Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Great Schism: MORE/New Action Deal Noted in EIA's "The Coming Teacher Union Crack-Up"

In New York City the United Federation of Teachers has had opposition caucuses for years, but there is finally a concerted effort to unite all opposing factions against the Unity Caucus, which has dominated the union’s governance since the days of Al Shanker. Philadelphia and New York will require multiple elections to crack, but if they do, you may soon find movement unionists in charge of most of the largest teacher union locals in the country. ...... Mike Antonucci - The Coming Teacher Union Crack-Up, EIA, Sept. 21, 2015
It is worth noting when a national commentator on education considers the MORE - New Action recent election alliance a possibly significant factor in the growing social justice national movement in teacher unions even if that commentator is coming from the anti-teacher right.

Despite coming at issues from a libertarian, anti-union position, Mike Antonucci covers issues on internal teacher unions like no other education commentator. I don't agree that his "crack-up" take will come to pass, given that most of the urban caucuses are united in the national organization, UCORE, that has been formed and is committed to working for change within the current union local and national union structures. Detroit is an outlier, but then again Detroit is unique  - at this point. Though I don't put it beyond the Randyites to be the ones to leave and form their own union if they are ever threatened with a loss of power.

Mike has taken note of the growing social justice movement in urban teacher unions - as he did in his militants vs. establishmentarians which I commented on in Ed Notes back in June.

Now he goes into the issue in more depth and includes the MORE/New Action election deal as part of his analysis.
Believe it or not, this was a monumental week in the world of teachers’ unions. There was no single monumental event, but it’s rare to see such a collection of incidents in a seven-day span that serve to indicate a clear future direction. Let’s itemize them, then I will try to explain how I think they all tie together.
* The end of the Seattle teacher strike.
* The rumor that NEA might kickstart the process of endorsing Hillary Clinton.
* The rank-and-file vote by the Detroit Federation of Teachers and Steve Conn’s response.
* The decision of the Caucus of Working Educators to challenge the leaders of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in the next election.
* The move by opposition factions within New York City’s United Federation of Teachers to join forces against the incumbent UFT officers in the next election.
Mike puts a lot out there to chew on here.
There is a real schism in philosophy within the teachers’ unions these days. I have previously described it as militants vs. establishmentarians, but I think I have a better description now. It is a battle between movement unionists and services unionists.

The former believe people join unions to be part of the organized labor movement, to lobby, rally, agitate, protest and strike for a working class agenda. That is why most movement unionists tend to be heavily involved in many leftist causes. The latter believe people join unions to improve their pay, benefits and working conditions. Though heavily involved in advocacy, much of it political in nature, the relationship of services unionists to their members is in many ways a commercial one. Fees are paid in exchange for services – contract negotiation, grievance processing, protection against arbitrary employment actions, liability insurance, and so forth.
So when it comes to endorsing a candidate for President of the United States, the movement unionists want, to the greatest extent possible, ideological purity while the services unionists want the best bet to win. This is exemplified in the backing of Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, by the movement, and their horror to think that NEA might summarily endorse the mainstream candidate.
Mike makes note of the announcement from MORE's allies in Philadephia, WE (The Caucus of Working Educators ), whose tee-shirt I proudly wore at the MORE meeting the other day, that they were running against the establishment Randi/Mulgrew allies who have been running the union - if you can call it that, given the utter destruction of the public school system in Philly. We got to hang with them at the UCORE conference in Newark in August and I get the feeling they think they can win this election. They are a fairly new caucus but have attracted a strong following and support.
The Caucus of Working Educators will challenge the long-time incumbents of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers with a platform focused on “racial inequality in schools, increased transparency and democracy within the union, professional development and the fight against standardized testing.” You don’t have to read far on their web site to see the distinctions they draw between themselves and the incumbents.
He goes into more depth in some revealing comments on the Seattle strike story - a lesson in how even an establishment union leadership can be moved when an opposition militant wing challenges them even it if doesn't win.
In Seattle, a reported 83 percent of voting union members ratified a tentative agreement after a week-long strike. The Seattle Education Association touted the removal of student test scores from teacher evaluations, 30 minutes of recess, and equity committees in 30 schools to deal with “disproportionate discipline.” The district received a longer instructional day and agreement to its pay offer.
This was curious, since SEA was demanding much higher pay than it got, and the amount it accepted was barely higher than the district’s offer before the strike.

"The district was not going to move on any more money,” said the head of SEA’s bargaining team. “I think if we held out any longer, they would’ve started taking stuff off the table.”

Also lost in the uproar over the strike was the fact that the SEA officers had bargained the evaluation system into the last contract, even to the point where the Seattle Times reported that it was SEA president Jonathan Knapp’s idea. 
What? You mean the very union president of the SEA, following the Randi/Mulgrew model, had to strike against his own support of yet another failed evaluation scheme?

Mike asks: 
So what changed?
Last year SEA held an election and Knapp barely edged out challenger Jesse Hagopian and his caucus of Social Equality Educators [SEE]. Hagopian is a leftist (to say the minimum) but in a liberal city he is sufficiently within the mainstream to become a force within his union. By emphasizing the social justice aspects of the agreement, Knapp and his supporters undercut Hagopian’s criticisms, and the lack of a huge pay increase actually helps the message – “See, it wasn’t just about money.” For his part, Hagopian doesn’t seem all that thrilled with the result.
Ahhhh, Jesse Hagopian of the SEE Caucus, another MORE ally, almost won the election and then had his social justice agenda co-opted by the incumbents. Haven't you seen Unity Caucus try to undercut the MORE agenda by sounding social-justicy?

Steve Conn ran for the presidency of the Detroit Federation of Teachers about a dozen times before he finally won… narrowly. Last week he took a clear majority in a referendum on his removal from office. Conn is no one’s idea of a leader of a movement, which is what makes the vote all the more remarkable. If he can actually form his own union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers will begin to disintegrate – not because Conn is so appealing, but because he will take the movement unionists with him, and the services union isn’t delivering the services.
Detroit is another kettle of fish altogether. Steve Conn is not allied with UCORE but represents a different version of social justice - BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) which ran against Randi in the past few AFT elections - they do not seem to have many allies among the other SJ groups.

Steve was elected president of the DFT but his slate got on one elected to the Exec Board, which remained in the hands of the incumbent/Randi aligned caucus. The Exec Board decided to fire Steve and ban him from the union. A vote of the membership was held - Steve needed 2/3 to be reinstated. He got a majority - still a repudiation of the Exec Board action.

Steve is now going to get people to sign cards removing themselves from the DFT and forming a counter union, something I've heard people here in NYC suggest be done to counter the Unity total control of the UFT - which I do not support here but can certainly see it may be right for Steve Conn.
Conn-plication. Steve Conn, the former president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, appealed his removal by the union’s executive board and won a majority of the votes cast by the rank-and-file. Unfortunately for all sides, he needed a two-thirds majority to overturn the board’s decision. This leaves DFT with officers unsupported by the majority and an opposition without a path to power.

Conn reportedly will cut this Gordian knot by forming a new union. “We’ll be circulating cards for people to sign to opt out of DFT and join our union because teachers don’t have a union,” Conn said. “We need a union. Teachers will have to opt out of DFT, which is their right.”

The presiding DFT leaders rightly note that it was the union’s opponents who fought long and hard for that right, which in their estimation makes Conn a “union buster.”

The Detroit Free Press reported Conn’s group is “tentatively called the Detroit Teachers Union,” but my guess is there will quickly be a name change when they start trying to put together a web site.
What can we expect? Mike wryly predicted the usual Randi/AFT response - send in the locksmiths - invade the DFT and take it over - or what is left of it. I have no doubt that if MORE were ever to win, we would find ourselves challenged and locked out, as happened in Hawaii: Union Election Lessons -If Unity Lost.

Mike then goes on to tie this entire state of affairs into the upcoming Friedrichs case coming before the Supreme Court which would allow people to stop paying dues. Mike seems to assume this will be a slam-dunk and predicts this can turn into dual and dueling separate unions.
Strangely enough, the Friedrichs case, which could put an end to agency fees across the United States, might actually accelerate this trend within the unions. Since teachers and other education employees in the collective bargaining states will no longer be obliged to financially support the union-in-charge, so to speak, they can join the union of their choice, be it movement- or services-oriented.

Activists could get the union they have always wanted, with a muscular social justice agenda and without the baggage of non-believers, apathetics, and the immovable within the ranks. Workaday teachers could get the union they have always wanted, with a single-minded commitment to the daily lives of its members, and agnostic when it comes to DC statehood, abortion, gun control and immigration.

The only thing that could keep the two philosophies in one organization is a defeat for the Friedrichs plaintiffs and a massive education hiring boom that would provide new membership revenues to heal all wounds. People don’t make drastic moves when things are going well.

That type of rescue isn’t on the horizon, however. The end is near for the status quo in the teachers’ unions. What follows will be both better and worse for the rest of us.
I don't see anything like dual-unionism here in New York, given that MORE is committed to working in the UFT and forcing change from within. And with Unity Caucus controlling both NYSUT and the AFT, we won't see great changes in the AFT for some time - or at least until Randi leaves the helm to Mulgrew, who will have to punch a hell of a lot of people in the face to maintain control.

Mike Antonucci's entire piece  - The Coming Teacher Union Crack-Up is at:

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