Monday, January 25, 2016

The Unity Caucus Propaganda Machine: Are Most NYC Teachers Clueless? How Dim is the Future? Part 1

Excerpt from comment on Perdido St School: When we are fully finished as organized teachers, it will be one of the last blocks in the long story of American labor history to crumble, and it will have done so not with a fight, not with a gallant last stand, but simply with apathy, ignorance, and foolishness.  ...
My response to this comment is that I have maintained for the past 15 years or so that building an infrastructure and doing regular outreach and education must be the first step in waking people up. Having at least one or 2 people in each school who can counter the Unity machine - like house to house fighting with Unity which engages in vicious infighting to protect their turf.

From reports coming in from comments on blogs and in emails, people are complaining how most of their colleagues are not aware - clueless about so many issues.

How most people even in schools with active members of groups like MORE, NYCORE, Teachers Unite are confused or ignorant or seduced by the propaganda machines out there. Most people do not read the ed blogs or go to MORE meetings or are on MORE Discussion boards which seems to be the one place where debates are taking place.

Besides the biased and misreporting mainstream press another reason most teachers have no idea is that Unity has almost total control of the UFT communication network - the NY Teacher, district reps and other patronage people going into schools and propagandizing. And insipid and expensive commercials.

There is only one way to counter that: build a parallel network of information at the school and district level. This is a marathon not a sprint and many people I am in touch with poo-poo this strategy as too little too late. They are impatient for quick solutions - like sue the UFT over its undemocratic process. Good luck with that. Or scream and yell and jump up and down and hope for results - the "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks" thesis. Have fun with bombast and see how far that gets you.

When I began Education Notes in hard copy (around 1000 copies) at the UFT Delegate Assembly back in 1997 I sort of had the long run in mind. So almost 20 years later here we are not much further along. But I still have faith, especially given what has begun to happen in other cities.

Within a few years of starting Ed Notes it became clear that most of the people I was targeting at the DA were Unity and I would have to tailore an appeal for change to them and to the new UFT President Randi Weingarten. After a few years it was clear I was barely making a dent, though enough independents began sharing my views.

I realized that being one person with a limited distribution this was not going to have much of an impact against the Unity machine and that an organization had to be built. Especially as Randi increasingly supported ed deform.

The landscape in the early 2000s was not promising. New Action, before the Unity deal, seemed increasingly ineffective and TJC seemed to be in a rigid ideological box. The 3rd group, Progressive Action Caucus (PAC) was basically a one-issue group focused on protecting teachers from the loss of their licenses due to not having passed the exams (they were the ATRs of the time but under the threat of being terminated - which thousands were).

Soon after the 2001 election I tried to use Ed Notes, which was about to go citywide beyond the DA with my looming retirement, as an organizing force to bring all these groups together but warfare quickly broke out. After the New Action deal with Unity in 2003, I called a meeting of Ed Notes supporters and that led to the formation of ICE.

ICE received a very warm reception initially but reality began to set in over time. There were many good things about ICE and also some serious flaws. I won't go into them at this time. But I think I learned some things. And by 2009 with the ed deform movement reaching all the schools, the idea of a non-caucus to take on the bigger battle emerged with GEM (Grassroots Education Movement) which began to attract people from a variety of teacher groups and some new people.

By 2011, the UFT/Unity machine was a bigger elephant in the room than ever and the idea of uniting the forces attracted to GEM into another try at a caucus began to take shape in monthly secret meetings which resulted in MORE in 2012. My goal from the beginning was that MORE had the potential to become that wide-ranging organizing force to counter Unity that I envisioned back in the late 90s.

It has not been all that easy.



I envisioned as a first step that MORE would have a newsletter along the lines of what Ed Notes was with distribution to hundreds of schools on a regular basis - 4 times a year to start - that would become the alt NY Teacher.



That hasn't happened in any regular basis and one day I'll get into the reasons why. MORE seemed ready to do leaflets but not newsletters though I believe that may change after the election.

Reaching rank and file UFT members has been a very frustrating process over the years, though the recent social networking has helped groups like MORE.

I have maintained for the past 15 years or so that building an infrastructure and doing regular outreach and education must be the first step in waking people up. Having at least one or 2 people in each school who can counter the Unity machine - like house to house fighting with Unity which engages in vicious infighting to protect their turf. That takes organizing and outreach and building local structures at the district level. The problem with the opposition for all these years is that it has often skipped the building steps and focused on the elections every 3 years. I've seen signs that there has been some awakening -- MORE has adopted this strategy in name at least -- I'm watching to see the  outcomes of this in practice.

In part 2 I'll delve into the conundrum of building an organization like MORE in an often painful process of taking all points of view into account while upholding internal democracy so MORE doesn't turn into top-down Unity.

In the meantime, here is a comment on the dismal future in this
NYSUT And The UFT, Allied Again With Cuomo, Spend Millions On Propaganda To Fool Their Members And The Public
Part of the landscape I see outside of NYC in the districts is that membership is DEEPLY unaware of basically everything, and especially Friedrichs. Teachers are by and large fully unaware. I've had to educate a lot of folks about it, and even then they walk away with a puzzled look....one can only assume that this puzzlement is from not having any schemata or information architecture to attach the Friedrichs information to....so many folks are only dimly aware of the reformer/privatizer/political threats we face, so hearing the Friedrichs thing is out of the blue for them. Besides, most working teachers live under the ridiculous canard of "the pendulum" by which they think that "things will straighten out."

So, because of this I have no faith that teachers are "waking up" and will begin to insist on change or whatever. They wont. The awful leadership of the UFT and NYSUT will continue, even as those organizations shrink post-Friedrichs.

Its shocking to note how few teachers grasp the threats that are facing us. So few are informed. In the annals of labor history, the losses we are experiencing and facing will pale only in comparison to the fact that a generation of teachers were blissfully unaware of their circumstance in spite of having ample information. When we are fully finished as organized teachers, it will be one of the last blocks in the long story of American labor history to crumble, and it will have done so not with a fight, not with a gallant last stand, but simply with apathy, ignorance, and foolishness.

8 comments:

  1. MORE could begin to collect e-mails of rank and file. Just start building it and start sending out something like Gene Mann's Organizer. I truly believe people will respond and circulation will grow and hopefully Unity's strangle hold on information will begin to crack.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I view you as MORE because it takes people who are aware to work with their colleagues. MORE is still limited in man and woman power but has been building a list in an organized way - I hope -- using a main contact at each school who will do the organizing at their school and pass on the info. The hope is to build a district level structure. A few districts are moving but that is due to a concentration of forces. In scattered district like yours we could use someone like you to help get started - like tapping chapter leaders or other rank and file in your school and maybe nearby schools. You must see the Unity machine regularly and how the District Rep monitors any voices of dissent. There have got to be people who are not happy with the union. WE have people who are not formally connected to MORE who are sharing info and getting their colleagues to join MORE. One school from the Bronx has 40% of its members signed up. Another has 30 members who paid $10 to join. It is slow but if we had more people doing that the Unity machine would be challenged at its root level of control. Once that happens - if it ever does -- the election results would begin to reflect that.

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  2. Teachers ARE waking up. They don't know all the politics but they sure as hell feel the unfairness of the evaluation system

    What I believe will start happening is they will start to pull dues
    And more and more will do it as time passes

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  3. Norm:

    MORE needs to get out of their ideological box as well by jettisoning the "social justice" plank if they want to get the mainstream voter.

    While MORE has some very good ideas the "social justice" plank is like an albatross on the organization and its time to take off the blinders and realize its a losing hand that hurts MORE.

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    1. Funny you talk about getting rid of the social justice plank when it is only the social justice caucuses that have been getting somewhere like Chicago, LA, Milwaukee. Fact is people who line up with your ideas will never become active and do the kind of work an organization needs to function while SJ people are ready to do the hard organizing work. Show me one teacher union in this nation that has challenged an entrenched leadership without a strong SJ component. History has and will show that your narrow view of unionism will not prevail. You don't build an opposition by chasing after your mythical mainstream voter, which in reality in the UFT is a non-voter because your mainstreamer doesn't really give much of a crap.

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    2. Chaz
      Why don't you just go ahead and support the other caucus if you are so bothered by MORE's positions on issues that relate to children and their lives. A caucus that doesn't give a shit about kids is right up your alley.

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  4. What happened to that new newsletter project that was started not long ago?

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    Replies
    1. Project is still on. I dropped a batch at Josh's school. Next newsletter is due after the election stuff.

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