Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25 4-7PM - MORE Summer Series: How Should We View the UFT/AFT Leadership?

I helped organize this discussion based on what I see as various points of view regarding the union leadership in the UFT/AFT. It will take place at Local 138 (138 Ludlow St, a block and a half north of Delancey.)

There have been internal debates for years in ICE, GEM and MORE on this issue. How far does an opposition caucus go in criticizing the leadership? Does it risk blow back -- feeding into a sense of anti-unionism, especially from the newer generation of teachers who often enter with an anti-union bias? How do you try to compete for power in the UFT without being critical? How does MORE manage to counter the so-far successful propaganda campaign over the last 2 decades that it is the mayors (Giuliani and Bloomberg) who are the problem, not the people running our union?

One MORE member sent me this question:
How do we connect our members to our union and help them to understand its importance and galvanize them to get involved-- how do we overcome the disenfranchisement and disconnectedness and instead convince people our union is actually a force for good and justice locally, nationally, and globally?
My thoughts are how do we do the above with a union leadership that at best can be considered ineffective and at worst collusive with our enemies? I won't get into the whys and wherefores of this time but maybe some answers will emerge later today.

Other questions that have come up:
What strategies and tactics should an opposition caucus use in relating to the union leadership? Should the opposition work with the leadership? If so, when, how and under what terms? If it's going to be critical, what kind of tone should be maintained? If the decision is to criticize/attack the leadership, then how should it be done, while making it clear to all that The Union is always to be supported? In other words, how can the leadership be separated from the Union in the eyes of the rank and file? And should it?
Given the power balances in the UFT do you attempt to lobby the leadership towards better policies? That's pretty much what New Action does. They have no grassroots and they play the role of a loyal opposition -- not even an opposition given that they could not win one position in an election without Unity support.

Some in MORE think that the leadership can be pressured, but instead of playing the inside New Action game, organize enough rank and file and the leadership will be forced to respond.

Some think the UFT leadership cannot really be pressured to change direction, given their history of capitulation and even when they look like they are doing something right, that is only on the surface. In fact they coopt the language of the critics (what they say) but don't actually do anything very much different (what they do).

Peter Lamphere, formerly from TJC and now a major cog in MORE, will be giving us the benefit of his long-time activism in the UFT and will touch on many of these issues in his presentation.

I hear all the time, even from newbies: if only we had Al Shanker instead of Randi and we would have a militant fighting union. As a 43 year activist I don't buy that line and in fact believe that there is a direct line ideologically from Shanker, through Sandy Feldman through Randi and Mulgrew.

Ira Goldfine, my colleague from the 70s and a founder of ICE in 2003 will do a presentation going back to the late 60s through the 90s pre-Randi to show this connection. That Randi did not in fact take the union in another direction. Shanker started the give back ball rolling as far back as 1972, the last time we got a good contract.

The UFT/AFT/Unity leadership has made it easy to be critical based on their support for so much of ed deform. Here is a partial list compiled by Vera Pavone who is doing one of the presentations later today focusing on the UFT since mayoral control.
  • supporting the teacher accountability ed deform mantra - the evaluation mess
  • signing on to "we must get rid of bad teachers" as a solution
  • variations of merit pay schemes
  • mayoral control
  • common core
  • charters and co-locations
  • rating and grading schools and generation of phony statistics on graduation rates, dropouts, all resulting in….
  • Closing schools (which the UFT supported through the end of 2009 and still supports to some extent), destroying neighborhood schools, dezoning, eliminating comprehensive HS and availability of electives for the vast majority of HS students. Forcing children to travel longer distances.
  • tepid defense of reducing class size, which ed deformers disparage as a solution
  • the contract and agreements in 2005 that coupled school closings with the burgeoning population of ATRs who started off as in-house subs and ended up as the wandering unwanted. Leading to the forcing out of thousands of older and experienced teachers.
  • charter schools, co-location (the union had 2 co-located charters), unequal treatment from DOE. The growing corps of temporary, non-unionized at-will teachers.
  • the growing segregation of the student body—the wanted vs. the unwanted
  • denial of tenure to newer teachers (year after year extensions, discontinues from principals with a grudge -- no rights for non-tenured and increasingly restrictive rights for tenured teachers who are now facing even the end of that protection
  • a grievance procedure in the toilet
  • multi pension tiers
  • paying lip service to the big
I bet you can add some more. How can this be? That a union leadership can be either so tone-deaf or

Remember, the early attacks under BloomKlein in 2002 led to the alliance between Randi and New Action which accepted the "we must support the union leaders in this time of crisis," thus ending their role as the leading opposition caucus in the UFT after 12 years since they merged in 1990 when Teachers Action Caucus (founded in 1968) and New Directions (1976) merged. Thus in reality, the dirty deal ended 35 years of history of there being a recognized opposition that proved throughout the 90s through the 2001 election that they could win at least some executive board seats on their own without Unity support. Now there is hope that MORE can rise from the ashes to create a vibrant challenge to the leadership.

Recently there have been blogs on this issue by people like Diane Ravitch and Unity flack Peter Goodman who left a comment on the NYC Educator blog (To Bobblehead, or Not to Bobblehead)
Unfortunately the union movement has spent too much time fighting internally rather than concentrating on their enemies...
This is the constant Unity line to kill internal criticism for 50 years.

In Diane's post, My Friend Randi Weingarten which garnered over 250 comments, mostly critical of Randi and some of Diane for posting this (I think it was a good thing she did), she said:
It serves no purpose for those of us opposed to teacher-bashing and corporate reform to fight among ourselves. We must stand together so that we will one day prevail over those who want to destroy public education and the teaching profession. We can’t win if we are divided. I will do nothing to help those who pursue a strategy of divide and conquer. They want us to fight among ourselves. I won’t help them.
There is no little irony in that this very post served to unleash a storm of comments critical of Randi. But some still seem to think deserves to be classified as someone we must stand together with given the enormous attacks on teachers and their unions. And by the way, I don't separate Mulgrew from Randi no matter how hard Unity people say they are different (style over substance in my view) -- watch what they do, not what they say.

I found one interesting comment supporting Diane's post (which also do) saying that maybe Randi will listen to Diane and stand up more for us due to Diane's influence.

This is an astounding statement, hoping an academic and advocate not connected to the union is supposed to influence the national leader of one of the two national teacher unions to stand up for us rather than sit on the fence (at best) or at worst, stand on the other side. Witness her most recent call for the "bad" teachers to get out of the profession, which NYC Educator (Getting Rid of "Bad Teachers") and Perdido (It's Time To Fire "Bad" Union Leaders Like Randi W) dealt with.

So, come on down later today if you are interested in jumping into this discussion, which I am sure will not be the end of it.

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