By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President

The CFT’s priorities in the November 4 General Election are straightforward: Reelect Tom Torlakson Superintendent of Public Instruction, elect Betty Yee for State Controller and pass Propositions 45 and 47.

In the remaining weeks before the election, we need all of our members to get involved with their local unions and their central labor councils. We have to approach this election as if the future of public education depends on it, because it does.

It is critical we reelect Tom Torlakson as Superintendent of Public Instruction, who has oversight of California’s K-12 public education and deeply influences the national debate on education reform. Torlakson was a teacher and coach for many years.

Superintendent Torlakson has been a consistent opponent of the market reforms being promoted by the federal government. He has stood up against the well-funded, anti-teacher, anti-public education narrative.

Torlakson’s opponent, Marshall Tuck, a product of corporate America, has no classroom experience. Self-appointed education reformers like Tuck, Michelle Rhee, Eli Broad, David Welsh and others hope to secure a beachhead in California as part of their national efforts to promote merit pay, expand charter schools and weaken teacher unions. In the final weeks of the campaign, Tuck will pump large amounts of money into television, radio and direct mailings attacking Torlakson and his connection to California’s education unions.

On the national stage, the far-right Republican Party seeks control of the Senate, which would stymie our efforts to move immigration reform, secure healthcare reform, protect a woman’s right to choose or expand worker and union rights. In the event of an opening on the Supreme Court, the Senate would then block the president’s appointment of a moderate or liberal to the court.

Adding to the grim outlook is a continued assault on public sector workers, including our members, by the courts. The Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court ruling is the first shot across the bow attacking union fair share, while the Vergara lawsuit is aimed directly at teacher seniority and due process rights in California.

This scenario underscores the fact that while we work to elect the best and most progressive leaders at the local, state and national levels, we can never rely on them, or the courts, to protect our interests or advance our issues. The only force we can rely on is the power of our organized members and the alliances we build with our labor and community partners.

In the coming months, the CFT will be working with our locals to reach out to our members across the state. Fair share payers are especially invited to step up to full union membership. Certainly joining a union is essential for protecting members’ rights and advocating for salary and benefits. But education unions must be the catalyst for creating a democratic, bottom up vision of quality public education.

There is no magic bullet to make this happen. It will require commitment, training, patience and one-on-one interaction with our colleagues. A number of our locals are already leading the way. Now we need to broaden and deepen that work and build the kind of real power that can win victories no matter which politician gets elected to office.