While many teachers were able to see the contract for what it was, the only organized protest against it was mounted by the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). Though the effort made by this group was truly commendable, it currently has too small of a base to mount an effective attack or empower the teachers in a city with such a vast, sprawling geography and such a high number of schools. In most schools, only the rose-colored version of the contract promoted by the leadership and its Unity Caucus (which included outright lies) was heard. If all UFT members had properly heard both sides of the argument, the vote would have been much closer.Francesca Gomes teaches at a Brooklyn middle school and is a member of MORE and Socialist Alternative.
From the use of fear tactics by the current UFT leadership to its acceptance of charter schools and standardized testing, it has shown that it is entirely incapable of and has no intention of even attempting to stage a fightback against the erosion of teachers’ rights. Its “strategy” at the moment appears to boil down to the mantra “we must trust our friends”, de Blasio and Fariña. This led inevitably to the need to present the austerity contract as a victory.
It must also be said that part of the context for the 77% vote in favor of the contract was the extremely low expectations of a deeply demoralized membership, which also had little faith in the leadership to get something better if it was sent back to the bargaining table. An article on the MORE website entitled “Disappointment” states that: “Most of the members with whom we spoke who approved this contract only did so because they felt it was the best our union could do,” and this was a direct effect of the union leadership’s campaign to scare teachers into accepting the deal, insisting that “the money [would] go away” if it were not ratified.
Rebuilding the fighting confidence of the union rank and file is not a straightforward process. The recent winning of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle shows working people can win real victories when they mobilize at a grassroots level. Union members, however, are contending with a leadership that actively works to reinforce their fear and demoralization, while presenting themselves as the strength of the union, instead of mobilizing their membership to exercise its own strength.
Austerity Contract for NYC Teachers – More Attacks, More Need for Unified Fightback