Friday, March 19, 2010

Don’t Forget to Vote by Arthur Goldstein

Guest columnist

It’s UFT election time again, and we’re all pretty busy.

In schools, that means a whole lot of flyers telling us who to vote for. Basically there are three slates—Unity, New Action, and ICE-TJC, a coalition of the Independent Coalition of Educators and Teachers for a Just Contract. And election time is now, so I’ve read all of them. They’re not much different from the things you get in the mail when your friendly local politicians want jobs.

Who are these folks? No one denies Unity is the big dog in this race. Every UFT President has been a member of Unity, and the invitation-only Unity Caucus has dominated the UFT, well, forever. New chapter leaders are offered free trips to conventions and recruited. They then sign an application, which specifically states that members will “express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus” and “support the decisions of Caucus / Union leadership in public or Union forums.” Critics call it a loyalty oath.

In his book The Teacher Rebellion, former AFT President David Selden writes, “Its decisions must be followed by the members in every detail. Several members have been expelled because the opposed the Vietnam War or were not supportive enough of the union’s opposition to community control.” Albert Shanker, the UFT’s first President, was one Tough Liberal indeed.

There are tangible benefits to joining Unity. On the lowest rung of the ladder, you could go to conventions. When I became a UFT delegate a few years back, a teacher told me, “You know, I’d like to become a delegate.”

“Really?” I asked. “I’m surprised. I didn’t think you were interested in union politics.”

“I’m not,” he said. “I just want to go to the conventions.”

That wasn’t the best way to earn my support, but at the time, he may have known union politics better than I did—he’s got Unity buddies.

The oldest opposition party is called New Action. When I started teaching I voted for them. Their pamphlets made it clear they were outsiders, and that appealed to me. Unity put out particularly nasty flyers, calling them “No Action,” which I found juvenile. From what I heard around the lunchroom, they had no chance of winning anyway, so I figured what the hell, and voted for them. They did have a few seats on the UFT’s policy-making Executive Board, mostly representing high schools, and for a while even junior high schools.

Soon after I started teaching (in 1984), they surprised everyone and took the High School Academic Vice Presidency. After Mike Shulman won, Unity forced a revote in which Shulman won by an even larger margin. After Shulman failed to be re-elected in the next election, they forced a rule change. High school teachers no longer select the High School Academic Vice-President. Now, not only all teachers, but also home day care workers, the administrative law judges and other non teachers, including retirees living it up in Boca Raton, vote for all vice-presidents. It’s kind of like having Oklahoma and Texas help New York choose representatives—the results became much more predictable.

In 2003, New Action made a deal with Unity. They would no longer oppose the Unity presidential candidate, and Unity would no longer oppose them for the six high school seats on the UFT Executive Board, seats New Action had won by narrow margins time and again. They couldn't resist this sure bet. Also, New Action leaders, for the first time, were given union jobs.

Some members of New Action, disenchanted with this move, left to join a group of non-affiliated activists to form the Independent Community of Educators, or ICE. In 2004, they teamed up with another caucus, Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC). They defeated New Action and took high school seats that Unity had not opposed. This resulted in the unspeakable—unapproved minority representation in the UFT Executive Board. Though this represented only 6 seats of 89, even that was unacceptable. The Unity Caucus didn’t want to be pestered by Executive Board members James Eterno and Jeff Kaufman—as they vigorously opposed things like the 2005 contract, merit pay, and mayoral control. It’s so much easier to run an organization without meddlesome dissenters—ask Mayor Bloomberg.

To make sure this wouldn’t happen again, Unity cross-endorsed New Action candidates in the 2007 election. Though ICE/ TJC outpolled New Action 3 to 1 in high schools, New Action won several Executive Board seats representing high schools while ICE/TJC got none. Clearly, the Unity cross-endorsement had paid off.

ICE/TJC is running a slate including presidential candidate James Eterno, Jamaica’s UFT chapter leader, and former UFT executive board member. (Full disclosure—I’m running for the UFT’s Executive Board representing high schools.) ICE/ TJC now seems to receive the all the love that used to be reserved for New Action, largely characterized as perpetual naysayers. It’s true we oppose the appeasement of anti-teacher, anti-union demagogues like Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein—but that’s because it’s been repeatedly proven not to help us.

Still ICE/ TJC supports a lot of things—a fair contract, placement for teachers whose schools close, democracy in NYC as well as the UFT, and a driven chapter leader named James Eterno for UFT President. We support transparency. We support teachers, guidance counselors, secretaries, and paraprofessionals. We support working people and the future of the teaching profession.

We support union, a strong union that stands up and fights those who baselessly attack us in the media. We support fighting fire with fire, speaking truth to power, and using the power of the UFT for something more productive than creating cute little cartoons that air during the Today show.

We are writers, thinkers, and doers. We are real live activists, who don’t need to organize an advisory committee or ask permission before demonstrating in front of Mayor Bloomberg’s house. When there’s a fire, we’re not on our Blackberries emailing Randi Weingarten for directions before we evacuate. We act in the interests of working teachers, and we don’t fret over whether or not it will get us invited to the next convention or gala luncheon. We are proactive, not reactive.

We don’t believe in buying dear and selling cheap. We don’t believe in giving up everything but the kitchen sink for an extra point. We don’t believe in selling out new teachers by promising three percent of their salaries to Mayor Bloomberg for an extra 17 years. We don’t believe in dumping every gain we made over twenty years for a few points above the pattern. Nor do we believe in negotiating a ten percent compensation increase for ten percent more work and calling it a raise.

We hope teachers vote, and we hope they think carefully before doing so. The machine is getting a little creaky.

It’s time for new blood.


  1. I just voted for ICE. I am tired or UNITY selling all our teacher's rights.

  2. That's right biotches! We are ICE/TJC and we are going to make a difference!

  3. I voted for a Unity slate because I feel that they are the only group looking at the whole picture.

  4. I m here to do something different and vote for ICE.

  5. ICE ICE BABY! Got "my" chapter to vote ICE too!


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