What should post COVID-19 crisis America look like?
This summer your national union, the American Federation of Teachers, was thinking big at its biennial convention in late July. Clearly, the activist spirit sweeping the country was in the (virtual) air. Building on some of the work we have done here in San Diego along with others in our statewide union, the national AFT followed the lead of California and passed both a resolution endorsing the Green New Deal and a wide ranging call to move beyond the necessary but narrow bread and butter response we have seen from the national and local AFL-CIO to thinking comprehensively about how we should pivot and seize the opportunity that this crisis presents to build a better future.
The resolution in support of a Green New Deal calls on the 1.7 million members of the AFT to “undertake an effort to educate and advocate with our community allies and elected representatives to support a Green New Deal that simultaneously addresses the harms of climate change and economic inequality as urgent and severe, and that addresses them together in a bold, ambitious and urgent national mobilization of the public and private sectors for a peaceful and sustainable energy economy.” In this spirit, AFT 1931 participated in the August launch of the San Diego Green New Deal Alliance and looks forward to working with our community allies locally, statewide, and nationally.
We will be there with our community allies in the fight to address catastrophic climate change, and we will stand with those fighting for social justice elsewhere because the ethos of social justice unionism calls on us to, as the just recovery resolution also passed at the AFT Convention puts it, “do everything in our power to meet this moment and restore hope that another future is possible.” This means “reimagining our society and rewriting the rules to enable opportunity and justice for all” by addressing the root causes of systemic racism, economic inequality, and the whole array of injustices that helped put us in the dark space we presently occupy as a nation.
With the future of democracy at stake, we must meet the moment with a vision commensurate with the stark challenges we face. It’s time for those of us who believe in a larger notion of solidarity to seize the day.
The full text of the AFT’s just recovery statement is below:
REIMAGINING OUR SOCIETY AND REWRITING THE RULES TO ENABLE OPPORTUNITY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
WHEREAS, we face enormous challenges in the United States—a health pandemic, an economic recession and millions of people without work, systemic racism, and a president who has made these crises worse by his actions and conduct, including his willingness to reject the norms of our democracy and the rule of law; and
WHEREAS, it falls on us in this moment to reimagine our society and rewrite the rules so everyone in America has access to opportunity and justice, not just the rich and powerful, just as other generations have done, most recently in the New Deal, and the civil rights and Great Society era. We must meet this moment with that same vision and clarity, and emerge from this crisis healthier, stronger, better and more just than before; and
WHEREAS, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the economic and health disparities and pain long felt by Americans, particularly communities of color, and has brought a new unprecedented urgency to address the imbalance in our economy and society and the decay of our democracy; and
WHEREAS, Black Americans continue to struggle for full protection under the law and to be recognized as full human beings deserving of basic human rights:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers firmly believes the foundation of a vibrant and well-functioning democracy and society is a people secured by the freedom to live, safely and securely, and the opportunity to attain a better life. Freedom and opportunity are enabled through good jobs with a living wage and a union, a great public education, adequate healthcare and justice for all. The AFT will do everything in our power to meet this moment and restore hope that another future is possible through the work of our members, through collective action, and at the ballot box; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT’s efforts to reimagine a more just and vibrant society and democracy are guided by the following essential principles:
- All Americans should have access to a well-paying job and the ability to support their families free from poverty, and real retirement security;
- All workers must have the right to collectively bargain and have strong unions whether they work in the public sector, gig economy, academia, perform personal services, work on farms or in any other portion of our economy;
- Access to high-quality healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege for those who can afford it. Universal coverage—regardless of whether it is single-payer or private insurance with a public option— must guarantee that every person has access to the care they need when they need it without crippling out-of-pocket costs. Our healthcare system must deliver high-quality care from cradle to grave, based on the needs of every community and not the profits of corporations;
- All Americans should have the right to affordable, safe and adequate housing;
- A 21st-century infrastructure investment to maintain not just our roads and bridges but to ensure safe water, public health needs, clean energy, and broadband as an essential public utility;
- A fair tax system that ensures the rich and big corporations pay their fair share to provide for the common good and fund schools and essential community services;
- All Americans should have access to a basic safety net, including universal child care; easier access to unemployment insurance; paid leave; equal pay for equal work; increased Social Security benefits; and a real investment in supports for families, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; a real overtime standard; and prevention of wage theft;
- Our federal government should never again be unprepared to confront health and safety threats to the American people. Our nation must have a public health infrastructure capable of keeping Americans safe and responding to global health pandemics and other threats;
- Safely reopening public schools and colleges in a way that does not simply seek to go back to life as it was before the pandemic but to fully fulfill public education’s promise as the center of democracy and cornerstone in our community where every child can succeed and where there is joy in learning;
- Helping all children thrive requires a focus on whole child supports and services. This includes children’s social emotional and academic development; rich and inclusive curriculum; and powerful instruction in safe and healthy neighborhood schools; professional learning and collaboration time for teachers as well as appropriate pay; ensuring educators have the freedom to teach; assessment that informs instruction rather than standardized testing that narrows it; and real voice and engagement of parents and the community. We support the strategic establishment of 25,000 community schools across the country, and fully funding Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to support our students, educators and schools;
- The cancellation of all student debt;
- High-quality, free public higher education for every student that is equitable, accessible and safe; faculty and support staff should be well-supported, paid a living wage, have academic freedom and a right to form a union;
- A Green New Deal that simultaneously addresses the harms of climate change and economic inequality as urgent and severe and that must be addressed together. We must ensure that communities are respected, no worker is left behind, that real protections are guaranteed for workers and communities that face impacts due to health and environmental damage caused by the fossil fuel industry, and that full rights to unionization and collective bargaining are afforded to any and all jobs created in the new sustainable energy economy;
- Ending systemic racism in America, particularly in the criminal justice system, and fighting for anti-racist policies for our schools, healthcare system, the environment, policing and our democracy. This includes the demilitarization of police; a renewed commitment to affirmative action and school desegregation; making school safety separate from policing and police forces; and the necessary cultural competency and implicit bias training for ourselves, our schools and our workplaces; and
- The restoration of our essential democratic rights made possible through securing the right to vote for all Americans through automatic voter registration, vote by mail and a revived Voting Rights Act; an independent and nonpartisan process for drawing district lines for Congress and state legislatures; re-establishing an independent judiciary; and reforming the rules of the Congress to end gridlock and allow government to function.