Friday, May 8, 2009
Running for Chapter Leader? (Updated)
*Navigating the Minefield of Internal School Politics*
Keeping chapter leaders in line is the key to control of the UFT. It makes sense since through the CL the leadership can reach out to every member. They use the District reps as the key overseers to make the CL dependent on the union and also to keep them isolated.
Chapter leader and school delegate elections take place every three years and we are now in the midst of the election season.
Many people think the important elections are the election for president and officers (coming next year). But Unity has so manipulated the process that there is no chance of overturning the power structure no matter what the opposition does. Thus, Unity is guaranteed control of the AdCom (officers) and Executive Board in perpetuity (I'll go into the details another time) – at least until there is enough pressure from the bottom to force changes.
Thus, the school elections are ultimately more important in terms of the ability to reach the membership. If the opposition had hundreds of chapter leaders, we would begin to see changes in the union.
Unity Caucus is not stupid and pays strict attention since the constitution of the delegate assembly for the next 3 years will be determined in the next few weeks. Most Unity Caucus members are expected to run for chapter leader or delegate. The rank and file in many schools doesn't even know their CL is in Unity and more beholden to the leadership than to the membership.
Aside from the many Unity candidates, they also coopt new chapter leaders through the union's training program, which often function as Unity recruiting operations. In the last cycle (2006) Unity added over 700 new members drawn from the pool of new chapter leaders and delegate, thus insuring absolute control over the delegate assembly.
Many novice (and even experienced) chapter leaders are concerned with the level of support they will receive from the UFT, especially if they voice criticism of the leadership. This fear is a powerful tool in the hands of Unity. Some join Unity out of this fear, but in most cases, new chapter leaders have no idea what Unity is and figure, "Why not?" Then there are the perks - the after school jobs (why work in the school with kids if you don't have to), the all expense paid trips to conventions, the double pensions. And the big enchilada - a full-time union job if you play ball.
People I talk to thinking of running who have expressed criticisms of the UFT leadership, are not aware of the extent to which Unity will go to keep them from winning. And they play dirty.
With a large turnover in chapter leaders expected this spring, I've been working with Sally Lee of Teachers Unite to set up a session for prospective chapter leaders (and delegates) to help them lay the groundwork for a run for chapter leader and a follow-up support group to help them strategize methods of dealing with the school admins and the central and district union structure. ICE and TJC members are involved.
We are holding a meeting on Monday, May 18 at 5 pm to cover a bunch of issues. We have invited Michael Fiorillo of ICE and Megan Behrent of TJC to join us. And maybe some other experienced union people to provide advice and encouragement. Can't make this meeting? We can also take the show on the road. Just let us know.
Teachers Unite has put out the following announcement:
-Should you run for UFT CL or Delegate?
-Are there risks to your career?
-How can you be part of building a more democratic UFT?
-What can you accomplish as a rank-and-file leader?
-What does any of this have to do with social justice activism?
If you're considering becoming a UFT representative at your school, join Teachers Unite, veteran and new teachers, and members of opposition caucuses in the UFT to discuss the process and significance of becoming a union leader. If elections already happened in your school, but you're interested in these questions, please feel free to join us.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Time: 5:00pm - 7:00pm
Location: Brecht Forum
Street: 451 West St. New York, NY
Description: A Teachers Unite program:
A,C,E, or L to 14th St & 8th Ave., walk down 8th Ave to Bethune, turn right, walk west to
the River, turn left
1,2,3 or 9 to 14th St. & 7th Ave. Get off at south end of station, walk west on 12th St.
to 8th Ave. left to Bethune, turn right, walk west to the River, turn left.
Today, ICE meeting at Murray Bergtraum HS at 4:30
Pearl St right behind police plaza.