all those years in college and/or grad school, you’re still an unpaid intern working part-time at a bunch of demeaning jobs, and you can’t pay off all those student loans, and if you declare bankruptcy, the one debt you can NEVER write off even a portion of, is your student loan. Even though it those loans were often supposedly guaranteed by the gummint. (You didn’t read all the fine print! ) And brought us banks that failed and economies that have huge fractions of unemployed, all around the world. While the One-tenth of one percent is more wealthy than any ruling class any time, any where, in history.

In places like Pakistan and other third-world countries, workers are  burned alive or otherwise killed. Here in the US, more and more workers long for the good old days when they only had to work 40 hours a week, had health and other benefits, paid vacations, a decent, fully-funded pension plan, and the right to have elections for their own union representation who could speak for them if case they had a disagreement with their boss. For many of us, those things, like the weekend, are things of the past. If you only want to work 40 hours a week and expect overtime for anything more than that, you’re a ‘moocher’. If you want a guaranteed pension and a freely-elected local union and paid health care, you’re a “lazy union thug”.

But if you are a billionaire who never worked a day of actual hard labor in your life, who simply managed to find all the loopholes to squeeze large amounts of money from every working person out there because you run a near-monopoly or have figured out how to disassemble companies and fire workers and dispossess homeowners to rake obscene profits, well, then you’re an outstanding visionary. Who can tell the teachers what to do, in detail.

 (2) And then remember her successor, George Parker? Once he lost the following local union election, he literally went over to the enemy!

Just think of it–the person who during election campaigns claimed that he would defend the interests of teachers, students and parents, actually went to work for Michelle Rhee’s astroturf-funded organization, RheeFirst. Sorry, “Students First”, which is doing everything it can to break teacher unions, degrade teaching into a part-time, non-professional job in every low-income public school whose sole responsibility is to read from a script, give out and collect standardized tests every single week that were written by other low-paid temps, and — don’t forget — work miracles on a 95-hour workweek with no benefits. Yeah, our past union president went to work for arguably the most anti-public-sector “Edu-DEform” organization out there – funded by the worst of the worst billionaires.

 When the last contract came up for a vote, it was very difficult for teachers to see how much it differed from previous contracts. In the past, we got to see the old contract printed with the parts that were changing being very carefully annotated, which is as it should be. Contract language that was being retained would be in an ordinary font. Sentences, words, letters and paragraphs that were being deleted were written like this with crossouts. New contract language was in bold-face.

However, this time, none of that clarity. Teachers got a copy of the new contract, and only someone who had as much undivided time as a lawyer could possibly go over the two contracts line by line to see what we teachers had given up. Time, of course, is one of the things that a teacher does NOT have.  Even I, a retired teacher, didn’t have time to analyze the changes in the short amount of time we had.

This last WTU-DCPS contract, which for the first time brought in special, poisoned bonuses that were paid for by some billionaires for just a couple of years, at the same time that the schools were imiplementing – without any field testing whatsoevber – a radically new evaluation system largely based on mindless following of a single teaching model and a random-number generator called “Value Addicted”, was a real game-changer all over the nation.

Apparently Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, and George Parker colluded on this contract — and it really sucks. It was a real step backwards for the labor movement.

Benedict Arnold, traitor to the new American republic >200 years ago, George Parker, traitor to teachers much more recently.

 Philly teachers, I hope you are successful in organizing. Be aware that there are many, many folks all over the country who do not believe the stories being peddled by the billionaires and their paid mouthpieces like Michelle Rhee. If you organize well, you can win.

Good luck and timing wouldn’t hurt, either. I wish you the best.


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