Thursday, March 25, 2010

"The UFT, Then and Now" by Yelena Siwinski

I was downstairs when I heard what Yelena describes here. John Yanno's resolution, followed by Leroy Barr's scare tactic (Fiorillo often says that in most unions it is the boss who uses scare tactics but in the UFT it is the union leadership), the voting down of Yanno's resolution overwhelmingly, followed by Altomare's description of the early days of the union and the guts it took to build it. I thought I was hearing Altomare supporting Yanno. But it was a different resolution- to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UFT. And it passed overwhelmingly. Yelena came out spitting fire at the outrageous contradiction. Here is the result.

The UFT, Then and Now

by Yelena Siwinski
Chapter Leader, PS 193k

On my father's first day on the job he was on strike. It was September 1966, he had three young children and a wife who wasn't working. He had a mortgage, no car, and he never went on vacation. He was a New York City public high school teacher and it was because of him, and others like him, that the UFT has gained many of the rights and benefits that teachers have today.

During the new motion period at the March 24 UFT Delegate Assembly, John Yanno proposed a motion for next month's agenda to mobilize the membership for our current contract fight. He included the dreaded words," job actions" in his resolution.

Leroy Barr, UFT Staff Director, immediately jumped up to oppose it (as he usually does for any type of mobilization such as a rally) because he claimed that if we chose to engage in a job action, which he intentionally interpreted to mean a strike (there are other types of job actions), we could lose the contract we already have.

Those present overwhelmingly voted with Leroy to defeat the motion.

Immediately after the motion was defeated, one of the UFT's founding fathers, George Altomare, rose to motivate a resolution celebrating the 50th anniversary of the UFT. He spoke of the courage it took for him and Abe Levine, and many other early UFT members to go out on strike all those years ago when they could have all been fired; how conditions were worse than they are today.

Maybe he didn't know my father, but by unanimously passing the resolution to celebrate the UFT's 50th anniversary, our assembly honored him as well as George and the other early members.

Did no one in the Delegate Assembly notice the hypocrisy of these two actions just minutes apart? While applauding the courage of our predecessors the Unity dominated DA clearly chose not to follow in their footsteps. Does Michael Mulgrew encourage those he leads to be unquestioning followers devoid of any passion or courage?

Earlier in our meeting he tried to rally those present to fight the education cuts that the New York State legislators are planning. I guess our group is able to do things like make a phone call, fax our senators, and meet with them cooperatively. Just don't ask us to do anything too strenuous, anything that takes too much guts. That's pretty much reserved for a bygone time that we can romanticize about and drink cocktails over as we celebrate the hard work of those who are not us and will never be unless there are drastic changes to the thinking of our leadership.

Yelena Siwinski is running for Vice President of the Elementary Schools on the ICE-TJC slate. John Yanno is running for Executive Board at-large.


  1. Yelena, I moved by your Dad's courage and others like him because I remember being a student in elementary school and JHS when these brave teachers took a stand. I am both angered and saddened by what I agree is the hyocrasy of those today. As a 23 year teacher, I support you and ICE and am proud to say have that I have actively been able to get many teachers in several schools to vote for ICE. Keep up the fight. More teachers back you than Unity would like to admit.

  2. Hi Norm,

    I also thought Altomare was supporting Yanno's resolution. Sometimes the room is noisy and folks are socializing so it's hard to follow what is happening (I'm new to this). Yelena's letter about her father was moving. I can relate to what she experienced. My family lived through many hard fought dock worker strikes that eventually gave them decent contracts. I was a high school student during the long teachers' strike. We had regents to take and were missing our classes, but most of the students supported the teachers. I know there are criticisms in some corners about the strikes. But the teachers were courageous. I didn't know they lost their jobs. It angers me that what was so hard fought for over those years has been whittled away by the UNITY leadership. My first reaction to John Yanno's resolution was yes...the UFT needs to support this, bolder actions need to be taken. He did not utter the word strike, but Barr wanted to get the motion turned down so he did what he does best...make it look like something other...then he gets the votes. The vote was rushed through. There was no more discussion. Yes this is hypocrisy and shows the weakened state of our union. It is why we need new leadership and why I am proud to be running with ICE/TJC.

    Pat Dobosz

  3. Pat and Vega, I appreciate your support and your connections to my memories as well as your understanding of the current status of our union's leadership. I know together we can change that.

  4. One can argue (and in fact, some have argued) that by uttering “job actions,” I gave the UFT leadership the opening it needed to speak against my resolution. I accept that criticism (but I suspect I would have received the same reaction had I left it out). However, Mulgrew could have take the opportunity to address my resolution and speak to how the UFT was mobilizing for a fair contract (my second “whereas” was “Whereas the UFT Delegates Assembly voted to authorize the formation of a Mobilizing Committee to work with the Action Committee to mobilize the membership for a fair contract”). Mulgrew has done this in the past when the DA voted down a resolution on Honduras (by Joan H. from Clara Barton, I believe), assuring the speaker and the DA that the UFT was working on something in regard to Honduras. Why didn’t Mulgrew say, “Okay, so the resolution didn’t pass, but here is what we are doing to make sure we are fighting for a fair contract?” Actually, we really don’t need to ask that question because we know the answer. The word “concessions” must go hand in hand when you say the word “UFT Leadership” and “Contract Negotiations.” My guess that the word “contract” is a four-letter word until Mulgrew safely wins the election.

    Yelena – thank you for approaching me and telling me about your father after Leroy spoke against (and distorted) what I said. I appreciated it.

  5. John,
    I appreciate the courage it takes to suggest a motion which you can be 98% sure won't pass. But by doing this you promote awareness and keep the issues out in the open. After George spoke in favor of his resolution I raised my card to speak against it to expose the hypocrisy. Mulgrew looked at my card and another couple of cards that were up and basically dismissed us. That is one of the reasons I chose to write my piece. I am glad that I gave you some comfort that day. We independent thinkers need to support each other least we get locked in the pen with the other sheep!


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