By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President

Four years ago we talked about the need to pass Proposition 30, a measure that has added more than $6 billion dollars annually to the state budget after years of devastating cuts. Now we have to extend it. The measure for which we are gathering signatures — The Children’s Education and Healthcare Protection Act — will raise $5 to $11 billion a year, eliminate the sales tax increase, and continue to ask wealthy Californians to pay a bit more in personal income tax.

But our success with Prop. 30 cannot blind us to the fact that rich and powerful forces continue to attack us and promote an education agenda that hurts our students.

A couple of weeks ago, we began the appeal of the Vergara decision that threatens to end seniority based on objective criteria and eliminate due process rights for teachers. The initial ruling was not grounded in evidence, and the clear motivation is to undermine educator rights.

While the death of Justice Scalia may have delayed a decision on Friedrichs v. CTA, we can’t afford to let down our guard. Fighting in the courts, however essential, is not a substitute for our organizing work.

We must continue to reinvigorate our union. What many locals are doing through our Building Power campaign is Unionism 101 — engaging our members. The billionaires and millionaires may have the money, but we have the people when we organize them. We have to engage in finding solutions.

“We must defend the concept of public education while remaining sharply critical of a system that doesn’t meet the needs of working class children and children of color.”

For example, the AFT is broadening ties with key community organizations through the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. Last month, over 1,000 schools across the country participated in walk-ins at which educators joined students, parents, and community members in a show of solidarity. Another walk-in is scheduled for May 4.

It is critical that our vision of public education inspires the community. To that end, we will be re-launching our education initiative, with the name The Education Californians Deserve. We are also creating a non-profit organization that will help us engage community groups. We must defend the concept of public education while remaining sharply critical of a system that doesn’t meet the needs of working class children and children of color.

We have a responsibility to provide leadership and direction at this critical moment. The issues of wealth disparity, racism, immigration, climate change, militarization (both at home and abroad), worker rights, and corporate control of the political process have all become central themes in this presidential election.

We must deny Republicans the White House. The next president may appoint more than one Supreme Court justice. I don’t want my daughter or any child living in a world where a majority of right-wing Supreme Court justices are making decisions about women’s rights, healthcare, the environment, affirmative action, union rights, and the power of the wealthy and corporations to buy elections. We have to work hard to elect a Democrat.

Finally, no matter whom we elect, our job as a union will still be to organize our members, strengthen our locals, forge ties to our community allies, and build the social movements that give us real power. That’s why, sisters and brothers, we must “Activate Labor for Justice.”

> This is a summary of State of the Union address presented by Josh Pechthalt at CFT Convention on March 12. Listen to the full address on YouTube.