On February 11th, 1973, thousands of educators rallied outside the prison where PFT president Frank Sullivan and chief negotiator John Ryan were being held for being in contempt of court.
By Sonny Richman and John Ryan
Retired PFT Members
With today's student actions and the strike in West Virginia, memories of the PFT's history are stirred.
February 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the month of the greatest example of professionalism, courage and responsible militancy by the membership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. They stood up to the most powerful mayor in the nation, his union-led educational team, the state and federal judiciary system – as well as opposition from editorial boards.
The PFT membership had already struck for almost the entire month of September, 1972. They went back to school to hear a fact-finding report--it was a disaster. The fact-finder declared that he could find anything he wanted to. Popular wisdom said that once members ended their strike, they would not go out again.
The membership proved this belief wrong by going on strike again on January 7, 1973. The mayor and his team pushed one court case after another. The Commonwealth Court declared the strike illegal and issued an injunction against all members. Despite this judicial threat, at the urging of PFT leadership, most teachers did not return to work. Arrests were made on the picket lines.
Trials were held for contempt of court. Members were losing money due to withheld salaries. The mayor's police force arrested, booked and jailed educators - sometimes more than a hundred at a single school.
The members continued the strike.
There has been a national call for students to participate in a 17-minute walkout on Wednesday, March 14th.
In a recent letter to all principals, the School District has stated that “should students choose to walk out, discipline should not be imposed.”
The letter suggested several steps educators should take in advance of any student action, including reviewing safety procedures with students before the day, and having them scan back into the building upon returning.
The Caucus of Working Educators supports any students who choose to take part in this action – and we thank the District for recognizing “student’s rights to self-expression and awareness of social issues.”
If conversations about this day have not yet started at your school, talk with your colleagues and fellow administrators now about what plan makes sense for your building.
The District is asking you to get organized so your students have a safe and effective walkout experience!
UPDATE: After 4 days shutting down the entire state, WV educators won a 5% pay increase, 3% increase for all state employees, plus no premium increases or benefit cuts to their healthcare.
By Diane Isser, Tilden Middle School
In a state where collective bargaining for public employees is illegal and public employees are barred from going on strike, West Virginia’s teachers and school employees have organized to protest the issues that plague public school teachers across the country: low wages, rising insurance costs, and poor working conditions. The Caucus of Working Educators stands in solidarity with these striking teachers.
With the Supreme Court’s decision in the upcoming Janus v. AFSCME case looming large, all workers should take a lesson from the West Virginia teachers who are showing the rest of the country what worker power can look like in even the most hostile climate.
Through bottom-up organizing, West Virginia teachers and school employees have built power across three different unions. In doing so, they have garnered popular support across the state by rightly asserting that what is good for teachers is good for students.
Thank you, West Virginia teachers, for giving us the hope we so sorely need right now.
For more background on how these educators got organized:
We are thrilled to share that this past December, a group of women came together and decided that we wanted to run for AFT delegates with the Caucus of Working Educators. We prioritized recruiting women of color -- they make up 50% of the slate -- and made the slate open to gender non-conforming candidates as well.
Most importantly, we chose to run for just half of the 100 slots, making it possible for candidates from both slates to attend. We are all committed to learning more about our union, and we want to learn alongside our current leadership!
Here are just a few of our candidates -- your own coworkers, neighbors, and PFT family! As the tagline says, "We are capable, collaborative AND committed to the union." Please support them in their wish to attend the AFT Conventions this summer and next!
Ballots are already in the mail to homes- make sure to mail yours back by February 22nd!
Meet more of the inspiring candidates on our slate below:Read more
Remember to wear your Black Lives Matter t-shirts and buttons this week! Pick a day - starting tomorrow - that works for your building to wear and take a group picture.
- Take selfies and group shots in your t-shirts and buttons
- Post them on social media using #BLMPhlEd and #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool
- Email: email@example.com and we'll share it.
Philadelphia Eagle Malcolm Jenkins speaking on a panel during the 2017 Black Lives Matter Week Of Action. Jenkins is of one of many NFL players who have taken a political stand both on and off the field in recent years.
This year’s Black Lives Matter Week of Action (February 5-10, 2018) takes place the week following Super Bowl 52, the culminating moment of an NFL season which featured powerful, high-profile displays of activism. While the initial purpose of the #TakeAKnee movement was muddied after Donald Trump’s incendiary remarks, it’s important to consider the initial goal of Colin Kaepernick’s action: to call attention to the persistent injustices faced by Black people in the United States. It is shocking to consider that what provoked so much discussion in September and October has been nearly eliminated from the popular conversation at the end of this NFL season.
The articles and lesson plans below contain a variety of approaches to covering activism in sports, from a deep dive into responses to NFL protests to a consideration of their place in the history of sports activism to an analysis of the rights of students and teachers to protest to an inquiry into why the energy around this activism dwindled towards the end of the season.Read more
During undergrad, I was taught that teachers should be blank slates when it came to any political issue. I was taught teachers should never attempt to influence students or touch on what some would consider sensitive issues. For the first few years of my teaching, I went along with this philosophy. When students asked me questions, I would say, “develop your own thoughts.” I would tell them it wasn’t my place to share my opinion.
Then, I began teaching at a school in Dekalb County, right outside of Atlanta.
The student population at this school is about 60% African-American and 40% immigrant and refugee. When I started teaching there, I realized for my students, much like myself, everything was political. When your body is at risk, everything from the way we fund and teach in schools to who we elect as president is political. I couldn’t and wouldn’t stand in front of my students and refuse to take a stance on issues that mattered to their bodies. When one student’s mother was deported, she rightfully went into a tailspin. Had I stood in the front of the room and said I didn’t have an opinion on immigration, I could have lost her forever.
I still agree students should develop their own opinions, but I no longer believe I should keep my own a secret.Read more
The Black Lives Matter Week of Action (#BLMPhlED #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool) - this year, taking hold at the national level - is grounded in a larger movement for social change. This work does not only happen in schools -- it relies on organizations and individuals of all kinds to build and sustain grassroots power as we work for racial and economic justice.
Who else can get involved?
For the second year in a row, organizations are signing a statement of support of the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in our schools.
In addition, many are signing on to co-organize and cosponsor work and events before, during, and beyond the week. These include an opening panel with LGBTQ youth of color at the Penn LGBTQ Center; an open conversation on domestic violence and sexual assault with the Philadelphia Home and School Council, Mazzoni Center, and the Philadelphia Writing Project; and a roundtable on colorism at the Community College of Philadelphia.
This is the work that truly makes a Week of Action in our schools possible!
Are you part of an organization that would like to sign on to support the week or do you have ideas about how the week can support your own organization's work? Click here to add your organization to the list, and email BLMPhlED@gmail.com with any questions.
Academics and Institutions of Higher Education
Similar to last year, scholars, faculty, and staff in institutions of higher education are circulating a letter of support for the week of action, beginning Monday, January 15. In addition to signing a statement of support, higher-education educators are also incorporating the 13 BLM guiding principles in their courses Feb 5-10 and participating in events on their campuses.
The efforts to support student leadership, expanded dialogue, and deepen community connections are highlighted during the week but intended to continue long outside of the week of action. Students, faculty, and community members are partnering to organize ways to support and strategize ongoing racial justice and equity in their local universities and schools.
Want to sign the statement of support? Click here to add your name.
Just a few of the fabulous PFT members who are a part of the Group of 50 -- support them in their journey by voting for them in February!
The AFT National Convention is happening in Pittsburgh this July -- and WE want to send you there!
In case you didn’t know, our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, has its National Convention every two years. The event is the single biggest learning opportunity in our union, jam-packed with inspiring speakers, informative panels, meetings for different bargaining units and interest groups, and floor votes on a variety of relevant topics, such as resolutions supporting political movements or changes in AFT policy.
How do you get a spot? Any PFT member can run to be a delegate to the convention! Unfortunately, very few members even know the event even exists, much less how to get there. This year, the Caucus wants to see that change.
To those ends, we are making an open call for female members of the PFT to join our "Group of 50" and run as delegates to both the AFT National Convention in 2018 and AFT-PA in 2019.Read more
Just a few of the educators who participated in last year's BLM week -- here at Kensington CAPA High School.
“Your silence will not protect you.” - Audre Lorde
As 2018 begins, our schools continue to manifest structural inequality created by racial injustices at all levels of the education system. From the impact of zero tolerance policies that criminalize Black and Brown students and the exclusion of voices of people of color from curriculum, to the persistent loss of teachers of color from urban schools, the movement for Black Lives has never mattered more in the fight for the schools our students deserve.
We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise. - #BlackLivesMatter
The Racial Justice Committee of the Caucus of Working Educators, and organizations across Philadelphia, including UrbED, PhillyCAM, the Philadelphia Writing Project, the Philadelphia Home and School Association, Parents United for Public Education, and the Teacher Action Group - are organizing the second annual week highlighting the 13 guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement in order to organize for racial and economic justice required to shift the inequalities impacting the lives of students, families, and educators working in Philadelphia’s public schools. In 2018, the week of action is nationwide, with educators and organizations participating in schools and cities across the country.
This year, we are taking our work to the next level, making national and local demands in order to end structural racism in our school systems.
During the week and beyond, we will organize around three main local demands, which are tied to demands on a national level: ending zero tolerance policies, requiring anti-racism training for all Philadelphia educators, and hiring and retaining of teachers of color in Philadelphia’s public schools.