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Guest Posts

  • Choosing A Superintendent - Or A Chancellor

    Written on March 7, 2011

    Our guest author today is Sol Hurwitz, president emeritus of the Committee for Economic Development and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Board of Directors.

    Early in January, less than two weeks into her tenure as chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, Cathleen P. Black found herself mired in controversy over a remark she made to parents distraught over their children’s overcrowded schools. “Couldn’t we just have some birth control for a while?" she joked.

    The media pounced, and Ms. Black squandered an opportunity to address one of the school system’s most acute problems. The chancellor’s subsequent public appearances have provoked boos and jeering, to which her responses have veered from silence to mocking sarcasm. Her challenge now is to dispel the widely-held notion that she is unfit to hold her job.

    An experienced educator facing a group of worried parents probably would not have made such a gaffe. But Ms. Black, the former president and chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, is not an educator; nor has she or her children ever attended a public school. Clearly, her experience as a publishing executive did not prepare her for the rough-and- tumble, media-driven politics of New York City’s schools.

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  • An Update From The Independent Labor Movement In Egypt

    Written on March 7, 2011

    Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli.  She has 25 years of experience in the promotion of democracy, independent trade unions, political and economic development. She has worked with institutions and leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to challenge authoritarian regimes. Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

    The revolution in Egypt has unleashed a torrent of pent up frustration and protest from Egyptian workers in all walks of life. For weeks, beginning the day after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned, workers have taken to the streets to demand respect for basic worker rights and democratic principles. Their grievances are fundamental and share much in common with their U.S. counterparts now protesting in Wisconsin and elsewhere: the right to bargain collectively with employers over wages, hours, benefits and working conditions. Egyptian workers have been protesting at many worksites all over the country:

    • More than 6,000 teachers protested in front of the Education Administration building in the governorate (state) of Qena in Upper Egypt.  A majority of teachers are now working under temporary contracts without benefits. Teachers are calling for the end of these temporary contracts that cheapen their profession and cause much professional insecurity. 
    • Hundreds of workers from the iron and steel factory who were hired as “temporary contractual” workers demanded payment of three months’ worth of overtime and other benefits, and an end to their “temporary” status.

    The never-ending “temporary contract” is a tactic to weaken workers’ rights, which  has been widely used in both the Egyptian public and private sectors. In response to teacher protests, the new Education Minister did announce on Feb. 28 that the teachers who had been working under temporary contracts for more than three years will be made permanent as long as they are able to pass the teacher proficiency tests, which the Ministry will administer on March 25.

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  • Bahrain: Workers Lead The Way

    Written on February 25, 2011

    Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli.  She has 25 years of experience in the promotion of democracy, independent trade unions, political and economic development. She has worked with institutions and leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to challenge authoritarian regimes. Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

    Bahrain has been rocked by turmoil since Feb. 14 – with protesters calling for political reforms from Pearl Square’s "towering monument of a pearl," in the heart of Manama, Bahrain’s capital city. It is the country’s Tahrir Square, its own seat of Liberation. In contrast to Egypt, though, Bahrain’s path to freedom been slower and more violent. On Feb. 17, the government brutally attacked protesters, killing four and injuring dozens. The next day, security forces opened fire on a crowd of thousands marching in funeral processions for the previous day’s victims.

    In the midst of this chaos, a young and independent Bahraini labor movement is finding its voice. In response to the government’s violence, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), with a membership of 66 unions – around 25% of the workforce – threatened a general strike if the government did not back off, start talking to demonstrators, and permit peaceful protest to continue.

    And the government backed off.

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  • A Very Happy Egyptian-American

    Written on February 11, 2011

    Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli, regional program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity.  Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

    Today is a great day! A Glorious Day! A day of rejoicing, of celebration, of jubilation, and of so much more than words can describe! Today, Mubarak resigned and Egypt is now in the hands of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces  under the leadership of the Field Marshall Tanatawy. This is a new dawn for a New Democratic Egypt.  This is a revolution that began peacefully on 25 January, and which galvanized all Egyptians from all social classes, men and women. What a message is being sent to everyone all over the world and especially in the Middle East – a message that political change can be achieved by the people and peacefully.

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  • Name: Egyptian ... Address: Tahrir Square

    Written on February 8, 2011

    Our guest author today, writing from Cairo, is Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of Egypt’s Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS), who last year accepted the AFL-CIO’s 2009 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award on behalf of Egypt’s independent labor movement. The article is reprinted, with permission.

    Now, I am proud to be Egyptian. I can sit in the evening among my children and grandchildren and tell them the story of the revolution; the story of boys and girls who refused the injustice and tyranny under which we have lived for years and years. I will tell them the story of Mohamed and Boulis [Peter]: the two boys who stood one against the other, each of whom hates and wants to destroy the other ... I will tell them how Boulis and Mohamed stood shoulder to shoulder confronting tyranny. I will tell them how Muslims protected churches against the violence of the regime’s thugs and how Christians guarded Muslims while they performed their prayers in Tahrir [Liberation] Square.

    I will tell them that I have no explanation except that this infamous regime made us reveal our worst part. I will tell my children and grandchildren how thousands, or rather tens of thousands, including young and very beautiful girls demonstrated and that those beautiful girls were not harassed. I will tell them that young males used to listen to the speeches of young females and received orders from them to keep order during the sit-in.

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  • Egypt In Crisis: Independent Unions Emerge As Leaders

    Written on February 7, 2011

    Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli, regional program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity.  Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own. This is the first of several posts on events in Egypt.

    January 25, 2011 was the beginning of a peoples’ revolt in Egypt, a revolt whose outcome is still unclear. What is clear is that, after a smothering 30-year rule, Egyptians have broken the stifling collar of oppression to demonstrate for democracy and freedom. Also at issue are the corruption, high unemployment rates, inflation, and low minimum wages that impoverish even the hardest working, most educated people.

    All of this has become fairly well known to Americans over recent days. What is far less known is the role of the small, repressed independent Egyptian labor movement in keeping Egyptian hopes and spirits alive. On January 30, in the middle of Tahrir Square, those workers and their representatives announced the formation of the new "Independent Egyptian Trade Union Federation."

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  • Overcoming The Democratic Recession

    Written on January 26, 2011

    Our guest authors today are Arch Puddington, (director of research) and David J. Kramer (executive director) of Freedom House, a bipartisan organization founded in 1941 by Wendell Willkie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others.  It has worked tirelessly over the intervening decades to promote democratic values both at home and abroad. It is best known for its annual Freedom in the World survey, which analyzes the state of political freedom and civil liberties. In 2010, it published The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World, a survey of union and workers rights, and a global map of labor rights, with support from the Albert Shanker Institute. Along with the Shanker Institute, Freedom House is also a cosponsor of DemocracyWeb, a resource for history, civics and comparative government education.  Antonia Cortese, secretary treasurer of the Shanker Institute, also serves on the Freedom House Board of Trustees.

    As we enter a new decade, the evidence is fast mounting that global freedom is under the most intense pressure it has faced in many years. According to the most recent report issued by Freedom House, 2010 marked the fifth consecutive year of a worldwide democracy recession. During that period, democracy has suffered setbacks in every region of the world.  All of the political institutions that are crucial to democratic governance—including elections, press freedom, rule of law, minority rights—have suffered setbacks.

    The palpable lack of confidence among democracies in their own system of government, driven in part by the global economic crisis that has affected market economies more severely than authoritarian ones, partly explains these trends.  Recently, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, western pundits are raising questions about the efficacy of democratic systems.

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  • The “Jobless” Recovery: Implications For Education?

    Written on January 21, 2011

    Our guest author today is James R. Stone, professor and director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

    The headline of the USA Today article reads: “Tense Time for Workers, As Career Paths Fade Away” (January 13, 2011). The article notes that while most key economic indicators have improved over the past two years, the unemployment rate has remained persistently high. This is a jobless recovery.

    Is this a time for pessimism or a time for a reality check?

    This is not the first jobless recovery. The recession of the early 1990s spawned books with titles such as The Jobless Future (1994), A Future of Lousy Jobs (1990), The End of Work (1995), The End of Affluence (1995), and When Work Disappears (1996). Any one of those, and many other, similarly-titled books and articles could speak to today’s labor market crisis. Were these authors prescient or is the creative destruction in the labor market wrought by our relatively unbridled free enterprise system’s speeding up the cycles? I’ll leave that for economists to argue.

    What is new this time around is the effect of the recession on recent college graduates.

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  • Learning Versus Punishment And Accountability

    Written on November 15, 2010

    Our guest author today is Jeffrey Pfeffer, Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. We find it intriguing, given the current obsession with “accountability” in education reform. It is reprinted with permission from Dr. Pfeffer’s blog, Rational Rants, found at http://www.jeffreypfeffer.com.

    People seem to love to exact retribution on those who screw up—it satisfies some primitive sense of justice. For instance, research in experimental economics shows that people will voluntarily give up resources to punish others who have acted unfairly or inappropriately, even though such behavior costs those doing it and even in circumstances where there is going to be no future interaction to be affected by the signal sent through the punishment. In other words, people will mete out retribution even when such behavior is economically irrational.

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  • Shedding Tears For An Elusive Unity

    Written on November 3, 2010

    As anyone who has paid attention to the tragic history of Sudan knows, its internal conflict has been marked by extreme violence toward civilians. In the Darfur region of Northern Sudan, war-related killings, starvation and death from disease have been labeled “genocidal” by international human rights organizations, who have accused the Sudanese government, led by Omar al-Bashir, with attempting to wipe out the black African population of the region. In July, 2010, al-Bashir was charged by the International Criminal Court at the Hague with three counts of genocide in Darfur. He has also been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. For detailed background of this terrible conflict, readers are directed to sites here, here, here, and here. This article by a Sudan Star journalist mocks the sudden emotion over the prospect of Sudan’s partition by politicians, especially from a hitherto ruthless leader of north Sudan, Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie.  Dr. Nafie is known for torturing his teacher, for example, simply for teaching evolution.

    Tensions are mounting in Sudan, in the run-up to a January 2011 referendum in which Southern Sudan will vote on independence. The Sudanese conflict, which began in 1989, has been driven by historic animosities between the predominantly Arab north, and the black African animist and Christian population in the south.  At stake, from an economic perspective, are Sudan’s large oil reserves, most of which straddles the border between north and south.  The Sudan government and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement signed a peace agreement in 2005, and the government signed a framework peace agreement with Darfur region rebels in February, 2010.

     Ahmed Elzobier can be reached at ahmed.elzobir@gmail.com.

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