Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whither the UFT and a GEM of an Idea


Imagine if every school in the NYC turned into non-unionized charter schools? What would become of the UFT/Unity Caucus machine as it hemorrhaged dues? Well, they have a simple plan. Just organize charter schools into the union.

Not so simple kemosabe. From Gotham Schools - a suggestion that all New York teachers should be able to decertify the union. Of course, these are the two much talked about KIPP schools (KIPP Academy Charter School in the Bronx and the KIPP Infinity Charter School in Manhattan) as the KIPP empire strikes back for the UFT daring to try to organize a Brooklyn KIPP school, efforts that may be floundering.

On the surface, one would think the massive, dues soaked UFT holds all the cards. Many of us lined up as internal critics think not.

Any charter school teacher who takes a peek at the most sophisticated teacher blogs will see what's in store for them as the level of hostility directed at the UFT leaderships is barely a smidgen less than that aimed at BloomKlein. So why would they step into the muck of the UFT?

Many of the union missteps occur because of the fundamental lack of democracy, the complete top-down management and the gap between the leadership and the members. With an absolute almost 50 year lock on control, including the buying off of New Action, the former opposition party, there is no hope of reform. Some people may be fooled into believing changes are coming because they think Randi Weingarten is walking into the sunset of the AFT, but that is not a sure bet and whatever happens, there will be no loosening of the reigns because Unity has built such a tight, foolproof structure.

Over the years, I have heard many opposition voices raised in frustration calling for starting a de-certification campaign in the public schools to create a real threat to the UFT leadership and force them into reform. Imagine if another union did come in and try that? At one time in the 70's the NEA actually tried to put its foot in the door – they took about 20 opposition people out to eat at Gaylord's, a fancy Indian restaurant. We had a nice expensive meal at their expense and said, "No thanks!"

I've been against these efforts, taking the position that if UFT internal critics cannot grow enough to organize an effective force, then bringing in another union would replace the old boss with the new boss.

Thus, it was gratifying to see all sorts of groups and people involved in the UFT informally gather for lunch at the Labor Notes Troublemakers School this past Saturday.

Members of ICE (Independent Community of Educators,) NYCORE (NY Collective of Radical Educators,) TJC (Teachers for a Just Contract,) ISO (International Socialists,) Teachers Unite and independents joined Puerto Rico's teachers union president Rafael Feliciano in a conversation about democratic unions (the FMPR is one) educating members on the issues and organizing and mobilizing them into a force that can counter the collaboration of the UFT by building a grass roots movement that could not be stifled by the union institutions.

Thus, while the lock on power would remain in the hands of people at the top, the rank and file teachers in the schools they have abandoned could start to move in a more militant direction.

If such a movement actually occurs, it may transcend caucuses like ICE and TJC and pay less attention to the rigged institutions of UFT power like the Delegate Assembly and certainly the total Unity dominated Executive Board (81 members out of 89 with the other 8 handed to New Action through Unity endorsement.)

Meanwhile, today is the March Delegate Assembly and we will all still be there to do our thing.
We will be joining Justice Not Just Tests in getting petitions on high stakes testing – the root of all evil – signed.

A resolution on closing schools – the 3rd time the UFT will take a position calling for a moratorium on closing schools – had a provision calling for a mass meeting of teachers from every announced closing school. The UFT leadership took it out. They will take potshots at rallies at individual schools to allow teachers to vent, but will not take concerted action to stop them. Why? Because the UFT believes in the policy of closing schools even though it creates ATRs - over 1700 and counting.

We will be handing out our flyer for this Saturday's conference at John Jay College (starting at 12 pm) which we hope will turn out to be a first strike in building a Grassroots Educators Movement - GEM. (Angel Gonzalez came up with the idea this morning, not bad for one of us oldies but goodies.)

Consider attending or encouraging someone from your school to attend, in particular if you are in a closing or soon to be closed school. If the UFT won't get people together, we will.

COMING SOON: VIDEO I TOOK AT THE HARLEM SUCCESS CHARTER SCHOOL RALLY LAST WEEK. THAT ALONE SHOULD GET YOU TO GIVE UP YOUR SATURDAY

Related:
This Saturday! Education Notes Joins the fightback to save public education -
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