Emboldened by the wave of strikes that has swept across the U.S. over the past several months in opposition to low pay and right-wing austerity measures, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convened over the weekend to build on the growing radicalism of the nation's educators and discuss an action plan to continue fighting the Trump administration's "hateful, corporatist, oligarchical, kleptocratic, cronyistic" agenda.
"All over this country, people are standing up and fighting back, not just against Donald Trump but more importantly for a progressive agenda that creates a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Speaking during the third day of AFT's annual convention on Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) applauded teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and throughout the country who have been bravely taking on the status quo of stagnant pay and dwindling benefits in their home states, and argued that educators are a crucial component of the "political revolution."
"All over this country, people are standing up and fighting back, not just against Donald Trump but more importantly for a progressive agenda that creates a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent," Sanders said, addressing the thousands of teachers in attendance at the conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "Giving tax breaks to billionaires, spending unlimited sums on the military, and telling us we do not have enough money for education [are] not the priorities that the people of this country want to see."
Highlighting the inequality he has railed against for decades in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, the Vermont senator said the "top 25 hedge fund managers of Wall Street make more money than all of the kindergarten teachers in this country combined."
Sanders went on to express hope that the Supreme Court's attack on public-sector unions with its Janus decision last month will galvanize teachers and other public employees.
"Well, you know, sometimes decisions and actions have unintended consequences, and I have a feeling that those who thought that the Janus decision would hurt the trade unions in this country may be in for a big surprise," Sanders said. "It may end up being one of those decisions that helps us rebuild the trade union movement in America."
Watch Sanders' address:
AFT president Randi Weingarten applauded Sanders' unwavering support for teachers in remarks of her own on Sunday, noting that "when the West Virginia teachers went on strike, Bernie and his office called and said what can we do to help?"
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"Bernie walks the walk. It's not just rhetorical," Weingarten added.
“Bernie walks the walk. It’s not just rhetorical. When the West Virginia teachers went on strike, Bernie and his office called and said what can we do to help.” - @rweingarten pic.twitter.com/bYuY7KT6j1
— Josh Miller-Lewis (@jmillerlewis) July 15, 2018
Speaking to the Guardian on Sunday, long-time teacher union leader Robert Russo argued that right-wing attacks on education at the state and federal levels have "invigorated" teachers nationwide.
"We are all militant again, we will all go to jail if we have to," Russo said, echoing a sentiment that was expressed by numerous speakers and teachers at the AFT convention. "They are taking away rights."
In addition to listening to the rousing speeches of Sanders and Wisconsin congressional candidate Randy "Iron Stache" Bryce, AFT members also voted on the standards they expect politicians to meet if they are to receive the union's endorsement.
AFT members voted unanimously on Sunday in favor of demanding that all endorsed candidates support universal healthcare, free public college tuition, higher taxes on the rich to fund education, and other key progressive priorities.
Some news: America's second-largest teachers union, @AFTunion, will now demand that endorsed candidates support universal healthcare, free public school tuition, universal child care, taxing the rich to fund schools. The motion passed unanimously #myAFT #AFT2018 #AFT18 pic.twitter.com/0ubuHMXvdl
— Scott Heins (@scottheins) July 15, 2018