Sunday, March 31, 2013

Corrected: Whither New Action: Mulgrew Tops New Action Slate as 10 NA Candidates Run on Unity Slate, Including 2 co-chairs Shulman and Halabi

Historical correction sent in by Ira Goldfine:
In 1977 and 1979 we ran together with TAC and we called ourselves UNITED FIGHTBACK - in 1981 we formed NAC (the N for New Directions, A for Teachers Action Caucus and C for the Coalition of NYC Schoolworkers) and ran a full slate of 675 people with Pessin as the presidential candidate. We took nearly 30% of the total vote and over 35% excluding the functional chapter.
You won't see these facts stated anywhere in New Action literature as they play their
decade-old assigned role of trying to confuse UFT members into voting for them and dividing the forces opposed to Unity. It always wasn't this way.

From 1990-2001, New Action which formed as a result of the merger of two caucuses (Teachers Action Caucus and New Directions*), was the major voice of the opposition, not always the strongest voice (as Ed Notes began pointing out when I started publishing in 1997) but the major place people opposed to Unity were able to go. They were able to garner over 10,000 votes and win the 6 or 7 (depending on the year) high school executive board seats in every election except one during those years. In 1991 they also won 6 middle school seats, thus giving them 13 EB seats, the most an opposition in the UFT has ever had.

It was directly due to this challenge that Unity, after beating back NA in 1993 when Unity regained 100% of the EB, took the opportunity to remove the divisional vice presidents from being voted on by the members of the division to make sure the opposition never gets to be one of the 11 officers (now known as the AdCom). In other words, if the high school teachers voted NA the HS VEEP would still be Unity. Which is exactly what happened in the 1995, 97, 99 and 2001 elections.

Then Randi, in what is perhaps her most brilliant move, made an offer to New Action which was worried about losing the high school seats in the 2004 elections (Unity pushed through a change from 2 to 3 year terms). She would not run ANY Unity candidates for those seats if NA wouldn't run anyone for president against her.

New Action bit and thus was born a collaboration that has turned NA into a shell of what it once was (check the vote totals as they dropped to an afterthought over the past decade.)

But proving the old adage that lemonade can be made out of lemons, the actions of NA spurred 2 other groups into action. Readers and supporters of Ed Notes, which had been critical of New Action for its tepid role as an opposition even before they did the dirty deal, formed the Independent Community of Educators (ICE-- one of the major forces behind MORE today). They were joined by key defectors from New Action: James and Camille Eterno, Ellen Fox and Lisa North. ICE, founded in late 2003 and just a month old, decided to run a slate in the 2004 elections.

Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC), a decade old advocacy group in the UFT, also decided to run for the first time in the 2004 elections. Both groups ran a joint slate for the high schools directly opposing the New Action slate, which without Unity running at all for these 6 seats, assumed they would win. New Action didn't, which pissed Randi off to no end.

The ICE-TJC slate won those seats and put people like James Eterno and Jeff Kaufman on the Ex Bd. For James it was a continuation of his years as the NA rep but now combined with Kaufman, the two of them raised hell with the Unity agenda, challenging them in a way they had not been before. One can imagine how people like NA dictator Mike Shulman felt sitting and stewing at EB meetings watching James and Jeff do their thing. And plotting with Unity how they could remove these thorns in both their sides.

And remove them they did in the 2007 and 2010 elections when they made sure a mix of New Action and Unity controlled the high school seats by running 3 from each caucus on both the Unity and New Action slates. In addition, New Action was given 5 more EB seats at large, including Shulman, who as a retiree finally made it on to the board.

In both elections, ICE-TJC almost doubled the NA high school vote but when their totals were added to the Unity total that shut out ICE-TJC which got no seats on the board.

A look at the 2010 HS slate voting totals: Unity 2600, ICE-TJC 1350, NA 750. A total of roughly 5000 votes out of a potential of almost 20,000.

In the 2013 elections with the rise of MORE, Unity needed New Action more than ever and has rewarded them with 10 EB seats. Thus if you look at the ballot you will see 10 New Action (and 4 Unity, including Mulgrew) running on both slates.

When you see your ballot you will notice that there are only 2 presidential candidates. Julie Cavanagh for MORE and Mulgrew with Unity/New Action next to his name. Thus there are only 2 real choices in this election, not 3.

And if you are a high school teacher you will see an interesting mix of EB candidates for your division. 7 MORE people and 7 mixed New Action and Unity. These are winnable seats if high school teachers come out to vote and vote for MORE, thus giving a real opposition a beach head in the exec bd. Thus it is crucial to get out the vote from the 25-27% in the last election which would give MORE a chance to defeat the NA/Unity combo.

In an upcoming post I will tell you about these 7 MORE people.


*A history of the roots of New Action: Teachers Action Caucus (TAC) and New Directions (ND)

In 1990 the 2 major caucuses in the UFT merged into one caucus with a lot of promise.

TAC was founded in 1968 as an outgrowth of Teachers for Community Control (TCC), which consisted of people who had been associated with the old left Teachers Union which had disbanded in 1964 after suffering from years of persecution from the Board of Education over their ties to the Communist Party. (The very founding of the UFT was part of this anti-left push, but that's for another time.) TCC supported the community against the 1968 UFT strike and when they formed TAC they were branded scabs for many years by the UFT. Despite that they ran campaigns in UFT elections and found a following among teachers on the left, many of whom entered the system in the late 60s. Some were with what was termed the "New Left" and internally there were struggles between what was termed the "Stalinist pro-Soviet" old left and the mostly Trotskyist New Left.

As a non-leftist I entered into this world in the fall of 1970 in my 4th year of teaching. I was associated with a group of left-oriented people who were in neither camp but willing to build alliances. We tried initially with TAC but found that organization locked in its own narrow frame of politics and could make no headway moving policy changes. So we left and formed not another caucus but an advocacy group called the Coalition of NYC School Workers. We had no intention of running in elections but spent a lot of time analyzing and writing on policy and we attracted a large group of followers, including many from the New Left/Trotskyist groups who had no where else to go even if they were unhappy with some of the direction we were heading in.

Sometime in late 1975/early 1976 they split the CSW in half and formed New Directions which was aimed at running a slate in the 1977 UFT elections directly against Unity and TAC. We were adamantly opposed to doing that and formed an alliance with TAC to run together in the 77 elections. I believe we called ourselves New Action Caucus. ND ran its own course, but in some irony they threw out the Trotskyists that had fomented the split from us. (The trots formed a new group that never was a caucus that was called "Chalk Dust" and it lasted until the late 80s.)

It wasn't until around 1980 that New Directions began to join with us to run in elections throughout the 80s, even winning the high school vice president seat for Mike Shulman in 1985, an event that shook Unity. (Some irony here and an entire story how Unity sued themselves that the election was unfairly run and forcing another election, thus keeping Shulman from being seated for almost a year).

Sometime after that, ND had another purge, tossing out their leader Marc Pessin (I could write a book on him) who was apparently obstructing a move to merge with TAC, which had been a bitter enemy and would never have joined with ND as long as he was involved. ND had moved steadily to the right in a sense in that it ignored almost all social issues. Which was interesting and seemed to pave the way for a merger between the old left TAC which had been branded as scabs for breaking the 68 strike and more right ND.

The idea of Unity making a deal with anything to do with TAC was inconceivable until both Shanker and Feldman were out of the picture given their history of ani-communism. Even people like me were preferable and I had quite a few conversations with some of the upper echelon Unity people who loved my critiques of New Action, who they considered spineless. And so they turned out to be.

When Randi made the deal with New Action in 2003 there was just a bit of churning and turning in the graves of the old UFT right wing social democrats. The old guard was not happy, but there was such turnover in Unity, there was no real resistance.


  1. You want to know why the opposition will always lose. Reread you post and wake-Up and smell th coffee. While you are worried about Stalin and Trotsky and the rest, Shanker, Feldman, Weingarten and Mugrew were fighting City Hall.

    While you can not get and will not get your act together, Unity was fighting for pensions, and no layoffs.

    1. Yep, they've been fighting alright, for mayoral control, test based evaluations, Danielson and collaboration with Bill Gates.

      God save us from their hard work...

  2. Either you're ignorant or hiding the ideological roots of the UFT. I vote for the former. So I'll school you.
    Shanker, Feldman, and rest of top union leadership: Social Democrats USA Party (SDUSA) - Shachtmanites You, know, that old right wing socialism where spending billions on Viet Nam had a higher priority than saving the schools. Thus in 1975 the UFT bailed out the city with our pension funds while Shanker was endorsing war hawk Henry Scoop Jackson. I proudly got up at the DA and opposed that nomination and contrasted Shanker's willingness to give more money to guns than butter.
    In case you didn't know, Shachtman was a former Trotskyist and his wife Yetta was Shanker's personal secretary for many years. She as some sharpie -- maybe making sure Al never strayed from the ideology. And he didn't.

  3. Norm is right about how the roots of New Action's TAC wing and how the old line UFT leaders were repelled. They were often disgusting in their reaction. But TAC was old left and that ideology was so passe with the Soviet Union in decline and the New Left yipping at its heals. So they were getting it from both ends and while they certainly knew how to organize on a certain level and even today you can see the fruits of their organizing in New Action's ability to get a loyal core of retirees to blanket the schools with their election leaflets.
    If you can get George Altomare or Abe Levine to talk today you might get some points. Altomare was to the left of them all and opposed the Viet Nam War and that shut him out for potential leadership of the union when Shanker moved to the AFT in 1974. George was -- in his words of course -- as responsible for the founding of the UFT as Shanker was. But until Randi, ideology ruled in the UFT. Randi's only ideology is herself.

  4. Thank you for the history lesson. I am not a fan of Unity but the first comment has a point. As long as the opposition is tied to the far left, they will be easily branded and will lose. The second part of this post could easily be turned into a Unity ad. If only a non-ideological group of chapter leaders, rank and filers and delegates interested in saving the teachers from the messy collaboration that is out there came together to start a resistance. They just might get some traction. By the way, I am voting for MORE and urging colleagues to do the same.

    1. You are missing an important part of the history. There is no such thing as a non-ideological movement of rank and filers who give the enormous amount of time it takes to create and manage a movement for a sustained period of time. The left has and will be part of any movement. There is no union progress in this nation or any nation without the left playing a major role. Even Shanker came with ideology as was pointed out above.
      The old Teachers Union dominated by the Communist Party was the only teacher group in NYC leading the battle during the 30s. They made some major mistakes and the anti-Communist assault decimated them in the 40s and 50s which is what left room for Shanker et al to gain traction.
      The problem with the left -- and I am not a socialist but support much of the work the left does -- is its inability to reach out beyond the narrow cocoon it lives in -- they mainly seem to talk to each other and often don't connect with the rank and file. Some openly say where they are coming from (and drive some people away) and others keep their ideology under the table and then are subject to the type of McCarthyite attacks we've seen.
      Even if such a non-ideological group got started the left would not stay away and in a democratic movement there would be no way to shut people out.
      Thus the building of a combo of left activists and rank and filers is what can work -- Chicago is an example -- call it left oriented real politic.
      ICE formed in some ways as an independent non-ideological left-oriented org as a counter to some of the rigid ideology. But key people leading it were retirees and they began to lose interest within a few years and that pretty much left ICE without ideological leadership -- both in supporting the left and in battling ultra left incursions --
      MORE has some promise given the combo of rank and filers and the left both of which are necessary.
      After some struggles internally some balance was arrived at in this campaign. But it will only work if there is a balance between the two and maintaining that balance will be one of the crucial post-election tasks.
      On my part, if the balance tips one way or the other I would lose interest.

    2. "Left oriented real politic"- that is a brilliant phrase, Norm. I really was engrossed in this history lesson, even though I came into the system, and became "aware" of the divisions within the union, in the early 80's- the "non-caucus" you mention, "Chalk dust", was my introduction, and I have vivid memories of its personal meaning to me: it was the first (and one of the only!) times I was arrested, for a worthy (the worthiest) cause- we protested Apartheid South Africa in front of their New York embassy, letting the world know we were there as teachers, who were willing to get cuffed and thrown in a "paddy wagon" for our beliefs. Not to say this was so brave or anything, but I was proud to be a part of a group of teachers like that! Lou Friedman and Nancy Romer were the great influences for me in Chalk Dust, and Gloria Brandenman was active, as was Susan Metz; I think I met Sean Ahern and Angel then, too- it was a Park Slope Brooklyn based group, in those days at least. Later, I got taken in by Michael Shulman and New Action, thinking they were "for real" as opposition to Unity. I remember Michael dropping off leaflets to hand out. I don't think they had yet cut their deal with Unity in those days. I also recall folks like Nick and Marian at TJC being very outspoken, and on the right track from my point of view. But in the end it is the rare individual like a Marjorie Stamberg of Class Struggle Education Workers who keeps the fire going- non-apologetic Socialists, who, I admit, bite themselves in the foot by "footnoting" their overencompassing Socialist vision to every important speech they have the cajones to make at every DA I have witnessed; still, people like Marjorie have kept the rest of us aware of Unity's ever-right-leaning direction, and have never failed to call them out on it. To me, MORE has benefited from being percceived as a "kinder, gentler" version of an opposing vision to the ruling party- as if MORE is more digestable, less wildly rhetorical and of course NOT Socialistic, in approach. It reminds me of Obama doing everything he can to stay away from being called "Socialist", but getting the footage with the American Left for being willing to go at least as far to the Left as his admin would allow him to go, which is not saying very far at all! But, like you said, the mix put people like Karen Lewis in the front in Chicago, so the presence of old-style Lefties has done quite a bit of measurable good there, at least. And here in NYC I saw that Marjorie was standing tall at every rally for the school bus strikers, teaching the rest of the union what a broad-based united municipal union labor movement would look like if our leadership had an iota of her guts: it would bring the city to the bargaining table, instead of letting the city have its way with Labor! As for Abe Levine, who you mentioned, I can think of no more rabid right-winger I've encountered in all my years in the union, who I only know as a much-lauded retiree. Sean Doyle and I tangled with him long ago when he got the floor- as he always did- at a DA during the invasion of Iraq, and went on about how the UFT MUST support the war! (which it did, of course!) He was frothing at the mouth, practically. Just to listen to that kind of drum-beating was nauseating in itself, but to see the Unity crowd embrace Randy's "Old Wise One", who still sticks reactionary letters in the trade organ regularly, was enough to make you cringe. If Abe Levine in any way still represents the politics of the DA at the UFT, the right-leaners from Shanker's time have kept control after all these years. Scary thought. Best, Martin Haber (shows as "Anonymous")


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