Michigan Education Association

Harvard labor expert encourages ESP members to fight privatization

MEA ESP members Lasinda Long and John Smith discuss the privatization threat they faced in their Hanover-Horton district in Jackson County.'MEA ESP members Lasinda Long and John Smith discuss the privatization threat they faced in their Hanover-Horton district in Jackson County.'

Privatization’s goal is simple and direct: Break the back of the public sector labor movement.

That analysis came from Elaine Bernard, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Trade Union Program, in her keynote speech before 350 MEA members at the ESP Statewide Conference in Traverse City on April 5.

Bernard likened privatization strategy to eating salami. “You take it one slice at a time, claiming each slice is ‘nonessential.’…Eventually there is no public education system left—just a bunch of juicy private profit centers.”

ESP members need to start spreading the word on the valuable services they provide. “The public needs to know what you as union members provide for the community and the important roles you play in education and your state,” Bernard said.

Joanne Huepenbecker (from left) of Bedford, Ruth Hausbeck of Saginaw Township, Cathy  Siedlik of Livonia and Lori Wilgenhof of Jackson do a warm-up exercise during the coalition building session at the ESP Statewide Conference.Joanne Huepenbecker (from left) of Bedford, Ruth Hausbeck of Saginaw Township, Cathy  Siedlik of Livonia and Lori Wilgenhof of Jackson do a warm-up exercise during the coalition building session at the ESP Statewide Conference.

They also need to spread the union message. “Support staff protected by union contracts create public school settings that can help our kids succeed…Unions are schools for democracy. For many of us, unions show us that we have a voice in our society and a right to be part of important decisions that make a difference  in our world.”

Bernard encouraged more union activism and involvement. “We’re always trying to put out fires and solve problems. I’m more interested in lighting fires and getting members excited about the union. We need to think about our own ‘union moments’ that made us get involved and then use moments like those to turn dues payers into activists.”

 

Updated: February 19, 2009 6:21 PM

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