Sunday, March 17, 2013

Karen Lewis and Mike Mulgrew at Left Labor Project

The panel. Darn, wish I had cropped out that balding guy on the right.
Saturday, March 16, 7 AM.

Just racing off to NYCORE but I wanted to share some quick views of last night's LEFT Labor Project event at the UFT. Given the background and connections of some of the people in the LLP and the willingness of Mulgrew to host and support this event, I found the evening somewhat remarkable, especially given that this was right outside the Shanker hall. Did they turn that noted anti-Communist fighter's pictures to the wall?

Anyway, bringing Mulgrew together with Karen Lewis was a positive thing. The head of the LLP Larry Moskowitz (no, not a relation to evil), Lorraine Chavez, an organizer in Chicago who works with the CTU and CORE and the UFT's community Liason, Anthony Harmon made for an interesting mix.

[I had to leave before finishing this].

Sunday, March 17, 10 AM.
I return with some better perspectives after spending a full day at NYCORE and taping Karen's full 30 minute presentation (posted later). We had a MORE crew there - John A, Joan, Gloria, Pat, David, Seku, Brian and Megan. I want to do some more analysis of how this played out with them given the obvious differences between the CTU and UFT, though Karen didn't openly lay them out as I will below. On Friday night I had a crappy flip camera and taped both Karen and Mulgrew before running out of room on the camera before Mulgrew finished speaking. I'm sorry it did as the entire event was worth taping, especially the questions (people filled out cards). View what I managed to tape below.

So, here are the positives.
Mulgrew was approached by the Left Labor Project and offered full support of the UFT, including most importantly loads of refreshments, including beer and my top thing: pigs in the blankets.

Now some have pointed to the much-advertized appearance of Karen at NYCORE which has openly been supporting MORE and the reason for her trip to NYC as an operating factor to create some balance and not make it look like Karen was endorsing MORE. And I agree that this was a good thing -- Karen should not be placed in a position of getting involved in an internal election here in NYC. (I still haven't posted the brief twitter flame war between Julie and Randi over this issue -- Randi sort of endorsing Mulgrew and Julie hammering her for it.)

I have had very little personal contact with Mulgrew so I have no personal issues and few opinions, but I came off this event liking him better and shook his hand. He didn't try to compete with or outshine Karen (as Randi would have) and he gave a lot of space and credit to UFT community liaison Anthony Harmon. Before Friday I only knew Anthony as a nice guy but came away very impressed with him and to Mulgrew's credit the room and UFT resources he has given Anthony to work with. Also, there is a very good relationship between Karen and Mulgrew. That was obvious. I hear from my pals in Chicago this is not a surface thing but that they talk often.

But there are certainly some flash points that at times made me cringe in "sympathy" for all the Unity people in the room. The most obvious was when she said that CORE people upon winning gave up there perks. This with a room full of people with perks (sorry, that is not on the video). Karen spoke about how they fought and are fighting school closings with a major citywide fightback against closing schools  --- remember, Karen called on all Chi teachers to come out and support their colleagues in closing schools ---- it was double cringe time to see all the Unity people sitting there knowing full well they have only dealt with one school at at time and often just let schools go without a fight. This prompted Mulgrew to say that he reversed the UFT policy of not fighting at all and even supporting closing schools for many years. (Again not on the tape).

And then Karen went after charters -- she admonished us to not repeat exactly what she said -- she got enough hate mail -- and there she was sitting in a room with people who support the UFT charter and its co-location and undermining of the public schools they occupy.

Triple cringe time.

There is probably more to say but I need to debrief with the rest of the MOREs who were present. Note below the pics Valerie Strauss' piece on how the CTU is training people in the use of civil disobedience, something out of the realm of the UFT.

Robert Jackson and Karen

Gloria Brandman and Karen

Chicago school activists get trained in civil disobedience tactics

Chicago teachers on strike last fall.  (By John Gress/Reuters)
Chicago teachers on strike last fall. (By John Gress/Reuters)
Chicago Public Schools officials are considering closing as many as 129 public schools said to be under-enrolled — and activists are gearing up for a fight.

The Chicago Teachers Union is co-sponsoring “Citywide Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Trainings” to teach parents, teachers and others  protest techniques, including disruptions, occupations and arrests, according to a union press release. The trainings, the release said, are going to be led by political activist and scholar Lisa Fithian, who for decades has been a student, labor and community organizer on a range of issues. Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey will participate in one of the training sessions, which is also being sponsored by the Grassroots Education Movement, a group of community-based organizations from across the city. [NOT THE GEM HERE IN NYC AND NOT AFFILIATED].

Read full article here.


  1. Note that Karen is facing an election fight from a coalition more or less pushed by the city fathers. CORE is odds-on fave BUT it will be a struggle. Here in NYC, everybody loves her and should do what we can for her. That's a major plus.

  2. Would love to see the twitter brawl with Julie hammering Randi. Someone else needs to do it then someone else then someone else, etc.

    1. I have it save for an upcoming blog post. Just so little time to get to it all.

  3. hmm ...
    Great piece. One thought about "Karen should not be placed in a position of getting involved in an internal election here in NYC"

    I think that, when a caucus so obviously inspired by CORE, has formed in New York that asserting non-involvement during something like an election is still getting involved; it's just letting the baby fend for itself. To that end, when Randi got a CTU person on Twitter to declare that the AFT support during the strike was appreciated and that CTU wasn't getting involved, that Randi successfully got CORE involved.

    I wouldn't go so far as use the word apostate (far from it), but I think that objecting to any connection between MORE and CORE (Randi) IS getting involved and I think that heading that objection and stating non-involvement (CTU) is getting involved as well.

    And I think that if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it's a duck (pun intended).

    March 17, 2013 at 11:50:23 AM EDT

    1. Let's not forget that Karen is running for re-election against the combo of the Unity like former leadership and the Debbie Lynch PACT caucus, the former reform caucus that battled and beat the UPC in 2001 but lost in 2004, 07 and 10 but threw its support to CORE in 2010, a crucial element in helping it win. This is similar to New Action and Unity teaming up except the UPC/PACT are running as one -- which given the genius of the NA/Unity alliance is a mistake. If 3 parties ran they could deny CORE the 50% and possibly force a runoff.

      The upshot of this is that Karen and CORE MUST stay totally out of things here. And I cannot in any way say that Karen favors us though I know some lower level CORE people do. Many of them battled Unity at the AFT convention and came away almost laughing at how they acted.

      Karen knows Julie and respects her but she does have alliances with Mulgrew. And she is a member of the Progressive Caucus, the national version of Unity - as I am too. There are advantages to being in Prog caucus -- mine being that I get to laugh at Unity slugs like Washington Sanchez when they try to throw me out of meetings.
      Karen gets an AFT EX Bd Veep position. Given there are no serious counter caucuses there is no where else to go.

  4. Norm, where's the picture of the sushi?

  5. I didn't hear anything of substance from Mulgrew. In fact the whole forum, except for the vibrance that Karen Lewis brought, was pretty sterile, controlled and kept 'safe.' Mulgrew did say something to the effect that a trade union's job is to be about organizing communities, not just workers. The UFT doesn't really do either. Yes they offer a few parent meetings. But most who go are selected. I know this happens at our school. letters about these meetings do not go out to ALL the parents. Those who are connected or savvy, go. And Harmon acted as if the UFT doesn't have a connection to the AQU and CEJ parent groups. Need parents? Call on these two groups. They do not represent parents across the broad width of NYC. So who were they kidding? He never referred to them, making it appear that their outreach was very wide and grassroots. Moskowwitz was good, but really didn't say anything we don't know. Karen Lewis mingled with the entire crowd. I did not see Mulgrew approach her to speak. She approached him. Hmmm. I wonder who keeps the contact going? She certainly said a thing or two about charters that had to have Mulgrew crawling.

    Maybe I was tired. Maybe the Green Eggs and Ham I made (and ate) earlier in the day got to my brain. But I was not so impressed with the evening...except for the feast provided. The watermelon was sweet and the pigs in a blanket hit the spot! Just my two cents.

  6. Karen Lewis is amazing. I only saw the initial statement you put up on the blog, but one of the things she seemed to be doing was to actually put her three maxims into effect by the way she was relating to the entire group she was addressing--both MORE and Unity Caucus people (who else was there?).
    1. Unite
    2. Make yourself stronger
    3. Build power

    Even her later statements which made Unity squirm were probably meant to do that, especially after she manipulated Mulgrew into echoing her (in the parts of his statement that was videotaped), setting up the contradiction between what he says and what the union actually does. Especially given the missed opportunity of building unity with parents/students/community when it came to closing schools.

    For example, the question of union officer salary: How can union leaders really represent (and unite) teachers if our salaries [and job security] are so different from theirs, not to mention members of other unions and parents?

    So, what do we have to do to make ourselves strong and unite with others? Let's start working to eliminate whatever we can that divides us (including those of us sitting in the room).
    Not that we necessarily believe that Mulgrew himself can't be "united", but there were many others in the room.


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