Teachers strike blunts school board's 'blame the teacher' drive

(From Detroit Workers Voice #24, September 10, 1999,
published by the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group--
also see article on East Timor)

. On Sept. 8, a meeting of Detroit teachers voted to return work, thus ending the eight-day strike of 8,000 teachers. A mail-in ballot on the new tentative contract will, however, not be concluded until late September. By striking in the face of anti-strike legislation and the opposition of the Detroit Federation of Teachers leadership, the teachers beat back some of the rotten measures the school board was trying to impose. They have shown something of the potential strength that working people can have when the rank and file develops its own initiative independent of the wishes of the frightened bureaucrats who run the AFL-CIO. But the premature ending of the strike meant it fell well short of winning what the teachers and students demanded and deserved, and the new contract includes some terrible provisions.

The bipartisan assault on the teachers

. The decision to strike horrified the bourgeois establishment, Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal, alike. This was the first challenge to the new anti-strike laws passed by the Michigan legislature in 1994. Under these laws, teachers face heavy fines for striking. During the strike, some Republicans in the state congress called for even harsher legislation, and there was even talk about ending collective bargaining rights for teachers altogether. Both local scab newspapers, the liberal Detroit Free Press and the conservative Detroit News, fumed at the teachers and called for even tougher anti-strike laws.

. The teachers also faced the bullying of the so-called "reform" school board. It was created at the behest of Republican governor Engler to replace an elected school board and, like its predecessor, is more interested in ramming austerity measures down the teachers throats than in improving education. But it was Democratic Detroit mayor Archer who was entrusted to hand-pick the new board, whose chairman is his deputy mayor, Freeman Hendrix. Typical of the Democrats, Archer posed as pro-worker by marching in the Labor Day parade -- even as his school board plotted against the teachers. Adding insult to injury, Archer's school board cried about how the strike was supposedly undermining improving education. But it is the board which opposed the teachers' demands for lower class sizes and better supplies and textbooks. It is the "reform" board, not the teachers, that is a roadblock to improving the public education system.

Treachery of the union leaders

. The teachers faced not only the hostility of the politicians, but the treachery of their own union leaders. At the August 30 meeting, DFT boss John Elliot tried to convince the membership not to strike, but to go back to work while negotiations continued. He tried to scare them with union lawyers describing the harsh penalties for striking. But the rank-and-file knew that once they went back to work they had no means to press their demands. It was also clear on August 30 that the union leadership had already sold out on some key issues. Some militant teachers spoke out against the cowardly leadership and rallied their coworkers. Virtually the entire meeting of 3,000 workers declared for a strike.

. On September 6, the DFT leaders reached a new agreement with the school board. John Elliot and co. said it was a lot better than the original offer, and urged its acceptance. But although the board had retreated on some terrible measures, the new contract proposal was still lacking.Nevertheless, feeling they had accomplished some of their goals, a large majority of the teachers present at the union meeting of September 8 voted to return to work. They were feeling the pressure of the imminent application of the anti-strike laws and of the knowledge that the DFT leadership wasn't interested in a serious fight.

The new contract proposal

. How did the teachers fare? On the positive side:

. But much of the rest of the contract ranges from token measures to provisions that open the way for squeezing the teachers:

The teachers were right to strike!

. The teachers strike, though cut short, put some spokes in the anti- teacher assault. Had the teachers meekly followed the DFT leadership, they would have been hit even harder. The Detroit teachers are the first to challenge the new anti-strike laws. Though it was to be only for a brief moment, the teachers showed that when the chains imposed by the bankrupt union bureaucrats are broken, a fight can be waged against the capitalists and their self-serving bureaucratic boards.

The iron fist behind the facade of Indonesian democracy:

Down with the Indonesian genocide against East Timor!

(Detroit Workers' Voice #24, Sept. 10, 1999)

. The Indonesian army and police, acting mainly through the local paramilitary gangs they have built up, are ravaging East Timor. After the results of the August 30 vote on independence were announced by the UN, the Indonesian forces escalated their attacks on the people of East Timor, burning, looting, and destroying the capital Dili, and killing many supporters of independence.So far, they have forced perhaps a quarter of the population of East Timor to flee. This is a genocidal attempt to wipe out East Timor as a separate national entity.

. On August 30, the people of East Timor had voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. Despite an atmosphere of terror created by the anti-independence gangs, including threats and shootings, nearly everyone went to the polls. 78.5% voted for independence (345,580 votes), thus once again standing up against tyranny. In 1975 they had won their independence from Portuguese colonialism, but Indonesia quickly invaded and annexed East Timor, slaughtering perhaps 200,000 people in the process. Since then, the Indonesian military has ruled with an iron fist. But the masses of East Timor have never bowed down, and they have waged their independence struggle through guerrilla armed actions and mass protests of all kinds.

. The big powers and the UN promised the East Timorese that if they ceased their armed struggle against Indonesia and agreed to a UN-supervised process, than they could peacefully obtain independence. But even if the UN and the Western powers do eventually intervene in East Timor to stop the Indonesian onslaught, East Timor will already have been devastated. This shows that the East Timorese people must build up their own struggle, and have no illusions about the motives of the Western powers, who backed Indonesian tyranny for decades.

The military reality in Indonesia

. The rape of East Timor is also exposing the democratic facade in Indonesia. Since the great massacres of 1965, in which the armed forces had murdered half a million Indonesian leftists, Indonesia had been a military dictatorship, headed by General Suharto. In May 1998, a mass upsurge toppled the ruthless Suharto dictatorship. Suharto fell, but much of the system of military tutelage remained, and the democratization was skin-deep. The new president was B.J.Habibie, long Suharto's right-hand man, and the military remained the power behind the throne.Still, the mass upsurge had shaken the Indonesian ruling class. It forced them, among other things, to take a new approach to East Timor. Habibie eventually conceded to a UN-supervised referendum on independence.

. But the armed forces continued to plot against the East Timorese people. They stepped up their organization of armed anti-independence groups in East Timor. The current massacre in East Timor is the result of their preparation. Even as Habibie talked about possible independence for East Timor, the Indonesian armed forces stepped up their arming of the paramilitary death-squads. Throughout the period leading up to the elections, the Indonesian military assisted the paramilitaries in a campaign to terrorize pro- independence forces. Whether or not every action of the paramilitaries has been sanctioned by the Habibie regime and the top military brass, it is clear that they bear the responsibility for them.

. Moreover, the Indonesian army may move against the present Indonesian government itself. It may revolt in order to prevent independence for East Timor, and it may utilize the present crisis over East Timor to reassert its power in Indonesia as a whole. For that matter, even according to the present laws, it will have a major voice in interpreting the results of recent general elections in Indonesia and deciding who emerges as the next president.

The hypocrisy of the West

. The U.S., Australia, and other Western powers are urging the Indonesian authorities to crack down on the anti-independence gangs and respect the outcome of the independence referendum.But for decades they stood behind Suharto's tyrannical and annexationist regime, Their historic support for the Indonesian military, and for its iron rule against the left, helped created the monster they now seek to reign in a bit. Moreover, they bear direct responsibility for the current bloodshed by their conceding to Indonesia the right to continue policing East Timor, and by their pressure on the East Timor independence groups to abandon militant struggle.

. The highest ideal for the Western powers is that the Indonesia should restore "order" in East Timor. This is why Habibie could present the declaration of martial law in East Timor, which grants more power to the very military which stands behind the present ethnic cleansing in East Timor, as a possible solution to the current slaughter. It is not power to the criminal aggressors, but only power to the people of East Timor, which would truly mark progress. Whether the UN and the big powers eventually intervene, they will have paved the way for the pillaging of East Timor.

. A good deal of Western motivation is the hope to maintain stability in Indonesia. They want the maximum neo-liberal exploitation without interruption by political crisis. They hoped that by conceding to the demand for East Timor's independence, they could prevent East Timor from adding to the sparks that threaten to ignite Indonesia at a time of massive discontent over the current economic hardships. But by continuing their support for the old Indonesian military, the Western powers have helped push Indonesia to the brink of a precipice. May all the institutions of the old military dictatorship that survived the downfall of Suharto burn up in a new flare-up of mass struggle.

Self-determination for East Timor!

Down with disguised military rule in Indonesia!

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