Thursday, July 26, 2012

@AFT Convention: Thursday July 26

Nothing much went on today other than registration and caucus meetings. By the way, as I write this at midnight, Gloria hasn't arrived yet -- not even sure if the plane took off. She's been stuck since 4:30PM. And she is on a plane with lots of Unity people. They better get here so they can get to their assigned mics tomorrow in time to call the question.

Debate over secret vs open ballot
I joined Randi's Progressive Caucus for $25 and this time no one tried to throw me out as opposed to 2 years ago in Seattle. A bunch of Unity Caucus people were still trapped back in NYC as were people from many other places so attendance was sparse. One of the interesting issues was the discussion on the open vs secret ballot since there is a resolution being presented that a secret ballot is democratic given the tight control the AFT leadership exercises and that the current open ballot allows the leadership to punish dissenters.

How ironic that the Unity/Progressive Caucus machine (which controls the AFT) stands for holding elected delegates accountable to the people who elected them while when it comes to the UFT local delegate assembly in NYC they take the opposite position --- that the chapter leader and delegate do not have to be held responsible to the staff that elected them. Thus your average Unity Caucus slug can vote for mayoral control every single time and never have to be held accountable to the staff.

One guy argued that the open ballot was a hindrance to an NEA/AFT merger -- calling it an "AFT refusal to endorse basic stumbling block in promoting democracy."

Dick Iannucci – pres of NYSUT – the largest merged state  - said the "issues separating us in merger do not stem from this. There is no discussion of merger going on right now. The fabric of AFT is about being a rep body [oh, yeah!]. We don’t define ourselves to meet others’ definition." 

Interesting how there is no hint of merger talks. I imagine the strategy is to do this state by state. Michael Mendel, looking fit, was at the mic when Keith Johnson, Pres of the Detroit TU called the question to close debate. I called to Mike "he beat you to it" but Mike said he was going to speak. (He liked the Ranger trade).

The caucus then went through the various resolutions they were supporting that will come out of various committees which will be meeting all Friday afternoon to recommend the top 3 resolutions. Non delegates like us are barred from attending those meetings so we will have Friday afternoon free. This process is rather complex to explain but is is key to controlling the convention. Unity makes sure to have its people in control of these committees and the convention debates which begin on Saturday are controlled by the decisions made in committee. And Progressive Caucus controls all the committees and the meeting today went through the key resos they support.

Randi made a rousing speech about the attacks, etc. Interesting point- she said the AFT has grown in membership though they would be saying it is stable. That's very interesting given the major drop the NEA reported a few weeks ago -- so major it made headlines. (I can't find the link right now.)

I then went over to the Peace and Justice Caucus meeting afterwards where Lisa and Gloria have been major organizers over the years. With Gloria still on the tarmac in NYC, Lisa chaired the meeting. Lots of Chicago people were there and I have lots to report in my follow-up tomorrow. We went over the resos they will push, some coming head to head with Unity/Progressive. Again I will do that tomorrow.

Interesting that I got an email from an ed notes reader while I was at the meeting. She surmised that Obama sat in Rahm to settle some of the issues with the CTU until the elections and then he would hammer them. (See Lee Sustar's great reporting for the Socialist Worker - Rahm blinks first in battle with teachers and Can the AFT meet the challenge?)

I asked that question and the CTU people were adamant that it was their pressure that forced Rahm. But earlier I had run into a CTU official who actually said there might have been pressure from the Democratic machine to tone it down.

P and J have snagged CTU president Karen Lewis, the unquestioned rock star of this convention, for their Friday night meeting which I am taping. Karen has to speak and run off to the CTU party and I'm going to run over there too with my camera to get the rank and file CORE people for some interviews. They have over 90 people here.

P and J meeting ended late -- around 8:30 and a whole bunch of us -- NYC, Chicago, Baltimore --- to the Marriott HQ at Renaissance for a bite. We went there because there are just so few restaurants around and where there are they are closed. We walked on some dark streets --- lights cost money and met up with some people on the street who shouted out hearty greetings. With everything closed we were forced to eat on the rooftop Marriott bar. A few tables off were a bunch of Unityites and I made sure to speak loudly and clearly when we discussed Randi. Gloria called and was still on the tarmac with the other Unity slugs.

Lisa, myself, a Baltimore teacher and Leo, her partner headed back through the weird Detroit landscape. We passed one open bar but otherwise, nada. A police car (one of the few we saw) stopped --"Are you lost," he asked, on his face a look of concern -- like why are you out walking in this area? Well, we were only 2 blocks from the hotel. Leo had attended a major rally of Detroit police and fire over the cuts and forced contract earlier in the day. We should high fived the cop as a message of solidarity. Detroit managers are attacking every public worker and I hear Rahm did the same in Chicago. When the CTU held its big march with 10,000 people the cops were totally supportive.

Tomorrow, Randi is leading a major march of AFT delegates to protest the enforced contract. Here is an excerpt from the AFT press office (see Norms Notes).

The convention opens with AFT President Randi Weingarten’s keynote address introducing “solution-driven unionism,” a redefinition of unionism that advances solutions focused not just on members, but also on the people they serve and the communities in which they live. Solution-driven unionism will advance creative solutions to unify members and their communities around issues important to all working people.

After delivering her keynote address on Friday, Weingarten will join members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers as they gather at the Detroit Pubic School headquarters to tell Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts to stop dictating and start working collaboratively to ensure the students of Detroit have what they need to succeed.
 2:30AM, Friday - Gloria is knocking on the door. Gotta go let her in.

Friday I'll report on the competing testing reso from the AFT and Chicago. Lots on that and there may even be a floor fight on Saturday or Sunday.

Meanwhile I have to cross post this awesome piece from NYC Educator -- we will report further on the Ravitch Sat 2PM speech and whether she might touch issues Randi doesn't want raised.

If Diane Ravitch Were UFT, She Wouldn't Be at AFT Convention

This week we've been examining precisely what it takes to represent the UFT at a national or state convention. The prime requirement, of course, is to be an invited member of the elite Unity Caucus, and to do that you must agree to support all union positions in public. Ravitch, though I like her very much, fails to meet the standard. Here's why.

1. She publicly opposes mayoral control. UFT supports it, and this alone would disqualify her. It's a long tradition to expel Unity members for failure to conform. In fact, Albert Shanker used to expel people for opposing the Vietnam War. Mayoral control is what brought us the rubber-stamp PEP, and I've seen high-ranking UFT officials get just as frustrated with them as most of us are. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and placing all that power in the hands of the richest man in New York was a huge error. We ought to stop pretending otherwise.

2. Ravitch vehemently opposes VAM, and has publicly labeled it for the junk science it is. She does not support using it for teacher evaluations, not at any percentage. Standard union argument is that principal's judgment can be flawed, and therefore other measures are needed. I cannot really argue that point, nor the one that there are plenty of crazy principals out there, but adding random nonsense to the mix hardly helps. In fact, if you have a small-minded principal, it's likely this person could work to see your value-added scores scour the depths of whatever underworld whatever remains of the soul of Joel Klein has been relegated to.

3. Ravitch fails to support Common Core. Ravitch says it should be tested before use. This makes perfect sense to me. In fact, with the AFT circulating a petition against excessive testing, before supporting it, wouldn't it be a good idea for us to find out precisely how much testing it will entail? The spectre of nine tests a year, to me, hardly bodes well. I'm upset by Common Core in that it does not differentiate between ELA for American-born kids and ESL for my students. To me, that's patently idiotic. Issues like these ought to be addressed before we throw our support to any program.

4. Ravitch is highly critical of union-endorsed President Barack Obama, going so far as to say he's given GW Bush a third term in education. UFT members won't be talking any of that when Vice President Joe Biden addresses the crowd in Detroit. When Obama's people applaud entire teaching staffs being fired, when Arne Duncan states Katrina was the best thing to happen to NOLA education, Obama says nothing, but Ravitch is not impressed.

I could go on, but you get the point. I congratulate the AFT for selecting Ravitch this year, She's a much better choice than Gates.

On the other hand, it's not particularly admirable that UFT leadership has excluded absolutely every New York City teacher who publicly supports her ideas.

The opinions expressed on EdNotesOnline are solely those of Norm Scott and are not to be taken as official positions (though Unity Caucus/New Action slugs will try to paint them that way) of any of the groups or organizations Norm works with: ICE, GEM, MORE, Change the Stakes, NYCORE, FIRST Lego League NYC, Rockaway Theatre Co., Active Aging, The Wave, Aliens on Earth, etc.

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