A Teacher Calls for End to Agency Shop
Generally people view the concept of an agency shop where everyone pays union dues whether they join the union or not as being a positive thing for union organizing and I've never been in favor of calling for its elimination. But there seems to be a level of frustration over the lack of accountability within the UFT where the top-down leadership controls just about every single aspect of the union, including the make believe opposition, New Action which owes the 8 Exec bd seats to Unity support. A hundred % of the members of the Ex bd were Unity endorsed in the recent election.
There was a thought that years ago when district reps were elected by chapter leaders in their districts there was a greater level of accountabilty. All DR's elected were Unity (except Manhattan HS rep Bruce Markens who had a lot of support from the Manhattan high school chapter leaders) because most chapter leaders were Unity. So I never thought that when Randi killed the elections in 2002 that it would make much difference. But it seems it has and more than a few chapter leaders have complained that the responsiveness of the union is worse than ever.
The recent letter circulating about dropping out of COPE (UNTIL WE GET A VOTE, SAY NO TO COPE!) is a sign of that frustration.
Other signs are the increasing calls for quitting the union, complaints about spending a thousand bucks a year in dues, calls to look for other unions to represent us. That is a big pipe dream since the most active opposition people in the UFT have rejected any moves in that direction.
This email from a long-time chapter leader, a strong union guy, made me sit up and take notice:
To move the education reforms, one simply has to allow teachers to not belong to the union --- in more than name only. ie not even agency fee payers. I can guarantee if that comes to pass, the leadership will be very much attuned to serving the membership as more than cannon fodder.
I don't see this coming to pass because the political forces want to keep the UFT strong at the top because it is an entity they can deal with them. The anarchy of a splintered union would not be a good thing for the ed deform crew either. Think about the former Soviet Union breakup and its aftermath. Do you feel safer today or back then? Same with the powers that be. They feel safer with a union they can not only deal with but that works to dampen and control militancy. In other words, the BloomKleins and the Daley/Duncans in Chicago need Unity and the UCP caucuses as much as they would like unions to give them a totally free hand. But these sell-out leaders must show the members something. Yet the BloomKleins keep taking and outraging the members.
Let's get this thing straight though. As long as the opposition can only pull 9% of the vote, there is no pressure on the leaders and all calls for accountability and internal union reform will be laughed at. It will take some action on the part of the people screaming about the how bad the union is. I keep telling them to stop moaning and organize. If they don't have an idea how to do that then start coming to GEM meetings. Just sitting back and waiting for someone else to do something will just leave them there sitting.
A prime example is the CORE group in Chicago which is just 2 years old and has done some wild organizing and can now contend for power in the union. I know these guys and they have thrown their lives into the effort. Any less than that here in NYC will leave Unity in power for a millenium, agency shop, COPE dues or not.
The future? One of the things I concentrated on over the last 3 years was working with younger teachers and for the first time I saw some early stages of interest and activism. No matter how bad things looked with the election, I found some hopeful signs of a CORE-like group forming here in NYC. I felt this was more important over the long run than the short term election results. These people will hopefully become the future leaders of the opposition as more and more people in the ICE crew (I can't speak for TJC) take a more supportive and mentoring role, sort of like what George Schmidt and Substance has done with CORE in Chicago.