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New Detroit Federation of Teachers leader pledges a "marvelous new militancy"

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

The new Detroit Federation of Teachers’ President says it’s time for the union to “draw a line in the sand.”

Steve Conn was just elected to lead the union of nearly 4,000 Detroit Public Schools teachers.

He took the oath of office Tuesday, vowing to take a hard line against Gov. Snyder, the district’s new emergency manager, Darnell Earley — and the years of state-led intervention Conn says have devastated the district.

“The deficit goes up, up, up,” Conn said. “The class size goes up, up, up. The buildings deteriorate, teacher pay deteriorates … it’s all backwards and wrong, and it’s going to end.”

Conn said his inauguration ushered in an era of “marvelous new militancy” for the DFT. He said teachers are fed up with the “state-sponsored destruction of public education in Detroit,” and that the fight for its future must be part of a larger civil rights struggle.

Conn has been a controversial figure in Detroit education circles for many years.

He sought the DFT presidency, by his own count, a dozen times before winning this election. He’s also been a leader with the education-focused civil rights group By Any Means Necessary, which involves students in occasional marches and other forms of direct protest.

As for his planned tactics in facing off against a state-controlled district, Conn wasn’t ready get too specific Tuesday. He did say that no potential tactic is off the table — including a teacher’s strike, which is banned by Michigan law.

Conn says a “mass meeting” planned for this weekend will let the union talk strategy — and send a message to the “politicians and corporate interests” in Lansing.

“They have bit off more than they can chew,” Conn said. “They have messed with the wrong people here. It’s over.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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