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Striking Against Privatization and Charter Schools in Puerto Rico, with Mercedes Martinez and Liza Fournier

Puerto Rico’s teachers are fighting a bill that would turn all their schools into charters, by any means necessary. While teacher strikes are roiling the mainland United States, teachers in Puerto Rico have gotten comparatively little public attention. But they too have struck for their public schools–first underfunded, then left damaged after the hurricane, now on the verge of being turned over to private companies. I spoke with two Puerto Rican teacher unionists at this past weekend’s Labor Notes conference about their struggle first to get their schools up and running again, and then to save them from privatization.

LF: Right after the hurricane…I work in a school. I am an active teacher. We went back a week after the hurricane. Schools were completely damaged by trees, trash, structures had fallen down. So, the teachers were the first ones who got at school. We were the ones with the machetes, cleaning the schools, taking out all the garbage, trying to get schools fixed as soon as possible to bring students back. But, guess what? They didn’t let us open the schools. My school was ready to be open like two weeks after the hurricane, but we opened in November. So, my students were two and a half months without going to school. Not because we weren’t ready or it was our fault. It was because they didn’t let us open. Mainly, the teachers and organizations and the community were the ones who really cleaned the schools to reopen.
MM: After the hurricane, teachers, as Liza said, were the ones that reconditioned the schools. A lot of women. 85% of the teachers are female in our country, a lot of mothers. They were ready to receive their children. Every psychologist knows, they will tell you, after a disaster like the one we had, a category five hurricane, you need to come to some type of normalcy again and the Department of Education was denying our children their right to an education.
It is very important that after the hurricane happened, even though the schools were ready, they denied the schools to open, but school communities that had no light, that had no water, that had no communication organized themselves. There were multiple protests in our country. Five or six schools per day, the Teachers Federation was in a lot of communities organizing the parents and requesting the Secretary of Education to open the schools.
When she denied that after the protests, we performed a civil disobedience activity in her office. 21 of us got arrested for requesting her to open the schools of our country. People in Puerto Rico were with us. After that, she still denied the schools to be opened, so we took her to court. When we started the court case, she had 300 schools – that was in November – that were still closed. For the first hearing, when the judge ordered her to tell us why the schools were still closed, when we went to the first hearing, she had already opened 260 schools, leaving only 40 closed, so the protests, the civil disobedience, the pickets in front of her office, plus the court case stopped her from implementing the agenda that she had.
She said that she was going to shut down 200 schools during the hurricane and the community organization, plus all the activities that I mentioned, stopped her from doing that, from converting Puerto Rico into the New Orleans of the decade.

Up at Truthout

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Striking against austerity and the Right, with Jane McAlevey


West Virginia’s teachers proved that supermajority strikes can even beat a trifecta-red government, if they bring their community along, argues Jane McAlevey, organizer and author. Teachers, nurses, and other public sector workers, far from being the also-rans of the labor movement, have the power to challenge austerity and to organize their communities. McAlevey explains the difference between organizing and mobilizing, why she’s hopeful about the March For Our Lives and the Poor People’s Campaign, and what to expect from the Supreme Court’s forthcoming Janus decision.

What is interesting to me is that mostly men in our movement over the last 25 years have had a consistent line that the private sector matters more than the public sector and that the private sector is the most important place that we have to do our work. Like, if we are going to re-build the labor movement, it has to happen in the private sector and not until we get the private sector numbers back up to something close to the public-sector numbers can we win again. I have taken a decidedly fairly public different position, which is one sector does not matter more than the other and, in fact, where I have been evolving to lately is that if anything the public sector matters more. Not only because it is where we still have, until Janus, a majority of the membership of the labor movement.
But, it is actually also, I argue that it is the mission-driven, largely female, often people of color – certainly not in West Virginia, but elsewhere – who are the people suffering the consequences of austerity and who have the capacity to fight back because of those incredibly deep structural relationships they have with either their patients in the healthcare sector or their clients in the home care part of the healthcare sector. People who they serve and take care of or the students and the parents and the families in the case of education workers. Austerity is going after them. The austerity front is around healthcare and education. That is where massive cutbacks are happening.

Everywhere in the world, despite a multi-million dollar attempt, from Waiting for Superman on, to decimate the image of teachers. Even though the pages of The New York Times or any other mainstream liberal media outlet occasionally will agree, ordinary parents in strike after strike choose to stand with their teachers. Students stand with their teachers. No matter how many millions of dollars they try and use to degrade and attack and insult every educator–they haven’t moved on nurses yet, but as I am studying the attack on teachers, it is like it doesn’t matter how much money they waste, the relationship that is forged every day organically between mission-driven workers, workers who care deeply about their work, mostly female in the healthcare and education sector, is like an inseparable bond. That is why it becomes organizing and not just mobilizing, because they are bringing hundreds of thousands more people into the struggle and helping them understand who is to blame for the pain in their lives.

Up at The Progressive
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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Disruptive, adaptive, and fun: Interview at ThinkProgress

I talked with Jason Linkins at ThinkProgress about protests and how they happen, the March For Our Lives, how I wish I had a formula but I don’t and how the best advice I can give is to adults, to not be the person who tells young people that they can’t change the world.

[L]ast week, when they had the school walk-out, if you look at the schools that had the walk-outs, they’re all over the country. They’re in affluent suburban districts but they’re also in the city — they’re in Baltimore and Miami and New York and Chicago. People from radically different backgrounds are connecting to what’s going on here — they’re saying, “I should not have to worry about this shit as a teenager.” And “this shit” can be a lot of things: they’re protesting a lack of gun control, but in doing that, they’re protesting a non-functional democracy where the adults in the room — big old air quotes around “adults in the room” — are not doing what they should do. They’re not doing much of anything. They’re sitting on their asses or they’re trying to arm teachers. They’re either doing nothing or they’re doing things that are actively horrifying and harmful.

Those are the options: the way things are now, or actively horrifying. And you see masses of teenagers saying, “No, these two options are terrible and we refuse them both.”

Read the rest at ThinkProgress.

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“The time for this issue has come.” Keith Ellison on Medicare for All and more.


On March 9 and 10, the Congressional Progressive Caucus gathered for its strategy summit in Baltimore, MD. Members of the caucus and allies from left-leaning organizations and European left parties gathered to talk policy and power for the short, medium and long term. At the conference, I spoke with Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota about the new push for Medicare for All, how to talk about racism and economic justice, and why it might be time to think about a maximum wage.

Most of us talk about racism from a very capitalistic standpoint. And what I mean by that is racism is what working class white people do to working class black people.
What if you looked at racism another way? Racism is what the big bosses use to manipulate everybody against each other. That’s another way of looking at it. Same kind of thing. But what does it profit a working-class white person in the antebellum South to be for slavery? That’s keeping you in poverty. But you say, you’re white. We’ll let you walk around in poverty, they’ve got to stay here. It’s the classic pitting of the have-nots against the have-very-littles. And this is the way they do it.
My view is that we’ve got to engage in real conversations with each other. We’ve got to ask who benefits from all this racism. Who loses–all of us! Because Florida purged black voters in the year 2000, the whole country got George W. Bush, which led us into a war with absolutely no justification and the whole country got a prescription drug benefit that enriched big pharma, this happened to everyone of every color. Racism helps elites control everybody else. Therefore our fight has to be solidarity.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Cleaning house, winning power with Ady Barkan

Ady Barkan became a household name when he was spotted over and over again at protests against healthcare cuts in Washington during the fight for the Affordable Care Act and then against the Republican tax cut bill—which included cuts to healthcare programs. For Barkan, a longtime organizer diagnosed in 2016 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the fight for healthcare had become very personal. We sat down last week in Baltimore at the Congressional Progressive Caucus strategy summit, where Barkan, who masterminded the Fed Up campaign as well as being central to the healthcare struggle, was being honored with the Tim Carpenter Advocate of the Year award.

As to resistance, I think it has proven more effective than I or I think many people thought possible. Chuck Schumer and the like were all ready to capitulate on everything until “What the f**k, Chuck?” protests started popping up in Park Slope. And we actually were able to gum up the works to block a bunch–I mean, ultimately, he has really passed, enacted only one significant piece of legislation. Which is not terrible for a unified government.
I don’t think they are going to get anything else. They don’t have any good reconciliation instructions and it is an election year. We will see about this bank lobbyist Dodd-Frank roll back where the Democrats are being traitors, which brings me to the third point, which is that we have a lot of house cleaning to do.
The Dems are still way too in the pocket of Wall Street. Elizabeth Warren’s speech on the Senate floor was really fantastic. It is just so embarrassing and infuriating to see the DCCC endorse a union buster in Houston and all these Dems support rolling back Dodd-Frank. It is like, who among the American people are clamouring for reducing the regulations on banks? It is crazy.

Up at The Progressive
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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.