Anti-War Teachers Say Union is Bowing to Kerry's Agenda

By Sarah Junk | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - The American Federation of Teachers is endorsing Democratic Sen. John Kerry for president, but some rank and file members believe their union leaders have caved in to the Kerry campaign and sacrificed part of their liberal, anti-war agenda.

This week's AFT convention has become heated over two lines in a resolution that is slated for a vote in the general assembly before the convention ends. It calls on the AFT to "urge the Bush administration, the Congress and the American people to reject calls for the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces" from Iraq.

Andy Griggs, a California delegate to the convention, opposes the resolution, arguing that the U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq, should come home as soon as possible.

"The rank and file of this union opposes the occupation," Griggs said. "We must say no to George Bush."

Kerry has said that if elected president, he would not immediately pull the troops from Iraq.

If the resolution authored by the AFT executive council passes, the union would also "convey to the Bush administration the outrage of its members at the misleading nature of the case it made for this war and the mishandling of its aftermath."

But that rebuke of Bush administration policy does not go far enough for AFT delegates like Utah's Neil Fockel. "I suspect it would pass because it was written by the executive council," Fockel said. However, he added, "It's been my feeling that the AFT has not been as involved in some of the non-educational issues. But there are certain issues that I feel [are] important to take a stand on."

An earlier attempt to amend the resolution was "soundly defeated," according to Fockel. But delegates plan to try again to remove the lines that are viewed as supportive of Bush's "occupation" of Iraq.

"If this group helps get [Kerry] elected, he owes them," said Norman Scott, a retired teacher from New York. The AFT has more than 1.3 million members and Kerry will address the union's convention delegates Friday afternoon.

"He's their golden boy," said Eugene Prisco, a retired teacher from New York. "First it was Hillary Clinton, now it's Kerry."

The National Journal magazine earlier this year evaluated the voting records of all U.S. senators and judged Kerry as the most liberal member. During his 19 years in the Senate, Kerry has also supported AFT positions 97 percent of the time.

Prisco said that he has spoken with delegates who said they would favor amending the resolution to remove support for the continued U.S. presence in Iraq if it didn't jeopardize Kerry's bid for the presidency. In the end, he said that debate will be silenced by the leadership who are simply adopting their political agenda to match Kerry's.

"When I talk to them, they say 'I agree [with the views], but John Kerry can't get elected with that,'" said Prisco.

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