Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Chicago and New York Teacher Unions

Info Overload
There's so much incoming from so many sources --- too many listserves, too many blogs to follow, too much facebook and twitter is a killer. And all that great video to process. So many issues -- teacher eval, charter invasions, Chicago news, general UFT crap --- I can't decide what to write about. As usual in my case, when presented with too many options I do nothing. Of course I hope you are checking my blogroll which takes me hours to get through before I get to post anything here.

One of the more interesting blogger/NYC teachers I've come across recently is Assailed Teacher, who I was tipped off to by a Diane Ravitch tweet. Some really thoughtful stuff there with some depth. Today's post -- It’s Up To You…. Chicago?
digs into a comparison of the actions of the UFT and the CTU.

Michael Dunn over at Modern School nicely outlines the coming contract battle between the Chicago Teachers’ Union and its employer, Chicago Public Schools. Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to expand the school day by 90 minutes. The union wants a 30% raise, lower class sizes and greater enrichment opportunities for students. They have put money aside for a public relations campaign and are already making arrangements for a strike should contract negotiations break down. I agree with Michael Dunn in that teachers, even workers in general, across the country should keep their eyes on Chicago.

For teachers in New York City, seeing a union actually standing up for its members and students is strange indeed. It seems like it was just this past Thursday that our union sold us out by agreeing to a bonehead evaluation system based entirely on student test scores. In return, the union got absolutely nothing for its members, not even the due process for teachers rated “ineffective” for which they had been holding out. Our fearless leader Michael Mulgrew can be seen hobnobbing with the people responsible for the chartering in this, the country’s largest school district. If New York City schools serve as a model for the rest of the country, then there is plenty for the country to fear.
Read the entire piece (It’s Up To You…. Chicago?).

I wouldn't paint everything that's going on in the Chicago TU as slam dunk perfect even though I am pretty prejudiced because I know many of the leaders. Sure there have been some mistakes (no time to find links now) but I remind people that all these guys and gals were in the classroom teaching until July 2010, not part of a Unity Caucus like machine that has been running the UFT for 50 years. (And how many mistakes have they made?)

CORE -- the Caucus of Rank and File Educators --- started out as a small group to study Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" in 2008 and captured the union in the 2010 elections. I have some tape from an appearance in NY in late 2010 at Teachers Unite by CORE leaders talking about their short history (if I have some time I will post on vimeo). One important point is that (at least at that time) CORE was run by people still in the classroom, not by people working for the CTU.

In fact, when people felt that Karen (who says she reads Ed Notes so I hope I get this right) screwed up she had to face some music from within the caucus, something that can never happen in Unity.

This is an important point --- creating the most democratic body that will function that way under all circumstances. CORE must maintain some level of independence in its relationship to the CTU leadership even if coming from the same group.

I believe in caucuses as a way to function within a union. The problem with the UFT is that there is no balance of power. New Action owes its existence to Unity benevolence. ICE and TJC have had gained traction, and they know it unlike NAC. Other groups like NYCORE, Teachers Unite and GEM have not directly related to the union -- until recently.

Assailed Teacher closes with:
Teachers in NYC have to take a page from CTU’s playbook now. When their union proved to be shills for the forces of ed reform, they turned the leadership out of office. When their Machiavellian mayor proposed a longer school day, their new union immediately responded with a deluge of common sense demands that school districts around the country have long neglected. Contrast that with a union that rolls over and dies in every negotiation and smiles in the face of their members like they did them a favor. It is time for New Yorkers to swallow their pride and give Chicago their due respect for having a teachers’ union ahead of the curve.
He is right about doing it now. And that is why people from all the groups (including people from TJC and ICE) have been meeting around the concept of State of the Union in an attempt to create a CORE-like caucus. Will such a caucus be able to capture power in terms of a union election in the near future? Anyone who came to my UFT 101 workshop at the Feb. 4 SOTU came away pretty depressed over the almost impossible task given how Unity has basically rigged things (there is a video of my workshop I will release soon), especially given the new constitutional amendments diluting the voice of the classroom teacher.

But I point to Egypt where the government fell without an election but because of a people's movement. I view the over 1500 schools in the same way --- the true battleground for the union.

CORE didn't even win power through taking the schools but due to a very incompetent version of Unity that split into 2 plus other caucuses running and winning a runoff, which we don't have here in NYC. In reality, CORE captured 1/3 of the vote the first time and all the other groups endorsed them in the run-off. Thus CORE has had to do school by school organizing AFTER they won and the old guard still has support. If CORE doesn't accomplish this in time for the 2013 election they might very well lose.

In the case of NYC, they are sort of starting from scratch and if a new caucus emerges that focuses on Delegate Assemblies, Exec Bds and talking to the union leadership instead doing the school to school organizing, it will not go very far. Doing this school to school work is not easy, especially given that Unity uses the District reps to monitor and disrupt every sign of opposition coming from schools. (The other day I heard an example of one of the nastiest pieces of work a DR could do in an attempt to undermine a perceived threat --- I am efforting to get permission to print).

The only advantage a true opposition caucus would have is numbers or organizers. Not enormous numbers but enough to counter the Unity machine and get people at the school level to work with the caucus. Given the apathy, that is not an easy task. But I am guessing of such a group can develop strong people in 300-500 schools it becomes a real threat, especially if they can capture delegates and chapter leader positions.

Elections for CL and Del are coming this spring. If you have had enough of Unity, consider running for at least the delegate position and joining with the State of the Union crew (next meeting is March 10).

If things continue the way they are expect more and more sell-outs.

-----
Aftterburn
The move to a new caucus have caused ICE, TJC and even GEM to examine what role they have to play in the battle against ed deform --- which after all is the main war --- but you can't have a hope to win that with a union leadership on the city, state and national level that plays footsie with the deformers instead of organizing to fight them. We'll be reporting on whatever we are allowed to on these internal debates.


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