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AFT National Convention Update

The AFT National Convention continues in the city of Detroit with AFT members discussing new ways of maintaining quality education and essential public services in the face of threats presented by corporate and special interests. Across the nation, those interests have sponsored anti-union attacks and have promoted budget cuts that require the elimination of jobs for teachers and public workers. The more than 3,000 delegates attending the 82nd AFT National Convention, however, have been inspired by the remarks of President Randi Weingarten, who told convention attendees that AFT would pursue a new vision of unionism. Weingarten told convention delegates that AFT must pursue “solution driven unionism,” an approach that focuses on uniting union members and creating solutions to the problems that plague working people and their communities.

Weingarten noted that, with severe budget cuts threatening public education, healthcare, and other essential services, American working families are losing more than 30 percent of their wealth in the current economic crisis. With legislatures around the country attacking public services and public employees, Weingarten said, unions must adopt a new approach to unionism. Workers need an approach that is appropriate to the 21st Century, Weingarten said, and that means that new and innovative ways must be found to refute the critics of unions, to advance the values of unions, and to propose solutions that that directly affect working class communities.

Weingarten stated that her view of solution driven unionism was inspired by the members of the ABC Unified School District in Southern California. The members of this school district focused solving problems instead of winning arguments. As a result, AFT is working with business leaders, community members, and other stakeholders to address economic issues and the problems that inhibit the creation of quality educational programs.

As a part of this new focus, AFT is entering partnerships with school districts to develop new methods of teacher evaluation and to turn around low performing schools. AFT also has launched the “Share My Lesson” initiative a British Corporation, TES Connect. This initiative will result in the largest online community for teachers and will allow them to share resources and lesson plans to improve the effectiveness of their teaching practices.

AFT also is seeking methods for mitigating poverty and other factors outside of schools that affect a child’s school performance. These methods include forging partnerships with poor counties and developing ways of increasing employment, providing affordable housing, promoting better healthcare and social services programs, and supporting ballot initiatives that raise revenues, stop budget cuts, and increase taxes on the highest earners.

Weingarten also stressed the importance of the upcoming presidential election. “I see this election not as a referendum on President Obama,” she said, but as a day of judgment for a way of life, for our values, for democracy, for opportunity, for fairness and the future of our country.”

She contrasted Mitt Romney’s proposals to fire teachers and increase class sizes with the President’s efforts to make higher education more affordable and to invest in public education and public services.

Delegates are scheduled to hear from fellow members and organizations that cooperate with AFT as practical examples of the solution driven unionism that President Weingarten proposes.

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