Why AFT Union Pres. Randi Weingarten Hanging Out with Bernie Sanders Matters

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American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten and Sen. Bernie Sanders./Fair Use.

At the outset, it bears mentioning that I have a long history of criticizing Sen. Bernie Sanders from the Left (to the point of extremism in the eyes of many progressives). My own political sympathies are essentially defined by a long-term loathing of the Democratic Party and any claim that it can be salvaged from the imperialist, racist garbage dump it piggishly wallows in. (Admittedly I would vote for a box of laundry detergent before casting a ballot for an establishment Republican but that doesn’t nullify my views on liberals.)

Regardless, developments around his presidential bid remain noteworthy and newsworthy, much in the way I as a Red Sox fan take note of developments involving the Yankees while likewise hating them.

On Sunday, April 14 I received the following epistle from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

As with Sanders, I am no fan of Weingarten, who in my opinion has surrendered far too much in public education to the various anti-union school-privatizing forces that gravitate around Wall Street. Furthermore, owing to the student demographics of urban public schools, I find her ability to fraternize with demonstrably racist Democratic politicians disturbing and a tacit allowance for reactionary opinions within the membership of her locals.

Micah Uetricht writes in his 2014 book Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity a brilliant opening vignette that shows absolutely everything wrong with how Weingarten runs her union:

On June 7, 2012, there were two visions of teacher unionism on display in Chicago. One could be found in a hotel overlooking the Chicago River, rubbing shoulders with the city’s and the world’s elites downtown; the other in public schools throughout the city.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), had flown into Chicago to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual event held by former President Bill Clinton’s foundation. She was to sit on a two-person panel, moderated by militant centrist Fareed Zakaria, to discuss the recently announced Chicago Infrastructure Trust, an infrastructure development program that allows corporations to invest in and profit from financing of public infrastructure projects for things like sewers, roads, and water lines. Her copanelist was Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Weingarten sat next to the mayor, politely chuckling at jokes made by a man who had declared war on public school teachers and all but announced his intentions to disassemble public education in the city of Chicago. She praised Emanuel’s public-private partnerships in infrastructure development, making no mention of his plan to dramatically expand Chicago’s charter schools—a public-private partnership par excellence—intended to slip the free market’s foot in the door of public education before completely privatizing it. Nor did she speak of the months during which the mayor antagonized the city’s education workforce, his attempts to rescind contractually obligated raises for the teachers, or the major battle teachers were locked into with the mayor over the future of public education in the city.

Weingarten chumming it up with Sanders is noteworthy because it was AFT’s extra-early endorsement of Hillary Clinton in 2015 that assured her the wider AFL-CIO endorsement. Indeed, had the AFT withheld its endorsement for another year, Sanders might have actually had a chance in the primaries (and the fact he never brought that up as a complaint has always spoken volumes about how serious his 2016 bid really was).

Screen capture from AFT website.

Weingarten has not distributed similar epistles this year boasting about fraternizing with Cory Booker (the best friend the charter school industry ever had), Kamala Harris (the most aggressive and prominent truancy cop in America today), or even Elizabeth Warren (who has an interesting profile in Politico this week that documents how far to the right her politics were before she took over Ted Kennedy’s old seat in the Senate).

Putting it another way, she is going out of her way to indicate she’s getting tight with Bernie Sanders.

And that, folks, is how we can judge that Sanders actually has a snowball’s chance in hell this time. I’m not going to go out on a limb here and say this seals the deal for him (particularly because the all-important Super Tuesday primaries, which were heavy on southern states that went to Clinton because of her campaigning for the African American vote, are a long way away).

Map by Ali Zifan/CC BY-SA 4.0
Screen capture from Wikipedia

But he does have a chance now….

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