Conn-stitutional Law

Editor’s note: Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn has been charged with violating the union’s constitution and bylaws. Here are a few excerpts from his 11-page response.

* Agreeing to proceed on this basis is simply acceding to the cynical belief that the democratic protections in our Bylaws to protect members and officers from witch-hunts, personal slander campaigns and frivolous and unfounded claims, are unenforceable and irrelevant.

* The racist policies of educational degradation in Detroit have created a new Jim Crow system of segregation and inequality. Special Education programs are now under an especially dangerous attack. Michigan under the new Jim Crow is comparable to Mississippi and the other backwater states of the old Jim Crow.

* I pledge that I will fight ’til the last drop of my blood to stop the planned attack on our health care and on the whole public education system in Detroit. To win, however, I will need the members of this union to act on the words of Frederick Douglass, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” We must use this summer to prepare ourselves for battle. We must dispense with the myth that we will lose public support if we give up being passive and acting respectable. If we allow our anger over our working conditions and the attacks on DPS to be channeled into organizing the people of Detroit for mass, militant direct actions against EM Early and Governor Snyder, we will place ourselves in a position to win.

* In truth, it is certain that we will have another massive riot in Detroit in the near future if we lose our fight to defend public education and turn our back on Detroit’s black community which we must organize to move this city forward.

* For the reconciliation process outlined in Article 15 to succeed, it is necessary for an impartial mediator to try to resolve differences through a constructive informal process. To achieve this, EVP Bailey should recuse herself now. But that will only partially fix the problem because there are no Executive Board members who could legitimately and honestly claim to be neutral: the majority of the Executive Board members are part of an organized political faction against the DFT President.

* Anyone looking to unseat me knows that replacing this election committee with a corrupt election committee is an essential ingredient for defeating me.

* EVP Bailey, Ms. McCoin and the Executive Board have no legal right to censor, charge, or remove me from office because they disagree with my political affiliations or beliefs. In fact, the McCarthyite red-baiting within our union only benefits the political powers that we must take on to save our union.

* It is a basic principle of union democracy that once a decision of the membership is made, no group of teachers is entitled to act in opposition to the decision simply because they disagreed with it. There is also no right of any group of teachers to make a special pleading to me to absolve them from having to carry out a membership decision.

* I never refused to pay per capita dues either to the AFT or the Michigan AFT. I have spoken with AFT President Randi Weingarten and several other AFT representatives and worked out a plan to create a new forbearance agreement mutually satisfactory to both parties.