Sunday, January 29, 2017

NY Immigrant Fight Back

Immigrant Fight Back in New York

Hi colleagues.

Last night I was at  JFK airport protest till after midnight, along with thousands of others to demand the immigrants and refugees be let in.  There were protests in L.A., Chicago, and San Francisco as well.  The protests urgently demanded the release of the people who are being held captive at the airports, and can not enter the U.S., and may face imminent deportation if the court stay is lifted.

Sunday at 2 pm at Battery Park, the protests are continuing.  

On Monday, at Chancellor's Day, in our UFT meeting at lunch, I asked for an agenda  point to discuss a union committee to defend our immigrant students. 

There will be more protests, including a speak-out on Thursday at Hunter College at 4 pm and many others.

Interestingly, last night the New York Taxi Workers Alliance carried out what I think was the first labor protest against the ban, refusing to pick up passengers at JFK for an hour last night.

New York is an immigrant town. The public schools of NYC have a majority of students whose families come from somewhere else and speak other languages at home. As educators, we are dedicated to defending our students and their families.

Marjorie Stamberg
NY teacher delegate

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Russian austerity

By Stephen Wilson

Moscow, Russia -- The future perspectives for Russian schools appear alarming. In the coming year we can anticipate further rounds of rising cut backs, arrears in salaries within the regions , more unfair dismissals and a never ending workload along with a poorer pay packet . The past statements by the new Minister of Education over the past three months appear to confirm, rather than dispel such fears. In recent days, Olga Vasiliava has announced that the Government intends to severely cut the budget in Education until 2020. The plan is to cut the total budget by 20% - which impiles a reduction from 113 billion to 86.6 billion rubles . The government intends to make cuts in maintenance and repairing schools as well as in colleges and universities.
Particularly vulnerable students are those with special needs who will be forced to move from special schools geared to their needs, into regular state schools . Special schools for invalids and troubled teenagers have already been axed. The number of psychologists, speech therapists and and counsellors attached to Russina state schools has also been drastically cut.
There are also new proposals concerning how school teachers will be paid.
In the future, teachers will receive regularly 70 % of their salary while 30% of the rest of their income will be based on 'bonuses' and 'rewards' on how well they perform in school. The latter form of payment will be based on the exam results of their school students and how well they do in tests. If the teacher's school students get good marks , then they'll be entitled to bonuses. Needless to say , this proposal is highly problematic and hardly free from bias. We are more likely to witness simulated rather than stimulated pay !
So schools are gradually moving to accepting performance pay where their students are perceived as consumers based on a crude business model.
According to the Russian Newspaper Kommersant, sources from within the Ministry of Education stated that the former Minister of Education was fired for precisely refusing to implement a program of full scale cuts in Education.
(see Ogonek, number 49. 12th of December 2016 , Hero of the Week, Initiative ,Olga Vasiliava, )
He wasn't hard enough !
Yet the reality of those harsh proposals has been largely obscured by a conspicuous publicity relations exercise where the current Minister of Education has been ranting about reviving astronomy, history , the importance of schools in not simply imparting knowledge but bringing up ,the nature of patriotism and how Stalin had some redeeming feactures . All this talk conceals an ugly full -scale plan to cut and commercialise the education system. There is even talk of making schools 'self -financing' and 'self -sufficent'. Where have we heard of this old and obsolete rhetoric ? In both Britain and America ! And the results have been appalling ! Some people just never learn!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Contract Votes

CTU Releases School Wide Contract Votes
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) released a breakdown of how each school voted on the new contract that was just approved by its members and ratified by the Chicago Board of Education.

The CTU members - mostly teachers, teacher aides and clinicians such as nurses, social workers and counselors - voted about 70 percent in favor of the new contract.

The new contract includes a slight raise and a continued pension pickup by the board (except for new members), a cap on charter schools (although CPS is still pushing for more to get to the cap), more money for community schools (although the union has indicated it would work with community groups to fill roles that could otherwise be performed by a unionized staff) and less paperwork (for example, either a lesson plan or unit plan, however the wording is vague).

There were several schools that voted heavily against the contract, including: Camras (40-20 against), Clemente (33-17), Dawes (48-14), DePriest (25-12), Earhard (10-2), Farragut (39-17), Sarah Goode HS (20-12), Hedges (34-15), Hyde Park (36-20), Irving (24-8), Jefferson Alternative (34-17), McKay (32-17), NTA (30-11), Roosevelt (53-27), Seward (32-16), Taylor (29-8) and Washington High School (63-15).

There were other schools that were close votes as well.

While there were delegates who spoke passionately against the new contract that some feel is on the way to dividing the union between those receiving a pension pickup from the board and new hires who are not (though CTU states that an increased salary offsets this divide), there was no organized opposition.

In fact, there is no other organized caucus that would challenge the only CTU party in play - CORE.

Despite a lot of fighting and bickering when the last union caucus the UPC was leading the union, and five parties ran for the union president, with CORE winning because the UPC split ranks, that meant more competition and more participation.

Today the only game in town is CORE.

Is this a good or bad thing? Is the CTU doing a great job leading the teachers fight against the privatization of public education?

Apparently, according to the fact there are no challenges, the CTU is doing a good enough job that no one has thought of taking the step to challenge their rule.

So far.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Kiosk Future?

By Stephen Wilson

Moscow, Russia -- I emerged out of the Moscow Metro Station of Aviamotornaya to being blasted by a cruel icy wind. The temperature had fallen to below 20 but a fierce wind blowing through the wide road past the market rendered it much colder. I found I had entered not only a new year but a new Moscow full of emptier, wider, and windier spaces. I was hoping to buy a historical journal from the local Kiosk but alas, there was practically none.
No more corner street newspaper Kiosks ! They had removed them only days ago at around the evil hours of the night while most people are apathetic or sleeping. I walked on down Avaimatornaya street and was alarmed to find no more florists where I would once buy flowers . A famous landmark, the Lefortovski market, which had once stood for 300 years was abruptly demolished by construction workers. It was only when I reached the end of the road I came across
one solitary kiosk ! It seemed more like a mirage than an aberration.
The final demolition of the last remaining surviving Kiosks over the closing days of 2016 represent the finishing touches to the funeral of the Kiosk in Moscow . Trying to find a kiosk in some parts of Moscow is like attempting to find a needle in a haystack.
As many as an estimated 100,000 people may have lost their jobs. Many of those workers will find it a daunting challenge to find alternative employment and may find jobs with far less pay. The demolition of kiosks was carried out in about three waves. The most spectacular wave came on the nights of February 8 to the 9th and was dubbed ; 'The Night of the Bulldozer nights ', because of the tactless, callous and illegal way it was carried out.
Owners of the kiosks were not given proper notice or even time to move their stuff out. Kiosks were reduced to dusty heaps of debris with ugly metal railing sprouting out and sharp fragments of glass scattered all around. Any child could have cut themselves with this glass which was not hastily gathered.
The justification for this mass destruction program was odd. The kiosks got in the way of pedestrians, they spoilt the view for tourists , they represented a dangerous hazard to safety around the metro. The Mayor Sergei Sobyanin claimed he was giving back space to the Moscovites. When confronted by journalists about how many of the Kiosks had received signed permits from his own officials , he simply cynically dismissed their legal permits as ' mere scraps of paper'. New kiosks are going to be erected but with 'the right people'. In other words, people who have the right nationality and color. Much of the propaganda by the tabloid press justified the closure of kiosks on the ground they were owned by a  
Caucasian mafia using them as a pretext to sell drugs. A computer programmer Mikhail informed me : "In my local area a lot of those people were selling drugs. I don't believe that those kiosks operated on a legal basis. They were run by criminals. Those kiosk workers can easily find alternative jobs."
It is no idle speculation or overstatement to claim that the demolition of the kiosks is a blatant example of 'ethnic cleansing'. Much of the resentment against those kiosks is based on crude racist prejudice against migrants.
Sergei, who works at an International bank told me : " Since I don't buy anything from those kiosks it does not affect me in any way so I'm not bothered about this".
Since there has been practically no great outcry or major protests, (demonstrations of protests have only gathered a few hundred protesters at most other than a well-staged protest strike which proved ineffective ) the demolitions have been pushed through without even a murmur . At most, people are a little startled and momentarily curious.
However, if the Mayor , who is largely unaccountable , can go ahead with depriving legally standing small businesses , then given time, he will be able to destroy parks , forests and even the houses of local Muscovites.
Nevertheless, the kiosks are not all without friends. A lot more people are missing them as they notice they have to wait in a long queue at expensive supermarkets to buy items at higher prices. So customers are losing not only more of their time but money. So who is really cheating who ? Is it the mayor or the Kiosk workers who often offer a cheaper, more convenient and at times, warmer services?
Oksana Chebotareva , a teacher informed me : " All my fellow teachers have started to complain how they can no longer buy great items from the kiosks around Prospect Mir, They used to buy cheap scarves, skirts and all kinds of useful things. Now the kiosks have gone they don't have so much time to do the shopping." 

But Kiosks were more than just places to purchase useful items. They brought color to an otherwise gray impersonal
city of strangers. You could enjoy a good chat with kiosk workers and strike up friendships. So a source of warm glow has been stubbed out. All that remains is wind blasting you over dark smooth ice.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Viking Film Review

By Stephen Wilson


Moscow, Russia -- It seemed so surreal. I was deeply brooding over the past and other passengers were in an urban trance when a group of Vikings barged into our compartment brandishing swords and axes. All were dawning helmets, armour and leather.
They looked drunk. One Viking lay down on the floor next to a policeman. The policeman simply smiled in amusement and took it in his stride. I thought a physical assault was imminent but quickly realised those guys meant no harm but were just putting on a performance. The passengers relaxed and even began taking photos of them .
Who were those Vikings? Maybe they were part of reenactment society or extras for a film. Then a few days after this the Russian film 'Vikings' came out at the Cinema.
The film 'Vikings' is an almost melancholic , moody ,dark ,and passionate film about the story of how Prince Vladimir wages a ruthless war against his brothers, takes the throne and converts Russia to Christianity in 988.
The film, directed by Andrei Kravchuck, is loosely based on the Primary Chronicle and King's saga. The role of Prince Vladimir is played by Danila Kozlovsky , and his military leader Sveneld by Maxim Sukhanov while Vladimir's wife Rogneda is played by Alexsandra Bortich and Yaropolk is played by Alexandr Ustugov. One of the best performances was given the actress Svetlana Khodchenko who plays the Greek companion of Yaropolk, Irina. Sasha Bortich also provides a great performance as a bitterly passionate Princess who taunts the Vikings who won't work for Vladmir with the words ; " You are not warriors but mere merchants".
An enormous amount of effort expanding over years went into the creation of this epic film. A whole team of designers and artists were building authentic Viking ships, houses and costumes . The film was made on a 13 million dollar budget.
Unfortunately, many film critics have misleadingly labelled it as Russia's answer to 'Game of Thrones'. Another critic mocked Vladimir not as a hero but 'Cry baby'. Much of this criticism misses the point that this is a deeply psychological film about how the main hero 's mind is scarred and tortured by traumatic events. It depicts what might , or might not
have been one aspect of Vladimir's personality. Who knows?
The plot of the film centres on events following the death of Svyatoslav, when his sons all fight to seize the throne. A brutal fratricide erupts.
Vladimir is forced into exile to Sweden to evade his treacherous brother Yaropolk who has murdered his other brother Oleg. He has conquered Kiev Rus. Sveheld, a military commander , persuades Vladimir to gather a force of Varangian mercenaries, led by a Swedish chieften , played by Joakan Natherquilst. They hope to seize Kiev from Yaropolk and then fight Byzantine.
Vladimir ruthlessly wages a war against his brothers. He cunningly offers peace to his brother but then has him murdered.
He forces Rogneda to marry him and kills her father and mother as well as taking a Greek woman hostage.
However, the character of Vladimir in this film more resembles a hapless and indecisive puppet . He is viewed as falling under the evil influence of his military commander who tells him: " People never change. We have to use cunning". Vladimir deeply regrets killing his brother and all the other victims he has ill treated. He is so indecisive and slow that he fails to prevent the deaths of a man and his son fleeing from
the ritual sacrifice of pagan priests. As a prince, Vladimir is inept, incompetent and often prone to sobbing .
One of the most poignant scenes is when Vladimir is told by a priest that God will forgive him for committing all his terrible sins. This seems an odd and pleasantly shocking revelation to Vladimir. Vladimir confesses his sins and then is made to drink from a communion cup all his sins. He also finds it comforting that people can rise from the dead.
This does not not satisfy Vladimir's military leader who regards it as nonsense.
He taunts him with the words : " Show me you can rise from the dead after I kill you". Then he tries to drown Vladimir. Finally Vladimir challenges him saying: " Go on kill me". His Military leader throws his sword down and walks away disgusted but reflective enough.
The basic idea of the film is it was mainly the remorse over killing his brothers which led to Vlad's conversion to Christianity. But many historians would challenge this version, stating that more pragmatic considerations spurred the decision. Kiev Rus required moral and political support from Byzantine as well as lucrative trade routes. However, given the meager fragments of historical sources it is not entirely implausible that Vladimir did in deed feel remorse over his past sins. What may be more doubtful is the presentation of Prince Vladimir as such an indecisive and hapless man. On the contrary, the way in which Vladimir forcefully converted many Russians to Christianity by forcing them with a sword into the river to be baptised suggests a very determined and decisive prince.
Prince Vladimir was made into a saint. According to some legends he was a highly hospitable king who laid out feasts for the poor and may have been the first King in Europe to aboilsh the death penalty. The latter decision was taken because he literary took the commandment : "Thou Shalt not Kill. " Prince Vladimir actually humanised the Christianity inherited from Orthodoxy by stressing the social importance of defending the weak against the strong . The widow, the old and orphans had to be well cared for. The blood feuding of the Viking era (Vladimir is originally a Swedish name) was discouraged in favour of more peaceful accords.
The film 'Vikings' won't go down well with people who want to see a ruthless strong and cruel no-nonsense King. The Vladimir in this film is too fragile, vulnerable and humane to be understood by people who prefer Marvel comic heroes.
The film 'Vikings' is a beautifully shot film. There are often very stunning and moving scenes which render this film a superb must. It is a well worth watch !