Friday, July 24, 2015

How Unity Caucus Uses the District Reps to Control the Membership and Narrow the Growth of the Opposition

CORRECTED: Changes in green

One thing people have to understand about the Unity Caucus on the city, state and national (called Progressive Caucus) is that only 100% control is acceptable - not 60% or 75% or 95%. But 100%. When there are voices of opposition, they are attacked as being disloyal and anti-union.

How does the UFT/Unity bureaucracy keep track of pockets of opposition in so many schools? Through the middle management employees, the District Rep. Every school in the city has a district rep who communicates through the chapter leaders but when there is a strong opposition person in the school, is willing to go around them - sometimes by actively recruiting someone in the school to challenge them.

They track dissident voices and call out reinforcements when a school seems to be going off on an anti-Unity track -- for instance, the district rep informing the teachers at the dissident PS 8X that Mulgrew was coming to see them - soon - certainly before next year's elections -- to try to put out the fire. And to some extent a visit by Mulgrew will move some people on the fence.

Unity works hard to get some of these people into Unit to shut them up.

Remember the Unity Caucus loyalty oath - or what it really is -Wiki says - democratic centralism - the name given to the deontological principles of internal organization used by Leninist political parties, and the term is sometimes used as a synonym for any Leninist policy inside a political party.

Yes, Unity is a Leninist party. Leo Casey in debates with people in MORE likes to defend the Unity loyalty oath by raising the issue that some people in MORE are in organizations that have their own version of democratic centralism -- another diversion by Leo since MORE itself doesn't operate under DC - and if it did I would quit immediately. But I have been pretty open inside MORE that I have reservations about people who subject themselves to a loyalty oath - or democratic centralism - since they are bound to each other and their organization and in a mass organization like MORE that can cause problems - and at times it has. (I'll get more into this in a separate post).

The same thing goes for Unity - they are bound more to Unity than to the people in the schools. Just look at Paula Washington's comments on ed notes defense of everything Unity - which caused her to lose her recent chapter leader election.

In some cases, Unity woos a dissident with promise who they deem ambivalent -- first they say that being associated with an opposition is not a problem -- it is but they are hiding that. Then they entice them with offers of joining Unity and getting to go to conventions with a hint at after school jobs and even the big enchilada - a full-time union job that will get them out of the classroom. I have seen numerous people go that way -- I can't tell you how many people who used to hand out Ed Notes in their schools ended up in Unity - they were targeted to shut down the ability to reach the rank and file. Recently a MORE supporter underwent heavy Unity recruitment and finally succumbed, not totally surprising to me since I detected some game being played -- like guarantees that MORE lit was going into boxes and others in the school saying they never say any MORE lit. Call it playing the double game - using a connection to MORE to make them a more attractive Unity candidate. Once they join Unity they start avoiding saying hello to me -- and other slimy stuff. Reports often come in that they become amongst the worst - they entered Unity in an unprincipled manner and begin to function that way. After all, they were once a critic who felt the union was letting people down and then suddenly go silent and start selling the Unity line. What does that say about their believability - and honor? To me they are the least trustful people in Unity.

(Does anyone think that the same offer could have been on the table for people like James Eterno, Julie Cavanagh, Kit Wainer and even me, who was being recruited into Unity in the late 90s before I went rogue? No job offer would ever tempt us.

There are 32 K-8 district reps and 6 high school districts but they are divided up amongst more than 6 district reps -- the number is fuzzy as some handle small schools - with the proliferation of small high schools, the union added DRs. There are also Drs for paras, special ed district 75 and other special districts. (Yes, it is a job machine for around 40-45 people). Monthly meetings are held where the UFT propaganda is laid down for CLs to follow -- these are not meetings to share problems and issues in schools and come up with solutions.

By the way - every district rep is supposed to teach one period a day - they are on DOE salary but the UFT reimburses the DOE for the time they don't teach during the day and the get additional compensation for the hours from 3-6 plus any other time they put in. Every one of them makes a 6-figure salary.

In all the years before 2002, every district rep was Unity Caucus except for Bruce Markens who was elected by the most dissident group in the union - the Manhattan High Schools chapter leaders. Bruce was re-elected for a decade from 1991-2000 despite Unity attempts to dislodge him. After he retired, Tom Dromgoole, his successor was also in Unity and was independent and followed in Bruce's footsteps from 2000-2002. After Randi made it an appointed position, fearing a backlash from the still strong Man HS CLs -- big schools still dominated - she appointed Tom. But some felt over the next few years with the sword hanging over his head as large schools disappeared and his base disappeared with them, he was forced to adhere more to the Unity line in order to keep his job. And to make it worse, some of Bruce and Tom's former supporters actually ended up joining or supporting Unity with one now having a full-time job. Unity is relentless in undermining any opposition.

As I said, even 1 person not in the Unity fold is unacceptable to the Unity machine.

So in 2002, Randi eliminated district rep elections because she never wanted to see another Bruce Markens. They created a bogus process of interviews but the UFT leadership really makes the choice of this crucial position.

Over the years, some top-notch opposition people have gone through the process just for the hell of it because they know they have no chance. James Eterno applied for the Queens HS DR position at one time. He was clearly the most qualified candidate. Yelena Siwinski applied for the District 22 position - no one is more qualified than she is. And I believe another top-notch MORE candidate is currently applying for a vacancy he will not get.

Even I applied for the position in District 14 before I retired with an understanding that my voice, like Bruce, would remain independent. Top union officials came to my interview to enjoy the fun - and we had a blast - when they asked me to produce sample of my newsletters I had Ed Notes - everyone broke up. Believe me, the guy they chose is tepid at best. If there were an election I believe I had a shot at winning because I was so aggressive in dealing with my principal when I was CL - and many CLs liked that. Also even some Unity people who are there for the conventions wanted an independent voice - it was pre-ICE and I wasn't with any caucus.

At least an election for DR forced them to be somewhat responsive to the chapter leaders - unless these CLs were also Unity and had to follow the party line from above - which was true in most cases. So elections are not an end all until the Unity dominance of the CLS is broken -- part of my strategy of organizing from bottom up instead of making the UFT elections the big deal.

Unity has a machine and that machine pervades most schools with little opposition at the school level except for a relatively few. There are signs of some breaks in that - witness the 60 people who came out for the MORE CL training recently - and new people are in contact regularly. So something did break in the schools to some extent. Unity will try to recruit these people into Unity through the district rep and at their 3 training sessions in the fall -- these are important to Unity in an election year in that they can shut down opposition lit in schools with Unity CLs controlling the gate - unless the opposition has a contact willing to stand up to them in the school. Unity can only be broken by going after them at the school level day by day, month by month, year by year. Election outcomes reflect that work and if an opposition ever had people in hundreds of schools who could organize a serious block at the Del Ass, Unity would be facing a loss of control from below.

District Reps have a major function -- to stop this from happening.


  1. Yup, you nailed it! These policies have all but extinguished the average member's interest in any union activity in building level chapters. I have seen the frustration of a decent CL when one of Randi's slimey DR's comes in to the building and does business with the principals to the exclusion of the CL. Sadly, the UFT is watching loyal Unity people, denigrating them in front of their own members with paid "fronts" who set them up for criticism, if not outright failure, in their own building. They don't want anyone to actually try to uphold the contract, who makes work for them. I am aware of a loyal Unity CL dealing with a real disaster, a close personal friend of a UFT official who presents himself as the "authority" on all things contractual in the building. The "authority" has access to everything, plus a series of per session jobs yielding thousands, and institutional information that is none of his business. The elected CL can't even see the budget, and he gets thrown under the bus by the DR. A stressful environment? A union? What union? They should be charged with fraud for collecting our dues...

  2. a few points you made about the Manhattan DR that needs editing. Tom Dromgoole was the last elected Manhattan DR; he ran as an independent and was opposed by Unity in that election. Subsequently, when the rules were changed to have DRs appointed rather than elected, Tom was appointed by Randi probably because she was worried about a backlash from Manhattan HS Chapter Leaders (many from the then large high schools), who were still very active and vocal at that time. Tom never joined Unity caucus. He did unfortunately support important Unity proposals, the most glaring of which was the 2005 contract.


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