Saturday, December 25, 2010

What Can You Do To Counter the Unity Spin? Suggestions from John Powers

John Powers was part of Unity Caucus from Aug. 2009-June 2010 and has some excellent insights on basic organizing. Ed Notes exists to disseminate information and support these efforts so plug in. Our mantra is to EDUCATE, ORGANIZE, MOBILIZE. Each comes in succession. People must have information as a basis for organizing and people must be in some way organized before they can mobilize masses needed to have an impact. Thanks for the work John.

Here are a few things that you can do:

1. Start an email list and forward articles of interest...articles that challenge the "Unity Caucus" line. Members may at first experience "cognitive dissonance" but this is a wonderful opening for follow-up discussions and Q and A's. You can invite UFT activists to attend an after-school function [Norm here - feed me and I'll come] or you can invite a few people to one of the many UFT activist meetings and happenings. Start small. Set small, achievable goals. But think big. If there is a source of confusion or contention in the school with the administration, you and others can use it to help make your Unity CL stronger or if need be, marginalize him or her and show yourselves to be true unionists. 

Note: A Unity cog reading this will immediately assume I mean doing something "militant" or "reckless." However, you would be surprised how effective just a few people can be in a small or large school setting. Communicating effectively with administrators can go a long way. Politely "gumming" up an absurd policy that they would like to pass down to staff can reap many rewards. Many of us should get together to devise a tactic book that goes more in depth here with lots of examples to support each tactic. And when all else fails, “militant” actions at the school level can include informational protests outside of school in the morning and or afternoon hours. Over the past year, I pleaded with a number of Unity leaders to "take it right to the doors" of individual horror schools and principals with the aforementioned demos. Their response: Nothing. There is the new "Twilight Zone" in the New York Teacher. Not a bad start. BUT WHY NOT TAKE A STAND OUTSIDE OF EACH OF THE SCHOOLS PROFILED IN THE TZ PIECE. 
[Norm here: I had a reso up at the DA calling for these demos as far back as the late 90's. It included calling for extraordinary protections for chapter leaders from harassment.]

2. Create a "fact sheet" that shows all of the decisions and policies that Unity has created and then explain to your colleagues that this is what a Unity CL stands for. Ask your CL at the next meeting if he or she is a Unity CL. Why do so many Unity CL's keep their affiliation a secret? Is it because on some level they are embarrassed or do not want to have to pledge the party line in front of a group of people. I was a Unity CL for ten months. I immediately told every UFT member in my chapter via a letter and a follow-up discussion. Many were surprised considering my prior UFT activist work and my issues with the Unity Caucus but I explained what I believed at the time were the right justifications. Looking back I have no regrets. I am that much more informed and confident in my views today regarding Unity's inability to work towards a more democratic, bottom-up model of unionism. This flaw continues to hamper their ability to provide a strong, clear and concise vision of what K-12 education should encompass now and in the near future. It has also led them down the road of appeasement and not "compromise" as they claim. The leadership is an insulated, unimaginative, elite-minded, group of over-paid "professionals."

3. Create your own newsletter.

4. Does your CL forward or make available in some format each week's CL newsletter. If not, why not? I take mine and just forward it to every UFTer in my school and follow-up with more pointed articles of interest or commentary. This helps us to have a more informed chapter meeting.

5. Our UFT constitution says that every CL must hold at least six CL meetings per year. Does this occur? If not, why not? This should be challenged. Ultimately a CL can be recalled if he or she does not fulfill his or her duties. 

[Norm here: Let me add that holding a meeting with a union "guest" dominating the entire time and taking questions at the end to me doesn't constitute a meeting that addresses the issues we face even though "legal" in terms of the UFT constitution.]

6. Create a study group/ed policy book club (even if it is once per month).

7. Ask your CL if you and others can help him. Explain to him or her the importance of delegating tasks to other UFTers. This creates solidarity. 

8. Attend demos and rallies with a group of UFTers from your school.

9. Attend a delegate assembly with a group of UFTers from your school and collect all the literature that is handed out downstairs. Then take a seat in the new “off-site” visitor room and enjoy the show. Watch for the lack of discussion. Watch the president “filibuster’ the time away so that nothing gets done. Much of what our UFT presidents past and present discuss at DAs could be typed and presented to delegates to read while they wait for the DA to begin. A quick powerpoint presentation could also be used to minimize the excessive amount of time that is wasted on blabbing and blabbing on. Less talk. More action. If my advice were taken, delegates would actually be able to discuss, debate and vote on the many resolutions that get pushed into the trash bin of “never-never land.” A few years ago, Randi was late for a DA and Michael Mendel chaired the first half of the DA. We went through every resolution. It was amazing. Everyone felt a sense of accomplishment. Randi walked in, recognized it and declared, “hey you like that…let’s do it that way in the future.” YEAH RIGHT. I’M STILL WAITING. THE UNITY DA IS WORSE THAN OUR CONGRESS.

10. Get your older vets to sit down and talk about what teaching and learning was like before Klein, Duncan and Obama. Let them talk about the pros and cons with thenewbies. More important, have them talk about their lives, families, children, etc. Just let them talk. Newbies are not union conscious because of the Unity flaw mentioned above but also because they are young. It’s normal. It’s important to help them visualize their futures and the importance of pay, benefits, tenure and due process. This can be linked to the attack on these sacred, union principles. In other words, help them visualize, “imagine if” scenarios.

11. It may be possible to activate some older vets precisely because they are nearing retirement and feel that they have nothing to lose and that they can go out fighting and setting an example for the newbies and all otherUFTers at your school. 

12. Create a film series. Perhaps it can be held at your school or in your home. Screen important films related to unionism (“Norma Rae”?). Show “Waiting for Superman” and “The Lottery” in order to discuss charter schools and the push to privatize education. Consider some of the films related to the economic crisis like “Capitalism: A Love Affair” and “Inside Job” and pose questions that force UFTers to think about why the working class has to bare the brunt of the budget cuts if Wall Street is to blame (amongst other things/institutions). Supply UFTers with information about Andrew Cuomo and his desire to go after our pensions. If you create a film series or a book club, etc., you can ask others to help you organize and prepare for the events. All of this helps to build solidarity and teaches some prerequisite skills related to activism. I am exhausted. I will stop here. I will reflect more and perhaps present a Part 2 later. 
Better yet, perhaps other UFTers can chime in and further develop, revise and organize my initial thoughts above.

Happy Holidays!

In Solidarity, 

John Powers

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