Wednesday, March 16, 2016
UFT Elections and #MORE2016: What is to be learned?
When some of my young colleagues in MORE get overly excited I play the role of Debby Downer. I've seen this movie too often in the past. As my old pal Jeff Kaufman told me this past weekend: things must change drastically externally before the union will change. While the loudest anti-Unity voices seem to think things have changed drastically over the last 15 years - and in some ways they certainly have changed - I think they ain't seen nothin' yet. We have seen a slow-drip of losses coming out of an alliance of the UFT, DOE and CSA. The UFT control of communications has kept most UFT members from hearing all the stories. Most are not blog readers.
The major role I see UFT elections playing is offering an opposition an opportunity to extend and build their own communication network. But if that network only operates during the brief election period every 3 years, that is just marking time.
My major goal in this election is to extend whatever network MORE has and get it to operate on a permanent basis to bring information and goad people towards being more active in the union.
Ed Notes readers should know what I think of UFT elections - they are a distraction. But they are also a way to galvanize people, at least for a time. I'm not sure why some people get excited for an election that is pre-determined but I guess hope springs eternal. Dozens of people you talk to say they don't like the union leadership and in your mind it becomes hundreds. And then you find that even the those people forgot to vote.
Remember how much opposition there was to the last contract? Well, pretty much the same 75% that matches the rough Unity vote voted for the contract. The major difference between the contract vote and the UFT election vote was that 92% of UFT members voted while 20% vote in the UFT elections. And don't forget that retirees vote in the latter. Yet the percentages voting for the Unity line were similar. What I did see was a batch people who were so turned off by the contract that they came to MORE and are now key people and also, encouraged by MORE, have taken on the job of chapter leader.
Some people have surmised that the 20,000 NO contract voters might be pissed enough to vote opposition to Unity which would definitely raise the opposition totals this time. I am not getting my hopes up. I don't measure things by votes but by the people who jump into the water and sign on to help build an opposition to Unity. We have a new MORE steering committee with such people.
Each of those people bring their schools and their social network along by sharing information on what the union leadership is doing. And that can translate into votes. I'd have to see hundreds of people doing this before I become an optimist.
I know that in each election in the past, even for a hardened realist like me, my expectations exceeded the outcomes. This time I think I have finally lowered my expectations to a point where they match reality. But surprise me, please!
I am most interested in helping build a long-term infrastructure for an opposition caucus that can one day challenge the Unity Caucus machine. I constantly look within MORE for signs of that happening and I can see how the election process offers hope for progress as more people get involved. Given past history, many election activists are just that -- active during elections. Makes sense because there are concrete things to do. The problem for a group like MORE has been the interregnum between elections when the level of activity and commitment drops.
I can see MORE already thinking beyond the election - to the summer series of educational workshops, a regular newsletter using the distribution network, advocacy for the groups in the UFT not being dealt with fairly -- untenured, senior teachers being pushed out, schools threatened with receivership, ATRs, rubber roomers, paperwork overload -- I would love to push for a job action on this -- extending the opt out movement -- freeing teachers from threats if they talk to parents. (I think there may be some surprises brewing in the NYC opt out numbers this year.) But MORE can't just complain about these situations. It has to actively go out and try to organize these people into a force for their own interests. MORE people have to think more like organizers than just activists. Organizers don't pontificate or run to every rally. They get names and numbers and do follow-up calls and go out and meet with people where they are at and build networks. There are precious few of those.
For me, the election period can't end too soon - and it will at the end of May -- so MORE can get on with the intense work that has to be done by a fairly small group of dedicated people who will continue to stand up for what is right.