By Jude Soto
In spite of the numerous protests against her appointment, this week Commissioner of the New York State Education Department, David Steiner, confirmed Cathie Black as Chancellor of New York City Public Schools. That sadness I am feeling as a school teacher, that my boss is someone who lacks a background in education and sent her children to ritzy private boarding schools in Connecticut, is buttressed by her record of latent approval of anti-labor tactics in Latin America.
For seventeen years Cathie Black served on the board of directors of Coca Cola, and while expanding into developing markets, the company also has been accused of some outrageous anti-union activity in Latin America. In 1997, Adolfo Jesus de Munera the union leader in a bottling plant in Barranquilla, Colombia was given death threats, forced to flee his house, fired by Coca Cola, and then found murdered. If one was to claim that this was an isolated incident or that Munera’s murder was carried out because of issues not related to his union activities, let it be known that seven other union leaders of at Coca Cola bottling plants in Colombia had also been murdered. Also, there is currently a lawsuit in place in Guatemala alleging the company gave the go ahead to “murder, attempted murder and rape as intimidate tactics against union leaders.” In a perfect world, a member of an organization that was complicit in the murder of innocent Latinos would be in jail right now, but this is not a perfect world, and Cathie Black is now the head of a school district that is nearly 40% Latino.
It might be suggested that Black knew nothing about these events, or that as a member of a multi-person board of directors Black should not be held responsible for the actions of an entire multinational corporation, but numerous reports suggest that Black was well aware of these incidents. While on the board of directors for Coca-Cola, Black voted against an independent investigation into the labor abuses in Colombia. The board also unanimously voted against opposing human rights abuses in China. The information was brought to light, debated, and put to vote, and time and again Cathie Black put profit ahead of humanity. To excuse Black is to excuse the very acts themselves.
With realizing that teachers are the focal point of a nationwide bipartisan campaign against public workers, and Black’s anti-labor status, it’s obvious why Michael Bloomberg picked her to run city schools. As a fellow media mogul, with noted union-busting tendencies, one can imagine Bloomberg skipping gingerly to his limousine when the idea dawned to appoint Black. I, however, am grumbling, and nervously waiting to see if Cathie Black will do to New York’s teachers what she did to Colombia’s workers.
Jude Soto has been a teacher in a low-income public high school in New York City since 2004. A native New Yorker, Soto has an M.A. in history from Brooklyn College. Outside of the academic world, his pursuits include traveling, weightlifting, and long distance running.