Monday, May 17, 2010

The Future of Teacher Unionism in the United States: Striving to be Like Mexico

Looking at the local and national picture I see the future of the UFT/AFT as a company union – like the national teachers union in Mexico which serves to control the members by deflecting militancy, attacking people within who oppose them and government policies and co-opting any movement that seeks to challenge their control. Of course there would be some dissident movements arising, with Oaxaca being the epicenter a few years ago.

In places like Mexico and Honduras, teacher activists are murdered (five teachers have been murdered since June 28.) In NYC we're far from there yet, but people like Chapter Leader Peter Lamphere at Bronx Science get U ratings - a career death. (See below for a piece from our DA report.*)

There has been some debate going on internally amongst progressive oppositionists in the UFT over whether the UFT is a company union.

There are 2 strands of thought.

One is that no matter how bad the leadership is, it is still our union and we have to function within it - at delegate assemblies and other union bodies to try to get the Unity leadership to move, even if a little. That we have to keep fighting to change the union. Teachers for a Just Contract and the International Socialist -ISO- though I hate to speak for them, seem to represent this point of view. ICE I would say is split on the issue.

The other POV is that the UFT functions like a company union and should be viewed as part of the enemy camp. They say a parallel union should be built within. Some even call for eventual desertification of the UFT and start anew. (I can't see how that is even possible. The anti-COPE - UNTIL WE GET A VOTE, SAY NO TO COPE!- scenario I published this weekend is indicative of that movement.) No matter how much the proud 9% dissenter vote grows, Unity will never give up power even if they have to use illegal means (as you will see below with the situation in DC).

Accountable Talk has a very potent diatribe - I Want Out. But where does that leave us standing? He calls for finding another union. But until we can grow an opposition to Unity beyond the 9 percenters, we have nothing to work with. Besides, what union in this country do you like? The NEA? Joe Hill's defiant "Don't mourn, organize," is still valid a century later. Nothing will happen until people start organizing. And it starts at the school level. The UFT says it wants to do that too, but they want to control and manage and channel these efforts where they want it to go. Like if the teachers in your school want to organize over the UFT sellout on teacher evals, that's a no-no. (See the previous post on the June 4th picket - significant in that it is organizing at the grassroots level and not controlled by the UFT, though expect some attempt to coopt.)

There is much more to say about these 2 positions (both of which I straddle) but right now I'll leave it there. We are in the early stages of planning a forum to discuss the role of the UFT/AFT vis a vis the ed deform movement (by the way, I'm taking official credit for coining the "ed deform" phrase during an interview I did on WBAI last year. Please out it on my tombstone,)

One reason I report so much on what is happening on the national scene (and international scene), and the role the AFT led by Randi Weingarten plays, is that there are so many implications for us here. (I can't get to it here but there has been a lot of action in Detroit and Cleveland.) With two local union leadership races going on right now in Chicago and Washington DC, watching how the AFT deals with these elections is instructive for us.

Candi Peterson reports from her blog on this astounding fact: the president of the Washington Teachers Union, George Parker, did not submit petitions to run for re-election, figuring he didn't have to follow the rules of his own union. I guess he figured Randi would bail him out. And so she will. Here is a section from Candi's report:

WTU rank and file members believe that AFT's national president Randi Weingarten will resort to illegal means to keep George Parker in power at any cost even if it means over ruling a WTU constitutional requirement that states that petitions for the election of union officers be submitted on the last working day in April. Even though Randi Weingarten stated in our May 10 meeting that she only wants to 'get in and out' in order to assist the WTU with the elections committee process, let's watch what Randi does in the days ahead. I believe Randi will do whatever it takes to undermine the ability of the other presidential candidates likelihood of success, particularly Nathan Saunders because she fears opposition from him to the WTU Tentative Agreement. With WTU George 'sell out' Parker at the helm, there is a greater probability that the WTU T.A. will be ratified.

Imagine if Randi didn't bail out Parker, who should not be allowed to run. Her deal with Rhee on the contract would be dead in the water. There were reports that Randi was even looking to stuff the contract vote ballot into the same envelope as the election ballot.

Here is a cogent comment from Lindsey on Candi's blog:

We have got to be able to sue the American Federation of Teachers if they try to get away with this scam. How dare them! How dare Ms. Weingarten, who rides in after negotiating a debacle in New York City, to help Parker carry his water at the WTU. If GP is allowed on the ballot, then what good are the rules? How is it that he is the only one who couldn't get his petitions in on time? Or is it that he couldn't get enough people to sign his candidate's petition or be on his slate after the mess he has created at the WTU. Let' just stop this craziness. GP, if you have an ounce of dignity left, why don't you recall yourself - before you sacrifice the rest of us at the slaughterhouse. I am ashamed of you and Ms. Weingarten.

The election in Chicago is Friday. George Schmidt's Substance has been covering the race. Not surprisingly, union president Marilyn Stewart was charged by former CTU president and current candidate Deborah Lynch:

Stewart colluded with the CBOE to ban campaigning in schools.

“Much to our amazement, in the board’s response they said they issued the ban at the demand of CTU leadership, and to support their response they included a whole bunch of e-mails congratulating the board for issuing the ban and ratting myself and other candidates out for going to schools trying to get petitions signed and literature passed out,” Lynch said. “That was appalling in itself.”

Stewart asked CPS officials to shut down e-mail in November because “some [union] members and former members are abusing the system with political garbage. Enough is enough,” she wrote in an email obtained by Lynch’s lawyers.

You see, they will try use any means necessary. Just watch where BloomKlein and even the NY Post comes down if an anti-Unity movement ever gets going that promises to be more militant.

Our friends in CORE are actively campaigning. There are 6 caucuses running. If CORE (or even Lynch) gets into the runoff against the Unity-like leadership, watch Randi and the AFT jump in to make sure they don't win because if they do it has national implications as a sign that after 15 years of mayoral control in Chicago teachers will have had it with sellout union leadership.

Gee, only 8 more years of BloomKlein-like policies and UFT sellouts and we might see a threat to Unity here. Imagine 700 charter schools by then and UFT membership cut by 40% and members having to pay $2000 a year in dues to keep the Unity machine well-oiled. My guess is the UFT will give away whatever is left of the store if they are allowed to organize true-company charter school unions as a way to keep up their membership and dues sources. You know, sending 800 Unity slugs to Seattle isn't cheap.

If we see a CORE-like movement start up here in NYC, Unity goons will be given the right to bear arms.

*Peter Lamphere, Bronx HS of Science Chapter leader spoke very effectively. "There is not one rubric my principal can't figure out how to get around." There was a hush in the room when Peter, one of the best math teachers there is (students and other teachers rave about him,) said he had gotten 2 U ratings. If there was one statement that put the whole thing in context, that was it. The UFT can't even protect their chapter leaders from the vicious attacks. Chapter leaders who are renowned teachers. In some unions, the orchestrated attack on shop stewards, the glue of the union, would be a strikeable offense. The Peter Lamphere context is what makes this agreement a joke, no matter what it says on paper. A good chunk of the rank and file is living in fear of principals from hell. And that is what will inform their reaction [to the teacher eval system] over time.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Norm!

    Principals do not like smart, assertive teachers because they feel intimidated by them. So they look for some means to cause trouble for the teachers and get rid of them. That must be the case of Peter Lamphere.


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