Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Unity Caucus Tail Wags the AFT Dog

REVISED Monday, June 16 8AM

Some people find it hard to believe that a caucus of around 1500 people can control a 1.4 million member organization. But the UFT is firmly under the Unity Caucus thumb and the AFT is controlled by the UFT.

Actually, it's worse than that – it's more like one person – the president of the UFT, plus entourage – that controls the Unity machine, which itself is not a democratic organization.

Some people are confused. They think Randi Weingarten is getting a promotion when she becomes president of the AFT next month. Maybe a promotion in prestige. But in terms of power, the AFT president has significantly less power than the President of the UFT. The AFT president deals with other union leaders who control their own locals, so it is a powerless position in terms of the number of people under control, which is limited basically to the AFT bureaucracy. Unless of course the AFT president also controls the UFT, as has been the rule since Al Shanker took over in 1974 (other than McElroy's filling the slot between Feldman and Weingarten.) That is one reason why Randi will not give up the UFT presidency unless that base is totally secure, which without her choosing a clear successor (which she intentionally hasn't done), will not happen.

Randi is a pretty shrewd cookie and knows how to play this game. Thus, telling people there are 6 possible successors. Divide and conquer. (See links to our previous series "Randi Succession Obsession" in the sidebar.) Imagine a scenario where Randi goes to Washington, appoints a successor as did Shanker and Feldman before her, and finds the person she chooses has that ambitious lean and hungry look and starts purging her people, leaving her as a supplicant. Ain't gonna happen for a while.

The numbers tell the story: The UFT is the elephant in the room
The AFT has around 1.4 million members, with the UFT's share being 200,000 plus. But it goes beyond that when you look at New York State United Teachers' (NYSUT) 600,000 plus, which is controlled by the UFT. So, do the math and you see how the UFT tail wags the AFT dog. And why when I was recently asked whether Randi Weingarten will face opposition in the AFT election, I answered, "no more than token, at most a candidate from the left, since there is even less of an opposition caucus in the AFT, with the Unity-like Progressive Caucus in total control."

And one point about Randi's being crushed by Hillary's defeat because now she can't become Sect'y of Education: I do not believe for a minute that she had any intention in that direction. What real long term power does a cabinet position hold other than for a few years?

In fact, Randi would have served, and will serve, Hillary's purposes in a much better way as the head of a national union. And with the goal of making Hillary the president one day still alive, Randi is well positioned to use the national pulpit of AFT presidency to promote their goals, especially if she can pull off a merger of the 3.4 million member NEA and AFT and if she can convince the NEA people to make her president of the merged 5 million member union.

At that point she would have surpassed even Al Shanker, who could never have accomplished such a merger because NEA people despised his ruthless, authoritarian and undemocratic methods. Hmmm, on second thought, nothing's really changed in the UFT. Except that Randi is so much slicker than Al and will try to convince the NEA she is a democrat in addition to being a Democrat. Don't sell her short. As we've seen here with the UFT and Tweed parallel large PR machines, you can get people to believe anything.

If she does, who is to say she would not be in line to head the entire AFL/CIO? I know, some labor people say a teacher union head could never be in that position. But unions are on the run and Randi has figured out a way to "save" them. Just give away as many hard won rights as possible to convince management the unions are willing to work with them in a collaborationist way.

NYC teachers have seen the results of this "new unionism" strategy promoted by Leo Casey. They wish the rest of the labor movement luck.

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