Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ed Notes Redux: Why I Left New Action by James Eterno

I should not be surprised that the newer activists who are teaching 15 years and less often don't have a full understanding of the historical context behind many issues. Recently there has been some discussion inside MORE about New Action and I see the need to connect some of the dots. I am going back into the Ed Notes print archives for some stories and here is one from James at the founding point of ICE where he left NA to help create ICE and wrote this piece for the January 2004 edition of Ed Notes.

Ed Notes: Jan. 2004
New Action/Unity in Corrupt Bargain
Why I Left New Action!!!
by James Eterno, UFT Executive Board

Since 1824, historians have debated and criticized an alleged corrupt bargain that made John Quincy Adams President of the United States, even though he had fewer votes in the general election than Andrew Jackson.  In exchange for the presidency, Adams supposedly agreed to dole out a patronage job to Henry Clay if he would prevent Jackson from securing the White House. Adams was elected President by the House of Representatives where Clay was a leader, and soon after Adams appointed Clay as his Secretary of State.  This little bit of presidential history is being repeated in UFT politics, except now the corrupt bargain is being made before the union’s presidential election.

A deal between the two main caucuses (political parties) has been reached.  New Action has agreed not to run a candidate for president against Randi Weingarten in next spring’s UFT Election but they will run a slate for other positions.  How can a political party (NAC) run in an election and not run for the top office?   Would any citizen vote for the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential candidate next year if the Democrats decided not to run a candidate for president against Bush, but a Democrat ran for VP?  If NAC is not opposing Randi, why run at all?  What will be their slogan?  “Randi and New Action. Perfect Together.”  Anyone who votes for NAC will be voting for a fraudulent opposition and essentially supporting Weingarten. 

In return for not running against Weingarten, Randi’s Unity Caucus has agreed to open up part time union jobs for New Action (NAC) members and to not run candidates against NAC’s six High School Executive Board candidates in the upcoming election.  Unity also agreed to have an organizing committee that includes NAC members to organize weak chapters and to have a bipartisan UFT Action Committee formulate an action plan. Finally, Unity will support a change to the UFT Constitution to allow a caucus to replace its UFT Executive Board members if seats become vacant between elections. These cosmetic changes will not exactly alter the Union’s fundamentally undemocratic structure.

This modern UFT version of the corrupt bargain has convinced me to end my eight year association with New Action.  I joined NAC in 1995.  NAC leader Michael Shulman helped me a great deal when I became chapter leader of Jamaica High School in 1996.  Furthermore, since 1997 I have been elected three times by the high school teachers, with NAC’s endorsement, to the UFT Executive Board.  My resignation may cost me my Executive Board seat, but I would rather lose my seat than to be involved in a sham election.

Shulman, NAC Co-chair David Kaufman and their cohorts believe that the UFT is in a war with Bloomberg/Klein and we all have to pull together and support our president to fight the common enemy at City Hall.  Shulman is half correct.  We are under attack from the city, but NAC’s leaders are wrong because we have an obligation to challenge a UFT president who might not even try to truly fight City Hall.

Bloomberg/Klein have: eliminated the Education Evaluators, virtually ended sabbaticals, laid off paras, imposed double period block programming without our input, imposed 50 minutes of extended time in most schools twice a week in violation of our Contract as well as State Law, deprived us of the right to choose the best approach to how we teach in many classrooms, and they are refusing to hear safety grievances.  These are just a few of the many indignities that have been heaped upon us.  The UFT has filed grievances, had a rally and gone to court but meanwhile Klein continues to abuse us.  Weingarten is not winning the war and I wonder if she really wants to clash with the city.

Ask yourself the following fundamental question.  Do you think Weingarten/Unity will risk dues check-off (the union’s right to automatically deduct $37 in UFT dues from each of our paychecks)?  Automatic dues check-off could be lost if we have a real job action.  A job action could deprive the Union of the funds that support its huge patronage system.  I hope my fears are unfounded; however I seriously question whether the UFT leadership will encourage anything more from the membership than symbolic actions, and without a full scale mobilization, Bloomberg/Klein can continue to mistreat us.  Therefore, it is crucial that we have a real choice for UFT president in 2004.

Had Britain followed New Action’s logic and backed its prime minister during World War II, when they were not winning in 1940, Neville Chamberlain (appeasement’s great champion) would have remained at the helm and Winston Churchill would never have ascended to power.  The UFT needs a Churchill now and not a Chamberlain.  At least we should have the option to vote for a different line of attack.

Traditionally, New Action took a militant approach to unionism.  Strong, valid criticism of Unity/Weingarten for allowing our union to be weakened to its current state was what led to NAC winning the high schools in the last four UFT Elections.  However, since the last UFT Election in 2001, NAC has moved closer to Unity, although there have been bitter disagreements within New Action.  At some point last summer [2003], Shulman and Weingarten met and the corrupt bargain was proposed.  Later in the summer a majority of New Action’s Executive Board, despite a great deal of strong dissent, agreed not to run a candidate for president in the upcoming election.  With the corrupt bargain in place, Unity and New Action are now virtually interchangeable.  Hundreds of rank and file New Action members never heard about this deal.  I resigned from NAC as I could not conceive of supporting such a bogus election scam.

Unfortunately, the biggest losers in the corrupt bargain are the members of the UFT.  We could be deprived of a serious choice for UFT president in 2004, an election that will determine the future direction of the Union.  That is of course unless some rank and file group can come together and save the day by nominating a viable alternative to Weingarten to run for president.

This modern UFT version of the corrupt bargain has convinced me to end my eight year association with New Action.  I joined NAC in 1995.  NAC leader Michael Shulman helped me a great deal when I became chapter leader of Jamaica High School in 1996.  Furthermore, since 1997 I have been elected three times by the high school teachers, with NAC’s endorsement, to the UFT Executive Board.  My resignation may cost me my Executive Board seat, but I would rather lose my seat than to be involved in a sham election.
In the UFT election held in March 2004, James Eterno, running for HS Ex Bd on the newly formed ICE/TJC slate won the HS seats from New Action (as part of the corrupt bargain, Unity did not run) thus ushering in a 3 year era of militant opposition to Unity/New Action policies on the EB led by James and Jeff Kaufman. In the 2007, 10 and 13 elections, Unity and New Action cross endorsed candidates to make sure this would not happen again. But in the 13  election, MORE got within a few hundred votes of capturing the 7 HS EB seats from the NA/Unity slate.

Don't think there isn't some heavy worry going on over at NA/Unity HQ over this possibility and developing strategies to counter the possibility that MORE could win any EB positions in the next election.

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