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JROTC Teachers Bring Military's Strike-Breaking Role into Schools

By Rick Jahnkow

During a recent teachers' strike in San Diego, an important lesson was learned about the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Earlier research had already exposed the way JROTC misleads students concerning the anti-union history of the military, and it is clear that the JROTC curriculum instills the sort of values and attitudes in young people that will turn them into obedient, exploitable employees. Developments observed by activists in San Diego now make it clear that the JROTC program can also directly undermine the collective bargaining power of public school teachers.

In 1992, when local groups began protesting the $800,000 budget for JROTC in the San Diego Unified School District, organizers attempted to involve teacher union activists in the debate. Unfortunately, members of the San Diego Teachers Association (SDTA) were unwilling to publicly criticize the program because, they said, the SDTA also represented JROTC instructors. It would be improper, they argued, for them to advocate termination of some of their own members' job slots.

In February of 1996, after going without a pay raise for several years, 5,000 of San Diego's teachers went on strike. Despite the loyalty the SDTA had shown earlier to JROTC teachers, all 21 JROTC classroom instructors turned their backs on the union and crossed picket lines at the school district's 10 JROTC schools. At one high school only three teachers crossed the line, and two of them were the school's JROTC staff!

Volunteers from the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO), which works to counter the military's presence in San Diego schools, visited picket lines at eight schools to monitor the behavior of JROTC personnel during the strike. Some of the picketing teachers they encountered gave excuses for the JROTC staff, usually repeating the claim that JROTC teachers could be punished or fired by the military for participating in the strike. According to one striking teacher, JROTC instructors had told them they couldn't strike because they were under a separate employment agreement and were paid by the military.

In reality, the military's standard JROTC contract dictates that these teachers be employees of the sponsoring school district, not the military. Their paychecks come from the school district and, in San Diego, all of them receive the same benefits as other members of the local teacher union. In addition to their school district salaries, JROTC teachers receive retirement checks from the military, which can total $1,600 to $2,500. This money cannot be cut off and ensures that JROTC staff would continue to have some income if they struck, unlike other teachers.

When these facts were pointed out to some of the picketing strikers, they began to look more critically at the position taken by JROTC staff. To educate additional teachers about the situation, Project YANO produced a special leaflet publicizing the strike-breaking role of JROTC instructors and addressing other aspects of the issue that should be of concern to teachers--e.g., the inferior credential requirements for JROTC instructors, false claims about the program's benefits, discriminatory aspects of JROTC, and political propaganda contained in the curriculum. At a union rally organized to explain a proposed strike settlement, the flier was passed out to about 1,000 teachers.

While many of the teachers who received Project YANO's flier were angered by what they learned, it is too soon to tell if it will lead to a change in the union's position on JROTC. Teacher unions in other communities have not always stayed neutral on the issue, but this is because in some school districts JROTC instructors remain outside of the local bargaining unit, while in others the introduction of JROTC has been perceived by teachers as a form of outside contracting for classroom services. Teacher opposition was a deciding factor in defeating JROTC in communities like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Rochester, Minnesota.

One question that needs further research is the claim that JROTC instructors could be fired by the military for participating in a strike. The contract that schools must sign with the military states that JROTC instructors must be approved by the military and that the military can, at any time, "relieve from duty" any JROTC instructor. If the military actually has a policy of dismissing JROTC personnel who act in solidarity with striking teachers, this fact could help JROTC opponents form alliances with teacher unions and keep the program out of more schools. Unless and until such a policy is confirmed, activists should be able to effectively challenge any claim that JROTC instructors should be excused from honoring picket lines during a teachers' strike.

The San Diego Teacher Association's earlier refusal to criticize the JROTC program may seem ironic to them now, but the military (including the National Guard) has a long history of brutally suppressing both the civilian labor and GI rights movements. In lessons taught to JROTC students, this fact is dealt with incompletely and dishonestly. The third-year Army JROTC textbook, for example, euphemistically states that soldiers "settled labor disputes." And without giving details of the bloodshed that occurred, it boasts that "one of the most well-known instances of using the Army in labor disputes was when the Army put an end to the railroad strike of 1894."

Besides undermining the collective bargaining power of teachers, the retired military officers who teach JROTC pose an even greater, long-term danger. In each of the more than 2,600 high schools which have adopted the program so far, these individuals are teaching their anti-labor philosophy and values to a hundred or more students, and those students are influencing others. Typical of the lessons JROTC cadets are learning and, in turn, passing on, is this one from a Navy JROTC textbook: "Among the traits of a good follower, loyalty is at the top of the list. This means loyalty to those above us in the chain of command, whether or not we agree with them." Also, "Obedience is the most important of the attitudes that good leaders should strive to instill in their personnel."

With lessons like these being taught in a growing number of public schools, one has to wonder how much longer there will even be unions or collective bargaining in the U.S.!

Adapted from Draft NOtices, March-April 1996; newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism & the Draft, P.O. Box 15195, San Diego, CA 92175; phone (619) 753-7518, e-mail RJahnkow@aol.com. For a copy of the teachers' flier, send a stamped envelope to Project YANO, P.O. Box 230157, Encinitas, CA 92023.

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