There are people who will argue that publishing negative information about our union leadership helps our anti-union enemies attack unions by providing them with ammunition on how corrupt unions are. Plus it undermines whatever faith union members still have left in their union, thus weakening the unions even further. The argument goes: with teacher unions under such attack, we must remain united by stressing the positive.
I am increasingly sensitive to these arguments. But where does adhering to this line lead us? Basically to where New Action, which was the leading opposition, joining in a partnership with Unity Caucus in 2003, thus removing a major voice of criticism and leaving the leadership to force through any policy it wants without open discussion or vetting.
How has that stance worked out over the past 9 years as we have seen devastating policies eviscerate so much of both education programs that benefit children and teacher rights along with the rights of parents and community to have any say in their local schools (something the union leadership is actually happy about)?
The "we are under attack and should mute criticism to stay united" is an argument George Bush supporters used to attack critics. (Why not cancel elections to mute criticism?) As a member of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) which ran 3 campaigns after the New Action move into the Unity camp with intense criticism of the leadership over their capitulation to so much of the ed deform program we saw vicious attacks on us for doing so. And I'm told that these attacks from both New Action and Unity resonated with people as ICE was branded as being obstructionist.
ICE differs from even the group that has run with us - Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) – which has never come under the level of attack ICE has. Many of us see the UFT leadership as apart from the membership. Not only do we not view them on the side of the members, but many of us see them as being on the other side of the fence all too often, incapable of truly acting in our interests but with the ability – by dominating the total communications machinery to the members – to fudge their message to the members to give them the impression they are fighting for them. It is mostly the few people who do the day-to-day hand to hand combat with Unity Caucus who understand the game being played on the membership by the leadership. But it seems to work.
This is not to say that even within ICE, there aren't varying degrees of feeling on this issue. The old hands like me who have been involved for 40 years tend to be the harshest critics, seeing the continuity from Shanker through Mulgrew. But as retirees we have the luxury to feel that way. People in the schools, even those who agree with us, have a different reality and have to walk the minefield of being critics since they often need the assistance of the union. And they often do find people who work for the union who are competent and who assist them in addition to the slugs (read: Washington Sanchez). They don't have the luxury to look at the bigger, long-term picture.
This polemic was inspired by a couple of recent events.
First was a debate I was involved with on the NYCEducation Listserve over my views of the union with no less than people like Deb Meier, Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson and others plus some of the internal debates I've been having with people in GEM, many of whom do not take as harsh a view of the leadership as I do, arguing that with a push from the rank and file the leadership can be made to move in a better direction. I totally disagree, thinking that the leadership will do something to MAKE IT APPEAR they are responding but in reality they will continue on the path determined within the narrow confines of the few people (maybe even one person) determining the direction the union is going in. I hope to publish some of the back and forth.
The second was the revelations of Jim Callaghan, not only in the comments section of Gotham Schools, but in private communications to me over the last year since he was fired by Mulgrew last summer. Truly a treasure trove of an array of accounts of cronyism between the UFT leaders and Bloomberg.
Jim Callaghan was the top investigative reporter at the UFT house organ, The NY Teacher. I have thought seriously about the role Ed Notes plays in disseminating this information and have hesitated, especially after the Wisconsin story, even though some of the actions of the union leaders leading up to and through that battle has been disturbing - we WILL NOT FIGHT YOU ON THE BEACHES type stuff until their backs were against the wall.
Sure I'm concerned when Eric Grannis, Eva Moskowitz' husband, tells me he is a fan of Ed Notes, mostly because of the union revelations. But I am on the side of full disclosure. UFT members should know what their leaders are doing behind the scenes and Callaghan is one of the few insiders to come out of the cold. I also think of the charges against Wikileaks. I personally think the amazing stuff coming out there has helped shake up the world for the better.
I don't want to do just a wikileaks like data dump. So I have been trying to parse the info and release it in some order, along with the background information I am aware of to flesh out the information.
Look for parsed releases of both published and unpublished information in upcoming posts.
Here's a tidbit from Jim:
Lots to come about malfeasance, nepotism, favoritism, incompetence, corruption, no-bid contracts and Mulgrew, Hickey and Weingarten allowing one of their top married aides to retire -with a Tier One and UFT pension---after he was caught taking kickbacks in the form of free hotel rooms so he could coerce his subordinate into having sex with him on union time. She said she was going to the press and was going to file a lawsuit if he stayed (on the job). -----Jim Callaghan, former UFT staffer fired after 13 years.By the way, many of us have known of this story, which took place during a NYSUT convention at the NY Hilton. The amount of money the person being referred to along with relatives took down in salary and benefits would make you scream. Have fun Eric.
Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/. And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.