Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From 25 Years Ago: The UFT After Shanker by Lois Weiner and Bruce Markens

A lot to interesting insights about the UFT and the opposition from Lois and Bruce in this document published in 1990. Some good lessons for the new generation of teacher activists looking to challenge the half century of Unity Caucus control - well, maybe the lesson is the more things change the more they remain the same.

Lois Weiner and Bruce Markens were 2 of the most respected independent voices in the UFT. Bruce is truly the only independently elected district rep in history - he served for a decade as Manhattan HS DR despite repeated attempts by Unity to defeat him. He was so despised by Unity that when he retired I asked Randi to say something at the DA about his years of service and she refused. He was the reason she ended Dist Rep elections 2 years after he retired. Bruce and I are getting together with Mike Schirtzer and some others after the New Year to pass the historical torch so Mike can tell the story in 25 years -

and Mike met with Lois, Julie and some other MOREistas last week to get her current point of view.

I only met Lois after she had left the system and went into academia. She was the one who recruited Vera Pavone and I to write the review of the Kahlenberg Shanker bio which was published in New Politics.

Lois and Bruce have written an important historical document about Unity Caucus and the opposition from the point of view of a generation ago.

One of the things we see being sold by some today is the umbrella group idea where each caucus operates on its own and then comes together for elections or certain issues. Coalition caucus politics has been a failure throughout the history of the UFT opposition. ICE and TJC learned that lesson after a years of wrestling with each other and finally came together in MORE. Though there is still some internal wrestling, there is the sense that even a shotgun marriage is better than what was there before.

Here Bruce talks about how that worked out between 1981 (really since my group the CSW worked with TAC in the 1977 elections) through the writing of this article in 1990. NAC was the coalition of 3 caucuses initially and then 2. New Action was the result of the merger in 1996.

Imagine - in those years the opposition could pull high vote totals in middle and high schools but could never make a dent in the elementary and functional and of course the retiree divisions. In fact, in the elections following this 1990 article, the opposition won 13 Ex Bd seats  - its highest totals ever.

After New Action formed from the merger of TAC and New Directions in 1996 it had some success in the high schools by winning those seats through the 2001 elections. But seeing their advantage slipping away they jumped at the deal offered by Randi - don't run against her in exchange for Unity not running against NA for the HS seats. In 2003 I and others, unhappy with the state of the opposition - New Action, a fairly nascent TJC at that point and a 3rd caucus - Progressive Action - focused on one major item - teacher licensing - formed ICE as yet another alternative. (Hey - do you believe in choice?) While there was initial excitement that faded by the 2007 elections and ICE drifited into inactivity and into GEM and MORE. A real lesson for me - and others - which ultimately has led back to an attempt to create one unified opposition voice in MORE.

Attempts to brand Solidarity as a bridge group between New Action and MORE and a mostly dormant ICE will come to naught and maybe in 25 years someone will write this version of history.

If you have trouble reading the document below, go to this link where it will be larger.


  1. As you know New Action is represented on the UFT Executive Board and provides a consistent "devil's advocacy" on most of the issues that the body considers.

    1. You have to be joking. New Action is only on the UFT Ex Bd due to the largesse of Mulgrew. It's like the Russian parliament under the communist party. Now if New Action actually won those seats on their own you could make a case and even then the case for putting energy into devil's advocacy in front of an entire room of Unity Caucus is pretty weak. I'll blog about this later.

  2. Norm. An aesthetic point of information. The contrast between print and background on your blog is not terrific. I find it hard to read especially on my smartphone. Its worth my effort, though!!

  3. It is and will always be Democratic to oppose, but the gains over the years that the UFT has obtained for its members has been dramatic and substantial. Remember: our profession will never be recognized as equals in status or pay with the others. That said, what was fought for and won over time was remarkable considering the view the public has of teachers. I'm sure that you heard the following too many times, " People who teach do so because they cannot do anything else." Is that despicable? Of course it is, but it was true then and it is true now. The historic leadership at our union deserves their due because I have heard nothing that is better. Thank you, Dr. John Marvul.

    1. My version of that saying: Those who can, teach. Those who cannot, write books or talk about teaching.
      Roseanne McCosh

  4. Apparently not much has changed in a couple of decades. Unity still does the work and the opposition stands on the sidelines and flings mud. Anyone can volunteer to do the union's work - manning phone banks, getting on buses before dawn to attend Albany Lobby Day, presenting teachers' points of view at CEC and PEP meetings, volunteering for the negotiating committee when we're at the end of a contract, visiting State Assemblymen and Senators in their New York City offices, going door to door to get out the vote - but these things require a commitment of time and effort. It is the people who serve who are tapped for leadership positions.

    When I first became a chapter leader I had no interest in joining a caucus; my loyalty was and is to the UFT as a whole. The literature from each caucus looks similar to the ordinary member. For years I had received those ballots listing hundreds of names of people I didn't know. It was only after I had become more personally involved in working to serve my chapter that I met the UFT's worker bees. The next time I received that ballot certain names popped out. They were the people who gave up their weekends and summers to train new CLs, to run workshops and teacher centers, to answer the phone whenever I needed support, and to work, work, work. For the most part, these turned out to be Unity members.

    The UFT's national delegates are not appointed but elected, as are chapter leaders and local delegates. Their presence at state and national conventions is not a bonus or reward but their job as unionists representing their colleagues. A Delegate Assembly does not take place unless there is a quorum. To say that there are too few people present at a DA for it to be democratically representative of the rank and file members is just plain innacurate. It may not be possible for every chapter leader and delegate to attend each and every DA, but those who care make most if not all of them. I notice that at Tuesday's DA a resolution brought forth by a MORE member was taken up and passed unanimously. When the Staff Director said that it needed to be vetted by the AFT, it was. I received the flier today from the UFT.

    Let's stop fighting one another; there's work to be done.

  5. For some people it happened early on, for others a year ago and for me just a few months ago. I'm talking about the time when we realized a group was not catering to its members, or at least the vast majority of UFT members (active and retired). So what does one do when one realizes the boat they are in is not steering where they want to go? They get on, or help build, a new boat.

    That's what we did back in September. We created Solidarity Caucus. Plain and simple it is a group looking to represent members of the UFT. Something wrong?.... Let's work together to fix it.

    Now you, and others, can use the scare tactics of "This is Randi Weingarten's plan. Francesco Portelos has been bought...blah blah blah" all you want. The truth is I am chock full of integrity. I didn't have to tell a soul I had lunch with Randi Weingarten on Lexington Ave. this past August. Who would have known? While we watched embers of activism get ignited and no group to pick up the pieces and create an all encompassing union group, we did it ourselves. Actually, we are doing pretty good for two months.

    While others may spend their lives using words like "opposition", we will use another word to build a stronger union....Solidarity.

    I speak for myself, as everything has to come from a democratic vote, but I know you won't ever see me voting or endorsing Mulgrew. I don't care if we were offered 100 seats at Exec Board.


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