From helping pass Proposition 30, which raises billions of dollars for education, to fighting back against Vergara v. California, a lawsuit filed on behalf of nine student plaintiffs which seeks to dismantle teachers’ rights, AFT President Randi Weingarten stands up for California educators and students.

“She could have said, ‘Good luck,’” CFT President Josh Pechthalt told Convention delegates. “But instead she said, ‘How can we help you? What resources do you need?’ She pushes back on billionaires trying to destroy public education.”

After asking for a moment of silence for former CFT President Raoul Teilhet, who died last June, Weingarten talked about some of those trying to destroy public education — such as David Welch, the founder of Students Matter, which launched the Vergara lawsuit; Michelle Rhee, who formed the anti-union lobbying group Students First; and the oligarchic Koch brothers.

“They like this notion of austerity,” Weingarten said. “They want a race to the bottom. They want to demonize and marginalize — they want a second gilded age.”

As the labor movement has diminished, so has the middle class, Weingarten said. She talked about the need for building it back up. 

“You hear this all the time with Vergara — ‘Why do they have due process and I don’t?’” Weingarten said. “The point of the labor movement is we should all have that. We have to change the conversation from ‘Why do they have that and we don’t?’ to ‘We should all have that.’”

Weingarten talked about strategies to stand up to corporate interests and have an impact. Why is it, she asked, that people such as Grover Norquist, the man behind the famous anti-tax pledge, wants so much to get rid of the labor movement? 

“We are the only institution that can create power for regular people, and that’s why they want to kill us so much,” Weingarten said. “If we come up with solutions, engage our members and are community-focused, with a little badass thrown in, we 
can turn this around every single time. That’s what we proved with Proposition 30.”