Thursday, October 13, 2016

The UFT as a Management Corporation - Sean Ahern: UFT Incorporated

What difference does it make to UFT Inc if the corporate reformers figure two for one ain't bad?  What difference to UFT Inc if turnover in the teaching ranks increases and the median salary/seniority level is lowered?  It doesn't matter if a member makes 40 or 100 thousand per year, if they have 3 years seniority or 30,  UFT Inc collects the same amount  per capita!   The more the merrier!   The two newbies for one old timer approach of the corporate reformers means  more members,  means more dues!  More customers for the health plan (and they are younger and less costly)!   .... Sean Ahern
I met Sean Ahern in May 2003 when he sent me a snail mail letter after finding a copy of Ed Notes in his school mailbox. (How it got there I have no idea). We began to hang out and by September we were talking about a need for a new voice inside the UFT because the other 3 groups operating as caucuses weren't addressing a number of issues. We touched base with other allies and thus the Independent Community of Educators was born two months later. Over the years we have had our falling outs and coming back together, ultimately in MORE.

I don't always agree with all of Sean's points and don't agree with some of them in this post but they are usually very thoughtful. He recently posted this piece from 2007 -- with a whole load of predictions that came true --  to the MORE listserve and is worth checking out. He questions the concept of a traditional opposition caucus, something I and others have raised at times. In my visit with Julie Cavanagh the other day we touched on some of the issues related to MORE as a caucus. He argues for a flattening of the teacher salary schedule and predicts that senior teachers would come under attack due to their high costs.
I wrote this in 2007 when I was a member of the Independent Community of Educators.  Some things have changed but much more remains the same.  It may offer a new generation of MORE activists some food for thought.
Sean Ahern

UFT Incorporated
After four years NAC (pursuing the change from above) has pretty much disappeared into Unity without discernible effect on the mothership.  ICE/TJC's challenge to  Unity(change from below) may be likened to   'grabbing an elephant by the tail', not much in the way of  a budding insurgency here. 
I used to think the UFT was a labor organization  ultimately subject to the expressed will of working teachers.  I know there are dedicated Chapter Leaders on this list who have held the fort in their schools and kept members active and involved.  I applaud such efforts at the school level, I just don't see how the positive change can go much beyond this. 
Consider for a moment that the UFT is neither a  teachers union, nor a company union,  nor a corrupt union, nor a retiree association, but a  management corporation, UFT Inc.,  with two large office buildings, a health insurance plan, the $40 billion TRS, The Teachers Center and other  properties and investments, perks and privileges to maintain. 
The Labor Management subsidiary of UFT Inc.
The rank and file opposition engages only one branch of UFT Inc.; its labor management subsidiary.  We have done so  in the mistaken belief that working teachers can (given sufficient mobilization) hold their "leaders" accountable or put new ones in office.  I now think this model is misleading and  harmful if it promotes demoralization.  
Recall that only around 1/3 of the population of the colonies supported Independence from Great Britain.  Even during great social movements and revolutions, a relatively small number of people  are actively involved.  Even if the majority of the working membership of the UFT  voted against the current leadership, the leadership would not change.  No amount of membership engagement alone will lead to a removal of the current leadership or even a change in the structure or goals of the organization.  Why suggest otherwise?
Pure and simple caucuses, single issue groups and social justice groups?
The ICE/TJC is only the latest in a long line of rank and file activist ready to battle the machine. But what's the plan? The opposition has set out to prove that we can be better trade unionists than the current leadership and that   our efforts along these lines will bring us closer to our goal of a "Just contract" (what is this?) and "Union democracy".  Very little consideration is given to those who have walked this road before.   
I have nothing but the highest regard for those CL's who have managed to keep their heads and self respect and independence from the machine.  I just don't think that replication of this model at more and more schools is going to change UFT Inc.   Every school has its own particular issues and problems, what brings us all together?   
Issues related to  gender, racial and class oppression, NCLB, pedagogy, criminalization, violence, boredom and demoralization among both staff and students,  Mayoral Control, and High stakes testing, War and occupation, and other issues which affect living, learning and working conditions, solidarity among the members and between the membership and the parents, students, and  communities of color  are deemed beyond the bounds of consensus by the opposition caucuses and therefor off the agenda.   What's left? To decry the  contractual sellouts and eclipse of democracy time and again?   
Activists on pursue issues on their own or join into ad hoc groups, seek support from foundations or grad schools, politicians, liberal corporate reformers, radical, socialist, anarchist sects.  Others are easily assimilated into UFT Inc which can make use of the energy and conviction of radicals in small doses.  UFT Inc thus becomes a star around which orbit a wide  array of groups, caucuses across the political spectrum.  Even those who think they are "independent" are responding in one way or another to its  dominance created in part by  fragmentation.
With relative ease, UFT Inc contains skirmishes in discrete, compartmentalized  engagements.  They'll give one group  a meeting room, or invite an individual to join a committee,  maybe they'll call you a commie or a anti semite, maybe they'll stroke you or kick you in the head. When everyone is divided, dissenters are managed in one way or another without much difficulty.  
What does Solidarity look like?
For over 40 years UFT Inc has rendered services to the corporate and political elite  in exchange for their fiefdom  over the bargaining unit. UFT Inc is powerful but I think they are vulnerable on a number of levels provided the opposition can shed some of its own ideological baggage and blinders.  I don't think its likely that it can be reformed from within.  Change will come through a convergence of rank and file members in concert with a schools based movement for fundamental reordering of societal priorities.  Call it a revolution or an evolution but its going to have to be a mass movement that creates a new sense of social solidarity strong enough to loosen the oligarchy's grip.
Most importantly the opposition can help  to build such a movement by breaking with the Shanker/Feldman legacy and the defense of white racial privileges that this legacy of opportunism is based upon. 
Challenge the whitening of the teaching staff  in the name of both labor solidarity and solidarity with the students, parents and communities of color is one  small step but its something real and deeply resonant in our history.  Solidarity has real powers.  Even in small doses it  inspires hope.  It shows up the collusion between UFT Inc and BloomKlein, it causes fissures within the Unity machine, it builds a working group of folks whose repudiation of racial privilege creates a bond of solidarity with lasting significance beyond a contract struggle or a single issue.  It's a seed worth planting.
The preemption of a strictly rank and file reform initiative by UFT Inc
The large size of the local (largest in the US I think) and the small size of most of the schools creates a federal type system which gives inordinate power to a central leadership that can weather any localized rebellions.
UFT Inc has carefully insulated their  labor management division from even a perfect storm of  rank and file insurgency.  Witness the weight accorded the retiree vote. Plans are in the works to bring in new groups of members who don't work in the  education field, further diluting the weight of those actually working in NYC public schools. 
It is just not a viable strategy to say to working teachers, take back your union! Run for CL and Delegate and Vote against the tentative agreements, Speak up at meetings - win  the majority of working teachers to vote against the Unity caucus and then we'll see.  See what?  That you are in a dead end?  That UFT Inc has preempted rank and file control and reduced the entire apparatus from CL to local wide election to a consultative role, at best?  
The other holdings of UFT Inc provide its board of directors a depth of reserves to help manage discontent in the labor division:  the political/economic connections to the oligarchy, to the Israeli lobby, to the educational bureaucratic complex, the media.  I think they have back door connections to the Special Investigators office not to mention all levels of the DOE bureaucracy.  Bloomklein know this and its partially the reason for their decimation of  the central and regional offices.  It seems like they are destroying their own management infrastructure, but Bloomklein realize that this infrastructure was as much (if not more)  UFT Inc and SSA as it was theirs. 
The new agreement shows how the DOE and UFT Inc are in cahoots.    The majority of teachers and parents and students  are on the outside looking in.  This collaboration brings us  one step closer to the Chicago nightmare.  The people have to create some new forms and new connections and new leaders quick fast. 
Look closely at the crafting of this compromise.  It pushes through the mayors reform agenda while at the same time institutionalizing a privilege for certain schools  who now have the choice of hiring another teacher at $100,000 or a newbie for 50,000 and pocket the difference for another use.  
A school with a senior staff now has a newly created form of "equity", a school full of newbies is out in the cold.  Who is being protected here?  Who wins, who looses?  Look closely here and see the method of divide and conquer and social control as practiced by both BloomKlein and UFT Inc.    Isn't some sort of privilege being institutionalized before our eyes with the UFT as mid wife and overseer?  This is supposed to be in teachers interests?  Look at what they do, not what they say.  It is a new order of disaster, way worse than the lengthening of the working day.  If the UFT was a union they would have made a common front with the SSA and community groups and teachers and drew together the rising discontent to create the blessed community where the rubber meets the road, in schools and classrooms throughout the city as a model for the nation.  A new paradigm   The collaboration between the adults at the school level. 
Did any of the extraordinary influence of UFT Inc trickle down to the rank and file or lead to improvements in working and learning conditions or increased parental involvement or accountability?  Excuse me if I don't mourn over the destruction of the DOE bureaucracy or rush to demonstrate on their behalf, or cheer at this latest consensus between UFT Inc and BloomKlein. 
UFT Inc and BloomKlein have joined together to protect their interests and exclude people.   School workers and parents and community folks need to join together.  This is the direction for the UFT rank and file activists.  Their is no way to change UFT Inc apart from a broader movement.  The self contained rank and file caucus strategy by itself  will not bring about the desired improvements in wages, working and learning conditions for the large majority of working members.  The UFT Inc's Board of Directors receives and gives support from the the oligarchy, the rank and file must do the same with the working class of the city.   
The issues raised by the opposition  are very much within  the agenda set by UFT Inc in the sense that they are limited to protesting contracts (sellouts and givebacks without even a attempt at defense) and the extremely centralized party line control on display in meetings and publications.  It is not a positive program. Highly centralized control over meetings and the UFT press are issues far removed from struggling teachers and not likely to arouse much interest. The reform program has not not resonated strongly within the rank and file partly I think because the contracts and the contract "struggle" look choreographed from start to finish, with the opposition playing a part they might not even realize has been written for them.  (A caricature of a Union, a caricature of an opposition.  The Truman show of a "labor" movement, its difficult to build up much steam about this)   
The less senior half of the staff is really struggling financially but the opposition has not taken on the tough nut of what to do about a vastly unfair salary schedule that UFT Inc has fashioned over the years.  The future lies with the new members- is the opposition program addressing them?  is the whitening of the teaching staff in the interests of these new members?   Quite the contrary, it is further weakening the already frayed bonds between student and educators and strengthening the domination of the corporate reformers and UFT Inc.
I think the opposition gives most of its attention to the current active membership, those chapter leaders and delegates in the first place, and those who vote secondly.  This is a UFT Inc bailiwick.  Do you tailor your program to gain a majority of this group or is the natural constituency to be found among the over 70% of the working members who do not participate?  You have to ask why they are not active and what their concerns are.  (I don't think the lack of participation is due to satisfaction.)  That doesn't come from the EB or DA.   More over, there is no way out of the impasse faced by teachers without a radically new relationship with the working class communities of color.  One that sees the common interests, one that rejects racial privileges as the  necessary corollary of solidarity. 
What the hell is the UFT Inc? If the social and economic order of the city is disrupted through the concerted action of those within its domain, UFT Inc looses its dues checkoff , at least temporarily until such time as they proved themselves capable of reestablishing control.  What does this tell you?
The Dues farm and the captive bargaining unit  
Like the King and his vassals in feudal times, UFT Inc. occupies a status similar to a vassal  vis a vi city and state executives.  
By virtue of state labor labor law, UFT Inc is granted a modern day version of a  fiefdom, officially referred to as exclusive bargaining agent, which entitles them to involuntary deductions made from members of the designated bargaining unit.   These fees, called "dues" or agency shop fees are  deducted by the city from the captive members of the bargaining unit and paid to  UFT Inc. so long as  UFT Inc makes sure that   no strike or concerted action ensues. (In this sense UFT Inc has even less of an independent existence and  is even more dependent on the city and state executives than the vassals of old were to their Lords.)  The vassal of middle ages lived by 'land for loyalty', the UFT Inc  lives today by dues for loyalty.
As long as UFT Inc. can manage all discontent it is free to profit and service its other interests, including real estate, the health insurance company, the TRS, the Teacher's Center, a political patronage machine joined at the hip to the Israel lobby, and who knows what else. 
I started thinking about this with all the brouhaha the UFT and their "allies"  are  raising  over the Mayors' new funding scheme, that there will be a disincentive to hire senior teachers.  I think this is all for show.  If the UFT bargaining strategy is shifted towards shortening the time to top pay(with the aim of getting back to 8 years from the current 22) then there will be greater solidarity and corporate education reformers will have a more difficult time slicing and dicing up the membership.  If the UFT was  primarily a  labor organization and not UFT Inc this would be the immediate response. Freeze the top salary and forgo all salary schedule changes save the one that each year kicks the longevity raises backwards, until all six of them are gone and top salary is reached after 8 years.  Freeze the top and bring the bottom up. 
UFT Inc can't make this adjustment because it isn't in their interests to do so and would furthermore be a repudiation of their negotiating strategy for the past 30 years which has lengthened the time to top pay from 8 to 22 years.  UFT Inc is  the giant with their feet stuck in clay but as long as the dues keep flowing in and their perks and privileges are secure there is no incentive for them to change. 
What difference does it make to UFT Inc if the corporate reformers figure two for one ain't bad?  What difference to UFT Inc if turnover in the teaching ranks increases and the median salary/seniority level is lowered?  It doesn't matter if a member makes 40 or 100 thousand per year, if they have 3 years seniority or 30,  UFT Inc collects the same amount  per capita!   The more the merrier!   The two newbies for one old timer approach of the corporate reformers means  more members,  means more dues!  More customers for the health plan (and they are younger and less costly)!  More money for more real estate!  More money flowing into the TRS and less flowing out!  More perks and privileges to buy more supporters and grow the machine!   At this rate UFT inc might be able to takeover the entire shell of the AFL -CIO and run the burgeoning federal educational bureaucracy!  Oh their future is bright indeed provided that shining star Hillary assumes the throne in 2008! 
The UFT is a business, a management corporation that fronts as a labor organization.   I'm sure there are plenty of members who think this is fine or don't think much about it or don't expect much more than a health plan and  a pension plan for $40 per check.   Most teachers I talk with  are extremely disappointed with the job as it stands but think of changing schools or leaving the profession as the only option.  I think the rank and file opposition has to go beyond the "just"contract  and more democracy formula' if we are ever to reach this disaffected, disgusted majority which is going to grow and not turn over voluntarily as the economy deteriorates. (massive layoffs is another matter).   
Focus more on conditions in the schools and classrooms, share strategies and stories to resist the micro managing, the testocracy, the criminalization.  Promote social criticism and critical thinking, and support each other to be better teachers.  Advocate an  explicitly progressive, environmentally friendly and pro social justice pedagogy.  Tie what is happening to teachers standards of living to the white male supremacist pro corporate class warfare being waged against the people.  Once teachers break out of the ghetto that has been constructed by UFT Inc and connect with the people, progress on a host of fronts can be made.  From the living conditions of students and families, to the learning and working conditions in the schools.  Progress along these lines requires a movement based on solidarity. 
Stop fighting UFT Inc  on its own terms.  Things are only going to get worse with the housing market bust, trade imbalance, decline of the dollar, recession, and more.  We are approaching a meltdown similar to the NYC fiscal crisis, but writ nationwide. UFT Inc is just looking to ride it out on our backs just like the corporate elite they serve. 
I think a new approach to contracts is needed that goes beyond upping the ante or calling for more militant demos,. protests, strikes, etc.  The opposition should be putting forward new ideas for compressing the salary gap, promoting solidarity across race and gender and uniting with the parents and communities of color that comprise 85% of the student body and the majority of the working class of this city.  We should be calling for more teachers of color not fewer.  Restoration of arts, music, athletics, hands on programs that lead to skilled employment, and engage older students.  Dramatically reduce the class size in k-8.  End mandatory grade retention.  Eliminate CUNY tuition for  NYC HS grads  and teachers.
We should be calling for a fundamentally new mission and structure  for UFT Inc.  Divest, decentralize.  Send all these high paid full time officers packing or back to the classroom.  Sell the buildings and create local meeting places dispersed throughout the city.  Break up the city wide local into borough wide locals who join with other school worker orgs and parent/community groups in a city wide school community congress? UFT Inc should divest itself of all Israel bonds and sever all links that support occupation and the wall. 
Its nice to be able to borrow and save through the TRS but is our  $40 billion  being invested to build affordable housing and improve our quality of life or is it all military industrial complex, coca cola and big pharma and companies that do more harm than good? 
Lets have a health plan instead of a pharmaceutical/disease plan.  Etc, etc.  But it all starts with a focus on solidarity...I remember when thousands of uncertified teachers were fired in 2002, where was the UFT Inc?  Where was the so called opposition?  Under mayoral control the pedagogical staff has been whitened by a defacto affirmative action hiring for whites plan, which neither the UFT Inc has exposed, nor have the opposition groups put it on their agenda.  Without solidarity we go no where. UFT Inc and the corporate reformers BloomKlein et al will manage to contain a self defeated, divided and dispirited opposition, if we let them.
Sean Ahern 


  1. The only thing I got out of that is the anti Semitic line about the Israel lobby. Shame on you for publishing that garbage. That alone is telling.

    1. Of course you would focus on one line - i don't expect anything else of you -and it tells a lot about you. You should just stop reading ed notes since you are so easily offended.

    2. a supporter of genocide when Israel does it. Irony.

    3. The old chestnut anti semitism. Who has not been accused of it

    4. Yes. Israel is exempt from criticism and any such is antisemitism even from a Jew like me. The next comment will be that I must be a self hating Jew.

    5. Calm down Norm. Nobody is calling you a self-hater. We get the impression that you are proud of your faith and heritage. All in all, we think you are an affable person. Your motives are righteous. You love the students and the teaching profession. You love the union movement and want what is best. Here is where we disagree we think your ideas for improvement are all mixed up. Sometimes, although well intentioned actually dangerous.

      As far as the original thoughts. When a writer puts the words UFT and Israel Lobby in the same sentence you are playing into the haters. That has nothing to do with criticism of Israel.

      We will continue reading as long as you continue publishing and remember in unity there is strength.

  2. This discussion is a diversionary tactic.

    Abigail Shure

    1. You nailed it. Sean touched on essential truths about the uft so they pick the most minor issue as far away from the essence of what he said.

  3. I am Jewish and I lived in Israel for five years. Neighborhoods and schools are segregated.

    An Arabic student at Hebrew University (HU) told me that the chicken coop at the kibbutz across the road had electricity while his village did not.

    An American friend took a basic Arabic course at HU that was also attended by Arabic students whom she reported could barely read in their native language.

    There are SECURITY forces everywhere.

    Do you want to hear more?

  4. A foreign nation and its agents in america have distorted many aspects of life for american citizens. to say that makes one a pariah. and there is the rub, universal deceit is normalized in this country

  5. a foreign nations unregistered agents have wreaked havoc in america. the truth is finally coming out

  6. gatekeeping is treason. terrorists run nurenberg the major crime was defined as waging aggressive war.america has 'intervened' 47 times since ww2. the dems are apologists for the status quo. the uft are apologists for the dems. we have to climb out of the slime

  7. censorship is the rule everywhere. neo liberals are the worst. they are the gatekeepers of tyrrany


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