Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unity Caucus and Democracy

It is one thing to spend two hours a month at a UFT Delegate Assembly with the Unity Caucus horde. It is quite another to spend 4 days surrounded by them and their allies from around the nation.

One of the Chicago/CORE crew told me: After spending days dealing with these assholes I completely understand and sympathize with what you New York guys face.

One correspondent said: I am still trying to get a mental picture of a DA on steroids but all I see is Randi with extremely large muscles.

He's almost right about the muscles. Randi came up huge for her side, so much so that even her opponents were impressed. She had been looking a bit shopworn and a bit bored in New York but she was as confident and relaxed as I've ever seen her.

The master of manipulation had every base covered. She was tireless, running to breakfasts to meet with state delegations and then most of the day running the sessions - with 8 mics to call on, it could have been confusing. But nothing seemed to deter her or dampen her spirits.

Given all of this, nothing has changed in terms the policies of the AFT which have gotten so much press for Randi the last few days while leaving her membership behind

So at down times it sets one to thinking about the essence of democracy.

Time and again, we heard Unity Caucus people talk about how democratic the process is at the AFT and in the Progressive Caucus (the national version of Unity). When I attended the Progressive Caucus meeting we heard about how decisions are made in the caucus. Jeff Zahler and Peter Goodman made those points publicly. The more you are a one-party system; the more you talk about democracy. How funny that this is the first AFT contested election since 1974 (the Progressive Caucus won with about 95% of the vote).

So let's see how these decisions were made.

Unity issues marching orders weeks ago
A few weeks before the AFT convention, UFT leaders convened a meeting of the 800 delegates elected in the March election to get them ready. The meeting took place at 52 Broadway. This was not a meeting for the delegates to have an open discussion and debate the virtues of the resolutions that would come up. No, it was a meeting to dictate to 800 people how they would be required to vote based on decisions made by the top of UFT/AFT officialdom.

With well over 200 of the delegates being new, there was some level of surprise. They knew they signed a paper that they would adhere to caucus discipline on decisions made. But some of them didn't know they would have absolutely zero say in how these decisions were made.

Staff director Leroy Barr gave them training on how to use Robert's Rules to assure control over meetings. Leroy kept getting it wrong and had to be corrected numerous times, but no matter.

Jeff Zahler, who has a lot to do with running the caucus - and the national version of Unity - the Progressive Caucus - harangued them with the fact that for the first time since 1974 there would be a slate running against them. This was serious he told them even though those in the know understand it was not. We know they just don't want to win but they want to win with a 100% so as to make sure an opposition never gets traction and remains dispirited. (Remember that Zahler had Unity spend a fortune to red bait ICE-TJC pres candidate Kit Wainer in the 2007 election even though they were assured of an overwhelming victory. And he got up at the DA to brag about it.)

The big prep at this meeting was for the teacher evaluation reso #5 that caused so much comment.

During the debate over a reso titled "Keep Supernaturalism out of the Science Curriculum." The resolves declare supernaturalism is not a scientific endeavor and inappropriate for inclusion in science curriculums, affirms the teaching of evolution and opposes the teaching of creationism and intelligent design. At the Progressive caucus meeting it became clear they were not supporting the reso. The word "supernaturalism" seemed to bother them. Unity's Jackie Bennett who usually makes sense didn't in this case. I told her I was surprised - I didn't catch everything in her response, but it was something about how this was a democratic body. I laughed and repeated the story about the Unity Caucus prep meeting, telling her "Jackie, one day we must have a discussion about the essence of democracy." [I wasn't allowed into the committee meeting that dealt with this the next day so I didn't hear the debate there but the recommendation of the committee was non-concurrence.]


Democratic centralism is when a party or caucus exerts discipline - all members must follow every decision made even if they disagree. That is the way Unity runs.

Now I can live with that because a group has the right to make its own rules. If you don't like the policies then leave. But at least if there is democracy operating you can make the case that you have a fair shot to convince people and if you lose you lose.

But Unity internally itself is not run as a democracy. People at the top decide and issue orders. There is no real debate or when there is it is minimal. No one wants to get up and disagree even if they don't.

The higher ups don't worry and feel free to banter. Talk to Unity secret dissidents - yes there are some. "The watch us and who we are seen talking to," say some of the low level people who are paranoid about losing their privileges. Yes, there is paranoia both ways.

"So what," you might ask? "This is a private body that people can or cannot join. If they choose to be a member of Unity they must think they are getting something for it no matter how it runs."

I beg to differ. This is the body that has run the UFT and AFT since the 1960's in basically a one party system. If Unity had open discussions in a democratic manner instead of slavishly following the policies decided on by a tiny oligopoly, even if they followed democratic centralism, the union would be a better place. Instead we see most follow any policy without thought and also some extremely bright people turning and twisting to adjust their thinking to the party line. If it changes, they change. We know that there are more Unity people than one would think who object to the policies of cooperation with the Gates/Broad world. But they are left to leave anonymous comments on blogs or whisper as they pass by, "You are doing God's work."

This 1984ish type scenario is what has dragged our union deep into the muck of ed deform.

9 comments:

  1. It's ironic that the people who join Unity are considered activists by the Unity elite. One would think activism required a free will, let alone a natural resistance to billionaires who want to dictate what education is in America.

    ReplyDelete
  2. INSIDE THE UNITY CAUCUS:

    MULGREW, LOUDMOUTH ZAHLER AND LEROY "THE CHANTER" BARR (WELL MAYBE NOT BARR- HE GETS SO MANY THINGS WRONG) KNOW THAT THE UNITY CAUCUS IS NOT ALLOWED TO MEET AT 52 BROADWAY IS SPACE PAID FOR BY THE MEMBERS.
    THIS IS A BIG STUPID MISTAKE THAT WILL BE USED BY THE CHARTER CHAMPS TO SHOW HOW ARROGANT MULGREW IS.
    HOW MANY MORE UFT JOBS DID Zahler GET FOR HIS RELATIVES?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Come on now--stop bashing the union leaders and delegates and start thanking them for the things they're responsible for, like this:

    http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2010/06/28/am.snow.teaching.jobs.shortage.cnn?hpt=C2

    ReplyDelete
  4. Perhaps Mulgrew won by 91% and Weingarten won by 95% is because the general membership is happy with salaries that went up 43%. When Unity first started as a caucus NYC teachers were poor now they are making 6 figure pensions.

    Bottom line, you really don't want to admit it, but if it was not for Unity /Progessive you could not pay for a trip to Washington State you would need to sell pocketbooks on the street...You are doing well because of them, so stop you anger already, it is just silly.

    ReplyDelete
  5. who is this "inside unity caucus?"

    why hide in the shadows? be celebrated.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "if it was not for Unity /Progessive you could not pay for a trip to Washington State you would need to sell pocketbooks on the street."

    Bill Gates funded me - he needed plants to drum up the Unity fools to cheer for him.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm a State Delegate for NYS (Buffalo Teachers Federation) and I want to know how I can join the Unity Caucus. Can anyone give me some information? Thank You!

    ReplyDelete

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