Why a former teacher union president goes over to the dark side


The LA Times reports that AJ Duffy, who just this spring stepped down as President of the second largest teachers union in the US, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), is opening his own charter school, which will use all of the union-busting techniques UTLA has long opposed. LA’s political establishment, most notably the former UTLA staffer who is now Mayor,  Antonio Villaraigosa, is, no doubt, chortling in glee at this act of treachery.
I just returned from UTLA’s annual Leader Conference, where I spoke about the nature of the life-and-death struggle in which teachers unions are engaged. One of the points I made was that time is running out for union members to take ownership of their unions and to convert the out-dated “service model” or business unionism to a form of union that is more like social movements. Another point I made is that the unions face tremendously conservatizing forces and that union democracy – member pushback – is the most powerful countervailing tendency.
AJ Duffy’s flip to the forces of evil should be no surprise to anyone who understands the tremendous power of the propaganda machine that has been put in place by the “Billionaire Boys Club.”  Yet, it’s a disappointment to see that someone who was trusted with safeguarding public education from privatization, keeping it a “public good” that is overseen and funded by the public, would, so easily, desert his former comrades.  Shame on you AJ Duffy!

I hope UTLA members take this as a reminder that union leaders are only as strong and as courageous as the members who force them to be so.  Don’t mourn about AJ Duffy. Go back to your chapters and organize!

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3 comments on “Why a former teacher union president goes over to the dark side
  1. Mike Hirsch says:

    Lois is right re: Duffy

    My initial reaction to Lois’s posting was that she painted too dark a picture of Duffy and that charter schools were not by nature the “dark side” as long as they were teacher- and parent-run and come with substantial union protections. (A precious and scattered few do.) Then I read the comprehensive LA Times piece she cites, a companion piece in LA’s Daily Breeze and on-line comments from Duffy’s UTLA successor. Lois nailed the story! Duffy wants to launch his Apple Academy Charter Schools project as a series of “revolutionary” schools that “will be teacher-led and free from bureaucratic rules,” as he told the press. But Duffy won’t be a first among equals in this revolution. He’ll be the boss. And a union contract tailored to a particular school doesn’t guarantee a good contract unless the teachers are united, work collaboratively and are not simply card signers. Add the fact that, as the Breeze writes, “teachers who receive poor evaluations could be fired for performance and the dismissal process would take no more than 20 days,” and Duffy’s initiative carries more the stench of a star chamber proceeding than it does a fresh due process. Even the right to earn some form of tenure is gratuitous when tenure is subject to capricious evaluation standards, as this project seems to be. Duffy’s board also includes such rogues as former Los Angeles United School District school board President Caprice Young, once chief of the California Charter School Association, and Ref Rodriguez, founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities Charter Schools. So Lois is right to say “Duffy, we hardly knew ye” and that the only check on even the best union leaders is an active and mobilized membership.

  2. Lois Weiner says:

    Charter schools

    The message that members have to take back their unions is one that we need to spread. Still, let’s deal with the question of charter schools. Are they neutral, as Mike Hirsch suggests? Randi Weingarten, AFT prez, now admits that she was wrong to view charter schools this way, encouraging creation of “good” charter schools that would be unionized, even having union-sponsored schools. Her change of mind is important, but too long in coming. Much harm has been done. The drive to create charter schools can’t be separated from the rest of the neoliberal project, which is to blow up “the one best system,” the system of mass public education created in the 19th century, and replace it with a totally fragmented, privatized arrangement, held together with the glue of standardized tests to measure everything. Sadly, Diane Ravitch gets this much better than the AFT and NEA. She’s substituted for the leadership we should have been getting from the unions.

    • Mike Hirsch says:

      Last point

      The actual thrust of charter schools is exactly as Lois says: it’s been, with vouchers, the sharpest point in the neoliberal attack in education to rip up and privatize the common school and with it one of the nation’s last great democratic social institutions. The only thing to be said for charters–and I mean the only thing– is that they offers an alternative to “let the state do it.” There’s nothing wrong–and everything right–in supporting parent-teacher collaboration in forming alternative schools. You don’t have to look further than pre-Brown decision days to see that black education in the South depended on teacher and community collaboration at the school level at a time when segregated public education for black kids meant no education at all. Separate was not equal, but black teachers fought like tigers for their kids. As things stand today, charters are a horror. They replace the state (except as a funding source) with corporate sensibilities, direct business investment interests and student cherry picking. In practice they are thoroughly reactionary institutions, and Duffy is either brain dead or corrupted in persuing his plans. My only point–and I would hope Lois agrees–is that a better society would offer one, two, many mass education options, including direct workers control over education. On paper, that could have been charters, before the wolves got ahold of the idea. All we can do now is cap charter growth; demand they recruit and retain and service exactly the same students community schools are required to serve–English language learners, children with disabilities, etc–fully fund public schools; and organize the hell out of the charters. That last alone might be enough to drive the Wall Street types away from kids and back into their lairs. Unionization in itself could take the most important advantage away from charter operators–especially the for-profit operators–their ability to walk over nonunion faculty.

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