The New Unionism and the Very Old
National Education Association President Bob Chase's advocacy of a new unionism, in which organized teachers will join administrators in promoting educational reform, has provoked widespread dissension within the ranks. ( "Teacher vs. Teacher? Nonsense," Oct. 22, 1997.) His initial address on the subject, at the National Press Club in Washington in February of last year, was met, for example, with unveiled hostility from urban union leaders in Wisconsin. In a joint letter, officers of NEA locals in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, and Green Bay attacked his speech as "capitulation to the agenda of the enemies of public education."
At the union's national convention in July, Mr. Chase did manage to win the Representative Assembly's support for the concept of establishing programs in which teachers assist and review their colleagues, but this initiative, which obligates no action on the part of locals, nonetheless provoked considerable opposition. Even the progressive Peace and Justice Caucus has been divided on the matter of the new unionism. In the Summer 1997 issue of its publication, one member, echoing the disaffected Wisconsin leaders, wrote that Bob Chase was telling them to "climb into bed with the 'boss'" and accused the NEA president of a "collaborationist approach" that "may bring him plaudits from right-wing, anti-labor groups, but it will neither help members, nor improve education."
Although we disagree with the stance of Mr. Chase's opponents, we do not consider their concerns groundless. By maintaining that the purpose of organized teachers is to focus on bread-and-butter issues, they draw on a long tradition of teacher activism that rightly has viewed with skepticism the practices of many administrators, school board members, and business interests, as well as an ideology of professionalism that calls on teachers to be impecunious and apolitical for the...
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