Monday, June 29, 2015

On ICE and Why MORE: History of 40 Years of Failures of Multiple Caucuses in the UFT

Unity wants as many opposition caucuses around as possible to divide people.
Today ICE, the group founded out of Ed Notes in late 2003 is meeting. (Tomorrow I'm meeting with a group of MORE people to plan the summer
retreat.) ICE is comfortable. MORE is not always. But we bite the bullet and keep trying to build a unified opposition caucus.

ICE is an uncaucus - we have withdrawn from taking part in UFT election battles and became a founding member of MORE because we did our own caucus thing  a dozen years ago and saw ultimately how it worked out  - not great - which was why most of us decided to join with people from other groups to form MORE - and that ain't been easy after having our own little group that could function the way it wanted.

I have learned from 45 years in this business that having multiple caucuses, even if they come together every 3 years to run a unified slate but then go their separate ways leads to failure.

Unity wants as many opposition caucuses around as possible to divide people. In the old says we used to assume that if a caucus didn't get the petition signatures to get on the ballot Unity, which runs the election, would put them on anyway. And so they will again.

Randi bought out New Action. Does anyone think she and Mulgrew are unhappy to see yet another caucus out there? They knew that the merger of various groups into MORE in an attempt to forge one identity for the opposition is the real threat to them. Thus they attack only MORE in their leaflets (64 Teachers at PS8X Sign Open Letter to Mulgrew).

Thus Randi would be glad to lend moral support to anyone who wants to start yet another opposition caucus, even taking them out for coffee.


MORE is a combo of many different groups and people - a synthesis because many of us have tried it the other way - our own little caucus where we can be the big fish in the small pond - oh how heady at times when you are new to this to have the president of the UFT emailing you at midnight to get your opinion. Almost everyone in ICE has come to see that no matter how difficult it can be working with people you might disagree with at times, the only way is to forge one caucus. Bite the damn bullet.

Many of us have come down a bit from our egos and have a little more humility about things. Or maybe it's the lowering of testosterone with age.

New Action
I have even been tempering my views regarding New Action - Julie and I told them at our meeting in Nov. 2013 that we welcomed them once they publicly announce they will no longer be taking their deal with Unity -- they don't have to end New Action - keep doing what ICE is doing - but move to becoming one caucus. After all, New Action learned its lesson in 1995 when 2 caucuses, TAC (begun in 1968) and New Directions (1976) became one after 20 years of relative futility running in the NAC coalition (though they did win some victories). But they say they were marking time. Then shortly after they merged, along came the old divider, Marc Pessin (who did the same thing with New Directions in 1976) to create yet another caucus (PAC) to divide people. And of course, Marc's ego required that he run for president in the 1999 elections - he did the same thing in the 1977 and 81 elections.

When ICE became a caucus in late 2003 it was with the intention of running in the 2004 election and then disbanding. But we won the HS exec bd seats with TJC and stuck around. But it became clear by 2007 that ICE did not have a long shelf life. By 2010 it was more than obvious. TJC was around for 20 years before disbanding into MORE. ICE kept meeting but in essence did the same. And I must say that after all those years of a tenuous relationship, working with Kit Wainer is a joy - and having Kit and James Eterno, both of whom who ran for UFT president, on the same team is like putting together an all-star rock band.

Yes, multiple caucuses have been tried for ages - there are always calls for them to unite for the elections and then go back to doing their big fish in a small pond. It finally dawned on many of us that ultimately this is helping do Unity's dirty work of divide and conquer - playing one group off against another - even offering people from one group enticements.

Though mostly MORE, we still feel that ICE identity even if we will never divide the opposition - ICE stands for the Independent Community of Educators -- a true social justice group of people who also fought for teacher rights with roots going back to the community struggles of the late 60s and 70s.

Some of the newer MORE members have come to the ICE view of things - we were the only ones to go after mayoral control, ed deform, high stakes testing - all the hot button issues from today - back in 2003 when we began - and Ed Notes was touching on these before then.

How did we see that these issues were important? Through open, non-ideologically driven discussions at loooong meetings. No one at an ICE meeting has been cut off or denied the chance to speak due to time - no one every leaves an ICE meeting feeling they were shut down. Time is not a factor -- the meeting ends when one person is left talking to himself.
I have never left an ICE meeting not feeling good and not having learned something.

Not a formula for efficiency or even building an opposition - but certainly a much needed space for people to talk to each other -- and I would say the single most important thing missing in MORE. I rarely leave a MORE meeting feeling that way. The MORE - Summer Series Workshops is a way to fill this gap.

People have asked me numerous times how come Mulgrew and Unity can get away with what they do for 60 years - how come there is so little effective opposition in the UFT.

The leadership focuses a lot of energy on potential trouble spots - this is where they are truly competent and effective - controlling, defusing, obfuscating, dividing, etc. I posted an example on Ed Notes recently about PS 8x which is a school in revolt against the leadership, led by a former Unity Caucus chapter leader -- see
The district rep - the key people in how they control the membership - told the CL that Mulgrew is coming to the school to talk to them -- I've been invited to come that day too.

They track every place where there are opposing voices -- making deals with their friendly principals to keep people under control is not off the table either.

But beyond all that, there are the internal divisions in the opposition - I have seen the same issues come up since I first got involved in 1970 - and in the 70s and then again in the 90s we had another version of him doing the same thing - to me this is so deja vu.

Egos, sectarian politics, and who knows what else can lead to so much frustration and angst.

A number of people who were union critics and used to distribute Ed Notes in the 90s and early 2000's ended up joining Unity - they might as well take the free trips and other perks because there was no other place to really go.

They go to Unity because they see a divided opposition. It may not be easy, but one voice, one name is the only answer. That will not happen as long as people refuse to check their egos at the door.


  1. Norm:

    You almost had me convinced but then there goes that "Social Justice" issue that muddles the message. Until all teachers are treated correctly, I don't have the ability to solve the world's problems.

    1. I'm not looking to solve the world's problems just try to help find solutions to the problems your students and their families face. That is not the world's problems - we're not talking about Greece here. That is the problems sitting before you every day on your job. try to tell me you don't care about them and only about your problems as a teacher, many of which are connected to the issues facing your kids. If race and poverty affects your kids it affects your working conditions - not muddling the message but making connections between working conditions and Social justice. The very idea of unions is a social justice issue - defense of worker rights is a social justice issue. You choose to define social justice in the narrowest sense as "solving the world's problems." we can't even solve the problems of toilet paper in the teacher room sometimes - as caucuses without power we can't solve much of anything - all we can do is raise the issues and try to inform our fellow workers. If you think that the attacks on teachers by ed deformers who claim these attacks are needed and turn these attacks into social justice issues by stealing the rhetoric then you are ignoring a major way of fighting back by recapturing the issues to our advantage. Opt out by parents is a social justice issue which in the long run helps teachers fight back against an unjust rating system. People don't give a crap about what happens to teachers unless we shape things in ways that link our rights to the interests of children.

    2. Blah, blah, blah.....Norm. I just want a union to protect me. What you are saying is part of it but we need to have the teachers believe in the union again before we can do anything.

    3. Many of the newer teachers come with an anti-union bias because they have been brainwashed. Someone at the ICE meeting told me that many new teachers in his school are Rand Paul libertarians. Then they see the UFT/Unity inaction and that only confirms what they believe. Finding the fine line of crit the union leadership and feeding into this anti-union bias is tricky. Yesterday some people came to the ICE meeting who said they had no idea about the union until they got in some trouble. They are not new. But they had no sense of union consciousness until it affected them personally. That is partly the fault of the leadership which does little work or any at the school level in raising this consciousness about the history and importance of unions. The building of unions was all about being a social justice movement for workers' rights. What was won through a social justice political movement is being lost and you want to ignore the very means by which we gained those rights in the first place by terming it blah, blah, blah. Shame on you.
      The majority of people who vote apparently still believe in Unity enough to keep him in power. I find it funny how the newer activists think social media is an alternative to gut level school to school organizing. They count likes and clicks as success. I count a real body in every school who will stand up against Unity as success. New Action - the combo of TAC and New Directions in the mid-90s had enough people to help defeat the 1995 contract the first time around -- the clear advantage when the 2 leading opposition caucuses merged into 1. Soon after a self-serving meglomaniac started yet another caucus because I wanted to run for president. That caucus lasted for about 5 years before disbanding -- just as ICE came on board. Then it was ICE and TJC with their own brands from 2004-2010, which led to MORE - one caucus, with a broad enough perspective to understand the political struggle it will take to protect you, not bombast and personality cults.

    4. Blah, blah, blah part deux. If you don't have the support of the people, Norm, you don't have anything. It's why we lose and keep losing. Talking social justice isn't going to wake up the majority that couldn't care less about the union. Talking about saving our jobs might.

    5. Go ahead and talk and contact me on how it worked out in about a year. Proof is in the pudding. Might is the almighty word.
      I've seen every angle in my time and because the UFT election process is what it is, nothing will change very much. You could wake up 65% of the teachers and have them vote against Unity -- you still lose. And badly.
      Classroom Teachers are a minority in the UFT. Go beat your head against a wall and get better results.

  2. Shouldn't this read "History of 40 Years of Failures of Caucuses in the UFT"

    1. I won't argue with that point. I'm waiting for someone to not fail. Everyone is welcome to try.

  3. Classroom teachers are not a minority of the UFT. They are just a voting minority.

    1. Check the numbers. (I know from the number of election ballots sent out)
      In the contract vote - 107,000 working people in schools. But UFT is bigger.
      About 65,000 classroom teachers in elem, ms, and hs. About 40,000 non classroom people - oaras, sect, etc.
      Don't know how many nurses.
      Can be up to 50,000 home day care workers.
      Retirees = almost 60,000 -

    2. Here are rough numbers of classroom teachers:
      Elem 36,000
      MS - 11,000
      HS - 19,000

    3. I would like to add my two cents to this argument. I was a high school teacher for 15 years and now I am a parent of three children in middle school. I also have many friends who are elementary school teachers.

      First I think that if the opposition splinters off into multiple groups, you will not be able to oust Unity. From what I have seen from the rank and file is on they are too busy trying to keep up with mandates to be bothered with what is happening with their union and how their union has a hand in their misery. Secondly the only information they receive is that that Unity wants them to hear so they do not get too many outside voices with alternative points of view. They are also surrounded by peers who only know these working conditions so they do not think there is another way of running a school, educating kids, treating teachers, etc. When I taught there was a more diverse staff in terms of gender, age, life experiences, even school experiences so people came with different ideas. and expectations of how they would be treated. So this idea that we should have a social justice group and a teachers only group opposition will not provide strength.

      The opposition needs to come up with a simple message and repeat in constantly. The one thing I learned this year in getting change is one that people can not digest too many facts, denial of facts happens all the time and the purpose for the change has to repeated constantly. People have short attention spans and do not retain info. You will encounter revisionists who will twist everything you say to suit their agenda. You need to repeat the message constantly.

      And you need to get parents on your side. The parents only get involved (myself included when I am wearing that hat) is when we see a situation which is detrimental to my kid. When parents see that their children do not get a textbook because we switched to Common Core and no one trained the teachers or provided textbooks or that their children do not go on field trips because test prep has taken over the calendar, then they get angry. And we need to show concrete ways of how the way school is today is hurting their children. You can not get everyone engaged but the ones you do can be very vocal.

    4. Thanks for commenting Anna. Whether one group or many splinter groups running in UFT elections, Unity cannot be ousted under any circumstances due to how the election process has been structured and controlled by them. They have pretty much made it air tight. They are not afraid of every losing an entire election. They fear even giving up a sliver of exec bd seats to any legit opposition. Thus Randi's brilliant buy off of New Action which had been winning the high schools consistently. But they were not making any progress in any other division. What has to happen is a challenge to Unity not every 3 years in the election but every day in the schools where Unity has a machine. Long run hope has been to eventually form one caucus, one voice to challenge Unity. But there are always ambitious self-serving people around who will thwart that - so a group like MORE which is the best we can do in having brought people from other caucuses - TJC and ICE - plus other groups out there - with the goal of engaging in this struggle with Unity in the schools and districts - hand to hand combat in some cases. They fight back and they fight dirty as we've seen in the current chapter leader elections that just took place -- if they could steal an election they will. The control of chapter leaders is how they control the union not just through elections.

  4. Why not 40 more years of failure?
    Vote for the Il Duce wannabe.


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