Part 2: The Chicago Experience
Building a democratic union and building a democratic caucus go hand in hand
I am trying to piece things together from afar so I may not be totally accurate but here is my sense of things.
When Debbie Lynch won the Chicago Teachers Union election on a reform slate in 2001, she had a few problems. More than a few. She had a caucus (PACT) but from what I can gather it was somewhat limited in reach. How did she win? Personal reputation, the worsening conditions in the school and a Unity like leadership (UPC) that was incompetent. I mean of you want to rate Unity vs UPC on a scale of ability to manage the members - Unity was a 10 and UPC was a 3. Maybe.
So Debbie is in power. She is saddled with a staff hired by UPC that she can't get rid of because they are in the Teamsters union and have a contract (the same situation faced today by CORE). They do all they can to undermine her. She also doesn't have control of the House of Delegates which is still controlled by the UPC. Her caucus is not really strong enough to fend off the attacks by the UPC, which still continues to function to win back power. And she also makes some mistakes which I won't get into now.
I'm guessing here, but I have a sense she worked on building the union - CTU - and possibly neglected on continuing to build her caucus.
Still, in the 2004 election she almost wins without a runoff but falls short and it ends up with PACT vs UPC. And there are some irregularities and the AFT rules against her. And the UPC is back in power. In 2007 she gets smashed by the UPC.
Now stuff begins to happen. UPC's Marilyn Stewart who defeated Debbie in 2004 and 2007 goes after people in her own caucus, even having the guy who ran her campaign thrown out of the union and splitting with a person elected as an officer on her slate. Eventually, two caucuses will emerge from this split in the UPC.
In the meantime, Debbie Lynch rebuilds her caucus for a run at the 2010 elections, figuring she has a real chance with the UPC splits. But out of the grassroots, another group starts rising.
Caucus of Rank and File Educators
We found out from new CTU president Karen Lewis when we heard her speak to a CTU party in Chicago that CORE started out as a study group – things were so bad in the schools and in the union that a group of people started getting together to try to figure out what was happening. "We had no idea of getting involved in the union the way we did," Lewis said. But with the charter influx, the closing of schools and the numbers of teachers losing their jobs, they had no choice. More activist oriented than the other caucuses, they began to grow quickly. When I met with a group of CORE members in LA last summer they told me they felt they had a chance to get into the runoff and then "anything is possible."
The year since has been momentous. CORE influence kept growing as quickly as UPC ineptness and indications were coming in that the prediction of last summer would come through - that with 5 caucuses running, the UPC would not get a majority in round 1 and they had a shot at squeaking into the runoff. To show you how clueless Marilyn Stewart was, as late as the first round election she was sure the UPC would get over 50% and a runoff wouldn't be necessary.
The shocker was that CORE and UPC ran neck and neck with around 32% of the vote each, with the other 3 caucuses splitting the rest. Debbie Lynch got about 15%. A few days later all 3 of the groups out of the running endorsed CORE. Word is that Debbie truly delivered her vote into the hands of CORE, which had about 60% of the vote in the runoff.
Analysis shows that though some people in CORE are claiming an overwhelming victory, the reality is that the UPC still had about 40% and the other 3 caucuses might hold a balance of power in the future. It all depends on whether CORE learns from the past and continues to build the CORE caucus at the same time as rebuilding the devastated Chicago Teachers Union while trying to maintain democracy at the caucus level and within the CTU. (How tempting would it be to treat the UPC the way they treated everyone else all the years in power?) And let's not forget that a reform movement that refuses to cooperate with the ed deformers as Randi and Mulgrew do is a major threat to the political and financial forces arrayed against them and to the power structure in the AFT/UFT.
Some say it is never too early to win power when you can. But there are pitfalls if you are young like CORE and if you have not consolidate the organization into a cohesive force while at the same time maintaining a good relationship with the other non-UPC caucuses that supported them, in particular Debbie Lynch. They seem to be making moves in this direction. This was posted on their blog on Aug. 4:
CORE owes a debt of gratitude to the PACT team for their efforts to promote democracy in the CTU and defend the rights of all members to campaign. We are grateful, as well, for their far-sighted support (along with CSDU and SEA) of CORE in the runoff election to move the CTU forward.That they took the time in the midst of the enormous challenges they face is a good sign.
CORE seems to be in the tween faze - it grew real fast and seemed to keep control over things as they grew. Can they continue to grow while also trying to run the union and battle the forces of ed deform?
CORE certainly has its work cut out for it.
Read more at Substance
Part 3 will address how NYC differs from Chicago and the chances of seeing a CORE-like group here in the near future.