The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Detroit Teachers Union President Removed by Board

Aug 17, 2015

Steve Conn, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, was removed from his position and expelled from the union by its executive committee. It is a blow against the teachers, and another attack on the public schools in Detroit – this time from within the teachers’ union itself.

Conn, a longtime activist in the district, was narrowly elected as president just this past January. He beat out a candidate endorsed by the outgoing president, Keith Johnson. Johnson had never mobilized teachers and students to resist attacks. He had presided over huge cuts to teachers’ pay, layoffs, and school closings, all with very little protest.

The State of Michigan took over the Detroit Public Schools in the late 1990s. In two stretches of state control, the district has lost more than 100,000 students. While the state controlled the purse strings, the district plunged 483 million dollars in debt.

More than 60 schools were closed, and most services in the schools were privatized. Over half the schools in the city are charters, with the vast majority of those being for-profits. Public school money has been drained into private, corporate hands, devastating the schools. All of this was accepted by the previous union administration.

Conn is someone who represented something very different for that majority of teachers who voted for him in January: a break with the policies of the past administration, not a continuation of them. As a teacher in the district, Conn had taken part in fights – and strikes – against these attacks in the past. These past fights had involved not only teachers but some high school students – who were outraged over what was happening to their education!

Conn was accused by the executive board of “misdeeds” like failing to hold or preside over enough union meetings, and failing to pay the local’s dues to the national American Federation of Teachers apparatus. A “trial” was “judged” by those same bureaucrats who were prosecuting him! These other members of the executive board are opposed to mobilizing a fight against state-led attacks. This was the first time in DFT history that such a trial was carried out.

Conn is asking for support from the teachers at the next union meeting on September 10. Teachers must vote on the executive board’s actions, and can overturn the removal with a two-thirds vote.

Whatever Conn did or didn’t do, he was not removed from office because of meetings that weren’t held or even dues that weren’t paid. He was removed BECAUSE of the fight he represented.

As such, Conn’s removal is a real attack on EVERY militant, everyone who wants to make a fight against these attacks on education and the quality of life for working people – in Detroit and beyond. It’s in all workers’ interest to turn back this attack.