Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Action and Unity Caucus

A recent letter New Action/UFT sent out to its supporters made it perfectly clear: they will be running a slate in the UFT elections this coming spring. The letter confirmed that the alliance between New Action and Unity is tighter than ever. New Action has been praised as the “responsible opposition” by Randi Weingarten. The question can be asked: Can New Action truly be classified as an “opposition” when it is uncritical of the party it is supposedly opposing—Unity Caucus. In that case, exactly who will New Action be running against in the UFT elections this winter/spring?

New Action and democracy
The New Action letter states, “Weingarten stated that she was in basic agreement with our program with the exception of…union democracy.” But isn’t lack of democracy and the total dominance by one party, in turn dominated by one person, a fundamental cause of the problems the union is facing? Hasn’t the wide gulf between the membership and leadership led to Unity Caucus decisions that have brought us to the point where, in New Action’s own words, “all members of the UFT are at risk”?

New Action has claimed their alliance with Unity has benefited the members. They state, “…we continue to be an independent check and balance within our union, ” without demonstrating one meaningful check or balance that has benefited anyone in the schools.

“We believe the membership must be activated to establish a new union militancy,” New Action says. Yet they neglect to answer why the membership has not been activated by Unity Caucus or what happened to the “old” union militancy under the Weingarten/Unity leadership. It appears that New Action has declared a loss of faith in the rank and file as a means of forcing changes in the union, in essence choosing to become a lobbying organization with the leadership.

Do they really believe that their nudging at the top will change our union’s way of operating? If we need to build militancy in our union, shouldn’t they be organizing an effective organization at the grass roots level to challenge Unity’s disastrous policies, especially when it comes to democracy?

It is not New Action’s secret lobbying and cheerleading for the union leadership or their membership on various committees dominated by Unity (even some New Action members complain how they are ignored), but rather the open criticisms by ICE, TJC and independent union members that have moved Randi Weingarten to a more responsive and militant position on many issues.

In the 45 years Unity has run the union it has always taken away democracy, never granted more of it. Why would they do so now? New Action is no novice — no one should know better how undemocratically Unity operates than them. Their leader Michael Shulman himself had an election almost stolen from him in the 80’s after he won a high school VP position that led to him being tied up in courts for a almost a year. This was followed by a change in the rules in 1993 so no one opposed to Unity could ever win a VP position again.

With Unity Caucus opposed to democratizing our union, the only way to make the UFT more democratic is to force changes on the leadership by a grass roots organizing campaign. If New Action is in partnership with Unity, what recourse do they have other than begging for crumbs?

But it goes further than that. Why is New Action running against the rest of the opposition instead of running against Unity? By refusing to join ICE and TJC as part of the joint slate challenging Unity — they were invited to do so as far back as March, held off meeting with ICE for months, and did not respond with their refusal to join the slate until mid-September — New Action has made a choice to support Unity and to act as their stalking horse in winning back the 6 high school seats that New Action lost to ICE and TJC in the 2004 elections.

New Action negates its claim that it is for a more democratic union – by enforcing and supporting the tyranny of the massive, patronage-ridden, Unity machine.

Unity supported Mayoral control, Children First, schools rated based on high stakes tests, etc.
New Action’s recent letter stated: “Four years ago New Action warned of the dangers of imposing the ‘corporate model’ on our public system. Unfortunately it has come to pass…” Taking as its cue the fact that the Bloomberg/Klein axis of evil had placed the union under an attack on all fronts and was the major enemy, the letter states: “New Action/UFT, an opposition caucus, continues to work with President Weingarten in a bipartisan way to fight this unprecedented assault, to implement our caucus program and benefit the membership.”

Isn’t New Action obfuscating the crucial role Randi Weingarten and Unity Caucus played in allowing this “unprecedented assault” on the rights of UFT members? Weingarten had been a major cheerleader for Mayor Bloomberg’s takeover of the school system, had endorsed the appointment of Joel Klein as chancellor by failing to use the union’s power and influence and insist that an educator be put in charge of the school system, and had been an enthusiastic supporter of Klein’s radical (and eventually disastrous) restructuring of the school system. At the time Weingarten stated, “What Mike Bloomberg did today was declare war on the entrenched bureaucracy. The implementation is going to be tough. There are a lot of transition issues that have to be worked out. But it is breathtakingly possible.” (“Bloomberg and Klein Drop the Big One, While Weingarten Goes Along for the Ride”, Education Notes, Spring 2003 – currently appearing on www.ednotesonline.blogspot.com.) Since that time, many teachers have been scratching their heads in wonder at the lack of a rigorous public counterattack by the union leadership, evoking comments along the lines of “Weingarten seems to cower before BloomKlein and seems afraid of offending them.”

Did New Action abrogate its responsibility as an “opposition” caucus?
New Action states, “The Bloomberg/Klein/Bush assault [on unions] is constant and relentless” without referring to the role the UFT played, as if a union did not exist or was incapable of putting up any resistance to this assault — as if this attack took place in a vacuum. Shouldn’t New Action have used its influence to organize opposition to the policies of the leadership that left the union open to this onslaught? Did the largest and most influential opposition at that time contribute to the disaster befalling us by its refusal to organize teachers to pressure Unity to take a stronger stand? New Action was a vigorous supporter of the onerous “time for money” 2002 contract. Contrast this to the role New Action played in 1995 when it had been one of the leading forces in organizing the membership to turn down the infamous zero/zero contract in its first incarnation (it passed on the 2nd vote).

New Action “opposed” the 2005 contract but supports the 2006 extension
In Randi Weingarten’s announcement about the deal on the 2005 contract, she was able to state that the vote of the negotiating committee, which contained two members of New Action, was unanimous. Responding to subsequent dissension within New Action, there were a couple of leaflets criticizing the contract, but New Action did little to help organize opposition to the contract alongside ICE and TJC. New Action did not support the rallies outside the October DA or in front of the UFT HQ. Nor did they protest publicly when Unity pulled literature opposing the contract from teachers’ letter boxes, which violated one of the basic democratic rights of union members, a right which New Action had previously fought for.

Thus, the recent statement that “[We] felt the overall package was not in the best interests of the members and we recommended a no vote on the contract” is misleading. Weingarten was well aware of their lack of participation in rallying opposition to the contract. Their recent statement that “It is to President Weingarten’s credit that despite the fact that New Action opposed the contract, she continues to seek our counsel and accepts bipartisanship” underscores their total dependence on Weingarten’s god will. All New Action members on the current negotiating committee voted for the 2 year extension of a contract they supposedly opposed, with only the ICE and TJC members voting “NO.” (A leaflet handed out at the November Delegate Assembly called for a YES vote.)

New Action has placed its trust in Randi Weingarten, never making the connection for people in the rank and file that she is at the top of a massive Unity glacier that will never willingly reform the union while they endorse Weingarten’s actions that, despite her bogus talk about democracy and rank-and-file participation, demonstrate a “l’etat c’est moi (“I am the state”) attitude. In the process, New Action negates and ignores their own history of fighting and organizing against the Unity machine, while betraying the constituency that supported them during these struggles.

New Action has discovered its new constituency – a constituency of one — Randi Weingarten.

This article appeared in the November edition of Education Notes distributed at the Delegate Assembly. A PDF copy will be emailed to you or sent to you school for distribution of posting upon request.


  1. This is really well-written and thoughtful. Everyone needs to know about it and hopefully they will.

    I don't recall, but I may have actually voted for them in the last election, not knowing what they had become. I'm afraid few of us really know what's going on in our own union.

  2. I hear New Action retirees have been given jobs by Randi. How can they work for Unity and run in the election as an opposition?

  3. Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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