Texas Teachers’ convention celebrates voucher victory, calls out rigged political and economic system
via Texas AFT

McALLEN, Texas—The Texas American Federation of Teachers Convention took place here on June 23 and 24. The opening panel focused on the history of AFT, the very beginning of the union, and how it was first founded and organized in Texas.

Emceed by Texas AFT President Zeph Capo, the panel included past Texas AFT President John Cole, former state AFL-CIO head Becky Moeller, and Dwight Harris, an AFT leader from Victoria. When they first started organizing, these veterans said, it was about creating a union for teachers and school workers that served the same purpose as other unions: fight for their rights and improve working conditions.

But there were other unique challenges faced by these Texas teachers. Perhaps the biggest: They worked in segregated schools. “Separate and unequal schooling systems” for African Americans, Latinos, and whites were the norm. Harris said the current drive for vouchers and charter schools is an “attempt at resegregation.” The privatization of education is about re-establishing a separate and unequal system for African Americans, Latinos, and poor and working-class children.

Cole said joining and organizing a union is “casting your lot with the working and poor people of the world.” Without unions, he argued, workers and poor people don’t have a voice. “Public school teacher unions,” he said, “don’t just fight for their members; they also fight for public schools and for the children of the poor and the working class to get a quality education.”

Capo, meanwhile, in his State of the Union Address, discussed the last meeting of the Texas legislatures and described it as a “lost session,” as the Republican-dominated body failed to follow the Texas AFT Respect Agenda, which included a $10,000 raise for teachers and a 15% across the board raise for support staff.

It also would have ended overemphasis on standardized testing; halted charter school expansion; made class sizes more manageable; hired more support staff, nurses, and mental health professionals; reformed gun reform laws; and more. None of these were passed.

However, Capo said there was at least one positive thing about the session. “Due to the efforts of our union and members making phone calls and writing letters to state legislators, Texas AFT has so far defeated the Abbott-led attempts at passing a school voucher program.” He and other leaders spoke proudly about the fact that Texas media has dubbed Texas AFT “the most aggressive of the four teacher groups.”

In her keynote address, AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus congratulated members on the voucher win. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been calling special sessions to get vouchers passed, so far to no avail. DeJesus reminded members of how impressive and powerful their activist work is. She had all the unionists in the crowd stand up and put their imaginary “armor” on to go out and get ready for even more “battle.”

Delegates passed several resolutions on the second day, including one titled: “Removing Big Money from Politics,” “An Economic System that Serves the Needs of the People and the Planet,” and “An Economic Bill of Rights.”

The “Remove Big Money From Politics” resolution targeted corporations, who “have the power to buy off elections by donating exorbitant amounts of money to candidates who serve their interests.” It said that corporate America is seeking to “control school boards, state legislatures, and the federal government” with the goal of privatizing parts of the public sector which it might find profitable.

It dedicated the AFT to pushing for laws to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and called for all elections to be publicly funded, “so that no wealthy corporations or donors can buy office.”

The second major resolution, on the economy, said that capitalism in the U.S. “puts profits before the needs of the people and the planet,” worsening climate change and increasing poverty, racism, sexism, and the danger of war. Delegates decided that their union “will advocate for an economic system that is based on serving the needs of the people and the planet before profit-making.”

The resolution calling for an Economic Bill of Rights put the union on record demanding rights to a living wage and a job, housing, education, full health care, a clean environment, and a secure retirement.

Other resolutions that passed included a demand for a $25-an-hour minimum wage for support and community college staff; academic freedom and accessible education; reasonable workloads for custodial workers, bus drivers, and paraprofessionals; and reforming Social Security to provide full access and equity for all educational employees.

Union conventions bring labor activists together so they can gather strength and energy from other workers just like them. The Texas AFT Convention did that job, further inspiring Texas education workers to organize and fight even harder for the rights of teachers, students, and school employees—and to keep public schools public.

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Stu Becker
Stu Becker

Stu Becker is an activist and organizer in Dallas, Texas. He is a high school social studies teacher, and a member and organizer in the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.